London: The Musts

I remember the day I arrived in London for the first time as an adult so clearly, even though it was more than two years ago… It was something about the majestic houses that line up the streets, the continuous hustle and bustle of the city and the beauty of just every corner you turn to, I knew this city was always going to have a special place in my heart..

Since I spent a while in London, I decided to dedicate separate posts for the food scene there, which I will be publishing soon.. For now, I wanted to give you a sample itinerary for the prime spots that you should be covering if you ever visit.. This is based on me living there for almost a year, taking people who came to visit me around and also returning to London as a visitor myself around a month ago.

While this list might not be exhaustive, it includes the main areas and tourist attractions that you definitely should cover while in London:

  1. Start off on The Strand, home to many of the main hotels in London such as Savoy, One Aldwyich, ME London by Melia. There you can pass by the major theatre houses located on Aldwych and if you’re walking there at night you can see people scurrying around before and after their shows, grabbing a bite in Covent Garden. By continuing to walk along the Strand, you will reach Trafalgar Square, one of the main public squares in London that houses the National Gallery and is home to a lot of the public demonstrations that happen in London. If you’re a fan of art, then definitely stop by the National Gallery as it has a beautiful display of +2,300 paintings from the mid 13th century up to the 1900s. The architecture of the building itself inside is also very beautiful.IMG_4736IMG_4804
  2. From Trafalgar Square, walk along Whitehall street to see the Horse Guards and if you time it right you might even pass by when the change of guards is happening. From the Horse Guards place you can either continue to St. James Park and the other parks in London or continue down the street past 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister of the UK, reaching Big Ben. Don’t be surprised, it will look just as majestic as it does in photos, if not more. If you continue walking down Westminster Bridge, you will reach Southbank, home to London Eye (You can buy tickets there, or online at: https://www.londoneye.com/) Southbank is a great spot to take photos with Big Ben in the background ( I can vouch for that, I took my graduation photos there.) If you’re going during Christmas time, Southbank has a really nice Christmas market with live performances and delicious food stands!IMG_4904IMG_4905
  3. From there you can take the tube to London Bridge, where you can easily walk to one of my favourite food markets in London, Borough Market. Several Harry Potter scenes were shot in and around this area, you can even take a guided tour of these spots. I will include a link to my top picks at Borough Market once I publish the London Food posts. From Borough Market, you  can continue walking along the Southwark cathedral to bankside, passing by Shakespeare’s Globe (A replica of the Elizabethan theatre showing Shakespeare plays in the open air) to reach Tate Modern (London’s national gallery for international modern art). After touring Tate Modern, you shouldn’t miss out on crossing Millenium Bridge and taking the best photos of St. Paul’s cathedral from there. The walk from Borough Market to St. Paul is actually one of my favourite “mini-tours” of London.IMG_4937IMG_4972

These items above will take around 3-4 hours for you to complete depending on how many stops you will be taking for food, pictures, galleries, etc. There are also other things that you must do while in London:

  1. Visit Shoreditch, the creative and hipster hub of East London. If you walk from Brick Lane towards Shoreditch you’ll even have a chance to see some of the best street art in London lined up on the way. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, make sure to check out Brick Lane’s sunday market, filled with second-hand finds and food stalls. All across Shoreditch you will find vintage stores and independent boutiques. Shoreditch is also home to Boxpark, a popup mall filled with popular food popups such as Soft Serve Society (see photo). Shoreditch also has some of the best bars and clubs in London such as Cargo, Queen of Hoxton, Nightjar, etc. IMG_4960.jpg
  2. Shop along Regent’s, starting off at Piccadilly Circus which is London’s own Times Square. Not only is it beautiful to walk down Regent’s Street all the way to Oxford Circus and reaching Regent’s Park, they also have the widest variety of international stores lined up the streets. If you go early enough in the morning, stores will not be as crowded and you will be able to shop with a peace of mind.IMG_5142IMG_5191
  3. Visit Green Park, my favourite park in London. There is nothing special about it, but it is so green and serene, I loved sitting there for hours doing nothing. From Green Park you can walk to Buckingham Palace to see the house of the Queen and then continue to Hyde Park. Hyde Park is huge, people go there to exercise, feed the ducks along the Serpentine Lake, enjoy a cup of coffee at the Serpentine cafe or rent a bicycle. During Christmas time, Hyde Park is home to Winter Wonderland, one of London’s main Christmas markets.
  4.  Go to Camden, one of London’s other hip Boroughs, this place has markets such as the Lock Market, Lock Village, Stables Market which are great for souvenirs, art pieces and books. It also has a very popular food market that gets really busy on weekends. After you pick up something to eat from the market, walk along Regent’s canal reaching Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill. Primrose Hill is a hill located on the northern side of Regent’s Park and has some of the best views of the city. It’s a great idea to relax there after walking all the way down from Camden.
  5. Visit Harrods, one of London’s oldest and biggest department stores. Walking downwards along Brompton Road, you will reach the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world’s largest museum of art and design, as well as the Natural History Museum. During Christmas time you also have the chance to ice skate at the Natural Museum ice rink.

