Travel Tips

Cliffs of Moher in the Emerald Ilse (Ireland)

Posted by on 1:53 pm in Ireland Travel, Travel Tips | 7 comments

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

During my two-week tour of Ireland several years ago, there were two highlights: the delightful basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. Both sights are impressive and are a great geological marvel. The Cliffs were formed in the Upper Carboniferous Period, around 319 million years ago and consist of shale and sandstone.

Cliffs of Moher Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland – view from the northern platform

The Cliffs of Moher Ireland (County Clare) are located on the western Irish coastline where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. They stand 214 meters (702 feet) at their highest point and stretch for 8 kilometers (5 miles). There are two platforms you can take a view of the Cliffs – north and south platforms. I ventured up the North side where the O’Brien Tower is located. Depending on how much time you have, you can go up both sides.  You’ll need at least two hours to climb both sides (probably more). It is a bit of a climb. If you have more time, you can walk 5 km to Doolin or hike the coastal trail which coverages 20 km.

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland – view north from the north platform

O’Brien’s Tower is located on the North platform. It was built in the 1830s by Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of the Kings of Thomond. It is a wonderful observation point. A million tourists visit the Cliffs of Moher Ireland each year.

O'Brien's Tower at Cliffs of Moher Ireland

O’Brien’s Tower at Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Other Information:

  • Price is 6 euros for adults; children under 16 are free; Seniors are 4 euros
  • Additional 2 euros (1 for children) to access the rooftop area in O’Brien’s Tower
  • It is open year-round but hours will change during season – always open at 9 am and closes at 5 pm in winter and between 6:00-7:30 in the spring and 9:00 pm in July/August. For more info, visit the official website
  • You can stay after the visitor centre closes onsite in case you wish to get a sunset photo (no limit to parking)
  • Bring a sweater because it gets quite windy up on the platforms even during the summer months
  • If you wish to photograph Puffins, they are around from late March to mid July and the best play to view them is from the south platform

Have you been to the Cliffs of Moher? What are your thoughts?

 

Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg, Germany

Posted by on 11:54 am in Germany Travel, Travel Tips | 8 comments

Top 3 Things to Do in Heidelberg

There are many things to do in Heidelberg, a quaint city in western Germany near the Neckar River which dates back to the 12th century. In the 12th century, Konrad of Hohenstaufen became Count Palatine of the Rhine and took possession of the oldest castle and settlement from the Bishop of Worms, establishing the Palatinate line. Heidelberg was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War in the mid-17th century and later by the French in the later part of the century.

Heidelberg Castle - Statue of Goethe

Heidelberg Castle – Statue of Goethe

Martin Luther was received in Heidelberg not long after he posted his 95 Theses; he defended those theses in Heidelberg. The Holy Alliance between the King of Prussia, Emperor of Austria and Tsar of Russia was formed here in 1815. Heidelberg has a fascinating history as does most of Germany. It was lucky to escape bombing during World War Two and is therefore quite well-preserved.

I visited Germany back in 2008: it was my first SOLO trip and I had such a great time. I toured around Germany (Berlin top travel tips) for over three weeks (including Eagle’s Nest, Germany) and simply fell in love with the country (Oktoberfest tips). Heidelberg is a great city to visit and I enjoyed two lovely days in this lovely city.

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

View from Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle is really the top on the list of things to do in Heidelberg. It was constructed in the 13th century and is in the gothic and renaissance style; partially destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession in the 17th century plus a lightning strike in the mid-18th century. Eventually all attempts to restore the castle were abandoned. The castle was later used as a quarry and stones were removed to build other houses in Heidelberg. Attempts at preservation occurred in the 19th century.

Things to Do in Heidelberg: visit the Castle

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

The wine cellar in the Heidelberg Castle holds the largest barrel in the world (over 55,000 gallons of wine).

It is a STEEP hike to Heidelberg Castle as it sits atop a hill. You can take bus line 33 to the top or Bergbahn (funicaular rail) instead or go for a hike.

Palace interior may only be seen on a guided tour. The time differs per season so check their website for more info. The castle/gardens are open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. Palace entry is not expensive: 6 euros for adults plus an additional 4 euros for a guided tour.  You can also check out the Deutsches Apotheken Museum (German pharmacy museum) which is located inside the Castle.

Old Bridge

The Alte Brücke is a stone bridge was built in the 18th century after the original was destroyed by fire (it was made of wood which dated back to the Middle Ages). The medieval gate still exists. You can view the Castle from the bridge and enter the Old Town through the gate. The market square is a wonderful place for souvenirs or shopping as well.

Heidelberg Bridge

Heidelberg Bridge, Germany

University of Heidelberg and Old Town (Altstadt)

The university is the oldest in Germany; founded by Rupert I and chartered by Pope Urban VI in 1386. It is known as a university city with over 28,000 students in a city with a population of round 150,000.  Old Town is a great area for shopping, visiting the university or museums (the student prison in particularly interesting), and not far from the Castle.

