My top 10 apps for solo travelling (Part II)

Venice, Italy

In my last blog post, I talked about the 5 useful apps I use for my solo travelling. As promised, here are the other 5 apps. Enjoy!

Beautiful Swiss Alps from the top
  • Weather app

I trust that most of you have one of the weather apps in your phone. It is so helpful to know the weather condition of the destination you are going to in advance. Some places in Europe, you get 3 different weathers in one day! So I usually check the weather in the morning before I head out. In doing so, I know if I need a water proof jacket, an umbrella or whether I should put the thermal wear. It help you to plan your outfit for the day and know what to pack.

I was at a small osteria in Siena, Italy but the owner is well prepared with foreign tourists. They have an English menu. So no translating app needed šŸ™‚
  • Google Translate

I use this app a lot even when I am not travelling. This app comes in handy when you travel to a country where you donā€™t know the language and would like to communicate with the local or understand the sign.

In addition, you can also use this app to translate signage or labels, by turning on the camera. I love this when I go to supermarket and want to make sure I get the washing detergent, not the floor cleaning soap šŸ˜Š I also use this when I go to restaurant to help me translate the menu.

A view from the top, at Duomo of Siena. I took like hundreds of photos and VDOs, all is saved and safe.
  • Google Photos

Ok, I do not have a camera but instead, use my phone to take all the photos and VDOs. The major problem is that you run out of space and have to start deleting some. So the Google Photo app come in handy, as when you are connected to Wifi, it will automatically upload your photos and VDOs to your account on cloud.

You can get access to the images and VDOs later and it is super easy to use and search for something. There are some other apps like OneDrive from Microsoft or DropBox that you can use to save all the files as well.

Venice, the home of Bank of Venice which is the first national bank to have been established within the boundaries of Europe.
  • Mobile banking apps

When you travel for a long time, you will need to take care of some financial stuff back home or even some cash when you are overseas. With the mobile banking apps, I can manage things easily including paying for bills or transferring money.

Like I mentioned in my previous blog, many banks (in Thailand) now offer Travel Card which is a debit card that you can exchange the foreign currency at a very good rate using the money in your saving account.

You can use this card paying in your preferred currency overseas, without transaction fee. Furthermore you can withdraw cash from ATMs overseas at a low fee. If you live in Thailand, there are many banks start offering this service including SCB, KTB, Citibank and KBANK. I am using SCB Travel Planet card.

https://www.scb.co.th/

Highspeed trains in Europe are very good and fast. If you book the ticket well in advance, you can get an incredible cheap ride.
  • PayPal

I recommend you open PayPal account (free) and link it to your credit or debit account. It gives you conveniences when making online payment such as buying flights, train ticket or pay for hotel.

Why? You do not need to pick up your credit card and enter the 16 digits, which is the last thing I want to do when I am in a public place. It has other benefits such as transferring and receiving money. If you are online shopper, you know that there is a buyer protection as well.

https://www.paypal.com

Beautiful and cold day in La Rioja, northern Spain
  • Weather app

I trust that most of you have one of the weather apps already installed in your phone. It is so helpful to know the weather condition of the destination you are going in advance.

In some places in Europe, you get 3 different weathers in one day! I usually check the weather before heading out so that I know what kind of outfit you need or if I should bring an umbrella.

https://www.theweathernetwork.com

Seville Cathedral in Seville, Andalucia, South of Spain
I hope that this is useful and can help you with the start of travelling solo! Buon Viaggio!

My top 10 apps for solo travelling (Part I)

Apps play an important role in our modern life, especially for travelling. It makes things easier!

Hello everyone! Sorry that I havenā€™t updated my blog for a while. I have been busy travelling!

Ok as promised, I have listed the 10 apps I use prior and during my travels which I decide to separate into two blog posts. I will not include the social media apps as those are personal preference.

15 Years ago, I would have to travel with this kind of map. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it!
  • Google Maps

I donā€™t know how I will survive the solo travelling without Google Maps. The app is a real-life saver. I remember more than ten years ago I did a roadtrip with a friend and we still used the printed guidebook, printed map and relying on the road sign! Now you just enter your destination and the app will tell you your transportation options, the distance and the time it will take.

