Visiting Spain: Visit the Essentials First

visiting spain

It doesn’t matter what your travelling preferences are, we all love a fiesta, and what better place to have a fiesta than by visiting Spain itself? Located in one of the warmest parts of the European continent, Spain does not only offers long sunny days, but also a rich history and culture. This country can cater to anyone’s taste. Partying all night, visiting museums and researching Spanish history or eating their delicious cuisine until your heart pops out. The only thing that you should know is where you’re heading, and this is where we step in. Look at the list below, and try to find the best Spanish ciudad for your holiday, especially if it’s your first time:

Madrid: The heart of Spain and capital of flamenco

It doesn’t do to visit Spain and not see the capital of the country, does it? As any other European capital, Madrid has everything to offer – bars that are open until late at night, great shopping centers and some of the most amazing parks in Europe. One such is the El Parque del Buen Retiro, or simply shortened to El Retiro. It was once a royal ‘’hangout’’, and it staged many concerts and garden plays. Nowadays, it is a great tourist attraction (even though greenery might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Madrid), as people can rent one of the many rowboats and paddle in the huge man made lake in the center of the park. However, Spain is the only place in the world where you can see a live performance of flamenco dances, and Madrid is the best place to do this.

madrid

Barcelona: The diamond of Catalonia

You’ve no doubt heard of Barcelona. There are numerous tourists who hit the road to Spain and decide to visit this place only. And it doesn’t matter how many days you stay, Barcelona is a city which you can never fully explore. If you really want a European holiday of your lifetime, you should find one of the best Barcelona holiday packages that are offered, and see the home of the extremely impressive pieces of Gaudi’s architecture such as the legendary La Sagrada Familia. Moreover, taking a walk-through Las Ramblas and having a cup of coffee in one of its many cafés is definitely something that you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

barcelona

Seville: From bullrings to beautiful barrios

To all the animal rights activists out there – no, we don’t agree with this either, but we must agree that this is one of the symbols of Spain and an inevitable part of Spanish history. Even though bullfighting originated in Ronda, Seville is its spiritual home. So, is it a form of art or simply animal cruelty? Well, it would be best to visit one of Seville’s many bullrings and see for yourself. However, don’t you think for a second that Seville is only good for this. As the heart of Andalusia, this magical city has many other things to offer – such as the Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the most beautiful barrios of Spain, or Alcazar (perhaps better known as Dorne from HBO’s Game of Thrones).

seville

Granada: The place that’s the richest in Spanish history

First and foremost: you’re visiting Spain and you want to try tapas. Since Granada is one of the rare places in Spain where you get tapas for free alongside your drink, it should be on the must-visit list. Moreover, this is a place where you’ll see the most important historical monuments of this country. It is a paradise for every history buff. One of the best things you can see here is the Alhambra fortress – a fortress so huge that you will need a whole day to explore it to the smallest detail. If you want to imagine what it looks like, it’s said that you must imagine the world’s most beautiful gardens, add a fortress and multiply the whole image by ten. Alhambra overlooks the whole city of Granada, offering a most breathtaking view. And it’s also an excellent place to take amazing Instagram photographs! The ticket is around 13 euros, and it’s open from March to October, so make sure to plan your stay there accordingly.

granada

And these are only the essentials. Spain has so many other things to offer, such as 24/7 Ibiza parties, spring days in Valencia, visiting the tomb of Christopher Columbus, walking across the world’s scariest bridge, seeing the Museum of Funeral Carriages, or eating at the world’s oldest restaurant in Madrid. Spain should be your next destination. And maybe even the one after that, because you can go there as many times as you want, and you’ll still have more things on your bucket list.

The Paris Series (Part 2) – Sainte-Chapelle

Among the many things that Paris is famous for, its collection of museums is second to none. There are over 50 museums and noteworthy monuments in and around Paris. There are of course many very well known ones including the Musee du Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Musee Picasso and monuments including the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Chathedral, Chateau de Versailles and more.

One of Paris’ greatest jewels, and often overlooked sites, is Sainte-Chapelle. As you walk down Boulevard du Palais, you’ll see a line of people that appear to be waiting to enter the Palais de Justice (a large building from 1868 that still functions as a court house). Behind the entrance and in the courtyard is what they are actually waiting for – the entrance to Sainte-Chapelle. (Unlike some other museum sites, your Paris Museum Pass does not get you queue-cutting access here).

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Sainte-Chapelle is a royal medieval Gothic chapel dating back to the 1200s and Louis the IX of France. Although damaged during the French Revolution, Sainte-Chapelle contains one of the most extensive and beautiful collections of stained glass anywhere in the world. As you enter the chapel, you’ll see a sample of stained glass and a gift shop. Look for the stairs on either side of the room to ascend a very narrow staircase to the second floor and you’ll enter the main room. You will be awestruck. It is absolutely spectacular and breathtaking !

