A weekend in Rome – part 2

On the second day of a long weekend in Rome, head to the Vatican. A true architectural wonder and a place filled with masterpieces.

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The Vatican’s queue is notoriously long and bad, so make sure to beat it by ordering your tickets online. I got ours there and we walked pass the 500-meters long queue and went straight in there with very little wait at security.

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The place is huge and filled with pieces you probably first saw in your history books at school.

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‘Ohhhhh’ and ‘Ahhhh’ in the Sistine chapel (but don’t take any pictures, you’ll be told off! Trust me, I tried!).

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Wander for a couple of hours and end your visit in the huge Basilica St Pietro.

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Once out, head toward Piazza del Popolo, on the way you will find plenty of delis and bakeries where you can find delicious sandwiches.

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On Piazza del Popolo grab a gelato and people watch.

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Rome is a very lively city and Piazza del Popolo a great place to see it happen.

Done with your gelato? Good! Now let’s walk it off! Head uphill to the Villa Borghese park, wander along the cypress trees alleys and enjoy the views of Rome’s roofs.

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Have a siesta on the grass and when it gets closer to ‘Aperol o’clock’ head down back into the city via the Spanish Steps and take a sit at a terrace for an aperitivo and more people watching.

End the day with a dish of pasta or a delicious pizza and go to bed for some sun filled dreams.

Part 1 of our weekend in Rome is here!

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A weekend in Rome – part 1

Rome… Ahhhhhh, Rome… I love you so much! You are like a summer flirt – seducing, warm, interesting and beautiful. I have been to Rome several time and I just fall in love more and more each time. It always delivers!

The great thing with Rome is that it is only a short flight away from almost everywhere in Europe so going for a long weekend is fairly easy!

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A quick flight across the Alps and you will be there for dinner on a Friday. Find a nice little restaurant not far from where you’re staying and unwind to the sound of Italian voices.

On the Saturday, head to the Colosseum.

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Yes, it is cliché, but it really worth visiting. You will feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator for a couple of hours. Note that it is important to buy your tickets in advance to beat the queue.

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Rome offers also plenty of touristy photo opportunities. So go on, be a tourist and proud of it!

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Now is a good time to grab a late lunch. All places around there will be quite touristy so don’t desperately look for something special, just pick between panini and pasta. Or even better, pack a sandwich, from a local baker, so you can enjoy it at our next stop, the Roman Forum!

From the Colosseum, just head to the other side of the street and enter the Roman Forum. The site is mainly in ruin, but it really give you a great idea of how the Antic Rome must have looked like. You can imagine the little food markets, the shops, the temples and all the activity in the very old streets.

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From the Forum, head uphill to what used to be the ‘posh’ neighbourhood of the antic Rome. The Palatine Hill is were the emperors and the cool-kids lived. I did Latin for 2 years, I don’t remember any of the derivatives but I do remember this! My parents would be proud…

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The views of Rome’s roofs are wonderful from there.

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At the top of the hill you will find Emperor Augustus palace. You will also see on the other side of the hill what remains from the Circus Maximus (drop movie reference here: Ben-Hur)

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After the Palatine hill, head toward the Piazza del Campidoglio, where you will find the famous Capitoline wolf statue. You can then head downhill to the Piazza Venezia and the high street area.

By now it should be late afternoon, perfect time for a gelato or an Aperol spritz! When in Rome…

Part 2 of our weekend in Rome is here!

 

 

A week in Puglia, Italy

Starting to plan your summer vacations and thinking about Italy? Want try something a little off the beaten touristic track?

Puglia may just be the place! The ‘heel of the boot’ is a real little rustic wonder. Excellent food, turquoise waters, look no further!

Now grab an Aperol Spritz or a glass of rose because it’s a long one! If reading isn’t your thing, check out our trip highlights video!

We landed around lunch time in Bari and headed straight South-West. We checked-in at Tenuta Yala, a wonderful agriturismo which I highly recommend!

