Dan and I went to London over Memorial Day weekend this year. It was Dan’s first trip to London and my first time in London in 13 years, so clearly we had to take a food tour! Of the many options available in London, we choose a food tour that went through East London, a somewhat sketchy part of town that I spent some time in those 13 years ago… The food tour ended up being awesome and East London has changed SO MUCH!
The Duomo Complex is home to one of Florence’s star attractions – its massive cathedral , the Duomo, and its surrounding buildings! Also called the Duomo (duomo means cathedral in Italian), the Duomo Complex includes the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the Baptistery, the Campanile, the Dome, a crypt, and a museum!
Every visitor to Florence, whether religious or not, should spend some time at the Duomo. However, planning a trip to the Duomo Complex can be a bit daunting, especially on a first trip to Europe or when traveling with a large group! So, here’s my suggestions on visiting the Duomo!
The Duomo is located right in the heart of Florence and is home to six attractions – (1) The Duomo; (2) The Baptistery; (3) the Bell Tower; (4) the Museum; (5) the Dome; and (6) the Crypt. I recommend seeing each attraction but if you are short on time, I would prioritize the Baptistery, the exterior of the complex, and the Bell Tower, in that order!
London’s Heathrow Airport was the first ever international airport that I flew into, and my main (and really only) memory of Heathrow Airport is that it was huge with so many shops and so many restaurants! Well, I’ve been back twice this year and my memory holds true! With five terminals, Heathrow is London’s largest airport and home to many flights between the US and London.
A lot of travelers coming thorough Heathrow will have a long layover and want to venture into London, which is doable only if you have at least a six hour layover (read about it here!) If you cannot make the trip out of Heathrow, do not be concerned – Heathrow has a lot of shops, restaurants, and amenities to keep travelers busy,! Its also home to a number of lounges, many of which are accessible via Priority Pass! Terminal 5 is the most popular terminal for long-haul international flights, including those to and from the US, and its home to one lounge that is covered by Priority Pass – The Aspire Lounge and Spa (it used to have another Priority Pass Lounge, but that seems to have closed down).
High tea is on many traveler’s bucket list when visiting London! However, the abundance of places offering “high tea” in London can be overwhelming. I mean everyone offers tea – from clothing stores (hello, Oasis), to every single fancy hotel in town. The choice can be daunting, especially for us Americans who are not even familiar with the concept of “high tea.”
To sum up this post before I even get started, I loved Bao! So much that I returned twice on a four day visit to London! That is saying a lot, and I recommend putting Bao on your London restaurant shortlist!!
The Stuttgart Beer Fest, formally known as the Cannstatter Volksfest. I have wanted to attend the Cannstatter Volksfest ever since I heard of this beer festival, i.e., the second best beer fest in all of the World (or best, depending on who you are talking to…)! And I finally made it last year, in 2016 (oddly enough…on the same trip where Dan and I got engaged…). Dan and I paired our weekend at Cannstatter Volksfest with a few days at Oktoberfest (and a few days in the Alsace), so it was a great opportunity to drink a lot of beer and compare the two festivals!
The first thing I noticed in planning my trip to the Cannstatter Volksfest is that a visit can be downright difficult to plan. There is not an abundance of English information online, and few travel bloggers have covered the Cannstatter Volksfest (at least in English). As such, here is all of the information that I wish I had known in planning my trip!
The city of Porto is most famous for its namesake wine – port! And as a tourist in Porto, you absolutely must do a port tasting! Contrary to popular culture, port wine is not reserved exclusively for old men. Its actually quite delicious and really tasty in cocktails (who knew?!).
The grapes that make port wine are grown in the Douro Valley, about an hour outside of Porto. After the harvest, they are made into wine in one of the many port wine houses lining the Douro River in Porto. Well, actually Vila Nova de Gaia (read my Porto post for clarification!). All of the big port wine names have houses in Porto (well, Vila Nova de Gaia) and their names really set the skyline. The houses are also a must-do on your Porto bucket list!
