Europe 2015 Day 17-19: Cannes and Mallorca

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Day 17: Cannes

We arrived in the french Beverly Hills; Cannes. There are several cities/towns to on either sides of Cannes such as Toulon and St Tropez to the west and Antibes and Nice to the east. We knew several people who decided to make the 2 hour journey to Monte Carlo, Monaco but this blogger thought Cannes had quite a lot to offer and no need to leave it behind. Also, Italy burned us out, so we took it easy during this day. And you have to remember to switch the Italian to French; from bonjorno to bonjour.

Since I didn’t have a clue and did zero research for Cannes, we hopped on the 45 minute Little Train (tourist trolly) tour for a few euros to get a sense of the area. We drove past the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival.

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We proceeded down the Boulevard de la Croisette where all the hotels and beaches are, like the infamous Carlton hotel.

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Then to the main shopping area; Rue D’Antibes. We actually headed back to this avenue to eat some french pastries, such as macaroons at Laduree.

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Toward the end of the tour, we drove up the hill where the Notre-Dame de l’Esperance church is. You get a great viewpoint of Cannes from here.

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We walked by the beach but didn’t bring our bathing suits. That’s ok, tomorrow is a beach day, in Spain. From bonjour to hola…

Day 18: Mallorca

Beach day! The ship docks in Palma; a mini Barcelona. Mallorca is the largest island of the Balearic islands (Spanish archipelago). Since the ship only anchors for 5 hours, it made the most sense to just go the beach. But before that, we headed to Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma for a few photos.

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So we spent 3 hours or so at Palmanova (new Palma) beach just under 30 minutes from the port. There were constant reminders that it was a European beach if you know what I mean. The water was warm and a bit wavy. All it took was an hour or so of sun to get the bronze skin color.

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I know Mallorca has more to offer but our time was up. Maybe next time.

Day 19: Back home to NYC and final thoughts

Yes, back to reality. It’s back to work for me, gotta pay off those credit card charges from the last 2 weeks. But I’m glad to be home where everybody speaks English and everything makes sense again.

I hope that my posts were entertaining and that my photos (I’m not a pro photographer at all if you didn’t already know) did justice to bring these lands to life. The main idea is that such “dense” trips are possible in a limited amount of time assuming you have the stamina to keep going day after day. It doesn’t have to be Europe, it can be in the US, or one country in-depth. We have to make the most of our time off and vacations (with a rest day or 2 thrown in there) because they are too few. Now that I think about it, we have to make the most of our time on Earth. Don’t just stand there and be idle, let’s plan the next adventure right now…

I don’t anticipate another post until the first week of October when me and my hiking friend avenge ourselves and re-attempt the Mt. Washington summit. It should be easier this time since it’s not the winter season and won’t require mountaineering gear. That reminds me, it’s almost time to start training for it.

Europe 2015 Day 16: Pisa and Florence

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Pisa

The ship docks at the coastal town of Livorno but mostly everyone just wants to drive through Toscana to see Pisa and Florence, drink wine, eat pizza and gelato, and take selfies.

The drive to Pisa isn’t a long one. Once the Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) is in sight in the Piazza dei Miracoli, everyone recognizes it like they’ve seen it somewhere before but never up close. The strategy is to show up first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Then, you have to identify the best photo spot before people accumulate in your background. And finally, be creative and have fun with it.

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There is also a huge church and baptistery but  people get distracted with the leaning tower, the star of the show. Throughout the 45 minutes we had, I dedicated at least 10 take some photos of these overlooked buildings.

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After an brief visit, we headed to Firenze (Florence). Unlike Rome, it seemed like a ghost town at first since the locals are mostly on vacation during the summer. But the tourists soon filled up the city center. A group of us ate at a restaurant near the Piazza Signoria. The statues are always cool to check out.

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I thought Florence was prettier than Rome. Actually, in my mind, Florence is what I imagined Italy to look like. Restaurants and shops everywhere. Most buildings follow a yellow and red pattern. In the Piazza del Duomo, the building that dominates the entire city is the cathedral with the largest brick dome in the world; Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. You feel so small as you approach and circle around it. The large dome is something special. An amateur engineer (never built anything before) named Filippo Brunelleschi designed the massive dome more than 600 years ago without ever revealing his secret. It remains somewhat of a mystery how he and his team were able to stack 4 million bricks into a dome the size of half a football field with precision. If there was a slight error of even a fraction of an inch then that error would propagate upwards and make the dome unstable. Also, it was accomplished without modern support systems and without it collapsing on itself. What is known is that he used a clever zig-zag pattern for the bricks and ropes in a flower pattern throughout the process. Just imagine how it felt to stand at the roof of the cathedral prior to the dome’s construction and placing the first brick. And how would you transport 4 millions bricks to the roof in the first place? He also invented his two-way pulley system. If you have time then this documentary is a good watch: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEUe8mq8CKs). I’m an engineering major so naturally, this interests me. Ok, photo time.

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You can actually walk up 463 steps to the top of the dome but that line was really long. What kind of view of the dome would one get if they were standing on top of the dome itself? Instead, I chose 414 steps up Giotto’s Campanile (Belltower) for a few euros and 10-15 minute line. In my opinion, this was a better option since get as close as possible to the dome without being in top of it. And of course you get a great view of the overall area.

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With only 1.5 hours left, it was time to give myself a running tour. Yea, when you’re low on time, just run. Perhaps I was the only one running on along the riverside, but it was awesome. I headed to Ponte Vecchio; a bridge full of shops and a very popular selfie photo spot.

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There is another viewpoint area across the Arno river called Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s quite a hill and I was a hot sweaty mess by the time I reached the top, but the views are worth it. Also, the fake David statue stands on the summit of the hill. Running back down was a breeze but I had to restock on water, Italy is quite hot.

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The real David statue is located in the Academy of Fine Arts which is a short walk from the Duomo. The wife went with some friends and snapped these photos while I was on my running tour. Sometimes you have to split the experience to have photos of everything at the end of the day, especially with limited time.

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With some time to spare, I checked out the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery. I recognized a few statues like Amerigo and Galileo.

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Finally, with one last glimpse of Ponte Vecchio, it was arrivederci to Italy…

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Europe 2015 Day 15: Rome

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Roma

So the ship docks at a coastal city about an hour away from Rome called Civitavecchia. Pretty much everyone finds some sort of transportation to Rome for the day. We get 7-8 hours, so you know it’s gonna be a long and exhausting day. As usual, it was a rainy morning. The plan of attack was to start with the Colosseum to beat the crowds. The other choice would’ve been to beat the crowds for the Sistine chapel, but I’m more of a gladiator fan. To skip the line somewhat, it helps to purchase tickets online. But before you get close to the Colosseum, you have to pass the pushy selfie stick sellers. Since it was raining, they were going crazy trying to sell ponchos and umbrellas. Anyone who did not have a poncho or umbrella was a target, like myself. But a simple ‘No Thanks’ is all you need. Anyway, the Colosseum is still in good shape considering it’s age. But there are parts that require maintenance and restoration so there was scaffolding scattered throughout. To be honest, I think the exterior is way more impressive visually when compared to the interior. But overall, it’s quite impressive.

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Perfect time to quote Maximus from the Gladiator movie “Are you not entertained”!?

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The Foro Romano (Roman Forum), Piazza del Campidoglio, and Palatine hill is within the vicinity of the Colosseum. Much of the ruins resembled Pompei. It stopped raining and the sun came out with a vengeance.

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Gauis Julius Caesar forever watches the tourists roam around Rome.

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Continuing along the Via del Fori Imperiali for 10-15 minutes will lead you to the Piazza Venezia. The statues around the culture and heritage building are huge.

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By the way, most cafes and restaurants have washrooms (bathrooms) and free wifi. After a quick pizza and gelato lunch at a nearby cafe, we entered the Roman maze of narrow streets. Even with a map, I lost sense of direction a few times. Also, there is no distinction between streets and sidewalks. I’m always looking over my shoulder anytime I hear a motor/engine. Another observation would be that toilets do not have a toilet seat, good luck ladies.

Restoration and scaffolding seemed to be a theme. The Fontana de Trevi (Trevi fountain) was behind panels and there was scaffolding all over it. A water fountain without water. The restoration project should be completed by October 2015 according to Wikipedia.

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The Pantheon is one of the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings; not to be confused with the Greek Acropolis with its Corinthian columns. Quite impressive and free to walk in.

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The Piazza Navona is another interesting spot to check out. There are 3 fountains: Center – Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, South – Fontana del Moro (I forgot to takes photos of this one), and North – Fountain of Neptune.

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Onward we walked to the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish steps) which appears to simply be a big staircase. Just like the Mona Lisa, I don’t have a clue why it’s a thing.

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With about an hour or so left, we headed to the Vatican. The line to the St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel was ridiculous. It was enough to simply just walk around the Piazza San Pietro and take some photos. Beware the pushy tour operators by the entrance. They speak multiple languages so ‘no hablas ingles’ isn’t very effective.

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With the heat and all of the walking, it was time to head back after one last cafe stop for some wifi and bathrooms.

Europe 2015 Day 14: Amalfi Coast and Pompei

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Bonjorno

Although the ship docks in Napoli (Naples), I have no idea what Napoli looks like. Several excursions take cruisers to various areas around the area and do not stop in Napoli necessarily. Such as is the one I chose: Amalfi coast and Pompei. We had a great tour guide for the day named Rosana. She knew a lot about her country and taught us some Italian as well. It was a long drive along the coastline mainly because of its very narrow streets and more than 1,000 curves along the mountainside. It was quite impressive to see buses squeeze through traffic with an inch between them. But before the coastal drive, you could not miss Mt. Vesuvio (Vesuvius) dominating the scenery.

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Every 15 minutes revealed another picturesque hillside town with beaches. First Sorrento, then Positano, and Amalfi.

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The tour gives you an hour to walk around the Amalfi coast. Not nearly enough time to do the infamous Walk of the Gods hike but it was good enough for photo ops. I wouldn’t mind staying at a hotel in Amalfi for a few days.

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And then there was a bit more of this…

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Not too long after, the tour dropped us at a hotel restaurant (Voce del Mare) where you get views like…

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For many of us, it was a first pasta meal in Italy. Once we drove off the coastal road, we made our way to the ruins of Pompei; the ancient city that was destroyed by Vesuvio. There was actually no lava, but a nuclear bomb type of volcanic explosion that caused its destruction. Pompei was once near the ocean but the volcano eruption raised the land such that it isn’t anymore. Once you walk around Pompei for a while, you begin to realize how large it is and that you won’t be able to see it all. Also, there is no cover from the blazing sun and it’ll eventually exhaust you. All of the city’s rooftops are gone since they were wooden and didn’t survive the eruption. The ruins are preserved well enough that you can almost imagine yourself as if you lived in this city while walking down its cobblestone streets. Here are a few photos of Pompei.

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The creepiest thing is coming across preserved bodies from the volcanic ash.

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Next stop, Roma…

Europe 2015 Day 10-13: Barcelona and Sailing

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

My 100th post!

Day 10: The Fail day

From Edinburgh to London on the National Rail on a rainy day. I scheduled this day to visit the Warner Bros Harry Potter tour. Guess what, our train was cancelled and we had to get on the next one. Actually, all trains were experiencing delays due to a malfunction. The 4.5 hour trip turned into a 6.5 hour trip and we didn’t make it to London in time for the tour. Lesson learned; you should plan things such that there are a few hours in between for unexpected delays and such. It was raining all day in London as well. It was just a big fail. You can’t win em all. Perhaps we were better off flying to Barcelona a day earlier. Eh, it could’ve been worse I suppose. So we just ate dinner at the hotel and considered it a rest day from all the walking around.

Day 11: Hola

Looking forward to some sun, we flew to Barcelona (2 hour flight from London) the following morning. After baggage claim, the blue Aerobus drives people to the city center for a few Euros. Hello Euros and goodbye UK pounds. It all looks like monopoly money to me. Starting from the last bus stop at Placa de Catalunya, it was about a 5-10 minute walk to the Casa Camper hotel. This was perhaps the best hotel I’ve ever been to. Once you enter, you are treated like royalty. You get a quick tour of the hotel and your room. They show you the eating area which is fully stocked with salads, sandwiches, fruit, beverages, and snacks. They said “take whatever you want, 24 hours”. Mind blown. You don’t have to tell me twice amigo. We didn’t get the room which we originally booked so they gave us a free bottle of champagne and another room. Actually, 2 hotel rooms! One regular room and another that has a couch, hammock, and balcony. Unreal!

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While the hotel was amazing and all, there is a major building to visit; the Sagrada Familia church. Although Gaudi didn’t finish building it, he left over his design plans so that people can finish it for him. It’s an incredible and unique church, inside and outside. Detailed sculptures are on every inch of the exterior.

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Gaudi’s design for the interior was inspired by nature, trees in particular. When creating the design for the church, Gaudi even took the lighting and sound into consideration as well. The audio tour is 30-45 minutes and is a good site to see even if you’re not into churches or museums.

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Afterwards, we made our way to the main artery of Barcelona, Las Ramblas. People flood the streets with all its shops and restaurants. The Ramblas has so many good places to eat. So hard to choose. Right on the Ramblas is the Boqueria; a massive marketplace that sells all kinds of food. They close on Sundays. Guess what day it was when we were there. Meh. It was a ghost market.

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Halfway down the Ramblas is Placa Reial which is another area full of great restaurants. We ended up eating seafood tapas at the Mariscco restaurant.

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It started raining on the way back but that was ok, did we not just come from Scotland. Off we wandered around in rain gear while all the other tourists got soaked.

Day 12: Sailing Day

We wandered around during the following morning but not for too long. Barcelona deserved a few more days but there was a 7-day Norweigan Epic cruise to catch.

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From Barcelona, the ship sails to Naples, a port near Rome, a port near Florence, Cannes, and Palma de Mallorca (Spanish Balearic island). Many cruisers were given promotional packages such as unlimited dining or drinking plans. Pluses of the ship are the ice bar, bowling alleys, Cirque Dreams show, and the promo packages. Minuses would have to be the puny adult pool, no comedy shows, and unnecessary fee charging. But overall, it was a great way to sample Italy.

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Day 13: Day at Sea (Rest Day)

The following day was a day at sea. Nothing else to do on a cruise ship except cruise stuff, like eating a lot.

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Everybody knew that the next 3 days were going to be crazy so we all slept a bit earlier. Italy awaits…

Europe 2015 Day 9: From Skye to Edinburgh

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

From Skye to Edinburgh

This was a sad day. It was the last day in the Highlands and the last day in Scotland. Nevertheless, the path back is full of sights. Before leaving Skye, the clouds cleared up a bit and revealed a good view of the Cuillan mountains (great spot for mountaineering, maybe next time). Picture time.

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One last goodbye to Eilean Donan castle. And look at the horns on these highland cows.

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Perhaps everybody has heard of the Loch Ness monster. Well, we came across the Loch where he lives in Ft. Augustus. I spotted him by the way 🙂

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What’s the highest mountain in the UK? Ben Nevis. It’s 4,409 feet tall. I caught a glimpse as the clouds moved around. A hike to the summit sounds like a great day-trip. Someday.

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Inverlochy castle (13th-century) has that classic look with its rectangular shape with the towers at each corner.

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Glencoe, a beautiful area to spend hours exploring. More reason to come back. In particular, the 3 Sisters peaks (was too close to get em all in one frame). I tried be artistic and attempted to capture the reflection in a puddle.

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Loch Nubnaig in the Trossachs National Park. 5 stone hops was my stone throwing record for the day.

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Once we were back in Edinburgh and said our farewells, there was enough time to check out the National Monument of Scotland which sits on a hill.

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We dined at a Thai restaurant; Chaophraya (I recommend) and then called it a day. Goodbye Scotland. Hopefully it’s not the last time.

Europe 2015 Day 8: Isle of Skye

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Isle of Skye

All I have to say is Wow. A mini Iceland without the ice (summer season). Photos don’t capture the landscape and views especially on a cloudy day. You trust me on this one nature lovers, put this on your bucket list. I immediately became a dog that hasn’t been out for a walk in weeks. Climb all the hills and run all the trails!

We began by circling Skye counterclockwise via the Trotternish peninsula. One thing about Scotland is that the weather is insane. The clouds are everywhere and it can rain anytime, so wear your rain gear. Yep, the day started with some rain. Also, on Skye, I’ve never come across so many sheep. Everywhere you look, there are white dots in the distance and fluff balls up close. And since there are so much sheep everywhere, there is a lot of sheep poo to avoid (impossible to avoid when going off trail). Sheep, sheep everywhere…

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The first sight we came across was the Old Man of Storr; rock pinnacles which resembles giant fingers coming out of the ground. The clouds tried to hide it from me, but I spotted it from a distance. You could Google image it to see what it truly looks like.

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The next stop was Lealt Falls. Pretty cool.

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The next stop was Kilt Rock. There were some trails to take. Ugh, never enough time to explore, grrr.

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And I came across this warning sign. A reminder to step carefully.

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And then the one and only; The Quiraing. I could’ve stayed here for a whole day, maybe more.

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And onward to the land of the faeries; The Faerie Glen. Or the land of conic hills. Taking any rocks or anything like that would lead to bad luck. I hope a rock pebble didn’t get stuck in my sneaker soles. Beware the tight squeeze toward the mini castle on top of the hill. I’m pixel size in the last photo.

