travel: Copenhagen, Denmark

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Copenhagen is the epitome of cool.

The design. The lifestyle. The simplicity. The stylish black wardrobes. The cool cafes. The world-class restaurants. The coffee roasters.  I think this city probably invented the genre ‘hipster’.

I have lost track of the number of my our friends, bloggers and Insta-grammers who have recently headed for Scandinavian cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is famous for a lot of things. Being a budget destination is not one of them.

Scandinavia has some of the world’s highest prices, but Denmark’s were not as expensive as Ryan’s trips to Stockholm or Finland. Who knew it was possible to get a taste of Copenhagen on a budget without draining the bank account? Here are the budget-friendly reasons that made this trip one of our best ever!

 

STAY

1. Airbnb: cool Scandi design on a budget  

We traveled to Copenhagen over the Easter holiday. It was our first time in Scandinavia and our first trip to ever using Airbnb! By now you will know we are hooked, and Airbnb has been a total travel-game-changer for us.  We chose this charming apartment in the Østerbro neighbourhood.

Østerbro is also known as Copenhagen Ø. It is somewhat posh and at the same time completely down to earth. Østerbro is located on the north side of Copenhagen city centre. It is one of Copenhagen’s most attractive residential areas, especially for families with kids – or dogs, or a couple like us that doesn’t want to be in the thick of it.

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Every morning we walked along the Søerne Lakes to grab a coffee or sit on a bench and people watch. The lakes are man-made and stretch over a large part north-west of city centre. You can’t miss them on a map and it’s a great spot to escape the city hustle and bustle.

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Our flat was the perfect retreat. This was the beginning of my adoration for all things minimalist and Scandi design. We made use of our kitchen as most cafe’s and restaurants were closed over the Easter holiday. Big brunches and cozy dinners were the best way to make use of our accommodation and the perfect way to start and end our days.

SEE + DO

2. Soak in the lifestyle+ find the free things

It was a quiet Easter weekend in the city which made this trip less about touristy attractions.

Some of Copenhagen’s major museums are free to enter – like the National Museum, the National Gallery, the Brede Works (museum of industrialisation), the Post and Telegraph Museum, the Danish Music Museum and the Open Air Museum. Though some may charge extra for special exhibitions.

One of the best things to do in Copenhagen… walk and take it in. There is a lot to see in Copenhagen, but there was not a lot of pressure to try and squeeze everything in like some of the other major cities in Europe. We just tried to soak in the Danish lifestyle and enjoy a slower paced holiday.

 

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Cyclist everywhere! Year round, it is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world

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A walk through to Assistens Cemetery to see where Søren Kierkegaard is buried

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Easter Sunday service at St. Albans Church

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The Little Mermaid sculpture, inspired by Hans Christians Anderson’s fairytale. (Get there early to avoid crowds!)

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On a clear day, you can see all the way to Sweden from Copenhagen’s highest viewpoints. Head to the top of the Rundetårn or Round Tower instead. It was easier than stairs as it has a spiral ramp (stroller friendly!) and we learned it was designed for horses to ride up.

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Nyhavn

The colourful waterside townhouses and the boats along Nyhavn are iconic – you know, the images you see on all the postcards. It is beautiful. Historic. Docks and boats. 17th century townhouses. Bright colours. It is a busy part of town, with lots of touristy places to eat (mind the overpriced food…) but makes the perfect place to people watch.

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EAT + DRINK

One of our budget-hacks is grocery shopping and doing our own cooking at the Airbnb. There were lots of supermarkets but limited hours over the holiday weekend.  For a quick snack there are plenty of stalls selling hotdogs topped with crunchy onions, or for something a bit more Danish grab a Smørrebrød, an open sandwich that’s piled high with fillings. We were warned to steer clear of touristy and expensive places in Nyhavn and headed to student-friendly areas like Nørrebro or Vesterbro for lower prices.

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On Papirøen (Paper Island), Copenhagen Street Food has lots of international street food stalls, with everything from Brazilian BBQ to artisan cheesecake, and English pancakes to a falafel bar. I really loved all the coffee stalls and seeing the variety of things- a must see for foodies.

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3. Indulging in Copenhagen’s coffee + pastry scene 

Copenhagen has a reputation for outstanding food, proven by it’s 15 Michelin star (yep, 15!) restaurants. A visit to Noma would have been cool, but our budget was happy with all the amazing coffee spots to get our caffeine fix.

We visited The Coffee Collective more than a couple of times… and now we can find their coffee at Baba Budan in Edinburgh! The Coffee Collective is a micro-roaster with two coffee shops and a coffee school. In order to achieve their goal of making the best coffee, they are cooperating with farmers to develop a sustainable production and to improve the quality of the coffee, we can get behind that!

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Central Hotel og Café is the world’s smallest hotel and Copenhagen’s smallest coffee shop, with just five seats. Cozy up.

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After giving up sugar for Lent, Easter weekend was a glorious time in Denmark. This part of the world is known for their baking and beautiful pastries and it exceeded all expectations. We made it our mission to try as many of the infamous Danish pastries as possible. A visit to any bakery here will leave you with a big decision on your hands as the selection is amazing. They are light and crumbly, sweet and delicious.

