Edinburgh Things to Do

Getting to the Fringe Festival on a Budget

Visiting a city when it’s in the midst of a celebration always makes a trip more interesting – and when the celebration is a world-famous month-long festival of arts, that’s even better. In other words, a visit to Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival is a trip you won’t soon forget.

As the name suggests, the Fringe Festival isn’t about the arts in the usual sense. Yes, there are theatre, music, and dance performances scheduled at venues throughout the city during the month of August, for which you can buy tickets and sit in the audience like you would in any similar venue around the world. In addition to that, however, there are street performances everywhere you look – and it’s this kind of artistic expression that the festival is perhaps best known for. Buskers are on every street corner, performance artists attract crowds on every pedestrian street, and the crowds that fill the city are never without entertainment.

Unfortunately, the month when all of this is going on is also one of the most expensive times to visit Europe in general. It’s more challenging to find good deals on airfare to Edinburgh or cheap hotels in Edinburgh during the summer when the city’s weather is most conducive to visiting. This is compounded by the popularity of the Fringe Festival, since people often book up the best budget accommodation months in advance. There are Edinburgh Festival Fringe travel deals to be had, though, if you’re willing to do your research.

It’s advisable to begin your search for accommodation at least six months before your trip (more if you’re on a tighter budget), and for a good deal on a flight you’d be smart to start looking at airfare even more than six months beforehand. Just by keeping an eye on what airfare costs you’ll know when the prices are going up or down, and you’ll know whether a so-called “deal” is all it claims to be.

As for tickets to the events themselves, if you’re intent on seeing specific performances then be sure to sign up on the official site so you know when tickets go on sale. Otherwise, you’ll never lack for entertainment even if you never buy a ticket to a show just by walking through the city and stopping to watch any street performers that catch your eye. Just remember to bring small change for tips.

photo by Shadowgate

Los Angeles Things to Do

Catalina Island , a gem still well hidden

Over the years I’ve started to enjoy exploring places that are not over run by tourists. Even when I visit a popular destination, I manage to find hidden places where there’s no rush , no lines and you can soak up the atmosphere.

Such is the case of Catalina Island, of the little known American islands . It is located off the coast of Southern California and is a popular day trip destination for both locals and tourists.

It can be reached from either Los Angeles or Orange County, so do a little research and figure out which flights are cheaper. Flights to Orange County from New York start at $570 RT per person in mid-August, while to Los Angeles, you’ll pay from $520 RT per person for the same period. Depending on which city you choose to fly into, you then need to catch a ferry from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point into Catalina Island.

Most tourists come here for snorkeling and scuba diving. The underwater life can be viewed from a submarine or glass-bottom boats, as well. Another option is to play golf while you are here. If you want to be active but don’t fancy spending time in the water of playing golf, then choose one of the many hiking trails and explore the island (but you need a permit).

You can also spend some time in Avalon to explore the sights. The Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden are open year round and you can see plants native to the island. The Catalina Island Museum is located within the Casino and displays the history of Catalina from the early Gabrielinos through Catalina’s heyday, as a playground for the rich and famous.

You can book one of the hotels on Catalina Island but the prices aren’t very low so your best alternative would be to stay in one of the near-by cities.

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Peru travel guide

Visit the ancient enigmas in Peru

Peru is best known for being home to Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. For the adventure travelers, hiking the Inca Trail is one of the things they must do while visiting the country. Next time you plan to trek in the Andes, consider exploring the ancient enigmas in Peru .

Puerta de Hayu Marka is located near Lake Titicaca and is one of the strangest attractions in Peru. According to legend a priest passed through the portal into another dimension. Strange things seem to happen here and people have gone missing. But, even so, guided tours are organized so you can see this interesting place.

Cumbe Mayo, located close to Cajamarca, is also a strange place with its canals with sides that are precision cut to 90 degree angles. No one knows how it was done and why. You can also book one of the 2-hours guided tours to this place.

