Buenos Aires on a Student Budget

What do you get when you mix the beautiful architecture of Europe with the rich cultural traditions of Latin America? You get Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires, known as the Paris of the South, is a treasure chest of the most iconic features of France, Italy and South America: neoclassical architecture, intricate sculptures, lively tango dancing and, of course, delectable food.

With so much to do, see and eat, it’s easy to let your savings account dwindle down after only a few days in Buenos Aires. However, for those on a student budget, there are ways to explore the city without having to take out another loan.

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WHAT TO DO

  • Free Walking Tour – Buenos Aires Free Walks are a perfect starting point for travelers new to the city. The tour company offers free tours daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. which visit main attractions including the Obelisk, Teatro Colon, Plaza de Mayo, the Pink House and the Cathedral
  • Free Tango ShowClub Tango’s website lists tango shows and classes almost daily, with several of the shows costing less than $5, and some free. This site is in Spanish, so if it’s been a while since you’ve brushed up on your high school Spanish, you should know that to find free shows, just look for the word “Gratis.”
  • Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – the Museum of Fine Art, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, is always free to enter because it is a national museum.  On display are works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Manet, Sorolla, Gauguin, Degas, Cándido López and other Argentinian artists.
  • Feria de San Telmo – Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors and locals alike enjoy the San Telmo Fair in one of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhoods. You can spend the day strolling through rows of shops offering all sorts of antiques and crafts. With a market this big, it may take more than one Sunday to explore the whole area.

WHAT TO SEE

  • Recoleta Cemetery – Cemeteries may not be the usual tourist attraction, but Recoleta Cemetery is a must-see while in Buenos Aires. The cemetery hosts an array of ornate tombs adorned with stained glass, life-sized statues and even furniture – the most famous vault being that of Eva “Evita” Perón. Entrance to the cemetery is free.

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  • Casa Rosada – The Pink House, known for its light pink exterior, is Argentina’s presidential palace. While there is more than enough to take in from the outside, the palace offers free tours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

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  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., you can see the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo march in a circle around the plaza to commemorate the disappearance of their sons and daughters during Argentina’s Dirty War. It’s a tradition that has been kept up for 30 years and still stirs emotion.

madres-de-plaza-de-mayo-buenos-aires

WHERE TO EAT

  • Las Cabras  While the service may not be the best, Las Cabras (on Fitz Roy) is renowned for its good food at low prices. While in Argentina, trying the carne parrillada, or grilled meat, is a must – so dig into the menu of Argentinian steaks and chorizo (probably not the best place for vegetarians) paired with fried eggs and fries.
  • Pehache – Art exhibition, store and café, Pehache is an old house turned into a space for design and art. There’s a café in the house’s garden that offers dishes, drinks and pastries at low prices. While you’re there, be sure to explore the inside of the house to check out the modern and exquisite interior design and art studio.

As you can see, there are more than a few ways you can experience the culture of Buenos Aires without hurting your wallet. Be sure to check out StudentUniverse’s student flight discounts to Latin America, and begin your journey today!

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com, where I am a guest blogger. Read the original post here: 

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/world-travel/buenos-aires-on-a-student-budget

8 Ways to Experience Stockholm For Free

Stockholm1
Stockholm, Sweden has never been known to be an affordable vacation spot. While it may not be the most expensive Scandinavian city, there are few European countries that can compete with Sweden’s prices. Luckily, from tours to galleries, Stockholm offers plenty of free things to fill up your itinerary.

Free Tour Stockholm – As with most European cities, Stockholm has free walking tours. These 90 – 120-minute tours, operated by Free tour Stockholm, run daily with three route options:

10:00 a.m. The City Tour  takes you around Stockholm’s main city area.

1:00 p.m. The Söder Tour takes you to the hipster, bohemian area of Södermalm.

4:00 p.m. Old Town Tour  takes you through the historic, original island of Stockholm.

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Old Town – If you want to skip the tour, embark on your own adventure through Stockholm’s Old Town. This enchanting neighborhood with cobblestone streets, narrow walkways and colorful cottages will make you think you stepped out right out of modern day and into the pages of your favorite fairy tale. Take your time perusing the shops, grabbing gelato and snapping lots of photos.

