My top 10 travel tips

By Caitlin Kelly

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Whatever medications you might possibly need, bring them with you!

I learned this the hard way when I wrenched my arthritic knee in Berlin — and assumed I could pick up some anti-inflammatory pills at the pharmacy. Nope! Not without a prescription, so I had to wait until I got to Budapest. Then (bad luck trip!) I cut myself in London, and the wound was painful, so I went to buy Neosporin, a terrific antibiotic cream easily available in Canada and the U.S.

Not in England! I had to settle for some gel. Note that my journey took me not into remote jungles or desert areas of developing countries, but major European cities.

 

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Make note of landmarks

Whether you take a photo or simply use your memory, make note of some basic landmarks, especially on the route(s) back to your lodging. And be sure to have the complete address and phone number with you and written down (in case your phone dies!)

Again, I did this the hard way in London, limping the entire length of Waterloo Bridge (!) after mistaking the north side of London for my destination on the south bank. (The Gherkin and the Shard, two stunning skyscrapers, are on the north bank.)

A day later I found the right bus because I’d watched the route carefully so I knew where the correct bus stop was by remembering its location outside a college.

Yes, you prefer to use apps on your phone, or a map — but what if your phone dies or, as happens, is snatched from your hand and you’re disoriented?

 

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Make time to rest and totally relax

Yes, you’ve possibly paid a fortune for your travel and lodging and dare not miss a minute.

But racing around for eight or 10 or 12 hours every day, especially in summer heat and crowds, is truly exhausting for even the most fit.

Travel is a huge privilege, certainly, but it’s also disorienting, tiring and sometimes anxiety-provoking.

Build in downtime for yourself and your travel companions to sleep, read, listen to music, watch a video or go to a movie.

Hydrate!

I was impressed by huge posters in the London tube, suggesting that passengers eat before a journey and to always carry water with them. The single best buy of my trip was a $10 metal water bottle that I filled each morning and carried everywhere, refilling it as needed.

Especially in summer, it’s too easy to scarf down calorie-laden ice cream, beer or soda instead of healthy, no-cal water.

 

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Vary your normal schedule

Get up at 5:00 a.m and watch the sun rise — or stay up late and watch it set, (that can be as late 11:30 p.m. in Scandinavian summer.)

Places are wildly different at sunrise and sunset. It’s so fun to watch a place come awake or locals emerging into the cooling dusk for their passeggiata.

Get out onto the water!

Every time I meet someone eager to visit New York City, I remind them that it’s an island — i.e. with water you can get out onto, whether in a sailboat, a rented kayak or a ferry. Few sights are as memorable and gob-smacking as watching a city light up around you.

Take a brief river cruise in cities like New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Chicago or Budapest — anywhere that offers one!

Toronto has gorgeous harbor islands reachable by ferry, as do Stockholm, Vancouver and others. You can even land on an island in the Toronto harbor at Billy Bishop airport, (if you fly Porter Air.)

You get a totally different perspective of a place from its adjacent waters, whether a lake, river, sound or ocean, certainly in summer (and even in winter.)

Talk to locals, at length

Some of my best memories of my six-week journey have been the candid conversations I had with hotel staff, taxi drivers, a sailing instructor, a tour guide, with professors and students.

I would have had no idea that the average Croatian monthly wage is about 700 kuna — $109 U.S. dollars — a sum I fact-checked with others and which still leaves me shocked.

Remember that every safely completed journey relies on the skills and talents of  many people, some invisible to us, no matter how essential

From pilots and fight attendants and maintenance crew to the chambermaids cleaning your room to the wait-staff to the bus and train and boat drivers.

I made sure to leave healthy tips for the chambermaids at every hotel and was deeply touched by the kindness I received while coping with my injury — even from Venice’s overwhelmed and harried vaporetto staff to busy London cabbies.

Say thank-you! Leave good tips!

 

Your best travel skill — flexibility!

I love Paris, but recently overheard two London businessmen discussing their holidays — the younger one, maybe late 20s, early 30s, said he’d found that legendary city a huge disappointment.

Much I as want to love London, (and I enjoy elements of it a great deal), I inevitably leave it behind with a sigh of relief: for me, it’s just too big, too crowded, too expensive and it takes an hour to go anywhere by public transit. It’s not my favorite city, no matter how hard I try.

