Posts Tagged With: Things to Do

Culture of the Algarve

An urge to satisfy the travel cravings and a need for sunshine led Charlotte, my #1 travel bud, and me to spontaneously book a flight to the beaches of the Algarve region in Portugal despite our lack of knowledge on the destination. Our ignorance led us to believe that Faro, Portugal was a random Ryanair drop-off location, but with a few quick Google searches, the Algarve revealed itself to be one of the most overwhelmingly popular tourist destinations known to the EU.

There are two sides to the Algarve. To the right of Faro, one can find the tourist hotspots like Lagos and Albufeira where crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and natural caves are bustling with vacationers. To the left of Faro are the waters less traveled with beautiful beaches, nature reserves, authentic food, and most importantly–culture!

Our adventure began in Albufeira where a 5 pound shuttle conveniently took us direct from the airport to our hotel. We loved the blue view of the Atlantic from our 3-day tanning post on the sandy shores. However, we couldn’t help but feel like we were trapped inside a snow globe spotlighting a perfect holiday town sprinkling tourists from the sky.

It is when we traveled to Olhão, Portugal that the real adventure began and the beauty of the Algarve was discovered. An easy and cheap 40 minute train ride took us to the largest fisherman’s town of the Algarve– Olhão. Just our stay at Pension Bicuar Residential was enough to make everything about Olhão a home away from home. Owned and operated by a lovely Malaysian couple with an inspiring globetrotter couple from New Zealand temporarily working at the B&B for 3 months now, they made us feel very welcomed giving us a tour of the place and filling us in on the life of Olhão.

On the first night in Olhão, I awoke at the early hour of 4am unable to fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste my time with tossing and turning in bed, I went up to the rooftop of the B&B to watch the sunrise over the Moorish-style homes in this coastal town. I wasn’t the only one awake though. Just a short walk from our B&B, fishermen were hard at work at the port bringing in their fresh catches of the early morning to fill an entire market featuring a variety of fish big and small.

As explained by the lovely New Zealand couple, you can’t go to the fish market with a list because what you see is what they caught that morning! They also explained that the bell heard at 10 am that same morning was to alert the town that a huge fish (like shark status) was caught! I didn’t find the big guy, but here are a few shots from the market…

After exploring the fresh fish and fruit markets, both of which close at 1pm, we hopped on a ferry to the local islands. With 3 islands to choose from–Ilha da Armona which is reachable by one ferry and Ilha da Cultara and Farol reachable by another and connected by their sandy beaches–we ventured to Ilha da Farol. The ferry took us along the Ria Formosa nature reserve to the island well-known for it’s operating lighthouse (aka farol in Portuguese) along the white sands and crystal clear waters. As we made our way from the ferry dock to the beach, we passed through the simple and well-decorated homes of the island taking in the lifestyle of the locals and imagining their day-to-day commute into the city of Olhão for work, shopping, and what not.

We enjoyed a lovely day on the beach tanning our paled UK bodies under the burning sun of Portugal. And best of all, we enjoyed being surrounded by locals and embracing the culture of the Algarve.


Our Portugal Trip in a nutshell:

Overall– An affordable trip with an average total of £300 spent for a 5 night stay.

Airfare– Approx. £110 with the budget airline, Ryanair


  • Albufeira: Hotel da Galé– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Simple 2 star hotel, basic accommodation. Perks: Rooftop pool, sick view, close to beaches. Negatives: Friendly staff but not very helpful or informing, bathroom is not the cleanest, bar never opened, WiFi but in lobby only.
    • My rating: 2.5/5 stars
  • Olhão: Pension Bicuar– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Well-decorated and comfortable B&B. Perks: Rooftop tables and chairs with a great view of the town, next to the ferry and markets, amazingly friendly staff. Negatives: None! WiFi could have been better but who needs that anyways when on vacation!
    • My rating: 5/5 stars


  • Albufeira: Approx. 8-15 per meal. Drinks approx. 4 for beer, 12 for a jug of Sangria
    • Food was pretty touristy and not very authentic. Lots of fish and chips haha
  • Olhão: Appox. 4-12 per meal depending. Can get seafood for a very good price.
    • Amazing seafood everywhere!!! 8 seafood lunch buffets.
    • Best tapas place which is a must try and loved by locals–7 Imeio Wine Bar

Ferry from Olhão to the islands: Approx. 4 roundtrip!!

Shuttle to and from airport: 10 total


My biggest travel tip for you—Explore the waters and roads less traveled and stick to the left side of Faro, Portugal if you want to experience the true Algarve!

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Real Life London

Hello long lost friends!

