Monday, November 29, 2010

jetsetter

Jetsetter is a website (affiliated with Gilt) that features luxury hotels around the world at discounted prices. Granted, the costs are still expensive, but they make spa packages and penthouse suites and whatnot slightly more affordable. The dates are usually limited to some time within three or four months of the sale date so you can't really plan a vacation 1 year ahead and hope to book anything through them.

You have to sign up (there may be a waiting list) in order to participate in the sales. They send out emails with previews on what the upcoming sales are.

I have yet to book anything with Jetsetter, but I hope to find an opportunity (and the money) to be able to soon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pickpockets

When travelling, be wary of pickpockets. I have had firsthand experience with this, but it was all due to my own irresponsibility.

While in Paris, my sister and I bought HUGE bottles of Evian water (because we were constantly thirsty - it was a hot summer - and because they were cheap). I brought a medium-sized Longchamp purse, in which I kept my wallet and chapstick and other lady essentials. On the day we were headed to the airport, I had to bring a big backpack, my purse, and the Evian. My hands were full while purchasing metro tickets (to the airport), so I put my Evian in my open bag. After buying the tickets, I put my wallet back in my bag and decided that the Evian was being conveniently held in my open bag and left it there.

We were going to take a pit stop at the store Agatha (they are the trademarker of the little scottie doggie, site is in French) on our way to the airport so we got out of the metro to head there first. After we'd picked out a few things to buy, I realized that my wallet was not in my bag! Somewhere between buying our metro tickets and arriving at that boutique, I'd been robbed!

It was a horrible situation, but thank goodness we'd already booked all of our hotels and we'd kept our passports safe in our luggage. We still had our metro tickets so we headed to the airport and made a collect call on the pay phone to my dad. I asked him to cancel all of my credit cards and to please wire us some cash. There's a hefty fee to wire cash (my dad paid a fee of $35 to send us $300) so it sucked, but we didn't have any other choice.

Once we got to our destination (Barcelona), we were able to buy metro tickets with the few euro that my sister had, and we headed to the hotel. My sister had her debit card with her but she hadn't activated it (don't ask me why, she's weird), so when we got to the hotel, we had to borrow a laptop and skype with Chase bank to get that settled. It took a while because they kept asking security questions that she did not know how to answer (like what month and year did you open your Chase checking account?).

The moral of the story is to be careful! Keep your money separated throughout your luggage so that you won't be left in a situation like mine: no money at all. We were lucky that our passports weren't taken, so that's an important thing to note as well.

I've also heard some stories about thieves who carry around fake babies, throw them at you so that your arms are up to catch the baby while their accomplice robs you from behind. There's another one where a lady performs a strip tease out in public to grab spectators' attention while her accomplice goes around collecting wallets from pockets while everyone is distracted. Just be aware! Ladies, guard your purses, and guys, store your wallet in difficult-to-reach places (like the pockets of tight jeans or the inside pocket of your coat).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Past Trips: Rome

My first year of college, I was an architecture major. Part of the requirements were to take architectural history courses and as freshman, we focused a lot of classic architecture and Rome. We learned about the Colosseo, Pantheon, Il Vittoriale Monument, Fontana di Trevi, all of the Palazzos, etc. Rome was so essential to art and architectural history, that our school offered a program in Rome for the AAP students (Architecture, Art & Planning). I never got to experience that, however, because I switched majors to engineering my sophomore year. Oops! Anyway, when my dear friend and I planned our "We graduated college! We deserve a treat!" trip, we included Rome as one of our destinations. (My friend was a Fine Arts student and she had partaken in the Rome program, lucky girl!)

We flew into Ciampino Airport and took a bus (Terravision, €6 per person, one way - rates vary depending on when you book) to the city center.

We visited all the typical sights while we were there.
Colosseo
Vittorio Emanuele Monument
("White Elephant")
Pantheon

Fontana di Trevi
Piazza di Spagna
Ara Pacis (Richard Meier)













Campo di Fiori
Piazza di San Pietro
Circus Maximus













Julius Caesar Statue
Piazza Navona












Food: As far as cuisine is concerned, Rome is like Paris; You can't find bad food here.