If you want to take public transportation, it tells you which mode of public transportation, bus number, metro direction, the departure time and the next one. If you decide to go on foot, it works just fine too.

Pro: Easy to use, smart, reliable, accurate

Con: You need a decent Internet in your mobile phone, it consumes a lot of battery if you use it all the time.

Paperless ticket
  • Omio – Formerly Go Euro (For travelling in Europe)

I love this app and told some of my European to use it. It is a meta search app dedicated to travelling in Europe.  You simply enter your origin, destination and travelling dates, the it will show you options of transportation which include trains, buses and planes as well as estimated price. You can easily book the ticket on the app.

A local train from Siena to Florence

I use this app a lot to search for trains and book the ticket. You can use e-ticket which it is in the app to present it to the train staff.

www.omio.com

Sipping coffee on the balcony of my AirBnb in Rome, really feel like home
  • AirBnb

I love AirBnb! I use it a lot especially if my stay lasts more than few days. When you travel around, pack, unpack, sometimes it feels nice to have a homey feels staying in a home or even sharing the apartment with a local. You can cook, prepare a meal, do laundry and just have your own privacy and feel like home.

www.airbnb.com

The view from my AirBnb in Madrid
  • Hotel Booking apps – Booking.com/ Agoda.com

If you prefer to stay in hotel, guest house or hostel, these two OTAs (online travel agents) are my top two. Sometimes you get special discount or privilege like free breakfast or free upgrade from your member status.

I usually use these two apps when I look for a hotel to stay for few days or arrive late or have a flight late. Why? Because most hotels allow check in 24 hours or late without extra charge, and you can also leave your luggage for free there while exploring the city waiting for your flight or train.

For this reason, AirBnb may not be ideal if you have such travel conditions.

www.booking.com

www.agoda.com

Flying over the Swiss Alps
  • Skyscanner

I use this app to find the beast deal for flights. It is a meta search app for flights. Alternatively, you can use Google Flights as well. However I find this app super easy to use.

They also have an option called Explore, for those who have the dates but do not know where to go yet. I love it! You just pick the cheapest destination at that specific time and voila, fly!

www.skyscanner.com

Venice in Winter, cold but still pretty šŸ™‚
Ok, the next 5 apps will follow in the next blog post, until then! Ciao!

The pleasure of travelling solo and insider tips

La Rioja Map at Plaza de EspaƱa, Seville

Travelling solo may sound scary for many people, but also exciting for many and that includes me. I have been travelling solo a lot, especially to overseas. Several years ago, I saw a great quote and then told myself that once a year, I have to go to a place Iā€™ve never been. As a result I have been doing it so well.

“ONCE A YEAR, GO SOMEPLACE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN BEFORE.ā€

Dalai Lama
I love it when I go check in at the airport knowing my new adventure is beginning again

I still remember the nervousness and excitement when travelling by plane outside of Thailand for the first time. Being a 17-year old, I flew to the US all by myself and my English was not so good. I was just a kid. But that changed my life completely because I have been addicted to travelling since.

Learning a new word up in the sky!

People ask if I am not scared or feeling lonely, those feelings come sometimes. However, when you do travel solo more often, those feelings disappear and just leave you excitement and satisfactions. You just smile to yourself. Travelling makes me happy and richer.

“LIVE WITH NO EXCUSES AND TRAVEL WITH NO REGRETSā€

Oscar Wilde

Here I have summed up my tips for travelling alone and hope that can help you to prepare your first or next solo trip. I am speaking from a female perspective and from my direct experience. Here are the 8 things I do for my solo trips.

I always take free maps from the airport to search for places I would like to visit and then put the destination on Google Map
  • 1. Tech-Savvy

I am not talking about owning the latest smart phone or carrying cool gadgets with you, but you should be tech and Internet savvy. Why? You use Internet to search for information to plan the trip from visa application, transportation and accommodation options, attractions information.

I always carry a book to read on the plane as there is not much to do, except reading and sipping free drinks šŸ™‚

Donā€™t be afraid to embrace yourself with technology and machines. Many services now use just robots, no human. For example, you may have to do all the airline check in, baggage drop off and print the luggage tag yourself, or in supermarkets that you may have to do self-check out.