My it’s been awhile since my last post in JUNE! But post-Colombia, my summer faced a whirlwind of change. Between moving from Florida to NYC—switching from one job to the next in NYC—then deciding to attend grad school in London with just 3 weeks to get my visa and uproot my life all over again—and now full-force into my Master’s program for Speech and Language Therapy/Pathology—things have been busy to say the least.

But now here I am, 5 months into my 2.5 year program and new life in London. And on this cold and rainy winter day in London, I’ve decided to take a much needed brain break and revisit my abandoned baby with some new material. Despite my busy school and work schedule, I’ve continued to adhere to my mantra– ‘Maintain a balanced life’. After all, what would be the point of moving ALL the way to London and not even taking the time to enjoy it a bit?? So here today, I bring you my top experiences in London since arriving in September! The best part (as always)— IT’S ALL FREE (or affordable)!!!!

September: The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Named after the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries feature contemporary art year-round. Since 2000, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion has been designed as a temporary summer structure by renown architects worldwide.  2013’s pavilion was designed by Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto. Fujimoto’s pavilion captivated tourists and locals alike as they explored this interactive 3D masterpiece. Make sure to visit London between June-October to experience this cultural phenomenon unique to London!

October: Sir John Soane

The Sir John Soane museum is undoubtedly one-of-a-kind. Though usually free and open to the public, the time to visit is on the first Tuesday evening of the month where a crowd of people will queue starting at 5:30pm hoping to be one of the 200 lucky people to explore the wondrous house by candlelight. Inside you will find treasures from Soane’s travels and his house transformed into a museum with relics, sculptures, and secret passageways leading to art from around the world. More of Soane’s architectural works can be found throughout London.

November: Abbey Road

Beatles fan or not, Abbey Road is an exciting find! Hidden at the ‘junction’ of Abbey Road and Grove End Road in NW London, it wasn’t hard to spot with visitors dodging cars to recreate the famous photo. Scared you may get hit or have your camera stolen by a stranger? Don’t be. If you have the same luck as we did, there will be a friendly man with dreadlocks sporting a reflective jacket personally labeled ‘Free Help’ to assist and direct you during your 10 second photo shoot. Your 10 seconds of fame doesn’t have to end there–add your photo to this Web site for the world to see!

December: Kensington Hotel High Tea

Every girl (and guy!) wants an excuse to get dressed-up! But on a student budget, fancy outings can often feel out of reach. But there is always a way! Afternoon tea became an English Tradition in the 19th century and has become a scrumptious identity of the the British culture. So I thought, what better way to ring in my 25th birthday than with a classy high tea in Kensington!  The best part, thanks to afternoontea, my friends and I were able to enjoy a tea with champagne for £18! For Kensington and afternoon tea, that’s a steal!

January: Ceremony of the Keys

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London has taken place every night for the past 700 years!…despite the rain or WWII! From 9:30-10:05pm, 40-50 guests have the privilege of watching this gate-closing ritual in which the guards, known as Beefeaters, escort the Chief Yeoman Warder with the keys during the ceremony. Admission is free, but sign-up months in advance or spots may be gone! (By post in London, my tickets arrived within a week. Give more time if posting from elsewhere and be sure to read the rules of submission online carefully or else you will be asked to post again….like I had to (oops)).

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

February: Chinese New Year, Frost Fair, and Poetry Slam

Wow so much has happened in February already!

Chinese New Year 2014, Year of the Horse
Known to be the largest CNY outside of Asia, London’s China Town extends into Trafalgar Square and other areas of Central London on the Sunday following CNY. Complete with a parade, traditional lion and dragon dances, and delicious eats, this event is also not one to be missed. Though a word of caution, hundreds and thousands of people attend the celebrations and human barricades are unavoidable…trust me. But I still think it is worth it!

Frost Fair
Forget hiding away by the fireplace on a frigid winter day, have a party! The first known Frost Fair took place in the early 17th century after the ‘Old Father Thames’ froze over. The frozen river was turned into a once and a lifetime event for some where Londoners partook in trade, enjoyed a carnival, market stalls, and bars for just a few days before the ice melted away. Due to climate changes, the last Frost Fair was held in 1814 where an elephant was seen trekking across the ice! This year, the very first Frost Fair in over 200 years took place in Shoreditch at Broadgate Ice Rink with live entertainment, life-sized board games, free ice-skating, and market stalls selling goods and delicious eats!

Poetry Slam
Looking to experience the artsy side of London? Check out poetry slam and spoken word events happening in London. My friend and I attended a poetry slam at Genesis Cinema, a free event that takes place every first Thursday of the month. We even got to be 1 of 5 sets of judges!…little did they know it was our first poetry slam and my first attempt to embrace my artsy side. We got the hang of it though (aka, stuck with a score range of 7-10).

