The First Thing to Do in These 7 European Cities
After arriving in one of Europe’s cultural capitals, you could check into your hotel and take time to rest and reset. Or you could hit the ground running – what jet lag? – and make the most of your trip. From hiking to Prague Castle to people watching in Paris to soaking in thermal waters in Budapest, here are the best ways to spend your first hours in town.
1. When You Arrive in Rome: Stroll Around With a Gelato in Hand
The quickest way to start your Roman holiday is to find the nearest gelateria (ice cream shop) and order a cone to go. Traditionally prepared in small batches using natural ingredients, gelato (Italian-style ice cream) has less sugar and fat (and more flavour) than regular ice cream. In spring or summer, choose a flavour made from seasonal fruit, like limone (lemon) or fragola (strawberry), or opt for local favourites like nocciola (hazelnut) and pistacchio (pistachio). Traveling with kids? Ask for stracciatella – it’s the Italian version of chocolate chip. Then take a passeggiata (a leisurely walk) around Rome's beautiful fountains and squares. Staring at the Trevi Fountain or walking through Piazza Navona while gelato drips down the side of your hand is a rite of passage for first-time visitors to Rome, and you’ll see plenty of locals doing exactly the same thing. For the best gelato experience, look for signs indicating that the gelato is made in-house: key phrases are fatto en casa (homemade) and artigianale (artisanal).
2. When You Arrive in Barcelona: Pedal Along the Beach
There’s no better way to shake off travel fatigue than to hop on a bicycle and pedal along the beach, watching waves crash in the distance as locals play volleyball on the sand. It’s easy to do in Barcelona, though it’s worth noting that the city bikeshare stands are only for residents. No problem: outfitters all over town rent bicycles starting at around €5 an hour. An hour or two is the perfect amount of time to explore the seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta and the Passeig Marítim de Barcelona, or waterfront promenade, on two wheels. It’s also a great opportunity to scope out the ideal sunset spot or tapas bar to come back to later: Barceloneta is home to a number of low-key seafood restaurants.
3. When You Arrive in Prague: Hike to Prague Castle for a Beer Overlooking the City
Don’t let your non-existent Czech skills stop you from jumping immediately into the fairy-tale scenery of Prague. To get started on an adventure in this city, you won’t need much time to get oriented. Prague Castle looms high above the city: just locate it on the skyline and start walking toward it. If you’re coming from Staré Mesto (Old Town), where many travellers base themselves, the walk toward the castle will take you across the incredibly picturesque Charles Bridge and through the winding streets of Malá Strana (‘Little Quarter’) until you reach the steep uphill climb to the castle. You’ll be rewarded at the top with sweeping views over the city’s red roofs and romantic spires. Many cafés and bars feature outdoor terraces where you can stop for a cold pivo(beer) and toast your good fortune – after all; you’ve just arrived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
4. When You Arrive in Budapest: Soak in Thermal Waters
Whether you’re arriving in Budapest after a long plane ride or a journey by train, you’ll be glad to soak away travel-related aches and pains in the healing waters of the city’s famed public baths. One of the largest natural hot-spring spa baths in Europe, the Széchenyi Thermal Baths is not a tourist attraction (expect to be at least somewhat confused by the signs in Hungarian, not to mention the staggering number of options at the ticket counter), but a functional wellness centre and social space that’s regularly used by locals and visitors alike. Bring flip-flops, a swimsuit and a towel, if you can: towel rental is available, but bringing your own is easier. Check out the website for more information on prices and packages, and book online ahead of time if you’re hoping to try an additional service, like a massage. Note that Széchenyi isn’t your only option in town. There are more than a dozen other public baths to check out.
5. When You Arrive in Paris: People-Watch at an Outdoor Café
First-time visitors to Paris often make a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. But there’s a better way to ease into the Parisian lifestyle that doesn’t involve battling crowds of tourists. Simply take a seat in an outdoor café – Le Marais is the perfect neighbourhood for this, but any arrondissementwill do – and watch the world go by over a café (espresso) or café crème(espresso with milk).
