Tag Archives: shopping

2014: Best Travel Memories

2014 has been an incredibly busy year, but we’ve had the opportunity to go on many wonderful adventures! Here are some of our favorite moments:

Visiting the Taj Mahal-taj

“Monkeying” around in Jaipur-

monkeysRoad Trip Across the US-

roadtripBeatles’ pilgrimage to Liverpool-

liverpool2Eating at La Boqueria in Barcelona-

boqueriaExploring the Isle of Skye-

skye3Snow day in the Red Square-

snowdayShopping the European Christmas Markets-

marketsChristmas Lunch at Edinburgh Castle-

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2015 certainly has a lot to live up to! What are your favorite memories from 2014?

© Destination Duo, 2015

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Why You Need to Visit Russia in Winter

When I first told friends and family about my upcoming trip to Russia in December, I was met with skepticism. The most common remarks ranged from “But WHY?”,  to “Can’t you just wait until it gets warmer?”. In fact, even while I was already there, Russians kept encouraging me to “come back in Summer”.IMG_2313

Despite the naysayers, I am so glad that I went when I did. Seeing Moscow at its most “authentic” was truly an unforgettable experience. Yes it’s cold and it gets dark early, but this is how Russians spend at least 6 months out of every year. I developed a much better understanding of the attitudes and mindsets that make Russians so notoriously tough. Further, there were hardly any tourists around, which meant that we had the opportunity to enjoy major attractions to ourselves with little to no lines. There’s just something really cool about being one of only a few visitors walking around the Kremlin…it feels so exclusive!

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Here are some additional benefits of visiting Russia during Wintertime:

1. Christmas/New Years’ Markets and Festive Decorations- If you visit Russia over the holidays, be sure to check out the Christmas markets. They sell candies, matryoshka dolls, baked goods, and other Christmas-y gifts and souvenirs.

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Other interesting sights at the Christmas markets include ponies, reindeer, and Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). Every market has different features, making each one fun to discover. Near Cafe Pushkin in Moscow, for example, we enjoyed walking around an outdoor art gallery.

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There are also plenty of ice sculptures. Some of my favorites included an ice maze and ice slides. Ice displays are a time-honored tradition all over Russia, and exist in both large cities and way out in Siberia.

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Stores and businesses are also outfitted for the holiday season. GUM shopping centre in Moscow, for example, has quite the display, with Christmas stalls throughout.

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2. Sparkling Night Lights- Moscow is a beautiful city at night. While these lights can be seen year-round, longer hours of darkness during Winter means there are more opportunities to literally see the city in a different light.

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In fact, one of the best ways to see Moscow at night is on the River Moskva. Luckily, all of the major sites lie along the river and are easy to spot. The Radisson hotel runs dinner cruises all-year long, and even has ice-breaking capabilities for when the river is frozen over.

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 3. The Snow makes for great pictures- If anything, Winter in Russia often results in heavy snowfall. We were lucky enough to get snow on the first day we arrived in Moscow. The sights were very picturesque, and exactly like I’ve always imagined it would be. It just added that extra magical touch to everything we saw.

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As you can see, Russia is absolutely gorgeous during this time of year. So don’t let the weather deter you. Trust me, you’ll be thankful for the experience and will walk away with a new appreciation of this beautiful country and its people!

© Destination Duo, 2014-2015

Edinburgh Christmas Market

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Edinburgh is an easy place to get into the Christmas spirit. It has cold weather, hearty food, and a very Dickens-esque vibe…this is the UNESCO City of Literature, after all.

But truly one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays in Europe is at the Christmas markets. Luckily for us, Edinburgh has a great one. If you are in town for the holidays, be sure not to miss it!

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Located off of Princes Street (with stunning views of the castle) the Edinburgh Christmas market runs from the end of November until the beginning of January. Charming stalls sell everything from furs, to fudge, to nutcrackers. It’s a good place to pick up gifts for friends and family…don’t forget to treat yourself too! IMG_2188 IMG_2200Food stalls are everywhere, and most of them have a Bavarian theme. You can find bratwurst, streusel, gluhwein, mulled cider, and soft pretzels. You heard me right: soft pretzels (these are very elusive here)! If Bavarian food isn’t to your taste, it’s easy to find fish and chips, burgers, and crepes.

