Europe

Olympia: Where it all Began

I’m sure by now you have noticed that I’m a huge fan of sport. I like the competitiveness, the discipline and the energy of a live sport.  I enjoy looking around and watching fans scream, cheer and come together for the greaterOlympia good of their team. I was very lucky to visit the place where amateur sport began, and I could only imagine what it was like in those times.

Olympia was the first place to ever host the Olympic games. At the time, Olympic sports were very different. The athletes didn’t represent a country, instead they were meant to only entertain the world. Athletes (only men) would participate in neandrothol-like competition, at times to the death.  As time passed, we obviously witnessed the evolution of the Olympics, but to stand in the very spot where the first torch was lit, where historical greats stood to observe the games is really quite moving.

So what is there to do in one of the oldest cities? Surprisingly, a lot more than just visit the historical grounds. The reality is Katakolan (Olympia) is a port town, so it can’t be compared to larger Greek towns. Stay for 24 hours and then get out.  Here are some tips on what to see and how to get there.

Geotravel: Do not, I repeat do not pay for any type of tour. When you get to the Katakolan’s main town square, locate the Geotravel office. From there, you can pay 7 euros each for a small private drive to all the places on this island. The tour includes Olympia.

KatakolanCarriage Ride: Take a romantic carriage ride through the Olympia grounds.  The area is lined with pedestrian friendly paths and wonderful scenery. A horse-driven carriage will only amplify the experience.

Agios Andreas: A beautiful but tiny beach tucked away on the side of the main town. It’s packed, especially if there is a cruise stop that day. If you  plan on skipping out on Olympia and making it a beach day, get there early or truthfully, you won’t find a place to sunbathe.

Restaurants: You will run into a number of outdoor restaurants as you walk through the main street. Now, which restaurant to pick is up to you. I do recommend looking at the menu and ensure that wherever you choose to eat serves their specialty fried cheese dish. Unbelievable.Argos Atheos Beach

Arte Cafe: Once you are ready to wrap up your day, make sure to stop off at the Arte Cafe and enjoy Greek espresso. The difference between espresso in Greece and anywhere else? It’s served with a touch of cream. Very strange, yet very good. And the view…tranquil.

Olympia: I know a lot of people who visit Katakolan debate on whether or not they should skip out on Olympia. I personally recommend the visit. You don’t have to appreciate sport or be a history buff to be floored by what used to exist there.  It really is worth the visit.

IMG_9628So there you have it. If you happen to stop off in Katakolan or want to see the birthplace of the Olympics, I really do think it’s worth the visit.  Don’t spend to much time on the island, all you need here is 24 hours.

Until next time….

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Istanbul: Two Sides of the Coin

Turkey is a country that straddles two continents and one of the only countries that truly embraces the influences of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It holds the remnants and class of European Emperors, the mystique of Sultans and the history of a place once ruled by all fractions. The sights and smells of Istanbul are ones that can only be truly appreciated when experienced for yourself. However, an insight into this beautiful country will leave you either sitting at the edge of your seat in suspense or rolling over in laughter at the sheer madness that happens in the country that diffuses elements of two distinct worlds.

 Istanbul. A word that whenever said brings a smile to my face. A city that stands out on its own like no other. And, the home to many foreign sounds and smells, food and shopping malls that would make any avid shopper drool at the sight, size and organization of these gigantic fashion houses. A city with 13.5 million people could be nothing short of an unexpected escapade waiting to happen. In every nook and cranny of this city are people who are willing to greet you with a smile and sell you something.

