It’s taken me quite awhile to write up our March trip to Japan. If I’m being honest, it’s just been a really crazy busy few months as I prepare for this baby and maternity leave (more on that next week). Still, I wanted to do this traditional recap to give you a breakdown of one of the best legitimate vacations I have taken in a long long time.
Total Days: 23
Total Days it Didn’t Rain: maybe 7? March is definitely a variable time of year to visit.
Affordability: Better than expected. Although Japan is often viewed as a pricy destination, a favorable exchange rate and planning our travel and meals carefully (AirBNBs, cheap eats), kept the costs down considerably.
Places Visited: Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kyoto, Tokyo (day trips to Nara and Miyajima
Favorite Place: I was pleasantly surprised by Nagasaki, which turned out to be a very pretty and culturally interesting city with lots of attractions beyond the atomic bomb memorials and museums.
Mike loved Tokyo, he had been dreaming about it for years.
Least Favorite Place: I chose Kanazawa as our first stop because of it’s historical significance, but ultimately it was too small of a city to keep us entertained for the full 3 days I had booked there. It was also the least interesting place culinarily.
Biggest Surprise: Not really a surprise, but I was happy to discover how pregnant-lady friendly Japan was. Lots of places to sit, clean public restrooms and food on every corner. I was pretty freaking happy.
Favorite Food: How to pick! I gave a rundown of my top 10 meals in Japan, but I would have to say my overall favorite was all the delicious ramen.
Least Favorite Food: Maybe this weird dumpling meal we had in Shibuya. Bonito flakes can be great but this was TOO MANY bonito flakes.
Most Annoying Thing: The smoking! As a pregnant woman I was exceptionally bothered by the public smoking in many bars and restaurants. Most arcades were also flooded with smoke and it made it really difficult to visit any izakaya or yakitori bars.
Most Memorable Moments: Visiting a cat cafe in Fukuoka, hanging out with my Mom and Aunt in Kyoto, attending a Japanese wedding, eating all the things, flying home in business class, and most of all getting to see Mike explore his dream country.
Biggest Disappointment: I was majorly excited to show Mike the pretty island of Miyajima, which I remembered for it’s gorgeous temples, spectacular views and great food. Unfortunately it absolutely poured the entire time we were there. We tried to make the best of it and explore in the rain but eventually we got so soggy and cold that we gave up.
Best Souvenir: A decorative tenugi featuring Darth Vader standing under a cherry blossom tree. It’s hanging in the baby’s room.
Biggest Regret: In a perfect world I might have skipped Kanazawa and spent more time in Kyoto and visited Osaka.
Best Advice: Get the Rail Pass if you’re visiting more than 1 or 2 cities. It saved us so much money but was still super flexible and easy to use.
Would I Go Back: Mike is already asking when we can go back with Baby Twenty-Something Travel, so I suspect we aren’t done with Japan just yet!
Also known as Casa dels Ossos, or the “house of bones”, Casa Batlló in Barcelona looks like something Tim Burton and Walt Disney might have dreamed up for a movie set. Famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí built it in 1877 for one family, then renovated it into the masterpiece that it is today for another family in 1904.
Sporting an iridescent scaled facade and curving, bony balconies, the building always manages to give off an otherworldly feel. Unfortunately, a visit to this Gaudí masterpiece can mean slapping down €22.50, and getting jostled by passers-by while you inch towards the entrance, wishing you’d spared yourself the fuss, snapped a shot from across the street, and taken your €20 elsewhere for tapas and beer.
Instead, you can make the most of your time and money when visiting this architectural jewel by following these easy tips:1. Book your tickets online ahead of time
This can’t be stressed enough. If you don’t book your tickets online ahead of time, you’ll have to wait in not one, but two lines when you arrive, and during the busy summer months, there’s always a chance that you won’t be able to get a ticket for the same day.
If you really hate to wait in line, you can pay about €5 extra to skip the line with a “FastPass” ticket. When you book your ticket online, book a time of the day that’s still marked green for high availability — that means fewer people have already bought tickets.2. Be sure to buy the right ticket
Don’t pay more than you have to! There are discounts for kids between 7-18 years of age, students with an I.D., Barcelona city and province residents, and adults over 65. Children under 7 years old are free. Teachers and tour guides accompanying a group also get in free.
