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How To Save More Money For Travel

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Saving up since forever for that dream getaway? If your answer is yes then read on for some tips and tricks on how you could finally achieve your travel goals. Whether you have been postponing that trip because of insufficient funds or you simply have been dipping into your travel jar (naughty!), I am sure these ways of growing your savings will definitely be very useful. Most of them are based from personal experience and are tried and tested by yours truly. It’s time to evaluate yourself and save up big time for that dream destination!

  1. Open a savings account
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This is very basic but as simple as it is, there are advantages into creating a separate account for the sole purpose of saving. This promotes motivation and a positive financial mindset. Then there are the interest rates, which no matter how low, is still free money. The goal is to build a habit of stowing away a specific amount that you will not use for anything else. When I get my salary from my full time job, the first thing I do is allocate to my savings account, then I pay all my bills then I live with what is left of my hard-earned money. Keep in mind: Live within your means.

  1. Get organized with money saving apps

There are helpful applications out there for free that can help you keep track of spending or even manage bank accounts from your smart phone. Make the most of this technology to keep an eye on your monthly expenses – watch out for overlooked minor things that accumulate overtime. Usually these are unused memberships or subscriptions that you most likely do not even remember. Download a mobile bank app if possible and check your available balance regularly to make sure you only spend within budget.

  1. Watch your daily coffee habit
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I am guilty of this one, after all who can resist a good cuppa? However this proves to be an expensive habit overtime, not to mention the calories packed in a single venti. In London a coffee shop charges an average of £2.50 per cup. Even if I reduce it to four times a week that still translates to £40 a month. SOLUTION: I decided to invest in a coffee machine and it is still paying for itself tenfold.

  1. Buy in bulk.

There are non-perishable goods that when bought in bulk can really give you a run for your money. Among these things are tissue paper, office supplies, beverages, batteries or even toothbrushes. The good thing is, you can order most of them online too. Saves you the money and effort.

  1. Keep track of your transport expenses

We have a variety of options when it comes to going around these days and transport expenditures are easy to overlook simply because we deem them a necessity. Make sure you make use of travel cards if it is cheaper in the long run. Avoid taxi fares by getting up early to catch your train on time. Always ask yourself: Is this cost efficient or simply convenient?  

  1. Consider takeaways a treat every fortnight.
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Face it: eating takeaway regularly is a major cause of the depletion of your savings. Which is why you should consider it a treat every two weeks if you cannot just do away with it completely. Who knows what culinary skills you have hidden inside you? Cooking and meal prepping is one sure way of gaining control over your spending on food.

  1. Never watch movies for full price

I am not a movie person but in case you are, then get this. You can cut off your cinema expenses by half and see the exact same movie. For example in London, Vue Cinemas partners with Y Plan from time to time and you can buy tickets for £7 instead of £14. Also, I acquired a Tastecard membership which allows me to get 40% discount on certain cinemas nationwide. Or you can just stream online for free. And cut off your cable – Netflix is waaay cheaper.

  1. Explore options for passive income
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Earn extra bucks  on the side even if it is only until you reach your goal. This may be hardwork for some but nothing is too difficult if you badly want this trip to happen. A few ideas are babysitting, dog walking or even hosting on Airbnb.

  1. Scrap off your credit card debt
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It is hard to save up for something when credit card debt takes a massive chunk of your income. And don’t you even think of booking that flight with your remaining credit balance. The last thing you want is paying off lots of interest over a debt you can easily take care of. You HAVE to prioritize scratching it off so you can focus on your financial plan.

  1. Sell those pre-loved items

Have a good look around your room. Chances are you own stuff you haven’t even touched in a year. Rethink your need for these items and explore how comfortable you are with selling them. It could be an old bike, an unwanted gift or a camera you aren’t using anymore. Hold a small garage sale or get put it up on ebay.

  1. Resist the upgrade.

Two months ago I resisted the temptation of upgrading my phone contract although I really wanted the latest handset model. In the end I talked myself out of it because my phone was in good condition that you would think it’s brand new. I downgraded my contract instead and this alone will save me £360 a year. If you have a smartphone that is working just fine, I recommend doing this immediately.

  1. Get rid of some bad (and expensive) habits
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Going out for a few drinks every now and then is harmless right? Wrong. With the costs of basic commodities on the rise, so is the price tag on alcohol and cigarettes. These items are usually taxed because of their nature, making them even more pricey. Smoking is a luxurious habit to keep and in London alone a smoker who consumes 1 pack a day will spend approximately £300 a month. Your body will thank you for it!

And there you have it, twelve ways you can save more money for that well – deserved holiday! Remember, every little bit counts and it all boils down to how it all sums up. Don’t be that person who thinks saving small amounts of money counts for nothing – spare as much as you can. Ultimately, every bit is an inch closer to your goal and before you know it, you’d be booking that plane ticket with a wide smile on your face. Happy travels!

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Stunning Sceneries From Scotland to Fuel Your Wanderlust

The movie Braveheart may come to mind when Scotland is mentioned – alongside bagpipes or men in checkered skirts. Their past of conflict and bravery is both enthralling and tragic with story lines that easily remind me of Game of Thrones – only with real tempers lost and unbelievable amount of bloodshed. And although that era of violence is now just another page in their rich history, much of it is still remembered as they are still deeply rooted in the unparalleled landscapes found here. From Ben Nevis to the scenic Glencoe – Scotland is truly a one of a kind destination.

Here are a few snapshots of Scotland that just might give you the extra nudge to finally book that ticket for your next adventure. These photos were taken during summer, but I was told that Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands are just as stunning on winter time. I love looking back at these pictures and recall how truly one of a kind Scotland’s landscapes are. I hope you find a little bit of travel inspiration in these photos and I wish you many happy travels ahead.  Go ahead and fuel you wanderlust!

The city of Edinburgh is a walking city and a tourist can easily navigate around and hunt for picturesque corners. You will never run out of things to point that camera to when in Scotland’s flourishing  capital.

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Calton Hill
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National Monument of Scotland
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Scott Monument
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Streets of Edinburgh
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City Center
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Statue of Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch

The Scottish Highlands is a paradise of rolling mountains, pristine lochs, meadows and endless stretches of foliage and trees. It’s a great destination for those longing for a break from the suffocation of concrete jungles and busy urban crowds. The vastness of The Highlands alone is enough to make you take deep breaths and forget city life for a while.

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That Scottish Highland landscape
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Loch Lubnaig
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The Highlands
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Enveloped between the tall trees of the Highlands
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Sunset
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Edinburgh Skyline

The world is full of unseen places, waiting to be discovered by curious minds and hearts awaiting to be captivated. For me, the best destinations are those we did not intend to see, those we ran into by accident or some form of destiny. In these places, sometimes we meet new people who stay in our lives as friends and then there are those lucky few who finally meet themselves for the first time. Happy travels dear reader, and sooner rather than later, I hope you find what you are looking for. Continue reading Stunning Sceneries From Scotland to Fuel Your Wanderlust

Top 5 Prague Eats

2016-05-10-13-22-45If you love your meat like me, then a trip to Prague is best accomplished with a gastronomic adventure. A word of warning: traditional Bohemian plates may dawn as a nightmare of sorts to your average vegan, as Czechia cuisine is a carnivore’s dream.