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After a quick lunch stop, we drove all the way to the westernmost point; Neist Point. This is the westernmost point of Skye. The clouds were quite close to the ground. With just an hour, we managed to hike all the way to the lighthouse and back. Remember to save some strength for the return uphill. Afterwards, we headed back to Portree.

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Although it rained here and there, this was one of the best days so far. To refuel an exhausted body, we dined at Seabreeze (I recommend) and had another seafood platter special. Who doesn’t enjoy a bowl full of shells and creatures of the sea. If you go to Scotland, then you have to visit Skye.

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Europe 2015 Day 7: Scotland Highlands

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Scotland Highlands

I’ve seen images of the Highlands and I just had to do it. This was the area I looked forward to most. It couldn’t be done in a day and requires a 3 day minimum, so that’s what I went for. There are several tour groups to choose from. I ended up choosing Heart Of Scotland Tours since they had a 3-day itinerary that aligned with my interests. Our tour guide Colin was very knowledgeable of his country and had quite the humor. Scottish tunes played in the background to add to the experience. The blue path shows our round trip to the Isle of Skye.

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Off we went with our new 16 person family to the Highlands and islands of Scotland. We drove across the Forthe bridge and put Edinburgh behind us. The first stop was Dunkeld cathedral.

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The next stop was the Dalwhinnie Whiskey distillery. £4.50 can buy you a taste of their very own 15 yr old single malt, a handmade truffle, and the shot glass as a souvenir. They sure love their whiskey. Not too far away, we stopped for a wee wander into the woods by a river. The river appeared as a river of whiskey due to the brownish color (perhaps it is where their whiskey flows).

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From the lowlands to the Highlands. Hills, mountains, and valleys get my adrenaline flowing. If only I could just go out and explore the landscape like it’s an open world video game like Skyrim. Colin showed us a particular loch (lake) called Quach/Garry Loch which looks exactly like the country of Scotland (apparently, faeries had something to do with that). And also, the faeries don’t like it when people whistle.

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I’ve never seen an actual dam before. Laggan dam would be the first.

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It takes 5 hours or so to drive to Skye, so we were treated to Scottish fun facts, historical stories, and tales about the times of clans. This kept us entertained all the way to the big one; Eilean Donan castle. It’s quite impressive since it is huge and has that stone footbridge bridge that connects the island castle to the land. There was a young bagpiper playing the entire time which added to the experience. There is a museum inside for the history lovers.

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It wasn’t too long until we drove across the Skye bridge to the Isle of Skye. We stayed at a B&B for 2 nights in the town of Portree. By the way, the summer is super busy and no hotels had vacancies, so plan ahead if you wanna do this one. We were lucky enough to find a table at one of the restaurants called The Granary (I recommend). Before heading back, we stopped to see a local school bagpipe band in the town square.

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This was a good warmup for the following day; the day we explore Skye.

Europe 2015 Day 6: Edinburgh

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Scotland

We left for the King’s Cross station to catch the National Rail to Waverly station in Edinburgh, Scotland; a 4.5 hour journey (enough time to reflect and write these posts). I didn’t know much about Scotland except for what I recall from movies like Braveheart and Highlander. I knew a little about kilts, bagpipes, and the Scottish accent from Sean Connery or Scotty from Star Trek. Little did I know that this would become my second favorite country visited (first is Iceland of course).

Unlike Paris, I appreciate that this is obviously an English-speaking country. You know when you’re in Scotland when you hear bagpipes in the background and have to immediately put on a rain jacket. Rain or not, Edinburgh has a unique look and it’s simply a beautiful city. After a quick hotel check-in close to St. Andrews square, we headed to Cafe Andaluz (I recommend) for the Spanish tapas lunch special.

From there, we headed to the park area on Princes street below Edinburgh castle for some photo ops. The tourist thing to do would be to enter the castle but we had little time and there will be plenty of time for castles.

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We then made our way to the tallest thing close by; the Scott Monument (I like that gothic look). Several tight spiral staircases leads you to the top for excellent views of the city.

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Similar to the magnificent mile in Chicago, Edinburgh has the Royal Mile, which is quite busy. It’s where many of the restaurants, bars, and gift shops are. This street takes you all the way to a large park area with a massive hill; Arthur’s Seat.

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The rain cleared but it was still quite windy. You should allow at least 2 hours for the hike. Off we went on our 823 ft ascent to the top using the Salisbury Crags route. At the halfway point, the view of the city is great, but the trail became steeper and required a wee bit of scrambling (Purple route).

