• Travel Stories
  • Travel Guide: Barcelona Spain

    Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. It is one of the tourist destination in Spain. With its unique architecture, diverse culture, UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums, delicious tapas, it’s not hard to fall for Barcelona. It is a city that never sleeps and has a lot to offer for every traveler.

    Placa Catalunya

     

    Placa Catalunya at night

    Where to Stay:

    There are popular places to stay in Barcelona. The area around Placa Catalunya is the most central area of Barcelona. It is very near to most tourist spots such as Las Ramblas, La Boqueria, and Placa Reil. Ciutat Vella is close to Barceloneta, El Born, and Gothic area.

    Getting Around Barcelona:

    Barcelona is a big city. The quickest and convenient way to go around the city is through public transport such as the metro, bus, and tram. I used the ten ticket (T10) card which lets multiple travelers use the same card. It is cheaper than the individual tickets. It’s also walkable for the most part, but you may want to take public transport for some further out tourist destinations.

    Places to Go:

    When you are traveling, and in short of time, you like to make most of your destination. Here is the list of places to go and visit:

    La Boqueria. It is the famous food market located just off La Rambla. It is popular with the locals and tourists.  There are numerous stalls with abundant displays of fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood, meats, and sweets. Don’t leave the place without trying Spain’s famous ham (Jamon). My sister and I spent a lot of time trying different grades of Jamon.

     

     

     

    Jamon Jabugo and Queso Manchego

    Sagrada Familia.If you need to see one sightseeing, this should be it. The UNESCO listed church stands in the northern part of the city. It is said this will be the tallest religious building in Europe and it’s still under construction after more than 130 years. Although it is under construction, the majority of the building is open to the public. Entry is timed so best to order ticket online in advance and pick a slot that suits you.

     

    Interior design of the church

     

    La Rambla or Las Ramblas. It is a wide boulevard that runs through the heart of the city. It is usually crowded every day until the wee hours. It is lined with many shops, restaurants, and cafes. There’s a lot of pavement artists and living statues all part of the lane.

    Gothic Quarter (Bari Gothic). The most ancient part of the city, where gothic architecture can be found. You will stumble a lot of historical monuments by just walking through this part.

     

    Park Guell. It is park composed of gardens and architectonic elements located on Carmel Hill. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Antonio Gaudi. You can enter the park for free, but there is a charge for an area called “Monumental Area.” The Monumental Area includes a section where you can have a magnificent view of the city.  I suggest booking a ticket online in advance.

    Barceloneta. It is Barcelona’s seaside district.

    Placa Reil. If you like people watching, then Placa Reil is the place to be. It is palm-fringed square enclosed by historic buildings.

    El Born Cultural Center. A place where recently recovered remains and buildings from the Roman period of the city.

    Casa Batllo.It is UNESCO listed and another creation of Antonio Gaudi.

    Parc de la Ciutadella. If you want to visit a park within the center, a good option is to Citadel Park or Prac de la Ciutadella. It is perfect for a picnic or a take a rest from all your exploration of the city.

    Tips:

    1. Join a walking tour for free. There’s a lot of group offering free walking tours in Barcelona. This way you will see the sights and learn about the history. I took one walking tour to see the Gothic Quarter.
    Our tour guide in Barcelona

    2. Don’t miss tapas and sangrias. Barcelona is known for savory and amazing food. There are tons of restaurants and cafes along the beach of Barceloneta and on the side of La Ramblas. Don’t forget to try seafood paella, a popular dish in Barcelona. I recommend eating at Can Sole at Barceloneta.

    Sangria every night, why not?!

     

     

    3.Be careful with the pickpocketers. Always keep an eye on your belongings. If you’re in a restaurant, put your bag on your lap.

    4. Learn the local language. The majority of the people speak Catalan.

    5. Read blogs. You will learn from the experiences of other travelers and local.

    Hope you enjoy your coming holidays in Barcelona.  Any questions? Share your comments below. 

     

     

  • Travel Stories
  • Travel Guide: Day Trip to Cinque Terre,Italy

    The laidback style of Italy’s Cinque Terre made this area a must-see, same as Rome, Florence, and Venice. Cinque Terre is comprised of 5 small towns in the region of Liguria, which is just above Tuscany. It is a National Park and territory protected by UNESCO. It is characterized with colorful towns and terraced agricultural land.

     

    How to Take There:

    Florence to Cinque Terre

    It takes approximately 2.5- 3 hours each way for travel from Florence to Cinque Terre. I booked a random trip when I was in Florence through an organized travel group going to Cinque Terre. But if you’re more of an adventurous type, you can do it yourself.  To travel to Cinque Terre by train from Florence, take a train departing from Firenze S. M. Novella. You can purchase tickets online from the Trenitalia or Italo website or at the ticket window at the train station.