The first time we visited Istanbul, we stayed in the central district of Beyoglu and off the main street of Istiklal Caddessi (Independence Avenue). Istiklal Caddessi can only be compared to a Canadian Yonge Street or a New York Broadway Avenue. A busy street full of shopping, North American restaurants blended in with kebab shops, baklava bakeries and tea shops lined with waiters calling you in for a glass or two. At the top or start of Beyoglu is Taksim Square which houses the largest statue of Ataturk; the father of the modern Turkish state. The square is lined with merchants selling flowers of every colour and style. Roses of yellow, pink, and red line the square and the smells are only accompanied by the smell of street merchants selling simit, a bread that looks like a mix of a bagel and a pretzel. The square is in constant movement and the hustle and bustle can only be compared to the busy movement of people in the historic area of Sultanahmet. I have never been one for travel books; except to see the list of must visit bars. The rest of my travel has always been on foot and by exploration. Some may be disgusted with the thought of avoiding all the “Must See” tourist sites, other would flourish with the thought of going off the beaten track and finding out what the real Istanbul has to offer. Sultanahmet is the home to Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque and a maze of markets which are all beautiful and well worth a see. I however have only seen the outside of these majestic mosques since Hagia Sophia charges an exorbitant amount to enter. When I find myself in these predicaments, I can do only one feasible thing: stand in front, take a picture and read about it when I get home. To me this isn’t the real city; this isn’t where the heart and soul of the city beat so this isn’t where you will find me.

Of all the busy areas a traveller can find in Istanbul, Nisantasi and Ortakoy are worth a visit. Often not noted in the travel books, Nistantasi is the home to trendy European cafes, beautiful people that could grace the covers of Vogue Magazine and the home to the beautiful mall of City Nistantasi. Sipping fancy cocktails in one of the posh bars, watching supermodels flock on the arms of famous people I know nothing about and dancing the night away at Reina is what champagne dreams are made of. Ortakoy on the other hand, is home to café lined streets, undisturbed views of the Bosphorus and the home of Topane, a group of Nargile cafes where one can smoke as much shisa (flavoured water pipe) as your hearts content. The mix of these areas infused with the smells and noise of Sultanahmet give each of Istanbul’s districts their own distinct feel.

The posh areas of Istanbul are just one side of the coin. Recognizing the duality in everything that happens in the city is vital in understand the fuel that makes the city run. In Turkey, a common practice for many is to visit a bath house called a hammam. After exhausting ourselves from trekking around the city by foot for many days, a friend and I decided to relax by getting a massage. I was expecting the typical Western spa experience, an experience I got, but it was nothing I could have ever expected and it was nothing like the spa experiences back home in Toronto. We were instructed by the bath attendants to disrobe and made our way into the main hall that housed a massive room decorated in white and blue marble. The steam room was decorated in the most intricate floral and geometric patterns that echoed the vision of artists long gone. The complexity of the patterns transported me to the 16th century and I envisioned what being in Constantinople had been like and what the life of a concubine consisted of. Visiting a hammam is a common experience for Turks who go and wash away the day and relax in what becomes an important social experience. For me however, this was cultural learning at its finest. It was also at this point that I wished that I had packed not just a bathing suit but a wet suit. What went from uncomfortable went to sheer shock as a bucket full of cold water splashed against me. I soon figured that the cold water was to shock the system which was followed by warm water and a thoroughly cleaning and the deepest tissue massage I have ever had in my 30 years. One hour and three luffas later, I had finally figured out that with travel, you need to let go. In certain situations you don’t fight the cultural differences; you just go with it and enjoy the ride!

Istanbul is the type of city you go into knowing that you will get out of the city whatever you put into it. You will experience foods, smells and sounds unlike anything you would find in the Western world. You will also find exactly that- the West. It is exactly this that makes you want to visit over and over again. The fact that it is one of the only cities that mixes the two: old and new, east and west so well and allows the two to live harmoniously together without one outshining or competing with the other is what makes this city a must see and experience.

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Florence: The Real Deal

Florence is the city that gave me clarity in my life and for that I’m eternally grateful. It’s the city that showed me what life is truly about and is the city that kick-started my passion for travel. Before visiting Florence, I was concerned about the irrelevance that surrounded me; stresses from work and working hard but for the wrong reasons. It became very clear, very fast that life….true life…..is about appreciating family, good friends, fantastic food & wine, and amazing conversation.  Florence taught me a life lesson in less than 24 hours. Pretty incredible, right?

When I describe the “energy” of cities in my other posts, I don’t think I get the message across. It’s almost like an X Factor. Something that makes it so unbelievable and incredible that you would live there or return at the drop of a dime. Florence is that to me. There’s a special place in my heart that I have for this magical city and aside from the important life lesson it taught me, there is also so much to do.

