3 Amazing New York City Restaurants You Must Experience

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

One of the most important things about traveling is eating — and not just because your travel buddy gets grumpy when she's hungry. A city's food and the ambiance in the places it is served can end up being some of your favorite, most memorable experiences.  

These are three spots that I tried on my last visit to NYC that are definitely not to be missed.

Conveniently, they are also the perfect places for brunch, a late lunch, and a light dinner with cocktails — the perfect dining day! 

Cafe Lalo

Location: 201 West 83rd St., Upper West Side, Manhatten
Open daily: Mon – Thu 9 am – 1 am; Fri – Sat 9 am – 3 am; Sun 9 am – 1 am
Nearby attractions: Central Park, American Museum of Natural History, Children's Museum of Manhatten

Made famous by its appearance in the movie You've Got Mail (1998) featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — it's the cafe where they decide to meet and he realizes that it's her when he sees her through the window with the red rose... 

This spot in Manhattan's Upper West Side is located on a quiet street near Central Park and is frequented by locals in the evenings who are in search of a decadent dessert or a great coffee after a night of theater. 

It is the perfect Parisian cafe outside of Paris, with bistro tables, huge windows, and deliciously flaky pastries. The cafe is also open for brunch during the week and on weekends and has the widest selection of eggs that I have ever seen or tasted (seriously, I dream about the eggs). If you go for nothing else, go for the Fresh Herb eggs! 

Visit for the ambiance as much as for the amazing food — during the day it's bright and sunny, while in the evening it's romantically lit with tiny twinkly lights — there is usually live Jazz in the evenings as well if you are interested! 

Petrie Court Café

Location: Next to the European Sculpture Court inside The Met on Fifth — 1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhatten
Open daily: 11:30 am – 4 pm (Afternoon tea available from 2 pm – 4 pm)
Nearby attractions: Neue Galerie New York, Guggenheim Museum, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

I'm not one to dine at the restaurants in museums. The food is usually either cheap and terrible or WAY out of my price range. But the Petrie Court Cafe in The Met has completely charmed me. Located next to the stunning sculpture gallery (if you saw recent photos from the Met Gala, it's the area that is all white pillars and sculptures with red brick walls), and overlooking Central Park (a seriously amazing view), it is a simple, posh space that is the perfect place to indulge when your feet need a break from exploring the giant museum. 

The menu is small but well curated with a French flare, and the dishes are delicious. You can eat off the menu or choose a fixed price two-course or three-course meal (I went with three for $36 — SO WORTH IT). And I highly recommend indulging in a glass of wine (or two) or a cocktail (or two) as well. I picked Cleopatra’s Needle made with Gin, Elderflower, Lemon Juice, and Prosecco (anything with prosecco has my vote), and it was the perfect accompaniment to the marble floors, the gorgeous view, and the delicious flavors in front of me!  

The Carnegie Club

Location: 156 West 56th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Midtown, Manhatten
Open daily: Mon – Fri 2 pm – 2 am; Sat 4 pm – 2 am; Sun 4 pm – 1 am
Dress code: Business casual
Nearby Attractions: Carnegie Hall, MoMA, The Plaza  

This Don Draper-style club may be one of the last places that you can smoke indoors in North America (okay, that's not true at all, but it sounds more dramatic). I am not now, nor have I ever been a smoker, but I just couldn't help but visit this absolutely iconic cigar and cocktail bar while in New York City. Located right near (you guessed it) Carnegie Hall, this bar is where the great performers (think icons like Frank Sinatra) have grabbed a drink after their show. 

The place has the feel of an old gentleman's club with dark, hand-carved bookcases packed with leather bound books, a huge stone fireplace, an ornate bar, and plush furnishings that create private pockets of seating. 

You can, of course, purchase cigars to smoke (and there is a huge and expensive selection if that's what you are looking for), plus there are some fantastic craft cocktails that pack a wallop. It is by no means a full-service restaurant, but they do offer some small plates if you feel nibbly. 

The bar features a Frank Sinatra show with an 11 string orchestra on Saturday nights (reservations required), but the night I went there was an incredible Billie Holiday-like singer belting out some tunes as a perfect backdrop. 

I will admit that the smoke was a bit much at first, but after a few drinks and a few hours in my wingback chair, I hardly noticed it anymore! (Let's just say it took a few washes to get the smell out of my clothes, but it was SO worth it.)

