4 Smart Spots for a Ljubljana Coffee Break

Ljubljana is lined with cafes along the beautiful waterfront serving up the local specialty drink, a white coffee. With a huge population of students, you can understand why the city is filled with coffee shops and bookstores. The white coffee may not be for coffee aficionados since your precious shot of espresso is topped with LOTS of milk and frothy foam, but you should try it to enjoy Ljubljana like a local. Pair the white coffee with a tasty cake, and the European café culture is alive in this green city. While in Ljubljana, there are four coffeehouses that make me want to come back, so here’s my list!
cafe-coklCafe Čokl
There are people who take coffee seriously, and then there are people who work at Cafe Čokl. This café by the puppet theatre serves the best coffee in Ljubljana. Cafe Čokl roasts their beans and feature daily recommendations on a chalkboard outside. For all the coffee snobs out there, you will love the sweet taste at the front and a hint of bitter at the back.

cafetinoCafetino
Cafetino offers a huge range of coffee, using only freshly ground beans. With a wide selection of worldly coffee beans, this is place is for those who take their coffee seriously. Climbs the stairs, and upstairs to enjoy your brew. Consider ordering their turkish coffee while you are with your friends and possibly a cappuccino when you want to be alone with a book. 🙂 This coffee shop has no sign out front, but you can’t miss the selection of coffee roasting equipment in their window display.

daktariDaktari
With an interior resembling your grandparents’ living room, Daktari is one of the coolest café in Ljubljana. Daktari has the best Turkish coffee in Ljubljana. They also offer some delicious masala tea for those non-java drinking friends. In the evenings, they host a diverse program of social events, live music and literal readings. Daktari is definitely the place the intellectual // smart people. 😉

tozdTOZD
TOZD produces a relaxed atmosphere with has several bikes decorating the small café, which also adds for a great element of quirkiness. TOZD offers cold brew coffee, which is simply amazing. First, let’s talk about the presentation: coffee and water are served in beakers accompanied by the TOZD orange cup. Depending on the way you like your coffee, you are the “chemist.” You can have is straight up, by pouring the coffee into your cup and drinking as is. You can dilute it with some hot water, think warm Americano. Lastly, you can chill the coffee with the ice water and sip an iced coffee along the waterfront. What a great idea from TOZD because if you don’t like your coffee, it’s because you don’t know the “science” of your coffee palate…not because of their delicious cold brew. 😉

Which of these coffeehouses are your favorite? How do you like your coffee? Let’s experiment!

4 Smart Coffee Spots for a Zagreb Coffee Break

Coffee culture has always been particularly strong in Zagreb, not just in flavor but in society. People value a good strong espresso, cappuccino or latte in a ceramic mug rather than an overpriced sweet “coffee” drink that they take away as they walk through town. People want to chat or do business in a relaxed way, sitting at a café with a delicious cup of locally roasted coffee. While in Zagreb, there are four coffeehouses that make me want to come back, so here’s my list!
eliscaffeEli’s Caffe
Locals come here for great coffee, located on the most prominent street of Zagreb, Ilica. This is not only a coffee bar, but also a coffee roaster. Owner Nik Orosi is a pioneer in the field of all things coffee, sourcing coffee from specific producers and roasting it himself for maximum freshness and flavor. Eliscaffe coffee brand is available for purchase, which is where I get my supply every time I am in town – convenient for true addicts. Eli’ s Cafe is known as “no logo, just taste!”, and it just opened its second location.

cogito-coffeeCogito Coffee Shop
At Cvjetni trg, you can have coffee in countless cafes, but if you look closely you’ll find excellent coffee in a small café, hidden in a passage and decorated in an industrial, hipster-style. Cogito Coffee Shop make truly amazing coffee. The concept was devised by two Matijas, who were frustrated that there were not enough coffee roasters in town, so one of the Matijas opened a roasters in Jurja Žerjavića Street, right next my next favorite coffee shop called Cafe u Dvorištu, which was opened by the other Matija.

u-dvoristeU Dvoriste
U Dvoriste is situated in a quiet backyard setting in the center of a building block. Immediately next door, there’s a small roastery – Cogito Coffee Roasters – where you can see where your coffee was roasted. You can enjoy a delicious coffee with milk or even a cup of aeropress coffee, as well. Naturally, they also sell their coffee – either in bean or ground version. Do you know why Cogito Coffee blend is called “Tesla”? Because their location actually used to be a lightbulb factory.

42-coffee-co42 Coffee Co.
In the cozy ambient of 42 Coffee Co., located on (old) Vlaška, they serve top-notch coffee and guarantee pure pleasure. The lovely barista will chat with you about all the wonders of coffee. Industrial decor paired with a giant community table with a dog-friendly environment, and you have yourself a winning combination.

chocolat-041Honorable Mention: Chocolat 041
There are few reasons why locals love this place. First it is owned by once very famous football player Zvonimir Boban; Second, decoration is unique with lamps made of old cassettes, chairs look like big puzzle toy or old chairs taken from high school classrooms. This place is fun for the WHOLE FAMILY when you are wanting coffee but need something for your kids to enjoy, too. The ice cream is superb, and the range of irresistible cakes – all of which are based on chocolate in some way or another – almost guarantees repeat visits. Order a delicious espresso which goes sooo well with chocolate, and you’ll have a sweet experience for the whole family.

Which of these coffeehouses are your favorite? How do you like your coffee?

10 Things to Do in Varna, Bulgaria

IMG_0704If you’re looking for a city with absolutely everything then Varna should be on your bucket list. It’s oozing with tradition, coastline and history, and to add to its appeal, it’s incredibly cheap, which makes it a perfect destination for a family on a budget. But what is there to see? Here’s my top 10 things to do in Varna, Bulgaria.

1. Play at the Children’s Nook
Located inside the Primorski Park, your family can enjoy different entertainment for kids of all ages. They will find an excursion train, mini golf, artificial pond with water wheels, inflate castle and so much more. There are restaurants beside the Children’s Nook, where the parents can rest, while the kids play.IMG_0744
2. Eat at Parmy Restaurant
Parmy is family-run restaurant in Varna, and it is absolutely unbeatable in terms of value for money, quality of food and service.IMG_1703
3. Lay on the beach at Sunny Day
Sunny Day is perfect for the family who loves making sand castles, get a tan and relax on the beach. It’s not as touristy as the other beaches and you still enjoy the golden sand. The water is calm from the middle of June until the beginning of September, providing perfect conditions for summer holiday.IMG_1720
4. Explore the Varna Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum displays fine collections from prehistory to Antiquity but, above all, it houses two treasures. The first of these, found in Varna’s necropolis, consists of weapons, objects and gold jewelry (4600-4200 BC). The second comprises chased-gold jewelry, including exceptionally fine earrings. The upper floor presents the main periods of Bulgaria’s history, from 681 to 1878: medieval treasure, religious gold work and superb icons. The works of the Triavna school should not be missed either.

5. Stroll Through in the Sea Garden
Sea Garden is located by the beach. You will not only enjoy the nice atmosphere of impressive trees and accurately arranged small gardens, but you also will be able to visit some of the best sight of Varna that are located namely in this park.IMG_0746
6. Grab a gelatoIMG_0738
7. Walk to Aladža Monastery
A thirty-minute walk takes you to Aladža Monastery. Occupied during the 13th and 14th century, it was hollowed into a limestone cliff over a height of several stories. The chapel of the deceased, the refectory and the monks’ cells are on the first level. On the second level, the rock church, decorated with remarkable frescoes, offers a splendid view of the Black Sea. Not to be missed: the catacombs, a small museum devoted to monastic life and terraces reserved, in summer, to cultural events.

8. See How the Romans Bathed
The Roman Baths are one of the most valuable monuments of culture in Varna, situated in the central part of the city, on the corner of the streets San Stefano and Khan Krum. This is one of the sites of the Archaeological Museum in the city. The Public Baths of Odessos are one of the most preserved architectural monuments of the Roman Age in Bulgaria (1st – 4th century). They are of the so called “small imperial style” and their construction refers to the end of the 2nd century.

9. Visit Summer Palace of Queen Marie & Botanical Gardens in Balchik
This palace was completed in 1926 by King Ferdinand of Romania for his English wife, Queen Marie (as Balchik was a part of Romania). It was rumored that Marie entertained her much younger Turkish lover here. The architecture – a blend of Bulgarian, Gothic and Islamic styles topped with a minaret – is unique. The rooms on show contain original furnishings, including paintings by Marie, and several photographs of the queen striking dramatic poses in the grounds. Also here is a curious collection of local archaeological finds, including Roman pottery and mammoth bones. Behind the palace are the extensive botanical gardens. Around 600 species of flora are featured throughout a series of themed gardens, including an impressive collection of cacti.

10. Parasail on the Black Sea
A parasailing ride is the new trendy attraction along the beaches of the Black Sea. You enjoy a motor boat-driven, parachute flight over the sea. The flight lasts approximately 12 minutes and guarantees high adrenaline and an unforgettable view over the beach.varna-parasailing

LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort Travel Guide

LEGOLAND-Deutschland-Resort-Travel-GuideJust a train ride from Munich, Germany, in beautiful Günzburg, LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort is a budding brick-builder’s paradise. The whole park is themed around the colorful LEGO bricks, which you’ll find oversized on rides, pieced together for fantastic photo ops and assembled in models throughout the park, as well as the entire section of Miniland, which offers LEGOized reproductions of ten areas around the world + imaginary Star Wars universe. That’s 20 million LEGO bricks in that one section alone!MinilandLEGO-R2D2If you’re always stepping on stray LEGOs around the house, then you already know this is a place you should go. But even if you’re little ones aren’y yet hard-core LEGO devotees, they will still have a blast because everything in the park is geared for ages 2-12. The park is the ultimate little playground, but it can get very crowded, especially during the summer months. We’ve put together these LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort Travel Guide, so that you can make the most of your day or two in the park. Now, we are talking about making the most of your time, but be prepared for your kids to find at least one place in the park they love and don’t want to leave like Adventure Land. Let them go at their own pace and enjoy the sights and attractions! Actually, we HIGHLY recommend coming back a second day. 🙂

Edutainment

LEGOLAND Deutschland offers a little education with their fun-filled experience at the theme park. Located in LEGO X-TREME, LEGOLAND ATLANTIS by SEA LIFE is a great place to cool off in the summer, and the kids learn a lot while enjoying amazing views in the aquarium. Also in LEGO X-Treme is the LEGO Academy, where you explore your creative side.

Shows

LEGOLAND Deutschland offers numerous shows throughout the park, and they change throughout the season. From the Castle Theatre to LEGO Arena, from Monkey Theatre to LEGO Studios, your family will be entertained. Be sure to check the show schedule when you visit the park. On busy days, you should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to show time to see a show.LEGO-Monkey-Theatre

Food

LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort’s food is delicious with international options at many vendors. My family’s favorite is Schnitzel Depot. Who doesn’t German Schnitzel?! If you’re in the mood for something sweet, make a stop at Ice Cream Station for some yummy ice cream. However, you may also pack a picnic and bring your own food (we especially appreciate this with children who may not want to wait in line or desire smaller portions).LEGO-Schnitzel-DepotLEGO-Ice-Cream

LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort Travel Guide Tips

  • Bring bottled water, snacks and consider bringing a picnic.
  • Set a budget. You can spend as little or as much as you like. If you bring your own camera for pictures, pack a picnic and limit souvenir purchases, you can still have a great time with rides, shows, demonstrations, etc. Plan according to your family budget and know that souvenirs and food are typical amusement park prices and plan accordingly. We purchased the Family F&B Ticket in advance, where we saved up to 30% of our delicious food and felt fortunate to enjoy the full LEGOLAND Deutschland experience.
  • Measure your children before the trip and determine which rides they will be able to enjoy.
  • Bring a camera.
  • Dress comfortably for a day at an amusement park. Wear comfortable shoes. In the summer, plan for water rides. In the winter, plan to be outside in the cold.
  • Don’t forget to put on or bring your sunscreen!

I hope this LEGOLAND Deutschland Resort Travel Guide proves to be helpful for your next trip. I highly encourage you to bring your family and friends there!

Top 10 Restaurants in Ljubljana

Ljubljana-RestaurantsLjubljana has a vibrant culinary scene. There are kitchens that turn out the very best dishes which left us drooling on the tablecloth and others that deliver special, sincere service. Ljubljana has hand-picked the best foods around Europe and adopted them as their own. Here are our top 10 favorite places to eat.

1. Druga Violinadruga-violina-krompirdruga-violina-strukeljDruga Violina uses locally grown produce from a nearby farm, only serves traditional Slovene dishes and located in the city’s old town, but there’s a twist in the tale with the “second violin.” It’s actually a project for people with special needs, who complete tasks on a farmland near Ljubljana and also work as servers in the restaurant. Try their daily specials (meat, chicken and vegetarian) – our kids and adults LOVED them. Also, try pražen krompir. In 2002, this Slovenian love for this dish resulted in the creation of the world’s first Society for the Recognition of a Sautéed Potatoes as a Main Dish and organized a World Sautéed Potato Festival, held each year in a different Slovenian town, so it is fitting that when you visit Slovenia, that you enjoy this dish. 🙂 Lastly, you must order their Ljubljanski štrukelj , which was the perfect “coda” to our musical culinary concerto!

2. Gostilna Delagostilna-delaGostilna Dela has a special focus given to creating employment opportunities for local youth that would be otherwise excluded from the working world. A variety of daily menus are on offer (meat, fish and vegetarian), and you won’t find a restaurant more in tune with the desires of its customers. Trying the homemade štruklji, and thank us later.

3. Gostilna Na Gradu
Gostilna-na-graduLocated on the grounds of the Ljubljana castle, this friendly restaurant is posh without feeling pretentious. Much of the menu is determined entirely by the local ingredients available form the nearby food market. Try their sampler appetizer plate with some pâtés and their daily specials, which they pick up that day in the market.

4. Gostilnica XXIgostilnica-xxiGostilna Rimska XXI is perfect when you want to try traditional Slovenian cuisine in an attractive setting. The chefs use local ingredients. Try žlikrofi or Istrian fuži.

5. Restavracija JBJB-ravioliChef Janez Bratovż is famously known for his ravioli with pistachio, foie gras, goat cheese and covered in a cream sauce. Try the polenta or bear meat appearing from time to time.

6. Güjžina
gujzinaGüjžina offers traditional cuisine from the region of Prekmurje, which is situated in the far northeastern corner of the country and influenced by neighboring Hungary, Austria and Croatia. Try the award-winning bograč and the gibanica, considered the best in the city.

7. Pri Škofupri-skofuRun by women, Pri Škofu serves some of the best prepared local dishes and salads in Ljubljana, with an ever-changing menu. Try their ginger soup and traditional cherry and cheese dumpling.

8. Restaurant Asgostilna-asGostilna As has an eclectic international menu with delicious salads and pastas, but the prosciutto stands out. The atmosphere in the restaurant and its rooftop terrace make it a super cool place to enjoy an appetizer and light meal in the evening.

9. ŠpajzaspajzaOld Town’s Špajza offers less common meats on their menu, such as rabbit, lamb and even kid goat in its homely decorated establishment.Try the žrebičkov z jurčki, if you want to feel like Andrew Zimmern.

