Our review of the East London Hotel, Brick Lane Market and more.Read More
We lived in Stephenville, TX for over twenty years before beginning our extended travels. Every year we looked forward to the time when our local paper, The Empire-Tribune, published the "Best of Erath". This special edition highlighted local businesses that the readers voted on as being the top in the area. Well, the ETC Team has voted and here’s our list for our trip this past year. Many of these we have written about before and where that is the case there are links directly to those posts. Hope you enjoy revisiting the highlights of our year of travel!
One of the most unique aspects of our trip was participating in work exchange programs. In addition to it being an affordable way to stay in an area for longer periods ,it also gave us an opportunity to live more like locals. Here are some of our favorites.
Best WWOOF Experience
Le Roche – Dogliani, Italy
Sue was a wonderful host. We even got to lead a wine tasting with some of her friends on this little island on the Thames. Read more.
We worked with a great group of 20-somethings and learned to make a proper G&T at the Gin Bar. Read more.
Best House Sits
We just couldn’t get over how nice the people in this area were. Read more.
Villa Antea – Florence, Italy
Big spacious rooms, outstanding breakfasts, super nice hosts, a lovely quiet neighborhood and free parking at a great rate. That’s what you get when you stay a kilometer or so from all the tourist areas of Florence. The walk in was about 20 minutes through real neighborhoods. We loved it.
La Marmu – Vernetti, Italy
This is the spot we stayed at tucked into the Maira Valley in the Italian Alps. Beautiful views, wonderful rooms, nice people and a great meal awaited us after a long day of hiking!
Hisa Franko – Kobarid, Slovenia
After seeing this restaurant on an episode of Chef’s Table, we found our way to the remote village of Kobarid, Slovenia at the end of October. The food exceeded our expectations but the wine pairing was transformative. All Slovenian, natural wines that were delicious and perfectly paired with our food. The region is also gorgeous and we had two wonderful days of hiking in addition to the amazing food. Read more.
Noma Pop Up Under the Bridge – Copenhagen, Denmark
A stunning meal created by the team who’s restaurant has been voted Best in the World multiple times. Read more.
La Ciau del Tornavento – Treiso, Italy
You should expect a great meal at a restaurant with a Michelin Star and this gem in the heart of Italy’s Piemonte region did not disappoint. The company made it even more memorable. We were joined by Chelsea and Sam and our friends from the lake, Lisa and Pierre. Each couple ordered both of the tasting menu options and we shared 5 bottles of wine. At the end of the meal we were treated to a tour of their cellar featuring aver 7000 bottles! We have included La Ciau del Tornavento in our plans for our upcoming Small Group Trip to Piedmont during truffle season in the fall of 2019. Be watching for the itinerary and let us know if you’d like to join us!
We are blessed with many good friends. Two of them surprised us by inviting us on a shake-down cruise on the Viking Sun in the Adriatic. With stops in Italy, Kotor, Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia, we had a wonderful week sailing in perfect weather. We don't think of ourselves as cruise people, but we were very impressed with everything about Viking Ocean Cruises. We can’t say enough about our experience and highly recommend them if you are looking for a cruise company. Read more.
Before we picked grapes in Italy, we spent some time with Chelsea and Sam in Copenhagen. From there we took a weekend trip to the Danish island of Bornholm. It was absolutely spectacular. We stayed in a little cabin and tried to see as much of the island as we could in two days. Smoked fish, gorgeous seaside views, quaint villages, and beautiful countryside drives made it an unexpected pleasure.
We got to see Chelsea this past year more than any time since she graduated from high school. We felt fortunate to be invited with her and Sam and a few of their friends to a weekend in Riga, Latvia. We never knew we wanted to go to Latvia! We enjoyed a symphony concert, great food, interesting architecture, challenging history and too much beer! Read more.
Favorite Winery Visits
Rivetto – Serralunga, Italy
This is one of our favorite Barolo producers in Piedmont. Enrico Rivetto is a third generation grower who is absolutely passionate about taking his winery in a new, biodynamic path. This will be a stop on our upcoming Piedmont Small Group Tour.
