Year: 2013

Navigating the Streets of Barcelona

With a full day of walking ahead of us, there was only one right way to start the morning off; with one big cappuccino.  Spanish coffee is not bad I must say.   Our first stop was an old church that was a recommended stop by our tour guide from yesterday.  It was nice, but having seen a fair share of religious buildings it was nothing spectacular.  It was also quite difficult to find given it was tucked away in a quiet area.    After that we headed to the shopping area near Las Ramblas and proceeded to shop til we dropped.  There were SO many sales going on and I found the Zaras and H&M’s in Europe had noticeably better merchandise.  Every time I walked into an H&M I would come back out with something… and this almost never happens at home.  Here’s the damage. Settling down for a quick lunch in between shopping.  Sandwiches in Europe are 10x better than ones in Toronto…   Finally, the main architect star in Barcelona is none other than THE Antoni …

Sampling Tapas in Barcelona!

Our next stop was Barcelona, Spain.  This city surprised me in so many ways.  Not only was it very clean with a developed subway system, but the it had an uplifting sort of spirit which made me want to bust out patterns, prints and all sorts of bright colors to match the mood.  Our flight arrived at a really awkward time so we decided to join our hostel’s walk about tour to get a feel of the city before we went exploring on our own.   Our first stop was Las Ramblas, the most famous street in Barcelona.  Apparently there’s not much to it except for a fact that all the tourists flock there.  The streets are lined with restaurants and retail stores and some works of art from Gaudi tucked in the corners.     We then went about admiring some of the Spanish architecture      There are two typical things that a tourist wants to try while in Spain: Tapas and paella.  Think of tapas as Spanish appetizers.  The Spanish usually hop …

Santorini Day 2: Sailing, Volcano climbing, Donkey taxis & Sunsets in Oia

We only had two days in Santorini and we were intent to squeeze as much fun out of this little island as possible by signing up for an intense all day tour.  We fueled up at our favorite local cafe with savory crepes, and greek yogurt with muesli.    The crepe was perfectly toasted and satisfying    Our first stop was hopping on board this awesome sail boat and heading towards our first stop… a volcano.  Yes, we were about to climb a volcano.   Pro tip: sandals or flip flops are NOT a good idea.  It was painful enough for me walking up with sneakers, I can’t imagine how bad it would be in flip flops.  Fortunately the air was dry because it was pretty darn hot hiking up these steep rocky hills.    I don’t fare so well in high altitudes so this was quite challenging for me.  But when we reached the top, I was really taken back by the natural scenery.  You only see this stuff on TV and books right?  Experiencing …

Santorini, the Island Life

Located in the scattered puzzle pieces south of central Greece is a small island called Santorini.  Known as one of the most romantic island get aways, I definitely fell in love with this place the moment I landed.  White houses, gorgeous mountain views and of course the famous sunsets.  We were escorted to Stelios place from the airport to our hotel which was absolutely serene.  A large pool surrounded by palm trees and these beautiful sweet flowers lined the place which gave off the most heavenly vanilla scent. Greek frappe and greek yogurt for breakfast.  What else?   We lounged in Perissa Beach right after settling down in our hotel.  It was so nice relaxing to the sound of the waves and a quiet beach after weeks of non stop traveling in busy cities.   We rounded the corner to grab some food before heading into the city of Fira.  One thing I really enjoy about Santorini is that island life!  Everyone is so relaxed and friendly.  This is what I call a vacation. After Perissa, …

Rome Day 2: Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, and the Pope!

We got up at 6am and starting lining in front of Vatican City by 7am.  Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world, with a population of less than 1,000 and governed by the Pope.  We were lucky enough to be walking distance from our hostel, but even so, we were already greeted by a line up of early birds waiting by the entrance.  Minute by minute the line grew exponentially!  My advice is definitely go as early as possible!  And wear conservative clothes, they have strict policies.   Our main objective was to hit up the Vatican Museum which can also get packed very quickly.   Beautiful collection of sculptures and artwork The Sistine Chapel was definitely the highlight of our trip to the museum.  It is not large by size, but what makes this place famous is the art that sweeps every corner of the interior graced by none other than the Michelangelo himself.  Renown pieces such as The Last Judgement and The Creation of Adam are housed within …

