Pack your bags and get to Lisbon, Portugal as soon as possible

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First the bad news, Portugal, in this case its capital Lisbon, is not a secret anymore, “Lonely Planet Guides”, named Lisbon as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit. Surprisingly enough, even though it still is one of the least visited capital cities in Europe, I recently spent 6 weeks and I was surprised to see how many tourists were there, I mean, everywhere, in ALL the tourist spots, like Praça do Comércio, Rossio Square, Pink Street, etc.

Unfortunately, it seemed like most tourists were carrying the awful tacky selfie stick, really people? What happened to old good photography or asking a stranger to take your picture? In Lisbon, there are picture perfect opportunities at every turn, whether it’s a historic building, a fresco, a cobblestone pattern on the street, one of the many tile designs or monuments or enjoying from one of the many miradors the wonderful sunsets the city has to offer. So, tourists, please don’t ruin Lisbon with your selfie sticks and love locks.

If you want to stay close to all the action Lisbon has to offer, you probably want to stay in or close to the historic Centre of Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto (which is one of the main nightlife districts and where you must experience Fado at least once) or close to the Avenida da Liberdade. These areas are in the heart of Lisbon and all the main tourist attractions are within walking distance or a short bus or metro ride.

When visiting Lisbon, make sure you bring comfortable shoes, as Lisbon is also known as the city of the 7 hills, you will find your self’s walking uphill a lot, so pack up your comfortable shoes, patience and a camera to take many, many pictures along the way.
If you visit Lisbon during the summer, make sure you make some time to visit the stunning coast line with beautiful beaches, all are a short bus or train ride away.

Take the train from Cais de Sodre station and enjoy the beach in no time. One of the most enchanting coastal towns is Cascais, a Portuguese fishing town and one of Lisbon’s most popular holiday destinations, combining decorative 19th-century architecture with traditional Portuguese charm and fantastic tourist facilities, creating a wonderful destination for tourists and locals alike.

For a day trip in any season, make sure you venture out to Sintra, catch a train from Rossio Square and be there in 45 minutes, you can also get there by car or bus. From the train station, you can walk to down town Sintra and then decide which way you want to go and with castle or site you want to visit first. If you do not want to work, you can get on a hop on hope off bus that loops around the most important sites in town.

I recommend you visit Quinta da Regaleira and make sure you get to the well, and Pena Palace, these are iconic to Sintra and do merit a visit, but there are other places to see, so make sure to plan accordingly.

Lisbon also has a magnificent and buzz worthy food scene. I grew up in New Jersey and Newark was and still is, at least for me, Little Portugal and the place Jersey folks go to eat outstanding Portuguese seafood. I had big expectations for the food in Lisbon and it did not disappoint.

When it comes to food, there are several places you should consider when visiting Lisbon One of them is Time out Market; a fancy food court of sorts where under one roof you will find fine dining made casual and street food that have a Michelin star. At Time Out Market, you can not only have some of the best food in town, you can also enjoy desert, a cocktail or one of the many cooking classes offered in the open kitchen, after, walk to the other side of the market to find fresh produce, seafood and flowers.

For fresh seafood, you must visit Cervejaria Ramiro in the Intendente neighborhood, go hungry and ready to be on line, as it’s a very popular spot, and very worth the wait, as you will have fresh seafood prepared in a very simple way that showcases the seafood flavor, if you feel adventurous, try the barnacles, and or some fresh sardines, you won’t be disappointed.

Speaking of sardines, they are a staple of Portuguese food, and you should try some fresh ones while you visit, if you think of can sardines when I say sardines, think again, once you try a fresh one, you will never look at sardines the same way. There are of course can sardines readily available in Lisbon, in fact, there stores solely dedicated to selling can sardines, almost like a candy store, so go ahead and try some different varieties.

A short bus ride away is the Belem district, where you must visit the Belem Tower, the Monasterio Dos Jeronimos, Monument to the Discoveries, and try some Pasteis de nata at Pasteis de Belém, but be ready to wait, there is ALWAYS a line.

