WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL EUROPE IN WINTER - THE PROS AND CONS

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Winter in Europe is different - in London it is cold and rainy and the sun goes down at 3 p.m. on certain days. If we have an off day when the wind decides to join the party. Ugh !

I have had the pleasure of traveling this continent in both winter and summer and while I will always been a sunshine no rain kind of girl; most of my travel across this continent has been in the Winter months and I will not have it any other way. There are a lot of advantages to choosing to travel this continent between mid-November and March. At the top of my list for why you should travel Europe in winter - the economics.

Flights and hotels are significantly cheaper in winter than in the summer. It is off peak season and due to less traffic, hotels are deeply discounted and already cheap flights are even cheaper. I have seen flights for as little as £9 on one of the low budget airlines.

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Less foot traffic. During the winter, there are usually less tourist; everyone is hibernating and staying indoors trying to stay warm. If you can brave the outdoors, you will rewarded with less crowds and shorter queues to get into tourist attractions. That said, certain attractions like the Eiffel tower or the London eye will likely have a queue year round. I was in Portugal in December and it was crowded. That might also be because Portugal is one of the warmer countries in the Continent this time of year.

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There is nothing like winter in Europe. While most of the continent is cold (and sometimes rainy); you do get rewarded with an excellent festive season. The continent transforms at Christmas - elaborate decorations; mulled wine and Christmas markets. If you have not experienced Christmas in Europe - it should be on your bucket list. I wrote a post about it - check it out here.

Access to locals. Due to less tourist, you are more likely to engage and interact with locals. I think that is a key to traveling - it not just about the sights but also trying to connect with the local. It makes travel a much richer experience.

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Winter Fashion. A little bit of vanity but winter fashion is very chic so pack your winter bests and come on down. While in Portugal, I saw several couples having a professional photoshoot done in chic winter attires as part of their holidays. I have to say I felt a twinge of jealousy at not having thought about doing that myself.

Certain cities are exceptional in winter. While we may fret about the freezing temperatures; there are certain parts of Europe that are worth visiting in winter. Just search for images of the Black forest in Germany in winter; Montreux and St Moritz in Switzerland; the region of South Tyrol in Italy or the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. These are great in summer but their winter ambience is the best.

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There are actually Cities and Countries with mild-ish winter temperatures. While a lot of the continent is cold and certain parts are covered in snow; there are also several cities and countries that have milder temperatures if you are craving some sun and warmth on your winter excursion to Europe. We visited south of Spain in December and we had sunshine and warmth most of the time we were there. Portugal in December/January was quite warm - I could have gotten by with just a thick jumper and scarf; you can lay beach side in south of France in November. Gibraltar is also another warm destination.

While I believe the pros outweigh the cons, it is important to know the downside of traveling this continent in winter as well….

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Days are shorter. The sun does not rise till about 7:15 a.m. in London and there are days the sun goes down by 3:30 p.m. so you will have shorter days. My advice to make the most of day light is to start off your days early and wind down early (if you so choose).

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Weather is unpredictable. Even in the warmer parts of the continent; it does not hurt to pack some winter options including a rain coat or umbrella; gloves; hat; boot; scarfs and coat. The weather is unpredictable and you can have sunshine; rain and snow in the same day or week.

Winter closures. Certain hotels and restaurants shut down for the winter. I have had to rethink trips to Santorini and parts of Croatia due to several hotel closures. There are also tours that close down for the winter. Take that into account when planning your trip. If you are not sure, call or email the hotels to confirm they will be open during your visit.

Plan some bad weather days. While in Paris last November - it rained non stop for twenty-four hours. That was not part of the plan. Thankfully, I always plan a bad weather day itinerary to ensure I make the most of my time in any city. That may include treating yourself (shopping; spas) ; museum hopping; catch a movie; see a play.

36 HOURS IN SAN FRANCISCO CITY GUIDE <> SAN FRANCISCO , U.S.A

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We had mixed feelings about our time in San Fransico. Maybe because we had San Fransico on the bucket list for so long and had built it up so much in our heads that thirty-six hours was not sufficient to do it justice; or if it was because it was the fifth stop on our seven day road trip along highway one and we were tired. Somehow our time in San Fransico felt like it needed a redo. That is why it has taken so long to get a post up about our time in San Fransico. While doing some digital cleaning, I went through pictures of our time in San Fran and in hindsight we had a pretty great time. We did not do all the things, but we stopped by the major sights and had a great time exploring.   Here goes - our thirty-six hours guide to San Fransico.

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WHEN TO VISIT. San Fransico is perfect for any time of year. We visited in early November and although the mornings were a bit cold; the weather most of the time was perfect. I will recommend avoiding the peak travel periods. San Fransico is a very expensive city and if you can save money by visiting off-peak then I will recommend doing that.

