View from the plane - the future of travel

The Future of Travel – How will it change after the Pandemic

Travelling!
Soon we’ll have to be checking the definition of this word in a dictionary, because for all of us, travelling is like a forgotten relic from the past.
So let me remind you: travelling (gerund or present participle from travel) means: “to make a journey, typically of some length”.
Does it ring a bell? Not really!
Especially for you guys in America. I know you spell travelling with one “l”.

And…as always, I’m getting off topic.
Let’s talk about the future of travel!

The future of travel - how will travelling look after the pandemic

There is no secret that the travel industry took one of the biggest hits from the COVID–19 pandemic. In just a few weeks, an industry worth approximately 2.9 trillion US dollars, generated estimated revenue losses of $314 billion in the aviation sector alone and reported 25 million jobs being at risk. Big corporations, local business, people whose livelihood depends on travelling – everyone is affected.
However, as particular countries slowly ease restrictions and open borders (my beloved Italy on the 3rd of June!), there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather… a plane in the skies.
But hmm…travelling by plane, by train, by coach, staying in a hotel room, renting an Airbnb, eating in a restaurant…how will it all look?
Or maybe even thinking about travelling abroad at this point gives you a little panic attack and the best you could do is visit some place close by.
No matter if you can’t wait to board a plane (me, me, me!) or you’d rather explore your surroundings, one thing is certain – for a long time, travelling won’t look the same and we’ll have to adapt to many changes.
What changes?
Keep reading to find out how will travel change after the pandemic!

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL LOOK LIKE?
That’s a question many of us would like to know the answer to. But the truth is…no one knows!
It’s safe to say that travel will recover in stages, and freedom to travel will vary country-by-country and region-by-region. For example, New Zealand and Australia introduced a “trans – Tasman “COVID – safe travel zone” allowing Kiwis and Aussies to visit each other. The Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) created a so called “travel bubble”, letting their citizens travel freely between them. Germany and other Schengen countries who have low, manageable rates of infection are planning on opening their borders in mid June.
But the truth is, how quickly travelling can resume will mainly depend on people’s willingness. Even with open borders and safety restrictions many of us might not want to put ourselves at risk.
Therefore, it is predicted, that the next couple of months will be all about domestic and even regional travels. International travel might take up to 18 months to recover and this recovery will be very uneven. Meaning some countries and regions will recover faster, others slower. It’s also important to acknowledge the hard truth and the very real possibility, that travel won’t go back to its pre-COVID levels for a couple years.

Woman wearing a mask at the airport - the future of travel
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WHERE CAN YOU TRAVEL FIRST?
Road tripping, caravanning, camping, glamping, staying at a cottage in the woods…those will be probably the first travel activities you’ll be able to plan. Assuming of course they’re possible in your region and home country. Local and domestic travel will take precedent in the travel industry this year. And maybe it’s actually a good thing. Assuming that you like your home country. By not being able to go to the tropics, you might discover some beautiful places in your area that you’d never thought of visiting before. And what’s more important, after months of being locked in your house, you’ll appreciate this experience even more. So start your research and treat yourself to a luxurious tree house stay. You definitely deserved that!

Local and domestic travel - the future of travel after the pandemic

And if travelling, even to a place close by still sounds too scary, check out my fun and simple staycation ideas you can do at home! 

WHAT IF YOU WANT TO STAY IN THE HOTEL?
All the hotels will have to adopt new COVID–19 measures, which basically means 3 things: disinfection, social distancing and limited human contact.
Starting with possible self-check-in and check-out, to implementing apps to open the door (I know what you’re thinking…wow!), apps to order food or request any kind of service including wait-free check-out (if self-check-out is impossible) or luggage pick up.
All payments should be limited to the card listed on the reservation made online, so cards don’t need to be handled.
If you always wanted to enjoy a hotel breakfast in bed, but room service was always too expensive, now is your chance, as inclusive meals might be limited to room service or to “pick up stations” anyway. If the hotel decides to open a restaurant there will be most likely no buffet (just a few dishes from the menu) and the tables will have to be at a minimum distance of 1 meter, possibly with screens in between. The same with hotel bars, swimming pools, gyms…a strict social distancing regime will apply.

Oh my…I think I prefer a tree house.

In guests rooms, the priority is going to be cleanliness and sanitation, not extravagance. We could even see a reduction in decorative pillows, bed runners, items stocked in minibars and even paper products like magazines and pamphlets. And possibly carpets! Some hotels might even need one day between reservations to properly disinfect rooms.
Daily room cleaning might not be available…which is actually a good thing. Who needs a new towel every day? It’s just a waste of water. Although, one step back in environmentally friendly travel, will be the return of single-use toiletries, instead of multiuse bottles to minimize the spread of germs. So, do the environment a favour and bring your own toiletries.

The future of travel - social distancing in the swimming pool

WHAT ABOUT EATING OUT?
Similar rules will apply to pubs, bars and restaurants.
Limited amounts of people, tables spread out 1-2 meters with possible screens, booking your table in advance, or even placing your order on the spot through an app. And then…I guess, waiting for a robot to bring it you, if everything is so advanced already. And of course no cash! Everyone will be wearing masks, naturally, so you won’t even see which waiter is the cutest. And the smell of disinfectants will be floating in the air. Perfect for me, I don’t like the smell of food anyway.

Hmm…We will depend on technology a lot. But what if you have an older phone that can’t handle those apps, or you’re older yourself and you’re not comfortable with smartphones or if technology simply hates you and nothing ever works for you…I guess you’ll out of luck for post COVID-19 fun and entertainment.
In all seriousness, businesses applying these technological methods should consider their older and less technologically-able customer base too.

And now ladies and gentlemen the big one….

WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU CAN FINALLY BOARD A PLANE?
This is the area of travelling where you will experience the most changes. Which again, you can sum up in 3 phrases: distance, disinfection and limited human contact. I guess it’s everyone’s new mantra. But let’s face it…hundreds of people locked in a limited space – sounds like an ideal place for a virus to spread.

The first major change will probably be happening even before entering the airport terminals, where only people with plane tickets might be able to gain access. This rule already applies at many airports.

All passengers will have to go through a disinfection tunnel (already tested in Hong Kong) and a thermal scanner. Infrared cameras that can scan a crowd in search of people with fever are already used at many airports around the world. If you have a fever, you might be directed to further examination or simply…sent home. But there is a hope (Emirates already tried it once) for a quick blood test with the result available in just 10 minutes. If you test negative, you’ll be free to travel.

Airport disinfection - the future of travel
Shuterstock

Checking yourself and your luggage in should be contactless.
Well, the biggest change in general, will be striving to limit direct contact between passengers and staff as much as possible. So again, everyone who is waging an eternal war with machines…brace yourselves.

Self-check in, luggage disinfection, automatic boarding, fever check-up and even booking your security check slot in advance…it all adds up to one thing – we’ll have to be at the airport a lot earlier before our flight. Even 4 hours earlier.

Oh dear…I want to fly again, I want to fly again…

Self-check-in at the airport - the future of travel
Shutterstock

Alright, somehow you made it to the plane. It seems like the real fun starts there!
Not only might you be prevented from bringing your hand luggage on board, but you can also forget about walking down the aisle to stretch your legs or even going to the toilet. Ok, hopefully the last point will depend on the situation, the length of flight and airline. I can’t imagine not using a toilet during a 10-hour flight.

Plane disinfection - the future of travel
Shutterstock

Throughout the whole flight, you will have to be in disguise…Batman, ninja, Superman… whichever mask suits your style. So yes, wearing masks will be obligatory. 20-something-hour flight from Europe to Australia…good luck. Luckily it doesn’t have to be any special mask. A material mask or a scarf will do.

What about food?
Who doesn’t like to snack on the plane or sip on a G&T?! Duh!
Served meals and drinks was one thing I was looking forward to on my cancelled flight to Australia. Unfortunately, due to crew-passenger direct contact limitations, inflight food service will be reduced to a minimum. Meals, if any, will probably be limited to wrapped products packed in disposable packaging. Great, more plastic! Payments will be cashless only.

Oops and I forgot about the most important thing – where will you sit?
Preferably as far as possible from the other passengers, but we all know it’s not that easy. After rejecting an idea by The International Air Transport Association and several airlines to leave the middle seat empty (although a few airlines like Delta, American or United will be implementing that), now most airlines are back to square one.
A good solution could be a proposal suggested by Aviointeriors, an Italian aircraft cabin interiors producer, to reverse the centre seat in order to ensure the maximum isolation between passengers. An additional clear plastic screen in between would provide further protection. This project is called: “Janus” and could definitely take flying to another level of safety.
Another project of Aviointeriors: “Glassafe” is a kit-ready solution that can be installed on existing seats. It works by adding a transparent shield to each headrest, isolating each passenger.
Project “Glassafe” sounds way more achievable to me, especially that could be implemented almost immediately.
Time will tell what and if any changes the airlines will implement.

IMPORTANT:
There might be airlines out there trying to lure you with promises, that they can take you to a lot of places already. Well, they can’t!
Therefore, before booking your flight, it is important to check:
if the country you want to travel to is no longer under lockdown,
if you you don’t have to quarantine yourself for 14 days after you get there,
if after your visit there you don’t have to go back under quarantine in your home country.
Here you can find a useful map presenting the countries which still have restrictions: Travel Regulations Map.

Well, it’s not like we have to scratch our heads about all of it just yet.
This is the only way we’ll see the sky from a plane window for quite some time.

Views from the plane window through a washing machine - the future of travel

The future of travel sounds very…well, futuristic and advanced. The possibility of the machines taking over our lives becomes more and more realistic. I’m not sure though, how fast and if at all the airports will adjust to all those changes. For example, Manchester Airport can’t even handle escalators repairs – it takes them like 6 months. I can’t imagine them building and maintaining a disinfection tunnel. In most airports, we’ll probably only see a lot of hand sanitizers, distancing lines on the floor and people wearing masks.

But assuming that the airports, hotels and restaurants will rise to the challenge, what are other aspects you have to consider?

Travelling could be “seasonally” expensive.
No-one knows yet if ticket prices and accommodation costs will be lower or higher than before. Some experts predict that to “make up” for all the losses, the airlines or property owners might increase their prices. On the other hand, people need some good incentives and nothing is more encouraging than a sale.
There’s another problem though. There is speculation, that in case of second, third, fourth…wave of the virus, the governments will need to turn lockdown measures on and off in order to keep demands on healthcare systems at a manageable level. This means there will be windows of opportunity to travel that last only weeks. And then prices can get really high.

Insurance will be a must.
If you were neglecting this topic in the past, like I did, you might want to double or even triple check that you have insurance when travelling during post-coronavirus times. And not just any insurance. Unfortunately, most current insurance policies don’t cover events related to the outbreak of a pandemic. I’m assuming this will have to change. But in general, the best option will be insurance that allows you to recover the costs of cancelled the trips for any reason.

People won’t like you when you’re sick.
Corona or not, no one likes to sit on a plane next to someone who coughs and sneezes. The current situation will make it socially unacceptable to travel with a cold or any similar symptoms. Quite understandable, but let’s hope it won’t lead to any unpleasant situations. It’ll be definitely better for you and others if you don’t travel with any symptoms.

You’ll need more than a passport.
In the future you might need to travel with some kind of certification, stating that you’re healthy, that you have immunity (because you recovered from the virus) or that you have been vaccinated (when a vaccine is available). We shall have to wait and see how it will look.

Hmm…the future of travel doesn’t look so bright, does it? All these changes sound like a lot of work, both for people working in the travel industry and for tourists. BUT…perhaps these are all just “big words”, because no one knows what it’s all going to look like. Maybe, with a little time, we will adjust to the new reality like we did with lockdowns. There will be changes, that’s certain. And we’ll all have to adapt if we want to travel the world. Is it worth it? That’s totally up to you.
I personally can’t wait until I’m finally able to go aboard and rediscover how amazing it is to travel. We’ll all just have to be smart about it, patient and most importantly kind to one another.

Don’t forget to check out my fun and simple staycation ideas!
And hit me up on Instagram.



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Staycation ideas to do at home

13 Fun and Simple Staycation Ideas You Can Do At Home

Dreaming about travelling again? I’m with you!
Discovering new places, experiencing new cultures, trying out new food, or simply taking in all the sun and relaxing under a palm tree…Trust me, I miss that too!
Unfortunately…let me just state the obvious: travelling isn’t an option at the moment. And it probably won’t be for some time. Sucks, I know!
But it doesn’t mean, that we have to give up on all the leisure activities! Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, whining to your partner that everything in the world is against you (totally my style) and staring at the map, dreaming of visiting places we can’t reach now, you can organize yourself a perfect staycation at home.

Staycation ideas you can do at home for Pinterest

If you’re not familiar with the concept, let me, well, let Wikipedia explain it to you.
Staycation (or holistay) is a period in which an individual or a few individuals stay home and participate in leisure activities within driving distance of their home and it does not require overnight accommodations.
Unfortunately, this definition isn’t that applicable to our situation, since we can’t (we shouldn’t really) drive anywhere for leisure of even leave the house. So I should really call it: home-cation. Or home staycation.

Either way, here I present 13 fun and simple staycation ideas you can do at home to put yourself in a vacation mode.

Or maybe you still have the power and feel the enthusiasm to do something productive during lockdown? In that case check out my previous blog post: 29 coolest and productive things to do at home in 2020.

If not..,first things first!