So here’s where to start:

Piazza della Signoria – The most famous square in Florence and very busy one at that. Should you want to visit this historic area, I recommend visiting it  first thing in the morning.

Il Duomo & Campanile – You really can’t miss this. This extraordinary cathedral spans across the middle of Florence. Climb the bell tower for unbelievable panoramic city views.

Ponte Vecchio – You can buy gold jewelery or stop for gelato. It doesn’t matter, you just need to go! This bridge is awesome as you walk towards it and even better when you’re on it.

Baboli Garden – Once you cross Ponte Vecchio, you will be lead to this hillside park. It’s such a peaceful area in the middle of such a busy city.

Piazza Santa Croce – This square is worth the visit.  It’s in front of the cathedral and pretty happening in the evening.

Shopping – You haven’t experienced true retail therapy until you visit Florence.

Statue of David  – Outside of the Palazzo Vecchio sits this grand marble statue.  But don’t be fooled! The real statue of David is inside the Galleria dell’Accademia.

San Lorenzo Market – An experience in itself! If you’re looking for some good deals head towards this market. There are tons of street vendors and so much to buy!

Like I said before, Florence is more than a city…it’s an experience. The people, the food, the vibe is just something that can not be captured in words.  My hope for everyone is that at some point in your life you visit this unbelievable city. I hope it changes your life the way it has mine.

Safe travels…..

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London: Hit or Miss?

I guess it really depends on who you ask and what their preference is. Personally, I found London to be the most disappointing European city I have visited to date. I went to visit friends who were living there, so I feel confident that I had the “full British experience” during my stay. I did some typical London tourist activities, but also lived like a local in a suburb and shopped at grocery stores and hung at the local pubs. In my opinion, I feel like I did enough to warrant me saying I would never go back to London again.

So what’s disappointing about London? I hardly want to focus on the negative, but it’s just too easy. I think the overall feeling of London is very plain and simple. The energy lacks. When I compare London to other large European cities like Madrid, Milan or Paris; London falls very short in a lot of categories. There is a lot to do, but once you do them…you kind of don’t care to ever do it again. So let’s start:

The London Eye: It’s the slowest moving “ferris wheel” I’ve ever been on. You get  awesome views of London, but by the time you get to the top….you just want to get to the bottom. The London views are nice…..but not that nice.

Tower Bridge: “London Bridge is falling down….” Yep, that’s the bridge we sing about! Is it as breathtaking as the Golden Gate? Negative.

Big Ben: Right out of the subway, you will see Big Ben. It’s just about as exciting as I’m describing it!

Tate Modern: I’m not one for art so maybe I’m being a little harsh here. But I hardly think the combination of bobby pins, ripped cloth and spray paint or birds made from metal clothes hangers should be deemed as “artistic” or even interesting for that matter. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Westminster Abbey:  If you didn’t hear about it before, I’m sure you know about it now. This is the church where Prince William and Kate married. It certainly is beautiful, but again, I felt like this Cathedral was missing a certain element about it. It’s a lot colder and unwelcoming compared to other cathedrals I have visited.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Although similar to St. Peter’s in Rome, it’s quite unimpressive. This church is just smack in the middle of the city and tons of people eat lunch on the steps giving it a really bad curb appeal. I judge based on first impressions…..clearly!

Buckingham Palace: So everyone told me I must go. The palace itself is impressive. It’s huge and the grounds are well kept. However, the changing of the guard I didn’t quite get. I waited an hour to watch one guard replace the another guard’s shift. I would call this uneventful, not interesting.

Trafalgar Square: This is the heart of London in my opinion. Ok, it’s nice! There are tons of people and some cool places to grab a drink. Does it compare to Puerta del Sol or the Piazza della Signoria? Sure doesn’t.

Picadilly Circus: London’s response to New York’s Time Square. Again, it’s cool. But I would hardly say it was a highlight.

Leicester Square: A statue, a theatre, some benches. That’s about it.

Hyde Park: Now Hyde Park was a treat. It’s a very large park in the city. Super clean, but eerily quiet. Nonetheless, I would recommend the walk through. Wear some comfy shoes because it’s a pretty big park. If you want to take a break, sit on the lawn chairs that are spread throughout the park.

