Tag Archive | discover Europe

Hotel Review: Mercure Avignon Centre Palais des Papes

This is my favorite hotel in Avignon. It was my second time to stay at this hotel and I’d stay here again. My favorite part about this hotel is its excellent location. The hotel is smacked right in the heart of the Old Town and just few steps away from Palais des Papes. I also like that they accommodate very late check-in. My partner and I stayed at this hotel last Easter when we did our road trip.

One big tip if you have a car and you’re trying to get to the parking garage – do not put in your GPS the hotel’s address! Put in the “Palais des Papes parking” instead. The hotel’s parking is the Palais des Papes parking, which is few meters away from the hotel. Don’t get confused with the other Mercure Hotel which has the direct access to the Palais des Papes parking – yes, there are 2 Mercure Hotel at this area that are just about 300m apart. Enter the Old Town through the entrance on the river ride. This is much easier and the parking entrance/exit is just immediately as you enter the Old Town from that side. If you enter through the city center (this is usually where your GPS will take you if you put in the hotel’s address) and you find yourself driving around and couldn’t even get close to the hotel because of closed streets, especially in the evening, get out of the Old Town and drive towards the river.

There were 2 minor comments on my stay on this hotel. First, the air conditioning wasn’t working yet. This is probably the most commented issue but it is quite normal in France and Switzerland where a/cs are turned off until mid-Spring (heaters are turned on instead). But then again, you can have a hot day/evening in Spring and this kind of set up can be uncomfortable. We tried opening the window but the wind was insanely strong that it’s impossible to sleep with the noise. Second was that aside from the receptionists, I struggled with the staff who didn’t understand even a little of English. They are quite friendly but it can be frustrating to explain as simple as canceling a room service order. The receptionists weren’t that very helpful as they kept on forwarding me to the non-English speaking staff when I asked for help to convey a message to them. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, these are just minor incidents and they don’t out shadow the best points about this hotel.

Hotel Review: Hotel Barcarola (Van Der Valk Hotel Restaurant Barcarola)

Hotel Barcarola (Van Der Valk Hotel Restaurant Barcarola)

Hotel Barcarola (Van Der Valk Hotel Restaurant Barcarola)

As part of our Easter road trip, my partner and I drove to Costa Brava, Spain to enjoy the sea. We stayed at Hotel Barcarola in Sant Feliu de Guixols. We stayed in this hotel for 2 nights.

Location/Accessibility (4/5)

Sant Feliu de Guixols is an hour far from the busy and touristy Barcelona and about 30-minute drive from another tourist hot spot, Girona. I honestly don’t know how one can reach this area without a car or via public transportation. I see this as an advantage though as it really gives you a “city break experience”. With this, it will not be fair to give the hotel a low accessibility rating; therefore, location-wise, the hotel is conveniently located close to the beach. It is not immediately right next to the beach but it is like 60-seconds walk to the beach. I prefer this because the main street immediately right next to the beach or the beach front has the restaurants and bars. I imagine this can get pretty busy and loud in the summer.

Important note: the reception is located in the restaurant. I know that sounds weird but the reception, breakfast room and restaurant are detached from the actual hotel. The reception and the restaurant is located across the hotel and on a street corner and has a big sign. The parking area is just across the hotel’s restaurant/reception (it’s an open air/outdoor parking).

Hotel Barcarola's reception and restaurant

Rooms and Facilities (3/5)

We had the luxury room with balcony. It is by far the largest hotel room in Europe that I’ve stayed at.  It was clean and the bed was comfortable. The bathroom was huge too. I enjoyed the balcony as it gave us view of the sea.

What I didn’t like is that if you need water in the middle of the night, your only chance is the vending machine by the hotel entrance that didn’t work sometimes. I’m not sure if the reception can do that or if room service will be available (I highly doubt it). I guess that’s the inconvenience of having a detached bar, restaurant, reception, etc. If you need anything from them, you have to walk across the street.

