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8 things to do in Mexico City, Mexico

There is just no shortage of things to do in Mexico City. The range of different architecture in the city is impressive and exciting not knowing what kind of building you will see next. When planning my trip, I had zero knowledge of what there was and once I started researching, the list grew so long I knew I wouldn’t be seeing everything. I’ve been told that you need at least 1 week to even get through half the things there are to do and they were right! Even after 4 days, I had not even brushed the surface of this dynamic and great city. Here are just 8 things that you can do in Mexico city.

Zocalo
  1. Zocalo
    The Zocalo is the main square in Mexico City and right in the middle is a giant Mexican flag which is raised and taken down every day. When it is raised and taken down by military personnel, it is accompanied with a brass and percussion band. This square is bordered by the cathedral, presidential palace and city Government offices. Often, this square also has festivals and markets. It’s such a big square and if you can find one of the surrounding cafe/bars, you can have a whole view of the square.
Monument to the Ninos Heroes 

2. Chapultepec Park and Castle
Chapultepec Park is a short metro ride away from Mexico City. Immediately, you will notice how many families and kids are passing their time in this lovely park. There are stalls selling snacks and small good lining the paths. The site of Chapultepec Castle was a sacred space for the Aztecs and the castle built ontop has served as a gun powder store, meteorology centre and residence of previous Emperors- now it is the National Museum of History.
The park is a great place for a run, picnic or Sunday stroll and is definitely a great green space if you feel like a scenery change.

3. Museum of Anthropology
Also located in Chapultepec Park, is the Museum of Anthropology. It is the largest and most visited Museum in Mexico. Over 2 stories, the museum follows the history of Mexico and houses archeological and anthropological artefacts. This museum is HUGE! I was in there for 2.5 hours and had only seen the bottom level of the museum. I like the chronological order that the museum is presented in and it is nicely spaced. It also has a great gift shop for all the Sun Stone souvenirs you could want.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

4. Palacio de Bellas Artes
The beautiful Palacio is unlike any building I’ve seen. If you’re after a dance performance, this will be the venue where you will see it. There is free entry into the foyer if you want to have a look at the grand interiors. Personally, I think the exterior is more impressive. If you’re there during the day, why not stroll into the park alongside the Palacio. Alameda Central is bustling at any time of the day. Street performers, playground equipment and water fountains means there’s something for anyone. When I was there, there was a huge book fair which I enjoyed browsing to see if there were any spanish books for my (beginner) level of Spanish.

Palacio de Correros de Mexico

5. Free walking tour
With many starting outside the Cathedral at the Zocolo, the free walking tour was great to see the sites and walk the streets with information. We got to see where all the main sites were, which was VERY helpful as some of these museums are on smaller streets. We walked the streets of stores selling quinceanera dresses (coming of age 15 year old party) and then suits. So organised! On this tour, we were taken to the Palacio de Correros de Mexico- the most beautiful post office you will ever see. Gold plated and a mish-mash of architectural styles, it will leave you in awe.

Courtyard of Casa de los Azulejos

6. Casa de los Azulejos
If you’re walking from Zocalo to Bellas Artes, you will probably notice the House of Tiles (covered in actual tiles from Puebla). Formally a private residence, it is now a Sanborns restaurant. The interiors are just as grand as the exterior. Our group ended up eating here and I found the food and service really good.

7. Frida Kahlo Museum
One of the famous Mexican artists, Frida’s old residence is now a museum. Make sure you book tickets in advance! Tickets are timed and are in hot demand. Being her old residence, this museum is on a quiet street in the very nice suburb of Coyoacán. The area is very hip, green and young. When you arrive, you will have to line up (even with your prebooked ticket) although the staff will call out for people with certain tickets. Inside, the house is not that big when taking into account how many tourists there are and it was cramped. The museum is one way and you just had to look and move on due to the lack of space. I like the ‘feel’ that the museum gives off- authentic and some air of Frida. I didn’t find her whole life story there but enjoyed snippets of what was presented. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures as you need to pay extra for this and I was also quite sick.