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The wife headed back down the path with a newly made friend from Taiwan as I rushed forward to the Arthur’s Seat summit. I had to respect the strength of runners who run in this area. My rush to the top became a crawl as it got windier. At the peak, the wind was too strong to keep my cap on for too long or take decent selfies. After a quick feeling of accomplishment, I ran all the way down to intercept the wife. If this was my marathon training grounds, I’d be a warrior.

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We dined at Fishers in the City (I recommend) and had ourselves a seafood feast. So many good places to eat but we had to make choices. On the way back to the hotel, we caught a fireworks show from Edinburgh castle. Perhaps there was a festival going on or something.

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Europe 2015 Day 5: Paris

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Paris…

My first time in France. Perhaps it was a bold idea to set up Paris as a day trip from London. I booked a round trip Eurostar train and tried to do as much as possible in 8 hours. It was a really hot and not a relaxing day in the slightest (felt like muggy NYC). I did not expect so many Chinese tour groups and so many selfie sticks. I foolishly forgot to do any research for eating spots. Also, we forgot our French phrase book and the translator app wasn’t working. Additionally, all I know about the french language is Bonjour and Merci. So let’s go France!

I originally had Les Catacombs on my itinerary but my research showed that the lines are inescapable (no fast passes) and can exceed 2 hours, especially during a hot summer on a weekend. So the day started with the infamous Champ de Mars (Eiffel Tower). After getting off the Eurostar at the Gare Du Nord station, we had to learn to navigate through the metro to reach the La Motte-Picquet station. It was then a quick and straightforward walk to Champ de Mars park where the best views of the Eiffel tower are in my opinion. Beware the pushy merchants especially if they see you taking selfies without a selfie stick (like I do).

Well, I underestimated the length of the lines; even for the staircases. I think the line lasted 30-45 minutes (much worse for the lifts though), but it was the weekend after all. Yes the stairs, 669 steps to the second stage of the tower for the grand view of Paris. As usual, the views are always worth the effort of the climb. You can choose to ascend to the third stage at the very top but the detail of the city would be lost a bit and only elevators can get you there which must be reserved in advance I think.

After getting back down and eating a crepe, we crossed Pont D’lena bridge to Jardins du Trocadero; a major spot for Eiffel Tower selfies.

It was at this point where we realized that there would be no time to walk up Kleber Ave to the Arc De Triomph. But that was ok, the camera 10x zoom will just have to do. Onward to the Musee de Louvre.

After a €8 cab ride from the Trocadero, we entered the massive museum building plaza and then through the transparent pyramid entrance. I think it helps to pre-book tickets online to avoid the longer lines; my wait time was only 5 minutes.

Once you’re in, you quickly feel like a bee in a hive. The ridiculous amount of people swarming through the hallways had the temperature feeling quite tropical. I’m surprised the paintings didn’t melt. I’m not much of a history buff and I think museums are boring, but yet, I appreciated the epicness of the Louvre. First and foremost, we had to locate Mona. Once we made it to the Mona Lisa room, it was like hundreds of children trying to get free candy from one person. I got as close as I could without getting crushed or smothered to death by body heat. After a few skillful overhead shots, I escaped the herd of sheep and was able to breathe air again. Notice the selfie stick on her shoulder in her glare.

With an hour left before closing, I took pictures of ceilings, walls, paintings, sculptures, and fancy rooms even though I know very little of what I was actually observing (I’ll look it up later). I was surprisingly impressed with the detail of the artwork. The Louvre definitely deserves a whole day to explore and appreciate, perhaps more.

With very little energy left, we made our final trek along the Sienne river through several lock bridges to arrive at the one and only, Notre Dame. I originally planned to climb the 387 steps to the top and hang out with the gargoyle statues but the staircase was closed off by then (6pm). The line to get in the church was also rather long and decided not to go inside but I’m sure it’s quite epic. That’s ok, the building from the outside was impressive all by itself. You notice more and more detail as you zoom in the photos.

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A few blocks south from Notre Dame was an area full of restaurants and shops. After inhaling some fast food and more crepes, it was time to head back to Gare du Nord station to catch the Eurostar back to London (while snacking on some macarons). All I have to say is whew. Paris alone requires at least a few days to see the sights and eat at the multitude of restaurants. If I ever returned, I’d make sure not to visit during the summer. But wait, there’s more. Scotland bound tomorrow…