For all my raving about Porto, Portugal, I may even love the Douro Valley more! Referred to generally as “the Douro,” the Douro Valley is a valley northern Portugal; yes, the one that borders the greater Porto area and the one in which the famous porto grapes, eventually make port wine, are grown. The Douro River (the same river that splits Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia) runs through the valley and its flanked with tiered vineyards and lots of greenery! In short, its one of the most stunning places that I have ever seen!
Dan and I traveled to Porto, Portugal earlier this year after some Lisbon-area wedding planning, and our visit reaffirmed my decision that I absolutely love Porto! It is really one of my favorite places in Europe. Maybe its the beautiful scenery, maybe its the old school buildings and Vespas, or maybe its the delicious food and wine. But in any case, I just love Porto!
Venice, Italy. A magical, fairytale, must-see destination that is completely overrun with tourists! I first visited Venice almost 10 years ago, in the Summer of 2008, while studying abroad in Rome. Of course I loved Venice from the moment I arrived, but the crowds were trying and the food was probably (no, definitely) the worst I had in Italy.
I flew all the way to Tuscany, Italy for San Miniato’s famous White Truffle Festival last November! Now, while the San Miniato White Truffle Festival is very well known and totally amazing, there is a surprising lack of information on the festival and San Miniato online! I tried to remedy that with my previous post on San Miniato! However, I did not review the most delicious restaurant – Osteria L’Upupa!
We visited Venice last year over the US Thanksgiving holiday. I was a tiny bit nervous when planning, as November in Venice has been known to be terribly rainy and grey. However, our trip was absolutely lovely and Venice was magical, as always. Plus, we missed some of the crowds that can ruin Venice during high season!
Since Venice is SO stunningly photographic, I decided to share a post of my favorite photos – happy holiday planning!
Milan is a really popular Italian airport for international flights, and unfortunately many people fly in or out of Milan without leaving any time to see the city itself. They travel in from Lake Como or Florence (on the fast train) the day of their flight. While this is convenient and allows time to see more bucket-list sites in Italy more touristy destinations, I think most tourists should spend at least 24 hours in Milan. That way, getting to/getting off your flight is not as stressful, and Milan is a pretty fabulous Italian city that is completely different from any other!
As you may know from reading my previous posts, I visited Italy, specifically Tuscany, Venice, and Milan, over Thanksgiving last year. In planning my trip, I went back and forth in trying to decide whether to do a wine tour in Tuscany. On the one hand, we really love wine and we have never done a proper Italian wine tour. On the other hand, the vineyards would be bare and the wine production would really be at a standstill. I finally decided not to stay in wine country, but I did go on a “Winter Wine Tour” with Grape Tours out of Florence. Grape Tours was one of the only companies (if not the only company) offering wine tours in late November (and throughout the Winter) and I’m not sure why, as our tour certainly booked up!
If you ask me what my favorite restaurant is in the entire world, 100 Maneiras in Lisbon, Portugal would certainly come up in the conversation. While I am not ready to declare it my absolute favorite restaurant, it is most certainly one of my favorites (and Dan may be ready to declare it his favorite)!
I spent Thanksgiving in Venice last year, which was absolutely fabulous! Since Italy does not celebrate Thanksgiving, I signed up for a cicchetti food tour through Venice’s Cannaregio neighborhood to celebrate Thanksgiving!
Lisbon, Portugal is definitely an underrated foodie city! Lisbon offers both delicious cheap meals and creative upscale food experiences that rival those of Barcelona, Paris, and London.
Lisbon’s most famous chef is certainly José Avillez. Avillez runs a handful of restaurants in Lisbon, with his Michelin-starred Belcanto being his most well respected (it was just named the 70th best restaurant in the World in 2017!). Dan and I ate at Belcanto in 2014 and while it was really, really, really delicious and creative with excellent service, it was quite pricey and came with all the stuffiness that one usually expects at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Lisbon, Portugal is one of those cities with excellent food, but the abundance of options (from take-away stands to Art Deco cafés to Michelin-starred restaurants…) can make it difficult to pick a restaurant. This difficulty is compounded if you are looking for a traditional Portuguese dish but want to avoid touristy spots, or if you have a group with varying tastes.