Probably the best-well known enigmas of Peru are the Nazca Lines. No one knows why they are there and what they served for. They are best viewed for air, so you should invest in a flight above them.

Caral is being currently organized for tourism. Restorations are taking place so that the settlement of five pyramids can be explored safely. Meantime, only guided tours are permitted.

The easiest way to organize a vacation to comprise at least some of these sites – and definitely the Nazca Lines – is to look for flights to Cusco . In most cases you’ll make a stop along the way, in one of the large South American hubs. Once in the country, plan to book hostels in Peru . They are cheap but offer the facilities you need. And if you want privacy, just book a private room.

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Planning a Trip Portugal

What to Eat and Drink in Lisbon

Portuguese cuisine is not often ranked as one of the top European cuisines, but that may soon change. While the food has typically been characterized by an abundance of fish and a wide variety of spices,such as cinnamon, saffron, and vanilla, new chefs are now putting a more modern twist on many of the country’s traditional dishes, making this an exciting time to eat in Portugal. In Lisbon, the country’s capital and most cosmopolitan city, you’ll find everything from classic French or Italian food to Spanish tapas to Indian, sushi and Thai. But if you want to try the best of the Portuguese culinary offerings in the city, here are some things to eat and drink in Lisbon.

Fresh fish and shellfish is found on virtually every menu in Lisbon. Bacalhau (cod) dishes are everywhere – found grilled, broiled, poached, and in soups. At Bocca Lisboa, they  serve a particularly good “salt cod duo – fillet at 52ºC and butter-braised tongues, poached egg and violet potato foam.”  Other popular fish dishes include grilled sardines and horse mackerel, cuttlefish, grouper, turbot, or mullet. Ordering “arroz de marisco” will net you a dish of rice with various seafood including lobsters, shrimp, oysters, and crabs.


As popular as fish is in Lisbon, meat is equally prevalent, particularly pork. Portugal is well known for its Bairrada, or suckling pig, which can be found on menus all over Lisbon. You can also find pork roast with acorns or truffles, in sandwiches, in sausages like “chouriço” or “linguiça,” or cooked into stews like the “cozido à portuguesa.” Alheira, a smoked sausage made of pork, poultry meat, wheat bread and olive oil, seasoned with salt, garlic and paprika, is also very good.


The most typical desserts in Portugal are rice pudding and caramel custard, as well as cheeses (most Portuguese recipes don’t use cheese so it is only eaten before or after the meal). And of course, the most popular pastry is the pastel de nata, a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon. For a chocolate treat local to Lisbon, try “chocolate salami.” Melted chocolate is mixed with crushed up cookies, and then dried and sliced so it ends up looking like a slice of salami made of chocolate and cookies. Try it topping a cupcake at Tease, a late-night shop in the Barrio Alto.


Like elsewhere in Portugal, you can find Portuguese wines, port, and beers on any restaurant menu, along with more international selections. The word for beer in Portuguese is cerveja, and the two main brands are Super Bock and Sagres, which go for 2-4 euros in more bars. You can also sample some of the country’s best wines at the ViniPortugal (located at the Ministry of Agriculture in Praça do Comerçio) which offers free wine tasting Tuesday-Saturday, between 11am and 7pm. To try some port, head to the Lisboa Solar tasting room.

Lisbon’s local drink is called ginjinha and  is a liqueur made by infusing ginja berries in aguardente, the same grape spirit used to make port. The resulting cherry brandy is served in a shot-sized portion for about 1 euro each. Cafes all over the city serve it, but for the original, head to A Ginjinha, a small storefront bar at Largo de Sao Domingos in Rossio square.Ask for it  “com ginja” (with a cherry in the glass) or “sem ginja’” for one without.

