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Paris By Pastry – Exquisite Madeleines

There are so many iconic French foodie experiences, it's hard to know where to begin.  Surprisingly it's often the simplest ingredients executed to perfection that produce the tastes we crave long after returning from a trip to France.  While many famous French confections ooze with...

3 Top Luxury Cruise Lines Offer Amazing Summer Deals

We're all accustomed to the low, low  offers advertised by huge mass market cruise lines who want you to vacation with thousands of other passengers, but rarely do the premier luxury guys get into the act.  Well that has all changed this year with some...

Yes You Can Afford A Luxury Trip to Ireland

Sceptre Tours has introduced a number of luxury tours of  Ireland at really fabulous prices. Over the past few years Sceptre Tours has made a glowing name for themselves by offering budget travel to Ireland, Britain and Italy.   In fact the folks at TravelZoo recently...

Exuberant Spring Festivals

It feels like only yesterday when we were celebrating Christmas and yet Pottsitauny Phil has promised that Spring is already fast approaching. Now is the time to plan your escape to another part of the world this Spring.   Why not take this opportunity to plan a journey to one of the world’s best spring festivals?  Here’s a look at  some of our favorite Spring festivals that are well worth putting our your bucket list.

Brazil (Mardi Gras Carnival)

Brazel CarnivalIf lavish carnivals are your thing then head down to Brazil where the world famous Mardi Gras carnival will be taking place on 5 March. Here Rio de Janeiro comes alive with people dancing in the streets all day and night. Extravagant parades feature colorful floats and costumes that surround you as everyone dances to the rhythm of a Samba beat. Come together with the locals to celebrate this African-American tradition and leave all your worries behind.

Favorite Cheap High-Quality Hotels in Top European Cities

ParisWe’ve selected our favorite inexpensive accommodations in three of our favorite European destinations, London, Paris and Budapest to help you stretch your vacation budget.

When you think about the term ‘cheap accommodation’, what comes to mind? Visions of dingy shared hostel dorms with iron bunk beds and thirty people to each bathroom? Subsistence meals from all-you-can-eat buffets? Poor security and sketchy neighborhoods?

These types of lodging certainly exist, but cheap doesn’t automatically mean substandard. If you want to save stretch your budget when traveling, there are plenty of youth hostels and cheap hotels available that will give you a great stay.  Here are some of our favorite top value hotels and hostels: 

Milan Shopping Musts

Doce & GabbanaShopping in Italy is absolute heaven for all fashion lovers! When you think about Italy the first things that may come to mind are: Pizza, legendary football, delicious wine and of course fashion. Italy is the residence for legendary designers such as: Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and many more. If you are a fashion lover you should get fully prepared before entering this “heaven for elegance” country. We have decided to make life easier for you and sum up the top places to shop in Milan:

1. Vintage and second hand shopping
Cavalli e Nastri
Address:
Via Brera 2, Milano or:  Via De Amicis 9, Milano
Official website

This multicolored shop is an absolute pleasure for hours of browsing. Hand-made beaded dresses, faux fur coats and hats, vintage jewelry, and designer’s bags you maybe could never afford before: Hermès, Channel, Dior and many more! 

Historic Paradores of Spain – Cultural Hotel Gems
Parador Nacional de Gibralfaro, Malaga

Parador Nacional de Gibralfaro, Malaga

Being such a popular destination, it can sometimes feel impossible to get away from the well beaten tourist trails in Spain. The amazing Paradores change all this for returning visitors, and along with a few insiders tips make for a truly unique and surprising vacation. The Paradores are historic buildings including convents, castles and monasteries which were identified as culturally significant structured and restored into modern accommodations full of character and retaining plenty of original features. There are around 100 dotted across Spain. Each Parador promise the very best of nature, local produce and regional cuisine; as well as the opportunity to stay in utterly unique surroundings.

Literature lovers shouldn’t miss Alcala de Henares, a world heritage site just outside Madrid. This was the world’s first city specifically founded as a university in 1499. It is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish novelist, playwright and poet who gave the world Don Quixote. 

6 of London’s Best Hidden Attractions

The dilemma for visitors to London is that by the time they’ve enjoyed the ‘must see’ attractions, they’re left with little time to experience the hidden gems that the city has to offer.

Beyond the historical buildings, markets and West End theatre, there is a vast number of lesser known sites of interest that can easily be missed if you don’t seek the council of a local. Luckily for you, dear reader, your author is a born and bred Londoner – 30 years to be precise – and spend much of my time exploring the city’s nooks and crannies, both for work and leisure.

Gathering all of my London knowledge, I’ve come up with a list of six of the city’s best lesser-known attractions.

Coronet Cinema – For most tourists, going to the cinema is not necessarily on their list of things to do. But London is home to some truly unique picture houses. One of the finest is the Coronet Cinema in Notting Hill, west London. A major part of the London arts scene, this cinema dates back to the late 19th century and specializes in non-mainstream movies. 

Paris On Our Mind – Tried and True Paris Tips

Paris cafe for breakfastHere are some Paris travel tips that will make  your journey safe, comfortable and fabulous. I’m always spouting, “When you see a super great deal – make yourself drop everything and go!”  That’s exactly what happened to us last month when Linda and I had the opportunity to fly off to Paris at a fabulous promotional rate.  We had a little over 2 weeks to pull our trip together, so we focused in right away.   Here’s what we did:

#1  A Quick Brush Up On Our High School French
Linda found a terrific language learning program – EarWormsLearning.com.  Despite the crawly name, the concept is amazing.  They believe that you learn better, faster and with more recall when you learn with music.  So their language lessons come with music playing in the background.  We loved it and listened on our iPods all the way to Paris.

30 Words French TranslationAnd for extra reassurance, we picked up a quick translation guide – 30 Words ($9.95).  These are terrific passport sized accordion folded translations of tourist phrases that are waterproof and tear-proof – perfect for toting around.

Paris Greeters Program – Meeting The Friendly French, No Kidding

Paris Greeters, a volunteer organization of amiable Parisians who look forward to welcoming visitors to their city are changing the impression that Paris is a less than friendly city, one tour at a time, every day.

As Linda and I make our away across the city from the broad perfumed boulevards of the Champs Elysee to the gritty, lyrical lanes of the Left Bank,  we are giddy with anticipation.  We are about to meet a new friend that we met a few weeks ago online thanks to the Paris Greeters organization.  Our Paris Greeter / guide, Laurent, has volunteered to show us his city on this particular Saturday afternoon.  We’ve been in touch by email to set a time and place to meet, discussed our mutual interests, and exchanged photos so we can recognize each other outside the Metro station.

Within minutes of meeting we are talking, laughing and already appreciating the nuances of Left Bank neighborhoods and seeing French culture through new eyes.  Beyond a litany of Louis’ and their royal accomplishments (how DO they keep 18 Louis straight?) we stroll by a Pierre Herme´ pastry shrine  (you really can’t call it a bake shop when there are 50 people waiting in line to get in the door!); Paris Market - Wild Asparagusthen on to Gelati D’Alberto where the iced delights look like rose blossoms, and  of course we can’t resist ogling the decadent cheeses and fragrant produce at an open market.  Oh to be a Parisian on market day! Laurent schools us on choosing restaurants to dine in, “NEVER enter a restaurant that has ‘French Cuisine’ on the sign or menu”, he admonishes,  “they are just for poor unsuspecting tourist!”

Dublin ‘On The Cheap’ Gets Easy!

If you're heading over to the Emerald Isle, don't go unless you've spent some time exploring VisitDublin.com. The site is loaded with tons of ways to save money and guarantee a fabulous visit.  The site is a prime example of a tourist bureau doing things...

World's Most Luscious Food Markets

Local food markets give a glimpse into the soul of a destination.  The crops that local farmers grow and the culinary creations that food artisans produce speak to the history of the location and the traditions of its citizens.  Nothing is more pleasing and engrossing than roaming among the stalls of a neighborhood farmer’s market or the grand food halls of a metropolitan city.  In China I was almost afraid to look (bugs on a stick?!), in Vancouver the smells and colors were dazzling, in Hawaii I found vegetables I had never seen before in my life, and the markets in Rome and Paris were sensuous.  Now that it’s harvest time around the world, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a luscious food market wherever you roam – here are some of the world’s favorites:

Americas
New York
Chelsea Market, a hub of foodie activity
San Francisco
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, large Organics Markets, operates 3 times per week
New Orleans – Crescent City Farmers Market
, Uptown and Downtown fabulous fruits
Seattle – Freemont Sunday Market
– more than fruits & veggies – treasures of all description
Hawaii – Hawaii Farmers Markets Online, several gorgeous markets on every island
Vancouver – Granville Island Public Market
, The ethnic diversity of Vancouver makes this market a sensory explosion
Mexico City –
Mercado de la Merced, nirvana for chili pepper lovers – every color of the rainbow!

5 Fun and Surprising Outdoor Activities in Paris

Beach It In Paris – yes, Paris!
Each July and August since 2002, Paris creates its own beaches right along the banks of the River Seine (by the Pont Neuf, Notre-Dame and Pont au Change).  Industrious crews bring in over 3,000 tons of sand to create an urban beach right along the city’s beloved Seine River, for all Parisians (and visitors) to soak up some rays and participate in (my favorite activity) – eye popping people watching!  But it doesn’t stop with sand – we’re talking palm trees, chaise lounges, umbrellas, hammocks, wifi, games and books, grassy lawns and raised decking – a sun lovers paradise for sure!  Find all the details at Paris Plage
Swim The Seine, really – no pollution involved
A number of giant swimming barges (floating swimming pools) have been anchored along the banks of the Seine creating the illusion of being able to swim in the river.  Perhaps the most notable is the Josephine Baker, where a 25 meter pool can delight 375 swimmers at once.  After your refreshing swim, relax in the cafe, on the sun deck, or work out in the gym facilities.  Their sliding roof makes this spot perfect on any day, in any weather.  Here’s where you can find all the info on the Josephine Baker Swimming Pool.

Furnas and Nordeste – The Best Yet!

Just when I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we ventured off to the eastern expanses of Sao Miguel Island where we were totally wowed! Now let me say we had already experienced 7 days of incredibly beautiful landscapes and were in a bit of panorama overload, but the eastern regions of the island woke up our senses once again and had our jaws dropping at the wild and dramatic coastal views.  Everywhere were glimpses of riotous pink azaleas in full bloom cascading down steep headlands.  Cows munched precariously on upland pastures – I thought they should have a sign, “Beware of Falling Cows – instead of falling boulders!”  What touched me the most was seeing charming little picnic parks tucked all along the winding roadways.  Families in the Azores take to the parks every weekend all year long to enjoy family gatherings.  Each park has a dramatic scenic view, picnic benches, masonry barbecues, sinks for food prep, toilets, and often playground equipment for the kids – and always a profusion of flowers in bloom – Martha you should see this!!

Incredible sites along the way included a lava formed swimming pool in the middle of the ocean (talk about your infinity pool!), Europe’s only tea plantation where bright green tea plants blanket the hillsides (and you can tour the tea processing plant), cascading waterfalls, farmers collecting milk from the fields with horse and wagon, and chanting groups of religious Pilgrims who encircle the island for 7 days during Lent, visiting every church, cemetery and memorial.  It’s time to head off to Furnas to soak our well traveled feet in the hot springs!

Sao Miguel – Bustling Cities and Thermal Pools

Sorry for the delay in posting about the finish to our trip.  We had very sporadic access to the web.  One day I was muttering to myself about the lack of internet access, and then took a look around and realized we were staying in the middle of a volcano crater – no wonder the signals were a bit challenged!  Here’s a recap of the marvelous sites we visited on the Island of Sao Miguel and the capitol city of Ponta Delgada.

Ponta Delgada is a study in black and white.  Streets and sidewalks are decoratively adorned with intricate mosaic designs executed in small blocks of black basalt rock and white sandstone.  Tightly woven streets are lined with white stucco buildings accented with black basalt trim.  Numerous city parks were planted with cheery flowers, but alas with the unusually cool weather while we were there, they were yet to ‘pop’, so the city appeared a bit colorless in spots.  I am certain that in a week or two all the trees will have leafed out and flowers will provide bright accents making Ponta Delgada a charming seaside city.  The city reminded me of the wonderful mosaic displays in Lisbon, and we learned that while Ponta Delgada’s designs are done in black with white accents, Lisbon’s are done in white with black accents.  Sao Miguel has the black basalt stone and Lisbon has the white sandstone – so they trade!

To be honest, we didn’t spend much time in the city center.  The countryside is so appealing that we scurried out to explore at every opportunity.  We hired a taxi (who’s driver spoke good English) for approx $20 an hour (for the 4 of us) and headed off to explore.  Our first visit was to Vila Franca Do Campo, the first capitol city of Sao Miguel.  There we sat across from the harbor ramp choked with brightly colored fishing boats and had one of the best meals of our trip at the Atlantico Restaurant.  Fresh fish was abundant throughout our stay – with many varieties we had never heard of – we often just ordered the filet of fish of the day and were never disappointed.  The Azores has a robust tuna fishing industry – although it was still early in the season to see a catch being brought in. 

Faial – Island of Yachts, Windmills and Volcanos

We took a bouncy half hour ferry ride from Pico to the Island of Faial.  Horta, the capitol of Faial, is a cheery harbor town with a yachting flare. For centuries boats have been provisioning here before making the run across the Atlantic.  Today you can see paintings all along the break-front where boaters have left their artistic signatures and highlights of their journey – many on around-the-world adventures.  Even though Faial is smaller in size than Pico, the town of Horta is much busier and bustling with shops and colorful local pubs.  Raising a glass or two at Peters is almost compulsory!

The harbor front boasts several 4 star hotels, including a very dramatic Pousada (historic inn) fashioned out of the city fortress – complete with drawbridge and iron gate.  A huge open air swimming pool fronts the harbor offering dramatic views while you swim.