8. Tacos, churros and mezcal
A trip to Mexico city is not complete without eating! Here, there are plenty of places to choose from for Tacos which are filling and delicious. The most highly rated and popular churros place is El Moro. You will need to wait if you want to dine in but luckily, you can also take away your churros and hot chocolate. I tried out a mezcal tasting session as well (mezcal’s newest fan) and tried for the first time (sadly) chapulines (grasshoppers)! Can I say, why aren’t chapulines more popular! Salty and topped with lime flavours, I quickly fell in love with the combo of mezcal and chapulines!

Gosh, still so many more things to do and see- stay tuned for my next Mexico City related post to come!

A few days in Krakow, Poland

St Mary’s Basilica and the Main Square

I feel like Krakow has something to suit everyone. In our case, it was the history. Compared to Wroclaw, Krakow was bustling and more touristy. We caught the train from Wroclaw to Krakow (1 missed train and a 3hr delay later)- we arrived in the evening and luckily we had booked a place to stay within walking distance to the train station. The hotel was outside of the walled old town but only about 10 mins walk away.

The Main Square is the biggest Medieval plaza in Europe and boy is it big. Decked out with restaurants/cafes on all sides and at the time we went, an outdoor market as well as the usual indoor market. It’s so big that the New Years Eve celebrations were done from here. You can easily spend half the day just in this Square. The St Mary’s Basilica which towers over the Main Square houses a fabulous gold covered alter. You can enter for free however you won’t get very close to the alter. Every hour, a trumpet call plays from one of the towers of the Basilica and abruptly finishes. Legends has it that this is said to be in memory of the trumpeter who use to play to warn the town of that Krakow was about to be attacked. The abrupt ending signifies the moment an arrow is said to have killed the trumpeter. If you’re spending as much time in the Square as we did, you will surely hear it.

As always, a free walking tour was the first planned activity to catch the bearings of the city. This tour took us around the Old Town and Kazimierz. We saw much street art along the way and alot more outdoor eateries and cafes/restaurants.

Right in the middle of the square, is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was once upon a time a market. Today, it is still a market selling knick knacks. Above this market is a lesser known museum but filled with Polish Art. It’s a small museum but houses some of the greatest works from Polish artists.

On the far end of the Old Town is the Wawel Royal Castle overlooking the Vistula river. Here, one of the main attractions is the Wawel Cathedral which is the burial place of Polish monarchs. It’s such a lovely site to just walk around as you can see the sunset, there is the path along the river below and you are just being surrounded by such grand buildings.

Auschwitz

One of the darkest but well known site in Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau. Again, being quite a popular site- book in advance and go early. We booked with the hotel in advance to being in Poland and got picked up from the hotel. The trip from Krakow takes about 1.5 hrs. I was surprised- this site is located in what seems the middle of suburbs whereas I thought it wouldn’t be surrounded by anything.

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at the Birkenau site is how big it is. I had never imagined the site to be so vast. It is huge and I’m left with a horrid taste in my mouth and a feeling of disgust that such horrible crimes were even imaginable let alone be carried out to millions. With our guide, we were shown around with tales of the atrocities that have occurred here. The mood of the site was a solemn one and eerie. I did see some tourists taking selfies (why?!) which I thought was disrepectful and I know somewhat of a problem at the site. Alot of the buildings at the site are showing signs of age so many of the interiors cannot be viewed. I don’t even think this is necessary to imagine some of the things that had occurred here.

The next half of the day was at Auschwitz where there are permanent exhibitions of all the collected items from prisoners are on display. Compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz is more of a museum and memorial site. There is a lot of information inside and we were actually quite rushed being on the tour. It would’ve been nice to spend more time in the exhibit and read all the information available.
I would suggest to bring lunch and snacks for the whole day as there were not many places to get food nearby to these sites and there is alot of walking due to the size of both places.

On a seperate day, we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This salt mine is no longer active in supplying salt. We had again booked with a company that our hotel and well in advance. We got hotel pick up so didn’t have to navigate our way via bus to get there. The lines at the salt mine were insane! I think the staff were so use to the increasing numbers- the mine was actually really well run and the guides fantastic. You will need to pay for a special pass if you want to take any pictures and we didn’t so sadly, there are no pictures to share of this. The chambers inside were huge!

