2 Days in Barcelona

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barcelona spain

This was our first trip to Barcelona, in fact, this was our 1st trip to Europe. So, we were excited to experience one of the most visited cities in Europe. Now, two days isn’t enough in a great city like this, but it’ll have to do.  With only 48 hours to work with, here’s what we got to see and do in Barcelona, Spain.

Cortado Coffee

cortado coffee barcelona

I was exhausted and pretty grouchy by the time we landed in Barcleona. Thankfully, I discovered Cortado Coffee. This discovery came from necessity, rather than a curiosity. The reason being; the flight to Barcelona sucked. The plane was a piece of shit, the seats were so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep at all – not even a power nap and in fact, it was the one of the worst flights I’d taken in recent memory. Air Canada Rouge, you need to do better than this for a long-haul, overseas flight.

Back to the coffee. Cortado Coffee, or “cut” coffee is an espresso cut with warm milk. It’s a good coffee and it gave me the second wind I needed to start exploring the city. As it turned out, I didn’t get much sleep in Barcelona. In fact, sleep may be the last thing on your mind in this vibrant city. While in Barcelona, drink more Cortado Coffee and worry about sleep when you get back home.

Passeig de Gracia, Eixample

Casa Battlo Barcelona

Our hotel in the Eixample district, was just a short walk from Passeig de Gracia. There’s plenty of high-end shopping, hotels and restaurants along this street. It’s also home to Gaudi’s famous Casa Mila and Casa Battlo buildings.

La Rambla

La Rambla Barcelona

The world famous La Rambla. It’s the main touristy street in Barcelona running from Placa de Catalunya down to Port Vell on the waterfront. Aside from all the people watching, shopping, and restaurants; there’s lots to see in the immediate vicinity; like Placa Reial, Palau Guell and the Columbus Monument.

la boqueria barcelona

I like street markets & public markets; and La Rambla has La Boqueria. It’s an extremely popular market loaded with fresh seafood, meats, colorful vegetables, fresh fruits & juices, local food counters and that delicious Jamon. We found it was a good place to fuel up on fresh juice and Spanish ham while on the go.

Barri Gotic

Bario Gotic Barcelona

Barri Gotic or, the Gothic Quarter, is just east of La Rambla, with a labyrinth of pedestrian streets and buildings dating back to Medieval times. My recommendation: wander around and get lost.  Then, wander around some more and get lost again. There are so many great things around every corner; from cathedrals, basilicas, town squares, and museums to trendy shops, restaurants and bars.

Park Guell 

Park Guell Barcelona

Park Guell, yet another Gaudi creation and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was a good way to start the day. We took the #24 bus from Placa de Catalunya to the east entrance and took a scenic walk around the park. Up in the hills, there’s great views of the the city and the Mediterranean.

There is an entrance fee of 8 Euros to get in to see Gaudi’s main buildings, the museum, and the famous mosaic terrace and salamander statue.

Montjuic Castle? and a Magic Fountain

barcelona spain

After a picnic down by the waterfront, we thought it would be fun to take the Port Vell Tram to Montjuic Castle. Ha! This is a big mistake if you are pressed for time. The lineup was painfully long and once you get up to the top of the tower, there was another long line to contend with before boarding the tram. Why does it take so long? There’s only two tram cars; one each way.

It’s 11 Euros per person one way, to take the tram, so not the cheapest mode of transport. Don’t get me wrong, you get great aerial views of city,  but on the Montjuic side, it doesn’t link up with the Montjuic cable car – which is further down the road. There was no mention of this in material I read online, while I was putting together our activity plan.

If time and/or budget is a concern, you’d be better off taking the Metro to Paral-lel station and take the cable car to Montjuic Castle; or,  if you’re in Placa d’Espanya, take a taxi up the hill to the cable car station for around 10 Euros.

The decision to take the tram took up big chunk of our limited time and when the ride was done, we didn’t feel like going to the castle anymore. So, the plan changed and we grabbed a taxi and headed down Placa d’Espanya to find something to eat and watch the magic fountain.

Magic Fountain Barcelona

The Magic Fountain is located in front of the National Museum of Art, just down from Placa D’Espanya. A series of fountains from the Venetian Towers, up to the Magic Fountain are part of music and light performance. At the time we were there, the show started at 9 pm, shortly after the sun went down.

After a busy day of sightseeing, it was good to relax on a beautiful autumn evening and watch the fountain light up to music. We needed the break, because the night was still young in Barcelona, and this city comes alive at night.

Tapas, Tapas and More Tapas!

