10 Free Sydney

What’s better than having fun things to do? Having fun free things to do. Welcome to our blog series, 10 Free Things. Today we head down under with 10 fun and free things to do in Sydney.


1. Zen out at the Royal Botanic Gardens

These beautiful gardens are home to nature trails, rare and endangered plants, succulents, herbs, and more. The grounds cover an area of 30 hectares in the heart of the city. Time your visit with one of the free guided tours, which run at 10:30AM daily.

 

2. Visit an art gallery

The Art Gallery of New South Wales houses five levels of art, rotating exhibits, film, music, and more. Its collections include everything from Aboriginal to Asian art along with modern and contemporary works from around the globe. Admission to the museums is free, as are the hour-long guided tours.

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Vero-Dodat

In the early 1800s, around 150 passages couverts (covered passageways) were constructed in Paris to shield affluent citizens from the cold and rain while they socialized, dined, and shopped; in fact, many consider these structures the precursors to modern day shopping malls. Today, only about 20 of the original structures remain, but many have been restored to their original beauty. Paris’s secret passageways can be difficult to find (don’t worry, we’ll tell you where to go!) but once inside, you’ll take a journey back in time.


Passages des Panoramas

Panoramas
Flickr: jfgornet / Creative Commons

Built in 1799, this is the oldest covered passage in the city (and the first public space to be lit by gaslight!) It’s still full of activity, from eclectic shops to newer, trendy boutiques and restaurants.

Enter at 11 Boulevard Montmartre or 10 rue Saint-Marc.

 

Galerie Vivienne

Vivienne
Flickr: 黃毛 a.k.a. YELLOW / Creative Commons

Built in 1823, Galerie Vivienne is known as the most beautiful and elegant of the remaining passages. It has been meticulously restored, paying extra attention to the original mosaic floor and glass ceilings. Galerie Vivienne is home to many high fashion boutiques, as well as Legrand Filles et Fils, one of the best wine shops in Paris.

Enter at 4 rue de Petits Champs, 6 rue Vivienne, or 5 rue de la Banque.

 

Galerie Colbert

Colbert
Flickr: Loïc Lagarde / Creative Commons

This passage was built in 1826 and was restored in the 1980s by the National Library of France. The striking, glass-covered atrium at its center houses a bronze statue by Charles-François Leboeuf. Tip: Galerie Colbert runs parallel to Galerie Vivienne on rue des Petits-Champs.

Enter at 6 rue des Petits-Champs or 6 rue Vivienne.

 

Passage de Choiseul

Choiseul
Flickr: Phil Beard / Creative Commons

Continuing down rue des Petits-Champs, you’ll find Passage de Choiseul. While it lacks the elegance of Galerie Vivienne (it’s had few refurbishments since it was built in 1822), it’s the perfect place to browse for antiques or sit down for a casual lunch.

Enter at 40 rue des Petits-Champs.

 

Passage Jouffroy

Passage Jouffroy

Flickr: wolfB1958 / Creative Commons

Built in 1047, Passage Jouffroy is located directly across the street from Passage des Panoramas. It’s home to an eclectic collection of vintage shops, bakeries, and the Musée Grévin, Paris’s original wax museum.

Enter at 10 boulevard Montmartre or 9 rue de la Grange-Bateliére.

 

Passage Verdeau

Passage Verdeau
Flickr: wolfB1958 / Creative Commons

The often-overlooked Passage Verdeau is worth the trip. It’s packed with antique shops and cafes, along with a shop specializing in rare and vintage books. Antique lovers could easily make an afternoon of it!

Enter at 6 rue de la Grange-Bateliére or 31 bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre.

 

Galerie Véro-Dodat

Vero-Dodat
Flickr: HorsePunchKid / Creative Commons

Galerie Véro-Dodat was built in 1826 by two butchers with an exceptional eye for design. this stylish passage is home to art galleries and shops selling everything from vintage toys to fine musical instruments.

Enter at 19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau or 2 rue du Bouloi.

Fancy a trip to Paradise? Need a Spa break? Check out our top ten most interestingly-named exchange cities.


