My mom arrived in Scotland this past weekend and today we're heading first to Cortina for a few days (mainly to pack up and ship off things that Ryan and I left there) and then, on Thursday morning, we're going to PARIS for a long weekend! I'm beyond excited for this trip - first to go back to Cortina and see all of our friends and then to have the chance to go to Paris with my mom (and cousin and aunt who are meeting us there for the weekend).
Let's face it: the one (major) downside of travel is how expensive it can be. It starts with the big things like transportation and accommodations but it doesn't end there because there are still things like meals and pricey museum tickets to worry about. There have been multiple times over the years when we've gone away for a weekend trip and come back after two days having spent something like $1,000. Now - especially with a baby on the way - we're a little more careful about where our money goes when we travel and we've picked up a few tips to help us save. A new company I recently learned about, Personal Capital, offers free financial software to get help managing and investing your money - and save for your next vacation!
1. Find free activities. If you do research, you'll find that there are always some free (or less expensive, at least) museums. For example, in Edinburgh there are multiple free museums and galleries, including the Museum of Edinburgh, Fruitmarket Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland. Most churches and cathedrals are free as well and usually contain amazing art, architecture and relics. I always think it's fun to get off the beaten path and visit the smaller museums or churches that often get overlooked in guidebooks. Another bonus: fewer crowds.
2. Have a picnic. Meals can be so expensive when you travel, especially if you're paying for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To avoid this, we usually look for accommodations that include breakfast in the price. At lunch time, it's fun to have a picnic somewhere. Many cities have fantastic local farmer's markets which are great for picking up sandwiches or picnic things (my favorite is Mercato Centrale in Florence). This can be done at dinner too - how much fun does it sound to picnic while watching the sunset?!
3. Go for a walk. Instead of booking tours, get out and see things on your own. This is my favorite way to explore a city (especially in Venice, when you never know where the next alleyway will lead you) and it's free! I love not knowing what we'll stumble on - churches, ruins, tiny cafes, local shops, an art gallery...
4. Find deals. Check on sites like Groupon for local deals on sightseeing activities, meals and shopping. We just did this boat tour that I found on Groupon for half price and it was great! Looking through these sites before you head out can save money on things that you wanted to do or see anyway. 5. Don't eat at touristy restaurants. We always avoid any place that advertises a "tourist menu" out front. While these menus may seem less expensive, the food is usually sub-par. And there's nothing worse than spending money on something you don't enjoy, especially when you're on vacation! Ask locals or at your hotel for a restaurant recommendation instead. Small places, not in the guidebook, are usually less expensive because they haven't been "discovered" yet or else the prices are kept low to keep local clientele returning. We always share dishes too - that way you can try more things - and we usually ask the waiter what he or she recommends; they'll know that the chef's specialties are or what's the freshest that day and that way you'll get the best bang for your buck.
Last week I got tickets to this boat tour that cruises the Firth of Forth (the body of water between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh) and we checked it out on Friday. Here are a few pictures if you'd like to see...
We started in South Queensferry (luckily it was a sunny day!) which is a little harbor town about 20 minutes away.
For an hour and a half, we cruised around while a recording played that explained the history of the area, what the different islands were, and even what kind of boats had been shipwrecked beneath us!
We made a stop at the island of Inchcolm, where some passengers disembarked to walk around and explore (and then get picked up by a later boat) but we stayed on board and continued the tour.
We had a great view of the famous railway bridge (one of the most famous in the world, they say)...
...and every so often the captain interrupted to tell us where to see seals.
The seals were huge! They also said that the word "golf" comes from an acronym: Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden!! (But we think they were kidding - maybe!). The whole tour was very informative and it was fun to learn a little more about the area we're living in - we'd highly recommend this activity if you're in the area, especially in the summer. The tours are only running through the end of October now, but they'll start back up again in the spring. And, if you go in the summer months, you're almost guaranteed to see tons of puffins and maybe a porpoise or two which would be fun! For us, it was only seals but it was really nice to be out on the water, in the sun.
Do you ever rent apartments when you travel rather than stay in a hotel? Ryan and I were really late to the game on this concept, but last spring, during our month-long trip around Italy, we rented apartments from Airbnb rather than pay for hotel rooms for a month....and we loved it. Now, whenever we go on trips for longer than a few nights, we always look for an apartment to stay in.
You get more space than a hotel room, plus they often come with a washer and dryer for doing laundry, balconies for sitting outside, breakfast...and, depending on what you pick, they can often be much less expensive than hotels. They're especially good for larger groups too, because you can rent a whole house and all be together.
I'm going to Paris on a girl's trip (!!) with my mom, aunt and cousin later in the month and we rented this beautiful one for the long weekend.
Here are a few others around the world that look fun:
And this one, in Bari, was our favorite place that we stayed in Italy last spring. The owner, Enzo, was so helpful and nice - he brought us local pastries to try when we arrived, stocked the kitchen with coffee, tea and milk, and gave us maps of the city where he had pointed out the best shops for fresh pasta, bread and wine.
