Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Tereza, a native of Slovakia, wrote a few posts about her country.  If you haven't visited already, you will want to after reading this!

Main Square at night!  A city not to be missed in Europe.
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
Some of you may be wondering where in the world this place could possibly be.  Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic, located in central Europe. Slovakia (as opposed to Slovenia, which is further south, and formerly part of Yugoslavia) became an independent country in 1993 after a peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics. We’re still good friends, and both Czechs and Slovaks feel at home in both countries and can understand each other perfectly (yes, there are two different languages). A tourist should be aware that the Euro is the currency of Slovakia, while the Czech Republic kept its Crowns (although both countries are part of the European Union).

So why would anyone want to visit Bratislava? The truth is, most tourists stop by for a day or two, traveling either from Vienna, Austria (Vienna and Bratislava are supposed to be the world’s closest two capitals, less than an hour apart) or from Prague, Czech Republic, on their way to or from Budapest, Hungary.  One large group of visitors, who are not quite so welcomed by locals, includes young British men going on “stag parties,” lured by cheap beer and cheap air tickets.

Old and New in the capital of Bratislava
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
With a population of some 500,000, situated on both banks of the Danube River, it is indeed small enough to see most sites within a day or two. You can get an idea of what it looks like from the movie, “Peacemaker,” which was filmed in Bratislava – the city serving as both luxurious Vienna and war-destroyed Sarajevo at the same time, often just a few streets apart. There remain many places that need to be fixed up, particularly the depressing suburbs full of concrete apartment buildings leftover from the Communist times; revitalizing the city means there will be a number of construction sites. In spite of that, the city does have a special and exciting atmosphere, particularly during warm summer nights, when the old town vibrates with people parading the pedestrian zone, sharing drinks and food outside with friends, or attending concerts in one of the old town squares.

The best time to come is definitely summer, not just because of the weather (although it can get quite hot) but mainly because of the rich (and mostly free) programs in the streets of downtown and at the hilltop castle. These programs are known as the “Cultural Summer and Castle Festivities.”  It is a good idea on arrival to stop by the Tourist Information Center, for information regarding both the summer festivals and other musical and cultural events on offer at any time of the year.

Beautiful at Christmas!
(Photo from Bratislava
Tourist Board)
One notably interesting event occurring the last weekend in June is the “Coronation Festival.” During the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bratislava served as the coronation city (then called Pressburg in German or Pozsony in Hungarian); eighteen kings and queens were crowned in St. Martin’s cathedral. Each year, the coronation ceremony is authentically reenacted for a different king or queen.

If you come during the Christmas season, you will find a traditional Christmas market (food and crafts) in the Main Square and in the courtyard of the Town Hall, with the standard warning that goes with all crowded places, be aware of pickpockets. This time of the year there are a number of cultural events in the streets of the old town, while the New Year’s Eve concerts in the Main Square are very popular and showcase famous local bands playing well past midnight.

Check out next week’s post for specifics of what to see in downtown Bratislava!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Alternatives to Airport Parking

With so many people jet-setting, there have become more and more options for airport parking. While last minute on-site airport parking is a must for some, there are often cheaper options just outside the airport's grounds.  In particular, one fairly new option is FlightCar. While I haven't tried it myself, it seems like a neat idea.  In short, you leave your car at their lot near the airport, FlightCar provides you a town car ride to and from the terminal, as well as a free car wash and vacuum. How much does it cost? Nothing!  How? Well, the idea is that they try to rent out your car (insurance included), and will pay you (per mile) if your car is rented out.  If not, you still got yourself free parking.

I'm sure people with brand new or luxury cars might be hesitant to try it out, but I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has?  Seems like a good idea for people with slightly older cars, as a way to save $15/day parking cost + $10 car wash!

Here is a description of FlightCar's services (from their website).



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passenger Bill of Rights

Following up on a previous post regarding trip interruptions and airline delays, I wanted to share something new within the last few years - the US Department of Transportation's Passenger Bill of Rights.  It covers lost bag fees, reimbursement for being bumped from flights, tarmac delays and more.  Details can be found on the Department of Transportation's website. If you think your rights have been violated, make sure to mention this bill of rights in your complaint letter (or Email) to the airline.  Letting them know that you are an aware consumer makes it more likely they will take you seriously and address your concerns!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Food Festivals

A fun part of traveling is experincing the local cuisine. Many cities offer local food festivals, which is a great way to try samples of what each region is famous for!  Here are some festivals to check out next time you're in the area! But remember, these are just a small sampling of all the festival the USA has to offer!

New Orleans - Every spring this festival is full of samples from dozens of restaurants. A celebration for your tastebuds! More information at: nowfe.com

View of Chicago from the Ferris Wheel
at "Taste of Chicago!"
Chicago - Personally I like the annual "Taste of Chicago," but this big midwestern city offers many festivals throughout the year, including: Food Truck Rally and Ribfest.