If you prefer someone to take you around, I recommend my friends at Portugal 360 tours, they will take you where you want to go on one or there many customized tours or customize your own. My friend Valeria who is also a fashion designer from Venezuela and currently lives in Miami, needed to go to Alcobaca, near Lisbon, to buy some handmade handbags for her business. We had the amazing opportunity to witness how “Junco” or rush hand bags are made. After that,  Jasper from Portugal 360 tours, took us to Fatima, which is a pilgrimage place for Catholics, as a catholic myself, being there was an experience I will never forget and having Jasper take us that day was not only easy, he was courteous and knowledgeable about the area, which made our day much more enjoyable.

As you can see, Lisbon is full of things to do, places to visit and magnificent food awaits. I Hope I have peaked your curiosity about Lisbon, it is a fascinating city full of history and I hope you consider it for a visit, just be ready for the crowds, however, once you brave them, you will be glad you made it.

References:
https://www.timeout.com/market
https://www.regaleira.pt/
https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/parques-jardins-e-monumentos/parque-e-palacio-nacional-da-pena/
https://www.cervejariaramiro.pt/
https://www.cestasdaldeia.pt
https://www.portugal360tours.com

 

 

 

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Budapest, the Paris of the East

Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and for an old city, it has a unique, youthful atmosphere, a world-class classical music scene, fantastic night life, amazing architecture and a plethora of natural thermal baths, just to name a few.

Budapest is one of Europe’s most delightful and enjoyable cities. Due to its scenic setting and its architecture it is nicknamed “Paris of the East”. In 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue. https://wikitravel.org/en/Budapest

I recently visited Budapest for the first time while I was spending a few weeks in Zagreb, Croatia, and planned to be there for 3 days since it’s an easy 5-hour getaway by bus but just as easy to get there by train, plane or river cruise.

I started my journey from Zagreb’s bus station and had purchased a round trip ticket on  flixbus, the 5 hour trip brought us to Budapest’s , Nepliget bus station, from there, it was easy to get on the metro and get to where I needed to be.

I learned thru my research, that Budapest has 3 sides, Buda (the hilly side), O’buda and Pest (the flat side). The city is  divided by the Danube River and communicated by several bridges, consider this when planning  your stay and things to do in the City.

I decided to book hotels in both the Buda side and the Pest side, not because they were far away or difficult to get too from each other, but because I wanted to experience the “vibe” of both sides.

I chose the Hilton Budapest because it is in a prime location, in the Buda side, on top of a hill, next to St Mathias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion, this location does not get any better, walking distance from the Buda Castle, Royal Palace and other landmarks, you cannot go wrong with this hotel. The building it self is historic and the rooms flawlessly combine old charm with the new.

Unfortunately for me, I only booked this hotel for one night, and I regret this decision, I should have stayed there my entire stay in Budapest and when I go back, I will ONLY stay there, not only for the location, but for the flawless and personalized service I received by all the Hilton Staff.

I cannot emphasize enough, how spectacular the Buda side of Budapest is, it has not only a lot of history, it has some of the most exquisite architecture, cobble stone streets and ambience that I have ever experienced in any city or country I have ever visited. Of course, your experience will be different than mine, but I sure hope you get to visit this fine city and discover why Budapest is indeed a magical, singular and spectacular city that can easily be discovered on foot, subway, tram or bus.

The Pest and O’buda side of Budapest are also enchanting and oh so different from each other, each side offers different vibes, different scenes, different architecture, so worth a visit, get there when you can, you will be happy you did. Visit the parliament, cross by foot one of the many bridges that connect the city, like the chain bridge, which offers many picture perfect opportunities,  visit the many sites, including Heroes square, Dohány Street Synagogue, one of the many thermal baths, have some old-world comfort food, visit the Central Market, one of the ruin bars, or the Saint Stephen Basilica.

I came to Budapest with no expectations, but knowing that like many European cities, it would be full of history and architecturally rich, however, I found it to be much more, it was a feast for the senses and picture perfect surprises at every turn. I left Budapest with a sense of excitement, wonder and a feeling of déjà vu, so much so,  that I am certain I will visit again, no doubt.

Get inspired and start your own journey…

References/resources:

https://www.hilton.com

https://www.budapest.com

http://www.akz.hr

https://www.flixbus.com

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5 reasons to travel (cruise) solo:

 

I started traveling solo many years ago mainly because I wanted to visit new places but could not get friends or family to come with me mostly because of scheduling conflicts or budget, so instead, I started traveling by myself.

Traveling with family, friends or groups can be a lot of fun plus the fact that it also usually means cost savings and depending of the destination, sometimes traveling in group is the right thing to do for safety reasons. None the less, there can be times when traveling solo can be a fun and very rewarding thing to do.

One of those times that I decided to travel solo, I choose a Windstar transatlantic cruise from Lisbon to Barbados and it turned out to be one of the best vacations I have ever had.

After recently having spent three months in Europe with a group of digital nomads (remote working group), It was time to come back to America. It turns out that during this time of the year, end of October, beginning of November, cruise lines reposition their ships from Europe to the Caribbean, so I finally had the chance to take that transatlantic cruise I had been wanting to take but never had the chance to.

Here are 5 reasons why taking a solo cruise and or travel solo, can be the best thing you ever do for your self:

1. Safety, it’s safe to cruise solo: you may be traveling alone, but you are in the company of fellow travelers and crew, this means there is someone always around if you need help and or company. I believe that a solo cruise is a perfect vacation for those weary travelers that are unsure if they could

2. Time for yourself: when you are traveling solo, its finally “You” time, you and only you set your schedule, so go crazy sleeping in, eating all the delicious food on board all Windstar Ships, then decide if you want to work it off or not, no one is judging. Take a wellness seminar or cooking class, get on a complementary paddle board while visiting a new port, go on a shore excursion or simply lay by the pool and reed that book you have been procrastinating to read, just because it all about “you”.

3. Rediscover yourself: if you are like most people, you probably work 40 + hours a week, have a family or pets to take care of and may or may not use all your vacation time every year. Traveling solo offers a unique opportunity, it’s all about “you” so take this time to remember what it is you like to do, what brings you joy, what invigorates you? And use this time to rediscover you.

4. You already have friends, but make new ones: whether you have a few friends or a lot, there is always time to meet new ones. On a Windstar Cruise you will have the luxury of traveling with no more than 212 guests and you will quickly find out that you can be alone when you want to and have company when you feel like it, however, you will discover rather quickly that you will find your self-meeting people every day and new making friends every step of the way.

5. You will learn what is truly meaningful to you: traveling alone has an intrinsic benefit and it is that it makes you really evaluate and appreciate what its important and meaningful to you. You will learn what you like/don’t like, discover places you will want to revisit, possibly alone or with loved ones and lastly, you most likely will return home with a more profound experience and eager to plan your next adventure.

There are many more reasons to travel solo, however, until you get out there and do it for yourself, you are missing out, so do yourself a favor and don’t wait any more, discover what all the fuss is about, and you will soon discover why traveling solo is so highly addictive.

http://www.windstarcruises.com

 

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Windstar Cruises featured a blog I wrote on Transatlantic Cruises and traveling solo and I’m so happy!

Here is the link to Windstar Cruises Blog:

http://blog.windstarcruises.com/2017/12/ocean-crossing-cruise/ng-cruise/

I hope you enjoy the article and most of all, I hope it inspires you to start your own journey

https://www.windstarcruises.com

 

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Valencia, Spain’s not 3rd best anymore…

Valencia is on the east coast of Spain and the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. The city is situated on the banks of the Turia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea.

Its historic center is one of the largest in Spain and its heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.

If you have never been to Spain and are thinking of visiting, your first choices might be Madrid or Barcelona by default, none the less, you should also consider Valencia, not only because it’s the 3rd most important city in the country, but because it has many wonderful and unique things to offer as well.

Only three and a half hours away by car from Madrid and Barcelona, it is also easily accessible by train, bus or plane.

