24 Hours in Thessaloniki / Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

If you have only 24 hours to explore the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki, here is my favorite route to help you make the most of your time.

11.00 – Boat Trip with Arabella

Start the day on a boat. Arabella is a floating bar-boat that takes you on a 30 minute sailing journey around the Thessaloniki bay. The trip is free of charge, and you only pay for your consumption on board. Prices however are comparable to those in any of the coffee shops by the waterfront, so just think of this boat trip as an alternative to the morning coffee.

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

12.00 – The Archaeological Museum

There is no better way to get to know Thessaloniki but to get to know the history of the city as well as the whole Macedonian region. And the best place to learn it all is the Archaeological Museum (6 Manoli Andronikou Street). The museum holds many a monuments, but the most exciting exhibition is the gold treasure collection constituting of pieces found in different parts of Northern Greece. I always find incredible the level of detail that goldsmiths were able to achieve centuries ago.

I would recommend you to buy a combination ticket at a price of 8 euro which grants you entrance to both the Archaeological and Byzantine museum (which is our afternoon destination).

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

14.30 – Lunch at Restaurant B

If by now you are starving, search no more than across the street. Restaurant B is a beautiful oasis away from the busy Thessaloniki traffic while right in the heart of the city. And the food, oh, the food! Delicious, aromatic, very Mediterranean with a sophisticated presentation and an influence from French and Italian cuisine. Need I say more?

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Well fed, take a short stop to enjoy the olive trees, and off to the next destination:

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

15.30 – The Museum of Byzantine Culture

The Museum of Byzantine Culture is located right behind restaurant B, and is the natural continuation of the historic tour we took in the morning at the Archaeological Museum. The museum exhibitions are extraordinary, but even more extraordinary is the design of the museum building by architect Kyriakos Krokos (1941-1998). Walking through the building is like walking on a spiral, and each elevation represents a different century. Beautiful!

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

17.00 – Stroll and Shopping Along Tsimiski

After so much history, it may now be time to get back into the present. And what better way than so than a stroll along Tsimiski, the main shopping street in Thessaloniki.

18.00 – Battery Recharge at Cafe Ble

Now, shopping may be exciting, but I have something more exciting for you. (Yes! More exciting than shopping! It is possible!) Just turn right in Agias Sofias Street to find Cafe Ble, one of the most hip and innovative bakeries in Thessaloniki. Ble is a heaven on earth for everyone with a sweet tooth. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that I frequent it more often than I should every time I am in town.

Cafe Ble - Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

19.00 – The Church of St. Sofia

And since you are already on Agia Sofias street, it would be a sin to miss the church of St. Sophia which is located just a few meters away. St. Sophia is one of the oldest churches in the city still standing today. It is one of several monuments in Thessaloniki included as a World Heritage Site on the UNESCO list.

In fact, if you have paid good attention at the exhibition in the Byzantine museum, than you should already know the history behind the church: erected in the 8th century, based on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; converted into the cathedral of Thessaloniki in 1205, and then turned into a mosque during the Ottoman empire. The church was reconverted upon the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912.

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

21.00 – Dinner at Kitchen Bar

As the sun sets, I suggest you to head towards the port. Previously a shady area, now the port has been revived as a popular space and meeting point for artists, creatives and foodies. And the best place for a dinner is without a doubt Kitchen Bar. The great brick interior and the waterfront garden facing the skyline of Thessaloniki are a wonderful addition to the delicious menu.

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Restaurant Kitchen Bar - Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

22.30 – Drinks at Electra Palace

Finish the day at the roof-top garden Orizontes at Electra Palace to enjoy prime breath-taking views on Aristotelous Square and the Mediterranean sea.

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

Thessaloniki Itinerary - Sight-seeing in 24 hours - Greece

I hope you enjoyed the suggested walk; below is a customized Google map with all places mentioned in the blog. Now you can take my itinerary with you on the go while you are exploring Thessaloniki. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop a line or two in the comments section below, and I will answer as soon as possible.

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Day Trip to Helsinki / Finland

The Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

Every time I travel to Helsinki I feel as if I travel to ‘the city of cathedrals’. Three beautiful cathedrals define the three central areas of Helsinki: the Lutheran cathedral in central Helsinki, the unique Church in the Rock and the Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral.

