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Cities in Europe we could live in

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Our recent flight to Toronto was bittersweet and as Europe disappeared behind us, a feeling of melancholy won out over the rush of excitement we normally feel when stepping into our next major phase of travel. We reminisced about the amazing fourteen weeks we spent in Europe this spring and summer, where we discovered new treasures, re-visited old favorites, reveled in the comfort, beauty and style of European life. It had been awhile since we had been in Europe and we found ourselves wondering – if we were to ever stop traveling, which European city could we see ourselves actually living in? There are so many great cities in Italy, Germany and Spain, we loved spending time in Prague, Oslo and Amsterdam, had a wonderful time in Innsbruck and so many other places, but putting down roots is another prospect entirely. We may have narrowed it down to the following cities in Europe we think we could live in.

Lady in Lisbon, Portugal

London

A wise man once said, “If you tire of London, you tire of life,” and even after three years of life in London before becoming nomads, we never got tired of exploring the city’s neighborhoods. Creative Shoreditch, glamorous Chelsea, the punks of Camden and up-and-coming areas like Dalston, Deptford and Stoke Newington. London is easily the greenest city we have lived in, with massive open spaces in Hyde Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond. London is also a foodie paradise – Borough Market and enough eateries to keep us chowing down all year round. We loved cycling along the Thames or through unknown neighborhoods, finding cute independent shops, pubs and street art.

London Camden High StreetThe accommodation options are endless, too, ranging from cheap hostels to five-star hotels, free couchsurfing options to affordable hotels in London. At times, you could easily feel as if you are in the center of the pop culture universe  – art exhibitions at London’s free museums, blockbuster movie premieres on Leicester Square and the concerts…never in our lives have we been to so many shows as the time we spent in London.

Despite the city’s fascinating cultural diversity, international cuisine and constant stream of new things to discover, there is a major drawback to London life  – a serious vitamin D deficiency. The gloomy winters and frequent rain keep us from laying down permanent roots here for now, but we would definitely spend a summer in London again soon.

London market coffee house

Barcelona

We spent less than a week here, but Barcelona is easy to love – from the fabulous Gaudi buildings to the hip hop dancers on Las Ramblas, the city and its people ooze a kind of creativity that we immediately connected with – passionate, yet practical, anti-establishment but success-driven. In Barcelona, we walked the beach and discovered the former Olympic area, devoured fresh gelato, undertook the task of infinite tapas tasting, discovered retro bars and modern art galleries and never once did we get bored.

Barcelona gaudi park guellWe also both feel very comfortable speaking Spanish and would be excited to learn to converse in Catalan. Whether or not Barcelona could be forever remains to be seen, but we would most certainly attempt an extended stay.

Barcelona beach at sunset

Paris

We love Paris! Before you get to any oh-so-typical eye-rolling, we couldn’t believe it either. After our first few hours in the French capital, however, we were both hooked, and after several subsequent trips over from London to Paris on the Eurostar express train, there just isn’t much about Paris not to love. We pick up a baguette  for under a buck, some gruyere or brie or camembert, a good, cheap bottle of Merlot or Beaujolais and head to Parc de la Villette or Jardin du Luxembourg or along the river Seine for a picnic.

Paris sweetsWe munch  on macaroons, eclairs, croissants as we explore the streets of Le Marais or the Latin Quarter and sneak up to Montmartre, the artists quarter, in the morning before the tourists arrive. We could spend countless afternoons strolling through the extravagant cemeteries like the Pere Lachaise and evenings watching French couples dance tango on the shore of the Seine as the sun sets. For all the flowery fine art, there is just as much angst-inspired contemporary urban work, and there are as many hang-out spots for intellectuals and artists as punks and fashion icons.

Paris Je t'aimeHowever, our French is fairly basic (but we could learn), and Paris can be expensive, so while the dream exists to spend a glorious life in the City of Lights, it might be more logical to consider a month, maybe two, housesitting in a French apartment, eating, drinking and exploring Paris.

Lisbon

It was a risky last-minute, on-the-fly decision to spend nearly the entire month of June in Lisbon. The decision turned out to be the best we’ve made in a long time. Neither of us had ever been to Lisbon, we knew almost nothing about it and when we arrived, it took us a few days to fall for the city.

View over LisbonOnce we got out and explored, however, we discovered narrow city streets filled with tiled houses, countless neighborhood pastelerias (bakeries), seven hills with unbeatable views of the ocean and the Tagus river, nearby golden beaches and the Ponte de 25 April bridge, which looks like an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We found the trendy area of Bairro Alto teeming with creative concept bars and countless Indian restaurants. There are galleries, markets, sun and sand, and a cosmopolitan composition rivaled only by London.

