A weekend in London

Welcome to my London travel experience! lt’s been 20 years since I’ve been to London and it happens to be an old home town of mine. Keep reading to find out what I did on my short weekend there.

A little about my journey in London

After graduating college from the University of Texas, I decided not to take the investment banking job on Wall Street I’d hoped to get… Instead, I packed up my bags, had $300 in my pocket, a one-way plane ticket and I moved to London! No, I didn’t have a job. No, I didn’t have a place to live. I ended up couch-surfing on a friend’s couch who I had met a year before and in about three days I found a job typing as a “Kelly girl” in the city of London.

I had planned to stay in London for 6 months but it turned out to be a year and a half! After that, I spent an additional three and a half years living in Europe. To say that this geographical move to London changed my life would be an understatement. This is where my love for travel really took off, and here I am 20 years later back in the city that I love with you.

Tips for where to Eat in London

One of the most fun things to do while you’re in London is to eat. There are so many restaurants and so many areas of London, it can be overwhelming! My suggestion is

  1. Pick a food genre
  2. Pick an area town
  3. Find out what you think is the best restaurant in the area with that particular food genre.

An example from this recent trip: I wanted something a little French and I wanted to be in Covent Garden. I wound up at a restaurant calle Le Beaujolais and I had some amazing French cheese and wine.

TIP: Make sure to try some of the amazing ethnic restaurants that are available. Some people say the Indian food in London is just as good, if not better, than the Indian food in India!

I hope you enjoyed this little blog about my short trip back in London. Tally ho!

What to know for your First Trip to London

What to know for your First Trip to London

This week I’m in an old hometown of mine, London England and I’m going to share with you some top tips for your first trip to London!

 

London is one of the easiest places for Americans to travel to; it is the mother country, after all!  This city feels like a more formal and ancient version of New York City and has everything you could want. London was my first taste of ex-pat life, where I worked as a temporary secretary in the city of London. I love the city and everything it has to offer. 

 

Flying into London

The first thing to pay attention to when you’re headed to London is which airport you are coming into. Did you know there are six airports in London? You want to make a note which one you are flying in and out of.

 

Where to stay in London

London is EXPENSIVE; there’s no doubt about that!  It’s easy to be overwhelmed and a little shocked when looking for accommodations in the city. Some of the most common questions I get are, “Where should I stay?”, “Is there anywhere affordable in London?”, “What about cheap Airbnbs?”  Honestly, cheap doesn’t exist, and if you think it’s cheap, it’s probably scary or so far out that you wouldn’t want to stay there. Not only is accommodation expensive, transportation is also expensive. So what to do? I suggest staying in a hotel inside The Circle Line (one of the Tube lines) for a couple reasons.  1. Time if of the essence, and you don’t want to waste precious hours riding the tube into the city. (TIP: Make sure your hotel is within 3-4 blocks of a tube station) 2. Transportation is also expensive and the further out you stay, the more expensive it will be to get into the city. If you’re visiting London for the first time, you will want to cough up the dough and stay as central as possible. 

 

Here are a couple great Hotel options when booking your trip to London: 

 

 

Money, Money, Money

A lot of people who are traveling to the UK are also traveling to the continental Europe, but it’s important to note: In the UK, they use a different currency! In the UK they use the British Pound. It is different than the euro that you’re going to using in France, Italy, Spain etc.  A great tip: Don’t bother exchanging money from your home currency into the British Pound while you’re at home. Just wait till you get to the UK and withdraw at any of the ATMs. The exchange rate is typically better. Make sure to notify your bank that you will be traveling so you can take money out.

 

How to get Around

The best way to get around is by the subway or the tube – it is the most efficient and least expensive way to get around the entire city. The tubes were used as bomb shelters during WWII! The subway system is easy to use and efficient, but there are some down sides. There are constant delays and certain lines not working due to maintenance issues.  On my last trip to London, I found this great Tube App that not only shows me the best route and travel time, it shows me which lines have delays. This app was invaluable on my trip, as it saved me time as well as stress when finding my way around the city.  Tip: I suggest getting the Oyster Card. It’s a $5 deposit and then it’s only seven British pounds a day for as many rides as you want to take. When you’re done, you turn in your Oyster Card, get your five pounds back for the card and any money left on your card. 