University of Heidelberg Library

University of Heidelberg Library via Wikipedia

 Tips for Visiting Heidelberg

  • Two nights in Heidelberg is plenty of time to see the city
  • Consider visiting in the fall. I visited in October and enjoyed the cooler weather, fewer tourists, and beautiful fall colours
  • Heidelberg is a very walkable city; wear some good shoes and you can walk for hours or hop on the trams/buses
  • The Heidelberg Card will save you money – it covers the Castle, 12 museums, public transportation, walking tour, and a city guide. Price starts at 10 euros and can be bought at main train station or transport machines around the city
  • Give yourself at least three hours or half a day for the Heidelberg Castle – you will need that much time (maybe more) to tour the inside, the gardens, the pharmacy museum, and the grounds. If you are walking to and from the Castle, add another hour to that
  • Take a stroll down the river banks particularly during the summer months; great place for a picnic
  • Stay in a hotel near the Old Town. I stayed way too far away and it would have been nice to walk around the Old Town in the evening after a day of sightseeing

 

Berlin Travel Tips

Posted by on 9:15 am in Germany Travel, Travel Tips | 14 comments

Berlin Travel Tips

Berlin is well-known for its nightlife but you cannot discount the culture and history of the city. It is a fascinating city that was separated by a WALL for four decades; a city that was a part of two different countries. It is a very unique city: west and east that have come together to be one. However, the city’s history goes beyond the past century. It dates back to 13th century and it was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia for three centuries before becoming the capital of the unified German Empire in 1871 and would once again become the capital of a unified German state after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.

When To Go?

If you do not mind a bit of cooler weather, I would recommend spring or fall. There are fewer tourists which makes a big difference. I went in the fall: the colours are beautiful. The weather is a bit cooler (15 degrees Celsius maybe) but you’re walking around the city so you warm up quickly. But you really can’t go at a wrong time; the city is buzzing all year round!

Berlin Travel Tips - Visit in the fall

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

Where to Stay?

Berlin is a fairly large city so be careful about where you stay. I was using airmiles so I wasn’t particularly picky about where I was staying but I realized later that it was not the best area. Decide on your price and pick a neighborhood or location where you will spend a lot of time: maybe Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg? Just try to stay a metro stop: that is always my number one consideration. Berlin has MANY hotels so you should be able to find one for a very good price or really cheap if you stay at a hostel.

What to See?

There are too many places to list but I will mention my favourites!

1. Museum Island – there is a small “island” in Berlin that is the home to Berlin’s state museums. These are just a small list of museums in all of Berlin but they are my favourite. You can also visit Berliner Dom while on the island; it is not far from the museums and is free to visit. My top choices are:

Neues Museum is where the Bust of Nefertiti is located along with the rest of the Egyptian museum and papyrus collection. The museum collection also contains a Neanderthal skull and Heinrich Schliemann’s Trojan finds. This is a spectacular museum and one of my all-time favourites.

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Nefertiti, Neues Museum, Berlin

Altes Museum which houses the antique collections (divided with the Pergamon Museum) such as a large Greek collection including the treasury.

Pergamon Museum which contains more antiquities such as the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus from what is now Turkey. It also contains sculptures and art from the ancient world such as Hellenistic, Greek and Roman.

2. Checkpoint Charlie (and the museum) – the checkpoint may not be operational anymore but some of the signs still exist plus there is a museum with lots of photos and stories about escapes.

3. Schloss Charlottenburg – I was lucky enough to attend a classical concert at this palace where the musicians were even dressed in 17-18th century garb. The music was of course W.A. Mozart (there can be no other) and J.S. Bach. This used to be the summer residence of the Prussian kings and it is lovely.

4. Reichstag – one cannot visit Berlin and not stop by the German Parliament. You can book free tours or visit the dome at the top. You may need to book in advance as they allow only a small number of people into the building each day.

Reichstag, German Parliament, Berlin, Germany

Reichstag, Berlin

5. Brandenberger Tor – a short walk from the Reichstag is the Brandenburg Gate. You walk down a lovely park area with trees on both sides to get to the Gate. Once again, the colours are very vibrant in the fall. The Gate was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia in the late 18th century as a sign of peace. It was right beside the old Berlin Wall and is now part of a cobblestone pedestrian area.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

How to Save Money?

First, get the Berlin Welcome Card. This is a favourite of my Berlin travel tips! You can save a lot of money on museums, transportation, maps, etc depending on the card you select. If you plan to visit museum island, there is a card that covers it (one example: three day pass for 38.50 euros which covers museum island, reductions of 25-50% to more than 200 tourist and cultural sites, free transportation depending on the zone you select which may include the airport, city map and guide plus shipping to your home before you travel to Berlin).

Second, if you don’t get the welcome card, get the Berlin Museum Pass instead which covers many museums in the city for 24 euros for three days. It covers 50 museums in the city including Museum Island, the Jewish Museum and the New National Gallery. You can get the pass at the Berlin Tourist Info or all participating museums.

Third, sign up for a bike tour or straight out rent your own. It is a cheap way to tour around the city. There are several to choose from so just google it and go from there.

Oktoberfest ein Mass Munich

Marsha enjoying Augustiner

Fourth, street food is good and delicious plus also very economical. There is a good variety and you will save some moolah! Look for “Imbiss” food stands: good Turkish food. And try the currywurst – Berliners are known for it. And it is delish! There is even a currywurst museum near Checkpoint Charlie (no, I did not visit)! And of course, BEER!!!!!