    Once in Cinque Terre, take a Regionale Train to La Spezia Centrale. From there, take a local train to Riomaggiore which is the first town of the Cinque Terre.

    Cinque Terre is magical; I wish I could have stayed at least for a night. It is a kind of place that needs to be taken slowly, allowing you to enjoy all the five villages and have enough time to see the sophisticated side of the area.

    Getting Around:

    The easiest way to travel between the villages is through a train. The train line connects all villages, so it is easy to go around the area. Cinque Terre pass covers all the train travel between La Spezia and Levanto including the hiking fees.  The card has discounts on museums and if you wish to stay overnight to some of the registered hospitality providers.

    When I was there, I visited the villages by hiking. It is one of the best things to do in Cinque Terre. It is the best and cheapest way to go around. If you want to stay overnight, it is bit expensive. But with the beautiful views, it will take your breath away. and it is one of my favorite places in Italy.

    The Five Villages

    Though every village is picturesque, each has its flair and beauty.

    Riomaggiore

    Riomaggiore is the largest of all five villages and acts as Cinque Terre’s unofficial capital. It is the village nearest to La Spezia and the easiest to reach.

    Manarola is a one- street town with a small area where you can swim. It is similar to Riomaggiore with a chill vibe and atmosphere.

     

     

     

    Corniglia

    Corniglia is the smallest of the five villages. It is the least popular with tourists since it is the hardest village to get reach.

     

     

     

     

    Vernazza is the most famous and picturesque villages in Cinque Terre.  There are a small piazza and little boats on the harbor, mysterious alleys, multicolored red, yellow and pink houses.

     

     

    Monterosso

    Monterosso, Cinque Terre’s only resort town with hotels, restaurants, wine shops and a thriving late-night scene. It has the best beaches of the Cinque Terre villages. You can also visit the ruins of a 16th – century castle built as a defense system after a Saracen attack.

     

     

     

    Tips:

    1. Be prepared to walk. Hiking is the major activity there. The different towns are hilly, so it is common you will walk a lot. Make sure to wear a comfortable shoes or sandals for hiking and walking.
    2. The hiking trails are quite challenging. Bring a bottle of water. Wear a hat and sunscreen on summer time.
    3. Buy a Cinque Terre Pass. It provides access to all the trails plus and wifi at each train stations. It can be purchased in any stations in Cinque Terre or at the checkpoint of each trail. It cost around 12 EURO/ 14 USD/ 5 OMR/ 700 PHP for a day.

    Have you been to Cinque Terre, Italy? Tell us your experience. Share in the comments below. 

  • Travel Stories
  • My Travel Adventure in the City of Romance, Venice Italy

    If you were to ask me, Venice is one of the places to see in Italy. It is in the northeast and world famous for its unique and intricate transport system of interconnected canals. There are 118 islands, and the islands on which the city was built, are connected by about 400 bridges and 170 boat canals. Just like any other places in Italy, the city of water didn’t fail to overwhelm tourists with its beauty. The “City of Bridges” has been described as one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Europe. It is a city that has a lot to offer – architecture, art, and culture.

    View from the hotel

    I took a train (Italo) from Florence to Venice with an average time of 2 hours.  The ticket costs 22.5 EURO/ 10 OMR/ 27 USD/ 1,360 PHP. Make sure to book in advance if it is a planned trip to save money.

    The view from the train station

    Where to Stay

    There’s a lot of places to stay in Venice.  I booked my accommodation through Booking.com and stayed in Bed and Venice. It was near San Zaccaria water taxi stop which is ideal and walking distance to many beautiful views, shops, and restaurants. It is just a few minutes away from San Marco Square which is the heart of the city.

    Booking.com

    Water Taxi Stop near San Marco Square

    View from the hotel

    The hotel was clean and practical. The staff was pleasant and helpful. Breakfast was good with bread, croissant, jams and coffee/milk/juice. I stayed in April which is high season in Italy. I paid 81 EURO/ 33 OMR/ 86 USD for two nights and three days stay in Venice.

    Getting Around

    Because of the unusual construction of canals and bridges, the most pleasant way to explore the city is by foot or by (water buses) vaporetti or gondola. By wandering around, you can find many charming and squares and streets which will make you appreciate more the city. Don’t forget to bring a map with you.