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We relaxed for the rest of the day, enjoying a glass or two of wine and a filling dinner at the place.

We woke up bright and early the following day and headed South to Tricase Porto and Leuca. The drive by the coast was just fantastic!

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Tricase Porto is teeny tiny, so you will only need an hour there. We walked by the harbour and the seafront and took a minute to appreciate the turquoise water.

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Next stop was Leuca. It is not the prettiest city, people mainly come there for the beach. So we just walked around the town grabbed a bite to eat and a gelato.

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We then headed back and had dinner in Gallipoli at Al De Pace. It was one of our best meal there, the octopus pastas were to die for, and the tiramisu was just delicious! Well worth a visit! SONY DSC

The following day we headed West to Otranto. It was one of our favourite villages in Puglia, full of history and surrounded by turquoise water. A medieval gem in a paradise setting!

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We then thought it would be a good idea to head to Galatina for lunch… It is good to note that on Mondays most restaurants are closed in Italy. The town is beautiful but it was completely dead! It may worth going on another day as we ended up having a very unsatisfying sandwich from a local shop.

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We ended the day enjoying the sunset at Baia Verde with a glass of Aperol and a new friend! A glorious sunset on the Mediterranean sea followed by a delicious dinner at Sciamu Moi.

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On our third day  we headed to Porto Cesareo, a very rustic village with a beautiful beach.

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After a quick lunch we headed to Gallipoli old town and got lost in the little cobbled streets. The city is very charming and extremely lively in the evenings!

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The following day we started our exploration of the central and east parts of Puglia, starting with Lecce. It is called the ‘Florence of the South’ and you can really see why. The town is beautiful and very grand!

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When you are there, make sure to grab lunch at L’Angolino di Via Matteotti for the most delicious puccia, a traditional sandwich people have for lunch.

We then headed to Brindisi, which to be honest, didn’t really worth a stop. The town is pretty but there really isn’t much to do.

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Thursday was one of our favourite day! We headed to Ostuni, Cisternino and Alberobello which were all beautiful!

Ostuni is a true vision! Rising from the top of the hill like a white gem.

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Cisternino is a smaller version of Ostuni but still worth a visit!

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Alberobello is magical with its streets of trullos, the traditional Puglian houses.

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We ended the day at a once in a lifetime restaurant. Grotta Palazzese in Polignano A Mare. The venue is insane, but the food wasn’t the best we had. Also it is EXPENSIVE so only go there if you really want to tick it off your bucket list.

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Looking familiar? Probably because its pictures are all over Pinterest!

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Our second to last day was dedicated to relaxation (finally!). We went for a little walk around Martina Franca and Locorontodo followed by an afternoon on the beach in Monopoli.

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For our last day we went to explore Monopoli, Polignano A Mare and Bari. All beautiful! All very Pinterest-able and Instagram-able!

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Hope you enjoyed this very long but summery post!

Thailand – Part 2 – Chiang Mai

For the second leg of our trip in Thailand we head north to Chiang Mai.

On our first evening and after dropping our bags at The Grand Napat (great value for money!) we headed to the night bazaar for some refreshing beers and tasty street food. We liked the night bazaar so much that it is where we had dinner every night during our stay in Chiang Mai.

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The following day we woke up bright and early for a full day with elephants!

I did a lot of research  as I wanted to avoid the awful touristy places where you see drugged tigers and ride on sits attached to the back of abused elephants. After hours on the internet I finally found Baan Chang Elephant Park, their main objective is to rescue and protect the local elephants. They also make sure that the experience they organise for tourists are authentic. No comfy sits there, you will experience the real mahout life for 6 hours. The cost of our experience was a little less than 100 GBP, it included transport, lunch and clothing so overall pretty good value for money.

They came and picked us up at our hotel in the morning and it was honestly the most magical experience! We fed elephants, ride them, kiss them and bath them!