North Carolina - Having experienced North Carolina BBQ myself, I can say it's well worth a trip to this mid-atlantic state. Tryon, NC, holds it's Blue Ridge BBQ Festival.  Check it out!

Maine - Take a guess what type of food festival is held in this state?  It's none other than the tasty Maine Lobster Festival, and has been occurring for more than 65 years! A visit to Maine's coast is spectacular in the summer, especially with some lobster on the menu!

New Mexico - What's a trip to the Southwest without a little spicy foods?  The Hatch Chile Festival is the largest in the state of New Mexico and is held over labor day weekend every year.

California - With a state so large there are many festivals to attend, but since California is known worldwide for it's wine, I think Flavor! Napa Valley Food and Wine Festival is a good representative choice!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Latin America Photography

To follow up on a previous post about travel photo tips, here are some images I captured traveling in Central/South America.  Enjoy!
Old Church in Panama City, Panama.

Transiting the Panama Canal.

Colors galore in Cartagena's Old Town, Colombia.

Exploring the rainforest in Costa Rica.

Old Town Panama City decorated for Christmas.

The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas in Colombia.

Pura Vida in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Marketplace in Colombia.

Sunset over Roatan, Honduras.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Out of the ordinary packing suggestions...

I've written a post on travel must-haves, as well as how to Mix&Match outfits to save space, but in this post I wanted to share several tips that can really keep you organized and $ave you money too!


    A pill case will keep jewelry untangled
    and most importantly, unbroken!
  • Use a pillbox to organize jewelry and keep it from getting tangled.


  • Put a dryer sheet in your suitcase to keep clothes smelling fresh.

  • Put socks inside shoes to save packing space.



    Buying Travel Size toiletries and refilling
    them is a great cost-saving maneuver.
  • Use travel size containers, and refill them! No need to buy new shampoo and toothpaste every time! It's cheaper to refill using your larger containers at home.

  • I've said it before, and I'll say it again… Space Bags!!!

  • Use a shower cap or ziploc bags to store shoes.



Foldable water bottles, like this one from
REI, are great for travel!
  • Bring an empty re-usable water bottle. Besides the classic Nalgene bottle, Platypus made a collapsable one that is really handy when space is an issue. It's also so lightweight and easy to carry!
  • If space isn't an issue - bring a power strip.  Really useful when traveling in a large group or in an old airport with limited plugs!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Melbourne Vacation



Following up on the last post, Melbourne in a Day, Rachelle, a Melbourne local, describes additional things to see if you have more than a day in the city…

Carlton Gardens: Within the city there are a number of beautiful areas to see if you have the time: Carlton Gardens houses the Royal Exhibition Building, which hosts many events and has a beautiful exterior and interior, and the Melbourne Museum sits directly behind the exhibition building. This is one of the few museums you have to pay to enter (~$15pp), but is a very fun 1/2 day if you have kids! This are is just north of the central business district (CBD) and is located in Fitzroy. Still easily accessible by tram (~5minutes)!

Brighton Beach: This small beach-side community is famous for its colorful bath houses and relaxed, but up-scale feel. To get to Brighton, take the Sandringham train on PTV and get off the the Middle Brighton stop (approximately 20 minutes on the train from the Melbourne CBD). The town of Brighton is waiting for you just off the platform with lots of restaurants and shops (try Half Moon for lunch if you don't mind a pricy meal, or head to the closest butcher shop where they will surely have a sausage sizzle on the sidewalk for about $2/snag) and the bath house beach is about a 10 minute walk. If you want to skip the bath houses and just head for the beach, take the train one stop further to the Brighton Beach stop, and you will see the ocean as soon as you step off the platforms (the drawback being no beach houses on this stretch of the coast).

Fitzroy Gardens (not actually in Fitzroy): This is an enormous park at the eastern edge of the city and is home to some of the city's best trees. If you want to go for a run, this is the best place in the city to do it!

Places to visit around greater Melbourne



The Great Ocean Road: If you are willing to get on a tour bus and spend a bit more money, some of the most spectacular scenery you will every see lies just west of Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. Home of the 12 Apostles rock formations (only about seven now remain), this scenery matches that of the Amalfi coast. Loch Ard Gorge and Gibsons Steps are two sites you will not want to miss along this trek. The site of the 12 Apostles lets you look out over the formations, while Gibsons Steps lets you walk along the coast and look up at the massive structures. WARNING: If you are prone to motion sickness, you will need to bring a large bucket or take a hefty dose of Dramamine prior to setting out on the Great Ocean Road!