How to get ready for a staycation at home?
In order a have an epic vacation at home, you have to put yourself in the right mindset. You won’t feel truly chilled if you’re thinking about those dirty socks you have to wash or dustballs under the sofa. If you’re the kind of person who thinks about stuff like that… So, just like before a real vacation, put all your errands and worries aside. Finish all your household chores, pay all the bills you have to pay, buy everything you need to buy. We don’t normally do errands on vacation and we shouldn’t do them on our staycation either.

The next step is setting aside time for your relaxing staycation and planning it properly. I know, excessive planning doesn’t really seems very relaxing, but we all normally plan or at least schedule time for our real vacation, don’t we? Dedicate a day or two for your staycation at home, so you can truly enjoy them.

One of the best ways to disconnect and be in the moment is not having any digital distractions. So, put your phone away, switch off your laptop, unplug Alexa, Siri or the Google Assistant (just in case you say those magic words by accident) and appreciate the silence.

Last but not least, pack your bags! Well, maybe not literally, but it might a good idea to plan and prepare your outfits. You don’t want to waste time on thinking what to wear before your big… no, you’ll have to wait for it.
Don’t forget about your camera! You might want to capture those relaxing moments on…nah, you’ll really have to wait for it.

Ok then, when you’re all right and ready, let’s start the 13 staycation ideas you can do at home.

1. Have breakfast in bed.
There is no relaxing vacation nor staycation without breakfast in bed, am I right? If you feel adventurous enough and have a bathtub, maybe you can even try to have a Bali floating breakfast experience. But pancakes with fresh fruits, an acai bowl or an English breakfast eaten in bed sound great too. Even better if they’re served by someone else.

Breakfast in bed - ideas for staycation at home

2. Hold a yoga retreat.
If you’ve ever been on a yoga retreat you know how relaxed and rejuvenated you feel after. Well, I haven’t, but can imagine it could be a life changing experience. Still, there’s no reason why you can’t hold your own yoga retreat at home. Arrange and decorate some space, prepare a special cleansing drink or just warm water with ginger, lemon and turmeric and start practicing yoga. If you have your own yoga flow, just go for it. If you need guidance, try Boho Beautiful or any other yoga You Tube channel. You can even make a whole weekend yoga retreat out of it with morning and evening practice, some meditation and yoga inspired diet. Or you know, Savasana also counts as yoga.

Yoga retreat - ideas for staycation at home

3. Have a picnic.
Even if you’re locked down at home, you can still connect with nature. If you have a garden, problem solved, but there’s no reason why you can’t organise a picnic in your own apartment. Set the scene by spreading a blanket and pillows and adding a green accent in the form of fresh flowers or home plants. You can even put on a slide show on your TV with the pictures of nature and play forest sounds in the background. Now the only thing that is missing is the food. Prepare little sandwiches, a cheese plate, a bowl of fresh fruits, buy some rosé and there you go…home picnic is ready.

4. Go to the beach.
I know what you might think…is she crazy? Beach day at home? But beaching all day within your 4 walls and getting into an “Aruba Jamaica” mood is totally possible. Put on tropical music, make a batch of margaritas or any other drink you like sipping on a beach and spend the day doing what you’d normally do at the beach. Read a book or silly a magazine, have a nap or talk to your friends, well virtually. If you have a garden or a balcony you can even order an inflatable swimming pool and dip your toes.

Beach day at home - staycation ideas

5. Visit a museum.
If you’re a culture freak, and I don’t mean here beer or football culture, visiting a museum or even attending an opera during your holiday is something you never miss. Home-cation offers an endless array of opportunities to explore our rich cultural heritage as well. From the comfort of your sofa you can easily visit the most popular museums in the world: Vatican Museum, The Louvre, The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and many more: they all offer virtual tours. Or you can just download Google Arts and Culture app and have access to even more cultural adventures.
Fancy an opera night? Where better than in the most famous opera in the world: The Metropolitan Opera. Through the Met Opera streaming system you can watch the best performances of some of its most famed shows for free.

Visit museum from home - ideas for staycation at home

6. Camp in your garden.
Even if you’re not a 9-year old girl, you can still enjoy camping in your backyard. It will be a cool change of the scenery and can temporarily satisfy your need for an adventure. Pitch your tent, roast marshmallows or even have a BBQ and feel connected to nature again.
You don’t have a garden? No-one forbids you from constructing your own homemade tent or building a fort from blankets, pillows and fairy lights. Let’s feel like children again! Why not? Adulthood will catch up with us tomorrow.

7. Spot some wildlife.
Even from my little not-a-balcony (in a few shots here) I can spot a few magpies trying to steal everything shiny, pigeons trying to steal…everything really and a few other birds I have no idea what they are, but they sing super lovely. I’m sure you can have some wildlife in your area as well. Take a few moments to observe what kind of animals live in your neighbourhood and how they behave when there are no humans interrupting them. Plus, listening to the birds tweeting can be so relaxing and peaceful…oh man, I think I’m getting old.

8. Rock at the concert.
I know, this year was the year you were finally meant to go to Coachella. Well, Coachella is optimistically postponed until October, so you still have a chance, but meanwhile you can arrange a little concert or a music festival on your own. Buy expensive, but cheap testing beer, braid your hair, put on crazy makeup and start head banging, moshing and pogoing to the loud music of your choice. I’m sure your neighbours won’t mind those 2 hours of noise. And if you love JT (who doesn’t?) you can watch his concert on Netflix. The same with Taylor Swift’s, Beyonce’s…but I’m sure you already know it.

Go to the concert at home - staycation ideas

9. Eat at your favourite restaurant.
Even if we can’t go to a restaurant at the moment, the restaurant can come to you. Take a day off from cooking and order you favourite food. Not only will you feel treated, but you’ll also help a local business in a moment of struggle. Don’t forget to set a table, light a candle and pop up a bottle of wine or prosecco.

10. Have a drink in a rooftop bar.
Who doesn’t love rooftop bars? I know I do! In every place we visit, going to a rooftop bar is a must. Sipping a Mojito, Caipi or an Aperol Spritz with the sun soaking into your skin and at the same time admiring nice views is the best thing! If you only have a garden or a balcony or at least a windowsill you can easily arrange some space for you own rooftop bar. Put out some flowers, candles or fairy lights, play chilled music, prepare your favourite cocktails, throw some snacks into a bowl and there it is: your private bar! Don’t forget to dress up and you might even be invited to the VIP lounge.

Drink in a rooftop bar at home - staycation ideas

11. Finish the day with a massage.
If you’re someone who loves a good pamper day during your holiday, you can easily replicate the experience at home. Make your own sugar scrub or a hair mask, pop some slices of lemon and cucumber into cold water, light a scented candle and relax away. How good does a sensual soak in the bath sound right now? With salts and essential oils while reading your favourite book…I wish I had a bathtub.
Even if you don’t own a bathtub and you have a partner wandering around, maybe you can convince him/her to give you a Thai massage. Or just any massage will do.
Check out easy home spa treatments.

12. Have a cinema night with popcorn.
Popcorn is the key here. How can you go to the cinema and not have popcorn? Even if you eat it before the movie starts. In order to replicate the cinema experience, prepare your favourite kind of popcorn (no wait, there’s only one kind…salty!) together with some drinks, dim the lights, make yourself comfortable and put on a movie. If you need inspiration, check out the list of 100 greatest movies.

13. Make a travel movie of your staycation at home.
There’s no holiday without almost livestreaming everything you do, eat or drink. Ohh, there is? So it’s only me? No matter if you’re Instagram obsessed, just like taking pictures or none of the above, documenting your home-cation can be a fun thing to do. Take a few shots, record a few videos, who knows, maybe beaching in your living room will go viral on Tik Tok. And if instead of your camera, you have to use your phone to do that…ok, I’ll allow it this time.

As you see, there are plenty of fun and relaxing staycation ideas you can try at home. The only thing you need is a bit of enthusiasm and creativity. Just remember, whatever you choose to do, get in the mood and treat it as a real vacation. I’m sure you’ll feel relaxed and refreshed.
Happy home-cation!

And if you’re all chilled and ready to do some work, check out my ideas on how to be productive during lockdown.

Or hit me up on Instagram.



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Things to do at home in 2020

29 Coolest and Productive Things To Do At Home in 2020

Things to do at home in 2020

Crazy times we live in.
2020 was supposed to be amazing! Everyone had big hopes and dreams that this year will be the year of their lives. Ok, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but 20-20…can it get more OCD perfect than that?
Meanwhile…we need to occupy ourselves with the things to do at home.
Who would imagine just a few weeks ago, that basically the whole world will be on lockdown. Borders being closed, all the public events being cancelled, restaurants, bars and cafes being shut, people queuing 5 meters apart from each other to enter the supermarkets, toilet paper being sold out…it all sounds like something from a bad disaster movie.
But I guess the worst thing is that we – humans – social creatures are being forced to stay at home. No meet-ups, no parties, no Sunday afternoon teas with Grandma.
For some of us, it’s not that big of a deal, for others it’s not that big of a difference, but for those who are extremely active and treat home only as a place to sleep, this quarantine could be a real challenge. Well, it is how it is and now the most important thing is to keep you and the people close to you safe.
The only thing you don’t have to worry about is your FOMO, because you know what…we’re all in the same situation.

If you’re already 1, 2 or even 3 weeks in and you don’t know what to do with yourself, you’re in the right place. From “classic” ideas to hopefully a bit more inventive stuff, here are the 29 coolest and productive things to do at home in 2020, and most importantly, things that will help keep you sane.

1. Make a list of things you can do during “quarantine”.
As silly as planning your quarantine sounds, especially when you don’t know how long it might last, having a list of the tasks or goals you want to achieve surely won’t hurt. Lists increase productivity and give you a little rush of satisfaction when you can check something off.

Plan your quarantine - things to do at home in 2020

2. Plan your day and stick to it.
Perhaps you heard about those crazy people who get up at 5 am and just get their stuff done. And you thought… ”Wow, I’d like to be like that too!”. But when your alarm goes off at 5 am the next morning, the only thing you can get done is rolling to the other side of the bed. Well, now you have the perfect opportunity to change that. Open your Google calendar and plan your day. From designating time for sleeping, working, and exercising, to scheduling breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a coffee break. It might sound a little bit over the top, but when you’re at home it’s so easy to just stay on the sofa and in the end… you’ll achieve nothing. A good idea is to break down time for particular working tasks during the day. And most importantly, don’t forget to make time for leisure and pleasure. If you need help and inspiration, check out this video from Amy Landino .

3. Keep a quarantine journal.
Day 1.
Dear diary,
I feel kind of optimistic about those days I have to spend at home. I will finally find the time to do the stuff I’ve always wanted to.
Day 5.
Dear diary,
It turned out that I didn’t have that many things I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m on the 20th season of Grey’s Anatomy.
Day 7.
Dear diary,
Today I discovered something…I discovered that my snacks are disappearing…
Day 9.
Dear diary,
I found out who was stealing my snacks…it’s him!
Day 11.
Dear diary,
The visions of hurting my boyfriend have become more and more vivid…I don’t know long I’ll last.
Day 13.
Dear diary,
I now have all the snacks just for me!

4. Make a vlog.
If you’re not into writing, capture it on camera. Well, just maybe without revealing how you dealt with the snack thief.
But in all seriousness, either a journal or a vlog can be a good “souvenir” for you, your children and future generations to look back on. This is how history books are made.

5. Clean your flat.
I know, it’s boring and you probably saw it in every “things to do at home” guide. But you can’t argue with the fact that the timing is perfect. Your oven is crying out for a deep clean, your sink is leaking, or you just discovered a big pile of dust behind your wardrobe…well, it’s now or never. Who knows, maybe you’ll be qualified for the next season of “Perfect housewife”. Is that even still on…? No idea. Just don’t confuse it with “The real housewives of Beverly Hills”…I don’t think they clean a lot there…

Clean a bathroom - things to do at home in 2020

6. Go through your wardrobe.
Another “things to do at home” classic, but hey, there’s no better time to clean your wardrobe than the beginning of Spring. Plus, there are so many things you can do with your unwanted clothes. Sell them on Ebay, donate them to charity, give to someone who needs them more. Or turn them into a dust cloth. Just be ruthless. To anything that doesn’t “spark joy” and you haven’t worn in 2 years say: “bye bye”. But don’t forget to say “thank you” first. This way you’ll make room for all the new pieces that will be able to show off when you’re finally free to leave!

Cleaning wardrobe for spring - things to do at home

7. Organize your laptop/phone.
Ooh exciting! Actually, for me and other neat freaks who like having everything in order, it is exciting. But probably most of you always put stuff like that off. Well, now with lots of time on your hands you can finally organize you documents and pictures into files and folders, back up the old stuff and delete everything you won’t need. How satisfying!

8. Do some yoga.
I know…”do yoga”, how original! But first of all, it’s can really shape your body, increase flexibility, strengthen and shape you muscles. Not to mention it can help you manage stress and calm you down. And if you’re already a yoga master, maybe you have this one position that you have to work on or you want to practise how it would be to teach others. Well, you know what to do: practice yoga.
There are plenty of yoga apps or You Tube videos there. Since I’ve been attending yoga classes, I’ve never really had a chance to fully try them out, but I heard Boho Beautiful on You Tube and Down Dog app are worth recommending.

Yoga practice at home - headstand

9. Learn how to meditate.
And what goes better with yoga than meditation! Meditation helps to control anxiety, reduces stress, promotes emotional health, can generate kindness and it might help fight additions (you…yes you addicted to chocolate, it’s about you)…there are so many benefits. But what’s most important for me – it lengthens attention span. Because at the moment all my attempts to meditate end like… pictured below. As much as I’d like to think about nothing and attain a Nirvana state, my stupid brain just won’t shut up. Oops, that’s not very meditatey. So if you’re like me, schedule time for daily meditation, download one of the apps (Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, they really do help) and simply meditate!