You can get stuck browsing on Airbnb all day long and there are so many fun places where you could have a great adventure! Any other recommendations?!
We're so lucky that Edinburgh is just a 30 minute train ride away, and we've been taking advantage of that to pop into the city for the day or for the afternoon whenever we get the chance. It's nice to not have to squeeze everything in to one trip and to space it out depending on what we feel like doing that day. On Monday, it was sunny and we felt like hiking, so we headed up to Arthur's Seat where you get incredible views of the city below, and in our case, a rainbow!
When Ryan and I go to a new place, we like to explore: by wandering, by sightseeing and best of all, by eating. We're big believers in "eating where you are" - trying the local specialties - so we put together a list of our favorite meals that we've had over the course of our travels - so far....looking forward to lots more to come!
If you find yourselves in any of these cities and towns, check these restaurants out:
In Vienna, at Figlmuller: The best schnitzel in the world - truly. They're thin, cooked in three different pans and are as big as the plate they're served on (and yes, you can eat the whole thing). Sometimes I dream of going back to Vienna just to eat this schnitzel and for no other reason.
In Naples, at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele: the best pizza in Naples, which therefore means the best pizza in the world. I'm not a huge fan of Naples because it's a big, bustling, slightly dirty, chaotic city and it doesn't have the best reputation....except for when it comes to pizza and then it's the best city ever. The thin crust, the fresh tomatoes and the gooey mozzarella...I would brave Naples traffic for this pizza any day.
In Monterosso (Cinque Terre), at Ristorante Gabbiano: their pasta with seafood is spectacular. So spectacular in fact, that we have no picture to show for it, because it got eaten immediately! Our only mistake was in sharing it...
And speaking of seafood, in Sorrento, at Trattoria da Emilia: the fried mixed seafood platter. We stumbled on this restaurant by chance one day when we were wandering. It's down in Marina Grande which (in April, at least) is a quiet part of Sorrento right on the sea. We were in Sorrento for five days and we weren't loving the food scene there - until we came here. We saw everyone ordering this platter, so we followed suit - and it turned out to be such a good decision that we came back the next day and ordered it again. It was that good.
In Anstruther, at The Wee Chippy: fish & chips are a staple here in Scotland, so we were determined to find the best version of them ASAP. Following multiple recommendations, we drove to Anstruther one Monday where we taste tested several versions before deciding on The Wee Chippy's version as the best.
In Cortina, at Rifugio Col Taron: the sausage sandwich. This was an after-skiing favorite for us. It's sausage, cheese and onions, all grilled and on a roll and it's the perfect ski lunch (with a beer), while sitting outside enjoying the beautiful view of the Dolomites. I'm seriously going to miss that this winter. (Again, no picture, because who has time to take a picture when there's a hot sausage sandwich in front of you?!) In Lienz, at the annual Christmas Market each December: the famous potato. We first discovered this potato three years ago, and I would think about it all year until December rolled around again and we could drive to Lienz and have one for lunch. The drive was about an hour and 15 minutes from Cortina, which might seem like a long way to go for a potato, but it was worth it - that's how good it is! It's a baked potato, with a crispy skin and warm filling, topped with a creamy, garlicky sauce and tiny pieces of speck. Paired with a gluhwein, it's heaven - one of my favorite things about December.
What about you?! Favorite meals while traveling? We'd love to hear any suggestions!
Just in time for the fall/winter cold season, here's a recipe that we make all the time, whenever one of us feels a cold coming on. (I have one this week, so it's timely). It's a pretty classic chicken noodle soup recipe, and then we add hot sauce to clear out those nasal passages with every bite.
1 large chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups chicken broth
Grated ginger (from about a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger)
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup chives
Juice from one lemon
2 cups of noodles, whatever kind you like, but I always use whole wheat fusilli
Hot sauce for serving
Cook the chicken breast in a frying pan with a little olive oil and set aside when done. Shred the chicken once it's cool enough to touch.
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, pour in a few tablespoons of olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the onion and let soften for a few minutes, then add the celery and the carrots. Allow the veggies to soften for about 10 minutes. (I usually start with the onion, then chop up the celery and add that, then chop the carrot and add that, so that each vegetable has time to soften). Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. [Note: You can either add the noodles now, and cook them in the soup or you can cook them separately and add them later. I prefer the latter so they don't get soggy.] Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and add the ginger and lemon juice - simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs.
If you cooked the noodles separately, add some to a soup bowl and pour the soup in on top. Add hot sauce, if you like - we always use this chili garlic sauce. And make sure you bring Kleenex to the table with you!
Earlier this week we slipped off to Oban for the night, which is a little resort town on the west coast of Scotland. It was so much fun, despite a very wet day of rain on Monday - here are a few pictures if you'd like to see....(storm clouds and all!):
Kicking off this week with some exciting news: Ryan and I are having a baby in February!
We're beyond excited for this next adventure, although right now, February still feels a looooong way away. The baby will be born here, in Scotland, and we'll return to the US in April. Looking forward to lots of exciting times to come...hopefully this baby is a good traveler! xo