Valencia should be on your Spain itinerary, here are a few reasons why:

The food: Food throughout Spain is well known and where ever you go you can sure feast on Tapas and great Spanish wine. But Valencia is also the birth place of Paella, and you must try it if you are in town. This rice renown dish is most popular with seafood, but you can also try it with chicken and or rabbit.

If you want a real paella experience, venture out to Alfubera National park and see where the rice for paella is grown, before you enjoy paella though, take a boat ride in the Alfubera lake and enjoy bird watching.

Getting there is easy, take public transportation and be there in under an hour (about € 1.5 each way), or take a tour and these usually include lunch and a boat ride (about €30 Euros.

Central market: This is a great place to find gourmet foods like pork products, famous Serrano Ham, pancetta, fresh produce and fresh seafood, also you can get a bite to eat at Central Bar, an award-winning restaurant by Michelin Star Chef Ricardo Camarena, all while admiring the buildings architecture and eye-popping tile work.

https://www.mercadocentralvalencia.es/El-Mercado.aspx

Saint Joseph Coves: Located about 40 minutes outside of Valencia, these are a sight not to be missed.

The Saint Joseph Coves are located on the Costa de Azahar, in the heart of the Mediterranean, Les Coves de La Vall d’Uixó is the longest navigable underground river in Europe, here you can explore these marvelous coves by boat and be one with nature and experience sensations of peace and harmony unlike anywhere on Earth.

If you are lucky to be there during the summer months, make sure to find out if a concert or concerts are taking place in the coves, run and get tickets because you will be part of an unforgettable experience. It does not matter what the act is, you NEED to experience a concert inside these fantastic coves.

http://covesdesantjosep.es/en/

City of Arts and Sciences: designed by famed Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, this complex was built on the former bed of the River Turia, which was drained and rerouted after a catastrophic flood in 1957.

This complex is an entertainment, cultural and architectural complex, which houses the Opera house, Oceanography center, amongst other entertainment venues.

The architecture resembles something taken out of a science fiction movie or the Jetsons, perfect harmony of white tones, tile and water, blend in perfect harmony that shocks the senses in a mystical and modern way, making this complex, the most important modern tourist destination in the city of Valencia.

This complex has also been a controversial one, depending on the local you talk to, you will learn that they have strong and mixed feelings about this city, some think its an eye sore and feel it was a waist of local money that went so over budget, they still can’t get over it. Others feel that it has helped the city by putting it in the map if you will, thus helping the economy and promoting tourism. Go, visit, and you be the judge…

http://www.cac.es/en/home/la-ciutat/cacsa-la-empresa/historia.html

The street art: if you like and or appreciate art, you will find eclectic, thought provoking, beautiful street art as you walk thru the streets of Valencia, some are hidden in plain sight, make sure you are on the lookout, so you don’t miss it.

There are more reasons to visit Valencia other than the ones I have listed, the intention is to peak your curiosity and hopefully you will consider Valencia on your next trip to Spain, have fun planning….

http://www.visitvalencia.com/en/home

 

 

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Ever thought of cruising solo? Here is a great opportunity to save some money and have a really good time

Solo travel does not have to be intimidating , on the contrary , very rewarding. Don’t be scared to try it, you just might enjoy it and wonder why it took you so long to travel alone. I do it all the time and it’s freeing , liberating and utterly fun .

Traveling solo can be a hard thing to do for some people, they might be fearful of going to a new place alone, unsure of what to do and or where to go. Staring conversations alone can be an intimidating thing.

I have been traveling solo for a very long time and not because I don’t like to travel with others but rather because sometimes it is a challenge just trying to get friends or family to decide on locations and or times when we can all go at the same time, so instead , if I really want to go somewhere, I just travel solo.

One of the only disadvantages I see with traveling solo is the additional single supplement charges that solo travelers often get charged on tours, hotels and for example on cruises, the more people in a cabin, the cheaper the cost. But solo travelers are charged a single supplement charge that brings the cost up.