So when you arrive at a place you’ve worked hard and saved hard to get to, you might love it — or not. Prior research helps, of course, but things happen: there might be a strike or lousy weather or someone gets ill or (rarely), you might (be cautious and smart) get robbed or pick-pocketed.

Don’t expect perfection!

 

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Have some emergency savings or access to additional funds through a credit card

I certainly didn’t plan — two weeks into a six-week big-city European trip — to badly injure my right knee. But I did, and that meant much slower days, less sight-seeing than I hoped for, and a few more taxi fares — which cost additional funds I hadn’t planned on.

Same thing for getting to and from airports/bus/train terminals, especially with luggage — if you’re exhausted/ill/injured/coping with children or frail companions — prioritize comfort and speed over saving a few dollars.

Here are six more excellent tips from travel bloggers, through USA Today.

 

 

A week in London

By Caitlin Kelly

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The last stop! (sob)

So grateful to stay with friends who live in an impossibly fab flat facing directly onto the Thames — as I write this, the only sounds are seagulls shrieking.

I took the bus a lot more this time than in previous visits, specifically the 188, (which terminates in elegant Russell Square, a block from the massive British Museum) and the C10 , which terminates in (!), the aptly-named Canada Water, (I’m Canadian.)

 

Traveling London by bus is fantastic for a few reasons:

 

—  It’s a hectic, crowded city so buses get your weary body off busy streets

— The Tube has a lot of stairs and few escalators or elevators, and a lot of walking between stations and its many different lines, so if you’re tired or have mobility issues, the bus is much less tiring

— The views! The buses, as you likely know, are double-decker, so head upstairs, and if you’re lucky, grab the very front seat for amazing vistas of the city below

— Building details are much easier to see and photograph, as is the stunning skyline.

Here’s some of what I did on this visit (one of many) in London:

 

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Museums

 

The Wallace Collection is a gob-smacking insight into accumulated, inter-generational aristocratic wealth, handed down from one marquess to another — room after room, (25 galleries in all), covered in jewel-colored damask silk — of paintings, sculptures, bronzes, armor, miniatures.

The collection is astonishing in its depth and breadth.

I loved their explanations of how armor was made and custom-fitted; you can even try on (!) some chain mail and helmets for a selfie.

Their cafe is a delight — huge, airy, filled with natural light. Be sure to make time for a cup of tea or lunch.

I finally went to the British Museum, with a friend, to see a fantastic show about the later years — ages 60 to 90s — of one of my favorite artists, Hokusai; the show is on until August 18.

He’s one of the legendary Japanese woodblock artists and painters, whose image The Great Wave, remains instantly recognizable centuries later.

I loved this show, and appreciated the way his life was contextualized, with insightful quotes — in 1830 he was terrified of penury (what creative person can’t relate?!)  — and the details about how he worked with and lived with his daughter, an accomplished artist in her own right.

Life in the late 1700s was every bit as challenging for this legendary artist as it still is today for so many of us.

Like most British museums, entrance to the collection — 8 million objects — is free.

I also dipped into the Victoria and Albert Museum, checking out their fantastic fashion display and some of their Islamic materials. It’s also huge, so plan accordingly.

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While you might see the Tate, Tate Modern, The National Portrait Gallery, the Design Museum, the Imperial War Museum (whew!), the city also has smaller, more intimate spots. Two of my favorites are Freud’s house and Sir John Soane’s House.

 

Exploring

 

If you end up on Oxford Street — filled with every major store imaginable — its crowds can easily overwhelm.

Duck instead into a narrow side street and you’ll find all sorts of lovely discoveries, like St. Christopher’s Place, filled with shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. At Malini, I scored two terrific cotton cardigans (they came in every color) for 39 pounds each  ($51 each.)

Try to make time to also check out quieter neighborhoods like Bloomsbury, Marylebone, Primrose Hill — each of which have gorgeous architecture, parks, shops and restaurants.

I got to know Primrose Hill because a relative lives in the area, on a square with every house-front painted the delicious pastels of sugared almonds. Regent’s Park is spectacular, and has wonderful views of the city from wide green hills.

London is a city that rewards slow, focused, observant walking.

Look up at the city’s 900 ceramic blue plaques commemorating famous people who’ve lived there. On one busy block of Argyll Street, there are plaques for the American writer Washington Irving and Brian Epstein, who once managed the Beatles; the latter’s is above Five Guys, whose burgers and fries are amazing.

Flea markets

I love these places…this trip, I went to Bermondsey Square, (held only on Fridays, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a great bacon and egg sandwich-maker on-site). I snagged a 16th century fragment of ceramic found in the muddy banks of the Thames, thanks to a terrific practice called mudlarking.

I also found a great little Art Deco rhinestone-studded rocket ship, also for 10 pounds — about $13.00.

Arrive as early as possible — 7 .a.m. — and bring lots of cash.

My usual haunts are Camden Passage and Alfie’s, and I’ve even brought home ceramic platters and jugs; (bubble wrap! hand luggage!)

If you want to ask for a lower price, do it gently, very politely and delicately: “What’s your best on this?” is a decent phrase to use. Do not think that disparaging an item will reduce the pricewhen it just pisses off the person who chose it and set it out for sale.

Even if you don’t buy, some vendors can be friendly and incredibly knowledgeable — I learned a lot more about early sterling silver from one man at Bermondsey while looking at his teaspoons and about 15th. century ceramics from the vendor selling mudlark shards.

We also visited Portobello market, where I got a gorgeous cashmere turtleneck for 10 pounds ($13) and splurged on fabric and ribbon at this amazing shop (who ship to the U.S.)

Here’s a comprehensive list of London’s flea and antiques markets.

I lived in London ages two to five and have been back many, many times since, enjoying everything from tea at the Ritz to shopping at Fortnum & Mason to an amazing show of photos at Tate Modern.

The city really offers something for every taste. Be sure to enjoy a few very British traditions, from a leisurely afternoon tea to a pint at a pub.

Make time to watch the river traffic on the Thames, with everything from small sailboats to coal barges.

 

Have you been there?

What did you enjoy the most?

 

 

Three summer days in Venice

By Caitlin Kelly

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Unless you’re arriving via ferry, cruise ship or private vessel, it’s a rare city you can approach and leave by water.

Venice is one.

I arrived from Rovinj, Croatia by high-speed catamaran, ($100 one way, a 3.5 hour journey), cruising into Basilio, where our passports were examined and stamped.

I’d been to Venice before — for my 21st birthday (also alone) and a few years later on my EU fellowship.

I booked into a gorgeous 40-room hotel in San Marco, Hotel Flora, with a tiny perfect garden, with pink tablecloths and vines overhead.

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My third floor room, facing the courtyard, was lovely — even if the shower stall was so small and narrow I couldn’t bend over to pick up the soap!

I only gave Venice three days this time because — exactly as I feared — it was a madhouse.

I have never, anywhere, seen as many people in so small a space.

If you’ve never been there, Venice’s streets and alleyways are very narrow and the city is made up of 118 islands, so you’re sharing that space going up and down small, narrow stone bridges. If there’s a river of humanity, many of them stopping to take &*&%#@@# selfies everywhere, you’re stuck. Literally.

It was also extremely hot — and while Venice really offers unique and extraordinary charms (no cars! no trucks! no sirens!) — it also has very, very few trees and little shade as a result. It is a city of stone.

(When you arrive at the airport to leave you think — what’s that green stuff? Oh, right, it’s grass!)

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Murano glass, a Venetian specialty

In my three days, I went to the Ca D’Oro, a magnificent 600-year-old mansion filled with art and sculpture, with many, many Madonnas. It has a wide terrace facing the Grand Canal so you can watch the world go by.

One of the best things to do is simply closely observe all the maritime traffic — because everything, (garbagemen, couriers, groceries, building supplies, police), travels in Venice by water. Every building has a dock.

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Then, of course, there are the famous gondolas, sleek black 35.5-foot wooden vessels operated by gondoliers in striped shirts, skilfully poling their way through the canals. The ride is 35 minutes for 80 euros,  ($91 U.S. dollars) or 100 euros at night. I’ve yet to take one, though — I had more fun photographing them.

There are gondola stands  — like taxi stands in vehicular cities — where you can book one.

I spent most of my time taking photos and hopping on and off the vaporettos, the water-buses with regular routes.