With Czechia heavily relying on succulent slabs of pork, rabbit, duck, chicken and beef, it is no wonder they consume that much alcohol. I honestly cannot think of a better pairing for flavorful Czechia beer other than tender pieces of properly seasoned meat, usually slathered with a savory sauce. Meat consumption is so serious a business here that when I ordered a side of roasted vegetables (out of guilt from my three – day carnivorous spree), they actually served it on a separate plate. When I took a bite I think they basted it with meat drippings. Not that I am complaining. Vegetarians just might die of hunger here.

Aside from an obvious adoration for protein, Czechia food is usually served with some bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky) which I liked very much because I used them to shamelessly wipe the sauce off my plate. Horse radish, cabbage and potatoes are among the staple side dishes I found quite nice. Those with a sweet tooth shall not leave disappointed as Prague is also home to some cakes and treats that can be nominated as building blocks of comfort food.

Now, food from this part of the world is known to be filling and not exactly a prime example of a balanced diet. But who comes to Prague for a salad anyway? If after a meal you find yourself feeling like you are carrying a brick in your stomach, then rest assured you’ve had the proper Czechia food experience. It’s nothing a good walk around the town square cannot solve! Ultimately, you shall never walk away hungry from a meal while you’re here and you’ll always get your money’s worth. Good food, a cold beer and a post card view? Oh yes please. Here’s what made it to my top five Prague eats in ascending order of goodness!

Top 5: Medovnik / Honey Cake

2016-05-10-13-31-02To say that Medovnik falls under the most unique cakes I have devoured is an understatement. I think by far it is the most creative in terms of preparation and its element of deception makes me love it just a little bit more. Upon inspection I actually thought it was going to feel dry and crumbly in my mouth but I could not have been more wrong. However, this is not exactly a moist cake and is rather best described as somewhere in between. It is very light and has a characteristic sweetness that of course, comes from honey. Cafe Lippert’s rendition came with a dollop of cream but it was scrumptious enough on its own. You have to try this for yourself in order to understand why despite the simple exterior, Medovnik proves to be one of Prague’s most famous cakes.

Top 4: Trdelnik / Funnel Cake

2016-05-10-13-43-49It may be the Czechia people’s love for anything being roasted over an open fire that inspired the creation of Trdelnik. I don’t really know, this is merely an honest observation. But I must admit, it’s a stroke of genius and the Trdelnik – making process is mesmerizing as it is. Imagine cake on a stick, but instead of baking in an oven they have a rotisserie of golden brown pastries; twirling around until it is ready for your mouth. The real challenge though, is eating it without getting chocolate or crumbs all over your face.

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Top 3: Sausage / Grilovane Klobasy

2016-05-10-13-48-02Standing out from the things I have tried out in Prague were their Grilled Sausages. These lovely bolsters of tubed ground meat may be familiar to most but the Czechs have somehow made it their own. It has that distinct smokey flavour but not so much as to ruin the dish, with grill marks sealing in the juicy goodness. As a main course, it can be ordered with sides, of which the local waiter suggested I go for the Frites. All in all a very good meal!

Grilovane Klobasy is also a popular street food choice, packed with enough calories to set you afoot for an entire afternoon. A portion from one of the numerous stands will get you one giant Czech sausage and a piece of bread, condiments are usually on the side as usual to mix and match as you please.

Viajera Travel Tip: As a general rule, do not eat anywhere around Old Town Square as the prices are 3-4x more. If you are paying for more than 45 Czech Korunas for a beer, then rest assured that you are being ripped off. Lesser Town Prague is a better location to go for food trips, you’re welcome.

Top 2: Beef Goulash with Dumplings

2016-05-10-14-03-04A classic offering among Prague restaurants is Beef Goulash, although the books might tell you that the dish is more of Hungarian in origin. It comprises of tender chunks of beef braised in a mildly spicy sauce, served with a few dumplings of bread. Villa Richter’s version is traditional and appealing with portions that leave just enough room for cake and coffee.

Viajera Travel Tip: After taking the Prague Castle Tour, head over to Villa Richter Restaurant for lunch or afternoon coffee / tea. Located just outside the castle, be sure to book a table by the balcony and enjoy overlooking views of Prague with authentic local food.

Top 1: Czech Pork Knuckle

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Aaaand we’ve got a winner! Undeniably among Prague’s gastronomic pride is their rendition of Roasted Pork Knuckle. One can always spot this dish under the “house specials” and indeed rightfully so. This is not by any means a humble portion of pig knuckles cooked in an attempt to make use of an animal’s part that otherwise would have been thrown away. It is a more than generous serving of pork meat sliding off the bone marinated and seasoned with a sweet savoury sauce reminiscent of Pata Tim. It could have easily fed four people, but I almost finished it, apart from two more bites. Sweet, salty, sticky and oozing with fatty juices cascading down with every slice. You have to eat this before you die.

2016-05-10-13-56-06Viajera Travel Tip: We stumbled upon Restaurant U Malvaze along Karlova Street, a place that surprises its customers with spacious rustic interiors that come unexpected from its seemingly meek facade. The food items are priced reasonably and I found the staff to be very friendly. I ordered their version of Roasted Pork Knuckle and it sent me straight to pig heaven. Some things are not worthy of words – unutterable pleasures in life are simply too hard to describe.

Needless to say, hunger was a feeling that never came to me when I was in Prague. The food was delicious and almost every meal was heavy, even the snacks. The meat lover in me rejoiced in whimsy with the fact they considered a Pork Knuckle the size of a fat tissue roll “single serving”. But this is one aspect of travel I have always mused about. Perspective about spice or portion may vary from one place to another but the love for good food will almost always unite us. As for me, I’ll eat and enjoy every foreign morsel with as much gusto I have in my body. And I cannot wait to see what I’ll sink my teeth into next. Continue reading Top 5 Prague Eats

Distractions

13Horacio Cruz would be beaming with pride if he were here to see all of this. His daughter – once but a small – time overachieving girl in a third world public school, now an independent woman discovering the splendors of Europe. I bet even those rich, corpulent sponsors I had at Lions Club couldn’t have come up with this. Me and my friends are heading off to Cap d’Ail to complete our gallivanting across the French Riviera. The weather is perfect as expected, with the sun glimmering over cyan waters and the Riviera’s trademark coastline necklaced by stunning beaches.12From Nice, Cap d’Ail is approximately a 30 minute journey if you aboard Bus 100. Its surrounding large glass windows provide a great yet brief view of the fantastic scenery. Like that binocular toy I had as a child, only every slide in the reel was nice and I didn’t have to aim it towards anything bright. I personally enjoyed the short ride while of course taking occasional pictures of cliffside ocean views whenever the bus stopped on a red light. The sun kept flooding over me on and off as we veered through ribbons of concrete – and it felt good beyond words. Needless to say, staying in Europe has given me a newfound love and appreciation for direct exposure to sunlight. This 25 degree weather is a warm welcome compared to London’s gloomy skies and cold drafts.

