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Life Pregnancy Travel

Flying During Pregnancy: 10 Essentials You Need

February 17, 2020

So you got those two pink lines? Congrats! When I found out I was pregnant, I was literally booked on a flight that same day. While I wasn’t feeling the effects quite yet, flying during pregnancy was something I wondered about as I looked ahead to the next 8 months of my life.

Pregnancy If you’re a traveler like me (and I’m guessing you are because you are reading this article), you will probably be wondering about how your traveling style and needs will change, especially relating to flying during pregnancy. I planned to take both short-haul and long-haul flights and didn’t know how my pregnancy would factor into these plans.

Have no fear though! I have put together a list of the 10 essentials you will need for flying while pregnant so you can be the most prepared and most comfortable on your flight with your newly added carry on.

Flying During Pregnancy: 10 Essentials You Need

Comfortable Clothing

This may seem like a no brainer, but even early pregnancy brings on fun symptoms like bloating and extra gas. The last thing you want is tight jeans or uncomfortable pants digging into your waistline! To be honest, I think this is a good protocol even non-pregnant, as I always like being comfortable on the plane.

My standard go-to is a uniform of comfy leggings, flat breathable shoes, and a stretchy or loose-fitting shirt. Also, I would advise dressing in layers. Not only can the temperatures on an airplane fluctuate frequently during the flight, but pregnancy raises your basal body temperature about 0.4 degrees above the normal. Prepare for hot flashes by wearing a tank or short sleeve shirt under a long-sleeved layer in case it does get chilly.

Priority Boarding (And an Aisle Seat!)

Did you know that when you are flying during pregnancy that most airlines will give you priority boarding? Definitely take advantage of this to give yourself extra time to get settled. This really comes in handy when you are flying Southwest Airlines, which has a first-come-first-serve seating policy based on your boarding number.

Which brings me to the second part of this: make sure you get an aisle seat! As your pregnancy progresses, you will start having to pee much more frequently and also get increasingly uncomfortable. Having an aisle seat gives you easy access for when you need to get up and use the restroom or stretch your legs. Getting up and walking frequently is important especially on a long-haul flight because pregnant women are more susceptible to blood clots.

Compression Socks

When you are pregnant, your body is producing all kinds of extra hormones including in increased supply of progesterone. This overload makes your veins swell more than normal, which can be exacerbated by sitting for long periods of time on a flight. This can lead to painful swelling, varicose veins and, even scarier, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots).

Wearing compression socks can help alleviate this risk by putting pressure on your veins so the blood doesn’t pool in your lower legs and feet. Luckily nowadays there are a lot of cute and stylish options for compression socks, so they won’t be a drag to wear. Doing this, combined with taking baby aspirin (see below) before and after the flight can help reduce your risk of a blood clot. Always ask your doctor or midwife before taking any medication.

Travel Pillow

Another symptom of pregnancy (especially in the first trimester)? You are tired…all. the. freaking. time. It takes a lot of metabolic energy to grow a human, so even if you don’t feel like you are doing a lot, your body is working in overtime, It was amazing to me how I could sleep a full 8 hours and still be ready for a mid-day nap. What better time to get in some extra sleep than when you are stuck sitting on a plane?

Of course, a great travel pillow will make this a lot easier for you. You can buy self-inflating pillows which are a lot easier to carry on. This memory foam pillow adjusts so you can use it as a body pillow, back pillow or for neck support.

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated while traveling is always important, but when flying during pregnancy, it’s even more essential. Because your body is working extra hard to grow a baby, your water output is often greater than your water intake. This can lead to dehydration, which is no good for a mom-to-be. Add this to the dry air on the plane and trust me, water will be your best friend during the flight. (Again, make sure you have an aisle seat for frequent potty breaks!)

The best and most eco way to tackle the water situation on your flight (and throughout your travels) is to carry on a stainless steel water bottle that you can fill at the airport. This saves you from buying an overpriced plastic bottle and is more durable (and eco/health-friendly) for reuse. I love my Swell bottle and would definitely recommend investing in one or something like it for your trip.

Snacks & Hard Candies

Pregnancy nausea is a beast. I’ve read some women don’t get morning sickness, and I don’t know any of those women but all I have to say is that they are very lucky! My nausea reared it’s ugly head around 7 weeks and lasted pretty full force to the end of my first trimester.

Even within the second trimester, nausea tends to come back if I let myself get too hungry. Hence, the importance of SNACKS when you’re flying during pregnancy! Depending on what you can tolerate, I’ve found saltine crackers to be a pretty standard no fail to help curb nausea. During the first trimester, I would never leave home without a sleeve of those babies in my purse. Granola bars are also a good go-to and easy to pack, try to get some with protein as the carb/protein combo is helpful in combatting nausea as well and will help you feel more full.

Another thing that helped a lot was hard candies, specifically sour ones. I went through a few bags of Jolly Ranchers (sorry dentist!) as they usually did the trick to at least temporarily make the queasiness subside. I also invested in some Preggo Pop drops, which are a more natural option that also contain essential oils and vitamins.

Sea Bands

Sea Bands are another nausea remedy, working to keep constant pressure on your P6 acupressure point that relieves nausea and vomiting. I will say that these take some getting used to, as at first the bands can feel tight and the plastic knob pressure can be a bit uncomfortable.

However, I did find them to be helpful, at least for a few weeks. I have a theory that I started to develop a tolerance for them so they stopped being as effective, but who knows? Regardless, I would recommend that you give them a try because a lot of people have had success with them, especially when combined with keeping a full stomach and sour or ginger candies.

Eye Drops

Dry eyes are another symptom of pregnancy, brought on by, you guessed it, HORMONES! Your body doesn’t produce as many tears, making your eyes feel scratchy and uncomfortable. My eyes always get dry on an airplane anyway, so having this added change did not help.

You can help alleviate this by bringing along eye drops in your carry-on, whether you wear contact lenses or not. If you do wear contacts, you can always remove them during the flight as well, especially if you plan to sleep on the flight.

Baby Aspirin

My doctor recommended I take baby (low dose) aspirin for 3 days leading up to and 3 days after my long-haul flight to help prevent blood clots. You can find this over the counter in your pharmacy in 81 mg tablets. This helps keep the blood thinner and reduce the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.

My doctor said that this is safe, but please consult your own doctor or midwife before taking any medications, as recommendations can vary.

Unisom (Doxylamine) + B6

During the first trimester, this was my go-to combo for nausea relief, especially at night. Unisom is an over the counter sleep aid that has shown to provide nausea relief when combined with Vitamin B6. It’s very important that you use the Unisom sleep TABLETS and not the gel caps, as the ingredient that is helpful is doxylamine which is not the ingredient for the gel caps.

Generally, the recommended dosage is 25mg by mouth 3 times a day of Vitamin B6, accompanied by 12.5mg of Unisom (half a pill) at night. I found this to be helpful. If you just have trouble sleeping on the plane, aside from any nausea, my doctor did say it was okay to take the Unisom alone.

Again, please consult your own doctor or midwife before taking any medications, as recommendations can vary.

So there you have it, my 10 essentials for flying while pregnant! I hope this helps you prepare for an experience a more comfortable flight, leaving you rested and refreshed to enjoy your destination. Safe travels!

Want to access all my essentials in one place? Check out my Pregnancy Travel Essentials list on Amazon!

Allie Marie Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

Also, don’t forget to PIN this post for future reference.

Leiden Netherlands Travel

5 Reasons to Visit Leiden, The Netherlands

January 27, 2020

It’s almost springtime! (kind of). If you’re heading to The Netherlands this April to check out the tulip fields, I’m sure Amsterdam is on your agenda. It might even be where you decide to stay for your trip. While Amsterdam is amazing (see my guide here), I want to introduce you to it’s smaller, academic little brother: Leiden. I stayed 3 nights in Leiden when I visited The Netherlands I’m going to tell you 5 reasons why you should visit Leiden.