One morning, I headed to Piazza San Marco, and stopped to admire a sketch and the oils a woman was about to use to paint the famous church. As I usually do, I asked permission before snapping her photo, and we started chatting.

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Of course we had a friend in common…who lives, as she normally does, in Bermuda. Small world!

The woman suggested I flee the crowds and visit the island of Giudecca, which I did. It’s purely residential, with a few small cafes and food shops. It was silent, the only sounds the squeaking of a swing as a small child played on it and the singing of a caged songbird. I wandered its streets, while suspicious old women looked dubiously at me and my camera. I had a very good lunch there at Majer — great pastries, coffee, wine — in a lovely, elegant setting and not crazy expensive.

It was heaven!

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I also visited the Naval Museum, since Venice has only survived thanks to its maritime prowess. Loved it! It’s housed in a former factory, an enormous brick building, and filled with fantastic examples of earlier boats, from the huge gilded vessel used by kings and princes to humble barges and fishing boats.

I’m really glad I went back to Venice (a logical next stop as I headed back west within Europe, and from where I flew to London, my final stop.)

But I admit — I was so worn out from heat and rude, pushy tourists I fled to the airport hours early, and gratefully sat in air-conditioned silence. It was a good decision, as the airport had — only two weeks earlier — opened a handsome new wing, with a glass roof and plenty of natural light. It was clean and spacious and I had a great chat with a woman from Calcutta.

I’m eager to return to Venice but in October or November, which everyone there said is a much less aggressive experience. The city has only 55,000 residents — and millions and millions of tourists.

Said one weary hotel staffer: “People have no respect for our city. We feel like pandas.”

 

A week in Istria, Croatia

By Caitlin Kelly

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My hotel, Angelo D’oro, Rovinj, Istria, Croatia

Most people who choose to visit Croatia head to the more familiar Dalmatian coast — to Split, Dubrovnik and the islands there, like Hvar; fans of the the HBO series Game of Thrones know that Dubrovnik is the location for some essential scenes.

I decided to skip that part of the country, knowing it would be expensive and crowded, and chose Istria instead, a place I’d never heard of before.

Here’s how I found it and chose to go:

1) I consulted Relais & Chateaux , a worldwide association of small, independent luxury hotels. Once I start to think about a future trip, I look for a R & C hotel I might like to try — if I can afford it! (I did in Malta.) That led me to Istria, although the only hotel they included was more than I wanted to pay.

2) Thanks to a Twitterchat I participate it, I met a travel agent based in Zagreb who helped me plan.

3) This travel blogger based in Berlin did a post on Rovinj, and I was sold.

Rovinj, a town of 15,000 people, is called Little Venice and feels like a smaller, less-jammed version of that much larger city. The streets are narrow, the houses painted ocher and mustard and a gorgeous deep raspberry color, and the stairs up to people’s apartments are Amsterdam-steep.

I got there by bus from Zagreb, about 4 hours’ journey, and walked to my hotel, the Angelo D’Oro, which (it had to happen!) turned out to be a lot more expensive than I had remembered when I booked it. (Like, holy shit, twice as much.)

It was worth every penny.

The hotel has only 23 rooms, and is housed in two buildings from the 18th and 17th century, and used to be the bishops’ residence. My room was on the top — fourth — floor, with a small terrace overlooking the harbor, my only companions flocks of swallows and shrieking seagulls.

Buffet breakfast was served on a shaded terrace full of oleander trees, with two small cats who came by each morning to visit.

Every morning and evening at 7:00, the bells of Santa Euphemia rang out from the church just above my windows.

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The town is so small you can easily walk everywhere, although there are taxis and the hotel has a little golf cart for moving luggage.

There’s not a lot to do, but it’s a place to kick back and soak up the sun and sit in cafes and savor the views.

The beaches are rocky, (and sea shoes are essential because spiny sea urchins live in the rocks and you do not want to step on one!), and the water crystal clear and the perfect temperature.

You can sail, sea-kayak, fish, snorkel. You can buy really pretty linen shirts and dresses from Italy inexpensively and I treated myself to a pair of gold earrings.

