• Travel Stories
  • Layover Guide: Brussels, Belgium

    On my way from Barcelona to Zurich during my Europe Trip, I had a short 10-hour layover in Brussels, Belgium. There’s a lot of things to do at the airport. There’s a lot of shops and restaurants around. Wifi access is available at the airport in all waiting and most public areas, but if it is more than 4 hours, then I suggest to get out and explore the city. The city is quite easy to navigate, and the major sights are accessible. Just make sure to allow yourself enough time to get through customs and security on the way back to the airport.

    When I arrived in the city from Barcelona, I took a train directly from Brussels airport into the city center (Brussels Central Station) in under 30 minutes. It cost 15.2 EURO/ 6.9OMR/ 913 PHP/ 18 USD.

     

     

     

     

    Things to Do:

    Visit Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

    You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beautiful art and architecture of Brussel’s churches. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is on Rue de Bois Sauvage 15, just in the heart of the city. It is free to enter the church and 1 euro for the archeological site.

    Eat Belgian Chocolate and Fries

    A trip to Brussels would not be complete without trying the chocolate. The country is very well known for chocolates. I tried Pierre Marcolini which is one of the top shops in Brussels for chocolates, macaroons, and eclairs. One of the best chocolates I have tried. It is expensive but worth every cent.

    Belgium is famed for its frites (fries), and you can grab a bag anywhere on the streets. Belgian fries are fried twice which makes it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

     

     

    Stroll across the Grand Palace

    A UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the main attraction in the city. It is surrounded by a maze of winding streets dominated by the Gothic splendor of the town hall which dates back to 15th century. Grand Palace is Brussel’s main market square which is a great place to hang out.

    Visit Royal Palace

    The Royal Palace is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the center of Brussels. It is open to the public every summer. From July till September the palace can be visited free of charge. The visitors can have access to certain rooms like the Mirror Room.

    Watch the Manekin Pis

    Not far from the Grand Palace, you can find the Manefin Pis fountain which is another popular attraction in Brussels. It is a tiny statue a kid having a piss, and a lot flock on it as it is a symbol of the national humor. Jerome Duquesnoy designed him and usually statue is naked, but sometimes he gets dressed.

    Bargain Hunt at Place De Jue Balle in the Marolles

    If you are in awe of antiques, kitchenware, paintings, and props, this is the spot to go. The market takes place every day, and there are a lot of items to see. It is where people sell their old stuff, and it might be the best way to find a unique souvenir for your friends back in your country.

     

     

     

    Have you ever been to Brussels? What did you do?

     

  • Travel Stories
  • The Resorts To Aim For In Las Vegas

    One of the really cool things about visiting Las Vegas is that you can experience the best that the different resorts have to offer whether or not you’re staying at them. Okay, that’s not entirely true. There are instances when a certain amenity is only available to a patron, or when you might have to pay to use a given facility. In general, though, the city’s reputation as “America’s Playground” (a phrase memorably used in Ocean’s 11) is apt: it’s like each resort is a different playset you can go experience for a few hours at a time.

    All of that said, however, it still matters where you stay! I’ve heard from friends who have spent more time in Vegas than I have that it’s fairly common to wind up spending at least the majority of your time at the resort you’re staying at, which of course makes perfect sense. So knowing that I’ve done a little research – some via my observation and some online – to write up a general idea of some of the best resorts to aim for (and why) if you make it to Vegas.

    For Modern Appeal: The ARIA

    The ARIA opened in 2009, which actually makes it one of the newer high profile resorts on the Vegas Strip. And, fittingly, it feels like arguably the most modern of the bunch. The ARIA was designed without a spare detail missed such that its every corner seems polished and beautiful. The rooms and suites are already somewhat legendary even by Vegas standards, and as one write-up put it, you may not want to leave the property because the amenities are top-notch. It’s not a cheap place to stay, mind you, but if you’re looking for the most modern Vegas hotel – and perhaps the most complete – the ARIA may be the one for you.