Meditation practice at home

10. Have a relaxing home spa day.
Now when you’re all beautiful on the inside, you can take care of your outside. So what that no one will compliment you on how much you’re glowing – we don’t need no man! Or woman! Face masks, hair masks, scrubs, nails, waxing…ouch. Or even a relaxing bath (if you’re lucky to have a bathtub). The possibilities are endless. You also don’t to need to run to the drugstore to buy all the supplies. Coconut oil and brown sugar make a prefect scrub, ground coffee with some salt creates a great anti-cellulite treatment and let’s not forget about the infamous cucumber for those puffy eyes. You can find more ideas here.

Home spa day - things to do at home in 2020

11. Read classic books.
If you’re anything like Joey Tribbiani you probably read “The Shining” a few times and now keep it well hidden in your freezer. But there are also other classics out there for you to try. How about “1984”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Crime and punishment”, “Frankenstein” or “The Little Prince”? The list is endless! But let’s start with 30 books everyone should read. Yes, Harry Potter is included, so one for me to tick off.

Reading books - things to do at home

12. Watch all the classic movies you always wanted to see.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “Casablanca”, “The Birds”… or if you really want to kill time – “Solaris” (the old one). We all face those awkward moments when someone asks us, if we saw one of the classic movies and we have to come up with the answer that says “yes”, but secretly means “no”. Now it’s the perfect time to catch up and make other people uncomfortable with our review of the movie they’ve never seen. Here’s a list of 100 movies you must see in your lifetime.

13. Play board games.
As much as computer games are easy to play and can definitely kill time, think of something that would also be good for your brain. Enter board games. Ok, or online board games. Not everyone keeps a pile of board games at home. But no matter if online or physical, choose something that will make you think. I know, it might hurt. Check the best online board games here. And if somehow you can’t play either, you know you can always do Battleships on paper, right?

14. Learn a new skill.
Sit down and think…what is that you always wanted to learn. To talk backwards, to bark like a dog convincingly, to lick your elbow (I bet you’re trying to do that right now, aren’t you). As cool as those skills are, you can take this time to learn something more productive. Maybe you want to change your career path, learn a new language or master this awful SEO to attract more traffic to your blog. Take advantage of multiple online learning platforms, like Skillshare, blogs and YouTube videos to broaden your skill set. I’ll definitely be improving my guitar playing. Good luck neighbours.

Playing guitar - things to do at home in 2020

15. Do an online happiness course.
Or any other course! But Yale University introduced “The science of well-being” course. It’s a series of challenges designed to increase your own happiness and build more productive habits. Sounds cool, right? Who doesn’t want to be happy?! And it makes a good addition to “things you can do during quarantine” list. But be quick, the course has already started. Coursera, the course provider, offers an endless list of courses, including Ivy League lectures, you can take completely for free.
Check Coursera now and smarten up.

16. Do a mood wall.
Or as I call it: a Tezza wall. If you’re on Instagram and you don’t know Tezza, you must quickly fix this mistake. She’s incredibly talented and creative and her Tezza Collage Kit inspired my mood wall. It’s not quite the same…but oh well.
I’m sure you have some magazines that you can cut inspirational pictures out, or print some quotes from Internet. Or if you don’t have a printer, a piece of paper and a few markers will do the trick as well. Get creative.

Mood board - things to do at home in 2020

17. Organize and edit photos.
Either those are actual or virtual photographs, we all have lots of them. And organising them into files, folders and albums sounds like a lot of work, which we never have time for. Well, now you do. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a perfect gift idea for your parents – an album with photos of you being sweet and innocent. Or after mastering editing apps you’ll have this perfect cohesive Instagram feed everyone desires.

18. Learn a dance choreography from You Tube tutorials.
“Single ladies”, “Party rock Anthem” “Thriller”…don’t tell me you never wanted to feel like you were the star of a music video. No matter you’re into their music or not, you have to admit that Sharika, Justin or Beyonce know how to shake their booty. Yes, Justin as well. Timberlake naturally. Or maybe you’re into Zumba or you want to learn how to dance Waltz or Salsa. Luckily You Tube is a source of all kinds of knowledge, including dance tutorials. So let your sofa rest and start dancing. It’s also a great way to get rid of stress and bad emotions. And the biggest perk of doing it at home, you can dance like no one is watching. I used this video once to learn the “Party rock Anthem” choreography. Good luck.

19. Join group live workouts.
Exercising by yourself can be boring. No one to show you what to do, no good energy from the crowd, no one to scream at you to push harder. There are many apps, You Tube and Instagram accounts that are doing online workouts that everyone can join. Sometimes even for free.
Check out the list of the gyms offering live-stream workouts here.

20. Try out new recipes.
Cooking can be fun! For some people. My cooking would probably end up like…pictured below. Plus, I belong to this group who stand over prepared food losing their patience. Like, cmon, how long can you wait for risotto to be ready. But I love to eat and trying out new things. Luckily the Universe sent my boyfriend into my life – he loves cooking and he gets very creative with it. The best advice: Pinterest is your friend. From the weirdest to most simple recipes…you’ll find everything there. It can be useful especially now, when being stuck at home you have to make something out of nothing.

Cooking - things to do at home in 2020

21. Brew your own fizzy drink.
Any kombucha lovers over here?
Me me me! But unfortunately brewing your own kombucha is not easy, takes super long and you need some of a store bought kombucha to begin with. However if you want to give it a go, it can be an additional item to our: “things to do at home” list. You can find the recipe here.
You can brew tepache instead. What is tepache? Originating in Mexico, tepache is a fermented beverage made from pineapples. Apart from a pineapple and water you just need 3-4 other ingredients to make it and then you have to give a few days to ferment. Served with ice cubes it makes a perfect spring-summer drink that you can enjoy on your balcony and pretend you’re in a bar.
Find out how to brew tepache here.

22. Have a date night.
Even if only with you. Being under lockdown doesn’t have to mean that you can’t dress up and pretend you’re in a fancy restaurant. On your next supermarket adventure, buy some flowers, a few candles and perhaps a bottle of champagne. Then prepare something delicious, set the table, wear fancy clothes and enjoy your time. The only question is… Who’s going to wash up?

23. Catch up with (old) friends.
Self-isolation can be hard on us. Especially when we’re really doing it by ourselves. So check up on those who are in the same situation (almost everyone now). Write them, call them or even organize a group video call. It will be also good for you to have some, even if only virtual, human interaction.
Going through pictures reminded you of childhood friends or someone close who you lost touch with? Look them up, message them, ask how they are. You can always reminisce on “good old times” together.

24. Plant some seeds.
Did you know that you can grow a pepper from the leftover seeds, ginger from a spare piece of the ginger root you already have at home or an avocado from the stone? Well, now you know and as you can see you don’t have to go to the garden centre for super special seeds from an exotic country. You can simply use what you already bought as groceries and watch it grow. It will probably have grown before you can leave the house again.

25. Don’t forget to breathe in the fresh air.
Quarantine or not, we all need fresh air for our brains to work. Find the time to sit on your balcony or be like an old lady and look out the window. Just, you know, don’t spend the whole day shouting to your neighbours about the latest episode of Bold and Beautiful. Or do! Whatever. It’s your time. Plus, I know it’s not on the air anymore.

Watching sunset - things to do at home in 2020

26. Make a list of life goals.
Situations like this put your life in perspective. We start feeling grateful for what we have, start appreciating what we’ve achieved so far, but also start thinking of what we still want to do. We really shouldn’t be put under quarantine to feel all those things, but unfortunately, simple as we are, we tend to think and act better under pressure. Maybe you always wanted to have a food truck, be a theatrical makeup artist or visit every country in the world. As much as this last one can take a little bit of time, it’s all doable. Write down your short term and lifelong goals, create a plan on how to achieve them and start living your life to the fullest.

27. Think of places you want to visit when you’re finally free.
I know, the list would probably consist of one word: everywhere. At least in my case. But I didn’t really need a quarantine to realize that. Perhaps you always wanted to visit the Arctic, get lost (metaphorically) in the Amazon or visit the Maldives before they sink. Or hike in the Himalayas. I could go on and on. Decide on what will be your dream come true trip, do the precise research on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, save some money and voilà! After it’s all back to normal you’re ready to go.
If one of the places you want to visit is for example Malaysia, check out my “Everything you need to know before visiting Malaysia” blog post.

Travel plan - things to do at home in 2020

28. Decide you want to write: “things to do at home in 2020” blog post and spend the whole day (or even 2) rearranging your apartment to take good pictures for it.
Not to mention writing the article itself takes quite bit of a time. And cleaning before and after every shot…don’t even get me started on that.
What I really want to say here is that with a little bit of desire and creativity you can do a whole host of things in your house/flat/apartment (like creating content for a TRAVEL BLOG) and this limited space shouldn’t limit your possibilities. Just get creative with what you already have.

29. And last but not least…
Help your fellow bloggers and Instagrammers. This forced isolation we found ourselves in 2020 impacts many branches of business including the small businesses and freelancers. Help them out by following them on Instagram, liking their pictures, reading their blog posts or even buying their online and physical products. I’m sure everyone will appreciate it. Because as easy as it looks, running a blog or Instagram takes a lot of effort. Plus, you might learn something useful or discover a place you never knew existed.
So please have a look at my previous post about a road trip in Puglia, Italy, or if you think we won’t leave our flats before winter (hope NOT!) find out why you should visit Poland in winter.

Oh man! It looks like it’s going to be a busy quarantine. Who would already prefer to go back to work?
As you see, there are plenty of things you can do at home. All you really need is a little bit of will power and creativity. Free time is abundant. And who knows, maybe when it’s all over you’ll be this glowing, incredibly fit woman/man with a clarified set of life goals, who speaks 3 new languages and is ready to embark on another adventure! Good luck!

And if you’re really bored, you can always hit me up on Instagram.



Road trip in Puglia, Italy

Puglia road trip – my 3 day itinerary for the insane

Why for the insane? Because the pace of this road trip is quite fast. So you either have to be a little bit…let’s call it passionate about exploring, a blogger or an Instagrammer, or 3 days is all that you have and you want to make the most of it.
Either way, you have to be prepared for lots of driving and sleeping every night in a different location. But isn’t it exciting?

Puglia road trip itinerary

Especially as Puglia is perfect for a road trip. Stunning landscapes, beautiful coastline, fields of olive trees, incredibly charming towns and villages…Sounds great, right? But “where do I find it?” you might ask. Where is Puglia?

Puglia (or Apulia in English) is a region of Italy located in the southeast of the country. It fills the “heel” of Italy’s “boot” (map wise) and despite everything that it has to offer, it’s still not so popular among tourists visiting Italy. But, like everything that’s quaint, rural, quiet and calm, it’s about to change soon.
So quickly buy a plane ticket, rent a car and enjoy the delightful region of Puglia by following my 3 day Puglia road trip itinerary.

Vintage car in Monopoli, Puglia, Italy

Before we start, let me let me tell you about 2 important things that are “included” in the whole Puglia road trip idea: driving and parking.

DRIVING
You probably heard horror stories about driving in Italy. They are…half true. Since driving on the smaller, regional Puglian roads was quite pleasant, highways are totally different experience. Italians don’t indicate when they’re about to change lanes and being “hot blooded” have no “personal driving space” meaning they can be very close behind you or sneak without any warming super close in front of you. The highway exit and enter roads are also very short, so you have to be extra careful when joining or leaving the motorway.

PARKING
Parking in Puglia is not easy and can effectively ruin your mood. Driving around for 30 min looking for a spot is not what you want especially with a tight schedule. Google parking places before, find a space as soon as possible, even if it’s not in the centre and discover everything on foot.
Be aware of ZTLs (Zona Traffico Limitato). These Limited Traffic Zones are found in most major Italian cities, and they’re used to reduce congestion in high traffic areas, and make them more pleasant for pedestrians and residents. Many tourists not knowing about them pay big fines, because as soon as you enter such zone a camera takes a photograph of the licence plate. If the plate doesn’t appear on the list of permitted vehicles, a fine is automatically issued. Luckily some of the zones are restricted to locals only during certain time of the day or year. So Google it ahead.

Since 3 days are not a lot and Puglia is quite big, this itinerary includes a plan for road tripping only in the middle part of the region. But no worries, you’ll experience not only the highlights, but also the wonderful variety that Puglia has to offer. Bigger cities, smaller towns, unique places, incredible scenery…add to that, sunny weather, delicious food and super friendly people and you’ll get 3 days of truly authentic Italian experiences. Below you can find a map of the whole Puglia road trip with the starting point in Brindisi.

Puglia Road trip map - 3 days road trip in Puglia, Italy

ARRIVAL AT BRINDISI AIRPORT
When flying to Puglia you’ll either arrive at Brindisi or Bari airport. No matter where you come, you can still follow this itinerary, since it’s a loop.
We flew to Brindisi. We actually arrived the previous evening, but decided to spend the night in the city, have some rest and start this crazy road trip in the morning. So we picked up the car straight from the airport and headed to the city.
HINT:
When booking an accommodation in Puglia, make sure that the property has a designated parking space. Like you already read, it’s hard to find a place to park in Puglian towns and cities no matter what time of day.

DAY 1.
Brindisi – Ostuni- Alberobello
Total distance: 80km

Brindisi is quite a pleasant city, but to be honest, we only treated it as a night base. So, after a quick stroll in the morning, finished off with an almond coffee (a speciality in Puglia) and a chocolate cornetto in one of the waterside cafés, we hit the road.