I took a narrated bus tour one day to two hill towns, Groznjan and Oprtalj (right at the Slovenian border), which was terrific — a lovely break from 85-degree heat and a chance to see how gorgeous the hilly interior is.

Istria is small, so it’s easy to see a lot of it within a day’s drive.

Only two words of warning about Rovinj — restaurant food, generally, is of very mediocre quality and almost every restaurant has the same (!?) menu, with fried fish, spaghetti or steak, catering to a lower-income tourist, enormous families and its typical mix of British, German, Austrian and Italian tourists.

Crowds! You can escape them, but restaurants can be busy, especially the very few ones with excellent (and pricey) food.

I loved my time there and was sad to leave — taking a catamaran the 3.5 hour trip across the Adriatic to Venice, the perfect way to arrive to a maritime city.

 

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Loved the light on the cobblestone streets

 

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Lots of stores selling pearls — loved how stylish this one was!

 

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I often walked barefoot — the stones are silky-smooth, and, when steep, quite slippery!

 

 

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For 80 kuna — about $16 — round-trip, you can take a 20-minute ferry ride to Red Island, where this sort of beauty awaits. I had this beach all to myself all day.

 

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Santa Euphemia church, Rovinj, Croatia

 

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Old Town, Rovinj

 

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The view from Groznjan, Istria

 

 

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This gorgeous image sat in a niche outside my hotel room. I loved seeing it every morning.

10 reasons to travel alone

By Caitlin Kelly

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I went to say thank you and good-bye to one of the waitresses at my last hotel, and we chatted for a bit.

Then she exclaimed: “But…you’re alone!”

True.

I’d stayed a week at a 23-room historic hotel and I hadn’t seen anyone else there who was traveling solo.

In my time here in Europe, now five weeks, most of the travelers I’ve seen are in couples, or families, or packs of friends, whether teens or seniors.

I’m clearly an outlier, and I’m fine with that; my mother traveled the world alone for years and I spent four months alone traveling through Portugal, Spain, France and Italy at 23.

 

Here are 10 reasons I enjoy traveling solo, even (yes), while female:

 

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No one dictates my schedule

Unless it’s a travel day, and I have to meet a plane, train or bus on time, it’s no one’s business when I get up or go to bed or do anything. Total freedom is priceless to me.

No one is insisting we must do this or must see that

Again, if I want to retreat to my cool, quiet hotel room at mid-day to escape 90-degree heat, no one is having a (literal) meltdown or tantrum because they want to do something else.

I’ve missed all sorts of must-see’s and must-do’s on this trip, (all those museums! all those famous sites!), because I wanted to just rest and relax and see only what I want to see.

People can be much kinder than you’d expect

This trip has been savaged by a lot of right knee pain and right foot pain. It makes walking slow and painful. It makes stairs slow and painful. I also do poorly in heat, and everywhere people have been very kind, offering to help me with luggage or stairs.

 

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Pauly Saal, the Berlin restaurant where I met two new-to-me friends for lunch

 

Making new friends is easier

When you travel with others, their wants and needs, of course, matter to their enjoyment of their vacation. If you just want to sit and have a long conversation, sometimes even a short one, that can impede your companions’ progress.

I’ve really savored the long conversations I’ve had along the way, and have learned a lot about the places I’ve been.

I don’t want to just slide past, taking lots of photos.

And yet….

 

Silence is truly golden

When traveling solo, you don’t have to talk to anyone beyond the most basic questions. I can go an entire day without conversation, and what a relief that is.

As the waitress agreed, about having to be charming and social: “It’s exhausting!”

 

You’re present in a way that’s usually impossible when traveling with others

I’ve been amazed at how I just sit, still, for an hour. No book, no magazine or paper. No screens. Whether I’m watching someone in a cafe, or the local cats who shimmy down the garden trees, or admiring kids splashing into the Adriatic at sunset, I can pay all of it my full attention.

I’ve gotten some astounding photos at all times of day and night, able to see clearly without interruption or distraction. I spent one happy afternoon sketching and painting.

 

No fights!

I witnessed a furious mother and her mutinous little boy, (and his brother and their fed-up grandparents), at a table near me in Rovinj, a seaside resort in Croatia. It was clear they were all totally annoyed with this kid, and he with them.