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Dining In New York City By The Numbers [Infographic]

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

8 Sights In New York City That Live Up To The Hype (+ Packing Tips)

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , , ,

Guys, I (seriously) love New York. 

I knew that I loved it before I had even set foot in it. 

And it wasn't just because of all the gorgeous photos on Instagram or my addiction to Sex and The City. No, it just seemed to contain all of the things that I love in a city: food, cafes, museums, art galleries, shopping, parks, libraries, history, fashion, culture, quirkiness… what more could you ask for?! 

I will admit though, when I finally did make the trip I was slightly nervous that this place that I had built up in my head wouldn't live up to the hype. But, my worry was for naught, because as soon as I stepped out of my yellow cab and almost got hit by a bike messenger while distracted by a black and white cookie in a bakery window, I knew that I belonged there. 

I then spent a dream-like week wandering by all of the places I'd seen in movies and TV shows, taking in iconic sights, and trying to eat as much amazing food as possible (plus drinking allllll the coffee).

Whether you are embarking on your first trip to this epic city, or heading back for the fifth time, here are some popular spots that are definitely worth visiting. Even if you have to wait in line or fight the crowd, they're worth it — trust me.  

1. Top of The Rock

  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza
  • Open daily, 8 am – midnight
  • Admission: $34/adult, $28/child (tickets available to pre-purchase online)

You'll notice that the Empire State Building is not on this list, but the Top of The Rock, the top of 30 Rock(efeller Plaza), is.

Why, you ask? 

Because if you ride up the 70 floors to the top of this iconic art-deco tower, you get an incredible unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline that includes the Empire State Building — it's seriously breathtaking. And then, look the other direction, and you have an incredible view over Central Park (best Instagram photos ever).

The view is spread over three different levels, both indoors and outdoors, with the top level being completely open with no glass to obstruct it (pretty darn cool). The platforms are wide and have lots of space to pose for photos or just hang out. 

Added bonuses include that the admission is cheaper than the Empire State Building, it tends to be a lot less crowded, there is a Starbucks on the main floor to chill out in if you have to wait for your turn to ride the elevator up, and there are lots of shops in the surrounding buildings. Also, in the winter there is a skating rink out front, and the Radio City Music Hall is located just across the street! 

2. Grand Central Station

  • 89 E. 42nd Street (at Park Avenue)
  • Open daily, 5:30 am – 2 am
  • Admission: Free

There's just something about train stations.

People are either just starting an adventure, or arriving home from one — I use the term "adventure" loosely here, I realize that for many, this is just the way they get to and from work. Anyway, I just really loved this iconic building. 

Grand Central is one of those places that seems extra magical because of it's starring role in countless movies and TV shows. That iconic clock, the teal coloured ceiling (that has the constellations painted on it), the cocktail lounge — it's exactly the way you remember it. 

You'll also find a great information counter with maps and tourist publications here, as well as a marketplace with more than 60 shops, and tons of restaurants and eateries in the concourse. 

3. NY Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building)

  • 476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
  • Open, Sun 1 pm – 5 pm; Mon, Thu – Sat 10 am – 6 pm; Tue & Wed 10 am – 8 pm
  • Admission: Free

Book lovers, be prepared to completely lose your shit. This library is EPIC. 

(Also, Sex and The City fans, this is the location of Carrie and Big's first attempt at a wedding where he stood her up and the bird headpiece thingy happened, as did the flower hitting on the street out front — you know what I mean.)

The building it is housed in is huge, historic, and made of marble with giant columns, elaborate staircases, and two fierce lions guarding the front door.

Highlights include the breathtaking Rose Main Reading Room and the Map Division that contains more than 431,000 maps! If you are looking for a souvenir to take home, I would swing by the gift shop which is filled with (you guessed it) unique books and stationary. 

4. Bryant Park

  • 42nd St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. 
  • Open daily, 7 am – 10 pm (January – April & October – December); 7 am – 11 pm (May); Mon – Fri 7 am – midnight; Sat & Sun 7 am – 11 pm (June to September)
  • Admission: Free

Located behind the public library (above), this park is everything that you want in a city park — a perfect escape from the chaos.

It has a large green lawn in the middle that is used for picnics and outdoor film screenings in the summer, manicured flower beds lining wide pathways, tables and chairs for relaxing under the trees, mini cafes, restaurants, and bars so you can dine al fresco, a carousel, a giant fountain, and the lovely Bryant Park Cafe. This cafe is where my travel buddy and I spent a delightful few hours people watching and enjoying a few pints in the sunshine. 