FIRST STOP: Ostuni – The White City
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours

When you check Google maps, you’ll notice that you have 3 possible routes from Brindisi to choose from. We decided on the “costal” one. Even though it’s the longest (45 km), but since it’s a main road, you can complete it the fastest.

The journey was enjoyable and we reached the destination faster than we expected. After you leave the main highway, keep your eyes peeled for Ostuni on the crest of one of the distant hills. You may want to rush to get there, but slow down and enjoy the view along the way –  Ostuni makes a big impression even from afar.
The best place to park was just outside the city walls on Via Giosuè Pinto, you do have to pay, but it was only around 0.6 euros an hour.

Now when I think about it, we probably spent too much time in Ostuni, considering the fast pace we wanted to follow. But “Città Bianca” totally charmed us!
A web of little streets, a maze of alleyways, staircases and arches – Ostuni is a perfect place to get lost in. With its white buildings, it looks more like a town from a Greek Island, but you can definitely feel the authentic Italian atmosphere. So lose yourself in the little alleys, walk the city walls, climb up to one of the viewpoints and don’t forget to take a break to enjoy an Aperol Spritz in one of the quirky bars with great views, like: Borgo Antico Bistrot.

I can honestly say, that Ostuni was my favourite town of all the places we visited in Puglia. However, the rest of beautiful Puglia was awaiting.


SECOND STOP: Alberobello
Again, there are at least 2 routes to this unique town, but trust Google and follow the one it’s recommending. The 41 km long road will lead you through endless fields of olive trees and palazzos so just slow down and enjoy the views. You will know when you’re close to your destination from the weirdly shaped huts that start appearing now and then. When you find yourself surrounded by little white houses with conical roofs – well done – you made it to Alberobello.

Fascinated by the trulli, I planned it to be our base for the night. And since staying in one of them is a recommended experience in Puglia, we had to give it a go.
It was almost dark when we finally settled in our trullo, so we just went on a quick stroll to the “trulli village” and spent the rest of the evening enjoying a delicious dinner in: Casa Nova

Inside of trullo in Alberobello, Puglia, Italy


DAY 2.
Alberobello – Monopoli – Polignano a Mare – Matera
Total distance: 130 km
Yes, it was a busy day! But super exciting.
FIRST STOP: Alberobello
Recommended time there: 2-3 hours (taking that you also chose it as your base)

Well, it wasn’t really a stop, since we already spent the night there.
We started the day by waking up early in the morning to see the sun rising above the “trulli village”. It was a great experience to wander among trulli when no-one else was up.
Ok, trulli, trulli. But what are “trulli”? A trullo (singular from trulli) is a small dwelling built from the local limestone, with dry-stone walls and a characteristic conical roof. There are many stories behind their origin, not sure which one is true. Most probably they were built so “light” (without using concrete), so they could be quickly dismantled before tax inspectors reached the town. Thanks to Italian cheekiness, Alberobello is nowadays becoming more and more popular among tourists wanting to see and visit those funny little huts.

But to be honest, the “trulli village” is really all that Alberobello has to offer. So after breakfast we packed our bags and headed out to our…

SECOND STOP: Monopoli
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours (including lunch break)

The 22 km route passed very quickly, but then the problems started… I already mentioned that as cute as Puglian towns are, parking there (especially on a Sunday) can be quite a pickle. After a good 20 min of driving around, we finally found a spot in the main car park close to the harbour. BUT it was a ZTL parking place – limited for locals, luckily only until 30th of September, so by visiting in October, we were free to park.

Monopoli – located on the Adriatic Sea, this fishing town, built (like many Puglia towns) of white stone will charm you. Medieval architecture, narrow paved streets joined by arches and a bustling port where you can come to walk along the water or admire the traditional “gozzi” fishing boats and watch Italian life pass by.  
The old port (il porto vecchio) is the most recognisable place in Monopoli, but I also recommend a stroll in the Old Town. Charming narrow alleys, cute corners filled with flowers, quirky cafés – Monopoli will amaze you.
During our walk we spotted the delightful Atipico Food Bar and decided to have a bite there. Panini and Caffe Leccese (coffee and almond syrup, over ice, famous in Puglia) totally satisfied us and we were ready to hit the next destination.


THIRD STOP: Polignano a Mare
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours

This was surely the shortest journey. Located only 9 km from Monopoli, Polignano a Mare is a must-visit when doing a road trip in Puglia.
Apparently everyone knows this, because Polignano a Mare was the busiest of all Puglian towns we visited. So as you might have guessed, parking there was even more complicated than in Monopoli. In the end we found some empty land on the edge of town that had a few other cars already parked. I’m not sure if it was very legal, but oh well.

Perched atop a 20 metre high limestone cliff above the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, Polignano a Mare does live up to its name and literally could not be any more “at sea”.

Known for its aqua blue water, rocky coastline, cliffside white buildings and an Insta-famous bay with rocky beach, Polignano will deliver a truly Italian experience. Walk the cute streets, take pictures on the Ponte Lama Monachile, find your way to the Cala Porto (also known as Lama Monachile) beach, go to admire the views from from Balconata sul Mare, follow the poetry path and discover Vicolo della Poesia – the poetry steps. Ohh and don’t forget to pay a visit to the monument of Domenico Modugno, writer of the famous Italian song: Volare – I’m sure you know it. After doing all of that and having a delicious Aperol Spritz in Mylo – a cute little bar with a rooftop, we had to hit the road again to make it to our last and the farthest destination of the day…

Poetry steps in Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy


FOURTH STOP: Matera
This part of the trip was without the doubt the most demanding. Not sure if it was because of the fact that it was the longest one or we were tired after the whole day of exploring or we were driving in the dark. Probably all of above. But to be honest we couldn’t wait until this almost 100 km journey was over. Luckily when we saw beautiful Matera glowing in the dark, emerging from the hills…all our vital energy came back.

As it turned out, we needed it…
Firstly to find a parking space. If I was complaining about that before, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Our Airbnb owners pointed out a few possible streets where we could park, but everywhere was full. It took easily 30 min to find a space where we could squeeze in.
And then…the horror with finding our accommodation started. Ok, ok, it wasn’t “a horror”, but it wasn’t pleasant either. Even being rather good with Google maps (especially Matt, I have my moments), we just couldn’t find the entrance to our flat. All those little alleys, millions of stairs, secret passages…in the end, the Airbnb owner had to come and pick us up.
The next day we saw a few people also confused about the location of their accommodation, which totally made us feel better about ourselves.
HINT:
Driving and parking in Matera Old Town can be pretty horrendous, so contact your accommodation in advance to confirm parking arrangements nearby and ask for exact directions how to get there.

Narrow alleys in Matera, Italy


DAY 3.
Matera – Brindisi Airport
Total distance: 150 km
FIRST STOP: Matera
Recommended time there: 5-6 hours (taking that you chose it as your base)

Now, wait, “but Matera is not in Puglia” you might say. Yes, it’s not. But, located in the nearby Basilicata region and being one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited human settlements, Matera is a place you have to visit. There’s also another reason. Matera is a city of caves. Carved into the rock, Matera is composed of a network of caves inhabited since the Paleolithic era. For centuries, people used to live there in caves, in poverty, without electricity or running water, together with animals. Only in the late 1950’s the Italian government started introducing some changes: people were relocated, the caves were transformed into hotels, restaurants, shops and museums, creating one of the most amazing places you can visit in Italy nowadays. So amazing that it became a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2019.

What to do in Matera? Simply stroll the streets and alleys. It’s such an incredible place that simply roaming though the Sassi (Sassi Barisano and Sassi Caveoso – ancient sections of the city) will deliver an unforgettable experience. You can also cross the ravine to see Matera from a distance and visit Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario to see how people used to live in the caves.
If you want to have a real Matera experience, choose a cave hotel or cave Airbnb as your accommodation and visit one of the cave restaurants, for example: Da Zero for pizza.


SECOND STOP: Brindisi Airport

After a lovely day in Matera, the time had come to say goodbye to bella Italia and make our way back to the airport to catch our late flight.
It was the longest journey of the road trip: 150 km, so obviously planning enough time to make it on time was needed.
A bit tired, but very satisfied with everything that we managed to see and visit, we waved to the “Italian heel” from above.

I hope my Puglia road trip itinerary for the insane, does not seem too insane for you and you’ll find it useful when planning your 3 (or maybe more) day Puglia road trip.
If you have any questions, ask them in the comments or hit me up on Instagram.
I’ll be happy to help.



Vegan food in Lisbon, Portugal

The 7 Best Vegan Restaurants in Lisbon – My Delicious Guide

Vegan restaurants in Lisbon, Portugal

I couldn’t be more happy with our decision to try Veganuary this year. Being a vegetarian for quite some time, it seemed like the natural next step to take and January created the perfect opportunity for that. There was only one “but”. At the end of January, we were going to Lisbon the capital of Portugal.

Portugal, famous for beautiful beaches, historic cities, colourful tiles – azulejos, Port wine and…Christiano Ronaldo, is also a country obsessed with meat and seafood. The Portuguese love fish in any form, especially cod and sardines, as well as octopus, mussels, Iberico ham and don’t even mention “the meat craziness” sandwich called Francesinha.

But when I heard that the times when being a vegan in Lisbon meant surviving on a limp salad are long gone, I was relieved. And indeed, the number of vegan restaurants and the quality of vegan food in Lisbon is incredible. Most of the time, we didn’t even manage to take any pictures of the food, because instead of eating, we were simply destroying what was on our plates.

During our 3 day trip to the capital of Portugal, we visited quite a few vegan restaurants, cafés and bars. The fact that it rained for the first day and a half, forced us to visit even more than we normally would. But waiting for the rain to pass with a delicious vegan pastel de nata is not the worst thing in the world. And thanks to that, we’re now able to write this delicious guide to the 7 best vegan restaurants in Lisbon!

FOOD

The Botanical Den
A tiny little bar, hidden away in the north part of Barrio Alto. They’ve only been open a few months, but the Italian and Portuguese owners have already given it some great interior decoration (imagine walls of plants and old school gin memorabilia) and they were incredibly welcoming.
The menu is super simple: vegan fast food. Choose from a Beyond Meat burger or hot dog with a side of french fry-like crisps. These burgers were really well put together: loads of mayo, mustard and ketchup, salad and caramelised onions inside a tasty bun.
They were excellent value at €6.50 and you could pair them with beer, cider or one of their fine choices of vegan cocktails. It was too hard to resist a Caipirinha and an Old Fashioned.
If you’ve never had Beyond Meat, this would be a great place to try it.
This place impressed us so much that we went twice.
Just remember that for now, they’re cash only but they’re working on that.

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The Food Temple
One of the original vegan restaurants in Lisbon based in the upcoming district of Mouraria. This place isn’t huge and in peak times it may be worth trying to book a table. The atmosphere is warm and friendly with a completely open kitchen where you can see the guys and gals prepare and cook your meals. Decorated with flyers, nepalese prayer flags and the classic Portuguese tiles, it has a hippy, homely feel.
The menu is small, but changes every night. They have a great selection of craft beers, wines and spirits.
We took the opportunity to sample some local craft beers from the 8a Colina brewery.
The menu had a choice of soup, 3 tapas sized dishes, a main and several desserts. The jovial and enthusiastic guys working there recommended sampling everything, but as we weren’t in the mood for soup we took the 3 tapas and main and were presented with a feast for the eyes and bellies.
The first of the 3 tapas was a herby, homemade hummus, a smoked aubergine paste with a generous kick of chili and croutons, followed by an unbelievably creamy vegetable lasagne and lastly a mushroom shepherd’s pie which was good, but not as great as the first two.
While we were already getting full at this point, the chili con carne arrived. A wonderful mix of tomatoes, kidney beans and several kinds of mushrooms, served with basmati rice and covered in mango sauce, that was just the right side of spicy, sweet and rich.
By that time there was no room left in our bellies to try one of the desserts, but next time, for sure.
Only one small quibble is that the tapas dishes that were heated weren’t really all that hot and could have used a few more minutes in the oven.
The Food Temple is another cash only restaurant.

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Princesa Do Castelo
Continuing the trend of small yet cosy restaurants, Princesa Do Castelo, located in a popular neighbourhood Alfama, in the vicinity of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge has a selection of homemade, vegan, sattvic, gluten-free and kosher options.
The inside of this place had a fairytale vibe, hinted at by the giant, comically-sized toadstool hanging from the ceiling. The choice wasn’t huge, but what we did have was excellent, filling and perfect for lunch time on a rainy Friday.
We shared a delicious white bean and quinoa soup, and a lovely thick veggie burger, made of chickpeas and beans, slathered in a sweet chutney. Accompanying the beast of a burger were perfectly cooked, skin-on roast potatoes and a small salad in a balsamic vinegar dressing. They also had some 8a craft beers, fresh juices and hot drinks.
Somehow we both managed to have space for their vegan pastéis de nata which weren’t our favourite in Lisbon, but were still a great find.

