Travel Guide: Melbourne, Australia

I have a confession to make. I’ve been to Melbourne three times, but have not seen any other places in Australia…yet. My excuse is that I have family there and Melbourne simply is a very loveable city. It’s been rated the most liveable city in the world for multiple years, but lately it has become quite overcrowded and congested, I hear. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful place and soon you’ll see why. Be aware though (sigh) that Melbourne is, unfortunately, one of the more expensive places to visit.

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A lot of what you’ll be doing in Melbourne will involve eating, but we’ll get to that. Let’s start with what you can do. The Royal Botanic Gardens is a lush, green paradise where you can leisurely stroll, have a picnic or afternoon nap. On the outside, around the garden, is The Tan (track) where you'll find committed joggers in the morning and evenings.

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Degraves Street (mainly cafés) is a laneway that feels like a Harry Potter set. The Block Arcade (mainly shopping) has its own flair of glamour and transports you back in time. Then there’s Hosier Lane which is Melbourne’s famous graffiti spot.

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In Summer, movies are screened outdoors at certain locations, one of the most popular being the Botanic Gardens. Sink into a bean bag and order food from the waiters going around while you enjoy a story under the stars.

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If you’re into art, be sure to head over to the National Gallery of Victoria. Apart from the permanent collection, you can enjoy various themed exhibitions. When I visited the last time, selected art pieces were linked to philosophical questions inspired by The School of Life. The Gallery is definitely one of the more innovative ones I’ve seen.

Tennis fans, listen up: plan your trip so that you can attend the Australian Open. You will not regret it! The buzz in the CBD is even more contagious during the month of January.

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When the city gets too much, take a walk along St Kilda beach or Brighton beach, pictured below.

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Need a break from playing tourist? Head to popular holiday destination, Lorne, for a few days of pure bliss.

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On 31st December there’s a spectacular fireworks display to ring in the New Year.

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Where to stay

Unfortunately I can’t be of much help here, as I just crashed with family. Be that as it may, I really like the South Yarra area, as it is suburban enough, but close to The Botanic Gardens and the city. Melbourne has a tram system, which operates pretty well, but it’s on the expensive side. So, rather pack those sneakers!

Where to eat and drink

There is no shortage of places where you can tickle those tastebuds, but here are some of my top picks. Top Paddock is famous for its brunch like this ricotta hotcake.

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The Queen Victoria Market is often recommended to tourists, but I also quite like the Prahan Market. Melbourne is one of the world’s coffee capitals and if you like yourself some caffeine, there won’t be enough hours in the day to try out the variety available to you. Need gifts to take back home? Some beans from Jasper Coffee might be a good idea.

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Maybe I’m delusional, but it seems like even the junk food in Melbourne tastes artisanal and like-it’s-not-so-bad-for-you. Schnitz has delicious burgers and wraps and beer-battered fries. Also consider 8bit for burgers, Father’s Office and Arbory on the side of the Yarra River.

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I’m also pretty sure that you’ll love Pidapipo’s gelato in Little Italy. DON’T MISS Lune Croissanterie over in Fitzroy, one of my absolute favourite eats. A location in the city has recently opened as well.

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Entrecote, a few kilometres from the center, is a small and quaint Parisian steakhouse and café with its own hole-in-the-wall for coffee too. Just down the road you’ll find the popular Golden Triangle where locals indulge in Thai food.

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Also on my list…

  • The Yarra Valley, Victoria’s wine producing region

  • Roadtripping the Great Ocean Road

  • People often make jokes about how all Australians are descended from convicts, but I think the Immigration Museum must have fascinating information

Travel Guide: San Francisco, USA

My childhood. The Princess Diaries. Yes, that's where I saw the hilly streets of San Francisco for the first time. Many years later I got to see the city for myself. Parts of the city remind me of New York - skyscrapers that cast their shadows on everything below, the financial district with businesspeople hurrying along in their formal attire, head offices of companies like Twitter and Uber. On other blocks it does feel like Cape Town (a comparison that's often made) as the air is calm and coffee is enjoyed leisurely. 

I'm a planner, but even if that's not your go-to operating mode, I do recommend that you plot and group your sights for each day. San Francisco is big and it's not easy to navigate, at least that's my experience. You will be walking kilometers every day and it won't be flat...to the contrary. Another heads-up, summer does not mean sandals and dresses. I was there in the middle of 'summer' and was wearing a winter jacket the whole time. Scroll down to see what awaits you!

