london calling part 1

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As the world gears up for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, scores and scores of journalists and fans will be flocking to London town (well, Windsor for the actual nuptials) to try and catch a glimpse of the royal entourage.

If you’re one of the lucky few, or even if you’re not, take this opportunity to delight in the sights of one of the best cities in the world.  It’s incomparable, really.  So much jam packed history, art, music, everything!  All roads lead back to London.

Mind the gap…

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A ‘beautiful day’ in Dublin

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Kiss me, I’m Irish.  Or at least I was while I was in Ireland.  Everyone becomes a little Irish when you’re in the beating heart that is Dublin.  The city draws you in, makes you a believer in the spirit and magic that makes the Emerald Isle unique. It’s no one tree hill.

It was a real quick trip (through your wires) there on the way to the UK, but it was a blitz of activity, colors, sounds and sights.  From Guinness to U2, the history of the city provides a backbone to a truly intriguing place whose energy pulses at all hours of the day.  As an aside, Irish history is very interesting, and not so distantly in the past were the Troubles, a very turbulent period for the Irish in general, it’s worth researching a little before you go.

I had a great time, to say the least.  In the words of the magnificent Bono, it was a beautiful day…

Hold me, thrill me, kiss me…

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Rome if you want to…

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Rome is a polarizing place.  For some, it represents the peak of romance, beauty and charm. For others, it’s a crowded, tourist-laden nightmare.  I think its real appeal is that it’s both; it’s a city of contradictions.  There is a mix of ancient and modern, sometimes seamless in execution (turning on a busy street and seeing the Parthenon) and others not so much (the futile attempt of expanding the Metro due to delays in the name of archeology). It’s very urban, but yet has simple charms similar to those found in Italy’s most rural countryside villages.  There are so many relics and ruins; it’s often a little overwhelming! But, if you take a step back to enjoy the moment, it’s a city that can leave you breathless.  You will understand why it’s called the Eternal City.

Take a Roman holiday…

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know before you go: London Heathrow (LHR)

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“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.” — Hugh Grant, Love Actually.

Thus is the beginning to the greatest romantic comedy -with major plot points played out in an airport- ever.  I know, really specific–but that scene with Thomas Sangster Brodie where he’s running through to catch the girl! Love it.

Even though there’s quite a liberal dusting of Hollywood magic in that movie (who would ever cheat on Colin Firth?!?), at least that first scene is accurate.  The excitement always reaches a climax when you walk through that hallway and emerge to see the throngs of people waiting for you. Love is actually all around!

Heathrow is the second busiest airport in the world, and has over 200 gates. You can fly just about anywhere, on any airline.  It’s about 14 miles from the city center, and can be reached via Heathrow Express train, the tube, and bus.  Express will get you to the city in 15 minutes; the tube will take 40 minutes, but it’s only ~3 pounds.

There are four terminals split by alliances.  Terminal 2 — the Queen’s terminal — is Star Alliance (United, Aer Lingus, Icelandair), 3 is OneWorld (Virgin, Delta, Emirates, Qantas, etc), 4 is Skyteam (except Delta), Etihad, Malaysia and Qatar, and 5 is British Airways.

Remember: ✈️ = joni mitchell’s blue to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = to me you are perfect

Convenience to city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (although only ✈️ for hotels, catching the Hoppa would be a lot easier if there were signs telling you which stop is designated for each hotel)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️

Convenience of security lines: N/A, but customs line was ✈️✈️✈️

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (Gordon Ramsay plane food, a few different coffee options, Wagamama, Fortnum & Mason –although more for souvenirs than eating, Pre-a-manger.  I gave it an extra for an M&S simply food, my fav grab and go London spot)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️✈️ (not too shabby for amount of passenger traffic)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️  (free wifi available)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (lots of airline lounges, a chaplain for every religion, the BEST shopping with Dior, Burberry, Bvlgari, Chanel, Gucci, Harrod’s, Jack Wills, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Ferragamo, Mulberry, Saint Laurent, Ted Baker, Stella McCartney, Rolex, Tiffany, Thomas Pink! It’s better than like every mall. Emoji heart eyes x trillion.)

 

know before you go: Dublin (DUB)

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Top of the morning to ya. Dublin (DUB) is an exceptionally beautiful airport that serves a lot of flights to and from the US to Europe.

There are two terminals connected via pedestrian bridge.  Terminal 1 serves: most european carriers including Air France, British Airways, Etihad, FinnAir, KLM, and Lufthansa.

Terminal two serves: Aer Lingus, Delta, American, Emirates and United.  This is the modern terminal that opened in 2010,  underscoring the lush Irish countryside with floor to ceiling glass.  This is also the terminal I flew into on Aer Lingus.

Because it is modern, there is good signage, a good amount of restrooms and charging areas.   As an aside, I will say that the people who work in this airport (especially for Aer Lingus) are unnervingly attractive.  Like really, did they do a casting call for good-looking young Irish folk or something?  Their emerald-hued uniforms are so striking, and all of the flight attendants look like the could be a member of the Corrs family.