Enter: TimeOut Market Lisbon! TimeOut Market Lisbon is an AMAZING food hall serving all of Lisbon’s traditional foods, as well as foods that are not traditionally Portuguese but are enjoyed by Lisboas (think pizza and hamburgers!). I definitely recommend TimeOut Market Lisbon to anyone in Lisbon who does not know where to eat, or who is part of a group with varying food interests!
While Lisbon may not come immediately to mind when you think of gelato, Lisbon, Portugal is home to one of my favorite gelaterias in Europe – Gelato Therapy! I stumbled across this gem on a walk to Alfama (actually I was waiting for tram 28 and it was too full), when I spied Gelato Therapy. Since the tram was full and a 30 minute walk uphill to Alfama was in order, I could not pass Gelato Therapy by!
Baixa is the center of tourist Lisbon and one of the oldest parts of the city, although you wouldn’t know that by looking at it! Baixa was totally destroyed by the infamous 1775 earthquake (now everything is earthquake-safe!) and rebuilt under the direction of the 1st Marquis of Pombal, who insisted that Baixa was rebuilt in a modern style, with wide boulevards and many public squares. Very much in a Parisian style!
Lisbon is a city of many interesting neighborhoods, each with its own character and flavor, and Belém is one of those neighborhoods! Belém is located southwest of Lisbon-tourist proper (i.e. the Alfama, the Barrio Alto, etc.) at the mouth of the Tagus River, and, unlike much of Lisbon, Belém is modern, flat, and super tourist-oriented. Aside from tourist sites, Belem is home to upscale residential streets and the Belem Palace, the official home of the Portuguese president (which is pink!).
If you are planning to visit Lisbon, Portugal, you will certainly run into a hole-in-the-wall shop selling shots of “ginginja, ” and, if you are anything like me, you will probably wonder what this stuff is, and why people seem to be drinking it all day long… To answer your inevitable question, ginginja, also known as ginginha or ginja, is a sour cherry liquor native to Portugal, particularly central Portugal around Lisbon and the town of Óbidos. Ginginja is 100% Portuguese and you will not find ginginja anywhere else!
That picture is Lisbon, Portugal, taken from the Alfama neighborhood. Have you ever seen such a view?! Portugal is one of my favorite European countries. It is also one of the most underrated, although that may be quickly changing, as Portugal has topped many “2017 Travel” lists and TAP Airlines, like Icelandair, recently initiated a layover program to boost travel. So, GO NOW. Hopefully beating the hype train, Dan and I are getting married in Portugal later this year at a beautiful vineyard outside Lisbon (shout out to Quinta de Sant’Anna)! We are basing in Ericeira, Portugal for our wedding, but we are spending a few days with friends and family in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, before the wedding and we are so looking forward to showing off Lisbon!
Ercieira is a small seaside town on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, about 45 minutes from its capital city. Within driving distance of Lisbon and surrounded by small farms and vineyards, Ericeira makes a lovey beach getaway for a few days. I visited in November and again this March, and I am going back in August to get married in a vineyard just down the road from Ericeira! Since I already wrote a post on Ericeira (here) and its a pretty small town, rather than write another here are some of my favorite pictures from beautiful Ericeira on my most recent trip! Happy wanderlust!
For those of you who don’t know, I am getting married at a vineyard in Portugal next Summer! And I am suggesting my guests to base in Ericeira, Portugal, a delightful seaside town right on the Atlantic Ocean, for the wedding!
Being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and one of Italy’s favorite cities, Florence is never short on delicious and new restaurants. The “best restaurant” lists change frequently and Florentines each have their own favorite spots! To cut through all the lists and endless research on Florence eats, here are my favorites based on a recent visit!
Best Coffee – News Cafe
In a city (and country) filled with outstanding coffee, my favorite Florence coffee shop for tourists is hands down the News Cafe. Located in the Santa Maria de Novella neighborhood, News Cafe not only makes delicious coffee, but does amazing coffee art at no extra charge! I am sure coffee aficionados will disagree with me, but for tourists, the Florence -inspired coffee art really takes the cake!