IMG_2138 IMG_2181IMG_2157The market is also extremely family-friendly. There’s an ice skating rink, a Ferris wheel, a Christmas tree maze, train rides, and visits with Santa Claus. For brave souls, there is also a terrifying giant swing. I just might build up the courage to go on it next time 😛

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For those over 18, the market has some interesting and unique drink stands. We really loved the Carousel Bar, which is near the National Gallery, and the Hot Toddy Bar, which overlooks the skating rink (above the “SKATE” sign in the picture).

IMG_2171 IMG_2191All of the bars have similar menus, and for a £2 deposit, you’ll get a ceramic souvenir mug which can either be taken home or returned. You can order various types of  drinks, including hot toddies, gluhwein, and mulled cider. They have non-alcoholic beverages available too, of course!

Most importantly, the Christmas market can be a wonderful place to enjoy the company of good friends 🙂

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The Expat Experience: UK First Impressions

Last week, my husband and I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I’ll be studying for the next year. While I’ve visited Scotland twice before (and loved it), I knew that living abroad would present itself with very different experiences and its own set of challenges. Here are some of the things that will take some getting used to:

Shopping

  • Instead of a magnetic stripe, the standard credit card in the UK contains a chip. Since our card doesn’t have a chip, cashiers have to ask to see our signature on the back. Instead of a signature, however, “SEE ID” is written across the back. This has confused nearly everyone. We then have to show the signature that is on our driver’s licenses, but it is quite a process even to make a simple purchase.
  • Clothing sizes are different from the US. Further, some brands have European sizes, while others have UK sizes. I’m sure this will be a fairly painless adjustment once I memorize the conversions, but it’s a very intimidating problem at first! 

Food

  • It’s very time-consuming to go out to eat here. The service is very slow, and even a casual meal at a sit-down restaurant can take up to two hours. You also have to factor in the time that it takes to get there, whether it’s by walking or via public transportation. That usually tacks on an additional 30-60 minutes.
  • Foods from home are not as readily available here in the UK. This seems like such an obvious one, but I didn’t realize the extent to which this was true. I initially had a difficult time finding all of the ingredients for my favorite recipes while on a recent trip to the store (And while there are many “express” food stores, I did go to a superstore for these items). I had to find substitutes for black beans and chicken broth, as they were not in stock. The total grocery bill was also twice the amount I pay for the same meals in the US. I’ll have to start finding new recipes that are tailored to the UK, although I guess this is not the worst thing in the world 🙂
  • It’s very difficult to stock up on food in advance. Since the food is fresh and without as many preservatives, things expire quickly. I’m finding that shelf life is typically only a day or two. Perhaps this is why refrigerators are so small here!

Fuel

  • Going to the gas station is quite an affair. Filling up can take quite a while since there is usually a line of cars waiting for the pump. This is because there are no credit card machines outside, so you must go inside to pay. And there is usually a line in there, too!

Health

  • In the US, I wash my face with an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide cleanser. I couldn’t find any face washes with benzoyl peroxide here, and was told that I have to go to a chemist for it. The chemist explained to me that all benzoyl peroxide is out of stock until further notice and recommended an “antibacterial” face wash as a substitute. So far, it works, but if anyone has suggestions on where I can find benzoyl peroxide face wash here in the UK, please advise!

City Living

  • If there’s one thing I learned this week, it’s that I’m unapologetically suburban by nature. This isn’t something unique to the UK, but since this is something I’m not accustomed to, I’ll include it on this list. In particular, the crowds of people, public transportation, and the smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke are a big adjustment for me. I feel like I have to carry around hand sanitizer with me at all times to stay healthy!
  • On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy living in a small space. While I wish that we had a backyard, I don’t mind living in a small flat. We have 1/3 of the square footage that we had in the US, but I don’t miss it much yet. Our “cozy” flat is definitely manageable for two people.

Culture & Misc.