    Things to Do:

    1. Ride a Gondola

    A trip to Venice, wouldn’t be complete without riding a gondola. These traditional boats are used as transport around the narrow waterways for more than ten decades. You can opt to have your gondolier sing traditional Italian ballad during the ride. It is bit expensive, but I guess worth it for a first-time visit to Venice. It cost around 80 EURO/95 USD/ 36 OMR/ 4,800PHP for 40 minutes. But if you’re on a budget, an alternative way is to take the vaporetto. The Vaporetto that runs the Grand Canal is the equivalent of a city tour bus.

    Gondola Ride

    2. See St. Mark’s Square (Piazza de San Marco)

    It is the only “piazza” in the city. There are multiple sites near the square including the St. Mark’s Basilica, St Mark’s Campanile, and the Doge’s Palace. There are plenty of restaurants and shops which makes the place perfect for people watching.

    St Mark’s Basilica
    The Bridge of Sighs

    3. Walk along the Rialto Bridge (Ponte de Rialto)

     Another symbol of the city is the Rialto bridge which crosses the Grand Canal. Built in 1591, it is the oldest bridge across the canal and probably the most famous. It is recommended to go early to take photos because it gets busy in the afternoon. It’s hard to miss the bridge. From the train station or the Piazzale Roma, just simply follow the signs to “Rialto.”

    The view from Rialto Bridge

    4. Explore the Streets of Burano Islands

    The islands of Burano are filled with brightly colored houses which makes it perfect for a stroll. Legend says that the fishermen were the first to paint their houses in bright colors so they could see them while they are out for fishing. The typical houses are squared type and are divided into 2 or 3 floors. Other than the bright colored houses, Burano is also famous for lacemaking.

    One Vaporetto line runs from Venice (main) to Burano:12. It takes about 45 minutes and costs 6.50 EURO/ 7.7 USD/ 2.9 OMR/ 339 PHP per person. There is water taxi but sure will cost you more.

    5. Watch Glass Making Demonstration on Murano Island

     Murano is a collection of 7 islands connected by bridges. It is the place to go for the Venetian glasses where you can watch a glass-making demonstration and buy a glass as a souvenir. Vaporetto line 42 from Mark’s Square goes to Murano. Other things to see are Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato and Chiesa di San Pietro Martire.

    6. Stroll Through Venice’s Quieter Neighborhood

    The charm of Venice can be found not only by visiting the famous spots but also wandering aimlessly along the small alleys and canals.

    Tips:

    1. Stay in Venice proper. It is not recommended to stay in Mestre. It is far from the main tourist attractions especially for first timers in Venice.
    2. Book a hotel near a water taxi stop. I swear, it ‘s hard to drag the luggage around Venice.
    3. Eat in a place unexplored by the tourists. Find places serving local dishes. Research the best restaurants frequented by the locals.
    4. Get up early. Venice is beautiful but crowded with tourists.
    5. Venice is a stylish and sophisticated city. Wear something nice.

     

    Do you want to visit Venice? What are the things you want to do? Share in the comments below.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Travel Stories
  • Florence: Italy’s City of Art and Gelato

    Ciao! After my visit to Rome, Florence was my second stop in Italy. Florence is the capital city of Tuscany. Florence, just like Rome was spectacular.Though the city is populous, I fell in love with the place from the moment I arrived. The architecture and the winding alleys make it irresistible. It is an Italian city known for its art and history. You can see art on every corner. No wonder, Florence will give you numerous reasons to visit its magnificent sites.

    What more great is that most of the attractions are free and food are cheap. From Rome, I took a train going to Florence.  The average journey time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. I bought my train tickets online, weeks before my trip. You can check Italo or Trenitalia to book train tickets. I booked my Rome to Florence ticket through Italo that costs 20 EURO/ 23 USD/ 9 OMR/ 1,199 PHP. It is cheaper to book in advance through online.

    Italo Train

     

    Where to Stay

    Florence is full of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb. You can see a lot of places to stay. I stayed at Emerald Palace. The name may sound grandiose but it a hostel located in the heart of Florence. I stayed in a room with other three travelers. The accommodation was 600meters away from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station. I walked from the station to the property. I paid 144 EURO/ 169 USD/ 65 OMR / 8,636 PHP for a 4-night stay. It was my first time to stay in a hostel and to tell you honestly; I didn’t know what to expect. Surprisingly, I liked it. The room is enormous and clean. There is a private toilet inside the room.The only catch, I didn’t know that the hostel is on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the building without elevator. But the staff was accommodating in carrying my luggage. Staying in a hostel is a great choice if you want to save money on your trip. Plus you meet a lot of other travelers on your trip. Book your stay through booking.com


    Booking.com

    Emerald Palace BnB Dining Area

    Getting Around

    Florence is a small town. It is even smaller than Rome. It is best to go around by foot. A map will be very useful to stroll around the place. Make sure to ask a map from the tourist information office or to the place you are staying. The staff at Emerald’s place were very helpful and informative in telling which places to go.