Great areas to walk in for cafes, shops and restaurants: Covent Garden, South Kensington, Mayfair, Soho, Notting Hill, Neal’s Yard.

Please let me know if you end up following any of the suggestions above! Would love to hear out your thoughts!

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Lugano: The run down

Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I’ve been to several cities like Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, Crans-Montana and Lugano, and the nature and greenery in each of these cities always leave you feeling so serene and peaceful. You should be warned, Switzerland isn’t a very big foodie destination, but they are famous for their ah-mazing chocolate (Lindt and Läderach are just one of the many)

The reason we specifically chose Lugano out of all Swiss cities was that it was very close to Milan, where we already were.

How to get there?

Again, similar to my trip to Florence, I would suggest the train as the quickest, cheapest and most convenient way to get to Lugano. We used Tren Italia from Milano Centrale to Lugano, with the whole journey taking 1 hour and 15 minutes approximately. Tickets can be bought for as cheap as € 24 for normal coach tickets and € 33 for first class tickets.

Lugano has a domestic airport Lugano Agno Airport with only Swiss Airlines and Darwin Airlines flying into it, which means that if you’re coming in from outside of Switzerland, you would have to fly into Zurich or Milan and take a bus or train to arrive to Lugano.

What to do?

1) Take a walk through Parco Civico – Ciani:  A beautiful park with the most colorful tulips. We walked through the park for around an hour and then sat on one of the benches staring out at Lake Lugano from there.  Parco Civico is also home to the Natural History Museum, Lugano Cantonal Library and Villa Ciani, where art exhibitions are often held.

2) Go up Monte San Salvatore: You can take the funicular from Paradiso to the top (the whole journey will take around 15 minutes and cost Fr. 30 for a return trip ticket). The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking! There is a terrace near Restaurant Vetta that has a panoramic view, photos would look nice from there. There is also a chapel that is a bit of a tiny hike from the terrace. I would definitely recommend going there and going up the roof of the chapel. The view from there is breathtaking! You can see the whole city, my phone even caught some Italian signal! Some people might choose to hike up or down from Monte San Salvatore back to the city, the trail is quite visible and takes around 2 hours to go up and around 1.35 hours to go down. One of the advantages of the funicular is being able to take in the view as you go up from Paradiso to Monte San Salvatore. Believe me, this is one thing you definitely do not want to miss doing in Lugano.IMG_5814IMG_5881

3) Take a tour of Lake Lugano: Did you know that Lake Lugano has 63% of its waters located in Switzerland and the rest in Italy? There are different types of tours, I would recommend the classic tour, it lasts around 80 minutes and takes you around a good area of the lake. You can choose to combine the tour with walking tours as well of the Swissminiatur and other points of interest. Prices start at Fr. 27 for the classic tour.

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Credit to Ticinotopten.ch

4) Walk through Old Town: The architecture is absolutely beautiful, and the city is bustling with people doing some shopping. You have a range of stores there, from local Swiss boutiques to the likes of Rolex, Prada, Louis Vuitton. I would definitely recommend a trip to Laderäch  for amazing Swiss chocolate, you can sample some of the many flavors that they have. Walking through Old Town, will lead you to Piazza della Reforma which is the main square of the city, with a lot of cafes for you to sit at.

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Credits to Ticinotopten.ch

5) Walk along the Lakeside Promenade: It stretches from Paradiso to Parco Civico and it’s a beautiful walk and exercise when the weather is nice. What we actually did was walk from Paradiso where the San Salvatore funicular is all the way to Parco Civico and stopped in the Old Town on the way.

Where to eat?