Södermalm – Even after your free walking tour ends, you’ll want to spend more time exploring Stockholm’s hip, bohemian neighborhood. This island is packed with antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, hip coffee shops and classic music stores. You could spend a day walking around this area alone!

Subway Art – Can’t afford an art gallery? Not to worry. Stockholm’s subway stations are home to extensive works of art by local artists. Spend a few hours going around the stations, or take a few minutes to appreciate the art each time you get on and off.

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Changing of the Guard – From May to September, catch the Changing of the Royal Guard at 12:15 p.m. every day (1:15 p.m. on Sundays and holidays) in front of the Royal Palace. The ceremony is 40 minutes long, completely free and features performances by the Military band — it’s a must see for any visitor in Stockholm.

National Museum – the National Museum of Stockholm is closed for renovation until 2018, but you can see the temporary exhibitions at Konstakademien (The Academy of Fine Arts) and Nationalmuseum Design at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern on Sergels Torg. Discounted tickets are available for students, but admission is FREE for visitors under 26. So have your ID ready.

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Stockholm Public Library – Listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, Stockholm’s library, Stadsbiblioteket, features a high, dome-like ceiling and cylindrical bookcases that give the building a massive, elegant look. Take some time walking around or cozy up with a good book; it’s all for free.

Monteliusvagen – Nestled along the edge of Södermalm, this short walking path offers some of the best views of Stockholm’s Old Town, city center and connecting waterways. Take a rest on one of the benches along the path and watch the boats go by as the Scandinavian sun sets over the beautiful city.

Don’t miss out on the trip of a lifetime in Stockholm just because you’re on a limited budget. Use StudentUniverse to find a cheap flight to get there, a hostel or hotel room to stay in and visit these free attractions to experience the city’s art, tradition, shops and vistas without breaking the bank.

 

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com where I am a guest blogger. See the original post here: 

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/destinations/europe/8-free-things-to-do-in-stockholm-sweden 

How To See Oslo, Norway on a Budget

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Oslo, the beautiful, historic capital of Norway, is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. And not take-the-bus-instead-of-a-cab expensive, rather walk-everywhere-because-you-can’t-afford-transportation expensive.

But not to worry — this doesn’t mean anyone on a budget can’t explore this Scandinavian tourist hub. There are plenty of ways to beat the high prices, if you do a little homework.

Eating

Sorry folks, but eating out is pretty much out of the question if you’re on a budget. A typical meal in Oslo costs between 200 – 400 NOK ($25-$50 USD or €22 -€44 EUR). Multiply that by three meals a day and, well, you get the idea.

The best solution is to visit a supermarket, such as Rimi or Kiwi, and stock up on local goodies you can prepare in your hostel’s kitchen. I managed to scrape by with the basics — eggs, bread, veggies, chicken, yogurt and fruit — and saved tons of money.

With few extra bills in your wallet, you can splurge on one or two meals out without breaking the bank. (If you’re like me and love visiting restaurants in other countries, try simply ordering a coffee or a crescent, then eat a full meal when you get back to the hostel).

Free things to Do


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Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculpture ParkProbably my favorite spot in the city, this 79-acre (32-ha) stretch of land is the largest sculpture park in the world made by a single artist. The 212 life-size sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron depict the human experience and are positioned in parallel lines that guide you through the park. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the Norwegian capital and entrance is completely free.

Changing of the Guard – Enjoy watching soldiers march, toss their rifles and salute each other? Every day at 1:30 p.m. catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Royal Palace of Oslo for free. Look out for a few ponytails sticking out from under the helmets; many of the guards are women.

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Oslo Opera House – Attending a show may be be a distant dream, but you don’t have to spend a dime to visit the outside of the Oslo Opera House and walk around its artsy exterior. The majestic structure sits on the the Bjorvika waterfront and looks like an iceberg emerging from the fjord. Climb to the top for an amazing 360 view of the Oslo waterfront.

Oslo City Hall – See art for free. The entrance of Oslo City Hall is an art gallery, showcasing modern paintings, sculptures and photographs from Norwegian artists. It’s no Prado Museum, but the small gallery is a free way to get a glimpse of the contemporary Norwegian art scene.

Cheap things to Do

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Akershus Fortress – This medieval castle-turned-fortress is one of the coolest attractions in Oslo. Entrance is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for a student ticket; but you can forgo going inside and walk around outside for free. Walk along the hill outside the fortress and it will take you to an overlook where you can see all of Oslo’s harbor and cityscape.