I traveled to San Miniato, Florence, Venice and Milan with Dan, my mother, Dan’s aunt, our friend, Pryor, and her mother in November and our second stop was Florence (or Firenze in Italian!) for three days and three nights! Dan and I had been to Florence once before (eight years ago in the Summer) but it was most of the group’s first time in Florence, so we focused on Florence’s main tourist sites! Plus, Florence’s main sites are pretty amazing and warrant a new visit at least every 8 years!
As I mentioned in my previous post, Going All The Way To Italy For San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival, San Miniato is a tiny hill town in Northern Tuscany. While most famous for its namesake white truffle festival held every November, San Miniato makes an interesting and easy stop any time of the year, especially since its between Florence and Pisa! And, its ridiculously gorgeous and mostly devoid of foreign tourists.
San Miniato is a tiny hill town in northern Tuscany, located right between Florence and Pisa, and you probably have never heard of it! While certainly not as popular as other Tuscan hill towns, such as San Gimignano, Assisi, and Orvieto, San Miniato retains a distinctly Italian charm and is almost devoid of foreign tourists (especially American tourists). To draw in some tourists , San Miniato boasts lots of history (what Italian town doesn’t?) a ruined castle, a handful of churches, and its most well-known draw, the White Truffle Festival! And yes, I traveled all the way to San Miniato just for its fabulous white truffle festival in November 2016! In my defense, I have always wanted to go to a real Italian truffle festival AND we were going to Italy anyway! So why not?! And, San Miniato is totally gorgeous….
Our first night in Havana got off to a bit of a rough start. We walked and walked and walked trying to find our intended dinner location, Casa Abel, without success. Of course, no one knew the restaurant, our cell phone GPS would not work, and our backup was booked up (spoiler alert, we visited both later in our trip!). I hate picking a place without any knowledge, but we had no choice, and decided to eat at Restaurant Decameron, just across from our hotel. Our choice turned out to be a great pick and this may have been the best meal that I had in Cuba!
As an American not permitted to legally visit Cuba until 2016, I envisioned Cuba to be as it is portrayed in the movies and advertisements (i.e.prior to the embargo). Lots of fancy parties, great bands, and fabulous cocktails! While I am sure Havana was once the premier party destination of the the world (or at least North America!), much of that has unfortunately been lost in the last 50 years. Buildings are run down, fancy ingredients are almost impossible to obtain, and many visitors have been forced to stay away for a long time. Despite this, you can still chase Havana’s former glory and visit Hemingway’s old haunts in Havana (just remember that it will not be nearly as glamorous!). A few tour companies offer “Hemingway Tours,” which stop at his favorite spots, but you can visit his favorite bars and taste his favorite drinks on your own by following my itinerary, with a few bonus stops!
STOP 1. EL FLORIDITA.
Cuba is a super exciting and appealing travel destination to many, especially now that it is very easy to reach from the US! While enticing and topping all of the 2017 travel lists, Cuba is certainly not a pristine Caribbean beach destination. A successful trip to Cuba takes a good bit of planning, an openness to trying new things, and a lot of patience. If you are planning a trip to Cuba, read my posts The Ins And Outs Of Traveling To Cuba From The US and I Finally Made It To Havana, Cuba, and be sure to follow these ten tips!
1. First, bring cash. Second, bring MORE cash (UDS, Euros, or Pounds) than you think that you will need. Neither US credit cards nor US debit cards work in Cuba, and many travelers from other countries have trouble, too. If you do run out of money, you will need to go through Western Union to get money through the US, which will also involve a visit to the US Embassy to pick up your wire… Also, brand-name cigars, while cheaper than elsewhere, are by no means cheap. Plan accordingly.
If you have been following my blog posts or Instagram, you know that I recently traveled to Havana, Cuba! Visiting Cuba was so exciting and really a lifelong travel dream (dramatic, I know)! While everyone except Americans have been able to travel to Cuba for the last 50 years, Americans were just allowed to visit Cuba without crazy government oversight in 2016. Thanks, Obama! When United flights dropped to $250 roundtrip, Dan and I pulled the trigger and purchased our flights to visit Havana, returning right before inauguration day in the US.