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The Paris Series (Part 1) – Like A Local

There’s nothing better than going to a “new” destination, and experiencing it like a local. I had been to Paris before (through the airport and in the city when I was all of 7 years old) but neither time really counts. In spite of the considerable travelling that I have done, Paris was a new destination. While it’s great to see the tourist sights like everybody else (i.e. the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre,  Notre Dame Cathedral), it’s also great to really immerse yourself like a local. Find the food stands, small shops, cafes and squares where the locals go. While you can find some great guide books, maps and apps to help (Rick Steves immediately comes to mind),  why not actually have a local take you on a tour and show you the neighbourhood favorites?

So I linked up with a local food tour called the “New Parisian Palate” (formerly “Bobo Palate”) with Context Travel. Context is a network of specialists and scholars who act as private guides and lead small groups on walking tours through some of the world’s greatest cities. Tours include archaeology, art history, cuisine, history, urban planning, environmental science, and classics.

Our small group met outside of a bistro in upper Marais. We began our tour with a walk and talk through the iconic “Marche des Enfants Rouges” (the oldest covered market in Paris dating back to the 1600s).

Our walking tour continued for the next 2 1/2 hours and included various stops in the market, a bakery, butcher shop, prepared food and foie gras shop, a cheese shop, a wine and Armagnac shop and a chocolatier. All along the way, the small bites and samples never stopped.

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The French are proud of their history, culture and country. And so they should be. Our guide explained how French food tastes were slowly changing, becoming more modern and incorporating flavors and food ideas from around the world. She pointed out new shops and even food trucks to support the “new Parisian Palate”. With most stops, our guide either purchased samples or gathered food in a bag for our end of tour “party” (wine, cheese, pate, baguette).

446  If you’re thinking of a walking tour, here’s 3 bits of advice:

  1. Take a Context Tour. They are immersive and well worthwhile and get you feeling like a local (and less like a tourist). The group is limited to 6 and led by a local expert.
  2. If you take a Context food tour, don’t eat a meal beforehand (nor will you be able to eat a meal after).
  3. Take your tour in the first few days of your trip if you can. You’ll get a better feel for the city, culture, local area and the places that you’ll want to return to later.

I want that local perspective wherever I go. I want to dive into the destination and its culture. And I want to get local.

5 Exquisite Wine Routes in France

As Europe’s peak travel season winds down and most people are returning to work and school refreshed from their summer vacation, the sleepy vineyards sweeping the French countryside awaken for the annual harvest. Foliage begins to turn, days and evenings become pleasantly cooler. And the picturesque back roads call out to be traversed, beckoning in one of the best times to visit France. There’s no better time than autumn to channel your inner wine connoisseur and rent a car in France. The following list is a compilation of five lovely wine regions and scenic routes fringed with vineyards that beg to be explored. Each of these destinations is sure to make for an unforgettable experience.

Alsace Wine Route

Alsace Wine Region

The Alsace region is situated along a narrow plain, which is bordered by the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west. Why not rent something special for your trip, like a Mercedes SLK Roadster in Strasbourg? Put the top down and leisurely make your way south along the Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route). This 170 km stretch of roadway begins in Marlenheim and ends in Thann. Take your time and discover the Alsace vineyards, castles, and charming villages that dot the way.

Bordeaux Wine Route

Bordeaux Wine Region

Six distinct wine producing territories branch out from the heart of the Bordeaux region. The beauty of visiting this location is that you can create a unique tour of the wineries based on your specific taste. Sample the fine red wines north of Bordeaux, and the sweet or dry white wines south of the city. Offering an excellent array of grape varietals, colors, and tastes, you won’t be disappointed when visiting this southwestern area of France.

Provence Wine Route

Provence Wine Route

South of the Alps and north of the cliff-lined Mediterranean Sea is the Provence region, a part of France that is celebrated for its rosé wine. Start your journey by driving west along the coast with your rental car in Nice and making frequent stops to appreciate the villages and scenery, follow the 200 km course to Camargue, a town just east of Montpellier. The Provence vineyards are divided into eight appellations, and there are about 350 winemakers along the way.

Burgundy Wine Route

Burgundy Wine Route

A two hour car-ride southwest of Paris leads into the rolling hills of France’s Burgundy region. Renowned for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the vineyards here yield some of the country’s finest wines. Burgundy has five territories, and Route des Grands Crus (road of great wines) takes you through Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. It is the area’s most popular drive and is close to 60 km. Clearly marked road signs make this itinerary very easy to follow.