We arrived on schedule and the first thing I notice is the small roadside tourist office. This commune in South France is far from flashy but I could tell it was a great secret escape compared to the usual French Riviera destinations overrun by yapping tourists. Quiet and verdant with copious amounts of fresh air with hints of ocean – I needed this. I looked back at my high school friend Ricky who was just coming out from the tiny office as he waved for us to come along. I flashed a smile and half ran towards him.2016-03-9--01-00-32

During my last visit here, I did not have the time to see Cap d’Ail. Last year, I merely thrived on sightseeing because arriving in February made it too cold for a dip. But not this time. August was perfect swimming weather and the sun loomed over all things with such fury I could almost imagine it making sizzling sounds.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the correct pronunciation was Kap Dai– quite easy on the tongue and rather fun to say out loud. The two known beaches in the area are both open to public: Marquet and Mala Plage; the latter unanimously known to locals as better than the former. However, our limited stay meant having only time for the best, so we headed straight for Mala Plage with a silent pledge to see Marquet Beach the following year.

But my thoughts of once again splaying under the sun was interrupted by a not so pleasant surprise: the beach access involved a descent of literally a hundred steps. It was not impossible for us but if you have heart failure you just might die halfway or on your way back up. But you know – silver linings. The place itself was nothing short of magnificent, as Mala Plage was tucked in a bay at the foot of rocky slopes. Every downwards turn led to a promising view which excited the traveler in me thirsty for some sand and sea. The leg pain was worth it.2016-03-9--00-56-15Armed with a white and pink striped beach towel and a lotion that promised ultimate sun protection, I embraced the ambiance and scouted for a square foot of sand nobody wanted. The sun was still baking everything it can reach and I felt its vengeance as I sat on the sand. The cool ocean breeze was a welcome relief and it was so soothing I had to close my eyes for a moment. When I did open them I noticed I was facing towards the rocky slopes that looked very much like the limestone formations in Palawan. Not as beautiful but just as good to the eyes.2016-30-8--19-10-55Ocean waves playfully crashed on the mountain side, making calm swishing sounds. Nearby, children were trying to make sand castles while some women were perfecting their tan by going topless. Freedom to all bosoms, budding and pendulous alike. It’s funny how the same thing considered a norm in this part of the world elicits condemnation where I come from. Everything is relative – even normal changes from place to place.

The water felt great as I went in for a few laps and the waves were gentle, rolling one after the other. I like how the water wraps around my head while I swim. For those brief moments, the outside world is out of earshot and it’s as if the water is lulling me away. At least for as long as I can hold my breath.2016-03-9--00-58-11Floating over the waters of Cap d’Ail, I imagine my stress stir away with every stroke from my arms, wishing I could let go of my tragedies just as easily. The seawater was making trickling sounds against my ears and as I gaze upon the blue sky I was blessed with today, one thing was on my mind. If heaven is real I hope you are seeing this right now Pa, because at least I can find comfort in the fact that in a way, you are with me. Perfection has been out of my reach since you’ve left and all I know is that these damn pictures would look so much better if I had them with you.

I stirred into motion and shot myself upright for a mouthful of air. Distant chatter once again, merry laughter and happy squeals nearby. To my right a train was making noise as it passed over by Mala Plage. The spell is broken and reality has unwillingly restored itself. I wave towards my friends who are already back ashore, gathering around for another round of Monopoly. I muster another smile and make my way back. Already feeling ready for more.

Continue reading Distractions

Why Sanremo Should Be Your Next Italian Destination

2016-15-8--16-55-47It is almost unfair how Italy contains a great number of breathtaking cities to explore and discover. Indeed, it is a region of the world known for leading travelers back due to its extensive list of beautiful places unlike some travel destinations where only the big cities are worth raving about. From a traveler’s point of view, Italy has so much beauty to offer not only in its capital but even up to the smallest and most remote regions. In a sense this is what makes it such a pleasurable destination especially for those who really want to get a whiff of authentic local vibe.

In my previous travels to Italy, I have seen and explored the eternal city of Rome, scenic Firenze and enjoyed the relaxed vibe of Pisa. Standing before the Colosseum and the majestic Trevi Fountain was nothing short of surreal. The cobbled streets, ancient landmarks, art and architecture of these cities made my visit special and meaningful.

This year, I was fortunate enough to visit another face of Italy through the lovely town of Sanremo. Far from the rustic and ancient ambiance of Rome and Tuscany, Sanremo had a fresh, easy holiday ambiance with its small-town charm mixed with the lashings of sandy beaches and villas.2016-15-8--17-20-23Nestled in the province of Liguria between Genoa and the French border, this Italian Riviera offers more than casinos and manicured lawns. Whether Sanremo is your main destination, a day trip from your travel itinerary or you’re merely looking for your next Italian city to conquer, here are reasons to bump it on top of your list of places to see.

1. Lazy Afternoons with Italian Coffee

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Classic Cappuccino

In a country where coffee is basically a culture, it might be borderline evil not to get a caffeine fix. Italian Coffee is world renowned and a must try whenever in Italy, whether it’s to kickstart your day or to complete a relaxing afternoon in the plaza. Locals take pride in the quality of their signature blend of coffee that no Starbucks can be found in this part of the world. So go ahead and indulge in a cup or two of what could be the finest cup of coffee you ever will find.

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The Nutellino – Italians are generally not fans of mucking around with the taste of coffee, but this little gem is decadent indeed! It’s an espresso with a teaspoon of Nutella, topped with frothy milk and finished off with cocoa powder. This is your next dessert coffee goal!
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Caffe Gelato – I have never heard of this coffee version before and apparently, neither had the lady serving us that day. But with some clarifications she was able to serve us this unique drink: Italian coffee with a tiny scoop of vaniglia gelato happily sitting in the middle. The flavors were amazing and the contrast in temperature made it surprisingly better. I am tempted to make this one at home but I know it just would not taste the same.

Viajera Travel Tip: In Italy, the default coffee is actually an espresso. If you would rather have a long coffee, you can either order an americano or a caffe latte. Cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink but Italians consume coffee in small steady amounts all day long. Frappuccinos simply do not exist and messing up a coffee’s flavor by mixing it with flavors like mint is frowned upon. (Take that, Starbucks)

2. Your Dose of Sun and Sand – Italian Riviera Style

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Sanremo Beach

One of the good things about Sanremo is the fact that you can get that French Riviera vibe without leaving Italian territory. One can gaze upon absorbing views of the coast or hang out by the beach to achieve that golden summer glow while keeping easy access to tasty Italian cooking. The beaches here are mostly lined with creamy sand, unlike des plages in Nice where you are likely to find smooth stone. There are also restaurants conveniently located on the beach facade and bars overlooking fantastic scenery.