1: The Location

Leiden is located only 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train and only 20 minutes by bus to the famous Keukenhof Garden in Lisse. This makes it the perfect spot for you to set up camp if you want to check out the tulips. It’s also only 15 minutes from The Hague by train which is also worth checking out.

It’s proximity to Keukenhof makes for an easy day trip. During tulip season there are busses that leave regularly from the Leiden Central Train Station. You can buy a bus ticket + garden entrance combo online here for €27.50. If it’s peak tulip season, there will be a line but they run things pretty efficiently. Also be prepared for traffic approaching Lisse.

2: The Size

Leiden’s population is 120,000, making it about 1/8th of the size of Amsterdam. This means that you get the beautiful canals, boats, architecture and charm of a Dutch city, but in a much more manageable size. Once you’re in the center, the city is very walkable. It’s easy to get happily lost amongst it’s cobblestone streets.

Trust me: if you visit The Netherlands in April it will be crowded! After a day at busy Keukenhof, it was nice to come back to a smaller and less crowded city like Leiden vs. Amsterdam.

3: The Market

Leiden has a large market every Saturday and Wednesday that brings a large number of vendors selling traditional Dutch food and other goodies. Cheese, stroopwafels, herring? It’s all there! Even if you’re skeptical, trying Dutch herring is a right of passage you should not miss. Order it with onions and hold the whole fish (don’t worry, it’s small) by the tail as you strip the meat from the bone with your mouth. This is the Dutch way, I was told. Or, you can play it safe and just eat it with a little fork like I did!

4: The Vibe

20,000 of Leiden’s residents are students, thanks to the large university in the city. This gives the city a vibrant and youthful energy that you feel when you’re walking around. I happened to visit on a bank holiday and I loved watching all the boats come through the canals with students and young professionals celebrating their day off.

Perhaps because of it’s student population, Leiden has no shortage of bars, pubs, cafes & restaurants to choose from. Also, Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, so make sure to try Indonesian cuisine while you are there.

5: The Wall Poems

Another unique feature of Leiden is it’s collection of wall poetry! Thanks to a project initiated by the Tegen-Beeld Foundation, over 100 poems in several different languages decorate Leiden’s walls & buildings. There is a map on the foundation website where you can find specific routes to view the poems, or you can explore and stumble upon them on your own if you prefer.

Ready to Go?

Well, there you have it: 5 Reasons to Visit Leiden in The Netherlands! I hope this makes you consider making Leiden part of your Netherlands trip this spring!

Looking for a place to stay in Leiden?



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If Amsterdam is on your agenda as well, don’t forget to check out my Solo Girly Guide to Amsterdam.

Don’t forget to PIN this for your trip:

Marseille Provence Travel

5 Unique Day Trip Ideas from Marseille, France

January 4, 2020

Bonjour! If you’re no stranger to my blog and Instagram account, you know Marseille has become my home away from home. My husband’s family is from there and we go at least once a year. Marseille is a diamond in the rough, and I certainly advocate spending at least 3 days exploring the city itself. (See: my Guide to Marseille and my Instagram Guide to Marseille). If you find yourself wanting to wander off the beaten path though, I have 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille that will make you fall in love with the surrounding area.

Cassis & Bandol

You may have heard of Cassis, the candy hued, charming (& somewhat touristy) seaside town. Maybe I’m biased because it’s where I got engaged, but I think it lives up to it’s hype. About a half an hour from Marseille by car, the view when approaching Cassis is one of my favorites in the world. The stunning red cliff of the Cap Canaille, the endless aqua of the Mediterranean, gorgeous houses dotting the mountain side…wow. It is simply breathtaking.

What to Do in Cassis

I would suggest leaving late morning from Marseille to start your day. You only need an hour or so in the village itself. There are a few dozen cute boutiques & souvenir shops and plenty of choices for food. I love picking one of the places on the waterfront for lunch (I’m not loyal to any one in particular) and dining on Moule Frites. If you still have room, head to Amorino Gelato for a tasty (and Insta-worthy) rose shaped cone. There is often a little market in the central Place Baragnon. The typical French Market is on Wednesdays and Fridays but they have traveling and art markets as well.

If you are interested in seeing the Calanques (beautiful inlets that dot the coast around Marseille), you can take a cruise from the harbor. The price and duration vary depending on how many Calanques you want to see and what time of year it is. If the weather is nice, it’s definitely a good option! (Plan to leave earlier if you plan to see the village, do the cruise, AND still want to see Bandol).

Onward to Bandol

As you enter and leave Cassis, you will see plenty of vineyards where you can stop and taste wine. Unlike most of Provence which specializes in rosé, Cassis is known for it’s full-bodied and herbaceous white wines. While Mike and I usually try our luck stopping at random places along the way, here is a more detailed guide to region if you would like specific vineyard recs.

As you head towards Bandol (30 mins further east down the coast), you will pass many more vineyards. Even though the wine region is named for the seaside town, you won’t find any vineyards in the city center. In contrast to Cassis, Bandol is known for it’s earthy reds but also makes great whites and rosés. Taking the A50 towards La Ciotat/Toulon towards Bandol will take you past the villages of La Cadière d’Azur, Le Castellet, in the heart of the region. This guide will point you in the direction of specific wineries if you’re looking to plan in more detail.

This should go without saying that you should always have a designated driver if you plan on tasting wine – those sips can add up quick and France’s love of wine doesn’t cancel out their enforcement of drunk driving laws.

If you have time, continuing on to the village of Bandol would be a nice way to end the day. It is a fun and festive seaside town with quaint streets plenty of options for food to soak up all that wine.

Once you are satiated and tired, you only have a 42 minute drive back to Marseille.

Harbor in Bandol

Six-Fours-les-Plages

Another gem along the coast that I wanted to make sure to include in my guide to 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille is Six-Fours-les-Plages. Take the A50 from Marseille towards Toulon and you’ll be there in about an hour. We didn’t spend much time in the center of Six-Fours and instead continued towards the sea to the smaller commune of Le Brusc, which I would recommend. It’s quaint with a distinctly local feel. You can pass through the little town by car and park in the paid lot further down towards the water.

Coastline at Le Brusc

Here the shore is rocky with pretty formations and tide pools and you can jump right in for a pleasant dip. We were there for golden & blue hour which were particularly beautiful. Adjacent to the coastline is a small island called Île du Petit Gaou which is reachable by foot bridge. There are walking paths to enjoy the beautiful nature, majestic cliffs and breathtaking views.

Scenes from Le Brusc & Île du Petit Gaou

There are a few nice restaurants close to island which offer amazing views. We chose to do a casual dinner of pizza back in the little village of Le Brusc which we ate on benches overlooking the harbor accompanied with rosé in plastic cups.

I would suggest allowing yourself a full afternoon here and ending up with sunset drinks and dinner. Six-Four/Le Brusc could also be paired with a morning trip to Cassis or Bandol.

Côte Bleue

So you’ve heard of the Côte d’Azur but have you heard of the Côte Bleue? I hadn’t until I started visiting Marseille regularly. The Côte Bleue is a charming piece of coastline between Marseille and Martigues, with the Mediterranean on one side and the Etang de Berre on the other. You’ll find quaint and lesser known fishing villages and beaches to keep to occupied on your day trip.

Coastline near Carry-le-Rouet

L’Estaque

Driving East from Marseille you can start in L’Estaque which is a suburb of Marseille and worth checking out either on your way out or on your way back. This little village has been an inspiration to many artists over the years including Cézanne, Renoir and Georges Braque.

Carry-le-Rouet

Further west you will find the village of Carry-le-Rouet, another seaside resort town which is favored as a summer retreat by the locals. Besides the cute downtown and harbor there is a coastal footpath where you can walk along the sea and four different beaches:

  • Le Rouet: the first beach in town and the most popular,
  • Cap Rousset: a natural limestone cove
  • Fernandel: in the center of town
  • Les Beaumettes: edge of town, stone and shallow water

Fun fact: Carry-le-Rouet is known as the “sea urchin capital” and even has a designated urchin month (February) with events and tastings!

