Venice of the North

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After spending some time in Amsterdam I thought this was actually “The Canal City.” Most commonly, this name is associated with Venice but doesn’t Amsterdam statistically have more canals? I decided to check that out and, not surprisingly, both cities go hand in hand. Here is a fun fact of the day: 

# of bridges: Venice ~400, Amsterdam ~1300

# of canals: Venice between 150-177 (depending on a source), Amsterdam ~165

# of islands: Venice ~120, Amsterdam ~90

 

I know, I know, it’s not about the statistics. Venice was built first, that’s why it solely deserves the title. Amsterdam as a runner-up was honored with the name of  “Venice of the North.” Not bad.

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My November trip to Amsterdam was the second one within the past three months. I had the opportunity to enjoy this lovely city in the summer and now in the fall, and both times – I loved it. It is a vibrant but cozy place with lots of young people giving it an urban flair. The city is very compact which makes it really quick and easy to commute especially on a bike, which is one of the the main sources of transportation in the city. The bike infrastructure is amazingly developed: there are separate lanes and lights for bikes throughout Amsterdam and bike lock-in stations anywhere in the city. However, sometimes finding a parking for a bike can be challenging as there are a LOT of them, especially in the most popular areas. I chose to walk instead of bike which made me forget about the “pedestrian rules” and a few times I mistakenly walked on bike paths or forgot to look when crossing their lanes. I bet I was called a “dumb tourist” a few times. 

Bicycle rack next to the Centraal Station

Amsterdam is divided into a bunch of small neighborhoods, each with their own character and charm. Here is a more detailed overview of what you can do and see in each of them. The center of the city is within “the Canal Ring” and, as you can imagine, is the busiest and the most touristy part of the city. I like to avoid it and wander around small canal streets getting to know the local life of every place I go to. Both times I went to Amsterdam, I walked everywhere and I developed a pretty good sense of orientation of where things are by now. Living in Chicago for so long and traveling around, I always thought of myself as a “Big City Girl.” However, in Amsterdam that feeling faded away and I imagined myself enjoying the short commute to work (unlike ~2h a day Chicago style), the close proximity of shops, restaurants, bars, parks etc. I realized that it’s the little things that matter in life and time is one of them (well maybe that’s a big one). When I went to London a few weeks ago, the metro ride was taking me at least 45 min to each destination and I only stayed in Zone 2. I’ve heard people complaining about the morning metro ride to work and back, the lack of social life, the overcrowded streets, not to mention the high prices of everything. Traveling helps you realize what really matters for you in life and brings you back to the present if your head in the clouds. 

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Side Streets in the Canal Ring 

So what have I seen & done while in Amsterdam? See below for full disclosure 🙂  

MUSEUMS

I’m not a museum buff but usually try to visit one or two main ones in each city. In Amsterdam, I went to Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, hosting masterpieces of legends such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. The museum is huge but the good part is that you get an audio guide which has pre-selected tours that can guide you through, depending on your interest or time limit. Another one was Heineken Experience which was a 2 hour interactive tour around the brewery where you can learn about the process and the history of making this signature beer. The best part is the end, where you enjoy two beers (already included in the ticket price) on the Heineken’s top floor terrace overlooking all Amsterdam. Pretty sweet view. Buy tickets online, they were a bit cheaper and you don’t need to stand in lines (entrance is at certain hours).  

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Inside the Rijksmuseum
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The Terrace of the Heineken Building 

PARKS

Amsterdam has about 30 parks which provide for a peaceful oasis during the touristy season. If you’re visiting in the spring/summer, definitely check out Vondelpark, the largest and most famous park located steps away from Rijksmuseum. Here is a full list of parks worth checking out. 

CAFES

There are two cafes that I would definitely go back to: All the Luck in the World by the Oosterpark and Vlaamsch Broodhuys in the Center. The first one is actually a studio with handmade jewelry but is combined with a cafe (also serving lunch). Earthy and hip vibe. The other one is a small, rustic bread bakery perfect for breakfasts and lunches. Delish! 