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Viking Ship Museum – As usual, have your student ID ready. Admission to this museum that features some of the oldest Viking ships and artifacts in the world is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for students. Bonus! Your ticket will also get you admission to the Historical Museum, so save the stub! Learn from my mistake, though: the Historical Museum is closed on Mondays so don’t plan to go then.

Transportation

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Walking or biking will always be the cheapest (and healthiest) option, but for some attractions, like the Viking Ship Museum, you’ll want a lift.

Ruter, Oslo’s tranport system, is *reasonably* priced at 30 NOK ($3.70 USD  or €3.30 EUR) for single use,  90 NOK ($11 USD  or €10 EUR) for a 24-hour pass, and  240 NOK ($30 USD  or €27 EUR) for a 7-day pass. Note: if you’re in Oslo for three days or more, the 7-day pass is the cheapest option.

A transport ticket will give you access to buses, trams, subways (t-bane), local trains and ferries. Yes, I said ferries. Hop on a boat to a neighboring fjord and get a relaxing ride with a great view of the Norwegian waterways and islands.

Olso may be one of the most expensive cities you’ll ever visit, but that doesn’t mean you need a small fortune to be able to see some of the best sights the city has to offer. Follow these tips and you’ll have a few bucks to spare for a few troll doll souvenirs.

 

5 Things to Do in Lima That Won’t Break the Bank

Situated right on the Pacific Coast, Lima is a beachy, metropolitan city in Peru that holds onto its traditional Incan roots. Its fun, lively atmosphere, beautiful views and rich culture make Lima an ideal destination for young travelers. The city’s greatest perk is its affordability. With plenty to do outside, there are a number of free and low-cost attractions that are worth adding to your itinerary. Below are my top five favorites:

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  1. Costa Verde

El Circuito de playas de la Costa Verde, more commonly known as La Costa Verde, is a long stretch of road along Lima’s coast, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and city’s skyline. Along the tall cliff that lines the coast, you can take a walk or go for a bike ride through the cliff’s perfectly sculpted pathways. Benches provide plenty of places to sit and look out over the water. You can even stop at the cute café in the Miraflores district and enjoy a cup of coffee as you take in the view.

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2. El Parque del Amor (The Love Park)

El Parque Del Amor in the Miraflores district of Lima is the perfect place to capture that perfect photo. Overlooking the Bay of Lima, the park is lined with colorful mosaic-tiled walls that are reminiscent of those in Parque Güell in Barcelona. In the center of the park sits a massive sculpture of two people embracing, entitled El Beso (The Kiss). This romantic, beautiful, and free-to-visit park is a great place to relax and watch the sunset or sunrise.

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3. Dédalo

Barranco, a large district south of Miraflores known for its bohemian vibes, is full of art galleries and museums. My favorite gallery is Dédalo, both a gallery and artisan shop that, unlike some of the other galleries, is free to enter. The gallery features an assortment of traditional and modern works, ranging from furniture and outdoor sculptures, to paintings, pottery, tapestries, clothes, accessories and pillows – all for sale. Be sure to enjoy a break at the outdoor café in the gallery’s courtyard before you leave!

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4. Mirabus Tour ($8 USD)

When I was walking around to find the pick-up location for a $25 bus tour my hotel’s receptionist recommended, I fortuitously ran into the driver for another bus tour of Lima called Mirabus. When the driver told me his tour was a 2-hour drive along the coast with excursions through the most important districts of Lima (Miraflores, San Isidro, Barranco and Chorrillos) for only S/.25 ($8 USD) I was sold. And the tour did not disappoint. Mirabus offers other tours, such a Lima by Night and Colonial Lima, for around the same reasonable price.

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5. El Parque Central

Located in the center of the bustling streets of Miraflores, el Parque Central (neighboring Parque Kennedy) is a great spot to take a break from souvenir shopping. The large patches of grass and flowers make the park a prime location for picnicking or even taking a cat nap. Speaking of cats, feline lovers will adore the plethora of stray cats, young and old, that roam about the park. Oh, and did I mention there is free Wi-Fi throughout?

