Dan & I visited Ponta Delgada after a week on mainland Portugal for our wedding, where we ate all of the delicious Portuguese food (but no pizza)! When researching places to eat in the Azores, I came across Forneira São Dinis and its wood-fire pizzas, and I decided that we had to eat here! I mean, I really love pizza!
One of the very few things that I did not like about the Azores was its lack of modern, upscale restaurants. Everything seemed old and tired. Sooo, I was super excited when we walked into Big21 for dinner on our last night, which turned out to be one of my favorite meals of the week!
After Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Forgo is probably the most popular “bucket list” site on São Miguel Island. Like Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Fogo, or in English, Fire Lake, is a crater lake in the middle of another of São Miguel’s dormant volcanos. Lagoa do Fogo is located in the middle of the island high on a mountain – its the highest of São Miguel’s three crater lakes. Go to Lagoa do Fogo for stunning views and hiking if you are into that! Also, tourists should now that Lagoa do Fogo is protected by the Azorean government and swimming is NOT allowed.
Since Dan and I spent a week on São Miguel, we visited Lagoa do Fogo twice. Once on a tour (the same tour that we took to Sete Cidades) and once on our own as a detour on en route to way to Furnas! As you know from my Sete Cidades post, São Miguel had horrible weather the day of our tour so we really did not get to see Lagoa do Fogo at all…
Ponta Delgada is, by far, the Azores’ largest and most populated city. Located on São Miguel Island, Ponta Delgada is the transportation hub of the Azores and a jumping off point for most travelers to the Azores. Dan & I spent a week here in September on our “mini-moon” (a/k/a the week after we got married in Portugal but definitely not our honeymoon!). We had a great week filled with city strolling, island exploring, and eating lots of Azorean specialities!
If you read my post on Furnas, you know that I was iffy about visiting (thanks, Anthony Bourdain!), but I totally loved it! One of the main reasons that I loved Furnas was our fabulous hotel – the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, where we spent 24 glorious hours!
Dan and I almost didn’t stay at Terra Nostra, but we made a last minute decision to stay one night at the recommendation of a friend and the reviews of Terra Nostra online! Definitely a great move, it was fun to spend a night away from our digs in Ponta Delgada, and it allowed us to experience the lavish Terra Nostra Gardens without all of the crowds (see below!).
Dan and I found ourselves flying out of Ponta Delgada airport verrrry early in the morning in September – like 7:30 a.m. flight early – on our way home from our “mini-moon” after our wedding (terribly depressing). We knew that PDL had a SATA Lounge, and we are hopeful that it would be open before our flight. And, it was! We were able to enjoy about 45 minutes in the SATA Lounge before our flight due to our Priority Pass.
Dan & I visited Furnas as part of our “mini-moon” in August. After watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Azores, we almost didn’t make it to Furnas, but I was so happy that we did, and it ended up being one of my favorite spots on São Miguel Island!
Once again, when I was trying to plan out Dan and my Azores trip, I read about “the thermal springs of Ferraria,” but really could find nothing else to direct me to these “thermal springs.” This is really trend; there is nothing written about the Azores! Our tour guide to Sete Cidades also pointed them out, so I was pretty pumped about my decision to visit, even though I did not really know anything about them!
Dan and I spent the week after our wedding (which took place outside of Lisbon, Portugal in August!) on São Miguel Island in the Azores! One of the main sites in the Azores, if not the main site in all of the Azores, is an area called Sete Cidades, and it is even more gorgeous in person than the photographs portray!
Obviously trolling restaurant websites before my recent trip to Montreal, I continuously came upon a Syrian restaurant called Damas in Montreal’s Ourtremont neighborhood. The menu looked delicious and I was really intrigued by a Syrian restaurant, so I called and barely got a reservation about two weeks before my trip! Great success.
I will start this review by stating – Damas may be my favorite restaurant in Montreal. And if you know me (or have read this blog), you know I love food in Montreal!! Everything about Damas was awesome, from the service, to the decor, to the food. All top notch and I will definitely return to Damas next time I am in Montreal!
Getting to the food, Damas has two menus – a la carte and a four course prix fixe (with a few extra treats thrown in by the chef!). Never having been to a Syrian restaurant before, we were not entirely sure what to expect and opted for the prix fixe at a cost of $75CAN/person. Our first course was a delightfully colorful salad made up of greens, some crunch, strong mint, fresh tomatoes, and a bit of pepper and balsamic. Absolutely delicious.
The second course consisted of more cold appetizers – steak tartare. I love steak tartare and this dish was excellent. The tartare was made with a lot of spices and served with olive oil, nuts and a tiny bit of pepperoncini.
Our third course featured two types of hot seafood. The first was the MOST delicious octopus cooked in olive oil and served with onions, tomatoes, and a variety of spices. Definitely one of my favorite dishes of the evening!
The second seafood dish was sea bass served with tomato and caper salsa! In my opinion the sea bass was great but it was not quite as tasty as the octopus! That being said, I would absolutely order the sea bass again!
Our fourth course was a lamb course. Lamb is probably my favorite meat and this lamb was no different! The lamb was served on the bone with the most delicious sauces!
The lamb was also served with a trio of hummuses, including an original and a beet hummus and the most amazing Syrian bread. The bread is the puffy round dish below, and it was super soft and filled with air. I had a couple pieces of this bread…
In addition to the lamb and hummus, we were also served a beef dish, which I honestly do not remember much about (the lamb really stole the show and I was pretty full at this point!).
After all of that food, our waiter brought out two desserts, which were seriously the cutest desserts that I have ever seen! So photogenic!! The first was a rose ice cream delicately placed into a phyllo “cone” drizzled with honey and dusted with rose petals.
Our second dessert was some sort of roll topped with honey and pistachio. Although I cannot remember what exactly this was, it tasted just as good as the rose ice cream and was almost as pretty!
In conclusion, our dinner was awesome and I will absolutely eat here when I come back to Montreal! For those planning a trip, definitely make a reservation in advance. Damas place books up! Damas also has a bar and serves drinks by the glass and offers an extensive wine list! For dressing purposes, the restaurant is not super dressy but its also not casual. Happy dining!
STEAL OUR DINNER
ON A BUDGET
Happy October (and, even though its not in October, happy belated Oktoberfest)! Since a lot of Americas think Oktoberfest is in October and Oktoberfest just ended (sadddd but I am so looking forward to 2018!!) I decided to do a post on – what else – beer!!
Honestly, before I planned my trip to Austin, I had never even heard of the Jester King Brewery (well, maybe once). Seriously. I love beer, but I really had not made it into the Texas breweries. However, Dan had, and he really wanted to try to visit Jester King when we were around Austin. So, I decided that we had to make it happen!
Dan and I spent a long week in and around Austin, Texas earlier this year for Dan’s cousin Claire’s wedding! It was my first time in Austin, and Dan’s first time back in years. So of course, we had to hit all of the food spots on our one totally free day in Austin! Also, the wedding was super fun and totally worth the trip!! Congratulations, Claire and Talor!
To start, Austin was awesome! We walked all over town and I really loved the small town feel of the city! We strolled though the State Capital grounds and shopped on South Congress Street, but the highlight was obviously the food and drinks! I had done some research in advance, and we had quite the itinerary when we started out Friday morning.
Dan & I traveled to the Azores – specifically São Miguel Island – after our wedding in Portugal (!!) for a weeklong mini-moon (our real honeymoon is early next year…you really have to stretch out the wedding vacations!). When I told people that we would be going to the Azores, I received a lot of questions but my favorite, and the perfect response to sum up all of the responses, was “what is an Azore?” Well, this is an Azores!
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!