The Helsinki Cathedral is located right in the city center and has become a landmark for the Helsinki cityscape. The cathedral was built between 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and was also known as the St Nicholas’ Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. The cathedral prides with white-washed facade and green domes on the outside, and a very minimalist decor on the inside. The stairs in front of the cathedral have become a favorite meeting point for locals and tourists alike.

The Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

The Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

Next is the Temppeliaukio church, or better known as the ‘Rock church’. Just as the name suggests, the church is built into a solid rock. From the outside it is nothing special. In fact, if you don’t know it is there, you may as well just pass by it without noticing. But don’t let this first impression fool you. Designed by two finish architects, the brothers Suomalainen, the church opened doors in 1969. It is known for its unique acoustic properties. Often there is a live piano performance during day time, but even if there is no pianist on the day of your visit, a record would definitely be playing in the background to demonstrate the properties of the church.

The Rock Church Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki, Finland

Temppeliaukio Church, a.k.a. Rock Church

Helsinki, Finland

And finally, the Uspenski Cathedral. This gorgeous brick beauty was built between 1862–1868 and is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the Western Europe.

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

But Helsinki has a lot more to offer. Walking down Aleksander street is like walking in an architecture museum. At the end of Aleksander street is Stockmann, a premium shopping mall. However, I would suggest that you skip Stockmann and instead check out Harald which is right across the street. Harald is a truly viking-inspired restaurant where the waiting personnel wears long gowns, and there are trophy moose heads decorating the walls. The food is hearty and tasty, and the authentic atmosphere adds a pinch of unique flavors to every dish.

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

For those of you curious to know more about the Finnish culture and history, be sure to visit the National Museum of Finland. On the same block you will also find the Helsinki Music Center, home to Sibelius Academy and two symphony orchestras, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Parliament and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kaisma.

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Having fun in the company of M.A. Castren

Helsinki Music Center, Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki Music Center

The train station, Helsinki, Finland

The Central Station

Helsinki, Finland

Before you leave, be sure to check out the daily open market by the port. It is a great place to buy some authentic hand-made souvenirs from local producers.

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Here’s a map of all the places mentioned in this blog post. Now you can take my Helsinki itinerary on your Google Maps and follow my steps. In case you have any further questions, drop a line in the comments section below, and I will try to come back to you as soon as possible.

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Things to See in Kos Town / Greece

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Many believe that Kos town is the hometown of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, and a whole souvenir industry lives around this fact. Thus, the plane tree under which Hippocrates was presumably educating his students on the art of medicine has become one of the main tourist attraction on the island. Now, let’s get it straight: the tree that is currently residing on Platía Platanou (or “Square of the Platane”) is only 500 years old, so definitely not the original (for a reference, the supposedly original tree should now have been approximately 2400 years old), but even so it is still a majestic tree with a long history that some may find interesting. However, I found this column (also very touristic and with no real historic value either) a bit more fascinating.

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So, what is there more to Kos town than the Hippocrates tree? What I found very interesting is the mix of old and new architecture all over the place, just as well as the mix of cultures and religions. The island has been under the Ottoman empire occupation, then has belonged for short time periods to Germans and Brits until it again becomes Greek in 1947. So there are plenty of influences in the design. For instance, the area around the main square is home to both the mosque Moslem Shrine Ntefterntar and the Orthodox church of Agia Paraskevi.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

The square also hosts the Medieval Phoros Gate. Pass through it and you will be swallowed by lights and smells of the ‘Bar street’. No big surprise here, the name says it all. The place is perfect if you are in your early 20-ties and searching for some cheap alcohol options. For those that would like to have a more relaxed and sophisticated experience, take a stroll by the water-front. There are plenty a bars and coffee shops to accommodate every taste. Our favorite place was Neo Syntrivani (Akti Kountourioti 5) – a lovely coffee/bar with kind personnel and great cocktails.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Back in the day, the center of Kos town was occupied by a huge market, Agora in Greek. Now the Ancient Agora is closed for visits, and you can only see the ruins while walking across the town, but a new smaller and much more modern agora has appeared on the main square. There you can find anything from local wines and spices to olive-oil cosmetics to souvenirs. I found this to be a wonderful place to stock up on some spices, honey and wines to pack in the check-in luggage.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Moving away from the main square and walking towards the port, you can find the boats that can take you to Bodrum, Turkey for a day trip. There are many on offer, some smaller, some fancier, so the choice is yours. We didn’t have the time to make the trip, so I can’t comment on the service, but I have to mention that some boats were just too cute to pass on.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Further down the port is the Neratzia Castle, which was unfortunately closed both times we went to Kos town, so we only managed to have a look on the fortress from the outside. The Castle was built by the Knights of St-John of Jerusalem who ruled on the island from 1314 to 1512.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Finally, as you walk towards the bus station, you will see the beautiful building of the Town Hall on one side, and the coastline of Turkey on the other. It is a great little location to be.