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This roof deck bar was perfect!
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Cheers to beach life!

3. Go on an Italian Food Trip

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Italian Food lovin’! Clockwise from top left: Trofie Pasta and Courgette with Simple Olive Oil based Sauce, Seafood Pizza, Spaghetti Vongole and Fettuccine with Porcini Mushrooms. Everything was divine!

I am a self-confessed fan of good quality Italian food, and as evidenced by the domination of restaurants specializing in the cuisine – so is the rest of the world. So when in Sanremo, embark on a foodie adventure, fill up on genuine Italian cooking and trust me on this one -you WILL taste the difference. There is more to al dente pasta and savoury sauces to this type of gourmet, because based on my experience the core of hearty Italian cooking roots from the use of locally grown fresh ingredients. Their cheese comes in barrels and chunks, not in cardboard boxes as seen in supermarkets; their tomatoes come in endless varieties, plump from the nourishment of Italian soil. This is mainly why their food tastes like nowhere else on Earth no matter how many restaurants offer you “authentic” pasta.

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Pasta Fresca – fresh pasta that is cooked within a minute or two. Best consumed within the day of purchase.
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Truffles! Have you ever seen such a big bunch of these?

Let’s face it, a trip to Italy is not complete without a gelato binge! Get them on cups or cones, the goodness is just the same in all forms. Remember you have the option of having two to three flavors in one order so go ahead and choose wisely. So many flavors, so little time!

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I love all flavors but my favorite is still Pistachio. Weirdest flavor I’ve tried so far: Cactus.

4. Pause and smell the flowers (No kidding)

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All shapes and sizes to set you in a joyous mood for travel.

Sanremo is also called Riviera dei Fiori or region of flowers due to its marvelous floral display and cultivation. Setting afoot in the town center, one can easily notice the cascade of flowers in different colors and sizes, adding a sort of festive ambiance. Likewise, the Sanremo Flowers Parade is held every end of January to showcase their dedication to the art of floral display.

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Afternoon walks made better by these florals in Sanremo.

5. Test your Luck with a Little Game of Chance

I did not try this out myself but should you find yourself in the mood for a game of chance then read on. Within the realms of Sanremo is a casino to put out a few of those hard earned Euros for a chance to hit it big. No need to go to nearby Monaco for a little gambling thrill! If you are like me and would rather spend money on booze and gelato than play a game of risks, you can still check out the casino’s lush visage and quite impressive architecture. The grand looming facade and red carpet of Casino di Sanremo is impossible to ignore for those on the lookout for a picture perfect moment.

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Casino Municipale

If you have not heard of Sanremo before then now is the time to mark your calendars and prepare for it on your next getaway. I assure you, the laid back atmosphere is exactly what every city dweller needs to start anew. It may be the Riviera – like beach that sparked your wanderlust, the promised impeccable food or the idea of cocktails by the sea. I don’t know about you but I was sold with the fact that they drank coffee all day long.  Haha. Either way, from one traveler to another, have a happy summer wherever you are. Saluti!

Continue reading Why Sanremo Should Be Your Next Italian Destination

Five Stunning Towns to See On Your Day Trips from Nice

nice5The most awaited season of the year has arrived – British Summer Time! Although not totally safe from the clutches of harsh English weather, at the very least we can now wear happy summer outfits on levels in which the weather allows and bare legs without worry. Admittedly it is a fantastic time to travel across Europe to get a year’s dose of that much needed sunlight.

When speaking of summer destinations, Nice, France is a perfect choice for any traveler hungry for some sun and sea. The French Riviera gravitates tourists from all over the world with its infamous beaches and seaside promenades – myself included. My last adventure to Cote d’ Azur ended with a promise of returning the following year – and yes, my tickets are already booked! I am not exaggerating when I say that Nice has the bluest waters and skies I have laid my eyes upon and it is something I would gladly come back to.

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Promenade du Paillon

However, there is more to Nice than sunbathing, gelato frenzy and lazy afternoons riddled with mojitos. It is a good starting point for day trips to fill up on art, culture and history. Why not widen your horizons and discover the charming neighboring towns of South France? Here are a couple of day trip ideas from Nice that I have personally done during my last visit to Cote d’ Azur. Getting to these towns are not complicated and most of all won’t hurt the bank. If you’re in Nice, you definitely have to drop by at least one of them – life is too short to pass on these stunning places!

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Travel time: 4o minutes
Getting there: Bus 100, Bus 110 (Express). Alternatively, you can take the a train from Nice Ville to Menton
Travel Cost: €1.50 for the bus and €3.90 for the train

If there is a place in Cote d’ Azure that best showcases its beauty before the place got engineered into greatness, it would be Menton. Some call it the hidden pearl of the French Riviera because it has not basked in fame like other communes in Southern France. Well, not yet at least. This seaside town is nothing short of beautiful from the relaxed vibe, the array of dulcet homes, old docking port to the pastel hues of Old Town Menton.

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Pretty corners of Menton. Every February, a Lemon Festival is held in town so be sure to join the party if you’re around this time of year.

My first memory of the place was seeing a man and his dog briefly stopping by the communal drinking fountain for a drink. My friend later on explained that there are numerous drinking fountains across the towns of South France, most of which were built from the time of the Romans – although some are more decorative than functional. Just keep an eye for the “eau potable” sign.

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Viajera Travel Tip: Cross the borders and head off to Italy! Menton is the last city before crossing over to Italian borders. Why not go straight to Ventimiglia for some extra sightseeing and get yourself some authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.

Vence 1Vence
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Bus 400 (Vence) / Bus 94 (Halte Routière de l’Ara)
Travel Cost: €1.50

A medieval town over the hilltops surrounded by rivers and springs, Vence is the best place to appreciate nature while contemplating history and art at the same time. Come and adore pillars and vestiges dating back to the Roman era, including the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Nativité which was built from the 4th century. The stone walls and alleyways are silent witnesses to the changing times; of ideas that sprung from creative minds through the years.

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Cathedral Notre Dame de la Nativite
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La fontaine. Vence is often called the City of water because it is surrounded with rivers and springs. This is one of the town’s fountains.

Viajera Tip: Meet a Michelin – Star Chef! Satisfy your hunger for good food and art at Les Bacchanales. Situated at 247 avenue de Provence, Vence this day trip is almost incomplete without a taste of Chef Christophe Dufau’s cooking. His menu changes every week and as an advocate of locally sourced ingredients, his dishes clearly reflect the best seasonal products in this part of the world. His passion is contagious, perhaps a personification of the inspiring beauty of Vence.

