Things to do in London, England (2017)

Hello, fellow travelers!

I am painfully aware that I stated in my March blog post on our Eurotrip that I’d do deeper dives into each of our 6 European destinations. That clearly didn’t happen. Whoops. However, summer is fast approaching and I wanted to share our experience now in case any potential European travelers need some insight! Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you the lowdown on each European city we went to in chronological order.
First up…


London, England

Where we stayed: At my dear friend’s apartment in the trendy Shoreditch neighborhood of London. We were so lucky to have these accommodations and I highly recommend the generally tourist-free area. It provided a completely different experience from the London trip I’d taken previously with my family when we stayed by Oxford Circus (tourist central).


Highlights & What to do in London: 

Neal’s Yard at Covent Garden: What a hidden gem! If it weren’t for my local friend, I may have walked right past the entrance to this colorful alley. Filled with shops and eateries like the famous Homeslice pizza, this is a do-not-miss.

Neal's Yard

The Colorful Neal’s Yard at Covent Garden

Homeslice Pizza London

With our Massive Pizza at Homeslice in Neal’s Yard

Maltby Street Market: Another spot not (yet) widely known to tourists! This narrow street gets filled up with shoulder-to-shoulder traffic on weekends with hungry locals clamoring for hot bites and samples from food stalls and restaurants at Maltby Market.

Maltby Street Market

The Bustling Maltby Street Market

Camden Market: While Maltby Market may be a food destination, Camden is a vast destination for unique shopping and vintage finds. I guarantee you will get lost roaming from stall to stall at Camden. Plus, they have a plethora of international food options.

For more London market options, I highly suggest taking a gander at this top 12 list.

Camden Market

Late Night Shopping at Camden Market

Carnaby Street: This is an excellent alternative to shopping along Oxford Street. While still bustling, Carnaby also provides the quintessential London experience (equipped with it’s very own glimmering British flag to greet you high in the sky). You’ll find trendy shops, restaurants, and relaxing pubs at Carnaby.

Carnaby Street London

Strolling Carnaby London

Shoreditch: Mentioned already, the Shoreditch neighborhood is great if you’re looking to sink your teeth into the London art scene (there are galleries and street art scattered throughout). Vintage shops, food stands, international flavors, and adorable markets can be found here.

Shoreditch London

Cute Shops in Shoreditch

Shoreditch Art

Street Art in Shoreditch

King’s Cross Station: Immediately add this to the Harry Potter fan must-do list. This is where Platform 9 3/4 lives! Unfortunately its popularity means that there is about an hour long wait to get a good picture with the iconic wall. I opted to quickly get a picture in on the side. A very busy Harry Potter gift shop can be found here.

Platform 9 3/4

Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station (I was as giddy as I look)

Platform 9 3/4

The Very Busy Harry Potter Gift Shop at King’s Cross Station

221B Baker Street (Sherlocke Holmes’ home): Again, another must-do if you’re a fan of the infamous detective. A gift shop and museum is located here.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street

Walk along the River Thames: touristy and crowded, but worth it on your first trip to London. From Big Ben to the London Eye, almost every iconic London landmark can be seen along the Thames.

River Thames London

Taken on our River Thames Stroll

Have yourself some afternoon tea: Stop for an hour during your busy London timeline and relax in one (or a few) of London’s tea rooms.

Yumchaa Tea Brick Lane

Teas at Yumchaa in Shoreditch

Yumchaa Tea Brick Lane

Interior shot of Yumchaa in Shoreditch

London Underground (metro system): This may seem like a very bizarre highlight, but it is truly one of my standout experiences in London. I am still floored by the complexity of London’s intricate train system and am downright impressed by the number of stations through the greater London area. I totally get why you would have the Underground on your shirt.

The London Underground

Map of The London Underground system

Did I miss something on my London to-do list? Let us know in the comments below!

Europe Trip 2017: How We Affordably Visited 5 Countries in 19 Days

It’s been less than a week since my partner and I returned from our whirlwind trip to Europe and I can barely recall what we did because of how fast-paced it was. Thank God for pictures! Firstly, the vacation was a success! There were no major mishaps and I am fortunate for everything we saw and experienced. This post will be purely the basics of our trip and I aim to provide tips for your potential future Europe trip!