Martigues

After you can head to Martigues, a colorful village known as the “Venice of Provence”. It’s bright buildings and bridges were definitely reminiscent of the famed Italian city, however even in the middle of summer there were no crowds. The Moiroir aux Oiseaux, a little port along Quai Brescon, was particularly picturesque and also a famed spot among painters.

Road to Valensole

I’m sure you’ve heard of Valensole (hello, Lavender fields?). Not so unique, you might say. BUT- I want to recommend a few places surrounding the famed plateau that you may not have on your radar, qualifying it as one of my unique day trip ideas from Marseille. The places below are a bit on the further side for a day trip so I would suggest leaving early if you want to get the most out of your day!

When you go to Valensole during off season 🙂

Gréoux-les-Bains

A cute little town with shops, colorful buildings and cafes with outdoor seatings for prime people watching! It also home to a thermal bath healthy center at which you can prebook health treatments for an extended period of time. If you’re just there for the day though and want to enjoy some pampering, there are facilities to book day treatments.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We loved visiting this quaint perched village! Also simply known as “Moustiers”, this pedestrian town has waterfalls woven through it’s streets and a glorious view of the valley below. It’s also well known for it’s beautiful and uniquely hand-painted ceramics called faïence. You will see many shops with plenty of opportunities to stock up on unique souvenirs (although they are not cheap!) Also make sure to be respectful in the shops as a lot of them have signs that say “no photos.”

As you drive up the hill to approach the building there are parking lots where you can leave your vehicle and continue on foot into the town.

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is a small town overlooking the beautiful Lac Sainte Croix (which I also recommend visiting if you have time!) In fact, you can take a quick visit to the lakeshore below the village and then drive up the hill for the view. The view, in fact is the main attraction and we’ve come back several times to have dinner at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta and dessert plate I ate there, and the scenery is truly unbeatable.

Camargue

To conclude my 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille I present you with The Camargue. It’s a natural park area in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages, just west of Marseille and the Côte Bleue. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in distinct landscape and natural beauty.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigue-Mortes is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find WILD PINK FLAMINGOS as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting.

Arles

While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (here is where the cafe can be found). You can even take a Van Gogh Walking Tour organized by the tourism office! Other things to visit are the Roman Amphitheater, Ancient Theater, several museums and of course, shops & cafes.

Conclusion

So, here you have it: 5 unique day trips from Marseille! If you can’t get enough of this region like me, check out my guides for Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence. If you scroll back up I’ve also provided a handy dandy MAP of all the places I’ve talked about here and color coded it by trip for your convenience. I hope this guide was helpful to you and that you enjoy your time in Provence, wherever it takes you!

Don’t forget to PIN this post for your trip:

Florence Italy Travel

Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

November 17, 2019

So you’re wondering where to eat in Florence, Italy during your trip? I’ll just say it: it’s pretty hard to eat a bad meal in Florence. You’ve got all the best ingredients, a history and culture that revolves around food & wine, and…gelato.

While it IS easy to find good food in Florence, the number of choices can also be overwhelming. When I studied abroad there in 2007, I didn’t do much dining out because I was a poor student and often cooked at home with my roommates. Fast forward 10+ years, returning as a “real adult” with a little more disposable income, I was ready to eat my way through the city!

I’m going to tell you about my favorite places to eat in Florence, including some OG favorites from my study abroad days that are still just as good.

Where to Eat at Breakfast Time

Bambi Caffe, San Lorenzo Market | Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo, ingresso da via dell’Ariento, 50123

A fun (and delicious) way to start your day is at the San Lorenzo Market: an iconic spot in Florence. The outdoor area has stalls selling leather goods, scarves, stationary Murano glass, etc. Head inside though to satisfy any Italian food craving you might have (and stock up on souvenirs of the culinary variety). Stop at Bambi Caffe for a pastry and espresso, the simple and typical Italian breakfast. If you want a real treat, order a Caffe Pistachio, with layers of espresso, pistachio cream, whipped cream and crushed Pistachio nuts. Yum!

Where to Have Nice Eats/Drinks

La Menagere | Via De’ Ginori 8r, 50123, Florence, Italy

One of my 2 favorites of the trip, La Menagere is an industrial chic vision with sophisticated fare to match it’s dreamy decor. Part cafe/bar, part fancy restaurant, part boutique, part florist, everything is a visual delight. We opted for the cafe part and I had the avocado toast with smoked salmon and pistachio – it was amazing! Prices range from mid range to high end, depending on if you dine in the cafe part or restaurant. Go during the week for lunch if you want less chance of a wait.

Simbiosi | via De’ Ginori 56R Ristorante: via De’ Ginori 58R / 60R

We stumbled upon the Simbiosi trio while walking from the Duomo to our accommodation and it became our other favorite dining and drinking spot. I call it a “trio” because even though it all has the same name and owner, there are 3 separate restaurants (and all are organic!): Pizza, Pasta & Bar/Cafe. Throughout our stay we enjoyed bar snacks, spritzes and delicious rose Lambrusco at the bar/cafe Simbiosi. We also got the chance to dine at the pasta restaurant 

Osteria Vecchio Viccolo | Via Lambertesca 16r, 50122, Florence, Italy

Where should you eat in Florence near the Ufizzi and Ponte Vecchio? The cute bike in front attracted me to this delightful restaurant. Excellent pizza and pasta with wonderful service. Grab a table near the front to observe all the foot traffic.

Tosca Nino La Terrazza | Piazza Della Repubblica, Rinascente 4 Et 5 Piano, 50123, Florence, Italy

This is where to go for THE VIEW! Also simply known as “La Terazza”, it’s the cafes sits atop La Rinascente department store off the Palazzo Della Repubblica. It offers various light bites and meal options as well as an extensive cocktail menu (11-14 Euros per cocktail). It is super busy so I would suggest Tuesday or Wednesday for golden hour. Expect the prices to match the opulence of the view but it’s a worthwhile splurge.



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Where to Eat Quick Bites

Pizzicheria Guadagni | Via Isola delle Stinche 4/r, 50122, Florence, Italy

When I studied abroad, this was the spot I grabbed lunch every day! A family run centrally located deli, Stefano and/or his wife Stefania will make you an excellent sandwich. I was so happy to go back and find them still there. You can eat in the little courtyard outside of the shop or take your goods with you as you make your way from the Duomo to the museums.

Proccaci | Via Dei Tornabuoni 64/R, 50123, Florence, Italy

Speaking of truffles – I read about this place in a Conde Nast article about NON touristy places to eat in Florence. Procacci specializes in mini truffle sandwiches (uh-mazing) and homemade tomato juice, served up like a Bloody Mary (minus the alcohol) with all the fixin’s. It’s located among the high end shopping district so it feels extra fancy, but the sandwiches are only 2.50 Euros each.

Where to Eat Something Sweet

Badiani Gelato | Viale dei Mille, 20/R, Florence, Italy

Okay, okay. Gelato is literally EVERYWHERE in Florence. Not all of it is good, and a lot of it is overpriced, unfortunately. But I have on great authority that this is the best gelato shop in the city! It’s located a few blocks away from my former study abroad apartment (dangerous) and I remembered it being amazing.

What a delight to go back and experience it again! So many good and interesting flavors and a big cafe where you can sit and enjoy. It’s a bit off the beaten path near the soccer stadium, but honestly worth it in my opinion.

Just please don’t make the mistake of buying 10 euro mediocre gelato from a shop near the Duomo or the Ponte Vecchio!

Buon Appetito!

In conclusion, you’ll see there is no shortage of amazing spots to eat in Florence. This is just a snippet of what this city has to offer, but I think it’s better to go with a plan because each meal you get to experience here is valuable. I hope this guide is helpful and that you enjoy Firenze (I know you will!)

Make sure to pin this for your trip to Florence!

France Provence Travel

Visiting Provence in Autumn

October 4, 2019

Visiting Provence in Autumn is probably the best idea you’ll have all year. “The South of France” is a hugely popular summer destination among travelers worldwide. Dreamy flower fields, aqua coastline and festivals – what’s not to like? Huge crowds and expensive prices for one.