This salt mine was first started in the 13th century I was so impressed with all the sculptures, chapels and rooms. You can even get married in there! The church is even open for mass although I’m not sure when as there seems to be a constant flow of visitors everyday. Inside, our guided group tour was wedged between other groups and I think this is what it’s like all day- just group after group.

For the art fans, Krakow is one of the 6 places in world that houses a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Lady with an Ermine can be found within the walls of the Old Town. The Czartoryski Museum is THE oldest museum in Poland dating back to 1801 and originated as a private collection from Princess Izabela Czartoryski. This museum is another site where you will need to book in advance as every other visitor also has this on their list.

Krakow has been one of my favourite cities that I have visited and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface. There are many more WWII tours and places of interest that you can go to although time was not on our side. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to people watch in the Old Town or relax by the river watching the sunset.

Let me know what you like about Krakow and what other things/places that you would recommend here.

Being prepared for Machu Picchu- from Aguas Calientes, Peru

Hidden among the clouds, Machu Picchu, is on many people’s lists. Nestled in the peak of the Andes, it’s a wonder how the Incan’s managed to build such extensive structures so high up in the 15th century and the true purpose of the site still remains a mystery to this day. Machu Picchu was abandoned during the time of the Spanish conquest and laid forgotten to the outside world (apart from the locals) until 1911.

On the train between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes

The trek was never on my bucket list so I was one of the bus-ers up the mountain to this site. I was on a group tour with Intrepid travel for my time in Peru. A few days prior to coming here, I was down and out sick with a bug mixed with altitude sickness. By this time, I was eating little but managing and just really wanted to take in this special day! It would have been a shame if I was still unwell.

On this particular trip, we arrived in Ollantaytambo by bus from Cusco and then took the train to Aguas Calientes (not all in 1 go).

Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is mainly a tourist town with restaurants and hotels dotted up the mountainside. I’m sure the prices are all quite competitive as this town lives off tourism. I was still on my soup diet so had a delicious chicken soup. There is a very expansive market from the train station up the mountain into town for all those souvenirs and alpaca goods although I was saving myself as we had packed a duffel bag and left all our luggage back in Cusco. On the afternoon that we arrived in Aguas, some of us went to the hot springs at the far end of town to try them out. They don’t call this town Aguas Calientes for no reason! There are plenty of places along the main tourist hill heading up to the hot springs where you can rent a towel. Just remember to bring bags to bring your wet swimmers/clothes in.

The buses onwards and upwards to Machu Picchu start from 5:30am and let me tell you- I have not seen a town so awake before 6am. Tickets were time marked so simply turn up just before departure time to get your tickets stamped. These shuttle buses run all day until the site closes.

The winding roads are the ones the bus take from Aguas Calientes!

On this trip, our group had 6am tickets so there was no rest for the wicked. We all got onto the bus and weaved up the mountain- the ride took about 30mins although we couldn’t see much. I’ve been told that you should be praying to the weather gods before you even land in Peru that you will have good weather on the day that you visit. We were alittle anxious, having wind up the mountain and all we could see was the morning fog. Apparently, sometimes this fog lifts and sometimes it doesn’t!

When we arrived, you will need to line up again to get your tickets stamped.
BEWARE: There are only toilets outside of the Machu Picchu site so make sure you go before you enter (you will need to pay to access these toilets)

We arrived super early and had 3 hours to spare in the site before our guided tour started. Our group decided to head towards the Sun Gate which would be a return walk of 3 hours. As you might already imagine, the walk isn’t flat the whole way- add some incline and altitude- make sure you take it easy if you haven’t acclimitised.

Speaking of altitude, Machu Picchu is around 2430m above sea level. If you’ve spent some days in Cusco prior, which is 3300m above sea level- you should be sweet. Ollaytaytambo and Aguas Calientes are at lower altitudes compared to Cusco. I will write about altitude sickness is another post.

The view when we got to the site just before 7am- heading to the Sun Gate!

On our way to the Sun Gate, we passed all those trekkers who you had the Inca Trail coming into the site. After stopping for a million pictures along the way, we ended up at the Sun Gate although, there was still fog when we reached it so couldn’t really see much of the surrounds.

On our way back, the fog started to lift causing us to take even MORE pictures. Watching the fog lift and reveal just exactly how high up you are was breathtaking. The pictures here just don’t do it any justice.