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

Kos Town, The Island of Kos, Greece - Things to See & Do

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Sunset in Zia / Kos, Greece

sunset-zia-kos-greece-12

The island of Kos has many of adventures to offer but my favorite is by far the time we spent in the small village of Zia. Zia is promoted as a typical Greek village, and is one of the few places on the island of Kos where you can see the white-washed facades and blue roofs so common for most islands in the Cyclades, for instance Santorini. (Just to be clear, the island of Kos belongs to the Dodecanese islands, which have an entirely different architectural vibe.)

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We booked our trip to Zia via a local Kos-based tour agency, Tigaki Express. In fact, the hotel did all the arrangements for us, and we just had to be waiting for the bus in front of our hotel at 18.00 on a Wednesday evening. Smooth! Well, there is probably only one drawback for booking the trip via an agency instead of simply renting a car and heading towards Zia. It turned out we were the first to be picked up by the bus driver, which meant that although the village of Zia is located only 16 km away from the town of Kos, we spent almost an hour in the bus touring around the east-north part of the island to pick up the rest of the participants in the tour. On the plus side, we got a chance to see more of the island, just to confirm that staying at Kos Imperial Thalasso was actually a smart choice.

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The village of Zia is located at the base of Mount Dikaios (the highest mountain on the island of Kos), making it the perfect location for a romantic dinner with a glass of fine local white wine in a traditionally-styled Greek tavern as the sun sets over the horizon. But I am moving ahead of time. First, let me walk you through the tiny cobble streets of the village of Zia.

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The bus dropped us at the main square at 19.00 and we had all the time until 22.00 to roam around the village. Some tours actually also include a dinner in the price, however in the price of our package was only included the ride, so we had a chance to explore the taverns (and we already had gathered some recommendations from the locals). The village of Zia is small, yet charming, and has an entirely different vibe than Kos town. It took us approximately an hour at a very leisurely pace to climb up to the church of Genneseos Theotokou (Γεννέσεως Θεοτόκου), and return to the main square.

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Just in time for the sunset to start painting the horizon in the most amazing and intense shades of red and orange and yellow I have seen in a while. So we found a lovely table at the “Oromedon” tavern (devoted to preserving the genuine gastronomic identity of the island of Kos) and we enjoyed the rest of the night.

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Grecotel Kos Imperial Thalasso | Review

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Kos Imperial Thalasso is located along the picturesque Psalidi coastline of the island of Kos. From magnificent Aegean views to fine dining, this 5-star luxurious hotel has something to offer even to those with the most exquisite of tastes. Follow me around as I show you the secrets of this hidden gem by the Grecotel group.

Getting There

Kos Imperial Thalasso is located some 20 km away from Kos Airport (Hippocrates), and the easiest way to reach the hotel is by taxi; the ride costs 40 euro (as of 2015). A less expensive alternative is to take the local bus (KTEL), with a price point of less than 5 euro per person, to Kos town, and then change to another bus towards Psalidi (at an extra cost of 2 euro per person). The bus schedule is however not regular, so be sure to check online whether there is a scheduled bus upon arrival.

The Bungalow Concept

If you are searching for an alternative to all those massive hotel buildings by the coastline of most resorts, than Kos Imperial Thalasso will come to you as a breath of fresh air. The hotel consists of multiple two-story bungalows with stone veneer facades and cute tegular roofs.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

We had booked a Junior Bungalow Suite with a spacious terrace overlooking the garden and the magnificent Aegean sea as a backdrop. No better spot to rest your tired feet after a long trip. In branded Grecotel slippers, naturally!