I really enjoy traveling in this region during the shoulder season of late September, October and November. The crowds are smaller, hotels are lower priced. Also, it’s easier to book last minute and the weather is still pretty beautiful! In fact, my water-loving husband has been known to take a dip in Marseille’s gorgeous Calanques as late as October!

My first trip to Provence was in November of 2011. Since then I’ve spent several more years exploring the region and enjoying it’s autumnal charm…

wall at vineyard in provence with colorful ivy

Getting There

The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The recently renovated airport is a low key base to fly in and out of.

Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.

Transportation

I think it’s essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!

Weather & What to Pack

Just for reference, here is a breakdown of the average temps for Marseille in the fall months:

Month Average High/Low (Fahrenheit)  Average High/Low (Celcius)  Days of Rain
September 78° / 61° 25.5° / 16.1° 3
October 70° / 55° 21.1° / 12.7° 6
November 60° / 47° 15.5° / 8.3° 5

As you can see, it’s pretty mild weather. So, a daily uniform of jeans, comfortable walking shoes or boots, tops that can layer, scarves and a light leather or jean jacket. You can pack a heavier coat but honestly I’ve never needed one, even in winter.

I made the mistake of choosing fashion over comfort during my first trip to Provence and tried to walk around cobble stoned villages in heels! Please save yourself the pain and opt for a flat or chunky heeled boot or walking shoe. Also make sure to pack sneakers or hiking boots if you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful trails. If you are visiting in September or October you can even optimistically throw a bathing suit in your suitcase.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at the Cap Canaille

Taste All The Wine

In my opinion you can’t miss the vineyards in the South of France in the autumn months. Even if you’re not a big drinker or wine connoisseur, the landscape and scenery alone is worth a day of touring around. Trust me, driving through the beautiful Plantane tree tunnels with their changing golden leaves is a magical experience you will not forget. Of course, it does help if you like wine (and have a reliable DD)!

There are basically two wine regions that are easy to visit from here:
Provence and the Rhone Valley.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the wine regions included in Provence. Personally, I enjoy the Bandol, Cassis, & Aix en Provence area (this includes my absolute FAVORITE vineyard Chateau LaCoste), particularly for rosé and white wines.

If you travel a bit north towards Avignon into the Rhône Valley you will find the prestigious region of Chateauneuf du Pape which is well known for it’s reds. You can visit the little town there and as you drive along the countryside roads you will pass vineyard after vineyard.

The Luberon region (within the Rhône) is also filled with vineyards – we had a great experience staying at Chateau Perreal, a vineyard with vacation rentals onsite (this is pretty common).

(From Top Left: Rosé at Chateau LaCoste, Foliage in Chateaneuf de Pape, Outside Chateau Perreal in the Luberon, Pool at Chateau Perreal at sunset.)

Visit Fairytale Towns

It’s no coincidence that painters like Van Gogh and Monet used the South of France as a consistent subject. The towns and landscapes here are right out of a painting! Speaking of Van Gogh, the town of Arles is home to the cafe that was the subject of his famous “Cafe Terrace at Night” and is worth seeing.

Other favorite towns in the region that are gorgeous during fall are Gordes, a postcard perfect perched village, Isle Sur La Sorgue, a tiny town filled with canals and antiques, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a small hamlet with a “magical” natural fountain at the top of a hill. Honorable mentions include: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Les-Baux-des-Provence, and Lourmarin.

The great thing about these towns is that a lot of them are close together so you can knock out several in a day, making the most of your vacation! I’ve put them on a google map you can reference below:

Also the larger cities of Aix en Provence and Avignon are worth spending at least a day visiting. Aix is great for shopping and Avignon is great for history (the immense Papal Palace there was the seat of the Catholic Church from 1309 to 1376).

Featured Post: My Favorite Spots in Provence

(From Top Left: Arles, Isle Sur La Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Walking in the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, The Pool at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, View of Gordes from outside the town)

Really Get to Know Marseille

I think Marseille is a completely underrated French city and you could spend days or weeks exploring it. If you are limited on time though, you can definitely get to see a lot of the main sites (Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde, etc) in a few days.

I’ve written a large guide to visiting the city which includes all my favorite spots and you can find here, and an Instagram Guide to Marseille’s best photo ops here.

Featured Post: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

(From Top Left: Marseille’s Vieux Port, The funky Cours Julien Neighborhood, a street in the Panier Neighborhood).

Enjoy the Amazing Nature

This region is RICH in beautiful nature and scenery. For example, one of my favorite things to do here is visit the Calanques, a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, however it is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time.

There are also plenty of options for hiking, one being the Mont Saint Victoire at the outskirts of Aix en Provence. This resource provides guides to other options in the area with detailed info on length, time and difficulty.

(From Top: Port Miou Calanque near Cassis, View of Marseille from the Mountains, Mont Sainte Victoire.)

Time to go!

In short, there are honestly so many activities to do in the South of France in the fall! Basically it’s hard to go wrong when planning your trip. I hope you consider visiting during this beautiful time and that this guide is a helpful starting guide to creating your perfect itinerary.

Bon voyage!

Ireland Kinsale Travel

A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland

July 5, 2019

Even though I’ve been to Ireland 3 separate times, each trip has held special meaning for me. My first trip was during St. Patrick’s Day weekend when I was studying abroad in Italy, visiting my friend who was studying in Cork. I had dreamed of visiting Ireland since I was a little girl (for some reason I always felt a pull to the idea of it’s rolling green hills) and so my first brief trip there was a realization of that dream. My second trip there was also special because it was with my love (at the time my soon-to-be fiance who is now my husband) and it was to celebrate my 30th birthday.

This most recent trip was also special, as I traveled with my best friend Molly. Molly and I met our freshman year of college in the dorms and had always talked about doing a trip to Ireland together. The trip was over 10 years in the making but we actually did it and had an amazing time touring around together! After spending our first night night in Cork City, our next stop was the colorful and quaint Kinsale, a seaside village on the south coast of County Cork. Molly had a particularly important reason to visit Kinsale: not only did her great grandfather grow up here but she also has relatives still living in the town!

Imagine walking into a local shop in Ireland and telling the person working there that you are actually their cousin visiting from America!

That was the scene when Molly and I walked into Mylie Murphy’s Bike & Bait Shop and were greeted by Gillian, Molly’s cousin with whom we soon became fast friends. Between loaning us bikes to explore with, chatting over photography and Instagram strategies (Gillian owns a LOVELY plant and gift shop in Kinsale, see below) and enjoying a (few) bottles of white wine over lunch, Kinsale became a destination that will hold a special place in my heart. 

Candy colored shops, locals enjoying an ice cream cone from the local Centra, sailboats on the horizon and fields of colorful yellow flowers – Kinsale is postcard perfect! We stayed there for 4 nights and it was a great amount of time to explore and relax. I would certainly recommend stopping by for at least a day if you are visiting Cork City, and staying for a few nights if you have the time. We were there in late April and it was still a bit chilly but very popular – I can only imagine how lively it gets during the summer months. 

WHERE TO STAY

Kinsale Cozy Studio/Tiny House

We had a wonderful 4 night stay at Rosemarie’s adorable cottage! Rosemarie went above and beyond to make our stay comfortable, starting with picking us up at the bus so we wouldn’t have to walk with our bags which we really appreciated. She and her dog Curly were so friendly and gave us plenty of tips on where to go and what to do in Kinsale. The cottage was beautifully decorated and well equipped with breakfast and snack staples and toiletries. The location was close to the main village (about a 5 minute walk) and the front yard had a gorgeous view of the water. I would definitely stay here again and would recommend to anyone planning to stay in Kinsale.

FAVORITE EATS

Bulman | Summercove, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

A colorful (and popular!) spot on the outskirts of town as you head towards Charles Fort. The inside has a cozy and jovial atmosphere while the outside affords you a great view of the water. Come a little after lunch hour in order to try to avoid the crowds.