Champagne Route

Champagne Wine Route

Only 160 km east of Paris, yet seemingly worlds away from the city of light, is the highly regarded Champagne region. Sparkling wine can’t claim the name Champagne unless it originates from here. There are five circuits that wind their way through each of the appellation territories. The Coast Bar route is the longest at 220 km, and the shortest courses are Montagne de Reims and Massif of Saint Thierry, each of these is 70 km.

Before setting off on any trip in France, it is important to note the country’s new driving law, which requires every vehicle to have a breathalyzer on hand. Avoid the possibility of needing to use one of these devices by staying at a lovely Chateau when choosing to indulge in a few glasses of regionally produced wine.

Enjoy the wine and enjoy France!

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Tropical Inspo: Why You Have to Visit Fiji

There are almost endless reason why you have to visit Fiji. With its exotic ambiance and endless opportunities to relax, do sports, or simply socialize with some of the nicest people on the planet, Fiji is a must-see for every adventurer. From the very moment you are greeted with “Bula”, your trip will be filled with memorable sights, people, and events. If you’re looking for your next vacation destination, here are a couple of reasons why it should be Fiji.

You’d get to taste some delicious food

If you love trying out new types of food, then you will love Fiji. There are two main cuisines ‒ the indigenous Fijian and the Fijian Indian, (mainly focused on seafood, rice, chili, and spices). If you prefer to prepare your own food, there are produce markets in every main town filled with only the freshest and most delicious food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attend the Lovo Night at your hotel and see how they prepare food in an underground oven. Finally, don’t forget to try kava ‒ a traditional drink made from a natural herbal ground root. It might not taste that great, but it’s more about the tradition than the taste.

It offers a great working environment

If you consider yourself to be a busy digital nomad and you love working while traveling, then this is definitely one of the destinations you should visit. The calming nature, the friendly people, and the hammocks on gorgeous beaches create a perfectly peaceful atmosphere for work. When it’s time for a break, bask in the sun with a refreshing drink and let your mind and your body relax and recharge.

Whether you’re into diving and surfing, sunbathing or playing golf, there is something for everybody in Fiji. If you’re an adventurous type, you can try firewalking, or you can go on a journey up the stunning Sigatoka Valley. Visit villages and spend some time getting to know the Fijian culture and enjoying their customs (including lots of singing and dancing)!

It’s the best place to unwind

In case you’ve just finished high school and are looking for a way to celebrate and have some fun after all the studying, consider signing up for amazing Fiji schoolies. They are safe and include plenty of  interesting and educational activities. You’d be surrounded with lots of young people who want to have some fun, meet new friends, and enjoy some time away just like you.

It’s very romantic

We all know the struggle of finding the perfect romantic destination for the next vacation with our significant other. There is no way you can go wrong with Fiji! You’ll enjoy long walks on the gorgeous beaches, buy each other presents (like the lovely earrings and necklaces made of South Sea pearls), or spend a day together relaxing in one of the numerous tropical spas.

You’d be in the company of the happiest people in the world

Studies have shown that Fijians are amongst the happiest people on the planet. If you’ve been feeling a bit down lately or are simply searching for a new perspective in life, this is the place to be. Moreover, Fijians are known for their love of kids. Don’t hesitate to take your youngest family members with you and let them enjoy this experience as well. The happiness is guaranteed to rub off on you, and the only sadness you will feel is when its time to go home.

Apart from all the adventure, finger-licking food, fantastic nature, and amazing people, Fiji is a true paradise that simply has it all. If it’s not on your bucket list already, it should be. Visiting Fiji would is an experience guaranteed to cherish for the rest of your life.

7 Things To Consider Before Travelling

7 Things To Consider Before Travelling

Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

Getting out there and seeing what the wider world has to offer is something that everyone should do in their lives. We do like the comfort of our own homes and our own areas, so it can be a difficult prospect for many, but it’s completely worth it. You may think you’ve seen a lot in your life, but if you venture out onto the other side of the planet, you’ll see how wrong you were.

There are a vast amount of cultures and traditions that you couldn’t even fathom as you sit in the comfort of your home, and your mind is truly broadened by experiencing them. The world is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes and monuments you could imagine.

If you’re seriously thinking about dropping everything and heading on a long-term trip around a continent (or two!), then it’s not just a case of hopping on some public transport and haplessly heading on your merry way – it takes a bit of thought and some real commitment.

You’ve gotten this far, so you probably have a vision in your mind of hiking through unknown areas. And feeling goosebumps as you gaze upon some foreign lands. Want to do it? Well, before you make a move, you have to get a bunch of things in order. Let’s go through some now.  

Make Sure You’re Ready Mentally

The first point isn’t exactly one of the formalities, but it is vital. It’s a big step and a big commitment. If you’ve never done anything like this before, then it may be more and more nerve-wracking and overwhelming as the time draws nearer. It’s hard to battle your inner thoughts, but just know that this experience will better your life!  