6. When You Arrive in Lisbon: Go for a Ride on Tram #28E
If you’re feeling too jet-lagged to brave the hilly streets of Lisbon on foot, your next best option is to see the city on the historic tramway. Climb aboard tram #28E, a vintage yellow tram that travels through some of the city’s liveliest neighbourhoods, including Graça, Baixa, Alfama, and Estrela. A 24-hour pass, available in metro stations, costs around €6, and you can hop on and off at key stops along the way, like sweeping views over the city at the Alfama miradouro (viewpoint) and Chiado, Lisbon’s arts district. Don’t be deterred by the long lines at the tram stops: most travellers in line are just waiting for a tram with available seats, but you can climb right on if you don’t mind standing.
7. When You Arrive in Amsterdam: Wander Through the Flower Market
There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam. A great way to get into the swing of things during your first hours in town is to visit the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market). At the city’s iconic marketplace, which dates back to 1862 and is located on the Unesco-honoured Canal Ring, glass-encased barges house countless varieties of tulips, peonies, violets and orchids. Especially after a long trip, a wander here is a fragrant and colourful (read: Instagram-worthy) way start to your exploration of the city. Rain or shine, it’s open every day except Sunday.
Lake Como, Italy: Discover Its Affordable & Authentic Side
Lake Como, in Northern Italy, is probably best known as a vacation home for the rich and famous - Clooney, Versace, Madonna, Branson, and others. Consequently, Lake Como’s major towns tend to be crowded with throngs of celebrity seekers as well as upscale travelers. Discovering Lake Como’s Authentic Side But as with all our travels, we made an effort to explore Lake Como to find authentic places away from the crowds. Here are just a few of the many things we’ve discovered - picturesque, delicious, and utterly memorable. Sacro Monte di Ossuccio On the west side is the town of Lecco, above which is the 16th-century Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, a series of 14 chapels leading up the mountain overlooking the lake. (Italy’s alpine lakes are home to nearly a dozen such ancient sites - pilgrimage paths climbing “sacred mountains” leading along a series of Renaissance-era chapels.) Looking down from the peak of Ossuccio, you’ll see the town of Lenno and the extensive green space of Villa del Barbianello, a now-popular tourist attraction that was the filming site for many movies, including Casino Royale and Star Wars Episode II. Setting aside James Bond and clone attacks in favor of our interest in food, Lenno is also home to the Oleificio Osvaldo, the maker of a highly-regarded olive oil. Its shop sells the precious culinary commodity as well as soaps and skin creams crafted from it. Sala Comacina & Isla Comacina A bit to the south is the town of Sala Comacina, relatively ignored by tourist throngs due to its driving and parking challenges. It’s a quiet little haven, with ample bars and restaurants but sparse crowds. A small fee buys you passage from the town marina across to Isola Comacina. This little island is the site of ancient monastery ruins and was even the purported home of the Holy Grail for a short time. Its modern point of interest is the iconic Locanda dell'Isola Comacina, a quintessential foodie stop that has served a fantastic and unchanging meal of traditional dishes since 1948. There’s no menu; every table receives the same bountiful courses for a fixed price. The food is simple but perfect, steeped in local tradition and highest quality. The staff here are friendly and relaxed, but the service is impeccable. As you enjoy your leisurely lunch, you’ll observe little boats coming and going from the dock below, delivering some of the prime foodstuffs that the restaurant serves. Trattoria del Porto The city of Como is full of rich history and beautiful architecture, including several stunning and huge churches, but Como town is, for us, dauntingly large. So we skip it and head for the central part of the lake. Here the town of Careno is the location of another historic lake lunch spot. Down in the town - and we mean down - is local treasure Trattoria del Porto. Reservations here are mandatory, as it’s a small restaurant perched 100 feet or so above the water. Diners are treated to a traditional menu that they’ve been serving for decades. Every day. The same menu. For decades. The fish dishes, especially - and there are several of them - are steeped in the tradition