Silvio Nardi – Montalcino, Italy
Bruno Porro – Dogliani, Italy
Our host at the winery where we picked grapes last year, and will be again this year, brought us to meet his friend and fellow producer Fabrizio Porro. We made no appointment. We just showed up and spent the next few hours talking and tasting wine as members of his family bustled about.
Best Wine Shops
La Vite Turchese – Barolo, Italy
One of our happy places! Stefano and Elisabetta take such good care of you. We are very happy to include this shop on our Piedmont Small Group Tour.
D. Byrne & Co. – Clitheroe, England
An amazing shop in a small town in a corner of England that we had never considered visiting. This shop was one of many things that made our house sit most enjoyable.
Hedonism Wines – London, England
As the name suggests, it is over the top. If you are into wine, add this to your What to Do In London list.
Borough Market – London, England
Leave it to Chelsea to find a great foodie spot. You can read more about her London picks here.
Dogliani Market – Dogliani, Italy
During our time on the winery we were sent here to buy food for some of our meals. It is the perfect example of a small town, Italian market. We watched the locals to see how it was done and used our limited Italiano to get what we needed.
Great Market Hall – Budapest, Hungary
This is just one of the reasons to visit this amazing city. Read more.
Szimpla Ruin Pub – Budapest, Hungary
A unique, crazy, mix of bar, performance art, and local entrepreneurship. Another of our Top Ten Things to do in Budapest.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs – Riga, Latvia
We spent too much time and drank too many beers here. We danced to live folk music and tried to keep up with the 20-somethings. We loved every second of it.
The Swan with Two Necks – Pendleton, England
The quintessential English Pub frequented by the nicest people on the planet.
Academy of St. Martin in the Field – Bristol, England
What a treat to hear one of our favorite groups which is now led by the incredible Joshua Bell. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and more.
Budapest Festival Orchestra – Budapest, Hungary
MUPA in an amazing performance space in this vibrant city. Another Top Ten.
Filharmonia Koszalinska – Koszalin, Poland
One of the many regional orchestras in Poland this group put on an ambitious concert, but the highlight for me was the Chopin Nocturne the piano soloist played as an encore. Read more about our time in Poland here.
Favorite Theater Experiences
Hamilton – London, England
Bought tickets the day of the show for less than $75. Much easier than NYC. Amazing! And it was so cool to watch it with a British audience….it gives the show a whole new perspective.
Glengarry Glen Ross – London, England
With Christian Slater. Again, found cheap seats the day of the show and again amazing performance.
Long Day's Journey Into Night – London, England
With Jeremy Irons. See comments above.
The York Realist – London, England
With our friend Lesley Nichol (Mrs. Patmore from Downton Abbey), who we met on the Viking Cruise. Wonderful of course.
This was a wonderful day during our time at the winery. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Read more.
Marmora, Maira Valley
Our last weekend on the winery our host arranged for us to hike in the Italian Alps. Stunning! Read more.
Lake District, England
We were knocked out by the beauty of the Lake District in England. And best of all we could start right from our hosts’ home. Read more.
Tate Modern – London, England
We love that the museums in London are free. The British Museum, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, etc., all free! This year we added the Tate Modern to our list and we were not disappointed.
Berggruen Museum – Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a city full of amazing museums and memorials. We hit the Pergamon, German History, Alte and several others. Thanks to the Museum Pass we could skip the ticket lines and just pop in for a short bit if that’s all time we had. We could also visit some lesser known spots and that’s how we found this gem. Not crowded, relaxing, and filled with Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and more.
Solidarity Museum – Gdansk, Poland
During our time in Berlin, Poland, and Budapest we spent well over a month in locations that had been behind the iron curtain. It was humbling to discover how little we knew about events that happened mostly in our life time. This museum in the beautiful town of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea was extrordinary.
Highlight of the Whole Trip
At the end of our nine months in Europe we had a couple days of relaxation in Verona, Italy. Upon reflecting on our travels we came up with many highlights, mostly mentioned above. But we both agreed that the most fun we had was sharing our love for travel with our small group tours in Tuscany. What a great two weeks we had with two awesome groups of people.
