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Views from above: Singapore

singapore skyscrapers

Whenever we get to a city, the first thing we do is get as high up as possible – to the top of a tower, skyscraper or hillside in search of the best views from above. This helps us get an idea of how the city is laid out, its actual size, and most importantly creates a huge respect for the city, its skyline and the buzz of the people living and working on its streets. Before arriving at our hotel in Singapore, we had already researched the best places for a stunning view of Singapore from above, and knew that this Asian metropolis has a wide variety of these vantage points. Read on to find out the best ways to take in Singapore’s skyline:singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

Where to get the best views of Singapore

The Singapore Flyer

If you like Ferris wheels, you will love The Singapore Flyer! The tallest in the world, the Singapore Flyer towers over the city at 165 meters tall, a full 30 meters higher than the London Eye. Our time up in the Flyer was an incredible 30 minute vertical tour of the city. We must have shot 200 pictures while in our massive pod.

singapore flyer The wheel is located on the Marina Promenade on the South Eastern side of the Marina Bay, in walkable distance from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. As the cabin moves higher and higher, the views over the city evolve: first you have terrific views over Marina Bay, then over Singapore’s Grand Prix Circuit, over the Eastern part of town and over the Strait of Singapore with its countless freighter ships coming and going.
singapore flyer viewsWhile we were in town, we were curious about a strange construction down near the water as well. Those of you on your way to Singapore now can visit what we later found out is a $1 billion construction of gardens, which look like they are straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Actually a conservatory with 226,000 plants and flowers from all around the globe, it is also home to 18 ‘Supertrees’ which serve as vertical gardens, collecting rain water and generating solar power, and acting as the venting ducts for the conservatory.

singapore flyer view over gardens by the bayThe Singapore Flyer also offers a longer time on board with a truly special dinner… the world’s best sky dining. You will spend an hour rotating twice while enjoying a world-class 4-course meal in a private gondola.

marina bay sands viewHighest point: 165 m (541 ft)

Price: S$29.50

Information: www.singaporeflyer.com

Singapore views

Marina Bay Sands Skydeck

It is a strangely beautiful architectural masterpiece and we just loved staring out at the Marina Bay Sands from everywhere else in Singapore.
marina bay sandsBut some of the absolute best views of the city are to be had on top of this building itself – from the Skydeck. The 340m-long SkyPark that tops the three towers is home to the highest infinity swimming pool in the world, and the world’s largest cantilevered platform (which is the 67 meters worth of overhang you see that makes the Skydeck almost look like ship sailing in the air.

marina bay sands There are several ways how you can access the Skypark. You can stay at the hotel, which in addition to views, gives you immediate acess to the infinity pool as well. There is an observation deck, but we figured that instead of investing S$20 for views only, why not grab a drink at the Sky on 57th restaurant instead. Sure, a glass of the house red costs $20, and a Singapore Fling is $18, but it’s the same price as the Observation Deck and there is nothing quite like having a drink at sunset looking out over the Marina Bay…

cocktails and sunset at marina bay sands
views over SingaporePlus, keep an eye out for celebrities while you’re here. The rich and famous love this hotel just as much as everybody else and Marina Bay Sands has hosted a long list of famous guests.

Highest point: 191 meters (626 meters)

Price: S$20 for the skydeck, or the price of a drink at one of the rooftop restaurants (starting at around S$8, or $18 – S$20 for a cocktail or glass of wine)

More information: Skypark Observation Deck
singapore at night from marina bay sandsIf you’d like to combine views with a fancy dinner, here is TimeOut’s list of Singapore’s 20 best rooftop bars and restaurants.
dani & jess at marina bay sands

The Mount Faber Cable Car

The Singapore cable car connects Mount Faber with Sentosa Island, with a short stop at Harborfront. Start at Mount Faber – the views from the mountain are fantastic! Watch cars drive along the curvy road hugging the bay, and look a bit further into the distance to count dozens of freighter ships waiting to be allowed into the harbor.
singapore harbour and skyline from cable carSpot some of Singapore’s creative architecture in the new apartment buildings near the ocean, and of course one of Singapore’s main tourist destinations, Sentosa Island, where you land on your final approach.

singapore cable car views The ride is short. It takes about 10 minutes to cover the roughly 1,000 meters (3,280ft) between Mt Faber and the island. To spend more time in the sky, opt for Sky Dining, which will give you the privacy of your own cabin and a romantic fine dining experience during the sun set (S$168 per couple for a 3-course dinner, S$218 for four courses.)

singapore cable car to sentosa islandHighest point (on Mount Faber): 93 meters (305 ft), during the ride 60 meters (197 ft) above the sea

Price: S$29 (round trip), Super Saver Night Rider: S$35 per couple  for a round trip incl. popcorn and soft drinks

More information: Singapore Cable Car

singapore cable car views

Tiger Sky Tower on Sentosa Island

Once you have arrived at Sentona Island, hang out for a while. Tour the free cable car museum for an interesting history of how the cable car has improved over the years. Make no mistake – Sentosa Island is essentially a resort, with two golf courses, two 5-star resorts, a Universal theme park, underwater world, dolphin lagoon and several other attractions, but you can spend a day on the beach here facing the ocean and blissfully ignore the busy city behind you.

sentosa island beachSentosa Island is also the best place to look at Singapore from outside of the city, by taking a trip up the Tiger Sky Tower. Not only does this offer views over Singapore’s skyline, but you can see everything on Sentosa Island and the small islands beyond. On clear days you can even see Malaysia and Indonesia. The Tower is actually a big round cabin that ascends the column of the tower slowly while turning, providing 360 degree views.

sentosa island view from cable carIf you don’t want to use the cable car, you can also walk to Sentosa Island from Harbourfront (the walk takes about 30 minutes) or take the monorail.

Highest point: Observation deck, 110 m (360 ft) above ground

Price: S$15

More information: The Sky Tower closed permanently in 2018.

sentosa island and freighter ships from cable car

Have you been to Singapore? What is your favorite spot for views of Singapore’s skyline?

 

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A taste of Singapore…our first impressions, observations and a few interesting Singapore facts

singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

Singapore was a bit of a mystery to us before our recent visit… how is that some countries in South East Asia exist in messy, varying stages of development and Singapore boasts incredible architecture, essentially no crime and one of the most resilient economies in the world?kampong glam with sultan mosqueThis stark contrast really smacked us in the face, flying straight in from Cambodia. Singapore is a city-state (like Monaco or Vatican City), but really just feels like a cosmopolitan mega-city, whereas even in Cambodia’s largest city of Phnom Penh we witnessed remaining signs of rural life. Where much of Cambodia has dirt roads, Singapore has highways. While Cambodians haul livestock on mopeds, Singaporeans haul iPads in brand new Mercedes.