1. For those who want it all – Paradise, Nevada, USA

Wedding

2. When you’ve got marriage on the mind – Wedding, Germany

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10 Free Paris

What’s better than having fun things to do? Having fun free things to do. Welcome to our blog series, 10 Free Things. Today we tackle the city of lights with 10 fun and free things to do in Paris.


1. Visit Notre Dame

The stunning Notre Dame cathedral took over a century to build, and you can check out the intricate architecture and spectacular stained glass without paying a cent. The cathedral also offers regularly scheduled Night Shows, also free of charge. Check the schedule before you go!

 

2. Get some sun at Paris Plages

When you think of Paris, the beach certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But for four weeks every summer, the banks of the Seine are transformed into sandy stretches complete with lounge chairs, volleyball nets, cabanas, and ice cream carts.

 

3. Picnic at Le Champ de Mars

While traveling to the top of the Eiffel Tower comes with a pretty hefty price tag (and a long wait in line), it’s absolutely free to visit the grounds. Grab a baguette and some brie from le marché and picnic on the grass. Arrive at sundown to catch the light show!

 

4. Take a break at Le Jardin des Tuileries

The Tuileries Garden was created by Queen Catherine de Medicis in 1564, but wasn’t opened to the public until over a century later. Today, native Parisians and visitors alike gather by the garden’s ponds and sculptures to picnic and relax. If you’re visiting between June and August, be sure to stop by the Fête des Tuileries for rides, treats, and family-friendly fun.

 

5. Take advantage of free museum days

On the first Sunday of every month, major museums like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay offer totally free admission. The lines may be a little longer, but it’s an unbeatable deal.

 

6. Stroll along la Promenade Plantée

Chances are, you’ve heard of New York City’s High Line. But did you know that it was inspired by Paris’s Promenade Plantée? This elevated garden is an extensive green belt that follows the old Vincennes railway line, and you can stroll along while looking down to the city below for free.

 

7. Get a bird’s eye view from Sacré-Coeur

Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) sits atop a giant hill in the Montmartre district of Paris. The view from its steps is incomparable (especially at sunset) and chances are that whenever you visit, you’ll hear live music from a local singer or musician.

 

8. Saunter down L’avenue des Champs-Èlysées

For a truly Parisian walk, nothing beats strolling down the Champs-Èlysées. You’ll see bars, restaurants, historic landmarks, and, of course, do some wonderful window shopping (Cartier and Louis Vuitton, anyone?) You’ll also bump into the Arc de Triomphe, Grand Palais, and Place de la Concorde. Not a bad walk!

 

9. Take a free walking tour

Sandeman’s New Europe offers a free, two-hour walking tour that cover’s Paris’s history from Napoleon to La Belle Époque. If you’re lucky, your tour guides might share their tips on the best nightlife, too!

 

10. Wander Around Le Marais

It would be entirely possible to spend your entire visit to Paris in the Marais district and never run out of things to explore. From historic churches to unique shops to Jewish delis (Le Marais is home to one of Paris’s largest Jewish communities), you’d do well to save at least a day or two to wander the streets of this incredible neighborhood.

Previously: 10 Free Things in Los Angeles

Nice at Festival Time

Go on.  Think festival and then tell me which nation instantly comes to mind.

It’s got to be Brazil surely? Closely followed probably by Italy with its tomato throwing competitions and enormous statues of saints paraded through the streets on stilts. Or Spain, which loves celebrating the battles between the Moors and the Christians and that crazy bull-chasing festival in Pamplona.  But France?

France, the nation that invented that untranslatable word ‘chic’; France that gave us the world’s richest food and the world’s snootiest waiters; France with ‘sophisticated’ as its middle name couldn’t possibly go in for crazy festivals. But there we were, in search of winter sunshine down in the south and everywhere we turn it’s festival time.

Menton is an enchanting little seaside town on the edge of Italy. It’s very elegant, very understated, and surrounded by lemon groves. So naturally, when the great and the good of Menton decided to have a festival it had to be in honour of lemons. So come February, for the past 81 years, floats are built, costumes are designed and pretty girls are found to parade along the ‘corso’  to much fanfare and hooting and tooting. The ‘Fête du Citron’ could never be called ‘chic’ and Parisians would probably turn up their smart noses at such goings on, but we loved it.