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The best part…. I wasn’t overcome with gluten envy! We found the best local gluten-free bakery called Naturbageriet. I have never seen such a variety of GF breads + pastries in one place. Let’s just say we were went every day of our trip. I found Copenhagen to be really friendly gluten-free city.

A great foodie neighborhood is Nørrebro. It is known for its hip, multicultural feel and is a great district to spend an afternoon (or more, if you have the time). Here you will find designer shops and trendy restaurants right next door to cheap kebab joints and dive bars. Nørrebro also boasts one of Copenhagen’s hippest streets: Jaegersborggade. We had the BEST lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant called Ma’ed. There are days that I still think about it….

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We also made it over to Sweden but I will save that adventure for another post. We adored our long weekend in the Danish capital and it was so refreshing. It is easy to see how time and time again, international surveys celebrate Denmark as the happiest country in the world. How grateful we are that we got to experience it!

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What places make you happiest in the world?

Happy travels and Happy Easter, friends!

x

travel: Dublin, Ireland

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Our plane took off from the Edinburgh airport, I listened to half of a podcast and we were already preparing for landing in Dublin. Crazy fast.

Ireland is an extremely quick and affordable trip from Scotland. Flights are easy, but if you have more time, a combination of ferry and land travel through England and Scotland would provide so many opportunities for some good ‘ol sightseeing at various budgets.

Visiting Dublin was a dream come true for my sweet mother-in-law. Being here for her was almost as good as Christmas morning and we are so glad that we got to share the city with them.

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Stay

We stayed at the Castle Hotel, located just off O’Connell Street and only a 15-minute walk to many of Dublin’s top tourist attractions.
 
Recently renovated, the Castle Hotel maintains old Georgian features + charm.  A grand staircase, fireplaces and comfortable lounges make it easy to sit back, relax and unwind. What made this hotel really special was the 19th century wine vault restaurant that hosts live Irish music every night.  If there had been some dancing… perhaps Irish jigging going on, my mother-in-law and I would have been even more over the moon! I loved listening to her sing along.

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See + Do

Dublin has emerged as a prime budget trip destination. It is a hub for cheap flights, inexpensive food, fun pubs and lively locals. Dublin is also full of literary + cultural history.

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Temple Bar District

Temple Bar is a lively area on the bank of the River Liffey. If you want to party, this is your place, full of pubs and clubs. Not really our scene, but there were also loads of talented street musicians and great for people watching. More than a party district, many of Dublin’s cultural institutions (film, art and theatres) have set up shop here.

 

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Live Irish Music

Irish traditional music (also known as Irish trad or Irish folk music) is a unique sound which is at the core of the Irish culture and history.
 
Traditional Irish instruments include the fiddle + banjo and combined with the flute, whistle and accordion you cannot help but clap your hands and tap your feet!  Like I said, we spent our evenings in the hotel vault and could not get enough of the music.
 
St. Stephen’s Green
 

Spending part of an afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green is a good way to relax and watch the city go by. This stretch of greenery in the centre of town is a welcome retreat . We all grabbed coffee from a coffee shop round the corner called The Beanhive (great gluten-free muffin selection by the way) and scored some benches. Again, great people watching, happy duck ponds, and lots of flowers and greenery everywhere you look. Best of all… it is free!

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Trinity College + Book of Kells 

Ireland’s oldest university makes for a beautiful stroll. The historic buildings, gardens and monuments are worth a visit. It is most famous for its library housing the Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells was written in 800 AD by a group of monks and was buried in the ground for safe keeping against the Vikings. In the 1600’s it was rediscovered and sent to Trinity College where it has been ever since.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Built between 1220 and 1260, St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the few buildings left from the medieval city of Dublin. Today, St Patrick’s is the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland and still the largest cathedral in Ireland.

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Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest building, a leading visitor attraction and a place of pilgrimage for almost 1,000 years. Renowned for its beauty, architecture and exquisite floor tiles, it is home to the famous 12th Century crypt, one of the oldest and largest in Britain and Ireland.

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Ha’penny Bridge

The Ha’Penny Bridge is a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the River Liffey. When it was originally built, it cost  half a pence to cross, hence the name Ha’penny Bridge. Before this bridge was built, people used to cross the river using ferries. Today there are many bridges crossing to each side, but this was the original and most significant one to see.

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Eat + Drink

The scene is changing in Dublin. Irish food is simple and hearty and lots of bloggers say it is an up and coming foodie scene and becoming quite the gastro haven on Instagram. A lot of menus I saw hosted a variety of seasonal cuisine; lamb in spring, to fish in summer, stews and soups in the winter and, of course, potatoes any time of the year. We enjoyed the huge breakfast spread at our hotel and were able to enjoy some local food throughout the day. Pubs seemed to have good, hearty local Irish food that was easy on the budget.  We had lots of fresh seafood, vegetable stews and Dad liked the soda bread.

The Rolling Donut 

Wowzer. Handmade. Baked fresh every day. The Rolling Donut specialise in unique, filled gourmet donuts created using a sourdough starter.