Some tips!
– wear and bring sunscreen. You’re high up – protection is required
– wear a hat and sunglasses
– good pair of walking shoes
– bring water. There are no stalls inside the site- you will need to bring everything you need.
– no eating allowed in Machu Picchu- fill up at breakfast and bring some snacks for the ride back to Aguas Calientes.
– don’t forget your camera!

The fog lifting

Is Machu Picchu on your list? Do you have anymore tips to share?

First taste of Poland: Wroclaw

A handful of the 300 hundred (ish) dwarves around the city

I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first town in Poland. We took the bus from Berlin and arrived by evening (5hr bus ride). You know when you’ve seen so many images of a place you know what is awaiting. This was not like that. First off, the name of the city is not pronounced at all like it’s written (vrots-wahf). Second of all, how are the universities in Europe so ornate and beautiful!?

Beautiful market square

We just stayed in walking distance to the Market Square and the main train station and it was easy to keep walking around. We couldn’t wait to sample the local cuisine and eagerly tried the delicious polish donut- pączki, zurek soup served in a big bread roll, stuffed cabbage and more pierogis during our few days in Wrocław. It was soon decided that we love polish cuisine and couldn’t wait to continue our travels to the other Polish towns on our itinerary.

The market square rivals some of the best that I have seen. Architecturally pleasing and vibrant colours. It was here that we discovered our first pierogi’s and spiced winter tea.
We also went to visit the the oldest part of the town- Ostrów Tumski- which is a short walk from the Market Square and via an island.

View from the Mathematical Tower at Wrocław University
University of Wrocław doors

With a ticket, you are able to visit parts of the university such as the Mathematical Tower and Aula Leopoldinum which is a baroque hall. And of course, admire their doors! We did a free old town walking tour and a WWII walking tour during our time in Wrocław which was great to get to see the main sites accompanied with explanations.

We also spent part of an afternoon at the Muzeum Pana Tadeusza which is located in the Market Square. It is a great museum on the Pan Tadeusza Poem written by Adam Mickiewicz, which is one of the key literary cultural masterpieces in Poland. There is also part of the museum which focuses on the key events around WWII and post-war period.

Stare Jatki- previously a meat market

If you have time, you might want to bookmark this map to find all the gnomes around the city. They are everywhere! These are not a gardener’s tongue in cheek but a tribute to an underground movement ‘Orange Alternative’ that use to protest (by painting gnomes) in response to the country’s communist rule.

Wrocław town hall

It’s not on the usual list of towns to visit in Poland (such as Krakow or Warsaw) but it’s such a quaint town (or at least the central part anyway) filled with so much charm.

Have you been to Wroclaw and what did you think?

Spending a few days in Cologne, Germany

How magical it was! I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and spent a few days there recovering from my AUS –> Europe flight. Caught the train for 1hr north and voila, arrived in Cologne (or Koln as the locals know it). Once you step outside the main train station, there is the Cologne Cathedral- ominous yet magnificent, casting a shadow in front of you. It is what you expect of a gothic church- amazing, grand (in every sense) and dark (you know, that we haven’t water gun cleaned it (can you even do this to UNESCO listed sites?)).

The 1 thing I was most looking forward to was the Christmas markets. Boy oh boy were they amazing. Amazing atmosphere and location!

For the chocolate lovers, be sure to stop by the harbour side Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (they give out free waffle stick dipped in chocolate!). You can see how cacao seeds get to chocolate form that we all know and love and see machines in action. Great for the kids or a rainy day.

During my visit, I also went to the EL-DE Haus which was the former headquarters of the Gestapo turned museum. This normal looking building on the outside houses original basement chambers which were used to keep prisoners and a courtyard used for executions. The walls are still covered in pencil markings and etching. It was so eery in the basement even with many visitors in there. It is well preserved and am so glad that it is. There is great information and I think that there is a good balance between allowing visitors to see the bare walls and also information panels. Definitely one for the history buffs or those who want to explore Germany’s past.

Cologne has so many more museums in what is a great tourist friendly and interesting town. Be sure to add this to your list if visiting Germany!

What are also great museums or places to see in Cologne?