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AO 26 – Vegan Food Project
Our first tip for this place is book ahead (do it by phone) as it gets very busy and is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for high quality vegan food in Lisbon.
These guys present a whole host of classic Portuguese dishes as vegan versions. To drink you can choose from craft beers, organic wines and juices.
We started with a Couvert, fresh bread, olive oil, olives and lupin beans, quickly followed by their take on the famous pastéis de bacalhau. Normally a fried cod ball, this version was filled with a light mix of potato, onion and garlic and served with generous dollops of remoulade.
And for the main course we were both instantly drawn to the same item on the menu, Francesinha. Last year we visited Porto and while Aga had a vegetarian version I had the original meat packed one, but now I couldn’t wait to see how AO 26 had made it vegan.
A quick explanation, Francesinha is a triple decker sandwich, filled with different meat products, then topped with melted cheese and finally surrounded by a spicy tomato and beer sauce. It’s something you have to try and this one matched the flavours and textures of the meat version.
Needless to say we had no room left to sample from their selection of desserts, but they did look delicious.
AO 26, while casual and friendly is definitely on the pricier side of Lisbon’s food scene, but the food is definitely worth treating yourself to.

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The Therapist LX Factory
LX factory is a huge industrial complex halfway between Lisbon centre and the Belém tower and is definitely a must visit place. It has a wide selection of bars and cafés and we chose Therapist for breakfast as they had a large choice of vegan breakfast, brunch and health food dishes.
To be honest, this was the one location we regretted visiting. While the staff were pleasant, it wasn’t the best service and the food portions were pretty small.
The Peanut butter pancakes, topped with apple slices and cinnamon were not only gluten free but also delicious. While the spectacular looking pink hummus bruschetta was topped with savoury granola and salad greens it was a little flavourless. The smoothie was tasty and refreshing, but the oat milk flat whites we had were pretty awful compared to some of the other places we tried.

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PASTEL DE NATA

Now comes the most important part, where do you go for the best Vegan pastéis de nata in Lisbon?
After visiting Porto, we didn’t expect there would be any chance of having vegan versions of the traditional custard tarts, but we actually found three places and all three were great alternatives. We couldn’t tell the difference between not-vegan and vegan pastéis de nata.
Prinscesa Do Castelo – I mentioned before, they don’t have many and I’m not sure they have them all the time, but if you’re in the area or want a dessert, be sure to ask the guys.
Zarzuela – Aga’s favourite comes from an old school café near the infamous Pink Street that serves a huge selection of vegan and gluten free pastries. They even serve a variety of vegan or gluten free main dishes throughout the day (cash only).
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Pastelaria Batalha – My favourite came from a small modern bakery in the heart of Chiado. They had a plentiful supply of the vegan versions which were happily washed down with orange juice and a Bica (espresso).
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COFFEE

We didn’t visit as many coffee places as we normally do on a trip, but both The Mill, and Copenhagen Coffee Lab produced really tasty oat milk flat whites that helped get us through the busy days.

As you can see, even if you’re vegan, you won’t leave Lisbon hungry. All the vegan restaurants in Lisbon we visited offered a varied selection of delicious vegan food, snacks and drinks. The fact that they’re all independent (not a chain), means that you’re investing in supporting the local culture and honestly adds to the culinary experience.


Zakopane in Winter - Winter in Polish Mountains

Winter in Poland – ultimate guide to the Tatra Mountains

Winter in Poland, Pinterest picture

Why should you visit Polish mountains this Winter?
Why not?!
They’re beautiful, the food is delicious and it’s cheap. Well, maybe not THAT cheap, but certainly cheaper than France, Italy, Austria or Germany.

When travelling to Poland many people tend to head to the big cities. But apart from fascinating, modern, yet historic centres, like Warsaw, Kraków or Gdansk, Poland also delights with its treasures of beautiful and diverse natural sights: wide and sandy beaches, idyllic lakes, wooded forests and…spectacular scenic mountain landscapes.
If you are a mountain lover and just looking at the magnificent mountaintops gives you a feeling of freedom, you should definitely visit my favourite mountain range in Poland: the Tatra Mountains and their capital: Zakopane (pronounced Zak-oh-pan-eh).
Breath-taking landscapes, rich culture and folklore, unique architecture and traditional food make Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains one of the most popular places to visit both in Summer – for hiking adventures, and in Winter – for skiing and some fun in the snow.

Confession time, I don’t really ski, that’s why in this little guide to the Tatra mountains as well as skiing, you will find a number of other attractions and things to do in Zakopane in Winter.

But first things first.

Where are the Tatra Mountains?
Tatra Mountains make up a small part of the larger Carpathian Mountain range (the second highest mountain range in Europe). They are located in the south of Poland and form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. The highest peak of Tatras is called Gerlach (2,655 m – 8710 ft) and is located entirely on Slovakian side. The highest Polish point: Rysy, is a bit lower and measures: 2499 m (8200 ft).

Where is Zakopane?
South. As South as you can get in this region. If you hit the mountains, you went too far. This resort town is actually not that big (considering it’s visited by 2,500,000 tourists a year!) and is located, as you might have guessed, in the Tatra Mountains. At the foot of the Tatra mountains to be exact.
Being on the border with Tatra National Park, Zakopane makes a great base for hiking adventures in the Summer and multiple Winter sport activities. There is a reason why it was baptized the “Winter capital of Poland”.
Zakopane is also the centre of Góral culture – a distinctive traditional folklore of the ethnic population of this region, who have inhabited the highland areas of southern Poland for centuries. Unique, violin based folk music; outstanding wooden architecture; beautifully ornamented traditional costumes – I’m sure Zakopane in Winter will be one of the most unusual places you ever visit.

Zakopane and Polish Tatra Mountains Map

How to get there?
Zakopane, being located 115 km from Kraków is easy to reach either by car, bus or train. Although, there is one BUT! The road between Kraków and Zakopane (even though it’s 2 lanes in each direction) often gets very jammed due to the masses travelling between those 2 places. The record is 9 hours! That’s why I really recommend taking a train. Especially if you’re deciding between a train and a bus. Train can take a bit longer, but…not 9 hours. And you get to admire beautiful landscapes on the way.

Where to stay?
There are plenty of hotels, guest houses, apartments and villas in Zakopane and the surrounding areas to choose from. Depending on your budget, you can decide on the one that fits you most. The most popular in Zakopane (in Poland in general) are private guest houses, apartments and villas. Wooden, cosy interiors, decorated with traditional Góral patterns and a fireplace roaring with burning logs… Sounds cosy, doesn’t it? But if you’re looking for something more luxurious, there are plenty of beautiful hotels with spa and wellness centres.
If you don’t rent a car, I’d recommend staying a walkable distance from the bus station, where the mini buses to all the significant locations depart from. If you do have a car, you can choose Kościelisko – a nearby village as your base. It’s a more quiet and peaceful location, perfect for nature lovers.
No matter where you stay though, make sure your room has a mountain view, because you would not want to miss waking up to such spectacular scenery.

View of the Polish Tatra Mountains in Winter

How to get around?
The main means of public transportation in Zakopane are mini buses. They depart from in front of either the train or bus station to all the main locations, tourist attractions and the beginnings of the hiking trails. They run very often and are fairly cheap. But they can get crowded.
Of course, if you rented a car, just use it. But remember that roads during Winter can get icy and snowy.

What’s the weather like?
There is no easy way to say it…but it’s cold in Zakopane in Winter. If you’re thinking of doing even some easy hiking or walking trails, it will be even colder. So proper Winter clothes and thermal underwear are key.
IMPORTANT
Before going to the mountains always check the weather conditions and avalanche warnings!

USEFUL INFO
Remember that before starting every mountain trail you have to pay a fee to enter Tatra National Park. It’s cheap, around 1 euro, but it exists. So better have some coins in your pocket.

On the road to Morskie Oko, Polish Tatra Mountains in Winter

What to do in Zakopane?

1. Pull yourself up to Gubałówka.
Whenever I visit Zakopane (and I’ve been there a LOT of times), the first thing I do is go to Gubalowka. It became a little tradition of mine, but it has its purpose – you get to feast your eyes on the spectacular views of Tatra Mountains and Zakopane itself on the very first day. Gubalowka is easily reachable, either by foot or – recommended in Winter – by a funicular, which departs from the town centre. Tickets can be bought either at the ticket office, online or from tickets machines on-site. At the top, apart from incredible views, you will find a few restaurants, souvenir shops and traditional food stands.
HINT
If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, the market in front of Gubalowka station is the best place to do it.

View from Gubalowka, Zakopane in winter

2. Brace yourself at Krupówki.
Even though a stroll there can give you a heart attack or at least a little anxiety, walking along Krupowki is a must. Krupowki is the name of the main, most representative street in Zakopane, which is reserved only for pedestrians and horse carriages. There you can find plenty of restaurants, bars and cafés, many shops and souvenir stands and little stalls selling traditional cheese – Oscypek. It attracts thousands of tourists each day – so yes, it’s very crowded! But also full of life and a vibrant atmosphere, and when it gets dark – beautiful lights.

3. Fill you belly in karczma.
What is a karczma (pronounced: karch-ma)? Well, it’s basically a restaurant, housed inside a wooden building, serving traditional food. In Zakopane most of the restaurants are called “karczma” and a visit there is a must. Warm, inviting, wooden interiors decorated with authentic Góral patterns; freshly “homemade” food, typical for this region; and the best part – live traditional Góral music. Usually, in every karczma there are performances once a day or during the weekend. It adds so much to the karczma experience, so ask if and when there’s going to be live music.
What to eat in karczma?
Because of the harsh mountain climate, regional food consists mainly of potatoes, flour, cabbage, buttermilk, curd and animal fat. So maybe it’s nothing fancy, but still delicious. Vegetarian options are widely available, vegan…hmm, maybe not so much.
But if you eat everything, you should definitely try:
oscypek (as an appetizer) – local sheep cheese. You can try it raw (from a cheese stand), but in karczma you will usually have it grilled and served with the cranberry sauce.
placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) – grated potatoes mixed with eggs and flour, fried in a pan. You can have them either alone or with sugar or sour cream…there are so many options. The most popular one is: placek po zbójnicku – potato pancake served with goulash.
kwaśnica – a traditional soup made from pickled cabbage and meat. It’s eaten with potatoes or bread. It has an intensive sour and salty taste and will definitely warm you up during cold Winter evenings.
pierogi – traditional Polish dumplings! Even vegetarians can try some, because the most common filling is: mushrooms and sauerkraut or cottage cheese and potatoes. You’ll find them in every karczma and they’re an absolute must.

4. Chill out on Kasprowy Wierch.
During Winter it’s a perfect place to chill…or even freeze. But please wear proper clothes so that you don’t!
Kasprowy Wierch is a peak in Western Tatras (1,987 m (6,519 ft), popular among hikers and skiers. No matter which season you go there, one thing is certain – the views are incredible! High Polish Tatras on the one side, Slovakian Tatras on the other – the panorama of endless mountaintops covered with snow will surely take your breath away.
And the best thing is that you don’t have to actually hike there (which in Winter would be rather risky anyway). A cable car will take you straight (well, with one change) to the top. The cable-car journey starts in Kuźnice located 2km (1,2 miles) away from Zakopane. It takes about 20 min and it’s rather pricey (around 25 euro return), but so worth it. The ride itself will deliver beautiful views of the mountains and valleys.
If you don’t pre-book the tickets (but they’re even more expensive), I’d recommend going there early in the morning. Waiting times can get a bit extreme.
At the top you will find the highest restaurant in Poland, where you can drink hot tea (or something stronger) and eat tasty apple pie. But don’t go straight to the restaurant, wander a bit. And after about 100-200 meters (0,06-0,12 miles) outside the cable car station you reach a place where you can stand with your right foot in Poland and left in Slovakia.

5. Walk on water at Morskie Oko.
This is a hike, like real hike. Ok, maybe not real, because you don’t climb actual mountains, but for someone who doesn’t enjoy hiking, like my boyfriend, it’s a real hike. But it’s so worth it.
Morskie Oko (“Sea Eye” or “Eye of the Sea”) is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains. Situated 1395 m (4577 ft) above sea level and in the middle of the mountains, it requires some effort to get to. To reach the lake you have to conquer 9 km (5,5 miles) of the paved, slightly inclined road which is of course covered with snow in the Winter. But whether it’s Winter or Summer, the views on the way are breath-taking. The road leads through wooded areas from which the mountains can suddenly emerge, you will pass waterfalls and beautiful meadows and if you’re lucky you can even spot wild animals, hmm…unless it’s a bear, then run! But the best part about finishing this hike is the fact that you can reward yourself with homemade apple pie and a cup of hot tea which in Morskie Oko mountain hostel tastes better than ever. Well, ok, maybe those amazing views are the best part. But apple pie is a close second. In the Winter the lake it totally frozen, so you can unleash your special powers and walk on it.
The trail to Morskie Oko starts in Palenica Bialczanska (minibuses from Zakopane go there very often) and then you walk: 9 km (5,5 miles). Depending on your fitness level and the amount of pictures you take on the way, it should take you about 2 hours. There’s also an option to take a horse carriage, but please, oh please don’t! There were many incidents where the horses were literally dropping dead, because they were overworked and overloaded. And there’s nothing better than a walk in the snow and beautiful scenery.
The trail and the mountain hostel can get super busy, so I highly recommend starting your hike early.

