How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong

How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong

While the name “Choi Hung” might not ring a bell, there is a good chance you have seen this famous Hong Kong basketball in photos on Instagram or online. This picture perfect location is a must-see when you are in Hong Kong, but it’s not all that easy to find.

Want to get your perfect photo op? Here’s how to find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong.

Choi Hung

History

The Choi Hung Estate was built back in 1964 to provide locals with affordable housing– which is a big deal in Hong Kong, where the cost of living is the second highest in the world! They painted the estate in rainbow colors to make it look cheerful, and the world fell in love.

Oh, and fun fact: “Choi Hung” means rainbow in Cantonese!

While it was never designed to be a tourist attraction, it’s easy to see why it gained so much attention. Located in the Wong Tai Sin District of Kowloon, the public housing district is home to thousands of people.

Sign in Hong Kong

How to Get There

Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court is easy to find if you know where you are going. The exact location is 2 Tse Wai Ave, Ngau Chi Wan, Hong Kong. I’d recommend using Google Maps to map a route from where you’re staying, and you’ll have no problem getting there. Here’s a link to the exact location.

The Choi Hung Estate is centrally located, and super easy to access by Hong Kong’s subway system. While it’s not exactly the most helpful tip, look for a nearby, multi-level parking lot and head up to the very top.

As soon as you arrive, you’ll see the magical rainbow basketball courts.

If you have any issues finding it, come prepared with a photo of the basketball courts and show it to just about any local in the area and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Building in Hong Kong

Choi Hung

Photography Tips

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a LOT of people come to shoot photos on the basketball courts. Here are a few of my top tips for photography at Choi Hung Estate basketball courts.

First, be respectful. This is part of a housing area. Many elderly people walk around the perimeter, kids and their parents are using the space to play, and locals actually play basketball here.

Shocker. As a tourist, remember this is their space. Imagine wanting to play a game of basketball with your friends but the court is crowded with people posing for pictures.

Not awesome for kids that call this place home. So, again… be respectful.

To avoid crowds of photographers, and to keep the space less crowded for locals, come early. This is a general rule for just about any popular attraction in the world.

If you really don’t want anyone else in your shot, go at sunrise. You’re likely going to have the whole place to yourself!

Choi Hung

Share the fun! If you arrive and there are other people hoping to get photos too, take turns. There was only one basketball court not in use by locals, so I’d take a few photos and let someone else take their photos.

Then, when they were done, I’d take another turn taking photos. I ended up hanging out for 2 hours and even threw a few shots with some local kids. They appreciate you sharing the space with them!

Do your best as a visitor here to enjoy the space with its residents. It’s pretty amazing that a public housing sector draws hundreds of tourists each day– it’s no doubt a bittersweet feeling for locals. Be respectful, “get the shot,” and play some basketball!

The post How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong

How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong

While the name “Choi Hung” might not ring a bell, there is a good chance you have seen this famous Hong Kong basketball in photos on Instagram or online. This picture perfect location is a must-see when you are in Hong Kong, but it’s not all that easy to find.

Want to get your perfect photo op? Here’s how to find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong.

Choi Hung

History

The Choi Hung Estate was built back in 1964 to provide locals with affordable housing– which is a big deal in Hong Kong, where the cost of living is the second highest in the world! They painted the estate in rainbow colors to make it look cheerful, and the world fell in love.

Oh, and fun fact: “Choi Hung” means rainbow in Cantonese!

While it was never designed to be a tourist attraction, it’s easy to see why it gained so much attention. Located in the Wong Tai Sin District of Kowloon, the public housing district is home to thousands of people.

Sign in Hong Kong

How to Get There

Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court is easy to find if you know where you are going. The exact location is 2 Tse Wai Ave, Ngau Chi Wan, Hong Kong. I’d recommend using Google Maps to map a route from where you’re staying, and you’ll have no problem getting there. Here’s a link to the exact location.

The Choi Hung Estate is centrally located, and super easy to access by Hong Kong’s subway system. While it’s not exactly the most helpful tip, look for a nearby, multi-level parking lot and head up to the very top.

As soon as you arrive, you’ll see the magical rainbow basketball courts.

If you have any issues finding it, come prepared with a photo of the basketball courts and show it to just about any local in the area and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Building in Hong Kong

Choi Hung

Photography Tips

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a LOT of people come to shoot photos on the basketball courts. Here are a few of my top tips for photography at Choi Hung Estate basketball courts.

First, be respectful. This is part of a housing area. Many elderly people walk around the perimeter, kids and their parents are using the space to play, and locals actually play basketball here.

Shocker. As a tourist, remember this is their space. Imagine wanting to play a game of basketball with your friends but the court is crowded with people posing for pictures.

Not awesome for kids that call this place home. So, again… be respectful.

To avoid crowds of photographers, and to keep the space less crowded for locals, come early. This is a general rule for just about any popular attraction in the world.

If you really don’t want anyone else in your shot, go at sunrise. You’re likely going to have the whole place to yourself!

Choi Hung

Share the fun! If you arrive and there are other people hoping to get photos too, take turns. There was only one basketball court not in use by locals, so I’d take a few photos and let someone else take their photos.

Then, when they were done, I’d take another turn taking photos. I ended up hanging out for 2 hours and even threw a few shots with some local kids. They appreciate you sharing the space with them!

Do your best as a visitor here to enjoy the space with its residents. It’s pretty amazing that a public housing sector draws hundreds of tourists each day– it’s no doubt a bittersweet feeling for locals. Be respectful, “get the shot,” and play some basketball!

The post How to Find Choi Hung Estate Basketball Court in Hong Kong appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

The Best Time to Go to French Polynesia

The Best Time to Go to French Polynesia

If you’re looking for the laid-back island lifestyle, then French Polynesia is the place for you. With lush green peaks and infinite shades of blue water, it’s the true definition of paradise. It’s more spectacular than you could ever imagine!

You can spend your time island hopping, hiking, exploring volcanos, discovering the sea life or relaxing on the white sandy beaches. Ready to sit back and unwind?

Here’s the best time to go to French Polynesia!

Hammock in French Polynesia

January to April

The beginning of the year means that the wet season has begun. You will most likely find warm weather with averages in the high 70’s to mid-80’s. It averages about 12 inches of rain per month during the rainy season, but this means emptier hotels and fewer tourists. If you can handle the rain, you’ll have the islands to yourself.

During the Chinese New Year, you might come across some parades, music, and dancing as well.

Water in French Polynesia

May to June

In May and June, you will see a drop in the humidity and rain which means sunshine! In fact, in May, the Papenoo region of Tahiti holds the Matari’i Raro, a festival that celebrates the beginning of the dry season. However, not many people know that this is when things begin to lighten up, so the crowds are still pretty quiet.

May and June are two of the best months to visit when it comes to both weather and availability. Fewer crowds than the high season mean cheaper rates.

It’s a win-win.

Beach in French Polynesia

July and August

Much like many other islands all over the world, July and August is peak season when it comes to tourism. With sunny, balmy weather, French Polynesia becomes the perfect place to vacation.

Hotels tend to book up months in advance as both locals, and foreign travelers flock to the smaller islands.

If you’re willing to fight the crowds, you will have the chance to experience some unforgettable parades and festivals. Heiva in Bora Bora is an annual festival that takes place in July that incorporates singing, dancing, and sports competitions. If boats are more your style, consider the Tahiti Moorea Sailing Rendez-Vous, a three-day sailing rally that takes place in July.

Blonde in Water in French Polynesia

September to October

As fall begins, the humidity on the islands starts to creep up. However, it’s still an incredible time to visit, especially since the crowds die down once again.