All the Luck in the World 

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Breakfast at Vlaamsch Broodhuys

BARS 

Jordaan neighborhood is a very popular area amongst young people, full of bars, restaurants, specialty shops and galleries. Side note: it’s a home to Saturday’s organic farmers market. Back to bars…the ones I’ve been to are: Finch Cafe, Boca’s (your local bars), and Tales and Spirits (tiny cocktail bar). You can find more bars in Jordaan here

The Pijp or “The Pipe” neighborhood, a part of “Amsterdam South”, is similarly to Jordaan, home to many bars, cafes and restaurants. Very much a vibrant district, great to hang out in the evenings and over the weekends. Too many places to name, so just head over there and choose what you like!  

Located in the center, Door 74 is your speakeasy cocktail bar with no visible entrance and a must in making a reservation. Amsterdam Roest, in the east by the waterside, is an industrial building complex hosting a bar, a market and a (!) city beach. Super fun and a very eclectic place. Lastly, my favorite Thuis aan de Amstel, south of the Pijp by Amstel River, a two story house turned into bar/restaurant with multiple rooms to choose to sit in. Super cozy and quite romantic in the evenings. During the warm day you can hang out in the garden area overlooking the river. 

One of the rooms in Thuis aan de Amstel

BRUNCH

Most of the brunch places, from what I have experienced, are tiny, so you can either wait outside for a table for quite some time or make a reservation ahead of time, which is definitely a better option if you can plan ahead. In Jordaan where I hung out the most, I recommend PIQNIQ, GS, Letting, and Braserie Baton. Also, for a sweet tooth try a signature apple pie at Winkel 43

Enjoy Amsterdam!

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EATalian Wedding

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1st century ruins at Villa Il Cardinale

Italy has always had a special place in my heart. It was where my parents took me for my first trip abroad when I was 9 as a First Communion Present. It was a long trip from Poland and as we drove, we stopped in different cities across the country starting with Turin, Padua through Assisi and ending in Rome. At least that is what my memory from 20 years ago tells me. What else does it tell me? That I saw Pope John Paul II, threw a coin into The Trevi Fountain with a wish to come back to Italy, ate lots of pizza and gelato. Ah yes, Italian cuisine…about that later.

Angie and Russ’ Wedding was the reason I happily made it back to Italy for the fourth time after 10 years of absence. Who would resist going to a destination wedding in one of the most romantic cities in the world? In fact, Angie and Russ got engaged in Rome and decided to seal their love in the eternal city. How romantic is that?! The ceremony and the reception was held in a historical estate just outside of Rome, Villa Il Cardinale, that dates back to the 1st century. The villa itself was built in the 16th century and absolutely took my breath away. The architecture, the decor, the smell of history made me feel like I was in a movie. But it’s really the ancient ruins surrounding it what make it a magical place especially for a ceremony like this.

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The Flower Children
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The walls of the 16th century Villa 

We all know that Italian cuisine is one of a kind. Having worked at an authentic Italian restaurant owned by a family which was deeply rooted in its Bolognese tradition, I know that it’s not only about spaghetti, lasagna or pizza. Italian kitchen is all about art, tradition and celebration: the art of mixing the right but simple ingredients to create extraordinary flavors, the tradition of making homemade pasta and aging perfectly tasting Parmigiano Reggiano, and celebrating it all with a glass of delicious Sangiovese.

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Parmigiano Reggiano and Parma Ham on the appetizer table

I wouldn’t expect anything less from a wedding in Italy. However, what I did not expect having never attended one, was the amount of food that would be served. I always thought that Polish weddings were overflowing with food while American ones had a scarcity of it and you could easily walk out from them hungry. But the difference between Polish and Italian way of serving food is that at a Polish wedding you come and go to/from the table throughout the night as you please because the dishes are being served throughout the night. At an Italian wedding you have a sit down 25 course 3 hour dinner after which you fall into food coma and have no energy to move on the dance floor. Ok…maybe not 25 but it felt like it. You also have no way of getting drunk either due to the heavy carbs filled (delicious) meals which can be good for people who cannot handle their alcohol.