Regent’s Park: I will actually say that Regent’s Park is cool. It’s very peaceful and along the lake. It’s certainly clean which is a huge plus. Again, compare it to El Retiro in Madrid….it doesn’t hold a candle.

Primrose Hill: Home to celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, this area is just steps from Regent’s Park. The homes are nice, the area nice. Is it worth the walk through? Again, depends on who you ask.

Abbey Road: I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles….however, this was actually a highlight. Abbey Road had a great energy. Tons of die-hard fans cross this famous street and take photos in hopes of replicating the album cover. My hubby is a huge fan and I actually signed his name on the studio wall where the recorded. It was a great experience and I’m glad I went.

Harrods: Harrod’s is the Mecca of shopping, I cannot dispute that. Every floor has something to offer; clothing, furniture, groceries, Christmas ornaments. It’s spectacular….if you’re willing to dish out some cash.

Hamley’s Toy Store: It’s definitely not FAO Schwarz, but worth stopping in. If you have children, add this to your to do list.

Primark: If you get here early enough, you can find some pretty amazing deals on accessories, shoes, clothing and housewares. I recommend it if you like to sift through stuff to get the best deal.

Oxford Street & Carnaby: Home of great stores like Top Shop, Mango, Zara and tons of vintage stores. It’s worth the visit if you want to make some additions to the wardrobe.  Note that British fashion though is very trendy. If you’re looking for statement pieces that will survive a few seasons….good luck it’s tricky to find!

Canary Wharf: The professional area of London. Kind of cool with some hip bars where people go after work to unwind. It’s good for a Wednesday night and worth the visit.   

The Tube: I will give credit where credit is deserved. London’s subway system is simply incredible and very reliable. The only thing that sucks…..they stop at 11PM. Not good if you want to pub crawl! Oh ya, taxis are super expensive and not a good option.

Cleanliness: Call me a snob….I don’t care. Brits standard of cleanliness are completely different from mine. When things get old, they should be replaced! Maybe that’s a North American way of thinking, but personally restaurants and pubs should not have rusty toilets and antique faucet dials. Again, just my opinion but I know there are people out there who agree.

There is a lot to do in London, there is certainly no shortage.  If this is your first trip to Europe and you choose London I think you would enjoy it. However, if you have visited a few other places before, I think you may be on the same page as me. It’s very unimpressive and lacks the European feel of most countries. Is it lack luster? For sure. Is it worth the visit? Maybe.

Until next time!

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Madrid: My Dream

Spain was my dream. It was the one place on the map that I really wanted to see. I tried for years to get there, but other reasons would come up as to why I couldn’t. A few years ago I gave myself an ultimatum; I was going to be Spain or not going anywhere at all – and so the planning started.

I spent a few wonderful days in Madrid and it was magical. The vibe in Madrid is different from anywhere else I’ve been. It’s busy, but laid back. It’s modern, yet historical. Madrid is a city that made me feel like home from the moment I landed. Like any large city, there are a million things to do in Madrid – some more obvious than others. If you ever get a chance to spend some time in this awesome city, make sure to add these to your itinerary:

Hotel Atlantico – You can’t ask for a better hotel, for an affordable price, in an amazing location. Everything is within walking distance, the rooms are spacious and the rooftop patio allows you to take in views of the cityscape. I recommend enjoying the rooftop in the evening while enjoying a glass of wine and the complimentary chips. And just next door serves the best cappuccino in town!

Hop-on-Hop-off Bus – I’m a fan of these buses. It’s a great way to discover a city for twenty euros. The stops on Madrid’s bus include; Royal Palace, Paseo del Prado, Puerta de Alcalá. You can jump on and off at your leisure and buses come by every 15-20 minutes. It’s great!

Gran Via – Shop, shop, shop! Eat…..shop, shop, shop!

El Prado – Madrid’s top art museum.  It really is something to appreciate both from the outside and on the inside.

Parque del Retiro – This park amplifies the seriousness of “siesta” in the Spanish culture. In the middle of the day, you will see people walking through the park, gathered together on blankets just unwinding from their morning stresses, or underneath a tree and quietly reading a book. No wonder its coined as the “Lazy Park”.