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Saint Paul de Vence 1Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Bus 400 (Vence)
Travel Cost: €1.50

Saint-Paul-de-Vence is an exceptional village in Provence with its strategic location seemingly built to create inspiration among artists and poets. Walk among its cobbled streets and you will understand how the place became a hub for artists, poets and writers. Maybe it’s the way the sun strikes the village or probably the breathtaking views all too abundant to the place, but Saint-Paul-de-Vence cradled artists into greatness like no other place on Earth. Artistic presence is so strong that you can feel it being celebrated in the open – air galleries, museums and even to the quaint shops around the village.

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The undeniable charm of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.

BSR1Briel Sur Roya
Travel time: 60 minutes
Getting there: Board a train from Nice Pont Michel to Breil – sur – Roya
Travel Cost: €7- €8

This town will entice nature lovers with the heavily forested Roya Valley and sparkling lake formed by a hydro – electric dam. It is a quick getaway for being one with nature and maybe a picnic while enjoying the lakeside view. The narrow streets and restored ancient houses add to the town’s charm and there is a church from the 17th century still standing up to this day.

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grasse 4Grasse
Travel time: 60 – 90 minutes
Getting there: Take Bus 500 from Nice Albert 1er going to Grasse – Gare Routière. Alternatively, you can take a train from Nice Ville to Grasse.
Travel Cost: €1.50 for the bus, €8 – €12 via train

When one talks about going to Grasse, France, topics about perfumes and perfumeries inevitably ensue. The world’s perfume capital lives up to its name with perfumeries like Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard offering free guided tours for a closer look on how perfume is made from raw materials. It’s a fantastic chance to put your olfactory skills to the test and maybe hoard perfume straight from the manufacturers.

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Viajera Travel Tip: Fill out the visitor’s form in Fragonard and receive their brochure via post for free. Not only will you get fantastic gift ideas at factory price, they also send out free samples!

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My Fragonard freebies! Merci Fragonard!

Continue reading Five Stunning Towns to See On Your Day Trips from Nice

Photographs from Portugal: Picture Perfect Travel Tales

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It reminded me of home. If I had to confine how I felt about Portugal in five words, maybe that would be it. The cab we rode into had seen better days, and as it drove into the rough highway while attempting to illegally overtake another car I can’t help but half smile. To my right a familiar landscape of dilapidated buildings intertwined with what I presume were electric cables rose from the ground. From this side of town, Lisbon seemed more like the Philippines than a place somewhere in Europe. But five minutes into the journey and the similarities dissipated, and I began to see the unique beauty of the place.

Determined to explore the sights and wonders of Portugal, we set afoot on Lisbon on that not so warm November day. Getting around the city was not difficult and we walked around most of the time to maximize the chance of seeing everything, but we also took the bus and train fairly often to save time. It’s still hard for me to explain but somehow, Lisbon proved to be one of the most photographic places I have visited. Something about how it survived through the years made it standout from the other cities I’ve been. It was not even about how the city looked, it was the vibe it exuded. Portugal showed me that not all beautiful things are shiny and new and that to an extent, there is beauty in ruin.

I hope this post allows you to take a glance of Portugal through our photographs, from the food we ate to the many things we saw and discovered in no particular order. May it be a visual experience, a window from which we can share our happiness from this trip. Fragments of time frozen in a frame, a welcome reminder of how at times, this city had me at a loss for words.

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Fountain at Rossio Square. Photo by Kenneth Cerbo.
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A lovely close up. Photo by Kenneth Cerbo
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Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a memorial for the maritime explorers. All those lessons from my high school history class came rushing back to me  and the realization that I was standing in a place where all those travel expeditions came from was surreal.

 

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Portugal’s trams. Old and creaking, I was almost always sure it would fall apart mid – journey. It took extra skills to remain upright once inside but a good rule of thumb would be to hang on for dear life. But seriously, Lisbon would be incomplete without these ancient machines.
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Belem Tower
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A city embellished with tiles. Portugal made me look at tiles from a new perspective. Be sure to drop by the Tile Museum!
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When in Lisbon, don’t forget to look down at the patterned cobbled streets.
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Find yourself a miradouros and marvel at Lisboa.
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City lights

 

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They say real delicious food comes from humble places and not from those fancy overpriced Michelin restaurants serving bite sized meals. In a sense, that is true as the best food I’ve had so far were straightforward and simple, and in this case, served on a plain tin plate. We ordered two more of this Chili Garlic Shrimp from Ramiro’s-it was just that good. The shrimps were succulent and tasty and the garlic chili oil just got me hooked. Definitely worth the queue.
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No shortage of delicious food in Portugal. This crab roe made my heart skip a beat.
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To this day, I cannot believe that the best sandwich I’ve had came from Lisbon. They called it tostas, and at the time I though I was ordering two slices of bread warmed in a toaster. But this is no ordinary toast because it puts all other toasts and sandwiches to shame. My personal favorite was the Chicken Tostas topped with Chopped almonds. There’s your perfect excuse to go brunching in Portugal.
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Cabo Da Roca in Sintra had a shocking view of the Atlantic Ocean. The waves were crashing against the cliffs in almost a protest, with foams of white forming along the rocky shoreline. The enormous cliffs together with the vast ocean made me feel like I was along the final frontier of something. You stand there and you just feel small surrounded by all this beauty.
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Almost freezing to death was not in my itinerary while in Portugal but that was what happened anyway. The fairy tale palace was yellow on one side, pink on the other and dreamily located on top of a mountain. I don’t know if places like these required damsels in distress but I was in some sort of distress in my thin summery jumpsuit while cold mountain winds blasted me left and right in such high velocity. So for the record, DO NOT wear your lovely summer outfits to Portugal on the month of November even if the BBC weather app says it’s going to be 22 degrees. Especially if you’re looking at going around Sintra’s beautiful castles and palaces.

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The Cliffs and Lighthouse of Cabo Da Roca in Sintra, Portugal.
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Much of the travel experience would be about the person you are with. And Portugal was such a lovely experience with my friends around. Between, eating, laughing, getting lost and jaywalking in another country, you realize how blessed you are to have them to share this moment with. These people are not just friends – they are family you chose for yourself and in the end they chose you. Kristine is my flatmate and she has to be one of the kindest persons on Earth. At some point we just clicked, and we didn’t need to explain things to each other, we were just there for one another. Sometimes I like to think she adopted me as a sister – an older sister. Haha.
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If there was a person who taught me how annoying it can be to have a brother, it would be Kenneth. But he is adorable, and he always makes me laugh so in the end we always let him get away with all the teasing and name calling. He’s one of the few adopted family I have and I am proud of how we have each other’s backs while living overseas and all. Travels with him are always fun, and Portugal was so much more memorable because I had him around. If I had to name people who accepted me as I am, mood swings and all, Kenneth and Kristine would be among them for sure. Picture taken in Lourdes, Portugal.

I was born with a way with words. I knew from the beginning that I felt a certain ease in weaving words together and maybe creating something beautiful. Needless to say, I am not one to run out of adjectives. But I guess there are times when pictures tell a better story. And for those moments we were rendered speechless, for those times our words were simply not enough – we are lucky we have pictures to say it all for us. Looking at all these, nostalgia simply overtook me and I learned that there’s something else travel gives a person aside from gaining perspective. It gives you something to look back to – a pleasant memory to make you smile, a period in time you can always recall and happily “travel” back to.