of the lake’s old families. Salted & Dried Fish Speaking of food, visitors to Italy’s lakes - especially Como and Iseo - will occasionally see an array of fish splayed and hanging in the sun on racks. These are sarda or agoni - a type of shad. The fish are prepared with salt for two days and then dried for a month or more, before being flattened and preserved in oil and herbs, and packed for later eating. This method of preparation and preservation dates back to the middle ages, when the fish were preserved in a wooden container called a missolta - from which comes the name of this dish, missoltini. Mandello del Lario On the east side of the lake is the town of Mandello del Lario, a small town with a sizable urban sprawl around it, but with a charming historic centro. You can eat well and stay at Mamma Ciccia, in the heart of the old town. The owner, Silvia, runs an albergo diffuso and a cooking academy, so you can lodge at one of her distinctive properties in town and then take a class to learn how to make some traditional pastas and sauce (and tiramisu!). Better yet, her restaurant serves up delicious plates of standard fare, unfettered by the foibles of those who may not know their way around a pasta machine. Abbazia di Santa Maria di Piona Farther north on the east side is the Olgiasca peninsula, a little bit of land that juts out into the lake. At the end of this peninsula is Abbazia di Santa Maria di Piona, the old monastery at the very end of the peninsula. Here, as with the Sacro Monte site, we see the church’s propensity for snagging all the best real estate. This 12th-century monastic settlement is impossibly beautiful, with perfectly kept gardens and an ancient stone church, all in the shadow of the imposing, snow-capped Alps. Better still, every evening at around 6:30, the monks hold a Gregorian chant service, which completes a visitor’s transportation back in time. Nashville musicians and travelers Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker run Little Roads Europe, a travel consulting service, helping clients build itineraries to steer clear of tourist cliches and explore the small towns in Italy and Ireland. Zen and Matt are authors of three award-winning guides to back-roads Italy and Ireland, and recently released a fourth book, a small-town foodie guide to Italy’s Alpine Lakes. Learn more at www.littleroadseurope.com.
Want to Live in Ireland? This Idyllic Island Off the Donegal Coast Is Looking for New Residents
An Irish island is looking to reverse over a century of emigration that has seen its population drop to just 469 people. The beautiful Arranmore Island is located about three miles off the coast of Donegal, and is also known by its Irish name, Árain Mhór. It has just gone through the biggest advancement in its recent history by becoming the recipient of Ireland’s first offshore digital hub. Its community has written open letters to the people of the U.S. and Australia offering their services on the work front, and also presenting them with the unique opportunity of swapping the hustle and bustle of city life for the calm and beauty of Arranmore. Natural Beauty & High-Speed Connectivity Ringed by dramatic cliffs, cavernous sea caves and clean sandy beaches, the island measures just 5.5 x 3 miles. Irish is the main language spoken on Arranmore Island, although most residents also speak English. The community says that traditional industries such as farming and fishing are not enough of a draw to keep young people from leaving the island, but that has changed now that high-speed connectivity has been extended to the island’s schools, medical centre and a number of local businesses and community facilities. The community feels that this makes Arranmore a more attractive place for families and business people to live and work remotely, and reveals that its local talent includes graphic designers, games developers, app developers, photographers and a host of artisan craftspeople. It is hoping that US citizens looking for a change of pace will consider relocating to live there. An Easy Commute “Your commute, no matter where you are, will only ever be five minutes,” it says in its U.S. letter. “You’ll have the best diving in Ireland on your doorstep and seafood to rival the tastiest New England chowder. There are fewer people here than would fit in a couple of Amtrak train cars, but enough musicians and good Irish whiskey to keep the party going well into the night.” Here's How to Contact Arranmore Island's Community Anyone wishing to connect with Arranmore’s community can send them a message via their Facebook page here.