 

What should you wear in London?

It is 10 latitude degrees further north than New York City and it has 106 days a year average rainfall. That means bring warm clothes no matter what time of the year you’re here. Currently, it’s mid-May and packed with me a lightweight jacket, scarves, long pants and close toed shoes. The best shoes to wear in London are walking shoes. Whether you’re taking the tube, a taxi or just wandering around, you’re going to want to be in easygoing, comfortable shoes. As far as style, London is a lot like New York City, so anything goes! If you want to dress up and go to the Savoy for high tea, go for it! OR if you want to be low-key casual in your yoga pants, that works as well.

 

British English vs American English

I wanted to give you a few tips about the language differences between British English and American English. First of all, when you’re in a restaurant and you need a napkin, in London you need to ask for a serviette. (I tend to make a mess when I’m eating so I need lots and lots of serviettes!) Secondly, the boot is actually the trunk of the car. Additionally, when you are asking for the restroom or the ladies room you can actually ask for the loo. When you’re staying at your hotel and they tell you you’re staying on the first floor, that does not mean you are on the ground level. It actually means that you are one level up. In England G is the ground floor, then the first floor then the second floor. Finally, the difference between chips and crisps. Here in the UK chips are french fries and crisps are potato chips. 

 

Food to Try

Great Britain is not historically known for its food, but I do suggest that you give all the traditional British fare a try. Things to try:

  • Shepherd’s pie 
  • Bangers and mash 
  • Proper English Breakfast
  • Fish and chips 

 

 

Other things to Note

Remember that they drive on the other side of the road! If you’re renting a car, you’re going to be sitting on the right-hand side and if you rent a stick shift you’re gonna be shifting with your left hand. When you’re on the road about to turn, you have to look right, left, right! And lastly, note that the adapters for the UK are different than European adapters. 

 

If you enjoyed these tips and you’re headed to Spain, make sure to check out my video: Everything that you need to know before you travel to Spain. See you on the next adventure!

The Best of Toledo, Spain

The Best of Toledo, Spain

Are you looking for ideas for day trips from Madrid? In this video I share why Toledo is well worth the trip and what to do.

 

Toledo is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, and there is nothing like it in all of Spain. The cathedral is incredible, and there are plenty of monuments and museums to keep you busy. The beauty of Toledo is just getting lost. If you’re looking for a gorgeous medieval city, look no further!

Getting there

Toledo is located one hour South of Madrid. You can get there by bus – and that’s what I did.  I paid 5 Euros 50 and it was a 50-minute ride.  You can also get there by train, but do note: the trains don’t run as often as the bus. You can also drive, just make sure that your hotel has parking because it is very difficult to get parking in the old walled part of the city. 

Where to Stay

I stayed in a beautiful hotel called Hotel Boutique Adolfo. It is a 4-star hotel that opened in September of 2018. Best of all, it’s located in Plaza De Zocodover, the main plaza in Casco Historico Toledo, or the old walled City portion of town. This is where you want to be! Check out their availability here. 

 

How Long to Stay

Most people come to Toledo just for the day from Madrid, which is possible, but I recommend spending at least one night. The city is beautiful and quiet to see at night and there’s at least 24 to 48 hours worth of things to do in the city. The city is known for its food as well she want to make sure to stay long enough to try all the Delicacies including partridge, carcamusas, river trout and a hearty bean dishes. 

My Itinerary

I arrived 4 noon with a friend and was able to see the sunset from El Mirador which is the famous view point outside the walled City looking back to the walled City. 

The next morning, I got up and started my self-guided tour on the east side of the old city at Puente de Alcantara. I started here because the sun was better in the morning, perfect for filming and for the sunrise! I decided to work my way from east to west across the walled City, and finish my day at Puente de San Martin on the west.

After visiting Puente de Alcantara, I went to the Alcazar which is the Roman fortified building on the highest point in Toledo. There is a war museum inside. If you’re into this type of history, it’s worth a look! Since I’m not big into war things I didn’t go in, but I’m so glad I went for the view.

Next, I went to the cathedral called the primate Cathedral of Santa Maria of Toledo. I entered through the “Door of Forgiveness.” The Gothic style Cathedral dates back to the 13th century, and in my opinion, is the most impressive Cathedral in Toledo. It’s huge and bustling with tourists, for good reason!