CITIES WE VISITED (in order):

  1. London, England (highlights: the cool markets and cheap beer)
  2. Paris, France (highlights: the amount of things to see AND the patisseries)
  3. Madrid, Spain (highlight: the delicious and cheap tapas)
  4. Amsterdam, Netherlands (my favorite city of the trip for its beautiful canals and being the most walkable city …oh, and seeing the Red Light District and coffee shops made for an even more unique experience!)
  5. Berlin, Germany (highlight: the history insights on WWII and the Cold War)
  6. Barcelona, Spain (almost tied with Amsterdam as our favorite destination for its stunning architecture)

TIPS ON TRAVELING AFFORDABLY TO EUROPE:

  • Our Accommodations: we lodged entirely via Airbnb! We never paid more than $42/night (USD), with Amsterdam being the most we paid for lodging.
  • Our Flights: we flew low-cost airline, EasyJet, within Europe and paid no more than $100/ticket and flew once via Iberia from Madrid to Amsterdam.
  • The Season: traveling in February is what I mostly attribute the affordability of our trip to. Our flights to and from Oakland, California cost just $520 round-trip via Norwegian Air! I highly recommend this airline. 2 meals for a 10 hour flight.

IMPORTANT OBSERVATIONS and TIPS FOR TRAVELING IN EUROPE:

  • The Bathrooms (or WC as they say in Europe): you have to pay to use all public bathrooms (this was quite the detriment for my small bladder). I highly suggest dining at restaurants that have bathrooms so you can use them then.
  • Drinking Water: there is no such thing as free water at restaurants! This is definitely something I’ve taken for granted in North America. Buy cheap bottled water or fill up a water bottle at your hotel/Airbnb. Tap water was safe to drink at all the cities we stayed in except for Barcelona (according to our host).
  • Public Transit: if you choose to take public transit everywhere like we did, make sure you have lots of change on you! Many machines only take coins. If machines do take card, then they must be a credit card with a PIN number. I highly suggest getting combo day passes if you’ll be taking transit a lot (e.g. we got a discounted 3-day pass in Paris).
  • Cash and Currency: many places in Europe are cash only and I highly suggest taking out pounds and euros back home and not once you’re on vacation. We made the mistake of bringing American cash to exchange in Europe only to find that they take a lot of commission when converting the cash for you. Also see if your bank offers free credit cards to use abroad! We got one from Bank of America with zero fees and tried to use it as much as possible overseas.

I hope this was helpful for your future European travels! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. I hope to write more in-depth blog posts on each city shortly, which I’ll link to here.


PICTURE HIGHLIGHTS from OUR EUROPE TRIP:

IMG_0912.JPG

London: Neal’s Yard Covent Garden is an adorable spot for food and shopping

IMG_0913.JPG

London: Sherlock Holmes’ abode, which is now features a museum and tour

IMG_1464.JPG

Paris: The obligatory Eiffel Tower photo

IMG_1006.JPG

Paris: Even in the off season, the crowds of people doing selfies at the Arc de Triomphe was slightly overwhelming!

IMG_1445.JPG

Paris: Pont des Arts, which was once home to thousands of love locks

IMG_1638.JPG

Madrid: Legs at Plaza de Jacinto Benavente

IMG_1702.JPG

Madrid: Having fun at Parque del Retiro

IMG_1849.JPG

Amsterdam: A sample of its beautiful homes

IMG_1964.JPG

Amsterdam: Exploring the scenic Jordaan neighborhood

IMG_2320.JPG

Berlin: Part of the Berlin Wall Memorial

IMG_2321.JPG

Berlin: 4 dreamy statues and the Berliner Dom

IMG_2531.JPG

Barcelona: Arc du Triomf (yes, they have one too!)

IMG_2738.JPG

Barcelona: Inside the breathtaking – and still under construction – Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

IMG_2530.JPG

Barcelona: Taking in the sun at Playa de la Barceloneta


I would love to hear about your past and future Europe travel plans in the comments below! Also let me know if you have any questions about our trip.


Where to Grab a Drink in Berkeley, California

albany-taproom

Albany Taproom’s $12 Flight

It’s been just over two years since I made the move from Vancouver, British Columbia to the just as culturally diverse Bay Area town of Berkeley, California. The college town, which is just a 20 minute train ride from San Francisco, has no shortage of restaurants, book stores, and places to stroll and get your cardio on (e.g. the Berkeley Marina or Berkeley Hills). However, in the couple years I have resided here, one thing has puzzled me: the shortage of bars in Berkeley. Most mid-large sized cities offer at least one lively block of bars and go-to weekend places, but Berkeley is oddly not one of them. I live downtown and I can count the area’s decent bars on both my hands. I must mention that there is Telegraph Ave., which is home to a couple bars geared toward college students. If that’s you then Pappy’s and Kip’s are where you’ll probably be on a Friday night.

If you have encountered the same conundrum I first faced in Berkeley, fret not, as I have done the work for you and sussed out the most worthwhile drinking experiences in the city.

My Top 2 Places to Grab a Drink in Berkeley

Note that these are beer places, as I am a beer lover (if not already obvious from my profile photo). Refer down the list for wine and cocktail recommendations.

1. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room (West Berkeley)

  • Stellar customer service! Our bartender shared a plethora of information on each beer and the brewery
  • Well-designed, modern atmosphere
  • Great selection of beers
  • Easy to find parking
sierra-nevada-torpedo-room

Flight at Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room

sierra-nevada-torpedo-room-2

Our Flight with Dojo Dogs from the Food Truck Outside

2. Fieldwork Brewing Co. (West Berkeley)

  • A great space to drink at with a friend or a big group (they have really picturesque outdoor seating)
  • A constantly changing selection of in-house brews
  • Offer tasty empanadas if you’re hungry
fieldworkbrewingco

Me and a Flight from Fieldwork Brewing Co.

If you’re looking for lively atmosphere: Jupiter has a great outdoor area and live music on some nights (Downtown Berkeley). Offers beer, wine, and food.

If you’re looking for a dance floor: Missouri Lounge (West Berkeley). Offers beer, cocktails, and hot dogs.

If you’re looking for creative and interesting cocktails: Tupper & Reed (Downtown Berkeley). Offers beer and scorpion bowls too.

If you’re looking for a high class experience: Revival (Downtown Berkeley) or FIVE (Downtown Berkeley). Offers beer, wine, cocktails, and food.

If you’re looking for a good Happy Hour: Beta Lounge has Happy Hour 4-9pm (Downtown Berkeley). Offers beer, wine, cocktails, and bar bites.

Honorable Mention:

  • Albatross Pub (West Berkeley) offers beer, darts, and a multitude of board games.
  • Albany Taproom (technically in Albany, which is just north of West Berkeley) offers beer and food.
  • Comal (Downtown Berkeley) offers beer, cocktails, and upscale Mexican food.
  • Starry Plough (South Berkeley) offers beer and bar food.

Am I missing anything? If you can think of other great places to grab a drink in Berkeley, let me know in in the comments below!

Travel Tips: Labour Day Weekend in Southern California

img_1098

Leo Carillo State Park Beach

Our last visit to Southern California was on Fourth of July weekend where we stayed at a Torrance, CA Airbnb and spent most of our time at beaches (and looking for parking at beaches). Needless to say, visiting during America’s rowdiest weekend was a bit overwhelming. We hoped to explore Orange County, but failed to find parking at both Huntington and Newport Beach after much circling, and only succeeded at 7pm when we arrived at Laguna Beach. Our SoCal visit this time around was a bit less hectic to say the least.

We stayed at my aunt’s place in Pacific Palisades for two nights, which is nestled right in between Santa Monica and Malibu. She was a fantastic host and introduced us to places we wouldn’t have found on our own as tourists. I didn’t get a chance to write a full recap of that last SoCal trip, but want to offer suggestions on some unique things to do down there that we got to experience this time around.

Suggestions for Your Southern California Trip:

  • Palisades Park in Santa Monica – a great spot to relax and stroll just a few blocks away from the congested Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade.
  • Sawtelle Blvd – if you like Asian food, this is the place to be! You’ll find sushi, ramen, and all the Asian desserts your heart fancies in this hip Asian neighbourhood. Bar-Hayama has $5.55 happy hour food from 5:30-7pm everyday.
  • The Arts District – we stumbled upon a lesser-known free gallery called Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, which is worth checking out if you’re into art.
  • The Garment District – you’ll feel like you’re shopping in local Mexico here! Comb through the cheesy graphic tees and knock-off bags to find some genuinely nice pieces.
  • Koreatown – I finally got to check out Ktown and it did not disappoint! We got lunch in Koreatown Plaza’s food court at Awoolim, which Yelp recommended.
  • Hiking in Topanga State Park – since I was a bit under the weather, we found a really easy hike at the Santa Ynez Waterfall trailhead. Despite being dry due to drought, the canyon was a really worthwhile destination.
  • Leo Carillo State Park Beach in Malibu – not super busy even on a long weekend and offers tide pools and picturesque rock formations.

Pictures from the Weekend in Southern California

img_1006

Palisades Park in Santa Monica

img_1005

Art at Palisades Park in Santa Monica

img_1007

Our Sake Bottle at Bar-Hayama on Sawtelle Blvd

img_1017

Art Piece at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in the Arts District

img_1021

Food at Koreatown Plaza in Ktown

img_1027

Zuma Beach in Malibu

img_1066

Santa Ynez Waterfall in Topanga State Park

img_1090

Steps Down to Leo Carillo State Park Beach from the Highway

img_1103

Painted Underpass at Leo Carillo State Park Beach

 

Thoughts and tips on Southern California? Let me know in the comments below!

