Münster Aasee

It’s summer for just a few more days, so let’s hop over to northwestern Germany for the weekend to enjoy some time by the Münster Aasee. We’ll take some time to explore the quaint city of Münster later on, but for today let’s concentrate on the hotspot just off the city centre, the Aasee. Pronounced “AH-zay” (“zay” rhyming with “say”), this is a lovely artificial lake that measures 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles) around and offers myriad outdoor opportunities.

On sunny summer weekends, Münsteraners turn out in droves and set up camp around the Aasee for barbecues, kite-flying, and general sunbathing. (On New Year’s, the lake will be ringed with people setting off fireworks – check out the debris the next day.) You can also go out in sailboats or take a leisurely stroll along the path ringing the lake. The path is ideal for runners, and you’ll definitely encounter a lot of them at most times of day.

If you forget your barbecue equipment and don’t feel like exercising, there are a few restaurants and cafes dotted along the Aasee’s shores. From the Aasee it’s also a short jaunt to the Münster Zoo and, in the other direction, back to the city center’s pristine cobblestoned streets and many churches. But for today, let’s find a sunny spot of grass to relax on and watch the people go by.


St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge

IMG_4361Nestled a block south of Hyde Park, between Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge Tube stations, lies St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. This hidden architectural gem is in the Victorian style and was consecrated as an Anglican church in 1843. Enter the church through a door in the tall tower, and you’ll be welcomed into an open, light-filled space. Take a few moments to enjoy a 360-degree view of the stained glass windows and the beautiful organ. The domed ceiling is simply decorated with statues of angels, and there is just enough ornate gold work towards the altar.

Visitors are welcome at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge: you can attend one of the daily masses, stroll in at a different time to look around without worshipping, or attend one of the BBC radio live recordings. That’s right – the renowned BBC Singers sometimes record live concerts in this church for BBC radio. If you’re a classical music fan, this is a great way to hear beautiful music in a gorgeous acoustic space.

St. Paul’s Knightsbridge is a bit off the beaten track of busy Knightsbridge road, hidden between Hyde Park and Green Park. But next time you’re in the area – perhaps while walking from Hyde Park down to the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea – step into this lovely church for a few moments of quiet and calm.


Kensington Palace

IMG_5846We’ve visited  Kensington Gardens before, to see the Albert Memorial and explore the museums on Exhibition Road. But we haven’t yet ventured to the far western end of the Gardens, which is where we go today to visit Kensington Palace.

This royal residence has housed members of the British Royal Family since the 1600s and is currently the official place where various Dukes and Duchesses stay when they are in London. But even though it is used as a residence, parts of Kensington Palace are open to the public to visit. You can pay to see the State Rooms, various exhibitions, and of course the marvelous gardens. Book an afternoon tea at The Orangery for when you’re tired of wandering the Palace looking at portraits and royal fashions.

Even if you don’t want to pay the entry fee to the Palace, you can find a bench somewhere near the pond across the Broad Walk and enjoy people- and dog-watching to your heart’s content. There’s never a dull moment in Kensington Gardens!

Highgate (Image from their website)

High Tea of Highgate

Highgate (Image from their website)

Highgate (Image from their website)

It’s a rainy Monday here in London, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun indoors! We’ve talked about afternoon tea before (remember those finger sandwiches and scones with jam?), so today we’re headed to a lovely little tea shop in north London’s Highgate Village.

Tea, anyone?

Tea, anyone?

High Tea of Highgate (their website alone is worth a visit) is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it on the “high” street. If you don’t see a free table in the front, walk past the scrumptious-looking cakes on the counter to the little back room, which houses three more tables. This tea spot has more of an à la carte style – the menu features “savoury snacks” as well as the usual scones and the cakes you saw walking in. For a substantial afternoon snack, you can order the cream tea, which gets you a pot of tea and two scones with clotted cream and jam. Not in the mood for a scone? Order one of those amazing-looking cakes…

Your tea and scones or cake will appear on whimsically patterned, mismatched china, which just adds to the charm of the place. Even after you’ve finished eating and sipping your tea, you’ll want to linger in this cozy atmosphere to chat with your companion – and to avoid that rain outside! When you do decide to brave the weather again, you’ll find yourself atop Highgate Hill with a great view of central London.


