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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

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.