The disparity was shocking, but it was not difficult to jump right in to urban life. We had always heard that Singapore was this kind of Asian wunderkind and can confirm the rumors to be true. One of our first observations about Singapore: The public transportation system is modern, clean and on time.

Another fascinating Singapore fact: 5.8 million people are successfully housed in high rises across only 272 square miles. There are no homeless people, at least none that we saw and we did some definite exploring outside of popular spots like Marina Bay in the week we were in town.singapore factsIn fact, we probably walked an average of 10 miles a day while in Singapore, not including our strolls through the twenty or so mega malls that line Orchard St. There are enough touristy things to do to keep visitors busy for weeks, including highlights such as the Singapore Flyer observation wheel, countless museums, the popular Singapore Night Safari, beautiful Botanical Gardens, Chinese Buddhist and Indian Hindu temples, and even a Universal Studios Theme Park.

We couchsurfed in a friendly neighborhood, made it out to a farm, went to the eccentric Haw Par Villa, Sentosa Island, but no matter how much we took in, many of my questions about Singapore were left unanswered. For now, we want to take you on a quick photo-tour of this magnificent city, share some of our first impressions and observations about Singapore.

Singapore facts
Arab Street, Singapore

One of our favorite neighborhoods was Kampong Glam, Singapore’s ‘muslim quarter’ – there are mosques, muslim schools, arabic cafes and along Arab Street, you can find Persian rug stores, burkah shops, Turkish cafes and Egyptian restaurants. The whole area is filled with colorful Chinese shophouses, the streets are lined with palm trees and cafes spill out on the sidewalks.kampong glam lampkampong glam street

Palm tree-lined street in Kampong Glam

singapore muslim wedding
A Muslim wedding at the Sultan Mosque
Singapore facts
Turkish influences in Kampong Glam

This neighborhood has loads of street art, colorful murals and mosaics.

kampong glam muralkampong glam street artstreet art in kampong glamWe loved that the traditional neighborhoods like Little India, Chinatown and Geylang Serai remain much the way they always were, despite more and more skyscrapers going up in downtown Singapore, billion dollar hotel projects, futuristic eco-gardens and the newly designed Marina Bay Promenade.

Singapore observations
The Marina Bay Sands Building and Singapore’s mascot, the Merlion.
singapore at night from marina bay sands
Singapore’s skyscrapers at night

singapore skyscrapers

esplanade singapore
Singapore’s futuristic Esplanade Theater

singapore esplanade theater

singapore marina bay sands
More futuristic architecture: the lotus flower-shaped Arts & Science Museum in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Casino

singapore with flyerWe loved that there were still old-fashioned ice cream vendors at Marina Bay, despite the modern buildings and the revamped promenade. We had to of course try Singapore’s special ice cream sandwich: mango ice cream in white toast.

singapore ice cream sandwichWe found that Singapore in general seems to have a sweet tooth – there are hundreds of bakeries around town – much to Dani’s delight…cream puffs singaporeStarbucks in Singapore has some of the most delicious cakes we’ve come across, better than most Starbucks cafes around the world for sure…peanutbutter cake in singaporeYes, there are plenty of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and other coffee shops, but we loved that there are just as many traditional Singaporean coffee houses, where coffee is still made the old-fashioned way.

Singapore observations

Singapore factsA well known fact about Singapore is that it is sometimes called ‘the police state of South East Asia’, or the double entrende ‘FINE city‘ and for good reason. There are many laws that are strongly enforced with huge fines, like up to $500 for eating or drinking on public transportation. Just in case you are nervous about breaking a law, don’t worry, as there will most definitely be a sign for that. Contrary to popular belief, gum-chewing is no longer illegal but you can’t buy it in the country. However, the rules do seem to actually work here: Singapore is by far the cleanest city we’ve visited in South East Asia, and where we felt the safest.

sentosa island beachWho would have thought that Singapore has gorgeous beaches like this? Sentosa Island is the perfect getaway from the city – just a short 10-minute gondola or metro ride across the bay.

Singapore observations
View towards Sentosa Island from the Singapore Cable Car

The creepiest place in Singapore? Definitely Haw Par Villa, founded by the brothers who invented the infamous Tiger Balm (read more about it here.)

haw par villa singapore 10 courts of hellhaw par villa singapore feetless ratOverall, we loved how colorful Singapore is – no matter which neighborhood we strolled through, the houses were always painted in bright colors, like here in Clarke Quay.Singapore factskampong glam bullchinatown singapore

Colorful Chinatown

colorful building in singapore

We also loved the many hawker food stalls all over Singapore and in the food markets, as well as the busy street markets.Singapore observationsSingapore observationsAuthentic Indian Idli in Singapore

dani & jess southern most point of asiaWe made it to the southern most point of Continental Asia!

 

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The Vintage Cars of Uruguay

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

When we landed in Uruguay, we knew it would be similar to neighboring Argentina, just with a stronger Gaucho culture, better beaches and an even bigger obsession with their maté tea. All of these held true—especially the fact that they never leave the house without their maté.

But who would have thought Uruguay would remind us more of Cuba at times than Argentina! It sure did, though, with thousands of gorgeous vintage cars rolling through the streets like a moving antique car fair or open air automobile museum.

vintage car colonia

A History of Vintage Cars in Uruguay

In North America in the summer, you’ll often come across vintage car shows, with dedicated owners waxing and relaxing while onlookers admire and consider paying large sums of money to pick up their own vintage car. In Uruguay, the roads themselves are the car show, driven by regular janes and joes who have had these cars in their families for generations.

montevideo vw beetleuruguay vintage car

There is just something so perfectly fitting about these cars that represents the overall feeling of life in Uruguay – proud, timeworn, defiant, dignified and adorably dilapidated.

While some cars definitely look used and abused, many are as pristine as in their heyday. There is a sense of nostalgia overload with these gorgeous old-timers parked along the streets of villages that also appear unchanged since the cars first pulled up back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

uruguay classic car colonia del sacramento

uruguay classic car

It was during this era that Uruguay experienced a major economic upturn, exporting beef and wheat to sustain Europe throughout both World Wars. With money lining their pockets, Uruguayans proudly began opting for more expensive imported cars, and not just for special occasions or the very rich. Imported Rolls Royces and Bugattis were even used to make deliveries or left to rust on the side of the road in favor of the latest model.

That is, until the economy completely crashed in the 1960s and car imports stopped almost entirely. Uruguayans maintained their love of cars and began preserving their cars to last for decades, and even have a special word for these cars now – ‘cachilas’.vintage car n uruguay

uruguay vintage opelIn particular we loved the two classic cars parked in front of the El Drugstore restaurant: a 1930s Citroën sprouting trees and flowers and a 1920s Ford Model T, which has been remodeled into a dining car, for diners to eat at a little table inside the car.

uruguay vintage Citroen Traction Avant with treeuruguay Citroen Traction Avant colonia de sacramentouruguay ford model a dining car colonia

These cachilas have been passed on to sons and daughters, who passed them on to their sons and daughters, many of whom are still driving them around today. Those cars that don’t run are often still shown love, re-purposed as artistic displays, like many of the cars we saw in Colonia del Sacramento.