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Union Square is a pleasant spot to catch some rays and just rest your feet. 

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Make an effort and find Dolores Park. You'll be rewarded with a view of the city skyline and a serene environment, ideal for a picnic.

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An obligatory tourist picture of The Painted Ladies, often used in movies and TV series. Expect to see lots of people! 

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San Francisco is of course known for the Golden Gate Bridge. Impressive for sure, but ice cold when the mist rolls in and the wind is blowing.

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From the Golden Gate Bridge, walk along the Crissy Field promenade to The Palace of Fine Arts.

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Then make your way to Billionaires Row in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood. Palatial mansions and manicured gardens of politicians, tech royalty and business barons will blow your mind. Eventually you will find the Lyon Street Steps which will provide you with a unique vantage point of the city. 

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Pier 39 feels like a film set. A waterfront for shopping, eating and socialising. Remember to go and find the seals!

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Other things to do: ride a cable car, visit Haight-Asbury to see where the hippie movement started and have a peak at Lombard Street, "the crookedest street in the world". If you see Ghirardelli chocolate, spoil yourself. You won't be sorry. I didn't have high expectations, as it's not Swiss or Belgian chocolate, but man, it was yummy! On a sadder note, San Francisco has a big homeless population and I found it difficult to deal with the extent of it. For me it was hard to fullt enjoy my time as a tourist when I saw the harsh, daily realities of so many people. I'm always extremely grateful when I have the opportunity to travel and in San Francisco I appreciated the privilege even more. 

Muir Woods

By taking a ferry and then a bus, you can get to Muir Woods and be amazed by the redwood trees - the tallest living beings on earth. The bus ride has quite some twists and turns so if you get carsick you might want to take your anti-nausea remedies with you. Inside the park you'll find walking/hiking routes varying in length and difficulty. I found just sitting underneath these natural monuments a very humbling experience. After a few days in the city, I really enjoyed being in nature so a day trip to Muir Woods is a good idea in my book. 

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Napa Valley

You will read online that it's a massive effort to get to Napa with public transport. I didn't find it to be so disruptive - I took one train ride and one bus ride. Once in Napa I stopped by The Oxbow Market. I doubt whether you can make any wrong choice here, but if you feel overwhelmed, narrow yourself to Gott's Roadside or The Model Bakery (which boasts Oprah's favourite English muffins). Getting to the wineries is probably easiest when you have a car, but that was not an option for me and I chose Laces and Limos instead. They drive you around in a Tuk-Tuk and they even provide you with a snackpack, which includes their personally branded M&M's. Be warned though: Napa is not cheap. 

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Where to stay

I stayed in Berkeley and travelled to San Francisco using the BART (public transport). Apart from the university, there's not a whole lot to do and see here, but it was cheaper to stay in Berkeley than in San Francisco.

The Graduate Hotel in Berkeley has some of the coolest, quirkiest decor I've seen and all staff members are very friendly and helpful.

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Where to eat and drink

Cult bakery Tartine has daily queues of bread and pastry lovers. There's not a lot of space to sit inside, but there are some tables outside or grab a take-away order and enjoy the view in nearby Dolores Park.   

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Blame it on the movies again, but I really wanted to eat at a real American diner. I ended up going to Mel's Drive-in which had jukebox music and booths! The atmosphere, with off-duty policemen enjoying their lunch too, was priceless. 

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I'll admit it. If a reputable guidebook or blog claims that someplace has the best 'fill in the blank' then I want to try it and see what the hype is about. After standing in line for more than an hour to have Mama's french toast, I'm glad to say that it was completely worth it. 

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The Boudin bakery is more than 150 years old. For the first time in my life I could taste the sour in sourdough and the authentic taste was quite delicious.

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Also on my list...

- Yosemite National Park is about four hours from San Francisco. Book in advance as accommodation inside the park is very popular. Stay a night or two, hike, visit the Giant Sequoias, breathe and marvel at the beauty around you. I had everything planned and booked and then unfortunately due to the terrible wild fires this year Yosemite was closed down. Hopefully you'll have better luck! 

Travel Guide: The Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast - definitely one of the most breathtaking places I have ever visited. Holiday villages connected by the scariest, winding bus routes that will leave you a) with an adrenaline rush or b) with you peeing your pants. 

Tiny towns (like Praiano) with maybe three restaurants and a small grocery store. No McDonalds in sight. No Starbucks. Just the simple life. Sun. Sea. Naps. Reading. Conversations. Or larger villages (like Positano, Amalfi) with a bit more activity going on.  If you want to experience a 'get-my-breath-back' holiday, then by all means plan to go to the Amalfi Coast.