Fifth, visit the parks especially Tiergarten. It is near the Brandenburg Gate and is a lovely place to rest, have a picnic or to enjoy the scenery!

Sixth, the Topography of Terror is a free outdoor museum. Over a million people visit each year and is located on former grounds of the SS and Gestapo. This outdoor museum is open daily 10 am to 8 pm.

Lastly (thanks Tamason), try the free walking tours. I usually join one and they provide a good overview of the city and provide some history as well.

Getting Around

Berlin is a very easy city to navigate. The transportation system is excellent plus there are many areas you can walk. Bus 100 passes most of the top touristy sites. Or rent a bike to travel around the city as I mentioned above. You can use the trains (U-Bahn or S-Bahn) as not everything in Berlin is nearby nor on the bus route. The trains are easy to use.

Berliner Dom - Berlin Cathedral

Berliner Dom

The Language

Berlin, along with most of Germany, are fairly well versed in English. They may even speak better than English than you. You probably don’t need to learn German BUT I am a fan of learning the language of the country you are visiting. If you do not wish nor have the time to learn German, at least learn a few key phrases. The locals will appreciate it and will respond in English to you. I spend six months learning German and rarely needed to use it. A good rule: Germans under 40 will likely speak English but those over 40 may not. I encountered many older Germans who did not know one word of English.

Where to Spend Your Saved Money?

Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm for short) is the shopping district where you can spend, spend, spend until you are broke. You can also find the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) – it’s a massive shopping mall.  Or visit Mauerpark on the weekend for the flea markets! These are all great places to shop and top of my Berlin travel tips!

What About the Nightlife?

Berlin is a jumping city. Go and explore at night. When I was there, I met some people and we hopped into a cab and asked him to take us to a nightclub. We hit up a few that night and for some reason I cannot remember the names of the clubs. Was it the beer? 🙂 But go and have fun. It is a nightclub paradise. Ask the locals where to go or your hotel/hostel. They should know the places to be.

Have fun in Berlin! Have you gone yet?

You might also be interested in:

Top 3 Things to do in Heidelberg

Oktoberfest Tips

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

My Favourite Travel Food – Sauerbraten

 

Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

Posted by on 9:00 am in Italy Travel, Travel Tips | 0 comments

Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum, or also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world. It stands nearly 50 metres and is as impressive in person as it is in photographs. It could hold 50,000 people. It made my top 10 attractions in Rome and it should be on everyone’s travel bucket list if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Flavian Amphitheatre started construction under Emperor Vespasian (of the Flavius family) in 72 AD and completed by Titus a decade later. It was built on the site of Nero’s Palace and the aim was to dissociate himself from the tyrant and to gain popularity by staging events such as gladiator battles and the massacre of animals.

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum remained in use for 450 years but sustained damage in a lightning fire in 217 AD and an earthquake in 443 AD. Not long after, it ceased to be used for gladiator battles or animal hunts, possibly due to the rise of Christianity. The amphitheater soon was used for a multitude of things: a small church, a cemetery, housing, workshops and a castle during the next few centuries. In 1349, another earthquake caused great damage to the Roman Colosseum causing the outer south side to collapse. Stone and marble were pillaged from the Roman Colosseum for centuries and after the earthquake, much of it was used to build churches and other buildings in Rome. Even the bronze clamps were hacked out of the walls, leaving holes that you can still see today.

Avoid the Lines

There are several ways to avoid waiting in a LONG line. First, buy a guided tour so you can skip the lines and you’ll get extra information from your tour guide; I’ve always used Viator whenever I buy a skip the line tour.

Second, buy your ticket in advance from Palatine Hill located in Via San Gregorio No. 30 and Piazza Santa Maria Nova No. 53 (200 metres from the Colosseum). You will gain entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as well. This joint ticket is absolutely the way to go if you do not select a tour. You may also buy a ticket near the Colosseum entrance but that line will always be long. Skip it and get it in advance or via Palatine Hill.

Third, you can use your Roma Pass to visit the Roman Colosseum along with many other sites.

Fourth, buy your ticket online if the other three options are not appealing.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy – right around the corner from my hotel

Arrive before 8:30 am

The Colosseum opens its doors at 8:30 am so be in line a good ten minutes early and you will zoom through the queue. If you wish to visit Palatine Hill first, sure that works as well but I would recommend visiting the Colosseum first as it will get crazy busy as the day goes by. You will get some great pictures with little or no other tourists wrecking your photos. 🙂

Return at Night

As you can see from my above photo, the beauty of the Roman Colosseum must be seen at night. If nothing else, you must at least visit the Colosseum at night.

Metro

I would recommend staying near the Colosseum or the historic centre of Rome. It is a fantastic place; I was lucky enough to get a room in a small B&B around the corner from the Colosseum. There is nothing better than walking two minutes to see the Colosseum multiple times a day.

Rome’s metro system is quite good; you can walk from Termini station which takes 15 minutes (go straight down Cavour) or hop on the Line B and get off at Colosseo station which is right outside the colossal Roman Colosseum.