Thank heaven it wasn’t me; having had some monumental arguments while very far from home — out alone with my father, my mother, my husband — I know how stressful that is since you all still have to get back into the same hotel or flat and/or the same means of transportation later anyway.

 

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Time to reflect

I’ve had all sorts of new-to-me ideas while away, for more travel, for some different ideas about designing our home, about how to work.

I’ve been reading a lot — books for a change  — and loving it.

 

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The trams in Zagreb — fast, cheap, efficient

 

You (re)-learn to be self-reliant

My favorite French words are “se débrouiller” and “débrouillard”...which means “to figure it out for yourself” and, loosely, “a self-reliant person.”

Solo travel turns you into that person, and quickly!

At 25, I won an EU journalism fellowship based in Paris that required four 10-day independent  reporting trips throughout Europe. No one was there to hold my hand or to show me stuff. I loved it!

Whether you’re madly calculating currency differences, (try 276 Hungarian forints to the U.S. dollar!) or trying to read a map in another language or making sure you’ve caught the right bus/train/boat heading in the right direction, it’s all up to you.

If it goes pear-shaped, (as the British would say), everywhere has some sort of medical care and usually someone who speaks English. Absolute worst case, you can contact your consulate or embassy for emergency help.

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The Washington, D.C. Metro

The self-confidence solo travel creates is fantastic, lasting and can inspire others to take the leap

I’ve been traveling alone since I was 17 and first crossed the U.S. border by train to attended a photo workshop — although I took my first flight alone, from Toronto to Antigua, at seven.

Once you realize how to navigate the world, and see that many people — like us — just want to make a living, help their kids and grandkids thrive, and to enjoy their lives as much as we do — it’s a much less intimidating place.

Yes, some spots are tougher than others, and some truly no-go zones for women alone. But fewer than you’d think.

 

Have you traveled alone?

 

How did you enjoy it?

 

How to plan a perfect vacation

By Caitlin Kelly

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Toronto, March 2017

One new friend, a Zagreb travel agent, says: “A perfect vacation is one without expectations..”

She might be right.

When I plan a vacation I focus on what I, (and/or my husband), really want to do, (not what we see on social media or what’s “hot” this year) — informed by my participation in multiple weekly travel Twitterchats, and reading travel websites, blog posts and articles that offer specific ideas and inspiration.

Having been to 40 countries, I’m torn between visiting the familiar, like Ireland, (five visits), and France (many more), and seeking out new experiences.

Things to consider when planning your holiday:

For how long? (Will it be enough or will you get bored?)

Using what transportation?

With whom, (or alone?)

How much activity, and how much downtime?

How many (tiring) travel days and transfers?

What will you give up to stay on budget, (e.g. luxury hotels, taxis everywhere)?

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Washington, D.C. June 2016

 

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The Donegal cottage, 3 bedrooms, great views

“Perfect” for me includes:

 


 

Easy/safe/quick/affordable, (hello, $$$$$ London!), public transit in and around the city/town, ideally without cars or taxis. My favorite vacations involve no driving, unless it’s a road trip or touring.

— Making emotional connections. I travel out of curiosity, and having long conversations with a country’s residents is a great joy for me. I got to know two sisters in Croatia whose powerful memories of Zagreb being bombed are much more powerful to me than any lovely vista.

Kind and welcoming locals. I liked Berlin, but didn’t enjoy “Berliner schnauze”, a biting, sarcastic edge that’s quite common. Travel is disorienting enough and you can feel vulnerable, especially if you’re alone. Croatians have been terrific.

Healthy food at decent prices. Easy access to farmer’s markets, (in cities like Toronto, Paris, London, Zagreb, New York), can make a real difference to your budget and ability to eat well.

A climate with some variation. If it’s a sweltering 80 to 90+ degrees during the day, a drop of even 10 degrees and a breeze is a blessing. I can’t handle humidity; cold, for this Canadian, is not a problem.

Ready access to nature: lake, river, ocean, forest, parks, gardens. Too much concrete makes me feel ill, even on a city-focused trip.

Great shopping. I love finding items, styles and colors I just can’t get in New York (yes, really.). I treasure wearing and using them for years to come.

— Culture/design whether music, museums or just well-designed lighting, streetscapes and buildings.

Personal safety.  Especially in an era of terror attacks, I avoid crowds whenever possible and am extremely aware of my surroundings in large cities..

