Lisbon Nights: 5 Reasons Why They Are Absolutely Stunning

Start here if you are wondering why I chose Portugal for my latest adventure!

I chose Lisbon as my home base for the majority of my time in Portugal so I could venture to a few surrounding areas, including Belém and Cascais. There is so much to do that although I didn’t get to cross everything off my list, I definitely got a great feel for city and its surrounding areas.

During the day, I jumped on the iconic Tram 28 to see the major sights. After reading multiple reports online about the pickpockets that frequent the train (most notably a pair of old ladies), I held my purse tight and kept to myself. The great thing about the tram is that you can hop on and off all day with an unlimited Viva Viagem day pass. For six euros you can use the card for the tram, metro, some train routes and even the “elevadores“. I strolled around Rossio Square and rode the tram to the end of the line to the spectacular Royal Basilica, a basilica built for Queen Maria I of Portugal in 1790.tram28inlisbonestrelabasilica

Every now and again I stopped for an expresso or pastel de nata (Portuguese tart) while people watching.

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But I digress. The warm days gave way to chilly evenings where I felt the city really come alive. Too many to name, here are a few reasons why I love Lisbon nights.

Breathtaking Miradouros

Lisbon’s miradouros (or viewpoints) can be described as nothing short of amazing. They are a perfect place to cool down with a glass of wine or snack after spending hours trekking up and down Lisbon’s seven hills. The bright terracotta roofs of the Alfama apartments contrast with the medieval architecture of Sao Jorge’s castle and spectacular views of the Tagus river.

Miradouro da Santa Luzia and Miradouro da Graça are my favorites and serve as an oasis for relaxation. All three viewpoints were a 10-15 minute walk from my Alfama apartment, so I made it a habit to walk up the hill at sunset every night to catch the views.

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Fado

You are likely to hear the somber notes of fado floating through the cobblestoned streets of Alfama at night. On almost every street corner, there is a restaurant that is standing room only, with everyone’s eyes transfixed on the fado singer belting out songs of heartbreak and life’s struggles. Melancholy by nature, singers explore themes of sadness and introspection.

Fado, a Lisbon staple, is traditional folk music that originated in Portugal in the 1800s. Although there are two different kinds of fado in Portugal, the fado found in Lisbon is the most popular. Although you can hear fado everywhere in Lisbon, the best place hands-down to have a traditional Portuguese meal and listen to Fado is in Alfama. The owners of the cozy restaurants welcome you as if you are in their homes. The old buildings, beautiful flowers and colorful street decorations make fado houses even sexier.

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Sunsets at Sao Jorge Castle

On my last full day in Lisbon I decided to venture to St. Jorge’s Castle, stopping at the Lisbon Cathedral along the way. Built on the site of an old mosque in 1150, the cathedral is Lisbon’s oldest building and was built by Portugal’s first king.

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St.Jorge’s Castle is a medieval castle overlooking the city of Lisbon and Tagus River and towers high at the top of Lisbon’s tallest hill. Completely fortified, the oldest parts of the castle date back to the 6th century, where it served as a Moorish royal residence until it’s final conquest by the future king of Portugal.

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The beaches of Cascais

Pronounced kush-kaish (it took me the entire trip to get that pronunciation down), Cascais, formerly a fishing village, is a small resort town located about 30 minutes outside of Lisbon. On a whim, I took the train from Belém in late afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised by the scenic views of the Tagus River during sunset. When I arrived I took a stroll down Praia da Ranha, a small beach so picturesque it was literally fit for a queen, as it served as the private beach for Portuguese queen Dona Amelia in the late 19th century.

The city centre of Cascais contains many quaint pedestrian streets lined with restaurants, shops, churches and museums showcasing the town’s beautiful architecture. In retrospect I would visit during the daytime and walk to Cascais from Estorial on the boardwalk. I also wanted to visit the rugged cliffs of Cabo de Roca, which is the the westernmost point of mainland Europe, but due to the stories I heard about the infrequent bus schedules, didn’t want to chance it this time since it was already getting dark.