Here is a great opportunity to save on single supplements and actually have a great time , if you are concerned about traveling solo, this is your opportunity to travel alone but together along with only 212 passengers.

Check the link below for a great offer from Windstar Cruises

windstar

https://www.windstarcruises.com/specials/singlesupplementcarcrpc/

 

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Enchanting Toledo, Spain

During a visit to Valencia, Spain, a couple of girlfriends and I decided to drive to Toledo for the weekend.

Nestled over a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo, Toledo is an easy 3-and-a-half-hour drive from Valencia and about an hour south of Madrid.

This city is a must see/visit not only for its beauty and centuries old history but because you will be mesmerized as you stride along Toledo’s crammed and dense historical core, chuck full of Horseshoe-arched mosques, Sephardic synagogues and one of Spain’s most beautiful Gothic cathedrals.

We decided to rent a car from Valencia and drive. The drive itself was uneventful. I was expecting forts and castles as if Don Quixote was still wondering around the area. Instead, there were several wind mill farms and very few rest stops/gas stations along the way but we did notice several black bull billboards (just the shape of a bull with no writing or pictures on them).

However, as you get closer to Toledo , you can clearly see from afar the majestic cathedral towering on top of the city as if it were the crowning jewel in the center of the city.

Once inside the city walls we were following directions in the car to the apartment we rented and struggling in the process to get there. Street signs are often hard to see and or read as they are placed on the side corner of buildings. We were also driving inside the city walls of a city that was built in the middle ages. These streets were meant for pedestrians and carriages not modern time cars, not even the smallest ones.

As we drove through winding, narrowing streets, I started feeling almost claustrophobic and overcome with the feeling that we were about to be a European movie cliché by driving our rental car through a street so narrow we would get stuck, trapped and unable to get out. Unknown to us, driving inside the city walls of Toledo is restricted to residents with a parking pass. Luckily, we stopped to ask for directions and a local told us we were not supposed to be driving inside the city walls and helped us get to a parking spot, (not many around but there are several spots where you can pay to park).

Keep this in mind when you pack, it could be a long torturous road hauling your luggage through inclined cobblestone streets from your car to your destination.

Now the fun part, Toledo is known as the ‘city of three cultures’ where Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted in the Middle Ages. Their influence and charm continue to be present today.

Toledo has 3 distinct neighborhoods, a Christian, a Muslim and a Jewish one and as you stroll around you can clearly see and feel the influence as each culture is very much present through its own unique architecture, food, stores and people. Walk through every part of town, explore, visit, smell, eat, shop in one of the unique stores to buy for example, magnificent handmade pottery or enjoy serrano ham in any of the many places that offer. You can even explore your heritage and find out what your last name means and where it comes from.

Art is also very much present in Toledo. If you like art and or enjoy museums, you must visit the famous El Greco Museum, which houses the canvases of El Greco, the influential painter with whom the city is synonymous.

Allow yourself to explore and get lost through the narrow streets of Toledo. If you do get lost, it won’t be for very long, the city is small enough that you will find your way back to your original destination. You may even find yourself in corky stores and meeting the most interesting people along the way.

For instance, as I was strolling through the Jewish part of town I stopped at a store front to gaze at some postcards, as one of my friends was interested in mailing one and I asked the store clerk a question in Spanish. It turns out that he was from Colombia and lives in Toledo with his family. This store is also a place where you can learn about Jewish history and learn if you have a Jewish heritage.

Overall, Toledo is a beautiful, medieval, historic place with a plethora of picture opportunities and well worth a detour. If you are already visiting Spain, find time to visit, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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Barnacles what?

Barnacles are scary looking things that grow attached to rocks and or concrete  near shorelines, they are, as I discovered recently, very tasty.

I had seen them before in fish markets but they looked too foreign to me to even inquire or be curious about them, however , thru my market strolls in European Farmers Markets, I kept seeing them all over, first in Valencia at the Central Market, where I learned that they are very easy to prepare, you throw them in salted bowling water for 5 minutes and  serve. Ok, seams easy enough; none the less, I did not try them there either.