Fishy Fishy | Crowleys Quay, Kinsale Co, Co. IE, Ireland

If you love seafood and want to treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner, this is your place! We had an amazing meal here with Molly’s family. Delicious mussels, seafood pie and a rhubarb cobbler that was the perfect ending to the meal, washed down by a bottle (or 2?) of the house white wine. Elegant atmosphere and great service.

UNIQUE SHOPPING

Greenhouse & Other Stories | 8 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Ireland Co. Cork

Molly’s cousin Gillian owns this adorable shop filled with beautiful plants and curated gifts including stationary, pots, jewelry children’s clothing. I would definitely recommend stopping by if you’re looking for something unique to bring home for someone, or a little gift for yourself.

Aesthetically pleasing display at Greenhouse & Other Stories

Rain Bath & Beauty | 42 Main Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

Assortment of gorgeous responsible and ethical beauty products – a great shop to buy something to pamper yourself with.

Gourmet Pantry | 4 Market St, Sleveen, Cork, Ireland

We did a lot of self-catering in Kinsale for our evening meals (buying prepared foods, cheeses, wines etc and bringing them to our AirBnB.) While there are a few groceries downtown, this shop has higher quality and locally made items – perfect for a picnic, aperitif or souvenirs to bring home (jams, crackers, etc).

LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE

Dalton’s Bar | 3A Market St, Sleveen, Kinsale, Co. Cork, P17 E068, Ireland

Molly is a huge fan of traditional Irish music, so we went out to listen to a session pretty much every night. That said, we had our best live music experience in Kinsale at Dalton’s Bar during our first night out in Kinsale. We went in on a Monday night, which is when they have an open mic situation of sorts called a “sing-a-long” with a local band to back up the hauntingly beautiful melodies. Cozy interior with a fireplace, friendly bartenders, and unlike more touristy places that play the same 5 Irish songs to a raucous audience, during these sessions everyone shushes the patrons before the person starts singing so everyone can listen and enjoy. It was a genuinely moving experience and I would definitely recommend this place especially if you are here on a night they are doing a sing-a-long.

The Harbour Bar | Scilly, Kinsale, Ireland

Off the beaten path, this bar was truly unique. It’s inside a house where the owner has turned his first floor into a pub. You grab a drink from the fridge (bottled beer, wine and mixed drinks only), pay, and make yourself at home while his little jack russell terrier might jump into your lap. There is old fashioned decor, a TV with the game on, a local crowd and a stunning view of the Harbour (hence, the name).

View from the Harbour Bar

ACTIVITIES

Drive out to The Old Head

About a 10 – 15 minute drive from downtown, the Old Head is a must see. Like a mini Cliffs of Moher, it’s adjacent to a well known golf course and is the closest piece of land to where the RMS Lusitania sank. We went during golden hour to check it out and it was absolutely stunning, especially with all the seabirds flying around below us. It would be a gorgeous spot for an evening picnic or to take photos.

Scilly Walk/Charles Fort

There is a nice walking path from downtown Kinsale to Charles Fort. (We actually took bikes even though I don’t think you are technically supposed to bike on the walking trail.) You can take Lower Road and follow it from the downtown up to the Spaniard Bar, then past the Bulman Pub and out to the fort. You pass great views and lovely homes along the way, there and back is a little over 5km.

Explore Downtown Kinsale

Kinsale’s downtown is incredibly charming. I am a sucker for colorful waterfront towns and Kinsale certainly hits the mark. There are plenty of cute shops to explore, cafes to duck into and the locals we met were all very friendly. If you get the chance to immerse yourself in this place for a few days, definitely do so.

Headed to Kinsale? Don’t forget to pin this post!

Amsterdam Netherlands Travel

A Solo Girly Guide to Amsterdam

May 20, 2019

So, you are planning a solo female travel trip to Amsterdam? Are you wondering what to do or even worried about safety and security?

Don’t worry! I’m providing my experience of solo female travel in Amsterdam with all the practical information you’ll need to plan your most perfect girly trip.

For a lot of Americans at least, people associate the city with legalized marijuana (actually this isn’t even true) and the red-light district. In fact, according to Lonely Planet, recent polls have shown that only 7% of the Dutch people actually use pot and only 5% of customers frequenting the red-light district are Dutch. So, when I decided to take my first solo trip to this city, I wasn’t really sure what my experience with solo female travel in Amsterdam would be.

The short of it: 1. I was pleasantly surprised, and 2. I wanted more time.

Solo Female Travel in Amsterdam : Where to Stay

My first task as a solo female traveler was finding a safe, clean, well-located yet affordable place to stay. And let me tell you, that last part wasn’t easy. Hotels in Amsterdam are generally expensive and during this time of year even more so. Even so, I was able to book a room at Hotel Adolesce for 100 euros/night. There was a bit of a mishap with my dates and ended up booking the wrong night (LOL), but the owner was so kind in letting me switch and giving me an even larger room with a canal view.

The hotel is a bit out of the crazy tourist zone and it’s nice to return to a quiet and calm location after sightseeing, But, it was still within a 20 minute walk to all the major sights. I would 100% stay here again and would recommend it as an affordable option in Amsterdam for solo, couple or friends traveling.

Museums

When visiting a new city, I like to spend some time just walking around and getting a feel for the energy and culture. Actually, I walked an average of 10 miles per day on the two days I was there! Here are some of the highlights:

Van Gogh Museum

This was my #1 priority for my Amsterdam visit and it did not disappoint. Make sure to pre-book your tickets here as soon as you know you are going to Amsterdam because it will sell out. I booked my tickets about a month in advance. This is also true for the Anne Frank House (see below), which unfortunately I didn’t realize and the tickets for the dates for my visit were sold out. If you love Van Gogh’s art and are interested in his life, I would definitely recommend making this a priority. I also recommend getting the audio guide for 5 Euros more as it gives you so much more background into Van Gogh’s works and life.

Moco Museum – Banksy Exhibit

I hadn’t planned on visiting this museum, because I didn’t know about it before my trip, but I’m so glad I decided to stop by. You really only need an hour or less and if you’re interested in Banksy’s art and street art in general, it’s a nice way to spend a little time. Also it stays open late: 7pm during the week and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The Banksy Exhibit runs through September 2019 and you can pre-order your tickets online for a discount here.

PSA: If you know you are going to Amsterdam and you want to visit the Anne Frank house, reserve your tickets ahead of time here. You can only buy tickets online. I unfortunately didn’t realize this and when I went to reserve 2 weeks ahead of time they were sold out. Every day at 9am they release 20% of the tickets for the day so you can log on and try to purchase, but that is a risk (I was unsucessful). When I go back to Amsterdam I will definitely make this a priority and reserve well ahead. 

Other Activities

Canal Tour

This is kind of a no-brainer. If you want to see a good portion of the city while learning about the history and architecture, a Canal Tour is really the best way to do it. There are several companies that offer them, and I chose to use Lovers Canal Cruise for no reason other than I found them first. Most tours originate near Centraal Station, and you can buy tickets there or at one of several tourist offices. Pre-booking didn’t seem to be necessary, I bought a ticket the day of for a boat leaving 1/2 hour from my time of purchase. 

Jordaan

I loved this neighborhood! Beautiful Canals, cute shops and quaint streets – this area was my favorite part of Amsterdam. I’ve linked shop and food/bar info below. 

Floating Flower Market

Touristy? Yes. But it’s fun to walk through and a nice spot to buy souvenirs, from tulip bulbs, to off brand Delftware and everything in between. Make it the last stop of your daily exploring and stock up on goodies for yourself and your people back home – just make sure you get there before it closes at 5:30pm. Find more info here.

Typical Booth in the Flower Market. They all pretty much look like this!

Nightlife

Red Light District

Yes – I was curious. So I decided to walk around the RLD and check it out. I was a little worried to go at night, but honestly I had no need to be worried. Going at 9pm it was super crowded – men, women, families, groups of tourist. I felt perfectly safe. And it was indeed something to see, but I only needed 15 minutes or so. If I were to go again I would have visited the Museum of Prostitution for background and context.