It didn’t take long for word to get out about Uruguay’s vintage vehicles and in the 1970s, collectors from as far as Japan, Europe and North America flocked to Uruguay looking for rare models at much lower prices.

uruguay vintage car coloniaThe cars of Uruguay, while vintage, can not really be considered antiques. These are living, breathing automobiles that have been consistently in use for over 60 years now. Antique might however be a word used to describe the mechanics who so lovingly restore them. Essentially car historians themselves, the older generation of mechanics have been pouring their hearts in the cars of Uruguay for decades.

The mechanics teach the younger generations the steps to repair the cars, but swear that only the older mechanics can truly keep the vintage cars in tact. Possibly a case of intertwined souls of the cars and the mechanics who have so long loved them?

vintage car uruguay

uruguay vintage ford truck

montevideo vw beetle green

Vintage cars have a very special place for everyone in the country, so much so that they are declared by the government to be ‘historic patrimony’. What this means is that a permit from the Commission on Historic Patrimony is required before a car can be shipped abroad that was manufactured before 1940.

This assures that the streets of Uruguay can continue to hark back to the golden era and its car culture for decades to come.

uruguay vintage army jeep

 

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The Grand Finale of my Philippines Trip: El Nido (Part I)

sunset

El Nido was one of the two places I was looking forward to the most on my Philippines trip (the other one was Boracay), as everyone who had been there was raving about the unspoiled beauty of the deserted islands off the coast of Palawan, the island El Nido is located on.El Nido PalawanAs I was holding on for my dear life in the van that took me up to El Nido from Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s main airport, I was praying that it would live up to my high expectations, but since Palawan had recently been declared the most beautiful island in the world, I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t disappoint.el nido beach viewWhen I booked my flight to Puerto Princesa, I wasn’t aware that it would take another 5-6 hours to get to El Nido from the airport, which would make this a 16-hour travel day starting in Dumaguete 6am in the morning and reaching El Nido 9pm at night. The hours in the van were some of the most horrible driving I’ve experienced so far, even beating the van driver from Laos to Chiang Mai who fell asleep halfway through, forcing one of us passengers to take over the wheel.bacuit archipelago shell philippinesThis driver surely saw the narrow winding mountain roads of Palawan as his own personal race track, and several times when he accelerated before a sharp turn I was convinced we’d shoot over the guardrail into the woods.el nido las cabanas beachAgainst all odds we made it to el Nido alive, and I realized mistake #2: not booking a hostel in advance. My driver took me to a number of places, all of which were full, and just when I was about to give up hope and thought I would have to spend the night on the beach, I lucked out and got the last single room in a hostel.el nido with boatsWhen I went to explore the town the next morning, I wasn’t all too impressed, to be honest. The beach seemed dirty, and while others might find the ramshackle buildings charming, I just found them.. ugly.el nido kayakBut nobody comes to El Nido for the town. People come here for the Bacuit Archipelago. The archipelago is made of 45 islets, most of them nothing more than limestone karst cliff outcrops surrounded by crystal clear water, some of them boasting secret beaches or hidden lagoons. What all of them have in common is that they offer some of the best snorkeling in the country.bacuit archipelago island hopping tourThe best way to see as many of them as possible? Go on an island hopping tour. There are four different tours which can be booked just about anywhere in town, creatively titled Tour A, B, C and D. The tours are all pretty similar: the boats leave El Nido around 9am and get back around 5pm, include a lunch and 4 to 5 snorkeling stops.bacuit archipelago boatWhen I researched the various tours to decide which ones to go on, I had found that most people were recommending A and C, so those were the ones I went on (I would have loved to hop on all four tours, but El Nido is not the cheapest place to hang around in, and it’s probably good that there is no ATM in town, forcing you to leave when you run out of money).bacuit archipelago boatsI decided to start with tour A and on a rather cloudy morning I hopped on a little Filipino fishing boat to cruise around the islands.seven comandments beach philippinesOur first stop was the 7 Commandment beach, a small sandy beach, fringed by palm trees. The snorkeling area was small and I almost didn’t go in the water because it was still overcast and I thought I might even be cold. But I am so glad I eventually did go in! There were already more fish in this little spot than I had seen in all four of my snorkeling stops in Apo Island. It was like a beautiful underwater plant garden, and I would have been satisfied staying here all day, laying out on the gorgeous beach and going for an occasional snorkeling dip, but this was only stop 1 of 5.Bacuit Archipelago underwaterThe second stop was already our lunch stop, and we spent well over an hour on a tiny strip of sand beach, and the crew was preparing lunch (lots of fresh fish, rice and fruit) while we were sunbathing and snorkeling. The snorkeling area was much bigger than on the first beach, and I loved the marine life here. You could snorkel all the way out to a massive limestone rock that stuck out of the ocean if you were a good swimmer and see plenty of fish everywhere around you.Bacuit Archipelago underwater PhilippinesAfter lunch (very filling if you’re not a vegetarian; leaving you starving if you’re a vegetarian), we moved on to our third stop, a hidden lagoon that we had to swim into, entering via a small hole in the rock. Getting there was a bit difficult because it was extremely rocky – we were all wearing our flip flops or water shoes and were still struggling. Here I could see why Alex Garland’s The Beach was apparently inspired by his time in the Philippines (even though the book is set in Thailand).bacuit archipelago lagoonHe was probably trying to keep the real beach a secret, but in this case, when five boats get there at the same time and fifty people try to make their way in there at once, it is a bit underwhelming. Only at the end, when everybody else had left and the lagoon was almost empty, I came to appreciate the stunning beauty of it with the towering limestone rocks towering high above me.bacuit archipelagoNext was an absolutely stunning stop: First we cruised in a big circle through the Big Lagoon, only open to the ocean on one side, and surrounded by massive limestone rocks on all sides. After that, we stopped outside the lagoon to snorkel in what is best described as a real-life aquarium. The coral, the plants, the fish – so so many fish – it truly felt as if someone had dropped me into an aquarium. I could’ve stayed there forever.Bacuit Archipelago underwater snorkelingThis was only my first island hopping trip in El Nido, and it didn’t disappoint. I was already looking forward to my next one!

