A Winter Visit To Tuscan Wine Country.

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!

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Tuscany wine country in the Fall.

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Restaurant Review: Mini Bar by Jose Avillez, Lisbon, Portugal

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.

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One of many courses at Belcanto circa 2014.

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Restaurant Review: TimeOut Market, Lisboa!

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!

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Dan’s fancy dish of octopus fried in squid ink from Sea Me at TimeOut Market Lisboa!

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Gelato Therapy: The Yummiest Gelato In Lisbon!

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! 

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Gelato Therapy

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Exploring Baixa in Lisbon, Portugal!

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!

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Baixa.

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Itinerary: One Day In Belem, Portugal

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!).

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Ginginja: The Mysterious Adult Beverage in Lisbon.

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!

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Lisbon, Portugal: Summarized For First-Timers!

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!

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2017 Lisbon.  From the Alfama neighborhood.

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Ericeira, Portugal: Photo Tour!

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!

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My Favorite Florence Eats!

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!

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Yes, I visited Florence in (off-season) November, and it was amazing!!

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!

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First glimpse of the Duomo!

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An Itinerary for San Miniato, Italy – A Hidden Tuscan Treasure!

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.

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Fall in stunning San Miniato.

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Flying All The Way To Italy For San Miniato’s White Truffle Festival!

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….

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Overview of San Miniato.

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Restaurant Review: Decameron, Havana (Vedado), Cuba

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!

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A Hemingway Booze Cruise Though Old School Havana

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.

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I loved this pink wall as much as I loved the bar.

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My Top Ten Tips for Traveling to Havana, Cuba!

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.

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Havana!

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I Finally Made It To Havana, Cuba!

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.

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Havana, 2017 (not 1950!)

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The Ins and Outs of Traveling to Cuba from 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!

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Beautiful Cuba!

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A Short Weekend in Ericeira, Portugal!

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:

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The stunning vineyard.

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The property.  Loving the yellow buildings!

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Airport Lounge Review: KAL Business Class Lounge, JFK, Terminal 1

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).

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How To Visit The Hofbrahaus – Munich’s Most Famous Attraction!

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!

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Craig, Dan, me, and Pryor on Craig’s and Pryor’s first night in Munich!

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Lounge Review: Blue Lounge, Lisbon, Portugal

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!).

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Entrance to the Blue Lounge.

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Lounge Review: ANA Lounge, Lisbon, Portugal

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!

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Entrance to ANA Lounge!

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Restaurant Review: Geisel’s Vinothek – An Impressive Find Near Munich’s Train Station

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!

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The interior.

 

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Wine Tasting Through The Alsace!

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!

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A Long Weekend Exploring the Lovely Alsace from Colmar, France!

Colmar, Alsace!

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 (!):

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COLMAR, ALSACE!

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TIMBER-LINED HOUSES!

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To and From CDG-Roissy (Paris Airport) by Train – A Simple Guide.

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!

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The entrance to CDG-Roissy’s tracks

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Los Dos Hermanos – A Great Restaurant To Try Spanish Food In Bordeaux!

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.

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A Wonderful Visit To Bordeaux, France!

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!

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Gorgeous Bordeaux streets!

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.

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Outdoor cafeing in Bordeaux!

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What To Do First In Bordeaux? A Bordeaux Wine Course!

Of the countless wine-related activities available to tourists in Bordeaux, France, one of the most worthwhile wine-related activities in Bordeaux is a wine course, and preferably early on in your visit to Bordeaux!  Dan and I commenced our four-day stay in Bordeaux with a wine course at Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery and our experience certainly shaped our time in Bordeaux! Here we are entering Max Bordeaux, and is fabulous wineglass ceiling is featured in the cover picture!

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An Afternoon Wine Tasting in Medoc, France!

Médoc is one of the most famous Bordeaux wine regions, possibly only second in fame to St. Émilion.  Médoc is located northwest of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Gironde River, and Médoc is further separated into many sub regions (it gets very technical)!  In short (you could talk about this forever), each sub region has a specific terroir – a French word describing the air, sun, rain, soil, etc. in that specific region that gives grapes grown there a particular taste.  On our visit, we visited two châteaux, one in the Listrac-Médoc and one in Margaux.  Both châteauxs specialized in bold red wines, with lots of cabernet sauvignon grapes!