As a solo female traveler, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay too late because I imagine it only gets rowdier.

If I would have had more time I would have visited more museums, particularly the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House. Additionally, it would be nice to take a chill day and hang out in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green space. Next time!

Eat & Drink

It’s funny, as a solo traveler, eating in a restaurant wasn’t a priority for me. My days consisted of walking around till I got hungry and then grabbing something on the go, because for some reason a high-end or atmospheric dining situation is much more enjoyable with another person. My “Amsterdam Diet” was walking 10 miles, stroopwafels for breakfast and vlaamse frites for dinner. That said, I did eat well, including a nice sit down lunch on a canal that I treated myself to (solo travel tip: when dining alone it’s fun to set yourself up at a place where you can people watch). 

Broodje Bert | Singel 321HS, 1012 WK Amsterdam, Netherlands

Great place to grab a healthy lunch adjecent to the Jordaan. If you can and the weather permits, grab one of their canal side tables and enjoy the people watching. The burger is famous here but they also have other choices, including vegetarian options. Also very affordable!

Polaberry | Prinsengracht 232 H, 1016 HE Amsterdam, Netherlands

After following this place on Instagram, it was at the top of my lists of spots to see. Adorable little shop owned by blogger Polina Burashnikova. You’ll find handmade chocolate covered berries as well as cake pops and other goodies. There are also an assortment of girly Amsterdam themed souvenirs and stationary. Perfect idea for unique gifts for yourself or others.

Bar Parry | Eerste Looiersdwarsstraat 15, 1107 SN Amsterdam, Netherlands

This cute little wine bar in Jordaan was recommended to me by a friend. After getting caught in a downpour, it was the great spot to hide out and enjoy a glass or 2 of wine. Very quaint and solo traveler friendly!

Van Wonderens Stroopwafels | Kalverstraat 190, 1012 XH Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another instagram find! If you’re going to try fresh stroopwafels, why not make sure it’s the prettiest stroopwafel in the city? And it was also tasty – the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.

Vlaamse Fries | Literally Anywhere, Amsterdam

Hot Fries, served in a cone and slathered in sauce were my dinner of choice after walking 10 miles a day in Amsterdam. You can find these fry shops all over the city, but here’s a guide put out by iAmsterdam if you need some recommendations. It’s a must try food if you’re visiting the city. 

Unique Shopping

Kunstboer | Prinsengracht 270, 1016 HH AMSTERDAM

Unique accessories for children and adults – glittery unicorns and cute animal theme is king here. You can also customize your own apparel and accessories with their unique patches. Such a cute shop!

Locals | Spuistraat 272, 1012 VW Amsterdam, Netherlands

Loved the selection of stationary, apparel & accessories by (you guessed it) local Dutch artists.

It’s a Present! | Gasthuismolensteeg 4, 1016 AN Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another fun assortment of gifts for all ages, many with a Dutch theme. I bought the cutest little notebook here by the company Orange Panda. 

Final Thoughts

Solo female travel to Amsterdam is a great idea. Amsterdam is architecture & art, canals and bicycles. It’s historic yet modern. The city is clean, safe, friendly and green. It’s compact and easy to explore on foot. Being there during tulip season and the week leading up King’s Day, it was crowded but tolerable and I was still able to wander down some quiet streets. 

Amsterdam quickly became one of my favorite European cities. I would come back as a solo traveler, with my husband, with friends or with kids (some day!). Hopefully I’ll be back soon!

Peru Travel

You Should Definitely Do a Homestay on Taquile Island

March 27, 2019

So you’re heading to Peru? Amazing! Now I’m going to tell you why you should definitely do a homestay on Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca.

Getting There

When thinking of a visit to Peru, one thinks of llamas, ceviche and of course Machu Picchu. There are so many places in this beautiful country thought that can take your breath away. Located on the southeast border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is one of them. This large blue lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world at an altitude of 12,507 feet. 

When we first considered going to Peru, I was not considering a homestay on Taquile Island. I even read another blogger’s article, who said Lake Titicaca was the least favorite art of their trip! I am so glad though that my husband convinced me to go though. Otherwise I would have missed this completely unique and beautiful experience.

We arrived in Puno just before sunrise after a 6 hour overnight bus ride from Cusco. Cruz del Sur, the company we booked with, had comfortable reclining seats, bathrooms on board, pillows, blankets, snacks…honestly it was more comfortable that sleeping on a plane! 

Arrival in Puno

At the bus station in Puno you will encounter several people rather aggressively promoting their tours of Lake Titicaca. I suggest you wait and take a taxi to the port to see what boat collectivos are available. You might have to wait a bit till a boat fills up, but you will find one going to Taquile. It was very cheap (around 25 soles aka $8.3 USD) for a RT ticket. There are also boats traveling back to Puno every day, so just ask what time you should be back on the dock for your return.

IMPORTANT: Pack light! If you are staying on Taquile Island, only bring a small bag, preferably one you can carry on your back. Taquile has NO CARS and you will be walking, uphill to where you are staying, so having a large bag would be impossible. We almost brought our big rolling suitcases and we would have been pretty screwed so at the last minute we decided to leave them at the office of the boat company. (Spoiler alert: everything was still there and intact when we returned). 

Boat to Taquile

Whichever boat you take will likely stop at Uros, which are a series of floating reed islands. I heard this this was the most “tourist trappy” part of the area, so my expectations were low. It turned out though to be a pretty unique sight. Once you arrive on the island you are given a presentation (in Spanish) by a local explaining their way of life and how the islands were built. You are then invited into the home of another local who will take out all of her handicrafts and try to sell them to you (a bit awkward). We did get away with buying a friendship bracelet and a keychain.

Taquile Arrival & Homestay

Now we were ready for our homestay on Taquile! After Uros the boat continues on to Taquile and it takes about 2.5 hours. For some reason the boat is EXTREMELY slow. The plus side is if you are prone to seasickness as you will most likely not have any problems!

We booked our accommodation with him that very morning on Booking.com, and he got in touch with me via WhatsApp to confirm the time we would be at the dock. He walked us to his home which was up several steep hills (be prepared, the altitude here is no joke) and showed us to our room which was clean, comfortable and detached from the main house. We also had access to a real bathroom with running water (not a given on the island) and a hot shower. The island has no electricity except for solar panels, so if we wanted to charge our phones we would need to give them to him to do so with his solar powered battery.



Booking.com

Life on Taquile is wonderfully and refreshingly simple. 

The air is some of the cleanest you will ever breath, due to the lack of car fumes. The only sounds you hear are from people and nature, and purple and yellow flowers from the potato plants dot the green hilly fields. You pass people dressed in brightly knit traditional clothing – sometimes weaving as they walk.

The bluest waters I’ve ever seen!

Eat & Drink

The only restaurants on Taquile are cooperatives, meaning that local families take turns working at them and supplying the ingredients. They eat an almost strictly pescatarian diet, and your meals there will always consist of quinoa soup to start, followed by grilled trout and potatoes with muña or coca tea to finish.

Your homestay with Celso will include breakfast. You can choose to add on dinner to your stay (trout soup & omelet) which was also very good and a nice experience to dine with the family. They did not speak English (only Spanish and their native Quechua language) and we had very rudimentary Spanish, however we were able to have meaningful interaction. Celso’s 13 year old son sat with us as well, working on his knitting as his father had taught him. 

The next day we departed from another side of the island, so we got to see even more beautiful scenery and dine at another cooperative restaurant before catching our boat. I left feeling refreshed, enlightened grateful to have such an awesome opportunity. Out of everything we did in Peru, this might have been my favorite and certainly my most memorable experience, and I hope this post encourages you to look into doing a homestay on this island like we did!

Things to do on Taquile Island:

Walk around – the scenery is remarkable here. You can walk to the top of the mountain to see Inca Ruins and an incredible 360 degree view of the island and the lake.

Visit the main square and knitting cooperative. We spent an hour sitting in the sun in the square, observing the locals and tourists and even kicking around a soccer ball. There are little convenience shops, a cooperative restaurant, photo exhibit and even a place to get a special passport stamp.