    Aria Hotel

    For Spa Treatments: The Mandarin Oriental

    Being honest, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between one Vegas spa and the next when it comes to quality. Of course, there are different styles and different treatment options, but it’s hard to say one excellent spa is definitively better than another. That said, the Mandarin Oriental (also one of the newer and generally best resorts) has gained a reputation for, particularly excellent spa treatments. The resort’s own website claims its spa is one of few in the world to earn a Forbes Five-Star award.

    For Pure Fun: Caesars Palace

    I know some people think Caesars Palace is a little bit goofy with its towering imitations of classical Roman structures. But I for one think it’s all a great deal of fun. The resort is pretty, the casino offerings are all over the place, there are numerous pools and fountains… it all just looks like a blast. One article also called Caesars the best for partying among Vegas resorts, singling out its Omnia nightclub, which has become iconic already since opening in 2015. So basically, whether you’re in it for pool time, gaming, or clubbing, Caesars is the fun one.

    Caesar’s Palace

    For Casino Activity: The MGM Grand

    This might be the hardest category to narrow down because most Vegas resorts have major casinos within them (the Mandarin Oriental being a rare exception). You can pull a slot lever or sit down at a card table at any of the major venues, and for that matter at several smaller hotels as well. But the best combination of size and accessibility probably goes to the MGM Grand. Unlike, say, the Bellagio, it has affordable card tables for beginners or casual visitors, and naturally, it has a massive array of slots and other games as well.

    For Dining: The Venetian

    There’s fine dining at every Vegas resort. I mentioned already that some guests might not want to leave the ARIA, and one reason is that it houses well over ten excellent eateries. But if there’s one resort that stands above the rest, it’s probably the Venetian. This resort is best known for its miniature version of the Venice canals from Italy, but its selection of restaurants includes some of the best on the entire Strip. A few names to know are Tao, Bouchon, and Morels Steakhouse.

    Above Article Written by Angela Swanigan

    Rio Suite Hotel and Casino

    Owned and operated by the Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Rio Las Vegas is a hotel and casino near the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. Would you believe it’s the first all-suite resort in the area? Its name goes after the city of Rio de Janeiro.

    At the Rio, you will find the satisfaction of having all the amenities that you need, as you would expect from a hotel establishment in Las Vegas. It boasts of several private villas for high rollers, two exciting nightclubs, a large shopping area, four pools, a spa that’s among the best, a sand beach, and a lagoon. Aside from award-winning restaurants, Rio also provides for its customers’ enjoyment and relaxation through its full-service salon and spa, a fully equipped fitness center, a meeting and convention space, as well as chapels.

    Thrill-seekers will find Rio’s Voodoo Zipline a wonderful sight and experience, too! The VooDoo Beach, on the other hand, takes pride in its five Jacuzzi-style spas and pool-side massages!

    The Brazilian-themed hotel and casino is also the home for one-of-a-kind casino shows that offer a distinctive mix of comedy and magic. The hotel also extends free shuttle service that leaves several times in a day. The areas provide ample space as well as adequate restrooms, making it perfect for a variety of activities. Each room features a mini-bar, in-room safe, iron and ironing board, hairdryer, a separate vanity and dressing area, among many others. Not only that, but you can also take a glimpse of a sweeping, panoramic view of the city through its floor-to-ceiling windows, especially at night.

    At Rio Suite Hotel and Casino

    If you want to take a glimpse of the sumptuous buffets and restaurants in Las Vegas, you shouldn’t think twice about booking a hotel room at the Rio as it has been voted as one of the best in the strip. Travellers and tourists make sure to have a taste and experience of the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio, which prepares eleven distinct dining experiences from across the globe or nearly 500 dishes on a daily basis!