The park also hosts regular events like workout classes, street performers, and dance parties. 

5. 9/11 Memorial

  • 180 Greenwich Street
  • Open daily, 7:30 am – 9 pm
  • Admission: Free

I wasn't really sure what to expect when visiting this memorial, but what I wasn't prepared for was how emotional I would be. 

There was a lot of construction in the area when I arrived at the station, and so had to take a bit of a detour when I got out of the subway. But the minute I walked into the square, and up to the massive footprints of the former twin towers, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. 

The names of those that lost their lives are carved into the edge of the memorials, and it seems never-ending. It is one of the most moving memorials I have ever visited, and whether you are American or not, it is worth visiting to really understand the scope of the loss that the city, and it's people, suffered. 

There is also a museum on site, which I chose not to visit because I felt like it would be too overwhelming for me (I was pretty overwhelmed by the memorial itself). The line to enter tends to be pretty long, so if you are planning on visiting, you can pre-buy tickets on the website here.  

6. The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

  • 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St
  • Open daily, Sun – Thu 10 am – 5:30 pm; Fri & Sat 10 am – 9 pm
  • Admission: Free (but admission donations are appreciated)

If you’ve never been to New York before, The Met might seem like it’s just another museum in the long list of museums and art galleries that are on must-see lists for the city.

But it is not just like the others, ohhhhhhh no my friend, it is not. (Read 10 Reasons Why You'll Love The Met).

First of all, it is absolutely giant, covering more than two million square feet! The space is filled with treasures spanning from the beginning of time all the way to the present day, all organized in light, airy spaces that perfectly suit the artifacts that are being presented. 

It is delightfully overwhelming, and you could spend an entire day in the museum (I did) and not even come close to seeing the entire collection. It is seriously up there in the top three museums I have ever been to in the world. 

7. Times Square

  • Broadway at 7th Ave.
  • Always open!
  • Admission: Free

There is no photo that I have ever seen that actually gives any sense of the size, feeling, and chaos that is Times Square. The traffic, the street performers, the buzz of the crowd, the giant neon signs — it's better than what you could imagine. 

And the difference between this place from day to night is like night and day (see what I did there…). It's still fun to wander around at either time, but there is a magical transformation that happens once the sun goes down and the famous neon signs light up the massive space. 

There are lots of shops and street vendors if you are in the mood to spend some dollars, and Broadway is nearby if you want to catch a show, or wander past famous theatres like the New Amsterdam or the Lyceum. 

8. The High Line

  • Runs from Gansevoort St (Meatpacking District) to West 34th St, between 10th and 12th Aves
  • Open daily, 7 am – 7 am (Dec – Mar); 7 am – 10 pm (April – May); 7 am – 11 pm (June – Sept); 7 am – 10 pm (Oct – Nov)
  • Admission: Free

This completely unique public park built is built on a historic freight rail line that is elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It was built in the 1930s, and ran through the (then unsavoury) Meat Packing District and Chelsea. These areas of Manhattan were industrial in the early 1900s, and the historic stone buildings, now full of lofts and cafes, were once home to slaughterhouses and warehouses. 

It is now covered in flowers, trees, shrubs, benches, tables, playgrounds for kids, viewing areas and pathways. It lifts you up off of the busy streets and places you in a quiet oasis surrounded by interesting historic buildings, beautiful greenery, and fantastic artwork.

There are permanent large-scale works and smaller temporary displays all along the attraction, and you will also find food stalls and coffee bars, and some incredible views of the city streets. 

It is definitely worth visiting, and a great alternative to taking the subway when moving between areas of the city (the Chelsea Market is located only a few minutes walk away from the park's south end!)

Packing Tips

  • Bring comfortable shoes! You are going to be walking A LOT, and this is not the time to break in a brand new pair or show off your high heel collection.
  • Layer. The temperature of the city seems to change depending on if you are on a narrow street surrounded by high rises or laying in the sun in Central Park. Plus, you will inevitably be as far away from your hotel as possible when there is a shift in the weather. 
  • Bring a bag that helps you keep your hands free. You never know when you might want to jump on a bicycle, have to get on a crowded subway car, or take photos from the Top of The Rock! You want to make sure you can have all your belongings in a safe place so you can focus on the experience rather than losing something. 
  • No, not everyone looks like they stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. My favourite part about people watching in NYC was realizing that everyone seems to have their own individual style. While I am sure there are pockets of the city where people all dress similarly, the only consistent thing that I noticed was people who looked comfortable in what they had on. So, don't worry about having the most fashionable wardrobe, just do you!