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The bath part was my favourite. After hours in the blazing sun, you cannot wait to jump in the water with them, and you can truly see the joy in their eyes when they are finally in the refreshing water.

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Baan Chang Elephant Park offers various experiences, so if you are not too confident riding you can also spend the day caring for them instead. You will be given a set of clothes there so you only have to come with a towel and a swimsuit. Showers are available on site so you will drive back to your hotel as fresh as a daisy.

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On our second day in Ching Mai, we explored the city. We dedicated most of the day to the city centre, going from temples to temples.

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Of course a mandatory mango and sticky rice was in order! (I lived on this while there! Sooooo good!)
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We then headed toward the Ping River for a walk by the bank before heading back to our hotel for a quick shower and then back out for a delicious dinner at the night bazaar.
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I can honestly say that Chiang Mai was the favourite part of our trip to Thailand! I know, controversial, but the city is buzzing with energy, the food is amazing, you can go on millions of adventures in the jungle and it is extremely good value for money!

Planning a trip to Thailand?

Check my other guides on Bangkok, Phuket and the islands!

Thailand – Part 1 – Bangkok

After an eleven-hours flight from London we landed in Bangkok at mid-day.

We headed straight to the Hilton Millennium where we were staying for the next 3 nights. It isn’t in the most charming area but the view from the bedrooms is insane and well worth it!

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To celebrate our first night in the land of smiles we headed to the rooftop for some cocktails (Thailand is heaven for cocktails aficionados). We then went to The Never Ending Summer, which is walking distance to the hotel, for the most delicious dinner!

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Still euphoric to be in Thailand and completely jet lagged, our final stop that night was at Maggie Choo for some jazz and more cocktails! The place is surreal and well worth the trip if you like a little bit of partying.

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On day two of our trip in Bangkok, we headed by boat to Wat Pho.

It is good to note that boats are a very efficient way to travel to the most touristic sites in Bangkok. You avoid the dreadful Bangkok traffic, it is cheap as chips and it stops about 100 meters from all the main sites!

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Wat Pho is just beautiful, it is a gigantic temple complex in the centre of Bangkok. The architecture is breathtaking and the Reclining Buddha is the biggest statue I have ever seen.

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Get lost in the parks and people watch while sipping on A LOT of water.

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Know that there is a strict dress code when visiting temples and official sites in Thailand, not too much legs or shoulders. The Thais are very organised and tourist-friendly and all sites will provide appropriate clothing if needed. It makes for very interesting outfits of the day!

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After wandering in the Buddhist sanctuary, we headed out to get lost in the little streets of Chinatown.

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A lot of people warned me about Bangkok’s smell. I was told it was very strong and quite fishy. Well… During the 3 days we spent there, I can only remember of once where there was a very bad street smell. Yes it smells of food, yes it is very warm and humid, but no you won’t faint or gag when walking around the less touristy streets. So go ahead, don’t be scared and explore!

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After checking a few landmarks off the list like the Giant Swing and some beautiful squares, we headed to Wat Arun (by boat) for another beautiful wander.

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On our third and final day, we visited the Grand Palace which is grand to say the least. Rooms after rooms of wonders, manicured gardens, everything shine and sparkle in this place. It also really highlight the importance of the Royal Family for Thais, they have so much love and respect for them.

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Going from luxurious estates to rougher surroundings, we headed to Khaosan Road for a little bit of shopping and some food.10900009_10152969799185090_2333088027602327895_o10924214_10152969799040090_1590788645738493730_o1622411_10152969799695090_6872950983001824442_o

It was a wonderful 3 days in Bangkok and I would absolutely recommend visiting the city. One regret for us was not to have enough time to visit the floating markets

Planning a trip to Thailand?

Check my other guides on Chiang Mai, Phuket and the islands!

 

The best breakfast in Istanbul

I know this is a strong statement, but the breakfast was delicious, the service was impeccable and everything was very affordable!

