7 things you should do after returning from holiday

Coming home after a holiday is never a good thing. You’ve got to return to normality after a while bathing in tropical sunshine and exploring the world’s treasures, and you’re not likely to be happy about it. Don’t worry – here are seven tips to ease you back into real life after that dreaded trip back home.

Get back to a normal sleep schedule

Jetlag is a very real problem both when you arrive at your destination and when you come home. The shift in time zones means your body needs to adjust its sleep routine to fit them, and when you come back home you might find that you’re either up too early in the morning or unable to sleep late at night.

Make sure you’re giving yourself time to adjust before getting back into the swing of things – you’ll want to catch up on sleep as well as returning to your normal routine. If it means going to bed earlier than usual, do it. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Take time before returning to work

Don’t rush to get back to work once you’ve arrived home – not that you’ll want to, anyway. You’re going to feel tired once you get home, an inevitable problem after the stress and time taken to travel.

It’s likely you’re also not going to be in a positive frame of mind once you arrive back home, with the post-holiday blues kicking in. So, giving yourself that extra day or two to adjust and settle back into normality is definitely necessary for your mental health, as well as physically.

Tackle your to-do list

It’s likely the tasks are going to pile up on top of each other quickly once you arrive home. Priorities with work and home have likely been put aside on your travels, so you’ll want to sort them as soon as you’re back to prevent the stress of putting them off further.

Expect a higher workload once you’re back in the office as you’ve been gone for a while – this is inevitable, so don’t fret and instead go in with the determination to clear the backload.

Unpack immediately

A lot of people feel to just crash whenever they get home from a holiday – 1 in 10 Britons, in factDon’t be that person. The longer you leave your suitcase full and unpacked, the less you’re likely to want to tackle it. Motivate yourself to get it empty and stowed away as soon as you’re home – it’s one less thing to worry about in the future!

Your clothes are probably going to be dirty and in need of a good wash; especially if there weren’t any facilities where you were staying. Put on a load once you’re home so that they’re fresh and ready to go when you need them.  Her Packing List has published a handy guide to get your unpacking out of the way.

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Make the following weekend a quiet one

Regardless of when you get home, make sure that you reserve the following weekend for some “me time”. You’ve probably found yourself busy and caught up in the days following your return, so having the weekend to unwind and catch up on some needed relaxation is crucial.

Try to stay home and chill out instead of finding things to do – they can easily wait a few more days. There’ll likely be nothing urgent enough for you to have to rush out, so take some time to put your priorities aside and relax.

Convert your unused currency

If you’re lucky (or clever) enough to have some money left over from your travels, don’t let it sit in a drawer until next time around – unless you’ve not got long until you jet off again, that is!

Have another look at exchange rates and see where you can get back an amount that’s as close to what you paid initially. Exchange rates do unfortunately fluctuate dramatically very quickly, so you’re going to want to have a look around and find the best deal for what you have left. Only bother if you’ve got a substantial amount, though – it’s obviously not worth exchanging a few cents for coppers.

Start planning the next trip

What better way to eliminate the blues than by booking your next getaway? CTI recommends planning another holiday once you return home as a great way to overcome the inevitable sadness of having to leave, so don’t hesitate!

Having another holiday in the future will keep you from becoming too forlorn and sad that you’re home – it really does take a toll on you. Keep reminding yourself of it to let excitement take over, instead of a longing to go back to where you just came from.

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This post is in collaboration with Ellen Collins. Photos are my own.

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Panama Series: What’s up in Santa Catalina?

We hadn’t spend much time in Pedasi, yet just enough to give us a sweet taste of the burning sun, the cool, turquoise saltwater, the soft, white sand and the calm atmosphere on the beach. Good thing we were headed to yet another beach location. A surf town, to be more specific. Before you ask, I don’t know how to surf. Nor do I know what to expect  from a surfers hotel or hangout spots. But sometimes, not knowing what to expect turns out to be either a great surprise or… “not so funny when it happens, yet kind of funny in hindsight” – kind of stories. Or just a life lesson.

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Our hotel – or hostel (depending on which staff member you asked) – was located a few kilometers outside of the town center. We didn’t mind, as we had our car and weren’t planning on doing anything besides going to the beach before having dinner and drinks at the hotel. I would have loved to visit Coiba Island and go snorkeling, but we didn’t have time for any full day excursions like that, as we had a tight schedule the following morning. I tried my hardest to hide my disappointment and not come off as a spoiled brat, but everyone could read me like an open book with ‘ungrateful piece of….’ written in bold capital letters on the front page.