Late September marks the spring equinox meaning the sun hits the island lagoons in just the right way, making the water extremely turquoise. It looks like it’s right out of a postcard.

Diving in French Polynesia

November to December in French Polynesia

And back to the wet season, we go. As humidity continues to rise, AC becomes a necessity.

The rain can become very unpredictable this time of year. You might experience days where it only rains for a half an hour, or it rains all day long. It’s still worth checking out, but just be prepared! You never know what mother nature has in mind.

The post The Best Time to Go to French Polynesia appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

How to Spend 48 hours in Hong Kong

How to Spend 48 Hours in Hong Kong

There’s so much to see and do in the bustling city of Hong Kong. With neon-lit streets, fishing villages, temples, and endless amounts of restaurants, it’s like no place you’ve been before. With so much to do, how do you decide what to do with your time in a city like Hong Kong?

Here’s what I did with 48 hours in Hong Kong!

Landmark Mandarin Oriental Blonde in Bath

Where to Stay

With so much going on, it’s hard to decide on where to stay. I stayed (and recommend staying) in Central Hong Kong at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

Here you’ll find tall skyscrapers, plenty of business offices, and retail shops. If you’re one for nightlife, there are pubs and nightclubs in Lan Kwai Fong and trendy wine bars and restaurants in SoHo.

To me, one of the best parts is that it’s located near Victoria Harbor where you can catch a Star Ferry boat to Kowloon.

Blonde in Hong Kong

Things to Do

Use Public Transportation: I was super impressed with how easy and efficient the Hong Kong subway system was. It’s inexpensive and will take you pretty much wherever you need to go. The aboveground, double-decker trams are also famous– and super cute! They’re one of the earliest forms of transportation in Hong Kong and date back to the early 1900’s.

Choi Hung Estate: Also known as the rainbow estate, you might’ve seen this insta-worthy basketball court all over social media. Choi Hung Estate is one of the oldest public housing estates in Hong Kong.

Best way to find the Instagrammer’s paradise? Look for the car park and walk up a few levels. The basketball court is located right on top!

Yick Cheong Building (1046 Kings Rd, Quarry Bay): What’s a trip without a couple of good Instagram spots? Well, the Yick Cheong building is a group of five densely stacked, colorful residential complexes. It’s so popular that it was featured in the films Ghost in the Shell and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Dim Sum in Hong Kong

Get Dim Sum at Yum Cha: You simply can’t visit Hong Kong without getting some traditional dim sum. Never had it before? Dim Sum is a Chinese dish usually served in a small steamer basket along with some tea.

Dim Sum is especially popular in Hong Kong, and you can find gourmet spots all around the city.

Tian Tan Buddha: This remote monastery has become a popular tourist attraction and with good reason. Sitting at 34 meters high, and built in 1993, the giant Buddha statue looks over the Chinese people.

It’s worth making the trek up the 268 steps to enjoy the view of the mountain and sea down below. It’s open from 10 AM to 4:30 PM so be sure to schedule it for your morning or afternoon as it does tend to get very busy.

Victoria Peak: If you’re short on time but want to see what Hong Kong has to offer, don’t miss out on Victoria Peak. Also known as Mount Austin, this 552m high peak is the highest on Hong Kong Island.

It’s open from 7 AM to 12 AM, and it will only cost you $12.60. These views will be unlike any you’ve seen before.

It’s one of the best places to catch the pink and orange sunset or see the shimmering lights glitter in the night.

Landscape in Hong Kong

Take the Star FerryFor under a dollar (that’s right you heard me), take the Star Ferry back and forth between Kowloon Station to Hong Kong Island. It’s a relaxing scenic ride that offers you a great view over the Central area.

Plus it’s crazy affordable. Can’t pass that up.

The ferry runs about every 6-12 minutes from 6:30 AM to 11:30 PM on weekdays and weekends, so you’re likely to find a time that works best for you no matter what time of day!

Harbour CruiseIf you love the idea of taking a boat around but want something longer than a ferry ride, a harbor cruise might be the perfect excursion for you. The best panorama of the skyline can be seen from the water on an evening harbor cruise. The ride is approximately an hour long and will cost you $190 per person. A little bit steeper than some of the other stops here but it’s well worth it.

Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade: Starting at the Clock Tower, you’ll stroll by the Garden of Stars, the Hong Kong Cultural Center, and the space museum. If you’re a photographer, the sculptures and architecture offer the perfect subject. It’s also an ideal place to take a romantic stroll with your loved one.

Blonde in Hong Kong

Sky 100 Observation DeckStill, want the views without leaving the city? That’s where the Sky 100 Observation Deck comes in. For HKD169 (about $22), you can visit the 100th floor of the 10th tallest commercial building in the world. Let’s just say this isn’t for those who are afraid of heights!

If heights don’t scare you and you want to enhance your experience, they offer brunch, tea, lunch, and packages where you can enjoy meals up in the sky.

Man Mo Temple: Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the King-Emperor Man and Holy King Emperor Kwan and is split into 3 compounds. It is visited by those who seek spiritual help or blessings from the civil god for students.

When going, you can pray for education success or success, peace, and prosperity. Students and adults alike should bring offerings for the Gods such as money, paper offerings, or fruit offerings.

Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong

Symphony of LightsEven if you’re only in Hong Kong for a night, you have to see the Symphony of Lights. The signature icon of the city is a multimedia show that has lit the harbor up every night since 2004. In 2017, they unveiled a new soundtrack from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra that goes along with the lasers, LED screens, and lighting. Be sure to be around at 8 PM for a show you won’t want to miss.

Nathan Road: Known as the Golden Mile, Nathan Road run through the most important shopping areas of Hong Kong. You’ll find international designers along with local crafts and a bit of everything else.

The area visited most by tourists is Salisbury to Austin. Here you’ll find Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Burberry, and more. When you’re tired of shopping, stop by one of the many restaurants along the road and enjoy a traditional lunch.

Market in Hong Kong

Markets to Visit

Ladies Market: With over 100 stalls of discount clothing, accessories, and souvenirs, this market located on Tung Choi Street provides a kilometer long shopping paradise. It coined its name from all of the items on sale for women but don’t let this deter you. You will find a little bit of everything.

It occurs every day from 12 PM to 11 PM so you can shop till you drop.

Temple Street Night Market: Night markets have been a Hong Kong tradition dating back to the early days of the region. Set up begins at 2 PM (though most set up is at 4 PM) and lasts through midnight. Not only will you find trinkets and antiques on this famous street bazaar but you’ll also find opera singers and fortune tellers.

Food in Hong Kong

Restaurants

Kaum at Potato HeadThis authentic Indonesian restaurant pays homage to the rich culture of Indonesia with bespoke wooden ceiling panels and chair covers hand-woven by the Batak tribe. You’ll find everything from chicken to duck to fish to noodles.

TimHoWan: Want to experience some famous dim sum while in Hong Kong? TimHoWan has it. This hole-in-the-wall eatery is open 24 hours and has an international following. It’s so popular it now has 45 locations around the world.

Twenty Six by Liberty: This one Michelin starred restaurant is the epitome of luxury and exclusivity. With Chris Keung as the executive chef, you will indulge in an 8-course French menu. The table only has spots for 26 diners total, so it’s bookings are few and far between.

Why 50With its crisp white decor and delicious lattes and breakfast food, Why 50 is a coffee shop with soul. It got its name from the idea that 50 coffee beans go into an espresso shot. 50 beans! On top of the food and coffee, a cement wall forms a space for artists to create and promote their art.

OZONEAfter filling up with incredible food, end your night at OZONE, the tallest bar in the world, located at the Ritz-Carlton HK. This blue-hued bar will offer you an unforgettable experience with Asian tapas, dance parties, and delicious cocktails.