Tapas Barcelona Spain

When in Barcelona, you have to have tapas. Tapas are served as appetizers and snacks in Spanish cuisine, that are usually shared by diners. I’m a big fan of Chinese dim sum, so tapas was an easy and enjoyable transition.

There’s quite a variety of tapas to choose from. I found a common theme for ingredients were olives & olive oil, garlic, meats and seafood like anchovies and squid. All if was delicious, especially the seafood. It can be served hot or cold, sitting down or standing up, with a cheap beer or a pricey glass of wine. My kind of food, no doubt about it.

There’s tapas bars everywhere in Barcelona, so try it, you’ll love it! It’s a fun and social way to eat.

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Top Travel Destinations in 2015

Angkor Wat Temlple Siem Reap Cambodia

Where are you going in 2015? If you haven’t figured it out yet, here’s some lists of the top travel destinations in 2015. I like lists. They bring inspiration and help me brainstorm for the next big travel adventure.

First up are the “Top Ten” lists. The “Best-Value” travel destinations are showing a definitive pattern of Africa, Asia and Europe for 2015. It was good to see Uruguay make the list. I’ll admit, I had to Google Burkina Faso – I had no idea where that was. This may be more for the intrepid traveler? I’ve heard there’s been some instability there recently.

While the “Top Ten Cities to Visit” list is dominated by European cities this year – a couple of them will be crossed off my Travel-To-Do-List this year. I’m from Western Canada and we love to hate Toronto, so imagine my surprise when I saw it on this list. I’ll keep an open mind since I’ve only been to Toronto for conferences and never had time to explore the city, the food scene, or the nightlife.

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Top 10 Best-Value Destinations

Top 10 Cities to Visit 

1. Tunisia 1. Washington DC
2. South Africa 2. El Chalten, Argentina
3. Shanghai 3. Milan, Italy
4. Samoa 4. Zermatt, Switzerland
5. Bali 5. Valletta, Malta
6. Uruguay 6. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
7. Portugal 7. Salisbury, UK
8. Taiwan 8. Vienna, Austria
9. Romania 9. Chennai, India
10. Burkina Faso 10. Toronto, Canada

Next up; the “Most Affordable” travel destinations. Europe, Southeast Asia and South America look like the places to be for maximum travel value in 2015. There’s some great options here. You could spend the summer exploring Eastern Europe, backpacking South America or trek from Nepal down to Laos and Cambodia.

If money is no object, there’s the “Most Expensive” travel destinations list. No big surprises here – lush tropical islands and playgrounds for the rich. Although, Island hopping in the South Pacific sounds like a good time to me.

Most Affordable Destinations 

Most Expensive Destinations 

1. Bolivia 1. Maldives
2. Laos 2. Seychelles
3. Nepal 3. Aruba
4. Macedonia 4. Monaco
5. Peru 5. Mauritius
6. Serbia 6. French Polynesia
7. Cambodia 7. Bahamas
8. Slovakia 8. Cook Islands
9. Guatemala 9. Vanuatu
10. Lithuania 10. Mozambique

So, what do you think? There’s some solid travel ideas in these lists, so make 2015 your year to really get out there and travel. I hope this brings some inspiration to your travel plans.

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2015 Top Travel Destinations Lists sourced from HotelsCombined

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3 Simple Tips for Safer Travel

tips for safe travel

We’ve been traveling together for over 10 years now. In that time, our travels to different corners of the world have been trouble-free; not so much as paper cut. However, unexpected things can and do happen while traveling.

On a recent trip to Europe, my lovely travel companion had an accident and the injury required immediate medical attention. It all happened so fast and it was quite stressful dealing with an injury while traveling in a foreign country, on the other side of the planet.

This experience made me realize that we were getting somewhat complacent when it came to our travel safety. We’re reasonably healthy, reasonably smart people and because nothing bad had ever happened in our travels, we were starting to believe that nothing bad would ever happen to us. So wrong!

To minimize the pain of unpleasant surprises while traveling , here are three simple tips we use to help us travel safe.

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Be Calm

The fun of visiting new places, sampling exotic foods and experiencing new cultures; we can all agree that travel is exciting! On the other hand, travel is hard work. There’s the long hours of planning and logistics. There’s the aggravation of lost luggage, cancelled flights, getting lost in strange cities, getting robbed, or getting injured. Add some language & cultural barriers to that recipe and travel can be downright stressful at times.

Getting angry, getting emotional and acting irrationally leads to bad decision making and that can put you at risk when you’re out there seeing the world. So, take a deep breath, be cool, and when you feel a meltdown coming on, take a minute to sort out your feelings and your options, so you can make smart decisions and you can continue on your adventure with confidence.

