New Zealand trip (Part II)

Auckland is often called “the City of Sails” due to its large harbor and the amount of sailboats that can be seen on the water.

Here are suggestions of things to do while in Auckland trust me there are plenty options (these are things that I personally enjoyed):

Go to the top of the Sky Tower and take in the view. It stands 328 meters tall and 360 panoramic views are just incredible. We had dinner for a birthday occasion at Orbit – the dining room that rotates once every hour.

If you are more adventurous and looking for adrenaline rush you can book SkyJump – fall 192 meters straight down or do SkyWalk   on the edge of the Tower’s pergola!

Take a thrilling Jet Boat Ride on Auckland’s harbor, be prepared to get wet:

Explore the Viaduct Harbor and do some yacht watching. There are some great shops, museums, bars and eateries along the boardwalk to sit back, relax and soak up the sun. Viaduct is a perfect place to dine whether you are looking for fresh seafood or just want to enjoy barbecue. I loved the rooftop spot that served pizza and had on site brewery  views were absolutely breathtaking.

Climb a volcano. I highly recommend catching a ferry over to Rangitoto Island and make a day of it. Rangitoto is a famous Auckland landmark and it’s only a short ferry ride from the city. It is great hike to the summit where you can look into the forested crater and views over the Auckland city skyline are amazing.

Things you need to know before visiting the Island:

– The boat to Rangitoto Island leaves from the Auckland Harbour and has a few sailings a day only.

– Make sure you remember when the last ferry returns and be there on time because there are no places to stay on the island.

– Pack your lunch and plenty water, there are no stores on the island and it gets pretty hot while hiking so pack lots of water.

You can book your tickets through this website:

Mount Eden

250,000 years ago small basaltic volcanoes erupted across the Auckland Isthmus and it created the Volcano of Mount Eden. Catch a bus to Mt Eden village and hike to the top where you to check out the crater and 360 degree views of Auckland city.


Walk the New Zealand’s first suburb right next to the downtown – Parnell.  Parnell is not only filled with many cute restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries but it’s surrounded with the beautifully restored Victorian buildings. You can also enjoy a rose garden, there is a small beach at Judge’s Bay, and you can visit St. Stephen’s Chapel that overlooks the harbor.

Mission Bay

It’s an Auckland’s must! Nice white sand harbor beach and a beautiful park perfect for sunbathing! There are so many restaurants in the area with water views.

Here are the suggestions for a truly unique day trip out of Auckland:

Waiheke Island

A trip to Auckland can’t be complete without seeing Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island is a popular day or weekend trip from the city and the ferry is only about 40 min ride. I found my perfect match it has everything that I love – turquoise waters,  world known vineyards with one of the best quality produced wines in the country, trails along the stunning coastline, white sand beaches, restaurants with the views to die for and so much more!

Here are just few of the wineries that we visited:


Rotorua located near the center of New Zealand’s north island and is best known for its  geothermal activity. It is also known as a center of Maori culture. Make sure you book a visit to one of the Maori villages and enjoy traditional hangi dinner (earth oven) and haka performance.


Make your way out to one of the wild, west coast black sand beach – Piha. A laid-back seaside village located about 40 km from the city of Auckland. It’s very popular surfing location amongst local kiwis. Bring a picnic and enjoy the scenery or take surfing class.

Auckland is a pretty awesome city that has unique landscape, amazing beaches, great hiking options, fine dinning, laid back culture and so much more! There were so many more day trips that we took and places we visited this country has so much to offer! I could probably write separate blog about New Zealand coffee!!! It’s truly a coffee paradise! No matter how many times you visit New Zealand it’s always leaves you hungry for more!

NZ Adventure With My Sister (Part I)

Winter of 2017 – I had one of the most memorable vacations ever! I surprised my little sister by posting a video on her Facebook wall revealing that I bought a ticket to come visit her in New Zealand. Needles to say there was lots of planning involved right after, though my sister kept some of it as a surprise for me.

I highly recommend for anyone who flies to New Zealand to buy tickets through Air New Zealand – best airlines I have ever flown on. Normally you will catch a little over 5 hours flight from Dulles International Airport to LAX and then you are on a direct flight to Auckland, New Zealand for about 13 hours. So obviously for such a long flight you want to feel as comfortable as you possibly can and Air New Zealand can provide that comfort.

During my flight I felt a little achy but didn’t pay to much attention because I just thought it was from being on a plane for so long. By the time I landed in Auckland I really felt sick – my back was achy, I felt hot and my chest was burning. I was so mad at myself after all that planning and preparing and excitement of finally have that girls vacation I got sick. The guilt feeling of ruining our plans was enormous. Thankfully I was able to catch some sleep the first day and my sister made sure to heavily medicate me every few hours with some herbal NZ drugs … I had no choice but kick that cold’s butt. The very next morning after my arrival I was surprised with a trip to South Island of New Zeland! We were catching a flight early in the morning flying to Queenstown.

I am going to break my New Zeland vacation in two parts (two separate blogs) as that’s how our vacation went down. First part of our 2 week vacation we spent in the South Island of New Zealand – we stayed in the most dreamy cute apartment overlooking the magical Lake Wakatipu.

I compare Queenstown to a heart of New Zealand where scenic landscape and thrilling sense of constant adventure collide in one. Queenstown is just magnificent, I think I took the most beautiful photos I have ever taken from the plane window while landing. Queenstown is a perfect base town in South Island for exploring surrounding vineyards, historic mining towns and also locations with the most adventurous sports activities in the world.