Royal Palace – You can’t help but to gawk at Madrid’s most beautiful building. It’s the largest palace in Western Europe, so take it in. It’s huge.

Puerta del Sol – Just steps away from the Hotel Atlantico, Puerta del Sol is the central square in Madrid. Here you can find lots of shops, cafés, bistros and street vendors. What’s better than Puerta del Sol during the day? Puerta del Sol at night of course!

Cathedral – Religious or not, Madrid’s Cathedral is a structure of beauty. It is the largest and most important church in the city and definitely worth the visit.

Tapas – The reason why I think the Spanish people are so thin! Rather than eating a lot of something, they eat a little bit of everything! The majority of restaurants throughout Spain serve tapas lunch and dinner. I embraced it, you should too!

Paella – Another food item to add to your must try list while in Madrid or while travelling throughout Spain. However, what I can say is the best paella I had was in Madrid! My suggestion, find a restaurant that has an aquarium with their catch of the day and order their seafood paella.

Churros con chocolate – There is obviously a food theme here, as you can tell! But that’s part of Madrid’s charm. Try their fried sugared dough and warm melted chocolate…simply delicious!

Would I go back to Madrid? Without a doubt. It’s a great atmosphere, with amazing food, great shopping, and freakishly beautiful people. What’s not to love?

Until next time…..

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Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

What can I say? I have been watching Game of Thrones this season and I’ve been inspired!  The backdrop for filming this great series is the historical city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. I can’t help but to get excited when they show scenes of the “kingdoms”. Much like what’s depicted in the series, Dubrovnik isn’t in need of special effects – it just really is that stunning! It’s a beautiful coastal town full of medieval castles, history, restaurants and beaches. There’s a reason why Dubrovnik has been dubbed as the Pearl of the Adriatic.

To get to Dubrovnik can prove to be quite difficult. If you are cruising this will likely be a stop. However, if you decide to discover Croatia on your own I found transportation can be rather complicated and time consuming to get from point A to B as their train stations aren’t quite as reliable as other European countries and buses are long overnight hauls. I would recommend flying into Dubrovnik from either Zagreb or Split. Both flights are fairly short and the price to fly within Croatia is fairly inexpensive. Don’t let the prices fool you…all prices are set in Croatian currency (kune) not the euro.

So now, what’s there to see in Dubrovnik? Tons! I’m not a history buff, if you read my blog you would know that. But you can’t help but to see history around you and Croatians are extremely passionate about their roots.  I couldn’t help but to want to learn and see more! So, here’s where to start:

Ancient Walls and Old Town – This really should be top priority. It would be a sin to go to Dubrovnik and not spend time here. Every local bus leads to the Old Town and the drive is beautiful. Once you enter the Old Town you will be surrounded by nothing but watch towers, ruins, the ancient walls and the sea. It truly is unbelievable that the Old Town has been so well maintained. By day, climb to the highest points of Old Town and take in the amazing coastal view. At night, restaurants and cafes are open in every nook and cranny, entertainment and music is all around and the energy is just incredible.

Port – Still along the Old Town, this port is certainly not like the port in Monaco. Like the entire Croatian culture, they live a simple and non-excessive life. That is reflected when you stroll through the port. Here you will see a line of fisherman boats, rowboats and canoes. *Note: this is an incredible photo opp during a sunset!

Internet Café – I thought I’ve seen it all, but clearly I was wrong. As I was walking back to my hotel I came across an internet café. But not just any café, it was in the middle of a forest! Don’t ask me where the electrical connections were made, but it’s pretty awesome to be in a forest using technology of any sort.

Beach – You may hear conflicting recommendations here. When we arrived, our hotel staff and some other tourists we met recommended Banje Beach. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it that impressive. When we spoke to the locals they recommended Lapad Beach which was a lot more secluded and private. Regardless, the water is immaculate, but make sure to bring water shoes. Croatia’s beaches are made up of small pebble and rocks, don’t expect white sand!

Restaurants – Seafood! If you’re allergic, too bad. Bring your epipen! It’s a tragedy to order anything but seafood.

