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My Top 5 Things to do in Prague!

My Top 5 Things to do in Prague!

Prague is an absolutely amazing city that I’ve been lucky enough to call my home for over 2 years. I am constantly amazed by the history and beauty that seems to be around every single corner. It seems, however, that the world has caught on to the charms of this Bohemian city, and tourists certainly do infiltrate every year, particularly in the summer and just before Christmas (Christmas markets, anyone?). I get as frustrated by rogue selfie sticks as the next girl, so I’ve spent my time in Prague looking for the best places to experience the city and Czech culture without being mowed down by a Segway in Old Town Square.

I’m proud to say that after 2 years of dedicated research, I’ve landed on my top 5 favorite places in this magical city. I can understand a traveler’s reluctance to visit such a city that can be overrun by tourists, but Prague is not that city at all! A walk over Charles Bridge at 11 am on a Saturday in June may tell a different story, but take a trip to Riegrovy Sady or Naplavka on any given summer evening, and be prepared to be amazed at the chilled out vibe, local atmosphere, and awesome beverages permeating the area. I’ve grown to love my current “home” city, and I’m excited to share it with you!

I recently made a travel video detailing my 5 favorite off-the-beaten-path spots in Prague on my YouTube Channel, “Czech” it out!

6 Travel (and Life) Lessons Learned in Hong Kong

6 Travel (and Life) Lessons Learned in Hong Kong

While I have travelled extensively throughout Europe and parts of North America, I have not ventured into Asia nearly as much I would have liked so far. In fact, prior to my most recent trip, I had only visited Singapore (and the Asian part of Istanbul, but who actually “counts” that?). A recent business trip had me packing for a week in Hong Kong, and I was excited for the opportunity to explore a new country, city, and culture during my free time. It became clear to me fairly quickly upon my arrival, however, that I was grossly unprepared for my travels to such a large city in one of the largest countries in the world. After having spent a week in this metropolis of Southeast Asia, I have some insights that may help you with you first experience in this incredibly diverse and complex city.

It is still China, even if not on the Mainland. I think that I’d read somewhere (or I possibly just unknowingly assumed) that because Hong Kong was once under British rule, the country would somehow be less authentically Chinese in terms of culture and language. This was a bad assumption, and so my initial shock when wandering around the streets of Mongkok was much greater than if I’d been in a better mindset. Hong Kong is still very much China, and I think that’s a really good thing! This does mean, however, that all of the signage is in Cantonese (the dialect in Hong Kong), many people do not speak English well, if at all, and the food is very different than anything I’d experienced before. With that being said, visiting Hong Kong and being hit in the face with these cultural differences was an amazing experience, if only at first a little shocking.

The difference between each area of Hong Kong is MASSIVE. While choosing where to stay when in Hong Kong, I had absolutely no idea about the characteristics of each island and neighborhood in the city. I chose, in the end, to stay in Mongkok, and believe that this is a good location for tourists visiting the city. Mongkok is an incredibly local part of the city, and has a lot going on in terms of markets, restaurants, shops, and MTR (subway) connections. It’s also sort of in the middle of Kowloon, so it’s pretty easy to get essentially everywhere you’d want to go in Hong Kong.

I also enjoyed the harbor area a lot, and can appreciate the possibility of staying further south on Nathan Road to have easier access to this part of the city. Hong Kong Island feels like an entirely different world compared to Kowloon. As I was aware of Hong Kong’s reputation as a major world business center, I expected that much of the city would be incredibly modern, filled with massive skyscrapers, something akin to parts of Manhattan in New York City. While this is true on Hong Kong Island, it isn’t necessarily the case in other parts of the city. The buildings are tall everywhere, but the city at large isn’t any more modern than any other major city I’ve visited.

Traffic: rules need not apply. It took me a long time to figure out the “system” for walking on sidewalks, escalators, etc. in Hong Kong. Pro tip: there is no system. Hong Kong’s traffic situation is a hilarious mix of the UK system (driving on the left side of the street), and the system I’m familiar with in the US (staying to the right side of the sidewalk when walking), which often ends in everyone throwing their hands up and doing whatever the hell they want. And I mean that really seriously. By the end of the week, I became used to the way that people just move through sidewalks without caring if there are any other humans around them. I never, however, became used to the fact that some escalators were on the British system (your escalator is on the left of the set), and some on the US system (your escalator is on the right of the set). I can’t even express to you how many times I nearly began to walk the wrong way on an escalator, certainly to the annoyance of all the people around me. Sometimes it was different even within one building!

Another fun part of this is the way that Hong Kong drivers tend to react towards pedestrians. And that is, absolutely without any regard whatsoever. There are things that look like cross-walks, with signs on the ground telling you which way to look to see oncoming traffic, but SURPRISE! Drivers have the right-of-way here. Or, if they don’t, the drivers seem to think they do. Fortunately, it seems that cross-walks with lights are truly respected, but only to the exact minute of the pedestrian green-light. If you’re an inch onto the cross-walk after that moment, good luck!

Restaurants aren’t always the easiest places to find. I spent the first night looking for a restaurant for dinner on a street where I was assured there were plenty of restaurants, and I couldn’t physically find one. I told my free walking tour guide this tale of woe, and he could only laugh, not understanding how I couldn’t possibly see the signs for the restaurants. The thing is, the restaurants in Hong Kong are often located several stories above street level, so you must first check above your head for signs that designate restaurants (only sometimes in English, of course), and then for the elevator entrance to find which floor you need to get to.

Once I figured out the system, I had some great meals, but man do I wish someone had told me that on my first day! In any case, I managed to have some really excellent meals, and highly recommend Jasmine Garden at Langham Place for great Cantonese cuisine and Indian Restaurant and Bar for an excellent lunch menu.

The smog situation is real. Because Hong Kong is not on Mainland China, I assumed that it was not as adversely affected by the notorious smog that plagues many Chinese cities. And then, I got to the harbor, and I could hardly see the buildings across the water:

The smog situation during this week was explained to me by one of my colleagues as “a generous gift from the Mainland”. In fact, I heard many locals mention that the smog during the week I visited was particularly bad, with a government warning one of the days encouraging people to stay inside as much as possible to avoid the polluted air. With that being said, there’s no denying the fact that the smog lasted for an entire week (at least, I left after one week), and I’m sure it will happen again. Just be prepared for it, because I was very surprised, and then subsequently disappointed that the air quality and visibility was so low.

Human kindness abounds. This is not necessarily unique to Hong Kong or travel in Asia, but after a somewhat shocking first day or two in the city, it was something that I desperately needed to be reminded of. First, I want to preface this by saying that even after traveling to countries and cultures that are vastly different than my own, travel can still be shocking to me, just as it can be to everyone. I’m humbled by this reminder, and I’m grateful for the people that helped to remind me of the positive aspects of culture shock that I met along the way.