To find that little gem, head to Ortakoy neighbourhood. Admire one of the most beautiful view in Istanbul on the main square and wander in the little streets.

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This where we found Ortaköy Cafe Kahvalti. If you decide to go there after reading this blog, make sure to go with a very empty stomach.

Once settled on the nice street terrace with little blankets to keep us warm (we were there in March) we ordered what seemed to be their speciality (our Turkish is non-existent so we asked the waitress and with a mixture of English and pointing at the menu we figured out what the speciality was).

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We went for the ‘Serpme Kahvalti’ which is their breakfast for two. As part of it we had the choice between omelet and menemen. We of course went for the local option, menemen, a traditional Turkish dish made of eggs, tomatoes, peppers and a few more toppings.

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Everything was excellent and between the menemen, the cheese, bread, olives, etc. We were full for the day!

I also mentioned above that the service was really good. A good example is when the waitress overheard me saying that I never had Turkish coffee – two minutes later a Turkish coffee was served without me asking for anything and at no extra cost!11063426_10153226702020090_2597603974493083171_o.jpg

With very full stomach, we headed back toward the Bosporus for a digestive cruise.

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A week in Dubai – part 2

The second part of our Dubai stay was dedicated to explore the history and culture of UAE and relax.

After a little lie-in on our third day, we headed to the main attraction in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa. I am not exaggerating when saying that the height of this tower is mind-blowing. It is… so high! Soooooooo high!

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I had booked our tickets in advanced but even then the queues weren’t too bad.

One part of the visit that is quite magical is the elevator ride, you can really feel how high and fast you are going, and the animation telling the story of Dubai from the time it was a little village to nowadays is beautiful.

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Once at the top you have one job, enjoy the view! Well, that and doing some very cheesy posing.

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After our visit at the top of the world we headed to the Dubai Mall for a bit of shopping and check out one of the biggest shopping centre in the world.

I am using words like ‘biggest’, ‘tallest’, ‘huge’, gigantic’, a lot in that post but this is what Dubai is all about, over the top!

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The following day we headed to Abu Dhabi which is only a 90 minutes’ drive away and where you will find the Grand Mosque.

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After changing to more appropriate outfits (note to the ladies, make sure to pack a couple of maxi-dresses as they are very handy when visiting a Muslim country), we joined a group for a complementary tour of the mosque. The place is beautiful and once again just gigantic/over-the-top/***insert the adjective of your choice here***.

I really recommend the guided tour as you will learn a lot about the history of the religion and the local traditions.
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In the afternoon we headed to a water park between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A very refreshing stop in the desert heat. I will spare you the swimsuits pictures though. 🙂

The fifth day was spent in the old Dubai. Head toward Deira neighbourhood, hop on a boat across the river and explore a more authentic Dubai and all the souks. Spices, utensils, diamonds, name it and there is a souk for it!

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Our final day was spent at the beach. We paddle boarded in the morning at Jumeirah beach. In the afternoon we headed to the Palm for a couple massage and a relaxing afternoon at the Kempinski.

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Overall it was a very pleasant and relaxing week. So if you are looking for somewhere hot, easy to travel to and with a good balance of beach time and activities, Dubai is the place!

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You haven’t read part 1 yet? Find it here!

A week in Dubai – part 1

Let me start by saying that I genuinely don’t think you need more than a week in Dubai. If you are considering going somewhere in the area for longer I would recommend you spend a week in Dubai and a week somewhere else (The Maldives and the Seychelles are only 4/5 hours flight away… Just saying…).

Now about the city itself, I thought I would really dislike it, but let me take a step back first and explain.

My husband and I were looking for a cheap-ish vacation somewhere hot. As we know a lot of people in Dubai and as I have never been, Andrew suggested we go there, stay at some friends and make it a beach-vacation. At the time I had a lot of prejudices against Dubai, it would be artificial, polluted, busy and overall not very relaxing. Anyway, as our budget was limited* and I couldn’t come up with anything else I followed Andrew’s lead and hop on an Emirates plane to the city of sand.

*Note to the Londoners – flight to and from Dubai are not very expensive and there are plenty each day.

We landed as the sun was rising and what came next was pretty surreal. We drove through a jungle of skyscraper on an empty 6-lanes motorway. If you think Manhattan’s towers are high, well think again!

It was, and hard for me to admit, breathtaking!

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After a few hours of sleep we woke up to the amazing view from my friend’s 60th floor flat. We stayed in the Marina, which I would recommend if you fancy walking to restaurants and bars, while still being close to the beach.

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After taking about a hundred pictures of the Marina’s skyline we went down to the building’s pool area. It is good to note that most residential towers have a pool and a gym so if you are on a budget have a look at Airbnb as the facilities are comparable to hotels’ and all you have to do is a little shop for breakfast/lunch/dinner.

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The afternoon of day one was dedicated to swimming and napping, followed by a tasty steak in one of the hotel’s restaurants around. And of course another million pictures of the view were taken once back at our friend. I mean that view…

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We woke up on the second day, bright and early and headed to the beach right by the Marina. The water in the Persian Gulf is ridiculously turquoise and the sand whiter than white. Also good to note that the water is at ‘bath temperature’ so no hesitation here, even the least brave people like me can just jump in!

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After a few hours splashing around and burning in the sun we headed back to get ready for a desert safari. I looked around a bit for the best company to go with and decided to book the Sundowner experience with Emirates. Maybe not the most authentic (Jordan is the place to go if that is what you are after, more info here) but really well organised and very entertaining!

We were the firsts to be picked up and went to find the rest of our group, in the process drove to different hotels, one involving real size golden horses. Because, why not?

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Once our group was complete we headed to the desert and made some friends on the way!

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We eventually arrived to the camp where we were given a presentation on the desert life, Bedouins and falcons training. Just seeing that beautiful bird flying around and hunting worth the trip!

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We then all hopped back on the SUVs and headed to the dunes for some roller-coaster sensations. This part is so much fun! At times you wonder how we will go up or down and you may even close your eyes a bit!
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After all these adventures, we stopped in another camp for dinner, served with a side of belly dancing and a mandatory shisha.

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We headed home late at night with shoes full of sands and heads full of stars.

Overall some great experiences, and I was slowly but surely falling for Dubai… More adventures in the next episode!

Two days in Boston

 

Full disclosure, Boston is one of my favourite cities in the US. Mainly due to the fact that it feels a little like Europe and you can walk almost everywhere.

I have been there a couple of times for a few days, so I thought I would create a little itinerary for 2 days in Boston. Perfect for a weekend away or a stop while on a road trip on the East Coast.

Also if you are coming from NYC, I highly recommend taking the train from Pennsylvania Station as the views through New England and along the coast are lovely as you can see on the pictures below.

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  • Day 1 – Let’s make History!

You will need one big breakfast for this one as a lot of walking is involved. So first thing first head to Charlie’s for some authentic American breakfast. The place is like a time capsule, the staff, the furniture, the costumers, everything seems to be like it was 40 years ago.

Order blueberry pancakes, they are to die for! And a side of bacon, because why not?

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Once you have cleaned your plate (if you can), head to Boston Common where the Freedom Trail starts. I recommend you follow the red line which will take you through the most iconic areas of Boston. It is quite a walk and with stops along the ways to the different sights, lunch and an afternoon snack/coffee it should take you 4/5 hours. I have done it twice and it really is the perfect way to enjoy Boston and its history, while insuring you are not missing any of the main sights.

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Conveniently, the freedom trail will bring you to Quincy market which is the perfect place for a lunch break! The food options are endless and the venue beautiful!