If you still aren’t entirely sold on Dubrovnik, it’s too bad. Croatia in general is a beautiful country with so much to offer. It’s slowly creeping up as a top tourist attraction, so try to go before it gets very expensive

Safe Travels!

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Marseille: A Welcome Surprise

Remember how I talked about cruising and how there are some stops that you aren’t particularly excited to see….and then you get there and you’re so happy you went?  Well Marseille is that perfect example. I will be honest, I could have cared less about Marseille. I didn’t know much about it and I wasn’t really interested in learning. That is, until I arrived.

Marseille is a surprisingly enthusiastic city and the oldest city in France.  It isn’t small in comparison to other French cities, in fact, it’s the second largest in the country.I’m not a history buff, but I certainly recommend either a guided tour or read up on Marseille before you get there. This port city has a lot to offer, you just need to know what you’re looking for.

Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica – The first thing you see in Marseille. How can you miss it? This basilica sits at the peak of the mountain on the south side of the port. Be prepared to sweat! There are steep stairs and hills to climb, but the spectacular panaromic views of Marseille are completely worth it. It’s worth taking a look inside as well.

Chateau d’If – If you have watched the movie The Count of Monte Cristo, then you know about the Chateau d’If. Reminiscent to San Francisco’s Alcatraz, the Chateau sits on the island of If and can only be reached by boat. You can explore the courtyard and surrounding area by catching the ferry from the old port.

Petit Train Marseille – This little train is designed specifically for tourists to get through the city. There a designated spots where you can jump on and jump off. Depending on which circuit you take, stops include the Basilica, St. Victor’s Abbey, and Hotel Dieu. The fares are very reasonable, but depending on the stop, you may encounter a long line up.

Catch of the Day – You can’t go out and fish, but you can definitely appreciate the fish market. As you walk through the port, watch local fisherman wheel and deal with market vendors. They catch the fish, rell them in and sell it to the markets at a good price. The area can smell a bit, especially during a hot day – but the fish could not be any fresher. If you love seafood, you would definitely appreciate this market.

Quai du Port – After a long day, I encourage a croissants, cappuccino and people watching. Choose from the many cafés or restaurants along Quai du Port and sit back and take in the views.

Graffiti – Say what? For anyone who has travelled through Europe, I’m sure you have noticed the increase in graffiti from self proclaimed artists. I personally think it’s a shame that people are willing to ruin historical areas with their self expression. However, since going to Marseille I have actuallydeveloped a slight appreciation for it. The graffiti here is stunning with vibrant colors and positive messages.  It actually adds to the city rather than take away from it.

Marseille is a beautiful city that you can experience in a day or two. I wouldn’t recommend staying here for too much longer than that. There is a lot to do if you have are a history buff, but if you’re looking for the balance of history, beach, shopping and nightlife, you may want to consider elsewhere. Nonetheless, I’m happy I’ve seen Marseille first hand. It was a surprisingly wonderful experience.

A la prochaine…..

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Monaco: The Fairytale

What can really be said about arguably the most beautiful place on earth? Are you stuck on where I’m referring to? Monaco, of course! I’ve been to many places, but without a doubt Monaco tops the list. It’s one of those countries (yes, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world!) that you visit and think to yourself…”Oh ya, I could live like this!” Where to begin when I talk about Monaco?  It’s so small, but truly has anything and everything you would ever need.

If you are visiting the French Riviera, be sure to dedicate some time to drive to Monaco. Drive past Villefranche-sur-Mer and the tiny coastal town Eze. You can miss Eze in the blink of an eye, so look for it. Perhaps the obscurity of Eze is what attracted celebrities like Bono and Sir Elton John to own villas here . The drive is no longer than an hour (depending on how many times you stop!) and is simply breathtaking. There are no words in the English vocabulary to describe the drive.

Once you get to Monaco, there is plenty to do and enjoy. Like I said, it’s small but it truly is spectacular.

