Things to do in Siena, Italy: A list of fun activities in this magical city

Siena, Italy is known for medieval history and impressively preserved architecture. Many still live in and within its walls, keeping up Siena’s romantic reputation and cheering for their favorite team during the annual horse races in the square. Siena is a bustling city in tourist season, but quite walkable. Stay on the sidewalks as city buses stop for nothing! Just wandering the streets is breathtaking when admiring the architecture that remains perfectly sound to this day. There are plenty of things to do in Siena to explore this area for at least 2 days. A few popular activities in Siena include shopping, eating, visiting museums, take a tour or class, and having an elegant Opera evening.

Siena Italy city view in Tuscany

Siena Shopping

Most Tuscan cities have cute, touristy shops that offer post cards, trinkets, and lots of leather! Italian leather is something you will want to take advantage of while here. Real leather is hard to come by in the states, but even the smallest of shops in Italy offer genuine leather purses for as little as 20 Euro. You could also grab a tasteful leather journal to record your best Italian travel memories. I grabbed my green, stamped leather purse from an upstairs vendor as well as leather bracelets for friends back home.

Italian Leather Purse shops

Eating

It’s no secret that Italy is known for incredible food– pizzas, pastas, aperitifs, gelato, and delicious wines. You are basically good to go with food on every corner in Siena. We found a quick, a la carte spot that charged by the kilogram, and everything was delicious. Look for where locals are eating on their lunch break, so you know it must be good.  

Siena Italy Piazza del Campo
Siena Italy Pasta
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Museums

Siena is full of history, culture, art, and beauty. To get the backstory on this incredible city, visit a few of the many museums it offers, or visit them all if you are staying a few days. Museo dell’Opera Del Doumo boasts of having one of the best views of this beautiful city, so be sure to bring your camera for scenic, landscape shots. The Siena National Art Gallery is also a great way to see the local talent that came from this area. Be sure to bring your student ID everywhere in Europe as most attractions offer a discount. Another excellent museum to view is the Santa Maria Della Scala, which holds the actual Fonte Gaia that was replaced by a replica fountain in Siena’s main town square, Piazza del Campo.

Siena Italy Torre del Doumo

Take a Tour

What better way to experience a city than with a local? I took a tour and pasta-making class through Airbnb.com while visiting Rome, and it is one of my favorite memories of Italy to this day. Airbnb has several experiences in Siena with great reviews, including cooking classes, wine tastings, Opera evenings, and themed tours. All you have to do is search your destination on Airbnb.com, and choose the “experiences” option to display all tours and activities offered in that city.

Elegant Opera Evening

The best Opera, according to Trip Advisor ratings, is the Italian Opera in Siena, which is only a 10 minute walk from Piazza del Campo. Adult tickets are 25 euro and students get a 10-euro discount with their school ID. Children under 12 are free. The opera begins at 9:30 pm, so get all dressed up, and enjoy a delicious Italian dinner before the show.

Siena Italy Opera
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

I hope this post sparks your interest to visit Siena and to love it as much as I do. I used Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy as my “tour guide in a book” if you will. He describes each destination beautifully and provides the history that makes everything come to life!

For cheap flight options, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get alerts when cheap flights are taking off near you. I started this European trip in Paris, France, because Scott sent me an alert for a flight from Atlanta to Paris for $495. Once you are in Europe, easyJet has cheap, country hopper flights. I could not have been more impressed with easyJet as an airline!

Happy Travels,

Katie

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Hotel Giveaway!!

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Dress from: Lauren Addison Boutique

Hey everyone! I am doing some market research and am launching a giveaway to say THANK YOU for participating! The random winner will receive a $50 gift card from Hotels.com to use on the destination of your choice!

The winner can ALSO request a free itinerary from yours truly to the destination they choose to visit with the gift card.

The best itineraries will probably be from places I’ve already explored, which are:

U.S.A:

•Pasadena, L.A., and San Fransisco, California •Spokane, Washington •Washington D.C. • Wisconsin • Minneapolis, Minnesota •Savannah, Tybee, Atlanta, Helen, Elijay, Blue Ridge, Georgia •Orlando, St. Petersburg, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Sarasota, Destin, Panama City, Daytona, and Cocoa Beach, Florida •Charleston and Hilton Head South Carolina •Williamsburg,Virginia •Cape May, New Jersey

Abroad:

•Cozumel, Melaque, Guadalajara, Mexico •St. Thomas and St. Maartin, B.V.I •Rome, Venice, and Tuscany, Italy •Paris, France •Brussels and Brugge, Belgium • Bacharach, Boppard, Beilstein, Edam, Burg Eltz Castle, Hohenzollern Castle, and Black Forrest, Germany • Delft, Keukenhof Gardens,  and Haarlem, Netherlands

*If you choose another place, I will still do research and make you an itinerary, but it will be based on other online information*

Here’s how to enter:

*Find my giveaway post that is a picture of me looking way too excited on a beach*

  1. Be sure you are following me either in Instagram or my Facebook page, or both.
  2. Tag 3 friends who like to travel. (On Instagram or Facebook, or both)
  3. Take this survey: Travel Survey.
  4. Share my giveaway post on your Instagram story or on your Facebook timeline.

There are no additional entries. So once you have completed these 4 checkpoints, you’re done!

The contest will close Saturday, March 23rd 12pm EST, and the winner will be announced by 12pm EST on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

This giveaway is not sponsored by hotels.com.