Check out some of these flavour bombs: Peanut Berry Delight, a rich peanut butter filling topped with a sweet mixed berry compote and finished with a sprinkle of toasted peanuts Baileys Bliss, a Baileys-infused cream filling paired with a rich vanilla glaze Molly Malone, a sumptuous apple and cinnamon combination topped with vanilla glaze and biscuit crumble!

No gluten free options, so a bit of gluten envy going on… but the coffee was delicious and I was genuinely happy that Ryan got to eat so many donuts. They are his favourite food group.

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Guinness Storehouse

Some would say that one of the best things to do in Dublin is to have a pint of Guinness. I am allergic and it is a bit too heavy for Ryan’s liking, but if you are into it, seems like having an authentic ale from the storehouse would be a highlight. People say that it really does taste better in Ireland!

The Guinness factory is a major part of Dublin and its history. Guinness provided housing and jobs for much of the residents of Dublin. You can tour the storehouse and have a sample on the rooftop patio. 

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Day Trip: Malahide Village

Before the trip ended, we decided to take a break from the busy sightseeing in the city and opted for a quiet day trip with some medieval history  in the beautiful seaside village of Malahide. Only 35 minutes by train, this quaint and charming village feels much further from the hustle and bustle of Dublin.

We started with a nice wander down main street, grabbed a coffee and strolled along the seaside path as we worked our way to Malahide Castle.  Surrounded by lush parks and tall trees, the walk up to the castle makes for a lovely stroll. Weeping willows, bright flowers – and even the odd peacock! – can be found within this secret garden’s walls.

Sharing grounds with the castle is a fab cafe called The Garden House. It was the perfect spot to grab a to-go bag and picnic on the castle grounds. I was really impressed with their healthy selection of sandwiches, salads and wraps – all locally sourced and loads of home baking.

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Not bad for a quick trip to Dublin. I feel like we covered a lot of ground and really took advantage of all the city had to offer. What are some of your favourite cities to visit with a long weekend?

 

Happy travels!

x

 

 

travel: Lake Geneva, Switzerland

budget trips, holidays, lifestyle, travel

Geneva, the capital of fondue, chocolate, luxury watches, Swiss Army Knives, and world peace.

They all sounds great. But an $8 coffee, not so great. We are budget travelers and our friends lovingly warned us about the prices.

Telling others that you are going to Switzerland on “a budget” just before Christmas, gets you some sympathetic head-nods and half grins. Switzerland is rated the most expensive country in the world to visit, with Geneva being one of the ten most expensive cities in the world to live in!

We really did not want to skip over Switzerland until we were older (aka retired with more money). To our surprise, we found it doable and we were able to enjoy it’s many Christmas charms and festivities.

 

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Do + See

Lake Geneva: Geneva is located on the shores of Western Europe’s largest lake, and surrounded by the magnificent Alps. Unfortunately, the weekend we visited, fog and light rain followed us from Edinburgh. We had lovely views of the Alps from our plane, but not from the shores of the Lake. Glaciers in the French Alps are bright turquoise and flow directly into the deep blue waters of the Rhone River, which is fed by the lake. The two colors mix together and give the lake an extraordinary marbled look!Bike/Jog/Walk/Snack on a bench. Take advantage of the paths surrounding the lake.

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Mount Blanc: From Geneva you can usually see Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. The combined views of lake and alpine mountains, yes please! We opted for a more affordable train ride through the villages that line the shores of Lake Geneva. However, a rental car to Blanc would be the perfect day trip from Geneva, as it is only an hour away.

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St. Peter’s Cathedral: It was here, where John Calvin lead the Protestant Reformation. Inside the church there is still a wooden chair once used by Calvin (yep, Ryan got a picture with it). Get a workout by climbing the towers of the Cathédrale Saint Pierre, where you can enjoy the best view of Geneva. Only 157 steps of the north tower to experience one of the city’s most breathtaking (and oldest) views. Be sure to go to the north tower so you can go outside for an unrestricted view for nice panoramic pictures of the city and Jet d’Eau.

Jet d’Eau (Water Jet) Fountain: Geneva’s most famous landmark shooting water 140m into the air. It is Europe’s tallest fountain, which blasts 132 gallons of water. The jet is a prominent feature in Geneva’s skyline. It is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Statue of Liberty, and Big Ben! We even learned that is turned on by hand every morning by a jet caretaker at exactly 9am, according to a precise Swiss watch, of course.

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Old Town + City Centre : The Old Town should be next on any visitors itinerary. A patchwork of pavement cafés, museums, designer retail and art galleries. Geneva’s most famous shopping district is full of designer retail + Switzerland’s famous watchmakers like Rolex and Cartier. Not part of our budget trip, but still really interesting to learn more about the birthplace of watchmaking, the industry + the luxurious window displays.

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Afternoon in Carouge: Carouge is a quiet neighborhood in Geneva with colorful buildings, local cafes, and charming boutiques.It was actually spell-bounding, walking along the streets, the Mediterranean-style houses, a number of gardens and the small artists’ workshops.

Carouge takes you back in time. Many locals would introduce Carouge to you as a “small Italy”. It is one of those areas which immediately stands out from all the rest, absolutely incomparable to the rest of the city. Cool architecture. Cozy cafes. Variety of bistros. Unique antique shops and vendors. We cannot recommend it enough- an afternoon or evening stroll, go for a café or dinner here for sure.