The post How to Spend 48 hours in Hong Kong appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

The Ultimate Guide to Provence

The Ultimate Guide to Provence

Provence, France, known for its diverse landscapes, miles of vineyards, lavender fields, and crystal blue waters, is indeed a traveler’s dream. I recently got to visit, and it was everything that I hoped for and more.

If you have the opportunity to spend 3-5 days exploring Provence I highly recommend doing so. I chose to stay in Avignon and spent a few days wandering around.

To make your itinerary planning a little easier, I’ve put together my ultimate guide to Provence with all the can’t miss spots!

Pont Du Gard Aquaduct

Day 1 – Arrival

Whenever I arrive at a destination, I like to spend my first afternoon relaxing and getting settled in, and this was no different in Provence.

Avignon in France

Avignon: As I mentioned, I chose Avignon as my home base to explore Provence from. It’s a beautiful medieval city with an old town that’s been named a UNESCO world heritage site. Check into your hotel and explore the town on foot.

Visit Palais des Papes: I stayed in the center of it all, near the Palais des Papes, one of the most significant and important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe.

Helpful Tip: Parking in Avignon is impossible, so head straight to the parking structure in Palais des Papes. The entrance is right outside of the city walls (you’ll see an electronic parking sign). It’s not only cheap but also conveniently located.

Keep in mind that it will be hot in the summer and there’s no ventilation in the parking structure. On your way into the city, remember to bring your parking ticket with you as many of the hotels will validate it for you.

Whether you love grand architecture or you’re fascinated with history, be sure to take a tour of the palace. It’s the biggest gothic fortress in the world. Tickets start at about €16.50, and you can find several different tours.

Pont Du Gard Aquaduct

Visit the Pont Du Gard Aqueduct: 30 Minute Drive from Avignon. Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont de Gard is one of the best preserved Roman constructions on earth. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Pack a swimsuit, pick up a few groceries for a picnic dinner, and drive out to the Pont Du Gard aqueduct for sunset. Fun Fact: It’s the most visited ancient monument in France. Plus, it’s only €8.50 per adult to visit and includes parking.

After crossing the 48-meter high bridge, find a spot to set up your picnic. Enjoy a glass of wine and a swim as the sun sets over Avignon. It’s truly a unique sight that you can’t find anywhere else.

Drive Back to Avignon: 30 Minute Drive Back to Avignon. On your way back into the city, pull over just outside of the city walls and catch a glimpse of the fortified city at night. The Palais de Papes is also something to marvel at after dark.

If you’re up for it, grab a glass of wine, and people watch near the palace. There’s usually something always going on in the center of town that you won’t want to miss.

Read More: Essential Tips for Driving in Provence

Provence Lavender Fields

Day 2 – Lavender Fields

Here is where the fun begins!

First thing in the morning, pack your car up for a full day. I’m talking swimsuits, more picnic supplies (bread, cheese, snacks, etc.), beach towels and mats, a change of clothes, water, and even toilet paper.

Visit the Lavender Fields: 1 hour 40 Minute Drive from Avignon. Provence is known for its lavender and sunflower fields. Depending on the time of year that you visit, you will be able to catch them. I was in Provence August 5th-8th which is very late to see the lavender fields.

The best time to see the fields is in June or July. If you have a trip planned after those months, you can alter your itinerary as necessary since the lavender is usually gone by August.

I, however, was fortunate. I headed out to Valensole and just before reaching the famous Plateau de Valensole, I found one last field remaining!

There is also a cute little souvenir shop nearby that has lavender gifts where I got some lavender oil. Valensole is also the ideal spot to stop for lunch if you’re getting a bit hungry.

Alternative Destinations: If you do plan a trip for during a time where the lavender will be gone, you can skip Valensole completely and head to another destination. I have a list of some tops spots listed at the end of this post.

Sunflower Fields in Provence

Stop at Sunflower Fields: Regardless of where you end up, you will most likely pass vast sunflower fields throughout the Provence region.

Verdon Gorges

Visit Gorges du Verdon: 1 hour 20 Minute Drive from Valensole. I was a little hesitant about driving all the way to Gorges du Verdon (which is about an hour and 15 minutes away from Valensole), but I’m so glad I did! Verdon Gorge is known for its turquoise green river water, white water rafting, and hiking.

Before settling down on the beach, drive along the canyon for views down onto the river. You’re going to want to stop every few minutes to take pictures. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

sault dinner

Catch Sunset in Sault: 2 Hour 30 Minute Drive from Verdon Gorge. Prepare for a long drive back to Sault (but it’s worth the trek). Sault was one of the most insane little towns to drive through in all of Provence, so be prepared to squeeze through narrow roads and navigate sharp turns. I made it to Sault just before sunset and grabbed a romantic little dinner for one at Le Petit Jardin. (It was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had!)

Helpful Tip: I drove back to my hotel in Avignon after dark and realized just how dark it is on roads in the countryside. Most roads have no street lights, so be careful if you’re driving anywhere at night!

Gordes

Day 3 – The Luberon

Helpful Tip: Service is spotty throughout Provence but especially in the Luberon region. Download an offline google map of your driving route from Gordes to Senanque Abbey to Roussilon so you know where you’re going.

Visit Gordes: 1 hour Drive from Avignon. When I was planning my trip to Provence, I knew that I had to visit Gordes, one of the most well-known hilltop villages in the region. I wanted to go to the farmer’s market that happens every Tuesday morning and consists of stalls set up all around the foot of the castle.

Here you’ll find fabrics, linens, soaps, lavender, clothes, and an abundance of food and wine. I chose to (and recommend) getting there early to help beat some of the crowds.

Senanque Abbey

Tour the Senanque Abbey: 10 Minute Drive from Gordes. Once you’re shopped out, just down the hill, you will find the Senanque Abbey, a fully functioning monastery that was founded in the 12th century. They have guided tours that start every hour, and it’s one of the best ways to soak in all of the information that comes with the gorgeous abbey.

This is also another trendy spot to see some lavender fields if it’s the right season.

Rousillion

Explore Roussillon: 30 Minute Drive from Senanque Abbey. Finish up your day by making the quick drive over to Roussillon, one of my favorite towns. Plan to spend a few hours here to explore the town and walk the ochre trail. The town is full of old red buildings with colorful doors and the ochre trail is a beautiful nature trail through natural red quarries and cliffs.

Sault

Other Destinations to Visit in Provence

This was my 3-day itinerary for Provence but if you have more time or you’re looking for different destinations than the ones I mentioned, here are a few others that are worth visiting!

Aix En Provence: 1 Hour Drive from Avignon. Known as the “brainiest” city in France, it’s known for bringing in artists, lawyers, and nobles. There are reportedly 1,000 fountains you can visit, thermal hot springs, bookstores, markets, boutiques, and open-air restaurants where you can wine and dine.

Saint Remy de Provence: 30 Minute Drive from Avignon. Saint Remy de Provence means enjoying the incredible landscapes of the Massif des Alpilles, with the town resting right at its foot.

They receive over 300 days a year of sunshine, so it’s no wonder people flock to enjoy the weather, the museums, the private mansions from the Renaissance, the chapels, and the art galleries.

If you get the chance to go to Saint Remy de Provence, visit the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausolé, the spot known to have taken in and inspired Vincent Van Gogh. It’s where he painted 150 of his most well-known works.

Les Baux de Provence: 40 Minute Drive from Avignon. Les Baux de Provence is a medieval village at a fortified rocky site in between Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. This one is best to be treated as a day trip as there is so much to see within the town.

Some of its highlights include the village itself, Chateau-Fortress de Bau, Eglise St-Vincent, and Musee des Santons.