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The 4 course menu with 6 main dishes 

The reception started with an obligatory glass of champagne and a long table of appetizers that included: Oysters, Shrimp Cocktail, Buffalo Mozarella, Parmiggiano Reggiano Cheese, Parma Ham, and Fried Calamari amongst others. Because I was starving by that time, I devoured enough to call it a full meal. Mistake. From there, all guests were seated down at a beautifully decorated long table where, next to my name tag, I found a full course dinner menu:

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My first thought was: “How am I going to choose one dish from Primeri and Secondi if it all looks so good?” Quickly enough, I realized that I won’t have to choose when, without being asked, I received the first plate – Pasta. Oh my…heaven on earth. I couldn’t stop eating despite telling myself “slow down, there are 5 more courses coming.” My favorite though, were gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts, a dish to die for. By the fourth meal, I lost my ability to eat another bite, which was unfortunate because I really wanted to try the Beef Stracetti but after sipping on Lemon Sorbet, which is to clean your palate, I said “enough.” However, it wouldn’t have been a full meal if I didn’t have a bite of dolce from a sweet corner, which I miraculously managed to fit in two hours later.

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Quill Pasta Del Poggio Style 
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Rice with Scampi Veloute 
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Potato Gniocchi with Gorgonzola Cheese 
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Mixed Grilled Fish – 1st dish from Secondi Piatti (I stopped myself after this one)

The rest of the night was spent on sipping Italian wine or hand crafted cocktails and dancing the night away. The wedding was chic, romantic and classy and I wanted it to never end. I wish all the best to the lovely newlywed couple in their new life together!

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Croatia: The Yacht Week 2016

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Floaties are an essential part of TYW experience

Oh, what a week it was…a week of sailing on the Adriatic Sea waters, a week of relaxing, exploring, meeting super cool people, partying every night, and sleeping under the stars being woken up by the raising sun. That’s of course not the full list, but I need to stop myself from revealing too much 😉 Let me tell you, if you have never heard of The Yacht Week (TYW), here is your chance to learn about it; and if you’ve ever hesitated whether to go (as I did at the beginning), here is my chance to convince you that you are missing out (well unless you have a sea sickness…then it sucks). Don’t get me wrong, I am in no capacity marketing TYW, there were lots of flaws in the process, about which I may or may not tell you, I simply want to focus on the amazing experience I had in Croatia.

Let me start off by saying that I actually didn’t spend a whole week on the boat. Not because I couldn’t handle a tiny bathroom with no running water (yes, that happened to our boat – flaw no 1) shared with 7 other people (nota bene my friends), or for any other reason I can’t imagine at the moment, but because I would have missed my own graduation. Bad planning, right? Honestly, when we scheduled that with a group of MBA friends (or rather when I was literally bullied into the idea), I thought that 4 days stranded on a boat are more that enough. NO WAY! Knowing what I know now, a week is the optimal timeframe you need to be looking at. Leaving in the middle of TYW was not only a logistical nightmare (flaw no 2), but a FOMO (fear of missing out).  Imagine you need to leave a long awaited party at midnight because you are 18 and your parents gave you a curfew. You feel the pain. Anyways, don’t make that mistake.

Back to the beginning. My trip to Split, from where the boat was leaving, was a long one – more or less 18 hours (from Poland!). Croatia is a very popular summer destination, therefore buying tickets way in advance helps not only with the price but with proper connections. As I decided to join the party at the last minute, I had to bare the consequences. Unfortunately, I missed seeing Dubrovnik (well, I saw a glimpse of it from the bus while traveling to Split) which is a gorgeous city, and the one which serves as Kings Landing if you’re obsessed with Game of Thrones series as I am. But I’m definitely coming back to see the Croatian land(ing).