View of Morskie Oko in Polish Tatra Mountains in Winter

6. Venture into the valleys.
If you don’t feel like hiking that hard, you can always visit the valleys. There are 2 most popular in Polish Tatra Mountains, of which Kościeliska Valley is considered to be the most beautiful. The whole valley is around 9km (5,5 miles) long, but people usually walk only until Ornak Mountain Hostel, which is located 5,5 km (3,3 miles) away from the entrance. The trail is easy and very pleasant. And the views…spectacular! Trees covered with snow, massive crystalline rocks with weird shapes and names, rapid mountain streams, which over the years carved several caves hidden in the rocks. You can visit these… but unfortunately not in the Winter.
To reach Koscieliska Valley you either take a minibus from Zakopane (minibus going either to Kiry or Dolina Kościeliska) or you drive. And then, you guessed right: walk until you reach Ornak Mountain Hostel, where you can eat and drink something warm. Again, there are horse carriages you can take, but again – please don’t!
Chochołowska Valley is the biggest and the longest valley in the Polish Tatra Mountains. It’s also beautiful and very picturesque, but longer. I mean the distance from the entrance to the mountain hostel where you can warm up is longer: 7,3 km (4,5 miles). Considering that Chocholowska Valley is famous for numerous crocuses occurring in spring in the local glades, I’d recommend visiting it when the snow is already melted. Especially as it’s also perfect for cycling. At the entrance you can rent the bikes either for the whole day or just for one ride.
The trail to Chocholowska Valley begins in Siwa Polana. You can reach it either by car or by a minibus from Zakopane.

7. Dip your toes in thermal pools.
After all those adventures in the cold, you deserve a bit of warmth and relaxation. Thermal pools are a perfect place for that. The Tatra Mountains are home to some of the best thermal springs in Poland. Not only can they reduce stress, but also relieve pain and heal skin problems. And you get to enjoy amazing mountain views while sitting in the pool.
The most popular thermal centres are:
Terma Bukovina
Chocholowskie Termy
Goracy Potok
Terma Bania
Aqua Park Zakopane.

8. (Don’t) break your legs while skiing.
As I mentioned before, I don’t ski (lame, I know), so I will just quickly list here the possible places to ski in the Polish Tatra Mountains, without expressing my opinion about them. Probably it’ll be the most helpful part of this blog post.
Kasprowy Wierch
Nosal
Polana Gubalowka
Harenda
Polana Szymoszkowa.

They differ depending on their level of difficulty, so based on your skiing skills, pick the one that is the most appropriate for you. Kasprowy Wierch is considered to be the most advanced one, Nosal – the easiest. Remember, safety first.

Skiing on Kasprowy Wierch in Polish Tatra Mountains

That’s it! Those are my 8 best things to do in Zakopane and the Polish Tatra Mountains in Winter. Hope you enjoyed this little…not really little, this massive guide to spending Winter in Poland. If you have any question, feel free to write them in the comments or hit me up on Instagram.


London Christmas decorations on Regent Street

Christmas decorations in London – what to see in one day

The best Christmas decorations in London to see in one day

There is no bad time to visit London. Since I moved to the UK, I’m there a couple of times a year and every time I’m fascinated by its vibrancy, variety and bustle. But London at Christmas time is a whole new level of excitement. Streets decorated with festive lights, stores, cafes and restaurants adorned with baubles, angels, tinsel and candy, Christmas trees sprouting up all over the city. You can really get caught up in the magic of Christmas and there is no other time when London looks more beautiful.

You run into decorations almost everywhere you go. But here are my top recommendations of Christmas decorations in London, that you can see in one day! Not to mention that they’re total Instagram spots.

Christmas at Covent Garden in London

1. Covent Garden
It’s one of the places in London that is worth visiting all year round. Always decorated with beautiful flower carts and flower benches, inviting you to visit quirky, cute stores or have a cocktail in fancy bars. But during Christmas it changes into the ultimate destination for a magical festive experience. As well as the iconic 55-foot tall, handpicked Christmas tree, decorated with over 30,000 lights, Covent Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland, glittering with lights and sprinkled with ornaments across the historic piazza and its surrounding streets.

Don’t forget to pop to Covent Garden Infinity Chamber – in words for humans – an Instagram famous light tunnel. Located in Conduit Court, created using thousands of LED bulbs, the light tunnel offers great fun and a little light therapy. It’s definitely a must-snap spot.

Covent Garden Infinity Chamber - light tunnel in Covent Garden, London

Address:
Covent Garden The Market Bldg, Brentford
How to get there:
Tube: Covent Garden or Leicester Square station
TIP:
Covent Garden station is often closed due to its small size and big crowds, so you’re safer picking Leicester Square station.

2. Annabel’s Mayfair
If you’re not a member, there is not much you can do there. Apart from admiring the huge Christmas tree that the building is decorated with every year. Annabel’s is a private members club where they all (probably) wear gowns and tiaras and you have to pay a small fortune to get in. So, there is a chance that they’re not enjoying hundreds of Instagrammers taking pictures in front of the building.
At 13 meters (42 feet) tall, spectacular Christmas tree hung outside is the main reason for average joes to go and it’s totally worth the trip.

Christmas decoration at Annabel's Mayfair in London

Address:
46 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London
How to get there:
Tube: Green Park station or several buses.

3. New Bond Street and Old Bond Street
Staying with the posh and glam…
If your grandma keeps dropping hints about a new Chanel bag, your dog would rule the neighbourhood with a new Cartier collar or you finally want to make him (or her – sex equality daaa!) pop the question with a Harry Winston ring, you should make your way to New Bond Street. Located a walkable distance from Annabel’s, New Bond Street is full of beautifully decorated facades of designers shops, luxury fashion and art stores.

While strolling Old Bond Street, don’t miss the Royal Arcade. It’s a classic Victorian cute, little cut through, where Christmas decorations are always on point.

London Christmas decorations in Royal Arcade

Address:
New Bond Street Mayfair, London
How to get there:
Walk from Annabel’s Mayfair.
Tube: Green Park Station.

4. Natural History Museum Ice Rink
Nestled to the side of the Natural History Museum, the Ice Rink is one of the most magical places to visit in London at Christmas time. A shiny Christmas tree, festive carousel, impressive museum and the smell of mulled wine in the air. Whether you’re an ice skating ballerina or you feel more comfortable propping up the walls, skating in these surroundings will be an amazing experience.

Ice Rink at Natural History Museum in London

Unless you go on weekday mornings, you have to be prepared for a lot of people. But booking tickets in advance is not necessary, when you come at least 30 min before the start of the session.

Address:
Cromwell Rd, South Kensington, London
How to get there:
Tube: South Kensington station

5. The Ivy Chelsea Garden
If you decided to ice skate and you still have strength, and still have all your fingers (I always had this phobia that if I fall on the ice rink, someone will skate by and cut off my fingers), you can stroll through Kensington and Chelsea to get to one of the swanky Ivy’s restaurants. The Ivy Chelsea Garden is a perfect place to celebrate the Christmas season in a fancy way, either by booking a table and enjoying their festive menu or by just admiring the spectacular installation across the front of the building. They really go all in! And even if you’re not planning on dining there, just like probably 90% of the admirers, this insanely beautiful decoration is again, worth a visit.

2 min walk from The Ivy Chelsea Garden, there is another London Instagram spot: Peggy Porschen patisserie – Chelsea branch, but as big a fan as I am of Instagrammable locations, this one is not worth a walk.

Address:
195 -197 King’s Rd, Chelsea, London
How to get there: 
Walk from Natural History Museum
Tube: South Kensington or Sloane Square station or several buses

5a. Harrods
If you don’t feel like going to Chelsea, you can head in the other direction to get to the most famous department store in London – Harrods. The Christmas decorations both inside and outside are always a sight to behold.

Address:
87-135 Brompton Rd, Knightsbridge, London
How to get there:
Walk from Natural History Museum
Tube: Knightsbridge station

6. Regent Street and Oxford Street
Saving the best for last, we come to the Christmas lights and decorations hanging over the two most famous streets in London. Nothing says London at Christmas time more than the angels flying over Regent Street and the flickering, sparkling lights hung between the buildings of Oxford Street. In 2019, for the first time in 6 years, the lovely baubles of Oxford Street have been replaced with LED light curtains, which animate between different Christmas themes. To be honest I preferred the baubles. Luckily the glorious golden angels still soar above Regent Street making it my favourite London Christmas decoration.

Christmas lights in London on Oxford Street

Address:
Regent Street, London
Oxford Street, London (Tottenham Court Road Station)
How to get there:
Tube: Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus station
TIP:
To best appreciate the lights, start your journey from Tottenham Court Road station, walk down Oxford Street and turn left onto Regent Street. You can make your way down to the famous Piccadilly Circus and get blown away by brightness of the advertising screens. And the crowds….yes, it will be busy!

7. Carnaby Street
While walking down Regent Street you can stop by Carnaby Street, also fabulously decorated. In 2019 Carnaby has collaborated with an ocean conservation charity and created a sustainable display, made of reusable materials, emphasising the need to protect our oceans.  

Address:
Carnaby Street, London
How to get there:
Walk from Regent Street or Oxford Street


Below, you can find a map of the route that I took to see the best Christmas decorations in London, proving that you can visit them all in one day…if you don’t stop and don’t eat…nah, kidding, there is plenty of time for both.

Map of Christmas decorations in London

I hope you enjoyed this little guide of my favourite Christmas decorations in London and you find it useful during your London decoration hunt.
Merry Christmas!


Thean Hou Buddhist Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Travel Malaysia – stuff you should know before your trip

Everything you should know before travelling to Malaysia

Diversity. This is the first thing that hits you when you start reading about Malaysia. Mixed cultures, languages and religions, vibrant cities and remote jungles, modern skyscrapers and UNESCO historical sites, beautiful beaches and wildlife-packed rainforests…Not to mention the variety of delectable food. Sounds like Malaysia in fact has it all.
Having not been to any other Asian country before, I can’t really vouch for a very popular Malaysian slogan: “Malaysia truly Asia”, but choosing it as my first Asian country to visit was definitely the best decision. Being one of the most developed countries in South East Asia and keeping its rich tradition and culture at the same time, Malaysia delivers a wealth of unique experiences.

No matter if you’re an Asia first-timer or 50-timer this blog post will reveal all the Malaysian secrets. So keep reading to find out stuff you should know before travelling to Malaysia: best time to visit Malaysia, how to get there, what to eat and even how to dress.   

Ok, but where is Malaysia?
Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia and consists of 2 parts separated by the South China Sea. There is Peninsular Malaysia, which shares a border with Thailand and East Malaysia which is the Malaysian part of the Borneo Island. When researching travelling in Malaysia, you will mainly find recommendations for places in the Peninsular (western) Malaysia. That’s why it’s worth remembering, that this country also has another – less touristy part.

The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur. Being also the biggest city, KL is the cultural, financial and economic centre of Malaysia and one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in Southeast Asia. Founded as a settlement for the tin-industry, KL grew rapidly, becoming the perfect mixture of tradition and modernity it is today. Historic colonial buildings, buzzing markets and botanical gardens synchronise perfectly with tall skyscrapers, impressive Petronas Towers, and luxurious shopping malls, which you’ll find very useful when escaping the heat or rain.

Malaysia has more than 800 islands along the coastline. Pulau (Malaysian word for “island”Langkawi is the biggest and most visited island of the country, but you will also come across names like: Perhentian Islands (for divers, snorkelers and backpackers) Penang Island (colonial and metropolitan), Tioman Island (once voted the most beautiful beach in the world) or Pangkor Island (empty beaches and clear waters).

Malaysia map

How do I get there?
By plane.
– Wow, really?
– Yes!
All major intercontinental airlines offer flights to Kuala Lumpur, which is the main airport of Malaysia. So if you’re travelling from Europe, take a plane. If you’re travelling from America, take a plane. If you’re travelling from Australia, take a plane. If you’re travelling from different Asian countries, you have more options, but plane is the surely the fastest and most convenient one. If you decide to visit Singapore first (travellers usually combine those 2 countries, due to their proximity), you can take a plane (yes, again), a train or a bus. The same if you’re travelling from Thailand.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Will they let me in?
Travellers from most of the countries in the world do not need a visa to enter Malaysia. You will normally be given permission to stay either for 90 or 30 days (depending on the country) on arrival. The customs officer might get your fingerprints and ask you a few questions regarding your stay in Malaysia. Visas for longer stays or for non-tourist purposes must be obtained from the nearest Malaysian diplomatic mission before you travel. Check your country’s government website to make sure you’re free to go. 

Do I need a shot?
No specific vaccinations are not required for tourists travelling to Malaysia. In general it’s good to be vaccinated against Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. There are no particular sanitary and epidemiological threats in Malaysia, but it’s also better to check properly before your trip. If some unfortunate event happens and you’re forced to go to the hospital, don’t worry, medical care is generally available and inexpensive. For all the minor conditions, I suggest asking a pharmacist first.

Monkeys in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Plane, train…? How do I get around?
If you successfully make it to Malaysia, you have plenty of options to travel within the country. Public transport in Malaysia is reliable, inexpensive and easy to use.
Much of your travelling, particularly in Peninsular Malaysia, will be by bus. Most popular routes are running several times a day with frequent connections for very reasonable prices. Coaches are usually spacious, comfortable (only 3 seats in one row…wooo), air-conditioned (don’t forget to take a hoodie on board) and have WiFi. There is one thing they are not equipped with though – toilets. On the longer routes the bus driver will simply stop once or twice for a rest and bathroom break. So drink freely. Buying the tickets is also easy. Most of the time you can show up at a bus station and get a ticket for the next coach, but I recommend buying them online. Easybook.com is a website where you can choose the best connection and book the tickets in a few simple steps. My favourite bus operator was: Unititi Express.
Travelling by train is also a great option for getting around Malaysia. There are two main classes of train: express services – modern, fully air-conditioned and well maintained, and local trains – often not air-conditioned and of variable quality. Travelling by train is good if you want to commute between major locations or if you want to travel internationally. The route Singapore – Kuala Lumpur – Thailand offers sleeping services, which can save you a few bucks on accommodation. Train connections are however more limited than bus connections, the journeys usually take longer and the prices are a little bit higher.
Thanks to low-cost airlines flying in Malaysia is fast and inexpensive. Malaysian domestic flights are operated by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and the budget carriers AirAsia and Firefly. Planes fly between most of the state capitals, as well as Langkawi Island and Singapore.
To get to some islands though, like Perhentian, Tioman and Pangkor you can only go by a boat or a ferry. You generally buy your ticket in advance from booths at the jetty, sometimes you can simply just pay on the boat.
Roads, expressways and highways in Malaysia are good and well maintained, making travelling by car an alternative option. You have to remember that there is left-hand traffic in Malaysia and driving in the cities can be very…challenging. Like one of our Grab drivers said: “in Malaysia when you wanna go, you just go”.
Oh yes, Grab (Malaysian Uber) is also a very popular, convenient and cheap mode of transportation. They operate in most Malaysian tourist destinations and grabbing a Grab is a great and sometimes much needed way of cooling down in the air-con.