My next stop was the El Greco Museum. It costs 3 euros and it was well worth the trip. They’re not even sure this was El Greco’s home, but it was purchased to show how people lived during the time that El Greco was alive. He moved to Toledo in 1577. The museum was nice and showed a typical kitchen and living space during the time. It also showed many of El Greco’s works. Note: they were not all originals. I loved the inviting garden to just sit and take a load off.

Next, I headed west through the Jewish part of the city to the oldest standing synagogue that is now owned by theCatholic Church called Santa Maria La Blanca. This is one of the most ‘instagrammable’ locations in Toledo with its white columns, white washed walls, and no furniture. It is located right next to the monastery San Juan De Los Reyes. After taking all of my Instagram photos at the synagogue, I raced back cross-town for my 4:30 tour of the city with the company called de Paseo. 

My tour was with Juan Pedro, but he like to be called Juan P. 🙂  Since there were no other English-speaking guests, I had a private tour!  I really enjoyed this tour because he didn’t take me to the main tourist sites. Instead, he gave me some of the stories and history of the city, and pointed out some of the unique spots throughout the Casco Historico. Book your walking tour with de Paseo here!

After my tour finished at 6:30 pm,  I headed to the infamous Bisagra Gate or the Puerta de Bisagra. It was so impressive and I wish I could have stayed longer but I had to get going to catch the sunset at Puente de San Martin.  

Have you ever been to Toledo, Spain? Leave a comment about your experience and if I’m missing any of your favorite spots!

 

Know Before You Go to Spain

Know Before You Go to Spain

Are you traveling to Spain for the first time? This blog is all about the 20 things to know before you go to Spain!

Welcome to my Spain travel guide!

As an American tourist in Spain, I’ve learned many things over the years. There are some major differences between USA and Spain and I’ve divided my tips for visiting into three categories. We will talk about all things FOOD including a popular Spanish breakfast, dinner time in Spain, and other tips to know when dining out. I discuss Spanish cultural tips like siesta and tipping in Spain, along with my best of Spain tips for traveling. I hope you enjoy this Spain travel guide 2019. Before you go to Spain.. watch this!

Spanish Food Tips

 

#1 Let’s start with Breakfast

Spain is all about the food but the most curious thing is when you’re served breakfast in the morning, expect to get toasted bread with tomato sauce. What? Tomato sauce?? Yes. With fresh tomatoes garlic and onion they say it’s pan tostado con tomate which is a very very normal breakfast to be eating while you’re in Spain.

#2 But first (or second) COFFEE!

If you’re a coffee drinker you have to learn the lingo for coffee. First of all, an espresso is called a cafe solo. A Cortado is similar to a Macchiato which is an espresso with a little bit of milk on top. A cafe Largo is the closest thing to coffee that we have in America. It’s similar to an Americano in Italy except it’s thick. You’ll probably need to ask for a little bit of hot water if you’re used to American coffee. And the last is Cafe con Leche which is like a Cafe au Lait: you have your coffee and a bunch of milk on top.

#3 Let’s move on to Lunch!

Lunch or comida is the most important meal of the day. It’s when the Spaniards take off from work they go visit their family, the kids leave school and go home. It’s about a three-hour ordeal and it’s the main meal of the day. Here in the US, we prefer to have dinner as a main meal but in Spain it’s lunchtime between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.

#4 Money Saving tip for Lunch

The best value during comida for lunch is the menu. It’s quite normal to order a menu which is three courses typically 10 to 15 euros and you get a starter of a salad or a soup, a secondi which is a meat course or a fish course, and a dessert. It’s typically served with a glass of wine, beer or water and the coffee that you order after your lunch is going to be extra.

#5 Where’s your bill?

In Spain, it is considered rude for the waiter to bring the bill before you’re ready. That’s right! After every meal, you specifically have to ask for the bill (and expect to wait four or five minutes before it arrives). In Spain, food is never rushed.

#6 To tip or not to tip?

Tipping is not expected or necessary in Spain. Most of the waiters make a real wage and receive health insurance so it’s not common to tip. If you feel like tipping and you feel like you’ve had great service, about 10 percent is enough!