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Montreux Christmas Market:  Christkindlmarkt. Marché de Noël. Weihnachtsmarkt. I am obsessed with them and a bit of a Christmas market ‘junkie’. Most are full of wooden huts, homemade delicious treats, stunning decorations and unique gifts. I love to embrace the festive atmosphere. Slowly strolling. Amazing scents. Herds of jolly market-goers. Regional specialities- completely overwhelmed by auras of waffles, fondue and spices.

We spent a good half day in Montreux. As daylight gently turned to night, Montreux started to sparkle. Before roaming the market we sat on a bench looking at the lake, people watching and soaking it all it. Each little cabin, boutique and restaurant glowing with lights, gave us that warm Christmassy feeling despite the cold weather. We loved indulging in the fragrant cocktail of cinnamon, fruit and spiced wine, treating ourselves to a warming mug of Glühwein. Vin Chaud. Glögg. Mulled Wine … delicious!

The Christmas market at Montreux was highly recommended as an absolute must see. A touch of class and a whole lotta sophistication. If you like dramatic scenery and Christmas ambience mixed with some light shows, pots of fondue + music, then you will love it too!

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Day Trip to Vevey: A charming town on the north shore of Lake Geneva.  This French -speaking town created milk chocolate (1875) and was the final home of Charlie Chaplin. Vevey is known for its outdoor market  on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Buy a glass of wine, listen to brass bands + Swiss folk music, and watch traditional craftsmen at work in the market.

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Eats + Drinks

It is easy to indulge/overindulge in Switzerland. Everywhere you turn there are places to try raclette, fondue, truffles, sausages, chocolate of every variety, wine and pastries. We were surprised by all the international restaurants but I guess it makes sense with Geneva being such an international hub for the UN and where it is located geographically. Like always, we relied on Happy Cow to find good gluten-free options and local coffee joints.

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Geneva was such an unexpected surprise.

There were so many fun things to see and history to learn. We brought home the best souvenirs — fine Swiss chocolates, an antique clock for our mantle and Santa mugs from our mulled wine at the Christmas market.

Have you traveled to other countries during the holidays?

We hope you are enjoying a lovely holiday season celebrating with friends and loved ones, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Blessings and peace as you begin 2017!

x

 

 

travel: Lisbon, Portugal

budget trips, holidays, lifestyle, travel

For my husband’s birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

Lucky for us, our wedding anniversary, birthdays and Christmas are within weeks of one another. So, taking a trip is a good way to pack in all of the celebrating.

We thought that anywhere in the world might be dryer, a little brighter and warmer than Edinburgh in December. We were kind of right… Portugal in the winter is still a little brisk

We had some rainy days, soaked socks, but we absolutely made the most of it. We had to buy umbrellas one day, funny joke to us visiting from the UK, but a little rain did not ruin our party!

Traveling to Europe in the summer is wonderful but we have learned that winter also has perks. Fewer tourists. Affordable airfare. Available accommodation. Quieter low seasons. And my favorite part, seeing what Christmas looks like in other countries!

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Our adventure started the moment we left the Lisbon airport. We were instructed by our Airbnb host to 1. board the tram to a bus stop 2. walk from the bus stop to the flat.

Directions were a bit vague and by tram we had no idea that she meant super-awesome and rickety-old-trolley. It was dark out, we could not see the street signs, so we got off where it “felt right” and got out our city map. Yep, looking like true tourists, no shame and totally embracing the paper map.

We eventually found our flat and were clueless about the view we would wake up to the next morning. The silver lining of arriving at night… we got a surprise the next morning.

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We stayed in the Alfalma neighborhood. All you need is a short wander to realize how WOW it is.  There are several quaint spots for a romantic sit on a bench. These viewpoints, called miravistas, give you stunning views of the water and buildings stacked on the hills. It is easy to be out on foot for long days and nights exploring the many street-side cafes, live music at hidden bars and beautiful little squares with fairy lights and blankets.

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If you plan on walking and wandering around, plan on bringing a comfortable pair of shoes. Those travel books are not lying when they say there are some good inclines. If you need a break, hop on the trolley system!

We spent our days wandering different neighborhoods, a walk down to the coast, popping into café’s for a coffee and baked good. The Pois Café was our favourite spot, books covering every nook and cranny and a healthy, organic range of food and snacks.

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Eat + Drink

Seafood. Custard tarts. Cheese. Wine. That is all you really need to know.

Portugal has a rich tradition of cheese-making and different regions have their own types, much like Portuguese wine. Portuguese food combines a variety of fresh seafood with the flavours from the hillside. There is a lot to discover in both food and wine.

Frango Piri Piri  (Chicken Piri Piri)

Grilled to perfection with a secret blend of spices, this is one of the most popular dishes for visitors and has to be tried at least once. Served with a fresh salad and home-made chips, affordable dinner winner!

Bacalhau (Salted Cod Fish)

Cod is a staple of Portuguese cuisine and they say there is a different cod recipe for every day of the year. Cod is a very versatile fish and is usually the star of the show on Portugese Christmas dinner tables.