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Nightlife

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience Lisbon’s vibrant nightlife with a fabulous group of people from all over the world.  Due to an unexpected chain of events, I ended up hanging out in the Bica district, a hip neighborhood in Barrio Alto.

The funicular railroad, or the Elevador da Bica, was constructed in 1892 and is what makes this district unique. The graffiti-covered tram looked so old that I wasn’t sure it was still in use. The funicular system (two cars traveling simultaneously in opposite directions) allows for easy access to the many viewpoints in the city.

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Our group hung out on Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, a picturesque street that extends to the riverfront and is lined with stores and bars that come alive at night, especially during the summer when the party spills out onto the streets. It was a great experience and I’m fortunate to have met some of the nicest people who welcomed me with open arms. That’s all I’ll say about the nightlife – what happens in Lisbon stays in Lisbon 😉

Stay tuned as I recap my adventures in Evora, Sintra and Porto!

On the Move: Backpacking through Portugal

The best part of my trip to Portugal last November was not having a set schedule or itinerary. Just a week before the trip I had a round-trip flight to Lisbon on the books and not much else. I thought about adding Spain to the agenda but ultimately didn’t want to feel rushed, and it was definitely the best decision I could have made as I was able to take my time exploring all the country has to offer.

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Although road trips from one country to another (and getting halted at border control) are definitely exciting, I needed some time to relax. The beauty of planning your own vacation, not to state the obvious, is the ability to spend as little or as much time as you want doing anything – whether that’s exploring monasteries and museums or relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.

Should I take a later train to Sintra or catch the 9 am and spend the afternoon in Cascais? From wine country to the small towns in the Alentejo region, I stayed in local apartments and quaint bed and breakfasts to get a real feel for the country. Casinha do Largo was my home for 5 nights in Lisbon and was hands down the coolest apartment I’ve ever stayed in (thanks for the recommendation Larissa!) Located in the heart of Alfama, the city’s oldest neighborhood, Casinha do Largo was cozy yet edgy at the same time, making it very hard for me to leave.

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The best way to get around in Portugal is via train, as the Comboios de Portugal system is reliable and inexpensive. I was also able to take advantage of the unlimited Viva Viagem day pass (only costs around 5 euros), riding the trams, subway and even some train lines. All in all, the Viva Viagem is a good deal if you plan to cover a lot of ground over a short period of time. As you can see I was all over the place!

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When I booked this trip I was often asked, why Portugal? Lisbon is stunningly beautiful, Sintra is a fairy tale come to life, and the Douro Valley is the center of the world’s port wine production. Need I say more? From south to north, to back south again, I was all over the place; starting and ending my trip in Lisbon and visiting Évora, Sintra, Cascais, Porto and the Douro Valley in between.

More detailed posts to follow but I wanted to start by sharing some of my favorite photos from this stunningly beautiful country in Southern Europe.

LISBON

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Sunrise over Rossio Square

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Streets of Alfama

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Views from Santa Justa Elevator in Baixa

ÉVORA

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Roman Temple of Diana

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Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel)

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Church of St. Anthony

SINTRA

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Pena National Palace

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Views from the Castle of the Moors

PORTO

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Streets of Porto

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Views from Clérigos Tower

Milwaukee in 48 Hours: Eating, Drinking and Lounging

A short hour and a half drive from the Windy City, a trip to Milwaukee in the fall is a great weekend escape. Whether your MO is to sightsee, sample some amazing beers or eat some of the best cheese you’ve ever had in your life, the Brew City has a little something for everyone.

With only a weekend to spare, it was tough to squeeze everything in that the city has to offer. Lucky for me one of my best friends, none other than a native of the Brew City himself, made it his mission to give us an authentic experience in his hometown. Check out my top picks for spending 48 hours eating, drinking, and lounging in Milwaukee.

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EAT

Kopps Frozen Custard

A trip to Milwaukee isn’t complete without a trip to Kopps, a Milwaukee staple famous for its hamburgers and most notably, its frozen custard. Established by the Kopps family in 1950, the family still owns two of the three locations. We just couldn’t get enough of the restaurant’s comfort food – Kopps was our first stop on Friday when we arrived and our last stop before heading back to Chicago on Sunday.