Image from Highgate website

Image from Highgate website



High Tea of Highgate
50 Highgate High Street
London N6 5NX United Kingdom
+44 208 348 3162


St. Paul's Cathedral as viewed from Millennium Bridge

EY Travel Tips: London

I love exploring new cities on foot. There’s no better way to “take healthy steps” – as my family says – and really get to know a place. You may wonder how it’s possible to explore London, a sprawling metropolis of almost eight million people, on foot. Let me try to convince you that it is easily – and best – explored this way, as long as you don’t plan on trying to walk around the entire city. The Tube (a.k.a. the Underground or metro) system is excellent and a good way to travel longer distances through London, but certain areas are much better enjoyed outdoors at a leisurely pace.

I spent four sunny days in London at the end of March – not nearly enough time to see and do everything I wanted to do, but enough time to stroll around some of London’s many beautiful boroughs. (Visiting London became even more significant because I had learned not long before the trip that I would be moving there after finishing my Peace Corps service.) Here are my recommendations for a few nice walking-sightseeing routes if you find yourself in London for several days.


Marylebone/Fitzrovia and Regent’s Park

At the Marylebone Farmers’ Market

This posh, neighborhood-y area is known for its proximity to peaceful Regent’s Park. One of the friends I was visiting lived in this area, on Weymouth Street just a few blocks from the Sunday Marylebone Farmer’s Market, which even in late March was already full of gorgeous greens, plenty of parsnips, delicious homemade goat cheese, and the best carrot cake I have ever had. I recommend trolling for postcards and souvenirs on Marylebone Road – if you like wax figures, also check out Madame Tussaud’s – before ducking into Regent’s Park for a stroll around the lake or a run on the many winding paths that offer glimpses of the London Zoo’s residents.

Bloomsbury and Russell Square

Enjoy a picnic lunch in Russell Square

After your morning stroll through the park and farmers’ market snack, walk east out of Fitzrovia to Bloomsbury, the district from which the early 20th-century Bloomsbury Group – the Woolfs and E.M. Forster were some of its prominent members – took its name. Drop into one of the many Sainsbury’s grocery stores to pick up picnic fare, then take it to Russell Square – most famously featured in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair – and enjoy people-watching while you nosh. Once your legs (and stomach) feel rejuvenated, walk one block to the British Museum. If you don’t have time for the whole museum you must at least stand gazing upwards in the glass-domed atrium for a few minutes. If you’d like to continue your literary tour, walk east on Guilford Street to Doughty Street, where you’ll find the Charles Dickens museum, situated in the house where Dickens lived for much of his life in London.

The British Museum atrium


Tottenham Court/Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square to Whitehall; the Houses of Parliament; Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, and The Mall           

If your feet feel up for it, use a leisurely second day to take in many famous sights. Start on Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia and walk south; when you cross Oxford Street it will become Charing Cross Road in Soho. Take your time to stroll along, pop in and out of bookshops, and check out what’s playing at the theaters. Not far from Leicester Square you’ll run smack-dab into Trafalgar Square (contrary to popular belief, when I was there people actually outnumbered pigeons). If the weather is nice, grab a bite at Pret A Manger and people-watch while sitting on the steps of St. Martin in the Fields; if you’re lucky you’ll catch a choir rehearsal or concert in the church.

Westminster Abbey


When you have sufficiently refueled, walk south through Trafalgar Square to what becomes Whitehall Road; you will be flanked by tall, white buildings and soon will glimpse the Houses of Parliament and the famous clock tower known as Big Ben. Pause for some photos and then swing right to Westminster Abbey. You can pay to see the entire Abbey, but if you’d rather get a feel for it without shelling out any pounds, walk around to the west entrance and sit in on Evensong or Evening Prayer (check the schedule first; they offer free services and small concerts every day).