I went on a free day that I had to visit the Big Buddha (Tian Ten Buddha) at the Po Lin Monastery. This place is on Lantau Island, one of the many islands that make up Hong Kong, high up in the mountains. The photos of the place looked absolutely incredible, so I was excited for the opportunity to get out of the city a bit to explore some nature and culture. Granted, the day I was able to visit was one of the coldest and rainiest days of the entire week I was in Hong Kong, which was a bummer, but I thought it would still be cool to see. Usually this place is accessible by cable car, but that car will be closed until summer 2017 for renovations, so I was responsible for taking a bus up the mountain to get to the monastery and statue. After sorting that out and hoping onto the bus, I had a very interesting ride up a very steep and narrow mountain road, only to arrive at this:

Obviously, this is not the beautiful view that I expected, even from halfway up the stairs, but I walked up to the statue in any case (I was there, right?). By the time I got to the top, it began raining a lot more, so I took some photos, walked around a bit, but then decided to head down the hill. I made my way through the shopping village, found some cows roaming on the street, and went back towards the buses.

When I got to the (very long) line for the buses, it was clear that I wasn’t making either of the next two buses, which meant that I would be standing on line for at least 40 minutes. Perfect. It was still raining, and I was very much not dressed for such conditions, so I bucked up and prepared myself for a miserable 40 minutes, a little bitter that the experience was not what I had envisioned. After standing for a couple of minutes, two people got on the line behind me, but I didn’t really notice them as I was preoccupied trying to connect to the free Wi-Fi. That was until I noticed that I was no longer standing in the rain. The man behind me was holding an umbrella, and had moved so that we were both covered by its gloriously dry cover. I turned around to say thank you, and we all started laughing at the fairly miserable situation we found ourselves in. We got to talking, and I discovered that they were from England; the man had been traveling in Asia for 6 months and had just arrived in Hong Kong about a week prior where his friend from Bristol had joined him to visit. We spent the next 40 minutes on our long, wet line talking about everything from travel to culture, to the recent contentious votes in both of our countries. Having this sort of connection with people when I was feeling so down and disconnected from the world was a god-send, and that was beyond the fact that these two were incredibly interesting people to meet! We finally made it to the bus, and got back to the town where the MTR station was located to get us back to warm and dry clothes. We all agreed that we were so wet and miserable that we rightly deserved to treat ourselves to Starbucks at the shopping center nearby before getting back on the MTR. We sat at the Starbucks chatting for well over an hour, it was such a great evening. We parted ways on the MTR train without exchanging contact info, so it’s likely that I’ll never see or talk to them again, but I truly enjoyed connecting with other travelers in a way that I haven’t gotten to experience in a while. And it all started with the sharing of an umbrella- something that he certainly did not have to do, but that absolutely made my day and perspective 1000x better. So, thanks, kind strangers!

My second story comes from my last day in Hong Kong, and I wish that it had happened on the first! I was desperately looking for a good, local restaurant for lunch, as I hadn’t yet managed to have dim sum or Chinese barbecue, and I was ready! I had read that a nearby mall to my hotel in Mongkok had some good places to eat, so I went on an adventure to find them. I managed to get to the mall, and kept going up escalators (alternating sides, of course) trying to get to the restaurant section at the top only to discover that this mall was 13 stories high (not including the basement levels)! It just never ended.

I finally found a restaurant that looked like it had local food (Jasmine Garden), and it had a line of about 20 people standing outside, so I figured it had to be good! I took a number (after much doubt about how exactly do to that- the electronic number system for restaurants got me at the beginning), and I waited for my table. I was seated next to another two-person table, and another couple soon joined me. Our tables were quite close together, so when they noticed me looking at the menu practically sideways in confusion over what exactly I should order (I didn’t understand what the concept of dim sum was, at first), they offered to help. I mentioned that I was excited to try the barbecue pork, but was open to suggestions. They gave my order to the waiter (who only spoke Cantonese), and explained what they’d gotten for me to try. I ended up with spring rolls that had shredded chicken inside, steamed rice, and barbecue pork- perfect.

I was instructed to try the spring rolls first plain, and then with the sauce provided. I mentioned that I really liked it with the sauce, and then the wife said something to our waiter. Apparently, she’d asked for a different kind of sauce for me so that I’d have the chance to try the sweet and sour sauce that comes with other types of dim sum. It was so sweet that they were genuinely interested in helping me to try the best bits of their cuisine! They also noticed how significantly I was struggling with the rice with chop sticks (it was my fault, I put it on the plate and put soy sauce on it, so it was no longer sticky), and so they taught me how I’m actually supposed to be eating Chinese food (with a soup spoon, out of a bowl- even when it isn’t soup!).


We also had a chance to talk a bit about our own cultures, countries, travels, and some politics. I was hesitant to comment on politics, not knowing their backgrounds or opinions on the recent controversial changes in my own country, but they jumped right in. It became clear that they were also nervous about the route that American politics is taking, and we had an interesting discussion regarding Chinese/US relations, which is something I hadn’t had a chance yet to discuss openly with someone from the region. They were so truly interested in learning about my life, country, and culture, and I had an amazing time learning about theirs. Having this chance to get to know some local people outside of a business setting was so refreshing, and was exactly what I needed. It was so hard for me to relate to a lot of the people that I’d met, because I admittedly know much less about Chinese culture than I do about many other cultures globally. The fact that this couple took the chance during their Saturday lunch to introduce me to their food and to their own lives was so beautiful, and I’m grateful for the experience. They were also very upset that I hadn’t taken a photo of my food or myself during this clearly momentous lunch, so my phone was taken so that it could be taken care of on my behalf. Now, you all get to experience the amazement:

Thank you, again, kind strangers! I have so much more appreciation now for your country, city, and culture and am thankful for your beautiful introduction.

And so here concludes my lessons learned from a week in Hong Kong. This experience taught me so much more than I was honestly expecting it to, but I suppose by now I should know to always expect to grow and develop from each and every experience that I have. I’m grateful for the time that I spent in this city, and I’m excited for the chance to explore more of this beautiful continent (just hopefully in better weather!).


And if you’re like me and needed wayy more info before venturing into Southeast Asia, check out my fellow blogger over at Creative Travel Guide who has an excellent list of 40 Things you Need to Know before Traveling Asia.

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Morocco Days 5-6: Fes

Morocco Days 5-6: Fes

After leaving Meknes, we headed on our way via a short train journey to the city of Fes- our 5th city of this whirlwind adventure through the Kingdom of Morocco!

Fes is one of the four imperial cities in Morocco, and was truly incredible to visit.  Perhaps most interestingly, Fes is known as one of the last hold-outs for true Moroccan handicraft, as the government has arranged for handicraft workers in Fes to be compensated well in order to preserve Moroccan artistic and cultural traditions.  Since Fes has such a reputation for creating beautiful Moroccan art, we spent the large majority of our time in this city visiting the local artists (read: shopping) and wandering through the old medina.  There is a great viewpoint of Fes that shows the true expanse of the medina’s intricate network of buildings, and makes you thankful for bringing along a local guide.  