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Know Before You Go: Check Kopps’ website for the scrumptious flavor of the day, approved by the Karl Kopp legend himself.

Kasana

For Saturday brunch, our group dined at Kasana, a trendy spot in the Third Ward. Not clearly visible from the street, we walked down a few steps and entered a Latin American paradise. Doubling as an event space, the white furniture and hints of turquoise create an elegant ambience.

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Know Before You Go: Don’t go here if you are in a hurry. Although the food was delicious, we were served at a very leisurely pace. A delicious Bloody Mary will hit the spot after a night out spent exploring a few of Milwaukee’s finest establishments.

La Merenda

A cozy restaurant in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, La Merenda is small plate heaven for a tapas lover like myself. From the pork belly confit crepes to the prosciutto salad, this restaurant with international flair certainly didn’t disappoint. We all agreed that the highlight of our meal was the goat cheese curds, topped with a chorizo cream sauce and crostini. With $5 glasses of wine and tasty sangria, I would highly recommend La Merenda for date night, happy hour, or a night out with friends.

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Know Before You Go: Come in on Mondays for half priced bottles of wine. Get here early on the weekends – this place fills up fast!

Trocadero

After a fun day soaking up the last of summer at Indian Summer Fest, we stopped in Trocadero, a gastropub in the Lower East Side neighborhood. Exhausted and starving, we were ready for a hearty meal. Delicious cheese plate? Check. A generous serving of short ribs and mashed potatoes? Check. Dark and cozy, we were surprised to see that it wasn’t too crowded on a Saturday night.

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Know Before You Go: Offering up four different kinds of Bloody Marys, Trocadero is one of the hottest brunch spots in Milwaukee. Also, did I mention they have really good-looking bartenders?

DRINK

Lakefront Brewery

A trip to Lakefront Brewery was one of the highlights of the weekend. Ranked as the fourth best American brewery tour by TripAdvisor, the brewery is touted by many as a Milwaukee landmark. Your $8 entry fee includes a souvenir class, 4 6 oz. samples of beer, and um, a rather interesting experience. You’re sure to get a colorful, probably inappropriate tour guide that will make you cringe as he recounts the company’s history, which began with two brothers and a brew-making book back in 1987.

After the tour, mix and mingle with your tour guide and check out the outside bar for amazing views of the river as you sip your brews.

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Know Before You Go: Buy your tickets in advance and go early to enjoy a brew at the bar before your tour begins. Don’t forget to head to the store after the tour is over for your souvenir pint glass!

Hinterland Gastropub

We ducked in Hinterland Gastropub to kill a little time before our Lakefront Brewery tour and I’m so glad we did. I was instantly impressed with the industrial chic decor of this place and the bartender’s friendly banter. Founded by a couple of college grads, Hinterland began as a brewery in Green Bay and expanded to include three restaurants. It was the perfect way to relax and recharge after a day spent walking the Summerfest Grounds.

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Know Before You Go: If you visit in fall, try the Cherry Wheat on tap. It was so good I brought some back with me.

Colectivo Coffee

After an action-packed weekend, coffee on Sunday was a must. Checking out a local coffee shop is always on my agenda when I travel. Locally owned and operated, Colectivo Coffee got its start in 1993 in an old warehouse in Walker’s Point. The brand has grown exponentially ever since, with 16 locations all across Madison and Milwaukee.

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Know Before You Go: Colectivo Lakefront, the most popular Colectivo location, hosts a popular music series during the summer months. Don’t be deterred by the long lines – the breathtaking lakefront views are well worth the wait.

SEE

Indian Summer Festival

The heart of the Midwest is the perfect location for Indian Summer Fest, the largest Native American festival in the United States. Held in September at the Summerfest Grounds, the gathering is hosted by the eleven tribes that call Wisconsin home. With dancing, a Pow Wow competition, storytellers, cooking demos and tribal village re-creations, Indian Summer Fest is a great way to close out summer while relaxing by the lakefront.