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Restaurant Review: L’Antre Deux Verre, St. Emilion, France!

As I have mentioned, St. Émilion is chock-full of excellent restaurants, a number of which have Michelin Stars. While that is great, we had a bit of trouble finding a somewhat casual restaurant for lunch in St. Émilion! This difficulty was enchanched by the fact that Dan is allergic to duck, and a lot of Southwestern cuisine (St. Émilion is in the Southwest of France) prominently features duck on the menu.

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All You Need To Know About Day Tripping to St. Emilion Without A Tour Guide!

I will start off by disclosing that this is a companion piece to my recent post My Day in St. Émilion Without A Tour Company! You will see some of the same pictures and read some of the same facts, but this post is meant to provide a more detailed guide to exploring and planning St. Émilion without a tour guide! As I have mentioned before, St. Émilion is an absolutely stunning medieval French town located 40 minutes outside of Bordeaux. St. Émilion is known for two things: its robust red wines and its well preserved, medieval old town. As you can imagine, both of those draw big crowds and St. Émilion is hugely popular with tourists, especially the upscale crowd! Think lots of swanky hotels, numerous Michelin starred restaurants, and some of the best red wines that can be found…

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St. Emilion vines.

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St. Emilion, France. Simply gorgeous.

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The cutest buildings in St. Emilion!

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My Day In St. Emilion Without a Tour Company!

As you may know from reading my Wine Cruising to Sauternes post, there are, to many tourists surprise, no vineyards or wine châteaux in the city of Bordeaux! All of the châteaux that make the famous “Bordeaux wine” are located in designated areas around Bordeaux. St. Émilion is one of those areas and in my opinion, is the easiest and best Bordeaux wine region to visit on your own (i.e. without joining a tour) from Bordeaux! 

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St. Emilion vineyards

St. Émilion is world renowned for its full-bodied red wines. But St. Émilion is also an extremely well preserved medieval town that is complete with a unique system underground passageways, wine cellars and even an underground church! As you can imagine, St. Émilion is a very popular day trip from Bordeaux and all of the tour companies offer day trips to St. Émilion from Bordeaux, starting €80,00/person and going up from there.  However, St. Émilion is easily accessible from Bordeaux by train on your own, so that is what we did.  St. Émilion was my favorite day trip out of Bordeaux and a “must do” for anyone in the area!

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Medieval St. Emilion

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Restaurant Review: Le Restaurant Bar Andre. Fresh Seafood in La Rochelle, France.

Le Restaurant Bar Andre is most certainly the most famous restaurant in La Rochelle, France (if you are unfamiliar with La Rochelle, read about it here). Restaurant Andre is located right in the heart of La Rochelle, in its Vieux Port just below La Rochelle’s iconic towers. Restaurant Andre has been open since 1947 and now occupies a web of dining rooms, each with a slightly different sea theme. Restaurant Andre is an excellent place to try some of La Rochelle’s fresh seafood and a place to check off your La Rochelle bucket list!

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La Rochelle’s famous towers!

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La Cite du Vin: The Most Magical Wine Museum in Bordeaux!

La Cité du Vin opened on June 1, 2016 and I visited a few short weeks thereafter after drooling over Bordeaux’s “wine amusement park” on Condé Nast Traveler!  Not quite an amusement park in the traditional sense, La Cité du Vin is a wine museum dedicated to the history of wine and the wine cultures of the world.  And it was plain amazing!!  Per la Cité du Vin’s own website, the wine museum’s mission is to “promote and share the cultural, universal and living heritage that is wine with the broadest possible audience,” with a focus on emotions, sensations and imagination, and the museum certain did a good job of that!  We allotted about 3 hours for the museum and lunch and could have spent so much longer (and everything wasn’t even open yet since the museum had just opened)!  Plan accordingly!

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Restaurant Review: La Tupina – The Most Delicious Restaurant In Bordeaux That I Almost Skipped!

Before visiting Bordeaux, I googled lots of “where to eat in Bordeaux”/“best restaurant in Bordeaux,” etc. blogs and read numerous Bordeaux restaurant reviews, and let me tell you, there are a lot of fabulous restaurants in and around Bordeaux, including a number of Michelin starred restaurants! Choosing the right Bordeaux restaurant can be quite overwhelming, and can take up a good bit of your time.

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Many options – this one is not La Tupina!