    Another pro for Rio is how all its excitement and extravaganza come at an affordable price range. Although it is not a five-star hotel, you can have great accommodation, dining and entertainment experience at the Rio at such a great value. If you’re someone who wants to enjoy but needs to stick to a budget, the Rio is the place for you.

    Have you been to Las Vegas? Where did you stay? Share in the comments below. 

  • Travel Stories
  • A Day Trip to Montserrat from Barcelona

    When I had my trip to Barcelona, my sister suggested a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat. I was not familiar with Montserrat, but once I arrived in Barcelona, it is well advertised. Going to Montserrat is one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona, Spain.

     

    Montserrat is a rocky mountain in Catalonia, Spain and just 50 km away from Barcelona. Sitting atop the mountain range is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. Within the monastery is “Our Lady of Montserrat aka the Virgin of Montserrat.” The monastery itself has been in place since 1025. It is not only a popular place for retreats and pilgrimages but also for nature lovers and hikers. It is a stunning mountain with a natural park on it.

     

     

     

    How to Get There:

    Getting from Barcelona to Montserrat is easy by public transport. There are two options. First is, you can go by train and cable car. From Placa Espanya in Barcelona, take the R5 line to Aeri de Montserrat. The trip is approximately one and a half hours. From Aeri de Montserrat, take the cable car to the top. The ride is only a 5-minute ride. The view is breathtaking however you will need to stand for the journey. The tickets can be bought at the Placa Espanya Station.

    Aeri Montserrat

     

     

     

    View from the cable car

    Another option is train and rack railway. From Placa Espanya in Barcelona, take R5 line farther to Monistrol de Montserrat. Change to Cremallera, a green railway that runs to the top of the mountain. The funicular ride will take 15 minutes to the monastery. The combined tickets can be purchased at the Placa Espanya station. Other options are by bus or private transportation, but these options are less popular and time-consuming.  I bought the Tot Montserrat that costs 42.65 EURO / 19.4 OMR/ 2,500 PHP that includes the entrance to the museum and buffet lunch at the restaurant.

     

    Things to Do:

    1. Ride the Funicular. The Funicular de Sant Joan will take you to the top of the mountain. The climb is steep and not for those with a fear of height. You will find hiking routes once you reach the top which leads to the tallest mountain peaks like Sant Jeroni and a tourist walk to the chapel of Sant Joan. I was not able to do the long hike but hopefully when I get back.

     

     

     

    2. View the Benedictine Abbey and the Basilica. The Black Virgin of Montserrat is located inside the basilica. It is said to have a healing power. It is one of the highlights of the church so be prepared to wait in line.

     

     

     

    3.Visit Art Museum of Montserrat. The museum has a huge collection of artistic masterpieces from the 13th to the 20th century. 

     

    Souvenirs

    4. Walk and Hike in Montserrat. It is a huge natural park where you can find numerous routes of different complexity. You can just go for a picnic, walk around having an amazing view.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    5. Watch a performance by the boys’ choir. L’Esconia de Montserrat is the boys’ choir at the abbey. They didn’t perform when I went there, but it is said to be one of the charms of Montserrat. It is one of the oldest choirs in Europe and usually performs daily in the Basilica. Historical records show there was a choir in Montserrat as far back as the 13th. 

    Tips:

    1. Don’t arrive too late but leave early from Barcelona and calculate whole day to explore the place.
    2. Research the train schedule from Barcelona to Montserrat.
    3. There are good food and drink in Montserrat but can be pricey. If you are on a budget, pack some snacks with you.
    4. Take the rack railway instead of the cable car from Montserrat to Barcelona. You will get off earlier, but you will board the train to Barcelona last on your way back. Most of the time, the train is full, and if you board last, you will end up standing for hours back to Barcelona.

    If you want to do something unique for your Barcelona experience, this trip is the perfect thing to do. The best month to visit Montserrat are from March to May and from September to November.

     

    Planning to visit Montserrat? Share in the comment below.

     

     

  • 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.