 

Best of luck!

-Katie O.

Walt Disney World Military Salute Discounted Tickets Detailed Guide

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the 2018 Military Salute Disney tickets. I hope this post will fill you in on a few military opportunities concerning Walt Disney World Orlando. Feel free to view the table of contents below and scroll straight to the information you are searching for.

Today’s Topics:

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Disney Military Salute Tickets

Although it changes every year, Disney has 5- day park hopper tickets available to active duty military for $246. They also offer 4-Day tickets for $226, but what’s $20 more at this point? That’s the price of a 2-day base ticket at the gate. 2018 is also the first year that Disney offers this deal to DOD civilians as well.

One military member or DOD civilian can activate 6 tickets. People accompanying the service member do not have to be dependents. You can purchase these tickets at the travel and leisure office at many of the military installations, although our base in Savannah only had 2 passes left when we bought ours. You purchase the vouchers on base and exchange them for a Disney pass at the ticket booth of the first park you visit.

The tickets will expire on December 19th of the year they were purchased. For example, we only bought our tickets a month ago, but they will expire this December 19, 2018. So, if you want to go next year, 2019, you have to wait until January to purchase them. There are no longer black-out dates for military salute tickets, so you can split up the days and use them however you want within the year.

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When to Go

If you can, try to go during October, January, or February when most kids are in school. Weekdays are an amazing time to go because, 1. Resort stays are cheaper, and 2. The park is much less crowded. We went to Epcot on Friday, and it did not get crowded until 1pm. You may be able to ride everything in the park and explore every country by 2pm like we did.

Try to get to the park at least 30 minutes before it opens to go ahead and knock out your favorite rides while the lines are low. Even on Sunday, we were able to ride most attractions at Magic Kingdom before noon. I’m not sure why. I’m guessing because it’s tough to get out the door early with little ones, but I don’t have any yet so that’s just a guess.

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Eating at Disney

Food prices are not terrible at Disney food kiosks. It’s the drinks that get you. Bring bottled water and refill it at fountains all over the park. In Magic Kingdom, go to Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Liberty Square before 12:00 and enjoy a ham, egg, and cheese waffle sandwich for $8.99.

Here is a budget eating schedule option while at the Disney Parks:

Breakfast before the park (eggs, cereal, muffins, fruit, etc.)

Light Lunch in the park and a shared coffee or coke for some extra energy (trust me, you’ll need it)

Snacks in your backpack (tuna pouches and crackers, trail mix, fruit, granola)

Late Dinner after you shut down the park at any restaurant still open on the way back to the hotel. Weird tip, the Speedway gas station when you leave the Magic Kingdom parking lot has a 24/7 food bar with hot sandwiches, salads, etc.

It is not necessary to avoid all food at the park of course, as most kiosk food is only like $10-$15. We just found that it was much easier to get on rides during times that everyone else was eating.

If it is just you and a friend or significant other, it might be fun to splurge one night and reserve dinner in the park ($20-$40ish per plate). Enjoy a dinner-date at the happiest place on earth, and end the evening watching fireworks together. You may could even pack a wrinkle free dress in your backpack to change into for cute pictures. But if you are staying on Disney property, you could just go get ready at the hotel and come back.

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Lodging for Disney Parks

Disney has several resorts to choose from. They vary from luxury resorts all the way to Fort Wilderness campgrounds. Shades of Green is a resort especially for U.S. military and their families as well as DOD civilians. From the looks of their website, Shades of Green is pretty booked for the rest of the year so be sure to plan ahead if you want to go in 2019.

During the holidays, prices jump up to about double, except if you book nights during the week. Weekday prices are very affordable and worth it for the dining options, transportation, character fun, and no parking fees ($25/day)! Prices are different per night depending on your military rank. E-1 though E-6 is the cheapest and officers and DOD civilians have the highest rates. I’ve noticed that the availability calendar is a little difficult to navigate, so it is probably easier to call about available dates.

They have a food package offered as a “special deal,” which can include breakfast and/or dinner at their Garden Buffet into your nightly rate. This seems to only be a deal if your nightly rate is higher than an enlisted rate. If you are E-1 to E-6, it is just about the same price as if you just bought the meals yourself. If Shades of Green is booked, the Disney Animation Resort, Movie Resort, and Sports Resort are often around the same price. But once again, plan ahead for next year.

Orlando does have hotels that are cheaper than staying on Disney’s property, but the convenience factor is a major benefit of lodging with Disney. Parking adds up for one thing. We spent $75 alone in parking while staying off the Disney property. Also, Disney resort visitors get the privilege of EMC (Extra Magic Hours) at certain parks. Check the days you are going and see which parks you can go early or state late in.

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One military and DOD perk that many don’t know about is Armed Forces Vacation Club. They offer condos and hotels from well-known companies like Wyndham Resorts for a super low price. There are several hotels in Kissimmee, Florida for $349 for 7 nights. Our favorite resort for the parks is Club Whyndam Cypress Palms that is only a 15 minute drive from Magic Kingdom. The only catch is that each stay is usually Friday-Friday or Sunday-Sunday, so you have to be willing to take a full week of leave or just forfeit a few nights. But for just $50 a night, you may just want to book the week and stay for 4 nights or so. This option is great if you are going to Orlando with a larger group as most of these resorts offer 2 bedrooms, a pullout couch, and a full kitchen.