  • I haven’t learned how to get people to move out of the way when I am trying to get past them. I’ve tried “excuse me”, “pardon me”, and “sorry”, but nothing seems to work! When I am going down a path with only one point of access, I simply have to stand and wait for the person to move on their own accord. Am I missing something? AWKWARD.
  • Everything simply takes longer. For example, doing laundry takes a long time because the washer cycle is approximately 90 minutes. The clothes also have to air dry, since we don’t have a dryer. Also (as mentioned above), eating and shopping takes a long time, since you typically have to take public transportation to get there. I didn’t realize how many conveniences we have in the US, and I won’t lie- I miss them! But these things will definitely help me to live a more active and healthy lifestyle overall.

That’s it for now. I look forward to the upcoming month ahead, as we get ourselves adjusted to life here in Scotland. There will be more updates to come!

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 2)

Part 1 of this post talks about two of my favorite stations: Shinjuku and Harajuku. This one discusses two of my other favorites: Shibuya and Akihabara.

Shibuya: Shibuya is known for it busy intersections and limitless shopping opportunities. We visited several malls, which are different from American ones. Rather than entering individual stores within a mall, the stores”” are just set up in one open space. I almost felt like I was in one giant department store. To get some peace and quiet in Shibuya, I loved going into the nearby Starbucks and watching the people cross the streets down below. In the evening, we rented a karaoke room for a few hours.

Of course, one can’t mention Shibuya without sharing the story of Hachiko, the dog. A bronze statue devoted to Hachiko stands outside Shibuya Station. In the 1920s, the dog used to wait at the station for his owner to return from work. One day, his owner passed away and never returned to the station. Hachiko kept waiting for him, and continued to show up to the station at the same time every day until his own death in 1935.

DSC04942Hachiko Statue

DSC04946Alex at Shibuya Crossing

DSC04950Inside One of the Malls

DSC05761More Crepes!

DSC05774View of Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

DSC05782Karaoke Microphones and Menus

IMG-20120310-01121Light Projections on the Karaoke Room Walls

IMG-20120310-01122Alex Singing Karaoke 

Akihabara: The Electronics District. Great place to buy electronics and appliances. Also known for its many arcades and anime-themed stores.

DSC05307Akihabara Arcade

DSC05308Claw Machine Games

DSC05318Cosplay Restaurant “Maid”

DSC05324Me in the Akihabara District

DSC05325Stores and Arcades

I highly recommend taking some time to explore the metro stops on your own. You may find some great new neighborhoods, and never know what you will come across!

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 1)

Tokyo has a fantastic transit system. It’s orderly, fairly easy to navigate, and always runs on time. One of the best parts of our trip was exploring the city and stopping at random subway stops. Here are some of our favorites:

Shinjuku:  I really liked Shinjuku for a few reasons. First, our hotel was near this station, and I felt really comfortable and safe in the area. Second, Shinjuku is a great place for shopping. You can find so many stores and shopping centers right outside of the station. It’s also home to a nighttime red light district called Kabukicho. Most importantly, however, Shinjuku is a major station in Tokyo. If you want to get around the city, you will more than likely make transfers at Shinjuku and would be wise to get familiar with it!

DSC04834Shinjuku Station

DSC05333Kabukicho District near Shinjuku

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DSC04835Shinjuku Shopping Outside the Station

Harajuku: Most Pop music fans are already familiar with this iconic neighborhood, referenced in Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls”. The neighborhood is famous for it’s kooky fashions. Walking around Harajuku, we did see some crazy styles, but also found some amazing crepe shops, clothing stores, and a Tamagotchi store. In nearby Yoyogi Park, the Meiji Shrine is a must-see.

DSC04839Harajuku Station

DSC04843Typical Clothing Shop in Harajuku

DSC04850Takeshita Dori (A Pedestrian Street)

DSC04856Tamagotchi

DSC04857Fortune Teller at Tamagotchi

DSC04890My Fortune- Can Anyone Translate?!

DSC04858Tamagotchi Donut Shop

DSC04867Alex at one of the Crepe Shops

DSC04921Sake Casks at the Meiji Shrine

DSC04927Traditional Wedding

DSC04932Meiji Shrine