Then while in Lisbon, Portugal,  where they are even more present every where I went, I decided to try them once and for all. A local city guide “Pedro” recommended I go to Cervejaria Ramiro (Ramiros Seafood) and try them, according to him they also offer the best seafood in town.  When you go there, you are handed a tablet where you see all the items available that day, the prices are quoted by kilogram or by unit ( which means if you order one unit of shrimp scampi, you will get one order or approximately 10 to 12 shrimp), for the items quoted by kilograms, you can order as little or as much as you want, for example, I ordered 1/4 kilogram (pictured below) of barnacles and one jumbo shrimp.

Barnacles

I will be honest and say that I had no idea on how to eat this when it got to me, so as I was staring at these funny looking things , I literally googled “how to eat barnacles” and I quote  “To eat a gooseneck barnacle, you must first peel off the brown skin encasing its neck. Grasping the shell-clad foot, tear the skin downward from the point where it meets the shell. It should come off in one piece, almost as a sock would slide off a foot” it was exactly like that, once I tried the first one , I was in heaven and thought to my self , barnacles, where have you been all of my life? they where delicious , if you like crab, shrimp , crawfish or any shellfish, you will like this.

Be adventurous, order them next time you see them on a menu , you will be happy you did.

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Inspiration thru travel, being a mindful traveler, not a tourist

I love this travel quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Travel is my favorite thing to do. I don’t really remember how old I was when I decided that all I wanted to do was to travel and see the world, all I know is that travel is all I think about, dream about, breath about, however, traveling has not come easy to me.

Up to June 2017 I was working in corporate America for over 18 years, in addition and depending on the corporation I was working for, his meant 3 weeks’ vacation a year, sometimes allowing me to only take 1 or 2 weeks off at a time, due to this I was frustrated and unable to fulfill my travel addiction; I mean, where can I really go 3 weeks out of the year and truly make a meaningful difference in my life and others,  other than mostly being a tourist?

Inspiring travel requires thoughtful planning; When I travel, I like to prepare myself for the new adventure, not only by researching the places, city and or countries I will be visiting, I want to make sure that when I go, I feel and act like a local, not a tourist.

I try to visit 1 to 3 new countries a year and when I choose my next destination(s); I do so by answering a couple of questions: have I been there before; how much it will cost to get/stay there; if I am traveling solo, is it a solo friendly destination; will I be/feel safe and most importantly, does/will it inspire me?

As a traveler, I want to learn, see, taste, experience as much as I can in every place I visit, for example, if I am visiting a country where a different language is spoken , I try to learn a few or a lot of words before I get there (depending on how difficult the new language is to me) and I have found for the most part, that most people will appreciate the fact that you are at least trying and will be more willing to help you out.

I have noticed during my travels and thru conversations with some American friends that when they travel abroad they believe that everywhere they go, English will be spoken, this is not always the case, so my advice for fellow travelers out there is to do yourself a favor and avoid disappointment, do your due diligence and research were you are going and prepare yourself before you get there.

Inspiration is personal to everyone, but to me travel is everything. I find nothing more invigorating, exciting and inspirational than planning the next adventure that will give me a wider view of the world we live in and thus making me a better person.

Lastly, there are 196 countries in the world, I have only visited 21, at this rate, it would take me about 58 years to visit every country if I only visited 3 new countries a year; this is not only uninspiring, it is utterly terrifying; I am trying to right this wrong and share my experiences on the way, thank you for reading my blog, stay tuned for more, until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

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This Mexican City is on my must visit list, see why….

Great article from Travel and Leisure on San Miguel de Allende in Mexico,   this city has been on my MUST VISIT list for some time due not only too its beauty, it is also a popular city for expats, it has incredible food, architecture, arts and just plain fantastic people and way of life.

click on the link below and get inspired to start your own journey….

http://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/city-vacations/san-miguel-de-allende-photos?xid=NL_JustIn071517&utm_medium=email&utm_source=travelandleisure.com&utm_campaign=just-in&utm_content=2017071518PM#intro

 

 

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