For more impressions from Palawan and practical information on how to get to El Nido, where to stay, what to do and other things you should know before you go, check out Part II of this post: The grand finale of my Philippines trip: El Nido (Part II)

bacuit archipelago lagoonbacuit archipelago beachbacuit archipelago philippines

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El Nido

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A stroll through Casco Viejo, Panama’s historic quarter

Casco Viejo Panama

When we arrived in Panama City, the first buildings that came into view were modern monoliths like we hadn’t seen since Mexico City eight months earlier and seven countries to the north. Panama’s capital has a skyline to rival most major US cities, and being located right on the water, the sight is breathtaking. Panama City streetHowever, as contemporary as these skyscrapers and super condos are, they are the exception to the rule here in Panama. Put simply, the rest of Panama could not look more different than this area of the capital. Only a few minutes away from the  skyline so reminiscent of New York City, however, you enter a completely different world: Casco Viejo, Panama’s historic quarter. Casco Viejo churchDeveloped in the early 16th century, Casco Viejo is the oldest neighborhood of Panama City, set on a little peninsula bordered by the ocean on three sides. Casco Viejo is as antiquated as the skyline is modern.

Casco viejo buildingsCasco viejo streetThe flair that Panama City must have had in the late 19th century is still tangible when strolling between the colonial buildings and church ruins. In the well-maintained or newly renovated buildings, it is easy to imagine the bravado that must have been racing through the city’s veins, the amount of confidence Panama must have had in the late 19th century at the prospects of the prosperity to come, thanks to the construction of the Panama Canal, which would cement the city’s and country’s place on the world stage.
Casco Viejo alley
Casco viejo buildings
Casco viejo ruinToday, however, that mix of former greatness and crumbling buildings reminded us, although neither of us have ever been, of what Havana, Cuba must feel like. In contrast to other colonial towns in Central America, the buildings in Casco Viejo are considerably higher and have between two and four floors instead of only one.

Casco Viejo buildings
Havana Viejo in Casco ViejoOn a stroll through Casco Viejo, you will see several 15th century churches, green plazas and several grand buildings which house embassies and government bodies. Considerable funding, both national and international, has been invested in renovating Casco Viejo, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. Casco Viejo pink buildingThe area has started to flourish once more, and high-end hotels and restaurants (see below) have moved in, as well as some mid-range spots we fell in love with including Caffe Per Due, an Italian restaurant with to-die-for pizza, or Café El Vienna, a German-run coffee house (the latter has sadly closed since we visited).
Casco Viejo building & street
Casco Viejo PlazaDespite World Heritage status, until just a few years ago, tourists were advised not to visit Casco Viejo. The area was dodgy, thefts and muggings occurred, and most of the buildings were run down and abandoned. In 2005, a tourism police force was put into place to reduce muggings and theft, and the number of crimes has been declining ever since. Casco Viejo building & street

Whether it is because of the heavy police presence in the area or despite it, Casco Viejo feels very safe today. While we love exploring off the beaten path, there are some sincerely shady areas in Casco Viejo (multi-storey makeshift shanties and such) that would be better to avoid, especially at night.Casco Viejo arcades

Most of Casco Viejo’s buildings have had a fresh coat of paint slapped on, several have undergone major renovation, and the area has now been converted into one of the most well-preserved colonial towns of Central America. Casco Viejo churchThe influence of the Europeans is ever present and the high buildings, featuring the typical Spanish window shutters and grand French balconies, but the combination of renovated and run-down means you never forget that you are in Panama. Balcony Casco ViejoFreshly-painted iron-gated balconies feature colorful flowers, while right next door, it is the colorful laundry which catches your eye as it hangs over the old rusty balconies which seem as though they could collapse at any moment.Casco Viejo old building balcony
Casco Viejo old building balcony
casco viejo old balconySome buildings seem one breezy day away from falling down, but seen through the eyes of the temporary traveler, the buildings add to the neighborhood’s charm.

Casco Viejo old broken building
Casco Viejo Balcony with Teddy
Casco viejo doorThe indigenous Kuna women arrive in the early mornings, in their traditional dress, to set up their market stalls near Casco Viejo’s waterfront, where they sell their famous and unique hand-made ‘molas’ (clothes in Kuna language) and blankets in the typical bright colors. Kuna Woman in Casco ViejoOver in the business district, where people identify more with the U.S. than with their own Panama, the Kuna presence is nearly non-existent, just one example of how the two areas of Panama City feel like two entirely different worlds.Casco Viejo Kuna marketEnd your stroll with a walk along the promenade, which offers marvelous views of Panama City’s skyline, especially at night. Pick up a Panama hat (you’ll never find them cheaper – surprise, surprise – than here in Panama) and other souvenirs.Panama hats in Casco ViejoGet yourself a raspado, or shaved ice topped with fruit syrup and condensed milk, from one of the food carts and try to gobble up your ‘snow cone’ before it melts in the hot Panama sun.Ice man

 

Where to eat in Casco Viejo:

    • Caffe per due (Av. A, Casco Viejo) – Beautiful Italian restaurant with scrumptious pizza and pasta dishes
    • Tiempos Specialty Coffee (inside the American Trade Hotel) – fantastic specialty coffee shop, great for breakfast.
    • Nomada Eatery (inside Luna’s Castle Hostel) – bohemian coffee shop and restaurant with fresh food and tasty cocktails
    • PalettAmerica (Calle 8a Este) – ice cream parlor with amazing exotic fruit flavors 
    • Casa Sucre (Calle 8 y Avenida B) – cozy coffeehouse with delicious breakfast and coffee
    • Restaurante Santa Rita (Av. Eloy Alfaro) – excellent fusion of Spanish tapas and Argentine parilla: meat dishes, sea food & fresh fish, tapas
    • Mula Bar (upstairs at Tio Navaja restaurant) – lovely cocktails in an intimate setting
    • Fonda Lo Que Hay (Calle 12 Este Entre Avenida Central & Avenida B) – unique Panamian dishes with a twist. Run by one of Panama’s most famous chefs, Jose Carles, who also runs Donde Jose (see below)
    • Donde Jose (Av. Eloy Alfaro) – Panamanian cuisine, prepared and served fine dining style in a beautiful setting.
    • Tantalo – thriving rooftop bar & restaurant atop the Tantalo Hotel. Elegan fusion cuisine and a fab happy hour.
    • The Dining Room (inside the American Trade Hotel) – Most elegant restaurant in Casco Viejo.

El Cafe Vienna

Where to stay in Casco Viejo:

Budget:

  • Luna’s Castle Hostel – backpacker hostel in an old refurbished French-colonial mansion. Terrace, hammocks, communal lounge. Bed in a 10-bed dorm from US$16, including breakfast
  • Vive Casco Antiguo – Small but stylish apartments with one bedroom, fully equipped kitchen, washing machine and TV, and a balcony. Apartment per night from US$65
  • Magnolia Inn – beautiful Inn in a wonderfully renovated French-colonial villa with terraces. There’s a shared kitchen and a shared dining room. Dorm beds from US$14, private double rooms from US$80

Mid-range:

  • Tantalo Boutique Hotel is located right in the heart of Casco Viejo. The contemporary artsy rooms have a balcony, the hotel has a fantastic restaurant and rooftop bar. Double rooms start at US$80
  • Villa Palma Boutique Hotel: Small boutique hotel in Casco Viejo that combines traditional elements with modern features. There’s a sun terrace with a hot tub, and the hotel has a restaurant and bar. Double rooms start at US$108 per night.

Splurge:

  • La Concordia Boutique Hotel is a small hotel with stylish, beautifully designed rooms (including standalone bathtubs) and a lovely terrace. Some rooms have a balcony. Double rooms from US$204, including breakfast
  • Central Hotel Panama: Modern hotel behind a historic colonial facade. Features an outdoor pool and a spa center, including a sauna and fitness center. Double rooms start at US$170, including breakfast.
  • American Trade Hotel – right in the heart of Casco Viejo. Guests can enjoy an outdoor pool and rooftop sun terrace, a gym, a restaurant and there is a jazz bar onsite. Rooms are modern and stylish, bathrooms come with a rain shower head. Double rooms start at US$249 including breakfast.

Panama city skyline

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My Journey Through the Philippines in Pictures

sunset

This is my very last post about the Philippines – at least for now. I am sharing my island hopping journey in pictures, and I hope that these photos will convince you to visit the Philippines. I’m already daydreaming about my next trip to this gorgeous country, and I can’t wait to visit all the places I didn’t make it to the first time around.bohol rice fieldsWhenever people ask me about my favorite places in South East Asia, I can’t stop gushing over the picture-perfect beaches I visited, the lush green islands with their scenic rice fields and softly swaying palm trees, a stark contrast to the urban sprawl of Manila which is rapidly turning into a modern, advanced city; rivaling Singapore and Bangkok with the number of skyscrapers and shopping malls that continue to emerge in the ever growing capital. When I sat in one of Manila’s third-wave coffee shops, located in one of the shiny fancy malls, after returning from Palawan, I couldn’t believe that a day earlier, I had shared the road with ox carts and that I didn’t even have cell phone reception in El Nido – now I was surrounded by people who were all glued to their smartphones again.visit the philippinesThe many faces of the Philippines were fascinating, the marine life breathtaking, the people welcoming and kind. But I’ll let the photos speak for themselves – visit the Philippines virtually through my pictures:flying into manila philippinesIt all started when I flew into Manila, and the capital couldn’t have been more surprising – I expected to hate it because everyone who had visited the city seemed to thoroughly dislike it. Read more about my time in Manila here: Living it up in Manila
bonifacio global city manilaFrom Manila, I flew to Boracay, because I was craving some beach time. I had been wanting to visit Boracay, famous for its ridiculously pretty White Beach, for years, and this travel dream finally came true.boracay island paradiseI spent hours just staring out at the water, listening to the sound of the softly clashing waves. For the first time in months, I was able to relax 100%.boracay white beach6As if a stunning 4-kilometer long beach with soft, powdery sand and crystal clear water weren’t enough, Boracay also boasts some of the most memorable sunsets I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Every single night! Read more about my time in Boracay here: Debauchery in Paradise: Letting loose in Boracayvisit the philippinesMy next stop was Bohol, a short flight from Boracay, which I added to my itinerary to meet these little guys:tarsier bohol philippinesTarsiers! The other attraction Bohol is famous for are the oddly shaped Chocolate Hills. I should have stayed longer to check out some of the beaches, but I was told there are nicer beaches in Siquijor, a nearby island reachable by ferry.visit the philippinesYou can read more about my time in Bohol here: Tarsiers and chocolate hills in Bohol
bohol rice fields philippinesSiquijor was the one place in the Philippines that exceeded my expectations – by far!visit the philippinesIt might have been the witchcraft (which Siquijor is famous for) that charmed me, or simply the incredible natural beauty of the island. Read more about this magical place here: Searching for magic in mystical Siquijorsiquijor waterfall philippinesFrom Siquijor, I took a ferry to Dumaguete, where I based myself to do what would be a highlight of my trip: Swimming with sea turtles in Apo Island! I 100% recommend adding Apo Island to your itinerary when you visit the Philippines.
sea turtle apo islandFor the stunning underwater life in all its glory, have a look at my Apo Island gallery on Flickr.

underwater world apo island philippinesThe next island on my itinerary was sadly not just a quick ferry ride away – instead, it took me nearly 16 hours to get from Dumaguete to El Nido, and the trip there included buses, a ferry, a minivan, a plane and a taxi.bacuit archipelago viewpointMy destination was worth the strenuous travel day though: Palawan, the crown jewel of the Philippines. In my opinion, you can’t visit the Philippines and NOT go to Palawan.island hopping el nidoI could go on and on about the incredibly picturesque beaches and lagoons of the Bacuit Archipelago off the coast of El Nido, but I let the pictures speak for themselves.visit the philippinesEl Nido was indeed the grand finale to a fabulous journey, and you can read more about it (and marvel at more photos!) in these two articles:

bacuit archipelago boatFrom Palawan I flew back to Manila for a few days of city life after weeks of island and beach hopping, and got to know fancy speakeasy bars, indulged in scrumptious vegetarian food (a rare find on most of the islands I went to) and visited the historic district of Manila, Intramuros, before boarding my plane to Bangkok.intramuros manilaConsidering that the Philippines consist of more than 7,000 islands, I feel like I only got a small teaser of the country, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the country.visit the philippinesIf you’re considering visiting the Philippines, check out my budget breakdown: How much does it cost to travel in the Philippines?, which also has some travel planning and money saving tips.el nido sunset

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Love lockdown on the Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn bridge lovelocks

On our first ever visit to the Brooklyn Bridge in 2009, there were no locks hanging off every hook and in every nook along the bridge like there were four years later, when we returned to NYC in 2013.
brooklyn bridge new york

This isn’t because it was illegal to lock your love up on the bridge in 2009 and that it was legal in 2013. In fact, the rules haven’t caught up to the trend in New York or around the world. Over the past few years love locks have been popping up on bridges and fences in major cities everywhere. We most recently wrote about an entire fountain covered in love locks we spotted in Montevideo, Uruguay.

But New York is a city that has our hearts, which meant it was most fitting for us to lock our love up right here, on the Brooklyn Bridge.

dani and jess lovelockThe trend seems to have taken off first in Italy after the release of the 2004 movie, Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo, based on a 1992 novel by Federico Moccia. The film included a scene where a couple ‘locked’ their love forever by locking a padlock on a bridge and tossing the keys into the river below to symbolize their eternal love. This took place on the Ponte Milvio bridge in Rome, which then immediately became a popular meeting point for couples making their own eternal declarations of love.

brooklyn bridge new york love locksNot long after, love locks started to appear in other places from Korea to China to Australia, Germany or Serbia. We came across them for the first time when we hiked in Cinque Terre in northern Italy, where ‘The Path Of Love’ is covered in love padlocks from couples from all around the globe. Interestingly, Wikipedia has an entry listing all of the world’s popular love lock spots.

