Istanbul in 3 days

“If one had but single glance to give the world, one should glance on Istanbul” Alphonse De La Martine

Here is how to follow La Martine in 3 days

I think the best place to stay is in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood by all the must-see attractions. Beside Dolmabahce you can walk everywhere.

Day 1: 

Take a cab to Dolmabahce

Dolmabahce, that means filled garden, has, of course, a beautiful garden with gates that open to Bosporus. How crazy it is that you can see another continent, Asia, on the other side of the water. Take time to walk around the garden and admire the architecture of the palace. The Palace and the Harem can only be visited with a tour and no pictures can be taken. The last room of the Palace, Ceremonial Hall, with the chandelier that was offered by Queen Victoria is majestic.

 

 

From there head to Galata Tower. The tower situated on a hill will give you the perfect 360-degree view of the city. Don’t you feel like you conquered the beauty of a city when you get to view it form the above?

 

 

View from Galata Tower

From the tower take the small streets, enjoy the small shops and cafes and head to Galata Bridge. Under the bridge, you have all the fish restaurants. During lunchtime, it smells like fresh fish … so tempting.

On the other side, you have the Bosphorus tours boats. It’s a 1h30 minute ride on the Bosporus. Take the boat and you will get to see Istanbul in the best way possible. You will pass by all the monuments. Especially if you don’t have to go to all the sites this is the best way to admire the architecture of that city.

Bosphorus Boat Tour

Day 2:

Start the day by a walk at the Gulhane Park. The imperial park will lead you to Topkapi Palace and Museum. Topkapı Palace is part the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a group of sites in Istanbul that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Enter the museum from the Imperial Gate. The back garden gives you a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus as it is overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Bosphorus Strait meets the Sea of Marmara. The Harem section of the museum is gorgeous. Topkapı Palace

 

 

 

After Topkapi, head to Hagia Sofia that Mosque that was a Cathedral before. You can see signs of both religions under one roof. It was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica until 1453, later an Ottoman imperial Mosque until 1931, and now a museum.

Hagia Sophia

 

On the other side, you can see the Blue Mosque. Its official name is The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Impressive.

 

 

snapseed-7

Along the Blue Mosque, you have on one side the Hippodrome with the German Fountain, the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III. Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.

 the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III

On the other side the Arasta Bazaar. It is a small bazaar that has great stores for souvenirs shopping especially if you love Swirling Darvish or evil eye objects.

Day 3:

Start your day at the Spice Bazaar. Enjoy the colorful alleys of that market. For shopping head to the Grand Bazaar where you can found anything you need, want or didn’t want. Wonder in the alleys, you will for sure found something to buy.

 

 

Finish your day at the Hamam for a relaxing afternoon. Enjoy the bath, the massage, and the Turkish coffee after it. One of the oldest one and most famous one is Cagaloglu Hamami by the Blue Mosque. It is truly a relaxing place.

Cagaloglu Hamami

If you have time:

  • Visit the cistern
  • Go to the Busy Taksim Square
  • Go see a Sufi Dance Session

http://www.istanbullife.org/whirling-dervish-sufi-ceremonies-in-istanbul-turkey.html

Must Eat:

  • Baklava from Hafiz Mustafa
  • Turkish Coffee
  • Try to drink Raki – 40%  alcohol!
  • Have Simit Bread

 

 

 

 

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Florence in 2 days

Florence, the symbol of the renaissance is an open-air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2-day walking guide to admire that chef-d’oeuvre.

My travel App: Ulmon. It has all the sightseeing places saved and most of the restaurants and bars as well. It can be used offline which is very practical.

My booking site: Tripmasters.com . This is my 3rd time going through them to arrange my travel plans and I love the site. They have a great itinerary suggestion, hotels and all for a great price.

My Hotel: Hotel Vasari Palace, a former monastery, is a beautiful traditional hotel situated by the train station in a pedestrian zone.  I love to stay in traditional hotels where I can feel the charm and the history of the city. Great location, great service, great room and great price.

Must eat : Hotel Chocolate at Café Rivoire. Lunch at Le Volpi e L’Uva. Happy Hour at Caffe Cibreo . Dinner at Cantinetta Verazzano. Gelato at la Carraia.

Day 1

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want, but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However, take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues. Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full of great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Day 2

Start your day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel for the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner, you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.

Prague Walking Guide

Walking Guide 1: Prague Old Town

Start at Old Town Square. You will see there, the Astronomical Clock. You will be in front of the clock at the hour for the “show” that was by the way nominated one of the most deceiving attractions in the world. You can also see the Church of Our Lady before Týn, Nicholas’ Church, Kinský Palace and Statue of Jan Hus.

Head towards Wenceslas Square and pass by the upside-down statue of King Wenceslas on his horse by David Cerny. The Statue is definitely one of the weirdest things you will see in Prague.

Then go to the Old Jewish Quarter to see the Old New Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery.

Walk back towards the Vltava River,  passing by the Rudolfinum, where performs the Czech Philharmonic. Take a pic inside The National Library; It has an infinite book tower at the entrance.

Finish the walk of the old town by going to up the Powder Tower by Charles Bridge to have a breathtaking view of the old town and the Prague castle

P.S: Have dinner at one of the restaurants in old town square. Try one of the typical Czech foods like Goulash. The beef goulash was my favorite. Have coffee and dessert at Kafka Café right behind St Nicholas Church.

Prague old town walking guide
Prague Old Town Walking Guide

Walking Guide 2:  Prague Castle and Lesser Town

Walk thought Kampa Island. You will discover interesting sculptures by David Cerny in the park. The Cruise of the Vltava starts there, take the relaxing hour tour and enjoy the ride. When back, right before getting to  Charles’ Bridge, check out the John Lennon Wall. Have your sharpie ready, to be able to write down something and leave a mark on that wall.

You can then go under the bridge to get to Kafka Museum. You will again see one of David Cerny’s sculptures.

P.S: Right next to it, don’t miss the narrowest street in the world. It has a crossing light!

From there, you can walk to the castle. There are some stairs that will take you right to the entrance of the castle. It’s a 10 min walk/climbing stairs. Visit the Prague Castle area at your leisure and finish with a walk through the Castle Garden.

P.S: At the entrance, the ceremonial rotation of soldiers starts every day at noon and rotation at the observation posts occurs every hour, on the hour. 

The  Castle Garden offers a panoramic view of Prague all along the way. It ends on a small street. Walk down the stairs; the road leading to the Lesser Town has small shops and galleries tucked into every narrow nook. 

P.S: Finish your day or start your night at one of the restaurants by the river. The view is just gorgeous. I went to Hergetova Cihelna, the view is priceless.

Prague lesser town walking guide
Prague Lesser Town Walking Guide

For the full articles about Prague and more pic check out   https://leilaspassport.com/2015/10/15/prague-2/

Seville Walking Guide

Start your day in the heart of old town Seville. Visit the Cathedral of Seville with its Giralda Tower. After visitant the Dark yet the majestic interior of the Cathedral go towards La Giralda, an old Minaret, right next to the Cathedral. Take the step challenge and you will be rewarded with a breathtaking 360 view of Seville.

Across the square, you can visit Alcazar, the oldest European royal residence still in use (the king and queen stay here when they’re in Seville). The different Palacios are beautiful as well as the gardens. Just wander around and admire the artisan work.

Then, head to Plaza de España, about 15 min walk from old town. It is a crescent-shaped Renaissance-style Plaza designed and supervised by Architect Aníbal González. Get close to the murals; it’s all about the details. You can rent rowboats for excursions on the canal, be ready for some arm workout.

Right across, walk through Maria Luisa Park to go to  Torre del Oro and Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. It is worth taking a tour of the magnificent Bullring with its impressive Baroque façade and the main entrance Puerta del Príncipe with beautiful 16th-century iron gates. Unfortunately, it is not possible to step into the ring.

In the late afternoon, cross the bridge and found yourself at  Barrio de Triana. It is the working class neighborhood, where you can do some not touristy shopping. This is the best area to head for early evening tapas.

Seville Walking Guide
Seville Walking Guide

 

For more details and pics check out the complete Guide to Seville  https://leilaspassport.com/2016/06/24/colors-of-seville/

Ultimate Guide to Medellin

I stayed at the Diez Hotel in Zona Rosa which is the best neighborhood for cafes, restaurants, and bars.

Day 1: Day trip to Guatape

It is 2 hours away from the city. I took a private tour. It is very affordable and Andres Munera was an amazing tour guide. I will recommend everybody to take the tour with him.

We took the scenic route to Guatape and did the first stop at the Tequendamita Fall. If you didn’t get a chance to go see the Tequendama Fall in Bogota, this is the perfect occasion to see the small replica and no bad smell here.  Then, we headed to El penol, the rock of Guatape. We stopped a few times to take pictures of the rock from far. Impressive. All Along, Andres was telling the story of Medellin, Guatape, and el Penol. When you arrive at the rock, you can see all the stairs you need to take to get to the top. 740 of them! Take your time, you can do it. The view from up there is just out of this world. Just relax and admire the view. Peaceful.  After the effort, we headed to Guatape village for lunch. After lunch, Andres gave us a tour of the waterfront and Remembrance Street. I felt in love with that very colorful village.

 

Day 2 and 3: Medellin city

 I took the hop on hop off, turibus. It is the perfect way to visit the city.

The bus stops are:

Plaza Botero is the Home to 23 of Fernando Botero’s larger-than-life sculptures. That Plaza is worth an extended stop to admire all the amazing “large” people sculptures. Parque Berrio is across the street from Plaza Botero, this small park is always filled with juice vendors and local street performers playing traditional Colombian music.

Jardin Botanico is the big Botanic Garden of Medellin.

Pueblito Paisa is small traditional village recreated atop Cerro Nutibarra, a small hill in the center of the valley. The hill offers terrific, near 360-degree views of the city. It also has a church and souvenir shops.

El Castillo Museo y Jardines was Inspired by the castles of the French Loire Valley, El Castillo was constructed in 1930.

Parque Arvi: take the famous Medellin Metro cable to get to that Park, one of the region’s largest nature reserves.

Parque de los pies descalzos : this park in the middle of the city offers relaxing activities that can be done barefoot, hence the name of the park.

 

At night stay in Zona Rosa. The Park is surrounded by restaurants. Pick any, they are all good

For the dance and drink part, head to Mojito Bar, one street away from the park. The little bar runs on mojito and they have salsa classes some nights. Don’t be shy and dance.

Ultimate Guide to Bogota

Bogota in 3 days

I’m staying in the old town, La Candelaria neighborhood. It is perfect for the touristy activities during the day but it is a dead neighborhood at night. For the night festivities, you have to head to Zona T.

Day1: Monserrate and Usaquen

Cerro Monserrate is a few blocks away from old town but unless you love hiking, you are better off taking a cab to the cable cars that will take you all the way up. At Monserrate, you can have a 360 view of Bogota, visit the Monserrate Church and you can also see from there el Cerro de Guadalupe which is a huge statue of Guadalupe. If you have extra time, you can also cab it all the way there.

For lunch, head to Usaquen, a colonial town near Bogota. They have really good restaurants and cafes. You can relax by the park and check out the Iglesia Santa Bárbara (Santa Barbara Church). If you go there on a Sunday, they have their famous flea market, the perfect place to buy souvenirs made by locals.

At Night, head to Andres Carne de Res. It is in Chia, an hour outside of Bogota but you won’t regret it. It is a huge restaurant with amazing food and after dinner time the music becomes loud and everybody will be on the dancefloor. It is the best restaurant I’ve been to.

Day2: Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira and the Mystic Lake Guatavita

Start the day early and go the Salt Cathedral a few hours away from Bogota. You will need to get a tour or cab it there. I got a private chauffeur for that day.

After the visit of that breath-taking cathedral built in a salt mine, I headed to Lake Guatavita. On my way there, I stopped at a small food cart to get the traditional Arepas con queso which is special bread filled with Cheese. So Yummy.

Lake Guatavita and the village are 1 hour away from the Salt Cathedral. You will fall in love with the lake and the little village.

At night, Zona T is an area famous for its abundance of good food, and a plethora of pubs and bars, including the famous Bogotá Beer Company and Andrés DC. Andres DC is the most stop for drinks and dancing. It is a 4 story building with a bar and dance floor on each level. This is where the young crowd is.

Day3: The Tequendama Fall and La Candelaria

La Candelaria is the name of the Old Town. It is full of museums from Museo de Oro to Museo Botero and Museo de la Esmeralda (Emerald Museum). The one that is worth going to is the Botero Museum. Botero is a Colombian artist and you will see his work in every city. He is famous for his paintings and sculptures of people in “large” and they actually call that “boterismo”.

Head to the main square, called Plaza de Bolivar. The Plaza is surrounded by Capitolio Nacional, which serves as the seat of both houses of the Congress of Colombia, Palacio de Justicio and Palacio de Nariño (the official office for the executive branch of the Colombian government). At the Plaza, you can feed the pigeons and make sure you take a picture. Walk along the Palacio de Nariño and take a picture with the guards at the entrance to the Palacio de Nariño, cross the street and check out the 17th century Iglesia de San Augustín. Few streets away, you will see one of the oldest cathedrals of Colombia, Catedral Primada de Colombia.

If you need a break, enter any of the typical coffee shops and try the traditional Chocolate con queso. It’s Hot Chocolate with Cheese! It’s actually not that bad.

If you have some time left head to Tequendama Falls and the Abandoned Hotel that are 2 hours from Bogota with cab or bus. I was told by locals that it smells very very bad and it is actually not that impressive.

If you have extra time, you can also take a Coffee Plantation Tour. After all, Colombia is famous for its coffee.

 

Prague

Hello Everybody.

Here are my tips about what to see, where to eat and what tour is worth to take in Prague. I’m including pictures of everything and a map of the city.  All the addresses are hyperlink and you can easily found all the information.

I booked my Eurotrip kinda last minute, a month before going and found a great package (flight and hotel) deal on tripmasters.com. That website has the best packages, at unbeatable price and you can easily customize them.

Things to know:

  • You can walk everywhere but be ready to walk a lot
  • Just drink beer
  • You are not a dessert person…Well you will be there. They know what a Café is.
  • The currency is Koruna but most places accept Euros.

3 days in Prague:

Day 1: Prague Old Town

The best way to start is to take a free Walking Tour that takes about 3h. You will not enter in any of the churches, however it gives you a great idea of where the sites are situated in the city and it will be easier to walk around the city after.

I took the Sandeman’s New Europe Tour and it was a great choice. The tour guides are amazing, friendly and know a lot about the city. Since it’s a free tour, a great tip – around 10 euros – is appreciated.

With that free walking tour, you will see:

  • Old Town Square & Astronomical Clock – You will be in front of the clock at the hour for the “show” that was by the way nominated one of the most deceiving attractions in the world.
  • Church of Our Lady before Týn
  • Nicholas’ Church
  • Kinský Palace
  • Statue of Jan Hus
  • Wenceslas Square
  • Powder Tower: There are few of them. If you have enough energy, you can climb up the 186 stairs of the one by Charles’s Bridge and have a look at Old Town’s rooftops, the Bridge and the Castle. Perfect Spot to take some gorgeous view from top pictures.
  • Old Jewish Quarter – Old New Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery

And finished with:

  • View of Charles Bridge
  • View of Prague Castle
  • Rudolfinum – Czech Philharmonic

Since the tour ends by the Rudolfium, walk back toward Charles Bridge.

Stop by The National Library, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It has an infinite book tower at the entrance.

Have dinner at one of the restaurants in old town square. Try one of the typical Czech foods like Goulash. The beef goulash was my favorite.

Have coffee and dessert at Kafka Café right behind St Nicholas Church.

Day 2: Excursion to Kutná Hora

You don’t necessary need to take a tour for it since it’s easily accessible by train, but I think you get a lot more with a tour as the guide will explain the history of the city, you will also get a tour of the churches.

Again, I chose Sandeman’s Tour. It is the best tour out there, you will see everything and the price is unbeatable.  Click here for the website info.

The tour includes:

  • The train transportation ticket
  • The Lunch – I had the most delicious Czech food at Dacicky
  • The entrance and Tour of Saint Barbara’s Church, a Gothic masterpiece
  • The entrance and Tour of The Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Chapel)
  • Visit of The Italian Court
  • The Medieval Ruthardska Street
  • Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John

We met at the same place in old town square and walked towards the train station. On the way there we passed by the Jubilee Synagogue which is a beautiful colorful synagogue.

After taking 2 trains, we arrived to Kutná Hora. Our tour guide decided to start with the tour of the city first, then lunch and finally the visit of St Barbara Church and the Bone Chapel for the grand finally.

You should be back to Prague around 5pm-6pm. Take a walk towards the Frank Gehry’s Dancing Building. It has become an icon of modern architecture in Prague. Right next to it, you will see series of Colorful houses; just gorgeous.

Finish the day at Café Slavia in front of the The National Theater and the Vltava River. Their sandwiches are delicious.

Day 3:  Prague Castle and Lesser Town

Since my hotel was in Lesser Town, I started with the Lesser Town attractions and finished with the castle.

For breakfast go to Café Savoy; you will feel very nicely posh.

Walk thought Kampa Island. You will discover interesting sculptures by David Cerny.

From there, take a Cruise of the Vltava . The boat departs from Kampa Island every 30 min. It lasts 50 min. Enjoy a beer on board and admire all the monuments that are along the Vltava River

Right before Charle’s Bridge, there is the John Lennon Wall. Have your sharpie ready, to be able to write down something and leave a mark on that wall.

Go under the bridge to get to Kafka Museum. You will again see one of David Cerny’s sculptures.

Right next to it, don’t miss the narrowest street in the world. It has a crossing light!

From there, you can walk to the castle or take the tram #22. If you decide to walk, there are some stairs that will take you right to the entrance of the castle. It’s a 10 min walk/climbing stairs.

At the entrance, the ceremonial rotation of soldiers starts every day at noon and rotation at the observation posts occurs every hour, on the hour. Then walk all the way to the end of the castle, where you can get tickets at the information center. I think the best ticket option is the Circuit A  which includes St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, exhibition The Story of Prague Castle, St. George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Powder Tower, and Rosenberg Palace for 350 CZK.

  • Vitus Cathedral – breathtaking inside and out
  • Take a break at the café just outside of the cathedral.
  • The Old Royal Palace
  • George’s Basilica,
  • Golden Lane : This bizarre conglomeration of mini townhouses within the castle complex was once briefly home to writer Franz Kafka)
  • Rosenberg Palace
  • You can also take a break at the Lobkowicz Palace Café & Restaurant, from which you’ll be able to see Prague in its panoramic beauty

Then go through the Castle Garden. You will have a panoramic view of Prague all along the way. The Castle Garden ends on a small street. Walk down the stairs; the road leading to the Lesser Town has small shops and galleries tucked into every narrow nook. 

Finish your day or start your night at one of the restaurant by the river. The view is just gorgeous. I went to Hergetova Cihelna, the view is priceless.

If you stay few more days or you have some extra time:

Walk to the Petrín Hill, or take the funicular from Újezd halfway up to Nebozízek, the hillside restaurant, or all the way up. Petrin Park is the city’s biggest and most beautiful park with sweeping views of Prague. You’ll find a garden, a maze (Labyrinth), and a lookout tower that looks like the Eiffel tower (Petrín Tower).

Letenské sady is the park, across the river from the Jewish Quarter, features several walking trails, a café, and expansive views of the cit. Cross over to Chotkovy sady for beautiful gardens and rear views of the Prague Castle. Letna Park is on a hillside, providing spectacular views of Prague’s Old Town

Explore Vyšehrad and St. Peter & Paul Church. It’s outside of the city but very easy to access by metro and takes half a day to visit.