Sunday, March 24, 2013

Icons of Tenerife (& part 2): Loro Parque

A while ago I wrote about one of Tenerife's main atractions, the brand-new auditorium in Santa Cruz and now it's time for another iconic site of Tenerife, the Loro Parque. Founded 40 years ago, the Loro Parque is today a real institution in Tenerife and since you step out of the plane you're very likely to encounter its logo everywhere. At the airport, on bus stops, on highway signs and even on litter bins. You might actually think that Tenerife exists because the Loro Parque is sponsoring and not the other way round! 

When it first opened its doors the Loro Parque was just a park showing a collection of parrots from all over the world. Some of the parrots put on a show doing mathematical calculations and solving puzzles and it's been such a succes that nowadays it is a real zoo with a good share of exotic animals: dolphins, tigers, sea lions, sharks, flamingos, penguins, alligators, gorillas, and the family keeps growing year after year as the park is always investing in bringing new species to Tenerife to make the Loro Parque experience even more enjoyable. 

Loro Parque is located in Puerto de la Cruz, a touristic town in the north of Tenerife, and it can be reached on foot, it is around half an hour walk, depending from the starting point, but you can also take the free train that rides from the city center to the Loro Parque every 20 minutes. The entry fees are a bit expesive, around 30€, but I personally think that it is well worth it because the park is really beautiful. Furthermore, if you think of how much it must cost to feed all these animals (no tiger won't do with a single steak), of how many people work there taking care of the animals and making sure that everything looks perfect and the money that goes to their own foundation which donates to several environmental charities and carries out their own research to help endangered species, it is not really that expensive. Furthermore, you can now buy tickets that grant entrance not only to the Loro Parque but also to the recently opened Siam Park, a water park inspired in the old Siam empire which claims to be the biggest water park in Europe.

Out of curiosity, last year I watched the movie A Hitchhiker´s Guide to the Galaxy and I was thrilled to see that the first scene had been shot there. They tried not to show any logos but I could recognise it anyways and after doing a bit of research (thanks IDMB) I am now sure. Here you can watched the opening scene of the movie and catch a glimpse of the dolphin show at the Loro Parque.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Luxembourg City

Five years ago I made a four hour trip from Antwerp to the tiny country of Luxembourg. Looking back now it seems crazy to spend eight hours on a train back and forth only to see a new city for a couple of hours but I was young and restless and, surprisingly, I would definetely do it again as I was totally mesmerized by the beauty of Luxembourg. It was love at first sight! I don't have such a good memory but in this case I remember the exact date because it was the eve of St. Patrick's day and I was delighted to end the trip joining their local celebration with beer and a band playing U2's greatest hits (who would have thought that St. Patrick's was also celebrated in a country almost owned by bankers and thought of as boring?!).

It was a Sunday and there was no need to get up to early so we arrived in Luxembourg past midday. It was a rainy day and there seemed to be no one in the streets so we could enjoy our sightseeing without any rush. Not that Luxembourg looked like a place where people would usually rush, mind you! I was first surprised by the fact that, despite it being at the border with Belgium and having quite a lot of years of common history, there was almost no resemblence between the countries. Everything looked different, from the buildings to the nature and even the pavement of the streets and I liked that! We wandered around the city center, took a look at the cathedral, main squares and the EU institutions and at some point our path crossed with the wonderful Chemin de la Corniche. I would dare to say that this promenade is the most breathtaking view of Luxembourg City. The path follows the cliffs that line the Alzette river and the views are absolutely stunning. Many lovely buildings can be seen above in the city while the path is lined with trees and further down you can see the valley surrounded by lush shades of green. At some point (I don't remember well whether this was along the Chemin de la Corniche or up in the city) you encounter the entry to the galleries that once defended the city and that sheltered many inhabitants of Luxembourg during WWII. They're open to the public now and the entry fee is really cheap so it is really worth it to visit them. Another thing that impressed me as well during my brief time in Luxembourg City was the way that you could feel the presence of wealth around. There were not so many people in the streets but teh cars parked around were all top range cars, I could really see the difference with the average Mercedes-Benz and BMW I have seen everywhere else until then. After all, Luxembourg usually comes in the top three richest countries by GDP per capita in the world.

