One-Day Stand: Exploring Lisbon, Portugal

Exploring Lisbon Portugal

I love to pour over the most recent travel magazines to see where the top destinations are for the current year. One place that has kept popping up over and over again is Lisbon, Portugal. My boyfriend and I decided to take advantage of a long layover and to explore the city on our way to new apartment in Spain. We didn’t arrive in Lisbon until six in the morning, and we both knew it would be a long day before we were able to relax.

Despite this, we downed some coffee and took the metro from the airport to the city center. All I had seen were pictures from the likes of National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure, so I was looking forward to experiencing the city in person. It took a while to find out where the action was, but once we made it into town, there was plenty to do in order to keep us busy for the next few hours.

Lisbon Portugal Fountain

We were quickly attracted to two aspects of the city: the views from above and the number of museums that were available. We quickly ducked into the Carmo Convent, where we found plenty of Medieval and even prehistoric artifacts. I could feel my initial coffee wearing off, so I was starting to giggle at some of the mixture of modern and antique art. We even came across a Peruvian mummy—an interesting way to start the morning.

Lisbon Buildings Elevator

Afterward, we took a few steps over to the elevator in the middle of the city. We paid three euro to climb to the top, where we were afforded the views that I had admired in my travel magazines. Lisbon from above was uniquely beautiful. I had never seen a color palate quite like it in any city I had visited, and it was even prettier as the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds. We spent ten minutes up there, taking pictures and finding out where we wanted to go next.

Alex Schnee Portugal

We wove our way down to Rossio Square and smelled the ocean breezes. It was a quiet, early afternoon, and our stomachs started to rumble as we walked by seafood dishes and glasses of Porto wine. It took a moment or two before we found a place we liked, but it didn’t take us long to order cuttlefish and fried squid. Lisbon’s seafood? 10/10.

Lisbon View Portugal

Rossio Square Lisbon

Our final attraction was Sao Jorge Castle. I’ve been to a number of castles, and to be honest, this one was a bit of a disappointment. We paid eight euro to get in (which was five more than what we did for the much larger and more impressive one in Malaga a few days later). However, it was worth it to relax in the sun—the perfect antidote to a tough winter.

Daniel Lisbon Portugal

After a long day, we decided to head back to the airport to catch our flight to Spain—both of us with mixed emotions about the city. I was expecting to fall in love, but by the end of our time there, it left me feeling empty. I would have loved to visit the city with someone who knew it and loved it well. It would have made quite the difference. And probably some sleep, as well.

Lisbon Portugal Castle

Have you ever been to a spot where you were disappointed?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

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Tunes on the Road: Traveling and Music in Other Cultures

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I’ve always loved music, and as someone who was exposed to many different styles and instruments in her youth, music has been such an important part of my travels and truly appreciating other cultures. In Vienna, touring Mozart’s home and seeing where he composed some of his greatest works was necessary to understand how influential music has been on the city’s history.

In much the same way, visiting Morocco was a treat for me because I was able to learn about how each music style there was so engrained in the history of the people. The nomads used drums not only to create music, but to communicate with others over long distances, to dance and attract a partner, and to encourage morale as they crossed the desert. Learning about the music of a location is a peek into so many parts of a whole. In Tokyo, the drumming was almost more of a performance—a way to celebrate the past of their martial arts in the present day, and a way to warn camps during an attack.

So what does this mean for travelers? How should we learn to experience the music of each place we go to?

Do a bit of research before you go

While you can often learn a lot about the musical types in the country you’re visiting when you go, it never hurts to read up about your destination before you make the journey. Since I was able to give a little time and effort to research opera in Italy, I had a much larger appreciation for it living in Lucca—the home of Puccini and one of the hubs of modern Italian opera.

See a performance

Yes, it’s an extra 5, 10, or 20 dollars you weren’t planning on spending. Is it money you will regret taking out of your pocket? Most likely not. Even if the performance is only semi-professional, it’s often a good introduction into the local culture and the music that is played. Some schools even allow you to visit a lesson for free to help students practice performing in front of an audience.

Video your experience (if it’s okay)

I had always been fascinated by the dancing and music in Southeast Asia, so it was a treat for me when I was able to see a performance in Siem Reap. Fortunately, they allowed video and photography so I was able to capture it on my phone. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve revisited it and how many times I’ve been thrilled all over again to hear the music.