10. TaBarTaBarTaBar offers a huge variety of Slovenian food. With the small portions (remembers that they are tapas), it is a great way to sample the best of local delicacies. Try their prosciutto, which is considered a Slovenian specialty, oxtail, sea bass and sausage.

For those wanting a culinary experience beyond simply eating in a restaurant, consider joining Ljubljananjam Food Walks, created and led by born and raised local Iva Gruden. There are also cooking classes on traditional Slovenian food, like Cook Eat Slovenia. On Fridays between March and October, there is Odprta kuhna market, which has become a staple for many Ljubljana people and foreigners alike.

Photo Journal: Secret Walks in Zagrebarium

zagrebarium-croatiaMy family stopped in Zagreb, Croatia while traveling with our Eurail passes, but little did we know that this modern-city has its roots established during Victorian times. Zagreb, Croatia is probably best known as a large city which managed to stay romantic with unlimited possibilities for visiting music and theatre events, art exhibitions, museums and enjoying pleasant walks, interesting architecture and lots of parks in the center of the city.

But, thanks to the Secret Zagreb’s Zagrebarium, we think Zagreb is also the steampunk capital of the Balkans. Once my family started exploring the city with Iva, owner and tour guide of Secret Zagreb Walks, we learned that Zagreb has a well-preserved historic Austro-Hungarian Victorian district, so from there it’s only one minor conceptual shift in thinking to make Zagreb all things steampunk. To Iva’s credit, she has fully embraced the steampunk vibe, going so far as dressing in costume and creating a steampunk-themed map—that my kids have declared as one of the best maps and still look at since we got home.

The tour begins at the beautiful Zagreb Main Station. From there you will see traces of the city’s great expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries and hear stories of amazing minds and incredible events that happened in Zagreb! I don’t want to give an spoilers, but if you are a red-head, you are in for a great story…and beware. 😉 Also, did you know that the fountain pen was invented in Zagreb? This and other interesting facts will be told. Some stories will grab your kids attention that they will be talking about them for days. You will also follow the footsteps of Nikola Tesla in Zagreb, reveals the connection between great 20th century rock stars and Croatian scientists, searches for links between superstition and science and gives insight into earth-shaking events.

The tour will end, as you enjoy a short yet memorable cable car ride up the world’s shortest funicular, where you can see the whole city on a hill. But watch your time, as you may want to cover your ears when the cannon goes off from the tower. It was a highlight for the kids on the tour.real-posh-zagrebariumIMG_9953IMG_9957IMG_9958IMG_9961IMG_9966IMG_9967IMG_9975IMG_9982IMG_9994IMG_0007First thing is first, if you have never been to Zagreb, you MUST come! Next, you need to book the Zagrebarium tour, where Iva searches for the fantastic side of Zagreb. You will hear interesting tales of amazing minds and incredible events as you explore the city’s best-known sights and some hidden gems. Then, the following days you can explore independently and see for yourself how magically ingenious Zagreb is. Oh, and make sure to see the changing of the guards at St. Mark’s Cathedral! Your whole family will pull out their phones to record this ceremony performed since the 17th century.

7 Amazing Swimming Pools Around the World

Summer is here, and you know what that means – POOL TIME! One of our favorite things to do whenever we are visiting a new place is to see where there is a pool! Even when my family road tripped across Greece last month, it didn’t matter what time we arrived at St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel, as long as there was still some time to use the pool. We quickly checked in, and the kids changed into their swimsuits at record speed for some pool time. Our obsession with pools reached even new heights where despite living across the beach on the Adriatic Sea, we actually drove an hour away just for the infinity pool at Porto Montenegro! (It may cost to drive and utilize, but it was soooo worth it!) Oh, and we still talk about our time poolside during the Spark.Me conference at Hotel Splendid, which lived up to its name. Who said the coast is not also a great place to enjoy a pool?! 😉

Anyway, as our thoughts remember all the great pools we have visited, it is time to pull you into our obsession with splashing, cooling off and laying by the pool this summer, here are 7 amazing swimming pools around the world that will leave you reaching for swimsuit and a plane ticket to one of these amazing destinations across the world.