Orange – Château Neuf du Pape: 30 Minute Drive from Avignon. One of the best ways to visit these spots is to take a guided tour. During this tour, you will pop in between charming little villages, Roman ruins, and taste wine in old cellars.

It’s one of the most popular tours in Provence, so I highly recommend checking it out!

Côte d’Azur: 2 Hour 30 Minute Drive from Avignon. The French Riviera is famous for its old glamour and beautiful coastline. Famous seaside towns like Antibes, Nice, Cannes, and St Tropez are some of the most popular destinations. Head to the French Riviera for sun-soaked days by the sea!

Provence is an unforgettable destination that offers not only history but views that will have you in awe. There’s so much to do, so stay organized with an itinerary and ensure you see all that you’d like!

The post The Ultimate Guide to Provence appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Tips for Visiting San Blas in Panama

Tips for Visiting San Blas in Panama

With over 350 islands in the Caribbean Sea, many say that a trip to Panama is not complete without a visit to San Blas (also known as Guna Yala). Rather than boutique hotels and shops, you’ll find simplicity and natural beauty here.

San Blas is surrounded by crystal clear water and stretches of sandy beaches, with small huts for shelter. It’s the perfect place to get away from daily stresses and get back in touch with all that nature has to offer.

Here are some tips to help when visiting San Blas in Panama!

Panama

Getting There

To get to San Blas, you have four options; you can fly from Panama straight to the islands, take a sailboat from Cartagena, take a speedboat from Capurgana, or take the bus from Panama City. The two most popular options are to travel from Cartagena or Panama.

There are over 50 sailboats that will take you to San Blas. If you decide to do this, the average trips last about 5 days (2 days spent sailing).

The waters can be extremely rough when sailing due to the wind. You will also spend less time on the islands because of the days of travel. Keep this in mind when booking! Plan out an itinerary and how many days you want to experience the islands.

I went for a day trip and felt that my time was too short, so I would recommend at least a 1 or 2-night trip.

Know Before You Go

San Blas isn’t your typical vacation spot. Electricity is limited and often times you’ll find that the only light source is the night sky.

Be prepared to live off the land. Many of the locals catch fresh food on a daily basis, especially lobster. If you’re one to snorkel, San Blas is the spot for you.

Underneath the surface of the water, you’ll find colorful reef and plenty of sea life.

San Blas

When to Go

Much like many other tropical spots, spring and summer are the best seasons to visit. December to March is considered the windy season.

This means rocky water and a rocky boat ride between the islands. The islands are surrounded by calm waters due to the reef.

From April to November, you’ll experience sunny skies and warm water perfect for swimming.

Where to Stay

There’s a good chance that the lodging you find is going to be extremely simple as this region is a bit more remote and doesn’t accommodate hoards of tourists (this is a good thing!). Many of the hotels include a bed, a toilet, a sink, and that’s about it.

You can find both hotels and Airbnbs for as low as $30 USD a night. Just keep in mind that it might be a simple accommodation experience, so go into it with an open mind.

San Blas

Check Out the Sea Stars

As you explore the islands, you will find starfish everywhere. While they are beautiful, there’s some etiquette to keep in mind when handling them.

First and foremost, please wear reef-safe sunscreen. There are tons of chemicals in generic sunscreen, and we want to keep our oceans clean and their critters healthy!

Absolutely do NOT lift them out of the water. The ocean is their home. As I’ve gotten more educated on the sensitivities of sea stars, I wish I had not even touched them in the first place. I encourage you to refrain from touching them. However, if you decide to pick one up, please leave it entirely under the sea and put it back exactly where you found it.

They’re such delicate creatures and serious damage can be done if you’re not careful.

Getting pictures can be tricky so if you are looking to take some like the one I shot above, you’ll need a GoPro and a camera dome. It makes the process easier!

San Blas

Overall

If you’re looking for a vacation spot that’s off the beaten path (we’re talking, not even on Google Maps), then San Blas is the place for you. With crystal clear water, delicious seafood, and a tribe of people who are fiercely passionate about their culture, San Blas is a great travel destination.

The post Tips for Visiting San Blas in Panama appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Fall Style Essentials from Backcountry

Fall Style Essentials from Backcountry

After stocking up on summer adventure essentials at Backcountry, I’ve started stocking up on comfortable and stylish fall outfits and accessories for the upcoming months!

Backcountry’s selection of fall style, apparel & essentials are perfect for the moments in between your outdoor adventures—think chunky cardigans, wide brim hats, stretchy (and flattering) pants, leggings, scarves, and more!

Whether you’re planning an outdoor adventure, or looking for some comfy and stylish apparel to rock around town, Backcountry is the perfect place to start your search!

** Save 15% at checkout with discount code ‘KIKI15’ on Backcountry! **

Tan Chunky Cardigan from Backcountry

Stylish + Comfortable Sweaters

Fall Travel Outfits

Heavy Jackets

Prana Pants from Backcountry

Bottoms

Fall Travel Style from Backcountry

Purses + Backpacks

Fall Style Sunglasses

Sunglasses

Shop My Outfit: Top | Pants | Cardigan | Sunglasses

Another thing I love about Backcountry is that they have a dedicated customer service team of “Gearheads”. They have extensive experience in the outdoors, and are not intimidating about it, so whether you are a backpacking expert or buying your first pair of hiking boots or yoga pants, they can help you with any questions you may have!

 

Check out more fall style essentials on Backcountry.com and get 15% off your order by using the code “KIKI15” at checkout!

 

The post Fall Style Essentials from Backcountry appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling By Train in France

The Ultimate Guide to Train Travel in France

Train travel in France is an easy, affordable, and sustainable way to get around and see all that the county has to offer. There are over 1700 kilometers of high-speed train lines all over France.

One of the best parts about traveling by train is the fact that there are stations in almost every city rather than only near the airports. Whether you want to go to Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Avignon, St. Émilion, or even Disneyland Paris, there’s a train you can catch.

Especially if you don’t speak French, the process of traveling by train can be a bit confusing (more on my tragic personal experience below).

To avoid any issues, read on for the ultimate guide to traveling by train in France!

Ticket on Train in France

Where to Buy Tickets + Train Prices

One of the best ways to see all of your options is to check online ahead of time. You can see all of your choices (duration, price, etc.) online at SNCF.

As surprising as it seems, trains can and do fill up ahead of time depending on the destination. Book early to help you plan out your trips and ensure that you’ll have a ticket when the time comes. This is especially essential if you’re traveling in high seasons like summer.

If you do decide to book last minute, you can quickly get tickets at the train stations no matter what language you speak.

Pricing all depends on the trip itself though many tickets start as low as €8 (about USD $10) for short trips. For exact pricing, you can go to the tickets and booking portal.

Salad on Train in France

Salad on Train in France

First Class vs. Second Class

I usually lean towards comfortable travel vs saving on price– especially when I’m traveling solo. For such a small price difference, you get a big difference in comfort when riding in 1st class on trains in France.

When traveling solo, you can book single window seats online– which I love!

First class usually also has a power outlet, large reclining seats, laptop sized foldable tables, free WiFi (depending on the route), a snack cart (with food available for purchase), luggage racks, and toilets.

Helpful Tip: First class tickets are assigned specific seat numbers, so be sure to look on your ticket for the carriage number and seat number that you are assigned.

Second class tickets are less expensive, obviously, but they aren’t a huge downgrade. There is just less space and fewer comforts.

Train Travel France

Validate Your Ticket

It might seem straightforward once you’ve booked your tickets and you are ready to go but here are some tips that will help ensure you catch your train without any hiccups.