>> Read more about drinking in Portugal

Tips for dining in Lisbon

  • Breakfast is usually very light and taken at a cafe. Have a coffee and some bread with butter or jam or a pastry to start you day. Lunch lasts an hour or more and is served between noon and 3pm. Most places serve dinner between 8 and 11pm, with 9pm being the time most locals dine. Some touristy restaurants will open at 7pm.
  • Restauradores square is lined with restaurants, but many of them are geared towards tourists and thus a bit overpriced for the quality. Instead, head to the Barrio Alto or Chiado for some of the city’s most trendy and modern restaurants.
  • You can find a bottle of decent wine for 8-15 euros in a restaurant or bar; higher quality bottles range from 20-30 euros. A nice bottle of table wine will be just a few euros at a wine shop.
  • When you sit down to eat, you’ll be brought a basket of bread, a plate of sausage or in some cases, an extensive spread of meats and cheeses to start your meal. This is not free; you will be charged for what you eat. So if you’re on a tight budget, snack carefully or inquire about the price before you nibble. If you’re afraid the temptation might be too much, just ask the waiter to take it away.
  • To tip, leave about 10% for good service.

Photos by: Berndt Rostad, Katie Hammel

Portugal Things to Do

Things to Do in Lisbon

The capital and largest city in Portugal, Lisbon offers plenty to see and do and more then enough activity to fill three to four days (more if you take some day trips). Here are a few ideas for things to do in Lisbon.

Explore the neighborhoods

Wander down (rather than up) through the narrow streets of the Alfama district, the oldest district of Lisbon. The area starts at  the Castle of São Jorge before tumbling its way down the hill to the Tejo river. At night, the district is a great place to eat, drink or attend a Fado show.

The Baixa district is the city’s downtown area, which was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. Wide avenues lined with shops, cafes and restaurants lead to the Rua Augusta Arch and beyond it, the grand Praça do Comércio and the Tagus River. From the Baixa, take a ride up the vertical Elevador de Santa Justa to the Bairro Alto, the central district of Lisbon. Filled with trendy restaurants, designer shops and sleek bars, The Barrio Alto is the place to go for nightlife in Lisbon.

Take in the view

The hilltop fortification of Castelo de São Jorge is one of Lisbon’s “must see” historical attractions, but it also provides one of the best views of the city. For another perspective, ride the wrought-iron Elevador de Santa Justa, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel’s apprentice and offers sweeping views over the city’s skyline.

Museums and monuments

Aside from the Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon is home to several other museums and monuments worth exploring. There’s the Oceanário,  Europe’s second-largest aquarium, the Lisbon Botanical Garden, the Museu da Electricidade (Electricity Museum), and the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which houses Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Asian artifacts, along with art from masters like Monet, Manet, and Degas.

Take a ride

Lisbon’s iconic yellow tourist trams are one of the best ways to see the city. Climb aboard Tram 28 and you’ll climb up and down Lisbon’s hills, twisting and turning down the cobbled streets past some of the city’s best sights, past the Castelo de São Jorge and the Alfama district, the Chiado district, and the Estrela Garden.


The Belem district is one of the most historically important in Lisbon. Six kilometers west of the city center, it’s home to a number of museums and monuments, including the Coach Museum , the Monument to the Discoveries, the Belém Tower, and the heavenly pastéis de Belém custard tart.

>> more on things to do in Belem


Sintra makes an excellent day trip from Lisbon.  About 30minutes away from the city by train, you’ll find the beautiful hilltop Palácio Nacional da Pena, an eclectic architectural mix of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Moorish design in pastel pink and yellow. The walled Castelo dos Mouros, the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra round out the area’s attractions.

Photo by rstml

Croatia Portugal travel guide

Add Croatia to your RTW trip

When planning your RTW trip, you need to have a budget. And that budget depends on what countries and cities you want to visit. In general, it is possible to visit more expensive destinations, if you combine them with cheaper places.

Some of the European stops on an RTW trip should include: Croatia , Albania, Romania, the Czech Republic and Portugal. Of course, no one stops you from visiting Italy, but you have to take into account that it costs more to spend time there than in a less-expensive destination. And since traveling within European countries is affordable and easy, getting from Italy to Croatia won’t break your budget especially if you take a ferry, a train or a bus.