Angel Comedy Club

Located around the corner from Angel station at the Camden Head is a free nightly comedy club featuring new and established comedians in London. And it is quite a good show for some free laughs! Just a heads up, no cameras or filming allowed…I learned the hard way!

Check out my Free London page and the Londonist for more free and cheap London! That’s where I find all my goodies : )

Categories: All Blog Postings, Free Things to Do Abroad, London | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trekking Through Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bartering on Khoasan Road in Bangkok; hopping one Thai island to the next; trekking through the jungle on the back of an elephant–There is so much to see and do in Thailand from the north all the way to the south, but my top recommendation for things to do in Thailand is a trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and a 2 or 3 day trek through the surrounding mountains.

Friends and I opted for the 3 day experience. For only 1300 baht ($42), we had our accommodation, meals, and entertainment covered for the next 3 days. The excursion included a guided hike through the mountains, a swim or two in the waterfalls, a 15 minute elephant ride (believe me, 15 minutes was plenty), bamboo and river rating, and an overnight stay in a tribal village one night and the jungle the next.

We started off our 3 day Chiang Mai jungle adventures with an elephant trek through the surrounding mountains 3 hours from the city.

Snack time for the elephants before the trek through the jungles of Chiang Mai.

The elephants trekked through mud and up and down narrow mountain paths like it was nothing.

The universal scratching rock used by all elephants on this trek. My advice–don’t sit on the rocks.

We hiked for miles– The fist day from elephant camp to a waterfall and ended our hike at the local village tribe where we camped out for the night. The second day from the tribe to another gorgeous waterfall to the jungle huts where we spent our second night. The third (and final) day from our hut to the river and bamboo rafting adventure and back to the base.

The local village tribe where we spent night one of our three day trek. We lived liked the locals with no electricity or communication with the outside world.

This Thai man took good care of us preparing for nighttime and bringing some light into our dark hut.

We shared this bathroom with the local occupants—SPIDERS!

For sleeping on the floor, our beds were quite comfy and rather stylish with the colorful mosquito nets protecting us from unwanted bites!

Homemade Thai food for the candlelight dinner with our group!

Live entertainment provided by the locals in English and Thai! This talented musician moved to the village tribe after marrying his wife 10 years ago and now lives a happy and simple life in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai.

The musician also taught us how the Thai get married—Guess I got married in Thailand…

Our guides taught us the fascinating secrets of nature. For example, when opened correctly, this plant can be used to blow bubbles! I like to call it the Bubble Plant!

Gorgeous waterfalls lay in the depths of the jungle. The cool waters made for refreshing pitstop during our long and sweaty hikes!

We really enjoyed our unique experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a very diverse and one-of-a-kind group.

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A French Book Sale and a Free Panorama of Paris

Ever wondered what it would be like to read a book at the tallest point of Paris? Each year, Tour Montparnesse holds the 2-day Paris se Livres book sale on its 56th floor. Normally a €13 ticket to access this floor and the roof terrace for the magnificent 360* panorama of Paris, Paris se Livre is a FREE event that gives you automatic access to this beautiful sight. Every readers dream!

Paris se Livre event on the 56th floor of Tour Montparnesse, June 22-23, 2012

In addition to the variety of French books on sale, a select group of authors are also present for book signings and a friendly chat about their work. Present at the 2012 event held on June 22-23 were authors such as Gilles Thomas and Xavier Ramette, writers of Inscriptions des catacombs de Paris, and Matthieu Jung with his work, Vous êtes nés à la bonne époque.

Authors Gilles Thomas, Xavier Ramette, Matthieu Jung, and others gather for a book signing at Paris se Livre.

Towering Paris at 210 meters high, Tour Montparnesse is the tallest skyscraper in the city, and it’s also the only one. The 56-level dark building sticks out like a sore thumb next to the city’s authentic  white architecture averaging 7-stories high. If searching for the best panoramic view of Paris, climb Tour Montparnesse. You’ll have the opportunity to see every significant structure of Paris without the blocked view typically caused by Tour Montparnesse!

Tour Montparnesse

And during your visit, take some time to chill out on the roof terrace with a new read from Paris se Livre and an astonishing view of the city!

