Destination: New York, USA
The reason why New York is a super popular touristic destination is because it’s such a diverse city and it has something for everyone. More than one person told me before I went “Oh, you’ll love it! It’s my favourite city!”
So what makes it so loved? New York is definitely impressive. All the famous places you’ve seen in movies, the skyscrapers, rushed people, Central Park, they all make you feel the strong impact of this powerful city.
If you really want to “feel” the city and get that really local feeling, I’d suggest saving up and finding a place to stay on the Manhattan island, either a hotel or an airbnb – it’s close to everything and you’ll earn more time to look around than spend on transportation.
I’m not usually the type of tourist to go on the beaten path but some of the popular places have really fascinated me, like Top of The Rock, which is a three level observation deck at the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The Empire State Building is another place you can get 360° views of the city, however if you have to choose between the two, I’d go with Top of The Rock; it has windows instead of a fence and the highest level doesn’t have any restrictions. It’s totally safe though, I promise. Timing of the people going up is more organised and you actually have enough space to take photos and enjoy the view.
Take a day for Central Park, it’s a fantastic place. If you’re working your way up North, on the West side of the Park you’ll find the Guggenheim Museum, which is a real masterpiece of architecture and a great art museum.
West Village and Greenwich Village are definitely the cutest districts. If you’re a fan of Friends, that’s where their famous building is! Sadly, it’s just a normal residential building, as the show was all filmed in studios in California.
Another interesting place that I loved was The High Line. It’s an old elevated section of a railway in Chelsea district transformed into a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) linear park. While you’re there make sure to see Chelsea Market – an old factory now transformed into an indoor food hall. They have amazing food from all over the world. It’s very hard to resist eating everything in sight, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There are many great places in New York that are waiting to be discovered. Just get lost on the streets of different districts and wander around, they all have their own unique character.
Travelling to New York? Be prepared with uTalk – you can use it from over 100 languages!
Destination: Valencia, Spain
Next up on our list of top holiday destinations is Valencia – here’s Ioana to explain how the Spanish city captured her heart…
The fact that it’s not one of the top touristic destinations in Spain, had me not really knowing what to expect of Valencia. Of course, I was looking forward to amazing paella, sunny skies and tapas, but Valencia has its own special charm that makes it feel like everything that you’d expect of Spain but better. Valencia has surprised me in a delightful way and I want to share my excitement and love for this place.
Not too big and with very good public transport options, it’s a very “manageable” city, as a former local told me. They love bikes over there so if that’s your thing, research on how you can rent a Valenbisi. Walking is a pleasure – beautiful old buildings and orange trees that decorate many of the pavements.
What used to be the bed of the the river Turia was transformed into a huge park with plenty of vegetation, sports courts, fountains and the futuristic looking Calatrava buildings and bridge, collectively called the City of Arts and Sciences, including a planetarium, an oceanarium and an interactive museum. Feeling like you’re about to embark on a spaceship, the beautiful buildings make it hard to take your eyes off them. All white and with bold curves and angles, decorated with light blue water fountains all around, it’s very easy to be impressed by the architect’s talent and vision.
South of the park is the old city centre, which is best explored by foot. All the little streets are beautiful and each neighbourhood has many cafes and bistros where you can take a break and indulge in the delicious Spanish cuisine. One of my favourite places is Plaza de la Reina. The fact that we had some amazing chocolate con churros at one café of the many around the plaza does not influence my decision at all 😉
Where do the cool kids hang out? I hear you ask me. The answer is Russafa. It is the hip neighbourhood with a rich cultural mix which makes it the favourite social place for both tourists and locals. The classic Spanish buildings are home to many restaurants and cafes with delicious pastries. The nightlife here is very lively and is the kind of place where on a hot summer night you might accidentally walk right into a street festival.
In only four days Valencia has managed to make me fall in love with it and quickly climbed and reserved a spot in my top 3 favourite places in the world. Characterful, filled with culture and history, great food, amazing weather and happy palm trees, Valencia surely knows how to impress.
Heading to Spain this summer? Remember to download uTalk before you go so you’re prepared with some basic Spanish conversation!
A couple of days in Berlin
After volunteering in a hostel in Riga for six weeks, I decided to take the long way home via a series of overnight buses. With everyone raving about how beautiful a city Berlin is, I decided to make it my next stop on my journey home.
It is easy to see why people like it so much.
I stayed in a huge hostel in the Turmstrasse area and this seemed like a really good location to stop in. Just twenty minutes away was the Victory Column, or Siegessäule, which overlooks a large portion of the city. A little further was Potsdamer Platz; the centre is all commercial with cafes and restaurants as far as the eye can see and business reaching high up into the sky from a series of highly polished skyscrapers. But the surrounding area has a lot of history and culture to offer too. Personally the Topography Of Terror, Holocaust Memorial, Friedrichstrasse and Reichstag were the things that grabbed my attention the most. An early evening stroll in the local neighbourhood turned into a several hour stint that saw me leave my hostel, walk the length of Turmstrasse, past the Victory Column, down to the Holocaust Memorial and back on my first night.
There is no one ‘centre’ to Berlin, but it seems most tourists and locals end up at Alexanderplatz. Walking out of the station the first thing you see is the iconic tower that overlooks a pedestrianised area. Walking behind this and into a little blissful shade after a journey on an overheated train was very refreshing. There is a lot to see from here, and I personally headed over towards the galleries and sat under the pillars looking out over the river for a while.
The Zoological Gardens are definitely worth a visit, and if you like zoos and aquariums then it is a must. There’s a very cute windmill of sorts that sits along a section of Budapester Strasse which is worth stopping at to admire.
The Brandenburg Gate was such an impressive sight first hand, you can really understand the sense of power there and the thought of those streets being lined with people waiting to see a glimpse of their leader is both disturbing and breathtaking.