From the Abbey, continue walking west toward St. James’s Park, in the center of which you will find Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial. Walk away from the Palace along The Mall; you’ll eventually come out under the Admiralty Arch and find yourself back in Trafalgar Square. Stop in at the National Gallery or Portrait Gallery if you have time.



South Kensington and Chelsea

Start in Chelsea’s Sloane Square and visit the Saatchi Gallery, an art gallery that had an exhibition of contemporary German art when I was there. Even if modern art is not your cup of tea, the gallery is free and worth spinning through for its gorgeous design and use of space. Do you prefer shopping to art galleries? Walk up Cadogan Square to the famous department store, Harrods, where you will find anything you could ever want.


Prince Albert Memorial

From Harrods, it’s a short walk down Brompton Road to South Kensington and Exhibition Row, an area also known as “Albertopolis” for Queen Victoria’s establishment of museums, concert halls, and colleges in honor of Prince Albert, her husband who died too young. You could easily spend the rest of the day here in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum. Take some time to walk up to Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park to see the ornate Albert Memorial and the spot of the 1851 Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace.


City of London



If you still have energy after the previous three days, start this day in the one-square-mile City of London, the oldest part of London and now the financial center. Spend some time at the Museum of London, free and chock-full of London’s history from the earliest times to today. When you feel saturated, walk south and follow your eyes to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Ogle at its dome and design – if you want to spend some money you can go inside – before continuing south to pedestrians-only Millennium Bridge, leading straight to the Tate Modern art museum. While crossing the bridge you will see the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. If you have time, catch a performance at the Globe after enjoying some modern art at the Tate. (Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do either of these things on my visit.)

St. Paul’s Cathedral as viewed from Millennium Bridge

Obviously, you cannot see all of London in four days. But if you like to walk, admire architecture, and really get the feel for a city, I recommend the four above walks as good starting points. I look forward to discovering many more great London walks after moving there – perhaps I shall share them with you. If you have suggestions for other walks, feel free to leave them in the comments section. Happy exploring!


Everyday Krakow 052

EY Travel Tips: Krakow

With Copernicus

1. Walk around the Planty.

The Planty  is the park that surrounds Krakow’s Old Town. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city. You can walk around part of it and then go through St. Florian’s Gate at Ullica Florinska up into the main market square, Rynek Glowny. Also be sure to climb up in the Barbikan, one of the last remaining bits of the medieval wall. Plus, snap a picture with the statue of Copernicus at the nearby Jagellonian University. If you’re looking for a quick break from your stroll, there’s a great English language bookstore only two blocks away called Massolit. Grab a cup of their great coffee and pick up one of their ornate bookmarks as a free souvenir.

2. Try beer with juice—trust me.

In Polish, it’s “piwo z sokiem.” Memorize those three words. Be sure to get a Zywiec with cherry, or better yet, ginger. They’ll serve it to you with a straw. Stir up the juice at the bottom and you’re good to go. It might not feel like drinking a beer to purists, but it’s definitely worth a try.

3.  Don’t be afraid to be assertive.

From my experience, Poles are a no-nonsense bunch who can get frustrated with out-of-towners, especially given Krakow’s rising popularity as a tourist destination. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to assert yourself in ticket lines, at restaurant counters, and anywhere else….they’ll respect you for it and you’ll get more done. As with any foreign country, it’s useful to have your destination written down in Polish (ask for help at your hotel) so you can hand that to the person at the train station. Also, don’t forget practice saying “thank you” in Polish: It’s dzienkuje, or phonetically: jen-koo-yeh.

4. Take a ride on the Pope Train!  

Poland was home to Pope John Paul II, who is very revered as a national hero, especially given his advocacy for the Poles’ rights during the Cold War. If you fancy traveling the footsteps of the Polish pope, consider taking a ride on the bright gold papal train, which leaves from Krakow’s main train station daily. There are multiple stops on the train, including to Pope John Paul’s birthplace, the small city Wadowice. While there, try out a so-called Pope Cake, the pope’s favorite delicacy as a boy. They’re delicious, but enormous, so don’t be afraid to split one.