#7 Spanish dinner

Dinner time starts 9:30 10 o’clock at night. Yes, half the world goes to bed by 9:30, but the Spaniards are just getting started!  Personally, I love the food in Spain. I love the shareable plates and the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive. Most of all, I love the fact that everyone is getting together for every single meal. No matter where you go, it’s all about sitting with friends, having a drink and socializing.

Spanish Culture Tips

 

#8 Slow Down

First and foremost, you have to slow down. The locals are living life to enjoy their lives! it’s not about rushing around, getting things done. Everything is at a slower pace, so make sure to kick back relax and enjoy the ride!

#9 Siestas

Siestas in Spain are serious business. After comida, when the whole family gets together during lunchtime, all the shops are closed (so don’t expect to be shopping then!) Go home, take a nap, go to the park where everybody’s hanging out and laying low. They are resting before the shops and offices open back up for the evening sessions.

#10 Religious Holidays

It’s important to remember that Spain is primarily Catholic. You might want to check the Catholic religious holiday schedule before you head to the country. You don’t want to end up here during Semana Santa when everything is closed and all the Spaniards are on holiday so your hotel prices are higher. Also, there’s many things will be closed, so you don’t have anything to do!

#11 Diversity in Spain

The next cultural tip is to note that even though the country is primarily Catholic there is a huge influence of other cultures into this beautiful country. If you go to the south, there’s a Moorish influence as well as an Arab influence from Morocco. If you’re in the north, there’s a huge French influence across the Pyrenees, and if you’re in Barcelona, it’s a completely different culture and they have even considered seceding from the country of Spain.

#12 Look into my Eyes

This next cultural tip applies to the female readers, but also good to note for everyone. It’s quite common for men to be walking down the street and giving you a piercing look. It’s very normal for people to try and make eye contact. At first, it can seem a bit strange when we’re used to looking down, not paying attention to anybody. But here in Spain it’s quite normal… and quite exciting!

#13 Spanish Time

The last cultural tip I have for you is called Spanish time. If you’re out meeting a Spaniard for tapas or for a drink and they say they’re going to show up at 7 p.m, expect them to show up some time around 7:30. Remember as I started this conversation, just kick back relax and enjoy the ride!

Travel Tips for Spain

 

#14 Ablo Español?

My first travel tip actually applies to every single country that you go to: it’s best if you learn a few words of the native language. It doesn’t hurt anything; we know you’re going to butcher it, they know you’re going to butcher it, but the fact that you gave the effort makes all the difference in the world!

I suggest learning:

  • yes, no
  • please, thank you
  • where are the bathrooms?
  • a couple of things about your hotel
  • and directions

 

#15 It’s a big country

The next travel tip I have for you is to know that Spain is big! It’s almost as big as Texas, where I’m from, and it takes more than ten hours to drive from north to south and east to west. It’s really really important to note that it takes quite a while to get from point A to point B in Spain.

#16 On the Road Again

But not to worry! The roads are fantastic in Spain so it’s okay if it takes you ten hours… the roads are great! It’s very easy to hire a car and travel anywhere you want to go in the country. Just note: there are lots of camera speed traps everywhere throughout the country and the speed limit is usually about 120 kilometres an hour when you’re on the highway. I think every single time I’ve driven in this country I’ve ended up with a ticket in the mail so… follow speed limit signs!

#17 Fly if you can

If you don’t feel like driving: book flights! Typically in Spain, flights are cheaper than booking a train and just as cheap as booking the bus. It’s a lot faster to book a cheap air flight to get from point A to point B.

#18 Beware of the Summers

The summer heat in Spain is not for the faint of heart. Expect it to be over a hundred sometimes 110 in Madrid andeven worse in Sevilla and Granada to the south. You might want to come to Spain in an off season, perhaps in April in May. OR come in September or October.

#19 Get outta town

To me, this is the most important: don’t just hit the big cities. There are so many incredible things to see in this country. Don’t just go to Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. There’s so much more to this country and I love every single part of it.

#20 Shop till you drop

When you’re in Madrid, definitely come to Calle de la Montera for some epic shoe-hopping!

That wraps up my top 20 tips for when you come to Spain. Make sure to check out my next blog all about one of the best day trips in Spain, a trip to Toledo!

Top 10 Portland, Maine Things To Do & See!

Top 10 Portland, Maine Things To Do & See!