With so much to do in Lima at little or no cost, it’s easy to enjoy the city to its fullest and still have money in your pocket at the end of your visit. Save even more on your trip to Peru by booking with StudentUniverse. Check out our student flight discounts and plan your trip today!

 

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com, where I am a guest blogger. Read the original post here:

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/world-travel/5-things-to-do-in-lima-that-wont-break-the-bank

 

A real life fairy tale: 5 of the world’s most enchanting landscapes

It’s cold out. Well, at least up here in the Northern Hemisphere. And while I’m stuck inside studying for my last few finals, I’m dreaming of all the warm, mystical places I’d rather be.

Luckily, my friends at Holiday Lettings of Trip Advisor helped put together this list of the most fantastical places in the world — some so fantastical that you can’t believe they really exist. From pastel-flowered tunnels to mysterious woodlands, Holiday Lettings shows the world’s most enchanting places to be.

1. Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan

The Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan

Imagine walking through a flower-wrapped tunnel with row upon row of beautiful wisteria plants, glowing with white, blue, purple and pink flowers. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re in an enticing anime scene. The scent‘s intoxicating and so much better than any perfume shop. After your sensory overload, step just outside to admire picturesque cherry trees and pretty zen gardens.

You’ll love nearby Mojiko Harbour’s quaint buildings and the historical restaurants where you can try the local speciality of cheesey baked curry. The harbour is just a 20-minute walk to the vast Kanmon Bridge, an impressive feat of engineering that offers a striking contrast with the traditional Mekari Shrine that stands directly below it. Look out for tributes of everything from seaweed to dolls.

2. Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland

The Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland

Photo credit: Kengi (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

This fantasy-type woodland looks just like a picture from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It consists of 400 pine trees that grow with a 90-degree horizontal bend at their bases before shooting up vertically towards the skies. Were they purposely grown in this way for making bent-wood furniture, the ribs of boat hulls or yokes for ox-drawn ploughs? The plans of whoever was tending the grove remain a puzzle.

Neighbouring Gryfino is one of Poland’s oldest towns. Visit the ancient St Mary’s Church, a Gothic building from the early 14th century, built with granite and brick in the shape of a Greek cross. You can walk in the Lower Oder Valley and Beech Forest Parks – they’re both extremely rich in flora and fauna. And it’s well worth trying to catch a famous Gryfino Days cultural extravaganza.

3. Lapland, Finland

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Photo credit: Chris (license) via Flickr.com

Lapland, Finland

Photo credit: edweerdt (license) via flickr.com

Lapland’s a mysterious wilderness of clear, Arctic air. The light alone is like Narnia or a norse saga. In a land known for the midnight sun that makes a brief appearance in the summer, the extreme north has kaamos, a season of ghostly blue-tinged autumn light. Then, as the long, polar nights of winter set in, witness the breath-taking aurora borealis.

You’ll want to make the most of this crystal-coated wonderland. Why not ski in downhill resorts, snowmobile through forests, mush with husky dogs, drill an ice-hole to catch a fish or watch the reindeer races in winter? You can also enjoy rafting down white-water rivers and walking through pristine national parks in summer’s endless daylight.

4. Blue Dragon River, Algarve, Portugal

Barragem de Odeleite
Photo credit: mat’s eye (edited) (license) via Flickr

Technically it’s the Odeleite River, but it’s often called by another name – the Blue Dragon. One glimpse of its unique serpentine pattern and dark blue waters curving through the Portuguese landscape, and you’ll understand why. It looks just like a mythical sea creature come to life.

Wander through Odeleite village – it’s full of charming, whitewashed houses that tumble down a gentle slope towards the water. Watch out for the medieval musicians, archers and swordsmen in the Medieval Fair in nearby Castro Marim. This is the real Algarve: striking, captivating, and all the better for it.

5. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

This island is a seductive fantasy of sparkling aqua lagoons with craggy volcanic peaks towering behind them. Its strong cocktail of ever-so-romantic and slightly spicy exotica tempts planeloads of movie stars and honeymooners. Will you succumb to Bora Bora’s charms as well?

Sample the excellent Polynesian cuisine at the Maikai Bora Bora Marina and Yacht Club – the views over the water are fabulous. Try snorkeling or diving for a different perspective of this tropical environment, or head to the legendary Marama Tattoo Studio for a traditionally designed tattoo.

From islands to enchanted forests — these places are just waiting to be explored. So whose ready to head out on a fairy tale adventure? After my last exam tomorrow, I know I sure will be.

Can you think of any place to add to this list?

Studying abroad? Follow these 7 tips to save money before you leave

Travel More Spend Less

You’re about to take off on one of the most amazing adventures of your life. A new country offers all kinds of sightseeing, night life, food, festivals and museums – you won’t want to miss a beat. But these things cost money, and budgeting can be hard while you’re busy having fun exploring a new culture. So here are seven things you can do before you leave that’ll help put a few more bucks in your wallet.

1. Book tickets in advance.

Most tickets for museums, concerts, trains and other attractions can be bought in advance online. When you buy online, not only do you save money, but you get to skip the long lines of people waiting to get their tickets on-site. When my friend Sarah and I went to Toronto, we bought a City Pass, which included discounted admission to five major attractions, and we got to skip every line.

Tip: Print your ticket(s) before you leave (you can’t guarantee that where you’re going will have printers!) and save a copy on your phone, since most places nowadays accept electronic copies.

Buying tickets in advance let my friend and me skip all of the lines at the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin.
Buying tickets in advance let my friend and me skip all the lines at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin at get straight to the good stuff.

2. Set up a travel credit card.

Have you checked your credit card company’s travel policy? Most companies charge high transfer and foreign transaction fees, on top of already high annual fees and interest rates.  Before you leave, set up a credit card that actually rewards you for traveling. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card has zero annual fees, transfer fees or foreign transaction fees, and offers 1.25 airline miles for every dollar spent with the card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card  has similar rewards and gives you three points for every dollar spent on airfare and hotel accommodations. With all those points saved up, you’ll be able to start planning your next trip!

Tip: Not sure which card to get? See this list for the best travel cards out there, and compare the benefits of each.

3. Sign up for Uber.

Uber is my latest obsession. The app connects you to Uber cab drivers in the area, allowing you to locate cabs near you, select the drivers based on their cars and credentials, get a price estimate, track your ride and even split the fare with other riders. The service is super cheap compared to average cabs and is completely paperless; you sign up with your credit or debit card and then the fare (including the tip, which is pre-calculated) is charged straight to your account. Uber is one of the best ways to travel around a city for cheap.

Tip: Visit Uber’s site to see if the service is available in your host city.  Uber is a quickly expanding company, but is still working on spreading its network across the globe.

4. Research free things to do around the city.

Many museums and galleries, like the Prado Museum in Madrid, offer free admission on certain days of the week. Other places, such as the Palace of Versailles in France, have free admission to certain areas of the grounds. Do some research. When your friends suggest doing something expensive, you can swoop in and suggest doing one of the free things on your list instead.

Tip: Student discounts are still a thing, so also look up places around your host city that offer discounts for students. And don’t forget to pack your student ID!

Entrance into the Palace of Versailles may cost a hefty sum, but entrance to the gardens is free!
Entrance into the Palace of Versailles may cost a hefty sum, but entrance to the gardens is free!

5. Purchase a money order.

Avoid conversion and transaction fees by ordering foreign currency in advance. Services such as Travelex make it easy to order online and have the money delivered straight to you or put on your card. Travelex even allows you to load up to nine currencies on one card and has zero fees for international ATM transactions.

Tip: Do some digging. Read reviews and articles to make sure the service you are using is legitimate.

6. Pack light.

You can save up to $60 on luggage fees, as well as save time by skipping the luggage return lines, by packing everything into a carry-on.  If you’re going on a long trip and stuffing your things into a carry-on is unrealistic, pack a backpack or small duffle bag so you save money on luggage fees for trains and other planes if you make weekend trips.

Tip: Save space by avoiding shopping before you go. Get the necessities – toiletries, walking shoes, etc. – but don’t buy new wardrobe. You’ll want to buy so many new clothes, accessories and souvenirs that you’ll be glad you did not spend money on shopping at home.

7. Get maps before you go.

Never spend money on a map when you can easily get it free online. If you don’t have an international plan and can’t use internet on your phone while you’re abroad, download an app that features offline maps. OffMaps 2 is only $0.99, and allows you to download maps and access them offline.  Ulman City Maps 2Go Pro provides detailed offline maps for free, but is a little pricier at $2.99. Ulman offers a free version of the app as well, but the locations it covers are limited.

Tip: While you have online access, you can also use your phone to look up the places you’re going and take screenshots of the maps and directions.  You don’t need the Internet to look at a picture.

Saving maps on my phone for my weekend trip to Sevilla, Spain during my study abroad in Madrid saved me money and a lot of hassle!
Saving maps on my phone for my weekend trip to Sevilla, Spain during my study abroad in Madrid saved me money and a lot of hassle!

Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t waste time worrying about your funds! If you use these tips to prepare, you’ll be able to travel more and spend less. So get out there and start saving.

See also: 12 Things to Know Before Studying Abroad

Do you know of any other pre-trip tips for saving money? Add them below!

London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.

July 3rd – GOODBYE EUROPE

Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

Toronto in 30 Hours — How I Did it and You Can Do It Too

Toronto_skyline_tommythompsonpark_cropped

TORONTO, CANADA spans 2,751 square miles and has a population of more than 5,580,000. It boasts more than 100 attractions, from museums and historic sites to restaurants and markets. With so much going on, it seems nearly impossible to truly explore the city in 30 hours. But my friend Sarah and I managed to do it — and here’s how:

OVERVIEW:

DAY 1
Getting Acquainted to the City (1 HR)
Checking into the Hostel (.5 HRS)
Buying a CityPASS (.5 HRS)
Climbing to the Top of the CN Tower (3 HRS)
Exploring Downtown Toronto (2 HRS)
Getting Dinner in Greektown (2 HRS)
Going Out at the Hostel (4 HRS)
Sleep (5 HRS)

DAY 2
Going to Casa Loma (4 HRS)
Stopping for Lunch (2 HRS)
Exploring the Royal Ontario Museum (3 HRS)
Grabbing a Quick Sushi Dinner (1 HR)
Picking up our bags at the Hostel and Heading to the Bus Terminal (2 HRS)

_________________________________________________________________________

1. GETTING TO TORONTO (16 HRS)
Sarah and I both live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so we took the Megabus from Union Station to Toronto. We left at 8 p.m. Thursday night, anticipating our arrival in Toronto at 10 .m. Friday. We passed through Philadelphia, Penn. and Buffalo, N.Y., making stops at both before finally crossing the border. Once in Canada, we of course had to go through customs, but that was quick and painless. By that point, getting off the bus and stretching our legs was extremely welcome. Two hours after we left customs, we were in Toronto. ($73/each, round trip)

 

2. GETTING ACQUAINTED TO THE CITY (1 HR)
Having some bus troubles along the way, we finally arrived at the Toronto Bus Terminal at 12 p.m. on Friday. Famished, we first stopped to grab a bite at Druxy’s Deli. Then we headed to the ATM to take out some Canadian money and found a subway station. The Toronto subway, officially known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is refreshingly easy to navigate; there are only three lines and the stops are clearly labeled, both on the maps and at the stations. It took us about 15 minutes to get from St. Patrick’s Station to Donlands Station, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hostel. ($11/day for a 2-person subway pass)

 

3. CHECKING IN TO THE HOSTEL (.5 HRS)
We had a fantastic experience at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. We stayed in a six-person mixed dorm (I could have sworn I booked an all-female dorm! It wasn’t too bad though, we didn’t see the guys much, and we kept our valuables locked in a safe). The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating and they made us feel right at home. We stayed long enough to get our bags settled in and freshen up, and then we were off on our adventure. ($25/each for one night)


 
4. BUYING A CITYPASS (.5 HRS)
In doing our pre-trip research, Sarah found that it was highly recommended to buy a  $61 CityPASS for Toronto. The Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 must-see tourist attractions in Toronto that saved us 43% compared to combined regular box office prices:

  1.  CN Tower: A Wonder of the Modern World (Reg. $32/each)
  2. Royal Ontario Museum: Engage the World (Reg. $12.50/each)
  3. Casa Loma: Toronto’s Majestic Castle (Reg. $24/each)
  4. Toronto Zoo: Canada’s Premier Zoo (Reg. $23/each)
  5. Ontario Science Centre: Canada’s Leading Science Center (Reg. $22/each)

The passes were valid for nine consecutive days and allowed us to skip ticket lines. We bought ours at the Royal Ontario Museum, but decided to wait until the next day to explore the museum. Instead, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the CN Tower. ($61/each)

 

5. CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE CN TOWER (3 HRS)
I still get chills thinking about it – what a thrill. According to the tower’s website, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the CN Tower as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the others being the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building).