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We sampled the fry bread, which is exactly what you think it is; flat dough fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening or lard. Albeit delicious, fry bread is a somber link to the past for many Native Americans. According to tradition, this Midwestern staple was created by the Navajo in the 1800s using ingredients given to them by the U.S. government after being displaced from their land out West. We tried the Indian taco and dessert variations.

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Know Before You Go: A fun fall activity, Indian Summer Fest brings history to life. Make sure to bring cash – many of the shops and vendors don’t accept credit cards.

Milwaukee Art Museum

An oasis of meticulously manicured gardens and postmodern architecture, the Milwaukee Art Museum is every photographer’s dream, offering stunning views of Lake Michigan. Built in 1888, the museum’s impressive collection contains works from Picasso, Monet, Warhol and Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keefe, just to name a few.

Don’t have time to check out the exhibits? Explore the museum grounds and walk around the main pavilion. Take a walk around the Burke Brise Soleil, a wing-like movable structure, or Windohover Hall, a grand reception with 90 foot ceilings, awash with sunlight on a clear day. The high ceilings in the Hall combined with the wings create an illusion that you are on a ship.

Know Before You Go:: You don’t need to pay to see beauty at this museum. If you only have a couple of hours to spare, there’s plenty to do and see on the museum grounds (without having to pay the entrance fee).

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Inside the City Walls of Kotor, A Medieval Paradise

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*I know this post is way overdue considering the fact that I traveled to the Balkans over a year ago, but as you may have read earlier this summer, I recently put in some hard work on this blog, including a complete overhaul and redesign. I also revamped up my about section. If you’re a new reader and want a little background on my adventure to the Balkans, start here.*

It was definitely interesting to go back and read the journal I kept while traveling to Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro last year. Accompanied by a cup of Bosnian kafa (probably the best coffee I’ve ever had), I tried to break away every few days for an hour or so to capture my experiences in real-time. It was tough to take a break in the action to reflect on my day, but I wanted to hold on to the memories I was sure to lose otherwise.

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Departing Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on the last leg of our trip, we set off on a four and a half hour drive to Kotor, a coastal town in Montenegro tucked away in the Adriatic Sea. About halfway through our journey we stopped for an impromptu lunch at a traditional Bosnian restaurant. The small restaurant, literally in the middle of nowhere on the side of a Bosnian mountain, wasn’t accustomed to serving such a large group and was very enthusiastic to host a rowdy group of Canadians, Australians and Americans.

On a side note, one thing I noticed in the Balkans is that WiFi is EVERYWHERE. Literally. The fact that this small restaurant in rural Bosnia had wireless access is a true testament to the fact that we are now all mobile, all the time. Anyways, done with my technology spiel and back to the good stuff.

Our “quick stop” for lunch lasted 3 hours and ended with Serbian dancing and several rounds of rakija. Sasha, our fearless driver, was not amused. Although he indulged our antics, he lost his patience after a few hours and shooed us out of the place. After lunch, Sasha expertly navigated through rolling mountains and winding streets carrying 11 delirious and wine-happy passengers. We blared the radio, laughed until our stomachs hurt, and played our theme song of the trip on repeat. Our four and a half hour journey quickly turned into eight, and we didn’t arrive in Kotor until early evening as the sun was beginning to set.

Magical, bewitching, romantic – I don’t really know any other way to describe Kotor, a medieval town with fortifications all around the city’s Old Town, reminders of the region’s four centuries of Venetian rule beginning in the early 1400s. Located on the Bay of Kotor, Old Town is located in a submerged river canyon, offering views of pristine waters that contrast sharply with brightly colored rooftops and dramatic mountains that carve their way into the sky.

By the time we got settled in to our hotel (the owner was also named Sasha ironically enough), it was late and we were all exhausted. We dragged ourselves to dinner and then called it a night, but not before I snapped a few photos of the medieval Old Town. The lights of the city walls exuded an eerie, bewitching glow and although it was only 9 pm, there were very few pedestrians in sight.

