Walk Through History in Berlin

There are not many places you can visit that show the history and effects of the turbulent 20th century as much as the German capital of Berlin.  Berlin found itself at the epicenter of last century’s chaotic history. The city has the ability to teach travelers about the dark days of Nazi rule, the rebuild following the war, and the split between the East and West.  However, from those struggles, lessons were learned, and the city has recovered and grown into a unique cultural experience taking the best from both parts of the Iron Curtain.

A view of the Oberbaum Bridge over the River Spree

Unlike most major cities, Berlin does not have a true central area. Of course, one could argue that Museum Island or the area surrounding the Bundestag are the centers, but in reality, the city has developed into many neighborhoods with their own centers, nightlife, and entertainment. This is likely due to the Berlin Wall, which separated the city for nearly thirty years and forced its citizens to grow separately without much contact. Most of the wall has been torn down to allow the two sides to unite and begin to integrate. However, when walking around the city, you will find a dual line of cobblestones reminding everyone where the large wall once stood.

People walking next to the East Side Gallery

While the vast majority of the wall has been deconstructed with parts of it sent to museums all over to warn and teach about the dark times that the world went through, other parts still stand. One example is the East Side Gallery, which used the wall as a canvas to depict images of freedom, democracy, and the peaceful victory over tyranny. The gallery has transformed the wall from a symbol of oppression to the world’s largest open-air art exhibit championing freedom and stimulating new development and businesses in the area. In the backdrop sits the double-deck Oberbaum Bridge with its distinct towers.

A view of the Alexanderplatz and the east side of Berlin

Although the Berlin Wall is by far the most famous site in Berlin, the most noticeable is the large needle overlooking the city, the Berliner Fernsehturm. The tower is located next to Alexanderplatz, one of the most famous and largest plazas in the city. While this might be one of the more tourist-heavy locations in the city, you should not miss lunch or dinner in the Sphere rotating restaurant at the top of the tower. The views are amazing. Even today, while you are enjoying your meal, it is easy to see the differences between the East and West architecture and urban planning.

The front of the Berliner Dom, which is a large castle in Berlin

Walking West from Alexanderplatz, you will undoubtedly end up at Museum Island, a UNESCO Heritage site that houses most of the city’s museums. It is surrounded by numerous museums that have recently been established.

The island is also home to the Berliner Dom and the Berlin Palace. The Dom offers arguably the second-best views in the city and the opportunity to walk through the royal Hohenzollern family crypt below the cathedral. The Palace, on the other hand, has been converted into a large gallery hosting numerous events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Buildings in the open square of Gendarmenmarkt

Continuing your walk west, you will encounter numerous spectacular 18th and 19th-century buildings that have been converted into embassies and hotels, as well as operas and cathedrals. Especially interesting during winter months is the Gendarmenmarkt square which has a Christmas market and ice rink annually. Further west, you will see in the distance the glass dome of the Bundestag, the Großer Tiergarten Park, and standing directly in front of you, the famous Brandenburg Gate.

Dark columns at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

While all these sites are a must-see, often overlooked to the south of the gate stands the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, sometimes called The Holocaust Memorial, made of over 2,700 dark columns creating an expansive maze and bringing about a somber mood to its visitors.

A sign denoting the Checkpoint Charlie Mauer Museum

Not far away is the famous Checkpoint Charlie Mauer Museum highlighting the creative ways people escaped the East and the must-visit Topography of Terror Gestapo Headquarters Museum.

The interior of the Olympiastadion Berlin

If you have the ability and time to explore the outskirts, you should visit Olympiastadion Berlin, the location where Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in the presence of Adolf Hitler. Today, the stadium is still used for large events and is one of the biggest in Europe.

The exterior of the Memorial and Musuem Sachsenhausen

Further away in the outskirts, you should find time to visit Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, the closest concentration camp to Berlin where many political prisoners met the cruelty of the Nazi regime.

The history and experiences that you will be faced with in Berlin are unmatched. The city teaches us to remember the past, to learn from those mistakes, and to move forward into a better tomorrow. The “better tomorrow” is here in Berlin, and sure enough, after you have walked in the past, be sure to grab a currywurst and a cold Berliner Pils. Relax and get ready for a fun night ahead.

Spend Thanksgiving in New York

I would argue that New York City is magical no matter what time of the year you visit, but there is truly something spectacular about the city during the last two months of the year. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times to visit for all the activities the city offers.

An overhead view of Central Park in New York City during the fall

Where to Eat
If a traditional Thanksgiving meal is as important to you as it is to me (i.e.. very important), have no fear. There are plenty of spots in the city to enjoy an all-American Thanksgiving lunch or dinner. Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time. Bubby’s offers a family-style meal finished off with a selection of pies they are known for. The Smith and Quality Meats are also great options, or if you’re looking for something a little different, try Miss Lily’s for a Thanksgiving feast with a Caribbean flair.

Fall colors in Central Park in New York City

Sightseeing
Whatever you do, make sure to visit Central Park to experience the jaw-dropping beauty of the fall foliage. Stroll through the park to spend an afternoon exploring The Met, or head to Rockefeller Center and take in the view of the park’s colors from above at Top of the Rock.