This airport also features a special pre-clearance area for travelers going to the US.  It is the best thing ever.  You get all of your customs screening done here and when you return to the US, you’re treated like a domestic arrival because it’s all done. Apparently, there’s also a new executive lounge for pre-clearance customers available for a small free as well.

Remember: ✈️ = one pint of Guinness to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = many pints of Guinness

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️✈️

Convenience of security lines: N/A, but customs line was ✈️✈️

Dining: ✈️✈️ (some Irish offerings, grab and gos and Burger King)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️✈️✈️ (incredibly clean facilities)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️  (free wifi available—none of their chargers seemed to work and are very few in terminal 2)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (preclearance to the US, airline lounges, but duty free shopping could be better, there’s a chocolate lounge that serves sundaes and fondue though so…call it a draw?)

Consider yourself to have the luck of the Irish if you get to have a layover here.

know before you go: Venice (VCE)

MARCO!!!!

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… POLO!!!

That’s right, the official name of Venice’s airport is Marco Polo, named after the famous Venetian native son known for being a well-traveled explorer and trader.  Luckily for us, we don’t have to take years long journeys to get from one place to the other now, we can jet in and out from his airport.

Flying into Venice through his airport will afford you one of the most marvelous views of your life.  If you’re sure to catch a seat on the right side of the plane, towards the front, you may catch a glimpse of one of the most beautiful cities in the world from a birds eye vantage point.

It’s not a huge airport, one terminal split into only about 35 gates, but it understandably serves a lot of tourists heading on their Italian holidays.  Lots of european airlines, and SkyTeam airlines.  The airport itself sits about 5 miles from Venice’s city center, and can be reached by ACTV bus, Aliguna ferry or water taxi.  Careful, water taxis alone can be very expensive (but may be a little faster).

Remember: ✈️ = o sole mio  ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = volare

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (mainly because of the large sea in between airport and city, understandable though)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (only one terminal)

Dining: ✈️✈️ (all italian, but extra points for a gelateria on site)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (fairly clean)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (Two lounges.  For being a smaller airport, there’s a lot of designer shops: Bvlgari, Versace, Ferragamo, Valentino — hey, you’re in Italy, what do you expect?)

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know before you go: Frankfurt

DF204D50-828D-45A0-961D-6A01194B7FF0Frankfurt is one of the main financial centers of the world (this is where the Euro comes from), and thusly, it’s airport is one of the busiest (fourth busiest in Europe).  It’s the hub for Lufthansa and has arrivals from all over the world with planes landing something like every 2-4 minutes.

I have family in Germany, so on occasion, there’s reason to fly into this airport.  It’s huge and can be quite overwhelming.  There are 2 terminals, Terminal 1 and 2 connected by a sky train.  Terminal 1 has about 105 gates, split into concourses A, B, C, and Z.  Terminal 2 has 42 gates split into D & E.  The airlines are split between the terminals/gates based on airline alliances rather than domestic/international so you could conceivably have to go from terminal to terminal.

There are railway stations below the airport, for both regional and long distance trains, which is helpful because Germany is a huge country.

Shopping is decent, but more geared towards business travelers.  There’s a Burberry, Ferragamo, Versace, Mont Blanc, Porsche, and Hermes in terms of high end, but mostly it’s airport shops.  Dining has a variety of German bakeries, many Italian takeaways and restaurants, Asian (lots, there’s crazy traffic from Asian countries here), McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Starbucks.  I wish there was more traditional German offerings, but Ludwig’s fits that bill.  Notably, there’s a Nordsee, which is one of my favorite Scandinavian fast food chains.

Remember: ✈️ = the wurst to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = the best

Convenience: ✈️✈️✈️  (the railways make it easy to get to from near and far)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️ (this is a VERY large airport with multiple levels, although signage and directions are in both German/English, there’s not many of them, so make sure you have enough time for layovers as it can be very difficult to get from one end to another especially if you have to go between Terminals on the tram)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️ (for the scale of the airport, it’s as efficient as it could be, but there’s going to be a line)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️  (not enough German food, but your basics of American and Italian fare)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (clean)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi in certain areas)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (stores are okay, there is gate to gate transfer service available for a fee, showers for a fee, lots of executive lounges and even the ultra exclusive Lufthansa first class separate building)

 

know before you go: Copenhagen (CPN)

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I believe that the airport is a window to a city’s soul.  Copenhagen Kastrup (CPN) matches up with its city quite well.  It’s got all sorts of expensive things in a clean, sleek design that’s easily navigable.  Honestly, it looks like a mall when you get deep into the concourse.

It is the largest airport in the Nordic region, serving as a huge hub for Northern European travel.  There are only two terminals, 2 and 3 that encompass ~ 108 gates.  It’s 5 miles away from the city center, and it’s so easy to get there by train (platform 2 if you want to go towards the city, take any gray train).  Security is very efficient and fast, and there’s a focus on self-check in which went a lot more easily than I thought it would.