Brooklyn Bridge Love LocksIn Paris, the city of romance, the Pont des Arts bridge has evolved into a popular destination for proposals, engagement photo shoots and newly-weds, with the couples adding a love lock to the bridge on their special day.

brooklyn bridge new york love padlocks dir gehoert mein herzIt didn’t take long until the trend had reached North America – the Brooklyn Paper reported about the love lock appearance for the first time in April 2010, just a year after we had walked over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time.

brooklyn bridge new york love locks and skylinebrooklyn bridge with lovelocksAlthough New York might not hark of the romance of Paris, the phenomenon has most definitely spread and couples are marking their engagements, wedding and declarations of eternal love by locking their own padlocks to this famous landmark.

Brooklyn Bridge Love Padlocks New YorkThe locks themselves range from ordinary padlocks to colorful ones with engraved dates and names.

brooklyn bridge new york love lock steffi danielSo far, the padlocks on the Brooklyn Bridge haven’t reached an extreme like on Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, which holds over 40,000 (!) love locks. But there are at least a few hundred now.

Brooklyn Bridge Love PadlocksWhile this love lock gesture is utterly romantic, it’s not quite legal. Supposedly there is a sign on each end of the sidewalk over the bridge that says “Attachment of any sorts to this bridge structure shall not be allowed.”

brooklyn bridge new york love padlocksWe have crossed this bridge several times and neither of us have seen the sign – otherwise we might not have added our very own padlock to the collection. While it seems as if the authorities turn a blind eye to the locks on the pillars, benches and railing, the many locks that are added to the street lights are removed regularly, to ensure the safety of the drivers who pass below the lamps. You can see how this lamp poll was pulled down by the weight of love…

brooklyn bridge new york love locks lamp poleA lamp pole being overloaded with love locks has happened before – at the most famous of the love lock bridges, the Ponto Milvio in Rome. The lamp post that was covered in locks partially collapsed in 2007, which resulted in the removal of the locks and the introduction of a €50 fine for anyone trying to add a padlock to the bridge.

brooklyn bridge new york love locks lamp poleWhile there might be some naysayers who feel that the locks disrupt the natural look of the bridge, the two of us, romantics that we are, think that it is a beautiful gesture for lovers to promise everlasting love to each other in such a simple, yet public way.

Love Locks Brooklyn BridgeSymbolic gestures of love seem to appear less and less today with people acknowledging anniversaries in status updates on Facebook and e-cards replacing thoughtful love letters. That’s why we personalized our own padlock with Dani & Jess on the front and our nicknames on the back, locked it on the Brooklyn Bridge and threw the keys into the water below.

Brooklyn Bridge Love Locks

Update: New York City eventually did get sick of the Brooklyn Bridge love locks. All of the love locks on the bridge were removed in 2016.

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Costa Rica is wild!

costa rica crocodiles

We have seen ‘exotic’ wildlife in every Central American country, but not in the abundance we had imagined – a few snakes in Mexico, the sea life in Belize, some howler monkeys in Guatemala, a few macaws in Honduras, a bunch of spider monkeys in Nicaragua. But once we crossed the border to Costa Rica, our wildlife sightings increased instantly. In every place we visited, the mountains of Monteverde, the beaches of the Caribbean or Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast, we spotted sloths, coatis, huge Golden Orb spiders, frogs, colorful crabs, snakes and bright Blue Morpho butterflies, tiny hummingbirds and huge iguanas. The wildlife in Costa Rica is unrivaled.

Here is a selection of our wildlife photos from our time in Costa Rica, and scroll down to the end for our top five spots to see wildlife in Costa Rica:

Monkey in Manuel AntonioThe monkeys in Manuel Antonio were the cheekiest in all of Costa Rica. They ignored the tourists…

and spent a lot of time just hanging around…

Monkeys playing in Manuel AntonioIn Manuel Antonio we also spotted some sloths sleeping high up in the trees:

Sloth sleeping in tree in Manuel Antonio… but in Monteverde we didn’t even need to search – one just lived across from our hostel in the trees by the road and used the electricity wires as a shortcut on the way home:

Sloth in Monteverde
Sloth MonteverdeIn Monteverde, we also ‘met’ a curious coati (anteater) in the woods:
Coati MonteverdeCosta Rica is also known for its great variety of butterflies, especially the Blue Morpho, but also colorful ones like this:
butterfly in monteverdeWe saw several snakes during our stay in Costa Rica – can you spot this tiny green snake in this picture?
Mini snake in Manuel AntonioThe crabs we saw in Cahuita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast were the most colorful ones we’ve ever seen anywhere:

Blue crab in Cahuita
Coloured crab cahuita
crab in cahuitaNear the village of Manzanillo we saw hundreds of huge Golden Orb spiders sitting in their webs:
Spider web near ManzanilloIn Monteverde, the spiders were living in the ground – you will see lots of tarantula nests:

Tarantula in MonteverdeThis iguana enjoyed the views of the Pacific ocean:

Iguana by the ocean…while this big iguana hung out at the beach:

Iguana at the beach in Manuel AntonioCosta Rica is also a birdwatchers’ paradise, being home to rare species such as the blue crowned mot mot:
Mot mot in Monteverde… and countless hummingbirds:

Green hummingbird in Monteverde
Hummingbird monteverdeRaccoons might be less exotic, but still extremely cute!

racoon in Manuel Antonio

The best places to see wildlife in Costa Rica:

    • Manuel Antonio National Park: If you only have time for one place to see wildlife in Costa Rica, head to Manuel Antonio. The National Park has plenty of wildlife – monkey sightings are guaranteed,
    • Bogarin Wildlife Trail in La Fortuna. This short trail has plenty of sloths! It’s recommended to go with a guide because the sloths tend to be high up in the trees (you definitely need a zoom lens or binoculars, or field glasses provided by a guide). Admission for the trail without a guide is CRC5,000 (about US$8.50). If you don’t want to fork out the money for a guide, look out for guided tours on the trail – they know where the sloths hang out, keep your eyes peeled at what they’re looking at. You may also be lucky to see a sloth hang out further down in a tree, like we did (photo below). Another wildlife experience in La Fortuna: You can take an organized half-day boat tour down the Peñas Blancas River. On this boat ride, you’ll see monkeys, sloths, plenty of birds and other wildlife, and you’ll learn about the wildlife native to this area.
    • Crocodile Bridge – If you visit Manuel Antonio, you’ll pass this bridge on your drive from San Jose to Jaco. If you drive to Manuel Antonio from Punta Arenas, Monteverde or La Fortuna, you will also pass the bridge – a great spot to break up the long drive. The bridge, which you can find on GoogleMaps by simply typing in “Crocodile Bridge”, offers perfect views over the Taracoles River which has the largest congregation of crocodiles in all of Central America. The river is literally infested with large American crocodiles – over 2,000 of them live in the Tarcoles River! They are up to 16 feet (5 meters) long and you’ll see at least a handful crocodiles lounging on the shores of the river, if not more. If you want to get closer to the crocodiles than the bridge allows for: there are boat trips on the Taracoles River that include commentary about the crocodiles and other wildlife.
    • Ostional – If you want to see turtles nesting / hatching, head to Ostional on the Nicoya peninsula on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Between August and November, tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles and leatherback turtles come to shore here to nest, and a few weeks later, the baby turtles hatch and march into the ocean. This is a very rare occurrence – something that happens only at less than ten beaches in the entire world. While the main arribadas (arrivals) happen in the fall, they actually happen monthly year-round right after the new moon, but the fall arrivals bringing the largest number of turtles onto the shore.
    • Cahuita National Park – A National Park on the Caribbean coast, just north of Puerto Viejo. It’s only US$5 to visit, and we spotted plenty of monkeys, colorful crabs, small crocodiles, a snake, and more.
    • Tico Rainforest B&B – If you are a bird watcher, you will love this place. We spotted so many different birds at this small, rustic B&B – a bird watcher’s paradise. Also check out Culture Trip’s top ten bird watching lodges in Costa Rica..
 
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Dreamy Savannah in pictures

savannah spanish moss

Savannah, Georgia, was one of the destinations on our New York to New Orleans road trip that we both looked most forward to, having wanted to visit this little town in Georgia for a long time. We both had certain images of the town in mind before we even arrived: grand Victorian mansions, little squares with locals reading the papers on the benches, trees filled with Spanish moss…

And when we arrived, we were not disappointed! Savannah turned out to be one of our favorite places in the U.S., and we loved the small-town feel, the friendly people, the independent cafes and walking the tree-lined streets for hours and hours.

Enjoy Savannah through our lens:

savannah lionssavannah sculpture

savannah sculpture

We love the public statues in the squares around town…

savannah red houses

savannah building

savannah purple yellow house

savannah houses…and can easily imagine living in one of these gorgeous buildings…

savannah church...hell, we could even find religion – these churches are so beautiful!

savannah butterflyThis butterfly fluttered by us in a square…

savannah historic house…on our way to this supposedly haunted house.

savannah architecture

savannah georgiaThe details around the town make Savannah such a unique city…

savannah turtles

savannah black lions

fish rain gutter…with unexpected quirks that make you laugh out loud…

savannah theater

savannah architecture…and intricate, yet crumbling features that make us realize Savannah’s rich deep history…

savannah statue

savannah fountain figureWe could easily spend hours in the squares of Savannah…

savannah forsyth park…but seriously, couldn’t you?

savannah gravestonesSoldiers chose to spend time in the graveyard instead and trampled it – leaving mismatched or unmarked graves.

Savannah GeorgiaWe were so charmed by the sprawling properties…

savannah spanish moss…and even more so by the Spanish Moss…

savannah vintage cars

savannah sunflower gate

savannah windowEverywhere we looked, tiny details were just begging to be discovered in Savannah, and we can not wait to go back for more!

Savannah, Georgia: Practical Information

If you plan a visit to Savannah, we recommend For 91 Days in Savannah – anecdotes, advice and photos from three months in Savannah, now available on Kindle, by our friends Mike Powell and Juergen Horn.

Tours we recommend in Savannah, Georgia:

 

 
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Why You Need To Visit Lombardy, In 20 Photos

brescia italy

Had it really been four years? This question ran through my mind as I was watching the familiar sights of sprawling vineyards and tall cypress trees from the train. Yes, it had really been four years since I last went to Italy, a country that I list as one of my favorite countries in the world every time when asked to name my most beloved countries. And this time, I would finally explore a part of the country I’ve only ever passed through on drives to regions further south: I’d visit Lombardy in Northern Italy.bergamo pizzaI am not sure why I’ve skipped this part of Italy so many times – because it’s right on the way to my favorite region in Italy, Tuscany, where I’ve been a bunch of times. Thinking about it, Italy is probably the country I’ve visited more often than any other country. lake garda saloThe Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, Rome and Liguria – I know them all so well. And yet, even after so many visits, I still have many regions in Italy to see: Puglia, Emilia Romagna, Calabria, Abruzzo, Sicily and Sardinia, to name just a few, are all places I yearn to experience. And the north, which I passed through so many times when driving down from Germany – somehow I never stopped there, despite glorious tales of beautiful alpine mountain trails and famous lakes like Garda and Como. lake garda view over salosirmione lake garda italySo when I was invited to visit Lombardy, one of the regions in northern Italy, and to get to know Milan, I jumped at the chance.

When I finally laid eyes on Lake Garda, I couldn’t help but ask myself: What took me so long? Why didn’t I come here earlier?

I am not sure why the north doesn’t get as much attention as famous regions further south, because every place I went to was gorgeous and had something special to it.

Which is why I thought I’d introduce you to Lombardy with the favorite pictures of my trip, showing you why this part of Italy is well worth a visit.

20 reasons to visit Lombardy

1 Quaint lake shore towns

Lombardy might not have any access to the Mediterranean, but now that I spent some time there, I say: it doesn’t really need it! With famous lakes like Como and Garda, and lesser known but not less stunning lakes like Maggiore or Iseo, Lombardy still has plenty of beaches. I loved the small towns that dot the lake shores – they usually come with a picturesque promenade, colorful buildings, plenty of sidewalk cafes and lots of gelaterias.lake garda sirmione

2 Lake Garda sunsets

Who needs beach sunsets when you can have sunsets like this?! Lake Garda really showed off while I was visiting, coloring the sky in some the most vivid colors possible – none of the tourists who were meandering up and down the promenade could simply walk by – everybody pulled out their camera or cell phone to take pictures. A true show stopper!lake garda sunset2

3 Hidden gem #1: Brescia

I had never heard of Brescia before I visited the city, which turned out to be home to the most significant Roman ruins in all of Lombardy (see below)! The big university city still manages to feel like a small town in its historic core, and there are enough architectural highlights to fill a photo essay on their own: striking churches, beautiful piazzas, grand mansions, castles and the famous Santa Giulia monastery. The best part? There were barely any tourists in town!brescia town square