5. Set aside some time for day trips.

In the surrounding area near Krakow, there are a number of fascinating spots to see, including Auschwitz-Berkinau, the largest concentration camp during the Holocaust, and, for something entirely different, the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Auschwitz truly cannot be missed, even if it’s obviously a very sobering experience. The salt mine couldn’t be more opposite, and is pretty campy, but the underground chapel with its ornate salt chandeliers is a spectacular site, and the tour gives interesting insight into one of the region’s major industries. Plus, the tour guides (English speakers are readily available) wear hard hats. You can’t really ask for more than that.

6. Drink apple pie.

I’m aware this is my second alcohol tip, but you don’t want to miss out on this one. Go to any bar in the city and order a Tatanka—yes, like the word for “buffalo.” It’s made with Zubrowka vodka, a Polish specialty, and apple juice (check out their website, they even show you how to make this drink!). The combination tastes exactly like a cinnamony slice of apple pie. If you’re lucky, they’ll even put an apple slice in your drink. Classy, no?  Note: This drink is called different things in different parts of Poland, so if you’re in Warsaw, it might be called a szarlotka (apple cake). Ask the bartender.

7. Consider visiting over a major holiday.

88% of Poland’s population is Catholic. Because of this, each major Catholic holiday, the city puts on a festival in its main square, complete with local merchants hawking handmade wares and delicious food, and plenty of entertainment.  The drawback with this is that, of course, fewer businesses will be open (definitely check operating hours before you go to any major attractions), and major religious sites, especially nearby Czestochowa, a famous Catholic pilgrimage site, will be crowded. Still, if you want an authentic Polish experience, consider booking your trip in the spring, especially near Easter. Make sure to check out a holiday mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral, the spectacular church in the main market square.

8.  Eat.   All.   The.   Time.

Especially worth trying are the street vendors’ pretzels for a great breakfast snack, and the zapikeinki, a long piece of bread covered in pickles and various sauces. In the main market square, look for the guy dressed as a giant beer mug. He’ll give you a coupon for a free beer at a restaurant right near the Wawel Castle. It’s a bit more touristy than some places, but the English menu serves as a great introduction to some of the best Polish foods: perogi—delicious cheese-, meat- or even fruit-filled dumplings (try the Ruskie-style, filled with cheese and potato)—and keilbasa, a type of sausage. Warning: If you want to take a picture with our friend the beer mug, beware that you’ll have to pay a few zloty to do so.


For more stories from Megan’s travel in Krakow, check out:

Running Five Polish Miles 


Eiffel Tower

EY Travel Tips: Paris

Sunny Spot Paris

The last time I visited Paris, I was a starry-eyed sixteen-year-old on a school trip. I stayed in a cut-rate hotel, saw the sights everyone has seen, ate the culinary standards, spoke no French and dressed myself like a tourist. Despite these drawbacks, the city left an immeasurable impression upon me. I knew that I would return, and when I did, things would be different. Six years later, I returned for a week-long vacation after my summer French studies had concluded. The experiences I had on both trips were so radically different that I feel compelled to say that it is much better to explore Paris than to tour it. The following list of tips has been compiled based on the things I did during my second trip that made the experience truly great.

1. Be creative about places to stay.

There is more than one way to spend a night in Paris. Many people believe that the cost of staying in Paris is ridiculously and unrealistically high. True, it can be, but there are plenty of affordable options. The best bet for anyone looking to stay for a week is to rent an apartment in the city. Not only will doing this save you tons of money, you will have the experience of living la vie Parisienne.

For my week in Paris, I rented a cozy flat in the 10th for only €250. It was less than a block away from the Metro and a ten minute walk from Montmartre. My land lady was very pleasant and completely willing to provide any assistance I may have required. Check out or do a simple Google search to find affordable places, and don’t forget to research the neighborhood to make sure it’s safe.