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Walking around Kotor’s cobblestone streets, you’ll notice breathtaking views that are probably the norm for the 13,000 or so people that actually live within the city walls. We strolled by the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, a Roman Catholic Cathedral built in the 12th century.

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As we hurried to the mountain of St. John in order to beat the rain, I spotted an artist deep in thought, painting the arch in front of our hotel.

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Our group didn’t have to go far to reach the beginning of our climb up the mountain of St. John, as it was just steps away from our hotel. Fortunately for us, we climbed the fortress on our only clear day as navigating the steep inclines would have been treacherous during a downpour. The 300-meter trek up offers the best views of the city and for an entrance fee of only 3 euros, is a must-do activity when visiting the Old Town.

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After a couple of hours hiking up the mountain, I was definitely huffing and puffing. But we finally made it to the top.
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The remainder of our time in Kotor was spent getting lost in the winding cobblestone streets and marveling at the fortifications surrounding the Old Town, weaving in between the quaint houses and breathtaking mountains. Together with the Old Town itself, the fortifications are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have protected the city for centuries.
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On another note, it didn’t take us too long to pick up on why the phrase “Cats of Kotor” is on postcards and T-shirts in all the souvenir shops. The friendly (definitely not shy) cats popped up in alleyways and seemed to be treated very affectionately by the locals.
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Unfortunately due to remnants of the flooding that was occurring all across the Balkan region, we weren’t able to venture as planned to Perast, Budva, or Sweti Stefan, resort towns off the Montenegrin coast.

What is one to do when it’s dark and stormy outside? Cuddle up to a bottle of rose of course. The YoGypsy gang camped out at Old Winery, a cozy wine bar located in the heart of the Old Town. We ended up making friends with the locals and stayed until the wee hours of the morning. Our time in Kotor ended with an unexpected 6 am flight back to Belgrade (more to come on this in a future post).

The quaint, coastal town of Kotor offers a unique landscape unlike any other I’ve seen in all of my travels. If you want to check out the beauty and serenity of the Mediterranean without the cruise ship crowds, Kotor is definitely the place to go.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Beauty Among the Ruins

After leaving Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, (you’ll read about sweet Sarajevo in a future post), I couldn’t believe the trip was halfway over. After several nights of bonding over epic sunset views, strong rakija and amazing beef cevapi with the #YOGYPSY crew, I didn’t even want to think about the trip coming to an end.

Our next stop was Mostar, the quaint cultural capital of the southeastern Herzegovina region. We left Sarajevo around 10 in the morning via van and started off on the 2.5 (which turned into 5) hour drive. Similar to the other car journeys during our time together, we were on Balkan time: enjoying the scenery, stopping for Bosnian coffee, and of course starting a dance party at every restaurant that crossed our path.

A couple of hours into our journey we stopped for lunch in Jablanica, a town in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. Known for its lush foliage and dramatic mountain views, we spent a good half hour snapping photos. Even on a cloudy day, the Neretva River was a picturesque shade of blue-green.

IMG_0797-1IMG_0660-1IMG_0661-1After lunch, we continued our journey to a city founded in the 1400s, exhibiting signs of a previous era of Turkish rule. Although Mostar was one of the smaller towns we visited during our 11-day trek through the Balkans, it was quite possibly the most memorable. The Old Town, with architecture dating back to the medieval ages, was very striking in its contrast between the peaceful Neretva River and the remnants of devastating violence from the Yugoslav Wars.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) is the most recognizable and magnificent architectural piece in Mostar, soaring high above the old town in a perfect arch. Constructed in 1566 by the Ottomans, it stood for over 400 years until it was destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War. In 2004, the bridge was reconstructed completely, representing rebirth of a town that lost so much a mere twenty years ago.

IMG_0881-1IMG_0878-1IMG_0808-1IMG_0801-1IMG_0887-1IMG_0814-1Stepping outside of the bubble that is Old Town, I noticed the city hadn’t exactly started fresh. Bombed out buildings, bullet-ridden houses and cemeteries give the city an eerie feeling that I couldn’t quite shake.  In 1993, due to residual effects from the Bosnian War, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats began fighting over territory within Mostar. Bosniaks were driven out of the western part of the city and the Old Bridge was part of the front line, dividing the city between the Muslims and Christians. Most of the horribly battered buildings are located here. One of the more prominent ruins was a bank tower turned sniper den, towering above the city as an ominous sign of the city’s war-torn past.