I can write so much about beauty of this place but instead I will put my suggestions of things to do while visiting Queenstown.

You absolutely have to take the Gondola ride to Bob’s Peak – enjoy the town’s most breathtaking views. Once you on the top there are two luge tracks and it’s so much fun to ride it, sort of like bobsled. We were racing each other downhill through tunnels and dippers while enjoying great views. You can purchase your tickets in advance but you don’t have to (we didn’t and the line wasn’t bad)

Visit vineyards in Gibbston Valley. Next time when I plan to visit I would love to explore this area by bike. I loved meeting winemakers and enjoyed tastings. The views from every angle is just amazing. We visited Chard Farm Vineyard and I loved their Pinot Gris, the outside reminded me Tuscany style building and grounds were so pretty. The drive to the vineyard was an experience itself – we were driving up the hill on a narrow gravel road and you could see Kawarau bungy bridge when you look down.

Grab wine at Perky’s Bar its the only floating bar in NZ. We had great wine there before dinner and watched the sunset on the front of the boat. I really loved the rooftop outdoor garden area and interior was lovely. You can bring your own food just buy drinks inside of the boat.

Shotover Jet – this was also part of a surprise from my sister. Get ready for a Big Red Jet Boat shooting 55+miles/hr through tight canyons and so close to the rocks and add 360 spins to this, also prepare to get wet! This ride was absolutely crazy and thrilling but such an amazing experience. I was in awe from the driver’s skills.

Iconic Kawarau bridge bungy jump – as I mentioned before Queenstown is a home to a range of adventurous activities. The first world’s and the most popular and famous bungy jumps are Kawarau Bridge Bungy. My sister tried really hard to convince me to jump and I think she may have promised me lots of things that were super appealing but I just didn’t have guts to do it. So instead I surprised her with tickets to do side by side zip line. I highly recommend to do this – it was super fun. The girls that worked there were pretty funny and played a joke on us by pushing us backwards right after we finished with the ride (we honestly didn’t expect it and it added up so much more thrill to it)

Visit Arrowtown which is situated on the banks of Arrow River. This town was established during the gold rush of the 1860s. Take a tour around the grounds and visit vibrant center filled with little shops, bars and restaurants. This town is only 20 minutes away from Queenstown. We enjoyed a French cuisine, restaurant, that has a nice outdoor seating area and pretty delicious food

Milford Sound (I should probably write a separate blog about this place) – it was another surprise. The night before our trip the only information I received was to get ready for a boat ride. We left super early and drove for a little over 4 hours through some amazingly spectacular countryside. The ride itself felt like a unique journey as we were approaching into the heart of Fiordland National Park. Before we reached Milford Sound, we drove through Homer Tunnel which was opened in 1954 and consists of two very narrow lanes – be prepared to drive in complete darkness.

Finally we arrived to the settlements of Milford Sound. Once we parked our car and walked outside my sister received a surprise on her own – as I didn’t know what she meant by “be ready for a boat ride” I wore my ankle boots with heels (in my head we were taking lunch boat with entertainment). I remember stares from each direction when I walked inside of the departure wharf where the boat tours were starting their journey. Everyone around me wore hiking boots and waterproof clothing, huge backpacks – at the least my sister wore tennis shoes and warm jacket … how did I not pay attention???

We boarded our boat and began our tour into Milford Sound… I am going to just leave photos here

Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls

Stirling Falls

Four Sisters

Humboldt Falls

You can spot some New Zealand fur seals enjoying the sun

Kea bird is the only truly alpine parrot in the world and you can only find them in the South Island of NZ

Lake Fergus – small lake between Lake Te Ana’s and Milford Sound

Enjoy walking/hiking tracks within the Fiordland National Park. This area has a reputation as the Walking Capital of the World.

Milford Sounds is a must when you visit South Island of New Zealand it’s truly the eighth wonder of the world

The next location that we visited was magnificent Crown Range, Wanaka. It’s only 50 minutes drive but there are so many stops you would want to make. It’s pretty steep windy roads so pay attention while driving. Make time to stop at the summit for some awesome photos.

We made stop in a beautiful Alpine village, New Zealand’s most iconic and oldest hotels – Cardrona Hotel. There is a very cozy restaurant inside of the hotel where you will enjoy outdoor garden, open fire and plenty areas with games for the kids. We truly enjoyed our brunch.

Lake Wanaka is a beautiful destination it set against the alpine backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park. Make sure to take photo with the most Instagram famous tree.. partially submerged willow tree standing alone in Lake Wanaka

Downtown is pretty cute and its filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Grab coffee or wine to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. We only spent one day at this beautiful place but there so much to do from hiking, biking to wine tasting you can find activities for any type of traveler.

On the way back to Queenstown you should definitely make few pit stops (there are plenty wineries and farmers markets).

I am definitely planning to come back to South Island, there is just too much to see there!!! Want to give special shout out to my sister and my brother in law who organized such a beautiful trip, I am so lucky to have the most amazing family!

One day trip from London to Paris

Last summer I spent 10 days in UK with my teenage son, one of the things we did is took a train to Paris for one day. Here is our itinerary that day:

I always wanted to take a train through the Channel Tunnel – it was on my never ending bucket list…hehe. Make sure you book your train tickets ahead of time because when you purchase them in advance they are a lot cheaper. I purchased our tickets through I think there is a train that goes to Paris every hour. The distance from London to Paris is about 215 miles and the ride is a little over 2 hours. You will be departing from St. Pancras International to Paris du Nord. If you booked your tickets in advance find one of the ticket kiosk inside the train station and enter your reservation code – your ticket will be printed. Remember that you have to get through customs as UK is not a part of EU so get to the train station at least one hour prior to your departing time. Do not worry if you have extra time left after going through customs and border patrol there are coffee shops inside. Just remember – trains there leave exactly on time.

We truly enjoyed our smooth ride, seats were comfortable and we purchased coffee and fresh croissants in one of the buffet bar that is available to anyone regardless of class.

When we arrived to Paris we went through another border patrol where we received pretty cute stamps inside of our passports. We caught a cab and drove straight to Eiffel Tower, we decided not to go inside and climb to the top as our time was limited in Paris and you have to allocate at least 2 hours for this tour. We walked around Eiffel Tower and grabbed early lunch in the nearby restaurant.

As soon as we finished our meal it was time for our Segway tour, which I booked ahead of time through We really like this company as we have used them previously. Christian was thrilled about Segway tour.. what teenager doesn’t like a motorized two wheeled vehicle? We had to take 15 minutes training session before we took off with the small group of people to go sightseeing. We had amazing time, the tour itself is about 2 hours and it takes you around Eiffel Tower, Ecole Militaire (Military Acedemy that was established in 1750), Napoleon’s Tomb, you will pass the Alma tunnel, Princess Diane memorial at the crash site next to River Seine and will make your way through Alexander III Bridge. Christian had a million questions about Military Academy and questioned if the actual remains of Napoleon do really lie beneath of Le Dome des Invalides.

As soon as we finished with the Segway tour we caught another taxi that took us to my favorite place on Earth – Norte Dame de Paris.

There are a lot of things you can do around the Norte Dame of Paris. We walked around the monument and visited the Jean XXIII garden. Around the cathedral you will find small cute restaurants and shops. Grab a glass of wine at one of the oldest restaurants in Paris which opened in 1594 – “Au Vieux Paris”.

Since my son is a huge crepes lover we stopped by one of the coffee shops that sold them and while he was indulging that French covered in chocolate crepe I was sipping on my French wine (win win on my list).

The cathedral is one of the most important sights in Paris and it attracts tons of visitors from around the world. It’s free to go inside of Cathedral just prepare for long lines but they go surprisingly quick. During this particular trip we didn’t have time to visit the top but I have done it in the past and highly recommend to do this. You should arrive 30 minutes before the opening which is 10 am because the line is very long and it goes pretty slow. But the view from the top is definitely worth it – you will have 360 degrees of incredible views of Paris. You will see famous gargoyles and grotesques – we actually wished it was rainy but it wasn’t. From what I’ve heard the cathedral looks magical when all the water from the rain comes out of the gargoyles mouths.

It’s always makes me sad to leave stunning Norte Dame of Paris but I was very excited to meet up with my Richmond friends who happened to be on vacation at the same time in Paris. We took a cab and met them at their apartment. While Christian charged his phone and took one hour power nap we drank some French wine and enjoyed people watching off of the little alley. Time in Paris flew by and we had to say our “see you later”.

We grabbed a cab and off we went to the train station, as I mentioned above make sure you give yourself a good hour to go through boarder patrol and luggage check. After-all it’s better to be earlier than missing your train. Also remember there is one hour difference in time (Paris one hour ahead of London). So our train was departing close to 9:00 pm but we arrived in London around 10:00 pm which wasn’t too bad.

Of course you don’t get to see everything in one day trip but it surely gives you a taste of Paris. As for me any opportunity I get to visit Paris I would take it even if its only for a short period of time.

Lagos, Portugal

Our Portugal itinerary was super packed but everyone who knows me can testify it’s a normal vacationing for me. It was not easy but I was able to squeeze a one night trip to Lagos (Lagos – pronounced La-goosh in Portuguese) in Algarve (the southernmost region of Portugal, known for its amazing beaches). We started our day super early (6:00 am) and took a train from Lisbon Oriente to Lagos.

(Oriente train station)

It was pretty ride and it took us about 3 hours to reach Tunes station where we had to switch trains. We waited for about 30-40 minutes for our next train which was very slow by the way (took another hour or so). Finally we reached our final destination – beautiful Lagos. Be prepared the train station is somewhat small and there were no taxis available nor were we able to locate any Ubers. We dragged our enormous amounts of luggage to the main road and I was lucky enough to spot a taxi. So if you can plan ahead for your pick up I suggest you do that.

We stayed at Aqualuz Suite Hotel and we loved the location as you could walk everywhere and the pool area was nice, the staff was very friendly and accommodating (we checked in early and checked out late without paying extra). But the way it was built it reminded us some sort of maze or labyrinth- let’s just say it took us forever to find exit.

After we dropped our luggage we had no time to waste and proceeded to the nearest beach – which happened to be Praia Donna Ana (about 15 minutes walking from our hotel). On the way to the beach we stopped for lunch – I highly recommend the rooftop restaurant at Carvi Beach Hotel. We grabbed table outside and just enjoyed the views. Our server was super nice and we really liked our food.

After we had lunch we walked down to the beach – so just to let you know most of the beaches we went had tremendous amounts of stairs. Praia Donna Ana happened to have only 100 steps down and it was very intimate and not too big of a beach. We walked around and snapped some photos. I can’t even describe the beauty of that place – I felt like we stepped into a paradise.

After our visit to the beach we decided to explore the town itself. Lagos is a small city so you can walk pretty much anywhere, just prepare to wear comfortable shoes as some of the roads were either up or down the hills. We made our way through winding streets covered in mosaic to a marina. I wish I had enough time to do some gifts and souvenir shopping because they had market filled with local vendors.

We grabbed a coffee and a glass of wine at the main square, its a little charming square with lots of cafes and the sculpture of the Boy King (Dom Sebastiao) in the middle of it.  That evening we had dinner at the restaurant inside of our resort as we all felt the sunburnt and tired (but definitely satisfied).

Next morning my husband and I woke up very early as we planned to have a mini photo shoot on the beach. While our teenager enjoyed his nice sleeping in we were walking down to Praia Donna Ana. What a beautiful and amazing surprise it was when we learned that we were the only ones at the beach. There was not even one foot print on the sand and the entire beach was our playground.

Later that morning all three of us decided to explore another nearby beach. We walked for about 30-40 minutes until we reached Praia do Camilo. This beach is very secluded, if you travel by car there is nice parking lot. We were blown away by the beauty of this beach – we probably stood a good 10-15 minutes on the top of the cliff just eyeing the surroundings. Water looked crystal clear and numerous grottoes made that place look absolutely magical. I should also mention that the entire time both of my men seriously were contemplating to alter the rest of our trip and just stay in Lagos till the end of our vacation.

We heard that Praia do Camilo is one of the best beaches in Lagos for snorkeling (maybe one summer when the waters warm enough we can do that). Ok let’s talk about the access to the beach. I consider myself very physically fit person whose gym routine consists of mandatory 20 minutes stair-master warm up however… these were some extremely challenging-stairs. It definitely was a good morning exercise to go up and down these steps.

Highly suggested place for lunch was the restaurant Camilo, it’s famous for its fresh fish and it’s right off the entrance to the beach. It was a bit early in the morning when we explored so the restaurant was unfortunately closed.

That afternoon we decided to grab some snacks, cold drinks and enjoy the beach so we went back to the closest to our resort beach – Praia Donna Ana and had absolutely amazing afternoon.

Things to enjoy in Lagos:

Take a stroll along a coastline of Lagos, there are many paths with absolutely gorgeous views.

Go into old town and enjoy walk through small cobblestone streets. During our walk we stumbled upon The Castle of Lagos, also known as Castelo dos Governadores (The Governors Castle) and Moorish walls that are going back to the 16th century.

Wander through endless shops, restaurants and bars or simply sip some sangrias or wine and people watch. Few interesting facts: alcohol was cheaper then water and servers would bring you some small dishes before you even get a chance to look at the menu and leave them at your table. We learned that they are not free and you will be charged for them so if you are on the budget make sure you tell the server at the beginning you do not want them.

(One of the fun bars in Lagos)

You can wander through many vendor tents at a marketplace near marina and get souvenirs or gifts made by locals.

Walk down to the main beach in the downtown area (Praia da Batata) – it is absolutely beautiful. On your way there is the historic beachfront fortress of Ponta da Bandeira, it was used to guard Lagos by protecting the river from attack.

I cant believe we only stayed one night in this absolutely stunning place but we are coming back!!!! As we drove away from this magical place, we all felt sad. We definitely found our little paradise! If you traveling to Portugal then Lagos is a must-visit!!! I would love to hear your stories.

If you want to fly out from Lagos you have to make your way to Faro airport which is about an hour away by taxi but you can take train or bus as well – airport has plenty connections.

Porto, Portugal

Porto is the second largest Portuguese city. Its vibrant nightlife, delicious food and wine, Romanesque architecture will leave you satisfied. Porto is UNESCO listed city and it feels so much slower than Lisbon. I noticed that there are not as many tourists on the streets and it gave you that feeling of peacefulness. The best way to explore Porto is by foot – its small in size so you can get to all the major attractions walking.

We stayed in the Ribeira district which is the old town of Porto on the northern side of the river and one of the hilliest places I have ever visited. The entire area is filled with medieval cobblestone narrow streets and cute little restaurants, shops and bars.


  • Have something to eat or drink along the river. There are so many colorful picturesque houses with balconies. We had coffee and pastries one morning there and just enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. It is great spot to people watch and you can see boats go up and down the river. Also, it is best place to see the iconic Luis bridge.

  • We took a boat tour which was in the same area. It was about one hour ride up and down the Douro, you get to see city and learn about 7 bridges of Porto. I believe we paid 15 euros per person – it was rainy day when we did it so I wish it wasn’t so we would enjoy sitting on the deck instead of inside.

  • Take a ride on a Funicular dos Guindais – it was built in 1891. It takes you from Batalha to Ribeira in just few minutes but its enough time to see beauty of Douro river and Luiz bridge.  Tickets are 2.5 euros one way and you purchase them at Funicular.
  • You should definitely take time to walk across Dom Luis I Bridge. This bridge was completed in 1886 and it consists of the top deck which is reserved for pedestrians and city’s metro and the lower deck for the cars. It comes as no surprise when you learn that the bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel. We took spectacular walk (get your camera ready because the views are incredible) and we ended up on another side of that bridge -Vila Nova de Gaia. It is a city on the south bank and it famous for its port cellars and where all the port wine tasting takes place. For 100 years that was a place were barrels of wine and port were loaded and unloaded.

  • As soon as we walked off the bridge we took a cable car ride (Teleférico de Gaia), its pretty quick ride but enough to see port warehouses, and beautiful Ribeira in its folded glory.  We bought tickets on site and there was no line, both way ticket was 9 euros.

(View from the cable car)

  • We learned that if you want to eat good food most of the times you need to make reservations. We were given few recommendations by our local hosts. We picked restaurant Reitoria, the ground floor has cute outside and it serves tapas and second floor where we made our reservation was a steakhouse. We really enjoyed our dinner and wine, Wagyu-Escocia was absolutely delicious and their freshly baked focaccia caseira was yummy
  • The other highly recommended restaurant was Cantina 32 -it is Portuguese’s cuisine with a modern twist. Unfortunately we were unable to make reservations on time :(.
  • Grab table outside of Mercador cafe for breakfast and you can people watch. This cafe is in the middle of the cute street, Rua das Flores. We enjoyed coffees and homemade pastries.

(The last two photos are from some random wine bar we stumbled upon)

  • Plan to visit Livraria Lello as it is a must see spot in Porto. It’s the oldest bookshop in the world and if you are a huge Harry Potter fan rumor has it that J.K. Rowling was inspired by it to write the books. I suggest to buy your voucher ahead of time on their website (see below) its 5 euros per person and its totally deductible on the purchase of a book. Prepare to wait in line or you can try to visit library early in the morning during the week. We went on a rainy day and you can only imagine that everyone else had the same plan, we still enjoyed our visit and even caught little performance though it was in Portuguese it was very entertaining.

  • After your visit Livraria Lello you should walk to A igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços (baroque Portuguese  church). We regret not going inside but the entrance is free, I just wish we hadn’t been soaking wet from the rain that day.

  • Allocate yourself one solid day to just wander around and you would be surprised where you going to end up… we happened to discover the most beautiful sights on our unplanned walk in the town.

I fell in love with Porto, the city of bridges, lots of hills and wonderful wine – it’s definitely a place to visit again on my list. The food is awesome, wine is amazing, the breathtaking views of Ribeira district never gets old and you meet the most friendliest people who treat you as you were a long time friends. Time seems to have stopped when we wandered around the streets full of little details and hidden beauty – till next time Porto.

Armazem was one of the places we stumbled upon and it was just a treasure. It’s a vintage shop with a cutest bar that serves great wine and tasty tapas. Of course we didn’t leave empty handed.

Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal was always on the top of my bucket list to visit. This country is no longer Europe’s secret place as more and more people are visiting Portugal every year. It’s still relatively cheap and under traveled if you compare it with the rest of Europe. This blog is about our Spring break trip to Portugal and the memories we made, hopefully I can inspire some of my readers to visit this colorful and beautiful country.

We arrived to sunny but chilly Lisbon at 6:00 am and since we booked our apartment through Airbnb we could not check in earlier than 2:00 pm nor could we drop our luggage there. I did some research prior to our arrival and took advice from our Portuguese hosts and we ended up at The Rossio Railway Station.Train station itself was a very beautiful building that did not look like a train station from the outside. We rented storage lockers inside and off we went to explore Lisbon.

It was very early Easter Saturday morning and while locals were still in bed and tourists didn’t make their way out on the streets yet – it was time for us to start the day. We walked outside of the Rossio station and immediately our eyes caught the sight of the castle on the top of the hill overlooking the entire city. We decided to make our way to the São Jorge Castle. São Jorge Castle is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon and Tagus River.

At this point we were on our +24 hours of no sleep but either the cup of Portuguese freshly brewed coffee or crispy fresh air or excitement of finally being here kept us going – just a note for future travelers all the roads seems to be up the hill wear comfy shoes. The walk was absolutely beautiful it seemed like we were alone making our way through tiny wiggly narrow streets – I think I stopped million times to take photos of the door knobs, colorful tiles on the walls of the buildings…there was never ending sights… finally we made it to the very top…

Lisbon really impressed me – it was very charming city but totally had that personality edge to it. You have to remember that most of Lisbon was destroyed during the earthquake in 1755 and subsequent fires and tsunami so it has that share of neglect but it somehow makes the city more complete.  Lisbon is known for tiled houses, hilltop views, cobblestone streets, vintage trams, and food!

The part of exploring any country or any city is to eat your way around it so Lisbon is not exception. It had everything from sweet Nata pastries to great cod dishes. Lisbon is definitely a food and wine lovers’ paradise. What I noticed is that Lisbon is packed with restaurants and cafes – there should be no problem for you to find a place to dine however try to avoid the overpriced touristy places (we were trapped the first night since we were in the heart of the touristy location)

Here are few suggestions:

Best seafood in Lisboa is definitely at Cervejaria Ramiro (we later learned that Anthony Bourdain visited this place in 2012). Be prepared to wait to get in (we waited for about 45 min or so) but we grabbed a bottle of wine and chatted with people in the waiting area – time flew by.

We really enjoyed Clube de Fado restaurant that we went specifically to listen fado but were pleasantly surprised with delicious food they served.

Enjoy Time Out Market for lunch – this place will satisfy any person’s taste. All three of us had different dish and we loved it. The other part that I enjoyed about this market is how inviting it is to start conversation with strangers. We loved getting to know the couple sitting next to us (she was from New Zealand and he was from England) we sipped wine while listening to each other’s stories.

Grab a glass of wine and order appetizer at Topo Chiado with the castle in the background, and Lisbon’s famous Santa Justa Lift on its doorstep.

If you feel nostalgic – grab burgers and beer at Hamburgeria A Gina

The next 3 days flew by so quickly it felt like the blink of an eye. Here are the sights we visited

Sintra – less than an hour away by train, we took the train at Rossio station for 2.5 euros (train goes every hour so you don’t need to buy tickets in advance)

Belém Tower or the Tower of St Vincent

I wish we had more time in this beautiful city – Lisbon you definitely won our hearts. It’s not goodbye it’s see you later ❤

Friends and reasons I need them…

Have you ever thought about the role that friends play in your live? This is obviously my thoughts and my feelings about friendship, but I am pretty sure some of you can relate to me. This bunch of creatures that make me laugh, cry, happy, angry, proud…who don’t share a drop of blood with me, but somehow became so close as if we are related, I call them my friends. Our lives and stories are very different and we all have unique backgrounds and personalities but somehow there is that strong connection between us that keep us together. There are some truths you have to know about my friends or best to say the types of friends that I have:

JOYERS usually the first ones to get a text or a call from me when something good or exciting happens in my life. For me sharing a joy and celebrate it is so much better in the company of friends (“joyers”). The joy is not complete if not shared with your friends.

MOTIVATORS are my biggest cheerleading squad and motivational speakers. When difficult decision needs to be made I have motivators to cheer for me from the sidelines. Even though they may not believe or have the same visions as me, they never get on the way of me achieving that goal.

EYE OPENERS are the type of friends that constantly introducing me to new ideas, cultures, people…help me in so many different ways to open my eyes to new things in life.

SUPPORTERS somehow always find the right words to say when I need it the most. I may doubt my own decisions but never my supporters! They believe in me it helps to build my confidence.

WINERS are always ready to share that $2.99 bottle of wine from Trader Joes with me. Winers can turn my bad day around and turn good day into the best day of my life! I call winers when I need a laugh or when I need to boost my spirits.

KEEPERS are my best personal therapists! We all been through the darkest moments of our lives and who do we turn to during those times? The keepers because no matter what our darkest and deepest secrets are safe with them.

LISTENERS are the only creatures who can tolerate hearing your daily rants (especially the amount of daily complaints). They usually have enormous amount of patience and advice to every problem you may face.

TRAINERS are the best gym buddies, nutrition consultants and personal trainers. I find more motivation to stay healthy and fit when I have my trainers to do it with.

You might say that “I already knew all that and I have friends like that” but that’s not the point I am trying to make – the point is that it’s very important to remind yourself of their importance in your life. Our need in friendship can be compared to the need for food. We love the feeling of being appreciated, needed and being accepted so it’s very crucial to remember to give the same in return. It’s a known fact that one key to your happiness is staying connected in a positive way with a people you care about. We need to make efforts to spend time with your friends, find time to let them know how important they are to you, be grateful because that time together is precious. Friendship is a gift that should be cared for with lots of love.

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Reasons Why I Fell In Love with Europe…..

I can honestly say that it was love from first sight! The first day when we arrived to Amsterdam and the taxi took us to our little apartment I couldn’t stop looking out of the taxi window. I loved everything from the little streets, charming houses, museums, street markets, cozy coffee shops by the canals….. Amsterdam was our starting point where we spent few days and then took a train to go to Paris where we spent 5 beautiful nights. After Paris everything went way too fast and I felt at times that my head was quickly spinning from all the beautiful places we visited. There was Venice, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Rome, Vatican City, Madrid, Toledo, Segovia and Barcelona….. and each place took my breath away. So what exactly made me fall in love with Europe?


Europe has an endless amount of history, art, architecture … I was fortunate to visit some of the most amazing sights filled with very historically important art exhibits. I loved Louvre and gardens of Versailles in Paris, I admire Michelangelo’s David at Accademia Gallery in Florence, the ceiling painted by Michelangelo at Sistine Chapel in Vatican City was something from out of this world and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona left me speechless. There are so much more to it – there is no end!

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Food is absolutely exquisite in Europe! I am actually extremely mad at myself for only taking couple photos of the food. It was hard to worry about photos when beautifully decorated plates were placed in front of you. Here are my recommendations of what you should try when in Europe:

Paris – chocolate croissant with coffee.

Spain – jamón ibérico which is a type of cured ham.

Italy – gelato and risotto (eat these separately…haha). If you ever in Venice visit Osteria Ai Do Gobbi. My husband had seafood risotto and he claims it was his best meal ever, I had pasta with black truffles which was very delicious.

Netherlands – besides my favorite Gouda cheese you should try traditional Dutch appeltaart (apple pie) and coffee which is amazingly tasty there.

Obviously these are not the only deliciousness you can try in Europe – there are so much more but these dishes hold a special place in my heart or stomach. 

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Europeans take their love for wine very serious! No meals should be eaten without a glass of wine. I loved how easy it was buying alcohol in Europe – there was no designated stores and you didn’t have to break your wallet when purchasing it. A bottle of water or a bottle of wine in some restaurants were almost the same price!!! So many times I thought I was ordering a glass of wine when the waiter would bring the whole bottle (I think the cheapest bottle in the restaurant that I paid for was 3 euros which is $3.35 considering current exchange rate). Europeans do not realize how lucky they are!! 

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One amazing thing about Europe is that you can visit as many countries as you want all by just taking a train. European trains are nothing like the ones we have in US it’s like something from the movie Fast & Furious. European trains were taking us to the beautiful places at the speed of 300 km per hour (which is equivalent to about 186 miles per hour) and did I mention that my eyes were always glued to the windows you just can’t stop soaking up all the scenery.


No need for cardio at the gym – prepare yourself for walking, stairs climbing and if you decide to do some shopping then you going to be doing all that with hands full of bags! During our trip we climbed so many stairs and so many domes at times we had to stop to catch our breath. If you do not like to walk or climb stairs than your days in Europe would be definitely exhausting. We had an app that would tell us how many steps we made and the average would be 25-30K a day with at least 40 flights of stairs (we climbed it all from tower of Notre Dame to tower of The Alcazar of Segovia). I was really on the mission to see everything possible in the time frame we had.

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Back to the question why I fell in love with Europe! Maybe it’s the fact that you can visit all these completely different places with different languages, culture, food, history just by taking a short ride by train? Or maybe it’s the feeling you get wandering through museums, cathedrals or parks with your love one holding hands of absolute serenity and piece?  Or that deep feeling that comes and absolutely blows your mind that some people are so fortunate to live among the most historical remnants like Roman Forum or Colosseum, living inside of walls of Lucca that goes back to 200 A.C. or seeing Sagrada Familia from the window of your apartment?

Everyone has a bucket list – the things you want to do before you die. I believe that by traveling to Europe my list got shortened by half! The sharing kiss on the top of the Eiffel Tower, holding hands riding a gondola in Venice, climbing the tower of Notre Dame, wonder inside of Rome’s Colosseum, “holding” leaning tower of Pisa, say a prayer inside of Segrada Familia, take a picture with Michelangelo’s David or silly selfie with Mona Lisa in the background……. My trip to Europe was full of those dreamed moments that I always thought about!My friends and family know about my passion and love for traveling and I am so glad to share it with my husband.  

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Since husband and I are getting ready for our 3 week trip to Europe I thought it would be great idea to share my tips on packing for vacation. I started doing it about 5 years ago and I would never go to old ways..

1.     Pick the lightest suitcase possible, everyone knows that airlines charge an arm and a leg if you go over the allowed weight limit. All those suitcases that look like pretty shiny boxes (I think some made out of Polycarbonate or aluminum, hard shell suitcases) are heavy without even you starting filling them in! That’s why I always choose the lightest and the least expensive suitcase (which happens to be made from fabric) because you can pack more clothes!!! I personally don’t own any expensive brand luggage for once I traveled quite often to see the way our luggage been handled so why spend money on luggage that could be abused?

2.   A Packing list is very important. It’s the safe way to ensure that nothing important is forgotten, plus it gives me enough time to buy any additional items I need. Who wants to leave for the Caribbean without the only swimsuit you love?

3.     When packing don’t just throw random clothes in your luggage thinking you are going to figure out the whole outfit while on vacation. No no no – no one has the time for this on vacation!!! We are there to have fun and look good. So what I begin doing is that about few weeks before my vacation (you can even start earlier than that) start putting together outfits and I do take pictures so that I don’t forget what goes with what. You can be as detailed as you wish with this process and add jewelry and shoes to it. I make this process fun and enjoyable, I call it my “closet night” I turn the music up and pour myself a glass of wine and ideas just keep pouring out of me…. This is just little visual of what my packing looks like….


4.    I pack my clothes in separate bags so it keeps things more organized and also if you are carrying bottles with shampoo, lotions, etc. and they get damaged it won’t get all over your clothes.

5.    Since our trip will be 3 weeks long each of us are planning to bring one carry – on and one check-in luggage but usually if I go for less than a week I only bring carry -on luggage with me or the rule is one checked in bag for the family. You probably heard many stories about luggage being lost or delayed  because of some airline hiccups… well try not to ruin your vacation if something like this happens to you. That’s why I suggest to always pack half of your pre-organized outfits in your carry-on luggage. I personally don’t want anything to get in a way of me and my vacation.

Most important rule not to forget to pack your speedos when traveling in Europe!!!!!

Grocery List….

I have been asked how do I come up with the grocery list for the week. I used to drag this subject with all my passion – who likes to make grocery list or go grocery shopping for that matter??? But one evening while going through Pinterest I saw this idea of writing down a menu on a chalk board…and something clicked in my Russian brain. I thought it was perfect idea for my picky eaters!!!! I love to cook, but I hate cooking routinely – I like to make new dishes but I don’t like to cook the same things over and over! So it became kind of like a game in the family. Some days I put together a menu (because men in my family leave this important subject up to me) or sometimes we make a theme week. One week we had international week, or one week we made all our favorite meals… possibilities are endless.

After I put together a menu I start working on my grocery list. By doing just this, you are actually saving money (when I shopped before making a menu I would get more things then I actually needed meaning I would spend more money then I should). Another big plus of making  a weekly menu is that you won’t have unused food in your fridge.

My chalk board is not big enough to write all three meals of the day so it only shows my dinner menu for a week. Since I make smoothie bowls with chia pudding pretty much almost every morning – my breakfast menu stays the same and shopping for it very easy (all I need is fresh almond milk, Chia Seeds, plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruits). For lunch we usually go very light something like a salad with either low sodium turkey or grilled chicken.