2. Think outside the box when it comes to activities and sight-seeing.

There is a lot more to see in Paris than the Eiffel Tower. There are about 153 museums in the city that cover an extremely wide variety of subjects. My personal recommendation for a museum is the collection at the Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe). It is full of beautiful artifacts, calligraphy and art from various countries in the Middle East. One of the more “unusual” things I did was attend one of Jim Haynes’ dinner parties. He has been holding “The Sunday Dinners” for thirty years. All you have to do to get on the list is call or email him in advance. His contact information can be found here. The dinners are usually full of people of every age, nationality and background and the chances of meeting at least one interesting person are very high. You are asked to bring a donation (~20€) to keep the dinners going for future partygoers.


Ne me quitte pas

The most important thing I can stress about Paris is that it is a city designed for pedestrians. I found more treasures while wandering aimlessly than I did looking at a map. I also recommend consulting some sort of guide book or website for more interesting ideas and hints. This city has something for everyone and a guide provides you with a great place to start.

3. Be open-minded about dining.

While I will continue to recommend everyone experience a proper French dinner in Paris for the rest of my life, I will also tell you that there’s a wide variety of excellent food to be found in Paris. Paris is not only the center of French culture; it is also home to a hodgepodge of people from all over the world. Ethnic food in Paris is fantastic and should not be overlooked. Also, do not fuss over dining selections in guide books. You will have just as much, if not better, luck if you randomly select a place every day.


4. Use French wherever you can.

I found my experience with Parisians improved tenfold by using as much French as I could, wherever and whenever I could. It is much easier to fall back into English in Paris than people realize, as many Parisians speak multiple languages. However, they are always more than happy to help a newcomer learn. Be warned though, the French are very, very OCD about correcting people. They also love to remind non-French people that they are foreign. I know it can seem rude at first, but they do it to everyone and you’ll get used to it eventually. I learned to appreciate being corrected, as it sped up my learning process. Even if you don’t speak French, it is much better to approach someone with a question in French than in English. As I said, they can usually tell where you’re from, and even if they don’t speak English, they will be more likely to find somebody to help you if you use French first.

5. Explore your inner fashionista.

Paris is an extremely fashionable city and it is full of fantastic shopping. The 1st and 2nd arrodissments are full of fun and interesting boutiques. Les Halles, Paris’ largest shopping center, also has a lot of very fashionable shops that aren’t going to break anybody’s pocketbook. And, of course, I cannot leave out the Champs-Élysées, a street so fashionable it is internationally known. My favourite part about this street is window shopping for the latest looks at the designer stores and going across the street to buy those looks for thousands of Euro cheaper. Serious shoppers should plan their Paris visits for January or July, as those are the months when the French government regulates sales for the entire country.



EY Travel Tips: Berlin

Sunny Spot Berlin

One week in Germany’s capital is hardly enough time to scratch the surface of all the city’s treasures. Berlin’s rich history offers a palate of old and new; 90 percent bombed during World War II, the cityscape is a jumble of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reconstructions, Weimar-era beauties, Soviet structures, and über-modern post-1989 skyscrapers. It is a diverse city with many cultural pockets and historical tidbits to explore – there is something for everyone in Berlin.

1. Where to stay and how to get around

Berlin is an extremely flat city – their marathon has the fastest course in the world – and my favorite way to explore a new place is on foot, so lace up your walking shoes and take to the streets! Alternately, you can rent bikes from many corner souvenir shops for about 10 Euros/day and tour the streets like the locals. In order to get the most out of your environmentally-friendly transport, stay in Mitte, the touristy center where many of Berlin’s main attractions lie. If you have the cash, renting an apartment is much cheaper – not to mention more comfortable – than staying in a hotel. There are also plenty of hostels for the budget traveler. If you opt to stay outside of the tourist districts or ever get tired of walking, Berlin has excellent above- and below-ground public transportation (the S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems).