A view of the Manhattan skyline from Westlight in Brooklyn

For a magical panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline, cross the East River and head to Westlight, a rooftop bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Get there just before sunset to sip a cocktail and watch the sky’s colors envelop the city.

The inside of the Oculus in New York City

Escape the chilly weather by exploring the Oculus downtown followed by a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. For art lovers, check out The Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking district.

Floats and parade-goers along the route of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

The Parade
Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on the top of the list of things to do for many people visiting New York around Thanksgiving. If you’re one of those people, prepare to wake up early and claim your spot by 6 AM. Head north of Herald Square to the Upper West Side for less of a crowd.

You can also see the giant balloons being inflated in the afternoon and evening before Thanksgiving at the American Museum of Natural History in the Upper West Side. Visit later in the evening around 6 or 7 PM to see more of the balloons close to full inflation than you would at an earlier time. Keep in mind that the crowd will likely be larger as it gets later. Also, take the subway instead of a taxi, since many of the surrounding streets are closed off to traffic.

A street view of Macy's in New York City at night

Black Friday Shopping
It’s no secret that NYC is a paradise for shoppers, and Black Friday in the city is truly an experience. Macy’s opens its doors for Black Friday shopping in the evening on Thanksgiving, while others including Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Century 21, and Saks Fifth Avenue, open early on Friday morning.

Get in the Holiday Spirit
While the city hasn’t been fully decked out in Christmas decorations yet, there are plenty of holiday activities to partake in. Visit the Bryant Park Winter Village, see the famed Radio City Christmas Spectacular, or visit the Union Square Holiday Market, which has a European vibe.

The exterior of the New York Hilton Midtown

Where to Stay
The New York Hilton Midtown is centrally-located, making it an ideal choice if you’d like to be within walking distance to Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and more. For a different perspective of the city, opt for the Millennium Hilton New York Downtown or the Hilton New York Fashion District.

If you’re not already captivated by NYC, the energy in the city at this time of year will certainly change that. Grab your family, friends, or fly solo and start planning – this trip will be one for the books.

Explore off the Beaten Path in Reykjavik

The Nordic island nation of Iceland has breathtaking views, sustainable agriculture, active volcanos, and a diverse culinary scene. This is just the tip of the iceberg — Iceland also features a bustling nightlife, dozens of public geothermal pools, and hospitable locals. Given the number of European travelers I encountered, it became apparent that perhaps, Iceland is a nation that Americans unknowingly overlook as a top travel destination. Start exploring on a road less traveled.

Colorful houses lining a snowy street

Navigating Locally
The traditional language in Reykjavik is Icelandic or “Íslenska,” a northern Germanic language true to the country’s Scandinavian roots. Don’t panic, most Icelanders speak English as well.  Iceland does not have any rideshare companies but you’ll be able to navigate around town via public buses. The buses run frequently, offer free Wi-Fi, and are clean and comfortable. Taxis are also conveniently accessible from downtown Reykjavik.

Blue building on a street corner with mountains in the background

Downtown Reykjavik
Stroll around downtown where you will find plenty of shops, bars, restaurants, and local businesses. Make the most out of your trip by purchasing the Reykjavik City Card. The city card offers free admission to certain museums, attractions, hot pools, and free rides on the inner city’s public transit buses. (Excluding Bus 55, the airport express bus) It also offers discounts at specific restaurants, additional attractions, and tours.

What to Taste
Don’t leave Iceland without tasting an Icelandic hotdog, locally known as a pylsa. Critically acclaimed as one of the best hotdogs in the world, pylsas are easy to find in Reykjavik. My favorite pylsa was from The Hot Dog Shake and Pylsa Stand. It is only a couple blocks away the downtown city center. The Hot Dog Shake and Pylsa Stand top their dogs with extra crispy fried onions. They also offer more traditional toppings including raw white onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and remoulade. Remoulade is usually made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.

Nightlife
If you’re looking for some cool shops and bars, head over to Laugavegur Street, which translates to “Wash Road.” Enjoy authentic Icelandic beverages and foodie options at the Lebowski Bar. A lively sports bar and a tribute to the 1998 crime/indie film The Big Lebowski. Their extensive list of crafted White Russians, the burger of the month, happy hour, abasement bowling alley, and a live DJ after 9 PM are all great reasons to visit.

Hot Pools
Visiting hot pools is a frequent pastime of Icelanders all year round. If you plan on visiting a few different public hot pools, I recommend purchasing the Reykjavik city card to gain admission into various hot pools throughout the city. Most of the hot pools are easily accessible by walking, bus, or taxi.

Sightseeing in Reykjavik
Visit the Sun Voyager structure for the perfect photo ops. The structure overlooks Mount Esja and the vast landscape throughout Reykjavik. Although active, this volcanic mountain range is a serene and picturesque landscape to enjoy.

Have a thing for architecture? Visit Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church in Iceland. The tower boasts 224 feet high and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. The church is open to the public for free before noon.

Touring Iceland
Tours of the Northern Lights are most popular during the winter months from November through February. This is when the country experiences the least amount of daylight and the Northern Lights display beautifully. Although a self-guided tour of The Northern Lights is not impossible on your own, I definitely recommend joining a tour guide. They will be able to take you out during perfect weather when you have a greater chance of seeing the lights.