Lisboa street art graffiti lisbonBest of all, Lisbon is easily the most affordable capital city in Europe – food, drink, transportation and accommodation are fairly priced and manageable. The people are laid-back, friendly, and we picked up enough Portuguese to get by. Of all the cities in all of Europe, we could not be happier to have discovered Lisbon, and the city is now our top choice to live in Europe.

Lisbon tramWhat European city could you see yourself living in? Let us know in the comments!

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Hotel Hesperia Sevilla | Spain

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Welcome to our weekly Hotel Tip of The Week series. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the disappointing  digs, there are as many accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.


A few years ago we flew in to Seville for the first part of our Train through Spain vacation and, both enamored by this steamy southern Spanish city; we knew we would be back. When the time came for us to visit again this year, we also knew that we would again book in to the Hesperia Sevilla. The Seville hotel sits right in that sweet spot of location, price, service and room quality that made our decision to stay there again this year easy to make.

After a quick 15-minute ride from the international airport, we found ourselves standing in the cool marble lobby at the Hesperia Sevilla, which oozes Spanish style from its public spaces to the Art-Deco style rooms. Because the hotel is located outside the historic center, the bright rooms here are a spacious, purpose-built 24 square meter size with deep, comfortable beds, making it just as satisfying to spend time in the room as enjoying Sevilla. The bathrooms are equally spacious and bright, towels are perfectly fluffy, and toiletries include everything from the sewing kit to a full-size toothbrush.

The free in-room wi-fi connection worked without a hitch. Simply pick up a password at the front desk and sign-in one time and you are connected for the duration of your stay. The staff at Hesperia Sevilla, though not masters of the English language, is guest-oriented and helpful, while the large leather couches arranged in the lobby are great to sink into meet with friends at night or read the paper in the morning. The on-site parking lot is great for those guests traveling by car. We opted not to eat at the hotel Tapas bar, choosing to dine instead at a couple of ‘cervecerias’ nearby.

We appreciated the location of Hesperia Sevilla, in a bustling neighborhood where locals drink their morning coffee, gossip over late lunches with friends or enjoy tapas late into the night at the many tapas bars. The four-star Seville hotel conveniently sits right on the main Avenida Eduardo Dato so cabs are readily available, but Hesperia is only a 15-minute walk to the center of the Andalusian capital, just up the road from the train station where high-speed AVE trains leave for destinations throughout Spain, and around the corner from good shopping/dining options at the El Corte Ingles shopping mall, a Spanish shopping institution.

Stand-Out Feature: Value For Money

Hesperia Seville offers competitive rates for a four-star Spanish hotel. The hotel works closely with several booking websites and also offers deals and packages on its own website. When a bed in a shared dorm room can cost around $25-35 per person in most European cities, a rate of $70 for two at Hesperia Sevilla is that much more attractive. The hotel is perfect for business travelers (offering business & meeting facilities) but the price and location make it also perfect for families, couples and even large tour groups.

Room for Improvement: The Noise Factor

In a city like Seville, where there are ways to fill your day from morning until the wee hours, most guests spend limited time inside the hotel. If that sounds like how you travel, the paper-thin walls might not bother you in the least. But for loved-up couples or parents with vocal children – your neighbors will hear you and you will hear them.

Overall

We found Hesperia Sevilla to be a bright, stylish mid-range hotel in a great location with all the necessary services and facilities to meet the needs of both business travelers and tourists to Seville.

Location: Avenida Eduardo Dato, 49, Sevilla, Spain
Price: from 50 Euros for a double room
LGBT Friendly: yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: wi-fi, meeting rooms, desks, mini-bar, oversized bathtubs
Website: www.hesperia.com/hesperia/en/hotels/spain/seville/hesperia-sevilla.html

Like this hotel? Book it here.

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Polaroid of the week: The hand-painted street signs of Madrid, Spain

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.polaroid of the week spain madrid street sign calle del rioThe historic center of Madrid has some of the most beautiful street signs we’ve come across on our travels. The signs are usually set together from nine or twelve hand-painted ceramic tiles with pictures related to the name of the street.

These public works of art range from animals like eagles and bulls, important historical townspeople like mayors, carpenters or nuns and the Calle del Rio, or street of the river (above) is illustrated by an idyllic lazy river. This is just one of those little details about Madrid we loved during our recent visit!