IMG_0852-1IMG_0800-1While a few of the other #YOGPYSY trippers did a little urban exploration in some of the abandoned buildings, I opted for coffee and a little writing. For a better account on the devastation and heartache the war caused on many people in the region, check out Yomadic’s blog for a very poignant account of a homeless man in Mostar.IMG_0830-1IMG_0843-1It is local custom in Mostar for brave bridge jumpers to plunge into the chilly Neretva River to showcase their strength. We learned upon arrival that we would most likely not witness this for free, as most local divers charge around 25 euro to make the 20-meter jump.  After forking over the cash, a 20-something diver was happy to oblige, already in a wetsuit, ready to make the leap. I had to get this on video (below) because it looked absolutely terrifying.

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Stay tuned as I continue to document my trip through the Balkans. Up next: the gem that is Sarajevo!

Wanna Get Away: Reykjavik, Iceland

In the spirit of providing kick arse travel advice to my readers, I’m announcing a monthly travel series titled Wanna Get Away. I’ll feature a hot destination bubbling under the radar. I’ll tell you when to go, how to get there, and of course, the best off-the-beaten-path locales. This month I’m giving you the low down on Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Is Bjork (and her infamous swan dress) the first image that comes to mind when thinking of this island country near the Arctic Circle? Iceland may seem far off and exotic but is in fact only a five-hour flight from the East Coast of the U.S. Whether you are a first time traveler playing it safe or a veteran wayfarer, Iceland offers something for every travel personality. Glaciers, geysers and geothermal pools, the country is chock-full of awe-inspiring natural wonders. Reykjavik, Iceland’s bustling capital city and the northernmost capital of the world,  is definitely on the top of my European to-do list.

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now departing

Although many people flock to Iceland during the summer for the mild weather and the variety of tours and expeditions offered during the peak season, native Icelanders say the best time to visit is during the winter months. With an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Iceland is surprisingly warmer than many cities in the U.S. (ahem, Chiberia) during winter and is known for its festive holiday celebrations.  IcelandAir offers non-stop service from New York and even gives you the option to stopover for free when flying to or from another destination in Europe.

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The hesitation by many to traipse through crowded touristy areas is understandable. However, fortunate for the tourism industry, Iceland is one of the world’s most accessible viewing spots for the Northern Lights, a natural display of lights that creates a surreal green glow across the skies. Quick tip though – be patient. To actually see the lights you’ll most likely have to venture outside of the capital city for ideal viewing conditions, and you may have to watch intently for several nights just to catch a glimpse. Judging from the spectacular views, it all seems worth it.

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Where else but in Iceland can you find a spa located in a lava field? I’m talking about the Blue Lagoon, a man-made lagoon containing pools of water heated by underground lava. Located about 20 minutes from the airport, what better way to end a vacation then by soaking in a steam room cave said to have healing properties? Before you go, do your research. With standard packages starting at $50, you’ll definitely fork over some dough to experience this can’t miss tourist attraction.

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off the beaten path

Travel a little further from Reykjavik and take a stroll on the Black Sand Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, located underneath a glacier-covered volcano. For a day-long excursion, take a hike through Fjord Hvalfjordour (whale fjord), named after the large number of whales seen here by the original settlers. Located just north of Reykjavik, it’s the perfect spot for adventurers to hike through the weaving landscape, explore the forest and venture to Iceland’s highest waterfall.

around the web

Tour Iceland through the eyes of a local! Check out these pretty awesome travel blogs:

http://icelandeyes.blogspot.com/

http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/

Scenes from a Day Trip to Block Island, RI

Last year I visited Block Island, located about 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island in the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, Montauk, NY can be seen off in the distance. With a population of only 1,000, Block Island is the perfect destination for those looking for a relaxing weekend getaway.

