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Friday Favorites

August 14, 2015

Friday Favorites

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Introducing Friday Favorites! I have been thinking about doing this for awhile now. My goal is to bring you my favorite travel articles, destinations, products and reviews each week. Since this is new, please let me know what you think in the comments. I would love to get your feedback on this new series on the blog. Now without further ado, my Friday Favorites!

A Guide to Museums Dedicated to Fashion Designers – The New York Times brings a short list of museums about fashion designers. Before I became a librarian, I worked in fashion, so I love this idea. All the museums are in Europe, except for one online museum, so make sure to add them to your Europe travel plans.

If You Fall Ill Abroad, Should You Seek Local Help or Head Home? NPR looks at what countries are a low or high risk for seeking medical care. Since I have all fallen ill abroad, this is useful information to know in advance.

Shanghai Speakeasy’s CNN’s guide to Shanghai’s hidden bars. You have to check this out. One bar is accessible by pushing a secret button on a map! Who is adding Shanghai to their bucket list?

Shortcut City Guide to Bangkok I recently decided to attend a travel blogging conference in Bangkok, so I have been doing some research. I ran across this great infographic on Bangkok. What is great is you could print it out and put it in your pocket for a day out in Bangkok

Cuba Travel Tips Ever since some of the travel restrictions have been lifted from U.S. citizens visiting Cuba; I have been dying to go! I still haven’t figured it out yet, though. These are some great tips to know before you (or I) go to Cuba.

Hope you have enjoyed this first segment of Friday Favorites. Do you have favorite travel article to share?

 

 

Driving, Europe, Italy

Driving in Italy

July 29, 2015

Italy is now the third foreign country I have driven in! The plan for my trip to Italy was to see friends near Rome and then go to Venice. I knew there were towns along the way I wanted to see and getting to my friend’s house seemed easier by car. After talking to lots of people, I was assured that driving in Italy would be easy compared to driving in Qatar.  This also made it possible for me to make several stops along the way to Venice.

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Once I decided to rent a car, I was faced with how to rent a car in Italy. Most major US car rental companies have branches in Italy, but they weren’t always the cheapest option. After I had booked my hotel in Venice using Hotels.com*, I saw that they also did car rental brokering. Essentially, you tell them what you need and they negotiate a price for you. It is all done instantaneously and then you receive a confirmation email with a voucher to present to the car rental agency. Renting the car through Hotels.com was the cheapest option I found.

The other issue was that I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission and the Italians love a manual! Most of the rental cars were manuals and finding the automatic transmission section was hard. Originally, I thought I would drive from Venice to Rome and Venice didn’t have many automatic options. Rome had many more. The Hotels.com car rental process for finding an automatic was easier than the European car rental company sites. You should also be aware that the automatic transmissions were also more expensive than the manuals.

Knowing that towns are old and parking could be an issue, I opted for the smallest car they offered. It ended up being the Fiat 500 you see above.  This was a real benefit when I had to maneuver through the tiny parking garage at my hotel in Verona. It was also good when parking the car in my friends’ small village.  Small cars are very common for these reasons and there seemed to be plenty of them in the rental car garage.

The actual driving!  Here are my tips for driving in Italy both on the highway and in the country. This includes guides to the driving rules.