A train ride from Madrid to Seville

Now it is even easier as there are apps which supply all these to you. You should know some useful apps such as Google Map, Google Translate and they can make your travel easier. I will write about useful apps in the next post.

Mobile with Internet is essential
  • 2. Always carry a mobile with Internet

Ok guys, we live in the 20th century. Internet is like oxygen, you cannot live without it. I always carry a mobile with Internet for the peace of mind. I love walking around the unknown city so sometimes I need Google map to bring me to the place. And sometimes Google Translate to communicate and understand the signage.

My current mobile now is Android phone with two sim card slots. I can have my Thai sim card to get the messages from Thailand and another sim card mainly for Internet. It is pretty useful.

The Colosseo shot by my mobile phone
  • 3. Keep your memories in photos: Camera or good mobile with camera

I am not a professional photographer but I love keeping memories in the photos. I use my mobile to take all my travel photos and connect to my Google Photos account and Microsoft One Drive. The photos are synced automatically to the Drives on cloud. Voila! You got all you photos there and can empty the space on your phone. You may carry an external hard drive to do that as well.

Seville, Spain
  • 4. Know the weather conditions and prepare proper clothes

Check the weather condition of the places you will go to. I usually travel with comfy cotton pants (no belt if possible) and sneakers when flying. When you travel to cold countries, dressing with layers is a key. Bring some heat-tech for the inner layer, then a shirt and your outer jacket or coat. You should bring a warm sweater as well for when you are indoor.

My travelling shoes and pants

In winter, most places will have heaters inside, so if you are staying indoor a lot, two layers will suffice and you can remove the outer one if it is too warm. You donā€™t need a super ultra heat tech inner wear, unless you go skiing or hiking with snow, otherwise you can turn to be a roasted pork.

Dressing up with layers is the key for winter travels

When you are in the cold country, you do not want to have the hypothermia which is when your body loses the temperature, and that can be very dangerous. Our body usually loses the heat through head and feet. So always keep your head and feet warm, and wear scarf to protect your neck and chest from exposing to the cold.

Boots are invented for a reason, not only for the beauty, but they keep you warm.
  • 5. You are always safe when you know what you are doing

I have been to places, like Milan, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, you name it, where people say they are dangerous with a lot of pick pocketing and scammers.  For me the good thing about travelling alone is that you donā€™t attract people. They may even think you are from there because you donā€™t speak in your language to your friend or family, so you are not distracted. Keep your valuables in your bag, out of sight and not to attract the theft.

At Central Bus station in Bologna, Italy, departing to a new destination – Siena
  • 6. Two is better than one

I always make copies of my important documents including passport, visa page, air ticket, insurance paper and keep them in my backpack and suitcase. Now with technology, I usually scan these documents and keep them on emails or Google Drive. Same as cash, I carry some cash with me and keep some at home or hotel in a safe, not a lot of amount though.

Separate cash in several places. Try to get them in small notes as it is use at small shops.
  • 7. Finance: Cash, Debit card and credit card

Bring enough cash to spend during your trip but not too much. Because carrying a lot of cash is not a good idea. If you need more, go to ATM. In Europe, most of the shops and restaurants take card. I use debit and credit card a lot when travelling in Europe, Australia and Japan. Check with your banks for the fee and rates. Try to get small notes from your exchange kiosk or bank and most places will accept them.

At Mercato Centrale in Florence. I love this market! This shop offers you tasting of their products and yes they accept cards!

“NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOSTā€

J.R.R. Tolkien

Several banks (in Thailand) offer a Travel Card which you can use as a debit card when overseas with no currency exchange fee during the transaction. You just need to transfer the money from your saving account to top up in the Travel card. Then buy your preferred currency such as Euro, US dollar, Japanese Yen, UK Pound to put in your card. The rate is pretty good, the same as the currency exchange kiosks.

I will provide some more info about the travel cards in the next blog.

Made new friends in LogroƱo
  • 8. Positive Attitude

This is a very important thing to bring with you. Be positive, learn new things, embrace to new cultures and surroundings but have precautions in the things around you. Be friendly and open to make friends with locals and learn some of their languages. You will be loved!