Staff and Services (2.5/5)

The staff were very friendly. However, they seemed unorganized when we were there.

I also got a wine and bodega package to surprise my partner. According to the package, it includes a bottle of cava, a visit to a bodega (I assume that’s a cave or wine cellar) or an olive orchard and a “welcome drink” in their Tucan beach bar – which is located at the beachfront.

After checking in, I was expecting the cava in our room but there was none. I thought that maybe they will bring it tomorrow. We were also given 2 vouchers for the welcome drink in their Tucan beach bar. We asked if the bar has a particular opening hour, considering the siesta practice in Spain. The receptionist said the bar is open all day. It was 7 pm, which is too early for dinner in Spain so we decided to just grab an aperitif at the Tucan beach bar. It was close. The bar was closed the entire night. The following day, we mentioned to the reception that the bar was closed last night but she insisted that it was open. When the bar finally opened, we were told that the welcome drink is only beer. For non-beer drinkers, there goes your free drink.

When we checked in, I also asked the reception how the bodega or olive orchard tour works. The receptionist said we should just tell her when we want to do it and they will do the necessary arrangements. The following day, we told the reception we wanted to do the tour the next day. She explained to us that she’ll see if the olive orchard is open since it’s a holiday. I explained to her that we obviously paid extra for the package (room rate is from EUR 60 per night while we paid EUR 139 per night for the same type of room). Later on that day, the receptionist rang us to say that they’ve booked the tour, gave us the name of the olive orchard, was told that we can research the exact address in the internet or come by the reception and she’ll give us the flyer. So basically, the “olive orchard visit” in their package is just ringing up an orchard and you drive yourself to the place. The tour is free and the transportation is not provided… so, I don’t know what they charged us extra for.

Lastly, that bottle of cava almost didn’t happen. Again, I had to ask about it at late in the afternoon on our second day at the hotel. The reception told me I had to ask for it (they don’t automatically put it in the room).

Security (3/5)

Apparently, there was an access control on the hotel’s main entrance where guests have to use their room key cards. I only learned about it on our third day because the door just automatically opened in our entire stay.

Price (2.5/5)

According the hotel’s website, the average rate per night for their luxury room is EUR 60. We paid a total of EUR 278 for 2 nights or EUR 139 per night. For a 3-star hotel with a package that technically only had breakfast, 2 beers and a bottle of cava, it’s not a good deal.

Overall, I rate this hotel 3/5. It’s a nice 3-star hotel with a good location. It can potentially be a reasonable hotel – just don’t get the package. It’s not worth it.

May Destination: Helsinki, Finland

I’m still trying to catch up with blogging and sharing my amazing travels this year but between school ( I’m taking my Masters at the moment), dance classes, crisis all over the world and deadlines, it has been challenging. Anyway, moving on to my 2015 travel destinations, for spring, I went to Helsinki, Finland to visit one of my best friends in the world.

It was my first time to travel to northern Europe and I find it interestingly different. To get there, I took KLM flights. It was more or less a 5 hr flight with a lay over of an hour in Amsterdam. FinAir flies directly from Geneva to Helsinki but I was going in for the miles.

Hietaniemi Cemetery

leave it to us that our walk end up in a cemetery… typical! hahaha!

I was in Helsinki for 5 days but I actually didn’t do a lot of sight seeing – I was too lazy and it was unexpectedly very cold. My friend and I were joking that it was more like a lola’s vacation (lola is the Filipino word for grandma). On my first day, my friend picked me up at the airport, we stored my luggage in her restaurant (my friend is an amazing chef in Helsinki) and went straight to her friend tattoo artist to get inked. After I got my tattoo, we stopped by a bar to say hi to her fiancé and had coffee with one of her friends. After that, we went home, had dinner and talked for hours – just like old times! You see, my friend is an old roommate of mine when we were in university. There were five of us in that dorm who became so close that we’re more than just friends… we’re family up to this date.