The most popular daytime tour is the Golden Circle Tour. It includes Kerið, a volcanic crater, Geysir Hot Spring, Thingvellir National Park (a Game of Thrones film site), and Gullfoss Waterfall. Depending on your tour guide and the amount of time you have, you’re likely to make more stops along the way.

While you are exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding areas, submerge yourself in the beauty and culture that Iceland has to offer. Icelanders are even more welcoming towards visitors that seek local experiences rather than popular ones, so don’t be afraid to explore on your own. You might find an old record shop, a cozy cafe, comedy club, or a convenient grocery store that reminds you of home. Whatever you do, find your own adventure in Reykjavik!

Top 5 Girls Weekend Activities in Santa Fe

In the memorable words of Cyndi Lauper, “girls just wanna have fun,” and Santa Fe, New Mexico is a great place for a girls’ gathering. Here are the top 5 recommended activities and adventures you should consider when planning a getaway here.

A firepit at the Ten Thousand Waves Spa in Santa Fe

Spa Day at Ten Thousand Waves
Situated just outside of town, this Japanese-styled retreat is an immersion in relaxation and a total state-of-mind shift.  From the foot-soaking long tub that overlooks one of the Japanese courtyard gardens and the stone fire pit surrounded by cushioned teak seating, to the individual outdoor massage rooms filled with natural birdsong and clean mountain air and the zen-like post-massage relaxation room, and finally, the authentic Japanese restaurant, this place is worthy of the price tag.

Inside a canyon at Bandelier National Monument

Natural and Archaeological Adventure at Bandelier National Monument
An obscure park with fewer visitors than many of its bigger counterparts, Bandelier National Monument is located about an hour north of town. An easy hike along the canyon floor reveals the beauty of the rocks as well as the fascinating history of the ancient Puebloan natives. Take the side trails to explore the cliff dwellings as well as remnants of kivas and other farming structures that were central to their long-vanished culture. Climbing up the ladders into the dwellings is optional, but it adds to the fun.

The wall decor at the restaurant Pig N Fig in Santa Fe

Since you might get hungry after the hike, head to the Pig N Fig for a delightfully memorable lunch. Be sure to try the namesake sandwich for a real treat.

Exhibit inside of the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos

Tip: If you have time and are interested in the atomic history of the area, visit the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos. The town is still an active research and development area, and a visit to this attraction is very eye-opening. Oppenheimer’s house is a block away, and full-size models of his weapons are on display at the museum.

Flowering trees by a pathway to the entrance of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe

Art Exploration at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum
Located near the heart of Old Santa Fe, this bountiful collection offers great insight into the artist’s love of flowers, nature, native cultures, and the dramatic contrasts of desert landscapes. Variety abounds in O’Keefe’s works and provides some great conversation starters.

Tip: If you have a group larger than 4 people, it may be more cost-effective for one person to join the museum as a member since the benefits include admissions savings that more than pay for the membership fee. Be sure to check on it in advance on their website.

The exterior of the diner Maggie's in Madrid

Boutique Shopping with a Movie Twist in Madrid
This one-street town located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque includes the movie set restaurant, “Maggies” from “Wild Hogs.” Quaint, artsy shops line the street and are housed in once-abandoned homes rescued from the ravages of time by local craftsmen. Everything from jewelry made by local silversmiths, to giant chainsaw sculptures of dragons and butterflies, to homemade honey and jams can be found in this delightful town that is a step back in time.

Tip: Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as the town is about ten blocks long and you won’t want to miss anything.

A statue outside of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in Santa Fe

Immersion in the Southwest Culture of Downtown Santa Fe
Take time to explore the historical churches, shops, and restaurants that surround the town square. One of the most well-known sites is the Loretto Chapel with its winding staircase, and while it is worthy of a visit, don’t miss its neighbor the St Francis of Assisi Cathedral to understand the role of the church in the area’s development. Missions and unique architecture are all around the city, and taking a stroll down the streets will give you a wonderful glimpse of the flavor that makes this area a treasure.

Whether your friends like to unwind at a spa, explore out in nature, compare thoughts about art, shop ‘till they drop, or discover a spicy culture built on a past with a mission, Santa Fe is one great destination.

A Local’s Guide to a Weekend in London

Creating lasting memories in a city like London isn’t the most difficult thing to do. This vibrant city that never sleeps can offer anything you can wish for. It can be overwhelming when just spending a couple of days in the city, but a weekend guide including highlights, must-tries, and off-the-beaten-path activities can come in handy to maximize your experience.

Full English Breakfast
Starting the day well with a full English breakfast at least once is a must. The meal consists of bacon, eggs, British sausage, baked beans, fried tomato, fried mushrooms, black pudding, and toasted bread. It is available on every corner of the street, every hotel, and every pub that serves breakfast. For a nice variety of food and a beautiful view over the River Thames, visit Browns Butlers Wharf.

London Landmarks
London’s iconic landmarks are relatively close to each other, so you can see the city highlights in one day. From Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye, to the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London, you can create some memorable shots of those beautiful iconic buildings along the famous River Thames.

If you’re trying to save energy for the rest of the trip, book a personal guide from SmallCarBigCity to be driven around in a classic Mini Cooper and see the landmarks for a unique perspective with entertaining fun facts about the city along the way.