1) If you’re looking for a place in Piazza della Reforma, I would recommend Vanini Dolce e Caffe, perfect for tea or coffee and some dessert IMG_5992.JPG

2) Arte Al LagoOne of the unique things about this restaurant is that it is located inside an art gallery, it is also has one Michelin star. It is the only Michelin starred restaurant in Lugano. Prices range between Fr. 100 – Fr. 170 per person for a three course meal.

3) Ristorante L’Argentino : Recommended by a friend for their pizza!

4) La Cucina De AliceLocated on the Lugano Lake, this is somewhere you can go for a nice dinner/lunch that won’t necessarily break the bank. They are famous for their homemade pastas! Prices range between Fr. 40 – Fr. 80 per person for dinner/lunch exclusive of alcohol.

Where to stay?

While I cannot personally recommend any hotels as we were only there for the day, I did my research and can recommend these hotels

1) Hotel Splendide Royal ($400-$500): This 5 star hotel has a perfect location, right on the lake of Lugano. This is a recommendation from one of my friends who also said their service is impeccable and breakfast is served in the restaurant with a perfect view of the lake!

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Photo credit to Hotel Splendide Royal

2) Villa Principe Leopoldo ($500-$700): This hotel was once the home of an actual prince, so safe to say, you will be feeling royal. It also has an in house luxurious spa. While the location isn’t as central as Splendide Royal, this hotel also is situated on the Lake of Lugano

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Photo credit to Villa Principe Leopoldo

3) Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola ($400-$600): While this hotel didn’t house a prince, it housed a noble Russian family. It is also home to the 1-star Michelin restaurant Arté D’el Lago. Location is also not as central as Hotel Splendide but it does have its own private park! It also houses two other restaurants, La Rucola and Le Relais

 

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Photo credit to Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola

For recommendations that won’t break the bank, there are these hotels which are quite central and range between 3 to 4 stars:

Hotel Lido Seegarten, International Au Lac Hotel, Park Hotel Principe 

TF x Florence: Firenze Essentials

The capital city of the Tuscan region in Italy, Florence is the perfect escape from bubbling cities like Rome or Milan for a few days. Here you can find it all, Michelin star restaurants, cute little ice cream shops, galleries, museums, churches, gardens and nature. For me, Florence had it all!

While I only spent only two days there, I would definitely go back to explore more as the city has so much to offer!

How to get there?

Since I was already in Italy, the most convenient way to get to Florence for me was by train. There are two main train companies that people use for travel in Italy, Tren Italia and Italo . From personal experience, I had no issues whatsoever with Tren Italia and used it several times across more than one city in Italy. The trains were comfortable and departed/arrived on time. All trains were equipped with electricity sockets and wi-fi, for all you social media crazies, you will stay connected all the way!

The train running from Milan to Florence is the Frecciarossa, which is the fast train, took us about 2 hours to get to Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence from Centrale in Milan.

What to do?

  • Visit Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral square): This square contains the Florence Cathedral with the tall Giotto’s Campanile, the Florence Baptistery a minor basilica and the Opera del Duomo Museum. It is one of the busiest touristy areas in Florence and a must visit for everyone!IMG_6065
  • Explore the San Lorenzo Market: It is a combination of both outdoor and indoor market. The indoor market has a lower floor with butchers as well as fruit and vegetable vendors while the first floor has been revamped into a gourmet food court. Keep in mind that the market closes pretty early (7am to 3pm, all week long)

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    Photo credit to Caf Tours

  • Visit the Uffizi Gallery: Buy tickets in advance! The line was sooooo long, it was an hour or more of waiting. It is one of the most visited museums in the world, comprised mostly of Italian renaissance art. Tickets are around €15- €20.

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    Photo credit to CN Traveler

  • Right next to the Uffizi Gallery you can walk to Ponte Vecchio bridge: This bridge is beautiful to walk through with shops lining up its sides. The shops are mostly jewelers and souvenir sellers. Worth taking photos from and photos of if you walk across the other bridges.

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    Photo credit to CN Traveler

  • Stroll through the Boboli Gardens: These gardens are right behind the Pitti Palace, and very nice to walk through the different sections as well as get good views of the Tuscan scenery surrounding you. IMG_6041.JPGIMG_6039.JPG
  • Visit Piazzale Michelangelo: This square provides panoramic views of the whole city. You can get there by climbing up the stairs or going up the ramps from the Piazza Guiseppe Poggi
  • Visit Palazzo Vecchio: The town hall of Florence, and the view from the Arnolfo tower is also not to be missed!