For the past 10 years, Croatia has emerged as an affordable, yet stunning, destination in Europe. Looking for a beach destination but you don’t want to visit Greece and Italy is a bit too expensive? Then Croatia is the choice. Plus, cheap hostels in Croatia are easy to find and if you plan your budget well you can get by on US$40 a day here.

And while you are here, you can visit some other cheap countries in Europe as well. From Croatia, you can travel to Albania and explore its natural beauty. Then, spend several days on the beach in Bulgaria before heading to visit the medieval fortresses in Romania. Now, venture into Central-Eastern Europe and be amazed by the beautiful Danube in Bulgaria before setting off to the Prague Republic, with its stunning capital.

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Blackpool Illuminations

In the years before 1879, the streets of Blackpool were graced with mere gas light, but that year everything changed, for the Blackpool Illuminations began as an experiment in the use of electricity to power street lighting. On the 19th of September, 16 Robey engines were put into use for powering eight dynamo-electric machines that lit eight arc lamps spaced out along the Promenade. Somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 visitors came to see what was then called ‘artificial sunshine’ and it is widely believed these simple arc lamps were the world’s first electric street lights.

It was a huge success that continued to grow year upon year with special events and Royal visits taking place in Blackpool that encouraged the use of more than 10,000 lights until the spectacle reached its present day length of a little under six dazzling miles along the Promenade. There are various themes spread throughout the route and so complex are the designs that it now takes 45 staff members an entire year to ensure that all the lights are ready and the displays are fully functional. So vast is the amount of equipment required that it is estimated at a value of more than £10 million!

Switched on every year at the end of the Summer Season, the Illuminations light up Blackpool for 66 consecutive nights and those who are chosen to press the (now famous) button to switch it all on, consider it a great privilege. Each year the identity of the lucky person is kept tightly under wraps to make it even more exciting, though it is often a prominent celebrity.

The Switch On date for 2011 is September 2nd and as tickets are required for that particular night, Blackpool hotels will fill up fast, so some forward planning would definitely be required to avoid disappointment.

Photo by: paul stevenson

Articles Las Vegas Los Angeles Things to Do

Go Beyond the Weekend Road Trip

Weekend road trips are a summer staple – jump in the car and head a few hours away for a few days’ change of pace. But if you’re itching to get away for longer, there are plenty of options for extended road trips from Los Angeles. If you have a week or more, consider planning your next road trip to Yellowstone National Park.

The first National Park in the world and home of the famous Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone is comprised of 3,468.4 square miles of  lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges that stretch from Wyoming into Montana and Idaho. Driving is one of the best ways to visit Yellowstone National Park on a budget – particularly if you’re comfortable camping in a tent or in a small popup trailer.  But you don’t have to make the 2300 mile, 36+ hour drive in one stretch; that would take all the fun out of it!

Instead, take your time. You could stop in Las Vegas or spend a day or two hiking around the Grand Canyon and then make your way through Zion National Park to Salt Lake City, Utah. From there, swing by Jackson Hole, Wyoming or head straight to the park for camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and wildlife viewing. The drive around Yellowstone is one of the best road trips for nature lovers, with the park home to Grizzly Bears, wolves,  bison, elk and hundreds more species of animals that roam freely.

You’ll want to devote at least a few days to Yellowstone as the park is massive and there is so much to see and explore. If you’re short on time, you can return your rental car at the airport and fly home, or take the meandering drive back, stopping at places you missed on the way out. The drive from California to Yellowstone, through Nevada, Utah and Idaho, is a classic summer road trip you won’t soon forget.

Photo by Jim Dollar


Review: Lisbon Guests Hostel

Opened in 2007 and located in central Lisbon not far from a metro stop and Restauradores square, Lisbon Guests offers one of the most affordable private rooms in a very affordable city. Single private rooms (with shared bathrooms) range from 25-25 euros per night, with double rooms going for as low as 44 euros per night. And in some respects…you get what you pay for.