Exposing Cardiff’s Well Kept Secret, A Foodie Paradise in the Making

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Foodie. Food Porn.#yum. Sounds familiar? Of course, no smartphone owning human being can deny the guilty pleasure of posting that delicious medium rare rib-eye for dinner, that perfect cuppa at the new coffee shop near the office or that time they dined at that Michelin starred restaurant. The screen generation is always on the clamor for that perfect food porn picture worthy of Instagram glory. Foodies have emerged everywhere and this has changed the scene for the food industry immensely. Today, one click is all it takes.

Today’s trend of obsession with food did not come as a surprise to me as I came from a country that celebrated life events with massive amounts of food. Birthdays, graduations, Christmas and New Year – all these days would be incomplete without the Filipino handa. We may have not taken a picture of every dish back then but the essence is the same. Good food not only provides sustenance – it simply makes us happy. And I guess food induced happiness was indeed what I found during a recent visit to Cardiff – my accidentally discovered haven for foodies.

I was only planning a simple and relaxed couple of days away from city stress but I think I ended up biting more than I could chew – literally. Cardiff is budding with restaurants and unique dining experiences from the usual food business giants to those humble local start-ups. The irresistible culinary scene around this city has brought the foodie out of me and I have to say – I enjoyed every bite! The flourishing food scene in the heart of Wales is inspiring and could easily become an exciting foodie destination in the future.

The Potted Pig

27 High Street, Cardiff CF10 1PU

Care to dine in a restaurant nestled in a former bank vault beneath the city? Head over to The Potted Pig, owned by two self – made chefs and is a recent contender in the list of UK’s top 100 restaurants . Some say this place has helped massively in marking Cardiff as a culinary destination. The ambiance was unique and the interiors simple in a way yet surprisingly not claustrophobic despite the location. Fair warning: Brace yourself for cute figurine piglets scattered around!

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The menu changes daily as the team prides themselves with serving dishes from the best available local produce. They also have a wine selection and a bar for those who need more than a good meal. What makes it a great starting point to get to know Cardiff is  locals actually eat here – a promising sign of trust in the quality of the food they whip up in every plate.

There was an interesting selection of starters but we decided on Deviled Whitebait & Aioli, a dish comprised of fresh whitebait in a spiced coating then deep fried to a crunchy finish. The fish was light and crisp without too much oil and the aioli had a creamy citrus hint that I liked very much.

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Deviled Whitebait and Aioli

Next came my order of perfectly cooked Duck Leg Confit lying on a bed of well seasoned greens. We could not miss out on ordering the Pork Belly, which was not impressive in presentation but was surprisingly delicious and tender. It came with a side of cabbage in a delicate sauce and a pillow of vegetable mash. In the end I had to fight for that tasty pig’s head croquette!

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Duck Leg Confit
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Pork Belly

My only regret was they did not have the Crispy Pig Ears and Braised Ox Cheek when we arrived but they assured us it would be available next time. I am definitely coming back for that! For more information about The Potted Pig, click right here.

Science Cream

28 Castle Arcade, Cardiff, South Wales
CF10 1BW

The Castle Arcade is home to an array of homey coffee shops and restaurants but for the ultimate ice cream experience be amazed and indulge at Science Cream. What makes this place standout from the rest of Earth’s ice cream parlors? Every order of ice cream goodness is made in front of you using liquid nitrogen, ensuring freshness every time. It’s a sensory experience as you can see the electronic mixers billowing with white clouds while your dessert is churned into freezing point . The ambiance is enhanced by the use of beakers and cylinders as containers for sprinkles and other toppings. The lady preparing the treats was also sporting a lab coat and proper lab goggles. Talk about dedication! Buzzfeed declared this as the ice cream you have to try before you die – need I say more?

 

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The “lab” where it all happens.
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Moments into the churning magic.

I had the Ultimate Banana Split and a Malted Chocolate with toasted marshmallow topping. It was a decadent treat! The banana was caramelised to a warm piece of heaven on Earth and a perfect pairing to the silky ice cream. I couldn’t get enough of the toasted marshmallow and my Malted Chocolate ice cream was rich and lush. A dessert born from magic! It was just the right kind of sweet and even in the still nippy Spring breeze, it was a welcome comfort food.

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Mu Ultimate Banana Split
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Oh the messy goodness!

Madame Fromage

21 Castle Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1BW

Conveniently located in The Castle Arcade as well, Madame Fromage is a shop hard to miss. The aroma of melting cheese seems to lure you into this quaint and lovely place. I adored that the place was not in a hurry – it was the perfect spot for a slow hearty lunch in the midst of Cardiff. The menu had a LONG disclaimer at the bottom quickly warning people in a hurry that they were in the wrong place and even suggested a fast food place instead where they serve reheated microwave food. In that moment I fell in love with Madame Fromage. Haha.

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Aside from being a cheese specialist , Madame Fromage serves some good Welsh food. I had a taste of my first rarebit here – a Welsh delicacy, and I recommend you do the same. I love everything with a little spice so I ordered the Dragon Rarebit which was an open sandwich poured with a savoury cheese sauce, topped with spicy pepperoni and chunks of fiery chorizo. The side salad was fresh and complemented the dish so well in taste and texture alike. The dish, together with the vibe and pace of the place, made it so worth the visit.

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Dragon Rarebit
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Delicioso!

Be sure to make room for dessert because they serve a rocking chocolate milkshake too. Coffee lovers with a sense of adventure can order the Candy Cane Coffee – a green (yes, green!) caffeine concoction with hints of peppermint but still with that round coffee flavour. Happy days indeed! Click here for directions to your own cheesy afternoon moment at Madame Fromage.

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Happiness in a mug.

Cardiff Bakerstones

Cardiff Central Market, St. Mary Street, Cardiff
CF10 1AU

Satisfy your sweet cravings with homemade Welsh Cakes baked on site by Cardiff Bakerstones conveniently located in Cardiff Market. These small tasty sweets are perfect as snacks on the go or paired with your afternoon cuppa tea. I like that they’re not overwhelmingly sweet with a texture that’s half cookie and half cake. All cakes are baked on the shop with a clear window showing how the cakes make it from batter to boxes. They have an assortment of flavors such as classic, lemon curd, jam and cream and many more. There is even an innovative Diabetic and Vegan range. At 30p a piece it is an absolute cheap eat in Cardiff you cannot skip.

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All my friends will tell you that I am a diet freak but with Cardiff, I forgot to count calories simply because the gastronomic ride was a big part of the travel experience itself. Every taste, every smell and every bite a portal back in time to this city. And I am sure the next time I bite into a Welsh Cake or fancy myself a Rarebit from around London, I will always remember that time Cardiff gave me a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be in a food coma.