Afternoon Tea
Relax and unwind while sipping from your “cuppa tea” during a quintessential (Champagne) afternoon tea. One of my favorite places to enjoy this delicacy is at the Conrad London St. James. Enjoy expertly paired teas with finger sandwiches, seasonal sweet treats, savory items, and scones. (Don’t forget to join in on the clotted cream or jam first debate!)

Theatre
With an enormous variety of shows and musicals, a visit to the West End should be high on your list. Shows take place seven days a week, and it is worth a visit for those wishing to get a taste of cultural London. The evening shows start at 7.30 PM, so most restaurants around will offer a pre-theatre menu to enjoy a fast, decent meal.

More interested in historical culture? Visit Shakespeare Globe and admire the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s historic 16th-century playhouse. Enjoy live demonstrations at various times throughout the day, including Elizabethan clothing dressings, stage fighting, and printing play scripts using a replica 17th-century press.

A Taste of the British Countryside
To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, visit the glorious green just outside of London. By taking the train from Paddington, you’ll be in the middle of the countryside in less than 50 minutes.

For the full experience, make sure to book a Vintage Day Out, where you will be taken around the countryside in a vintage Rolls Royce before stepping onto a classic boat to watch the afternoon drift by. A true British lunch is served on board while your captain talks you through the beautiful sights.

Gin Culture
Finish the day with one of Britain’s favorite drinks: A gin and tonic. With over 315 distilleries in Britain, a London Dry Gin is a must-try. Make sure to visit the City of London Gin Distillery to attend a workshop to create your gin by selecting your botanicals, nurturing your gin throughout the distillation process, taking tastings, and deciding when to make the cut. You will not leave the distillery without your very own bottle of gin.

Sunday Roast
When in London on a Sunday, pop into any pub for a classic Sunday roast. This is a filling meal consisting of roasted meat and potatoes with accompaniments such as Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, bread and mint sauce, vegetables, and gravy. Should you find yourself around South East London, make sure to visit a local restaurant called The Yellow House for a very tasty Sunday roast.

Alternatively, for a nice pub atmosphere and amazing views over the River Thames, The Mayflower Pub in Rotherhithe is highly recommended, just make sure to book in advance.

Cheers to the weekend with a pint of lukewarm ale, another British classic you shouldn’t miss!

A Very New Orleans Thanksgiving

Are you planning a visit to New Orleans this fall? Halloween and weekends with home football games are extremely popular time frames, and rightfully so. While many people decide to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in the comfort of their home, taking a vacation to New Orleans over the holiday should be a consideration for you and your family. Below are some activities to plan for and other recommendations.

Crowds of people walking down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter at night

Football
It’s fall and that means it’s football season in New Orleans. For the second consecutive year, the Black and Gold are playing their rival on Thanksgiving night. This year the game is in Atlanta, but the party, as always, will be in New Orleans. Make plans to watch the game at one of the many watering holes across town and see how local fans party during a game. If you’re looking to make your way further away from the French Quarter, Cooter Brown’s, Tracey’s, and Bayou Beer Garden are popular destinations for fans of all ages and each has a great selection of food to choose from. Cooter Brown’s may possibly have the most TVs in one bar in the city, but it also tends to fill up the fastest. For a prime time game against a bitter rival, you may want to arrive an hour and a half before the game, no matter your choice of location.

The exterior of the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans

Bayou Classic
New Orleans is a city with many annual events that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area to celebrate. The annual Bayou Classic is one of the longest-running staple events of the city. Each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Superdome plays host to the match-up between Grambling State and Southern University’s football teams. For tourists who don’t plan to attend the game, there are still plenty of ways to join in on the fun. There’s a Thanksgiving parade from the Superdome to the French Market, while Friday’s key event is the legendary Battle of the Bands, which is known to be as competitive as the football game itself.

The decorated lobby of The Roosevelt in New Orleans

From Thanksgiving to Christmas
Every year it seems Christmas and other holiday celebrations start earlier and earlier. When traveling, that potential sigh should become a cause for excitement. New Orleans holiday celebrations last throughout the entire month of December, and some even begin as soon as Thanksgiving. The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel decks out its block-long lobby with hundreds of thousands of lights across dozens of Christmas trees. Here’s a local’s secret: The holiday lobby display is actually in place the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 27th), even though the official lighting ceremony is the next Tuesday.  The city’s legendary Celebration in the Oaks begins on Black Friday (November 29) and features amusement park rides, eggnog, and other holiday-themed drinks, as well as an immaculate light show featuring the ever-endearing 12 Yats of Christmas.

A ballroom at The Roosevelt in New Orleans filled with decorated tables set for a meal

Brunches Galore
Any trip to New Orleans is not complete without eating some of the many different cuisine options in the city. On Thanksgiving, you have the choice of prix fixe options including Tableau, SoBou, or Tommy’s, where you’ll be treated to a delicious Cajun-style Thanksgiving, including my favorite side, dressing with oyster dressing. Alternatively, you and your family may choose to attend a brunch buffet at hotels such as The Roosevelt. Spaces fill up quickly around town, so reservations are highly recommended. In addition to a larger assortment of choices, the brunch buffets usually include live entertainment and are held in some of the most immaculate ballrooms in the city. Once you’re done eating, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to walk around Downtown New Orleans and do any exploring that you haven’t been able to at that point in your trip.