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Destination Paris: Unconventional Things To See & Do In This Must-Visit European City

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Champs-Elysees — there are so many incredible things to see and do in Paris. But, with so many major sights to check out, travellers often skip (or don't even know about) the other stunning museums, parks, and one-of-a-kind sights to experience in the city. In this post, we are leaving the conventional spots behind and taking a look at some lesser known or unconventional spots that are definitely worth adding to your must-see list.


The city is divided into 20 arrondissements (or districts) that are walkable and fairly easy to navigate. If you are looking at a map or address, the arrondissement will be abbreviated as 1e, 2e, 3e, etc. The central arrondissements on either side of the Seine are where you will find most of the attractions. 

Getting To Paris

There are three airports near the city. The largest is Charles de Gaulle, and the smaller two are Orly and Beauvais. There are airlines flying into Paris from all over the world, you should have no problem finding a flight. 

Once you arrive, you heave a wealth of options to get you into the city centre. There are city busses, shuttle busses, the RER (train), and taxis available at all three airports. 

The T2 Transfer also offers a private shuttle service that will get to right into the city centre from the Charles de Gaulle airport, or take you straight to Disneyland Paris (see below for more info). You can pre-book on their website and even arrange extras like car seats for the little ones if you need them. 

Getting Around

Bring your walking shoes, because the best way to get around the city is using your feet. There is so much to see, and a many of the sights are relatively close together. In lieu of walking, you can always grab a city bus, the metro, or the RER (train). 

You can also rent a Velib bike from one of the many rental stations all over the city. The bikes are available 24/7 and there stations are located 300 m from each other in the city centre. 

What To See & Do

As I mentioned above, there are so many amazing things to see in Paris, so in this section I am skipping the biggest, most well-known sights and am going to introduce you to some other spots that are definitely worth checking out. 

The Catacombs
According to ancient Roman law, when Paris was founded, cemeteries were located on the outskirts of the city. It didn’t take long for the city to spread well beyond its walls however, and eventually these cemeteries were completely surrounded by homes, stores, churches and schools. With this growth in population came a growth in disease, plague, epidemics, and starvation, which filled the remaining spaces in the 200 cemeteries at an alarming rate. 

Finally, in 1785, the Council of State pronounced the removal of all bodies and bones from the city’s cemeteries, in order to try and stem the spread of infection. The bones were taken to the old quarries, tunnels that ran under the city left behind from excavating stone for building. These excavations were stopped in the early 1770s due to the risk of cave-ins on the Left Bank and the tunnels were never filled in. Now, the bones of over 6 million people are stored in the labyrinth of obscure galleries and narrow corridors that make up the Catacombs of Paris.

During World War II, the resistance set up headquarters in the confusing maze of tunnels and there is also speculation that secret societies have held meetings by candlelight in the eerie corridors at night. 

Tours are available every day except Mondays and holidays. 130 spiraling steps will take you 20 meters below the streets of Paris to narrow, damp tunnels (NOTE: Do not visit this attraction if you are claustrophobic).

 It is an incredibly moving and eerie place to visit. but after an almost 2 km walk through the cold mass grave, I couldn’t climb the 83 stairs back to the surface fast enough. I have never appreciated the sun more than I did stepping out of that damp, dead darkness. 

The Passages Couverts
If you are anything like me, one of your favourite things about travelling is finding those spots that transport you back in time, and for just a moment you can pretend that you are part of the era that gave birth to artistic genius, architectural marvels, or mysterious cultures.

The passages couverts (covered shopping passageways) in Paris, France are one of those spots. These shopping arcades emerged in the 19th century, during a time of relative peace, prosperity and the rise of the industrial class. Paris was notorious at this time for being overcrowded and not having any sort of sewage, drainage or walkways. These passages were the first places that allowed shoppers the ability to stroll from store to store, blissfully apart from the filth and noise of the street.

These passages soon became a top attraction in the city and were THE destination for those visiting from the surrounding provinces. At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 150 of these covered shopping and entertainment Meccas — shopping was not the only reason to pay these spots a visit. 