Are you planning a trip somewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
Hey! It's Chelsea, one third of the Euro Travel Coach team and Betsy and Greg's daughter. You may remember me from my blog posts about the Azores and my mom's post about my wedding last summer. My husband Sam and I moved to Bristol, U.K. this past winter. Since moving, Sam has been traveling to London for work regularly and I’ve been known to tag along from time to time. Because he’s working, I spend the days exploring the city on my own. I find that it’s actually great fun to travel by myself as I get to set my own pace and do exactly what I want – be it attend a yoga class, spend a mere 10 minutes at a free museum, or stand in a ridiculously long line at a street food vendor. Here are a few of my favorite things to do while alone in London:
Go to Borough Market
Like any food lover who spends time in London, I adore Borough Market. There is an incredible selection of produce, cheese, meats, spices, and baked goods as well as a section dedicated to street food. I usually buy a few things to bring home (Kimchi! Salami! Sumac! Tiny tins of Maldon Salt!) and then have lunch at one of the street food stalls. I don’t even feel like I’ve been to London if I don’t go to Borough Market.
Pop into the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery
I love art, but I have a fairly short attention span, so museum fatigue is a very real thing for me. One of the best things about London is that many of the most popular museums in the city are free – so you can spend as little as 5 minutes in a museum and not feel an ounce of guilt. The National Gallery has an incredible impressionist collection, so I love popping in to marvel at Monet’s Water Lilies or Cézanne’s Bathers. The Portrait Gallery, on the other hand, offers lessons on U.K. history as it features paintings of nearly every important figure in British History, especially members of the royal family. I was woefully ignorant about the British Monarchy prior to moving to Bristol, so visiting the Portrait Gallery a few times has been a great education for me.
Walk between destinations rather than take the tube
When traveling with a group, I often feel pressure to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible; but when I’m on my own, I revel in walking. It’s such a great way to see parts of the city you never would if you always use public transportation or take cabs. Sam usually stays in a hotel near Euston Square – from that area, I love walking through Fitzrovia and Soho, maybe stopping at the British Museum or popping into a shop at Covent Garden on the way, then continuing over the Waterloo Bridge and along the river, passing by the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, then working my way through the afore mentioned Borough Market, and finishing up with lunch at 40 Maltby Street or a pint at Fourpure (or Brew By Numbers if it’s a Saturday!).
Go for a run in Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is home to a lovely rose garden, an open air theater, a zoo and more; but I love just going to people (and swan) watch. There are lovely wide running/walking paths and gorgeous flowers and landscaping, making it the perfect place to run off all the delicious food I always seem to eat when in London.
Have lunch alone at a popular restaurant
This is one of my favorite things to do in any city. When you’re traveling by yourself, you don’t have to worry about finding two seats next to each other – you can squeeze into a bar seat at restaurants that are typically booked up weeks in advance, or get seated quickly at popular no-reservation eateries. Some of my favorite restaurants in London include Kiln (small plate Thai food), Bao (Taiwanese steamed buns), and Honey & Co. (Middle Eastern cuisine).
Attend free Concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields
Every Tuesday and Friday, an up and coming artist gives a free lunchtime concert at the beautiful St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. They are always very good and not too long (usually around 45 minutes) making them the perfect break in the day. Regardless of whether there is a concert going on, I definitely recommend at least popping your head into the church – the architecture is stunning.
You can’t talk in a theatre, so why not go by yourself? I love going to see plays during the day, especially when it’s cold or rainy. I always want matinees to be cheaper than evening performances, but, sadly that’s not always the case. However, I do find that there’s typically a better selection of afternoon shows at the TKTS booth than evening shows, so you may be able to see something you wouldn’t be able to get a ticket to otherwise. Note that most productions do a matinee performance on Wednesdays only.
Go to a coffee shop or co-working space to work on Euro Travel Coach Small Group Trips, Custom Itineraries, and more
I love that I can do my job from anywhere! There are some lovely spaces to get work done in the city, my favorite being Timberyard Seven Dials for its lightning fast internet, massive tea selection, and delicious pastries.
London is such a fun, vibrant city to visit, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to explore it on my own. As much as I love traveling with others, it can be just as much (and sometimes even more) fun to sightsee and dine by myself. Cheers to alone time!
Are you planning a trip to London or elsewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Are you planning a trip anywhere in Europe? We can help with that too! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!