Accessible via ferry from Newport, an excursion to Block Island makes for the perfect day trip. Departing Perotti Park at 8 am sharp, we arrived in Block Island around 9:15 am.  After a hearty breakfast, our group rented bikes and spent hours exploring the hilly terrain of the island, including a popular, family-owned farm and the spectacular Mohegan Bluffs.

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The bluffs, located on the southern shore of the island, are large clay cliffs about 150 feet tall. The cliffs were named after the battle between the Niantic, a tribe of New England Native Americans, and the Mohegans, a federally recognized Indian tribe from Connecticut. The two tribes fought over land ownership of the area, and as a result of the battle, the Mohegans were forced to their death over the cliffs.

Although the story behind the cliffs is somber, the view of the rocks and Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking.

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Our next stop was Block Island Southeast Light, a lighthouse constructed in 1875. Located on Mohegan Bluffs at the southeastern corner of the island, it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The lighthouse’s original optic was a Fresnel lens, containing four circular wicks burning whale oil. The whale oil was replaced by kerosene in 1880, and the lens was modified to rotate in a pool of mercury.

In 1993, because of the erosion on the bluffs, the entire lighthouse (all 2,000 tons of it) was moved back about 300 feet. After the move, the lens was replaced again, this time with a more modern lens originally used at Cape Lookout Light in North Carolina (loved reading this piece of history!)

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After several hours of biking (it was more difficult than I thought), we ended our trip with frozen drinks and snacks at Oar Restaurant. After a long day of sightseeing, it was nice to conclude our day trip with mudslides and spectacular views of New Harbor.

As about 40 percent of the island is set aside for conservation, the Nature Conservancy added Block Island to its list of “The Last Great Places”, which is one of only 12 historic sites in the Western hemisphere. I recommend this lush, sparsely populated island to anyone looking for a break from reality, which is certainly what my experience was like on that muggy August day.

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New England Charm in Newport, RI

Nautical chic, seaside swanky, classically preppy; there are so many ways I could describe Newport, RI, a seaside resort town about 40 minutes from the capital city of Providence.

Called the Hamptons of Rhode Island by many, Newport is known for its luxurious resort living; a place where the New England rich elite live, and others vacation during the summer. I visited the week prior to Labor Day weekend, so the city seemed to be winding down for the season. Nevertheless, I was still able to experience the essence that is Newport – boating, fine dining and meandering through the hilly estates of the country’s wealthiest families.IMG_0495photo

Newport was an 18th century port city, famous for sprawling mansions and colonial buildings. The town was an early center for shipbuilding and served as the center for trade with China in the early 1800s. In present day, it’s a haven for sailing, mansion tours, and many vibrant festivals year round.

Our hotel was a quick walk to Bowen’s Wharf, an outdoor shopping and dining area located right on the water. The wharf, lined with brick walkways, was formerly a thriving seaport. Now, the wharf is a symbol of Newport’s rich history and flourishing culture.

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After exploring the wharf, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the city’s sights on a boat. The views were breathtaking – see for yourself.newportbyboatnewportsunsetboatphoto (1)

All the locals we talked to said a trip to Rhode Island is not complete without New England Clam Chowder, which I quickly discovered was the best I’d ever had. Scallops, lobster, and seafood galore – I’m pretty sure I tasted some of the best fish in the world during my short five day stay.

On my last day in Newport, I went off on my own to explore the downtown historic district. My first stop was the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Built in 1954, the museum spans over 20,000 square feet and contains six grass courts and 18 galleries chock full of videos, interactive exhibits, and memorabilia from current and former tennis champions.

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Even if you aren’t into tennis, this a definitely a place worth visiting. Housed in the historic Newport Casino, a social and recreational club built in 1880, the first ever U.S. National Championships were held on the legendary museum courts. The Casino hosted the event until 1915 when the tournament moved to Forest Hills, N.Y and was renamed the U.S Open.

The Casino’s historic courts are the world’s oldest continuously used competition grass courts and the only competition grass courts open to the public for play.