Fleeing American violence and toxic politics. I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1989, but am so sickened and embarrassed by its current politics and President I want to be as far away from of it as I can afford, and for as long as I can afford.

Nor do I want, on vacation, to be surrounded by Americans, so I choose places, and hotels, with a more international clientele.

While trying to relax, the last thing I want to think or talk about is American politics.

— History. The town I’m writing this in, Rovinj, Croatia, has buildings from the 16th century — and my hotel dates from the 18th and 17th, two buildings later combined. I’m happiest in places with a rich, accessible history.

Eastern Europe also offers something I’d never seen before — in Berlin, Budapest and Zagreb, museums of torture, places where its citizens suffered unspeakable crimes. History is filled with darkness, too.

Grace notes

Everything from the starched, spotless linen napkins and tablecloths in my Rovinj hotel to the oleander blossoms that fall onto my breakfast plate from the terrace’s overhanging trees. For me, touches of beauty and elegance make a place deeply memorable. 

— Rest!

It’s so tempting to gogogogogogogo. I finally lay in bed one afternoon and napped and listened, on the Internet, to my favorite weekend radio shows from NPR.

— A mix of solo and accompanied time

So many women are afraid to strike out alone, to eat alone, to walk alone.

I’ve done it in Istanbul, Spain, Mexico…

Dig through the archives here and you’ll find several posts detailing how to do it safely and enjoyably.

Ideally, I like a mix of vacation time both solo and accompanied; alone here, I’ve had terrific conversations with bus and train mates, at cafes and in shops and restaurants. These included two U of Texas accounting students; a Croatian art history major; a Romanian professor of environmental anthropology; an epee fencer, and an electrical engineer, both from Zagreb and an IBM exec — who I met smoking a hookah! — who’d worked for NGOs in Africa.

Even when I travel with my beloved husband, taking some daily time apart is essential.

 

Some of our best vacations have included:

 

• Our rented cottage in Dungloe, Donegal, in June 2015, (through this website), and the flat we rented twice on the Ile St. Louis in Paris (friends.)

• A five-week bus journey throughout Mexico in May 2005, including Mexico City, Queretaro, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and Cuernavaca, where I lived as a teenager.

• Since our first visit in the fall of 2001, exhausted by covering the events of 9/11, we’ve returned six (!) times, so far, to Manoir Hovey, a resort on Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, a 7-hour drive from our home in New York; elegant but not stuffy, welcoming, great food and lovely in every season.

 

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Lake Massawippi, Eastern Townships

This European trip has offered virtually no disappointments, not bad for a month on the road through four countries so far. I chose a mix of larger and smaller cities, with a seaside break in Istria, Croatia.

I also chose three long train journeys — Paris-Berlin (7 hours), Berlin-Budapest (13 hours), Budapest-Zagreb (6 hours) —  in order to rest and see the countryside. I dislike flying, so this also reduced my stress.

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This trip’s two greatest surprise expenses?

Hotel laundry, (sweaty from walking all day in 80+ degree heat; one hotel even forbade hand washing!), and taxis, when my arthritic right knee gave out. I could have used laundromats, (as I have in Paris), but right now, free time is more precious to me.

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Lincoln Center, New York City

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Bucks County, Pennsylvania

 

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Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

 

Have you had it — or planned it — yet?

Four days each in Budapest and Zagreb

By Caitlin Kelly

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I’m now in Istria, the northernmost part of Croatia, only three hours by car from Venice. I’ve booked a week’s stay in the town of Rovinj, hoping to do a lot of nothing — no museums, no shopping, no walking with a bum knee along hot, crowded streets.

The Adriatic!

I really enjoyed my four days apiece in Budapest and Zagreb, my first visits to both. I’d definitely return to either one, but in spring or autumn.

 

Budapest

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One of the pleasures of this trip is seeing how different each city is from the next. Budapest is very much not Berlin; its buildings feel older, dirtier, more massive in scale and design.

I stayed with my best friend from University of Toronto, (who lives far from me in the interior of British Columbia), and her 24-year-old daughter in a rented one-bedroom flat in District VII, the former Jewish quarter, which is very lively and filled with bars and restaurants.