Top Ten Moments a Traveler Must Have in Budapest

Dubbed as the Paris of the East, Budapest is one of Europe’s highly acclaimed cities for its beauty and charm. In truth, no words can amount to the appeal of Budapest. It’s like a gift that came in a wonderful package; a place complete with rich history, stunning views and a regal ambiance all tied up with a romantic atmosphere. My trip to Budapest left me wanting more – a sign of a truly worthwhile escape. And as a traveler, that is all I can ask for – to find a place so captivating that one forgets the longing for home. And so, here are my top ten recommendations should you find yourself in the middle of this wondrous city. Give in to the temptation and play Budapest by George Ezra on full blast and prepare to fall in love with Hungary’s picture perfect capital.

1. Have a moment at the Szechenyi Chain Bridge

7Budapest is parted by the River Danube into Buda and Pest. The capital is connected by bridges, the most famous of which is the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. One of the city’s infamous landmarks, this was the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube and was an engineering wonder during the time of its construction. Call me a hopeless romantic, but it stirred emotions up in me and Budapest is just not the same without it. Tourists flock the area to capture the perfect moment and you might need to wait a while to get your own without a hoard of tourists behind you. But I assure you the waiting is all worth it. Made of cast iron and created with intricate detail, this is an important part of Budapest you should never miss.

2.  Enjoy a night stroll to the Hungarian Parliament

2016-20-11-13-11-17The world’s third largest parliament building is stunning at day, however it truly is a magnificent display of architecture at night. Unfortunately, it was a cold winter evening when we decided to visit and I could not feel my toes and fingers. The freezing cold did not stop me from appreciating the view though. The guards were staring at us with puzzled faces as we shivered our way into selfies and GoPro moments. They must have thought we were losing our minds marveling at the Parliament as patches of icy snow fell upon us but hey – what’s life without a little adventure?! Go for it.

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3. Explore the Danube Promenade

I might be wrong, but I think that the romantic ambiance of Budapest is partly owed to the fact that they have the Danube River right in the middle of their city. As simple as this sounds, merely walking alongside the Danube is a great way to enjoy the place. Shops overlooking the river and other landmarks such as the Elizabeth Bridge are easily found around the promenade.

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Along the banks of the Danube.

4. Afternoon coffee and cake with a view.

2016-20-11-13-25-26During our winter stay, a cup of coffee with cherry liqueur was not only welcome – it was necessary. Take a quick break from your tour and don’t forget to find a cozy coffee place to rewarm your toes.

We found a gem perched along riverbank, a quiet coffee shop with such creatively themed interiors called Marvelosa. Although we were happy to occupy a table on the first level, I suggest cozying up on a table upstairs next to a window. You can never go wrong with a warm cuppa and a picturesque view. Cheers to caffeine with shots of alcohol!

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From top image: Marvelosa’s cake of the day – a sponge cake with rich goat’s cheese. And the usual steamy cappuccino for the cold traveler.

 5. Pay tribute in Shoes on the Danube

2016-20-11-14-16-20Brace yourself for a time travel inducing experience by paying tribute to the fallen at Shoes on the Danube Bank. A stunning and truly unique memorial, the display showcases pairs of shoes left behind by victims of the Holocaust who were stripped naked and shot point blank while facing the river. Their shoes were the only reminder of what they were – a sad and painfully dark era in human history.

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6. Hop on the Castle Hill Funicular

Looking for a place with an awesome overview of Budapest? Look no further and fall in line for a quick ride to the Castle Hill Funicular or Siklo as the locals call it. It saves you the time of trekking to and from the Castle Hill while treating you to an unparalleled overview. Once you reach the top, discover the wonders of Castle Hill and don’t forget to snap some Instagram worthy photos.

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The Castle Hill Funicular

 

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Quick shot while descending from Castle Hill.
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Breathtaking view of Budapest from here!
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Castle Hill

7. Climb the steps to Gellert Hill.

Gellert Hill offers one of the best ways to see the city’s structures. Although we were not able to climb all the way to the summit due to problems with visibility, we were lucky enough to have reached the St. Gellert Monument. The view from this level is already amazing and I can only imagine the view from the all the way up the hill. For zero Hugarian Forints, you can have a bird’s eye view of the city while mapping out your next destination.

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Before climbing the steep steps to Gellert Hill
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View from the hill

8. Go get yourself some Palinka.

Hungary is of no exception to having local spirits and when in Budapest, you have to sample a drink or two of their Palinka. It’s a fruit brandy with a minimum alcohol content 37.5%. When asked for a recommendation, our friendly waiter suggested Palinka with glee. Together with a side comment that we should consider it a “liquid coat” for such a cold winter day. I had a Raspberry Palinka with 48% alcohol and boy – it kept me warm until the next day. Cheers!

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Cheers to travel tales! And 48% alcohol content!!

9. Bath like a local: The Szechenyi

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Budapest is known as a city of baths for a reason and the experience is all null and void without braving one of the largest public baths in the world. So forget your sense of personal space and keep all your germ phobia at bay – this is something you HAVE to do. The experience was one of a kind and it’s more of a social activity than one related to hygiene. It’s like a pub, only there were no drinks and everyone was already half naked. I absolutely loved it!!!! Put your sexy swim wear on, imbibe the ultimate Hungarian adventure and dive into the Szechenyi experience. Definitely the best way to chill out in Budapest.

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10. Climb the Cupola in St. Stephen’s Basilica.

26In every European city I visit, I always make it a point to see the nearest Basilica or Cathedral. St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) is the largest church in Hungary and dedicated to their first king. The place was a massive and stunning place of worship. Having missed the summit of Gellert Hill, we couldn’t pass on climbing the Cupola for yet another outstanding view. And indeed that view from the Cupola is something you have to see for yourself.

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Budapest is a city that reminds you why travel is such an interesting part of life. It’s beauty and culture would never be known to us without the pleasure of travel and exploration. So the next time you think of a holiday, consider booking a flight to this charming, romantic city. Take it from this woman who cannot help but long for her next Palinka long after her return flight has landed in London.

Beyond the Ruins: A Roman Travel Discovery

2016-19-11-18-03-15Rome, Italy – I could hear the clacking of my heels against the cobbled streets as we walked along the via supposedly headed towards the Colosseum. At least I think this is where the Canadian stranger with the white tank top pointed to. We were running out of daylight and as we hurled ourselves down the avenue, all of a sudden there it was to my right – the Colosseum in all its grandeur! It came within sight without a warning and it left me with a gaping mouth and a face embezzled with admiration. It was… Marvelous. On one side, the sun was setting on the horizon and its rays dramatically loomed over the famous landmark. Fantastic.

Rome is one of the most famous cities in the world both of today and ancient times. I have heard of this city without conscious efforts of knowing more about it, I have answered it on my short quizzes as a student and in travel magazines, it is described time and time again as a one of Europe’s greatest destinations. It’s Rome.