I really would like to go back to Luxembourg some day, to visit this beautiful city again and to get to know some more of the country. Luxembourg is somehow an enigmatic country of which no one talks much about. Tiny and landlocked, it still conjures images of fairytales and I can tell you that it lives up to this image with its charming buildings and beautiful nature. Until then, I'll keep on reminiscing about this fun daytrip and enjoying my low quality photos!

Have a nice weekend and I hope that you enjoy a nice St. Patrick's day, wherever you are!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Snow like never before

This morning I left home earlier than usual and I was surprised to find out that Maastricht was totally covered by snow once again this year. It has been snowing for a whole day, 24 hours non-stop, and I had never seen so much snow in Maastricht. In some places there was almost half a meter of snow! And not only was there more snow than ever before, but also snow was somehow different. It was not a white chuncky mass, today's snow was a very fine dust that danced freely in the air as the wind blew. Very thin snowflakes kept falling until this evening and the coat of snow grew thicker and thicker, but always made of this pure snow dust and I'm sure that if the sun had shone the snow would have reflected its light in a very beautiful way. I had never seen snow like this before but for some reason, this is how I always thought snow would look like.
These are some photos I took on my daily commute, hope you like them!

As I'm a bit sick I will stay inside with a cup of tea for a while but I hope you enjoy the last winter days, or even better, the first spring days. Have a wonderful week!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wanderlust: Tips to fund your travels

A couple of weeks ago I read a really insightful post about how to fund your travels at Travel Gourmande, one of my favourite blogs full of travel inspiration and lots of beautiful photos. Arni (the blogger behind Travel Gourmande) decided to share her tips to fund her travels to help people realize that travel is affordable if you think realistically and plan ahead. While I have not travelled as much as I would like to, I can count myself lucky for having seen a big part of western Europe and having had the chance to live in several countries. Through all these years I've learnt some valuable lessons that have eventually helped me to plan my trips and I would like to share them as well, even if they're just a compillation of common sense rules. So, whether you're planning the holiday of a lifetime or a simple weekend away, you might find the following tips useful at some point of the way.

Finding my way to a bargain holiday

  • Save beforehand: Sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting some magic trick that would get you travelling for free but the truth is that there's no way out of this. The moment you start dreaming about your next holiday is the perfect moment to start saving. So, plan carefully to know how much you need and make a plan to get there.
  • Play strategically: If you don't have any time constrains, you're a lucky one who's able to choose when to travel and that means that you can actually choose to travel cheaper. Business cities are usully fully booked during weekdays but offer nice deals in the weekends and highly touristic places often provide more affordable accomodation during the low season. So, schedule your travels wisely to get the best deals!
  • Book your tickets ahead: Flying cheap is not what it used to be.I once flew for just 0.99€ from Milan to Rome but I'm afraid this is no longer possible as you have to all sort of taxes, inluding debit card taxes. But still, the earlier you browse the market, the more likely it'll be that you can get your hands on some real bargain. So it is a good idea to start gathering information about routes and prices as soon as you start planning.
  • Pack wisely: Nowadays, many airlines charge an extra fee for checked-in luggage and with some fees reaching 60€ for a retour journey this is a good point to start saving. And not only money is to be gained from this, also time, as you won't have to wait for your luggage once you land in plus, chances of it getting lost are null. If you're travelling for up to a week it should be possible to pack enough in hand luggage, especially in the summer, when clothesare lightier. My experience telles me that, being petite as I am, it is possible to pack for a 10 days summer holidays without checking-in.
  • Team up: Maybe you know someone on the place you intend to visit or maybe a friend of yours is looking forward to do the same trip. While the choice of travel compannion can be a very sensitive issue (and therefore you should think twice about this point and even make a list of pros and cons) teaming up is a great way to cut down your expending. Think about renting a car together, getting a night accomodation for free or sharing a meal deal. And chances are that you'll end up having a great time too!
  • Do your research: Guides are usually packed with many useful information and internet is full of insiders tips which will help you to find shortcuts to a more affordable holiday. Many museums have a free day of evening a week, some tourist cards give access to many attractions with discount and it is not difficult to find concerts or expositions for free in big cities. 
  • Ask for advice: Not everything is written and some things are only learnt by experience. So, locals can always give you some extra hints which might help you staying within your budget while travelling. When I arrived to The Netherlands I didn't know any better than buying my expensive train tickets from the counter; now I know that every now and then some shops offer day-tickets for as little as 12.95€ to travel anywhere in the country. This little things might help and if you don't know anyone with first hand information you can always try the travellers forums from Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide or ask fellow bloggers.
  • Learn to love local supermarkets: This is especially useful if you need a snack every couple of hours as it will always be cheaper to buy some crisps and a coke from a supermarket than from a 24/7 shop. Also, if you want to bring home some local delicacies it is always a good idea to explore the supermarket shelves before splashing out on an overrated box of chocolates from the souvenir shop. And do not only think of supermarkets. Markets, souqs and all the like are a whole new world of possibilities waiting to be discovered.
  • Invest in a bobble (or any other water container): I read about bobbles a couple of months ago and I so love it! It is a bottle of water with a filter in the tap which lasts for 300 uses. After that you can change your filter and carry on using your bottle. It will not only save you money because you can refill it and avoid to buy 300 bottles of water in the way but it will also prevent the environment to be drowned with another 300 plastic bottles. Genious!
  • Relax and enjoy: Too much sightseeing can be tiring and drain your pockets, so from time to time it is good to simply wander around and take a look at the superb architecture a place has to offer, or to sit down on the grass and enjoy some sunshine or take a dip in the nearest beach. Sometimes the best things in life are free!
I hope that these tips will help you in your future travels. I would like to hear it from you as well, how do you budget up for your travels?