CUBA. The mysterious Caribbean nation that Americans have been forbidden to visit for over half a century. Cuba has long been on my travel bucket list and when President Obama eased travel restrictions on US citizens and direct flights resumed, I immediately booked a long weekend in Havana! And, it was nothing short of magical! Havana is truly stuck in the past. My visit was interesting, thought provoking, and filled with meeting some of the nicest people that I have ever encountered abroad, but that will be the subject of another post. This post is all about how to get you to and back from Cuba legally from the US right now!
Ericeira is an immensely cute beach town in central Portugal! Located around 30 minutes from the Lisbon airport on the Atlantic Ocean, Ericeira is easily accessible to Lisbon and the surrounding area via car. I spent a whirlwind weekend in Ericeira earlier this year to visit a potential wedding venue a short drive away, in Gradil, Portugal. Spoiler alert – the venue, Quint de Sant’Ana, was absolutely brilliant and we booked it a few days later. Here are a couple sneak pictures of Quinta de Sant’Ana:
JFK Terminal 1 has two great lounges: (1) the Lufthansa Business Lounge and (2) the Air France Lounge. This post is about neither of those. JFK Terminal 1 is also home to the Korean Air Business Lounge, known as the KAL lounge. If you are flying out of JFK’s Terminal 1 and using Priority Pass, you will likely be using the KAL Lounge (as the Air France lounge restricts access to Priority Pass members and the Lufthansa Business Lounge does not participate in Priority Pass).
As you probably know, the Hofbräuhaus is one of Munich’s (and one of Bavaria’s) most famous tourist destinations, especially for beer drinkers, and its name is recognized worldwide. In fact, it dates back to 1589, is one of Munich’s six breweries, and its now owned by the Bavarian state government. In my experience, the Hofbrähaus is a great place to visit as a tourist, especially for first-timers! I always take first-time Munich travelers to the Hofbräuhaus on one of the first nights!
As I mentioned in my previous post, Lisbon’s International Airport has three Priority Pass lounges! I was lucky enough to try two of them on my recent visit, the Blue Lounge and the ANA Lounge, and I was happy with both. This is my review of the Blue Lounge, the smaller and less exciting of the two lounges. I reviewed ANA Lounge in my previous post!
Unlike most lounge visits, Dan and I stopped at Lisbon International’s Blue Lounge on our way into the country. If you plan to do this, be sure to keep you boarding pass from the flight from which you departed (you need it to get in for security purposes) and keep an eye on time if you checked luggage (you do not want that to sit for long without you!).
I few in and out of Lisbon, Portugal’s Terminal 1 earlier this year, and was very excited to find that Lisbon’s Terminal 1 offered not one but two (!!) Priority Pass lounges. Two Priority Pass lounges in an international terminal is quite the dream! I visited one, the Blue Lounge, on my way into Lisbon for a snack and the second, ANA Lounge, on my flight out. While both were usable, ANA Lounge blew Blue Lounge out of the water! ANA Lounge is one of the best airport lounges on Priority Pass that I have visited, if not THE best airport lounge on Priority Pass that I have ever visited!
I’ve come and gone through Munich’s train station a number of times over the years, and even stayed in the area out of convenience, and every single time I struggle to find a decent place to eat! Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of restaurants near Munich’s main train station, but most are of the fast food and budget quality. While this isn’t always the worst, I wanted to find a nice, non-budget restaurant near the train station for my trip to Oktoberfest this year (as I was staying nearby at the Aloft on points!). After lots and lots of searching, results steered me toward Geisel’s Vinotehk!
As you may have read in my last post, I recently spent a long weekend in the Alsace – the lovely French region on the German border with loads of influence from both cultures! I based in Colmar and toured around a bit, including taking a wine tour through Gueberschwihr, Eguisheim, Turckheim, and Riquewhir with Ophorus Wine Tours. This post is all about my tour, some parts of which are doable on your own, while others are probably easier with a local guide. As always, details on the tour and the individual vineyards are below!