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Split
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The beautiful Hvar Island

I want to tell you a few key things about supplying your boat because that’s the first thing you want to do before you get on it. Well ok, you can either have a host on your boat who will take care of everything for you including shopping, preparing your every meal (unless she’s too hangover to make you breakfast) and cleaning. In that case, you only need to worry about supplying your boat with booze and ice. As it comes with price, here are some tips on the self-service scenario. Your shopping cart should be filled with lots and lots of bottles of…water (I know what you were thinking!) Give and take 3 liters per person times the number of days times the number of people on your boat. Don’t worry, it will fit. Somewhere. In terms of food – you don’t really want to cook, but if you want to prove your skills as the MasterChef of your boat, make pasta and only when the boat is already moored. Otherwise, making a michelada is challenging. So that leaves us with lots of cold cuts, bread, snacks, fruits and veggies if you wish. As you get off of the boat every night, there are restaurants in which you can eat dinner before heading out, or you can get food deliveries in some ports too, so you won’t go hungry if you’re worried about it. Other necessities include (solo) cups, napkins, toilet paper (!), and trash bags. Every few days you’ll be able to access a store should you run out of something, so don’t really buy 112 bottles of water right away (don’t question my math). Oh! And don’t forget to buy floaties in advance! One of the best parts of your day in the water.

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Getting a daily dose of vitamin D
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Boat rafts as seen from up high

Our boat, named Corvo, had 7 people plus a captain. One important thing about the captain – you feed him and pay for his meals and drinks when you’re out and about! The crew apparently is paid peanuts and they count on our tips, so tip your captain accordingly. The thing about our boat was that it was already beaten up and we ended up, as I already said, with no running water (weirdly enough, there was water to flush the toilet). So the evening ritual was to jump from boat to boat using other friendly boats’ showers. Might have been a bit annoying asking for it but thankfully TYW people were chill and generous plus it was a great networking opportunity. Ok, I’m getting sidetracked…You might wonder if we were bored for 4 days on the boat. Nothing like that! The whole idea of TYW is to sail from island to island every day or every other day with all the boats, make rafts and jump the boats to meet people, party in a different place every night, and sightsee the islands (Hvar!). One of the best parts of the day though, for me, was to get up in the morning, put on a bathing suit (if I haven’t slept in it already) and jump to the refreshing water, or lay out on the deck of the boat and sunbathe while sailing to our next destination. I feel relaxed already just thinking about it. Getting our hair down under the moonlight was not bad either. Every party was organized in a super hip, open air place where we danced till the morning hours to the summer beats being spined by great local djs. This was complimented by a melting pot of super fun, open minded, and culturally diverse crowd.

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Don’t forget your country’s flag!
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View form right by the airport in Split

To get off the boat and come back to reality was one of the hardest parts of the trip. Not to mention that the hardest was actually getting to the airport from an island, which nearly resulted in missing our plane. Despite some bumps on the way, I would do TYW again in a heartbeat. If anyone wants to join me, holler! We’ll have a blast 🙂

 

The luxury of Luxembourg

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Neumunster Abbey

I never knew much about Luxembourg, except for the fact it was the “Lux” part in the union of neighboring countries of BENELUX. And why would I? It’s a tiny, tiny landlocked country with population of over 100k in the main city of Luxembourg (just like in my hometown in Poland!). When I told friends I was traveling for 2 days to Lux City for interviews, they were horrified by the fact that I might consider it for living! I’ve hear comments like: “it’s boring”, “there’s nothing to do”, “if you like big cities, don’t even”, and “it’s good for families.” But, of course you can’t make any judgements until you see it yourself. So I was hopeful.

Not many know that Luxembourg’s GDP per capita is >$100,000, making it the 2nd highest in the world right after Qatar (in PPP terms). I’m not kidding, check it here. Approximately 80% of the population are expats or live outside the boarders of the country (in France, Germany, Belgium) and commute to work every day. In restaurants and hotels you can hear mostly French, and often German, but everyone seems to speak English, so it’s not a problem if you don’t know any other language especially that Luxembourg is home to all sorts of international companies, including Amazon’s European HQ.