Sadly, it was the opening of the city's first department store in the mid 1800s that caused a sudden drop in popularity of these once bustling destinations and now there are only a few dozen left. They are completely worth visiting however, as they showcase some fantastic architecture and take you on a quiet, off-the-beaten-path-tour through some pretty cool parts of the city. Some of them are completely deserted, some still have shops, cafes, and even hotels in them, but all evoke images of 19th century men in tailored jackets and women with parasols shopping, socializing and being fabulous Parisians! 

Musee Rodin
Rodin is most well known for his sculpture The Thinker, but he created a wealth of work including sculptures of famous friends and politicians, and incredible studies of the human body. 

His sculpture is absolutely breathtaking in person, he had a way of making stone look deliciously supple and expressive. 

The work is displayed in the beautiful, historic Hôtel Biron, a stunning example of Parisian rocaille architecture. As an added bonus, the museum also comes with a manicured park that covers nearly three hectares — the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine. 

Admission to the museum and gardens is 10 Euros, but you can pay just 4 Euros to access the garden and outdoor sculptures. 

Jardin du Luxembourg
The Luxembourg Gardens are one of my favourite places to people watch and relax when visiting the city.

Locals flock to the park at the end of the day and weekends, enjoying live music under the trees, a cappuccino from the park cafe, a turn on the carousal, a stroll through the manicured pathways, or sitting on one of the green metal chairs in the sunshine. 

It is a lovely place to soak in the true Parisian way of life. 

Rue Mouffetard
I discovered this charming cobblestone street because it is where my favourite hostel in the city is located. Even if I don't stay there, I can't help making my way to the street on every visit — it contains all the stereotypical charm that you could hope for in Paris. 

Cobble stone streets lined with cafes (see image at the beginning of the post), bars, and restaurants have tables spilling out into the open air. There are grab-and-go spots for crepes, small squares with little fountains, and bakeries with fragrant breads and croissants on offer all day. It is located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and right on the edge of the University area, so there is always an atmosphere of joie de vivre to be found! 

Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
Taking a stroll through a cemetery might sound morbid, but in Europe, 19th century cemeteries are big attractions. Yes, there are ‘quirkier’ visitors that are there to hold vigil for hours in front of the graves of famous figures (Jim Morrison’s grave attracts crowds in droves), but the majority of visitors are your plain old average tourist.

Surrounded by thick stone walls that create a peaceful sanctuary, the Pere Lachaise is laid out like a city with street names and green spaces.

The opulent mausoleums are a study in architecture of the different time periods they were built in, and elaborate grave markers, representing the life of the deceased, turn these burial places into verdant sculpture gardens. In the light of day, these places are like beautiful, outdoor museums. 

There are maps of the cemetery available at the entrance (trust me, you'll need one!) 

Disneyland Paris
For those of you who are super-fans of all things Disney, visiting the European version will already be on your must-see list, but for those of you that aren't, here's why you might want to add it.

I admit that I was skeptical of visiting this attraction on one of my trips to Paris, but my travel buddy really wanted to go, and so I gave in. But I was pleasantly surprised.

True to Disney's style, the park is incredibly clean, full of food that reminded me of home (which was wonderful because I had been away from home for 6 months at that point in time), and had all the best rides and attractions that you would find at other Disney Parks. It was easy to enjoy in a day, not too busy, and a wonderful respite from the non-stop days of absorbing mind-blowing culture that we had been having. 

If you are looking for a silly escape or a reminder of home, I highly recommend it! The best part? You can get a shuttle straight there from the airport

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Travel Tales: Catching A Ride With The Easy Riders in Vietnam

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

There is a white, round scar, about the size of a dime, halfway up the inside of my calf. Like the tattoo on the bottom of my foot, I forget that it's there sometimes, but as soon as I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, it always makes me smile.

My travel buddy Michelle and I had just spent a long night on a sleeper train (if you ever get a chance to sleep in a bed on a train do it, it's the coolest feeling) from Hanoi to what we thought was Hoi An, Vietnam.

Little did we know that the train did not actually go all the way to Hoi An, but stopped about an hour outside of the city.

A little disoriented, and hungry, we walked out of the station at around 8 am hoping to come upon a bus that would take us to our final destination. But, other than a few sketchy looking cars, there weren’t any options. To make matters worse, the only food that had been available on the train was half-cooked, pretty sketchy looking chicken (which we obviously did not eat) and my blood sugar was well past low and I was headed dangerously into the hangry zone.

