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: 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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travel: Munich, Germany

budget trips, lifestyle, travel
Our taxi picked us up for the airport at 4.30am.

I would usually need some caffeine pumped straight into my veins at this hour, but the adrenaline, the excitement of meeting up with Ryan and this train trip in Europe with Oma had me well jazzed.

It was Oma’s maiden voyage in a British black cabbie and the driver tried every pick up line that he could muster up (she is a thing of beauty though, let’s be honest). We laughed and quickly grabbed a coffee before the terminal. The last time we were on a plane together, I was in high-school. I was filled with giddy excitement reminiscent of my teenager years as we walked the tarmac to our plane.

We kept ourselves entertained on the flight with Rick Steve’s guide to Croatia and playing  21 Questions. Her answers made me laugh, tear up, and see her a little differently as she shared her heart and told me stories of her childhood and past. Things I had to note down that I just don’t want to forget. Side note: She once dreamed of joining a traveling circus from Peru, Indiana. It’s never too late, Oma.

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After landing in Stuttgart, Germany we met up with Ryan. Being happy to see him is an understatement. We could not stop holding hands. I held him tight. Kissed him every 3 minutes. Talked his ear off. And my joy meter was off the charts. My normal was back.

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The first train leg of our big adventure was Munich but the Scottish weather followed us. We were shocked to get off the train and be hit with wind and rain , 42F / 5C.
Munich is chic and elegant even in crummy weather. I will remember: copper and turquoise rooftops. Rathaus tower views in Munich city centre.  Strolling the main street with wind in our faces. Oma warming my hand in her pocket.  Devouring sausage + sauerkraut rolls. And of course, Ryan’s pretzel, the size of his face.

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We definitely enjoyed our unseasonably cold time in Munich but found ourselves daydreaming of our final destination along the Adriatic Sea. I would love to see more of Germany, but this quick layover was a nice connection option before boarding our next train.

We found the Eurail passes easy to order and train timetables easy to navigate with their smart app for iPhone and Android. Have you ever planned a trip with Eurail? I would love to hear your stories or suggestions for smooth train travel in Europe.

Up next: Salzburg, Austria

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