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Other Information

Price for entry is 12 euros for entry to the Roman Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. I would recommend getting the Roma Pass if you plan to be in Rome for a few days; it covers many museums and other sites.  You get free admission to your first two archeological sites (so pick the most expensive) or one if you select the 48 hour pass; free admission to many museums; free use of the metro system; and discounts on numerous other exhibitions.

Restoration has finally started on the Colosseum so be prepared to see scaffolding. The Colosseum will still be open (they say 85% will be open and viewable). Work is expected to take over two years (it started in October 2013 so early 2015 maybe).

Keep an eye on your wallet in this area: lots of tourists plus many street vendors trying to sell crap. They have a hard time taking NO for an answer. Be prepared to be annoyed; be firm and say no. They may still not leave you alone so keep walking and DO NOT STOP!

Wear good footwear; the entire area is very ancient and many of the paths inside and out are uneven.

Water – drinks lots of water. Bring a bottle with you if you are touring the area during the hot summer months. It gets super hot in Rome! I visited in October and it was still blistering! Bring your own bottle to save money: lots of places to fill it up.

So have you been to the Roman Colosseum or are you planning to go soon?

You might also be interested in:

Ancient Pompeii

Surviving Overseas Flights

Top 10 Rome Attractions

Greece Travel Tips

Tips for Visiting Versailles

Posted by on 2:24 pm in France Travel, Travel Tips | 2 comments

Tips for Visiting Versailles (Chateau du Versailles)

If you happen to visit Paris, do not forget about visiting Versailles. The Palace and its gardens are spectacular and cannot be ignored. The Chateau was the home of the Kings and Queens of France from Louis XIV in 1662 to the French Revolution and Louis XVI in 1789. Louis XIII loved the area so much that he had a hunting cabin built and his successor turned the cabin into a Palace and every King thereafter would add to it.

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

1. The easiest way to visit Versailles – book your ticket online, print it off and beat the long queue to purchase at the Palace. Of course you will still have to wait in line to enter and that line can get quite long especially during the summer months. You may book a skip the line tour – yes you skip the line and go straight to the front. Or you may wish to visit in the spring or fall. Unfortunately I was in London (Top 10 London Sights) for the Olympics and popped over to Paris (Things to do in Paris) to visit so I could only visit during the summer.

2. If you take a tour, they will provide transportation. Otherwise, you will take the train (C train) from Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche station which takes under an hour. It is a short walk from the train station to the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

3. Arrive at Versailles as soon as it opens at 9 am (or get in the queue before 9 am). The crowds are long almost any time of day but best if you can arrive first thing; otherwise wait until mid-afternoon, or visit the gardens first. Once again, the other option is a skip the line tour. You can a full or half day tour; include the gardens or a view of the fountain at night. There are many options through Viator. Or use a Paris museum pass to help cut the cost.

See the picture above of the Hall of Mirrors? Add five hundred people to it and you’ll understand my experience of visiting Versailles. I LOVED it but I also HATED it. You will encounter so many other tourists who won’t move their ass out-of-the-way. They linger and take up space. You will be tempted to freak out. Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy the beauty and ignore the idiots surrounding you. They are probably thinking the same about you. Of course they are wrong. 🙂

Visiting Versailles in 2011

Visiting Versailles in 2011 – hot and busy day in July

4. Allow enough time for the gardens; they are extensive. I was only there for half a day so I would love to go back and spend more time wandering through the gardens. Also remember to visit the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate if you have time. You can take a mini-train but it does not run often.

Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Palace of Versailles’ Gardens

Other tips for visiting Versailles:

  1. Versailles is closed on Monday
  2. Buy the passport which covers everything at Versailles including the gardens, Marie Antoinette’s hamlet and Trianon Palaces: 18 euros
  3. Free admission for the following: visitors under 18; European Union residents under 26; teachers in French schools (proof required); disabled people and person accompanying them; French job seekers (upon proof). Here is the complete list!
  4. Click here for information on entry to the gardens; it is occasionally free depending on time of year and if there are no musical events
  5. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March
  6. Arrive at 9 am or wait until later in the day (10-3 is highest volume especially on weekends)
  7. Hours: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (6:30 pm in high season) for the Palace of Versailles. Trianon and Hamlet are noon to 5:30 (6:30 high); French Gardens are 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (8:30 pm high); park is open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (7:00 am to 8:30 high season)
  8. Lastly, give yourself LOTS of time to wander through the Palace of Versailles. Visiting Versailles requires patience as you wander through the crowds. The apartments within the Palace are worth the wait.

Have you visited Versailles yet?

Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Posted by on 2:46 pm in Olympic Travel, Russia Travel, Travel Tips | 8 comments

Olympic Adventure: a trip of a lifetime to Russian Olympics in Sochi! If you ever get a chance to attend an Olympic games, I thoroughly recommend that you make it happen. It will be the best time of your life. You might ask yourself: how do I attend the Olympics as a spectator? It is a lot of work and yes it will take months and maybe even years to plan. However, the end result is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life: pure joy along with heartache and a chance to cheer for your country while you meet great people from around the world.

Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Olympic Rings, Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia

Olympic Adventure – Olympics Rings, Sochi 2014

1. Tickets

I recommend purchasing tickets before you make any other plans such as flights and hotels when planning your Olympic adventure. Your nationality or country of residence will determine the next step. For the most recent games in Sochi, Russia, Russians and anyone residing in Russia could purchase tickets through their main website, sochi2014.com. The remainder of the world had to go through an official ticket agency or reseller: each country was assigned to one. Canada, United States and several other countries were under http://cosport.com/.

UPDATE: CoSport remains the ticket re-seller for many nations including the United States. Canada, however, has opted to make a change and now tickets for the Olympics are available through ATPI Sports Events. They are all live sales, no ticket request submissions and then an allocation later. It is live and chaotic. However, I appear to have some luck and have secured tickets to both hockey gold medal games again along with some figure skating for men/pairs/dance, snowboard, curling, speedskating, skiing, and so on. I am still trying to get the men’s big air or men’s curling gold tix. Those are the two remaining tickets I am trying to secure.

I purchased my Olympic tickets for Vancouver through their main website (vancouver2010.com) while purchasing tickets for London and Sochi via CoSport. My guess is Rio and Pyeongchang will follow suit with CoSport but nothing has been announced yet. Keep an eye on the Olympic websites for each host nation.

In both cases, you will submit your ticket request. The process has differed slightly for each Olympic games so I will focus on Sochi, my most recent Olympic experience. I submitted a ticket request to CoSport. I was not charged immediately. The first step was an ‘expression of interest’ where I listed which events I wanted, how many tickets and which price category. A month or two later, I received word on which tickets were available and I was able to purchase at that time; I could change my mind during the checkout process such as delete tickets I did not want anymore. I could not add to my request or change the price category level.

You don’t get just one shot at it either. Tickets are released numerous times during the year. I learned this the hard way with the Vancouver Olympics: I thought there was ONE opportunity so I booked my flights and hotels around my original ticket allocation. Remember, there are MANY opportunities to buy tickets: either others declined to purchase, sponsors have returned tickets, etc.

I have bought tickets for some very big events: men and women’s hockey gold medal games in both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 (the marquee event of the Winter games); men and women’s curling gold medal games in Vancouver and Sochi; men’s downhill in Sochi; Sochi Opening Ceremony; men’s 200 m in London; Vancouver Closing Ceremony. How did I get that lucky?

It is not luck. You must check the websites constantly for either new tickets or information on when more tickets will be released. Be vigilant.

One of the tricks that worked for me was creating multiple accounts for the original ticket allocation: I added an account for my mom and one for my dad. I added big-ticket events to their request as well as to my own. Maybe they’d want to come to the games with me? Or maybe they can give me their tickets? I hit the men’s hockey gold both times using this method (my mom is very lucky).

If you did not get tickets in the original allocation or even in the subsequent releases, do not worry. There are other opportunities. Both Vancouver and Sochi had a ticket reselling website (London did not) so you could sell and buy tickets officially; I liked this since I knew the tickets were legitimate. I would be very apprehensive of buying through a non-official source.

Finally, if you want to take the risk, you can try scalpers. Each Olympics will have different rules according to their games and country. Russia had scalpers hanging out right in front of the venues or just other people wanting to sell tickets. I never bought tickets that way but I almost did a couple of times; I declined due to time constraints on my schedule.

So keep an eye on the main website for the Olympics you wish to attend and sign up for any newsletters.  Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 are the next Summer and Winter Olympics.

For the last three Olympics, tickets went on sale or the process started about 14-18 months before the event but keep a close eye on their websites. Russia was very slow to post information while London and Vancouver had a great deal of information on their websites years before their games started.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Ticket for Olympic Adventure

Sochi 2014 Tickets – First Step in your Olympic Adventure

2. Hotel and 3. Flight

I normally book my hotel and flight around the same time or I’m researching them at the same time when planning my Olympic adventure. For Vancouver and London, this went smoothly and there were plenty of hotels to book in both locations. I had no issues with both cities; I booked my hotel about a year out and my flight about six to eight months from the Olympics. Russia was very different: they had hotel issues and it was difficult to book anything. I booked about six months to go and that made me nervous.

My policy for booking a hotel is always location, especially during an Olympics. You want to be near the metro or public transportation so you aren’t spending extra time walking especially if it is late at night. You will need to save your energy: usually the venues are spread-out and you will walk your ass off (yes London and Sochi).

Flights are usually the easiest to book: it’ll depend on your hotel booking or the dates you wish to attend. It will depend on price, how many stops, and whether you are going anywhere else as I did when I went to London (D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France) and Sochi. Here is a link to my article on finding cheap flights: that applies to any flight booking.

Be prepared to pay more for flights and hotels during an Olympics. You can stay in hostels, bed and breakfast or couch-surfing to save money. Prices increase during the Olympics; my guess is 25-40%. I prefer staying in hotels and staying in a good location so I book early. Booking flights later is probably fine; I had issues with my Russian trip as flights were limited in/out of Russia on the prepared days/times so always keep that in mind.

