By Carly

A Great Fire in Portugal

While I was researching our first trip to Portugal, I came across a small town in the center of the country called Luso. We needed a stop-over as we traveled from Porto in the north, on our way to Lisbon and then the Algarve in the south. The name had a ring to it (it sounded beautiful to me, like luz, “light”), and when I found that we could stay at the 5-star Palácio Hotel do Buçaco for 125€ a night, I made the booking. We generally do not stay at fancy hotels. I prefer to spend my travel budget more on experiences than accommodations, and in practice, it’s easier to strike up a…

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By Carly

Getting Trapped in an Elevator in Athens

This post is part of a series called Greece After it happened, we had a new point of reference for all terrible things. It would become our shared refrain: “Well, at least it’s not as bad as being stuck in an elevator.” That elevator was located in a quiet, three-story apartment in the Athenian neighborhood of Kerameikos. The building itself was old, but not run down, a heavy concrete block, typical of most apartment buildings in Athens. It’s the thickness of the concrete block apartments that actually makes the Athenian population density bearable: the walls block out the city noise, making it feel like you’re all alone. You don’t even…

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By Carly

Driving Laos’ Bolaven Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau crops suddenly of the gentle southern plains of Laos. The highlands are unexpected jolt from the surrounding plains and riverside landscapes. It’s a different world up there. For most visitors to southern Laos, the main draws are the 4000 Islands on the Mekong and the Bolaven Plateau. Both offer stunning waterfalls, a chance to experience quiet Laotian village life, and outdoorsy ecotourism activities, but they actually couldn’t be more different. The 4000 Islands are a way laid-back Laotian bayou, where the Mekong delta-meets-mangrove. The Bolaven Plateau is a vertical island plateau of jungle and waterfalls and traditional villages. I’d never seen anything quite like the Bolaven Plateau in part because…

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By Carly

Coffee in Laos

I really, really love coffee. And these days, there’s a lot to love about it. It seems like everyone in this overworked world says they need to drink less coffee, but the science on that is in, and moderate coffee drinking (up to 4-6 cups a day!) is actually good for you. It’s packed with antioxidants and other phytochemicals that appear to prevent everything from diabetes to liver disease and the blues. Plus, growing global support of fair-trade practices and organic cultivation make for guilt-free consumption. Coffee has also just gotten downright tastier in recent years. If the first wave of coffee was Folger’s and the second was Starbuck’s, this third wave is…

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By Carly

Laos, Land of a Million Bombs

What do travellers talk about when they talk about Laos? The most commonly used adjective must be “untouched.” It always seems to be described as one of the last pristine, unspoilt places in Asia, maybe even the world. For those who feel that Cambodia was better 15 years ago, and Thailand was at its peak three or four decades ago, there’s still Laos. When people talk about someplace being untouched, there is both a sense of urgency and seduction to it – the time to go is now, because a place this special like this surely won’t stay untouched for long. Yes, life in Laos does (still) move at a different pace. The…

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By Carly

On Athens and the Greek Economic Crisis

This post is part of a series called Greece The first time I went to Greece was in May 2008. I had just graduated from college, and had the bad luck of booking a European vacation that summer when the dollar was at an all-time low against the Euro. Prices were effectively doubled for Americans, and the Euro seemed to be thriving. Greece seemed to be thriving. The islands were full of new hotels, and Athens was humming with new construction, repurposed Olympic buildings, restaurants, and office parks. Just months later, the floor fell out from underneath it all when the world economic crisis hit, and Greece became the epicenter…

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By Carly

Segovia, a Day Trip from Madrid and a World Away

A Day Trip from Madrid to Segovia Segovia is just over 50 miles away from central Madrid and a world apart. The UNESCO world heritage city, with its historic downtown, gothic cathedral, and soaring fortress of El Alcázar (which is said to have inspired Disney’s Cinderella castle), makes for an easy and worthy day trip from from Madrid.   How to get to Segovia from Madrid By car, Segovia is about an hour and a half from central Madrid. The road to Segovia races through barren stretches of arid plains before ascending the mountains that form the backdrop to the medieval city. For a single-day trip to Segovia from Madrid, however, traveling by train is convenient – and fast. The AV tren…

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By Carly

The Best Free Things to Do in Madrid

Free (and nearly-free) things to do in Madrid Like most European capitals, Madrid is an expensive city, but it also has a surprisingly extensive range of free and nearly free activities. Whether you are on a shoestring budget or not, free is free, and the Spanish capital offers plenty of other ways to spend those Euros saved. Here’s how I made the most of my travel budget in Madrid. Free Entrance to Top Madrid Museums Madrid is home to several world-class art museums, and each offers free entrance to visitors at various times during the week. I planned my trip around the museums’ free opening times, and in general, it’s always a good…

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By Carly

Athens City Guide

This post is part of a series called Greece A Few Days in Athens Athens is hot. I’ve been here four times, always in the summer, and this is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s that kind of heat that feels like a weight on your back. The crowded, congested, sprawling, noisy city is home to nearly half the entire population of Greece, and outside of the remarkable ancient ruins of the downtown, there isn’t a lot of architectural beauty in the ubiquitous concrete apartment towers radiating out from the center, to the city limits and up to the horizon. But first impressions can be deceiving, and Athens has…

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By Carly

You Can Only Go to India for the First Time Once

India is another world. The first impressions are overwhelming. The chaos greets you the minute you exit the airport in a disorienting force of scents and smells, noise and colors, faces of passersby, movement. As you make your way into the scene, you join the cast of a world unlike anything you have ever been part of before. My first images of India: the smog simmering the city of New Delhi in a noxious stew; later in Mumbai, our final destination, slums, jammed into every available inch of space, bordering right up onto the airport jetway. Cars clogging the roads, driving just inches from each other, absurdly close, all following the path of least…

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