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

VISITING PARK GUELL - A UNESCO HERITAGE SITE // BARCELONA , SPAIN

I fell in love with Barcelona within minutes of arriving in the city. Walking around the city, I knew the architecture and design nerd in me was home. These were the grounds that Gaudi walked and several building and structures designed by him. Including, the most notable Segrada de familia. Segrada is so famous, we sometimes forget his other masterpieces. That oversight does not last long once you set foot in Park Guell - Life-changing. 

Maybe life-changing is taking it a bit too far, but Park Guell does stay with you long after you have visited and it confirms that Gaudi (almost 100 years since his death) is still one of the greatest that ever lived.

Planning a trip. I went with a tour group because I got a great deal on a tour package and wanted to make the most of y limited time in Barcelona. If you have no time constrains , I recommend navigating on your own. You can explore to your heart's content. You can find tickets on the park website here. Depending on the time of year you visit, it is best to purchase in advance. Several of the bus tour companies have a stop here or you can also get here via bus, train or cabs, 

Most of you are here to feast your eyes on the snapshots of a place you may have heard of, or maybe never heard of but your curiousity was sparked.  If so, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs to the snapshots. If not, indulge my nerdy architecture and history buff side as I have a Gaudi fan girl moment.

A little bit about Park Guell. As the Story was told to me by my tour guide who is a wealth of knowledge on Catalonian history.   A wealthy Catalonian - Eusebi Guell had this dream of building a space where he and other wealthy families could escape the concrete jungle of Catolona (now Barcelona). A place where they could surrounded by nature. A break from concerete jungle living. It was to be a city within a city equipped with its own chapel, market, water system etc.  He commissioned the great Gaudi to design the masterpiece. It took Gaudi several years to design and build the park. Once it was ready, another architect designed two model homes (still standing today) on the park grounds as a way to entice those wealthy families to build. The idea did not take off and there were no takers to build on the land. Ultimately, Gaudi purchased one of the home and lived there until his death. The Park Guell project supposedly preceeded the other known Gaudi work - like Sagrada la familia.

Gaudi was said to have loved nature and spent a lot of time in nature and being inspired by nature - that communion with nature is very evident when you visit Park Guell.  Since Mr. Guell was unable to convince other wealthy families to move into the space - it eventually became the property of the Catolonia government and eventually was named a world heritage site. Although parts of the park was closed off due to the filming of Emerald city, I had an incredible time exploring the grounds. I just wish I had more time to explore and take a tour of the model homes (one of which was supposedly Gaudi's home). THis is a stop I will add to the itinerary if I have the opportunity to return to Barcelona in future.

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

For more travel stories and inspiration - visit the wanderful wednesdays linkup on Lauren on Location

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.

BOROUGH MARKET (AND MY FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT AT THE MARKET) <> LONDON

A must visit if you are in London; with over a hundrerd stalls selling a variety of things (mainly food). Borough market should be a bucketlist item for every foodie. I try to limit myself to one visit per London trip but that never seems to pan out. There is so much on offer - it is possible to have every meal here and some stall even have prepakaged meals that you can take home. With everything on offer, it can get overwhelming on a first visit (or if you only have a few hours to spare), I put together a list of my favorite stalls in the market. If you have explored the market and have a favorite spot - please share. I am always looking for recommendation. If you are planning a trip, make sure to check the market website for the most up to date schedule of individual stall openings, their locations and directions to the market.

La Tue Pasta. I recommend the tortelloni filled with Italian sausage and porcini mushroom. I stood outside the stall and inhaled my tortelloni (seriously!  no joke). You can also pick prepakaged pasta to take home. 

Le Marche du Quatier. If the duck confit is available. Get it. No questions asked and you can thank me later.  

Gourmet Goat. There is a huge mediterranean influence on the menu.  This is where I get my vegeterian fill with the most delicous, hearty salads. 

Bread Ahead Bakery. The Bread is outstanding (but so are the other baked goods) offered here. Offerings include Eccles cakes, Saffron buns, doughnuts.  I am partial to the breads (and the cakes). 

Artisan Food. Sweet and savory baked good. I always go for the savory variety and I have never been disappointed. The quiches are a winner , but if you want something sweet, can I recommend the chocolate brownies if its available.   

Tea 2 You. The Marsala Chai was my favorite. Brewed to order with fresh ginger added. They have limited seating, but if you are lucky to snag a seat - this is a perfect vantage point to people watch. 

Monmouth Coffee. The long wait lines on most days speaks volumes. Great coffee menu and several tourist and locals recommend it as the best coffee in London.

Gelateria 3Bis. The gelato is so rich with a silky textures that just melts in your mouth. Depending on what time of day you visit, you can watch them churn fresh batches of gelato.

Share your favorite spots at Borough Market in the comments. Cheers.