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Enjoy the walk through Little Italy, the harbour, and stop by the USS Constitution Museum if you have an interest in sailing or if like me you are following your ship-obsessed boyfriend552369_10150762821355090_22240691_n.jpg562458_10150762822610090_562637460_n.jpg526102_10150762823430090_1035102787_n.jpg562458_10150762823265090_1435432424_n.jpg

Finish the day eating crab cakes while resting your little feet at Legal Seafood by the waterfront.

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  • Day 2 – Welcome to New England

Boston is a beautiful city. The architecture, the streets, the atmosphere, it will really give you a taste of New England.

For house watching, head to Beacon Hill and get lost in the cobbled streets. The neighbourhood is beautiful, even more in the spring or fall. Wander around, stop in a little coffee shop and try to pretend you are one of the very cool locals.

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For the second part of your day, head to Back Bay. Walk around the very grand Commonwealth Avenue to look at the beautiful Victorian houses and then head to Newsbury Street to explore all the little shops.

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  • You have another day in the city?

Here are a few things I recommend doing.

I apologise for the lack of pictures but last time I went to these places was in my pre-digital camera days (yeah, a while ago…)

Whales watching – depending on the season, see if you can go whales watching. Last time I went the whales were so close I could almost pet them!

Museum of Fine Arts – went there for an Edward Hopper exhibition which was fantastic!

Harvard – If you can, do a little day trip to Cambridge and wander around one of the most famous campus in the world

  • Where to stay?

The two times I went to Boston, I stayed in the Back Bay area which is really well situated and convenient with plenty of restaurants in the area.

The Marriott, is a Marriott, the rooms are big and you get what are expecting.

The Eliot Hotel is my favourite. The place is beautiful and located on Commonwealth Avenue. Perfect for a couple weekend away!

 

A week in Jordan – part 2

For the second half of the week we headed north to Petra and the Dead Sea. (Haven’t read part 1 yet? Find it here)

Petra… Where to start… There is a reason why it is called the 8th wonder of the world, it is beyond beautiful!

After a night in the desert in Wadi Rum, we rushed to our hotel in Wadi Musa for a quick shower and to change clothes. We stayed at La Maison hotel, nothing fancy but comfortable and very close to Petra’s entrance, it did the job as we were only staying one night.

Off to Petra, we got welcomed at the entrance by a horde of horses. Indeed you are given the choice between walking to the hidden city or riding to it. As the queue for the horses was fairly long, we decided to walk there.198794_10151263484430090_176486993_n
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As you can see we also made friends on the way!

After a good 30 minutes’ walk we finally arrived to the Treasury. It is such an impressive sight that you can hear the crowd gasp when standing in front of it. Talking about the crowd, one thing Petra is not lacking of is tourists, it is a very busy place and it can get a little annoying at times.

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Willing to beat the crowd we decided to take an indirect route around the huge site (seriously, Petra was a huge city!). Climbing above the city was a physical and very sweaty challenge but absolutely worth it just for the views. You will need good hiking boots though as health and safety in Jordan is slightly different to Europe and stairs and guardrails are optional.30948_10151263500645090_27163921_n (1)304438_10151263487550090_854680527_n.jpg

We got lost through time, walking in and out of the cave houses, wandering around what was once the city centre and farmer market. It was a beautiful day and I am so happy to have been there, it worth every drop of sweat.

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Heading back in town we grabbed dinner at a small place next to our hotel and went to bed exhausted and slightly sunburned.

The last stretch of our trip took us to the Dead Sea. We based ourselves at the Marriott for the last 3 nights. Most of our time there was dedicated to floating, covering our bodies with mud and relaxing.

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We also went for a hike in Mujib Nature Reserve which I would highly recommend. The scenery is breathtaking, and you are being kept cool by the river you are walking/swimming through.

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Here you go, seven days of Jordanian adventures, with the right amount of down time for good measure. We headed back to the gloomy London October weather the head full of sunshine and feeling a little like Indiana Jones…

Part 1 of our trip is here.