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    Photo credit to Tala Attasi

Where to eat?

  • Gelato from Perché No!: Ranked as one of the best gelato shops in the world, Perché No! naturally had a queue when we first arrived. The shop itself is very small but they had unique flavors like their milk with sesame seed. Definitely worth a visit!IMG_6015.JPG
  • Lungarno Bistrot: This cute restaurant was the perfect spot for our dinner in Florence! Located a small walk from the Santa Trinita Bridge, this place had warm interiors and perfect service. I can recommend the sliced beef sirloin with chopped pistachios and caramelized onions as well as the Burrata with salmon! Price range for this restaurants is €50-€80 not inclusive of alcohol
  • La Bottega del Buon Caffe, Ora D’Aria, Il Palagio: Some of the top Michelin star recommendations in Florence. Tasting menus as always are recommended from Michelin star restaurants in order to taste as much as possible!
    • La Bottega del Buon Caffe‘s tasting menu is €120 for the 6 course tasting menu and €145 for the 8 course tasting menu, add €100 to each menu if you would like to pair it with win
    • Ora D’Aria
    • Il Palagio’s dinner tasting menu is for €135 pp for the 5 course tasting menu. It is located inside the Four Seasons Firenze, tucked away from the city centerImage result for il palagio florenceImage result for il palagio florence
  • I’Tuscani 2: Try the Bistecca, it is rumored to be one of the best places in Florence for steak! Price range is between €25-€70Image result for i'l tuscani
  • Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina: Known for their wine selection, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina also has fresh homemade pasta and other delicious italian dishes that are worth a try! Price range is between €20-€50 per person
  • Coffee from La Ménagère: Did not personally try this place but was one of the top hits when I was looking for coffee spots in Florence

Where to stay?

  • Hotel De La Ville ($200-$300): I would personally recommend this 4-star hotel as it is the one we stayed in. The location is super central on Via Tornabouni, where all the high end brands and shops where, in addition to being a short walking distance to the famous tourist spots such as the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. The rooms are super spacious, clean and well equipped. The breakfast buffet was also good, diverse and the staff were all very friendly. You should be warned about the rooms not being allowed to turn on any air conditioning until June due to city laws, so the rooms were quite stuffy and we had to keep the windows open at all times.

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    Photo credit to Hotel De La Ville

  • Four Seasons Firenze ($800-$2,000)Although a bit further from the city center and more on the upscale side, the Four Seasons in Florence has a two floor spa as well as Il Palagio, a Michelin Star restaurant and is ranked by most as one of the top hotels to stay in while in Florence.

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    Photo credit to Four Seasons

  • J.K. Palace Firenze ($600-$1,000) : J.K. Palace has a very central location near Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The hotel itself has 20 guestrooms and suites, with a classic contemporary decor. The breakfast buffet here is not to be missed out on I hear.
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    Photo credit to J.K. Palace

     

    As always, if you end up trying any of these recommendations I would love to hear your thoughts!

TF x Tbilisi: 3 Day Itinerary

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has become all the latest craze with people living in Dubai and Doha. I’ll tell you three reasons why: it is a short distance from Dubai (3 hours on Fly Dubai), has a lot of history and scenery, better weather especially in the summer, very cheap (actually one of the cheapest cities I’ve been to)

In preparing for my trip, I did a lot of research on the right places to visit, hotels to stay in, restaurants to eat at and I came up with a short itinerary that we used whilst at Tbilisi, I hope this is useful to any of you planning any trips there soon!

Where to eat

Before listing my top picks for food in Tbilisi, it is worth it to speak a bit about Georgian cuisine in general. Of course, one of the main food items they are famous for is the Khachapuri (bread stuffed with cheese and eggs). Khachapuri is a dish that people have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be stuffed with eggs, cheese or both. It can also be served plain. Another famous Georgian dish is the dumplings (Khinkali), mainly filled with minced meat. Their cuisine is big on stews too!