There are so many ways to experience a culture: the food, the language, the art and architecture. However, one of the most overlooked is the music and how it is so intertwined with the place and the history.

What types of music have blown you away while traveling?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Travel Under Trump: What to Expect

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Courtesy of Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons

There has been a vast amount of changes over the past few days from the White House that have no doubt concerned many. As a traveler and someone who believes that travel can change perspectives and motives, I am severely worried about President Trump’s Muslim ban (and thrilled that we might have a repeal) and the effect that this will have on creating a more understanding world. I’ve been reading about the worries many travelers are facing and what we should expect over the next few months.

Here are some complications you might run into when traveling under the new presidency.

Expect longer lines—and more prejudice.

If you’ve been to any of the “banned” countries, you might find yourself detained—even if you are a United States citizen. Trump’s ban doesn’t include those born in the States, but you might be targeted over the next few months while immigration reform finds its footing. It’s also likely that the lines at customs will be longer as you wait for others to go through. Regardless, don’t expect a quick pass through the airport if you are traveling internationally.

Fewer foreign students.

If you are thinking about studying abroad, you might want to think twice (which is a horrible thing I regret to say). Thousands of students have been stranded because of the recent ban and the uncertainty that comes with the new presidency. It breaks my heart to suggest that students think twice about leaving their home for an experience learning abroad, but because things are so up in the air at the moment, make sure to do your research before you choose to study abroad at a United States school or in a country that might cause you to be separated from family.

Retaliation bans.

It was bound to happen—but several countries have taken steps toward a retaliation ban for United States travel, including Iraq and Iran. This makes it much more difficult for business travelers to visit these countries (and a lot of business is conducted there). Before you think about booking a ticket, keep in mind that you might be detained if traveling back and forth from a Muslim country. I encourage you to go regardless, but know that you might be playing with fire until the ban is completely repealed and other countries repeal their bans.

Eventually, the dollar will slip.

Right now, the United States economy is surging (despite the worries the new president has wrought) and it’s been a good time for Americans to travel. Don’t expect this forever, though. It’s inexpensive now, but it’s unlikely that it will continue to be so. While this shouldn’t discourage you if you are planning your vacation, it is something to keep in mind.

Over the next few months, we’ll have to keep an eye on the news and to make sure that most travelers get home safe. Please keep safe, fellow wanderers. We’re all in this together.

Always keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

5 Ways You Might Get Ripped Off When Traveling

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Traveling is an amazing opportunity, but there are plenty of negative experiences that could ruin a part of your trip. Getting ripped off, for example, is likely to put you in a bad mood.

To maximize the good times, here are some top tips to help you avoid getting ripped off when you’re in other countries.

1. Research the top risks at your destinations

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/asnugraha/5038291143/

Barcelona is known for pickpockets, car theft is common in Belgium, and criminals sometimes pose as plainclothes policeman in Spain. Knowing some of the common threats where you’re travelling to can help you be vigilant. Remember to separate your money, use ATMs carefully, use the safes at hotels, and check out these countries with the highest rate of theft.

2. Check the hire car

If you’re hiring a car for your trip, it’s important to inspect the vehicle carefully before you drive off. As the Secret Traveller says, taking photos and making a note of all the existing damages could save you a lot of hassle at the end. If they try to claim you made a dent or scratch, you can easily prove it was already there.

3. Review bills

Unfortunately, some people take advantage of tourists. It’s not uncommon for restaurants, bars and hotels to try their luck by adding some additional fees onto your bill. Be sure to check it over and don’t be afraid to query anything that seems odd. Just remember to be polite. After all, it might be an honest mistake they can quickly fix.

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/ 

4.Watch your Wi-Fi usage

A lot of hotels advertise free Wi-Fi–and attract a lot more customers by doing so. But watch out. That internet usage is usually capped, meaning you could get charged by browsing social media for too long. Check the limits and ask how much additional time costs before you log on.

5. Be wary of your guide

Not all guides and tour escorts will be “out-and-out villains,” says The Telegraph. But it’s important to know they might not have your best interests at heart, the newspaper adds. They often get commission by taking you to particular tourist spots and shops. Their recommendations might just be the places paying them the most. Feel free to ignore their suggestions and head elsewhere.