IMG_4245On my second day, we went walking (it was supposed to be a running activity but I can’t sweat because of my fresh ink). That was sight seeing for me. After our morning walk, we grabbed breakfast in a little café close to her place. I think on that day we also went shoe shopping, or maybe that was on the first day too, and we met up with her fiancé for a late lunch where I had the Finnish version of filets de perche. Afterwards, we took a quick look at the city via tram and grabbed coffee at the city centre.

On my third day, I had brunch with my friend’s fiancé since my friend had to go to work. After brunch, I went shopping and then picked up my friend after her work. We had an early dinner in an Italian restaurant close to her restaurant then we went to a bar to quickly say hi to her fiancé and his friends. In the evening, we just sat

Kauppatori, Helsinki

Kauppatori, Helsinki

On my fourth day, I went around the town by myself since my friend had to work. She advised me to check out the food fair happening because there was a Filipino tent in that event. The food fair was in a park and they had food from all over the world. It started raining after sometime so I went to the oldest café in Helsinki called Edberg. They had an amazing coffee and one of the best tarte au citron with merengue I’ve had – my favourite dessert in the world! After the rain stopped, I went around town to check out some of the touristy sights and of course, ended up in another culinary fair. After my sight seeing, I met my friend at the city centre and we went to another nice café for coffee and patisserie. Afterwards, we went home where my friend prepared her specialty for dinner – salmon soup. Yes, my friend, born and raised in Philippines, is known in Helsinki for her salmon soup because she makes them in the most traditional way. When I asked around where to get salmon soup, they told me to ask my friend to make it. We didn’t stay up to late that night because I had a very early flight the following day.

When I told my Finnish friend that I very much enjoyed Helsinki, she laughed at me and told me I was being nice – not because it’s not a pretty city but because there’s nothing to see there. True, it’s not your typical European city and you can’t compare it with France, Italy, Germany or even Czech Republic where the cities are buzzing with tourists. I find Helsinki quieter and calmer than Geneva but it has it’s own beauty. I also think I very much enjoyed my stay in Helsinki because it allowed me to spend time with my really good friend who I dearly miss.

So yup, I loved Helsinki! It was a good choice indeed.

 

xx, I.

 

April Destination: Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers, & Annecy, Rhone-Alpes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

An Easter weekend in Geneva is also a good opportunity to spend a long weekend up in the mountains or down the south. This year, the Easter weekend was my April destination excuse. It was also a friend’s birthday so we decided to just rent a house in Rhone-Alpes, just an hour drive from Geneva and about 40-minute drive to Chamonix. It was a perfect staycation in the little town of Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers with friends, game nights, a lot of cooking, and a Jacuzzi.

 

Soaking the sun in Annecy

Soaking the sun in Annecy

I guess it was a good thing that I wasn’t feeling well because I was forced to stay in the entire time. My favorite moment was watching the sunset in the Jacuzzi while sipping a nice rhubarb-champagne cocktail. And since the house we rented is quite far from other houses, we had the rare freedom of playing drinking games and just having fun until 5 am. On our way to Geneva, we stopped by Annecy to enjoy a bit of sun before we wrapped up our Easter weekend.

xx, I.

 

March Destination: Freiburg & Rust, Germany

The Silver Star is the 2nd highest roller coaster drop in Europe

The Silver Star is the 2nd highest roller coaster drop in Europe

On 27 March, two of my friends and I went on a road trip to Freiburg, Germany to de-stress by… riding roller coasters!

I just submitted 2 essays as a final exam for my intelligence analysis class and I felt like I’ve used up all my intelligence in the process. So, my friends and I decided that the best way to recover from a very stressful week was to scream our lungs out.

Freiburg is a small town in Germany that is bordering Switzerland. From Geneva, we drove for about 3 hours. As we left work at around 6 pm, we got there at around 9 pm and immediately went to a Brazilian bar for a flammkuchen and beer. I know it sounds weird but I do remember enjoying their food and house beer a lot. In fact, we returned to the same restaurant/bar for breakfast the following day and it was excellent. The following day, we drove to Rust (it was about 30-minute drive) for the Europa park.