Each year there’s a special theme, which this year was  ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”, so the parade was all about marine life, but made out of lemons.  My absolute favourite was this scary monster, which, in the absence of the Great White – there are no sharks in the Mediterranean – we called The Great Lemon. There were also ships, mansions and all kinds of contrivances, most of which required several thousand lemons and quite a few oranges.

Da da da da - watch out. It's a great lemon.

Everyone gets in on the act of course. All the shops and stalls in the old town have their share of lemon memorabilia; lemon honey, lemon comfiture (jam to you and me), lemon cleaning products, from soap to shampoo, to stuff for cleaning the sink, all presented alongside lemon coloured hand-towels with matching lemon featured table cloths. But is there a happier colour than yellow? And doesn’t the town look jolly with such a sunny fruit to celebrate?

We feel quite sad to be leaving it, but are reassured that festivals erupt all along the coastline around this time of year, but most especially in Nice, whose ‘Battles of The Flowers’ are famous.

It all started around the mid 19th century when winter visitors, mostly from Britain, flocked to the South of France to escape the British winter. They paraded in their carriages along the sunny Promenade des Anglais discreetly exchanging floral bouquets to each other, celebrating the fact that spring appeared to have sprung. There is nothing discreet about the parade today. The band plays, the jugglers juggle, the street entertainers whip us into a frenzy as pretty girls on floats covered in flowers throw some 20 kilograms of mimosa and fresh-cut blooms into the crowd. I worry slightly that there won’t be any flowers left to buy in the market the next day, but apparently, over the festival, around 100,000 fresh-cut flowers are used, 80% of them produced locally. So I really shouldn’t worry.

Can you smell the flowers? Yes, you can.  The atmosphere is quite literally intoxicating and gets you in a really good mood for the main event, which is the Festival Gastonomique of Nice.  This is the one with enormous figures, metres high with huge papier maché heads celebrating the re-discovered cuisine of Nice. They call it Cuisine Nissarde and it is one of the few named regional cuisines of France. There is Lyonnaise (not a favourite), Provençale and Nissarde and for me, Nissarde is, forgive the pun, the nicest. In fact, when you’re called Nice and your food is good, why not just call it Nicest and be done with it?  But there you are.  They are still French, and therefore it must be a little more complicated.

Nice.What's not to like?

Nissarde cuisine takes many of its flavours from neighbouring Italy. Lots of vibrant coloured vegetables like tomatoes, aubergines, sweet peppers and courgettes. Pulses like lentils and chickpeas, sprinkled with spices and drizzled with lemon and local olive oil. Fish can be John Dory or Sea Bass, but more comfortably are octopus, squid, scallops and lots of spiky shellfish. My two favourite restaurants in Nice operate on the same level in quality and organic ingredients, ‘biologique’ as it’s known in France.  But one is casual and almost rustic. The other gastronomique, but in the Nissarde tradition. I couldn’t recommend them or Nice at festival time more. February may be cold and grey elsewhere, but in Nice it’s nice. In fact, it’s nicest.


EATING NISSARDE

Attimi Restaurant – casual, delicious. French waiters with smiles.

10 Place Massena.

Luc Salsedo – gastronomique, delicious. Maitre d’ has perfect English and manners to match.

14 Rue Maccarani

FESTIVAL TIME

Menton

Au Pays du Citron – specialist boutique for all things lemon

Huilerie St Michel-Menton

Nice

LIVING LIKE A LOCAL

If all this sounds too good to be missed and should be relished over weeks if not months here are a few suggestions.

2 bedroomed house in Ventimiglia just along the coast after Menton. Beautiful views, lovely warm stone house covered in bougainvillea.

Top floor flat in Nice, with views and everything within walking distance

5 bedroomed house with a pool in Nice for families.

bike signal

Biking is a fun, healthy, and eco-friendly way to see the sights. Read on for our picks for the top ten most bike-friendly cities worldwide, and let us know where your favorite place is to get around on two wheels.


1. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is positioned firmly at number one when it comes to bicycle-friendliness. More than 40% of the city’s commutes happen on two wheels, and public bikes are widely available to rent. In addition, there are plans to build a bike parking structure at the city’s central train station.

2. Copenhagen, Denmark

An amazing 32% of Copenhagen residents bike to work on a regular basis, thanks in part to the city’s free public bike rental program. Swipe your card to leave a deposit when you grab your wheels, and it’s refunded when you return them.

3. Boulder, CO, USA

Nearly every major Boulder roadway has a cycling lane, in part thanks to the fact that 15% of its transportation budget is dedicated to promoting and improving bike travel. Couple that with 300 days of sunshine per year and you’ve got some truly excellent biking conditions.

4. Paris, France

Paris owes its spot on the list to Vélib, the remarkable government-operated bike rental program. 20,000 bikes are available at 1,800 stations all over the city 24/7, and the first 30 minutes of use are always free. In fact, you’re likely to see more Parisians on a Vélib bike than any other kind.

5. Munich, Germany

With hundreds of miles of marked bike routes, dedicated cycling lanes, and bike traffic signals, it’s no wonder 80% of Munich’s residents own a bike. The city also provides bike maps and route advice, aiming to increase the number of regular bike commuters to 20% by 2015.

6. Portland, OR

With over 260 miles of bike trails and pathways connecting its urban neighborhoods, Portland’s citizens can nearly bypass car traffic altogether. It’s no wonder the city has achieved bike commuter rate of nearly 9%.

7. Montreal, QC, Canada

Montreal recently embarked on a massive $134 million plan to create a more bike-friendly city. The project paid off; with 2,400 miles of trails and counting, convenient bike lock points, and a sharing system, Montreal just might be the most cyclist-oriented city in North America.

8. Perth, Australia

Perth is home to over 700 km of dedicated bike lanes and paths, and its government provides excellent maps and resources. In addition, the city holds an annual celebration of all things bicycle, dedicated to promoting and developing its urban cycling culture.

9. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona’s bike share system has been a huge success since its inception in 2007, and you’ll find more than 100 stations along the city center’s 60km “green ring” bikeways. Tip: Barcelona’s share system, Bicing, is only available to residents. Ask your exchange partner to leave their Bicing card for you to use!

10. Trondheim, Norway

Trondheim has earned the final spot on our list of bike-friendly cities thanks to the Cyclocable, the world’s first bicycle lift. Since its installation, the lift has helped more than 200,000 cyclists reach the top of the city’s (very) steep Brubakken hill.

 


What’s your favorite place to bike? Tell us in the comments!

Photos: Claudia Regina CC / Creative Commons; this_is_not_dan / Creative Commons; sarah sosiak / Creative Commons; Curtis Cronn / Creative Commons

10 Free LA

What’s better than having awesome things to do? Having awesome free things to do. Welcome to our new blog series, 10 Free Things. First up: 10 free things in Los Angeles, California.


1. Party in the streets at Abbot Kinney First Fridays

Stop by Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice’s hip main stretch, on the evening of the first friday of every month to check out locally-owned shops, food, music, and artists.

 

2. Visit the Getty Center and Getty Villa

Admission to these two phenomenal museums is completely free (just pay a reasonable parking fee at each). The Getty center offers breathtaking views and a world class art and photography collection while the Villa, located in Malibu, houses a rich collection of art and artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.

 

3. Channel your inner Robin Hood

Head to Pasadena every Saturday morning for free beginner’s archery lessons at Lower Arroyo Seco Park, courtesy of Pasadena Roving Archers. Your first lessons is always free, and a small donation is requested for each subsequent class.

 

4. Hike the best trails

L.A. is home to some amazing hiking trails, but one of our favorites has to be the Musch Trail in Topanga Canyon State Park. You’ll be well rewarded at the top; the panoramic ocean views are just stunning.

 

5. Check out a reading at the Hammer Museum

UCLA’s Hammer Museum offers a wide range of art exhibits that are well worth the trip, but you’ll also find some of literature’s best modern minds (think Junot Diaz, Karen Russell, and Michael Chabon) at Hammer Readings. Many of the events are also followed by receptions and book signings.