How do you avoid getting ripped off?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

3 Ways Traveling with Someone is Better than Solo Travel

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I used to be the ultimate solo traveler. I had taken backpack trips, traveled to Asia, and lived abroad entirely by myself without the need of another companion. ‘It’s better this way,’ I always thought. ‘Why would I want to have to worry about someone other than myself?’ I was a strict believer that every experience traveling should be experienced alone or with someone who you weren’t super close with (the one exception being my good friend Ruth—my original roommate studying abroad in Venice). It could only set you up for arguments and resentment toward your fellow traveler.

I didn’t really start to travel consistently with someone else until my boyfriend and I got together. While we have our moments traveling when things don’t go smoothly, my perspective has been changed on solo travel and what I think about it. Here are three realizations I’ve come to while traveling with my best friend.

1. Some experiences are better alone…some are better with someone else

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Recently, I went ziplining solo in Guatemala. Even though my boyfriend had come there with me and we had spent the past week together, he was not interested in plummeting from the top of the rainforest canopy. I signed up to go and thoroughly enjoyed the activity without him—he wouldn’t have been happy doing it and I wouldn’t have been happy hearing him complain. This experience was better alone, but many experiences I’ve more than enjoyed having someone along with me.

When we visited Egypt, we both were able to share our interest for the ancient culture, and visiting the temples together meant so much more than going by myself and not being able to talk about how incredible the large columns were or the preservation of the hieroglyphics. I was thrilled to have him there with me because it is a time we can talk about again and again and relive.

2. Some locales are just not safe for solo travelers

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Years ago, I would have fought this point tooth and nail. While I still believe that most of the world is a playground and solo travelers should feel free to explore, there are just some spots where it is better to have someone you know and trust along for the ride. Although Sicily might not seem the most dangerous place, I was soon warned not to leave the hostel I was staying at by myself—the hostel owner had even been assaulted and almost raped and she was a local who was born and raised in Palermo.

I was able to make a good friendship with a young lady from Wales and we traveled together—but I wouldn’t have felt entirely comfortable walking around the city at night by myself.

3. Living abroad long term

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Living abroad can be an entirely different experience than traveling solo for a few months (or even a few years). Living in Lucca, Italy, I had to work hard to meet people and to feel as though I had a connection with them. Even then, our friendships were always superficial to some extent because we had grown up in different cultures. As a result, much of my time there was very lonely. While I had some incredible moments living there by myself, and those moments will always be precious to me, I’m looking forward to living in Spain with my boyfriend for the next few months. Again, it’s an opportunity to make memories together. I am sure I will feel much less alone and will be more tempted to unlock the secrets of my new city of Granada with someone at my side.

Even though my perspective has altered a little bit, I still believe that solo travel is important. However, I also believe you can benefit from traveling with other. Regardless,

“The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

I Now Know What It’s Like to Have a Third-World Leader: Cultural Views Post-Trump

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“This doesn’t happen here,” my co-worker said. “Maybe in Venezuela, but not here.”

She had been living in the United States for two years to receive her degree, and now we were both working a job in New York City. For me it was temporary, for her, this opportunity meant much more. It was Wednesday, November 9th. Donald Trump had just won the Presidential race, and we were sitting in our office chairs, dumbfounded.

“I’m used to politicians like this,” she continued. “I never thought that it could happen in the United States.”

I was shocked, as well. As a travel writer, I’ve been to my fair share of banana republic countries where their leaders were less than competent and more than corrupt. I had witnessed areas overrun by greed from presidents and dictators, but I never expected that I would have to deal with those same issues in my own country—one that had been lauded and idealized by the rest of the world for its political system.

American exceptionalism is something I’ve often experienced while on the road. I remember even studying abroad at nineteen and talking to my new friend Violet about American television shows and movies and how our way of life was so engrained even in her home in the Netherlands. She knew almost every United States president. I did not know a single one of hers. Living in Italy, I would often ask locals what their views were on the country’s politics. I was often met with a wave of their hands. Who cared when everything was terrible and nothing changed?

For the first time, we as United States citizens are experiencing a figure as our leader who is far from “presidential.” I am reminded of the areas I traveled to where politics was not a discussion because it didn’t really matter who was in power. It is not always easy to see change from the inside out, but from a globalized, outsider’s perspective, it is often much clearer.

I was proud to see the numbers that showed up for the women’s marches across the world two days ago. This is the first step—to show the world that this is unacceptable to have the most influential world power run by someone less-than-qualified for the position. This has never happened in our history before as a young nation, but it doesn’t have to be the norm like it has become in other areas of the world. We as humans can often take too long to learn from our mistakes—let’s not make this one of those times.

