Category Archives: traveler

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 https://www.airnewzealand.com/home? – 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) https://www.skyline.co.nz/en

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. http://www.chardfarm.co.nz/

Grab wine at Perky’s Bar https://www.facebook.com/perkysqueenstown/ 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) https://www.bungy.co.nz/queenstown/kawarau-bungy-centre/kawarau-zipride/

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 http://www.bonjour-arrowtown.com/

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

https://www.google.com/search?q=lake+wanaka+tree&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=imsvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjq0MPLl5jbAhXFt1kKHex2CR4Q_AUIESgB&biw=414&bih=622

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!

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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 https://www.eurostar.com 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 https://www.fattiretours.com/paris 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.

https://www.aqualuzlagos.com/en/hotel-overview.html

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.

https://www.facebook.com/CarviAlgarve/

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.

http://restaurantecamilo.pt/en/

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.

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.

http://www.cervejariaramiro.pt/?lang=en

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

https://www.clube-de-fado.com/

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.

https://www.timeoutmarket.com/lisboa/en/

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.

https://www.facebook.com/topolisboa/

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

https://www.facebook.com/Hamburgueria.a.Gina/?utm_source=tripadvisor&utm_medium=referral

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 ❤