The company is called 7 Seasons,  on Kiraly Street, (with a Metro stop within a two-minute walk.) I liked the flat very much — although the bedroom didn’t have air conditioning, which in this brutally hot summer, was unpleasant. It had a small balcony with table and chairs, and lots of natural light. facing a huge central courtyard; below were about five restaurants, including a fantastic Middle Eastern one.

Lots of fun shops, including vintage clothing and (!) endless “escape rooms”, whose attractiveness completely eludes me.

A great pleasure of Budapest is how affordable it is, for food, lodging and transport (except taxis!) A great disappointment for me was — because it’s so much more affordable than other European cities — it attracts roving/shouting/shrieking gangs of men and women who’ve flown in cheaply for their “hen” and “stag” do’s, (what North Americans call their bachelor or bachelorette parties.)

We visited the 99-year-old Gellert Baths,  (about $20 for admission; bring your own bathing suit, cap and towel), and savored the warm waters of its two indoor thermal baths. I didn’t try the sauna or swimming pool but dipped my toes into the frigid cold bath.

The place is astounding and well worth a visit to spend a few hours lolling beneath its stained glass and mosaics.

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Budapest’s Houses of Parliament

 

Loved our night cruise on the Danube, choosing a 10:00 p.m. boat so the sky would be completely dark. Like Paris and New York, Budapest is a city of bridges, each with its own history and character.

 

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The New York Cafe, Budapest

 

We also loved our visit to a local legend, the New York Cafe. Go!

One hot afternoon I managed to walk for ages (!) in the opposite direction to my goal, passing every embassy on Andrassy Avenue, which terminates in Hero’s Square. 

Desperately tired and thirsty, I staggered into a shady seat in a cafe…full of men smoking hookahs! I got chatting to a man beside me, about my age, and happily puffing away on his after-work treat. We had a great conversation: he was born in Lebanon, raised in Kuwait, studied to his PhD in India and had worked with NGOs in Africa before coming to IBM. Hussein was a sweetie and I so enjoyed meeting him.

 

Zagreb

 

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So far, perhaps, my favorite city for its relaxed quality: Berlin’s blocks are very, very long (so tiring to navigate) and Budapest was just too full of bro’s.

Zagreb — with only 790,000 people, (to B and B’s 3 million or so) — felt just right.

I liked my hotel very much, The Palace, and my small room with its quiet garden view; (the street-side is busy with tram traffic.) Had a phenomenal massage in their wellness center for $60 — about half what it costs in New York.

Zagreb feels lived-in, in a good way. I was very struck by how clean the streets are, and its many green, flower-filled parks. No graffiti, at least not in the central areas — something Berlin is covered with.

The city’s many cafes were full of people actually talking and laughing with one another —- not staring grimly into laptops.

Food is a mix of Eastern European (lots of meat!), Italian and Balkan, with various kinds of cheese and cottage cheese I’d never seen before.

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Loved the Dolac, the central  daily farmer’s market that runs from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m, filled with fruit and vegetables and flowers and cheeses and nuts and lavender and local shoppers with their wheelie carts. The square is edged by cafes, so you can take a break as you head home laden with cherries!

 

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Loved the city’s many blue trams, making it quick, easy and comfortable to get around.

Loved its architecture and ocher and yellow-painted walls.

 

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Loved most the Upper Town, silent and breeze-blown, with a spectacular church. I visited two museums there and loved both — the atelier of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous artist. His sculpture is exquisite, in marble and bronze and his home, built in the 1920s, a lovely space as well.  If you like Rodin/Giacometti and/or the work of Diego Rivera, you’ll like this.

The Museum of Naive Art, a block away in Upper Town, is fantastic — filled with works on paper and many done on glass. A small museum, maybe four or five rooms, (a docent told me they have 1,900 items with only 75 on display), it’s really special. (Word of warning, though: both of these museums have steep narrow staircases to enter and to see everything in the Mestrovic site. Those with mobility issues might not be able to enjoy them.)

The city has 37 hotels — and 33 (!) hostels, making it an accessible place for all budgets.

I mostly loved seeing how people enjoy their city — guys playing badminton in the park, little girls rollerblading, people just sitting on the many pretty benches to chill out in the shade.

Zagreb felt civilized in all the right ways.