Our tour was a full day wine tour and started with a pick up at 9:00 in the parking lot of Colmar’s only movie theatre. It was just us, one other American couple and our tour guide, Myriam (who was FABULOUS!). Before departure, Myriam gave us a quick overview of the day and some maps and then we were off to…the charming and tiny village of Gueberschwihr!
This post is all about my long weekend in Colmar, Alsace! For those unfamiliar with the region, Alsace is the Germanic region of France lying on France’s Eastern border next to Germany. Throughout history the Alsace has switched off between French and German rule and as a result, the Alsace retains its own culture, food and even language that is not quite French but not quite German, either. In any case, I have been wanting to visit Alsace for years! Actually since college, when a French professor that I didn’t particularly like went on and on and on about her time in Strasbourg (Alsace’s capital). I always envisioned staying in Strasbourg, the biggest city in Alsace and home of European Union offices, but in planning my trip I kept reading about Colmar, the picturesque town a short train ride from Strasbourg.
Since the first part of my trip consisted of two large cities (Stuttgart and Munich, Germany), I opted to stay in Colmar over Strasbourg, and it was the perfect decision for my trip (although Strasbourg is pretty fabulous, too). I mean, look at these canals lined with timber-framed buildings, which were everywhere (!):
I love a good airport lounge and always try to use one if I can, most often getting in with Priority Pass. Newark International is light on Priority Pass lounges, but they do have a very nice lounge in Terminal B, which just happened to be the terminal I flew out of last weekend with British Airways’ Open Skies!
On a recent trip to Paris, Dan and I wanted to spend our last afternoon in Montmartre, specifically Sacre Coeur. Why? One of our favorite breweries made a Belgian Quad called Sacre Coeur and we wanted to drink Sacre Coeur at Sacre Coeur! Great success!
Earlier this year, I flew into Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport and needed to get from CDG to La Rochelle, France via train. I knew that it could be done, but had a difficult finding an easy guide online. And then again, earlier this month, I needed to get from Strasbourg, France to CDG, and it was so much easier and less stressful having already figured it all out. So, here is my guide!
CDG is Paris’ largest airport and an ideal entry/exit airport for Western Europe. CDG is served by its very own SNCF train station in the middle of Terminal 2, called CDG-Roissy, that serves destinations throughout France, and even further into Europe. In addition, CDG has a local, cheaper train, called the RER, for venturing into Paris proper for even more connections!
When Dan and I arrived in Bordeaux for a long weekend, we ended up with about an hour to kill before meeting our Airbnb host in the Saint-Michel neighborhood. Bordeaux’s Saint-Michel neighborhood is located just south of the main tourist area. Saint-Michel is beautiful, charming and eclectic part of Bordeaux, with, in addition to French, a mix of Middle Eastern, North African and Latin influence.
After disembarking the tram at the Porte Bourgogne stop, we walked up and down Cours Victor Hugo in search of a sit down restaurant that could accommodate our luggage. As a side note, I LOVE planning meals and not having a set place to go with good reviews was really stressing me out! After passing many, many take out Turkish restaurants we stumbled upon Los Dos Hermanos, what appeared to be a Spanish restaurant with a hand written menu and outdoor seating that would accommodate our luggage – sold.
Although I have traveled extensively throughout France, I had never been it to Bordeaux! So when Dan and I spent 10 days in France this past summer, we made Bordeaux the highlight of our trip, spending 4 days and nights exploring Bordeaux and the surrounding area. We had a wonderful time, and found Bordeaux to be a lovely, beautiful and manageable city!
Bordeaux is sizeable city on the Garonne River in Southwestern France. In additional to being what many would call the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux is a university city that has a very young and very French feel – and in a great way! Despite its wine fame, Bordeaux is not overrun with tourists and offers a realistic French experience, especially as opposed to many of France’s other big tourists sites.
If you have been following along you know that I visited one of my favorite cities earlier this year – Porto, Portugal! If you have not been to Porto, its fabulous and you should plan a trip immediately! When I was in Porto, I went on one of my favorite food tours (I have done it multiple times!) called the Taste Porto Food Tour. The Taste Porto Food Tour was started by a native of Vila Nova da Gaia and he has established an amazing company. You should definitely check it out when in Porto!