VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER - THE FRENCH RIVIERA TOWN TO ADD TO YOUR ITINERARY

VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER

My travel guru/travel bff (in le dreams) - Margo of Overseas Escape recommended this as a must see in French Riviera so after my morning in Antibes, I took the train heading to the Italian village of Ventimiglia (with a stop in Ville Franche Sur Mer). It cost a little under 6 euros. I was not sure what to expect, but I knew if Margo recommended it, it had to be pretty spectacular.

VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
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My nose was pressed against the window in anticipation and I could tell we were close when I saw the beautiful (and colorful) homes on the hillside overlooking the Ocean. The views were incredible and if the rumors are true - I understand why Elton and Madonna have villas here. I jumped out of my seat as the train pulled into the station - (think little kid on Christmas morning excitement).

VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER

To be honest, I had no real plans of how to spend my time here - I just wanted to see what everyone has been raving about. As I walked into town from the train station, I noticed boats on the harbor and debated taking a harbor cruise but talked myself out of it - I have terrible seasickness and did not come prepared to be out on the sea. Instead, I decided to walk into town to pick up snacks for my day at the beach.

VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER

Just as an aside I know why everyone I saw here was in great shape. Walking into town was a workout; those stairs are not for the faint of heart. It took about an hour to get into town - in part because I had to stop a few times to catch my breath but also because every corner was a sight to behold - so beautiful. I gave up trying to photograph at every turn because I will never have made it to the beach.

VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER

An hour after I got off the train, I finally made it to the top of the hill. Walked around a bit, saw a few tourists and I thought about joining the group going on a walking tour of the city, but to be honest I really just wanted a day to do nothing and the laying on the beach in November seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I ducked into the first patisserie I saw - Chez Marie for pastries and beverages for my afternoon beachside. Then I made the trek down from the town to the beach where I spent the rest of the afternoon people watching and stuffing my face with food. 

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VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
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VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
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VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER
VILLE FRANCHE SUR MER

LA BOQUERIA MARKET // BARCELONA, SPAIN

La Boqueria
La Boqueria

I am obsessed with markets. No matter where I am in the world - if I find my way to a market - I feel as though I have had the local's experience. Of all the markets I have been lucky to visit, La Boqueria in Barcelona is my favorite. Located in the heart of La Ramblas - a visit to Barcelona is so much better if you have this on your itinerary. The La Ramblas neighboorhood is quite a tourist spot so the market does get busy at time but dont let that discourage you - it will be a disservice to skip a visit to La Boqueria if you are in Barcelona. It has got everything from an oyster bar ; fresh juices to empanadas (the best empanadas, ever). There are also restaurant ; vegetable and fruit stalls and spices and nuts on sale with locals and tourist shopping alongside.  I explored every nook of the market stopping by just about every food stall for a nibble from the taste platter; had two fruit drinks and ate the most delicious empanadas. I picked up some spices and sweets for friends back home and settled on a stool at the bar of one of the restaurant to people watching.  I could have sat there all day, but with only 48 hours in Barcelona - I had to force myself to go explore other parts of the city. If you find yourself in La Ramblas - stop by and also check out my guide to La Ramblas for other things to do in this part of Barcelona.

This post contains affiliate link for Aerobus Barcelona - it is the best; most reliable way to get from the Airport to City Center. I use it myself whenever I am in Barcelona. The shuttle starts running at 5:30 a.m. and is available from both T1 and T2 of the Barcelona airport. Reserve your Aerobus ticket in advance here

La Boqueria
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La Boqueria
La Boqueria
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La Boqueria
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La Boqueria
La Boqueria
La Boqueria

HOW TO HAVE A DAY-CATION IN OXFORD // OXFORD, ENGLAND

For more than five years, the sight of Oxford on my bucket list has haunted me. Only an hour from London Paddington and I could never manage to fit it into my UK itinerary. Until last December, when I braved a  blistering cold morning for an (overdue) Oxford daycation. The only thing I had on my Oxford itinerary was the University. Not having a detailed hour by hour itinerary is very unlike me. I blame the hangover of the flu virus that started three days before in Spain for this lapse. Me, without a plan, only lasted till the train pulled into the Oxford train station and I made a b-line for the information booth to get recommendations and directions to the University and city center. About a mile into my walk to the city center, I started to regret my decision to come to Oxford. It was frigidly cold and the remnant of the flu virus was kicking my tail and threatening my day-cation.  Just as I was making a mental pros and cons list of this trip, I found the open market. Tents set up with everything from antiques, used clothes, Jamaican cuisine and mulled wine. I went straight for the mulled wine. Two cups of mulled wine and a vintage LBD purchase later, I felt better about my daycation decision and was ready to explore Oxford. 