San Francisco's 5 Best Fog-Watching Spots
On the spectrum of anthropomorphized inanimate objects with a hefty social media presence, San Francisco’s Karl the Fog (@karlthefog on Twitter and Instagram) is a clear favorite. Emerging in 2010 as the voice of the city’s seminal weather event, he’s since become a cultural touchstone, earning mentions in local weather reports and online media and even featuring as an answer to a question on Jeopardy. (“I'll take ‘Never Saw That Coming’ for $1,000, Alex,” he says.) Though the person behind the accounts has chosen to remain anonymous over the years, Karl’s fame has only grown, and he’s picked up a few well-known fans in the process—actresses and Broadway bombshells among them. “One of my favorite followers is Audra McDonald (@AudraEqualityMc),” he says. “Not sure how she found me all the way from NYC, but I'm ready to perform a duet any time she's up for it.” For the release of his first book, Karl the Fog: San Francisco’s Most Mysterious Resident (on sale June 11), we asked the newly published author to tell us about the best places his fans can go to pay their respects. "While you can love (or hate) me from anywhere in San Francisco, these are a few spots that rise above the rest," he says. 1. Mt. Davidson "If you're looking for my chilly embrace, this is the best place to find me. It's the highest naturally elevated spot in San Francisco, so I chill here a lot. And on a few lucky days of the year, I don't make it to the top so you can stand on the edge and look down at a sea of me." (From Karl the Fog, by Karl the Fog, published by Chronicle Books) 2. Sutro Bath / Lands End "Iconic spot to enjoy San Francisco past (Sutro Baths), present (trails around Lands End), and future (me coming in from the Pacific Ocean in about 20 minutes)." 3. Cupid's Arrow / Bay Bridge "Tony Bennett claims he left his heart in San Francisco, and anyone who stands at Cupid's Arrow and watches me sweep over the Bay Bridge on a Fogust morning could claim the same thing." (From Karl the Fog, by Karl the Fog, published by Chronicle Books) 4. Bernal Heights Park "Excellent location to watch me bubble over the hills of Noe Valley and Twin Peaks and jog toward downtown and Salesforce Tower, my new arch-nemesis." (From Karl the Fog, by Karl the Fog, published by Chronicle Books) 5. Mt. Tamalpais "Wanna get high? Like, really up there? Drive up to the top of Mt. Tam before dusk and plant yourself somewhere with a view. Watch the sun slowly set across the sky into me, creating an ocean of red and purple cotton candy."
Locals Know Best: Olympia, Washington
Riana Nelson started traveling the world right after graduating from the University of Michigan, thanks to performing on cruise ships and working for Disney in Beijing, China. But when she and her brothers formed Derik Nelson & Family, a trio known for unique three-part harmonies, they began working with the U.S. Department of State as Cultural Ambassadors of the United States and traveled the globe to promote cultural diplomacy through music and arts education. They perform in places like Turkmenistan, Moldova, and Albania to share their music, which blends the driving yet gentle melodies of folk-inflected rock of the 1970s, the familiar rhythms that made Nashville famous, and the contemplative lyrics associated with some of today’s popular indie singer-songwriters, like Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. But no matter how far and wide she travels, she loves coming home to Olympia, Washington. The scenic state capital, at the southern end of the Puget Sound, is home to less than 52,000. Its creative energy and the surrounding natural wonders make it a destination for a relaxed weekend—or longer. We checked in with her to learn about her favorite spots to eat, shop, hang out, and just be. Eat Your Heart Out When it comes to sampling Olympia’s flavors, go downtown. Riana is a big fan of the local food truck culture, giving a particular shout-out to Arepa, which serves Venezuelan-style fare like killer plantains and yuca fries with garlic oil dipping sauce. The trucks park in a cluster close to picnic tables, so you can savor the fare while you soak up the city’s vibe. About a block away is Olympia Coffee, which takes java very seriously. She has an artist’s appreciation for the artistry of the baristas here. They ground beans and slow-pour everything to order. But perhaps the most exciting attraction for eating and drinking is the Olympia Farmers Market, a year-round indoor emporium where the region’s freshest flavors have been on display for 45 