Positano is one of the most well-known, cliffside beach destinations in Southern Italy. A tourist hotspot where you can rent a chair and umbrella for the day and wiggle your toes in the almost muscavado-colour sand. 

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After dinner one night the waiter enticed us to eat 'Amalfi cheesecake'. He mentioned pears and I wasn't really keen as it's not my fruit of choice, but when in Rome and all that...Suffice it to say that it was surprisingly delicious and light - a hazelnut cake base, ricotta cheese and vanilla pears. You can try and recreate it by checking out this recipe. 

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The colour of the water is simply mesmerising. So clear. So natural. No filter needed. We joined a boat tour which ultimately took us to Capri and at certain locations we could jump out, refresh, float around on a pool noodle (remember those!) and then get continue onwards. 

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The Blue Grotto is a cave that can only be reached when the tide is low. "Sunlight, passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern" (Wikipedia). You cannot enter the Blue Grotto on your own and you have to use the services of the skippers and their wooden rowboats. I think I was amazed by all the shades of the sea in general by the time I got to the Blue Grotto, but the 'glowing' effect was quite surreal. 

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The island of Capri is a popular celebrity hangout. It was the weirdest thing to reach this landmass in the middle of nowhere and see Gucci stores and jewellers selling blue diamonds. Don't make the same mistake we did - once you get to the harbour, there are some stores and a small promenade, but if you want to see the real Capri you have to walk up the hill. There you will be rewarded with postcard views that will satisfy your 'lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous' fantasy for a day.

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Where to stay

We stayed in the Maresca Hotel Praiano. It's close enough to reach the other towns by bus, more affordable, has it's own beach and church square from which you can see Positano on the other side. 

What to remember

- Motion sickness pills for the buses and the boat rides.

- The SITA bus timetable was not very reliable, so leave room for delayed journeys.

Also on my list...

- Furore must probably be one of the most pinned pictures in the history of Pinterest. This tiny, hidden beach with its turquoise water is calling my name.

When I grow up I really want to go to Belmond Hotel Caruso in Ravello and spend hours just sitting in the infinity pool. Praying. Daydreaming. Just being. Doesn't it just look like pure bliss?

Travel Guide: Stockholm, Sweden

I've been obsessed with Sweden and Nordic design since I saw an Oprah episode featuring the country when I was still in school. In 2017 I finally got the chance to cross this destination off my bucket list. I visited over the Easter period and unfortunately didn't have time to see everything I wanted to. Some cafes and restaurants were also closed, which just means that I will have to go back someday.

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The Nobel banquet is hosted in the City Hall each year. I joined a guided tour and found it surreal to walk in the footsteps of some of the greatest changemakers in history.

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Gamla stan, the Old Town, should definitely be on your list. Here you see Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm. The Nobel Museum, which I can highly recommend, is located on the square. Various Nobel Prize winners' inventions and life stories are displayed. One also learns more about the life of Alfred Nobel, the man who initiated the Nobel Prizes.

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The Swedes love fika, which consist of coffee, socializing and something sweet. Kanelbullar or cinnamon buns and Kardemummabullar or cardamom buns (below) are the perfect companions when you're walking through the city under cloudy skies.

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Fish is very popular in Sweden and I tried the fried herring, mashed potato and knäckebröd (crispbread) at the Nystekt Stroömming food truck/kiosk. The food was fresh and good value for money and apparently something typical that one should try when in the city.

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This is the last of the cappucino that I had at Drop Coffee, a coffee bar and roastery able to boast with coming second in the World Roasting Championship. I'm not sure whether my travel guide just primed me and my tastebuds, but the coffee was indeed one of the best I've ever had.

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Skansen is the world's oldest open-air museum, where you can experience how the Swedes used to live, by walking around in historical homes and by buying a snack from the bakery in the village. It's a real life re-construction of what life was like in the traditional sense, a time-machine if you will. Nordic animals like moose and reindeer can also be found at Skansen.

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The Vasa museum holds the the Vasa warship, which sank on its maiden voyage in the 1600s. The ship was salvaged over 300 years later and restored to reflect it's original state.

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For some of the best views over the city, go to Monteliusvägen.