  1. Italians drive fast! If you don’t want to drive fast, stay out of the far left-hand lane. If driving fast makes you nervous, drive in the far right-hand lane.
  2. People cut in and out of lanes quickly and closely. Don’t worry about it as this is common and the Italians know what they are doing. A few Italians flashed their lights at me telling me they were coming and to get out of their way.  Get over if you can, but if you can’t just use your signal to indicate that you will get over when able.
  3. Tolls! All the highways have tolls and they are expensive. I spent almost €40 on tolls. Some toll booths are automated and some have a person. Be sure you go in the lane that is marked for cash and not the Telepass, which is like a toll tag. A few seemed to take credit cards as well.
  4. Gas is expensive too.  I spent over €100 on gas for a week’s worth of driving. I did pay for the serviced option because I wasn’t sure which gas to put in the car and I didn’t need to screw that up! There were plenty of service stations all along my routes, even in the villages. The ones in the villages might be self-service at some times of the day and you will have to pay in cash.
  5. Turn your lights even during the day in the country. This is the law.
  6. Going fast in a small car isn’t as scary especially when everyone else is in a small car. However, my car took its time getting up to speed on the highway. The usual speed limit on the highway is 130 KPH, which is about 81 MPH and everyone was speeding!
  7. Speed cameras are everywhere. The GPS I rented warned me of them, but the ones in the small towns were not always detected. I have been back for less than a week, so I have no idea if I got any tickets yet! Google “speed camera Italy” to see what they look like. Some were very obvious and some were not.
  8. Get a GPS. Get it from the rental car company as it will be the most up-to-date with maps and speed cameras. It was more accurate than my Google maps app on my phone.

Overall, I really enjoyed driving in Italy and am now determined to do more driving in other countries. Have you driven in a foreign country? Tell us your tips for driving in that country in the comments

*This post was not sponsored by Hotels.com. 

Art, France, Paris, Travel

Monet’s Gardens

July 6, 2015

The highlight of my trip to France was visiting Monet’s house in Giverny. Claude Monet is my favorite artist. I have loved his work since I was in high school. In particular the Water Lilies series. So when I decide I was going to Paris, I knew I was going to take a trip to his house in Giverny where he painted the Water Lilies.  Giverny is a short train ride from Paris, so you can make it a day trip. My recommendation would to be to stay at least one night so you can be at the gate to Monet’s house at 9:30AM when they open.

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I highly recommend buying your ticket in advance to avoid the lines at the main gate. If you purchase your ticket in advance, you can go down a narrow alley way and enter with the group tours and not through the main gate. This is also a more pleasant visual experience than the main entrance. The main entrance leads you through the gift shop, which used to be Monet’s studio. Then you enter the garden down some steps. However, you enter through the back part of the garden and get a full view of the garden upon entering. The only downside is that you might be entering with large tour groups. I still felt it was worth it. I walked around the garden admiring the variety of flowers and all the bees! If you are afraid of bees, the summer time might not be the best time to visit. They were everywhere. They were not bothering anyone and I have never seen such a variety of bees! The bees seemed very happy to be there. To get to the water-lily pond, you have to take an underground tunnel that traverses the road. As far as I could tell there was no elevator so bear that in mind if you have walking issues. You might have to ask the staff how to get over there. Both the garden and the water-lily pond are stunning! You can see Monet’s paintings in reality in front of you. I was a surreal feeling. The caretakers seem to have left everything as he had planned. It is still hard for me to imagine Monet creating all this for himself to paint. It was such an undertaking. There was an army of people working in the garden and the water-lily pond, so I imagine Monet had is work cut out for himself.  Although, I am sure he had help as he did have to paint!

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You can visit the house. While I did go through, the house is small and it was hard to see anything with so many people inside. You couldn’t really stop to look at anything. I would say avoid it unless you really have to see where Monet slept. Although you do get to see his original studio in the house.

To get to Giverny from Paris, take the train from the Gare de Saint-Lazare to Vernon. You can then either take the shuttle bus to Giverny, which will drop you near Monet’s house or you can take a taxi. Since I was staying the night and had luggage, I took at taxi. As I said before, I recommend staying the night so you can relax. Giverny is a lovely town with lots of French country charm and gardens. I am planning on going back during a different season to beat the crowds and relax a little. My next post will give you some recommendations of a place to stay and what else to see in Giverny.

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Monet's Gardens

Europe, Food, France, Paris

Eating My Way Through Paris

June 29, 2015

I was hoping to write about all the great restaurants that I ate at in Paris. Unfortunately, each place only really did well in some areas and failed in others. So instead, I am going to tell you what food I did and didn’t like.