Before you head out, make sure to validate your ticket at one of the bright yellow machines inside of every station. Failure to do so will result in a fine. Although, I have read that if you do happen to forget and you ask for validation on board, there’s a good chance they’ll do so (though they might charge a small fee).

I never had any issues with validation, so as long as you keep your ticket on you so you can show it to the train attendant when they come through to check.

Train-ticket

How to Find Your Train

Once you are at the train station, keep an eye out for your train platform. Your train platform will NOT be on your ticket. The platform is posted about 20 minutes before departure.

Another vital tip– do not look for your destination on the departures list. The trains are listed by number and where they terminate. Instead, look for your train number and be aware that some trains make multiple stops may terminate at a different destination.

I missed my train to Avignon because I was looking for Avignon as the train destination. Had I been looking for my train number, I would have seen that it was a train terminating in Paris (Avignon not listed). So I ended up on a regional train that took 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.

Train in France

Last, but not least, my final tip is to enjoy yourself. Did you know that having a picnic during a train ride is a bit of a French tradition? Pack a baguette, some cheese and a single serving bottle of wine. I can’t think of many things better than snacking on delicious food as the French scenery glides by!

The post The Ultimate Guide to Traveling By Train in France appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Top Sailing Destinations in Sicily

Top Sailing Destinations in Sicily

It’s very easy to fall under Sicily’s spell. With olive strewn landscapes, ancient temples, and timeless cuisines, it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the Mediterranean. What better way to see it than to hop on a boat and sail the coast.

I visited Sicily with the Yacht Week Italy, where we sailed to 6 jaw-dropping destinations and explored everything that Sicily had to offer.

Here is my itinerary and the top sailing destinations in Sicily!

Portorosa, Sicily

Day 1: Portorosa

Portorosa is the marina where the sailing week begins. It’s about 150 km away from the Catania Airport and getting there is relatively easy with options like a taxi or bus.

Before setting sail, enjoy some Italian sorbet and soak in the sun because you are about to embark on one remarkable journey.

Salina, Sicily

Day 2: Salina

Unlike Lipari, Salina is often quieter and much greener due to it being the only island with a natural water source. The contrast of the lush landscape and the plunging coastal cliffs is unbelievably picture-worthy.

It’s the ideal spot to explore by foot, do some serious shopping, and eat and drink authentic Italian food and wine. Just be sure to order a meal with capers as they are essential to much of the local cuisine.

Some of Sicily’s best grapes are grown on Salina, so buy a bottle or join a tasting tour to one of the vineyards on the island.

Panarea, Sicily

Day 3: Panarea

This exclusive and expensive island is the smallest of the Aeolians. With jasmine, bougainvillea, small white villages, and car-free streets, it’s unlike any other island you will come across. It’s a summer-only destination with very little activity happening outside of the summer months. In fact, if you show up between November to April, you’ll find that most places close seasonally.

On the tour, it will be the perfect spot to get away from life for a bit and enjoy the natural beauty of the island.

Stromboli, Sicily

Day 4: Stromboli

Want to see a real-life volcano explosion? Then Stromboli is the spot for you. Most famous for its nighttime eruptions, it coined the nickname the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” In fact, it’s been erupting continuously for two thousand years. You can take a guided hike up to the top at sunset. Just be warned– it’s hot!

Famous film-makers and style-setters, like Dolce and Gabbana, own villas to spend holidays there, and tourists from all around the world visit to see the dramatic Aeolian island. If you’ve got the time, be sure to watch the sunset and keep an eye out for the Sciara del Fuoco, where the lava flows into the sea.

Lipari, Sicily

Day 5: Lipari

Out of all the islands you will visit, Lipari is the largest and most populated yet it somehow still feels untouched and preserved. You will be able to experience the small town feel all while having plenty of restaurants, museums, bars, hotels, and shops to visit. It’s colorful seafront and busy little port makes it the most convenient base for island hopping.

If you’ve got the time, the eastern coast of the island offers old pumice quarries. The bright white stone gives the sea a very vibrant turquoise color, making for a swim you won’t forget.

While on Lipari, visit Quattrochi. It’s a short scooter ride out of Lipari town or an hours hike. From the lookout, you can see endless blue sea and smoke rising from the neighboring island, Vulcano. It’s a picture perfect view!

Vulcano, Sicily

Day 6: Vulcano

Vulcano is the closest island to Sicily, and its name stems from Hephaestus, the God of Fire. Fitting right? When you first approach the island, you’ll immediately see the plumes of smoke rising from the sunset. However, there’s so much more to this island than its famous volcanic black sand beach.

Take a cooking class or visit a local goat cheese farm for a taste of local culture.

Porto Levante is a local mud pool known for its mineral-rich mud. Despite the strong smell of sulfur, the mud has healing properties for the skin. And don’t forget to stop by the hot springs, they’re a truly sacred hot-spot.

Day 7: Portorosa

On the last day, you will sail back to Portorosa to disembark the yacht!

The post Top Sailing Destinations in Sicily appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Between the drop-dead gorgeous mountain views and the Rhône river backdrops, it’s no wonder why people travel all over the world to go to Geneva.

On my recent trip there, I stayed in the heart of the city at Mandarin Oriental Geneva. With access to the lakeshore, the jet d’eau, Parc de la Grange, and more, it’s the perfect spot to be immersed in the Swiss culture.

Here’s what it’s like staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva in Switzerland!

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Getting There

Luckily, the ride from the airport to the hotel is short. Transportation options are very easy

One of the easiest options is taking a taxi or uber directly to the hotel. However, you can also take the line 150 train into the city center which is about a 17-minute ride.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

The Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Geneva has a truly unique history. In fact, it was the first hotel built in Europe after the Second World War.

Originally built in 1950, the luxury hotel offers 189 fully renovated elegant rooms, 27 which are suites. While you may never want to leave, the highlight of it all is it’s prime location 5 minutes away from Geneva’s historic Old Town, cultural, and touristic districts.

If you’re looking to stay in, you can find a 24-hour fitness center, saunas, and a full-service beauty salon.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

The Rooms

During my stay, I checked into a Deluxe River View King Room. My room included a large seating area, a comfy sofa, a walk-in closet, a marble bathroom, and most importantly a view of the river.

With its neutral hues and contemporary design, you’ll find yourself relaxed in no time.

If you’re looking for something a bit more spacious, other suites include a fireplace, living rooms, a terrace, dining areas, a jacuzzi, and panoramic views. We’re talking up to 5400 square feet of space.

All rooms include a flat-screen television, bold modern art, speakers for your music, and a Nespresso coffee bar. The staff has access to the mini-fridges from the hallway meaning they can restock your room without disturbing your vacation.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Food & Drink

If you’re looking to get dressed up and enjoy a fine-dining meal, Rasoi by Vineet, the first fine dining Indian restaurant in Geneva, is the perfect spot for you. The vibrant red and black decor compliments the contemporary Indian cuisine.

If you’re unsure what to order, they’re known for grilled curry leaf-ginger lobster.

For a faster-paced meal or Sunday brunch, be sure to stop by Café Calla. Their French-inspired menu includes things like salads, ceviche, pasta, land and sea plates, along with a wide variety of wines from their 1500-bottle cellar.

If you’re not a wine person, order the Mandaritini, a cocktail with vodka, cranberry juice, fresh raspberries, and mint leaves.

In My Opinion

Mandarin Oriental Geneva is truly luxurious. With its ideal location in the heart of the city, views of the rivers, and delectable food, it’s the perfect place to call home while visiting Geneva.

More Information

Accommodation: Luxury

Location: Rhône River

Price: $$$

The post Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Between the drop-dead gorgeous mountain views and the Rhône river backdrops, it’s no wonder why people travel all over the world to go to Geneva.