If you book your tickets online ahead of time, and your Spanish or Catalan is pretty good, you can probably get away with booking resident tickets, as the reservation is unaffected by your billing address, and I.D. is rarely requested at the door.3. Take advantage of any discounts available
Have you purchased other tickets or tourist cards? If so, you might be eligible for a discounted ticket. You’re in luck if you’ve purchased tickets for the Tourist Bus, Barcelona City Tours, the Modernism Route, the Barcelona Walking Tours, or bought the Barcelona Card, Minicard, or Pass.4. Go first thing in the morning on a weekday
Trust us, you want to avoid the crowds. Thus, get there 10-15 minutes before Casa Batlló opens at 9 am on a weekday, preferably between Monday and Thursday, when there are fewer Spanish and European tourists in the city. Weekdays in January and February are even better, as Barcelona has fewer visitors during these colder months.5. Once inside, go straight to the roof
Most visitors gradually work their way up through the house, following the numbers on the audio guide. Get away from the crowds by taking the stairs straight to the top and spending some time alone on the building’s rooftop terrace, posing with its iconic chimneys.6. Skip the gift shop
The museum’s store has lots of beautiful souvenirs, but they come at too steep a price in cash, not to mention the wait in line. Time is too precious waiting in line for postcards and magnets, even when they’re printed with designs from Barcelona’s most famous modernista master.7. Go late for a “magical night”
While it may not save you cash on admission, you might end up ahead by going for an evening concert and tour of the museum. Called “Magical Nights”, you can roam the house without the crowds, then stick around for live music and two drinks on the rooftop terrace. You can reserve a tour plus the rooftop concert, or only the concert for a slightly lower entry price. (And if you’re willing to risk it, some concert attendees without the tour add-on have been permitted to roam the house some when they first arrived.)8. Use the free Wi-Fi
Finally, and perhaps of least important, you can also take advantage of the museum’s free Wi-Fi. This will at least save you the hassle of searching for bar or café with free wireless after your tour…Your tips?
Have some tips for visiting Gaudi’s Casa Batlló? Add them in our comments section below!
The post Barcelona: 8 Tips for visiting Gaudi’s Casa Batlló appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.
August is promising to be a pretty eventful month, with the impending arrival of Baby Twenty-Something Travel and all. Before that emotional and physical tsunami hits though, it seems important to remember and remark that the beginning of August also marks my two year anniversary of living in Seattle, after nearly half a decade of nomadic living.
Two years! Two years of steep hills, rainy days (and beyond beautiful sunny ones), and mountains in the distance. Two years of shopping at the local farmer’s market and buying luscious $5 bouquets. Two years of lying down in the same bed every night and waking up to my own desk, my own books, my own stuff.
Granted, sitting still looks a bit different when you are as obsessed with travel as Mike and I are. The past two years have taken me across oceans, to foreign places like Sri Lanka, Japan, Portugal and Spain as well as domestic destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, Boston and my old favorite Milwaukee. Mike’s work has taken him to South Africa and Germany among other places. We’ve done local trips too, to Portland, the San Juan Islands and Vancouver. We are already planning several international trips with the baby for next year.
But the majority of the time we are here, in our lovely two bedroom in Seattle. We have the cutest dog ever, furniture, a social life, even a gym membership. I think it’s the best decision we could have made for ourselves.
From the outside it’s hard to see why anyone would want to give up such a glamorous lifestyle. Living and working nomadically, traveling the world, having constant adventures and totally neglecting the banalities of day to day life at home. It’s a dream of many, and for awhile it really did feel like a dream, but like so many things, reality was more complicated.
A lot of nomadic travel writers I know have gone through very similar struggles in the last year or so and started to look for a home base somewhere in the world. Trying to balance travel with work and having a fully actualized life is hard.
My friend Dave (who recently house-sat of us during our Japan trip) just wrote a really honest article that exams a lot of the reasons why life on the road started to lose it’s luster. The bottom line is that while constant travel is fun, it can start to feel very one dimensional. Your life starts to revolve around nothing but your next destination, and other important parts of a full life- like a social life, your health, your non-travel hobbies, just totally fall by the wayside.
This really hit us when we were living in Sayulita in 2014. We were basically in paradise, just a few blocks from the beach, with plentiful cheap tacos and abundant sunshine all winter long. It was amazing, but it all was totally under appreciated as we sat at our computers 10+ hours a day trying to make ends meet. We were bored with being workaholics, we were lonely with only each other for company and we knew there was no way we could start a family under these conditions. It was a beautiful time in many ways but also a really stressful one.
So we made a radical change. Mike got his wonderful job with Woo, we traded flip flops for umbrellas and moved to a city we barely knew, but liked the general look of. We rented a tiny apartment in Capitol Hill and waited to see how this new set up might work for us.
Since we’ve been in Seattle life has changed a lot in certain ways, not so much in others. We have access to nearly every kind of cuisine imaginable, and my passion for cooking has deepened now that I have a kitchen and pantry of my own. I have a legit social life and live less than a mile from my best friend (what a luxury!). I have Leo and soon, a baby, the most life changing thing of all.
BUT, I still get to write all day, and spend lots of time with my awesome husband. We still explore and try new foods and new things. We still travel, and when we do it feels more like a vacation than a chore- which still feels super precious.
Adventure is great, but stability has a lot going for it too. The trick is finding the right balance between the two: incorporating travel into a full life that also includes work, family, friends, passions and canine cuddle time.
I’m still working on that, and I’m sure it’s a balance that will need extreme re-calibration going forward, but I think that’s healthy. And while we love Seattle I’m not convinced it will be our forever home- we still have a lot of the world to see, and now that we have EU citizenship in our reach, there are a lot of possibilities just waiting to be seized.
Who knows what the future holds, but we will stay here until we’re not happy with it anymore, then we’ll do something else. In the meantime life keeps on changing, which is wonderful. Whether I’m traveling or not, the one thing I never want to do is stand still.
Have you ever been to Kosovo? And no, I’m not talking about the state in the Balkans. The Kosovo I’m talking about is a tiny and picturesque Bulgarian village nestled in the Rhodope Mountains about an hour from Plovdiv and two hours from Sofia.
Home to only eight permanent residents, Kosovo, Bulgaria is a beautiful but very sleepy place. However, new life is springing back into this lovely hill town thanks to the Kosovo Houses, an affordable guesthouse that offers a relaxing stay well off the beaten path. It’s also the perfect gateway to Rhodope Mountains — a region stretching from southern Bulgaria into Greece that’s filled with natural wonders, ancient fortresses, and regional cuisine.
During a recent three-day stay, in between hikes and sightseeing trips, I was able to soak in the atmosphere of this scenic mountain guesthouse. Featuring rooms with warm traditional Bulgarian design, lovely views of the surrounding hills, and breakfast at the cozy tavern, the prices (starting at about $50 per night for a double room) make the Kosovo Houses a very cheapo getaway for those looking to explore territories off the standard European circuit.Accommodations
The Kosovo Houses are actually spread around several restored houses in the village, all located within easy walking distance of each other. I stayed in the main guesthouse, The Hadjiyska House, that was named after architect Hadji Georgi Stanchovski, who built the original structure in 1853 as his home. Each of the eight cozy rooms offers little touches like wooden chairs and bedside tables with antique-style lamps.
The Wi-Fi worked well in my room and in the tavern, and there’s also satellite TV in each room. But other than my curiosity to watch a few local Bulgarian channels, I had no interest in staring at screens. Getting away from your regular routine is what Kosovo Houses is all about. At night, I opened my window to look out over the hills at the moon and stars. I quickly fell asleep to the sounds of crickets chirping and a few dogs barking in the distance.
The modern bathroom has a glass shower cabin with a handheld shower head and a wide sink. My bathroom in Room 8 even had a peek-a-boo view out over the hills (although one night I left the window open and found a giant grasshopper greeting me in the morning!).A Focus on traditional design
The friendly Bulgarian owners and hosts, Svetlana and Christo, spent many years living in Venezuela before deciding to come back to their homeland. They searched the Rhodope Mountains looking for a special village to open a guesthouse. They discovered Kosovo and started to restore abandoned houses in a traditional style.
Using the original foundations, they hired expert craftsmen from the surrounding area to reconstruct several homes using their knowledge of intricate stone roofs and Bulgarian design. From the handmade wooden ceilings to the colorful carpets, these rustic details offer a warm and comfortable experience in every room.Food: Local and authentic cuisine
I didn’t have to go far to find traditional Bulgarian food. The menu at the Kosovo Houses tavern features many local specialties that you can only find in the Rhodope Mountains. From my room in The Hadjiyska House, it was just a 30-second walk across the yard to the tavern.
I started my first morning off with a traditional pancake served with a slab of feta cheese and seasonal berry jam. Breakfast is included in your stay, and the view from the porch is a relaxing way to start your day. The tavern is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And speaking of dinner, the first night I was there, I saw that Christo had been out foraging mushrooms, so I ordered a pork steak with wild mushroom sauce ($6). It tasted as good as it sounds. Other delicacies include a delicious pan-fried trout ($6) that is sourced from nearby local fisheries and classic Bulgarian grilled meats like spiced hamburgers (kyufte) and kebabs (kebapche) for $1 each.
If it’s hot like it was during my visit, order a cold bowl of tarator ($1.50), a refreshing soup that’s like liquid tzatziki with cucumbers, yogurt, and garlic. No matter what you order, start your meal with a classic shopska salad (a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and peppers topped with feta cheese; $2.75), and save room for the “Light Cake” ($1.75), a delicious homemade dessert.
To drink, you can choose from a wide selection of local Bulgarian wines (with bottles starting at $7) or sip an ice cold Bulgarian beer like Kamenitza or Zagorka ($1.40). Or if you’re lucky, like during my second dinner, you can sip homemade rakia, the ouzo of Bulgaria. It was brought by a fellow Bulgarian guest whose father had recently made a fresh batch. Don’t worry if you’re not so lucky, you can still buy a glass of rakia from the bar for less than $1.
I quickly realized the tavern patio is a wonderful spot to spend an evening. Not only do you get to dine with an incredible view of the Rhodopean landscape, you will also meet a wide array of people. During my three-night stay, I met families taking a city break from Sofia, a Bulgarian/Canadian couple who are restoring an old house up the road, a photographer traveling around the country for a sightseeing guide, and two small walking groups — one from Ireland and the other from Belgium.
The lively discussion about everything from Bulgarian history to US politics flowed well into the night — especially after a few more glasses of rakia.Activities: Hiking, history, and ancient architecture
When you’re not relaxing in your room or sipping a beer in the tavern, there are several activities and attractions that you can enjoy as a guest. Nearby, you can visit spectacular waterfalls on long hikes or visit famous sights like Bachkovo Monastery, the Wonderful Bridges, and Asen’s Fortress.
But you don’t have to leave the village to get a taste of the true beauty of the Rhodopes. I spent my first evening after dinner wandering around the stone paths of the village taking in the view and marveling at the peace and quiet of the place. I didn’t see a soul, except for one barking dog and a cute kitty cat.
On my first morning, I set out on a hike through the countryside. You can connect to a hiking trail right outside the main entrance of Kosovo Houses that takes you into the hills on a marked path. I wasn’t always able to keep track of the trail, but that just made the hike even more fun. After all, isn’t travel all about getting a little lost sometimes?Getting there
From Sofia: You can fly into Sofia International Airport and rent a car for a 2-hour drive to Kosovo.
From Plovdiv: You can take a bus from Plovdiv to the nearby town of Narechenski Bani. From there, the Kosovo Houses will arrange to pick you up.Booking a room
Kosovo Houses is open year round and it’s a popular destination for weekend getaways and family trips during the holidays. They just opened a new conference center, so sometimes the whole complex can be booked by an entire group. Weekdays are a lot slower in the high season, but it’s still best to plan ahead to secure a room.
Editor’s Note: Accommodations and transportation were provided by the Kosovo Houses.
The post Kosovo Houses in Bulgaria: An affordable escape to a scenic mountain village appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.
If you haven’t heard, I’m off on maternity leave, and I’ve commissioned a slew of excellent guest posters to take over.
This week we’re talking about a topic that I think it pertinent to pretty much everyone. Money and travel. You need money to make the travel happen, but it’s challenging to make money while you travel. So, how do you find a balance between the two? This week we’ve got several really good articles from Kay and Megan on how they manage to travel the world without going broke.