The food choices are varied and feature a lot of Copenhagen favorites and chains: Joe & the Juice, Lagkagehuset, 7-11, Starbucks, Aamaan’s Smorrebords, Caviar House (!), McDonalds, Burger King.  The shopping is incredible: Hermes, Gucci, Georg Jensen, Paul Smith, Bang & Olufsen, Royal Copenhagen, Peter Beier Chocolates, Mulberry, and Burberry to name a few. And of course, since you’re in Denmark, there’s a Lego store.

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Remember: ✈️ = something rotten in Denmark to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = everything is awesome!

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (5 miles to city center, so easy by trains that run very frequently to and from airport)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (it’s very large, but they provide you free carts for your carry on luggage–HUGE)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s a lot of self-check in kiosks to make check in go super fast; security lines are long but go quickly)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (there are 3 lagkagehuset bakeries, multple 7-11s and joe & the juices, many hygge eateries)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️  (decently clean)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, could have more charging areas)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (some of the best shopping both local and luxury, did I mention there’s lagekagehuset bakeries, hotel, a replica of the Little Mermaid, airline lounges, very hygge place)

24 hours in Budapest

Budapest is probably my favorite European city…well, maybe within the top 3.  It is different than anywhere else you’ve been. You don’t feel like you’re in Europe, you feel like you’re in the old world.  It’s got this dark magic, and I love it.

It’s a little more subdued, but yet very distinct from its other former Eastern Bloc neighbors, but don’t let that fool you.   There’s so much history from the Ottoman Empire and Turks and Romans to the Soviet influence, everyone has crossed through this area, including the Roma people, who give Hungarians their gypsy culture.   All of this historic interchange has led to Hungary (and Hungarians) to be a melting pot of mixed ethnicities.

Heroes’ Square is one of the landmark plazas on the Pest side, featuring Magyar and other prominent Hungarian leaders.  The central column is topped by Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown.  It is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Art.

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One of the most memorable places I’ve been is the Central Market Hall.  This grand indoor market is full of colors and sounds and smells, it’s sensory way overload.  Marketplaces seem ubiquitous in America these days, but this feels so original.

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getting hungary just looking at this

There’s giant sausages and other encased meats everywhere (literally so many kinds of sausage), cheeses, pickles of all types. Hungarian food is one of my all time favorite cuisines.  Put a plate of chicken paprikash or goulash in front of me and you’re golden.  You must (read: MUST) buy paprika from Hungary.  So closely associated with this country, their paprika is the smoky and rich and perfect.  They sell it everywhere.

On the Buda side of town sits the Castle Hill complex, made up of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a Gothic style viewpoint that looks like something out of a fairy tale.  This very popular tourist attraction provides sweeping views of the river and the Pest side from high above.

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The Danube river runs right through the center of town, splitting it into the two sides, Buda and Pest.  The gorgeous bridges that span the river are spectacles in and of themselves, and are lovely at night.

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chain, chain, chain…

Along the Pest side of the river is a long promenade dotted with cafes and riverfront restaurants.  This is a wonderful way to wind down and watch as the lights transform this city into something even more fantastical.  Budapest at night is something else.

Venhajo-Etterem restaurant is located on a converted steamboat and has direct views of the castle.  Dubarry is also an amazing dining experience, if the weather permits you must sit outside in the white linen bistro tables.  Both restaurants serve traditional Hungarian fare of which I cannot get enough.

Walking along the river front will afford you the most spectacular views, the low light of early evening is the perfect time to snap a photo of the Buda Castle.

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Unfortunately, I only spent a very limited amount of time in this wonderful city, and a lot of it was spent with family (yes, unexpectedly have family here), so I didn’t have a chance to visit the thermal hot springs. This is a must when you visit. The Romans were originally drawn to this area for the touted benefits of these mineral water pools. Of course, the Turks came through and built Turkish baths, some of which are still in use. The Szécheny Baths are a grand structure on the Pest side of town that has many baths.  Guess I know where I’m headed next time…

have a great weekend!

4 tres magnifique days in Paris

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There are not enough adjectives to describe the wonder of Paris.  No one needs a guide to this city, there are a million ways to enjoy it, and the little discoveries down every alleyway are what makes this place special.  You don’t need a ton of money, you don’t even need to see any of the popular tourist attractions.  You could walk around for days and not spend one cent and be content.  It’s all splendor.  The air is different when you arrive in this city of light and magic.  You feel different, you get a new lease on life– nouvelle joie de vivre.

I’ve been all over the world, and there is no city that causes my heart to take flight like Paris.  No city that comes close in terms of architecture and art and food.  It’s the ultimate muse for any travel fantasy, it puts the lust in wanderlust.  There’s a romanticism that cannot be recreated anywhere else; it’s no wonder that Paris salons attracted the best in art and literature to a bohemian lifestyle in the capital city.

To get a true sense of the city, you have to at least spend 4-5 days here.  My first visit more than a decade ago lasted for almost two weeks.  I saw the entire city as a 16 year old, and even though we did not have smart phones back in the dark ages (le horreur), I’ll never forget the moments during that trip.  It started my love affair with France and gets reignited every time I come back. C’est magnifique.

la vie en rose

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