Update: It has been a bit tougher trying to find accommodation for PyeongChang. I am in a couple facebook groups where people are posting tips. However, there is plenty of time so I am not worried. Check with TripAdvisor for tips in the travel forum section. That is how I discovered the cruise ships moored in the port for the Sochi Olympics. 

4. Visas

Do you need a visa? Of course this will depend on your country of residence but make sure to check into this and how long it will take. For Sochi 2014, I submitted my Russian visa application in November just to give myself extra time before flying to Russia on January 31st.  Canadians and Americans need a visa for Brazil but do not need one for South Korea.

5. Immunizations

Check with your local health provider to see if you need to update any of your shots or need new ones. I updated some of mine before Russia and got the Hep A/B combo shot just in case. Your travel health clinic can tell you which ones you need. Maybe you also want to bring along something for traveller’s diarrhea so your Olympic adventure doesn’t turn into a disaster.

6. The Language

I always recommend learning the language of the country you are visiting. While you may not be able to learn all of it, you should at the very least learn a handful of phrases such as asking for directions, ordering food, please and thank you. The locals will treat you better if you know just a few phrases. But go further than that; learn more than just thank you. It is rewarding to learn a new language.

7. Insurance

Don’t forget to purchase medical insurance if you do not have it already. I am lucky that I have it through my work and it covers any trips I take around the world. Also you will need trip insurance: make sure it includes cancellation or interruption, baggage lost, flight accident, or whatever you wish to include. I usually get one that covers everything since the price is usually reasonable. Check whether it includes catastrophic events and all fine print. These are big and expensive trips: do not live on the edge.

These are the top things you have to keep in mind when planning a trip to an Olympic games; your Olympic adventure will be filled with excitement if you take care of everything before you go. Other things may pop up so that’s why I have recommended that you pay close attention to the Olympic host city website and sign up for those newsletters. Each Olympic procedure may differ from the previous one so keep an eye on it.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Gold for Men's Hockey

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Gold for Men’s Hockey

Hidden Gem of Moscow: Kolomenskoye

Posted by on 1:47 pm in Russia Travel, Travel Tips | 0 comments

Kolomenskoye

A visit to Moscow must include the hidden gem of Kolomenskoye as well as Red Square Moscow and the stopping behind the Kremlin Wall. It is the former location of the residence of the Grand Princes of Moscow and later the Tsars of Russia. Kolomenskoye, and its 390 hectares, is situated on the outskirts of Moscow overlooking the Moskva River and dates back to the 14th century according to the Testament of Moscow Grand Prince, Ivan Kalita.

View of the rest of Moscow from Kolomenskoye

View of the rest of Moscow from Kolomenskoye

Kolomenskoye was the location of numerous important events: the armies of Prince Dmitry Donskoy in 1380 and Tsar Peter the Great in 1709 stopped on their way to battle. It was a summer residence for the Moscow Grand Princes and Tsars. Church of the Ascension was built in 1532 by Prince Vasili III to celebrate the birth of his son, the later Ivan IV (the Terrible) and an early example of traditional wooden roofed church.  It made UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1994.

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Tsar Alexei I built the great wooden palace in the 17th century, his favourite residence. The future Empress Elizabeth Petrovna was born there and Peter the Great spent his youth here. It fell into disrepair and was later torn down by Catherine the Great and replaced by a stone and brick structure, which was also torn down a century later. A replica of the original wooden palace was built in 2010.

Kolomenskoye Wooden Palace

Original Wooden Palace via Wikipedia

There are numerous buildings to see and you could easily spend a whole day here. Don’t miss the Colonel’s Chamber Museum and Peter the Great’s log cabin. Both are fantastic to visit. The blue domes are another thing of beauty as you enter Kolomenskoye.

Kolomenskoye

Peter the Great’s log cabin, entrance to Kolomenskoye, church and view of Kolomenskoye

The church beside the Church of the Ascension (below), the belltower for the church of St. George – tough job to ring the bell. The little Russian rang those bells for five minutes or longer. It was a wonderful addition to its beauty. Walking around during the ringing of the bells was amazing; a very beautiful melody.

Kolomenskoye

Ringing the bell at Kolomenskoye

Tips for Visiting Kolomenskoye:

  • It is easy to travel to Kolomenskoye – take the metro on the Zamoskvoretskaya Line to the Kolomenskaya stop (Коломенская) and walk about 10 minutes.
  • The park is very large so give yourself a minimum of three hours to visit; likely need four to five.
  • Admission to the park is free but you pay for entry to the museums and some of the sights (not a large amount).
  • If you don’t want to do it yourself or prefer a tour guide, there are many tours that go to Kolomenskoye. I took a combo tour: metro and Kolomenskoye which also covers all entry fees.

5 Fascinating Historical Sites in Cyprus

Posted by on 9:53 am in Cyprus Travel, Travel Tips | 0 comments

Guest Post: 5 Fascinating Historical Sites in Cyprus

Throughout our first year of marriage, my husband and I have spent time travelling and experiencing the world together. We have been all over the world and each trip has sort have taken on its own theme, whether it was romance, adventure, or simple relaxation. Our latest excursion together seemed to possess a historical theme. This most recent trip was to Cyprus and along the way we discovered some absolutely amazing historical sites. Here is a list of five of the most fascinating historical sites in Cyprus.