My first time watching Flamenco Dance in Seville which is where the dance is from.
Last but not least, always check in with your family and friends. Keep them posted of where you are so they do not worry about you and you feel connected with them wherever you are. This can help you cope with feeling lonely.
Admiring the world’s finest arts at Palazzo Pitti in Florence at my own pace.
Do not be afraid of travelling alone. Step out of your comfort zone, go somewhere you have’never seen. you will not regret.

“FEAR IS ONLY TEMPORARY. REGRETS LAST FOREVER.ā€

Another skill you will develop when travelling solo is selfie photo taking! šŸ™‚
In my next post, I will write about the useful apps I use for travelling. Until then, ciao!

The Royal AlcƔzar of Seville, Dream of Dorne

The Royal AlcƔzar and its garden

After departing Madrid, I spent one night in Seville, the capital of Andalucia in southern Spain. This region is so different from the north, its beauty simply takes my breaths away.

Entrance
Entering the complex

The first thing on my list here was to see the Royal Palace AlcƔzar, a filming location for Dorne in the mega hit HBO series, Game of Throne. Yes I am a GOT fan!

Interior inside the palace
Moorish influence, resulting a mesmerizing architecture

Did you remember how mesmerized you were when seeing Dorne for the first time? Here I am at the Royal AlcƔzar and feel like I am dreaming.

Seville’s royal palace complex was believed to have been built in the 10th century. This architectural wonder is a result of a combination of Mudejar (Moorish) and Gothic styles.

Mudejar arts, colourful tiles

The palace was built by the Muslim Moorish dynasty. Later on the Christians regained the power in the region, and the additional constructions began. For me this is the greatest harmony of Muslims and Christians work of arts.

Moorish interior

It is the product of many monarchs throughout the great history. The decoration, ornaments and architecture of Islamic, Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance styles will stun you.

Dream of Dorne

A high speed train from Madrid which takes about 2.5 hours will take you to Seville. Alternatively, you can fly to Seville Airport from many major cities in Europe. If you do not have many days to spare, I suggest a night or two will be good here.

The Royal AlcƔzar was declared UNESCO site in 1987
Peacocks walk freely in the garden

The Royal AlcƔzar, along with the Seville Cathedral which is located just in front of the Alcazar are UNESCO site.

Seville Cathedral, located in front of the Royal AlcƔzar, also a UNESCO site

Winter is slow season for Europe, I was lucky to be able to walk-in and got the ticket. If you visit in Spring or Summer, an advance purchase of the ticket would be a good idea and will save you time.

A little courtyard

The general admission is 11.50 Euros. For ticket purchase and opening hours, visit https://www.alcazarsevilla.org

The Royal AlcƔzar
Even if you are not Game of Thrones fan, but The Royal AlcƔzar should stay on your to-see list in Seville and you will not be disappointed.
The palace has large gardens, please spare at least two hours for your visit
You will see a lot of orange trees in Andalucia, there were brought by the Arabs
Me with the Mudejar arts, the colourful bricks

Prado Museum, the finest European art collections under one roof in Madrid

Museo Nacional del Prado.

If you are an art lover and history buff, Madrid will not disappoint you. The city has various museums for you to enjoy but the museum I will talk about here is Prado Museum, or Museo Nacional del Prado.

The Prado Museum has made it to my top 3 favorite museums. Together with The Uffizi in Florence and The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as the Prado Museum has the finest European art collections.

This is one of Madrid’s best museums and one of the most visited art museums in the world. The collections include those, especially European arts from 12th to 20th century.

You can admire the artworks from the world’s famous artists including Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, Diego VelĆ”zquez. My favorite piece here is the Bible story oil canvas – David with the head of Goliath by the Italian painter Caraviaggio.

Prado Museum

The Prado museum celebrates a 200-year anniversary in 2019. The museum building was designed by architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785. It became a national museum and opened for public for the first time in 1819.

Once you got through the security at the entrance, you can take the free museum plan from the information counter. I recommend an audio guide which costs you 6 euros but trust me, it is worth it. The audio guide has trails plan for you to choose for 1, 2 or 3 hour visit. This saves you a lot of time and you get to admire the must-see pieces.

The line to enter the museum for the free admission on Sunday at 5 PM. People start to line up around 4.15 PM.