Rome: Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum

We came from the all time high of our Tuscany tour to the bustling and crowded city of Rome.  As much as I don’t want to kick off our 4 day adventure in Rome on a negative note, I have to admit I wasn’t too thrilled about smoggy air, hoards of evident tourists, and dusty streets.  This should not be surprising as Rome is a hot spot for both vacationers and business.  Aside from our impressions of the city, the second thing on our mind was food and at this point I was already a little sick of pizza but it literally is the most readily available street food.  We grabbed a slice for dinner and retired early to get ready for a jam packed day of sightseeing the next morning.   We stayed at Gaius Roma B&B and I make a point of mentioning this because the owners of the place are an old married couple and they are honestly the NICEST people I have come across.  They are so polite and genuine and they …

Florence Day 2: Leather markets, Statue of David, Ponte Vecchio

One thing you cannot miss out in Florence is their famous leather markets.  Rows upon rows of leather jackets, wallets, and other trinkets to choose from.  Not only are the prices much more reasonable since they are manufactured and sold locally, but bargaining is fair game!  My tip… never purchase at face value because chances are, you can always knock it down.  Plus, the act of haggling is actually quite fun and rewarding.  Right next to the open leather market is an indoor food market!  We headed over after a few hours of intense bargaining.  It definitely wasn’t one of the most glamorous markets but it has some decent fresh produce and ready-to-eat options.   I got a panini and after eyeing the lady next to me gorging on a custard filled croissant I had to get myself one too.     It was actually pretty damn good.  Soft flakey croissant and the inside was just sweet enough for a nice end to our quick lunch     There was one major item on our …

Best of Tuscany

Our next stop after Venice was Florence!  The city itself is not extremely exciting or big, but we had a full day “Best of Tuscany” tour lined up.  We started the day bright and early, reaching our first stop in the beautiful city of Siena.   We were lucky to get a tour by a local who told us some pretty interesting facts about this medieval town.  Siena is divided by “contrade” which is Italian for neighborhoods and each contrada had its own symbol derived from an animal.  Some of the animals were pretty common like eagle and badger, but there were some pretty ridiculous ones like unicorn and caterpillar (heck, I wanna be on the unicorn team!).  The citizens of Siena are sorted into these contrada right after birth and there is a lot of pride involved in representing their own contrada.  In fact, they go as far as to have these symbols engraved into the regions of each neighborhood so you’ll always know whose turf you’re on.The one famous tradition that is held …

Fruits of Venice

Although we only had 1.5days in Venice, it was more than enough time to explore the relatively small city.  We woke up to catch the morning open market blooming with colorful fruits, glistening fish, and pungent spices.  I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to be able to have such an arsenal of fresh produce to work with on a daily basis.   The fish market was very impressive, selling everything from entire stingrays to chunks of shark to giant octopuses.  The inner foodie in me was churning with curiosity on the potential dishes that these exotic cuts could be transformed into. We bought a few fresh fruits to go and dipped into a little cafe for our breakfast and coffee.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what this cafe is called nor will I really remember where it is hidden in the many intricate small streets in Venice but this place had the BEST prosciutto croissant and their cappuccino was very good too.  The croissant was tender with just the perfect amount …

Charmed by Venice

London and Paris were both nice…but it wasn’t until Venice that it finally hit me.  I’m in Europe.  Venice was just so significantly different from the city-like London and Paris where it was simply a variation of Toronto.  After over a week of damp chilly weather, we were graciously greeted with the pleasant warm breeze of Italy.   We took a boat into Venice from the airport.  It was such an enjoyable ride.  The closer we got to the city, the more excited we grew!   I could not stop taking photos of Venice’s colorful houses.  All of which were eroding from waters and age.  Yet there was something so rustic and magical about this floating city.  This was one of the few places that is truly what you see in postcards.       We were very lucky to be staying close to the Rialto bridge which links the markets and is one of the most important bridges in Venice.  It is very lively on either side of the bridge.  Streets adorned with vendors …