During my visit the hostel was going through some renovations. The building dates back to 1870; today the hostel is run by a descendant of the original family that built it. This made the building a bit hard to find as it was covered in scaffolding, but noise was not a problem and I’m told the facade renovations are now done and the next step is to build an outdoor social area on the ground floor for guests, which I think will be a welcome addition. As it was when I visited, aside from the rooms there was a small and adequately stocked kitchen, a small common room with couch and TV, and a small desk with a computer for guests to use (I was never able to get it to work, but there is also free wi-fi).

Owner/manager Ana Rita was pleasant and very helpful, arranging a cab for our early morning departure and offering suggestions for things to do. The other guests we saw were quiet and respectful. The room, though basic and small, was very clean and had a comfortable double bed, a wardrobe, nightstand and chair. My only complaint was the bathroom. Unlike other “shared” bathrooms that I have experienced in hostels, this was truly a communal commode. Rather than one toilet and shower in a room that could be locked, this bathroom had a shower stall and two toilets that could be used while another person was in the shower. If you’re coming from a dorm-style hostel, you’ll probably expect this, but if you more often stay at guesthouses and hotels, the set up is inconvenient and uncomfortable.

If you’re looking for a luxurious stay in Lisbon, Lisbon Guests is not the right choice. It isn’t trying to be fancy, but rather to offer clean, comfortable, and inviting accommodation at an excellent price and at that – with the exception of the bathroom situation – it does a fine job.

Disclaimer: I received a discount on my stay, but my opinions are my own.


Getting Around in Porto

While most people think of Porto (or Oporto) as straddling the Douro river, that’s actually incorrect. Porto is located on the north side of the Douro while the south side, where the port houses are located, is actually called Vila Nova de Gaia. The two cities are connected by a bridge which carries cars, a tram and pedestrians over the river.

Visitors to Porto are generally better off without a car; the streets can be confusing (and some require special permits to drive on), parking is hard to come by, and public transport is cheap and easy to use. Here’s what you need to know about getting around in Porto.

From the airport or train station

Porto Airport has a station on the Metro do Porto light-rail/tram system. Depending on where in Porto or Gaia you are staying, it will take about 20-30 minutes to arrive and you may need to change train lines or take a cab from the city center (especially if you are staying on the Gaia side) once you arrive. The tram from the airports costs just a few euros (the price will vary depending on your destination) and there are attendants at the airport to help you plan your route and use the automated machines. Be aware that the machines only take change, no bills.

The  main train station – Porto Campanhã  –  is on the east side of the city, about 2 kilometers from the center. Upon arrival, you can take  a local Urbanos train 5 minutes to the city center station of São Bento or take a cab to your final destination.

Trams/light rail and bus

The public transportation system in Porto is excellent and made up on trams, buses and the Metro do Porto , a network of six tram or light-rail lines that run every 10 – 20 minutes from 6am until after midnight. Ticketing on most buses, trams and rail is integrated under the ANDANTE system using zones to set the fares.  The trams – four-wheeled wooden trams from the 1920’s – run about every 30 minutes on three different lines. Line 1 is the most popular with tourists, taking them from Porto to the leafy and upscale suburb of Foz. There’s also a funicular that runs from the Ribeira (riverfront) up the hill towards the city center.


Cabs are plentiful and cheap (compared to other European countries) in Porto. It’s safe to hail one on the street, just make sure the meter is on or that you negotiate a fare beforehand. Most taxi drives speak enough English to take direction, but if you are headed to a less touristy destination, it’s wise to have the address written out for the driver. It’s common to tip a taxi driver 10% of the fare.


Most of Porto is easily accessed on foot as many of the main attractions are located in a small area. However, Porto is quite hilly and walking up from the riverfront (on either side) can be tiring. Especially if you are headed from the riverfront to the city center of Porto, consider taking a cab or riding the Funicular to save your legs.

Photo by b00nj