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!

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

Pinchos Night Out in LogroƱo

One of the best experiences while visiting LogroƱo is Pinchos night out. I love it and am doing it everyday here! It is the Spanish version of street food šŸ™‚

We order calamari (tapa) to share and take the sandwich with ham (pincho) each for us, and paired with Mosto which is a kind of grape juice with no alcohol

What are pinchos? Pinchos are similar to tapas but being served in one portion while tapas are small dishes to share, for instance. People usually order a pincho with a glass of a beer or wine.

Calle del Laurel, the Pinchos street

Where to go? Calle de Laurel is the street you head to for pinchos and it is located in the city centre old town. The street is usually packed on Friday and Saturday among the locals and you can expect groups of friends and families even with kids to gather around late evening.

After 10 PM, people gather here for a pinchos night out

What time to go? 10 PM is a good time to go there. The delicious and inviting smells of charcoal grill and the chatty conversations of people will draw you near.

Staff preparing aromatic champingon at Bar Soriano

How it works? Each bar has its own specialty and the idea is that you bar hop and try a little bit of this and that. Here are my favorites;

Chistora sandwich

1. Chistora a la Brasa at Bar Paganos. Chistora is a soft chorizo on the charcoal grill wrapped in a bun and it is to die for. I have to come here every time I am in Calle de Laurel

Our Crianza is ready

2. Grilled Champignon at Bar Soriano ā€“ I love mushrooms and this place makes me drool with the smell of grilled champingon and topped with a piece of shrimp. If the place is too packed, you can go to Bar Angel too. I tried at both places.

Setas at Bar Cid
Fresh mushrooms at Bar Cid

3. Setas at Bar Cid – tasty mushroom that goes well with a corto! It is similar to mushroom we have in Thailand.

Grilled sirloin on toast with blue cheese spread at Bar Donosti

4. Grilled sirloin with blue cheese spread on a toast at Bar Donosti. The mix of the creamy blue cheese spread on the toast and grilled sirloin just melts in my mouth, on the other hand, you can also choose the pepper spread instead of blue cheese.

The zapatilla at Bar Tenessi is ready to go to the oven

5. Zapatilla at Bar Tennessi. Love the crusty toast topped with jamon and cheese. The zapatilla here is to die for!

Roast baby lamb chop
Pig month and mussels with 2 cortos

What to drink? Crianza or Corto? Well it really depends of your pinchos. In La Rioja, they have 4 classifications for red wines which are 1. Rioja 2. Crianza 3. Reserva and 4. Gran Reserva. Crianza is an everyday wine as it is refreshing and not to heavy. As a result, you will see many locals order a crianza. Another popular drink is Corto or a small beer.

Squid on bread and Alioli sauce and a corto
Pinchos and Crianza
The Pinchos squad

How much and how to do the pinchos night? Pinchos night out is best to do with a group of friends (or family). What I experience here is that each of us chips in money and appoint one person to be in charge of the bill at the bar. Let say you put 20 euros each. You can expect to pay approximately 3-5 euros per person for a pincho and a drink in one bar.

Salcichon
I am already drooling now writing about this! there are many pinchos bars for you to discover. Keep me posted of your new discoveries. i Wish you a gastronomic evening in logroƱo. good luck and bon apetit!
Fried small peppers

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!

Wine, Museum, Picasso and Sunset at Vivanco Wine Museum, La Rioja

Vivanco Wine Museum at sunset

Wine, museum, Picasso and perfect sunset! What an incredible experience all in one at the Vivanco Wine Museum in La Rioja, in the north of Spain. I have been to some of the worldā€™s finest wineries in Australia, Italy and France but the experience at the Vivanco is so unique.

Entrance to Vivanco Wine Museum
Vivanco Wine Museum at sunset

The four-floor wine museum occupies the area of 4,000 sqm in six rooms. It was designed by Spanish architect JesĆŗs Marino Pascual.

Inside the museum
Picasso

I love the museum as it gives you all information from the beginning to the end in producing the finest wine and the process involves a lot of people from harvesting, collecting the grapes, bottle making, the barrel making, transportation, the glass etc. In the museum, you can also indulge in the finest wine related arts including the pieces from Piacasso, Andy Wahol and Dali.

Wine Aroma

The Vivanco Museum on Wine Culture is among the world’s best. The museum was inaugurated in June 2004 by King Juan Carlos I and was a private initiative of the Vivanco family, winemakers since 1915, which transformed their private collection into a museum project.

An octagonal wine cellar

What an educational and pleasing experience and I recommend a visit if you are in La Rioja.

Me at Vivanco Wine Museum

Find out more information and booking your visit at https://vivancoculturadevino.es/en/