Explore History in Turin

Brisk fall days are perfect for exploring Turin’s rich culture, history, arts, and myths in one of the countless museums and other exhibitions that the city has to offer.

Turin was the first capital of the reunited Kingdom of Italy and is the “Hollywood of Italy,” the cradle of the Slow Food Movement, and the home of Fiat. Don’t forget about the Arte Povera, which is a contemporary art style born in Turin, and the Black and White Magic Triangles that are said to cross in the city center.

As the days get colder, I’d like to take you on a full-day Museum excursion to experience Turin’s cultural heritage.

We’ll start our day at the DoubleTree by Hilton Turin Lingotto, which is a great piece of the city’s history, as the hotel is located where the first Fiat cars were once built.

Part of the Lingotto building hosts the Pinacoteca Agnelli, designed by Renzo Piano, which permanently showcases masterpieces from the Fiat founders’ private art collection including works of Picasso, Renoir, and Manet. From the gallery, you also get access to the former Fiat rooftop test track, which, even after several renovations of the building, remained in the original state. It’s impressive to imagine the first Fiat cars in the 1930s racing the 1.8 km circuit on the roof to be approved before shipped.

From here, we continue to discover the history of the automotive at the Museo dell’Automobile, just a ten-minute walk from the hotel, a must-see for car enthusiasts. On three floors, you are taken on an all-senses journey from the first steam vehicles, vintage cars, solar prototypes, and even F1 bolides. Take a tour with one of the enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides, which takes around 1.5 hours.

Within a ten-minute metro ride, we arrive at the historical city center of Turin. From far, you can spot the 168-meter high iconic landmark, the Mole Antonelliana, originally built in 1863 as a synagogue, and today is home to the National Museum of Cinema. Follow the corkscrew stairs up five floors to the exhibition area where you can dive into the history of cinema starting with the earliest versions, the shadow games, to the most spectacular effects of today’s Hollywood industry. Book a ride with the glass elevator that takes you from the ground floor through the exhibition space up to a viewing platform from where you can enjoy a fascinating panorama all over Turin and to the Alps.

Next on our list, and just a short walk through the charming Piazzas of Turin, is the second-largest Egyptian Museum in the world, second to the one in Cairo. The museum was founded in 1824 by King Carlo Felice after several Italian archaeological excavation missions. By that time, findings were still divided between the excavator and Egypt. It’s a fascinating collection of sculptures, tombs, and even a mummy. The English audio guide helps you understand and learn the most during your visit in approximately 1.5 hours.

Let’s jump from the ancient Egyptians to the early 1900s and the beginning of contemporary art movements in the country. Turin was a main stage for the Arte Povera, literally “Poor Arts,” at the end of the 1960s, where the trend was to return to simple, daily-life objects and messages. Every year in November, Turin celebrates contemporary artists with an international exhibition called Artissima. If you are not in town during this particular weekend, I recommend you visit the GAM Torino, Italy’s first public collection of modern art, containing masterpieces of Divisionism, Futurism and Arte Povera. It is the place to admire and interpret modern, young, international contemporary art, along with many temporary exhibitions and art events.

Last but not least, Turin is known as the “Paris of Italy.” Since it was the first capital of the reunited Kingdom of Italy, as you walk through the city center, you can still admire wide open places, stunning palaces, and arch-covered roads of this pompous era. Don’t miss the Royal Palace of Venaria, which is slightly outside of Turin, but easily reachable by car or bus. The palace is an architectural and landscape masterpiece that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It’s also one of the least-known, most Instagrammable places I have ever seen!

You might feel in Turin you could even spend another few days discovering the hidden treasures of culture, history, and fine arts. You are right – there is so much more to see! Just get the Torino & Piemonte Card for up to five consecutive days and get free admission to more than 80 cultural sites. You will find thousands of reasons to explore ancient history and reward your curiosity – you will fall in love with Turin.

How to Spend Fall in South Florida

Fall is a great time of year in South Florida.  There’s a crisp ocean breeze and low humidity, so take advantage of the multiple ways to spend your time outdoors. Since the weather is still warmer for those visiting from the North, South Florida has a lot to offer for visitors and can become your go-to spot for a fall vacation.

Boats in the Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal Waterway

Fall Events and Activities
One of the biggest events to attend is the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. It is the largest in-water boat show in the world, and you can spend the weekend walking the docks and admiring the biggest, most beautiful yachts you have ever seen. The boat show happens the first weekend of November, and it is definitely the event to see and be seen.

An overhead view of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami

For college sports fans, check out the Miami Hurricanes or the Florida Atlantic University Owls. Both schools are within a reasonable driving distance and can offer a family-fun environment while catching a competitive sporting event.

Historic building and bridge over water at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami

Explore the history of the area while you’re here – there are plenty of sites that have backstories dating to the early 1900s. One spot to visit is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. There are a ton of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities around the grounds, and you should have perfect weather, so you can take your time to enjoy all there is to see.

You can also visit one of the multiple breweries that can offer fall flavors and the opportunity to spend some time with the locals. Stop by Funky Buddha Brewery in Fort Lauderdale, which offers their Last Snow seasonal porter with coconut and coffee flavors. In Miami, check out MIA Brewery where you can try the seasonal Moo Over Miami stout. There are plenty of brewery options in the area and I guarantee none will disappoint.