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Our hotel/hostel looked absolutely gorgeous from the outside. Surfboards and palm trees decorating the outdoor common area, giving the hotel just the right vibe. The view over the beach was spectacular, and I couldn’t wait to dip my toes into the crystal clear water.

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However, when we checked into our rooms, I wasn’t sure whether I was indeed an ungrateful child or if I was allowed to speak up and express my opinion. What from the outside appeared to be like a tropical paradise, was just a facade. Because the rooms were disgusting. They were worse than a cheap motel I once stayed at in the UK, where I found bloodstains on the wall. At least those stains were identifiable. In our rooms here in the hotel/hostel in Santa Catalina, I had no idea what on earth I was looking at – or where to start looking. The curtains were covered in stains of all colors. Some looked like sperm, others could be vomit, food or – who knows. There were pieces of chewing gum stuck to the curtains, as well.

The bed sheets had hairs of different long haired people in it. Black, brown, blonde. And some stains of what could be tomato sauce (or vomit) on the pillow cases. And then there was the large chunk of black hair found in the shower and all the random stains in the sink. Lovely. The towels had some clean areas, but were stained pretty much all over. I had to go to my boyfriends’ parents room to ask for toilet paper, as we had absolutely nothing in our room. The parents had already decided to sleep with their clothes on and would certainly leave a complaint upon checkout. We all agreed that asking for a new room would change nothing. They were probably all just as bad. And it was just for a night anyway.

We used our own clothes as pillowcases and covered the sheets with our dirty beach towels. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather rub my face against sand and sea salt than a random persons bodily fluids.

After turning the disgusting bed into a camping arrangement, we changed into our swimwear and headed down to the beach. Just like in Pedasi, there were dogs running around freely, and washed up plastic littered the otherwise gorgeous sandy beach. The waves were calm, and I’m sure all the surfers who came to Santa Catalina because of its reputation as a surfers point, were feeling kind of disappointed for not being able to go out there and practice. “I’m thirtsty”, I said to my boyfriend – who forwarded the message to his parents, changing it to we’re thirsty, meaning, we wanted cocktails.

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The hotel restaurant didn’t disappoint us the way the rooms did. Not at all. The cocktails were delicious – and cheap – and the food was good. Although, I think Mexicans would shake their heads in shame if they saw my tacos, I enjoyed the taste of them. But then again, I enjoy Taco Bell too, so I’m probably not your greatest source for high quality Tex-Mex recommendations. But trust me on those Pina Coladas and Margharitas!

Getting drunk seemed like a great idea. It would make it easier for me to fall asleep in that dreadful room, and maybe – if I was lucky – it would even wipe away the memory of what I’d seen. Not trying to be overdramatic at all, but this makes me realize how much I appreciate cleanliness above anything else when traveling.

Adios, Santa Catalina. Next stop; Boquete!

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A day at the market in Essaouira, Morocco

I went to Essaouira for the DIPINTO17 Retreat for Creative Entrepreneurs – but as you all know, a retreat is never “all work, no play”. A retreat is first and foremost a learning experience, motivational, inspirational – and a great way to make new friends and learn about the culture of the host country. While visiting the traditional market (the souk) in Essaouira, I got to experience shopping in a way I hadn’t done since I went to Tunisia with my parents. I got re-introduced to the concept of haggling. Modest as I am, it’s not something I feel comfortable with – but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Right?

There I was, watching and learning from others before – somewhat – getting the hang of it. After all, back in Tunisia it wasn’t me who took care of the haggling. I was a seven year old kid back then. I remember my parents buying me a lot of souvenirs from the island of Djerba, and little did I know how much effort they had to go through to buy me those souvenirs for a reasonable price.

Reasonable price is never the price written on the price tag. That price is a rip-off, and only naive and modest tourists (like myself) will ever pay that price for something you can get half price if you just grow a pair and speak up. When I first arrived at the souk in Essaouira, I ran around like a headless chicken, not knowing what to do or what to say. My only advantage was that I speak French and could pretend to be a penny-pinching French tourist instead of the vendors thinking I’m some rich American throwing money around and buying everything from everyone. Yes, those are stereotypes, and no, they’re not always true. I know that, you know that, the Moroccans know that.