Save

Travel Story: A Day and a Half in Lake Tahoe

According to my Roger, I am “hard to surprise” because I’m always so busy. And so I was more than happy when he told me Saturday morning that he’d booked a night in Lake Tahoe. After parting ways with a friend from home that afternoon, we set off from Berkeley to Tahoe City, which took about 3 hours. We checked into the quaint Tahoe City Inn, which he had gotten last minute at $180/night. Being the bustling summer destination that it is, this was the most affordable he could find on a Saturday night. Our room was spacious and we were pleased that they have continental breakfast from 8am-10am.

That night, we ventured down the block to Japanese joint, Doma Sushi Met Galbi, which came highly recommended on Yelp. The family-owned business’ staff were extremely friendly and the rolls were delicious and fresh. After, we wandered down the main road of Tahoe City mostly playing Pokemon Go (there are quite a few Pokestops scattered throughout town) and walked down the marina pier. This place was perfect for a beautiful and relaxing stroll into what felt like a pastel-coloured cloud during sunset. We stumbled upon Tahoe Mountain Brewing to down a couple pints shortly after. The night was capped off by grabbing more beer at Safeway to enjoy in our hotel room where we were accompanied by TLC and the Food Network – 2 channels I haven’t had the guilty pleasure of viewing since living home with my parents.

Our second and – sadly – final day was mostly occupied by kayaking on the north tip of Lake Tahoe by King’s Beach. After comparing a few rental places in the area, we chose Tahoe Paddle & Oar for its affordable price ($75 for one double kayak for 3hrs). The excursion was super worthwhile and while not too far of a trek –  it was cool to kayak across the California-Nevada state line! Our journey back to shore was a bit more choppy than the trip we took over to the Nevada side.

Post-kayaking, we drove back to Tahoe City to grab fish n’ chips at Tahoe Mountain Brewing and went down to the beach. My one major piece of advice about beaches in Tahoe is to go to King’s Beach instead of Tahoe City’s beach. The City’s beach was rocky and muddy, whereas King’s Beach is laden with soft white sand and clear blue water. In hindsight, we wish we had spent more time there.

Overall, I highly recommend a weekend in Tahoe City and north Lake Tahoe!

The Trip in Pictures…

IMG_0002

A stroll down Tahoe City Marina

IMG_0001

Boats off the Marina

IMG_0004

Kayaking from California to Nevada

IMG_0003

Resting Our Arms

IMG_0007

Fun in the Double Kayak

IMG_0005

Tahoe City’s Animal Tree

IMG_0006

Found this “Historic” Lil’ Gem in Tahoe City Thanks to Pokemon Go

Thoughts on Lake Tahoe? Did I miss something in Tahoe City? Let me know in the comments below!

Napa: 12 Wineries in One Day

After relocating from Vancouver, BC to California in August 2014, I was thrilled to hear my parents planned their first weekend trip to visit me. We only had 2.5 days together so I planned a weekend where they could see as much as possible (without the San Francisco touristy destinations, which they’ve already done).

After hiking and sightseeing around the Point Reyes National Seashore and Marin Headlands on the Saturday, we ventured bright and early to Napa the next morning. And when I say bright, that is no exaggeration – the temperature that day rose to over 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). We couldn’t wait to hop into each winery for the strong winds of air conditioning.

As the title states, we managed to visit a total of 12 wineries in one day. Don’t worry – that doesn’t mean we had 12 wine tastings, but that we saw the grounds of 12 different places. Some of which are very worth seeing. If you’re looking to show some out-of-towners Napa in one day, feel free to take a page from our book:

Itinerary for Napa in One Day:

9:00AM – Arrive at the Napa Valley Welcome Center as soon as it opens for an extensive map and 2-for-1 tasting coupons.

10:30AM – Drive all the way up to the north end of Napa to the town of Calistoga and have brunch. I highly recommend the French/Cajun spot, Evangeline.

11:30AM-6:00PM – Explore the wineries as you make your way back to downtown Napa to your heart’s content! Here are the 12 we ventured to in order:

* Indicates what I’d recommend stopping at

  1. *Chateau Montelena ($25/person tasting)
  2. Sterling
  3. Clos Pegase
  4. Charles Krug
  5. Trinchero
  6. *Berringer
  7. *Sutter Home (free tasting)
  8. *Heitz (free tasting)
  9. Beaulieu Vineyard (BV)
  10. Andretti
  11. Darioush
  12. *Hess Collection

Note: you definitely want to start the wineries early, as many of them close at 4/4:30PM. Neither of these require reservations either.