Phillip Island: Every night on Phillip Island "rafts" of Fairy Penguins come in from the water and you can sit on bleachers along the waters edge to watch the action. This is a fun activity, particularly for kids, and if you take the Little Penguin Bus Tour, it's about $75pp, you will get the scenic route to Phillip Island instead of the highway, and a quick tour of the island.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Melbourne in a Day

Rachelle, the author of this post,
and her husband Josh,
at Chandon Winery in Yarra Valley.
I have moved around quite a lot as a child and adult, and recently had the opportunity to live in Melbourne, Australia for 2.5 years.  Although I'm now living back in the States, a part of my heart will always remain in Australia, and Melbourne in particular, for its coffee, culture and people.

Quick note: When I moved to Melbourne my son was 7 months old, and therefore most of the activities we pursued in the city were family friendly!


What to do in Melbourne if you are there for one day
Melbourne, Australia.

Southbank: One of the best things about Melbourne is that there are tons of FREE things to do in the city! One of my favorite places in the city is the Southbank area.  From here you can visit the Royal Botanical Garden (absolutely beautiful year round), the Shrine of the Remembrance (in honor of Australian soldiers who fought in the World Wars), and the National Gallery Victoria (affectionately called the NGV, an excellent and FREE art museum in the heart of the city). All of these places are FREE, and if you are looking to grab some food, the tea room on the 1st floor (2nd floor by American standards) has fantastic scones and is an excellent place to have morning tea. Melbourne is famous for its espresso, so feel free to grab a coffee instead of tea - the majority of Melbournians do!  You can't go wrong at basically any cafe in the city. If you're craving American style coffee, a "long black" is the closest you'll find, but the dilution of this drink can vary widely depending on the cafe, so brace yourself for a strong cup of (delicious) espresso.
Shrine of the Remembrance

Federation Square: Upon leaving the NGV building, cross over the river and head into the Federation Square, which is the heart of the city. Melbournians have mixed feelings on the aesthetics of Fed Square, but I always liked it. The Ian Potter Gallery, which houses all of the Indigenous art and works by Australian artists is here, and also FREE. There are several other FREE museums in the square, including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which houses interactive exhibits and movie paraphernalia.  Be sure to check the days and times you want to visit the art museums as many are closed on day/week.

Flinders Lane: Street art (graffiti) is particularly popular in Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs, and makes the city unique in that the scenery is constantly changing.  Flinders Lane and Hoiser Lane are across from the Fed Square atrium and are always entertaining to walk through. The graffiti changes daily, and in a matter of weeks the entire alleyway becomes an entirely new display of street art.  Even the dumpsters are painted!
Royal Botanical Garden

Vic Market: Another great place to visit downtown is the Queen Victoria Market (Vic Market). You could spend an hour or several days here depending on your capacity for shopping, but generally there is something for everyone. The market sells meats, cheeses, produce, clothing, souvenirs, and more, and is really something to see in itself. If you are feeling peckish (hungry), the delicatessen has some of the best bratwurst I've ever had (and I don't like bratwurst).

Cafe Vue: Since we had an infant, we rarely went out to nice restaurants, but when we did spring for a babysitter, we ate at Cafe Vue, a sister to the acclaimed (and expensive) Vue de Monde. While you won't get the spectacular views offered at Vue de Monde, you will get excellent food in a cosy environment, and a much smaller bill.

Getting around the city

Melbourne has the most extensive public transportation system in the world, and it shows. We lived there for 2.5 years with no car! For navigating through the city, take the trams, which come every few minutes. Kids 4 and under ride FREE on all trams, trains, and buses, and the word now is that adults will be able to ride free in the city center as well, so check the Public Transportation Victoria website before traveling within the CBD. Beware if you are toting a stroller as many trams are still not wheelchair accessible and it requires two people to get a stroller onto the trams with stairs (there is almost always a good samaritan who will offer to help you!).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Top 10 Travel Movies

With the summer movie season upon us, I thought it would be fun to gather some of the best travel movies of all time.  (Or, at least ones that let us escape to a foreign land.) What do you think? Agree? If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments section below!

Roman Holiday is a classic travel movie!
  1. Roman Holiday
  2. Casablanca
  3. Eat, Pray, Love (or the book at least)
  4. Midnight in Paris
  5. Before Sunrise
  6. The Beach
  7. Out of Africa
  8. The Darjeeling Limited
  9. Seven Years in Tibet
  10. Into the Wild

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 4th Celebrations

When people think of New Year's Eve, they often mention Time's Square in NYC.  But, what comes to your mind when hearing "4th of July?" Here are some fun celebrations hosted across our country.  What are your traditions? Leave a comment below!

NYC: Macy's 4th of July Fireworks (the same Macy's that hosts the Thanksgiving Day Parade) holds the country's largest display.