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The market in Essaouira is a lot more relaxed than the one in Marrakech. Here, there are no snake charmers, no monkeys on a leash, no one trying to nearly force you to get Henna tattoos done, no one getting mad at you for not looking at their merchandise. Although I love certain things about the souk in Marrakech, and although the chaos and energy can sometimes be fun and although it adds to the experience,  I will have to admit that I prefer the traditional market in Essaouira.

The vendors are generally quite relaxed. If you don’t enter their shop, they will not say anything. And once you enter the shop they will ask you if you’re looking for anything special and help you find what you’re looking for. And obviously propose other options.That’s it. And that’s the way I like to go shopping.

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The number one beauty product to invest in when in Morocco – the motherland of Argan oil – is exactly that, argan oil for hair and body. And where better to buy it than in Essaouira, the part of Morocco where the oil is produced. I asked a vendor how much he wanted for a travel size bottle, and he pointed at the price tag. It seemed like a reasonable price to me. My new friends from the retreat – including a local – gave me a surprised look and asked me shockingly if I really did pay the price written on the price tag. I was confused. Of course I did. It seemed cheap. And doesn’t an actual price tag mean that the price is fixed? Apparently not.

“You should have haggled!” they said. I tried again somewhere else. I entered a shop selling beautiful pashmina scarves. I took a deep breath. The vendor offered a price. Was it high? Was it low? I had no idea. We negotiated. I suggested fifteen dirhams less. He suggested five. We met halfway, I paid and we shook hands. I was still confused as to whether or not I should have gone harder or if I was too hard on him. I took another deep breath and moved on.

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Leather wallets. I wanted to get one as a gift for my partner. I found the perfect one and I negotiated harder than I had done in the previous shop. I almost felt sweat dripping from my forehead as I tried to act stubborn and hard to sell, when all I really wanted was to say “I can’t do this” and just pay, shake hands, smile and leave. But I did it. I negotiated!

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I wanted to take a lot of pictures at the market but worried I’d offend the vendors if I photographed their merchandise without buying anything. So I purposely photographed only the places where I bought things from, the places where I’d asked for permission first – and a few sneaky shots taken in a hurry. While photographing my surroundings I noticed an adorable little kitten sitting on a man’s knee while the man was playing guitar. I couldn’t stop looking at the cute little kitten, and felt rather embarrassed when I suddenly made eye contact with the man – who probably thought I was staring at him all this time!

And then there was the strange experience that turned out to be the highlight of the day. One of my friends from the retreat had entered something that looked like Ali Baba’s cave, a tiny room with multiple treasure chests (yes, treasure chests) filled with gorgeous jewelry. The happiest man I’d ever seen, with a bright blue turban, welcomed me and three of my new friends (we had been separated from the rest of the group) to his cave and offered me and another woman a seat while the guys waited in the back. “What do you like? What do you need? You can try anything!” he said joyfully and dug his hands into one of the treasure chests and offered us a handful of random jewelry. “Try whatever you want” he said. One of our friends tried a bracelet that turned out to be a tad bit too tight and the vendor laughed and said “You eat too much couscous, my friend!”. “Here – try this one!” he laughed and suggested some other options. Before she knew it, she had three bracelets on her arm. She also tried on a beautiful necklace. Everything was gorgeous. She liked it too, but put on an act to not seem too easy to sell. “You are a strong Berber woman!” he laughed, referring to the Moroccan Berbers, an unconquered people.

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I tried on a few bracelets. Many of them were way too big for my tiny wrists (the only thing tiny on me). “You don’t eat enough couscous!” he laughed and offered me to try another one. A bracelet I fell completely in love with. I also tried on a lovely necklace but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to buy it or not. “It is perfect for you” he said, trying to convince me to buy it. I hesitated and told him “If I buy too much, I’ll have no more money for couscous!”.

In the end we all ended up with jewelry for a ‘family price’ discount, and the funny vendor even handed out some freebies for our two male friends. Now this guy could sell anything to anyone, just by being the funniest and most dynamic vendor I’ve ever met. I didn’t even go there to buy jewelry. I went there for the entertainment. The jewelry was just a pleasant bonus. Someone give this man a one man show!

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What a day it had been. What an experience. Oh, how I’d love to go back to Essaouira with an empty suitcase and just stay at the market for one more day – or two. And that’s coming from someone who has a phobia of haggling.

Photos below are from a restaurant I want to visit next time I’m in Essaouira(we didn’t have time while we were there). There’s live music in the evenings, and just look at how amazing and artsy this place is!

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While heading towards the market, we saw a lot of this.

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And this. I love the colors!

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Our villa was a 20-25 minute drive from the city centre. Domaine La Colline des Oliviers .