For dinner the first night, we went to the "Jewish Ghetto" and ate at Il Portico. I got tortellini with cream sauce, pancetta, and peas and my friend ordered the salmon pizza. Both dishes were delicious!! Pasta in Italy is always amazing because it's so fresh and they use quality ingredients. The little old man who served us was really nice and we enjoyed ourselves.
Tortellini
Pizza con salmone










For dinner on our last night in Roma, we went to Il Faciolaro near the Pantheon. My friend had the spaghetti carbonara and I had the pizza with mushrooms and prosciutto (and we forgot to snap photos before we started eating! Oops! We were just that hungry). If you've never had carbonara, it looks like plain pasta, but they make a "sauce" out of the leftover pasta cooking water, eggs, pancetta, and lots of cheese. It's really good. We ended our meal with tiramisu, which is so much yummier in Italy than any place you'd find in the U.S.
carbonara
Pizza con funghi e prosciutto
tiramisu












One other thing to note: coffee in Rome is delicious. And gelato is amazing. There's a place right by the Pantheon called Giolitti which serves both. Yum.

Cappuccino
gelato
















For breakfast, we ate cornetto, which is the Italian version of croissant. They're shaped the same, but not as buttery and flaky. They're fluffier and lighter. And try sfogliatelle! It's a pastry made with a flaky, crispy dough that's wrapped around a custard-like filling (usually almond flavored) to look like a seashell.
Cornetto
Sfogliatelle










The downsides to this trip were that there were no public restrooms! You can't just run into a Starbucks or book shop to use the toilets. Your only options really are to go to a sit down restaurant and order something or pay admission to a museum or something. We got lucky because we would use the Cornell in Rome building once in a while, but only when we were in the area. The rest of the time, we just had to hold it.

I also can't make any hotel recommendations. My friend had worked with a language partner while she was studying in Rome her junior year of college. Her language partner was a girl our age, who was still a student, living in an apartment just outside of Rome (reachable by the public transportation buses) and she graciously allowed us to stay there.

OH! And to make a note about public transportation in Rome. It's fairly easy. I think we used the metro once and the bus a bunch of times. You can buy tickets (biglietti) from most newspaper stands (all over the place in the city) or from machines down in the metro station. When going through the metro, you MUST use your ticket and feed it through the machine to get it validated. When using the bus, you have to validate the ticket yourself in a machine. Sometimes we would see people cheat (and we might've cheated once) by not validating their tickets. But be warned! There are inspectors that check to make sure you've validated your ticket! On the day we cheated, it was raining, and as our bus approached our destination bus stop, we saw the inspectors in their bright yellow raincoats and we jumped off the bus immediately, so as to avoid trouble. Be careful though, if you get caught, there are some hefty fines.

We flew out of Fiumicino Airport (Leonardo Da Vinci) which was accessible by train from Termini Station. I think it cost us €14 each.

Rome was awesome. It's definitely an amazing place to visit. I highly recommend it.

Scrapbooking and Snapfish

I love making scrapbooks and photo albums (hard copy ones) for my travels. Nowadays, it's so easy to share photos on facebook or picasa or flickr, etc. but I like to sit down with hard copy prints to put them in albums and frames and decorate my room.

Snapfish is a photo share&print website (associated with Hewlett Packard) that lets you order and print photos for a relatively decent price. I first signed up for it when I got my first HP computer for school and it was automatically listed as one of the 'favorites' in my Internet Explorer.

I know there are a lot of other photo host and print sites out there, but this is the one I am most familiar with and have used most often. That's because they send out emails relatively often with free shipping codes or deals on prints. They also send out deals on collage mugs and photo books and other stuff, but I haven't ever ordered anything but prints.

I love their free shipping deals because otherwise, it's friggin' expensive. Often times, the shipping can cost more than half of the price of your prints!

Some tips:
  1. When you first sign up for the site, you get free prints (I think 20)
  2. If you recommend the site to a friend and he or she signs up, you get free prints (I think 20... I remember when I was ordering prints for my first London trip with my two housemates back in college, we made up a bunch of fake emails in order to take advantage of this... this is illegal... but still, a nifty trick!)
  3. Check your emails for deals or go to RetailMeNot or do a simple google search to find out what the latest offers are
Good thing about this (for me) is that I don't have a time crunch to get albums finished, so usually, I'm content in waiting around for Snapfish to send out a free shipping coupon code.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dublin (Part 2)

Indian Chicken Curry
Steak sandwich
We arrived back at our hotel in Dublin in time for dinner. We headed back to O'Shea's to try out their food. John ordered the steak sandwich with chips and I ordered the Indian chicken curry. The steak was a little bit dry, but good nonetheless. The curry was really good! Baby Boy liked it so much that he dipped his sandwich in it. And of course, we got Guinness to accompany our meals.

Amsterdam! (Day 3)

Spui Square
Spui Square
Our third and final day in Amsterdam was only a half day, as we had to catch a bus to Eindhoven at 13:15. We got up in the morning, packed our bags, and headed back to Pancakes! for breakfast. We were tempted to order the bacon, leek, mushroom, and cheese pancake again, but we decided to get the smoked salmon, guacamole, and creme fraiche pancake and the coconut pancake with banana and condensed milk. Both were delicious! And surprise! We decided to take a bacon, leek, mushroom, and cheese pancake to go! They put it in a pizza box for us so we could eat it on the go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Amsterdam! (Day 2)

Pancakes!
Our hotel had free breakfast, but we woke up too late for it, so Baby Boy found a place using wifi on his phone (which wasn't free, cheap hotel people!) called Pancakes! so we headed there on the tram. We got off at the Spui Square stop and then had to cross a few canals to get there. The place was really cozy and cute and we got to pick our own table, which already had a few menus on it. We ended up choosing the bacon, leek, mushroom, and cheese pancake as well as a drunken pears and creme fraiche pancake. Oh gosh, these were really delicious. The texture of the pancake was really awesome. They weren't like regular American pancakes, but I think there was a wheat flour or something in the batter because they were chewy and awesome, not at all egg-y or dry. It was truly an experience. Oh! And to drink, I got a cappuccino (coffee in Europe is always delicious) and a lemonade (the menu said something about it being made from syrup) and Baby Boy ordered a strawberry, apple, orange shake. The lemonade was sweet, not sour, but refreshing and yummy and the shake was really good. We heard them blending and there was no ice in the drink, so we know it was made from fresh fruits.

Amsterdam! (Day 1)

We arrived at Stansted Airport (London) v. early in the morning. We browsed the duty-free shops a bit before settling down to have breakfast before our flight took off. I bought a sandwich from Pret for the plane before getting breakfast. We ate at Wetherspoons, a chain of pubs that serve breakfast foods (and are known for their sausage or something). I ordered the children's breakfast (which is basically the same as the adult's except for one less piece of sausage, two less hashbrowns, and no mushroom) and John ordered the grown up's breakfast. Our flight to Eindhoven Airport from Stansted was only 35 minutes! We spent more time taxiing than we did flying. We landed around 9:00 and went to the information desk to figure out where to catch the bus to Eindhoven city center (so that we could then in turn catch a train to Amsterdam). I had done the research and everyone had said the train was better because it was quicker. However, when we'd landed, the lady informed us that the next train wasn't going to be for another hour but that there was a bus to Amsterdam available in 10 minutes. Some quick math told us that buying round trip bus tickets would be on par with the round trip cost of a bus + train so we decided to fork up €42 (per person, round trip) for the bus. We had to tell her what time we wanted the bus back to the airport and she printed out our tickets accordingly and stamped them. Oh! And we had to pay in cash because the credit card machine was broken, so I ended up using all the cash I'd designated for Amsterdam! Boo.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

London, baby!

We landed in London on Monday night a bit later than planned so we rushed to catch our easybus to the city center and made it with a few minutes to spare. We got into the city past 23:00 which meant by the time we'd walked to our hotel from the bus stop, checked into our hotel, and dropped off our bags in our room, it was really late and all bars had closed, which was unfortunate because we really wanted a drink! I, for one, really needed a drink because our hotel room looked like a murderer rapist's living quarters. Minimalist furniture, cracked paint on the walls, and an old fashioned sink in the corner = creepy!
free English breakfast
We only had one full day in London and I wanted to make the most of it so I mapped out our route early in the morning, got some free hotel breakfast, and we headed out. Our hotel was located within a block of King's Cross Saint Pancras Station so we decided to start our journey there. After snapping a few photos of the British Library (while standing at the entrance to the Underground), we headed to the spot that Harry Potter made infamous: Platform 9-3/4!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Paris! (Day 3)


Croissant
Chocolatine
On our last day in Paris, we woke up with a mission. "We must visit Montmartre and Sacre Coeur!" We checked out of our hotel, but requested to leave our bags for the day while we went sight-seeing. But first, we decided that we needed to get some croissants to get us energized for the day so we headed to a bakery just around the corner from our hotel. As soon as we walked in, we were slapped in the face by the smell of yummy-ness and butter. The croissants had a super crisp and flaky exterior but were really soft and light on the inside. Baby Boy decided he would also like a pain au chocolat (a.k.a. chocolatine). He let me have a few bites! It was also yummy. It wasn't too sweet or rich, it was perfect.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paris! (Day 2)


Got up in the morning and started planning the day. We decided we'd head to Les Champs-Élysées first to see L'Arc de Triomphe and to hit up Ladurée for les macarons.