Looking for an outdoor family activity? Head south to Knaus Berry Farm.  Here you can pick strawberries, taste a delicious strawberry milkshake, and purchase some jam to bring home as souvenirs.

Overhead view of a bridge over the Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal Waterway

Where to Enjoy the Holidays
Since South Florida is such a vacation destination, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor feasts, even on major holidays. In Fort Lauderdale, try Shooters Waterfront located on the Intracoastal Waterway. It offers great views and a vast array of dinner options, including a Thanksgiving buffet and an a la carte holiday menu. During the weekend brunch for the crab cake benedict and a frosé! If you are in Miami, check out Shuckers Waterfront Grill. The view of Biscayne Bay will take your breath away. They are known for their grilled wings, but honestly, the fish dip is more my speed – it’s fresh and tasty.

Horses racing at Gulfstream Park in Fort Lauderdale/Miami

If you are looking for a fun Thanksgiving Day, check out Gulfstream Park for some horse racing, shopping, and dining. Start the day around noon, betting on the ponies that speed by.  With your winnings, head to Frankey’s, where you can still bet on the races while enjoying all the other sporting events on the multiple TVs around the restaurant. Make sure to try the cucumber and jalapeno martini – it’s cooling with a kick. Also, try their Buffalo chicken mac and cheese – who said you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving?

A sunset over the beach through palm trees in Fort Lauderdale

One of the greatest things about fall in South Florida is that no matter where you go, the weather is enjoyable outside. There are so many restaurants and cafés in the area, and most of them offer outdoor seating. The good thing is that it’s not snowing, and it’s not one hundred degrees out. When you do come visit, make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to chill outside with a cold beverage or hot chocolate. Just promise not to laugh at us Floridians in our winter coats and Uggs!

A Guide to Exploring Lima, Peru

As the capital of Peru, Lima is a great city to learn more about the Peruvian culture, try local and Michelin-Starred food, and experience historical and cultural sights. Keep in mind that if you are traveling from the Northern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite in Peru, so be sure to pack accordingly.

Where to Stay
The Hilton Lima Miraflores and El Pardo DoubleTree by Hilton are both are in central locations in Miraflores, the trendy neighborhood of Lima, with the top restaurants, bars, and shopping nearby. Both are very upscale and comfortable hotels with excellent service. The Hilton even has a scenic rooftop pool and hot tub that overlooks the city. The breakfast is also delicious at both properties, featuring food with local flavors. Try the Custard Apple fruit at Social Restaurant & Bar.

Where to Eat
Central is currently listed as the #6 restaurant in the world, so make sure to book your reservations here in advance. The Michelin-Starred restaurant is by world-renowned chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, and features a 16-course tasting menu that takes you through different altitudes. From 20m below sea level to 4,100m above it, the menu offers an array of seafood, meats, corn, and potato that showcases local flavors. The wine and cocktail menu is also good, and a typical Pisco Sour is a must.

Mercado 28 is a local market full of different kiosks, so many flavors can be catered to. Vendors range from Amazonian dishes to Sushi. Asian food has a huge influence in Peru and is infused with Peruvian flavors to create the Nikkei cuisine. The atmosphere is also very lively, with TV screens everywhere to watch soccer games. A couple of must-try dishes are the Arroz con Pato, rice with duck, and Lomo Saltado, which is a common beef dish in Peru.

Where to Drink and Dance
The bar Ayahuasca is in the Barranco District, and this converted mansion features many rooms of different décor. The menu is vast and features an array of Piscos, Mules, and more. Try a Pisco Sour here.

After drinks at Ayahuasca, head to El Dragón to dance the night away. It features live and Spanish music, so it’s a great place to learn to Salsa.

Where to Tour
Huaca Pucllana is an ancient pyramid located in the heart of the city in the Miraflores district. It was created between 400 AD and 700 AD and represented a ceremonial site for the Incans. They do guided tours in English to learn about history and culture, and there are even some alpacas and llamas to pet there.

For shopping, good restaurants, and scenic views of the ocean, head over to Larcomar. There are plenty of restaurants here to choose from, a favorite is Popular.

Kennedy Park, also famously known as cat park, features many street vendors and artists. This park honors John F. Kennedy and is in the heart of the city, which makes it a great venue to watch Peruvian soccer games.

Ica is a day trip about 5 hours from Peru, but it is totally worth it. In Ica you can sandboard and ATV around the sand dunes. The center of the dunes leads to a lagoon, where you can lay on the beach, try the restaurants, and buy gifts.

Overall, Lima is a great city to experience food, history, and nightlife. The locals of Lima are very welcoming and eager to give advice, so just reach out for local favorites. Lima is just a snapshot of activities to do in Peru. If you have more time, take the opportunity to head to Cusco to visit Machu Picchu and the mountainous city too.

Explore the Food and Haunted History of Tampa Bay

Fall has arrived, and it’s the perfect time of year to get outside and explore all that Tampa Bay has to offer. Guided tours are a great way to learn and explore without worrying about navigation. Two of the most popular tours are a food tour through the quaint town of Dunedin and a history and ghost tour of Ybor City.