Be Careful

Be aware of your surroundings, use a money belt, don’t take a shortcut down a dark alley late at night, don’t get too drunk and stumble into an unlicensed taxi or tuk-tuk. I know what you’re thinking; these are all common sense things, but they’re worth the review. It’s easy to forget some of this stuff when caught up in the excitement of a being in a wonderful new place.

Speaking of excitement, it’s easy to be seduced by adventure when traveling. For example, repelling down a large waterfall in Costa Rica – it looks awesome, but if you don’t repel down waterfalls in your regular life, it may not be the best time to start. Your jungle waterfall adventure could quickly turn into an airlifted-to-hospital adventure. Another important point to make here, your travel insurance company may consider these kinds of activities to be extreme sports and if you did get injured, they may refuse coverage. The fine print could expose you to potentially huge medical bills.

Be Prepared

Travel Insurance

Always buy travel insurance . . . always! Hopefully you won’t have to use it, but it’s important to be covered, just in case. Take a few minutes to read your travel insurance policy so you know what’s covered, what’s optional and what isn’t covered – like trip cancellation or extreme sports for example. It’s also good to review your credit card travel coverage or travel policies through your company benefits. They may not be as comprehensive as you think. Bottom line here, make sure you have the coverage you need before you depart.

Travel Documents

Have all your travel documents in order and ready to go like air tickets, hotel reservations, and transfers. Everyone likes to organize things their own way, like using the TripIt App as an example. I definitely use Apps, but I still keep hard copies as backup.

Other travel documents we keep easily accessible are things like our travel insurance information cards, photocopies of our passports, visa information if necessary, embassy & consulate contacts, and airline customer service numbers. It certainly saves time and stress if something does go wrong on your trip.

Travel Research

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to research, aside from putting my boots on the ground in new places, I really enjoy the research and planning part. Do a little homework in advance and get to know the places you’re going. I usually start with city maps and transit options.

Find out more about the local culture, the language, the food, and points of interest to plan a basic itinerary.  Be flexible and don’t fall in love with your brilliant itinerary, a big part part of the travel experience is going with the flow – you’re plans will change.

These are the basics we follow to travel safer and smarter; without completely trampling on that sense discovery and excitement, when we land someplace new. I hope you find it helpful and feel free to share your most useful travel tips.

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Cathay Pacific: Canada’s Gateway to Asia

Tsing Yi Bridge Hong Kong

I have a confession; I’m hooked on traveling to Asia. It’s one of my favorite escapes. I love everything about it – the people, the rich culture, the awesome food, the vibrant cities, the beautiful beaches. My first trip to Asia was Hong Kong in 2006. It was also my first time flying Cathay Pacific Airlines.

Like many Canadian travelers, I had a history of flying on North American airlines. Needless to say, I went in with low expectations, but I was very impressed with the experience and I immediately became a loyal customer. In fact, I’m convinced that the best way from Canada to Asia, is flying with Cathay Pacific.

Award Winning International Service

cathay pacific worlds best airlineAs a premium Asian airline, Cathay Pacific offers multiple direct flights to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) on a daily basis, from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ).

Cathay Pacific was voted World’s Best Airline in 2014 for a record fourth time, so it goes without saying that you will experience the finest service, quality meals and a great selection of snacks & drinks to keep you well fed throughout your flight.

If you’re flying on to other major destinations in Asia, you can expect the same award winning international service on those shorter regional flights. I still have fond memories of the green tea ice cream served on a flight from Phuket to Hong Kong. To stay on the topic of dessert, on my last flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong, they served Haagen Dazs ice cream bars. Haagen Dazs in Economy Class? Well done Cathay, well done.

In-Flight Amenities 

Cathay Pacific Airlines Premium Economy Class

Canada is a long way from Asia and like many of you, I need certain amenities to survive an international flight lasting up to 15 hours. Cathay does a great job with this. The seats were comfortable with sufficient leg room (I’m 6 feet tall) and when the passenger in front of me reclined their seat, there was still room to move, even with my meal tray in the open position.

To keep you entertained in-flight, there’s Studio CX, featuring a 9″ widescreen personal TV with over 100 movies, 500+ TV shows, and 888+ music CD’s. You can connect your iPhone and iPad to stream your own movies to the screen; there’s a USB port to charge your mobile devices and a 110V AC outlet to power your laptop & other electronics.

Keep in mind, I’m describing the service and amenities available in Economy Class. If it’s that good in Economy, consider the luxuries that await you in Premium Economy, Business and First Classes.