Busy road in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Malay or Malaysian? How do I not offend anyone?
Malaysia is a very multicultural nation, but it doesn’t just mean that there are people of many different races living there. Malaysia is made up of 3 main ethnicities: Malays (first inhabitants of Malaysia, that now make more than a half of population), Chinese and Indian. It doesn’t seem so different from other countries, does it? However, in Malaysia the multicultural and multiethnic background of the nation is celebrated by all Malaysians. For example, there are bank holidays for different nations’ and religions’ celebrations, like Chinese New Year, Diwali or Christmas and you can see the shops and streets being decorated honouring all different holidays throughout the year.
It’d be also nice, if before going to Malaysia you understood the difference between Malays and Malaysians. ‘Malaysian’ refers to nationality. ‘Malay’ refers to the ethnicity. So for example, a Chinese person who was born and is currently living in Malaysia is called “Malaysian”, NOT “Malay”. The same with an Indian person born and raised in Malaysia. So all the Chinese, Indian and Malay people born and living in Malaysia are called “Malaysians”. But only Malay ethnicity people are called “Malays”.

Do I need to learn another language?
The national language of Malaysia is…again – Malay (Bahasa Melayu – to be more specific). All lessons are taught in Malay at school. However, because of the different racial backgrounds, especially in the bigger cities, you will hear Malaysian ethnicities speaking with each other in English. English is commonly spoken in Malaysia and almost every Malaysian citizen can communicate in this language.

Street art Penang Malaysia

And what’s the religion?
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. So bear in mind, that 5 times a days, including one around 5 am, you will hear calls to prayer coming from multiple mosques in the area. Perfect wakeup call to watch the sun rise. The rest of the population practices either Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity. Thanks to the religious diversity you will find beautiful and fascinating Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian temples all over the country. Just remember to wear a proper outfit when visiting the temples. You can’t march into a mosque or Hindu temple wearing shorts and a T-shirt. It applies to both, men and women. In most of the mosques you will be given the chance to borrow robes for your visit. Taking your shoes off is also a must when entering the most sacred “chambers” in the temples. The most “chilled”, regarding outfits, are Buddhist temples, although you also might be asked to cover your shoulders with a scarf.
Apart from religious and historic places, there is no specific dress code for visitors in Malaysia. Wearing shorts, T-shirts and dresses is totally fine. Just in general, be respectful of the people and the culture.

Thean Hou Temple, Buddhist temple Kuala Lumpur, Malysia

Will I be sweaty?
Yes!
Hot, hot, hot! And humid! All year round. This is how you can describe the weather in Malaysia. If you’re coming from a cold country like England, Norway or Canada the amount of times you will say: “It’s so hot”, “I’m melting” or “Let’s take those stupid Instagram pictures and go some place cool” is countless. Even if you’re you travelling from hot and sunny Italy, Spain or Egypt…it’s the humidity that will destroy you. So happy travelling! Kidding, the heat and humidity are definitely a part of the Malaysian experience. 
Malaysia is a tropical country located close to the equator, therefore warm weather is guaranteed. Temperatures generally range from 32°C/89.6ºF at noon to about 26°C/78.8ºF at midnight. But like most Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia’s sunny days are interrupted by Monsoon season. But it’s not only one Monsoon season. Different parts of Malaysia are touched by heavy rains at different times. So pay attention!
The east coast monsoon begins in mid October and lasts until the end of March. The weather is usually very rough then, sometimes it can rain for days and some of the islands, like Perhentian or Tioman are even “closed” for tourists.
The west coast monsoon begins in April/May and lasts until end of October. West coast monsoon is much milder, you won’t usually even notice that it’s there.
Besides the monsoon seasons it can always rain in Malaysia. Rain falls usually happen between 4 and 6 pm and are intense but brief. 
So “when in the best time to visit Malaysia?” you might ask.
If you’re planning to stay on the east side, the best time would be between April and September.
But, if you, like most tourists, want to travel on the west coast, go between November and March.
I, despite what I just wrote here, went to the western part of Malaysia at the turn of June and July and didn’t experience much rain. It literally rained 3 times when I was there, for max of 1 hour each time, so the rain fall was indeed short, but intense and actually very refreshing. The temperatures tend to be cooler in Cameron Highlands or in certain parts of Borneo, like Mount Kinabalu. If you include those places in your itinerary, make sure to take at least one hoodie.

One more thing, don’t trust Google weather and any other weather app. They will always show you rain when it’s not actually there.

Palm trees on beach in Langkawi Malaysia

Let’s talk about money
The currency of Malaysia is called Ringgit (MYR), which is made up of sen: 1 RM=100 sen.
Most of the hotels, stores, bars and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard. ATMs are also widely available (they only might be limited on the islands) and you will definitely need cash when going to the popular night markets and food markets. Practice your haggling skills – a certain amount of bargaining is required when buying stuff at night markets. Just don’t be too aggressive, that’s not a part of Malaysian shopping culture.
Currency exchange “places” are also quite popular and usually offer better exchange rate than the banks.
Travelling in Malaysia is generally not expensive. It’s suitable for both backpackers and travellers who seek luxurious facilities. It obviously all depends on your accommodation and the entertainment you provide for yourself, but it’s calculated that on average you’ll need 300 Ringgit per day in Malaysia. Food will definitely be the smallest part of your expenses.

Kuala Lumpur night market, Petaling street market

Ok, now I’m hungry
If food is also your favourite “F” word, you couldn’t find a better country to travel to. Malaysians are obsessed with food! Food courts, food street markets and food hawkers are very popular in Malaysia, due to the fact that Malaysians very rarely cook and eat at home. Eating out is a part of Malaysian culture. And the choice is endless. Thanks to the cultural diversity, you will be able to try traditional Malaysian food, aromatic Chinese food and flavourful Indian food. And there is something for everyone. Most dishes in Malaysia are based on either rice or mee (noodles), but: Malay dishes often contain beef, chicken, mutton or fish (never pork as Malay food needs to be halal), Chinese dishes are often with pork, and Indian dishes are usually vegetarian (never with beef). But the most important thing: food is cheap!

So what do you necessarily have to try?
Nasi Lemak – is the national Malaysian dish, often eaten for breakfast. It consists of coconut rice, sambal, fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber slices. There can be variations of Nasi Lemak, such as vegetarian, even vegan option, but the rice, cucumber, and peanuts are pretty much staple.
Laksa – is a spicy rice noodle soup, served with chicken, prawn or fish. You can also find a curry laksa served with coconut milk. The most famous one is the Penang Asam Laksa.
Roti canai – is a light flatbread served usually with 3 dipping sauces of varying levels of spiciness.
Mee Goreng – is yellow noodles mixed with beef or chicken, shrimp, soy sauce, local vegetables and egg. Topped with chilies and chili sauce.
Char Kuey Teow – is flat rice noodles, fried with pork, soy sauce, bean sprouts, chili and most importantly cockles (a kind of shellfish). Sometimes egg and prawns are added too.
Murtabak – is a pan fried bread mixture, filled with minced meat, onions and dipped in a spicy/sour sauce.
Rendang – is similar to a curry. It’s a mix of coconut milk, spices and meat, normally beef, chicken or lamb. Slow cooked so the sauce is thick and rich.

If you’re a vegetarian (like me) or a vegan (getting there), you’re probably thinking: “What on Earth will I be eating there?”. The answer is: Indian food. The choice of vegetarian and vegan options in Indian food corners is huge. But even within traditional Malaysian or Chinese cuisine you will find dishes without meat. If they are not on the menu, you can always ask for a recommendation.
If after all this food you suddenly feel thirsty, don’t forget to try Teh Tarik. It’s the national drink of Malaysia. And no, it’s not an alcoholic cocktail, it’s a hot milk tea.

You also can’t pass by the fruit stands and not try pineapples, coconuts and…durians! If you can smell garbage from afar, you know they sell durian there. This fruit, native to Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo is super healthy, but incredibly stinky and will give you an experience you will never forget.

Nasi Lemak, traditional Malaysian food

Is there anything else I should know before travelling to Malaysia?
Yes! A few things:
– even though drinking tap water in Malaysia is safe, you might not want to risk it. Purchase a water bottle with built in filter (like I did) and you’re good to go. I was drinking filtered tap water throughout the whole trip and never had any problems.
– and those infamous ice cubes? I had many beverages with ice cubes and again – didn’t experience any stomach problems.
– as well as mosques and temples, you might be asked to remove your shoes before entering the hotel lobby, hotel room or your Airbnb.
– even though WiFi is widely available, you should get a Sim Card. Every mobile network provider offers a Tourist Sim Card. Just remember that you have to show your passport to sign up.
– beware of bringing durians indoors. All of the hotels, Airbnbs or even public transport will have signs “no durian”. And as trying this stinky pleasure is a must when visiting Malaysia, never take it inside.

Phew, that was long! But you made it.
Hope you found the information included here useful and I have nothing else to say, but wish you happy travelling to Malaysia.

FeaturedImage, Porto, Portugal

10 + 1 things to do in Porto, Portugal – my trip advice

Best things to do in Porto, Portugal

Porto – the city of Port Wine, The Douro River, and azulejo tiles.
One of the oldest cities in Europe, proclaimed by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, yet kind of forgotten in the past. Only 15 years ago the locals were complaining that the medieval streets of their city were empty. Now, mainly thanks to low cost airlines, the tourists are flowing into the city, making Porto the proud owner of “European best destination” title, 3 times in the last 7 years. Lisbon, you better watch out, you better not cry – you have strong competition. 

So why is Porto so popular? Thanks to charming streets surrounded by colourful buildings which appear to be growing out from them, a promenade along the river, the fascinating bridge glancing down at you, beautiful, sunny weather? Yes yes yes…but there is more. What do I mean by more? Have a read and discover 11 best things to do in Porto.

1. Test your fear of heights on Dom Luís I Bridge
This was the first thing I did when I arrived in Porto. Well, not because I wanted to test my fear of heights (I don’t have it. Haa!), but because after seeing this magnificent bridge in so many pictures, I knew I had to conquer it. And I must say: it is high indeed.
With a height of 44.6 metres (146 ft) and a span of 172 metres (564 ft), the Dom Luís I bridge is an icon of the city of Porto. It crosses the River Douro, linking the Port wine houses of Vila Nova de Gaia with the bustling downtown Ribeira. One of the distinctive features of the bridge is it’s two levels: one on top of the arch and the other suspended below it. Both decks were initially intended to carry road traffic but these days the top carries the Porto Metro trains as well as having a pedestrian walkway.
There are 3 ways to get to the top: use your legs and climb the stairs (there are signs all over the city showing the way to the bridge), take the funicular (from the bottom of the bridge on the Porto side) or to take a tram from either side of the river. But there are no stops on the actual bridge, so if you want to walk it, you will have to use your legs anyway.
Just remember, the bridge gets busy, especially at sunset and the metro doesn’t stop running. So be careful while snapping those beautiful sunset shots.

View from Luís Bridge during sunset in Porto, Portugal

2. Visit all the neighbourhoods
Porto has many fascinating districts where everyone can find something for themselves.
The most recognizable and popular is Ribeira – filled with cafés, restaurants, quirky houses covered with azulejos, and a promenade that runs along the Douro River; Baixa – rich with major landmarks and more examples of azulejo artwork, like São Bento railway station; Miragaia – full of colourful houses, locals doing their things and a great location near the river; Foz do Douro – located at the seaside where you can have a fun beach day and admire the beauty and power of the Atlantic Ocean; Vila Nova de Gaia – the home of Port Wine, full of wineries and good restaurants, offering an incredible view across the river of Ribeira’s vibrant buildings.
No matter where you go, and I recommend going everywhere, you will need comfy shoes and some leg and bum muscles. Porto is very hilly and strolling its cobbled streets can be a challenge. So ladies, you better leave those high heels at home.

View of Luís I Bridge from R. de Arnaldo Gama in Porto, Portugal

3. Have a drink on Ribeira’s waterfront
Walking along the Douro River in Ribeira is a must. The oldest neighbourhood in Porto is a place where you and thousands of other travellers will go to feast their eyes on incredibly picturesque, colourful building facades and their ears on the music of local performers and the hustle of the city. You won’t be able to stop “ohhs” and “ahhs” coming out of your mouth when you see the Dom Luis Bridge up close. The view of the bridge is amazing from the waterfront, which makes it the perfect place to snap a few pictures and stop for a while to enjoy its beauty.
I’m sure that in every travel guide you will read that you haven’t visited Porto if you don’t try the seafood in one of the Ribeira’s restaurants with the view of the river. Well…let’s just say, there is a reason why I titled this paragraph: ‘Have a drink”, not “Have food”. I can’t speak for all the restaurants, but the one I had lunch in was not very pleasant (and I went there only because I was hangry). They served me only the expensive appetizers I didn’t ask for, opened an equally expensive  bottle of water I also didn’t ask for and the attitude of the staff. If you don’t want to be ripped off and deal with a grumpy waiter I recommend finding another place and Porto has plenty of them.
However, for colourful cocktails, tapas and the atmosphere of beach holidays, go to Botequim Nostalgic. Fun in the sun guaranteed.