Kolossi Castle

The first of the historical sites in Cyprus on this list is Kolossi Castle. Located near the large resort of Limassol, there is easy access to this landmark. Built in the 13th century and re-built in the 15th century, the castle remains in good condition. The castle stands an impressive 69 feet high and its history is linked to the famous Knights Templar. With so much history, be sure to bring a guide-book with you as explanations are not clearly displayed.

Kolossi Castle

Kolossi Castle per wikipedia

Tombs of the Kings

Another fascinating historical site worth visiting is the Tombs of the Kings. While the name can be misleading (the name comes from the grand architecture and scale of the buildings rather than kings being buried there), it does not take away from the experience of visiting the site. The tombs are mostly subterranean and range from simple tombs dug into the solid rock to elaborate tombs with corridors and multiple chambers. Be sure to bring water with you while visiting the tombs as they can get very hot during the summer.

Kourion (Curium)

Kourion, or Curium, is another spectacular destination steeped in history. Kourion is an amazing archaeological site that is also located near Limassol. Believed to have been first inhabited during Neolithic times (as early as 3900 BC), the site consists of mostly Byzantine and Ancient Roman ruins. The most impressive portion of these ruins is undoubtedly the ancient amphitheater. Believed to be mostly used for gladiator tournaments, the large theatre can seat around 3,000 people. Aside from simply visiting this breathtaking theatre, it is actually possible to attend live musical and theatrical performances there during the summer.

Kourion Theatre

Kourion Theatre via Wikipedia

Kykkos Monastery

The Kykkos Monastery is another fantastic historical site worth visiting while in Cyprus. The monastery lies in the western part of the Troodos Mountains and is located only 18 kilometers away from the highest point in Cyprus. The monastery is considered to be the most important site of the Cypriot Orthodox Christian religion as it houses the sacred icon of the Virgin Mary. Painted by St. Luke, the icon itself is considered to be too sacred to look at and as such is covered by a silver plate which has a representation of the icon embossed on it.

Kykkos Monastery

Kykkos Monastery via Wikipedia

Choirokoitia

Last, but certainly not least on this list is the historical site of Choirokoitia. This historical site was a prehistoric agricultural settlement and is believed to be the location of the first human habitation on the island of Cyprus. The site has been fully excavated and many of the original huts have been reconstructed to give visitors a better idea of what life was like there.

Choirokoitia

Choirokoitia via Wikipedia

While there are many amazing historical locations and landmarks throughout the island of Cyprus, these are the five that my husband and I found most fascinating. Each of these sites offers something different and they are unique in their own ways. While these historical sites may be more interesting to some than others, no matter what type of vacation you are looking for, a trip to Cyprus likely won’t disappoint.

Gaby Lucius likes to spend her time traveling the world with her long-suffering husband, Mike. Thankfully, their mutual love for food and history has kept their marriage alive over the years. When she’s not trotting around the globe, she does freelance writing for Holiday Place, sharing her adventures with the world.

Things to Do in Paris

Posted by on 12:16 pm in France Travel, Travel Tips | 6 comments

I always resisted visiting Paris. Why? I thought it was probably overrated and would be a waste of my time and money. I was wrong; the most wrong I’ve ever been. Paris is simply a delightful and beautiful city. It lives up to any and all expectations in its timeless beauty, spectacular landmarks, glamorous streets, iconic cuisine, and exquisite museums. There are many things to do in Paris; hard to pick just a few. I stopped by Paris after a visit to Normandy!

Things to Do in Paris

First place to visit is the most obvious: EIFFEL TOWER! Do not forget to visit during the evening as it is lit up and on the hour, it sparkles for a few minutes. If you wish to enter the Tower, yes you can and yes you should, but I would recommend booking a skip the line tour if you are travelling during peak season as the lines can be long (two hours-long). I booked through Viator and have always had a great experience with them.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

One of my favourite things to do in Paris is a visit to the Louvre. Originally constructed as a fortress in the 12th century then rebuilt as a 16th century royal residence, it was turned into a museum in 1793 following the French Revolution. The most famous piece of work at the Louvre is the lovely Ms Mona Lisa by one of the greatest painters in history, Leonardo da Vinci. However, there are many great pieces of art ranging from Assyrians, Etruscans, Greeks, and from antiquity. There are more than 35,000 pieces on display. It is an overwhelming museum to visit but absolutely breathtaking. 🙂

Louvre, Paris, France

Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Sleeping Hermaphroditus by Bernini (front and back), Empress Eugénie’s Crown, and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave

Other things to do in Paris includes a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to make your way to the Arc de Triomphe which started construction in 1806 by Napoleon to honour his French army that had triumphed over a large portion of Europe by that time. It was completed many years later in 1836, long after Napoleon’s death in 1821.