On my recent trip there, I stayed in the heart of the city at Mandarin Oriental Geneva. With access to the lakeshore, the jet d’eau, Parc de la Grange, and more, it’s the perfect spot to be immersed in the Swiss culture.

Here’s what it’s like staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva in Switzerland!

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Getting There

Luckily, the ride from the airport to the hotel is short. Transportation options are very easy

One of the easiest options is taking a taxi or uber directly to the hotel. However, you can also take the line 150 train into the city center which is about a 17-minute ride.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

The Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Geneva has a truly unique history. In fact, it was the first hotel built in Europe after the Second World War.

Originally built in 1950, the luxury hotel offers 189 fully renovated elegant rooms, 27 which are suites. While you may never want to leave, the highlight of it all is it’s prime location 5 minutes away from Geneva’s historic Old Town, cultural, and touristic districts.

If you’re looking to stay in, you can find a 24-hour fitness center, saunas, and a full-service beauty salon.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

The Rooms

During my stay, I checked into a Deluxe River View King Room. My room included a large seating area, a comfy sofa, a walk-in closet, a marble bathroom, and most importantly a view of the river.

With its neutral hues and contemporary design, you’ll find yourself relaxed in no time.

If you’re looking for something a bit more spacious, other suites include a fireplace, living rooms, a terrace, dining areas, a jacuzzi, and panoramic views. We’re talking up to 5400 square feet of space.

All rooms include a flat-screen television, bold modern art, speakers for your music, and a Nespresso coffee bar. The staff has access to the mini-fridges from the hallway meaning they can restock your room without disturbing your vacation.

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Mandarin Oriental Geneva

Food & Drink

If you’re looking to get dressed up and enjoy a fine-dining meal, Rasoi by Vineet, the first fine dining Indian restaurant in Geneva, is the perfect spot for you. The vibrant red and black decor compliments the contemporary Indian cuisine.

If you’re unsure what to order, they’re known for grilled curry leaf-ginger lobster.

For a faster-paced meal or Sunday brunch, be sure to stop by Café Calla. Their French-inspired menu includes things like salads, ceviche, pasta, land and sea plates, along with a wide variety of wines from their 1500-bottle cellar.

If you’re not a wine person, order the Mandaritini, a cocktail with vodka, cranberry juice, fresh raspberries, and mint leaves.

In My Opinion

Mandarin Oriental Geneva is truly luxurious. With its ideal location in the heart of the city, views of the rivers, and delectable food, it’s the perfect place to call home while visiting Geneva.

More Information

Accommodation: Luxury

Location: Rhône River

Price: $$$

The post Staying at Mandarin Oriental Geneva appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Essential Tips for Driving in Provence

Essential Tips for Driving in Provence

There’s so much to see when driving throughout France, but if you’ve never driven there before, it can be a little intimidating. While I love to travel through France by train, you’ll need a car to explore the Provence region properly. With countless hilltop villages and endless fields of lavender, you’ll want to able to drive and stop to explore at your own pace.

Here are my essential tips for driving in Provence helping you understand the roads better!

Driving in Provence

Rules of the Road

First things first, cars drive on the right side of the road with the driver on the left side of the vehicle. So, if you’re from the US, nothing is different!

If possible, when you first arrive, practice on roads without heavy traffic. This will allow you to get comfortable with the flow of traffic and the rules of the road.

Driving in Provence

The Roads

Much like the rest of Europe, some of the smaller towns have incredibly narrow roadways that can be highly unnerving if you haven’t driven through them before. You’ll most likely find these types of roads out in the countryside. But, don’t fret, there are also plenty of highways with lots of space.

One town, in particular, Sault, was one of the sketchiest towns to drive in. I was driving a reasonably small Fiat and had to tuck in the side mirrors to get through some of the roads in the village. The countryside roads can also be incredibly windy with hairpin turns down steep hills, so mind your speed.

Those same countryside roads can be very dark once the sun goes down. There are few street lights and traffic lights, so exercise caution.

Driving from city to city in Provence doesn’t take long though. The farthest I ever drove was 2 hours in one direction, including stops along the way.

Driving in Provence

Renting a Car

Renting a car with an automatic transmission can be a little tricky. If you’re not familiar with a stick shift, be sure to book a car in advance as there are limited automatic vehicles available.

Because the roads can be a bit narrow, having a small car will make it easier to maneuver around the city. Something along the lines of a Fiat 500 works perfectly. Be aware of getting something too small though, as some of the cobblestone roads and unpaved areas are bumpy and could cause damage to the undercarriage if you bottom out.

I found the Fiat 500 to be a perfect size and, even though I was traveling alone, it could easily fit a small family comfortably. The car had backup cameras, a Bluetooth sound system, and GPS which made my ride comfortable. I wouldn’t skimp on the bells and whistles in Provence if you plan to be driving a lot (especially in the summer). It’s hot, and you’ll be in the car a lot!

Driving in Provence

Duh Duh Duh Gas-o-lina

In the US, I’m used to paying for gas or “petrol” at the pump, so it is helpful to know ahead of time how to fill up wherever I’m traveling. In France, you will head inside to pay an attendant before you can pump. You can choose to pay a specific amount with cash or card. Or, if you want to fill up completely, you can leave your credit card with the attendant, fill until you’re full, then return inside to pay.

Don’t forget to fill up your tank before returning your rental car!

And, just how much money are you going to spend on gas? I spent about €90 on gas in 3 days (approx. 600 km).

Driving in Provence

Air Conditioning

If you’ve traveled to, or are from Europe, you’re very aware that air conditioning is a rare luxury during the summers. While most modern cars are equipped with A/C, it’s worth confirming on your rental. You’ll find that your car might be your only cold air relief while exploring the villages of Provence, as many restaurants and shops might not have more than a fan.

Trust me; you’re going to want that cool breeze the minute you get to your car. I was in Provence during a massive heat wave where most days broke 100°F/38°C! I could only walk around in the beating sun for so long before I’d need to run back to the car to blast the A/C and wipe my sweat. And, to top that off, it would take 10 minutes before I could even touch the steering wheel.

You might also want to consider grabbing a windshield reflector to help keep those car temps down.

Toll Roads

Toll roads are pretty straightforward in France. When passing through a toll, grab a ticket and drive off.

When it comes time to get off the motorway, have cash or your credit card ready. Visa, Eurocard, and Mastercard are accepted so have your wallet handy if you plan on doing a lot of driving.

Driving in Provence

Prepare for No Public Toilets

Throughout Provence, you might find yourself struggling to find a public restroom, especially a free one. This is especially true in the distant villages. I kid you not, I stopped 5 times at different gas stations, restaurants, and even grocery stores and nobody had a toilet that I could use. I wouldn’t usually recommend this, but you might need to take care of business in nature in some parts of the region.

Be sure to stock your car with toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer.

Verdon Gorges

Always Be Prepared for a Swim

It might sound random, but you’d be surprised at how many swimming spots I found in places I didn’t expect. I wished I had a towel and bathing suit on hand so I could jump in at a moments notice. Spots like Verdon Gorge and Pont du Gard are must-swim spots when visiting the area and offer cool relief from the summer heat.

Keep a swimsuit and towel in your car (just in case)!

Driving in Provence

Motorcyclists and Pedestrians

Motorcycles are extremely popular in Provence, so most of the drivers are very familiar with sharing the roads. Just be sure to remember that it is legal for cyclists to filter between lanes.

Many French drivers choose to move to the right to allow the cyclist to pass by quickly.

That same attention applies to pedestrians. In many situations, walkers will not wait for the okay to cross the street and they always have the right of way.