A trip to the Eternal City is an oath I made to myself so when the opportunity came to go with a friend, I was quick to go on a booking spree online. Going around Europe from London is easy and relatively cheap especially with travel game changers like EasyJet and Airbnb.

We stayed in a newly renovated studio type flat with reasonable space and agreeable interiors. Paolo, our excellent host, met us immediately and welcomed us alongside a jovial orientation about house rules and access to public transport. After handing each of us a map of the city, he bid us farewell and wished us luck in our Roman adventure.

It was a pleasant afternoon and with the Colosseum being of walking distance from us (the real question was which direction), we could not think of a better place to start. If you are expecting Rome to be a city of glamour, then I assure you this is not the case. Heading towards the city centre, I cannot help but notice the dilapidated walls, dark mysterious alleyways and street filth that no one is bothering to conceal. And I liked it – I am a fan of the unpretentious. As we gazed upon the mighty Colosseum I suddenly understood why people traveled to Rome – it’s not because of what the city has to offer in the present, it’s because of what was left behind.

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Dusk came too soon as the season was not really in our favour with its late sunrise and early sunsets. We were tired but not exhausted and even if we were, Erika and I were not the type to just retreat into our flat just because we were losing sunlight. So even though the map indicated that Fontana de Trevi was on the other side of the city, we chose to get lost and locate it by foot. After passing by trinket shops and consuming moundfuls of gelato, guided by our very wrinkled tourist map, we finally arrived at the infamous Fontana de Trevi. And for every night we spent in Rome, we found ourselves dwelling upon its magic – a coin ready at hand for a quick toss. Wishfully thinking that maybe the Roman Gods may smile upon us and grant us a wish.

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Vatican

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Vatican City

Visiting Rome would be a waste without stepping upon the holy land that is Vatican City. In a gentle and inexplicable way, being in Vatican reminds us of  life forces that are more important and far stronger than oneself.

Having done my research on how to see the Pope as closely as possible without being arrested, we managed to secure such great seats at St. Peter’s Square. I find Pope Francis admirable because of his simple ways and his ability to live by example, and this is my one shot at seeing him up close. My heart sang when his Holiness waved at us from a meter away carried by a white open car. No gold capes or drapes, not even the usual Pope headgear. Just pure humility enough to shame the entire of planet Earth.

After the mass, we toured the Vatican Museums and climbed St. Peter’s Basilica. I have to admit I have never prayed so much in a four day period. But in all honesty, it felt good. It felt right. It was a unique moment of surrender – an unloading of modern life’s burdens that I have never found anywhere else. At the end of the tour we entered a truly marvelous work of art which is the Sistine Chapel. I guarantee you that few things in life will render you speechless like Michelangelo’s obra maestra that is the Sistine’s ceiling.

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Vatican Museum
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Stolen shot from The Sistine

Daytrips

Italy is a country with a long list of  good cities to travel to. And from Rome, you can choose from a number of daytrips to neighbouring scenic cities like Naples, Pompeii, Florence and Pisa. Map at hand and a train schedule we heavily depended on, we boarded for Florence and Pisa and we were not disappointed with our choices. Here’s a tip or three to make this work: Book your tickets in advance and get the fast trains, secondly, grab the earliest trains for a head start and finally book an open return or late ticket back to Rome to make room for delays.

Florence

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Firenze

To say that Florence was a beautiful city is indeed insufficient. It’s picturesque, it’s artistic and home to painfully talented artists on a mission to create something sophisticated out of blank canvasses and sticks. It’s so beautiful you can almost feel emotions bleeding out of the vias and the pontes.

Famous points of interests include Florence Cathedral, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo and Fountain of Neptune among others. Firenze is also home to the original statue of David by Michelangelo – a creation that I can only describe as tangible perfection.

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Statue of David

Pisa

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

My friends who have been to Pisa gave me a fair warning that there was not much to see aside from the iconic leaning tower. Honestly, it was not as big as I had in mind and there were more tourists in Pisa than Florence during our trip. It was fun because everyone was doing their best to capture the perfect picture. Backs were being broken and friendships were being questioned. Small as the place may be, Pisa had the perfect vibe for lazy afternoons over coffee and tiramisu. Irresistibly so, we gave in to alfresco dining and capped the evening with cocktails.

An unexpected (mis)adventure!

On our last night in Rome, we took the train back to our flat very much looking forward to a quiet night. Maybe it was the fact that I just came from the Vatican and I chose to believe in the good of other people, or maybe I was tired from all that walking and I just had no guards left to raise, but that night on the metro, two gypsies managed to lift my passport out of my bag.

I realised they took my pouch the moment they did because they artistically squeezed into the Metro with us then simultaneously disembarked just in time for the doors to close. I am from the Philippines – land of pickpockets. I just knew.

With a panic stricken face I stared at Erika with horror – I will be stranded here for a long time unless I solve this crisis.

I will never forget the station’s name – they got off at Barberini. Acting upon instinct I cried and got off the next station on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I did not even realise I was walking out of the station until Erika screamed at me and asked where I was going.

I sat down and breathed – and I remember thinking to myself how much it wasn’t helping. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t for the life of me collect myself no matter how hard I tried. And then a male member of staff passed by and I raised my head as if on cue. I asked for help and they called Barberini Station and gave a description of my pouch.

“Rosa?” He said.

“Uh pink yes!!” I said with all the hope in my heart.

They found it. The gypsies ditched it by the lift because it was basically worthless to them. All my cards were safe and my passport was returned after half an hour of emotional turmoil. Somewhere along the subways of Rome on the night of November 18th 2015 I was hugging a Roman soldier dressed in fatigues because he found my passport after two gypsies stole it from me – his long armalite rifle swaying back and forth as it hung over his shoulder. Needless to say – how’s that for a miracle story?

From the Colossuem to the romantic Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon up to the ruins that were once forums where the wise discussed relevant matters – Rome is truly an unforgettable city. There is a reason why the world still marvels upon those ancient ruins long after they were reduced to pieces. The words we have today are in debt to their Roman origins, deep inside we swoon over their capability to dream big and to challenge what’s possible and we wish we could parallel that. We look back and admire Ancient Rome because we subconsciously feel like idiots compared to them. And so I left Rome with this at heart: aim high and aim for the divine, for in this lifetime you do not need to prove greatness multitude of times – the Romans have assured us that it only needs to be done once if you do it right. And for as long as we are encased in these wasting physical bodies intolerant to time – ambition is our only shot into immortality.

If you do find yourself planning a trip to Rome, do yourself a favour and take my advice. Walk instead of getting on those hop-on hop-off buses. Get lost in the city and imbibe the culture as long as you can. Binge on gelato and feast on authentic pasta dishes. Have a long conversation with an Italian and see how passion is in every fiber of their being from their accent to their gestures. Fear not about being lost – it’s proverbially still the best way to find yourself. And also, keep your bags near – unless you want to have a good cry in the middle of the Roman metro like I did.

 

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