The area around Nordbahnhof was one of my favourite places, full of gardens, interesting architecture, and of course the Berlin Wall Memorial.
The main station, Hauptbahnhof, was also worth looking round, whether you like trains or not. There are so many levels, platforms, different types of train, shops, places to eat and drink, you could spend hours within this huge complex and not get bored.
Of course, one of the best things about Berlin, from my perspective at least, is the cake. Much like Greggs back home in the UK, there is a bäckerei (bakery) wherever you turn, and such a choice of sweet and savoury treats it can be a little overwhelming.
I spent the best part of two days in Berlin and I have to say, it isn’t enough. I could have happily stayed another week and I am still not sure if that would have been enough to have seen everything that I wanted to. A return trip is definitely in order!
Planning a trip to Berlin? Remember to learn a little German before you leave with uTalk – or try our free Talk Now demo.
10 reasons to visit… Venice
We’ve all seen the Italian city of Venice in the movies, but does it live up to its reputation as one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic cities? Amy says yes; here are her ten reasons to check out Venice for yourself.
I think this has to be a very obvious point, as of course Venice and boats go hand in hand. I was rather taken aback by the beauty of the boats, especially the private taxi boats, as they were all immaculate. If you’re landing when it’s still light, get a private taxi from the airport; it is magical and makes you feel like you’re in a James Bond movie cruising along the Grand Canal.
2. Get lost
Once again I think this is quite a popular theme, but honestly just wander about taking little side streets, because you never quite know what you are going to find, maybe a beautiful street, bridge, shop… or possibly a dead end. As long as you have a map with you when you’re ready to head back, you will be absolutely fine. Once you get to grips with the city it is relatively easy to get around and soon you’ll be wandering off to places without even needing any guidance.
The first world that comes to mind when thinking about the different churches in Venice is WOW. There are a vast number of churches across Venice and the ones we went into were simply stunning. We managed to see several, including St Mary of the Friars, where you can see the famous painting Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which caused a lot of commotion when it was first revealed. We also saw San Moisè and Santa Maria della Salute, as well as many more. Each church has a different history so you can never get bored of going into different ones.
There are over 400 bridges in Venice and rather frequently you stumble upon one that’s just beautiful. They vary from concrete to iron; the concrete ones are traditional Venetian bridges, whereas the iron bridges are Austrian.
If you have the time I would definitely recommend hopping across to the different islands. Murano is the closest island, while Burano and Torcello are a little further away but still very easy to get to. We stopped off at Murano, which is famous for its glass, and we were fortunate enough to see the incredibly talented Glass Masters at work. Next was Burano, known for its lace and its colourful houses; this was so the fishermen could spot their house when they were out at sea. Finally we went to Torcello, which is tiny; there are only 15 homes on the island. Sights on Torcello include the Cattedral di Torcella, which was built in AD 1008, and the Santa Foscafe, which is very impressive to look at from the outside.
I knew Venice would be beautiful, but what I wasn’t expecting was all of the detail that can be seen everywhere, in the churches, the bridges, and even engravings on some streets to represent different districts. Maybe I had rose tinted glasses on, but whenever I thought I had seen something beautiful I rounded a corner and there was something that topped it. It may sound like a cliché but Venice really does take your breath away.
This is an absolute must, because otherwise you can walk past something and have no idea you have passed a major piece of history. The tour means you really get to know Venice and learn about its history and culture, I can’t even begin to describe how much I learnt about the city and how relieved I was that we did a tour. Without it you could be standing in the square where Shakespeare based The Merchant of Venice and have no idea.
I can honestly say that I had no idea about the extensive history behind Venice, from the several plagues they suffered, to the different Dukes in power and of course Napoleon taking over the city. You definitely get a better feel for the city once you know more about its history, as well as starting to notice different things yourself when walking around, like the different types of bridges I mentioned earlier, or how the Austrians had to have their own cafés as they were not welcome anywhere else. I would read a little about the city before you go, just so you know a little about the Venetians’ background.
9. Food, Drink and Ice Cream
In Italy you expect great pizza and pasta; however Venice is very much based around seafood, although we also discovered an incredible steak restaurant called Vini Da Artur where we had the best steak we have ever eaten. Of course we had pasta and pizza too, but there is really something for everyone. For drinks, I recommend the Hilton Skyline Rooftop Bar for views of Venice and of course Harry’s bar, which originally opened in 1931 and was where the famous Bellini was invented. It is expensive, but just go for one Bellini to say you’ve experienced Harry’s bar, because the atmosphere in there is fantastic. Finally, ice cream was a must for us over the few days we were in Venice, due to it being very hot. There is a different ice cream shop on all of the busy streets, and they do not disappoint. Because you have to have at least one gelato while you’re in Venice, right?
10. St Mark’s Square
We’ve seen it in lots of films and pictures, but you can’t beat going and seeing it for yourself. Stepping into the square, the first thing you notice is how big it actually is. The main attraction – the church – is simply beautiful; the engravings all across the church and the different colours used are stunning. Going inside the church is a must, and you can pay €2 to go to the back of the church. Do it, you’ll see why. All across the square there are intricate engravings in the marble and different statues everywhere. I don’t want to spoil any surprises for anyone wanting to learn the history of the square, you have to go and experience it – and if you’re going with someone special, go at night too as it’s very romantic.
My only warning about Venice is that you do get harassed to buy a selfie stick or to feed the pigeons, so be prepared to say no!
And of course, don’t forget to download uTalk before you leave; even if you don’t have time to learn some Italian in advance, it’s a really useful app to have on your phone when you’re searching for the right word – we used it a lot!
Have you ever been to Venice? What did you think?