Caldeirada  (Fish Stew)

A mixed fish stew usually containing some shellfish and white fish with potato, tomatoes, peppers and onions as the base. White wine and lots of herbs completes the recipe. They say that the secret to a good Caldeirada, apart from the fish, is the correct layering of the various ingredients so that the flavours mix properly. I would love to make a version of this at home.

Pastel de Nata (Custard pastry)

Portugal’s favorite sweet treat. Small open pastries with a sweet custard filling and a caramelised sugar topping, you can find Pastel de Nata is every coffee shop in the city. They say the pastry should be flakey and light, the filling creamy, eggy and sweet. This was our birthday cake abroad.

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Do + See

Lisbon, Portugal is a cool city.  Artsy. Quaint. Windy roads. Hills. White buildings. Red roofs. Colorful tiles. Cobblestone. Churches. Street art. Seafood. Produce. Vintage markets. Trollies. Cathedrals. Tuk-Tuks. Alleyways. Motorbikes. Street artists and antique vendors. Like I said, cool.

Campo de Santa. Be sure to visit Campo de Santa, a lovely flea market in the old city. Take good carrier bags to stock up on amazing vintage Portuguese kitchenware, decor, and ceramics on sale in little shops for great prices.

Trollies. The trams that trundle up and down the streets are charming. Tram 28 is said to be the best. Begin at Largo Martim Moniz to get a seat in the wood panelled carriage.

Souvenir. One thing everyone will notice about Lisbon are the beautiful ceramic tiles that cover literally every wall, café’s, flats, storefronts, park benches and city fountains. There are brand new varieties you can pick up in a tourist shops but even more charming are the antique and funky varieties you can find in flea markets and vendors. We chose a green and white one from the 1950s, easy to get back home and a totally memorable part about Lisbon.

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The waterfront and Praça do Comércio square was home to the Royal Ribeira Palace before it was destroyed in 1755. Lots of locals like come out for a stroll, especially in the early evening and lots of Christmas decorations and a small Christmas market to enjoy.

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Day Trip to Sintra. We decided to spend one day on a train going outside of the city. A friend recommended that we visit the nearby village of Sintra. I am so glad we took her advice. Sintra is normally buzzing with tourists, but thanks to the rain, we were two of ten people up there that day. We were soaked but it was well worth it. We visitied the grotto gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira Palace, a 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens we have ever seen.

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Have you taken a special birthday trip? And what has your experience been traveling in the winter months?

Have a lovely weekend, friends!

peace + grace

travel: Paris, France

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

When your best friend/soul sister asks you to go see Beyonce and Jay Z, you do it.

After we moved to Scotland, I needed a familiar face and some much needed girl time. Megan was in England studying abroad for university.  I was job searching and adjusting to new life in Scotland. Beyonce and Jay Z were on tour in Europe. So, we made it happen, obviously.

It was the ultimate girls trip and every time I think of it, my grin goes ear to ear.

If I were a scrap-booker this trip would have its very own album. It would have a bright pink cover with a little leopard print, covered with glittery stickers and have all our tickets, receipts, and random momentos tucked inside the pages.

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Paris is a magical place.

Paris, France was on my travel ‘bucket list’. Like the movies, I pictured myself strolling the streets, gawking over the Eiffel Tower, getting sick from too many macaroons and trying my best to pronounce “merci” and “bonjour”. 

As first time visitors, we were super touristy and not ashamed. I definitely had the camera out all day (may or may not have hung around my neck), I probably clogged up the sidewalk as we marvelled at all the famous landmarks, and of course, we did not hold back with the food, indulging in all of the Parisian cuisine possible.

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What we did: We hit all the tourist spots. A walk through Notre Dame Cathedral, The Louvre Museum, walked to Pont Alexandre III bridge, viewed the Arc de Triomphe, the home of Victor Hugo, a picnic in Jardin de Luxembourg, a morning at The Eiffel Tower and … danced the night away at Beyonce! [crepes + coffee weaving throughout]

 

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Where we stayed: We chose to stay in an Airbnb in the Bastille neighborhood. Bastille represents Parisian romance—a very stylish + historical neighbourhood. Its streets are lined with with theatres, cafes, antiques, green spaces + gardens. A great location and easy to navigate.

What we ate: Most people know that France puts out more Michelin starred restaurants and chefs than anywhere in the world. Although we were not able to wine and dine on the five-star cuisine we did have some delicious grub. I was over the moon, taste-buds dancing, the entire trip. No gluten-free croissants, but we DID find the most glorious crepe shop. The BEST red wines, and Megan was thrilled to have a fresh baked baguette and traditional French onion soup. A stop (or two) in LADURÉE proved to be a good choice with their wild selection of macaroons. And we routinely picked up fresh fruit + cheese from outdoor markets and followed the example of Parisians around us: picnic time!

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Trip of a lifetime and September proved to be a lovely time to visit Paris. Have you ever visited? Where have you spent time with your dearest friends?

 

Traveling mercies, friends!

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travel: Dubrovnik, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Have you visited a place that makes your jaw drop? Dubrovnik was this place for us.