Dunedin Food Tour
Dunedin is one of the oldest towns on the West Coast of Florida. With over a dozen restaurants, breweries, and distilleries within a quick walk of each other, Tampa Bay Food Tours has no lack of options to delight their patrons with. Tours take place on Saturday afternoons, last approximately three hours, and feature five to seven stops.

We started at the Lucky Lobster Company. The manager greeted us with a freshly-made margarita – there are no bottled mixes here! The next item was a shrimp, lobster, and smoked gouda pizza. It was creamy, surprisingly light, and loaded with flavor.

Our next stop was Nature’s Food Patch which is a grocery store and café specializing in organic and natural foods. The turkey chipotle sandwich, which was my favorite, is made with smoked turkey, imported Swiss, roasted red onions, and a chipotle spread.

Across the street is Carvor’s Fish House, known for their fresh seafood selection. Seating is limited there, so we headed to the award-winning Cueni Brewing Company to enjoy a drink with the delicious grilled shrimp, seafood-stuffed mushrooms, and slaw that Carvor’s prepared for us.

Not to be outdone by the local craft breweries, Cotherman Distillery makes amazing small-batch spirits. They offer 15 different types of Vodka, Gin, Whiskey, and Rum. You can purchase one of their signature glasses, and they will gladly fill it with a sample of your choosing for free.

The most highly anticipated stop on the tour was Hog Island Fish Camp. At the beginning of the tour, we had the option to pick between hogfish sliders or a whole fish to have here. Being an adventurous crew, we chose the whole fish. If you’ve never had a whole prepared fish before, it is well worth it!

Our second to last stop was Sea Sea Riders. They have been in Dunedin for more than 30 years. We tried the Tsunami Shrimp, which is their take on Bang Bang Shrimp, and it was delicious!

Of course, you can’t finish off a food tour without dessert. Bon Appetit not only serves up amazing small-sized desserts, but they also have some of the best views in Tampa Bay. We were able to choose from an assortment of mini desserts in flavors including honey, raspberry cheesecake, and mocha macchiato. It was the perfect ending to the tour.

Ybor City History and Ghost Tour
Founded in the 1880s by Vincente Martinez-Ybor, Ybor City is rich in history and intrigue. With a background including pirates and lawlessness, it is no surprise that Ybor City has been named one of the most haunted cities in the nation and home to the 4th most haunted building in America. Ybor City Walking Tours gave us a unique glimpse into the physical and spiritual history of Ybor City.

We visited Rock Brothers and the Attic, now a brewery and event space, that had its share of antics. It was formerly a brothel of sorts and had several incidents of gunfights, many of which took the lives of women working there. Stories tell of those killed lingering after their deaths, even prompting clergy to be called in. After several failed attempts to remove them, a monk statue was carved out of wood and blessed by ordained clergy. The monk was placed in a hollowed-out cavity 12 feet above the floor in the attic. If the monk remains there, the spirits remain quiet. It has been mysteriously found on the floor on a few occasions, which is thought to be the ghosts attempting to return.

The most curious stop of the night was the Cuban Club. Once a social club for Cuban immigrants, there have been several untimely deaths in its history and frequent stories of spooky happenings within its walls.

We were given electromagnetic field (EMF) meters, which look for spikes in electrical currents that suggest spirits are nearby. I experienced a lot of activity on the stage in the building, even taking several videos of orbs (energy patterns of spirits). Spirits here include a young actor who hung himself on the stage after a bad performance. A woman in white, who was thrown off a balcony, is also frequently spotted. We even brought a ball for a child who drowned there.

Both tours may change stops due to weather or to accommodate requests by participants, but it is still sure to be a great experience!

Top 5 Cafés in Doha for Tea Time Like a Local

Doha is the capital of Qatar, where tradition meets a growing and modernizing population. Foreign workers count for about 88% of the population, and thus, Qataris are considered a minority in their own country. Expats and tourists live and work with locals, who have a beautiful way of walking proud and tall in their elegant thobes and abayas. Here are the top 5 cafés in Doha where local Qataris enjoy tea time.

Casper and Gambini’s
This café is in Mirqab Mall and is easily accessible in the city center. Try the soothing pain perdu with a simple latte, although there are also many types of coffee. Pain perdu is a brioche sliced bread soaked in milk, cooked crispy on the outside with a thin layer of caramel, and topped with vanilla ice cream. This dessert is a favorite among locals.

Chac’Late
This café is in Katara Cultural Village and is frequented by the locals. Enjoy the strawberry mille-feuille cake and a green tea with jasmine leaves. There is a very cozy seating area available on the terrace and an intriguing atmosphere in the café from the lighting and the fact that it is situated right next to an amphitheater built in a unique classical Greek style mixed with Islamic features. The smell of chocolate is everywhere, and the food is presented on dainty porcelain plates and glasses. Pots of traditional Arabic coffee are also available, making it an excellent place to lounge and people watch.

The Dromedary Club
Locals who have a passion for leather and bikes are drawn to this café, which also serves as a leather workshop with beautifully crafted leather items on display. Interestingly, it also serves as a barber! There are activities on a daily basis including movie nights, leather crafting workshops, coffee workshops, and even pet-friendly events such as fundraisers with QAWS. For those who have pets, the club will allow you to bring along your furry friends on Fridays and Saturdays at certain times. Try special TWG Tea – Blend No. 21. It has a very soothing aroma, which mixes well with the smell of leather.