Our guide was amazing, and she was able to successfully show us all of the interesting things to see within the medina, all while preventing anyone from getting lost in the tiny alleys and streets of the souk (market).  Most significantly, we visited the local mosaic and ceramic co-op where many of Morocco’s beautiful clay tiles, glasses, tajines, vases, and fountains are created.  We first wandering around the studio spaces of the co-op to learn about the role of each artist, and how these incredibly intricate pieces are created by hand.


Fortunately, you can have the co-op send any products you purchase back to your home via insured DHL or FedEx post, so you can go hog-wild with all of the beautiful ceramics and mosaics on offer!  Fountain anyone?


We also visited the Fes tannery, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A visit to the tannery involves a hike up about 4 flights of stairs until you reach the roof of the building.  From there, you have a killer view of the leather dying processes of the tannery, including the smell associated.  I think the smell has something to do with the pigeon excrement that they use in the dying process, but it’s just a wild guess!  The process is a centuries-old tradition that is certain to remain the same now that the site is protected by UNESCO.  Despite the smell, it’s an interesting place to visit, and an even better place to shop!  You’ll be able to find any leather good you could possibly want in the showroom once you’ve learned about how the products are made down below.


One of the most impressive places that we visited was the Fes Royal Palace.  You might think this means that we got to have a stroll through the palace, or at least the palace grounds, but it’s not actually possible because members of the royal family still inhabit or utilize all of the royal palaces in Morocco.  The impressive bit that we did see- the door- was enough for me to imagine what might lay beyond.


Our wander through the souk of Fes’ old medina was an incredible look into the intricate details of a Moroccan market, visited daily by local families looking to pick up fresh ingredients for the day’s meals.  


Be careful, though, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in this medina, as it seems to go on forever and the streets wind in every way imaginable making the task of re-tracing your steps nearly impossible.  The Fes medina is certainly worth a visit, as it holds many architectural and cultural treasures that wouldn’t be seen otherwise!  For instance, there is a beautiful Quranic school within the depths of the medina that has some of the most incredible architecture that I’ve ever seen.


The detail in the mosaics, carvings, and etchings within this old Quranic school are absolutely exquisite, it was hard to believe that they were handmade.  There is also the oldest university in the world, founded in 859 AD, located within the medina.  It’s only possible for Muslims to attend and visit the university as it’s located partially within a mosque, but we were able to have a peak inside to see how incredibly beautiful the architecture is.   And the best part?  The university was founded by a woman!  


It was also interesting to see so many local people lounging in the shaded archways of the mosques in the medina, but we learned that this is a place where locals might go to escape the intense Moroccan heat and chaotic nature of the surrounding media.  As such, the mosque has turned into a social gathering space in a secluded place amongst the vendors in the surrounding medina.  It was great to get a peek into such an interesting part of the local culture and society seeing everyone lounging and socializing in the shade of the beautiful archways.


I’ve truly enjoyed learning about the culture and history of Morocco so far, especially as a separate entity from the culture and history of Islam.  In most cases, it seems as if the cultures of the country and religion go side-by-side, but the divergences have become the source for quite interesting conversations amongst our tour group, and especially with our local guides.  Fes became home to many of these conversations as our local guide from Fes was so fantastic, but also because of the interesting details we learned about the country, such as the world’s oldest university being founded by a woman.

As much of the “western” world media is currently focusing on the evils of Islam and Islamic culture- something I have vehemently stood against- it was refreshing and beautiful to hear local people, both men and women, speak about their history, culture, customs, and religion in a way that reflects how proud they are of their Moroccan culture and heritage.  I particularly enjoyed hearing about the development of the woman’s role in Moroccan society, as not so long ago it was forbidden for women to even leave their houses or be seen by people outside of their families.  Our local guide described her struggle to find her place in the tourism industry, and her successes (clearly- she is incredible at what she does).  She even joked that because there is only one key for their house, her husband was the one who had to stay home that day since she locked him in!  While there is obviously a level of humor in such a statement, it shows how far women truly have come in this society, and the progress that’s being made.  I’ve come to realize that no society is perfect, but it is especially damaging for us to judge another society’s values and customs using our own as a baseline.  As our guide, Mohamed, explained to me, we can sit on opposite sides of a table looking a number.  I might see a number 6, and he might see a number 9, but we’re still looking at the same thing; there is no “right” way of seeing any one thing, particularly when it comes to culture.  I like to think that I had a good grip on combating ethnocentrism prior to my travels in Morocco, but this trip has certainly shown me that there is always room for improvement in understanding other people, and I am thankful for everything that I’ve learned so far.

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Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Wow.  It’s only the 5th day since I landed in Morocco, and I have to admit, it’s incredibly overwhelming!  So far, I’ve visited 4 cities/towns and just landed in my 5th (Fes) to explore over the next day or so.  As you can imagine, we’ve been moving pretty quickly, although I have to say that I’m impressed at how well everything has been organized thus far!  I am exhausted, though, and anticipate many early nights in my future on this trip!

After departing from Casablanca yesterday morning, we took the train about 2 hours north to the city of Rabat.  Rabat is the current capital of Morocco, and one of the four imperial cities in the country (alongside Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes).  We were given maps and were told to wander around the city on the hunt for the 3 major sites in the city.  First, we stopped at Rabat’s Kasbah (a former royal fortress) made from orange clay located just outside the old medina.  


I also managed to wander into a small street market surrounded by beautiful blue walls.


After leaving the Kasbah, I had a wander through the medina, which is a part of the city with small winding streets.  The souk is the local market, typically located in the medina, and as Moroccans typically do not store food at home, especially in large cities like Rabat, the market was full of fresh products for the locals to purchase for the day.  I loved wandering through my first true Moroccan market to see all of the products on offer, as it was a great glimpse into local life in Rabat.  After exiting the hectic market, I walked along the walls surrounding the medina towards a mosque and the Muhammad V Mausoleum .  The minaret (tower) of the mosque was meant to be the tallest in the world, but the king died before it was finished and the decision was made to leave it as it was when he passed giving it a unique flat roof rather than the more typically pyramid roofs of many of the minarets in Morocco.  


Standing behind the mosque and minaret is the Mausoleum where tombs of the royal family are located.  The tomb is still guarded by the king’s guards; two men sit mounted on beautiful horses at the front gate of the Mausoleum, and one stands at each entrance of the tomb, all dressed in the traditional costumes.  



The architecture of the Mausoleum is absolutely beautiful with gorgeous arches and mosaics creating such a peaceful atmosphere.  I loved the opportunity to visit this place, as it was much more beautiful and impressive than I was expecting.  As we were on a “self guided tour” for Rabat, I do wish that I had more information about what exactly the significance of each part of the Mausoleum is to understand the history and culture behind it.  In any case, it was a great start to our first stop after Casablanca!