The roof terrace of Tour Montparnesse

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A Promenade to the Parisian Fountain of Sparkles

Just when I think Paris is done surprising me, another marvel is discovered! I thought a sparkling water fountain was something only dreamed about, but this dream is true! In September 2010, Paris installed its very own sparkling water fountain. This wooden hut found in Jardin de Reuilly offers both natural and bubbly water! The fountain is run by 6 taps, some mixed with carbon dioxide to provide the fizz. A local treasure not known too well of by locals themselves, many simply walk by the fountain never discovering the fantastic secret that flows within the pipes!

Cute Parisian man making his weekly visit to the Sparkling Water Fountain of Jardin de Reuilly.

During my visit to the fountain, a sweet Parisian man filled up his 10+ empty Pellegrino bottles (very suiting) one by one, a weekly chore of his since the fountain’s birth. He proudly stated that it was the one and only fountain of its kind in the city, a truly unique gem of Paris.

Paris does recycling right! Refilling empty sparkling water bottles with a fresh fizz in the Jardin de Reuilly.

After filling up my own 1.5 liter, friends and I contently walked along the Promenade Plantée hiccuping sparkles along the way. Promenade Plantée is an old railroad track that was renovated into a walkway filled with unique flowers, sculptures, sights, and parks along its path in the 1990s.

The start of Promenade Plantée near the Bastille.

Beginning at Bastille and ending at the Bois de Vincennes on the east side of Paris, Promenade Plantée is another rare gem that is often left undiscovered. Walking along the promenade, one is eye level with the 7-story architecture of Paris and can at any time look down at the rush of city life along the streets below.

A flawless blend of nature and city life along the Promenade Plantée.

Along with the sparkling fountain found in Jardin de Reuilly, the highlights of the promenade include the Viaduc des Arts, a copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ statues located along the roof of the 12th arrondissement’s Police station, and train tunnels turned into decorated caves.

Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slaves’ located at the top of the 12th Arrondissement’s Police Station.

The beauty of nature mixed in with architecture old and new along the Promenade Plantée is awe inspiring, and it is a sight that should not be overlooked. So during your stay in Paris, take a break from the busy tourist lifestyle and slow it down with a walk over the city and a fizzy water break in Jardin de Reuilly.

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A Wine Tasting How To

Wine–An attractive reason to venture to Paris. In my quest to spend as little as possible while in the expensive city but still enjoy the finer things in life, I discovered Caves Augé. An independent wine store in Paris since 1850, Caves Augé offers FREE wine tastings once a month throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Inside, the walls of the quaint shop are covered top to bottom with a selection of French wines. The overstocked shelves in the center of the store make it possible for only one person at a time to shimmy his or her way through the aisles of the authentic establishment.

Outside, tourist and French wine connoisseurs alike enjoy an afternoon of tasting and socializing along the sidewalk of the independent wine shop. Today, winemakers from Rhone Valley share their creations at the dégustation de vin.

The overall atmosphere is relaxed and cultured.

Locals and tourists enjoy a free wine tasting at Caves Augé.

Wine selections rest atop an aged barrel for the aesthetic appeal.

Through observation, it is clear there is a very specific approach to tasting the wine.

Option 1:

  • With a paper listing the 20+ different wines and a glass in hand, first approach a winemaker serving the featured wines resting atop an old fashioned barrel.
  • After listening to (or pretending to understand) the description of the wine in French, swirl the ounce of wine, elegantly sniff, and proceed to sip…But DO NOT swallow.
  • Give your taste buds a workout and swish the wine around in your mouth for a few seconds to savor the fine and delicate tastes it has to offer.
  •  Once you have done so, find a wooden bucket adjacent to the barrels and spit. I know what you’re attractive. But this is the classy way of doing things.
  • Once done with your tasting, find the select wine on your paper and jot down a few comments about your experience. Example thoughts are as follows:

Attempting to sound fancy: ‘Yes, the Saint Joseph Blanc 2010 was divine, but I much prefer the Rouge. It’s much more vivid and perfectly off-dry.’

Keeping it simple: ‘This is a fine dining kind of wine; this is a romantic drink by the fireplace kind of wine; this is a good time kind of wine. ‘

Just going with it: ‘This is my 10th tasting, I can’t tell the difference anymore.’

  • After this last step, repeat the process all over again. Return to the previous barrel, ask for the second wine, and so on. Once done with the first barrel, move on to the next, mingle with the winemaker, and compare the new and undiscovered tastes.

Option 2:

This is one approach to wine tasting. The other is not quite as involved. Simply grab a glass, choose a wine, chin chin, drink drink, and voila. 1 ounce per tasting, 5-6 ounces in a normal glass of wine, 20+ options to choose from. You do the math.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

Whichever way you choose to experience the dégustation, just have a good time. Free wine tasting, good company, Paris…doesn’t get much better than that.

“Fine Wine and Good Times”

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