Washington D.C.: Viewing fireworks along the National Mall as they are shot off from the Reflecting Pool makes for a very patriotic July 4th!

Chicago: This city (and the ones surrounding it) have fireworks, music festivals, hot air balloon rides as well as lake cruises!

Dallas: Besides firework displays around the city (sporting titles such as "Lone Stars and Stripes"), there's also Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic at Billy Bob's.

San Francisco: Fireworks over the SF Bay can be seen from famous Fisherman's Wharf, and high vantage points throughout the Bay Area allows one to see multiple cities' displays on a clear evening.

Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, holds a historic July 4th celebration with a salute to the 13 original colonies, music and the firing of muskets and cannons!


Colonial Independence Day Celebration in Williamsburg, VA.
(Note: All photographs adapted from Google Images.)


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Packing Light - Mix & Match

I've written a previous post about packing light, but wanted to add more ideas to the mix. If you pick a color palette to work with, it's easy to mix and match, allowing more outfits from less items of clothing.  For example:

  • 3 tops x 3 bottoms = 9 outfits (I stick with neutral/solid pattern bottoms and more colorful tops.)

3 tops x 3 bottoms = 9 outfits!

  • Summer dress = Dual purpose 
    • Wear alone during the day or add a blazer for fancy dinner out!


  • Accessories 
    • Pashmina or cardigan serves both to dress up a sundress, as well as keep you warm on air conditioned planes.
    • Small clutch (wallet)/purse - Often dinner out is a formal event. So, I recommend two purses - one for day and another (small) one for evenings out.                                           

An extra (small) evening purse helps
dress up casual daytime outfits.

  • Shoes - Multi-purpose
    • Sandals (can go from day to night)
    • Flip-flops (for beach or shower - Very important in hostels!)
    • Tennis shoes (for rushing around the airport or keeping your feet dry after a summer rain)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Emergency words abroad

When you head to a foreign land, it's nice to take note of some emergency phrases, as well as basic greetings in the native language of the land.  Here are some I've put together from my travels.  Make your own list and keep it in your bag for easy access next time you're abroad!

No matter where you travel,
it's good to know some local
emergency words, just in case!

Spanish:
Ayudame (Help me)
El Medico (The doctor)
Hospital
El bano (The bathroom)
Ladron (Thief)
Ambulancia (Ambulance)
Hola (Hello)
Adios (goodbye)
Buenas tardes (good afternoon)
Gracias (thank you)

French:
Un accident (Accident)
Au voleur (Thief)
Au feu (Fire)
Au secours (Help)
Urgence (Emergency)
J'ai perdu mon passeport (I've lost my passport)
Je suis perdu(e) (I'm lost)
Bonjour (Hello, Good morning…)
Salut (Hi)
Au revoir (Goodbye)

German:
Hilfe (Help)
Dieb (Thief)
Feuer (Fire)
der Krankenwagen (Ambulance)
Hilf Mir (Help me)
Ich bin in Gefahr (I'm in danger)
Es ist ein Notfall (It's an emergency)
Guten Tag (Hello)
Bitte (Please)
Danke (Thank you)
Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye)

Italian:
Aiuto (Help)
Mi sento male. (I feel sick.)
Ho bisogno di un dottore medico. (I need a doctor.)
E un'emergenza! (It's an emergency!)
Dov'e la farmacia piu vicina? (Where's the nearest pharmacy?)
Ambulanza (Ambulance)
Ciao (Hello and Goodbye)
Grazie (Thank You)
Come stai (How are you?)


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dine About Town

Living in California, socializing and eating out come with the territory, but it also adds up!  While the good food and company are well worth the cost, here is a fun money saving tip to save a few bucks on your next evening out, wherever you live!

Sushi dinner in San Francisco
Many cities have annual dining events, with prix fixe menus at a steep discount from what the selected restaurants normally charge.  The key with these events is to keep an eye on when they are happening, and get a reservation in advance! It's a great opportunity to check out new (expensive) restaurants for a fraction of the cost! OpenTable has a list of "restaurant weeks" throughout the country.  Or, if you're in the bay area, San Francisco is currently doing their "Dine About Town" event June 1-15, 2014, and San Jose has an annual event also! Bon Appetit!


Friday, May 16, 2014

America the Beautiful


With Memorial Day approaching, and summer on its heels, many people will be taking trips within the USA this year.  I thought with the unofficial start of summer upon us, it would be fun to show some photography of my travels across this amazing country!

Golden Gate Bridge, California.

4th of July fireworks over Pretty Lake, Indiana.


Stowe, Vermont.

Yosemite, California.

Seattle, Washington.

NYC, New York.

Empire State Building, New York.

Miami Beach, Florida.

Big Sur, California.

McWay Falls, California.

Maui, Hawaii.
Pike's Peak, Colorado.