Dubrovnik was the final destination on our train trip this summer. We started in Munich, Germany and traveled through Austria, Slovenia and worked our way to the very southern tip of Croatia. It was a grande finale and the perfect way to end the journey. It has taken me a few months to put this post together for a few reasons. Wrapping my mind around it, figuring out how to document it and what to write here is no small task!

We were in awe of the marble streets, baroque buildings, endless shimmer of the Adriatic Sea, and totally inspired as we walked the ancient city walls. We ate. We drank. And our pale Scottish skin got a long awaited sunburn. It. Was. Awesome.

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Do + See

Relax and swim in the Adriatic: When we booked our accommodation, we wanted to stay on a section of beach, or close to it. Swimming in the Adriatic is its own reward. On our first morning in Dubrovnik, Ryan and I woke up at 7am to swim at Banje Beach. Ryan grew up visiting his grandma on the New Jersey shore and is his happiest when he is by the water, or in the water. It was a completely refreshing way to start the day as this beach gets really crowded on a hot summer afternoon.

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Get on the water: Go kayaking or take a boat trip. Lots of people seemed to be enjoying a kayak trip around Lycrum Island. We opted for a boat tour, which is a really great way to spend a morning or afternoon and see the old city from a different perspective.

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We had some lunch at a nearby lagoon and then chose a boat tour at the pier. Oma chose the ‘Pirate-theme’ ship, which was hilarious. But it really was lovely, it took us on a loop around Lycrum Island. There were pockets of white rock cliffs and caverns. People in kayaks, swimmers and sunbathers at a nude beach  (don’t say we didn’t warn ya). I was happy to get off the boat with a sunburn on my shoulders and salty skin.

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Get some views: If you are staying anywhere near the Old City it is only a short walk to the base of the cable car going up Mount Srd. You might want to get up early for sunrise or get up there later for sunset. Round-trip tickets for adults cost 100 kuna ($15 bucks). From the top, we took in the shining sun on red rooftops and the deep blue waters of the Adriatic. The panoramic views from the deck of the cafe were top notch.

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Walking the city walls — A must for every Dubrovnik visitor! Walking the walls costs 100 kuna ($15 USD) and close at 7:00 PM. Our Airbnb host recommended we go at 6:00PM to avoid the crowds and the hot sun.  He was right, this is Dubrovnik’s ‘Golden Hour’. The light was golden, hitting the rooftops and the walls. The city was less crowded as most of the cruise ship visitors were back on the ships. This allowed us to walk at a nice pace and really take in the views. Oma had her knee replaced 8-weeks before the trip, and she walked the entire length of the city walls. She is incredible.

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After 4pm: Dubrovnik is growing in popularity and it will never be tourist-free. Most cruise ships dock for a single day and have the same routine: arrive in the old town in the morning and stay until the afternoon. However, in the evening, Dubrovnik becomes a bit quieter. We walked the city walls, ate nice dinners, found charming places for a drink and enjoyed the scene from inviting benches at the pier.

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Eats + Drinks 

A vacation is basically just eating food in new places, am I right? Our favourite part of travel is trying local cuisine and drinks, and Dubrovnik provided that and more! One reason that Croatia is gaining popularity among tourists is that it is considered to be a more affordable alternative to its neighbor, Italy. Croatia and Italy are separated only by the Adriatic Sea and this has created a robust tradition of Italian cuisine and influence in Croatia.

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Gelato— There are loads of places to choose from. But some of our favourite flavours were lavender (very common in this region) and vegan espresso!

Seafood—Fish and seafood is an important part of the Croatian culinary world, particularly along the coast. Although there were plenty of non-fishy options, fresh seafood was everywhere!  We ate seafood everyday. Delicious dinners of grilled sea bass was my highlight and Oma sampled a few seafood risottos.

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Pasta– Pasta is one of the most popular food items in Croatian cuisine, especially in the region of Dalmatia. The other popular sauces include creamy mushroom sauce with truffle and minced meat sauce. Also, potato dough is popular, not only for making njoki (gnocchi), but also for making plum or cheese dumplings which are boiled, and then fried in breadcrumbs and butter. I had gluten envy but Ryan got his fill of delicious pastas.

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Wine— My favourite. Croatia has two main wine regions: Continental (Kontinetalna) and Coastal (Primorska), which includes the islands. We learned that there are more than 300 geographically-defined wine-producing areas in Croatia!  The D’vino Wine Bar had a fabulous selection of Croatian wines and they were really happy to help you find the right local wine.

Burek – Ryan indulged in some homemade burek (spinach + gooey feta cheese pastry puff), lovingly made by our host family.

Karbona Nava– We had a very special dinner at Karbona Nava, our AirBnb host made us a reservation. We ate: shrimp risotto, spaghetti carbonara, grilled sea bass and drank local wines and indulged in blueberry cheesecake. The cook came to our table to check on us and even served us with three glasses of Rajika – a traditional Croatian plum brandy, a gift from the restaurant owner. It was the best authentic dining experience we had on the trip.

