Pertisau, Austria: A must-see on your European adventure

Before having gone to visit the small alpine town of Pertisau bordering Lake Achen in Austria, I’d never even heard of it before. What I discovered upon arrival is one of Austria’s best-kept secret destinations and (not exaggerating) one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. This spot has become so precious to me that I was hesitant to even share this hidden paradise for fear of it being overrun by tourists. With its clear teal lake host to naturally-filtered mountain water surrounded by lush green mountains and quaint Austrian houses with flower-covered balconies, it’s a wonder this place is yet to really be discovered. I mean, just take a look at the photo below and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.

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The small town of Pertisau, found in Austria’s western region in Tyrol, has a little to offer for just about anyone. If you love outdoor sports, you’ll find an abundance of exciting things to do here: kite-surfing, hiking, cycling, rafting, paragliding, and more. You can also come here to ski and snowboard in the winter–the one time of year this town basically doubles in size.

While in the Rofan Mountains, go to Dalfazer Waterfall (as seen in the collage below) and climb in to cool off and refill your water bottle with fresh mountain water. And on the way down, don’t forget to stop at Erfurter Hütte (Rofan 3, 6212 Maurach, Austria) for hearty Austrian food, strong beer, and schnapps that’ll make the hike down a cinch. There are lots of tables outside the restaurant with a view overlooking the lake and around the corner you’ll see cute mountain pigs like these, wanting to come close and be your friend (or maybe they just wanted the food in my hand).

If you’re not interested in and/or able to be very active, however, there’s still plenty to do here. Check in to beautiful hotels (my recommendation is Travel Charme Fuerstenhaus am Achensee found at Pertisau 63, 6213 Pertisau am Achensee, Austria) and spend a day relaxing in the pool and luxury spa. At this hotel, they have balconies and a hot tub overlooking gorgeous Lake Achen. If you still want to explore nature, you can easily get higher in the mountains by taking a cable car for unparalleled views of the lake and the mountains. Here’s what you’ll see from the cable car alone.

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There are also several things to do in the town of Pertisau. Go to Vitalberg Museum of the Tirolean Stone Oil to learn about the area’s rock oil industry and how it shap
ed Pertisau and surrounding villages. Walk around and you’ll find shops where you can buy traditional Austrian garments like a dirndl and lederhosen–remember that even if you don’t buy one, they sure are fun to try on! Head to one of PertiFullSizeRender (2)sau’s many upscale hotels, like Hotel Garni Central (Pertisau 45, 6213 Pertisau am Achensee, Austria), in the evening for drinks in a classy yet comfortable environment.

As far as food goes, I think everything is great. But, aside from Erfurter Hütte in the mountains, I do have two other recommendations. Go to Fischer Wirt Am Achensee (Achenkirch 15, 6215 Achenkirch, Austria) for a warm rustic interior and traditional Tirolean dishes like wiener schnitzel, beef goulash soup, and Apfelstrudel cake. If you’re tired of Austrian food, my other recommendation is Pizzeria Venezia (Maurach 79, 6212 Maurach, Austria), which has traditional thin-crusted Italian pizza, among other popular and tasty Italian foods.

In my past three trips to Europe, I’ve gone to Pertisau every time and am already anxiously awaiting another visit. If you want to get a taste for small-town Austrian charm while being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and a myriad of outdoor activities, this is the place for you!

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Viñales, Cuba: Day Trip

Last week, I visited Cuba for the first time. Having only one week there, I’d planned to stay just in Havana–a city so large and filled with so much to see that a week in Havana alone didn’t seem like enough time. But, again and again I was told I had to see more of Cuba, so my travel companion and I settled on a day trip to the green countryside town of Viñales. I’m extremely happy with this decision and spent one of my best days in Cuba there! It’s especially a great destination if you want to get away from the city for a while. I was told it’s required to have a tour guide in this area, and though each tour surely varies, here you’ll find a bit of what to expect from Viñales.

P.S. If you’re planning your own trip to Cuba and want to know exactly how I planned this outing, scroll to the bottom or contact me for more information. My tour guide was kind, funny, and knowledgeable, and you’d get to ride through the countryside in style in this ’58 Ford instead of a big tourist bus.