 

6. Up your tennis game at Canyon Courts

Want to work on your doubles game? Head to Rustic Canyon Park in the Pacific Palisades, and you’ll find six beautiful, recently-resurfaced hard courts to play on.

 

7. Stargaze at Griffith Observatory

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the park and observatory’s namesake, once said “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world!” The Griffith observatory aims to make that a reality by offering free admission and use of its public telescopes. You can also attend a Star Party, held one Saturday per month, to chat with amateur astronomers about your galactic discoveries.

 

8. Get cultured at the Skirball Center

The Skirball Cultural Center offers a range of family-friendly exhibitions, performing arts, film, lectures, and classes. Admission to the beautiful campus is always free, and you can grab free admission to its exhibitions every Thursday.

 

9. Splash around at the Annenberg Community Beach House

The Annenberg Community Beach house started out as a luxurious estate built by William Randolph Hearst for none other than Marion Davies, but thanks to the Annenberg Foundation, everyone can now enjoy it’s perfect beach-front location. While there is a fee to use the swimming pool, the beach areas, playground, courtyard, splash pad, and view deck are always free to the public.

10. Jazz it up at LACMA

The Jazz at LACMA series celebrates over 20 years at the museum, and with jazz greats like John Clayton, Les McCann, Arturo Sandoval, and Ernie Watts offering free concerts from April to November, it’s easy to understand why the program receives over 42,000 visitors annually.


What city would you like us to feature next in our Ten Free Things series? Let us know in the comments!

street food top 10

Traditional restaurants can be wonderful, but when you need a quick, authentic (and sometimes adventurous) bite, nothing beats grab-and-go street food. Check out our picks for the top 10 street food cities worldwide!


 

1. Istanbul, Turkey

turkey
Flickr: roboppy / Creative Commons

What to try: börek (flaky pastry), simit (sesame bread), kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes), and döner (pita sandwiches filled with shaved meat and toppings).
 

2. Berlin, Germany

berlin
Flickr: muckster / Creative Commons

What to try: currywurst (fried sausage covered in curry ketchup), fresh pretzels filled with butter. Bonus: in Berlin, street food is known as imbisse.
 

3. Marrakech, Morocco

morocco
Flickr: Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France / Creative Commons

What to try: snail soup, brochettes (skewers of spiced ground meat), spicy sardines, aubergine fritters, tehal (stuffed camel spleen).
 

4. Bangkok, Thailand

thailand
Flickr: adactio / Creative Commons

What to try: nam kang sai (shaved ice with jellied fruit and coconut cream), jok (rice porridge), som tam (spicy green papaya salad).
 

5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

brazil
Flickr: Josa Jr / Creative Commons

What to try: churrasquinhos (grilled meat kebabs), pão de queijo (cheese bread), pipoca (salty or sweet popcorn), coxinhas (breaded, deep-fried shredded chicken).
 

6. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

vietnam
Flickr: jypsygen / Creative Commons

What to try: banh mi (meat, pate, and daikon sandwich on french bread), op la (eggs friend with sausage), chem chep nuong (grilled mussels).
 

7. Paris, France

paris
Flickr: eleanor lonardo / Creative Commons

What to try: crepes, crepes, and more crepes, stuffed with everything from jambon (ham) and gruyere to honey, apples, sugar, butter, and Nutella.
 

8. Portland, Oregon

portland
Flickr: varrqnuht / Creative Commons

What to try: Lefsa (Scandinavian-inspired flatbreads), fish tacos, fish and chips, chocolate whiskey pie, and basically anything else you can imagine.
 

9. Tel Aviv, Israel

israel
Flickr: Christyn / Creative Commons

What to try: sabich (pita stuffed with eggplant, hardboiled egg), falafel, shawarma (slow-grilled meat).
 

10. Brussels, Belgium

belgium
Flickr: sebr / Creative Commons

What to try: frites (potato fries served with dipping sauces like mayonnaise, aioli, and spicy ketchup), waffles with powdered sugar, whipped cream, berries, and chocolate.


What’s your favorite street food spot? Let us know in the comments!