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Even though the bungalow was in close proximity to the pool area, the main restaurant and the beach bar, it was quiet.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Be advised that not all rooms have a view towards the Aegean sea. In fact, as we were exploring the hotel premises, it seemed like most rooms do not have sea views but instead their balconies overlooked mostly the green areas between the buildings; some rooms had a view towards the pool areas but it seemed to me that these rooms may actually be quite noisy.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

c/o Kos Imperial Thalasso website

Beach and Pools

The hotel has a private beach, a very pebbly private beach. (OK, not entirely pebbly since a large portion of the beach is artificially covered in sand.) Essentially, if you would like to swim in the sea, you need to have some of those funny swimming shoes. (We purchased ours ahead of time, but the hotel shop offers a vast selection of choices.) Now, if you are like me and you’re not a fan of small rocks under your toes, you will be thrilled to know that all pools (and I counted at least three of them, plus a Jacuzzi) are filled with sea water. I find this to be one of the best selling points of the hotel.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

The other thing that made me an impression is that although the hotel was full, it did not feel crowded. Quite the opposite. It was always easy to find sun beds both by the pool and at the beach.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Half-Board Included

Kos Imperial Thalasso offers two meal plan options: a half-board and a full-board. We opted for the first option, which meant that we frequented the beach bar over lunch time to enjoy this humongous club sandwich. (The second best choice for lunch was Taverna Romeo located right across the street of the hotel; a small family restaurant in a traditional Greek setting and the tastiest zucchini keftedes you could ask for.)

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Breakfasts and dinners were buffet-style. The highlight during breakfast was by far the crepe station with an assortment of freshly made salty and sweet crepes. Dinners were generous on traditional Greek dishes mixed with artisan desserts like this swan-like eclair (which seems to be a great idea for that special occasion to wow your guests.)

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Entertainment

On those evenings when we stayed at the hotel, we were excited to check out the evening performances featuring both local and international artists. My favorite show was without a doubt the Beatles Night: four extremely talented guys from Britain performed covers of the Beatles among which ‘Yesterday’, ‘Can’t buy me love’ and ‘A little help from my friends’. The dancers performing traditional Greek dances were also interesting: especially when they asked all guests to join them on stage to learn sirtaki.

Kos Imperial Thalasso Hotel by Grecotel, Kos Island, Greece

Below is a short video which attempts to capture the vibes of Kos Imperial Thalasso by Grecotel. I hope you enjoy watching it!

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Top of the Rock / New York

top of the rock new york city nyc

As a first-timer in New York, I had a humble to-do list: watch a show on Broadway, visit the MoMA, and see New York from the observatory deck Top of The Rock.

So after visiting MoMA (and the fascinating Björk exhibition), we headed towards Top of The Rock just to find out that the observatory decks on floors 69 and 70 were closed due to strong wind. The choice was either to go up only to floor 67 or to return on another day for the full experience. The decision was obvious – to us; the lady at the front desk gave us a look saying ‘As if there is any difference between the 67th and the 70th floor’ and appointed us time for the next morning.

rockefeller plaza rockefeller center new york city

rockefeller plaza rockefeller center new york city

We had already purchased our Top of the Rock ticket in combination with the visit to MoMA. The ticket bares the glorious name Rock MoMA, costs USD 45.00 and saves approximately USD 10.00 per person if you have decided to visit both attractions. The good thing about the Rock MoMA ticket is that it gave us a priority entrance to Top of the Rock, so when we returned next morning we skipped a long queue which did raise some murmurs behind our backs.

rockefeller center new york city

After a quick security check, we took the elevator all the way up to the 67th floor – the first of three levels constituting the observatory deck. The elevator doors closed, the lights got dimmed and out of a sudden a screen on the ceiling lit up to reveal images of the Rockefeller Center history while a male voice welcomed us to one of the best experiences in our lives.

The observation deck on the 67th floor is protected by thick glass, and it allowed us to really explore New York from above. The higher decks however have no protection, and thus are extremely windy and cold. We quickly figured out why they were closed the previous day. After only 5 minutes up there I felt like Elsa of Frozen. That is to say, frozen.

top of the rock new york city nyc empire state building

top of the rock new york city nyc observation deck

But the views were all worth it.

top of the rock new york city nyc central park

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Björk @ MOMA / New York

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

Icelandic singer and songwriter Björk is controversial. And so is her exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

We went early at the MOMA to collect our special entry tickets to the exhibition area. I had mixed feelings of what we will find behind the thick curtains leading towards the exhibits. Upon entrance we were handed an iPod with narratives on a light music background and were told to walk through the dark corridors at a slow pace and listen carefully as Björk herself tells the story behind each of her eight albums. So we put our headsets on, pressed Play, and entered Björk’s world: Quite eccentric, completely revolutionary, but above all – very personal.