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Wine Cruising to Sauternes with Bordeaux Office de Tourisme

Dan and I visited the city of Bordeaux and its surrounding wine regions in June 2016.  For those unfamiliar with Bordeaux wine, there are no actual vineyards in the city of Bordeaux (it is a regular city with a large university).  The famous “Bordeaux wine” comes from a number of small regions surrounding Bordeaux.  Wines take their name from the specific small region in which their grapes are grown, and the flavor of grapes that make up the wine derives from the “terroir” of each specific area (roughly translated as a combination of the soil content, temperature, rain fall, sunlight, etc. of the individual region).  See the map of the many wine regions and sub-regions surrounding Bordeaux:

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XL Airways France Review: JFK -> CDG

I recently flew XL Airways France from New York JFK to Paris CDG in Economy.  And since XL Airways is somewhat of an unknown airline in the U.S., I decided to review it, especially after all the negative reviews that I read on Yelp!

By way of background, I have been curious about XL Airways France for years, seriously.  XL Airways France is a French airline that flies between JFK and CDG, along with many other routes, and often offers cheaper prices than any other carrier (by hundreds of dollars).  I pulled the trigger and bought these tickets solely because of the price.

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A DIY Day Trip to Saint Martin, Île de Ré

Île de Ré (“IDR” going forward) is a popular vacation island just of the coast of La Rochelle.  IDR is very popular with the French, especially Parisians, and has been referred to by numerous travel insiders as the Martha’s Vineyard of France. I took a day trip from La Rochelle to the main town on IDR, Saint-Martin-de-Ré (“Saint Martin” for short) in June. Saint Martin is the largest and most popular of 10 communes on IRD. St. Martin is located in the center of IDR on the Atlantic Ocean, although it does not have a beach.  For that, you will have to rent a bicycle and travel to a neighboring town. Saint Martin dates back to hundreds of years and is surrounded by a fort constructed by Louis XIV’s engineer, Vauban!

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A Weekend Retreat in La Rochelle, France

La Rochelle is a beautiful French seaside town located on the mid-Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime province of France, and I just got back from spending a long weekend there!  La Rochelle is known to be popular with French vacationers, particularly Parisians.  However, it is not very well-known in the US, and I probably would never have visited La Rochelle except my college (yay University of Richmond!) had a study abroad program there (I opted for Paris) – and I have a “map of France” t-shirt from Anthropologie that features La Rochelle…  In addition to being featured on an Anthropologie shirt, La Rochelle is quite historical, as it has been around since antiquity, and is the port from which French settlers left for the new world (i.e. Quebec!).

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Airport Lounge Review: Copa Club, Tocumen International Airport, Panama City, Panama

Tocumen International Airport is Panama’s main airport and one of the primary airports in Central America.  Panama’s flagship carrier, Copa Airlines, operates out of this airport to all over the Americas.  As a result the airport is very busy, and the inside is not nearly big enough to handle all of the people in my opinion.  All parts of the airport were very crowded and there was not nearly enough seating for those waiting for flights.  This coupled with the fact that there are not very many sit down restaurants/bars (only a food court) makes a lounge a good option, unless you like to shop.  There is an abundance of shopping in the Panama airport!

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Restaurant Review: Phoenicia Diner, Catskills, New York

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in the Catskills Mountains.  Specifically, Phoenicia.  Phoenicia is a small town (technically a “hamlet”), about 20 minutes from Woodstock (the more well-known town in the area), in the Catskills Mountains.  The town is tiny, with one main road, surrounded by mountains with lots of hiking.  Phoenicia has recently received press by way of a few new business ventures opening in the sleepy town, including the Phoenecia Diner – which is probably the most popular place to eat in the area!  Vouge magazine mentioned it in a piece on travel in the Catskills Mountains a while ago, and it seems to be all the rage with the hipster crowd.

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Airport Lounge Review: Avianca Sala VIP, Bogota, Colombia

Avianca Sala VIP is Avianca’s (Colombia’s national airline) lounge in the domestic wing of Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport.  Priority Pass cardholders have complimentary access to the lounge, so I visited it in February 2016 while waiting for a morning flight to Cartagena.  While I generally enjoy lounges, even those that don’t get great reviews, I was very disappointed with this lounge, only stayed for about 10 minutes, choosing instead to sit in the general boarding area, and I did not eat a thing.  Big shocker.

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