The Soul Caffe.– A charming cafe we spent time our last night and I loved the outdoor seating tucked between the old stone walls.There was candlelight, a guitarist playing soft music, a screen showing clips from old black and white films and we sipped on mint and chamomile tea. This vintage-chic cafe and Rajika bar is hidden within the backstreets of the Old City. The musically inspired dim atmosphere offers a great environment for a low-key night out on the town.

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Part of my inspiration for starting a blog when we moved was to document trips. I guess it has become an online journal of sorts for us. If you stuck with me for the entirety of this post, well done, it was a long one. It is just impossible to narrow down the amount of pictures or things to say about a place as wonderful as Dubrovnik.

I would love to hear where you have been in this world and the places you love!

Peace, grace and happy travels!

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travel: Split, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Croatia is the place to vacation in Europe these days.

 It is gaining popularity because…

  1. It is beautiful/amazing/warm/ and full of history 
  2. Affordable alternative to Italy: the Adriatic Sea, islands + strong exchange rate
  3. For all of you fans, Game of Thrones is filmed here  
  4. The list goes on and on 

The train ride into Split was very scenic. I spent time reading about the 1991 Yugoslavia War and independence of Croatia. Evidence of the war still lingers in the tiny villages along the train tracks but it is easy to see how resilient the people are here, how communities have been restored and that the area is thriving. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking in parts- rivers that we could see from the train going through Plitvice Lakes National Park  were absolutely crystal clear and bright turquoise. Green, lush, jungly trees. White cliffs. Stone bridges. Rolling hills. Tree covered mountains.

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Arriving into Split, we were ready to explore and indulge. Old town is full of romantic outdoor cafes. We found a beautiful garden restaurant in an old white building, with ivy growing up the walls, garden lights and green shutters on the windows. The currency exchange is almost 9:1 [Croatian Kuna to British Pound]. This made it affordable for us to eat out and treat ourselves to wines, seafood, and I even splurged on trying mussels for the first time!

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Our first morning in Split, we woke up extra early and went for a walk along the promenade (the ‘Riva’) curious to check out a hill on the other side of old town. We walked to the top of Marajan Hill  where we stood in awe for quite some time. What struck me was the change of scenery from the dear UK. The leaves of the palm trees, looking up and seeing them on a backdrop of clear blue, bright skies. Not a cloud to be seen.

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The morning sun was shining on the Roman ruins walking back through Old Town. Split is lovely with all its alleyways, hidden courtyards and ivy covered walls. It was early yet, so the streets were quiet. On our way back to the flat, we picked up coffees (note: coffee and cream is coffee and ice-cream, fun little surprise) and fresh juices. Ryan picked up a delicious smelling apple-baklava-filo-pastry goodie from a street vendor called, strudel od jakuba. Most places in this region have their own variation of a strudel, and Ryan was happy to try each one in search of ‘the best.’

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We enjoyed our goodies on the steps of Diocletian’s Palace, definitely the number one thing to see in Split. The ruins of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, date back to the late 3rd to early 4th century A.D. I love history and this was making my head spin a little because I think it is the oldest place that I have physically been in. There is a sphinx here that Diocletian himself had built and is part of the original palace, 2,000 years old! 
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The outdoor open market was another highlight for me – it was full of fruit, cheese, antiques, dried fruits, nuts, fresh lavender and flower vendors. Such a cultural experience! We bought some fresh goat cheese, dried apricots, almonds and juicy peaches. 
We finished our day in good style – enjoying life’s simple pleasures (gelato and coffee) in a city that does such a wonder job of  weaving the past and present.
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If we had a bit more time it would have been fun to swim at the beach or take a boat trip out to one of the nearby islands. Our time was lovely in Split and we eagerly boarded our bus for the our next stop, Dubrovnik!

Currently, there is also no train line between Split and Dubrovnik so this meant the end of our Eurail pass. This might change as Dubrovnik is becoming such a popular travel destination. For now, buses are the best way to get there. The journey to Dubrovnik is 4 hours with some fun along the way. We saw an incredible place called Fortress of Klis, baby donkeys (yes, baby donkeys!), more turquoise rivers and even made a rest stop in Bosnia – one of my favourite stamps in the passport because it is so random.

 

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 Up next: Dubrovnik, Croatia 

 

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travel: Zagreb, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

 

The landlocked capital of Croatia is, quite possibly, the country’s most underrated destination.

According to Rick Steves, you cannot get a complete picture of modern Croatia without a visit here. Zagreb is away from the coastal villages and touristy resorts. Off the map a bit but a great way to experience some culture, in the “lively and livable” city that is home to one out of every six Croatians.

Our afternoon layover in Zagreb was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs, take in the city and get a bite to eat. We were sure to see the Zagreb Cathedral, Jelačić Square and Tkalciceva Road, such a thriving cafe culture and streets lined with rows and rows of places to sip and eat.

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We had a delicious lunch at ‘Trattoria Leonardo’s’. There is a big Italian influence in the cuisine here, which is good for Ryan because pizza is his favorite food group.  Oma and Ryan also indulged in their favorite beer, Radler lemon (lemon beer) and I had plenty of chilled white wine!

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There were not many tourist here which was a nice way to see the local culture and artistic enthusiasm of residents. The central park, located across from the train station, was hosting a large festival. There were food vendors, games for kids, live music and street artists that were covering the sidewalks in beautiful-vibrant chalk murals.