Ended up feeling pretty hungry so we decided to sit down and eat lunch at Ladurée. Be forewarned! If you want to eat a meal here, just know that it's pretty expensive!!

Baby boy ordered the Omelette Concorde which had chicken, spinach, tomato, cucumber, fresh cream, and mustard along with a side of fries. I ordered the Salade Ladurée which had arugula, artichokes, green beans, fresh mozzerella, asparagus, sundried tomatoes, squash seeds, basil, and a dressing made of grapefruit and lemon olive oil. SUPER yummy.
omelette
huge salad

bread! and a roll of butter

des frites


After lunch, we headed downstairs to the bakery part so I could pick out some macaroons. I got two caramel (most popular flavor, and for good reason), two raspberry (Baby Boy wanted to try a raspberry one), chocolate, and coffee. I meant to get pistachio, but I forgot. The boy helping me must've thought I was stupid because I started off by saying, "Bonjour, je voudrais sept macarons, s'il-vous-plaît," (translation: I would like seven macaroons, please,") but I only asked for 6. Oops!

Then we walked along the Champs-Élysées and then headed into the city center to check out the Louvre, Notre Dame, Centre Pompidou, and Hôtel de Ville.


Hôtel de Ville
Notre Dame de Paris
Point Zero
Centre Pompidou
Louvre
Our appetizers
Duck confit
After all of the walking, we headed back to the hotel so that we could look up a place to head for dinner. We found a place that was zagat rated (the Royal Madeleine) but when we finally got there (got a bit lost on the way), it was fully booked! Since it was a Sunday night, most places were closed so we wandered around until we found this place, Madeleine 7. I had oysters (on my list of French foods to eat!) to start followed by duck confit. Baby Boy had goat cheese toast, duck fillet, and a cheese plate. The oysters were so good. They came with some sort of shallots and vinegar mixture to top them. They were really fresh and yummy. Both duck dishes were amazing as well. The duck fillet was super tender and the sauce was SO good - not sure what was in it. And the accompanying circular little hash browns were perfect. The duck confit had a perfectly crispy skin but wasn't too greasy or anything.
Cheese plate
duck fillet

blue lights!
After dinner, we took a few photos in front of La Madeleine (famous church) and then headed in the direction of the Louvre. We saw some bright blue lights and heard some music so we followed the lights assuming it was a club. Turned out the blue lights were for some sort of ice sculpture show. However, across the street, we saw pink lights and those turned out to be where the music was actually coming from. We investigated, hoping to get into some party, but it looked too ritzy and there were scary bouncers at the door so we sat on a park bench to enjoy the music for a bit before we headed back. On our way home, we stopped to take some photos while the Eiffel Tower was doing its light show again.

Tiny Eiffel Tower in the background
We were pretty tired, so we crossed Pont Alexander III (Alexander III Bridge), the most ornate bridge in all of Paris (by reputation) and made our way back to the hotel on the metro. But before going to bed, we stopped by a pub in the neighborhood and slammed a few beers before officially calling it a night.

Paris! (Day 1)

We arrived at Paris Beauvais Airport at 9:00 in the morning. We inquired about bus tickets and train tickets and figured because of the rain, it would be easiest to hop on a bus that would go directly into the city center for €15 per person (one way). The ticket booths accept cash only, and we asked for "Deux billets, aller simple, s'il-vous-plaît," (translation: "Two tickets, one way, please,"). The bus ride took a bit less than an hour and brought us to Porte Maillot. From there, we hopped down into the metro, picked ourselves up some children's tickets (€6 euro for 10 rides) and headed to our hotel, Hôtel de L'avre.
La Bouquet Grenelle

Dublin (Part 1)

Our flight leaving the airport was just ever-so-slightly delayed. We'd gotten a notice two months prior to the trip that the times had been changed (from a 19:25 takeoff to a 21:00 takeoff) but that was fine because that gave us time to get dinner before heading to the airport and put us in Ireland at a more reasonable hour.

Once we landed, we headed to our hotel on the Dublin Bus. There are two kinds of buses that will take you into the city center (that I know of): Airlink and the normal Dublin Bus. Airlink costs €6 per person (one way) and the Dublin Bus costs €2.20 per person (one way). I had planned on taking the Dublin Bus from the start so we asked an inspector where we could catch it (since we could only see the Airlink buses when we got outside of the terminal). The inspector tried to tell us that Airlink was the way to go since there wouldn't be another Dublin Bus for another hour, but showed us where to go nonetheless. We decided to check out the other bus stop and it turned out that the inspector was full of poo because some dude that works for the airport said that there was a bus that could take us to the city center in just a few minutes. So yay! We saved €4 each! Just fyi, there are machines where you can buy your tickets, but you are also able to pay the driver.