My top restaurant picks in Tbilisi:

  1. Sakhachapure #1: The best place to have a Khachapuri in Tbilisi! They have several branches around the city, and what I loved about their menu is that they have different types of Khachapuri and different size options. We had the large cheese and egg filled Khachapuri and it was delicious! This restaurant is casual and good for a quick lunch.IMG_4511.JPG
  2. Barbarestan: This restaurant is number one in Tbilisi and I heard so many good reviews about this place. They have Khinkali there! Make sure to book in advance if you want to go. We went there hoping to find a table for dinner but were told the place was fully booked out. The interior of the place looked beautiful and I know it is a family owned restaurant.
  3. Pur Pur: This was one of the best discoveries in Tbilisi. Whilst the food isn’t very “traditional”, it is located in a building that looks like its been run down but the interior of the restaurant was so beautifully decorated with flowers and antique furniture. For dinner, they have live piano or jazz music which makes the vibe really nice. The restaurant is more on the expensive side compared to typical Tbilisi prices. IMG_4521.JPG
  4. Cafe Gabriadze: One of the best restaurants for dinner in Old Town. I loved this cafe, the menu is very traditional and they have great service and a cozy vibe. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any Khinkali. IMG_4502IMG_4496
  5. Rooms Hotel Restaurant, Le Marais, Sakhli, Famous 

Breakfast at Old Rustavelli Hotel: Selection of Khachapuri, Eggs, Cheese, Yoghurt, Salad, Salmon, Honey, Jams and drinks

What to do 

  1. Visit Mtskheta: A mere 20 minutes away by cab, Mtskheta is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the oldest cities in Georgia! It has several churches that you should visit and it has the feel of a village from the 60’s. On the way to Mtskheta I would recommend you make the taxi take a tiny detour to Jvari Monastery, a beautiful monastery atop of a hill with very nice views overlooking Mtskheta. Don’t make the mistake of not making the taxi waiting for you, because we ended up walking for 1.5 hours to get to Mtskheta lol!! At Mtskheta, some of the things that you should see are the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, fortress of Bebris Tzikhe, Samtavro Monastery… I would budget around 4-5 hours in total for MtskhetaIMG_9627.JPGIMG_9628.JPG
  2. Funicular and Mtatsminda Hill: Back in Tbilisi, I would suggest going to Mtatsminda Hill, a nice place to get a high view of the city. On Mtatsminda hill there is a “theme park” and the Funicular restaurant but not much to do otherwise. You can maybe grab a drink at the cafe next to the restaurant. Would recommend going there for sunset.
  3. Walk along Rustavelli Avenue: Down to freedom square and old Tbilisi. I loved walking along this avenue, they had the opera and ballet, museums, city council and parliament just before you get to Freedom Square. IMG_9630.JPG
  4. Old Tbilisi: There are a lot of shops in Old Tbilisi and its very nice just to take a stroll around the old part of the city. This is the perfect place to get all of your souvenirs and you can haggle with all the shop owners! There are also a lot of options for food and cafes. From there you can also easily get to the Dry Bridge Market, the flea market in Tbilisi with all sorts of collectibles vinyls, paintings, furniture, you name it they have it!
  5. Telepherique and Narikala Fortress: Also close to the old town is the telephrique where you can get a ride straight to Narikala Fortress, a fortress overlooking Tbilisi. At the fortress you can also see the botanical gardens and sulphur baths. A nice hike would be downhill where you can go back to the Old City.
  6. Walk along the Peace Bridge to the Presidential Palace IMG_4544.JPG
  7. Other things to do are Vake Park to go paddle boating

Where to stay

Personally, I preferred to stay at a hotel while visiting Tbilisi due to the added comfort over an airbnb, especially that hotels are in abundance there and have very reasonable prices. The top picks that I saw on many blogs are:

  1. The Biltmore Hotel (5 stars):  The best choice for a luxury hotel that has all the amenities you’re looking for (spa, sauna, bar), the location is very central on Rustavelli avenue. Average prices are $250-$300 per night for a twin room.
  2. No. 12 Boutique Hotel (4 stars): A hotel that was recommended quite a lot during my research. It was located in Old City though so not really central. Average prices are $100-$150 per night for a twin room.
  3. Old Tiflis Boutique Hotel (4 stars): Another hotel that was recommended through online research. Like No.12, it is located in the old city with average prices $100-$150 per night for a twin room.
  4. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Old Rustavelli (3 stars): This hotel was very central and close to the Biltmore Hotel. It was located right on Rustavelli Avenue and was very easy to get taxis from there. I would recommend it for the service, breakfast and location. I will not recommend it for cleanliness, noise level of neighbors, luxury/comfort. If you’re planning to spend your entire day out, then this is a good choice. Average prices $80-$120 per night for a twin room.

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If you’ve been to Tbilisi let me know what you think of my suggestions! If you haven’t yet, I hope you find these tips useful!