After skipping the ticket lines, Sarah and I went through a brief security check and got in line for the evaluator. We queued for an hour and finally rode the glass elevator up 1,136 ft (346 m) to the LookOut Level. The views of the cityscape, the Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Lake Ontario were breathtaking. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a light lunch and some red rosé at Horizon’s Restaurant.  We ended our visit with a stop at the CN Tower gift shop. (Tower cost covered by CityPass, $15/each for lunch, $15/each at the gift shop)

 
6. EXPLORING DOWNTOWN TORONTO (2 HRS)
After the tower, we had some spectacular maple lattés at Second Cup Café. With our fresh energy boost, we walked around for a while taking pictures and searching for souvenirs. Finally we made our trek back to the hostel. (About $30/each)

 

7. SITTING DOWN FOR DINNER IN GREEKTOWN (2 HRS)
Our hostel was in a part of Toronto called Greektown. The streets were lined with Greek restaurants and shops, and naturally, Greek people. We stumbled upon Pan, a magnificent, candle-lit restaurant featuring authentic, gourmet Greek food and walls lined with wine bottles. The food was exquisite and there was even a live band and a belly dancer. I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. ($35/each)

 
8. GOING OUT AT THE HOSTEL (4 HRS)
Back at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, we relaxed a bit and hung out in the common area with the other young, broke travelers. Then we all went downstairs to The Only Cafe, an awesome local bar on the below the hostel with over 200 beers from around the world. I’ll spare the details of the night, but let’s just say we had a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Cheers to the Maple Leaf.

 

9. SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP (6 HRS)



10. GOING TO CASA LOMA (4 HRS)
We had an incredible breakfast at the hostel, then headed north via the subway to Casa Loma, Toronto’s majestic castle. The castle allows you to “step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour.” As Canada’s foremost castle, it is the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt and complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and a garden that we weren’t able to see because it is winter. Both the inside and outside we simply stunning and, as a princess in training, I felt right at home. (Cost covered by CityPass)

 
11. STOPPING FOR LUNCH (2 HRS)
When in Canada, one must eat at least once at Tim Horton’s. So we did. Then we went to Starbucks for some more maple coffee and to charge our iPhones.

 

12. EXPLORING THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM (3 HRS)
Last stop on the trip was the Royal Ontario Museum. Again, we got to skip the lines and go straight to the entrance. The museum has four floors of world history and cultural exhibits, divided into eight categories: fashion and textiles, Earth and space, ancient cultures, biodiversity, fossils and evolution, contemporary culture, Canada, and world art and culture. Tired from the previous day’s events, we only stayed a few hours, though I’m sure anyone could spend the entire day there. We still had a chance to see hundreds of ancient artifacts, fossils and works of art from around the world.

 

13. GRABBING A QUICK SUSHI DINNER (1HR)
We seriously ate well during this trip. After we left the museum, we headed back to Greektown for our last meal in Toronto. Craving sushi, we stopped at Casa Sushi, a nifty sushi place with more than 100 items on the menu. Sarah got several different rolls, and I got a huge vegetarian platter and a mojito for less than $16. The food was fantastic, the service was eh, but overall great bang for our buck. (about $20/each)


 

14. PICKING UP OUR BAGS AT THE HOSTEL AND HEADING TO THE BUS TERMINAL (2 HRS)
We headed back to the hostel after dinner to pick up our bags and be on our way. Having about an hour to spare, though, we decided to grab one last drink at The Only Cafe. It was the best possible way the end our amazing trip. Afterward, we headed to the terminal and were (kind of) first ones in line, destined for the front seats of the double-decker bus. The ride home went a little more smoothly since we were too exhausted to care about the tight space, and after 14 hours, we were back in D.C.

REVIEW

There ya have it: Toronto in 30 hours, excluding travel time to and from the City. Though we didn’t hit all of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, we still saved a few bucks with it.  If I could have done anything differently, I would have tried to squeeze in the Science Center on the second day, but we were just too tired for that. Oh well, it’s just an incentive to go back.

*Updated 3/35/2014