Once we finished lunch in Rabat, we headed on a train towards Meknes where we boarded taxis bound for Moulay Idriss.  Moulay Idriss is a small town of about 20,000 people located in the Rif mountains in northern Morocco.  The city was originally founded in the 10th century by Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who was the great-grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  Now, Moulay Idriss is a beautiful little town known as a holy city, as many make pilgrimages to the tomb of Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who is buried at a mosque in the center of the city.  While the mosque is off-limits to non-Muslims (as the town itself was until several years ago), the town was absolutely incredible to visit.  The walls along all of the small winding streets were painted a bright turquoise blue color which made everything look incredibly beautiful.


We took a short tour with an incredible local guide to learn about Moulay Idriss, both the town and the man, and to learn more about small Moroccan communities.  I truly enjoyed the opportunity to walk around this small, isolated town with someone who had grown up there, as it was an amazing opportunity to really truly understand the local culture.  At the end of our walk, we were brought to a viewpoint over the town where we could see the roofs of the entire town, including that of the beautiful mosque, right as the sun was beginning to set.


We were staying with a local family in their Riad bed & breakfast in the town of Moulay Idriss called La Colombe Blanche.  The hotel is perfectly located and run by an awesome family who were incredibly warm and welcoming. After watching the sun set over the hills from their terrace, we had a lovely dinner at their home where we learned to cook traditional cous cous (much more difficult than it seems), and then ate kefta (meatball) tangine and cous cous around a family-style table.  This was an amazing experience, as clearly so much effort had gone into preparing the meal and it was lovely to learn more about the people traveling with me, as well as Muhammad, our guide.  Plus, the interior of the home was beautiful!  I highly recommend a stay here if you plan to visit Moulay Idriss- and be sure to order dinner from the family, I have never had more delicious cous cous!


The next day we made our way back to Meknes with a pit stop at the nearby Roman settlement Volubilis.  Volubilis was a massive Roman settlement, one of two in Morocco, but was unfortunately largely destroyed by an earthquake in the late 18th century.  Still, standing essentially alone within these ruins was a very surreal experience.  The settlement is surrounded by rolling hills, and seemed to go on for miles.  We were able to walk through some of the massive houses that were owned by wealthy families in Volubilis, complete with gorgeous mosaic “carpets” which still lay as they were on the floors of the individual rooms.


We were also able to walk through the forum, and then the cathedral which has no walls or roofs, but still has massive and beautiful columns outlining where the structure stood in its time.


A visit to Volubilis is definitely worth putting on the itinerary of a North Moroccan trip, particularly if you will already be visiting Moulay Idriss.  It’s possible to get a taxi or local guide to take you to Volubilis from Moulay Idriss, and the prices can be quite reasonable (after haggling, of course!).  

After departing from Volubilis, we made the 45-minute journey back to the town of Meknes to visit the ruins of the palace created by King Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV of France.  King Moulay Ismail was well known for trying to create structures and a kingdom just as amazing as those created by Louis XIV, and so what is left after the same earthquake that destroyed Volubilis is still absolutely incredible.  The most note-worthy structure is the stable which was built to house 12,000 of the king’s horses.


After visiting these ruins, we stopped in the medina for a camel burger before heading on to our next stop in Fes.  Camel burgers are rarely consumed in northern Morocco, as the meat is quite expensive for the locals and you won’t see many camels in the area, but there are still a couple of (very) small restaurants that are willing to prepare them!


Overall, I loved this part of the trip as these were places I might not have thought to go to on my own.  I would especially recommend a visit to Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, as they’re very remote but truly incredible pieces of Moroccan history and culture that would be difficult to find in other places in the country!


Up next: Fes and Chefchaouen (the Blue City)!  Remember to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and on this site to hear the latest about my Moroccan travels!


Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

I’m sitting by the ocean listening to the evening’s competing prayer calls ring out over the city, and I still can’t quite grapple with the fact that I’m in Casablanca.  In Morocco!  I’ve been dreaming about this day for years, and finally, I’m here.  I’ve spent my first day visiting the legendary city of Casablanca, and before I part ways with my entry point into Morocco for my next city (Rabat), I’m eager to share my thoughts.

Yesterday, after a grueling 12 hour travel day (thanks to terrible Prague-Casablanca flight connections), I arrived to the Casablanca airport ready to jump into bed.  First, I was shepherded through to immigration, where I was met with a sticker on the immigration window that said, “Smile, you’re in Casablanca!”  I’m certain that the immigration officer thought I was insane because, truly, this sticker put the biggest grin on my face.  After receiving my Moroccan passport stamp, I made my way towards baggage claim and what I thought would be a similar baggage claim experience to every other that I’ve ever had.  Nope.  Customs officials actually check all bags, even in the “Nothing to Declare” section, which was an exciting surprise.  Obviously my backpack didn’t look too threatening, and I was sent on my way.  I knew the approximate price of a taxi to get to my hotel, and considering it was nearing 9:30 pm, I was game for a quick and easy trek to the city.

The airport in Casablanca looks strangely void of all shops/restaurants/normal airport things… until you go outside.  All of the food shops are outside!  It was such a great idea, I would love to grab lunch outside of the airport before being crammed into that metal tube to go catapulting through the sky.  In any case, after looking over this outdoor food court, I found my way to the taxi stand.  I was placed (literally) in a taxi with a nice man named Rada.  Rada told me that the cost of the taxi ride would be 300 Dirham after seeing the address of my hotel, and I agreed, so we went on our way.  On the entrance ramp to the highway, Rada pulls over, asks to look at the address again, and then politely informs me that he misunderstood where the hotel was, and the cost would actually be 650 Dirham.  More than double the originally agreed-upon price!  He asked if it was okay, and I just laughed.  We were on the highway entrance ramp- this didn’t seem like a good time to say no so that I could find out what his next move would be.  After this initial impression, I was grumping pretty hard in the back seat, but eventually Rada and I began to talk (mostly in French, which was an interesting exercise for me).  Sometime during this chat, he asked me out for coffee, and I politely said something to the effect of, “Yeah, sure”, figuring this was some sort of hypothetical coffee.  Again, nope.  Next thing I know, we’ve stopped at a coffee shop on one of the busy streets of Casablanca, and we’re drinking espresso at 10:00 pm.  It was amazing.  I liked talking to Rada and learning about him and his country over a casual nighttime coffee.  Actually, it was sweet of him, because he picked up the bill and then continued driving me to my hotel.  These types of encounters are my favorite, and while I was a bit nervous at this somewhat unusual taxi situation, I was thankful for the opportunity to be invited into the life of a local stranger that I’d met by chance. So all in all, a successful first 2 hours in Casablanca.

This morning, I made my first stop the Hassan II Mosque, located on the coast of Casablanca.  I got there about an hour before the tour I planned to take so that I could find something to eat.  I ended up at a very local café with excellent coffee and pastries (for cheap!), and enjoyed sitting amongst the local café patrons sipping java while looking down the road at the 3rd largest mosque in the world.  What an incredible experience.  Afterwards, I made my way over to the mosque, and began taking an absurd amount of photos.  Really, I’m ashamed.  But the exterior of the mosque was just so beautiful, I really couldn’t stop myself.