1. Lido Pool, Porto Montenegro, Tivat, Montenegro. It sits in Montenegro’s dramatic Bay of Kotor.LidoPool
2. St. George’s Rooftop Pool, Athens, Greece.stgeorgepool
3. Arena Badeschiff Pool, Berlin, Germany.ArenaBadeschiff
4. Berkeley Rooftop Pool, London, England.
Beyond the green leaves and scented blooms of The Berkeley’s secret garden is a pool tiled in iridescent white and gold mosaic that sits beneath a sliding roof, retractable when outside temperatures permit.TheBerkeleyPool
5. Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, Scottsdale, Arizona.HyattRegencyPools
6. Giola Lagoon, Thassos, Greece.
This is a natural pool in the Greek Islands.GiolaLagoon
7. River Bluff Water Experience, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa River, San Antonio, Texas.
It has a Cyprus tree-lined 1,200-foot lazy river, zero-entry pool with its animal-shaped fountains and five water slides.jwmarriottpool
We cannot think of a better way to spend the summer than being poolside with a good book. What do you enjoy to do in the summer? What pool amazed you around the world?

Family Travel: Athens, Greece

One of the great things about Greece is that “family” is still a special strong bond that holds the Greeks together. “Paidiá, kalosírthate!” (Children, welcome!) is what you and your kids will hear when you come to Athens. One of the challenges of family travel is finding the balance of your desire to see the glories of Athens and your kids’ eagerness to play.

First things first, make sure to stay at a hotel that has everything for everybody, such a swimming pool and free WiFi. Stay in the neighborhoods of the Plaka, Monastiraki, Syntagma or Kolonaki – all are walking distance to top historical sights. We suggest staying at Pallas Athena with its family suites, A for Athens because of its price and St. George Lycabettus Hill for its amazing view. We especially love the rooftop pool at St. George. Kids could cool off there all day while the parents enjoy the view of Lycabettus Hill AND Acropolis of Athens.

To see the heart of Athens, walk around the Plaka and Monasteraki neighborhoods. Yes, they are very touristy, but they also have a lively and friendly vibe. Plaka is a pedestrian-friendly warren of ancient streets nestled at the base of the Acropolis. Climb the hill to see Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill. Be careful of the “slippery rocks,” due to centuries of high volume foot traffic in the area. The kids actually liked sliding down them. Read Apostle Paul’s famous speech spoken on that very spot from Acts 17:22-31, as your kids can see the Bible come to life. Afterwards stroll up to the Acropolis, where fans of Percy Jackson will love to see where Percy, Annabeth and the rest of the demi-god gang spent their time in Athens. After your family has explored the Acropolis of Athens, head back to shop in Monasteraki with more antique, arts, crafts and clothing shops than Plaka. It’s also home to a large Flea Market every Sunday morning.

Now that you have worked up an appetite, walk back to Kolonaki neighborhood to Omorfo. This family-owned restaurant is filled with mostly locals savoring traditional Greek favorites like veal with zucchini in egg and lemon sauce, pastitsio and stuffed tomatoes. Your family may also want to try Philos Athens and Zoe’s Premium Latteria in the same neighborhood. What better way to end the days of shopping and exploration that enjoying some ice cream?! Conveniently at the the Monasteraki Square, The Ice Cream Shop easily serves the tastiest ice cream in town. They also serve milkshakes, which are hard to find in Athens, and the parents’ favorite frothy, freddo espresso-cappuccino.

