Five Tips I Learned on My Trip to Europe

I recently went on a solo trip to Europe.  Although I have done day excursions by myself in various places including Hong Kong and Alaska, this was going to be my first solo vacation and my first time in Europe in a few years.  I decided to do this trip on my own because I really wanted to go to the Herend factory, located an hour and a half outside Budapest, and I didn’t think any of my friends would find this interesting enough to be the basis for a trip.  Since I was going to go by myself, I wanted to pack my days full of activity.  I decided that an easy way to do this would be to visit multiple countries.  I found a ticket on Aer Lingus that routed me through London and Dublin, and I decided that sounded like a fun itinerary.  I was worried about a few things so I did a reasonable amount of research so that I would feel well prepared.  Even with my planning though, I learned a few things during my travels that I will definitely be using for future trips, and I wanted to share those with you so that you don’t have the frustration or the wasted time that I did:

Katherine along the Danube in Budapest
Katherine along the Danube in Budapest

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  1. The most convenient, yet still cost-effective way, to exchange money may not always be to use an ATM.

This was actually one of the things I had looked into most, and even with my planning, I ended up changing my original plan.  I had read about the various types of ATMs.  In order to get the best exchange rate,  you need to use one of the ATMs that is affiliated with a bank and not one of the “convenience” ATMs located in hotels or on the street.  Also, these “convenience” ATMs are more likely to have skimmers that can steal your card information.

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Madame Tussauds Ghostbusters Dimensions Experience

So once a year, I get my date night with Aanya, my friend Artee’s 13 year old daughter.  I try to plan something special that she will enjoy since we really don’t get too much time together.  It is not easy to find something that a teenager will like, especially on a weekday evening.  After doing some searching on the internet I learned that Madame Tussauds had a special Ghostbusters Dimenson Experience, which is a virtual reality exhibit.  I sent the link to Aanya to see what she thought.  She responded back to me quickly saying that it looked really good and then started telling everyone else how excited she was to go.

Selfie with Jennifer Lopez
Selfie with Jennifer Lopez

When we arrived, we had to wait in line to enter.  Those, like us, that had bought tickets in advance were in the shorter line.  I pulled up the mobile tickets on my phone, but they asked me to screenshot them so I would could show them at a couple places throughout the museum.    In the lobby, there is a wax figure of Miley Cyrus, although we didn’t even realize who it was until we were leaving.  Once you are up the stairs, they will take pictures of your group in King Kong’s hand.  There are a couple spots where they have professional photographers that will take your picture, which you can buy at the end of your visit. (more…)

Musings about the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth

Anisa in front of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Anisa in front of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The first time I heard about the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth was only a few months ago when my co-worker Anne told me about having her wedding there.  She was surprised that I had never been, given I grew up in Dallas.  I asked my mom about it and even though she still lives in Dallas and is an art lover, she had not been either.   So I decided to remedy this and take my mom to visit to the Modern Art Museum to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day. (more…)

Greenwich Royal Observatory: Time to Learn About Time

You may not have heard of the Greenwich Royal Observatory, but the research done there impacts your life on a daily basis.  It’s the home of the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  This topic had never really piqued my interest before, but being at the observatory and learning about the history was fascinating.  And there is also a planetarium, which kids will love.  Greenwich Maritime which includes the Observatory has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a very exclusive list.  If that is not enough to convince you, the Greenwich Royal Observatory is located on a hill in the middle of a beautiful park (Greenwich Park) with an amazing view of London.  

View from the hill by the Royal Greenwich Observatory. You can see the Queen's House, Canary Wharf, and the O2 (to the right).
View from the hill by the Royal Greenwich Observatory. You can see the Queen’s House, Canary Wharf, and the O2 (to the right).

Greenwich is a borough in southeast London that is accessible by DLR (part of the London Underground) using the Greenwich Cutty Sark stop.  You can also take the MBNA Thames Clipper (there is a discount ticket that includes fare for the Thames Clipper and admission to the Greenwich Royal Observatory).   There is limited parking available at the National Maritime Museum for £15 for the day.  The weather was absolutely perfect the day we visited, so I really enjoyed the walk to the Observatory.  The last bit was pretty steep, but those views are really worth it.  It was a little foggy when we first arrived, but when that cleared later in the day we could see all the way to St. Paul’s.  The grass in this park is also some of the greenest I have ever seen and we saw lots of picnickers. (more…)

Must See Historic Sites in Philadelphia

It’s hard to believe my favorite holiday is right around the corner.  The Fourth of July marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and is usually celebrated with fireworks and BBQs.  It is pretty remarkable to think about what things would be like if we hadn’t declared our independence from Britain.  So in addition to enjoying the long weekend, it’s a great time to look back on history and appreciate our independence and liberties.  Philadelphia is a great place to do just that.  It was the first capital of our country and home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  

I have been to Philadelphia a few times before for work, but never really had time to explore.  So we decided to visit Philly back in February for President’s Day weekend, which turned out to be bitterly cold.  That was fine though because we planned on spending most of our time inside (more about the art we saw in a later post).  We would need to come back another time when the weather was better to see more of the outdoor sites.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia looks just like I would have pictured it back in Revolutionary time.
Independence Hall looks just like I would have pictured it back in Revolutionary time.

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Fun Times Biking in Central Park + A Discount Code!

As I have said before, Central Park is my favorite place in New York City.  There is so much to see and it is beautiful all year around.  It is such an oasis in this amazing concrete jungle I now call home.  I spend a lot of time in the park running, picnicking, taking pictures, and attending events.  However it took me eleven years to go biking in Central Park.