There is also a huge knitting cooperative where the locals work to handcraft beautiful garments that you can purchase. Save room in your suitcase is there is almost no comparison to the quality between what we saw there and the massed produced items of the markets in Lima and Cusco.

Swim! We walked to the smaller beach which was closer to where we stayed. There honestly isn’t a clear path down to the beach, but you will find a roundabout way to get down there. We were the only ones, besides a herd of curious sheep watching our every move. The water was pretty cold, but Mike swam anyways. I watched with the sheep.

Get to know your host family. Even speaking basic Spanish I was able to find out things about their way of life, education system, what countries their tourism mainly comes from, etc. By staying with a local family you have a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about a remote culture.

Important Practical Information:

Pack light! There are no cars or ways to carry luggage other than your own brute strength.

You might not have acccess to electricity, so charge your devices before you go and pack a portable batter/charger if this is important to you.

Useful Links:

Inn Taquile Familia Celso 

Celso and his wife and son were a delight to stay with. Very helpful, yet we had time and space to do our own thing. Our room was clean and comfortable, the shower was hot and they cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast. I would definitely recommend them for your stay on Taquile Island!

Cruz Del Sur Bus Line

We had a great experience with this bus (we also did their bus from Lima to Ica.) Very comfortable and safe.

Also need information on Machu Picchu for your Peru trip? I’ve got you covered here!

Don’t forget to PIN this to help you plan your trip to Taquile!

Peru Travel

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

March 21, 2019
One glass of vino for the road in Ollantaytambo

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes was on of the highlights of our Peru trip. Before I planned on going to Peru, I really didn’t know much about the process of getting to Machu Picchu. I knew we needed to get to Cusco – go to Machu Picchu. Easy, right? Well, turns out, there are no direct roads leading from Cusco to Machu Picchu. You cannot drive, Uber or take a taxi.

Getting There

Our visit happened to be during the rainy season, when the Inca trail is closed for maintenance. There are other treks and expeditions you can take though that involve hiking on alternate trails.

You can also take a train to Aguas Calientes and then a bus to the site. If you’re up to it, you can walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. I’m told can be done in about an hour and a half.

When you arrive in Cusco there are TONS of tour agencies offering to coordinate your trip. For instance, on our hotel street alone there were at least 5 different tour agencies. One agency $250 USD per person for the next day, including train, bus, admission & guide. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided then try to wait and DIY it for Machu Picchu. It ended up being a good thing because the next day we came down with food poisoning. Imagine if we had pre-booked all of our tickets for the next day?! Phew!)

Based on recommendations, we decided to sleep in Aguas Calientes, then go to Machu Picchu in the early morning. Most of the time you can take a train directly there from Cusco. However, during the rainy season busses replace trains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. We took a taxi to Ollantaytambo so we could explore and then took the 3:35pm PeruRail Vistadome train. This is the mid range train with a panoramic view.

Alternative options:

  • The Expedition, a budget option without the panoramic windows, and the
  • Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury rail experience.

The train was really nice! They serve you complimentary tea/coffee and a snack while you ride up. The views really are spectacular – it took about an hour and 45 minutes.

What to Do in Aguas Calientes

Arrival in Aguas Calientes is exciting. Everyone is coming for one purpose and you can feel the energy. In addition, It’s quite a sight to see: a strange town in the middle of a lush jungle. The buildings are all piled up on one another, every other one under construction. There are also no cars besides the buses that go up to Machu Picchu. There are a selection of budget to luxury hotels and hostels here. We chose a mid range option, Gringo Bill’s based on it’s price, last-minute availability and Booking.com rating.

Your first priority: head to the Machu Picchu office and bus ticket counter. You buy admission for a 4 hour time slot, as they only allow a certain number of people to view the site at once. You can also purchase admission to climb Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain with your admission tickets. We decided not to do either one and just purchase the admission from 6am to 10am. The bus tickets are general admission and you can get on at whatever time you choose.

We had a lovely dinner at Tree House Restaurante, one of the more high-end dining options in Aguas Calientes. 

Visiting Machu Picchu

The morning of our visit we were worried we wouldn’t make the first bus. In reality there were several buses lined up and we got on one right away. The bus ride also has phenomenal views so try to get a window seat! Once you arrive at the entrance you will immediately be approached by guides offering their services. We ended up joining an existing group with an English guide. As a result we payed significantly less per person than having a private tour. Make sure you secure your guide before you enter, as once you enter there are no guide services. Unless you have an independent knowledge of Incan history, I really do think it’s essential to have a guide. Otherwise you won’t really know what you are looking at and having the background adds so much to your experience. 

There are NO BATHROOMS inside the gates Machu Picchu, only at the entrance! In addition, bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry…although you may have to share with a llama.

Cost Breakdown

Okay, so in the beginning of this post, I told you that the tour agency quoted us at $250 USD per person and we decided to try our DIY luck. Here is our DIY price breakdown of what we payed PER PERSON in USD:

Machu Picchu Cost Breakdown PP in USD
Taxi to Ollantaytambo $30.00
Vistadome PeruRail Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes $60.00
Machu Picchu Entrance Fee $50.00
Round Trip Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu $24.00
Joined Group Guided Tour $6.00
IncaRail Voyager Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco $54.00
TOTAL $224.00 *

*Accomodations & Food in Aguas Calientes NOT included

In conclusion, as you can see, we did not save much doing a DIY version. My takeaway though was that you can DIY for a similar price and have more freedom over your time frame. If you don’t want to worry about anything and have everything already pre-purchased and taken care of? Do it through an agency. It should not cost you much more than buying it piece meal. I liked sleeping in Aguas Calientes the night before and being one of the first people to enter the site for the day.

Practical Info

Remember: this was done during the Off Season! Prices and availability will vary if you visit during more popular times. If you do decide to visit during the popular season, I would recommend booking more in advance than we did!

Bring water and a snack with you – after you enter the gate of Machu Picchu there are no services. There are bathrooms and a snack bar right outside.

If you bring your passport you can get a special Machu Picchu stamp!

Try to get a window seat on the bus up the mountain, the view is spectacular. 

Useful Links

PeruRail

IncaRail

Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel

The Tree House Restaurante

La Boulangerie de Paris

Machu Picchu Ticket Office

Colombia Travel

The Ultimate 3-Week Itinerary for Colombia

October 29, 2018

Looking for the ultimate 3-week itinerary for Colombia? I’m going to help you out! We spent 3 amazing weeks in Colombia, South America for our honeymoon. I put together an itinerary that has beaches, city life, rainforests, national parks, and a trip to the most beautiful island I’ve ever visited.

Since this 3-week itinerary for Colombia is a rough guide, you can decide how long or short you want to make your visit to any of the destinations depending on how much time you have.

Medellin → Cartagena → San Andres/Providencia → Palomino → Minca

Medellin

Stay

Finca Marrokos | Kilometro 4.5 Via Aeropuerto hacia Hipodromo, Via Guarne, Rionegro 054040, Colombia

This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.

61Prado Guesthouse | Cl. 61 #50 A-60, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

This is where we stayed when we were in Medellin. The neighborhood was somewhat residential but the hotel was nice and clean and had a 24 hour restaurant (super convenient) and ROOF DECK with an awesome day and night view of the city! 

Eat & Drink

Hacienda | Cra. 49 #52-98, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

A bit touristy but nice with typical food, a Lonely Planet recommendation. We mainly ate at the hotel and then had a meal out at Hacienda.

Do

Real City Tours -Free Walking Tour

Register online before to save your spot. Meet up with group is a few metro stops away from Hotel – MUST DO especially if you’re only there a day!

After the tour you could take the metro to the cable car and ride it up to Parque Arvi to see another awesome view of the city. Only costs Metro fare! Once you take the cable car up the Parque Arvi is nice and you can walk around it, there were little markets & food.