Monte Carlo – Not the capital city of Monaco, (that would be Monaco Ville) but probably the most known district in Monaco, thanks to the Grand Casino, luxury hotels and James Bond. You must make your way to this district, and take it all in. You will really understand what true luxury is. A word to the wise, if you’re hungry….don’t eat in the casino square if you’re on a tight budget. Actually, don’t eat anywhere in Monaco! You will pay a premium.

Harbor – A part of Monte Carlo, but really is deserving of its own description. You will not see a tugboat here. In fact, it’s out of this world and almost ridiculous that people own these kinds of water vehicles. Walk down to the marina and look or possibly cry….you choose!  If you get really into it, you’ll even notice that some mansions that overlook the harbor don’t have a driveway – instead the residents opted for extra privacy and park their yacht below and take their own dedicated funicular up the mountain, right to their doorstep.

Golden Circle – Yet another place in Monte Carlo deserving of its own description. If you have enough restraint, stroll down Avenue des Beaux Arts or Avenue de Monte Carlo. It really is the Mecca of all shopping as far as I’m concerned.  No where, and I mean absolutely no where compares to this!

Circuit Train – It’s a bit of a tourist attraction, but it actually is much better than a map. Monaco offers tourists a full circuit train that departs from the Oceanic Museum every half hour. It’s not a hop-on-hop-off train, but this short ride lets you see the country very quickly. So when you decide to venture off by foot, you know exactly where to go.

Purple flowers – You may think that sounds insane right? Who cares about purple flowers? I never did until I got to Monaco. No matter where you go, these random flowers seem to pop up everywhere. It just compliments the entire ambience. They are beautiful!

Palais du Prince – The Royal Palace. The entrance fee is reasonable and watching the changing of the guard is free. There are 15 rooms to walk through, including a room dedicated to Nepolean’s personal belongings. If your time is limited in Monaco, skip it!

Oceanic Museum – On the cliff of Monaco (and where you catch the circuit train), the Oceanic Museum is home to the most tropical fish and deep-sea predators. I wish I had visited this place since I’m developing a fascination for aquariums but I just didn’t have enough time. Maybe next time….because there will be a next time.

Cleanliness – I have NEVER EVER seen a place so pristine. You can honestly drop your baguette on the sidewalk, pick it up and eat it. (I would not judge!) That’s just how clean this country is. I don’t know if it’s the residents or if it’s the hired help that keeps Monaco so clean, but whoever takes care of this country’s upkeep needs to offer up the same service to other countries around the world!

Events – When I was in Monaco, they were just wrapping up Formula One Grand Prix and getting ready for Tour de France. I’m a bit of a sports enthusiast, but this kind of stuff you just don’t see in North America. It’s pretty awesome.

Energy – You really have to be there to understand what I mean. Monaco is a very “rich” country. A regular Joe-Schmo can’t live there unless you have a couple of billions in the bank (national GDP averages 4 billion dollars). Although this is a country full of wealth, it’s not snobby. The citizens are welcoming and you don’t feel intimidated.

I mean it when I say it, Monaco is a fairytale. It’s hard to believe that there is a place on this universe so perfect. I think the birds chirp louder, the sun shines brighter, and the flowers are in year-round bloom. It truly is a magical country full of history and beauty.

Sigh.

Until next time…….

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Paris: The City of Love?

Well that’s what Paris is known for. I have to say, for a city that gets so much hype, I can’t recommend it with confidence. It’s a nice city, don’t get me wrong — but I’ve definitely been to far nicer cities on the other side of the pond.  I even found that the people in Paris were a little colder than in other cities. Maybe I had higher expectations, but I don’t think I would be entirely disappointed if I never returned to Paris.

Why such a so-so experience? Maybe it was the things I did while there, but what else could I have done?

·    Eiffel Tower: The obvious choice of things to see. I saw it during the day (not too pretty), I climbed to the very top (the views were cool!) and saw it lit up at night (now I get it!). Again, nice, but overall I could live without seeing it again

·    Musee du Louvre: Huge. That’s the best way to put it. If you’re a history buff, then you’ll love it. If you aren’t, it’s cool until all the pieces start looking the same and your feet hurt! The Mona Lisa is tiny, not at all what I expected and the Venus de Milo was under construction.   Again, if I never see the Louvre again, I’m totally ok with that.

·    Notre Dame Cathedral:  This was one of my favourite things to visit. Going up the spiral stairs to the top, seeing the bell tower and beautiful city views.  At night, street performers were all around the area and rollerbladers would meet up here to circle the city as a large group.

·     Arc de Triumph: A nice little monument in the middle of traffic! All sarcasm aside, it’s a nice little photo opp.

·    Champs Elysee: I’m a shopper, in case you couldn’t tell from my previous posts. Do I think that the Champs Elysee is overrated compared to Rodeo Drive or Via del Corso? Absolutely. For such a popular “shopping street”, I was hugely disappointed.

·    Saint-Germain: If you’re going to stay in any area, this is where I recommend you stay.  It’s a great neighbourhood, tons of bars and restaurants but a little pricey.

·    Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart): Here’s an underrated monument in Montmartre. I happened to stumble across this beautiful church and open green that overlooks the city. Personally, this was at the top of my list.

·     Sienne River: It’s a river….I sound harsh don’t I?

·    Moulin Rouge: Boy do people take their day jobs seriously! It really is what you expect it to be….take that for what it’s worth.

·    Pizza Marzano: Across from Notre Dame and my only TRUE recommendation for this city. It’s a little average priced pizzeria. Order the Calzone with sunny side up egg inside….you can thank me later! And don’t order anything other than wine….soda costs more!

·    Jim Morrison: Unless you’re a huge fan of The Doors, I would avoid going to visit the cemetery where he lies. It’s in a really sketchy area.

·    Crepes:  If you ever go to Paris, you must eat Nutella crepes…I will leave it at that!

Overall, I’m glad I went to Paris, but much like the old saying, “been there, done that, and won’t do it again”.

Safe Travels!

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When in Rome….

Rome is a great city. In fact I have been a number of times and have to admit that I never get tired of it. There is always something new to discover!  Because this city is so huge, I definitely will need to come back to this blog post and add some more places to visit in Rome….so consider this part #1 of perhaps many blog posts to come!

Of all the major cities I have been to, Rome is the one that in my mind is a true metropolis. Forget about New York City and its “hustle and bustle”. Rome is inundated with locals and tourists alike. You haven’t seen busy until you have stayed in Rome.  The beauty of it is definitely its historic buildings and monuments dispersed along the city. You can easily walk out of a bank, turn the corner and stumble across an ancient ruin, or stumble upon the Piazza Navona on your way to the grocery store. It really is surreal.

So what’s there to do in Rome? Everything! Like I said, I may need a few more posts about Rome to really capture ALL of it. I will start with the obvious!

·         Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain): By far the coolest monument I have ever seen (and my personal favorite!). It’s simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, it’s a huge tourist attraction, so I recommend getting their really early.  Don’t forget to toss a coin and make a wish.

·         Piazza Navona:  This piazza is beautiful any time of day.  Markets during the day and musicians at night. Make sure to eat at the many restaurants in this piazza, or grab some gelato as you make your way around the piazza.

·         Campo De Fiori: What’s better than picking fresh fruit from the market and a bouquet of flowers first thing in the morning?  This place is home to small market vendors daily.

·         Via del Corso:  Shopping, shopping and more shopping! Need I say more?

·         Via Condotti: 5th Avenue has nothing on Via del Corso! It’s the home of Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Versace….the list goes on.  You want to see how the rich live? Take a stroll down this avenue.

·         Piazza Spagne (Spanish Steps): Overrated in my opinion, I don’t really get it. It’s a cobblestone area with a lot of stairs…it’s pretty. But certainly a bit disappointing.

·         Vatican: Religious or not, you can’t leave Rome without visiting Vatican City. There’s so much to take in, so make sure to get a guided tour. It’s an unbelievable experience and an extremely long day.

·         Pantheon: It’s the oldest known church in Italy and pretty cool inside. It’s tiny, so worth stopping over and taking a look.

·         Colosseum: Being a huge fan of the movie Gladiator, you have to see this to believe it. The structure, the size, it’s incredible that things like this existed so long ago.

So now you have your basics of Rome. This is the stuff you should do, but there are way more things to do. I will leave that for a later blog, so until next time…..

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