You might come across drivers who ignore many of the crossings and go ahead anyway. The safest option is to keep an eye out for pedestrians, but try to follow the flow of traffic.

Picnic

What would a road trip be without snacks and beverages? Stock up before you leave to cut down on the stops you make during your drive. The picnic is a thing of beauty in France. With so much local bread, cheese, wine, olives, honey, fruits, and vegetables throughout Provence, you can go crazy at the local markets. I often found more people stopped on the side of the road to picnic than to eat in restaurants mid-day.

At the very least, pack a LOT of water. I stocked up on big bottles of water to keep with me at all times and refill my personal water bottle that I carried around while exploring the towns throughout the day.

One thing to keep in mind when planning these trips is that many things close mid-day (12:20-3:30 PM), so be sure to grab what you need before or after those times!

Driving in Provence

Understand the Roundabouts

There are plenty of roundabouts (also called traffic circles) throughout Provence, so if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’ll want to study up before you go. As you approach the roundabout, you’ll find there are several kinds of directional signs, pointing you in the direction you need to go.

Oncoming traffic is supposed to yield to those that are already in the roundabout.

There are both single lane and multi-lane roundabouts throughout Provence, so refer to this guide for a quick guide to navigating them.

Driving in Provence

Parking

There isn’t always a convenient parking spot when you’re driving through Provence, so be prepared to park on a curb, sidewalk or patch on the side of the road. You’ll often see cars parallel parked over curbs on the sidewalk in some of the small villages with narrow streets.

In most towns, there are parking lots, but they fill up on market days and in the afternoon. If you arrive early in the morning, you should have a better chance of finding space in a lot.

Carry Cash

Smaller villages tend to be a bit more old-fashioned, and many of them might not take credit cards. If you’re looking to shop at local markets, or buy souvenirs from small vendors, be sure to have some cash on hand.

Driving in Provence

Study the Road Signs

The road signs in Provence are pretty different from the US. If you don’t understand the road signs while driving, you will quickly become a danger to yourself and other drivers.

The two most important signs that you’ll come across are “DO NOT ENTER” and the “narrow road” sign for two way traffic. Here is some more information on the most important road signs to know in France before you go.

Some of the driving situations in Provence can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you aren’t familiar with the French language. Follow these tips, and you’ll have an amazing and carefree road trip!

The post Essential Tips for Driving in Provence appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Essential Tips for Driving in Provence

Essential Tips for Driving in Provence

There’s so much to see when driving throughout France, but if you’ve never driven there before, it can be a little intimidating. While I love to travel through France by train, you’ll need a car to explore the Provence region properly. With countless hilltop villages and endless fields of lavender, you’ll want to able to drive and stop to explore at your own pace.

Here are my essential tips for driving in Provence helping you understand the roads better!

Driving in Provence

Rules of the Road

First things first, cars drive on the right side of the road with the driver on the left side of the vehicle. So, if you’re from the US, nothing is different!

If possible, when you first arrive, practice on roads without heavy traffic. This will allow you to get comfortable with the flow of traffic and the rules of the road.

Driving in Provence

The Roads

Much like the rest of Europe, some of the smaller towns have incredibly narrow roadways that can be highly unnerving if you haven’t driven through them before. You’ll most likely find these types of roads out in the countryside. But, don’t fret, there are also plenty of highways with lots of space.

One town, in particular, Sault, was one of the sketchiest towns to drive in. I was driving a reasonably small Fiat and had to tuck in the side mirrors to get through some of the roads in the village. The countryside roads can also be incredibly windy with hairpin turns down steep hills, so mind your speed.

Those same countryside roads can be very dark once the sun goes down. There are few street lights and traffic lights, so exercise caution.

Driving from city to city in Provence doesn’t take long though. The farthest I ever drove was 2 hours in one direction, including stops along the way.

Driving in Provence

Renting a Car

Renting a car with an automatic transmission can be a little tricky. If you’re not familiar with a stick shift, be sure to book a car in advance as there are limited automatic vehicles available.

Because the roads can be a bit narrow, having a small car will make it easier to maneuver around the city. Something along the lines of a Fiat 500 works perfectly. Be aware of getting something too small though, as some of the cobblestone roads and unpaved areas are bumpy and could cause damage to the undercarriage if you bottom out.

I found the Fiat 500 to be a perfect size and, even though I was traveling alone, it could easily fit a small family comfortably. The car had backup cameras, a Bluetooth sound system, and GPS which made my ride comfortable. I wouldn’t skimp on the bells and whistles in Provence if you plan to be driving a lot (especially in the summer). It’s hot, and you’ll be in the car a lot!

Driving in Provence

Duh Duh Duh Gas-o-lina

In the US, I’m used to paying for gas or “petrol” at the pump, so it is helpful to know ahead of time how to fill up wherever I’m traveling. In France, you will head inside to pay an attendant before you can pump. You can choose to pay a specific amount with cash or card. Or, if you want to fill up completely, you can leave your credit card with the attendant, fill until you’re full, then return inside to pay.

Don’t forget to fill up your tank before returning your rental car!

And, just how much money are you going to spend on gas? I spent about €90 on gas in 3 days (approx. 600 km).

Driving in Provence

Air Conditioning

If you’ve traveled to, or are from Europe, you’re very aware that air conditioning is a rare luxury during the summers. While most modern cars are equipped with A/C, it’s worth confirming on your rental. You’ll find that your car might be your only cold air relief while exploring the villages of Provence, as many restaurants and shops might not have more than a fan.

Trust me; you’re going to want that cool breeze the minute you get to your car. I was in Provence during a massive heat wave where most days broke 100°F/38°C! I could only walk around in the beating sun for so long before I’d need to run back to the car to blast the A/C and wipe my sweat. And, to top that off, it would take 10 minutes before I could even touch the steering wheel.

You might also want to consider grabbing a windshield reflector to help keep those car temps down.

Toll Roads

Toll roads are pretty straightforward in France. When passing through a toll, grab a ticket and drive off.

When it comes time to get off the motorway, have cash or your credit card ready. Visa, Eurocard, and Mastercard are accepted so have your wallet handy if you plan on doing a lot of driving.

Driving in Provence

Prepare for No Public Toilets

Throughout Provence, you might find yourself struggling to find a public restroom, especially a free one. This is especially true in the distant villages. I kid you not, I stopped 5 times at different gas stations, restaurants, and even grocery stores and nobody had a toilet that I could use. I wouldn’t usually recommend this, but you might need to take care of business in nature in some parts of the region.

Be sure to stock your car with toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer.

Verdon Gorges

Always Be Prepared for a Swim

It might sound random, but you’d be surprised at how many swimming spots I found in places I didn’t expect. I wished I had a towel and bathing suit on hand so I could jump in at a moments notice. Spots like Verdon Gorge and Pont du Gard are must-swim spots when visiting the area and offer cool relief from the summer heat.

Keep a swimsuit and towel in your car (just in case)!

Driving in Provence

Motorcyclists and Pedestrians

Motorcycles are extremely popular in Provence, so most of the drivers are very familiar with sharing the roads. Just be sure to remember that it is legal for cyclists to filter between lanes.

Many French drivers choose to move to the right to allow the cyclist to pass by quickly.

That same attention applies to pedestrians. In many situations, walkers will not wait for the okay to cross the street and they always have the right of way.

You might come across drivers who ignore many of the crossings and go ahead anyway. The safest option is to keep an eye out for pedestrians, but try to follow the flow of traffic.

Picnic

What would a road trip be without snacks and beverages? Stock up before you leave to cut down on the stops you make during your drive. The picnic is a thing of beauty in France. With so much local bread, cheese, wine, olives, honey, fruits, and vegetables throughout Provence, you can go crazy at the local markets. I often found more people stopped on the side of the road to picnic than to eat in restaurants mid-day.