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Cueva del Indio:

We started with a boat ride through the Cueva del Indio on River San Vicente. Though it wouldn’t be worth driving to on its own, it’s a nice stop on the way to tobacco farms and the mural in the picture above.

Palenque de los Cimarrones:

Our next stop was at another cave which wasn’t as pretty as the first and is in some ways more of a tourist trap than anything, but it has an interesting history. This is a site where runaway African slaves went during the period of Spanish colonization in Cuba. At the end of the visit, you also get to see a ritual dance of the Africans who lived there. It’s also a great place to stop for a nice drink and a meal with live music, though I’m guessing these are pricey.

Mural de la Prehistoria:

This is one of the main attractions in Viñales and is a great stopping point for incredible photos. I’ve also been told there’s a restaurant nearby and paths to hike. With so many other things to see in the area, however, taking nothing more than a photo break on the road along the mural was enough for me.

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Tobacco farm:

Viñales is known more so than anything for its tobacco farms, and any tour you take will definitely bring you to one as well. I don’t know the name of the farm I visited, but it was an interesting experience where we even got to watch a cigar being made by hand. They also allowed us to go inside a barn where tobacco leaves are hung and dried for several years at a time. This was a highlight of the trip.

Viñales Valley Mirador:

Our next stop was nothing but a small area with shops and a balcony overlooking Viñales Valley, but it really was a spectacular sight. After a long day of driving, it was nice to slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the view. Live music and dancing may also accompany this sight if you’re lucky enough to come at the right time.

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Casa Verde Restaurant:

Down the road and a short walking distance away from this viewpoint is the restaurant where I had my best meal in Cuba. All you do at Casa Verde is order your preferred drink and one of six entrees including pork, lobster, chicken, and more, and the rest of the food is brought to you. One after another, plates are sent to the table with enough for everyone to share. My favorite sides/appetizers were the black beans, grilled pumpkin and yuca, and fried plantains (a common appetizer in Cuba). Below are pictures of my entree, pork in tomato sauce, and some of the other sides which included white rice, arroz moro (traditional Cuban black beans and rice), and vegetables.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe we did all of this in one day, but that’s part of what made the trip so memorable and worthwhile. Many visitors also spend the night or several nights in the small town center of Viñales. If you’re interested in doing this, I’d suggest booking a Casa Particular to stay with Cubans and have a more authentic experience. I’ve heard it’s the perfect place to dance the night away doing the salsa with locals and tourists alike. No matter how long you decide to go, if you are in Cuba, Viñales is a must!

 

How to book this trip: 

I booked my trip to Viñales through a woman named Maritza in Havana. She has a Casa Particular to stay at in Havana, though this is not where I stayed. When I requested to stay there, however, she helped me find another house in the area and invited me to come over and talk to her/get advice for where to go and what to do in Cuba. Her prices are fair and she’s an open and caring person willing to help anyone. Even if you are not staying at her house, she offers breakfast for 5 CUC and will let you in with open arms. You can email her to make a reservation at casamaritzaymanolo@gmail.com

 

5 Hidden Gems of Rome

There are a several “must-see” items on everyone’s list when they go to Rome–the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel–the list goes on. As incredible and worthy these historical sights are of a visit, I have a few recommendations of hidden gems within and just outside of Rome for those hoping to get away from other tourists and the hustle and bustle of the city.

1) Ostia Antica

This archeological site 35 minutes outside of the city is well worth the journey and makes for a perfect half or full-day trip. There’s much history to be discovered at this harbor city of ancient Rome. Mosaic tiles, an arena, and crumbling yet beautifully-preserved architecture await you. And the best part is that you get to explore the ruins and really see them up close!  Learn more at Ostia Antica’s website: http://www.ostia-antica.org/

How to get there: Take the metro from Rome. A regular metro ticket is enough for the trip. More exact information can be found at the Ostia Antica website, but basically all you need to do is get off the metro at Piramide and go to the Roma-Lido station. Exit at the Ostia Antica stop and walk to the ruins with the help of street signs.