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Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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The traditional or the kinky? Christmas Markets in Hamburg, Germany

Ah, Christmas markets. Lovely decorations everywhere, nostalgic music playing in the background – and a valid excuse to walk around snacking and drinking punch in the middle of the day. If there’s a country that knows how to do Christmas markets properly, it’s Germany. Lucky as I am, I already went to (some of) the ones in Hamburg last weekend and early this week. And believe me – there’s a market for every taste. There’s one for those who love fun fairs, plenty for those who like to keep it more traditional and there’s even a steamy one for the kinky crowd!

Winter Dom is an annual fun fair (there’s actually a Spring Dom and a Summer Dom too) – and the biggest one in Northern Germany. My partner and I, kind of found it by coincidence while on our way to the “Santa Pauli” market – and I’m glad we did. We had just eaten a large meal so riding roller coasters and other fast rides was not very tempting, nor did we want to buy anything to snack on (yet), but the Winter Dom is definitely the place to be for the thrill-seekers who love roller coasters (yes, one of them has multiple loops). You can also go ice skating or visit a haunted house or ride the ferris wheel. All I wanted was to take in all the sights and stroll along, hand in hand with my significant other. I couldn’t stop smiling. The nostalgia, the Christmas magic – I needed this.

Dates: 04.11.16 – 04.12.16

Where: Heiligengeistfeld, St. Pauli (U3 subway to St. Pauli or Feldstrasse

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Santa Pauli – we wish you a kinky Christmas? Welcome to the sexiest Christmas market in Germany, located on the Reeperbahn – the city’s red light district. This one’s is for those who want to buy a special gift for their special someone and keep it their special little secret. Or maybe you don’t want to be secretive about it. I’m not gonna judge. Would you like a striptease? Enter Santa Pauli’s strip tent. If you want to avoid all of that but still want to hang out at the market, then don’t worry. There are plenty of regular Christmas shops and places to grab a drink or something to eat there too.

Dates: 17.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Spielbudenplatz (U3 subway to St. Pauli)

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On almost every corner between St Pauli and Rathaus, there’s a small Christmas market where you can buy yourself a snack or a hot beverage. I went with apple and cinnamon punch and chocolate covered marshmallow cookies (photo below).

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Historic Christmas market on Rathausmarkt opened on Monday – and of course we were there to check it out! This market was my favorite one in Hamburg. The perfect place to go shopping for traditional Christmas ornaments and decorations and a great place to spend time with your friends, family or your partner. Have a drink or five, enjoy a nice warm meal or a sweet treat and enjoy the celebration of this wonderful holiday. Thank you Hamburg, thank you for this joyful experience!

Dates: 21.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Rathausmarkt (U3 subway to Rathaus)

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Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Country chic at Les Vieilles Tours

Where it is: Lafage, 46500 Rocamadour (Le Lot department, France)

 

Website: http://www.vtrocamadour.com/

Who is it suitable for: couples, families.

Thumbs up for…: friendly staff, amazing food

Thumbs down for…: the outdated furniture/decor in our room.

**

As we entered the lobby, we were completely alone. No one at the front desk, and only a dog – a calm and quiet Labrador – was guarding the driveway. We searched high and low for anyone, any person at all, who worked there and could check us in.

…That was until we realized how little we had paid attention to the small but quite  obvious details on the reception desk. A button to push and something in the lines of “call me” written on it. We blamed our ignorance on being tired after a long drive. Only seconds after we’d pushed that button, the hostess arrived and welcomed us.

Welcome to a charming 17th-century manor house and its 2 annex buildings, located in a tranquil environment. Each room is individually decorated in the style of country chic and features en suite bathrooms. Our room had an extra bed in a separate room, which is nice for those who travel with a third companion. Families with one child, for example.

I like country chic decor and vintage interior. But our particular guest room could need a change of furniture and textiles. The brick wall, however, gives the room a rustic and cool look, and the exterior of the annex is idyllic and gorgeous.

It was too chilly outside to try the outdoor swimming pool. I was – for a brief moment – considering giving it a try, until I realized I’d probably catch a cold if I did.

The restaurant was my highlight of the stay. The atmosphere was relaxing and perfect for a romantic evening. The decor was simple and classic – as classic as the menu. Those who love French gastronomy will appreciate everything served here. Those who don’t really know the French kitchen that well; give the menu a try and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!

Our waiter was a lovely man, always with a smile on his face. We weren’t sure which red wine to choose and asked him for advice. He recommended one that tasted absolutely exquisite. A little fruity, not too dry, not too strong – it was perfect for us.