After buying some chocolate covered wafers from the station store, we pulled out our Lonely Planet travel guides to try and figure out our next move.

That was when Hal and Mr. T saw us.

Clad in leather and denim — with tattoos and flashy jewellery to match — these two looked like members of a hardcore biker gang. Extremely skeptical, we watched them out of the corner of our eye as they left their bikes parked by the curb (these were actual motorbikes, not the scooters that take over the streets of the country) and approached us.

We were two wide-eyed, disoriented-looking white girls, backpacks and guidebooks in full sight — we looked like the perfect targets and we knew it.

Expecting some sort of proposition or scam, I was pleasantly surprised when they walked up and introduced themselves as Easy Riders.

That was a name I was familiar with.

According to fellow travel buddies — and my trusty Lonely Planet — the Easy Riders started off in the early 2000s as a crew of about 30 freelance motorbike guides that offered reasonably priced excursions all over the country.

Though some were better than others in terms of customer service, I had heard no stories of any scams, kidnappings, or worse coming out of taking a ride with these bikers.

Clearly reading our skepticism, they pulled out dog-eared notebooks full of testimonials written by tourists that they had driven around. Written in all languages, in different writing, and from people all over the world, it was a very convincing artifact, and one that the Lonely Planet stated was a sign that they were legit members of the Easy Riders. (I know, I put a lot of faith in my travel books).

There is a certain sense of immortality that comes with travelling, and so after some consideration, and negotiation (we settled on the equivalent of $5 each for the hour ride) we entrusted ourselves to Hal and Mr. T, ready for whatever adventure our decision may bring.

They strapped our massive packs to the back of the bikes, supplied us with helmets (a rarity in Vietnam), and giving each other a nervous-excited glance, we jumped on the backs of the bikes. Hal and Mr. T said something to each other in Vietnamese, and then we were off!

It was a clear, humid day, and the breeze was a welcome relief from the already scorching sun. I leaned back on my bag, stared up at the sky and smiled.

We zoomed past China Beach (where the movie Good Morning Vietnam was filmed), and through small towns where the children jumped up from their games to wave at us.

China Beach, Vietnam

I threw my arms up in the air and wondered how I would ever go back to normal taxis in my North American life — and how could I ever explain the feeling of freedom that comes from careening down an ocean road on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam?!

It was while getting off the bike in Hoi An that I received my scar — a shoestring-travel-battle-wound and a lesson on why motorcyclists wear long pants — by pressing my leg against the tailpipe for a mere second.

It hurt like hell but couldn’t dull the feeling that came with an exhilarating new experience, and the beginning of a new adventure! 

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Destination Budapest: What You Need To See and Do While Exploring Hungary's Capital City

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

The capital city of Hungary, Budapest is a fascinating city. It's perched right on the border between Western and Eastern Europe and with that comes a complicated history. Until the late 1980s Hungry was communist, not moving to a democratic government until 1989. There is also a heavy influence from ancient Roman and Turkish occupation that has led to an interesting mix of architecture, culture, and historic spots to visit.  


Budapest is actually a combination of two historic cities Buda and Pest (no, this is not a joke). The two cities were separated by the Danube river and were combined in 1873. Buda is the hilly area west of the river which is home to Castle Hill, elaborate medieval buildings, and upscale neighbourhoods. Pest, located on the eastern side, is where you will find the major sights, nightlife, restaurants, markets, and places to stay. 

The city is divided into 23 districts, most of the major sights are located in Central Buda and Central Pest. 


Though the country is a member of the European Union, they don't use the Euro but the Hungarian forint (HUF). Find the current exchange rates here, but this is where they were at when this post was written:

1 CAD = 219 HUF
1 USD = 293 HUF
1 EUR = 310 HUF
1 GBP = 358 HUF
1 AUD = 223 HUF

Getting Around

The city is extremely walkable, you can get to most sights by foot — especially if you stay central. It also has an easy-to-navigate metro system. 

What To Do 

Vajdahunyad Castle
The fairy-tale towers of this castle overlook an artificial lake that is used for boating in the summer, and in the winter is transformed into one of the most impressive outdoor skating rinks in Europe!

The structure itself is made up of two Transylvanian castles (medieval Hungary included the country of Transylvania — now Romania) and a Renaissance courtyard where regular concerts are held in the summer. 