2) Lake Bracciano

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There are several lakes surrounding Rome that are closer and less crowded than nearby beaches on the ocean. I’d recommend going to one of these lakes to cool off from the intense summer heat or just to enjoy a tranquil view at any time of year. My favorite is Lake Bracciano, which can also be reached by metro. Bring a towel and sunscreen and get ready to relax. While at Lake Bracciano, my friends and I truly felt immersed in Italian culture for the first time, as we were surrounded only by Italians. This was a great place to go for much-needed energization in the midst of a whirlwind trip to Rome.

How to get there: Take metro line B to Piramide and then take the Viterbo line to Bracciano. It’s a bit of a walk to the beach, but it’s all downhill and we found many friendly locals willing to point us in the right direction. (If you’re lucky, the Italian boy you asked for directions at the train station may even show up in his car ready to drop you off at the lake while on his way to meet up with friends to go fishing–just one of the many kind Italians I encountered throughout my travels!)

3) The Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill)

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Just south of the Vatican and above the Trastevere district, you’ll find some of the most beautiful views of Rome from the Gianicolo. Though this hill isn’t on the outskirts of Rome and is, in fact, very close to the city, it feels removed and peaceful. By day, you’ll get to see all of Rome from the Tiber to the Colosseum, and by night, this is the place to go for couples looking for a romantic evening. When I went, there were no shops at the top of the hill, so make sure to bring a water bottle that can be filled at a pump along the way.

How to get there: You can reach the top either by bus or by walking. The hike wasn’t too intense and it took only about 25 minutes to reach the top walking at a slow pace. From the Trastevere district you can hike up to the Gianicolo and walk down to the Vatican on the way back (it’s that close!). If you’re not up to walking, buses numbered 115 will also take you there.

4) Castel Sant’Angelo

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Many may visit the Bridge of Hadrian, or Ponte Sant’Angelo, to see the illustrious angel statues lining the bridge. The castle beyond the bridge, however, is filled with just as much history and beauty. It’s also another great place to stop for incredible views of the city. Try going inside the castle to learn about the history of a building whose construction began in 135 AD, making it one of Rome’s most original monuments.

How to get there: It’s near the Vatican city, and if you start from there, just take via Borgo Santo Spirito all the way to the castle. Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma, Italy.

5) Piazza della Madonna dei Monti

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This cute little plaza, only a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum, is the perfect place to go for some drinks and people-watching. In the center it has a small fountain with steps that allow for a moment of rest and is surrounded on three sides by colorful buildings containing restaurants that aren’t completely run over by tourists. Although I’m sure all of the restaurants are wonderful, I stopped at La Bottega del Caffè (Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, 5, 00184 Roma, Italy) for drinks and a pizza, and enjoyed both. They have an outdoor patio surrounded by an ivy-covered fence, which is perfect for a easygoing night out in Rome.

How to get there: Starting at the Colosseum, you can take Via degli Annibaldi straight to the plaza, which will be on your right.

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Quick Restaurant Recommendation: For another hidden and authentic Italian find, go to Trattoria Pizzeria da Gino alla Villetta (address: Vicolo del Buco, 2, 00153 Roma, Italy). The seafood risotto is downright fantastic and they offer tasty regional wine at affordable prices. It’s also a great stop near Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island).

 

New Orleans: Restaurant Recommendations

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of returning to the vibrant city of New Orleans for a fun-packed trip with family. New Orleans, or “Nawlins” as many locals say, has some of the best food in the US, and I’m here to tell you about my favorite places.

FOOD:

If you’re flying to New Orleans as I did and are renting a car, I’d suggest stopping at this small restaurant on the way to town that is recommended by and filled with locals. At Port Side Restaurant you get all the delicious flavors and traditional types of cajun foods that can be found in the city for only a fraction of the price. The chicken and andouille sausage gumbo I got there was the best I’ve had in all of Louisiana.

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Port Side Restaurant, 11698 River Rd, St Rose, LA 70087

 

When it comes to food, the famous Café du Monde is a must, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Though it may seem overrated and impossible to live up to your expectations, it always does (at least it’s never let me down). See the picture below for what to expect from Café du Monde.

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Beignets and chicory coffee

 

 

Here we enjoyed french doughnuts called beignets (on a daily basis) paired with chicory coffee which is strong but delicious, and just the kick of energy you may need to get through a day of exploration.