Ryan found some Croatian-donut ball-treasures, Najbolje Fritule, drizzled with Nutella and powdered sugar! I talk about gluten-envy a lot but that was over the top. So, before getting on the train,  I bought a small crate of strawberries from a sweet vendor outside of the train station and imagined they were donut balls. A girl can dream.

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We feel like we made the most of our afternoon in Zagreb and would definitely recommend putting it on your Croatia itinerary. If we had more time I would have liked to check out some of their museums and art galleries.
Up next: Split, Croatia
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travel : Ljubljana, Slovenia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

We got off our train in Slovenia and did not have access to wifi.

I thought this might happen. We had to go old-school and use the travel books that I checked out from the library in Edinburgh. We played the tourist part well. Picture us and our huge fold out map trying to read street signs and all three of us pointing in different directions. ☝🏼👇🏼👉🏼

Ljubljana (pronounce it how you wish, here is some assistance… [ljuˈbljàːna]…. ) is a very walkable city and I was confident that we would find our listing.  With the help of a sweet old woman, she looked at our address and led us to our straight to our apartment. We dedicated a couple of days to Ljubljana and I am so grateful that we did. Slovenia, and it’s capital city, is a gem. After arriving, we walked along the Ljubljanica River, a river that winds through the middle of old town. The clouds were radiant. All different colours and it was the first sign of warmer weather since leaving the UK.  The bridges were lit up at sunset and people sipped on their drinks or licked their gelato along the waterfront.

One of my favorite activites in Ljubljana was walking the central open-air market. Row after row of of vendors selling fruit, vegetables, street food and flowers. The berries and cherries were so sweet and juicy and there was table after table of bright flowers and fresh herbs. 

 

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Ryan, excited to get some street food, found a HUGE sausage pita meal. It was honestly the most sausage I have seen in one sitting. I lucked out as the market was closing and scored a huge bag of… sauerkraut! A very kind lady insisted that I take it at no cost as she was getting ready to leave. So delicious. So obviously, we paired with the huge sausage platter.

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One of the many unique architectural wonders in Ljubljana is ‘Triple Bridge’, it connects new town with the old and is quite the feat for being constructed in 1931. Another bridge worth seeing a few blocks down is called the ‘Cobblers Bridge’, the oldest bridge in Ljubljana.

We spent the afternoon strolling through the old town as there are so many cool cafes with outdoor tables and shops. Keep your eye out for dragons. I had too much fun counting them and laughing at all the random nooks and crannies they hide in. True story, Ljubljana has a long history of dragons (read more here).

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Want to read more about this diamond city? Read 11 reasons to visit LjubljanaWhat cities have you been to that exceeded your expectations? 

Up next: Zagreb, Croatia 

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travel: Salzburg, Austria

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

The Sound of Music soundtrack was stuck in my head.  🎶   On repeat.

Our first morning in Salzburg, started with a huge Austrian breakfast – hardboiled eggs, picked carrots, cabbage and pickles, a variety of traditional meats and cheeses, coffee cake, yogurt and of course, muesli! Stuffed to the brim, we made our way to the Salzburg Castle and rode a funicular rail up the castle mount. Again, we were greeted with some unseasonably cool temperatures and scattered rain, but it was no match for our sunny dispositions. We were in Salzburg!

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From the top of castle mount,  there were lovely views of old town and the foggy Alps in the distance. The castle was surrounded by a grand wall, it housed a collection of ancient gold coins and included a very unique (and quite hilarious) marionette exhibit. We wandered back down to the main market square where Ryan found more huge pretzels (gluten envy!) and we had fun checking out the different vendors and listening to live music in the market.
The city of Salzburg is very whimsical. The buildings are a clean white or some beautiful shade of pastel pink, green or yellow. Most of our time was spent walking narrow streets, admiring the pretty cafes and top-of-the-line clothing stores that line every alleyway.
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Our night in Salzburg was a rainy one but we have been properly trained living in Scotland to handle such a situation. Our Airbnb host from Belgium told us to always see a city by day and night – that most cities are a different place when the lights are on, the streets are quiet and most shops are closed. We think of his advice often and always end up staying out late and getting up early on our trips. We were determined to be out and enjoy Salzburg at night, rain or shine, it was lovely.

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Our next stretch of the train trip was one to remember. We traveled from Salzburg (top, northwestern region of Austria) through the entire country to the Slovenian (southeastern region of Austria) border.

 

Wow.

 

These were a few of my favourite things… 🎶  (theres the song again…) Forests. Every shade of green. Pines with soft tips. Every village had a church steeple. Our train pod was just for the three of us and had floor to ceiling panoramic windows. The look on Oma’s face as she got a fright every time we would pass an oncoming train was classic. And I am sure the faces I made as we crossed old bridges and emerged from tunnels to magical scenes was also classic. I loved the pockets of fog that lingered around the snow capped Alps. Like I said, it was The Sound of Music everywhere we looked.

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If you have been through Austria, I’d love to hear where you visited and some of your favourite things? What a charming charming country.
Up next:  Ljubljana, Slovenia
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