years. Riana has a few vendors that she regularly visits, like Johnson Berry Farm. “My favorites are the sweet and mellow popular Tayberry or seasonal Little Wild Jake Blackberry jam,” she insists. “But you can also go spicy and savory with their spicy varieties like the XXX spice Blackberry Habenero or Raspberry Chipotle.” In a clever move, they sell carry-on-friendly sizes, so stock up. She also has a special place in her heart for Skipping Stone Garden, a husband-and-wife-owned farm that peddles thoughtfully grown organic vegetables. Down the street is 222 Market, a more modern artisanal food hall in a 1940s-era building that originally housed a car dealership. One of Riana’s favorite stop is Sift and Gather, another husband-and-wife-owned business, this one famous for its gooey sticky buns. Just be sure to heed her warning: the pastries go on sale at 10 a.m. and when they’re gone, that’s it. Better luck tomorrow. Sofie's Scoops is a must for its small-batch gelato. Their imaginative flavors include candied ginger, cardamom, and salty butterscotch. If you’re looking to sit down for something a little fancier, she recommends the Bread Peddler, a refined yet laidback French-inspired bistro with superior local mussels in hard cider sauce. The sister café, also in the market, sells coffee drinks, sandwiches, and pastries until afternoon each day. Get Out Hiking and camping are one of Washington’s most terrific attractions, and outdoorsy types will find that Olympia’s surrounds are among the region’s finest. Take, for instance, the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the largest temperate rain forests in the country. A big reason it stands out, Riana notes, is that it’s the starting point of hiking trails that run through Olympia National Park. Another option for getting out of the city for the day is Ruby Beach, a rugged, rural oasis that’s about a two-hour drive from the city. Riana has mastered the way to enjoy the place: “Walk north along the beach to the mouth of the Hoh River. The seastacks are beautiful!" she says. "Go at low tide, and definitely be mindful of the tide tables or you won’t be able to return to your car if the tide gets too high!” Getting to and from Ruby Beach is part of the fun because along the way you can stop at Kalaloch Lodge, a collection of rustic-chic cabins that overlook the water and you can find rates that hover around $100 in the off-season, but she strongly recommends stopping here even if you’re not planning an overnight because its Creekside Restaurant is an absolute gem. She speaks whimsically about watching the ocean as you tuck into an exquisite dinner made of local products--especially during storm season. It’s one of the greatest perches for storm-watching around. There’s plenty of natural beauty in the city as well. Riana’s go-to for nature walks is Watershed Park, a 1.4-mile loop trail a few minutes from the Capitol Building that she describes as an "urban oasis." You can wander amid native plants, huge maple trees, and a variety of moss and fern species. There are more than 20 bridges and boardwalks that cross over natural springs and the gorgeous Moxlie Creek, so carve out some time to explore. Shop Around Local retailers embody Olympia’s creative, smart indie spirit. Riana is a big fan of Pieces to Peaces, a gift stand in the Farmers Market that sells a assorted styles of adorable handmade headbands (Riana has more than a few), including some for pets. Owner Danielle Hale, who Riana describes as an “incredible, badass mom,” has created something of a mini empire with her accessories, selling them far and wide by mail order. Downtown, Radiance is well worth a visit, not least because it captures the essence of the town’s freewheeling vibe. The fragrant, relaxed shop is stocked with essential oils, natural skincare products, bulk teas, and other holistic-minded goods. Psychic Sisters, which you can find by looking for the neon sigh that reads “The psychic is in,” sells funky gifts and jewelry as well as visions of your future, thanks to the mediums who work there. And, she notes, their second-hand clothing selection is a site to behold: everything is sorted by color. Got kids with you? Make sure to take them to Captain Little, a toys shop with delightful toys, puzzles, games, quirky gifts. And then there’s Browsers, an 80-year-old bookstore where you’re almost guaranteed to lose track of time. Riana loves it for the beautiful bright loft upstairs with spacious work tables and free WiFi, not to mention the Pacific Northwest-inspired postcards and books about the region.