-S.

Day trip to Suomenlinna in 5 pictures

Suomenlinna, Finland

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See what i thought of Finland in a previous blog here.

– S.

Getting around Barcelona, Spain

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Hey guys!

I thought I would put together a helpful and quick guide to all the things you need to know prior and during your stay in Barcelona- a favourite city of mine.

Airport to Barcelona city centre

This has got to be one of the most stressful parts of a journey. Upon exiting the airport, follow the crowd and signs to bus stop to the city. I used Aerobus. It’s located downstairs from the arrivals hall. When I was there, the ticket line for the vending machines were huge! You can pre-book tickets and also line up for the bus and pay at the front of the bus (but this is really slow). There are 4 stops towards the city-centre, so check the location of where you need to get off against these stops. For travellers, this is generally the last stop: Plaza Catalunya.

  • 35 minutes trip, buses running every 5 minutes and bus runs everyday all year round.
  • Tip: buy a return ticket when you first purchase as it’s cheaper than buying 2 single tickets.

Public transport around Barcelona

Barcelona has a brilliant metro system and if you’re just visiting the major sites, is the perfect way to get around. The city centre is also quite easy to navigate on-foot so be sure to check the location of your accommodation and what you wish to see during your time there. For visitors, there are 2 tickets that are always recommended again and again. The 10 pass ticket (€9.95) that allows travel for 10 trips on buses (excluding airport buses) or metro or day passes which offer unlimited travel for the duration of its validity (3, 4 or 5 days validity). Another option is the tourist travel pass which offers unlimited public transport use and also tickets to major sites.

Tickets to major sites

By major sites, I mean anything Gaudi related. You will need to pre-book these tickets in advance as the lines are not worth your precious holiday time! Each venue will have its own website so make sure you’re onto this ASAP as Barcelona is a very busy city and sessions can often be booked out.

To see what I got up to when I went to visit Barcelona click here.

Do you have any more quick tips for visitors to Barcelona? Leave them in the comments below!

-S.

Make sure you click the follow button for more future travel posts!

Pros and Cons of Blablacar

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I found out about Blablacar through locals that I had met in Europe. This service is alittle like Airbnb- essentially, drivers list their trip on blablacar and you can pay for a seat and be a passenger. The website has a review process where you can rate the driver and their driving skills and they can also rate passengers. Once you’ve locked in a trip, you pay (with card) and then get a code to give your driver after your journey. All of this is done via the site but the only thing you do need to sort out with the driver is a meeting place.

Pros

  • It is cheap! I found that the trips were about half the price (if not more) than a bus or train tickets. If you’re regularly moving around a country, these travel costs can add up quickly and also leave little room to be flexible if train costs increase closer to travel dates. I thought that blablacar helped to cut travel costs during my holiday.
  • You get to meet locals. I love meeting new people on trips and what better place than being in the same car with each other. We have chatted about life in our respective countries, our dreams and life in general. One of my drivers is actually in Australia at the moment and hopefully we will get to catch up!
  • You can see part of the country. What better way to see the views than the front passenger seat of a car! I found that my drivers would point out different things along the way and we also got to talk about road tolls!
  • You can pick who you want to take the trip with. This is dependent on what towns you’re travelling between as some towns tend to have alot of trips happening and some with not so much. If you have choice, you can pick which age group/gender you want to travel with which I think is a good thing.

Cons

  • Language barrier. On one of my trips, there was a huge language barrier (I can’t speak spanish) and the driver couldn’t speak english. BUT WE MANAGED. It can be awkward if there is a language barrier but it’s generally ok.
  • Meeting place. Once a driver agrees to take you, you both have to settle on a meeting place. Usually, the driver has the final say and it can be hard to try and find a place you can easily get to with your luggage without having transport costs blow out. I had very good luck and found someone where I could walk to most of the places but you might not always have this luxury.

First time visiting a snow filled city: Helsinki

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Senate Square (Senaatintori) with Tuomiokirko on the right

I have previously blogged about why I was Helsinki here. Finland is not classified as part of Scandinavia and that’s ok. It has so many things to offer in itself although not in a flashy way. Everything feels more muted and are just waiting for you to find. Despite “living” there for 3 weeks, I still wish I had more time to see more of this beautiful city and country.