2. What to Eat

If you like ethnic food, you will love Berlin. My family and I especially enjoyed Turkish food at Hasir – a few locations throughout the city – and Moroccan food at Kasbah – not far from the Hackaescher Markt, though far enough to avoid tourist crowds. For those of you who are itching to eat German cuisine – hearty, meat-and-potato-based – just stop at one of many Biergartens (outdoor cafes) lining the streets and enjoy a cheap, filling meal. Berlin also does breakfast well: countless cafes offer dense, moist fruit tarts to accompany your morning latte. For a delicious breakfast off the beaten path, try Markettas Greisslerei, unassumingly tucked in a Bohemian corner of Mitte not far from Hackaescher Markt. Generous meat-cheese-bread platters and tasty plum jam-filled rolls fueled us for a five hour jaunt with…

3. Fat Tire Bike Tours

This is a must do for newcomers to Berlin. Heck, I’d do it again on a second trip. The general city tour consists of about five hours of easy riding on cushy bikes with plenty of informational stops. The guides – all native English-speakers – come from all over the world and must have been trained to be hilarious. We had a great time with Francis from New Zealand, a German history expert. The general city tour covers Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Gendarmenmarkt, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (a must-see), the Reichstag, Unter den Linden, and more. The tours are reasonable priced – 22 Euros – and include a stop at a Biergarten in the Tiergarten – Berlin’s 440-acre public park, once the Prussians’ royal hunting ground – for lunch on your own dime. (Note: Fat Tire also has branches in Barcelona, Paris, and London. I will definitely look them up when my adventures take me to these places.)

4. Museums

Berlin has about 160 museums. How to choose? Get the best bang for your buck on Museumsinsel (“Museum Island”), a small island in between branches of the Spree River that holds five museums and the Berliner Dom, a gorgeous Protestant cathedral. You can pay about 12 Euros for admission to all five museums – Bode, Pergamon (a must-see), Altes, Neues, Alte Nationalgalerie – with the only catch being that this ticket is only valid for one day. Better start early! (Bonus: excellent audio guides are included in the admission prices at all of Berlin’s state museums.) If you clamor for more after Museumsinsel, two other museums are worth a visit. The Sammlung Berggruen, in Charlottenburg – across the street from the Prussian palace – has an intimate and impressive collection of Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti. For more modern art, visit the Neue Nationalgalerie near shiny Potsdamer Platz.

There is so much more in Berlin than my meager tips offer, but I hope you can use these as a jumping-off point for your personalized adventures in the city. Gute Reise!



EY Travel Tips: Scotland

Sunny Spot Scotland

Consider a trip to Scotland: hikes along steely-blue lochs, green glens full of wee-wooly sheep, everyone talking like Sean Connery.  For these features and so many others, the rugged land of the bagpipe and thistle grabbed a place among my three all-time favorite countries after one visit. Scotland boasts the United Kingdom’s highest mountain, the island’s most epic weather and its best-known monster, first reported by a visiting Irish saint in the Loch Ness area during the sixth century.

Cynics might put Scottish sea monsters on the same plane of possibility as sober, reliable Irish saints, but it’s still fun to search the lake. Plus you can always see the many fascinating, albeit less legendary animals, which settled in Scotland, from shaggy highland cattle and Shetland ponies to the reintroduced white-tailed Sea Eagles to the red deer and endangered wild cat.

A fantastically underrated place to eat, Scotland harbors a wealth of fish from the North Sea alongside local meats and dairy, while the confluence of Gaelic, British and Viking culture give the nation a set of vibrant and unique traditions—fashion-wise and otherwise. The many castles Scots built over hundreds of years, existing today as ruins and restorations around the country, offer windows into the rich history and traditions of the country and its numerous clans.

With the considering completed, here are four tips for a first-time visitor:

1.      Feast not Fear-try the local cuisine.

Scottish food has a fearsomely poor reputation, and I’ll be the first to tell you knowing what’s in haggis (sheep heart, lungs, liver, oats) made me question the sensibility of an entire nation. But, like rump steak (which is fine so long as you don’t visualize the source), haggis turns dubious ingredients into a richly appetizing dish. Pair it with tatties (that’s mashed potatoes) and mushy peas, and you’ve got a hearty spread. Or try some of the best fish (and chips) you can find, wash it down with a Scotch whisky, and contemplate the scent of peat and the mercurial Scotch skies from a pub. If you really can’t stomach local food or need a break, there’s plenty of other European and Asian options. But you know the saying: when in Scotland, try some sheep organs; your taste buds might surprise*.