Europa park is like adults’ Disney land – it has the atmosphere as Disney land but with a lot of adult rides (mostly insane roller coasters). We probably rode 6-8 roller coasters that day and the most memorable ones were the wooden roller coaster, the blue fire and the silver star. The blue fire is a super fast roller coaster with lots of inversions – it actually freaked me out. The silver star has the normal speed but it’s the second highest roller coaster in Europe. Between the height and the inversions, I’d definitely choose the height!

On Sunday, we had an excellent brunch in a smaller town right next to Freiburg then drove back to Switzerland, stopping by at Lucerne to walk around and have coffee. It was such an adventurous weekend… it was my first time in Germany after all.

xo, I.

2014 Travel Recap: The Year of Spontaneous Trips (Part 2)

Weekend in Paris

the Louvre's pyramid in the evening

the Louvre’s pyramid in the evening

I visit Paris twice or thrice a year. In 2014, I went to visit in August with a couple of friends to visit a best friend and her adorable little bundle of joy. It was a very relaxing weekend in Paris. We basically just shopped and eat. As all of us have been to Paris, there was really no need for sightseeing. I’m quite a morning person so, in the morning, while I wait for friends to wake up, I take the time to walk around the Tuileries garden which was very nice – it’s nice to see an empty Paris.

Morning walk in Paris around the Louvre area

Morning walk in Paris around the Louvre area

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris' 6th arr.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris’ 6th arr.

 

Hiking in Zermatt

Our 5-turned-2-lakes hiking adventure in Zermatt - everything was so surreal, we looked like we were in a film

Our 5-turned-2-lakes hiking adventure in Zermatt – everything was so surreal, we looked like we were in a film

After coming back from Paris, another friend asked me if I want to join her for a weekend hike in Zermatt because a friend was visiting. Who can say no to Zermatt in summer?! Zermatt is quite nice and has a lot of hiking activities to offer in the summer. We rented a car, drove to Zermatt on a Saturday morning, went hiking in the afternoon, spent the time in the sauna in the evening and had raclette and fondue for dinner. On Sunday, we did the Matterhorn glacier paradise where we took the highest cable car in Europe and visited an ice castle.

Up close and personal with the famous toblerone mountain, the Matterhorn

Up close and personal with the famous toblerone mountain, the Matterhorn

A hike in the swiss mountains means meeting new friends

A hike in the swiss mountains means meeting new friends

view of swiss alps is always breathtaking for me

view of swiss alps is always breathtaking for me

Hiking in Annecy

view of the lake Annecy, France on top of a mountain

view of the lake Annecy, France on top of a mountain

The following weekend after our trip to Zermatt, my friends and I went to Annecy, France for a day trip. While looking for a coffee place a little bit outside Annecy, we learned that the place has a short hiking trail that leads to a very nice panoramic view of the Annecy lake and a waterfall. Not only we were not dressed for a hike that time but us, girls, also brought our shoulder bags with us. It was a short hike but was quite steep, especially the trip down was particularly a little scary since our shoes have zero grip. Of course, we also managed to take another trail down (without knowing it) and ended up in another town where we had to walk for another 30-40 minutes. At the end of the day, we had a really great time – I always enjoy a trip to Annecy.

 

The Ultimate Greek Adventure

When it was time for my solo travel, I was first initially thinking of visiting my friends in California again… but then I thought: the only time I’ll be by myself in California will be never. Also, since I didn’t want to spend so much time in the planes, I decided to just stick within Europe. One day, my friends and I were talking about our favorite holiday destinations and 2 of my friends mentioned Greece – voila! To my surprise though, most of my friends didn’t quite approve at first with me traveling solo to Greece (and island hoping). Greece is massive and getting from one island to another can be complicated, especially if aiming for the non-party islands. But with massive research, I managed to book my favorite solo adventure/summer getaway in Europe.