4 History is alive in Lombardy

Brescia’s historical heritage is among the most significant in all of Italy. There’s the 8th century Santa Giulia monastery which now houses a museum of epic proportions: here, you find a collection of over 11,000 items spanning artifacts from prehistoric times, antiquity, the Lombard Age, the Carolingian Age and Venetian ages. You could spend an entire day wandering the 12,000 square meter large museum, but wait.. there’s more! Brescia is also home to the oldest Roman ruins in northern Italy, and wandering the streets you’ll stumble across a well-preserved Roman Capitolium (Roman temple), forum and theater. I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors who got to try out brand new multimedia glasses (ArtGlass) at the museum, which transformed the ruins into the magnificent buildings they once were. It made me wish I would’ve had glasses like those when I hopped from ruin to ruin in Rome and Pompeji – what a spectacular feature and way to bring a place back to life!brescia museum

5 The scrumptious regional cuisine

I ate so much good food in Lombardy that I was seriously concerned about fitting in my dirndl – I was heading straight to Oktoberfest in Munich from here (in case you’re wondering: the zipper just closed and I tried not to breath all day). I could easily post 20 photos of the meals I devoured, but the food in Lombardy deserves its own post – for mouth-watering photos of all the ravioli, gnocchi, pizza, polenta, risotto and pastries I stuffed myself with, check out this post: Eating My Way Through Northern Italy. Pictured below are some of the best gnocchi I ever had – topped with truffles. The food alone is worth a visit to Lombardy!lombardy gnocci

6 Hidden gem #2: Bergamo

Bergamo, another town I’d heard of before visiting Lombardy, charmed me with its Citta Alta, the Upper Town, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the plains around the Lower City and offering fantastic views all the way to the Alps and even to Milan which sits southeast of Bergamo.
bergamo italy

Historic Renaissance and Baroque architecture is plentiful here, and I loved the distinctly medieval feel of the Upper Town.

 

7 Roman ruins with a view

The Grottoes of Catullus are the remains of a massive Roman villa, which belonged to the Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus. He sure knew to picked one of the best spots along the shores of Lake Garda, the Sirmione peninsula which The vast complex consists of the criptoportico hall (famous for its sixty pillars), there is a triple window grotto, many well preserved pillars and arches and baths, plus a collection of items found on the site. visit Lombardy

8 Olives fresh from the tree

To be honest, I had no idea olives still grew that far north – but you can find olive orchids throughout Lombardy and I loved having some fresh olives from the region with a glass of wine at night.lake garda olive tree

 9 Breakfast brioches

Italian breakfasts may seem small and unassuming – a cup of coffee and something sweet with it, usually a freshly baked pastry, like a brioche (known as cornetto in the south of Italy), but these brioches are just to die for! I’m usually not a croissant person, but these heavenly, buttery, crisp on the outside and cake-y on the inside. Speaking of croissants – I shouldn’t have mentioned that word, because brioches don’t like to be compared to their French counterparts. While similar, they’re not made the same way, and brioches can come simple (without filling), or filled with jam, honey, custard or nutella. What a great way to start the day!visit Lombardy

10 Milan’s many faces: The bohemian face

One of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip was because it’d give me the chance to spend an extended period of time in Milan. I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t all too fussed about Milan when I first visited Italy’s second biggest city in 2011, but heard glowing reviews of Milan from other travelers. I knew that Milan deserved a second chance – and I am glad I gave it another shot.

 

I loved Milan the second time around, but telling you about all the things I discovered this time around would go beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll bring you a full article on the different faces of Milan I got to see. But let me at least mention a few of the things I loved about Milan: for one, its bohemian side in the Isola neighborhood, where the tree-lined boulevards and the grand buildings reminded me of Buenos Aires.milan isola district

11 Milan’s many faces: The hipster face

And the Navigli District with its terrific street art, flea markets and hipster hangouts.visit Lombardy

12 Milan’s many faces: The historic face

And the historic side of the city, with remarkable columns, churches and of course the magnificent cathedral.milan columns

13 Pastel colored towns and villages

This is one thing I love about Italy in general, and Lombardy was no different than the rest of the country: all of its towns have narrow streets lined with pastel colored houses and green or blue wooden window shutters. So pretty!lombardy colors

14 UNESCO World Heritage (lots of it!)

Lombardy is home to only 6% of Italy’s population, but it is home to 8 of the country’s 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is quite impressive and makes Lombardy in fact the region with the highest concentration of UNESCO sites in the country! From the rock drawings in Valcamonica and the Sacri Montichapels to the combined site of the Longobord’s Places Of Power In Italy (including  Brescia’s monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia) or the workers’ village of Crespi d’Adda, there are some really interesting UNESCO sites to be explored in Lombardy. If you enjoy visiting UNESCO sites while traveling (I do), then you should definitely visit Lombardy.brescia roman ruins

15 Lakes meeting Alpine mountains

Tuscany might have rolling hills, but Lombardy has Alpine mountains that meet azure blue lakes! Being on or by these lakes, surrounded by green mountains, some of them with snow-capped peaks, is a stunning sight. And different from the Alpine lakes further north, the lakes here benefit from a more Mediterranean climate, which means the water gets really warm here during the summer months. Lombardy’s landscapes definitely stand out. lake garda island

16 Medieval castles

If you are a history buff and can’t get enough of ancient castles, you must visit Lombardy! With its many strategically placed hilltop towns, naturally there are lots of medieval castles that were built to protect the cities during the times when Italy’s regions weren’t as friendly with each other as they are today. I was impressed to see how well preserved most of them are! visit Lombardy

17 Medieval towns 

This goes with #16 above – it’s not just castles, cathedrals, palazzos and mansions that are well preserved in Lombardy – you can find entire ‘Old Towns’ all over Lomardy that still look pretty much what they used to look like hundreds of years ago. I often felt like I was stepping back in time – and I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.bergamo architecture

18 Charming red roofs everywhere

I love getting a bird’s eye’s view of a city, and in Italy I am usually in luck, since there seems to be a tower that can be climbed. Red tile roofs just have a special charm, don’t you agree? brescia views

19 A French Riviera vibe

Like I said – Lombard doesn’t even have access to the Mediterranean, and yet, in several of its lake side towns, I felt a Cote D’Azur vibe. Maybe George Clooney felt that way too, and that’s why he bought a house on the shores of Lake Como? Anyway – I loved the sophisticated flair when I strolled down the wide, palm tree lined promenades, passing yachts in the water and elegant ladies with big sunglasses and hand fans in the cafes. The main difference between here and the French Riviera? It is much less pretentious and much less expensive. visit Lombardy

20 Polenta e osei

This pastry alone is worth a trip to Bergamo, where this local specialty is from. Funnily enough it doesn’t have any polenta in it, despite being named polenta e osei, but that’s because it looks like a perfectly mounded polenta. It’s topped with marzipan and the black topppings resemble the osei, which means birds.polenta e osei bergamo

Do you want to visit Lombardy? If you need any help planning your trip, leave a comment with your question.

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