TRAVEL APPS YOU NEED TO DOWNLOAD BEFORE YOUR NEXT TRIP

Skyscanner. My favorite of the bunch. This app pulls from all the travel sites so you have all the information you need for flight, hotel and car rental in one spot without web surfing. My favorite features are  the "everywhere" feature and use of the calendar. The calendar option for flight search is perfect if you have a flexible schedule - enter departure and arrival cities. For dates - select the whole month and it will give  the cheapest dates to travel in the selected month. The everywhere feature trumps that though. For instance, I want to plan a trip from Dallas (and open to destination), I simply enter "everywhere" as my destination and skyscanner will give a list of potential destinations (domestic and international) from cheapest to most expensive. Perfect for spontenous and flexible travellers.

Splitwise. On my recent trip on Spain, after spending hours trying to reconcile expense etc (downsize of accountants traveling together), the first thing I did when I returned was download Spiltwise from my cloud. This is the perfect app for group travel. It keeps track of who is paying for what and how much needs to be refunded. In some countries, you can link up Splitwise to PayPal or Venmo to settle bills immediately.

Venmo. Of all the payment apps out there, this is my favorite one. I have access to it anywhere in the world and I can settle my portion of group travel expenses on the spot without the hassle of tranferring funds and waiting days etc.

Hotel Tonight. I recommend this to every and anyone. This apps with last minute hotel reservation (for a fraction of the cost). Using this app, last fall I booked a hotel in Paris, right off Champ Elysees with a view of Eiffel tower and less than a block from the Arc De Triomphe for less than a hundred dollars per night. Need I say more. The only downsize with this app, you can only see rates/availability seven days out. That is not so great if you have an OCD planning side like me.

Pack Point. I don't use this much these days because I am too lazy to type up the activites etc, but it has been very helpful in the past and friends I have recommended this app to swear by it. This app helps with packing tips based on destination, weather at your destination, and activities  planned. 

Your turn, what apps do you use for travel planning ?

EXPLORING THE VATICAN, SISTINE CHAPEL AND ST PETER'S BASILICA // VATICAN CITY , ITALY

Vatican city ! It is one of the top five things to do in Rome and the lines tend to wrap around (like most tourist places in Rome). We headed out early to beat the crowds. We took the train to San Pietro train station and walked about fifteen minutes to get to Vatican city. Every couple of steps we were haggled by tour company operators and vendors offering to give us a great deal on "skip the line" tickets to get into Vatican city. Prior to leaving the hotel, we had made a decision just wait out the lines - we had the luxury of having nothing else on the agenda for the day. Ignoring all the haggler, we found our way to the Vatican.

We arrived just after 8:30 a.m. and were surprised to find a line wrapped around. I guess we were not the only ones with the brilliant idea of starting early.  It took about an hour to make it to the front of the line and into the gates of the Vatican. Not bad considering we saved about 25 euros each by waiting out the lines instead of going for with a skip the line tour Company option. I consider that winning. We purchased our tickets for the Vatican museums and the Sistine chapel. Beware of tour Companies and vendors that want to sell you tickets to St. Peter Basilica. Entry to St. Peter's Basilica is free, you just have to deal with the line to get in assuming you opt out of skip the line tickets. If you are already in the Sistine chapel there is a entry way to St. Peter basilica that skips the lines. Just ask and hope the attendant is in a good mood to let you through. 

We made our made to the museum - (which is really a collection of museums). On the ground floor of one of the museums is a "postal museum of sorts" - with a collection of stamps. There is also an operating post office offering the convinience of mailing post cards to your loved ones back home from the grounds of Vatican. We walked through the long hallways of the museums, past the gallery of maps and hall of tapestries, as we made our way towards the Sistine chapel stopping every couple of steps to stare in awe (and grab a snapshot of something spectacular).  The amazing thing about the Vatican, Chapel and Basiclica is the ceilings. We walked most of the way with our head hung back admiring the beauty of the artwork on the ceilings.

After the museum we made our way to the Sistine chapel (sorry , pictures were not allowed), so we just observed in silence - I still get chills thinking the breathtaking beauty that is the Sistine chapel. We continued on through the Vatican galleries and then on to St. Peters Basilica which left me speechless and in awe , from the ceiling , to the over the top monuments , and the resting place of past popes in the basement. We finished up our day at Vatican city with a late lunch before heading back to Rome.

OVEN BAKED TUNA AND VEGGIE EGGS // PORTLAND | GRACE RECIPES

One of my goals with this space is to strive to share one or two non- travel posts each month. I really love cooking and recipe creation so its a natural transition. I am hoping to have one recipe post per month (don't hold me to that). Kicking things off with a favoritte brunch recipe. The oven baked veggie eggs. I first made this last fall and it makes an appears on the brunch table at least once a month. This recipes serve three, but when served with side dishes fruit, toast, yogurt, it can serve up to five (depending on appetite).  Now, the recipe is called veggie baked eggs but the pictures I am sharing has tuna added in because the I was feeding a crowd that was not about that veggie life. If you are like that as well - then feel free to toss in your favorite protein - chicken ,salmon, tuna or tofu. Whatever make you happy or you can leave it straight veggie. I tend to add tuna most days I make this - something about the combo of veggie and tuna.