The breakfast served the following morning was as French as the meal we enjoyed the night before. A glass of juice, a cup of coffee and a few pastries later  and it was time to get back on the road and leave the country chic environment – for now.

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Incredible Caverns in France

When we first made plans to visit Dordogne, we had two main purposes in mind. One was the obvious food and wine tasting. The other is obvious only to those who already have a bit of knowledge about this region and know what makes it so unique as a destination for both local and international tourists.

The Dordogne department has hundreds of caverns. Some of them were discovered quite recently, while others were known as a tourist attraction already in the early 19th century. While some caverns are not open to the public, others have become popular tourist attractions and attract curious visitors from all over the world.

I visited four different caverns during our week in Dordogne and nearby. All four were unique and fascinating in their own way. The first cavern I got to explore was the Gouffre de Proumeyssac . We were given the option to walk down a tunnel together with a guide, or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket from the ceiling – the way the explorers did when they first discovered the cavern. As much as I would have wanted to choose the basket, my fear of heights made me chose the tunnel instead. The first sight that met me as I entered the cavern was a sign that said “No photos allowed”. How disappointing. The tour itself was no disappointment, though. In complete darkness, we were guided to a view point inside of the cavern. A light show entertained us as it illuminated the cavern and its different formations, in harmony with relaxing music.

The second one on the list was Les Grottes de Maxange . These two caverns were named after the man who discovered them, whose name was Angel – and in honor of his father; Maximilien. Les Grottes de Maxange was without a doubt my favorite visit. All along the narrow cavern are thousands of very small eccentric concretions. They are tiny stalactite-formations which instead of growing vertically, they grow in all directions. A display like this is very rare, and it’s as beautiful as it is unusual.

Third one up was supposed to be the prehistorical famous Lascaux , but unorganized as we were, we forgot to check the opening hours before arrival, and got there almost two hours before the first tour. We changed our plans and visited castles and nearby villages instead of caverns that day. However, the following day was a new opportunity to explore another cavern: Gouffre de Padirac .

To enter the Gouffre de Padirac, we were given the choice between a whole lot of stairs, or an elevator. As I’m terrified of heights, I chose the stairs – as it gives me a stronger feeling of control. A feeling of exhaustion and relief as I descended what I thought was the bottom of the cavern. But then there was another set of stairs. People had already gotten in line for the gondolas and we spent perhaps forty minutes in line, waiting for our turn. But it was worth every minute of the wait.  The gondola ride on the lake (completely formed by rain) was romantic and felt somewhat supernatural. What a unique way of exploring a cavern!

The final cavern we visited was Les Grottes de Lacave . The cavern is entered on a small electric train, which itself was a fun experience. Inside of this large natural cavern, there’s an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites. During one part of the tour, visitors enter an area where there’s no light except from ultraviolet – displaying the incredible formations in a whole different way. A magical way.

I never thought I’d ever see anything as supernatural looking and incredible as the things I saw while visiting these caverns. And yet, there they are, underground, in the southwest of France.

Les Grottes de Maxange

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Gouffre de Padirac

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Les Grottes de Lacave

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Review: A night at the elegant Château de la Cazine (Limousin region, France)

Where it is:  Domaine de la Fôt, 23300 Noth, rural Limousin region (France)

Website: http://www.chateaudelacazine.fr/en/

Who it is suitable for: romantic getaway, weddings, those who want to pamper themselves with spa-treatments and need a break from everyday stress

Thumbs up for…:  friendly staff, lovely room with gorgeous decor

Thumbs down for…: the swimming pool. It was supposed to be heated, but I got myself an ice-cold surprise as I entered

**

Ah, those romantic weekend-getaways. People have different ways of spicing up their relationship. Castles, spa-treatments and local gastronomy is ours. Fortunately,  me and my significant other live in France, where  there’s plenty of charming chateau-hotels to choose from and the restaurants will (most likely) not disappoint you. A lot of these classy chateaus offer bicycle rental, spa-treatments or have their own swimming pool and maybe even a tennis court.

Château de la Cazine offer all those things – and more. The chateau offers relaxing spa treatments and has an outdoor swimming pool for those who want to relax in the nice, supposedly heated water. It was freezing cold when we were there, though.

If swimming pools and spa-treatments don’t interest you, then what about horse riding? Fishing? Or maybe you’d like to play tennis, rent a bicycle – go mountain biking if you’re more of an adventurous type – or maybe you’d like to use the chateau’s own gym? Remember, if you need a soothing sports massage after a good workout, you can get one of those here too!