At the very least, pack a LOT of water. I stocked up on big bottles of water to keep with me at all times and refill my personal water bottle that I carried around while exploring the towns throughout the day.

One thing to keep in mind when planning these trips is that many things close mid-day (12:20-3:30 PM), so be sure to grab what you need before or after those times!

Driving in Provence

Understand the Roundabouts

There are plenty of roundabouts (also called traffic circles) throughout Provence, so if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’ll want to study up before you go. As you approach the roundabout, you’ll find there are several kinds of directional signs, pointing you in the direction you need to go.

Oncoming traffic is supposed to yield to those that are already in the roundabout.

There are both single lane and multi-lane roundabouts throughout Provence, so refer to this guide for a quick guide to navigating them.

Driving in Provence

Parking

There isn’t always a convenient parking spot when you’re driving through Provence, so be prepared to park on a curb, sidewalk or patch on the side of the road. You’ll often see cars parallel parked over curbs on the sidewalk in some of the small villages with narrow streets.

In most towns, there are parking lots, but they fill up on market days and in the afternoon. If you arrive early in the morning, you should have a better chance of finding space in a lot.

Carry Cash

Smaller villages tend to be a bit more old-fashioned, and many of them might not take credit cards. If you’re looking to shop at local markets, or buy souvenirs from small vendors, be sure to have some cash on hand.

Driving in Provence

Study the Road Signs

The road signs in Provence are pretty different from the US. If you don’t understand the road signs while driving, you will quickly become a danger to yourself and other drivers.

The two most important signs that you’ll come across are “DO NOT ENTER” and the “narrow road” sign for two way traffic. Here is some more information on the most important road signs to know in France before you go.

Some of the driving situations in Provence can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you aren’t familiar with the French language. Follow these tips, and you’ll have an amazing and carefree road trip!

The post Essential Tips for Driving in Provence appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris

Ahh Paris, the city of love. And shopping and incredible food. Paris has it all.

There are so many hotels to choose from in the city which can be extremely overwhelming. I had the chance to stay at Mandarin Oriental Paris and with its luxurious rooms, amenities, and unforgettable food, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Here’s my experience staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris hotel in France!

Sunset in Paris

Getting There

There is a bit of distance between Paris CDG Airport and Mandarin Oriental Paris. If you’re looking to drive or take a taxi, your ride is going to take you about 25 minutes.

If you’re looking for a cheaper (yet longer) option, there is the Roissybus or train. Both depart every 20-30 minutes and are going to take you about 45-50 minutes total. But you’ll only be paying about $13-$17 USD.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

The Hotel

This contemporary yet whimsical hotel tucked away in camellia tree gardens, sits right on Rue Saint-Honoré– one of Paris’ most upmarket shopping streets.

While the shopping is nothing short of chic, the area itself is a bit quieter than other spots in Paris. Yet you will still be able to find many things extremely close like the River Seine, Musée d’Orsay, and even the Louvre, one of Paris’ most well-known attractions.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly option, look no further. There is a dedicated children’s concierge, mini bathrobes, and video games to keep the little ones entertained.

If you’re looking for a more romantic adult-geared experience, there’s also an indoor swimming pool and a spa with private spa suites for two and steam showers. Upon arrival, expect a glass of champagne waiting for you, as a warm welcome to the city.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

The Rooms

With a total of 138 spacious rooms, Mandarin Oriental Paris offers 13 different types of rooms and suites, varying from Mandarin Room to the 2700 square foot Royale Mandarin Suite. For a true Parisian experience, try to book a room on a higher floor for the chance of a view of the Eiffel Tower.

During my stay, I was in the Deluxe Room that offered a gorgeous view of the hotel garden. With its art deco decor, I felt like a true Parisian. The room itself included a walk-in shower, a stand-alone bath, a flatscreen television, and a Nespresso coffee machine.

If you’ve ever been to Paris, you know that the rooms tend to run a bit on the small side but I can assure you, these rooms will seem large in comparison.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Food & Drink

While there are many hotels throughout Paris, it’s not often that you find one with a two-star Michelin restaurant. Sur Mesure par Tarry Marx offers not only incredible service but also an almost out of this world experience.

The walls and ceiling are draped in white fabric, giving the impression of weightless clouds creating an unbelievably sensory experience.

And let’s not forget about the food. Serving lunch and dinner, they offer a 4-6 course meal prepared by one of the most celebrated chefs in France.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, Camélia, located on the ground floor, offers a variety of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The best part of this modern hot spot is it’s large glass windows that offer a view of the peaceful courtyard garden.

More Information

Accommodation: Luxury

Location: 1st Arrondissement

Price: $$$

The post Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris

Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris

Ahh Paris, the city of love. And shopping and incredible food. Paris has it all.

There are so many hotels to choose from in the city which can be extremely overwhelming. I had the chance to stay at Mandarin Oriental Paris and with its luxurious rooms, amenities, and unforgettable food, it was the experience of a lifetime.

Here’s my experience staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris hotel in France!

Sunset in Paris

Getting There

There is a bit of distance between Paris CDG Airport and Mandarin Oriental Paris. If you’re looking to drive or take a taxi, your ride is going to take you about 25 minutes.

If you’re looking for a cheaper (yet longer) option, there is the Roissybus or train. Both depart every 20-30 minutes and are going to take you about 45-50 minutes total. But you’ll only be paying about $13-$17 USD.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

The Hotel

This contemporary yet whimsical hotel tucked away in camellia tree gardens, sits right on Rue Saint-Honoré– one of Paris’ most upmarket shopping streets.

While the shopping is nothing short of chic, the area itself is a bit quieter than other spots in Paris. Yet you will still be able to find many things extremely close like the River Seine, Musée d’Orsay, and even the Louvre, one of Paris’ most well-known attractions.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly option, look no further. There is a dedicated children’s concierge, mini bathrobes, and video games to keep the little ones entertained.

If you’re looking for a more romantic adult-geared experience, there’s also an indoor swimming pool and a spa with private spa suites for two and steam showers. Upon arrival, expect a glass of champagne waiting for you, as a warm welcome to the city.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

The Rooms

With a total of 138 spacious rooms, Mandarin Oriental Paris offers 13 different types of rooms and suites, varying from Mandarin Room to the 2700 square foot Royale Mandarin Suite. For a true Parisian experience, try to book a room on a higher floor for the chance of a view of the Eiffel Tower.

During my stay, I was in the Deluxe Room that offered a gorgeous view of the hotel garden. With its art deco decor, I felt like a true Parisian. The room itself included a walk-in shower, a stand-alone bath, a flatscreen television, and a Nespresso coffee machine.

If you’ve ever been to Paris, you know that the rooms tend to run a bit on the small side but I can assure you, these rooms will seem large in comparison.

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Mandarin Oriental Paris

Food & Drink

While there are many hotels throughout Paris, it’s not often that you find one with a two-star Michelin restaurant. Sur Mesure par Tarry Marx offers not only incredible service but also an almost out of this world experience.

The walls and ceiling are draped in white fabric, giving the impression of weightless clouds creating an unbelievably sensory experience.

And let’s not forget about the food. Serving lunch and dinner, they offer a 4-6 course meal prepared by one of the most celebrated chefs in France.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, Camélia, located on the ground floor, offers a variety of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The best part of this modern hot spot is it’s large glass windows that offer a view of the peaceful courtyard garden.

More Information

Accommodation: Luxury

Location: 1st Arrondissement

Price: $$$

The post Staying at Mandarin Oriental Paris appeared first on The Blonde Abroad.