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

The walk-through took us about 40 minutes. I have to admit, I was never a huge fan of Björk. But this exhibition made me see her and her work in a completely fresh and new perspective.

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

If you happen to pass by the MOMA, I strongly recommend you to check out the Björk exhibition (until June 7, 2015). It is worth the experience.

Björk Exhibition at MOMA Museum of Modern Art New York City

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The National WWII Museum / New Orleans

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

The National WWII Museum (945 Magazine St) is not your ordinary museum. With a reputation of #4 museum in the United States, and #11 worldwide, it had to live up to high expectations. And so it did. Everything in the museum is reminiscent of war time. Bunker-style concrete facades reveal documentaries, photographs and exhibits that outline decisions and acts during the course of World War II.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

We started our journey at the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The exhibits and documentaries in this pavilion explained why the United States entered into WWII, what were the tactics and obstacles allies faced during preparations for the Normandy landings, and what happened on June 6, 1944, D-Day. The whole exposition is presented in a fascinating way, engaging visitors in an interactive journey through time.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Now, you may actually wonder why a national museum is located in New Orleans, and why there is a Louisiana pavilion. The answer: New Orleans born Andrew Jackson Higgins, “the man who won the war” according to President Eisenhower. Higgins designed and produced a boat specialized in amphibious landing of armies against defended coasts which was critical for the American invasion of France by water.

Higgins boat, The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Higgins boat, c/o Internet

Next stop, the US Freedom Pavilion also known as the Boeing Center.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Although the name suggested what we will find in the hall, what we saw was not even close to our expectations. The enormous military aircraft hanging from the ceiling and a three-tier observation platform had a numbing effect on us, and we spent probably a couple of minutes at the entrance simply staring up.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Lastly, we peeked into the Campaigns of Courage. We didn’t have a ticket for any of the movie shows (movie tickets are sold separately or in combination to museum entrance ticket) but instead followed the private stories of a few veterans while moving through a labyrinth of rooms in which different milestones of the war were recreated. Like the Battle of the Bulge.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Never before had I entered a museum where instead of a mere observer I was an actual participant. The sounds, the smells, the decor, even the temperature inside each room was chosen such that it recreates a scene. And it leaves a memory.

On our way out we saw what in my opinion is the most amazing finishing touch to this incredible historic journey. The tiles.

The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

We left the museum. Silent and humbled.

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24 Hours in New Orleans / Louisiana

Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Jackson Square

8.30 – Breakfast at Ruby Slipper

With a busy day planned ahead, and a schedule tightly packed with all sorts of activities, an early start at Ruby Slipper (200 Magazine Str.) seems like the perfect option: smiling staff, hearty food, and free coffee refill. Now, do not expect a culinary fiasco, but some good old-fashioned eggs a-la Benedict and pancakes would do the trick. What is more, everything is prepared entirely of local produce so in case you want to support New Orleans purveyors, here’s one easy way to do so.

Ruby Slipper New Orleans NOLA Breakfast

10.00 – The French Quarter

After indulging on eggs and bacon, we simply crossed Canal str. to find ourselves at the beginning of the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. It houses low buildings with incredible ironwork on most balconies. Sophisticated jazz, authentic voodoo and modern art co-exist in a mix to satisfy every taste.

French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

We walked to the very end of the French Quarter, following Royal Street, or the Art street as I frivolously named it. Here you can find anything from oil paintings to modern pop art to antique shops. And if you get tired of the art inside, the art outside is just as beautiful.

At the end of Royal Street is located the Old Mint, a small museum featuring a short yet descriptive history of New Orleans from financial point of view, as well as a beautiful gallery of photos of famous jazz performers from the city. And all this accompanied with light jazz in the background. Priceless.

12.00 – Masks and Quick Bites at the French Market

Right behind the mint begins the French Market – an open market featuring all sorts of souvenirs and all sorts of food. Anyone care for a gator on a stick? I myself didn’t dare to try it, but I already had my fair share of alligator meat at Antoine’s.

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

13.30 –  The Audubon Aquarium of Americas

Exiting the French Market, filled with colorful imagery and dense tastes, we did what every tired tourist should do – take a calming walk by the riverfront.

Mississippi Riverfront, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA Mississippi Riverfront, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Destination: Audubon Aquarium of Americas.