Speaking of Napoleon, I suggest a visit to Les Invalides is in order to visit the tomb of Napoleon, members of his family and other notables.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Rodin and a view of Paris from Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Rodin and a view of Paris from Notre Dame

Once you’ve enjoyed the cafes on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, hop the metro to visit Notre Dame Cathedral and its flying buttresses and lovely gargoyles. 🙂 The Cathedral took almost two hundred years to complete (12th-14th centuries) and has gone through several restorations over the centuries. The interior is a delight but do not neglect to visit the exterior to view the flying  buttresses and for the entrance to visit the South Tower. Be prepared for a long trek up the steps (387 steps) to the top of the South Tower to view the gargoyles up close and a panoramic view of Paris. You can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

One of my little off the path spots is the Rodin Museum. It is located near Les Invalides and filled with sculptures by Rodin. It was heaven! I wish more people would visit this museum! It was created when Rodin himself donated his works and collections to the French State in 1916. Auguste Rodin created some of the most wonderful modern sculptures.

One last thought on my favourite things to do in Paris – WALKING! You can walk everywhere. I only took the metro once or twice when I was there; I simply walked everywhere. I stayed at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. I walked to the Tower, Les Invalides, the Louvre, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. I took the metro to Notre Dame since it was further away but I loved walking around Paris especially at night. It was during the busy season of travel but it was relaxing and soothing. I have never been so relaxed. 🙂

So these are just a few of my favourite things to do in Paris. What are your favourites?

Safety Tips for Women Travelling Alone

Posted by on 1:37 pm in Travel Tips | 3 comments

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus 4th c BC, Greece

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus 4th c BC, Greece while following my safety tips for women travelling alone!

Safety Tips for Women Travelling Alone

    1. Pack light – A very good tip for women travelling alone: leave your heaviest suitcase at home. Either take a backpack or one of your smaller rolling suitcases. I’m a fan of a rolling suitcase. Don’t take the biggest suitcase and try to pack light. You don’t need four pairs of shoes and three outfits you won’t wear.
    2. Paranoia – It’s okay to be paranoid. If fact, I HIGHLY encourage it. Keep your head on a swivel. Keep your hand on your bag, wear a money belt and be cautious of strangers.
    3. Don’t Panic – If you get lost, do not panic. Simply find a spot to open your map (maybe in a store or around the corner) and figure things out or ask someone for directions. I usually try to find couples or ask a local shopkeeper for help if I can’t figure it out for myself. But if you keep your wits, you can probably figure things out yourself. But don’t show your panic.
    4. Clothing – Don’t bring your formal clothing. Maybe one or two outfits if you plan on going out but otherwise, bring comfortable clothing. You may be walking a lot so be prepared with good walking shoes. I want to tell you to blend in with the locals but sometimes you cannot and you will stand out like a tourist. Blend in if you can but don’t worry about wearing those comfy walking shoes and sticking out.
    5. Jewels – leave them at home. Simple advice but important and maybe one of the better tips for women travelling alone. This will help with your safety!

      Michelangelo's Dying Slave, Louvre, Paris

      Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, Louvre, Paris

    6. Loose Lips – Be careful when talking to strangers. You don’t need to tell them you’re all alone or where you hotel is located. I have met some wonderful people during my travels and this is where having some street smarts or even common sense comes in: assess whether you need to tell this person all your travel details such as your room number. You can be a bit vague; nothing wrong with that.
    7. Glug Glug – This is another important tip to help keep women travelling alone safe! Take it easy on alcohol. Yes you can still go have a rockin’ good time at Oktoberfest but don’t drink too much that you can’t find your way back to your hotel.
    8. Hotel/Hostel – I would choose a hotel/hostel that is centrally located AND near a metro stop. You will probably spend most of your time in the city centre and if not, the metro is nearby so you can have a quick walk back to your hotel after a long busy day of sightseeing.
    9. Nighttime – Be careful taking the metro late at night. You can still do this BUT just be careful. I travel alone around Europe all the time and while I do take the metro late at night and walk to my hotel in the dark, I am VERY careful about my surroundings. Cross the street if you’re uncomfortable about someone walking behind you; stick around a store for a few moments until you are more sure; walk confidently; take the bus instead; know your route before leaving the metro/bus stop. Otherwise, you can always take a taxi.

      Athena Pronaia Sanctuary in Delphi, Greece

      Athena Pronaia Sanctuary in Delphi, Greece

    10. Avoiding scams – if someone approaches you on the street, be aware they may be trying to scam you. Google travel scams and you will see a long list – maybe they want you to sign a petition (I was warned about that one 5 mins before it happened – I never would have signed it anyway but always good to know what the local scams may be), try giving you a rose, tying a friendship bracelet on your wrist or “finding” a ring on the ground and offering to sell it to you. These are all scams to make you pay up or designed to distract you and pickpocket you. If you take the rose and they demand money, give back the rose and strongly tell them to leave. Usually when you raise your voice, they leave you alone. Also check out your restaurant bills for extra items or incorrect prices.
    11. Keep a copy of your passport and any important documents (such as credit cards) and also email a copy to yourself. You may even want to give a copy to a family member. This will be helpful in case your passport is stolen or you are pickpocketed. Also keep important contact information for your banking information in case you need to cancel them AND contact info for your local embassy, police station and hotel/hostel..
Heidelberg Castle, Germany

Heidelberg Castle, Germany

These are just a few of my tips. Government of Canada’s travel page has some good female-specific tips and a general travel tips website. Use them – I have in the past! So what tips would you recommend?