Whether your next trip to Asia is a multi-city business trip in China, a shopping spree in Hong Kong, a tour of the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, or some quality time on a beach in Thailand, Cathay Pacific will get you there in comfort.

To book your award winning flight to Asia, visit the Cathay Pacific Canada Website.

Bonus! Vancouver to New York City

Vancouver is my home airport and historically, flying to New York was a hassle on most domestic airlines. If it wasn’t the annoyance of mediocre service, cramped seating, extra fees, and tight connecting flights at congested airports; it was the pure disgust of paying $8 for a stale turkey sandwich.

If you want all the hassle-free benefits of a premium international flight on your next trip to “The Big Apple”, Cathay Pacific offers daily non-stop flights from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to New York (JFK) Airport.

You’ll get the same award winning service, the same selection of complimentary meals, snacks & drinks, and the comfort of flying in a wide-body jet; with no extra fees for checked baggage*. This, in my opinion, is the best way to fly from Vancouver to New York.

To book your award winning direct flight from Vancouver to New York City, visit the Cathay Pacific Canada Website.

TravelNotes.co is a member of the CX Ambassadors Advocate Program. As a proud #CXAmbassador, I’m required to disclose a relationship between our site and Cathay Pacific Canada. This could include Cathay Pacific Canada providing us w/content, product, access or other forms of payment.

*Restrictions may apply. Consult baggage allowance policy for details.

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A Siesta on the Mayan Riviera

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Can you think of a better way to get some much needed rest and relaxation than to stay at a luxury all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico?

Given my history of budget travel, this particular luxury all-inclusive resort did wander far beyond my usual travel budget, so in the interests of full disclosure, this trip was not sponsored by the resort company.  This was a work related bonus and I’m not about to refuse an all expense paid vacation to the tropics. The best part, no other co-workers were in attendance. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people, but they happen to be at the top of my “People I Don’t Want to See While on Vacation” list.

If you don’t know, the Mayan Riviera and Playa del Carmen is on the Yucatan Peninsula, 45 minutes south of Cancun, along the Caribbean  coast of Mexico. Okay, enough of the geography lesson, let’s get to the resort now.

royal hideaway resort playa del carmen mexico

We stayed at the Occidental Royal Hideaway Playacar. This is an adults only, luxury all-inclusive resort where the five star service starts the moment you enter the property. We were given a warm welcome from the valets who escorted us to the reception area, where we were greeted with a glass of champagne, to make the check-in process more comfortable, of course.

At 200 rooms, the Royal Hideaway is a small resort, which affords guests more privacy and peace & quiet. Our room was spacious and very well appointed. The bed was super comfortable. I liked how the rooms were configured into villas. There were 11 villas with a small number of rooms in each – some villas were all suites, so they had even less rooms. Each villa has a “Private Villa Concierge” to assist you with restaurant reservations, excursions, etc., which was awesome (like the service wasn’t fantastic enough already).

The resort has all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury all-inclusive like a spa, fitness center, tennis courts, several different water sports, and 6 pools, just to name a few. The Royal Hideaway also has a weekly dinner theater show and live music every night at Bar Allegria.

There are 6 specialty restaurants and afternoon tea ranging from authentic Mexican to Italian cuisine – all of them were great, but we liked Azia the best. They specialized in Japanese and Thai food. Who knew you could get sushi that good on the Yucatan Peninsula?

With all of this at your disposal, they make it pretty easy not leave the property at all during your vacation. I recommend getting  outside the walls of the resort and check out Playa del Carmen. There’s great shops, restaurants, street markets and nightlife around 5th Avenue. The local beach is nice and you can catch a ferry to Cozumel at the pier.

chich itza mayan riviera mexico

While on the Mayan Riviera, you need to go to the ancient Mayan ruins of  Chichen Itza. I like history and I’m a sucker for some good ancient ruins, so it was on the must-do list. Our “villa concierge” helped us arrange the excursion with a local tour representative who met us at the hotel. It was a full day tour that included lunch and stops at Chichen Itza and a large Cenote for swimming. If you don’t know what a Cenote is, it’s like a big sink hole full of ground water. The ancient Mayans would use them for sacrifices too.

We made it back to the hotel in time to catch the last of afternoon tea and a splash in our favorite relaxation pool before dinner.

This vacation getaway got me to rethink my travel budget. As much as I enjoy our budget travel adventures, why not set aside some extra funds for a taste of the good life? From time to time, it’s okay to be good to yourself and splurge on a nice meal or a luxury resort while traveling.

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