Dreaming About San Giorgio Mykonos

san-giorgio-2My jaw hit the floor when I stumbled upon the San Giorgio first at TBEX in Greece, and I haven’t been able to wake up from this dream! I’m starting a savings account just for this place because if I don’t stay there at some point, I’ll have serious life regrets. What a stunning combination of modern and bohemian, filled with textures and simplicity. San Giorgio is a place where I feel like my mind could escape, and I could exhale – a paradise found in Mykonos. There some heavenly place on this earth, and this is one of them. Definitely take a minute to scroll through the rest of the photos. It’s absolutely divine! I hope to visit San Giorgio, my dream hotel soon. 🙂

Photos from San Giorgio Mykonos Facebook page.san-giorgio-1san-giorgio-3san-giorgio-4san-giorgio-5san-giorgio-6

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Travel

 

Truly understanding and appreciating a new culture can take months or even years. When traveling, most of us don’t have that luxury. Those for whom a few days to a week is about the best that can be hoped for have to figure out how to get the most out of limited time. A checklist of museums and attractions is a common instinct, but it won’t give you the deep connection that makes travel rewarding. After years of planning events around the world I have learned that taking a few simple steps allows travelers to better connect to new places, make amazing memories, truly feel at home in a strange land, and always have the best travel stories to tell.


Beijing1. LEARN THE LANGUAGE
. I know that this is obvious, and the obvious response is that it’s difficult and time-consuming. But you don’t have to be fluent to get the benefits of putting in a little effort, and it will make you much more comfortable. Learn the most important phrases: “Hello,” “Where is the bathroom?” and the most important in any language: “Thank you.”  I also like to learn to ask for the check and how to say the equivalent of “Cheers!” every place I go. Ask a native speaker to check your pronunciation; with those basics you may even convince passerby you are a local. And on that note…

2. DRESS THE PART. The more different you look the more different and isolated you will feel. People in obvious Paying respects to Shakespeare in Budapesttourist garb always look so awkward, and are easy targets for scams. Do some quick research – Pinterest is a fabulous resource – on what the locals wear and pack your suitcase accordingly. Are they more casual or more dressy than you are used to? Are they having fun with colors and prints or are they in muted earth tones? Do they all have scarves or head coverings? Most importantly check out the shoes, because they will tell you what the most fashionable and practical choices are. Are most of the women wearing cute ballet flats? Low heeled boots? Wedges? They probably know that it’s the best way to be comfortable in the lifestyle and climate and look fashionable at the same time. Nobody in New York City is wearing white or super high heels; follow their lead because they know something you don’t. Dress like a local and you may even find other tourists asking you for directions.

Love In the Time of Cholera at the home of the author in Cartagena, Colombia3. READ LOCAL LITERATURE. You may not be able to pick up the language in a week, but pick up a translated novel that takes place in the city or region you will be exploring and start it before you leave, giving your mind a head start on adapting. In Paris read Émile Zola, J. M. Coetzee in South Africa,  Haruki Murakami in Tokyo, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar in Istanbul, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Colombia. Walking the streets of Cartagena reading Love in the Time of Cholera imagining Florentino Ariza spying on his beloved Fermina Daza from his park bench gave me a stronger connection to the city, as if we shared a secret. And during the afternoons when it was too hot to do anything but lay by the hotel pool, my mind was still exploring as I turned the pages.

4. CATCH A LIVE PERFORMANCE or festival, outside of the tourist zone. While I’m sure the hotel’s dinner buffet hula dance extravaganza is lovely (and you should learn the history of the hula in Hawaii), find out where the locals go for a good show. One of my favorite traditions is finding a great jazz club no matter where we are, from Shanghai to Krakow. Sitting in a small club, surrounded by locals and visitors from around the world with a shared love for jazz, introducing ourselves to the band members (from Poland, playing New Orleans jazz, in Istanbul) after the set and drinking with them and their friends until 4am is still one of my favorite memories. In New York or London, skip the long-running big spectacle shows that everyone has seen, and pick instead an avante garde performance. Go downtown to see an Off-Off-Broadway play. You are much more likely to be surrounded by locals and to feel as if you are one.