My first stop was Oxford University. Well, sort of.  The attendant at the train station gave me a little history on the famous University. Essentially, it is not one place; but a collection of colleges around the city. Together, these colleges make up what we know as Oxford University.  Did you know that? 

While trying to decide which of the colleges to visit first, I found Carfax tower. There was a sign out front boasting the roof top had great views of the city. If you don't already know, I cannot pass up the opportunity for a great cityscape. I paid the three-pound admission fee to access the rooftop. Making my way up a very narrow stairway (It was not fun for my hint of claustrophobia), but I was willing to push through that for the promised cityscape. The view was great but the wind gust at the height was unpleasant. I gave up after fifteen minutes. 

I walked around the pedestrian area for a bit stopping to peer into shop windows and watch street performances. It had been two hours since I arrived in Oxford and my lack of planning was hunting me. I caved and signed up for one of the "free" walking tours.

Most of the tour focused on the colleges of Oxford University. The guide shared stories of famous Oxford alumni as we walked the grounds of the colleges. Some of the colleges had free entry and others require an entry fee. The entry fees range from a pound to three pounds. We visited the University Church of St. Mary's; Bodleian library, Radcliffe camera and the School of Divinity. Several spots we visited were the inspiration or actual filming site the Harry Potter movies. No tour of Oxford is complete without a stop at the famous whispering arch. 

Although the tour was "free" tips. The pamphlet recommends a minimum eight-pound tip.  I still had some time to explore on my own. I started at the Museum of History of Science to see Einstein's blackboard while he was at Oxford. I also made stops at Eagle and Child and the Covered market. I ended my time in Oxford with (late) afternoon tea at The Rose on High Street. It was the perfect way to wrap up my Oxford day-cation. 

For travel inspiration , check out the Monday Escapes link up

Tin Box traveller

EXPLORING THE VATICAN, SISTINE CHAPEL AND ST PETER'S BASILICA // VATICAN CITY , ITALY

Vatican city ! It is one of the top five things to do in Rome and the lines tend to wrap around (like most tourist places in Rome). We headed out early to beat the crowds. We took the train to San Pietro train station and walked about fifteen minutes to get to Vatican city. Every couple of steps we were haggled by tour company operators and vendors offering to give us a great deal on "skip the line" tickets to get into Vatican city. Prior to leaving the hotel, we had made a decision just wait out the lines - we had the luxury of having nothing else on the agenda for the day. Ignoring all the haggler, we found our way to the Vatican.

We arrived just after 8:30 a.m. and were surprised to find a line wrapped around. I guess we were not the only ones with the brilliant idea of starting early.  It took about an hour to make it to the front of the line and into the gates of the Vatican. Not bad considering we saved about 25 euros each by waiting out the lines instead of going for with a skip the line tour Company option. I consider that winning. We purchased our tickets for the Vatican museums and the Sistine chapel. Beware of tour Companies and vendors that want to sell you tickets to St. Peter Basilica. Entry to St. Peter's Basilica is free, you just have to deal with the line to get in assuming you opt out of skip the line tickets. If you are already in the Sistine chapel there is a entry way to St. Peter basilica that skips the lines. Just ask and hope the attendant is in a good mood to let you through. 

We made our made to the museum - (which is really a collection of museums). On the ground floor of one of the museums is a "postal museum of sorts" - with a collection of stamps. There is also an operating post office offering the convinience of mailing post cards to your loved ones back home from the grounds of Vatican. We walked through the long hallways of the museums, past the gallery of maps and hall of tapestries, as we made our way towards the Sistine chapel stopping every couple of steps to stare in awe (and grab a snapshot of something spectacular).  The amazing thing about the Vatican, Chapel and Basiclica is the ceilings. We walked most of the way with our head hung back admiring the beauty of the artwork on the ceilings.

After the museum we made our way to the Sistine chapel (sorry , pictures were not allowed), so we just observed in silence - I still get chills thinking the breathtaking beauty that is the Sistine chapel. We continued on through the Vatican galleries and then on to St. Peters Basilica which left me speechless and in awe , from the ceiling , to the over the top monuments , and the resting place of past popes in the basement. We finished up our day at Vatican city with a late lunch before heading back to Rome.