Here is  how my menu for this week looks:


Monday dinner was absolutely delicious and so easy to make (total time that I spent in the kitchen was not more than 30-40 minutes including prepping and cooking).

Grilled Shrimp & Pineapple Skewers: I cut fresh pineapple in cubes (1.5” x 1.5″) and then I skewer the shrimp alternating with the pineapple (I made 5 skewers each had 4 shrimp, adjust to the size of your family). Once my kebobs were ready I brushed them with the sauce. I made my own sauce by mixing 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, I added a little bit of Italian seasoning then I brushed it all over my skewers and sprinkled a little bit of Old Bay seasoning (more for color). Then I grilled my skewers for about 3-4 minutes on each side.

For my side I made Quinoa Mango Salad. I used 1 cup of cooked red quinoa (you can use any quinoa and cook it according to the package), 1 diced mango, 1/4 of diced medium size red onion, 1 small diced cucumber and 1/4 diced green bell pepper (you can use any color it’s just what I had in my fridge…red bell pepper would add more color to your salad), half can of black beans (I drained and rinsed mine), handful of chopped cilantro. For my dressing I mixed 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of lime juice and salt and pepper to your taste. Mix it all together and enjoy. I like this salad when it’s cooled for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.


Tuesday dinner was extremely easy to make and it took me total of 20-25 minutes ! We had Grilled Caprese Chicken and to make it you will need boneless skinless chicken breast (it was just two of us eating so we needed only 2 chicken breasts), balsamic vinegar, 2 slices of mozzarella cheese, 2 slices of tomato and basil leaves.

While my grill was warming up I sprinkled chicken breast with little olive oil, garlic salt, black pepper, paprika, Italian seasoning and rubbed it all over. Then we prepared chicken breasts on the grill (we grilled our chicken for about 6 minutes on each side).

Once my chicken was ready I topped it with mozzarella cheese, tomato slice and then basil leave (you can drizzle balsamic vinegar on your chicken)  – dinner was great and easy to make!


Wednesday dinner was fantastic!!! Pan seared scallops on top of asparagus puree and for the side dish I had pan seared asparagus with roasted tomatoes.

Ingredients you will need: scallops, 1 pound of asparagus, 1 avocado, handful of chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, olive oil, one big tomato, I also used tiny piece of jalapeno, Old Bay seasoning, 2 cloves of minced garlic, salt and pepper to your taste

First, I started with the asparagus (half of it went to make asparagus puree and half of it I pan seared with tomatoes). I rinsed and trimmed the asparagus, and then I drizzled it with olive oil, freshly chopped garlic and salt and pepper to your taste. Make sure your asparagus is evenly covered with olive oil and the rest of listed ingredients. Then I placed the asparagus on the skillet over medium-high heat and cooked for about 10 minutes, you have to turn asparagus to make sure its cooking evenly on both sides.

While my asparagus was cooking I chopped tomatoes into small cubes and pan seared them in separate skillet with garlic salt. It cooked for about 4-5 minutes at the end I added a little bit of chopped cilantro. When tomatoes are cooked set them aside.

When your asparagus is ready take half of it and put it in the food processor (I used my Nutri Ninja Bullet) then add one avocado, handful of chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil (I also added tiny piece of jalapeno), salt and pepper to your taste and blend it all in – this will be your asparagus puree (I would actually call it asparagus/avocado puree).

Scallops were the last ones to cook as they are pretty quick to make. Melt butter in a skillet and place your scallops. I cooked my scallops for about 3 minutes on each side and I do not like to use much seasoning on my scallops so I just added a little Old Bay (again mostly for the color).

When you are done with scallops decorate your plate to your liking and it’s ready to be served!!! We felt like we were eating in some upscale restaurant!!! 



Thursday dinner was Angus Ribeye Steak with Bruschetta Eggplant.

For steak I only used garlic salt and pepper (I don’t like too much spices on my steak) and I grilled it on 600 F for about 7 minutes on each side (the steak came out medium rare.. so you chose timing based on your steak preference).

While steak was grilling I cut tomatoes in small cubes, chopped cilantro and few cloves of garlic then sprinkled it with olive oil, salt and pepper and mixed it.

Then I took few Asian eggplants (you can use regular eggplants it’s just what I had) and cut them in half (lengthwise). After eggplants are cut , I placed them on frying pan with preheated olive oil and I let them cook for about 3 minutes on each side (I had to turn them few times to make sure they cooking evenly).

When eggplants were done I removed it and topped with tomatoes, cilantro…. easy and so good!!!


Finally it’s Friday and the perfect way to celebrate it with the good dinner. I made Blackened Ahi Tuna with Mango Salsa.

For tuna spice I mixed together (I measured everything in pinch of this and pinch of that this time, next time I promise to be more specific) paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt, thyme, basil and garlic powder. Then I rubbed this spice mix all over my tuna and placed it on preheated frying pan with butter. I cooked my tuna for about 4-5 minutes on each side (your cooking time will depend on how you like your tuna cooked, I like mine to be pink in the middle).

While my tuna was cooking I made mango salsa. I cut one mango, third of a red bell pepper, third of onion (I used red onion), handful of cilantro and one small jalapeno. I mixed it all in the bowl and then added 2 tablespoons of lime juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to your taste.

When my tuna was ready I topped it with mango salsa. Dinner served in less than  20 minutes and I can’t even describe how tasty it was.