     

    Small winding alleys of Florence

    Things to do:

    This town has an amazing culture, history, and art. There are markets, garden and museums to explore.If you have limited time just like when I had my trip, here are the list of sights and things to do in Florence. I like traveling at my own pace and doing the things that I truly enjoy. Personally, I enjoy going to the main attractions, eating and going to the supermarkets. So even I am delivering my must-see you are always free to tailor your itinerary based on your needs.

    1. Explore Il Duomo Firenze

    This church known as Santa Maria del Fiore is a must-see in Florence. It is one of the landmarks of the city. The exterior is magnificent. It is indescribable. It has one of the churches that I had seen with a unique appearance.  It is free to view but expect a long line in getting in.

    Look at the details!
    The exterior of the Duomo is one of a kind!

    2. See David at Academia Gallery

    David is one of the famous sculptures in the world by Michaelangelo.  It is one of the must do in the city. I wasn’t interested at first but when I saw the masterpiece in real, no doubt a lot of people would want to have a glimpse of the piece. It is big and very detailed. The entrance fee is 12.5 EURO/ 14 USD/ 5 OMR/ 750 PHP.

    The famous ” David” of Michaelangelo
    There are a lot of arts to check aside from the David at Academia Gallery.

    3. Eat at Mercato Centrale

    Mercato Centrale, the most famous market in Florence is also called Mercato de San Lorenzo. The first floor has all the kind of high quality of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meat.

    The second floor is with many food stands. It offers a lot of Florentine dishes. I tried Lampredotto which is a must try at this place.  Lampredotto is a local dish made from the stomach of a cow and topped with salsa and spicy extra virgin olive oil. Just be prepared to eat standing or a stool especially to the popular stand famous for local cuisine.

    Ground area of Mercato Centrale
    The food court at Mercato Centrale.
    Lampredotto, local food from Florence. Try it at Nerbone stall located on the first floor of Mercato Centrale. There is a long queue at this stall but it’s all worth it!
    These are the people lining up for the lampredotto!
    Pizza, antipasto and a drink!

    4. Stroll around Piazza della Signoria

    Piazza della Signoria is a piazza filled with sculptures. A replica of David and Fountain of Neptune can be found at this open square. In the plaza, there are a high number of restaurants and bars where people can enjoy.

    It can be crowded at the square.

    5. Visit Piazza de Michaelangelo

    To get a superb panoramic view of the town, Piazza de Michaelangelo is the place to be. The piazza is dedicated to the city’s most famous artist Michaelangelo. You can see a copy of Michaelangelo’s works like David and the Medici chapel. It is a bit challenging to climb going up to this place, but it is all worth it. You can get a clear view of a number of the city’s prominent landmarks like Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. During the night, there is live music and it a great place to chill out.

    On the way up to the Piazza.
    The view from Piazza del Michaelangelo.

    6. Eat Gelato

    Eating gelato in Florence is one thing you should do. It is the birthplace of this dense Italian ice cream. The great challenge is finding the best gelato in the town. I asked the locals for recommendations and the top picks are gelato from Vivoli, Gelateria Perche No, and Gelateria dei Neri

    Gelato from Gelateria dei Neri
    Even a baby can get enough of the gelato!

    7. Walk along Ponte Vecchio

    Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most photographed bridge in the city. It joins the center of Florence with the district of Oltrarno on the river Arno. The bridge is famous for jewelry shops built along it.


     

    Live music at Ponte Vecchio
    Enjoy a beer by the river

    Tips:

    1. It is advisable to be early when visiting museums. Museums can be crowded.
    2. Watch out for your stuff when walking around.
    3. Food is cheap. You can get pizza and pasta for reasonable prices. But learn how to avoid tourist traps where food can be costly and of poor quality. You can have a good meal for 10-15 EURO/ 11-17 USD/ 4.5- 6.7 OMR/ 600-900 PHP. When I was there, I avoid eating on the main square where the waiters are handling flyers and getting pushy to get you in. For a cheaper option, you can eat panino (sandwich). The local delicacy lampredotto costs 3.5 EURO/4 USD/ 1.5 EURO/ 210PHP including water. You can also buy food at the local supermarket.
      People love to eat good food.

      People are falling in line for food if it is taste yummy!
    4. Public transportation isn’t necessary for Florence. Explore the town by foot. It is one of the places I visited where the main attractions are not so far from each other. Just make sure to have a map.
    5. Learn few words of Italian like ciao (hello), please (per favore) and grazie (thank you).

     

    View from Giardino delle Rose

     

    Is Florence the city you want to visit? What’re the things you want to do? Share in the comments below.