2.     Kilt Etiquette                                          

Calling a Scotsman’s kilt a skirt is a “deadly” insult. I read that in a letter to the New York Times’ editors nine years ago, and as they saw it fit to print I saw it fit to avoid (at least out loud) in Scotland and everywhere else. None of the good-humored Scots I met seemed inclined toward violence for kilt besmirching or any other infraction, and aside from a few older gentlemen the garments weren’t widely worn; however, kilt etiquette is still a hot topic. Last year the Scottish Tartan Authority controversially recommended wearing underwear beneath kilts for the sake of hygiene. Kilt enthusiasts must now choose between “common decency” and the ironclad Highland tradition of going commando under their garments. Both camps make passionate arguments, but if you enter the fray by buying or renting a kilt, it’s wise to assess the strength of the wind before making a final decision.

3.     Layers People

In Scotland, “sunny” easily substitutes as a synonym for light rain. It couldn’t literally be called a sunny spot and it’s definitely not the place to treat a vitamin D deficiency, but it doesn’t resemble perpetually rainy Seattle so much as say Chicago, where (the joke goes) people who don’t like the weather need only wait a few minutes. Yes, the Scottish climate can be temperamental, and its best to prepare accordingly. Heck, even the local cows where coats, so your best solution is to layer up and then remove or add clothing to adjust to the prevailing conditions. For comfort, an absolute essential is a shell that keeps you dry but won’t overheat (the country stays pretty temperate if you’re not on the mountaintops), while gloves in the winter and fall make outdoor adventures much more agreeable. They may not look cool, but those cargo pants that transition to shorts prove very handy.

4.     Winding down for winter

Fancy a magical trek to the seaside on the Harry Potter Train (also known as the Jacobite) or some light washing with Lady MacBeth at Cawdor Castle? Make sure to check opening times and dates, because as Scotland’s weather gets seriously rough many of the country’s sites shut down operations. Typically closures last from late summer/fall to spring, and while there’s tremendous natural beauty later in the year, it appeals largely to rugged outdoor types, and even some of them prefer to steer clear until the situation brightens up. If your profile trends away from mountaineer, and for example, you’re just dying to see the interior of Eilean Donan Castle, just like in the romantic comedy Made of Honor, then a spring or summer trip will suit you better.


For tips on enjoying the Highlands on a  Low Budget, check out tales from Will’s Scotland travel journal…

St. Michaels Cathedral Kyiv

EY Travel Tips: Ukraine

In some ways living in Ukraine is not dissimilar from living in western Europe or even the United States: there are lots of cars, supermarkets, museums and other cultural attractions. But upon closer scrutiny Ukraine is still very much a developing country: public transport is slow, communities work and eat based on the seasonal calendar, most people hand-wash their clothes. That said, Ukraine has many interesting things to offer for the traveler. Below are a few recommendations based on my experiences over the past the ten months.

1. How to Travel: Buses and trains are numerous and are the cheapest ways to travel around the country. Be warned, travel is not fast. If you are torn between bus and train, buses tend to be slightly (30-60 minutes) quicker but slightly more expensive. Trains, though slower, are cheaper and more comfortable: in coupe (second class) and platzcart (third class) you are provided with bedding and can lie down and sleep (most long-distance trains are overnight).

2. Kyiv: Ukraine’s capital holds a few treasures worth seeing. Spend a day or two exploring the cathedrals – especially St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s – and strolling down cobblestoned Andriyivs’ka Street, pausing to check out souvenir vendors. Walk down Khreshchatik, Kyiv’s main drag, lined with expensive stores and restaurants. Plan your walk for the weekend, when Khreshchatik is closed to cars between the Lenin statue and Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). St. Michael’s Cathedral, Kyiv 2b. Eating in Kyiv is expensive. The cheapest non-supermarket food I have found in the city is a standard stop for traveling Peace Corps Volunteers who want a fast, cheap, filling meal on a budget. It’s a falafel restaurant on Starvoksal’na street, not far from the train station. Delicious falafel wraps start at 20 UAH (about $2.50). And they have hummus!

3. Because restaurants in Ukraine are expensive in most towns and cities, it is wise to shop at bazaars for the freshest and cheapest natural products. Bazaars are everywhere and have wide selections of just about any food item you could want. To save some money, stock up at the bazaar and have a picnic. Another cheaper option is finding a cafeteria (yidalnia) where you can sample traditional Ukrainian food at a lower price than a restaurant.

4. That said, it is fun to splurge once in a while at a restaurant. In L’viv I ate the best – and most expensive – restaurant meal I have had in Ukraine at a Jewish-themed restaurant, Pid Zolotoju Rozoju (“At the Golden Rose”). Apparently it is one of quite a few themed restaurants around the city. The premise at this one is that, after the meal, you haggle for the bill with your waiter; I think it attempts to (semi-insensitively) recreate some sort of “Jewish” custom. No prices are listed on the menu, so it is up to your negotiation skills to fix the price. My friends and I agreed on a maximum we could pay and our waiter opened negotiations at a ridiculously high price. We managed to get him to lower it by alternating bids with reasons like, “We’re poor volunteers here, teaching English! We love Ukraine!” It was unclear whether the waiter had previously set the bill total; it seemed so because eventually we got him down to a price that he would not go below. The haggling episode was jocular, and though the meal was expensive we were satisfied. (Side note: I am sure this system traps more than a few faint-hearted customers who give up negotiating at some point.) The service was excellent, and the food was delicious; I recommend the “Jewish spreads” sampler and the spiced wine.

5. While you are in L’viv, take time to wander around the central square’s cobblestoned streets and admire the architecture. There are two options for a great view of the city: pay 5 UAH to climb up the clock tower (ratusha) or – for free – take up to an hour to climb the hill and stairs of Vysokyy Zamok (“high castle”) to one of the highest points of the city. It is hard to choose which option I would recommend more; I got better pictures from the clock tower because it is right in the center, but Vysokyy Zamok gives you a better panorama of the entire city. If you have time, do both, but I would give Vysokyy Zamok a slight edge because it is free and higher up than the clock tower. Clock tower in the center of L’viv



6. From L’viv, since you are in the west, I recommend heading down to Chernivtsi, capital of the Chernivets’ka Oblast and once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (as was much of the rest of western Ukraine). Like L’viv, Chernivtsi has beautiful architecture and even an abandoned Gothic-style German cathedral. In Chernivtsi you must walk through Shevchenko Park and down Kobalans’ka Street, the city’s pedestrian street in the center. On Kobalans’ka, spend an hour or two in the regional historical museum to gaze at old maps, tools, art, and traditional Ukrainian costumes. The docents are helpful and knowledgeable. If you get hungry for lunch, stop at Café Efes, just off Soborna Ploshcha (Cathedral Square). There is traditional and non-traditional cuisine, the pizza has real parmesan cheese, and the prices are reasonable for travelers on a budget.

7. Climb Mount Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest mountain at 2,061 meters. It is in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine. It’s an easy day-hike and the views are gorgeous. My only advice: don’t do it in March! It is still quite cold, the lower trails through the woods were icy, and there was still slippery snow above the tree line. We were not even allowed to advance to the true summit because of the wind and ice at the top. I did the hike with some friends – and about 95 other Peace Corps Volunteers, along with 4-500 Ukrainians – as part of a big event organized by a Volunteer and her NGO. The Ukrainians arrived decked out in snow suits and heavy hiking boots, and some even had ski poles. Most of us Volunteers had not been quite as well-informed of the weather; my thin cotton leggings did not cut it at the top. This would be a fantastic hike in the summer, and I hope to do it next year in the warm months.