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

After about a half hour of that, I went to purchase tickets for the 11 am tour.  It’s difficult to find online, but the Hassan II Mosque allows visitors inside 3 times per day (excluding Friday) at 9, 10, and 11 am.  Tickets are 120 Dirham for adults, and 60 Dirham for students, which includes a guided 45-60 minute tour, and can be purchased on site at the cash desk.  It’s good to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the tour start time, as all visitors of all languages will be lining up to get their tickets.  Tours are offered in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Italian.  A lot of visitors will only visit the exterior of the mosque, which is admittedly gorgeous, but the interiors are absolutely worth visiting.

The mosque is the 3rd largest in the world after two in Saudi Arabia, and has the tallest minaret in the world.  The structure was built in 6 years because the craftsmen worked in shifts 24 hours/day 7 days per week.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling how incredible this place is.

Morocco: Casablanca

After visiting the mosque, I spent some time walking the coast and watching the mosque fade in the distance while local children swam in the ocean below.  It’s clear that despite this being such a grand structure, and such a highly-visited tourist attraction, it’s still a center of the community.

Morocco: Casablanca

After getting exhausted wandering in the 90-degree humid heat, I hopped in a taxi bound for the Habous neighborhood of the city.  This section of Casablanca is referred to as the “new medina” or “little Marrakech” because of the market stalls lining the streets, but still the medina nature of the architecture and layout despite being outside the old city walls.  First, I grabbed lunch at a local café just outside the medina.  The waiter didn’t speak English, so I was back to communicating in French.  That would have been fine, except I’m so sure that French is slightly different here, and people also speak really quietly.  Even if I could understand him, I definitely couldn’t hear him, so I just agreed to what he was trying to suggest.  I ended up eating a traditional breakfast item of omelette tangine with miscellaneous meat, and it was really good!

After lunch, I began exploring the medina that rested just beyond my café.  I loved walking around this part of the city and checking out what all of the shop owners and vendors were selling.  I found it really interesting that the handful of stalls on the road leading from my taxi drop point and restaurant were incredibly touristy, with vendors trying to convince me to purchase their products.

Morocco: Casablanca

As I kept walking further into the market, the shops clearly became “local” with local women purchasing dresses made from exquisite fabric, and men haggling for new shoes.  These vendors didn’t seem interested in me, and it gave me the chance to just observe this local business- an amazing experience!

Morocco: Casablanca

I also loved that so many of the vendors throughout the medina were selling art.  I didn’t see much of the traditional touristy mass-produced pieces, but rather beautiful oils on canvas of local street scenes, animals, and people.  Every nook and cranny of the market had something interesting- I’m very excited to compare this medina to others that I’ll see in upcoming cities.

Morocco: Casablanca

After finishing up in the medina, I was ready to head back to my hotel to relax a little and clean my clothes.  I went to grab a taxi, and found that 5 other people were trying to grab a taxi back to my hotel!  I ended up sharing one with two girls from Australia, who I came to realize would also be on the tour that I’ll be joining tomorrow.  I’m excited to meet the rest of the group and group leader at our starting point tomorrow evening- I’m sure that this is going to be an amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to get started.

Next up: Rabat!


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Preparing for Travel: 3 Days Until Morocco

Preparing for Travel: 3 Days Until Morocco

For me, preparing to travel is actually the most nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing part of the entire experience.  Once I’ve arrived at my destination, I’m overwhelmed by excitement; I’m learning new things, meeting new people, and exploring as much as I possibly can.  Before my departure, however, I spend a lot of time thinking about all of the ways that I could possibly prepare for my impending adventure.  If I’ve learned one thing from several years of travel, it’s that most of the preparation isn’t even close to necessary.  But, here we are, another 3-week backpacking adventure on the horizon, and I’ve been planning my packing list for 2 weeks already.  You know, “just in case”.  I’ll be spending 19 days living out of my backpack making my way through the gorgeous country of Morocco.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 7.42.33 PM
My Moroccan Itinerary

This trip has been at the top of my travel list for a long time, so I’m excited that I’m finally able to make it a reality!  For months, I’ve been combing through pictures of Moroccan towns and cities, as well as the gorgeous landscapes that are plastered all over Pinterest.  Who wouldn’t be excited?

As a travel blogger and expat, I often find myself embarrassed for talking about any pre-travel anxiety- after all, this is exactly what I’m supposed to love doing, right?  Maybe I’m unique in that I essentially travel for a living and still get nervous about my upcoming trips, but this is who I am and it’s not like I can run from that.  So, what do I do to ease the nervousness that comes before a big trip?  I do research about where I’m traveling to, figure out the best things to pack so that I don’t have to worry about what I’ve forgotten, and consider all of the amazing experiences that I’m about to have!

I’ll be traveling to Morocco with Intrepid Travel, a travel and tour company that focuses on responsible, immersive, small-group travel.  Usually I’m not one for tour groups.  Actually, usually I despise tour groups with a pretty incredible passion, but I wanted to go with a group on this trip for a couple of reasons.  First, despite all of the wonderful female bloggers out there singing the virtues of solo female travel (and I’m often one of them), I didn’t want to travel across Morocco for 3 weeks by myself, much to my parents’ relief.  Secondly, I wanted a truly local experience, and this tour, Morocco Encompassed, allows for me to take local forms of transportation (my first overnight train!), stay with host families, and meet local people in a way that I might not otherwise have been able to.  I am a little apprehensive about committing to such a long trip without any prior experience with this company, but I’m excited for the adventure and to meet my fellow group members as we make our way all across the country.  I’m also excited that I didn’t have to do much planning for this trip.  I plan travel all the time, so having a break from planning for one of my own vacations was a nice relief!

I’ll be blogging throughout my trip, so I’ll be able to give you an in depth and real-time look at my experience traveling through a large portion of this incredible country.  I’ll also be uploading photos (probably more frequently than blog posts) on Instagram, so I encourage you to follow me there to see what I’m getting up to each day!  I’m excited to have the opportunity to invite you along to join me on my adventure.  I look forward to hearing from you as I go, and to sharing my thoughts, excitement, and fears with you as  I embark on one of my dream trips.  If you’d like to be notified of my new posts, please submit your e-mail on the right side of this page.

I should also mention, I am not in any way being sponsored by Intrepid Travel for any posts that I write throughout my experience.  Everything that I write will be my completely honest opinion, and I hope that it will help you decide whether or not a trip like this is right for you!