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Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel

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We spent a wonderful day in Madrid last Sunday, where we celebrated a major milestone – we’ve been on the road for 400 days now! Over tapas and beer in the Spanish capital, we reflected on the last 100 days, which we spent in Costa Rica, Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain and cruising the Mediterranean. As usual, there are always highs and lows throughout our travels. The past 100 days were filled with the highest of highs, and luckily no dramatic lows – read on for our Tops and Flops:

Top travel moments


House-sitting in a B&B in Tuscany

Before we ever set off as permanent travelers, we looked into house-sitting, thanks to this article in the Guardian newspaper. The journalist spent time house-sitting in an old Italian farmhouse B&B. From the moment we read this article, we had dreamt of doing exactly that, and although we have loved all of our other house-sits, we jumped at the chance to housesit in a Tuscan B&B, high up in the mountains between the medieval town of Barga and the buzzing city of Lucca. For ten days in April we explored northern Tuscany, sampled as much pizza as possible, and enjoyed our time in the cozy Italian farmhouse!

Borgo a mozzano Italy

Cruising the Mediterranean

We like to identify as long-term, budget travelers – the kind of travelers who stay for long periods of time in each location, learning and adapting to each new way of life. Spending a week on a cruise ship visiting a new port city each day certainly does not fall into this travel style, but when Jess’ parents invited us to join them on their Mediterranean cruise, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to test out such a different way of traveling.

Cruise Ship

To our surprise, it turns out that we really enjoyed it! After months of fairly hard-core travel through Central America and Mexico, and new hotel rooms every other day, we really appreciated a week of easy travel, comfortable beds, hot showers, the fitness center and spa, plus all the (really tasty) food were all included. The biggest disadvantage of a cruise (in addition to the extortionate wi-fi rates on board) is that you only get a teaser of each port of call, but since we had already visited nearly all the ports before, we just enjoyed the vacation and showing Jess’ parents some of our favorite places in Spain and Italy.

San Gimignano view

Seeing the Panama Canal

Dani has always been fascinated by ports and giant freight ships, so the Panama Canal was a definite highlight of the last 100 days. It was fascinating to witness these massive ships being lowered through the locks of the Panama Canal on their way around the globe, seeing first hand this element of international business and how we acquire the goods like cars, TVs, spices, fruits we have come to expect to be available to us every day.

Gatun locks Panama

The Top of Germany

During our time in Germany, we literally went all the way to the Top, so we just had to include this in our Tops section! We took a gondola up to the very top of the country’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, which is not only the highest mountain in Germany, but also forms part of the border between Germany and Austria. We spent some time watching snowboarders and skiers, eating a German dumpling meal and chugging down Bavarian Hefeweizen beer – which surprisingly tasted much better all the way up there!

Globetrottergirls on Top of Germany Zugspitze

Favorite places

 

Siena, Italy

This charming town in southern Tuscany combines postcard perfect medieval buildings and tradition with a modern urban feel thanks to the well-established university in town. This modest sized city has good shopping, great restaurants, cheap eats, and plenty of fun bars, but drive just five minutes outside of town, and you are back in the heart of the vineyards, cypresses and olive trees which make up the colorful Tuscan countryside.

Piazza di Campo Siena Italy

Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Panama City can be easily divided into two very distinct areas to explore. The skyscrapers that make up the Panama City skyline rival almost any U.S. city, and the people who live in this area have adopted an identical lifestyle – pimped out SUV trucks, fast-food joints, wide multi-lane city streets and strip malls galore. Head on down to Casco Viejo, however, and the feeling couldn’t be more different. Fully-restored buildings and their still dilapidated neighbors line tiny winding cobble stone streets. The area can feel European, and at the same time, with the Latin rhythms, Panama Hats and laid-back vibe Casco Viejo feels like how you imagine Havana, Cuba might feel. This was easily one of the memorable places we experienced throughout our last 100 days.

Casco Viejo Panama

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

This Caribbean town in Costa Rica has something to match everyone’s tastes, and without even a sliver of stress. We rented bikes and explored the stretches of nearly empty beaches, had overpriced fruity cocktail drinks in a fancy beachside bar, ate street food, and danced to reggaton with blurry eyes until late… we couldn’t have had a better time here!

Music with that Jessie chick in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

San Gimignano, Italy

The medieval town of 13 towers is the quintessential Tuscan town. It is walkable in a few hours and loaded with restaurants and shops selling everything from cheesy tourist trinkets to gorgeous pottery. Make sure to climb to the top of the Torre Grossa, the tallest tower, for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and keep your eyes peeled for one of the many free wine-tastings available in town!