Wanderlust Fund photo WanderlustFund_zps3b8a45b6.jpg

This post is a link up to Arni's Wanderlust Fund. If you like travelling as much as we do and have some interesting tips to share do not hesitate and link up as well. Grab her button and let her know. Oh, and have fun travelling!

How to participate?
1. Write a post (short or as long as you'd like) sharing your tips on how you've funded your travel.
2. Please follow this blog via GFC or if already a Travel Gourmande friend, 
then in whatever form (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.)
3. Grab the logo button above and link this page on your post to spread the word.
4. Please visit two or more links and say hello :)
5. Add your post below by linking in.
That's it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March 2013: Slow Travel

"Travel with a purpose, not just to tick off experiences. Consider spending longer time in a place and really getting to know it and its people - you'll find more rewarding than dashing from place to place."
The Rough Guides

Last month I borrowed a Rough Guide from my local library and I found these words really inspiring. After all, the best part of travelling is getting to know the world we live in a little better and also get to know a bit more about ourselves. However, too many times we don't take enough time to enjoy new experiences and simply rush from one place to another. Perhaps we are too accustomed to our daily routine and it's difficult to let go, even on holidays, perhaps we're trying to do as much as possible in too little time or perhaps we're simply thrown at it by organized tour holidays. Whatever the reason, it is true that many people don't get from their travel as much as they should. I haven't travelled as much as I would like to and I have a long bucket list to go, so I would probably need a whole life of travelling to squeeze in all the places I would like to see and the things I would like to experience. But that's not possible and unfortunately I will also have to rush at some point and some places to make the most of the time I have. I know that eventually I will have to  make some painful decisions and ditch some places of my list but in the meantime I'm lucky enough to enjoy a life full of slow travel here and there in Europe. After all, that's part of the bright side of being an expat, at least in the beginning, that you're exposed to a new culture and are surrounded by so many unknown sites. There's always something new waiting to be tried, some place expecting to be discovered in the weekends and it is really exciting to to learn something new everyday. In that sense, I'm really happy for having the chance of being a slow traveller currently based in The Netherlands. Anyways, I don't think there will be much travelling going on in my life in the upcoming month of March as I'm terribly busy right now and to make things harder my mind keeps on slipping away from time to time and coming back with new travel wishes. Who knows, I might eventually give in at some point and do a short daytrip! And what about you? How do you like to travel?

Slow travel (or maybe slow life) is also reflected on February in my 365 project. Three different countries are featured on it and I suddenly found myself gazing constantly at the sky, looking for beautiful clouds. And while taking some beautiful pictures I realized that sometimes we forget to enjoy the simple things in life, like a breathtaking sunset or perfect reflections on water. So this is my favourite photo of February, cloud elephants! Do you see them too? You can see the whole month in pictures here.

And remember, March will be gone in 31 days and never return, so slow down and enjoy a wonderful month of March!

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