The Museum opens from Monday to Saturday, 10 AM – 8 PM and 10 AM – 7 PM for Saturday and public holiday. The ticket is 15 euros and you can save time by purchasing it online.

My free ticket to the museum

If you are flexible with time, the museum offers free admission in the last two hours before closing. I went on Sunday and got a free ticket to enter the museum at 5 PM. There may be a long line, but do not give up. The line is moving fast.

The side of the museum building with the queue to enter the museum
Last but not least, I wish you an artsy day in Madrid!
For advance ticket booking and more information, visit https://www.museodelprado.es/en

4 Reasons why you should visit LogroƱo, the capital of La Rioja

LogroƱo old town during holiday season

A capital of the province of La Rioja in northern Spain, LogroƱo really exceeds my expectations. I love the easy going and chill vibe as the city is not yet exposed to over tourism like in some other European cities. Many foreign travellers visiting Spain tend to aim at big cities like Madrid, Barcelona or in southern Spain like Seville, Malaga or Granada. I will tell you 4 reasons why you should add LogroƱo in your itinerary for Spain.

A local eatery La Calaos in Briones
Tripical Mango and Prawn salad

First, the great FOOD SCENE. Here people enjoy good food, good wine and easy going life. You can get really good meal with a reasonable price here in nice restaurants. However, as foreigners, you should know that people here take eating seriously, as they tend to spend a few hours for lunch and dinner. My lunch time here is usually from 2.30 – 5 PM and dinner is around 9 PM onwards. For food lovers, you cannot miss a chance to visit Calle del Laurel in the old town and enjoy trying different pinchos or small tapas being served in one portion. There is so much to write about pinchos hence I will dedicate another post just for them.

Half of the baby pig head
Iberico Jamon
Wine Tasting
Marques del Riscal winery

Secondly, La Rioja is famous for WINES! You will find world class wineries just in less than an hour drive from LogroƱo. Fortunately, I had a privilege to visit some of them, including Vivanco Wine Museum, Bodegas Ysios, and MarquƩs de Riscal.

Pinchos night out
Squid

Thirdly, the reasonable PRICE for food and drinks here which is cheaper than other cities in Spain. For example, you can get a decent glass of wine for just less than 2 euros, the bus ride is 70 cents anda pincho is around 1.5 euros.

Bodegas Ysios
Hotel MarquƩs de Riscal

Fourth, ARCHITECTURE here is second to none. The Spanish appreciate arts and in La Rioja, design lovers will never get bored. Located 1.5 hours away is Bilbao International Airport and that makes it convenience for international travellers. The gem of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Musuem, designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry who also designed the Hotel MarquƩs de Riscal at MarquƩs de Riscal winery.

Muro del Revellin (Old wall)
I hope the above 4 reasons can convince you to visit this northern region of Spain. I guarantee you that you will be having amazing times!

Cappuccino in Italy

I love Cappucino! Don’t you just love the creamy milky foam on top that gives you smooth, wam and relaxing pleasure. I order it in the morning and afternoon when I go to a coffee shop in Thailand. Thais love coffee with milk and with ice! But but but….when you are in Italy, you may need to leave that habits behind. What I learned during my travels and hanging out with Italians in Italy, they drink cappuccino only before noon. They consider coffee with milk, like the lovely cappuccino, as breakfast. In the afternoon, they only drink Espresso, or if they crave for milk, they will go for CaffĆØ macchiato which is espresso with a little milk foam on top.

So next time you are in Italy, you know when to order your cappuccino. I love it with a croissant (In Italian- they call it cornetto) with jam or Nutella inside, a perfect breakfast for me!

Buongiorno! Vorrei un cornetto con la Nutella e un cappuccino!

Allora… The magic word in Italy

I visited Italy for the first time in April 2018 and went straight to check in at a hotel in Milan. The receptionist was a friendly gentleman in his late 50s. He asked for my passport, so I handed it to him.

He looked at my passport, his computer screen and said Allora. Then I said no sir, my name is not Allora. I am blah blah blah… He looked at me and said no no I know, I am just looking at your reservation detail… Allora, here is your room key madam.

So later I learned that, for Italians, they say allora all the time! It basically means OK, Well, Then šŸ™‚

Allora.. See you in the next post. A presto!