Where to stay

For the first few nights I slept in a dormitory in the Generator Hostel. If you have the funds, I'd say get a private room as I had to sleep with white noise in my ears due to a heavy snorer. It comes with the territory, I know, but just saying. The location of the hostel is excellent and the design nice and funky. In order to balance things out, I booked the other half of my stay at Hotel Hansson. It was a good-value-for-money choice and they offer a delicious buffet breakfast.

Generator Hostel dorm room. 

Hotel Hansson Classic Single Room. 

Where to eat and drink

- Chokladkoppen (nice cafe with lunch options and cake)

- Max (the Swedish version of Burger King)

- Fabrique (bakery with all sorts of deliciousness)

- Espresso House (the Swedish version of Starbucks)

- Rosendals (close to Skansen you will find this wonderful garden restaurant)

- Meatballs for People (meatballs with lingonberries, typical Swedish food and such a yummy combination)

- Vete-Katten (a vintage style patisserie)

Also on my list...

When I go again, I will start with what I didn't manage to fit in this time around.

- Günters hot dog stand (a supposed institution and must-eat)

- Hermans Vegetarian Restaurant

- Fotografiska (photography museum on steroids)

- The metro system's underground art gallery

- The Swedish countryside and another city like Gothenburg

Have you been to Sweden? Do you have memories or 'inside information' to share?

Travel Guide: Lisbon, Portugal

It feels like Portugal has been the go-to destination for travellers the last few years. Positioned as a good-value-for-money destination, offering a balanced mix of nature and culture, I was curious to see what this country had to offer. If I had to sum up my impression of Lisbon: it feels like the city (at least the city centre) was created purely as a playground or themepark for holidaygoers. Street musicians can be found on every third corner, the buildings have character (sure, some are a bit more than vintage) and you can smell the sea and custard tarts (Pasteis de Nata) baking.

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The Praça do Comércio is a public plaza, near the Tagus river. It's a nice spot for an evening picnic or a morning jog.

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Rossio Square is one of the liveliest in the city and you can enjoy some people and worldwatching by parking yourself at a cafe.

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The medieval São Jorge Castle provides some of the best views of the city.

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Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looks like something off a chessboard. The tourist queue was too long for my liking, so I never managed to go inside. What I can recommend is to hire a bicycle in town and ride along the water until you get to Belém. It is also in this area that you will find Pasteis de Belém, the original home of the Portugese custard tart. Go find a table inside, as it tends to go quicker than waiting in the takeway line.

Cascais, Portugal

I spent a mere afternoon in the coastal town of Cascais. It was one of the stops on a guided tour that I booked with We Hate Tourism. I love hearing from locals what's going on in a nation and by joining a tour with these guys, you're driven around to various sights by an English-speaking Portugese tour guide and get to enjoy a delicious lunch with him/her and your fellow passengers. I booked the X-DAY TRIP SINTRA CASCAIS tour.

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Head over to Santini if you fancy some gelato.

Another stop on the tour is Sintra, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fairytale setting with castles and palaces surrounded by misty mountains - if you want to see another side of Portugal, I'd definitely say go to Sintra. If you have time I'd even say spend more time there than the few hours on the We Hate Tourism tour.

Porto, Portugal

I travelled to Porto with the train from Lisbon and spent a day there. I am very glad I did, as Porto had a very different feel than Lisbon. The Livraria Lello bookstore is one of the oldest in Portugal and apart from the fact that it is overly crowded, because Harry Potter fans flock there as it is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling, it really does feel like book heaven. I suggest you buy a ticket online before you go.

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The São Bento Station is truly breathtaking. When in Porto, also go to the Ribeira district and walk along the Douro River.

Where to stay

I stayed at Feels Like Home Rossio Prime Suites near Rossio Square. It really did feel like home. Breakfast was incredible, except that the buffet remained the same the whole week. Every afternoon tea/coffee and cake is on the house and every room receives a mobile device loaded with airtime and apps that you can take with you when exploring. This is the first time that I saw this arrangement and I found it super useful and clever. If you are a light sleeper, take your earplugs etc, because the surrounding area is quite lively at night (or maybe it was our room, number 7, but better to be safe than sorry). Note that there is no lift and you will have to ask for help to carry your suitcase to the top, but they were very helpful when I was there.

Where to eat and drink

- LX Factory, an industrial area, featuring many small shops and foodie hotspots showcases the up-and-coming side of Lisbon. If you want to treat yourself, go have a piece of chocolate cake at Landeau chocolate.

- For a fancy-ish, yet relaxed dinner, head to Clube de Journalistas. I had the prawn risotto.