My Itinerary

  • Days 1-3: Casablanca (I’m arriving 2 days early so that I can explore this city before our group departs)
  • Day 4: Rabat/Moulay Idris
  • Day 5: Volubilis/Fes
  • Day 6: Fes
  • Day 7-8: Chefchaouen (VERY excited about this!)
  • Day 9: Tangier
  • Day 10-11: Marrakech
  • Day 12: Aroumd
  • Day 13: Ait Benhaddou
  • Day 14: Zagora
  • Day 15: Sahara Camp
  • Day 16: Taroudannt
  • Day 17-18: Essaouira
  • Day 19: Marrakech
How To Make Resort Travel Culturally Immersive

How To Make Resort Travel Culturally Immersive

Now that summer is here, many people are gearing up for their summer vacations all over the world.  And really, what better place for a good R&R vacation than a beach-side resort?

You can have these views:


These drinks:

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 9.00.51 PM

And the sand between your toes with nothing to think about besides what you’ll have for your next frozen beverage.

I love resort vacations as much as the next girl, but one thing that has become increasingly irksome to me is how little I get to see of the city or country where my resort is located.  I was recently asked whether I had any local friends in Nassau after having visited the island almost annually for 16 years.  And I was embarrassed to admit that no, I don’t really have any local friends.  I’m sure you know this feeling, too- you get off the plane and take a car to your hotel, and then you spend an entire week never leaving the property.  And, you haven’t even noticed, right?

In the last few years, I’ve begun to notice how little I actually knew about the resort destinations I’ve visited, so here I am with some helpful tips to help you get both the needed rest and relaxation you’re craving, along with a good dose of local culture to keep your mind and spirit active.

  • Get to know the geography. I know that this sounds like incredibly useless advice, but you’d be surprised at how important it can actually be!  I’m sure that you know all about the resort you’ll be staying at long before you get there, but do you know anything about the city or town closest to your resort?  Often times, resorts are located a bit outside the towns that host them, which makes the resorts such quiet and relaxing destinations, so you may need to get creative with how you get from your hotel to the town or local attractions.  With that being said, usually it’s fairly easy to manage with a taxi or local bus- this is something that the front desk staff at your hotel should be able to help you with.


  • Find the locals. In the towns surrounding tourist destinations, you will often find restaurants created for tourists, souvenir shopping, and other places that you wouldn’t ever actually find a local person. Instead of going to those places, figure out where it is that the locals actually spend their time, and there you will find the most authentic version of the place you’re visiting.  For example, during a trip earlier this year to Nassau in the Bahamas, I heard of a place called Da Fish Fry, which was meant to be a local spot to grab great seafood. Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 9.24.57 PMDespite my absolute loathing of any food that once swam, I decided it would be worth checking out.  Well, this experience absolutely changed my view of downtown Nassau, and I spent way more time outside of my resort, but also outside of the touristy Straw Market, and now I feel like I know Nassau a little bit better.


  • Attend local events. Whether you’re religious and want to attend a service at a local place of worship, or you want to attend the Junkanoo festival that Nassau holds on New Year’s Eve every year, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the local culture through their local events and celebrations.  The local tourism website will typically have a list of local activities, from farmer’s markets and artisan markets to music or cultural festivals.


  • Talk to the locals! Usually when you’re at a resort, all of the people that you meet are other guests who are also enjoying their vacations.  This might be a great way to meet people from across the world, but it’s not a good way to learn about the place that you’re actually visiting!  Lucky for you, there is an easy solution: talk to the employees at the resort.  Most of the time the people working at resorts are some of the friendliest you’ll meet as they work in a very customer service-focused business.  You can have a great chat with a bar tender, casino dealer, off-duty lifeguard, taxi driver, etc. to find out who they are, and maybe even what’s happening in town that night!

Resort vacations are an amazing way to relax and rewind, but they also offer a great opportunity to explore shockingly little-explored cultures around the world!  I encourage you to get off property for a day or afternoon to get some good local food, have some good conversations, and learn something new about the world around you.  The bonus to getting out of the resort for the day is the saved cost of buying typically expensive resort food in favor of less expensive food in town.  All around, exploring your surroundings while on a resort vacation will only help to improve your experience and allow you to make fantastic memories outside the confines of your hotel!

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Best of the East Coast: Lower Hudson Valley, NY

Best of the East Coast: Lower Hudson Valley, NY

Just slightly north of New York City is the lower Hudson Valley, one of the most beautiful regions of the state of New York- and hardly ever visited by the millions of tourists flocking to NYC throughout the year.  This area features beautiful mountains, scenic river views, orchards, wineries, and all sorts of activities to keep you occupied throughout the year.

Hudson Valley map

I should probably come clean at the beginning and confess that I grew up in the Lower Hudson Valley (Monroe-Woodbury in Orange County to be exact), so I may be a bit biased in saying that this is the best of the East Coast (even though it is).  But, I’m happy to share with you the list of all of my favorite things that this incredible region has to offer!

West Point (aka United States Military Academy).

It may seem strange that my top spot in the Hudson Valley is a military base, but once you see it, you’ll understand why!

Credit: Eric Luding

Founded at the beginning of the 19th century, the USMA is one of the most historic institutions in the US.  Its history goes back to the Revolutionary War, where a great chain constructed in the picturesque bend of the river prevented British ships from sailing north into the rest of the colonies.  Now, West Point is one of the top universities in the country, training and educating future army officers in exchange for military service.  There is a visitor’s center outside the gates of West Point where you can learn about the academy, and a museum where you’ll find information about the base’s history.  Visitors can enter the base to visit the historic Thayer Hotel, which serves up an excellent Sunday brunch and has a great rooftop restaurant/bar, Zulu Time.  You may also take a bus tour of the base to learn about its incredibly interesting history, and to get an inside look of some of the incredible buildings. Alternatively, you can enter the base on your own to explore Trophy Point, the Cadet Chapel, and the West Point Cemetery where many famous Americans are interred.  In the summer, be sure to check out the outdoor concerts at Trophy Point, or the shows and events at Eisenhower Hall from September-April.

The view from Trophy Point. Credit: Eric Luding
The view from Trophy Point. Credit: Eric Luding

The best time of year to visit West Point is most certainly the autumn when the leaves take on glowing red, yellow, and orange colors, there are Army football games to attend, and the mountains seem like something out of another world.  Restrictions on entering the base are being tightened, so be sure to plan ahead if you do not have a DoD ID card; more information for visitors to West Point can be found here.

Perkins Peak.


This is a tough contender with West Point for my favorite spot in the Hudson Valley, but actually, the hiking trails at Perkins Peak butt up to West Point property, so we can almost consider it the same.  The Appalachian Trail runs right through Perkins Peak, but you don’t need to do any strenuous hiking to get there if you don’t want to.  This is a scenic overlook with incredible views of the Hudson River, and on a clear day, the Manhattan skyline.  A lot of people will drive up (via Perkins Memorial Drive) to Perkins Peak just to climb the lookout tower and have a picnic lunch on the beautiful, flat rocks overlooking the river.  If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can hike a short loop of the Appalachian Trail (definitely worth doing), or one of the other many trails that run through the area.  In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. *Keep in mind that Perkins Peak is open only April-November.*

App Trail
Hiking a piece of the Appalachian Trail

Bear Mountain State Park

Located nearby to West Point, Bear Mountain is a gorgeous natural park with lots of activities to keep you entertained year round. There is the Bear Mountain Inn with a restaurant to visit, but also a ton of outdoor activities. Nearby to the Bear Mountain Inn is the Bear Mountain Ice Rink which is a beautiful place to skate outside in the winter.  In the summer, there are a ton of hiking trails and outdoor events to explore.  Sometimes you’ll also find Redhawk Native American pow-wows held in the park which are amazing events to attend- a good way to explore some of the native culture of New York!  And as with West Point, the most beautiful time to visit is in the autumn months when the foliage lights up in beautiful colors.  Be forewarned, this is also one of the most touristy parts of the year in the Hudson Valley, but seeing the beautiful mountain colors are more than worth a little extra road traffic!

Warwick, NY.

Warwick is a small town about 45 minutes from Bear Mountain State Park that’s full of beautiful farms, quaint restaurants and shops, and a lot to see and do.  The main street in Warwick is full of cute shops and restaurants that make a great afternoon stroll, but there’s a lot happening outside the commercial center, too.  In fact, I have so many top spots in Warwick that it justifies its own list:

  1. Masker’s Orchard.Maskers Found just outside the main streets of Warwick, this spot is a step outside the mountains I’ve been raving about.  Masker’s Orchard is a massive orchard with hundreds of pick-your-own apple trees of all different varieties.  My all-time favorite fall activity is visiting Masker’s with a picnic lunch and finding a spot to eat under an apple tree.  You can spend as much time in the orchard as you’d like, and you pay for any apples you bag by weight on your way out (after taste-testing one or two in the orchard, of course!).  Even after leaving the orchard, you’ll find a country store with local products (definitely try the apple butter), and a food stand selling all home-made apple products like apple cider, apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and apple donuts.
  2. Bellvale Farms CreameryLocated on one of the highest hills in Warwick, the Bellvale Farms Creamery has arguably one of the most beautiful views in the area, served up with what is most certainly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  Plus, you can go meet the dairy cows right at the bottom of the hill- it doesn’t get more fresh than that.  This spot is nothing more than a local ice cream shop with a view, but it is absolutely worth a stop for the view and dessert!Bellvale
  3. Warwick Valley WineryThere are many wineries in the Warwick area, but the Warwick Valley Winery tops my list because of its tasty wine, great scenery, and other amenities.  Not only does the WV Winery grow excellent, local wine, but they also have their own cider and distilleries that offer great alcohols from almost any fruit you can imagine.  In addition to their tasting room, they have a restaurant/cafe and outdoor patio where live music can be enjoyed in the summer months. This is a great place to spend an afternoon trying some local products and enjoying the adult beverages of the area.

Walkway Over the Hudson

This a relatively new Hudson Valley attraction that has gained local interest very quickly.  Spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and the New Paltz area, it brings you a bit further north into the Hudson Valley, but well within the natural beauty of the region.  While not directly in New Paltz, but rather in the town of Highlands, the New Paltz side of the bridge is close enough to the town to include on your Walkway itinerary.  New Paltz, home to one of the State Universities of New York, is notoriously a “hippie town” with a beautiful and walkable main street, plus excellent shops and restaurants.  There are also many important historic landmarks in New Paltz, most notably the Historic Huguenot Street.  The Poughkeepsie side offers great restaurants and activities along the waterfront, making it a great end-point to your walk over the Hudson.  The Walkway itself provides you with beautiful views of the river and surrounding scenery- it’s definitely worth a visit!

Even after traveling through so much of the world and visiting so many beautiful places, I can genuinely say that the Hudson Valley is still one of my favorite places to be.  In my mind, nothing beats visiting Perkins Peak in autumn when the leaves are changing colors and looking out at the Manhattan skyline in the distance.  Likewise, there are few better ways to spend a day than sitting in an apple tree at Masker’s munching on a fresh Delicious Red.  I encourage anyone with a free weekend in NYC to make the trip up north to explore some of the great things that New York State has to offer; these are the things that make New York the Best of the East Coast.

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This post is part of an East Coast link up with bloggers all up and down the coast- check out the other posts below!


Solo Traveling: To Tinder or Not to Tinder?

Solo Traveling: To Tinder or Not to Tinder?

When I travel, I make every effort to get my eyes off my phone in order to actually experience what’s around me.  What a concept, right?  But with increasingly accessible data and wifi around the globe, it can be tough to meet the people standing around you when everyone is too worried about checking their Instagram feeds or Snapchats.  When you’re traveling alone, this can be especially challenging, as meeting new people is often one of the best advantages to traveling alone, but can be quite difficult to manage.  Sigh.  There’s nothing we can do to change this in our current social media and selfie-obsessed culture, right?  Wrong!

On a recent trip to Visby, Sweden, I decided to try to give the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality a go.  I got myself on Tinder, and I started swiping in an effort to find someone that I could meet that didn’t massively creep me out.  I felt that Visby was a pretty great place to do this for a couple of reasons; the city/town of Visby is so tiny and it seems like everyone knows everyone, which is a pretty comforting feeling.  Visby is also an incredibly safe and cosy city, so the risk didn’t seem as great as it might be in other, bigger cities.

I ended up talking to someone via the chat function the first night I was there, and we agreed to meet for a drink the next day at a pub right off the the central town square.  Even before I met my Tinder friend in person, he was surprisingly helpful by giving me ideas of things to do in Gotland while I was there.  I actually received a lot of great tips from people I ended up not even meeting with, which goes to show the friendly and helpful nature of the beautiful people in that city, and how useful Tinder can be in other areas, as well.

Anyway, after an incredibly long day of site-seeing (I walked nearly 40 miles while I was in Gotland!), I met with Charles (Tinder friend) to try the local Visby beer at a small Irish pub.  We spent a few hours in the pub talking over some great beer- it was really a nice and unexpected experience.  We talked about politics, current events, Swedish/American/Czech/British/French cultures (there was a lot of experience to draw on from both sides), language, and about this beautiful town of Visby with which I’d already fallen in love.  This is exactly the kind of meeting I hope for every time I travel, and I’m not always so lucky to find it given that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet people.  I think that in those few hours I learned as much about Visby as I had while walking all over the city for hours over the course of three days.  I felt more connected to the people and the culture of this place as a result of this exchange with a local Visbian (if it wasn’t a thing, it is now).

After a couple of beers, we decided to take a walk around part of the old city, which was an equally interesting and engaging experience.  I had already walked down almost every passable street earlier in the day, and had spent an unimaginable amount of time staring at the beautiful architecture, but it was a very different experience walking around with a local in the evening.  We walked to one of the many ruined cathedrals in the town and stood admiring the architecture and view for quite a while.  I found it so interesting that Charles mentioned on multiple occasions that he hadn’t stopped to look at some of the things that I’d become so infatuated with in the city- I guess this may work both ways!  His comments to that effect also demonstrated to me how easy it is for me to do the same in my home environment.  While I recognize that I’m in an incredible unique and fortunate situation to have a view of Prague Castle from my office window, I can’t help but think how many times I blew through the beautiful country roads near my hometown in New York without admiring the natural beauty of the region.