It's free to visit, beautiful, and definitely worth wondering through. It is also perched on the edge of a public park that is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic or rest your feet after a day of exploring! 

Coffee Houses
In Central Europe, coffee houses are the social club, home, and haven for journalists, writers, lawyers, and everyone in between. Oozing charm, this is one of the best spots to spend an afternoon people watching and soaking up local culture while sipping on a frothy cappuccino or a cold beer. 

St. Stephen's Basilica 
I love visiting churches in Europe (though I am not religious), because they are usually perfectly preserved examples of the city's history of art and architecture. 

The stunning St. Stephen's Basilica does not disappoint. 

Located in a huge square in Pest, the church took over 50 years to build and has a dome that is 96 m high (approx. 315ft)! The interior of the colossal basilica features frescos, carvings, and chapels in impeccable condition that are absolutely beautiful.

It is free to visit the church, but if you want to check out the treasury or dome, there is a small fee. 

There is no better spot to find authentic souvenirs and food than at a local market, and Budapest boasts a plethora of them including some large covered markets. Beautiful fabrics, wooly hats, and delicious treats can be found in abundance. 

If you only make it to one, the Nagycsarnok or Great Market, is so big you could get lost in it! The first floor is packed with traditional food, and the top floor is where you will find folk costumes, dolls, scarves, embroidery, hunting knives, and more! 

Terror House
The former headquarters of the country's dreaded secret police, this eerie looking building is a disturbing monument to those who suffered the terror that afflicted the country during and after World War II.

The photos plastered on the wall showing the faces of former prisoners (pictured) is incredibly moving, and prepare yourself before you visit the underground torture chambers, they are pretty graphic.

A full price ticket is 2000 HUF. 

Jewish Quarter
Not much remains of this historic quarter that was hit hard during WWII. It is home to a holocaust museum located in the Great Synagogue, but my favourite part of my visit to this quarter was located behind the synagogue. 

A stunning Holocaust Memorial sculpture (pictured above) in the shape of a weeping willow was funded by actor Tony Curtis and is dedicated to those who perished in the death camps. 

There are two famous thermal spas to visit in the city.

Located in Buda, the most famous is the Gallert Baths with majestic domes, Turkish tiles, and beautiful Art Nouveau architecture that you can enjoy while soaking in the warm waters (both indoors and outdoors) and relaxing in the stunning saunas. It is like soaking in a bit of history! 

Admission is 5300 HUF on weekdays and 5500 HUF on weekends.

The Szechenyi Baths were built in 1908 and are located in Pest in the City Park. There is a giant outdoor pool that is open year-round and feels like you are a guest at some opulent hotel, as well as indoors thermal baths, saunas, and massage areas. 

Admission is dependent on the time of year and time of day you are visiting. They can be pre-bought online. Visit the website for details

Art Museums
There are three major art museums that I would recommend. 

First up, the Szepmuveszeti Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts, is packed full of art from all over the world, including a large collection of pieces by the painter El Greco, a selection of Egyptian art and artifacts, and some incredible classical sculpture. 

NOTE: The Museum of Fine Arts Budapest is closed for renovation of the building until the spring of 2018. A selection of 50-60 artworks from the Museum’s collections will be on show in the Hungarian National Gallery (in Buda Castle, building C). The artworks of the collections can be browsed on the gallery's website in the meantime.

Across the street is the Muczarnok, a huge contemporary art gallery that displays works by both national and international artists. Admission is 400 HUF. 

The building housing the Museum of Applied Arts is absolutely incredible. It is a prime example of the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement (built between 1893 and 1896) with its elaborate tilled roofs and sweeping lobby (pictured above). Exabitions include furniture, architecture, treasures, and more. Admission for all exhibits is  3,500 HUF.

Kerepesi Cemetery
I know that visiting a cemetery might seem strange, but like the famous cemeteries in other parts of Europe, this one is a mix between park and sculpture gallery. There are approximately 3,000 gravestones and mausoleums, and there are free maps at the entrance to help you navigate. It's a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. 

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You Don't Have To Quit Your Job To Travel The World!

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

You don't need months of spare time and huge amounts of money to see the world. Really, I promise! 

I've been to 27 countries and 4 continents (and counting!), and TRUST ME, I am definitely NOT made of money or time.