If you’re headed to Portland in the next few months, I have put together a best of Portland, Maine list based on my experience there recently.

 

#1 The Best City Tour in Portland, Maine

The Real Portland Tour is the only sightseeing tour in Portland, Maine that includes a full city tour and a trip to three of the lighthouses. We got to see the full city tour of Portland, from the bustling downtown area and eclectic shops to the art district and the world-class restaurants and bars. We headed out to Casco Bay to see its islands and forts on the way to the Portland Headlight.

Our tour guide, Derrick, was amazing! He knows so much about the city for two reasons:

  1. He’s a local, born and raised
  2. He’s a librarian! He was so knowledgeable and interesting and had the greatest stories about the town where he grew up.

Definitely put the Real Portland Tour on your list!

 

#2 The Best Lighthouses in Portland, Maine

Also while you’re visiting Portland, you have to check out the beautiful lighthouses along Casco Bay. You can take a tour like I did, you can drive yourself, and sometimes, in the summer, you can even bike! The rugged Maine coastline is known for its beautiful lighthouses and just outside of the city of Portland along Casco Bay is the infamous Portland Head Light. Did you know it’s the most photographed lighthouse in the entire US?

Another great lighthouse to visit is the Spring Point Ledge. On the weekends, you can actually walk out there you have to jump on the different rocks to make it all the way out. It’s very picturesque and definitely worth checking them all out.

#3 The Best Restaurants in Portland, Maine

Portland is a foodie town for foodies! Did you know that in 2018, Bon Appetit listed it as the restaurant city of the year? Some of the most well-known restaurants include

There was so much delicious seafood, lobster, oysters, and fresh fish while I was there that I actually had two lunches and two dinners on two different days!

#4 Best View in Portland, Maine

Fourth on my list is a little well kept secret: Come to the top of the parking lot at the Customs House for the best view of downtown! The parking garage is just across the street from the beautiful Customs House. If you go to the top level it’s open air and you can see the spectacular views of all the city routes throughout downtown Portland.

#5 Best Food Tour in Portland, Maine

5th on the list is to go on a food tour! I went with Maine Foodie Tours on the Bon Appetit. Most of the food in

Portland is all about the seafood but this is a very unique tour that gives you croissants clams a little bit of Tex-Mex and some other exciting things. You even get to go to a kombucharia.

 

 

#6 Best Oysters in Portland, Maine

Next on our list are the infamous East Coast oysters. I recommend two different places to get these incredible little morsels.

  1. The Shop which is about a 10 minute Uber ride from downtown Portland and all of their oysters are $1.50, all day long.
  2. The other place to try the oysters is at Scales which is right there on the harbor. While in town, I heard that they had the best oysters in the whole city. My opinion? They may be the best oysters I’ve ever had in my entire life! The oysters are only $1 during happy hour.

#7 Best Boat Tour in Portland, Maine

The next thing that you have to do when you’re in Portland is to go on the Lucky Catch Cruises. It’s so fun to goout in Casco Bay and learn how the lobster man catches your dinner. The Lucky Catch Cruise has been around for more than a decade and honestly, it’s one of the best things that I did during my visit to Portland. It’s also a great value! If you’d like to know more about Lucky Catch Cruises, check out last week’s video and blog here.

#8 Best Dessert in Portland, Maine

Then there’s more food! If you’re in the mood for something sweet, head over to the Holy Donut. They are famous for putting shredded potatoes into their Donuts. If you’re gluten-free like me, they have several options for us, too!

 

#9 Best Bar in Portland, Maine

Now let’s talk bars in Portland. Actually, let’s talk about speakeasies! Portland, Maine was one of the first cities in the entire country to have prohibition so they are known even to this day for the speakeasies. My top choice is Lincoln’s.

#10 Best Taco in Portland, Maine

Our last thing to do is another food item, but this time it has a Texas twist. Head over to the High Roller Lobster Company which started as a food trailer. Now it is it’s brick-and-mortar and I was told they serve the most delicious lobster taco. Instead of a taco shell, they use grilled cheese to hold the lobster meat and toppings. And if you love tacos like I do, check out my video and blog on the Top 5 Tacos in my hometown of Austin, Texas.

I hope you enjoyed my list of the best things to do, see, and of course TASTE in Portland. Share in the comments if you’ve been to any of these places!

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