Keep wandering (and fighting),

Alex Signature Wander

Ancient Wonders: Exploring the Athenian Acropolis

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I’ve always been a major history lover, and one thing I greatly appreciate about travel is the opportunity to connect with other from the past. Although I had been to Greece before, I hadn’t visit the capital of Athens and seen the wonders that had been described to me in textbooks. My boyfriend and I decided to check it out this summer, and we walked around the city, astonished at the chance to experience history the way it was meant to be viewed.

It was also incredibly hot. We had been willing to go in the summer because we were entitled to some excellent deals not only on airfare, but also on hostels. Most aren’t willing to head to the heat of Athens in the summer, when the stone burns and you find yourself gulping water like you will never see it again. (Fortunately, the price of water is regulated—it costs the same everywhere you go, even in the busiest tourist spots.)

daniel athens greece

It took only a few minutes before I was sweating, but we were ambitious. We bought a ticket to see all of the surrounding sights on the acropolis. Working our way up to the Parthenon, we stopped by libraries, walked through the forum where meetings were conducted in both Ancient Greek and Roman times, and began the hike up the huge hill where we would get a glimpse of one of the most iconic structures from the past.

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Sweating some more and downing our water bottles as quickly as possible, we trudged up the steps to get to the top of the hill. At some point, the modern, cement steps gave way to more ancient ones made of marble. There were dips and you could see where people from thousands of years had stopped to admire this unworldly temple just as we did. It was also clear why the Athenians had picked this location to build their tribute to the goddess Athena—you could see the entirety of the city from up above.

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After making a few friends with a mutual hatred of the heat and taking our time peeking through the giant columns, we journeyed down to the museum at the bottom of the hill. Art history was one of my minors in college, and to see these works up close and personal was an experience I’m not sure to forget any time soon. There is something about seeing history in person that you can’t experience just through a history textbook.

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I’m looking forward to visiting again this summer with a new perspective and a new take on the Greek culture after visiting a first time.

What are some of your favorite historic cities?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Why It’s More Important to Travel as a Woman than Ever Before

Travel Women Important

When I was first starting to travel, I remember the warnings upon warnings I had received from others (mostly of a certain generation). This most often related to the fact that I was traveling on my own and, unfortunately, my gender. Since the first days of exploration at age 21 until now, I’ve been all over the world—sometimes on my own, sometimes with others.

I try to write a post a year on this blog to encourage women to travel. As a proud feminist, I’ve learned that one of the most empowering action we can take as women is to venture out into the world, to see how others live, and to see how we can change the world. Statistically, the average traveler is a 47-year-old single woman—and they are the most likely to participate in adventure travel or trips that encourage cultural understanding.

And guess what? Women are 73% more likely to travel alone than men.

Which isn’t to say we don’t face specific challenges on the road that our male counterparts do not. Sexual harassment, violence, and feeling unsafe is more likely too. But the best way to combat that isn’t to stay inside our homes and hide—the best way to change the world is to know what we’re facing and to prove to the world that we can do what naysayers say we can’t.

I’ve struggled as a female traveler, having been stalked by a man on a moped in Italy, walking on my own in the dark in Austria and hoping I was getting on the right train, to being publicly jeered at in Egypt. I’ve had to be careful, but I’ve also learned that the world is a much kinder place than I ever could have imagined. I had struggled with body issues and self-esteem problems years before I began my travels. Since then, the confidence I have I earned has come because I was willing to take a small risk for a great reward.

I did not choose to be born as this gender, just as many would not choose to be born within the certain confines of race, culture, or sexuality. But as my dear friend Ruth said the other day, I will have no “rocking chair” regrets. Living well is one of the hardest aspects of life that each of us has to discover, and I strongly encourage those of all genders, races, sexuality, and culture to travel if you have the privilege to.

Make the world a better place by seeing the world so you can know how you can help and your place in it.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Moving Abroad Isn’t for Everyone: Why It Might Not Be Right for You

Moving Abroad Expat

My boyfriend and I will be moving abroad to Granada, Spain over the next few weeks, and I was reminded of the first time I decided to pack my bags and live life as an expat for the first time. Since then, I’ve lived in Europe on several occasions and each has presented its own challenges and memories.

As I think about moving this time, I remember the times where I missed my home, my family, and my friends. If you are thinking about moving abroad, here are some things you might want to keep in mind before you make the decision to live in a foreign country.