Do A Little Research

It goes without saying that you should know what you’re getting into – you’re about to head into places very much unlike what you’re used to. It can be a fun little session, however, as you get to look into all of the exciting places that you could potentially visit. If you’re not in tune with the travelling scene at all, then this is a good time to soak up as much knowledge as you can. There’s no real set way of doing things, so you can absolutely come up with your own method after learning a thing or two.

Plan Your Entire Trip

As we mentioned before, you can’t just book a flight or a train and go walking around without first having a set plan of doing things. You need to have a plan and it will need to be as airtight as possible so that you don’t manage to make a mess of your trip. It may be a little boring but preparation is key.   

Make Sure You Have The Money!

Another obvious point here, but if you don’t have the funds to get yourselves successfully around then you’re going to be in a bit of a pickle. Look into your budget and see what you can and cannot do. You might think you have the money, but there may be some costs that you haven’t taken into account, so be careful.

Find Places To Stay

As you make your way around, you’ll need places to rest and rehabilitate before you get out and do more exploring – you’re not just going to sleep on the streets. A lot of people on their travels aren’t exactly made of money, so they’ll find cheaper overnight stays like motels or staying in hostels. There are, of course, more luxurious ways if you’re that way inclined – if you’re travelling through some Asian countries, you could, for example, research some monthly rental in Singapore or Malaysia and see if that fits your criteria. Having a comfortable place to sleep at night is vital if you want to have some energy for the days and weeks ahead.      

Vaccinations

When you enter certain parts of the world, you’ll find that they differ from your home. Unfortunately, on the other side of the planet, there are some serious diseases that can be spread around, and if you’re not protected against them, then they could do some serious damage. It’s wise to go to your doctor and let them help you. You should get vaccinated about four to six weeks before travelling.

Remember To Take Photos!

Finally, and this one is less of a stress, bring your camera or keep your phone charged up! It’s nice to have the memories stored in your mind’s eye, but having tangible proof of being somewhere is lovely too. You’re bound to make wonderful memories and capturing them forever would compound the delight! Also, if you’re a bit of social media person, then your friends and followers may get a kick out of your jollies!

Turkish Hammam Experience Is One Of A Kind

Turkish Hammam

You’ve likely heard of the Turkish hammam even if you have not traveled to Turkey. Hammam is a unique public bath and has been a part of Turkish social culture for hundreds of years. The concept was largely developed during the Ottoman Empire inspired by Roman baths. There are similar concepts in other cultures such as Finnish saunas, Russian baths or banyas but the Turkish hammam is unique in many ways. In Turkish hammams, the air is steamy. In hammams, you will be washed by washers called tellak who exfoliate, massage and wash you! Tellaks are usually of the same sex as the person being washed. While your tellak is preparing to wash you, you are given a hammam bowl to fill with hot water from marble sinks and pour it over your head to start your bathing experience. You can leave the rest to your tellak!

Turkish Hammam

The architecture of hammams is also very unique. A traditional hammam has three interconnected rooms. The first one is the hot room, then the warm room and finally the cold room. The hot room usually has a large dome with glass windows. There is usually a large heated marble table in the middle of the room and fountains in the corners. In this room, you get exposed to steam and get exfoliated. The warm room is for washing with soap and water after the exfoliation and finally the last room is to relax and perhaps sip a Turkish tea.

Going to a Turkish hammam is not only a unique bathing experience but it is also a social one. People of the same sex get together in Turkish hammams and share intimate stories. It is almost like a therapy session where the bathgoers open up to each other. An environment where people let their guards down and relax like nowhere else! Think about it, you are half naked with a group of strangers in a hot steamy environment wrapped in your Turkish towel also known as the peshtemal. Wouldn’t you let your guard down?

Turkish Hammam

This is a physical and a spiritual awakening. By the end of this experience, your body and your skin are rejuvenated and purified or, at least, that’s how you feel! The exfoliation and the massage are probably stronger than what you experience in North American spas and can sometimes be a bit painful but you can tell your tellak the intensity you prefer.

If you’re planning to visit Turkey anytime soon, you should definitely add the hammam experience on your list of things to do. Istanbul probably has the most gorgeous hammams you will find in Turkey but other cities such as Edirne, Bursa and Eskisehir also have renowned hammams to discover. Cagaloglu and Cemberlitas hammams in Istanbul, Saray hammam in Edirne, historic Eski Kaplica hammam in Bursa, Ferah hammam in Eskisehir are some of the most traditional ones but your hotel might even have a hammam within their facilities!

This blog post was provided by Shopping Blue. They share a passion for travel and  connect the Mediterranean with those who are passionate about this region and its products.