Although the chateau is located in a rather remote area, it’s safe to say you won’t get bored. This beautiful venue is also frequently used for weddings and as a honeymoon location. In case you’re a bride or groom to be; this place is perfect for that idyllic wedding in the french countryside. Just perfect.

And what are the rooms like? Sophisticated, old-fashioned and elegant en-suites, designed and decorated with a modern twist to the style of Louis XIV. You enter the room and immediately feel like a royal. I wore my invisible crown all day that day.

Now, let’s talk about the restaurant.

At first I was slightly disappointed. We spent a long time waiting for the server to take our order. A very long time. So long, in fact, that we decided not to order any cheese or dessert, as we were afraid we’d be stuck there waiting impatiently for something that possibly wouldn’t even arrive. The rest of the evening was fine. The meal was nice, the wine was good, the atmosphere was lovely. The breakfast the following morning was the typical french breakfast with bread, jam, pastries, coffee/tea and juice. They also served other things like ham and different kinds of cheese, to cater to the international crowd, I guess. That’s a big plus.

After a lovely breakfast and a nice little chat with the lovely receptionist, it was time to check out and remove my invisible princess crown.

 

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A different side of Warsaw, Poland

When you think of Poland, do you think about Kraków? Do you think about vodka? Do you think about unpronounceable names with too many consonants and not enough vowels? Well, let me give you something new to think about.

Welcome to Warsaw, the capital city of my favorite Eastern European country (because I’m half Polish and obviously biased). Welcome to a diverse, cosmopolitan city and its young, vibrant environment. It’s not all young and urban here, though. There’s still the Old Town with its beautiful ancient architecture, and the historical royal palaces and their parks on the outskirts of the city. I’m gonna talk more about some of those.

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My favorite park is the Lazienki Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw. It was designed in the 17th century, and the palace on the water – Lazienki Palace – is a must see while visiting this picturesque park. What is the history of this marvelous palace and park complex, you may ask. It was built as a summer residence for King Stanislaw August, and was later used by the President of Poland. Today, its a museum and a venue for cultural, scientific and entertainment events. Speaking of which; from May to September – at noon and at 4 pm – free outdoor Chopin concerts take place there. Take the bus (116, 166, 180) from the central train/bus station to Lazienki Królewskie and check it out!

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Another park I’ve fallen in love with is the garden of the historic Wilanów palace – the “Polish Versailles”, and second home to various Polish kings. Just like the Lazienki Palace, the Wilanów Palace is also open for tourists to visit as a museum. Take the bus (519 or 700) from the central train/bus station to come here and enjoy this idyllic garden!

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After spending a full day in one of these parks, I’m sure your legs are gonna be exhausted from all the walking. And maybe you need a bit of caffeine and some sugar? And a what about a cuddle? You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m on about, and it’s not as weird as it sounds – although some people may still find it weird anyway. Follow me to Miau Cafe – the first cat cafe in Warsaw! I have never felt as calm and relaxed as I did in the lounge area of this establishment. It’s completely hygienic, as all food and drinks are prepared in a closed kitchen area – away from the furry kitties. And the cats are not crawling all over your stuff if you (or the hostess) tell them to back off.

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I’m sure some of you are interested in visiting Poland because you want to go shopping. I don’t blame you. My mother is crazy about it, so I’ve spent a whole lot of time with her inside of the malls of Warsaw searching for things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like. At least it’s not that expensive to go shopping in Warsaw – although it’s way more expensive now than it used to be, before Poland became one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. Zlote Tarasy is kind of hard to miss if you come to Warsaw city center by train or bus, as it’s just across the street from the central train station. This mall has everything you need and more. All kinds of stores, a hypermarket, a food court and a movie theater.

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The other one worth checking out is the large shopping mall Arkadia , which is easy to reach by public transportation, as nine of the tram lines and six of the buses go there. Grab an ice-cold beer at the Bierhalle or one of the many ice cream desserts at Grycan. Enjoy!

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Let me ask you again; when you think of Poland, what do you think about? Did any of these things tempt you into visiting Warsaw during your next trip to Poland?

If yes, then here’s another idea for what you can do in Warsaw. Sit down in a Pierogi-restaurant, order those dumplings filled with deliciousness, raise your pint of Polish beer or your vodka-based cocktail and say “Na Zdrowie!”. You’re welcome.