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First off they seem to do smoked salmon really well. Not that I had ever had it before! It never looked appealing to me. However, I accidentally ordered it on my first night in Paris at my hotel.  The picture above is what I got and it was amazing! If it hadn’t been so expensive, I would have ordered another! This was on a bed of some kind of soft bread with a chive cream cheese spread between.  It literally melted in my mouth. I am now hooked on smoked salmon.

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Meat! They love it! I hardly saw chicken on the menu. While I enjoy meat, I don’t like to eat it very often. I found this to be a huge challenge. One night, I sat down and ordered the plat du jour, which is usually the chef’s choice. Little did I know I was getting veal! I usually don’t eat veal. However, it was too late. It was okay. The best part about it was the bed of cous cous it was sitting on and the olives. As you can see it looked great! IMG_2784

Another night of meat! Although it was started off with another round of smoked salmon on top of a cabbage salad. I was on a tour for a part of my trip and the menu was set at this place, otherwise I wouldn’t have ordered meat.  Since there was no menu, I don’t know much about this except that it is marinated for hours in wine. Might have been beef bourguignon. This was better than the veal. The meat was really tender. I did not enjoy the fact that the meat was served with all the fat still attached. I kept having to eat around it. Overall, I enjoyed this meal!

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Of course, wine! The French are known for their wine. This one pictured, Tradition by Les Vignerons de Buzet, was really great and not too expensive. It was suggested by our tour guide and was only 14€. It was smooth and not too strong of a red. We didn’t know it at the time, but the winery uses no chemical fertilizers on their vines. All the French wine I tried was great. I really got to like Cotes du Rhone region wine the best. Even the cheap bottles were good!

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This was by far the best thing I ate, although it wasn’t in Paris. It was in Giverny. The restaurant called it a Summer Freshness in Feta Cheese Salad. One layer was tomatoes, spices and sauce and the next layer was feta cheese with chives. I am really not sure what the pink stuff was on top and it didn’t have much flavor. May have just been for looks.  The taste was indescribable, but exactly as described as it was light and refreshing! I wanted them to bring me more, but I knew I had two more courses coming.

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Fish is what I kept ordering in place of meat. I was disappointed twice and stopped ordering it. The fish was usually flavorless and the sides were also plain. The fish above looked so good, but had no taste and was really expensive! The night I had the Summer Freshness salad, I had ordered salmon and it was also very plain. I would say cooked fish is not something they do well in France. Stick to the smoked salmon!

IMG_2817One afternoon I passed by a Mexican food restaurant and I thought, as a Texan, it is my duty to try it. Had to be better than what we have in Doha. The menu had very authentic things on it like enchiladas and tacos. There were a few people inside, so it couldn’t be that bad. They brought chips and salsa which was a good sign. The salsa tasted homemade. I ordered the pork taco. Instead of several small tacos, I got one large taco. The pork was almost bbq pork, but it tasted really good. However, the taco was too big to pick up and eat. The star of the dish was the peach “salsa” they served on the side. It was more like a salad though. It was peaches, jalapenos, cilantro and spices mixed together. Another thing I wanted more of, in fact, I saved it to finish after the taco.

IMG_2832Sometimes after over a week of rich food, you just want something normal to you to eat. I googled my way to a cheeseburger. While it wasn’t bad, it was served on an English muffin! The fries were actually pretty good too.  I had also decided I didn’t want to pay 20€ for a burger, so I found my way to a chain that was decked out American Diner style with pink and blue chairs and booths with oldies playing in the background.  It didn’t matter cause it hit the spot.

A few tips about eating out in Paris. Ask for tap water or a carafe or they might bring you expensive bottled water. Coffee is cheaper ordered at the bar of a restaurant and drunk standing up. You will have to ask for the check, as the French are never rushed to eat a meal! Bon appetit!