You will be an outsider

No matter where you move, whether it is an English-speaking country or not, you are always going to feel like you cannot completely relate with the culture and the mindset the locals have. You can even learn to speak the language, dress like your neighbors, and try to make friends in your new home, but you will always be missing the feeling of belonging.

Your life at home will never be the same

When you’ve finally made the decision to return to your home country after living abroad for a few months or years, you’re going to find that nothing is quite what you remembered it. When I came back to my home town after living in Florence for six months, my friends had entered into new relationships, moved to another place, and had developed lives that I hadn’t been aware of while I was away.

Life goes on, and even though I didn’t expect things to be entirely the same when I returned, I didn’t expect that I would feel so left out and isolated when I was back home.

You will change too

Living in Italy taught me how to grocery shop differently. With only three types of cereal and a limited variety of imported foods, I learned to be happy with what I had. Even now, I am uncomfortable in American grocery stores, where I see rows and rows of food—most that will never be eaten. My idea of what I needed in order to be happy changed. I didn’t need more clothes or a large apartment in order to feel content. I appreciated what I had more by having less.

But this had also made it more difficult to live in a capitalist society that is always wanting more. I have lost a sense of patriotism that I felt before I moved abroad, and feeling disconnected from the rest of the world is impossible now.

Moving abroad isn’t for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with visiting a place for a short period of time instead of living there. Before you make the choice to leave behind the life you have, make sure you’re willing to accept the implications that come with moving to a foreign country.

Expats, how have you changed after living abroad?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

5 Famous Doors to See on Your Travels in 2017

5 Doors 2017

While it might seem obvious that you would want to visit famous architectural sites on your travels, the doors leading to them might be slightly lower on your list. However, these doors leading to some of the most gorgeous and famous locations are often worth taking another look at—and can often create a history all on their own.

Here are five doors you should take a look at on your travels in 2017.

1. The Columbus Doors, United States of America

Columbus Doors US
Photo Courtesy of Wikicommons

Located at the entrance to the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol Building, the Columbus Doors were created in Germany in the year 1855. Because of the Civil War, they were not transported to Washington DC until 1863. Depicting the life of Christopher Columbus from 1487 until 1506. The panels include his entire sailing career from the beginnings of convincing King Ferdinand to fund his first voyage to the Americas, until his final voyage there. At the top, there is a panel of Columbus landing in the New World.

2. The Ishtar Gate, Iraq

Ishtar Gate Iraq
Photo Courtesy of Jaysmark via Flickr Creative Commons

Dating back to 575 BC, the Ishtar Gate was ordered to be built by King Nebuchadnezzar II as a tribute to the goddess of fertility and war. As one of the eight major gates to the ancient city of Babylon, it was once considered one of the original wonders of the world. However, if you are planning on seeing it, you will have to head to Berlin, where it has been reconstructed with the original materials in the Pergamon Museum.

3. Imperial Door at the Hagia Sophia, Turkey

Hagia Sophia Turkey
Photo Courtesy of Frank Mago via Flickr Creative Commons

There are plenty of reasons to visit Istanbul, but the Hagia Sophia and its beautiful entrance is reason enough. Made of oak, the doors are covered in gold plate and were originally only allowed to be used by the current emperor. While earthquakes, wars, and other disasters have caused peril inside the Hagia Sophia, these doors have remained as a testament to one of the great empires of all time, and have stood strong since 537 AD.

4. The Baptistery Doors, Italy

Florence Baptistry Doors
Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Hunsinger via Flickr Creative Commons

St. John’s Baptistery doors in Florence have a competitive history. In 1401, a contest was announced for artists who wished to design the bronze imagery that would appear. Shockingly, the 21-year-old Lorenzo Ghiberti ended up as the winner of the contest, causing an uproar within the Renaissance community. Ghiberti took his project seriously, however, and it took him over 21 years to create the stunning north doors that face the cathedral.

5. Westminster Abbey, England

Westminster Abbey England
Photo Courtesy of Dun.can via Flickr Creative Commons

Westminster Abbey has only recently discovered the significance of its large wooden doors. After a piece of hide was found on them in the 19th century, many assumed that a criminal might have been flayed on the door as a warning. The doors held an even more important secret—they are the last surviving Anglo Saxon doors remaining and date back to 1050 BC. Since then, they have been the backdrop for 16 royal weddings and countless coronation, burials, and holiday-themed events.

Have you ever seen any of these doors on your travels?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander