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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Curaçao: Happy Island

What’s there to say about this tiny little island? I know Aruba is considered to be the “Happy Island”, but I really think that Curaçao can give it a run for its money.

When you get to this island you can’t help to be in good spirits. Aside from the obvious sunshine and beautiful ocean, the people are unbelievably welcoming. Everyone has a smile on their face and they all seem truly happy with small-island living. The people of Curaçao are friendly, willing to help and are just genuinely nice. When was the last time you met genuinely nice people?

Although I recommend spending a limited time here, I definitely do think it’s worth the visit. Here’s what to do if you visit Willemstad:

Handelskade – It’s the harbor front street that is lined with brightly painted 18th century buildings. They are homes to cafes, art galleries and small boutiques. These houses are a true reflection of this small island culture.

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge – aka The Swinging Old Lady. This bridge separates the two halves of the city and is one of the busiest ports. As you walk on this port, you can see the multiple colorful homes lined up. It just sets the stage for this wonderful island.

Queen Jillian Bridge – If you’re afraid of heights you may want to bow out of this. I don’t know too much about infrastructure, but this bridge offers a bird’s eye view to the town parts of Punda and Otrobanda. The bridge is narrow, so don’t get out for a photo….it’s just plain old dangerous!

Riffort Village – A waterfront entertainment and shopping area. You can’t ask for much more on a small island!

Hato Caves – if you seek adventure, this is where to go. Visit the old coral reefs and enjoy this walking tour. Beware of bats, they just love to hang out with regular folk.

Dolphin Academy – Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit, but this Academy offers the opportunity to hang out with dolphins in a natural setting. Why not give it a try?

Like many islands, you are limited with what you can do here. If I can leave you with one reason to visit Curaçao, it’s the people. The energy and the happiness. It really is incredible.

Happy travels!

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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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Hong Kong = Best Foot Massage

The Far East had always felt so distant to me, until I began my career in the fashion industry.  Working in fashion has enabled me to connect with many Chinese vendors and business people, so it was only a matter of time before I would be embarking on my first trip to Hong Kong.  In 2008 my boss informed me that I would be joining the design team on their semi-annual development trip to Hong Kong.  The purpose of the trip was to begin development for the 2009 Spring/Summer collection by visiting our agents and new prospects in Tsim Sha Tsui, at the heart of the city’s busiest commercial, shopping and business hub.

Big cities require a lot of walking, and a lot of walking means sore feet!  What better way to experience Hong Kong and nurture my aching soles than to have a traditional Chinese foot massage! I was touring the Central area on the island with my colleague Clare when we decided to indulge in some reflexology.  Clare is a London native, who lived in Hong Kong for two years, and is now working in Toronto.  She knows the city very well and so she recommended we stop into the Lan Kwai Fong location of Happy Foot reflexology spa.

This little gem is located on the 19th floor of what looked to be a very busy office building.  Off the elevator we entered a foyer facing the spa entrance and to the left of the doors a group of Cantonese women were engaged in a friendly game of mahjong tiles.  Once inside the spa a feeling of calm immediately wrapped my body.  The music was soft; the lights were dim, the people -very kind and gentle.  We entered a room and sat in oversized, comfy leather chairs, removed our shoes and prepared to be pampered.  My feet were soaked and washed before 75 minutes of the most amazing leg and foot rub I’ve ever had.  Once complete, my feet felt rejuvenated and equipped to walk across the rest of the city.  The cost of this worthwhile experience was a mere $300 Hong Kong dollars, which translates to approximately $35 to $40 Canadian dollars.    

Traveling often requires a lot of walking, and when you’re in the fashion industry, beautiful shoes aren’t always the most comfortable.  Exploring big cities in the summer months can leave your feet achy and dusty; a foot massage can provide relief and longevity to your tender soles.  Since having this wonderful experience I now make it a point to take a reflexology break when in New York or any big city’s Chinatown.

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About Diana….

My next guest blogger is not only a fellow traveller, but also a very dear friend.  Diana’s desire to travel the world is infectious! She was even blessed with the opportunity to live in Italy for a year. I’m extremely excited that she has agreed to share her amazing experiences on my blog!

I hope she inspires you to travel as well! ~Jenn

Travel has been an important part of my lifestyle ever since I can remember. From my first visit to Walt Disney World at age 1, to riding camels in the Sahara desert at age 30, each place I have traveled to shaped me into the person I am today.   I am a designer by trade and always looking to be inspired. I use my trips to give me ideas and enrich my thoughts about colour, texture and pattern outside of the ordinary.  I can thank my dad for dragging us on family vacations every summer and instilling the value of travel in my soul.  Through personal trips, educational ventures and work travel I’ve been to many countries in Europe, traveled across Canada and the United States, Hong Kong, Mexico, Egypt and the Caribbean.  In one week I can add Israel and Jordan to my list…

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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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Packing Light

I think I have packing down to an art. I really should teach a course. Depending on where you’re going and for the length of time, it is very possible to stick to one suitcase when you pack! If you’re really good, maybe just a carry on!  So how do I do it. Let me tell you!

Start with a list – I’m a bit of an organizational freak. I make lists for lists. That’s just my personality. But, if you make a list of what you need (I mean what you really need) that’s really all that you should pack. Don’t worry about extra clothing or the pair of shoes you might wear. Just worry about the essentials!

Plan your Outfits – Sounds weird, I know. But it actually works! If you plan what you are wearing everyday on your vacation, and throw in a couple of extra items just in case, you won’t run the risk of overpacking.

Wear the heavy stuff – This works when you are going somewhere cold. Don’t pack your boots…..wear them on the flight. Don’t stuff your jacket into your carry on….wear it. If you’re hot….too bad! Just deal with it. You can take it off when you’re in the air.

What can you buy?Very important. If you know your hotel is close to a shopping area, why are you going to pack things that you can just buy there? It makes no sense.

Hotel Amenities – Ladies, you know what I”m talking about. A blowdryer is our best friend, especially on vacation. But if you’re hotel provides a blowdryer, tons of toiletries and complimentary slippers…..why pack them?

Travel Size Everything – I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like shampoo and conditioner. I have a travel size flat iron and a travel size clothes steamer that I take with me everywhere I go. And yes, my suitcase is always under the weight limit!

There you have it. Just a few things to consider when you are getting ready for your next adventure. If you pack light, you avoid a lot of lineups and questions at customs. It’s a time saver too!

Happy packing!

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California Dreamin’: Hollywood

Hands down, West Hollywood is my favourite place in the U.S. Prior to my first time here, I would hear horror stories of how awful it is and its either super dangerous or you have to be incredibly rich to enjoy yourself. Lies, lies and more lies! I’m not going to recommend venturing out of West Hollywood or Santa Monica – I didn’t partially for safety reasons, and partially because everything was at my fingertips when I was here. I know that one wrong turn can get me into trouble. But if you have a GPS, you’re fine!

So why do I love LA so much? Well, for many reasons. It’s a fairytale land where Hollywood starlets mingle with regular folk. It’s bizarre that you can go into a Club Monaco and possibly run into Sandra Bullock, or dine at a steakhouse beside Kobe Bryant.  I’m from a suburb, so living amongst the rich and powerful isn’t something that happens often! Aside from the countless famous or wanna-be famous people that you may run into, LA (and again I’m only addressing West Hollywood and Santa Monica) is actually a very tiny little town with great weather and tons of things to do. Here are some itinerary items to consider on your trip:

 The Grove: If you watch entertainment shows, they are always “Live from the Grove” so it should sound relatively familiar if you’re up-to-date with pop culture. I have had a few celeb spottings here, but mainly the Grove is just great for an afternoon of leisure. It’s an outdoor shopping center with great stores like Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Forever 21 and much more. If you’re hungry, stop off at Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro and order the Cobb Salad. It’s also the perfect place to people watch.

 Rodeo Drive: If you aren’t going to buy anything, go for the experience! Rodeo drive is a short street full of high-end designer shops. Don’t feel intimidated when you walk into stores (ala Pretty Woman), the sales staff know who is there to shop and who is there for free champagne (Ya, that’s right! You get free bubbly while you shop!). Once you’re done, head to N. Beverly Drive or Robertson, it’s much more affordable!

 Andaz Hotel: Chic, no check-in desk, contemporary décor, free wine, free hors d’euvres, across from Skybar and has a rooftop patio with unbelievable views. What else do you need in a hotel? I recommend the Andaz without hesitation.

 The Comedy Store: Right across the street from the Andaz Hotel, the Comedy Store is where comedians like Bernie Mac and Chelsea Handler got their start. I was extremely fortunate when I went as I had the privilege of being entertained by the then unknown Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia. Whitney was a rising star who tested her David Hasselhoff Roast jokes on the crowd and Chris opened for the headliner. Both, had the crowd in tears and in my opinion stole the show. No wonder they now have a hit TV show!

 Santa Monica: If you want to take advantage of the heat, then pay a visit to Santa Monica. There is everything from the Santa Monica pier, to cute shops, to great restaurants, and beaches. I suggest getting there first thing in the morning or else you will get stuck in the unbelievably busy LA traffic and parking is not easy to find. Is it worth it? Yes!

 SkyBar: An awesome place to unwind at the end of the night. It really is the stereotypical LA “hotspot”. Very dim lighting, faint music, with cabanas and private booths that surround the well-lit pool. It’s a tough place to get into and likely the reason why so many celebrities hang out here. If you think you can get in, it’s totally worth a shot!

Hollywood: You can’t go to West Hollywood and not see the Hollywood sign! Go to the Kodak Theatre (which by the way is strange that the Oscars are held here, seeing as it’s a shopping center!) and go to the very back of the building. Gaze out the open space, and voila, there it is!  On your way out, notice the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and famous handprints beside the Chinese Theatre.

 Jimmy Kimmel: It can be any show, but I’m going to be bias since I went to see Jimmy Kimmel. His studio is across from the Kodak theatre so you can make an entire afternoon of it. Visit his website a few weeks beforehand to order tickets.

Boa: The only bust in West Hollywood. It’s one of the most famous restaurants, but incredibly overpriced for the quality. I’ve been here twice, and the first time I loved it, so it could have just been a bad day my second time around. If you choose to eat here, make sure to get the Caesar Salad – they make it from scratch.

Mulholland Drive: This secluded area is a fair drive through the winding roads and atop the mountains of LA. This is where celebrities call home. Filled with gated communities and obscenely sized mansions. It’s no wonder that celebrities feel superior to the rest of the world! The roads are very narrow so keep an eye out for the speeding paparazzi in SUV’s.

 There are way more things to do while in LA then I have mentioned, but hopefully this can start you off on your adventures. It really is a nice town and I’m not at all surprised that this is where big names call home. Although heavily populated, LA is very tiny with lots to see. Give yourself a few days here, you’ll need it!

 Until next time….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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