WHERE TO STAY. Because hotel rates are quite steep and we had a rental car (which cost an average of $45 to park per day at most hotels in the city). We opted to stay outside of San Fransico. We chose an inn in Daly city. It was not a five-star hotel but any means but it was clean; we felt safe and since we just needed a place to crash, it worked fine for us. As an added bonus, they had free parking and wi-fi. 

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GETTING AROUND. On our first night there, we took the train from Daly City into the city - it worked fine but we found the uber/uber pool was a better option for us and used that on Day two getting into the city and getting around San Fransico. Driving into the city was not an option - parking is scarce and if you do find parking, it is quite expensive.

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DAY 1 - GOLDEN GATE PARK; BAKER BEACH AND DINNER

By the time we checked into our hotel, it was almost 4 p.m. and we were tired but with a short stay in San Fransico, there was no time to rest.  We had to check things off our itinerary. We decided to head to Baker beach to watch the sunset over the golden gate bridge. We took the train into town and hopped an uber from Montgomery station. It was rush hour by now and after almost half-hour of stand-still traffic - we decided to walk to the sites starting with golden gate park.

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6 p.m. If your schedule will permit, I will recommend a half day exploring the golden gate park - there is quite a lot to explore - historical sites; botanical gardens; Japanese tea gardens and museums - we did not have the time to see it all. We caught the highlights as we hurriedly tried to catch the sunset at Baker Beach. Unfortunately, we arrived as the sun was going down and only caught a glimpse. The downside of traveling in November is the unpredictability of the tides. By the time we got to Baker beach, the tides were getting quite high - we got a few pictures and left.

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8:45 p.m. Before heading back to Daly City, we stopped for dinner at Little Skillet - a soul / southern restaurant that we stumbled on and it was the most beautiful stumble. We ordered the chicken and waffles and the bbq pork sandwich with slaw. I am not a fan of slaw but this slaw at Little skillet was delicious. After dinner, we joined an uber pool back to Daly City for an early(ish) night.

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DAY  2 - GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE; PALACE OF FINE ARTS; FISHERMAN'S WHARF; PIER 39; LOMBARD STREET; PAINTED LADIES AND GHIRADELLI SQUARE

Day two was packed, it was our only full day in the city and we wanted to make the most of it. We started off the day about 7:30 using an uber pool to get into the city.

8:30 a.m. We started off the day at the Golden Gate bridge. We wanted the iconic view of the bridge and thought Marshall beach was the best option to get the view. Unfortunately, with the rising tides that was not an option. Just before giving up on the view, we found the signs leading to the Fort Point which gave us the view we wanted. We were very happy. You will also find incredible views of the Golden gate bridge from Baker beach ; Lands end and the Golden gate overlook.

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10 a.m. GIven the day we had planned, nourishment was essential. We decided to give Rose's cafe on Union street a try. We ordered the french toast bread pudding with strawberries and whipped cream and the grilled tarragon sausage with poached eggs, polenta and tomato sauce. Breakfast was excellent.

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11:15 a.m. After breakfast, we visited the Palace of fine arts - a stunning architecture structure in the Marina district. The structure was designed to look like a Roman ruin with a small lake around it. It was absolutely stunning to explore. I am told it is even more spectacular at night.  

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12:30 p.m. The painted ladies. Can we really say we were in San Fransico if we did not stop by the painted ladies on Steiner St & Hayes St ?  Unfortunately, construction was working against us during our visit - one of the homes had construction equipment blocking part of the exterior and the pack across the houses which gives the best vantage point for pictures was closed off for constuction.  We had to get up close which is great for viewing but not so much for the photographs. No matter, it was still a highlight to see the buildings.

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1:30 p.m. The fisherman's wharf and pier 39 was next on the itinerary. We mainly walked around the shopping center - it has got an array of shops and restaurants. Mainly, we wanted to see the sea lion, so after a bit of time wandering, we made our way to the sea lion center and watched the sea lions for about half hour. before we stopped by Ghirardelli square.

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3:00 p.m. At this point, the weight of our road trip itinerary was getting to us and we were running low on motivation. Perfect time to stop by Lombard Street. Lombard street is the east (embarcadero) - west (presidio boulevard) street in San Fransico famous for its steep eight hairpin turns. It was such a beautiful sight and this is one of those spots that pictures don't do justice. Cars were driving down the one block stretch - I will advice you walk down (or up) the street if you can. The beauty of it is lost viewing it from inside a car. There is also an incredible view of the city from the base of Lombard street.

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4:00 p.m. Time to head to Chinatown for lunch and more sightseeing. We had lunch at a dim sum spot. Unfortunately, I dont remember the name but Hang Ah dim sum teahouse has come highly recommended since our visit. After our late lunch, we wandered around Chinatown in search of street art. They have got some pretty amazing street art. Then we made our way to the fortune cookie factory to see how those are made and pick up a few bags to take back home.

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We called it a day at about 6:30 - we had a 9 hour drive from San Fransico to San Diego the next day and needed to be well rested for that trip.

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