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Aquarium is probably one of the best places to spend (at least) half a day in New Orleans. The space is both interactive and entertaining regardless of your age. My personal favorites were by far the gigantic aquarium with sharks and an enormous yet gracious sea turtle (visible from the second floor, but go down one level to find a nice seating observation area), the feeding of the penguins (twice a day, for exact hours check the calender), and the parakeets house (yes, I know, parakeets are no sea animals!). Just be careful, the parakeets are prone to stealing.
The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

Penguin feeding

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The frog with the craziest blue skin color

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

The Audubon Aquarium of Americas New Orleans

Naughty parakeets

17.00 – Streetcar Ride to Garden District

The Aquarium closes at 17.00 but the sun is still high in the sky.  Best thing to do is dive into another part of the city: the Garden district. To get there it takes a quick (read 20 minutes) drive on the green streetcar (we took it from the corner of Canal str. and Carondelet str.). Now, the Garden district is visually the opposite of the French Quarter – silent streets, few tourists, big 19th century mansions, and even a cemetery.

Garden district, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Garden district, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

Cemeteries are just as much of a tourist attraction in New Orleans as any other museum. To our disappointment this one was already closed by the time we arrived so we only managed to sneak peek through the gate. However if you are interested in checking it out I suggest you follow some of the free guided tours organized by volunteers – check when is the next one here.

20.00 – Drinks at Bourbon Street

As the sun sets, we head back to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to see the other face of the neighborhood. Lights are bright, music is loud and the air smells heavily of beer. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the USA where drinking alcohol is allowed in public. (A tradition which probably stems from the Mardi Gras festival.) We find ourselves a table on the balcony of Embers and observe the party madness below us while sipping on a glass of wine.

Bourbon street by night, New Orleans, Louisiana, NOLA

This is the best thing about New Orleans, you can go big or you can simply sit back and take it easy. That’s why they call it the Big Easy, right?

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Three Must-try Restaurants in New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Being in New Orleans and not checking out Cafe du Monde‘s famous French beignets is almost like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel tower. It is safe to say, beignets have become some sort of a symbol of New Orleans. All travel guides will lead you straight to the original coffee stand of Cafe du Monde (dating back to 1862) located right in front of Jackson square. Now, if you like to be in the center of the tourist vortex and you are after an authentic experience, then just line up and wait patiently for your turn to come (which may easily take up to 30 minutes). However, if you are not after the authenticity but instead after the taste, continue a few blocks down – right in the heart of Riverwalk Outlet Center you will find a smaller and more recent installment of Cafe du Monde wonderfully located at Mississippi’s waterfront. Queues here are rare, places are almost always available and you can enjoy your beignets at your own pace.

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Po’Boys and Alligator Bisque at Hermes Bar by Antoine’s

If you are a fan of fine dining (I am talking white table cloths, very attentive waiters, and exquisite tastes), you shouldn’t miss Antoine’s, the oldest French-Creole restaurant in New Orleans. The restaurant has been in operation for 175 years, and is still owned and operated by relatives of the original founder, Antoine Alciatore. You want the same great culinary experience but without the pretense of a black tie? Head straight next door into Hermes bar. The bar serves all signature dishes from the main restaurant menu, as well as a selection of finger food to accompany your drink. Like the Oyster Foch Po’Boy, a traditional Louisianan sandwich served on a baguette-like New Orleans French bread. For the most adventurous, there is Antoine’s famous Potage Alligator au Sherry, a wonderfully rich in flavors alligator bisque. It did take some encouragement from the staff, but once persuaded I never regretted giving it a try.

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A Po Boy is a traditional Louisianan sandwich.

 

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My first alligator bisque

 

Chocolate Pecan Crunch at Bourbon House

For a relaxed dining experience in the epicenter of hectic Bourbon street, there is no better place than Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House. The restaurant prides for an extensive selection of bourbons and is the official home for New Orleans Bourbon Society. Now, I am not a bourbon kind of girl but I was instantly drawn to the outstanding oyster bar. However don’t simply cross Bourbon House off your list if you are not crazy for raw seafood either. Instead, try the to-die-for sweet potato beignets, the red beans hummus (another specialty in New Orleans) and finish off with the the best chocolate pecan crunch you have ever tasted in your life.

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Red beans hummus is yet another specialty in New Orleans

 

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The best chocolate pecan crunch in town.

 

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