Plaza in San Gimignano Italy

Bavaria, Germany

We are unable to pick out just one place in Bavaria as our favorite. We just had a storybook time during our house sit in Germany. Neither of us has ever done much exploring in Bavaria before, and we enjoyed taking the time to get to know this very traditional and very green area of southern Germany. We took several day trips to Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, the picturesque town of Fuessen, visited Innsbruck in Austria and even just strolling through the village we lived in, climbing the snow-covered mountain behind our house and seeing the monastery of Ettal was all really fun.

Bavarian village, Germany

Most disappointing places

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro comprise several tiny islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast, not far from the border to Costa Rica. We thought we would find gorgeous beaches and a purely Caribbean feel. In reality, the beaches are a bus trip or water taxi ride away, and some of those beaches charge to get in and are packed with people. The scenery was gorgeous, but having come from some amazing beaches in Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s Corn Islands, we were hoping for a bit more from all the praise Bocas had been getting from fellow travelers.

Bocas del toro street Panama

Florence, Italy

When it comes to Tuscany, Florence tends to be named as the city to visit, but we missed the ‘Wow’ factor we felt in other spots we visited in Tuscany. We found Florence to be overpriced, overcrowded with bus loads of tourists, and not as pretty as Siena, Lucca or San Gimignano. For art lovers, Florence can be the ultimate destination, as the city is home to the Uffizi gallery and the Academia, which both house incredible paintings and sculptures, as well as being home to an ornate Cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Most people love it, but the famous city didn’t inspire us as much as we thought.

Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, Florence, Italy

The Panama Canal train ride

Sure, train rides in Central America are rate, nearly non-existent, and one along the Panama Canal sounds fascinating. But we say don’t bother getting up at the crack of dawn for this disappointing train ride along the canal. We had read about this train ride months before we even got to Panama, and descriptions such as luxurious and unforgettable experience really drew us in for the ride from the Miraflores Lock 50km cross country to the Gatun lock. Tourists are herded into one very old car on the train which may have been luxurious 50 years ago, but today feels run down. Very little of the ride offers actual views of the canal, and despite the luscious jungle and blue lakes, the hour-long ride for $22 is a one-way trip which leaves you in the undesirable town of Colon forced to make your way to a bus station to hop on a bus back to where you started.

Panama Canal Train Waggon

Travel recommendations

House-sitting

We recommended house-sitting before, but having had two more great house-sits in the last 100 days, we can only recommend it again. We are signed up with two house-sitting websites which has brought us to two places we wouldn’t have visited otherwise: a tiny German village in the Alps near the Austrian border and a cute Italian mountain village north of Lucca, plus in the very near future, a housesit in Canada, which was not on our itinerary either. Not only did we get to know these regions, but we also took advantage of having a house again for a while: our own kitchen, showers and toilets and having a car – all things we didn’t have while traveling through Central America for the last seven months. We also appreciated the fact that showers were always hot, we did not have to share the bathroom and we didn’t pay a penny for accommodation during that time.

Our home for two weeks - an Italian farmhouse in Tuscany

Car shares in Germany

Car-sharing, or carpooling, in Germany is a well-developed market, and just as common as taking a bus or a taxi. There are several websites for car-sharing, which allow you to search for drivers headed in your direction and book a ride with them, for not more than your fair share of the gas. We moved throughout Germany entirely using car-sharing, and we even went to Italy and back using the same websites and paying only 35 Euros per person instead of 229 Euros which we each would have paid for the train around Easter. Speaking German is a plus not only for reading the site but also when spending time in the car speaking to the wide variety of drivers and other passengers. However, enough Germans speak English well-enough to get you from A to B and save you a ton of money while traveling around the country.

Stay at Belmonte Vacanze

Our time in Tuscany easily competes as the absolute top of our 400 days of travel. There is no question that our overwhelmingly positive experience is due, in large part, to our time at the family-run Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments, set in the perfect location for the perfect Tuscany farm holiday. Although it feels like you are staying at a villa in the deepest Tuscan countryside, Belmonte Vacanze is actually just a 15-minute drive from San Gimignano, Volterra, ten minutes from our new favorite little town of Montaione, 30 minutes from Siena, and you can even make it to the Tuscan coast and Pisa in 1 hour, and Cinque Terre within 2 hours. There is an on-site horse-riding facility, a large swimming pool, and our one-bedroom apartment which came equipped with everything we needed, including sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside and the friendliest owners we’ve come across yet!

Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments in Tuscany

Worst travel moments

Bank card fraud in Panama City

When Jess tried to use her debit card in Panama City, the ATM spit out her card, but no cash came out. After this happened four times at two different ATMs, we returned cashless to our hostel and checked the online bank statement: several hundred dollars had been withdrawn from Colombia, and as we were in Panama, not Colombia, we saw quickly some major fraud was in action. The bank (HSBC) was quick and efficient in returning the charges, but we were stuck without the only debit card that still worked after a series of debit card issues throughout the year. Luckily this happened one day before we flew to Germany, where we had a fixed address for long enough to get new cards sent over. Cash advances on our credit card ended up being very expensive though.

Top travel mishaps

Opening a bank account with a sh** bank

When we arrived in Germany we finally received our new Nationwide Bank debit cards which had been forwarded to us, after 5 months without being able to use our joint account. After the debit card fraud on our other account, we were more than happy to hold our new cards – the smiles on our faces disappeared quickly though when we read the bold print in the accompanying letter: This card can not be used for cash withdrawals abroad. I’m sorry, can you repeat that?!

We had opened our account with Nationwide in England just before we left on our trip because they were offering free international withdrawals – and now they changed their policy so that the cards can not even be used abroad. If you are from England and about to set off on a RTW trip – do not sign up with Nationwide. Nationwide sucks.

Bad planning: Arriving in Panama just in time for Carnival

When we crossed over from Costa Rica into Panama, we had just found out that all of Panama was celebrating Carnival, which is one of the biggest parties in the world. With the entire country on holiday, we crossed the border into the country on a day when no local buses running and hostels were completely booked. We ended up overpaying for a taxi to the ferry to Bocas del Toro, where we ended up spending a night together in the bottom bunk in a grungy hostel right next to the three-story mega-speakers of the main carnival stage in Bocas. Oops!

Bocas del toro carnival devil Panama

Top food moments

Italian Pizza at Il Ciampo, Montaione in Italy

During our stay in Italy it took us a while to find decent pizza. In fact, we didn’t even like the first few pizzas we ordered. However, the longer we stayed, the better the pizza was that we found! The best pizza that will stay with us forever in our memories of Tuscany was a mascarpone & tomato pizza and a rucola & parmesan pizza at Pizzeria Il Ciampo in the small town of Montaione near San Gimignano.

Pizza at Il Ciampi in Montaione Italy

Pretzels in Bavaria, Germany

Jess loves German soft pretzels, called Brez’n in Bavaria. Pretzels are equal to bread and are used for making any kind of sandwich or come with cheese baked on top. Jess had at least one pretzel every day throughout the seven weeks we spent in Germany off and on in the last few months – she can’t get enough!

Pretzels in Bavaria

Tapas at Restaurante Carmela in Seville, Spain

We always seem to find a great restaurant in Seville, and Restaurante Carmela is no exception. We filled the entire table with vegetarian tapas and were thankful for the long walk back to our hotel to help digest it all.

Delicious Tapas at Carmela in Seville Spain

Gelato in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre in Italy

We each had delicious gelato from a beach-side stand in Monterosso al Mare, but really, you can go to almost any gelateria in Italy and find delicious gelato – chocolate, strawberry, tutti-frutti and even some more exotic flavors such as zabaione and pistachio. Sure some places are better than others, but we did a lot of work as amateur gelato testers and have yet to find gelato that didn’t taste good!

Gelato in Italy

More:

Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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Polaroid of the week: Flamenco musicians in Seville, Spain

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polaroid of the week spain seville flamenco musicians

Last week we returned to Seville, one of our favorite places in Spain. Andalusia is famous for its Flamenco dance and music and no visit to Seville is complete without seeing some live flamenco music. La Carboneria (Calle Levies 18)  is one of the many bars where you can listen to flamenco music every night of the week. Flamenco music is played by a guitar player while a female flamenco dancer shows off her moves. We spotted this live performance one afternoon on the Plaza de España.

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Polaroid of the week: Street Art in Seville, Spain

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Just this week we finalized travel plans for our second trip to Seville. During our first visit in 2009, the southern Spanish city of Seville easily became our favorite  in the country. We were immediately drawn to the vibe –  a combination of typical Spanish features such as fabulous tapas bars, wine and flamenco dance but also a vibrant young art scene – including a large wall by the river filled with some of the most creative street art we’ve seen anywhere. We can’t wait for our return to Seville to explore more of the town! I

If you are thinking about visiting Seville, check out our article on how to spend the perfect day in Seville.

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