The veggie part - I usually go with the healthy 8 chopped veggie mix from Trader Joes. The mix includes - carrots, brocolli, green cabbage, red cabbage, jicama, radish, celery and green bell peppers. I also add tomatoes, onions and mushrooms. Yeah, I know - we are loaded on veggie in this recipe. On lazy days - I just got with the mix and dont bother with the mushrooms , onions etc.  For this recipe, you need one to one and half cup of veggies. 

Sauteeing - I use sesame seed oil and olive oil because I love the nutty taste of sesame seed oil - you dont have to use sesame seed. It will still turn out great.

Tip - After sauteeing, before adding eggs (and protein), ,I tranfer the mixture into a bowl, add seasoing and give it a good toss before returing the mixture back to the oven safe skillet.

Ingredients :

  • One (to one and half) cup of veggie mix of choice
  • four large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of oil (mix of olive and sesame or just olive oil)
  • Seasoning of choice
  • Salt and pepper

How To :

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Heat oil in oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add the veggie mix to oil and sauteed for 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer sauteed veggies to mixing bowl, add seasoning of choice, salt and pepper and toss to coat the veggie. Transfer back to over safe skillet. 

Make four wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each well. Let it cook for 3 to 5 miutes. Transfer skillet to oven and let it cook for 15 to 25 minutes. Note: Depending on your oven and how you like your eggs, it might take less time to cook.

Serve with bread, fruit, yogurt or side of choice.

EXPLORING OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO <> SAN DIEGO , CA

What a morning I had exploring old town San Diego. San Diego is one of those America cities I had penned on my must visit list and I am thankful that at the end of 2016, I got to check it off my list. In all my prep for the trip, the one place that kept coming up as must see - Old Town San Diego. On our first full day in the city we set out to see what the fuss was all about and what we discovered was one of the highlights of our time in the city. Old town has such a historic significance, it has been classified a historic park. A bit of history lesson from our time in Old town; It is considered the first permanent Spanish settlement in California and possibly the  birthpace of California.

The park has been beautifully preserved as a reminder of the old, but also has influences of the new with shops and restaurants including a cold stone creamery housed in one of the historic huildings and the Wells Fargo museum in the Colorado house. We explored on foot starting at the  Fiesta de Reyes courtyard. The hightlight of our time in the courtyard lined with shops and restarants have got to be olive oil tasting at Temecula olive oil company and hot sauce tasting at Awesome hot sauce. I have added some of their offerings to my Christmas want list. I highly recommend stopping by both shops if you are in old town.

After all that tasting business was sorted, we made our way to the historic buildings, including the Church, Casa de Estudillo and Whaley house. We stopped by the model railroad depot which was amazing and is free to visit (donations are encouraged). We did not have a meal here but Casa coyote came highly recommended by several people. I chose not to do a "guide" post because this is one of those place you have got to explore your way and let the feel of old town lead you. I will recommend a few hours here to get the most out of the experience and you can hop on one of the shuttle if walks are not your thing.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT THE VILLAGE ATOP THE HILL <> EZE , FRANCE

Under 20 minutes by bus from Monaco or Nice, this anicient village atop the hill is worth your time. if only for the jaw dropping views from Jardine de exotique which sits at the top of the hill. It will cost you about 6 euro to access the garden, but the views of the French Riviera is worth every penny.

Eze is also home to two Grasse perfumeries where you can make your own perfumes. I went just for the views.

The bus from Nice dropped off just off the main road leading up to the hillside. I recommend the bus as the cheapest, quickest option. If you take the train, you stops at Eze sur-Mer which is the beach side town and it is quite a hike to get to Eze village.

Just before heading up hill, I stopped by the grocery shop just a few steps from the bus stop grab a bottle of water and snack before heading uphill.  The best decision of my morning - the trip up is quite steep and my quads were not amused. A bit further up the hill, I found the visitors center which offered a map of the village and then up hill I went past other tourists and shops selling souvenir, clothing, herbs and restaurants before finally arriving at the garden where I spent most of my time taking in the view of valley, Eze sur-Mer and the mediteranian. More than great views, the garden also has a collection of sculpture by Jean-Philippe Richard and some exotic plants and cactus. On the way back down the hill, I made a stop by the old Church which is built on the foundatoins of a 12th century church and features a two-level square view. The court around the church also offers a great view of the valley.

If you are ever in these parts, there is one view you should not miss, from the top tip of the exotic gardens, facing west towards the tiny peninsula of cap ferret. The view of the French Riviera is spectacular.

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