Athens

at the Acropolis Museum

at the Acropolis Museum

From Geneva, I first flew to Athens. If you read reviews and travel blogs on Greece (in fact, majority of my friends said the same thing), most will tell you that you that you only need 1 day in Athens because there’s not really much to see. Well, I say it depends on who you are talking to.

When I was about 10 yrs old, our neighbor gave me a book on Greek mythology. It was a big book with small texts that reminds me of the encyclopedia – actually, if I remember it correctly, it was more like an encyclopedia-type of book as it had the A-Z of Greek mythology. I first started by reading the texts with photos and I got really fascinated by it that I started reading really reading the book. I must say, I moved on from Disney princesses to Greek mythology. I forgot about my fascination with Greek mythology until Athenian democracy, the Peloponnesian war, Sparta, Persia, the Peace of Nicias, etc. became a part of my language again in college.

So, going back to my main point, when I got out of the plane, the first thing I saw in the Athens International Airport was an advertisement from visa or mastercard that says something like: plane fare to Athens, EUR 200. Seeing the things you only see in school books, priceless!

Yes, that’s exactly how I felt in Athens as I went to see the Acropolis museum, the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Theatre of Dionysus, etc.

the Theatre of Dionysus

the Theatre of Dionysus

the Erechtheion

the Erechtheion

the Parthenon

the Parthenon

Santorini

There’s something about the sun, the sea, and being on top of a cliff in an island that gives you peace. Santorini was said to be the result of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and some even say that this was the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis.

I did spoil my self a bit in Santorini and stayed at the beautiful Rocabella Hotel.

I did spoil my self a bit in Santorini and stayed at the beautiful Rocabella Hotel.

In Santorini, I felt real tranquility – something that I haven’t felt for a very very long time to the point of it becoming something new. Click here for more of my Santorini reflections.

the breathtaking view Sunset of Santorini

the breathtaking view Sunset of Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

the beautiful town of Oia in Santorini is the "Greece" we often see in movies

the beautiful town of Oia in Santorini is the “Greece” we often see in movies

Island of Paros

my everyday dilemma in Paros: to hang by the pool or by the hotel's private beach... life is good!

my everyday dilemma in Paros: to hang by the pool or by the hotel’s private beach… life is good!

While everyone goes to Mykonos in summer to experience the fun and wild beach parties, I decided to retreat to the Island of Paros. Paros was just about 2 hrs boat ride from Santorini. The Island is known for its turquois-colored beaches and the town of Naousa is beautiful, quiet, fishing village. For 5 days, the Astir of Paros became my home – yes, I invested on a 5-star hotel and it was worth it! As I was one of the last guests of the season, I felt like I had the entire resort to myself. For 5 days, the only things I need to think about were: 1) where to hang? beach or pool side? 2) what to drink while hanging under the sun, reading my book? 3) what to order for dinner from the hotel’s mouthwatering selection of food? I also had the opportunity to meet the owners of the hotel resort and they are absolutely kind, warm, and welcoming.

having dinner at Astir of Paros is like having a birthday every night... everything in the menu were absolutely amazing

having dinner at Astir of Paros is like having a birthday every night… everything in the menu were absolutely amazing

Astir of Paros' beach side

Astir of Paros’ beach side

While I liked hanging out at the private beach and by the poolside, I also managed to actually go to a yoga retreat at a yoga centre in Naousa. There, I met Irana Ji An, an amazing yoga teacher at the Paros Yoga Retreats & Workshops. I found my love for yoga because of this yoga retreat. Before Paros, I was irregularly practicing yoga for the past 8 months and my yoga studio wasn’t really that good – I was often left guessing if what I was doing was right or wrong. After going to Irana’s retreat for 4 days, I finally understood what my body should feel during and after yoga and I really loved it. With this, I invested in a good yoga studio here in Geneva and have started practicing yoga regularly.

Inside the beautiful cobblestoned town of Naousa

Inside the beautiful cobblestoned town of Naousa

dine by the beach in Naousa

dine by the beach in Naousa

the Galileo ship docked in the main port of Paros

the Galileo ship docked in the main port of Paros

Back in Athens

After having a great time in Paros, it was almost time for me to go back to Geneva… well, almost. First, I had to transit overnight in Athens. It was a late night flight back to Athens so I ended up just ordering a Domino’s pizza in my room (I know, right?). In the morning, I had time to do some shopping around the Monastiraki area.

2014 was indeed quite an adventure for me – full of spontaneous trips and discovering places for the first time. Here’s to hoping for more trips this 2015.

2014 Travel Recap: The Year of Spontaneous Trips (Part 1)

I’m known to my friends as a very organized traveler, to the point of being horrified by spontaneous trips. In 2014, I must say that I got better with this spontaneous business – from road trip to Italy to weekend hiking to the mountains.

Birthday celebration in Milan

Milan's Duomo in the evening

Milan’s Duomo in the evening is beautifully surrounded by lights

I’ve only been to Milan once and we were just transiting to Lugano in 2011. From that experiencing, I thought Milan was nothing special – just a big shopping city. So, when my friends told me that we should celebrate our birthday in Milan, I must admit I was a little apprehensive about it. I thought: there are so many other beautiful places, why choose Milan? In the end, I agreed to do it. To help raise my enthusiasm for the trip, I read a lot about Milan and research on places to go to. Eventually, I learned from the trip that Milan is so much more than shopping and it is a city with lots of character. I went back to Geneva falling in love with Italy – the culture, the history, the food… yes, the food.

After my birthday, another friend of mine realized that the long Easter holiday was fast approaching and there’s no way we are getting stuck in Geneva. Since we didn’t have proper preparation, all the flights to the nice European destinations cost an arm and a leg. So yes, I suggested going back to Italy… this time, somewhere close to the Mediterranean.

The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazzie is where Leonardo da Vinci's the famous last supper is found

The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazzie is where Leonardo da Vinci’s the famous last supper is found

 

A day trip in Morges to see the Tulips

IMG_1681

Morges is less than an hour drive from Geneva and it is famous for its tulips festival in the spring. I’ve heard so much about this tulips festival but have never gone to in my 4 years in Geneva. So, when we had the opportunity to go there last year to check out the festival, we borrowed a friend’s car and just drove there on Sunday.

IMG_1698

 

Easter road trip in Genoa and the Italian Riviera

Genoa - Italy's oldest port town. Also known as the home of delicious pesto and birth place of Christopher Colombus

Genoa – Italy’s oldest port town. Also known as the home of delicious pesto and birth place of Christopher Colombus

For Easter, my friend and I borrowed a friend’s car and drove to Genoa. Yes, this is one of my first spontaneous trips of 2014. None of us have ever driven to Italy and the only preparation we made was to book a hotel. The only thing I knew about Genoa that time was it is where pesto originated. We got lost several times, even with a sat nav, and took us an hour going around, finding our hotel. One day, we also drove by the cost, with the goal to have lunch at Portofino, and we ended in another town (thinking we were in Portofino). Despite those challenges, Genoa and the Italian Riviera captured my heart and most especially my taste buds! There was no place we went to that we didn’t love the food.

IMG_2923

 

Cave overt in Satigny

 

IMG_1877

In May, we also participated to the famous caves ouvertes in Geneva (well, the caves were actually outside Geneva) and we went biking! Yes, it was wine tasting combined with hardcore biking. It was probably an 8-10 km (at least) of biking through unpaved roads and extremely steep hills and at the end of the road, you get to drink as many types of wine as you can. It was so much fun! 2014 was also my fist dry caves ouvertes – it always rains during caves ouvertes.