Krakow, Poland5. HANG OUT IN A CENTRAL SQUARE. There are the classics like Washington Square Park in New York and Trafalgar Square in London, but try hanging out in Krakow’s Rynek Glowny and Prague’s Old Town Square too. Learn the history. See the commerce. Listen to the conversations and the protesters. Take pictures, but also eat the street food, tip the musicians, feed the birds and read your book on a park bench. Don’t rush on to the next attraction; just sit, rest your feet, take it all in and fall in love with your surroundings.

6. And while you’re at it? TALK TO PEOPLE. As always in a big city anywhere in the world be cautious and streetwise, but often the locals are as genuinely curious about you as you are about them. Ask them questions. If they’re interested, buy them a pint and get their life story. Some of my favorite travel stories are just repeating someone else’s. In a tiny restaurant in a hillside German town we ended up spending hours with a chef from Ibiza, his Russian winemaker friend, an American GI (who was initially just looking for an ATM), and a dog named Snob, all of whom remain seared into my memory years later. It all started because we asked questions.

7. JOIN A TOUR LED BY AN EXPERT DOCENT. There are plenty of big group options that teach you less than a common guidebook, but with a little research you can find engaging, unique, and highly intellectual tours. A 6am bicycle tour through Montmarte, while the shops are just opening up and the empty wine bottles still litter the streets of Paris, will give you a unique perspective of the city. An artist-led graffiti tour of Bogota will teach you more about the culture, politics, and history of Colombia than any other. A historian who has hiked the entire length of the Great Wall of China can point out things nobody else would notice.

Early morning bike tour through Paris
We were guided around London a few weeks ago by a docent from Context Travel, a network of scholars and specialist in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, environmental science, and classics who lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups (6 or less). With her we not only got a personalized tour helping us to understand the city’s history and major landmarks, we discussed the upcoming election, the conflicted feelings on currency and immigration, and the true purpose of Her Majesty the Queen, and were surprised with a visit to what once was The Texas Legation in London. The company’s website makes it easy to pick a city (they currently operate in 25), pick an interest, and reserve a guide. It is well worth it.

8. FOLLOW CURRENT EVENTS. Watch or read their news (BBC World is a great resource when traveling). Even if you can’t IMG_7971take a tour, do a little online digging to understand the struggles of the people. What are they concerned about? What have they been through? No matter how pretty and peaceful a place can seem, there is always a group of people who are unhappy. Understand them and you come closer to understanding the whole culture. If you are in a place where your country’s policies are not appreciated, find out why and try to see yourself and your politicians from their perspective. People around the world want to be heard; offer them an ear.

9. MEET UP WITH A FRIEND. If you know someone who lives there, even if only casually or from years ago, reach out and ask them to meet up. If you don’t know somebody, chances are there’s a friend of a friend somewhere. Maybe a coworker once studied abroad and maintained some connections. In this global village, you can find people with similar interests via Twitter or Instagram in advance of your trip and meet up when you get there. You will let down your guard and forget you are in a strange land for an hour or two. Locals anywhere rarely get to experience their own tourist attractions, and usually love to show off their neighborhoods when someone visits. Give them that chance.

Off-Broadway Play in NYC10. Most importantly, BE YOURSELF. What do you like to do at home? If you’re into sports, arrange to see a game while traveling or find out where there’s a pub showing a match. Soccer isn’t my favorite sport, but watching a big match with a rowdy crowd in a European pub is an experience everyone should have at least once. Do you enjoy live music? Hiking? Theater? Exploring new restaurants? People do those things around the world. Find your passions and experience them in a new place, because it will make you feel at ease, it will ignite your spirit, and it will show you how alike we all really are on this planet. And that is the very purpose of travel, isn’t it? That and the stories.

Tea in Beijing

 

 

For more information about CONTEXT TRAVEL: https://www.contexttravel.com

 

Follow my travel adventures on Instagram at @SeeJayneGo