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This was the first ever winter destination I have been so it holds a special place in my heart. Crisp blue skies and even more crisp snow under my feet, plenty good photos were to be taken. Every direction was just as picturesque as the next and the architecture is such a collection that I think, makes this city so stereotypically different from many others. A mix of the European classical coloured buildings and modern architecture plus a number of churches with little sky scrappers makes Helsinki feel special.

I had heard little of Finland before I knew I was going to go there. But walking around, it’s like the innovative and creative design hubs of Finland are just hidden and waiting to explode into the world (think Nokia) just modestly from these ordinary buildings.

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Karjalanpiirakka
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Reindeer meat at Zetor

I discovered some delicious pastries! Piirakka was one of my favourites- a rye base with fillings of rice, potatoes or carrots, and I would buy some whenever I could. Korvapuusti- a cinnamon roll, was also a nice tea-time snack with coffee (although to be fair, I’m abit of a coffee snob and no-one does coffee like us Australians). I tried reindeer which is often served with lingonberry jam. Cloudberry jam and seabuckthorn jam were brought home as  heavy gifts (available from Stockmanns). A friend from the lab gave me some good old liquorice lollies each with a varying taste of saltiness. I had never seen so many liquorice lollies in a supermarket aisle in my life. I also tried the famous liquorice shot Salmiakki (easy to drink but you will pay for it later ;)).

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Exterior of the Main Railway Station
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Sites that I visited:

  • Kauppatori: It was the end of Winter when I visited so the market was quite small with no fish for sale when I went but food and handicraft stalls instead. And a very frozen lake (or is it sea?).
  • Suomenlinna: Great day trip out to be surrounded by nature. Pictures to come in another post.
  • Kiasma: Contemporary art museum. I spent a good few hours there and loved the architecture of the museum.
  • Kansallismuseo: National Museum, it was ok. I went after Uni one day- can’t say it was overly impressive (think shelves and shelves of archaeological artifacts).
  • Temppeliaukio Kirkko: The church in a rock, hidden in residential streets, it’s not a very far walk from the main strip and is definitely something different to see.
  • Ice skating at the outdoor rink outside the Main Railway Station
  • Had a drink at Ateljee Bar which gives you a panoramic view of the city.
  • Had a peep in the Design Forum. If only I had more money and more luggage room.
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Main street Pohjoisesplanadi

What I wished I spent more time on:

  • Walking and browsing the design district
  • Entering Uspenski and Tuomiokirkko churches
  • Eaten out more

If you have visited Helsinki, what did you think? Are there any other things I should add to my list for next time? Are you thinking about travelling to Helsinki? Let me know in the comments.

-S.

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Uspenski

Scams that exist in Paris for tourists

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Paris. One of the most charming cities in the world. It would be even more charming if tourist scammers weren’t out and about at every major site trying to get you to hand over money. The Eiffel Tour, Montmarte and even Gare du Nord are swarming with these scammers on unsuspecting visitors so without further ado, let us go throw the ones I have encountered or been told about.

1. Gypsies asking you if you speak english and whether you can sign a petition.

This is a petition you sign to say that you will hand them money and once it seems like you won’t be paying up, more gypsies appear around you so there is no escape.

2. The bracelet test.

These scammers will appear lovingly to you and will try to tie a bracelet around your wrist. They will tie it so tie, oops will you look at that, it’s stuck on your wrist so you’ve technically bought it, so please, pay up now. They don’t tell you any of that by the way.

3. Let me show you how you can win money by guessing where my ball is.

You will see a group of men standing around a towel on the floor and metal cups trying to guess which cup the ball is under. If you think this is what the elderly play in France, i am afraid you are wrong. These men are working together and once you hand over your minimum bet, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to win. Magicians or not, the game is most likely rigged and not in your favour.

4. Crowds around an entertainer

I think this is standard in major cities. Just watch out for your pockets and bags because who knows what group of thieves are working together.

Like any major city, if you do your research and know what to avoid, you can avoid it. A simple no, thank you or non merci and walking away will usually do the trick. Paris is an amazing city so don’t let the scammers put you off! I hope this has been useful information!

A Paris lover,
-S.