**Insider tip: On any given day of the week, a long line of tourists stand outside of Café du Monde waiting for a table. What many don’t know is that you seat yourself and can literally walk right past the line of tourists and sit at whichever open table you find. The menu and prices will be listed on the napkin container.

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Café du Monde, 800 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Mother’s is a laid back cafeteria-style restaurant with delicious po’ boys, omelettes (like the red bean omelette below), and cajun food of any kind really. This is another joint where you shouldn’t be intimidated by the long line outside–it can’t be skipped but moves quickly. Mother’s is near the French Quarter (the main square in the city) and makes a good place to stop for a quick but tasty breakfast or lunch.

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Red bean omelette with grits, Mother’s Restaurant, 401 Poydras St, New Orleans, LA 70130
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Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, 813 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 70112

If you really want to splurge, I’d suggest Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. It may be a bit pricier but it’s a lot of bang for your buck. You can go for brunch and either dine a la carte or pay a fixed price for a three course meal. Fresh bread, breakfast, salad, an entree, dessert, and all the chicory coffee you can drink will be waiting for you with this option. The best part: talented jazz musicians play for each and every table live, taking song requests as they go. For the entree, you can even mix and match eggs benedict styles as I did (shown below).img_0594img_0598As far as traditional cajun food goes, you can find something delicious everywhere you go. My personal favorites, however, include Gumbo Shop (630 St Peter St, New Orleans, LA 70116) and Oceana Grill (739 Conti St, New Orleans, LA 70130), pictured below. My dad’s favorite there is the blackened catfish po’ boy while my mom and I always get the red beans and rice, as it’s some of the best we’ve had in New Orleans. Also while at Oceana, don’t forget to try the gator bites!

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Blackened catfish po’ boy with seasoned french fries
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Red beans and rice with sausage and white bread

WHAT TO DO (quick tips):

Wander around the French Quarter and Jackson Square, making sure to take in the beautiful architecture, acrobatic street performers, mule-drawn carriages, a myriad of artists, and talented street musicians. The main roads, especially Bourbon Street, will be full of people and energy at just about any time of the day and night. Don’t be afraid to hop in and out of bars for live jazz music and hand grenades (a typical drink consisting of gin, grain alcohol, rum, melon liqueur, and vodka–be careful with this strong but tasty mixture!). It’s always easy to find places with a balcony where you can just sit and people watch or gimg_0620o wild and toss down some beads. Either way, you’ll find a great view wandering in and out of these places.

Also, if you don’t get a chance to go for Mardi Gras, check out Mardi Gras World to see several floats and learn about/see how they’re made. You can find it here: 1380 Port of New Orleans Pl, New Orleans, LA 70130.

Don’t forget to spend some time at the best little bookstore: Faulkner House Books at 624 Pirate Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116. It’s just
off of the French Quarter and the woman working knows the place inside and out–she’ll give you great advice for the perfect find! I could’ve spent hours in here.

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It’s also always fun to wander into one of these stores (though touristy) to find some of the best hot sauce you’ll ever have. It can get a bit pricey, but if you buy several at once you can normally find a pretty good deal. Even if you’re not looking to buy, it’s fun to take a look around and dare yourself or others to try the hottest ones, since they’re already out and ready to be sampled!

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Lastly, for a fun night in New Orleans, go to the Cat’s Meow and sing karaoke loudly and off-key with everyone else. And don’t forget to stop by the bar Tropical Isle, home of the famous Hand Grenade.img_3128

I hope this helps and that you enjoy your trip in New Orleans! It’s one of my favorite places in the US, and it’s definitely a city where you can always expect to have some fun.

Why travel blogging?

I started this blog because I’m an avid traveler and love to share advice with fellow travelers. Each person’s experiences are unique and I’d like to share my own experiences to inspire others to travel and to push themselves out of their comfort zones as well. I hope you enjoy my tips and tricks, as well as the random travel anecdotes I share along the way. Please comment if you have any questions or requests!

P.S. I’m a young female traveler who has done a lot of solo traveling and would love to answer any questions for those hoping to do the same.