Halo
Halo is a bakeshop specializing in dough. You will notice straight away how popular the café is with the locals, as there is often a line out the door. There are usually groups of teens enjoying beautifully presented desserts. I recommend the hazelnut chocolate cronut and the pistachio and milk frozen cake. The desserts are classics with a local touch!

Aimee’s Café
Aimee’s Café is in Doha Festival City, which is also home to the country’s only IKEA. This café is one of the most popular due to their all-day breakfast menu and desserts. Because the country has such high temperatures, most people are accustomed to going out later during the day when it’s cooler, and breakfast items are always popular. Try the stuffed French toast which is a homemade brioche stuffed with chocolate cream and served with ice cream. Otherwise, if you prefer a beverage, try the passionfruit smoothie, which has a blend of passionfruit and yogurt that is extremely refreshing.

Visit these cafés during tea time and dress smart casual. These are popular places to meet up with friends, and the desserts have a local flair to suit their palate. Doha is a desert climate with an average temperature of above 100°F during the hot season, which lasts for almost 5 months. Cafes are a crucial escape from the heat. This also accounts for the many malls and ever-growing number of entertainment options. At the same time, cafés provide a more relaxed setting in this conservative society and are becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation. Doha is a fantastic destination with more and more cafés opening every day and new trends to keep up with.

Know Before You Go
Make the most of your trip to Doha with these helpful tips!

  • Dress “smart casual” when visiting the cafes in the area.
  • Get a later start for breakfast when the temperature is cooler.
  • Arabic coffee traditionally is boiled instead of brewed through a filter. It is typically served unsweetened and contains added spices such as cardamom, cloves, and saffron.

Where to Sightsee in Costa Rica

If you’re looking for a city with a touch of Mother Nature, look no further than San Jose in Costa Rica. Once you arrive, you will be greeted with big smiles, fresh air, and beautiful landscapes. Although San Jose is a well-developed city, the locals take the most pride in preserving the natural beauty in the area. Let’s get started with a few top attractions you must-see during your visit!

San Jose City Tour
Learn all about the history of San Jose by taking a city tour from Viator. My favorite stop along the tour was at the Central Market. Here, you can shop amongst the locals and taste samples of pastries and craft-brewed beer. Keep notes of the different beers you enjoy so you can order them with dinner in the evening. This is a great opportunity to stock up on snacks to keep in your hotel room.

Local Museums in San Jose
The museum buffs in your group will be pleasantly surprised by San Jose’s wide variety of museums.

  • Museum of Costa Rican Art – the extensive picture display submerges you in the local culture of Costa Rica through spiritual images and exhibits.
  • Natural Science Museum – This museum features a huge exhibit of animals including birds, insects, dinosaurs and mammals.
  • The Gold Museum – Highlights the history of the first American settlers and an extensive collection of gold relics.

After exploring a few museums, head over to Grano de Oro Restaurant for a delicious lunch. My favorite dish is the Curado de Pescados which includes shrimp and three types of fish mixed with lemon and olive oil. Since Costa Rica is in on an island, the seafood cannot be any fresher!

San Jose Craft Market
After lunch, visit the Municipal Craft Market where you can shop and browse through local vendor booths. Local artists create unique items perfect for souvenirs. You can find pretty much any type of craft item here at the market including, shot glasses, pens, purses, and more. The market is located on Calle 5, Avenida 6, costado Sur de la Plaza de las Garantías, San José, Costa Rica.

A kayak in the grass in front of a beach

Outdoor Activities in Alajuela
If you’re looking for an adventure, you can find a few different options including cultural tours, nature tours, beach tours, Caribbean tours, Guanacaste tours, and Monteverde tours.

Colinas del Poás Zip Line Tour
I chose to do the Colinas del Poás Zip Line Tour which offered a variety of activities including the zip line, Tarzan swing, and lunch. I decided to enjoy the Tarzan swing which included climbing a staircase stairs up to the top of a treehouse. The extra steps were worth the views. After enjoying the views, I took a leap of faith (literally) and jumped like Tarzan off of the top of the treehouse. It was definitely an exhilarating experience!

Dinner with a View in Alajuela
Plan ahead and make an early dinner reservation at Xandari Resort. The restaurant has a beautiful view of the Costa Rica skyline. The restaurant includes an open area where you can enjoy nature and the cool breeze at night. The filet mignon is a popular choice and the Chefs prepare it perfectly. The ambiance of the restaurant is created with brightly decorated masks on the walls.

What to do at Night in Alajuela
After dinner, enjoy a show at the National Theater of Costa Rica. This theater features plays, musical events, and cultural dances. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. Take a peek at their event calendar to plan your itinerary ahead of time.

After the theater head to Casino Fiesta. You can gamble, enjoy a drink at the bar, and dance the night away. Learn a few new dances like the salsa and merengue, or show off your own moves when your favorite song comes on.

San Jose is a great place to visit for travelers who enjoy both, city life and Mother Nature. Jump right into the daily lifestyle when you visit the Central Market or enjoy a relaxing dinner in the city. During the day there is always an adventure to discover. Take a leap of faith like Tarzan or explore the rainforest, you never know what kind of critters you’ll run into!