6:00PM – Stop by Oxbow Public Market to check out some trinkets, fun shops, and unique food vendors.

6:30PM – Dinner in downtown Napa. I found Spanish tapas eatery, ZuZu, on Yelp and it did not disappoint. The tapas are quite small however, so maybe opt for dessert after. We got gelato from Frati Gelato Cafe around the corner.

The Day in Photos…

DSC03056

Evangeline for Brunch in Calistoga

DSC03058

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict and the Waffle

DSC03070

Waiting for our Tasting at Chateau Montelena

DSC03075

Chateau Montelena

DSC03077

The Chinese-Inpspired Lake at Chateau Montelena

DSC03082

Private Tasting Section at Chateau Montelena

DSC03089

Unexpected Chalkboard at Sterling Vineyards

DSC03094

The Iconic Napa Valley Welcome Sign

DSC03099

At the Berringer Winery Grounds

DSC03104

Berringer

DSC03112

Heitz Winery

DSC03117

The Columns at Darioush

DSC03142

The Art Collection at Hess Collection

DSC03159

The Prawns and Octopus at Zuzu in Downtown Napa

DSC03160

Mexican Nachos and the Best Tapa – Flat Iron Steak

IMG_6364

Downtown Napa

Thoughts on Napa? Let me know in the comments below!

A Weekend in Yosemite National Park

I’m reading my last post on my stay in Yosemite and I can’t believe I forgot to mention our flooded tent situated on one of the park’s campgrounds. It was October 2014 and one of the last weather-allowable weekends to camp and explore the national park. We had no idea there would be a downpour on our first night’s stay so we foolishly opted not to put the rain cover on our tent. When my boyfriend and I got back to our campsite that night, we discovered about a foot of water in our tent had drenched our pillows, mat, and blankets. We slept in our friend’s SUV that night, barely sleeping a wink.

This time around, it was June 2016 when a different group and I stayed in a cozy Airbnb log cabin in the town of Columbia, CA – just over an hour drive from the park. Columbia is basically an old mining town that looks almost trapped in the early 20th century; we saw a man riding in a horse drawn carriage – I kid you not.

The Friday evening before our trip, we were shocked to find that Obama and the First Family had plans to visit Yosemite that weekend. Needless to say, traffic was bad. To avoid the crowds, we devised a strategy which happened to work in our favour. Instead of going from the outside in, we decided to venture to the inner parts of Yosemite first and then tackle the more touristy and outer areas of the park on the latter day.

If you’re looking to avoid crowds on your weekend to Yosemite, consider our plan:

Saturday:

  • Olmstead Point – a vast view of the valley and great for taking photos.
  • Lunch at Tenaya Lake – we may have seen only about three other groups here on this busy Saturday. It was the most serene and relaxing meal spot.
  • Tuolumne Meadows – I short little hike where you can see deer and venture up a big rock formation to get a good view of the surrounding mountains.
  • Hiking the Cathedral Lakes Trail to the Cathedral Lakes – this took us about 5hrs to conquer the 7 mile round-trip hike. It didn’t appear difficult at first, but the elevation caused us to be out of breath pretty fast. Despite the sun being out in full force, this hike led us to through mounds of snow, which led us to the most pure and refreshing stream of water to drink from. Traipsing through the slippery surface, streams, and sometimes rocky terrain was totally worth it when we got to the Cathedral Lakes (you’ll see what I mean in the pictures below).

Sunday:

  • Glacier Point – this viewpoint is pretty much a must-see. It has the best perspective of breathtaking Yosemite Valley.
  • Lower Yosemite Falls – when the description said it was an easy hike, they weren’t kidding. From the road, take a leisurely stroll to this falls for a sight you didn’t even have to work for.

Our Weekend in Yosemite in Pictures…

DSC02810

Olmstead Point

DSC02821

Our Lunch Spot: Tenaya Lake

DSC02860

Rock Above Tuolumne Meadows

DSC02882

Where we Found the Purest Drinking Water on the Cathedral Lakes Hike

DSC02892

The Sights at the Top of the Cathedral Lakes Hike

DSC02895

Cathedral Lakes

DSC02898

Taking in the Beauty of Cathedral Lakes

DSC02917

View of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point (the Big Formation is Half Dome)

DSC02919

More of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point (Upper Yosemite Falls in the Distance)

DSC02961

Posing in from of El Capitan

DSC02970

Lower Yosemite Falls

DSC03010

 Getting Close to Some Yosemite Wildlife

Share your thoughts on Yosemite National Park below!