There are lots of different ways to travel long term, or short term, while on a budget and still have unforgettable experiences. You don't need a trust fund to go to Europe and you don't need three months to enjoy an adventure in Cambodia — really!

But international travel is expensive! Isn't an all-inclusive in a sun-destination just easier, and a better deal?

You've got me at easier.

I can't deny that clicking "purchase" on an all-inclusive package is easy. And even I have done one before. But I found that I got bored staying within the walls of the resort, I never ate or drank enough to really make it worthwhile, and the paid excursions were kind of boring and forced me to spend time at gift shops that I could have been spending at a beach or exploring a local hot spot on my own. 

If that sounds like you, putting in a little extra effort to plan your own trip might just be right up your ally! 

Your largest expense (especially for those of us travelling from North America) is the flight. But, thanks to airlines now offering regular deals to major cities all over the world, and discount travel websites, you can now find incredibly cheap flights as long as you plan ahead. I've found flights to Europe for $450 over the last year — an incredible deal!

Also remember that once you get to Europe you can use cheap airlines to get around to other countries. For example, if I want to go to Portugal, I will look for a flight to London or Paris, as I know that are often less expensive. Then I will book a RyanAir or EasyJet flight separately to save hundreds of dollars. These discount airlines offer one-way flights for as little as $20 sometimes! Always look at the option of booking segments of your flight separately. Sometimes it can work out to be a lot cheaper!

Once you've got your flight sorted out, like at home, you could pay hundreds of dollars for food, fun, and a bed OR you can choose the more budget friendly options.

You probably aren't going to be spending a ton of time actually in your room. You will be out seeing the sights, trying out local food, and exploring. Do you really need a giant room with a view? Or will a more budget-friendly option work?

When it comes to fun, or seeing the sights, remember that a lot of museums and cultural attractions are free or affordable to make them accessible to everyone. And sometimes the best way to see a city is to just walk around it — that doesn't cost a cent!

When it comes to food, costs can add up if you eat out for every meal. But, if you self-cater from grocery stores, eat from street stalls, or check out local bakeries and grab-and-go spots, it doesn't have to cost a lot! If you want to eat out one meal a day, lunch tends to be cheaper, but just as good, than dinner at restaurants. 

Let me put it this way — if you are willing to spend $1,700-$2,500 for seven nights at an all-inclusive, why not spend $700 on flights to Portugal, $40 a night at a B&B, and the rest on having the adventure of a lifetime?

But how do you solve the time thing? What if you only have one week?

You do not need to have two months at your disposal to go to Europe, Asia, or anywhere else on the planet for that matter.

On one of my more recent trips, I travelled to Sweden for just seven days. I flew through Iceland, but because there was a minimal layover, my travel time was actually shorter than it would have been if I had taken a flight down to Mexico, which would involve longer layovers!

Yes, the flight itself might be a few hours longer then if you were to head somewhere closer to home, but the reward will be spending a week somewhere totally new that will give you a new perspective. I find that the more I am shoved out of my comfort zone, the longer it feels like I'm away. 

What about jet lag?

Yes, jet lag can interfere a bit in long-distance adventures, but there are ways to avoid and minimize symptoms.

Also remember that when you are travelling the only demand on you is to have an amazing time, relax, and soak in new cultures. Feeling a little tired or dehydrated is completely manageable under those circumstances! 


Here are some other ways that you can travel outside of an all-inclusive or set vacation:

1. Voluntourism
The first international trip I took was to build houses in Honduras. I got there through fundraised dollars and spent just a week (that felt more like a month because it took me so far out of my comfort zone) being exposed to a whole new world.

Volunteer organizations will often cover the costs or your room and board (and sometimes even your fight) while you are giving your time to their cause.

Here are some websites that have some great volunteer abroad information:
Go Abroad
Projects Abroad
Volunteer Canada
Go Overseas
United Planet: Construction Projects

2. Take A Class
I attended a semester of University in Italy and the tuition was the same as it would have been at home! The cost of room and board was actually cheaper than it would have been at home, making the only real additional large expense the flight there. After the semester ended, I took advantage of already being in Europe and stayed for an additional three months. 

You can join a dig, take a language course, or even learn a local handicraft. Look into class exchanges or international programs at your local university. You don't have to be a young student to attended one of these programs either! They are often offered to anyone, any age, whether you are attending the university or not!

Here are some examples: 
Archaeological Fieldwork
Languages Abroad
Art Classes in Greece

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