We got to our hotel around 10:30, which was too early to check in, so we were allowed to leave our bags until 14:00. Here's the google maps link to our hotel. This place was pleasantly sweet and the reviews didn't lie. It was cozy and cute, with helpful and friendly staff. When you walk in, there's a sitting room to the right with a fireplace where they let you wait (to check in, for a taxi, etc.). There was free wifi and easy access to the buses that go back and forth between the city center and Dublin Airport.
sitting room with fireplace

Monday, November 15, 2010

mini break 2010 - we're back!

Despite a few flight delay complications, we made it back in one piece yesterday afternoon! I'll have to start organizing photos and whatnot before I can start posting about all the fun stuff we did. We ate a LOT of really good food (photos and restaurant recommendations to follow); we didn't have one bad food experience at all the whole time we were there. We saw a lot of stuff, experienced some less-than-perfect weather, and walked a LOT.

YAY.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

flights - logistics

This flight stats website is really pretty useful to keep track of any new updates to your flights. I supposed you could also keep track on your airline's website as well, but this one has a few extra things like typical punctuality ratings (not sure how accurately these are evaluated though) and terminal and gate information.

Check the TSA website as well for any last minute updates. I recently found out that JFK got one of those AIT (advanced imaging technology) body scanners! Here's the article describing the machines. I think they're a huge invasion of privacy because the person looking at the images can basically see your naked body. Oh well, I guess whatever the government needs to do to keep us safe from terrorism is necessary.

OH! And another glitch in our plans. I just read on Delta's website that France's Air Traffic Controller's Union plans on going on strike for a few scheduled days. And guess what? Our flight out to Paris (from Dublin) is on one of those scheduled days. Just terrific, right? I guess it's good I found out now so we can start thinking up alternate plans for if our flight is one of the cancelled ones.

In twelve hours, I should be boarding the airplane, getting ready to jet off to Europe, weather permitting. Forecast says it's going to stop raining in the early evening so hopefully there aren't any flight delays for us (which is another thing you should check for the day of your departure; weather!). Anyway, my fingers crossed!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

souvenirs!

It's a good idea to leave a little room in your bag for souvenirs. As a girl who loves to shop, I usually bring less clothes than I might need, knowing that I'll probably go shopping, find something I like, and wear it whilst on my travels.

Anyway, I know I need to come back with some dark chocolate covered digestives from the UK. These are available in the U.S. but not as readily (so I assume they're not as "fresh," if you can qualify a processed food as "fresh,") and it's just more fun to get these from their place of origin (or most popularity, since I'm not positive that digestives originated in the UK).

Elsewhere, I'd like to pick up little kitschy things for my friends that scream, "This is where I visited!" but not in a completely useless way like an ugly refrigerator magnet or poor-quality keychain. I find that for peers, it's usually easy to pick up shot glasses (unless you have sober friends). Other easy gifts can be found in the duty-free shops of the airport. For example, when returning from my trip to Madrid, we picked up a bunch of bottles of olive oils to give out (because Spain rivals Italy for really delicious olive oil). Bear in mind that smaller airports will either have no duty-free shops or if they do, the selections will be limited and horrible, so don't rely on that as a last resort. Find out ahead of time whether or not you'll be able to do some decent shopping before you hop back on the plane headed home.

Things like journals or books with the foreign language of the holiday destination can be nice gifts for certain people. Actually, this post is sort of useless because it's hard to make recommendations. You know your friends and family best, so you make an informed decision.

Monday, November 01, 2010

past trips and future ones

Here are just a few shots (from my journal) that show where I've previously travelled to in Europe. I'll have to eventually do some posts on the best sights to visit in the cities I've been to.


Here's a day-by-day list of everything I did in London (my first trip to Europe)


Here's my first mini euro trip! I learned on this trip that being poor and unable to afford food = the best diet!


Actually, we didn't end up making it to Edinburgh.

Uh, yeah, I inserted this stupid photo just to show you that I went to Madrid

And here's our itinerary for our upcoming trip! YAYYY!

I know I keep going to London and Paris over and over, but I am sorry, those are my favorite cities. I can't help it. Plus, they are the most accessible, meaning, flights to London are usually relatively cheap (compared to other flights during the same season) and it's so easy to get to Paris once you are in London and vice versa.

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