View of Ribeira in Porto, Portugal

4. Walk along Vila Nova de Gaia
For the remarkable views of Ribeira, for the spectacular panorama of Luis Bridge, for delicious Port wine and wine cellar tours and for the breath-taking colours of the sun setting on Ribeira’s houses, you will have to cross the bridge and wander around Vila Nova de Gaia. Located on the other side of the Douro River, this neighbourhood doesn’t technically belong to Porto. Gaia is actually a separate city, but is considered by tourists as a part of the Porto experience.
Since the XVII century it has been home to several wineries and vineyards producing Port wine, now known in the whole world. Rabelo boats – traditional wooden boats that you will spot along the promenade, are a great reminder of Gaia’s heritage. They were originally used to transport the barrels of wine across the river. Nowadays they have become cruise boats for tourists that wish to explore the Douro.
So walk the promenade, get amazed by the views, take a cable car for a more intense experience, buy some souvenirs from the street sellers, but most importantly…

Rabelo boats in Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto, Portugal

5. Take a wine cellar tour and try not to get day drunk on Port wine
There are plenty of wineries in Vila Nova de Gaia: Sandeman, Graham’s Port Lodge, Croft, Calém, Offley, Burmester, Ferreira…you name it. The tours look more or less the same: first you visit the cellars, learn about the history of Port wine and the particular winery, then there is a time for tasting. Pricewise, there are also not so many differences: from 15 to 20 something euro.
Following the recommendation of some locals, I decided to visit Ferreira winery and couldn’t be more happy about my choice. The tour was very informative, our guide was very professional and had a lot of knowledge regarding the subject, the wine was super delicious. With knowing really nothing about wine and the culture of tasting it, I was able to tell all the different flavours that each wine consisted of. It was an incredible experience and I surely recommend visiting Ferreira winery to anyone.

Port wine tasting in Ferreira winery in Porto, Portugal

6. Watch the sunset from Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar
If you’re already on the other side of the river and wine tasting gave you extra power, climb up the little hill and go watch the sunset from the huge “terrace” in front of Mosteiro da Serra Pilar or Jardim do Morro located on the opposite side of the convent. Views like that guaranteed.

7. Chase azulejos
When in Porto you simply can’t not notice them, because they’re everywhere – am I talking about tourists? Yes, but most importantly: azulejos. Azulejos is a term describing tin-glazed ceramic tilework. It was King Manuel I of Portugal who brought azulejo tiles from Seville in Spain, to Portugal, during the 15th century. Azulejos were very common in parts of the Iberian Peninsula dominated by the Islamic Expansion during the middle ages. The word “azulejo” actually comes from the Arabic word “al zellige” which means “the polished stone”. Seems about right.
Azulejo tiles in Porto come in different colours, but most commonly, they are white and blue. They cover houses, churches, cafés, train stations, benches, street signs, fountains, even single stones. The places that represent azulejo style the best and you simply can’t miss are: São Bento Railway Station, Igreja do Carmo, Capela das Almas, Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Sé do Porto. Those are also the best spots for those Instagram shots. Yet, like I mentioned before, azulejos in Porto are everywhere!

Beautiful azulejos on Chapel of Souls in Porto, Portugal

8. Hop on the boat
If you want to feel like a sea rat and chill for an hour, take a Douro River 6 Bridges Boat Tour. As the name implies, it’s a cruise on the Douro, that will take you under 6 main bridges of Porto. You’ll be able to admire the panorama of Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia from the middle of Douro and have a good look under the Luis Bridge. Fascinating. HINT: take warm clothes. It’s pretty windy out there.

9. Let’s go to the beach
With all the amazing historic landmarks in the city, let’s not forget that Porto also has a beach, a few beaches even. If you don’t want to travel far, go to Praia do Carneiro. This sandy beach located in Foz will spoil you with the choice of beachfront cafés and a little run down, but still charming Lighthouse of Felgueiras. If you take an old-school tram (Line 1), you will have another “must do” in Porto to check off the list.
However, for the real beach experience, there is only one choice: Praia do Matosinhos.

Sunset at Praia do Carneiro, Foz, Porto, Portugal

10. Soak up the world of magic in Livraria Lello Bookstore
Yes, this is the magical place. The place where all Harry Potter fans will take out their wands and whisper Lumos in order to see everything better. The place where J.K. Rowling took inspiration to create Flourish and Blotts bookstore. The place where she was writing the world famous Harry Potter series. Ok, the last one is not true and when you enter the bookshop you will see why. There would be simply no space to do that. But the fact is, that during her time in Porto, J.K. Rowling was a frequent guest in Livraria Lello.
One of the oldest and most beautiful bookshops in the world will charm you with neo-gothic design, colourful stained glasses, carved ceilings and an incredible wooden staircase with crimson steps. While being there you really feel like a character from some magical novel. There is only one “but”… this place is extremely crowded. Even coming before it’s open won’t help. It gets packed in literally 5 minutes. And don’t forget that you have to get a 5 euro, redeemable ticket (April 2019) from a ticket office located next to the bookstore. TIP: If you’re two or more people, make sure that one of you is queuing for the tickets and other is in the line to the actual bookshop.

Magical Livraria Lello Bookstore in Porto, Portugal

11. So you think you like meat? Try Francesinha
All the meat eaters will be rapturous when they find out that a “must eat” in Porto is a sandwich consisting of 4 kinds of meat. Francesinha is its name and it’s a traditional Portuguese delicacy, originating in Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoked-cured pork sausage), fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat. To make it even more unhealthy it’s covered with melted cheese and a hot, thick tomato and beer sauce. And it’s usually served with French fries. Sounds like a recipe for a heart attack. You can find many traditional Francesinha restaurants in Porto, but if you’re a vegetarian, like me and don’t want to miss out on this experience, go to Lado B. They serve both meat and veggie options. Simply yum yum yum!

Francesinha sandwich - must eat in Porto, Portugal

Hope the activities mentioned above will keep you busy during your time in Porto. If you feel like you could do even more, climb the Clérigos Tower, go admire Café Majestic, visit all the churches (Porto has plenty of it) and take a break in Jardins do Palácio de Cristal or Fundação de Serralves. Enjoy!

View of Duomo in Florence, Italy

Florence from above – the best viewpoints in Firenze, Italia

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence, Italy

Florence –  the city of Michelangelo and his David, Donatello and his…also David, Bartolomeo Ammannati and his Neptune and…Ezio Auditore da Firenze with all the Borgia family members he… Assassinated Creed. Birthplace of the Renaissance movement, bursting with stunning architecture and exquisite art – Firenze is my favourite Italian city so far. Charming Italian streets full of quirky shops, cafes and restaurants, iconic buildings with red brick roofs and most importantly, historic landmarks, create the stunning scenery and unparalleled panoramas, which is better appreciated from above.
For this reason I created my personal little guide of the best viewpoints in Florence.

1. Piazzale Michelangelo
Is a place which you simply can’t miss! This square, while not being so special itself, offers a magnificent lookout over the whole of Florence. No matter what time of day you go there, you will be stunned by gorgeous scenery that will touch you to the very deepest bones…or even your soul, if you have one. But naturally, the best of the best time to be there is at sunset. The shades of oranges and blues appearing in the sky, combined with the impressive Florentine skyline and street artists playing guitar in the background, create an incredible, even romantic atmosphere. Yes, I said romantic. Even if you’re as pragmatic as I am, and express your feelings by saying “I will punch you”, you will definitely fall for the views of Florence at sunset.
Getting there requires you to be in moderately decent shape, because you have to climb a bunch of steps. But hey, let’s burn those pasta carbs. If you really, really don’t want to walk, you can take the bus 12 or 13 from the city centre.
Just below the Piazzale Michelangelo there is a Rose Garden, another great view point where only curious tourists and Florentines looking for peace and quiet find their way there. If you need a few minutes away from the city jam, this is the place for you. Amazing views guaranteed.

View of Florence, Italy from Piazzale Michelangelo

2. Cupola del Duomo di Firenze – Dome of Florence
They say you haven’t really been to Florence if you didn’t climb those 463 stairs to make it to the top of the duomo of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – The Florence Cathedral. So apparently, I haven’t…bummer.
The magnificent Cathedral of Florence stands tall over the city, charming you with its Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The dome is one of the largest domes in the world and the views from there (from what I saw in Assassin’s Creed 2) are incredible. You will be amazed by the city panorama and the perfection of the red rooftops covering the buildings all over Florence.
The entrance to the cathedral itself is free, but to go up to the dome, you have to buy a ticket and book your visit. Once you book your time slot, it can’t be changed later on. The ticket to climb the Duomo costs 18 euro (April 2019) and includes single access to other surroundings museums: Giotto’s Bell Tower, Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata and the Opera Museum. Make sure to book your visit in advance, the slots fill up pretty fast especially during Summer.
There is one thing though, if you’re scared of heights, the dark and you’re claustrophobic, the climb up to the dome is not recommended. The less-than-1-meter wide corridors were never meant to be open to the public and the look down about 40 meters into the central part of the cathedral, is not for the easily scared ones.

Dome of Florence Cathedral, Italy

3. Campanile di Giotto – Giotto’s Bell Tower
If after visiting the dome, you would like to see it from another perspective, take a deep breath, tense your mussels and go to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower. This time, it’s only 414 steps. This magnificent Gothic construction amazes with its size (it’s 84 meters tall) and beautifully carved ornaments made of red, white and green marble inlay.
It offers not only the best view of the Duomo, but also a marvellous, panoramic view of the city and surrounding hills. To enter the tower you can use the same ticket you bought for Duomo. No booking is required there.
Unfortunately I was too lazy to climb up those 2 amazing structures…kidding, I simply didn’t have enough time during my short visit to Florence. That’s why the picture below comes from Carson, my Instagram friend, who was kind enough to let me use it.

View from Giotto's Tower of Florence, Italy

4. Biblioteca delle Oblate – Oblate Public Library
The Oblate Library is most certainly more of a hidden gem. It’s even so well hidden that it took me a good 5 minutes to find the entrance. But all the effort was worth the view.
Located in the former Convent of the Oblate, the library is a small treasure in the heart of Florence. You’re naturally welcome to visit the whole complex, which includes a Section on Conservation and Local History, The Museum of Prehistory and 3 big reading rooms, but for me the most interesting part was the big terrace located on the second floor with a perfect view of the dome of Florence Cathedral. There you will find a little café, many tables, chairs and…students learning ardently. Man, I wish I had such amazing place to study. Even though it was quite busy, there were still many ways to snap the perfect shot with one of the biggest domes in the world. It’s also a great place to have a little break, in an atmosphere of Italian enlightenment.
The main entrance is on Via dell’Oriuolo. When you spot the lovely yard and suddenly feel the breeze of the need for knowledge on your neck, it means you’re there.

View from Oblate Library in Florence, Italy

5. Grand Hotel Baglioni – B-roof bar and restaurant
I know what you’re thinking…Grand Hotel probably requires a dress code, a reservation 2 years in advance and a deep wallet. Luckily none of above. Well, as long as you go there during the day and don’t eat a meal.
On the 5th floor of Hotel Baglioni there is a rooftop bar and a restaurant with a fantastic view over the Florentine skyline. Located in the city centre, this multilevel terrace will definitely deliver a “grand” experience. You can find indoor and outdoor sitting with both dining tables and sofas and during the warm months you can enjoy an extra green corner of the terrace called B-green.
I went there after a whole day of sightseeing, already with my suitcase, ready to catch a train to Pisa, just to feast my eyes on the incredible Florentine panorama for the last time. I was a little worried, that maybe I wouldn’t be able to enter the bar without a reservation, especially when dragging my pink suitcase, but the concierge happily directed me to the elevator to the 5th floor of the hotel. The view of the Duomo from the terrace knocked me out once again. It’s one of those you can never forget. I spent ages looking at the cathedral, snapped a few pictures, had a coffee in B-green and was ready to leave. I couldn’t imagine a better way of saying goodbye to Florence.

View from Hotel Baglioni in Florence, Italy


Below you can find other recommended viewpoints/rooftop bars in Florence with a perfect panorama of the city and most importantly – the Duomo. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to check them out (seriously, have I even really been in this city?), but they were on my list of the places to go.

  • Hotel Croce di Malta with panoramic rooftop terrace open all year round located in the heart of Florence (I actually tried to visit this one but it was closed as they were expecting rain, which never came)
  • Three Sixty Rooftop Bar of Hotel Minerva – a rooftop terrace with a pool right in the middle, and a smaller terrace on the other side of the bar. During the day, the pool terrace is reserved for hotel guests but you can still enjoy the views over lunch on the other terrace. From 7pm, both terraces are open to everyone and an Italian-style aperitivo over sunset is apparently a must
  • Caffe La Terrazza of La Rinascente – shopping with a view? Only in Florence. The rooftop bar of La Rinascente – the department store, offers a perfect view of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio
  • La Terrazza Lounge Bar of Hotel Continentale – if the view of the Duomo already bored you (whaaaat?), this terrace will provide a “refreshment”. Located on the top floor of the medieval Consorti tower at the Hotel Continentale, the terrace provides amazing views of the famous Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio and other historic buildings of Florence. It’s a more of a fancy place though, so don’t forget to dress up.