True, Lux City is small but it’s full of young, ambitious professionals, who make the most out of their time in that tiny country. Next to hiking, biking and rock climbing on the weekends, you can easily travel to neighboring countries as the distances are, obviously, relatively small (4 hour drive to Paris and 2h drive to Brussels). The city also offers plenty of restaurants and bars where people hang out after work. The streets are clean and safe, distances are walkable, and public transportation is reliable for those who live further from the center. On the other hand, the downside of living and working in Luxembourg is the feeling that nothing is permanent. Co-workers often come and go, changing geographies, or companies, and friendships that you made over the past few months disappear as fast as they appeared. After all, majority of the people move to Luxembourg not from their own will, but for employment. Through my past experiences of moving and adjusting to new situations, it’s not a problem anymore. I can get the best out of every place I go, so I am ready for what comes next. Anywhere.

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Neumunster Abbey and the view on upper Luxembourg
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View from the above
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Sunset over a castle

Buenos Aires

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Obelisk

It’s been five years since I spent memorable 3 months in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. When I was young, I remember listening to a song by a Polish singer called “Buenos Aires.” I always thought that Argentina was at the end of the world and that I can only dream of traveling there. But dreams do come true if we only put our mind to it. As I was graduating from University, I decided to find an internship in a Spanish speaking country to gain international working experience and “mejorar mi Espanol”. Living in the U.S. made it so much easier to travel to South America, so it wasn’t a hard decision to check out the city called “Paris of South America.”

Every day after work I would walk around with a travel guide in my hand and explore the city, get lost and find hidden gems away from main streets. Over the past years I was asked multiple times about BsAs recommendations. I compiled a list of things I’ve done, places I’ve visited, restaurants I ate, and more. Since it’s been a few years, I updated my recommendations based on conversations with a friend who lives there, and a friend who recently visited.

Hope you find it helpful!

Buenos Aires has 5 main areas that you need to visit: Palermo, Recoleta, Plaza San Martin & Retiro, Plaza de Mayo and Microcentro, San Telmo & La Boca.
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Lively streets of Palermo
Palermo – Neighborhood of neighborhoods
  • Botanic Garden – one of my favorite places!
  • MALBA (latinamerican art museum) – worth checking out
  • Restaurant: I loved Las Cholas , it’s in a lively area with bars and other restaurants so you can hop around.
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Cementario de la Recoleta
Recoleta – My favorite neighborhood (I recommend staying here)
  • Explore the neighborhood by walking around
  • Cementerio de la Recoleta is a MUST go
  • There is a huge lawn by the Cemetery where people hang out; also known for cultural events and a flea market on the weekends
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Plaza Mayor – view from Casa Rosada

Plaza de Mayo and Micrcentro – The city center

  • Casa Rosada, as in Argentine White House, is open to the public on weekends (free)
  • Option: take a hop on hop off bus if you’re limited on time; the bus starts on Avenida de Mayo
  •  Avenida de Julio – the widest street in the world
  • Obelisk – an icon of BsAs located on Avenida de Julio
  • Puerto Madero – the most modern part of BsAs; see Puente de la Mujer designed by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava; restaurants in this area are overpriced, so I don’t recommend eating there but it might be tempting…you’ll see!

 

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Puente de la Mujer in Puero Madero

San Telmo – Older part of the city

  • Very traditional, tango dancers on the street etc.
  • Sunday market from 10am-4pm – you can find anything you can think of! Starts from Plaza de Mayo
  • Go to El Desnivel, best steak in the world! It’s a hole in the wall but the food is seriously amazing (approved by all my friends whom I sent there)
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Caminito in La Boca

La Boca – known for 

  • La Bombonera – Boca Juniors stadium
  • The famous Caminito – colorful artists’ street
  • I don’t recommend eating there – very touristy and not known for good restaurants
  • The poorest area of BsAs – watch out for pickpockets!
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Tango in La Boca 

Other useful info:

  • Nightlife –  Terrazas del Este love, love, love that place. It’s a bit outside BsAs but a great vibe.
  • Check out the BsAs Graffiti Tour
  • For free walking tours click HERE
  • If you’re planning to explore other parts of Argentina, I definitely recommend: Iguazu Waterfalls, Wine tours in Mendoza, Patagonia, and Salta
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Flea Market in Recoleta

Ferias de Sevilla

 

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My IE Business School Crew

Only six days after coming back from South Africa, I’m embarking on another trip. This time it’s a very quick one, down south of Spain, to Sevilla.  I could not pass this one by, as I was dreaming about going to Ferrias de Sevilla since last year when I saw it on Snapchat Story (that’s how you find out about things these days).