You may be wondering why I haven’t biked before.  Well, I am not that big of a biker, most times I prefer walking or running.  I see a lot of people biking in the park and they go fast, and I was worried about how crowded it could be.  Last but not least, I don’t own a bike.

Anisa biking in Central Park.
Anisa on her bike from Central Park Sightseeing.

Well, my friends at Central Park Sightseeing helped solve the biggest problem.  They are conveniently located by the park and have great bikes you can rent by the hour, day, etc.  They also have helmets (only required if you are under 14), locks, maps, and baskets if you like.  In addition to bike rentals, Central Park Sightseeing does tours and rollerblade rentals too!  They are also offering a discount code for our readers, so check out their website and use the code Tex50 to save 50%.  They recommend booking 48 hours in advance and you will need either a valid ID or credit card for a deposit. (more…)

Breakneck Ridge Lives Up To Its Name

Since we had such a good time on our hike in San Sebastian, I really wanted to do another hike in NY.  Many people don’t realize, there is plenty of good hiking not too far from NYC.  However, getting to many of the hiking trails requires a car (which I don’t have).  I had heard good things about Breakneck Ridge and that Metro North trains stopped there on the weekend, so I thought we should give it a try.  

One of the many scenic views from Breakneck Risge that make it worth all the effort.
One of the many scenic views from Breakneck Ridge that make it worth all the effort.

The train runs about hourly on the weekends and takes about an hour and half to get to Breakneck Ridge.  You can check the schedule here.  It is worth it to get up early to catch the train since the hike is popular and can get crowded.  The train goes along the Hudson River and is very scenic.  To get out at Breakneck Ridge, you will need to move towards the back of the train.  The only door that will open is the one at the front of the last car.  The Breakneck Ridge train stop is very basic, there is just a tiny yellow wooden platform.   (more…)

Five Tips to Help You Plan Your Trip to Las Vegas

IMG_5207I always like to have a vacation to look forward to while I am working like crazy during busy season and Vegas is known as a place to have fun and let loose.  I had found a good flight on Southwest and my friend, Michelle, had a flight credit that she needed to use, so we decided to take a quick two night trip. I generally enjoy planning trips –choosing activities, perusing menus, and picking bars – and advance research is definitely important to maximize your fun while in Vegas.  Otherwise you are gambling – and I’m not talking about playing the slots!  Here are some planning tips that I think are critical for any Vegas trips:

  1. Choose your hotel carefully.

We were looking to do an affordable quick two night trip to Vegas.  Neither Michelle nor I are gamblers, so we were interested in getting some sun, having a few (too many) drinks, eating some delicious food, and getting to see some of the sights in Vegas.  Location of your hotel is key in Vegas.  It may look like one hotel is right next door, but that “next door” is probably still a twenty minute walk.  In order to make the most of our trip (and not have to spend any cost-savings from the hotel room on cabs), we wanted to stay at a prime location on the Strip. (more…)

Barcelona’s Picasso Museum: Not What You Would Expect

Picasso is arguably one of the most famous artists ever, which is one of the reasons that the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is so popular.  While he may be best known for his cubist paintings, this is not what you will see in the museum.  I really enjoyed my visit because it really helped me learn more about Picasso’s life and appreciate what an incredible artist he really is.

Picasso's "Reading at a Table," 1934 Metropolitan Museum of Art
Picasso’s “Reading at a Table,” 1934 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the museum, so all the pictures in this blog post are Picasso’s work that I have seen at other museums.

The Picasso Museum is located in the El Born area of Barcelona.  We really enjoyed the walk to the museum.  We passed several nice pieces of art on our way.  I didn’t even realize when we arrived at the museum because it just fits in so well in the neighborhood, but then I saw the line to get in and knew I was at the right place.  

I highly recommend buying a ticket in advance to avoid the line.  The advance tickets are for a timed entry so you need to plan ahead.  The museum is open late Thursday evening until 9:30pm and closed on Mondays.  On the first Sunday of the month and every Sunday after 3 pm, the museum is free.  However, I would expect the line to be worse than normal during those times.

Picasso’s Life Story

Picasso's "Woman in White," 1923 Metropolitan Museum of Art
Picasso’s “Woman in White,” 1923 Metropolitan Museum of Art

To fully appreciate the museum, it is a good idea to know a little bit about Picasso’s life.  Picasso was born in Malaga but lived in Barcelona from age 14 to 23.  Then he moved to Paris.  While in Paris, his best friend, Carlos Casagemas, also an artist, committed suicide.  That marked the beginning of the Blue Period, where the dominant color in his paintings reflected his mood.  After four years, he found a steady girlfriend, Fernande Olivier, who helped him see the world through rose-colored glasses – and what is known as Rose Period began.   (more…)

Paying My Respects at the Cambridge American Cemetery

I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for those that serve in the military.  They risk their lives every day to protect our freedom.  My cousin, Stephanie, spent time in the Army and was deployed overseas twice.  So while I was in Cambridge, I thought it would be nice to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery to show my appreciation.

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If you remember back to your history classes, the UK was the main base for the Allied Troops fighting to liberate Western Europe during World War II.  The Cambridge American Cemetery is the only cemetery in England to honor the service and sacrifice of Americans who served overseas during World War II.

Visiting the Cambridge American Cemetery

The Cambridge American Cemetery is located a little bit outside of the city center on land that was donated by Cambridge University.  There is no admission charge, but you will either need to drive or get a taxi to get there.  There are four main points of interest in the cemetery – the burial ground, the mall with the Wall of the Missing, the visitor center, and the chapel.   (more…)

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