I digress; walking through these streets in Visby for what seemed like the hundredth time that day was actually one of the best walks I had through the city that week.  Walking through a city, any city, and having the opportunity to look at it through someone else’s eyes is an incredible experience, and one that will likely teach you even more than you thought possible about your perceptions, as well as the city itself.

So, for the result of my experiment: I vote yes to Tinder While Traveling.  I think that it’s an interesting way to meet new people, especially local people, and can be a great cultural immersion tool.  With that being said, I think it’s incredibly important to “Tinder safely”, as it’s obviously necessary to be safe and smart while meeting any strangers while traveling.  Make sure that you only meet with someone in a very public place, and also be sure to tell someone else where you’ll be, even if they’re out of the city/country.  I think it’s also good to recognize that it’s absolutely fine to use Tinder for non-romantic purposes as I did in Visby!  Tinder can be a great resource for meeting new people while out traveling in this ever-increasingly digital atmosphere where it’s hard to even make eye contact with a real human.


Tinder and travel safely, my friends!



Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden


Where to stay: Stockholm is a beautiful and vibrant city with a ton of different types of neighborhoods to choose from.  Gamla Stan, the Old Town, is one of the most prestigious places to live in the entire country, so naturally, staying there as a tourist will cost you a pretty penny.  I opted to stay in the neighborhood called Sodermalm, which is on the island south of Gamla Stan, but along the same metro line.  I found this area to be bustling with chic bars and great restaurants, as well as plenty of boutique shops that didn’t make you feel like you were walking and breathing tourism every minute of the day.  Add to the fact that some of the best views in the city are on this island, and I’d say this is the place to be if you really want to experience all that Stockholm has to offer, and not just the touristy old town.

Hostels have weird policies in much of Sweden, which often include a requirement to bring your own linens and towels.  It may not seem like such a big deal, but when you have to pay upwards of $30 or $40 USD per night for the privilege of staying in a shared room, I believe that you should have a sheet on your mattress that you didn’t have to bring with you.  Because of this, I opted to stay in an Airbnb since I was able to find one to split with my friend that worked out to roughly the same price as a dorm room in a hostel (here).

Where to eat: There are a ton of great restaurants of almost all cuisines in Stockholm, so the trick is just finding the ones that look most interesting!  Unfortunately, nothing in Stockholm is super cheap, but there are certainly options off the beaten tourist path that are less expensive than in the old town near the attractions.  For example, try visiting Lisa’s Cafe in Sodermalm.  It’s an adorable little café where it’s clear that the servers know everyone who walks through the door, or will by the time the customer leaves.  Eating breakfast at Lisa’s feels like eating in your grandmother’s kitchen- warm, cosy, and friendly; the perfect way to start the day!


I recommend visiting the Nya Carnegie Bryggeriet, a brewery in a suburb accessible by tram, bus, or ferry.  I especially recommend visiting for lunch, as they have excellent lunch specials (and beer) that aren’t too expensive.  The neighborhood where the brewery is is also really nice to walk around- it’s clearly in a more modern part of the city, so if you have some extra time, it’s worth a wander.  If you’re looking for something distinctly not Swedish, I have two recommendations that came on good authority from locals.  First, The Holy Cow, is a great Indian restaurant located in Sodermalm with relatively inexpensive food and a great atmosphere.  While it isn’t exactly local cuisine, it is clearly a local “spot”, which counts for something!  Secondly, I recommend a restaurant called Moso Jamrock.  Also located in Sodermalm, but slightly closer to Old Town, this is an excellent Caribbean-style restaurant with delicious food and staff that are incredibly friendly and welcoming.

There are also some cultural food traditions in Sweden, which I really think we should all respect.  My favorite of these traditions is something called “Fika”, which is essentially a mid-day break to have coffee and a pastry.  You’ll find Fika menus and special pricing all over the city, and when you can no longer feel your hands because of the cold, you’ll find that it will always be a good life choice.

For more food and food tour recommendations, check out Passion for Hospitality’s post!

What to do: Stockholm is a really incredible city to explore at any time of year.  Of course, visiting in the summer gives you certain advantages, as some sites and attractions are only open or have extended hours between May and August.  If there’s something specific you want to see in Stockholm outside of the summer months, you should definitely do some research to see if it’ll be open when you’re there, otherwise you might be sorely disappointed.  If you’re just visiting Stockholm to take in its history, beauty, and culture, you’ll have plenty to see all year round!


Start by taking a walk in Montelilsvagen, which is a path above the water across from Gamla Stan (old town).  This path will give you absolutely INCREDIBLE views of the city (above), and is a great way to take in the atmosphere and architecture before heading over to the tiny streets of the old city.  If you’re looking for the opposite view, head over to Riddarholmen, which is a small island connected to Gamla Stan.  You’ll find a gorgeous cathedral, interesting food trucks, and a beautiful waterfront on this island.  I found that sitting and looking at the brick facade of city hall from Riddarholmen was one of my favorite places to be in the city.


To orient yourself to the city, try a free walking tour of Gamla Stan with Stockholm Free Tour.  There is so much history packed into those little streets, and so many ways to get lost, it’s really nice to have a guide giving you some ideas and suggestions for what to visit later.  This company also offers tours of the more modern part of the city, so if you’re more interested in the current culture and architecture, you can check that out, too!

If you’re going to visit one museum in Stockholm, and there are many to choose from, I would definitely recommend visiting The Royal Palace.  This is the former residence of the Swedish royal family, but is still used for visitors, and is a central landmark in the middle of the city.  The great thing about a ticket to see the Royal Palace is that it will also give you access to the Treasury, where the crown jewels are now kept, which is a cool place to check out.  Keep in mind that if there are royal visitors in town, access to the inside of the palace will be limited, so if that’s important to you, be sure to check their website in advance.  If you have some time to get outside the city, you can also visit Drottningholm Palace, where the royal family currently resides.

And last but not least, if you’re looking to splurge and spoil yourself, you can have a Swedish spa experience!  The spa at the Grand Hotel (across the water from the Royal Palace) is absolutely incredible, and while it is a bit pricey, it’s worth every penny.

Overall Opinion: Stockholm is a truly incredible city with a rich history and beautiful culture.  Despite its notoriously chilly weather and dark winter days, you’ll likely find that the city is one of the warmest and coziest that you’ll visit.  Even though there is often more to do in the summer months when there’s plenty of daylight and warmth, there are also far more tourists during these months than there are between September and April.  Visiting Stockholm anytime through October will give you the opportunity to experience beautiful fall weather, empty streets, and an incredible atmosphere, so don’t be afraid of heading to Sweden after the summer ends!  I would absolutely visit Stockholm again, it’s really an amazing place to be.