Ferrias is a week long festival where women and men get to dress up in their finest traditional outfits – women in spectacular flamenco dresses and men in suits with sombreros. Every evening, people dance sevillana, drink wine, and eat tapas. All of this takes place in casetas, special tents that are temporarily built for the fair and beautifully decorated.  These casetas belong to prominent families, groups of friends or associations and you need to know someone to get into one of them. Our group was lucky enough to be invited to one of the tents by an IE student from Sevilla, which made our experience unforgettable.

We arrived to Sevilla at 3pm on a Saturday. Girls changed into traditional outfits that we collected last minute in Madrid and the guys put on their finest suits. When we got to the fairground, we were transported into another world. Our heads were turning left and right as we were watching spectacular outfits, beautiful women and handsome looking men. I’m glad we collectively decided to dress up and blend in the crowd because we felt a closer connection with the tradition and culture of that place. We were taught how to dance Sevillana and had an absolute blast all night. Another great trip with a great group of friends. Check!

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Beautiful dresses at the fairground
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The rain didn’t stop us from having fun
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Managed to put together my costume few hours before
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True Sevillanas!

 

 

 

 

Cape Town 

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View on Camps Bay Beach

Easter Weekend was a perfect time to go to Cape Town because we had full 5 days off of work. Or we thought it would be perfect…ticket prices from Johannesburg skyrocketed and it was almost impossible to find accommodation. People from across South Africa and the rest of the world flooded CT because of holidays and Two Oceans Marathon, a popular running event taking place once a year around this time. The moody weather didn’t help either cancelling out trip to Robben Island the first day, not mentioning the rain which spoiled a few other plans along the way.

But enough about the negatives. The city is so beautiful that nothing could have possibly ruined our experience. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Cape Town that it made it hard to go there without high expectations. Yet, I was still surprised and amazed…the beaches, white sand, blue water, the mountains, the food, the cosmopolitan vibe, the waterfront, the people…I can go on and on. You get the idea. I fell in love with the city.
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Sunset at Clifton 2nd Beach
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On the top of Lion’s Head Mountain

I compiled a list of must see & do things that I recommend for those who are traveling to Cape Town:

  • Beaches: Camps Bay & Clifton 2nd (the last one is perfect for when it’s windy)
  • Cape Point – most Southern Tip of Africa
  • Cape of Good Hope – where two Oceans meet
  • Boulder’s Beach – swim with the penguins
  • Robben Island – where Mandela was held (ex prisoners guide you through the Island)
  • Hike the Lion’s Head!! Or if you’re lazy take the cable car to Table Mountain
  • Winelands: Franschhoek & Stellenbosch – for wine lovers
  • V&A Waterfront – stunning and lively harbour (read “touristy”) with shopping, restaurants and bars
  • Sea Point – take a walk along the ocean
  • Biscuit Mill – really fun, fresh food market where you can buy homemade and handmade products (only Sundays)
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Camps Bay Beach
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Boulder’s Beach & The Penguins
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Cape of Good Hope

South Africa has, hands down, some of the best food I’ve ever tried. And it’s not about their traditional cuisine but literally everything from salads, sandwiches, steaks (duh!), duck and even pizza! Here are some places I highly recommend:

  • The Potluck & The Test Kitchen (book way in advance)
  • Charango – Peruvian
  • HQ, Hussar Grill – Steak
  • Chef’s Warehouse, Savoy Cabbage – Contemporary
  • Willoughby & Co – Sushi
  • La Boheme – Wine Bar & Bistro

Fun bars:

  • Union Bar
  • Aces & Spades
  • Village Idiot
  • La Perla
  • Caprice (on Sunday)
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One of the wineries in Stellenboch
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Haute Cabriere Winery