Staying at Disney or at a hotel with breakfast and a Disney shuttle would be my first two recommendations, followed by Armed Forces Vacation Club.

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Best T-Shirts for Cute Disney Pictures

My favorite company for great Disney tees is LLama Wrangler . I found this company on Instagram and immediately reached out. I have scoured Etsy and just cannot find tees that I really like. However, Llama Wrangler’s owner and designer, Adam, puts his passion for Disney and art in each of his designs. Just like the Mickey faces are hidden all over Disney World for you to seek out during your trip, the LLama Wrangler logo is hidden in each t-shirt design, which I think is super fun and creative. My favorite design is the Up Movie themed Adventure shirt as Up is my and my husband’s favorite love story.

You can use my discount code: “KatieLovesLlamaTees” at checkout for 15% off of your entire order.

I reached out to work with Llama Wrangler as I loved the designs they offered. These shirts were gifted to me in exchange for my honest review.

I hope this post helped you in planning your next Disney World adventure. Honestly if you live within driving distance, I can’t think of an easier vacation for military families than Orlando theme parks. They are a blast, easy to plan, and incredibly affordable.

Happy Travels,

Katie

Hike Hawaii: Oahu Trails with Incredible Views

This past week, March 7-14th, I spent my spring break from college in Oahu, Hawaii, and I miss it already! I’ve learned a few things about the island that I hope you can take with you on your Hawaiian adventure. The water was actually cooler than I expected so we opted to hike SEVERAL trails along the Southern Coast and North Shore. Luckily, hiking is free (besides $5 parking) so you don’t have to spend tons of money on Oahu to have fun. I would recommend taking on all of these hikes, but will say that my legs were feeling pretty tired by the end. To help with your trip planning, I have included a map with all hiking locations and will give you as much information as I can about the difficulty level, crowds, and landmarks as some trail heads are not easy to find.

Kealia Trail

On almost the furthest west side of the North Shore hides a wonderful trail right next to an airport that’s popular for skydiving and paragliding. This hike was slightly difficult to find, but Google Maps works just fine right up to the turning point that leads to the parking lot. Once you turn left after the airport runway into a road labeled “Access Gate,” keep going until there’s a parking lot on your left. Once parked, walk to the right and head toward the mountains down a gravel path until the “Kealia Trail” sign steers you in the right direction. This hike is 3.5 miles up, and consists of several switchbacks and rocky, uneven paths. The view is most beautiful during the hike so be sure to stop for some pictures rather than hoofing it up to the top so fast. At the top, after the picnic table, explore the trails that go further. Once you reach the artwork on the water tower, there’s not much more to see as your view is covered by trees. This trail takes about 4 hours from leaving the car to returning back down. On the hike, you might see several skydivers jumping from planes that took off from the airport below as well as gliders coasting over the ocean. March weather is perfect for hiking! However, even in Hawaii’s winter, it gets hotter toward the afternoon. Try to hike no later than 10am to 2pm in January-March, but in the summer, go as early as you can. After a job well-done, hop in the car and enjoy the coastal highway, H3, admiring the beauty of the land and the talent of the surfers. Perhaps spend the evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center buffet dinner and Breath of Life Show, which I will discuss in a future post. Unless you can reserve that for another time earlier in the day, which is what I would recommend.

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Koko Crater Trail

This trail is challenging and steep, but the view from the top is incredible. The parking lot most people use for this trail is also used for ballfields, so it’s pretty crowded. Arrive no later than 8-8:30am in March if you want a spot. Koko Crater Trail is not for the faint of heart. It goes straight up for about 1,500 steps. The trail is an old railway with worn down ties and washed out dirt. It is only about 1.5 miles, but it takes about an hour or two to get to the top. You will weave in and out of those going up and will try to get out of the way of those experienced crazies running down! This is why I say you should go earlier than 8:30 if you can. The less people, the better. At the top, you’ll see why you climbed all that way. Hanauma Bay is in front of you and the giant crater is behind. There are plenty of high platforms on the top of the mountain for great pictures, including the old railway car housing. Spend a good 30 minutes to an hour photographing the views, meeting fellow conquerors, and hearing their stories. On the way down, if you are a less-than-avid hiker (I am just that) hike sideways to alleviate pressure on your knees while descending. The descent will be a breeze compared to the climb. This hike is the most difficult that some people will ever experience, but it will also be the most rewarding. Once you make it back down, don’t forget to look back at the impressive feat you just accomplished and remind yourself that it was all while on vacation.

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Diamond Head Trail

As one of the most famous hikes on Oahu, Diamond Head is always crowded. However, the parking spaces free up fairly quickly so wait in line until one is available. You will most likely head to the trail with a large group of others unless you get there when gates open at 6am. However, everyone has their own pace so the trail is not unbearably crowded nor is it extremely narrow. No matter, there will be hikers of all ages, so I just accept the fact that this is going to be a slow, leisurely hike. Explore every inch of this hike, and climb every set of stairs. Even if they look intimidating, you won’t regret it. Close to the top, there is a set of yellow stairs to the right, which you will want to ignore, but really should climb because it’s cool! There is a battery with rusted metal doors and a small artillery area that was used in WWII. The top of Diamond Head is so crowded that you might not want to stay long, but at least take in the city views to your right and the coastal waters to your left. Remember, gates open at 6am. So if you’re an early riser, beat the crowd.

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Manoa Falls

If you’re not tired after Diamond Head, eat lunch and drive to Manoa Falls, which is about 20 minutes north. Once again, Google Maps takes you straight to this hike, and parking is about $5. Manoa is a 3 mile hike round trip. As you begin the walk, you’ll see why they chose this location to film Jurassic Park as it’s filled with bamboo shoots and jungle views that seem to go on forever. Although there is very uneven terrain, this hike is fairly easy most of the way, only getting difficult toward the end near the waterfall. You may see a few groups hiking along with you, but the real crowd comes at the waterfall. People wait for good spots to take pictures, but there probably never will be one. The bottom of the fall is just deep enough to reach your ankles, but the water is freezing! On your hike back, you may see a girl finishing up her music video in the bamboo shoots, and it will sound really good! I found her on Instagram, @OLIVIATHAI. She was on American Idol XV and won both Taiwan Idol and Megastar!

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Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

The last hike of this post is a 1.5 mile steep walk up a paved road. The ground is even, but the climb escalates quickly. After all this hiking, your legs may be giving out at this point, so it may seem more difficult than usual. The scenery is beautiful the entire way, with views of the rocky coast and bright blue crashing waves. It may begin to rain as you reach the top, but don’t turn back after going so far. The rain comes and goes in Hawaii. Now, I’m not going to lie, don’t expect a huge lighthouse, but its surroundings are still breathtaking. The waves will look like they have blue dye in them as they crash against the rocks. After staying at the top for quite a while, make your way back to the car and take a load off. Head to Waikiki and reward your efforts with an acai bowl from Tropical Tribe. Hopefully the sun will make an appearance, and you can spend the rest of your day on the beach where they film Hawaii Five-0.

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Here’s just a quick snapshot of how amazing Oahu really is!


I hope this was helpful in planning your next adventure!

I used an Akaso adventure camera for all my videos in Hawaii. It was amazing and way cheaper than a Gopro. The wifi feature doesn’t work, but that’s the only issue, which I think is well worth a $100 savings! Also, if you submit a review on Amazon, they will send you a whole package of accessories for free! It comes with body and head straps, extra batteries, etc.

We rented a home in Alewa Heights while visiting this amazing island. Check out great Hawaiian vacation rentals at VRBO!

Purchasing any items on Amazon through these links, and not only the ones that I mention, help me to share useful tips with you about travel, so thank you!

Come to the Georgia National Fair for the Ultimate Southern Experience

Fall rolls around in Georgia, not necessarily because the temperatures have dropped, but because every other billboard says the Georgia National Fair has arrived to Perry, Georgia. Usually the second and third weeks of October is something that every middle Georgian looks forward to. It’s not a question of if they’re going to the fair, but when and how many times. The fair is literally a part off middle Georgia culture. Friends meet at the clock tower, watch incredibly talented performers, ride rides, and eat the greasiest, most delicious food in the world. Some make a game plan, checking show times online to see all the entertainment available. Others go for the rides, buying an armband and screaming their heart out on the beautifully lit roller coasters. This fair is different than any other. I’ve met people from all over the country coming to enjoy this incredible week-long experience. The Georgia National Fair is a one stop shop to experience Georgia culture, Southern charm, and entertainment of every kind.

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@jessicamaephotography

Scarecrows of famous characters line the front of a large building that’s filled with locally crafted art created by all ages. From photography and paintings to handmade quilts, these masterpieces depict the very essence of Georgia culture. A photo of an FFA (Future Farmers of America) high schooler spending quality time with his award winning cow warms the heart of everyone who stops to look. Paintings of woodlands with every creature imaginable depict what Georgians value most about their home. It’s eye-opening to discover how much talent is in our neck of the woods.

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Jessica Mae Photography

Something that’s also pretty cool to experience is Georgia’s emphasis on agriculture, especially at the fairgrounds. An entire warehouse is dedicated to selling, sampling, and promoting locally grown produce and locally raised cattle. This warehouse, called the Georgia Grown building, has honey, barbecue sauce, roasted pecans, and many other delicious treats grown right in our hometown. Free recipe books are handed out to let the public know all that they can cook with Georgia’s farm-fresh food. One of the best desserts available at the Georgia National Fair is, of course, the piping hot peach cobbler with melting vanilla ice cream on top.

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Jessica Mae Photography

“Thank you, ma’am.” “Howdy, sir.” Georgia is still a place where everyone is expected to address someone older with the utmost respect. While we may only be joking when using the word, “howdy,” listen closely and you’ll hear the southern slang that makes Georgia so intriguing. Another taste of Southern living can be found in our music happening daily at the fair. The wonderful performers, mostly singing country music, get people up and dancing in their boots. Many emerging artists come and show off their newly discovered talent every night while a major music star will have a large concert the Friday before the fair leaves town. My first concert ever was at the Georgia National Fair when the Jonas Brothers came to town (still sad they are no longer a band.) This year, people flooded the fair grounds to see the talented Trace Adkins rock the stage.

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@jessicamaephotography

So plan a trip to see the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Georgia this year. Mark your calendar for mid to late October and enjoy some sugar roasted pecans, boot-stomping rhythms, and a good Southern time. Stay until 10:00 pm to end the perfect day with fireworks over the lake. See this nostalgic, beloved place light up one last time before it turns in for the night and rests for the next day.

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Jessica Mae Photography
Other sites around Perry, Georgia:

Perry’s town square is worth stopping by during your stay. With cute boutiques, pottery painting, and 2 Jerks Soda for dessert, downtown Perry makes for a fun little town to experience. I also recommend a trip to the Oil Lamp, which is highly popular with the locals, for some delicious country-style dinner.

Addresses:

Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter
401 Golden Isles Pkwy, Perry, GA 31069
Oil Lamp
401 General Courtney Hodges Blvd, Perry, GA 31069
Peach Palette Pottery
907 Carroll St, Perry, GA 31069

Germany: KD Rhine River Cruising for 10 Euro a Day

While exploring Germany, my friend and I hopped from one village to the next on a scenic Rhine River cruise for only 10 euro.  This River Cruise could really be utilized for a good 2-3 days, exploring castles and roaming each riverside village. In this blog I’ll explain why the KD Rhine River cruise is something that should be experienced while staying in  Western Germany.

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What is KD Cruises?

KD is a company that runs several cruising boats that float up and down the Rhine River all day long. The cruise ticket, found at the ticket booth near the river in each village, is only 10 euro and includes access to every KD  boat on the river for one whole day. For example, a boat makes several stops at different villages throughout the day. You can get off of one boat, explore the village, and board another KD cruise to get back to your hotel. This cruise sells food and drink,which is most likely the only way that they make a profit. We just enjoyed the cheap ride. This cruise has an audio system that is your own personal tour guide, explaining the history behind each castle that you pass. My favorite history lesson was about the famous Lorelei cliff- known for its mythical sirens supposedly enticed sailors with their beauty and caused numerous shipwrecks.

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The Lorelei

Why is KD Such a Good Deal?

Well, let me tell you! I’m not sponsored by them, I just thought this was an awesome experience. KD cruising is easy, relaxing, educational, and cheap. A train ticket to the next village along the Rhine would be about 10 euro, but it wouldn’t be near as fun as cruising! We took all our belongings from our hotel in Boppard, Germany and used the cruise to get to our next stay in Bacharach. While that’s one way to do it, booking a stay for one day in each village, you could also take the cruise a few days in a row, exploring different villages during the day, and taking the cruise back to your hotel in the evening. While many villages are similar along the Rhine, they each have distinct characteristics that are fun to experience. First, each village has its own elaborate church, no two are the same. Second, unique castles tower over several villages, creating the fairy tale reputation that the Rhine River is so famous for. In Boppard, ancient Roman and Medieval walls still stand throughout the town. And in Bacharach, old castle ruins sit at the peak of a hill and have been recreated into a youth hostel with incredible views. When we climbed to the castle, a middle school group was staying at the hostel for a historical and fun field trip.

The beautiful, quiet villages along the Rhine River are worth visiting for the castles alone, but add the beautiful scenic views and a sunny boat ride, and you have an unforgettable  German vacation.

Boppard, Germany:

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Our Hotel

Bacharach, Germany:

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Bacharach Hostel- Stahleck Castle

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Lovely Travels,

Katie

3 Days Exploring Paris – Total Cost & Itinerary

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Check out great Paris vacation rentals at VRBO.com.

Photo by Margerretta on Pexels.com

On our tour of Western Europe, my friends and I spent three days in Paris, exploring as much of the city as we could. Surprisingly, we got several highlights of this magical city done in a small amount of time- I’ll explain how in this blog. The best part about Paris is the Metro, which will get you anywhere in no time at all. We didn’t get a metro pass for this short trip, but chose to just buy about twenty tickets at a time and split the cost. Our days in Paris were May 16-May 18, 2017. This was still pre-tourist season, but it was getting busier as summer was quickly approaching.

Here is a recap of our Paris adventure, followed by suggestions and total costs of each day:

Day 1:

Monmarte, Sacre Ceour, Café Le Consulat, Eiffle Tower, & Arc de Triomphe

Our starting point to Paris was in Mons, Belgium, where my friend’s family lives. We picked up our friend from the Brussels airport on May 14th and headed to the Mons train station at 7:20 am on May 16th. We bought our train tickets about 2 months before our trip to Paris because prices were quickly rising. We took the high-speed Thalys train, made a few connections, and arrived in the Paris-Nord train station around lunch-time.

The train station is about 10-15 minutes from Monmarte, a very scenic area, famous for its beautiful Sacre Ceour church and artists. We locked our belongings in a giant locker at the train station and took a bus to Monmarte. This was the only time we would be close to Monmarte as it is further away from the heart of Paris. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the lengthy stairs, which led to the incredible Sacre Ceour church. At the top, we could see the entire city as well as the beautiful inside of this enormous church. Surrounding this church are multiple artists who paint their favorite views of their beloved city. Paintings ranged from 20 euro to hundreds, and they were well worth every penny. I just did not have it in my budget to buy one though I really did want to take them all home with me. Next, we had lunch at the famous café, Le Consulat, which is the most photographed and posted café in all of Paris. We had omelets and tap water. Thankfully, Paris will serve you tap water for free, unlike any other place that we visited in Germany or the Netherlands. After lunch, we took a bus back to the station, retrieved our belongings from the lockers, and took the metro to our Airbnb apartment.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our Airbnb in Paris was not as great as all the other ones we stayed in throughout this trip. We made it to the entrance of the apartment, but it was locked with a key pad. We checked the rule book on our Airbnb booking online and could not find the code so we were locked out. When we called the host she said, “The code is online,” and hung up! Luckily, another apartment resident arrived and let us in. I looked just now, and this apartment is no longer available on Airbnb, so that’s good. This was the only bad experience we had out of our 6 Airbnb stays during our Europe travels. I still think Airbnb is the best way to travel affordably, just read all the reviews before booking. Once we retrieved the passcode, we got our key, dropped our stuff off, and headed to the Eiffel Tower.

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Just a few left turns took us to the Metro, which got us to the most famous street in the world in just a few minutes. Packed with locals and tourist alike, Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle and is home to the famous Arch de Triomphe. Guards and rails blocked underneath this massive structure as a ceremony was being conducted at the time. However, there were plenty of available spots for great pictures. We continued down the street, seeing the beautiful architecture of uniform buildings with iron terraces. The famous bridge, covered in gold statues and carvings was incredibly busy. We decided to enjoy it from afar and make our way to the Eiffel Tower. This large structure that is the epitome of Paris beauty is far bigger than I ever imagined and is just as romantic as I pictured it to be. Vendors selling roses stopped couples nearby, convincing men to buy the love of their life a red flower to express their feelings. The Chainsmoker’s recent single, Paris, was literally playing everywhere, and cheap key chains and souvenirs were laid out, begging for tourists to pick them up. We splurged this evening and ate at a nice restaurant as nothing is cheap around the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I got sick off of seared tuna steak and we had to turn in before night-time approached and the tower lights lit up the sky.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Total Cost of Day 1:

Train to Paris- $60, Metro 5 euro, Dinner 20 euro, Post Card .20 euro, Apartment Stay: 50 euro. Total: 135.20 euro = $161.69

Day 2:

Louvre, Lunch in La Marais, Galeries Lafayette, Laduree Macarons, Rue Montorgueil Market Street, & Train Railroad Park (Promenade Plantee) Picnic

I felt much better the next day, which was good because we had no time to spare. After eating a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and yogurt, which we grabbed the day before in a grocery store, we headed off for more adventures in Paris. This day was filled with admiring famous paintings, window shopping, and lots of eating! We left about 8 am to beat the crowd to the Louvre. Only waiting about 30 minutes in line, we spent about 2 hours in a museum that could take weeks to completely accomplish. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resides inside this massive structure, but don’t have high hopes. I found all the other paintings much more beautiful. Why she is so famous is still beside me.

Photo by Shvets Anna on Pexels.com

After exiting the museum, we enjoyed the view as we strolled the sidewalk that was lining the Seine River. Unfortunately, the bridge that was once famous for its love locks had been stripped of the massive amount of metal that had been weighing it down. A few locks remained on the light posts, but the bridge was mostly bare. My favorite part of this walk was the green boxes atop the river guard walls, which looked like nothing early in the morning while they were closed. However, when their owners came to open them, the boxes proved to be filled with old French novels, souvenirs, and paintings of the city. For lunch, we headed to Le Marais, which is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris, consisting of lovely cafés and secret passages that open up into gorgeous boutiques. We went inside Galerie Vivienne.

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Next we headed to the part of Paris that was way out of our league, but we didn’t care. The first stop was at Galeries Lafayette- the very first department store ever built. Filled with Gucci, Prada, and 300 euro sundresses, we breezed through each level admiring the exquisiteness of it all. The real reason we came to this store was for the view. Galeries Lafayette has a terrace at the very top that displayed the most spectacular view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Palais Garnier.

The department store was surrounded by other high end shops so we window shopped until we reached the famous Laduree macarons. Some visitors bought dozens of flavors, but we each just bought one each as we were still full from lunch. Heads up, the salted caramel macaroon is a great choice! We got some chuckles from the employees as we took several pictures in the adorable shop, but hey, it was our first time in Paris!

Next on the list was to buy some food for a picnic that evening. We took the Metro to Rue Montorgueil Market Street, where bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and rotisseries line the streets and fill it with mouth-watering aromas. We each grabbed the dinner of our choice and took the Metro again to Promenade Plantee, an old railroad bridge that has been transformed into a park. I had never seen anything like this. We climbed up the stairs and entered into a narrow pathway surrounded by trees and flowers with benches for stopping to enjoy the nature.

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Our last stop for the day was the famous Rue Cremenieux. Each house on this street is painted a different, pastel color. No one knows why, but the residents have maintained this tradition, making this neighborhood a fun little walk to enjoy when sightseeing nearby.

Photo by Vincent Rivaud on Pexels.com

Total Cost of Day 2:

Metro- 5 euro, Café- 13 euro, Louvre (student discount) – 13 euro, dinner- 15 euro, Apartment stay– 50 euro. Total: 99 euro= $118.85

Day 3:

La Chappelle, Notre Dame, Museum D’Orsay, Latin Quarter

We left at 9:15 on our last day and walked to Saint Chappelle, the famous church. The stained glass windows were very ornate, but other than that it was not really worth 11 euro. The Sacre Ceour and all the other churches in Germany and the Netherlands were way more impressive and free. I don’t regret seeing it as it was beautiful, I just wouldn’t go again. However, I could have marveled at the Notre Dame all day long, and it was free. The detail in every inch of its architecture explains vividly why the Notre Dame took 200 years to complete. A story unfolds in the carvings that completely cover the solid stone walls of this church. On the inside, a herd of people uniformly circled around the outside of the pews, reading the history behind such a masterpiece as a choir was beautifully singing American hymns.

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For lunch, we walked to the lively Latin Quarter, which is filled with cheap, delicious food and souvenirs. Crêperie Chez Suzette on Rue de Huchette caught our attention as it served savory crepes that were perfect for lunch or dinner, and were only 5 euro if ordered to-go at the window. I got one filled with Mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, onions, and red bell pepper… best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, no lie. We crossed the street and got the cutest gelato dessert at Amorino. The server sculpted my frozen treat into a rose on top of a small cone.

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Down the street was the famous, Museum D’Orsay, where we got through the line fairly quickly and received a student discount of 2 euro off our ticket. Though the Louvre displayed all types of art, this museum contained mostly paintings, but they were amazing. At the top of this museum was a giant clock that was perfect for silhouette pictures so be sure not to miss it.

That evening, we headed back to the Latin Quarter to eat a cheap dinner and grab souvenirs. I’m a coffee addict so, of course, I NEEDED a Paris mug and my friend got her sister a book from a small bookstore that would be every bookworm’s dream come true. Shakespeare & Co. is a small store with books that reach up to the ceiling. Outside, there was a guitarist playing and singing for visitor’s enjoyment, and tips.

Our last day in Paris ended with a light rain just as we finished walking back to our apartment. We opened the window, brewed some coffee, and relaxed to the pitter-patter of the rain as we prepared for a train ride to Germany the next morning.

Total Cost of Day 3:

Sainte-Chappelle- 11 euro, Museum D’Orsay- 9 euro, Souvenirs- 9 euro, Lunch- 6.50 euro, Gelato- 3.90 euro, Dinner- 5.50 euro, Apartment Stay– 50 euro. Total- 84.90 euro= $101.92

Paris can be done in 3 days; however, if you want to enjoy everything that this magical city has to offer, I recommend staying at least a week.

Photo by TravelingTart on Pexels.com

I hope this detailed itinerary of my trip to this breathtaking city has given you the sense of urgency to visit Paris yourself. I promise you won’t regret it!

Lovely Travels,

Katie

Middle Georgia: The Perfect Place for Christmas Lights

Main Street Light Extravaganza

While celebrating one of my friend’s return from Study Abroad yesterday, I had the best experience in downtown Macon, GA at the Main Street Light Extravaganza!

Macon Georgia’s Poplar Street has become the talk of the town for an event that just began this Christmas and hopefully becomes an annual tradition. The entire street is filled with lights that climb all the way to treetops. These lights are synchronized to music performed by the local Macon Pops who sing classic holiday tunes all night long. This light show plays three times a night, at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00pm and the lights stay on until 11:00pm. Find a spot along the road or, on a busy Saturday night, drive around until a spot frees up like we did. Get out to walk down the grass median that has turned into a winter wonderland for the holidays.

Yesterday, the extravaganza was packed! If you want a lively atmosphere filled with all ages, see the lights on the weekend. However, if you want less crowds and a shorter wait at the Rookery (the best burgers in town), go on a weeknight. The wait at the Rookery was 45 minutes last night, so we drove to The Brick, which serves huge slices of delicious pizza. The best thing about the new light extravaganza is that we no longer have to drive 2 plus hours to get in the Christmas spirit. Before the Macon lights, middle Georgians had to make a day trip to either Lake Lanier, Callaway Gardens, or the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Now, these three places have incredible light displays, but they are quite a trek and can be very costly. The Macon lights are something that we can drive to at night and enjoy for free, leaving enough room in the budget to enjoy all of the delicious treats downtown.

Located on Poplar Street as well, with a green awning over the glass-door entrance, is a cozy coffee shop, Taste and See, with drinks and pastries. I saw several visitors stop by and grab a hot cocoa before they walked through the lights across the street. Some of my favorite restaurants around the lights are the Rookery, El Camino, and Ocmulgee Brewpub, which are all within a few blocks of the lights, but some may be better to move your car closer to rather than walk. My favorite burger I’ve ever had was at the Rookery where I ate the Allman Burger, but the Taco Salad at El Camino is good too if you’re craving Mexican Food. They also do $2 Taco Tuesdays. The Ocmulgee Brewpub has yummy truffle fries, burgers, and Buffalo Chicken Salad, which is an appetizer, but is plenty large enough to serve as a main course.

Pate Road Christmas Drive Through Lights

If you have time, don’t just stop at the lights downtown, but continue north for a few more miles to see the lights that are giving other houses a run for their money. 1403 Pate Road – Juliette, Georgia puts on a light display like no other house in middle Georgia. On the weekends, people will line their cars up for an hour just to wait to drive through this beautiful presentation of Christmas spirit. Thanks to a sweet family who wants to spread Christmas joy, people from all over Middle Georgia are posting their experiences on Facebook and Instagram, sharing how much they enjoyed the Christmas lights on Pate Road. I have not visited these lights yet, but have made plans to go and have heard wonderful things about them from friends. One of my friends has gone to the light shows 3 times in a row!

I’m just so excited that middle Georgia finally has a perfect place to celebrate Christmas time with friends and family, in fact, we have 2 places! Take a day trip to Macon, GA and see what the entire city is proud to show off thanks to local Christmas cheer and talent. I hope to see you there!

Lovely Travels,

Katie

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4 Bucket List Cities in Europe

Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.

Bacharach, Germany

Altes Haus

This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.

Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):

Altes Haus for delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise// Haus Irmgard Orth (BnB we stayed in).

Paris, France

Paris Monmarte Streets
Monmarte

The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”

Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location

Brugge, Belgium

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The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.

Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in an Airbnb

Haarlem, Netherlands

Haarlem Netherlands Town Square Markt

Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.

Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.

I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!

Happy Travels!

-Katie

Feliz Navidad! A Christmas in Mexico

This past Winter Break, my boyfriend and I were invited to spend Christmas in Guadalajara, Mexico with our friends and their family for 8 days. The family was so kind, taking us in and treating us as their own. This was a packed trip as we celebrated Christmas, our friends’ wedding, and my 20th birthday! Our friends’ father even took us to the beach a few days. Meeting so many awesome people was by far my favorite part of the trip, but other aspects that I’ll always remember concern the Mexican culture, downtown Gaudalajara, and Melaque Beach.

Mexican Wedding Guadalajara
Our friends’ beautiful wedding celebration

Mexican Culture:

Unlike Cozumel or Cancun, Guadalajara is more than just a tourist area. We stayed in a “colonia” in Zapopan that was so neat to experience. “Colonia” is the Hispanic equivalent of a neighborhood, but way bigger. There are neighborhood stores, restaurants, and food stands created by the residents. One home would sell bakery goods and another would sell tacos. My favorite food stand sold bionicos, which are fruit desserts that are basically all the good toppings from froyo, minus the froyo. We went there so often that the man knew our order. Although, that could be because we were clearly the only Americans in the colonia- but who knows?

Guadalajara Mexico Tortas
Neighborhood torta shop and owners

Christmas was celebrated much differently than in my home and was a joy to experience! Aunts, uncles, and cousins lived right down the road so they came over and cooked all Christmas Eve, preparing a feast. That night, we played bingo and opened presents from family members. My favorite part about Christmas in this home was that the family made a huge deal about every present. It made the fun last longer, the person giving the gift feel appreciated, and the person opening the gift feel important. That is something I will use in my home one day with my kids. There may not be one-hundred presents under the tree, but talking up each present can make everyone just as excited.


The city of Guadalajara:

Guadalajara Cathedral

Our friends had twin brothers our age who were so generous to drive us around town and translate. They took us to their favorite pizza, ice cream, and taco shops. They even took us on triple dates with their girlfriends to the markets downtown. I got my niece a handmade bow and myself a woven bag. We went to the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was actually somewhat of a warehouse, but once inside, the market seemed never ending. It had everything from souvenirs to knock off soccer jerseys and Coach purses. I got a cute mug that says “Recuerdo la Guadalajara Jal.” because I’m a coffee addict. I found a cool article on Forbes that explains the city markets in more detail. As far as food in the city, my favorite meal was tacos because they were delicious and cheap. I’m talking 25 cents a taco! Plain water was not available to order with food. Instead, restaurants offered sodas, horchata, and my favorite, agua fresca. Depending on the restaurant, most places offered a variety of different fruit juice, all of which were referred to as “agua fresca.” My favorite flavor was Jamaica, which is made with hibiscus flower.

Guadalajara is a city with impressive, old churches and buildings. When the Spanish came across the Atlantic, they built spectacular Catholic churches and prayer centers. We toured inside the large stone building, Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento,and were in awe at the intricate woodwork that adorned each door. The Guadalajara Cathedral was the focal point of downtown and was impossible to miss. Around the Cathedral was probably the most scenic area. Filled with ironwork benches and a giant city sign, the surroundings were basically screaming for a photo-op.

Melaque Mexico Beach


Melaque Beach:

One weekend, the family decided to go on a three-day vacation to the beach. Little did I know that they were taking us to one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been to! I just remember passing miles and miles of palm trees. I’d never seen so many in my life! I quickly decided that Melaque beach is a hidden gem for people looking for the perfect place to soak up the sun at any time of year. The family told me that several people retire and buy homes in Melaque for two reasons: 1. It’s cheap, and 2. Most people speak English. Melaque, although still a tourist area, was far different from my experience in Cozumel because the shops and restaurants dealt in pesos, at the Mexican price. For example, we ate at a place twice that served quesadillas larger than our heads. With the exchange rate, the quesadillas cost us no more than $5, including drinks.

Melaque, Mexico Restaurant

Melaque had a lively town center, Plaza Navideña San Patricio, perfect for shopping, eating, and enjoying a night on the town. Market tents were set up with interesting merchandise and, for Christmas, there was a huge Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

Melaque Mexico Town Square Christmas

The Pacific Ocean water was perfect, even in December. The warm sun and beach breeze combined to make the winter in Mexico feel like July in the states. The next day, we drove to the beach at Hotel Boca de Iguanas. This was my favorite area as it was less crowded and had a cliff with a beautiful view at the top. The pool was cold, but still bearable. There were both tourists and locals at the beaches in Melaque, creating both a new yet comfortable atmosphere at the same time.

As I was writing this blog, I began to reminisce on what an amazing experience Mexico truly was. The family we stayed with was the sweetest, most loving group of people that I’ve ever met and they became lifelong friends of mine. I also started thinking about going back to Melaque this Christmas to enjoy its natural beauty once again. I started browsing and found that VRBO had some great homes to rent for a Christmas vacation to Boca de Iguanas. Melaque and Boca de Iguanas were two beaches that I’ll never forget and I can’t wait to step foot on that warm sand once again!