Guatape & El Penol Day Tours

This was awesome and your hotel will have information on this. It’s a full day tour that includes some different countryside villages, El Penol which is this huge stone tower you can climb (there are stairs!!) with an amazing view, meals & a boat ride on a lake. Just a heads up though if you get carsick, the ride is a little zig zag-ish 🙂

Cartagena

Stay

Hostal Santo Domingo Vidal | Calle San Juan #25-72, Getsemani, Cartagena

Nice, simple, breakfast available … 5 minute walk from walled city. I liked staying in the Getsemani neighborhood outside the walled city because it wasn’t as expensive or touristy and had a hip vibe. Lots of street art and near a square with bars and restaurants. Young clientele.

Eat & Drink

Ohlala Bistrot | Calle Larga Callejon Vargas, Getsemani, Cartagena

Very charming & airy bistro with a French chef. Decor and food was delicious, a great place to eat lunch. Nice wine & ceviche!

Do

The old city of Cartagena is a great place to wander, shop & take pictures. To be honest, we didn’t do many of the typical “tourist” things, but I liked bargaining for the oh so trendy threaded bags & sandals with colorful pom poms. Ask a local maybe before you go looking what they think you should be paying. They also offer the free walking tours, but we did not take advantage because we weren’t there for very long.  

Palomino

Stay

The Dreamer Hostel | Palomino

We had a great stay at Dreamer! Since we were on our honeymoon and we’re in our thirties lol we opted for a private room & bath with a terrace, but they also have dorms available. This place had a great location on the beach, a nice pool & a large bar and restaurant. This is a good place to stay if you want to meet other travelers but also have the option of privacy. You are also not limited to just eating or drinking at the hostel, as there are other options within walking distance. 

We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta and then from Santa Marta to Palomino. You can also fly directly to Santa Marta or Barranquilla, depending on where you’re coming from. 

Eat & Drink

I’m not going to lie, we pretty much ate all our meals at the Dreamer. Honestly, it was so convenient that it was right on sigh and the food was decent. They do a very looooong happy hour at their bar with very yummy drinks. They also have trivia night! If you’re not into the hotel food, there are several options as you walk along the beach and on the road leading up to the main highway. It’s a cool little backpacker/yogi community there.

Do

Besides the pool on site and hanging at the beach (which is pretty but unfortunately the waves are a little strong for swimming), there are lots of activities in the area that the staff at Dreamer are happy to give you info about. One of the biggest attractions is Tayrona National Park, which you can get to by bus. We actually ended up getting talked into chartering horses (!) to ride to the beach, which was a cool experience but also a little scary. Seriously, sometimes I just had to close my eyes and pray that the horse could manuver the twists and turns.

It did cut out a lot of time though so we were able to enjoy the beaches for longer. Not all of the beaches are swimmable, but the horses & guides took us to Cabo San Juan de Guia, which is the most popular and is swimmable. There was a place there to eat lunch. We ended up walking back along the beach for a bit and then through the marked trails in the jungle which was really pretty, we even saw a Capybara

Tubing

Another fun activity we did with some other travelers we met was tubing. The staff at Dreamer will let you know what time tubing trips are leaving, and there are guys on motos that will be offering tubes for rent. They take you on their motos with your tubes and let you off at a trail, where you still have to hike quite a ways to get to the river. Wear flip flops! Some of the girls that came with us didn’t wear shoes because they didn’t want to worry about them in the tube, but then they had to hike for a long way without anything to protect their feet from the bare forest floor, complete with horse poop and fire ants. Trust me, you will be happy you have protection on your feet for that.

Also, I would suggest bringing beers or something to drink. Once you get to the river, it’s literally just floating down lazily until you reach the ocean. It would have been nice to crack open a beer while relaxing and taking in all of the birds and other wildlife we saw. It’s really cool because you get to see where the jungle meets the ocean, all the while getting to know your new Dreamer friends. It’s a nice way to spend a half-day!

Providencia/San Andres

When we first booked our trip to Colombia, we weren’t even aware of these islands – no joke. BUT, they were such an amazing and memorable part of our trip, I can’t imagine our honeymoon without our visit to these jewels. The islands belong to Colombia but are closer geographically to Nicaragua and have a total Caribbean feel. You can take an hour flight from Cartagena to San Andres, we flew Viva Colombia. San Andres is nice but Providencia was pure paradise. To get to Providencia you have to either take another small plane or a 3 hour catamaran boat ride (we did the boat ride, and definitely took our Dramamine!). 

Stay

Hotel Refugio de la Luna | El Bluff, Providencia Island, Colombia

Carmeni provides a very comfortable guesthouse in a scenic location. We had breakfast and fresh juice every morning, and interacted with her very nice family when we were there. She also was super helpful arranging for us to be picked up from the boat, helping us rent a golf cart, tips on what to do each day, etc. I would definitely recommend staying with her if you can!

Eat & Drink

The first day we went to the beach and found an open air restaurant with a guy grilling fish – this is common, casual and inexpensive. 

Cafe Studio | Soroeste, Providencia Island, Colombia

Very popular spot- cute little restaurant with a garden. We ate there for dinner one night, I had the black crab – delicious but I did feel a little bad later when we passed a bunch of black crabs on the way to Roland’s Bar (see below). 

Roland Roots Reggae Bar | Manzanillo Beach, Providencia Island, Colombia

This place is THE place to go at night on the island and everyone knows about it! Be prepared to drive your moto or golf cart down a long road (just ask all the locals, they will direct you) and watch out for the giant black crabs crossing the road. Once you get there you’ll find hammocks, a bonfire, coconut drinks, reggae music, dancing and cute dogs. It’s really fun.

Do

First thing you will want it to rent a golf cart or a moto bike to get around the island, as cars are rare and unnecessary. Our hostess arranged for a driver to pick us up at the dock when we arrived, and then she also helped us rent the golf cart from her friend. This will be the only transportation you need during your stay.

We spent one day here on the beach (the sand and the water there are pure magic) and one day snorkeling at Crab Cay. Our hostess recommended where to go to find snorkeling equipment to rent and we drove our golf cart there and were met by people trying to rent us equipment. You can rent them fairly cheaply, and then we talked to a guy who we ended up paying to take us to the Cay on his boat (not far) and then pick us up after snorkeling to take us around to a few other locations. That was totally worth it, and you can bargain for a rate. You also will have to pay a fee at Crab Cay because it is a national park. The snorkeling was amazing- lots of beautiful fish and Sea Turtles! There is a bar where you can get a drink before and after snorkeling, in a coconut OBVIOUSLY. 

Minca

Stay

Casa Elemento

We went to Minca for the sole purpose of staying at Casa Elemento. My husband saw the 20 foot hammock on it’s website and was totally sold. It was Quite. A Trek. Not for the faint of heart, and done easier if you only have a backpack, which we did. Once you get to Minca you ride on the back of a mototaxi for 45 minutes straight up a mountain through beautiful, albeit muddy, terrain. Once you get there though, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

The food is excellent, the staff is super chill (it seems like it’s made up of travelers who visited the hostel and wanted to stay), and the guests are friendly. There are resident dogs, a cat, and most delightfully a toucan that lets you feed it! The wifi is non existent, but it didn’t matter. The bathrooms are also open air to the wilderness, as are the “private cabanas” which are basically 3 walls around a bed with an open front view of the mountains and valley below. It was a little bit different for me and a lot more exposed to nature than I’m used to. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

From Casa Elemento there are birdwatching and coffee excursions but sadly we did not have time and the weather had turned rough (we experienced the start of hurricane Matthew there). After our delicious dinner we drank with the new friends we had made and played games until late in the night as the fog rolled in. Such great memories were made and it was a wonderful end to our trip. 

Conclusion

I hope you find this 3-week itinerary for Colombia helpful. Whether you are exploring the colorful streets of Cartagena, drinking out of a coconut on the island of Providencia, or tubing down a river in Palomino, I don’t doubt you will have an amazing time.

For another 3 week trip ideas, check out my 3-Week Itinerary for Australia!

Also, don’t forget to PIN this guide for your future travels.