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My next step was the famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile stretch of rugged trail along the Newport shoreline. Although the weather was chilly and overcast in the mid-50s (not ideal photo taking weather), I worked up a sweat as I trekked over rocks and narrow walkways to catch a glimpse of New England’s most famous vistas. viewsofshoreIMG_0474duckonrockIMG_0489flowersnewport

As I continued to make my way down the Cliff Walk, I passed by The 40 Steps, a stone staircase that drops down the side of a cliff to a balcony overlooking the sea. During the mid 19th century, the wooden steps served as a gathering place for the servants working at the nearby mansions. After being destroyed by a hurricane in the early 1900s, the steps were reconstructed with stone and cement. Carved into each of the 40 steps is the name of an individual who donated money for this restoration in 1980.

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And last, but certainly not least, the mansions! Along the walk you’ll see many historical homes, including the Breakers, Newport’s most famous summer cottage, serving as a symbol of the Vanderbilt’s financial and social significance in the late 1890s.

Beauty, elegance, and style – the homes along the Cliff Walk, the history of a thriving seaport, and the exclusivity of a posh casino allow us to reminisce (and only dream) about what life in Newport’s gilded age must have been like.

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East Coast Reunion Tour: 48 Hours in New York

Visiting New York City in the fall is by far one of the best times to go. My trip to NYC earlier this year was during the sweltering hot summer and jam-packed with work meetings, so it was nice to spend a relaxing weekend hanging out with some of my best friends. From bar-hopping all over the Lower East Side to leisurely strolling around Central Park, we had a great girls weekend and a blast catching up on life.

After spending a few days in DC (my second home) hanging out with friends, I took the four and a half hour bus ride up to NYC to continue my east coast reunion tour. Well, four and a half hours turned into seven, and I didn’t get into the city until close to 8 pm. We were all pretty beat from the week, so we spent Friday night catching up over dinner and drinks, resting up for Saturday’s festivities. For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a bit starstruck when it comes to celebrities, and can be asked at just about any given time who is dating who in Hollywood. So, when talking about the next day’s itinerary, a celebrity sightseeing tour was obviously in order.

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On Saturday afternoon (after a diner-style brunch of course), my friend and I set off on the TMZ celebrity tour. Our Australian tour guide, Mathew Chatwick, was so charming. A former finalist on Australian Idol, he charmed us with obscure celebrity facts and showed us the posh pads of Katie Holmes, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and Marc Jacobs, just to name a few. Nothing beats traveling around the city in a bus hearing facts about Jim Carrey’s weird art obsession, or seeing the venue where Lindsay Lohan’s infamous bar fight took place. If you are looking to explore NYC in style, I would highly recommend checking out the TMZ tour here.

By the way, if I’ve sparked your interest with the Australian Idol tidbit, please check out Mathew’s new album,  Undefined. His Australian accent is adorable and his music gives me the chills!
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After a Saturday night out in the Lower East Side, we were ready to soak up some of the crisp fall air in Central Park on Sunday. For many New Yorkers, Central Park is a safe haven for relaxation. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of it all every so often is so necessary. One minute we walked past eccentric musicians playing flutes and the next we approached the Central Park fountain, where a dance troupe was jamming out to Taylor Swift songs. From the naked cowgirls and toy story costumes in Times Square to the attention-seekers in Central Park, the people watching in NYC is unparalleled to any other city.

To top off this gorgeous fall day, walking around Central Park with two of my best friends makes for a pretty awesome Sunday!

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Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

“The world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.” – St. Augustine

Howdy! As you all may gather from reading, I have been bitten by the travel bug. From my very first trip abroad to Japan at age 13 to my latest adventures in the Caribbean, there is just something about exploring a totally new place. I love taking it all in and seeing something I’ve never seen before (and will likely never see again.) It’s just magical.

After a few months of writing about my personal experiences in and around Chicago, I’ve decided to go in another direction with this blog. I plan to focus solely on my desire to see as much of the world as I can over the next several years. Budget travel tips, fashionable vacation wear, travel planning, and solo travel are just a few of the topics I plan to discuss over the coming months.

Want to come along for the ride? Make sure you subscribe (the snazzy green box on the right) for email updates!

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