How to Visit Sete Cidades in the Azores!!

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! 

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The stunning Sete Cidades!!

So, obviously everyone visiting São Miguel needs to visit Sete Cidades! However, despite being so popular and so beautiful, there is not a lot of information online to assist in planning a trip to Sete Cidades (or the Azores in general), so here are my tips from our two trips to Sete Cidades.  Yes, we went twice; once with a tour group (it rained!) and once on our own in our tiny rental car when it was sunny!

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Dramatic landscape en route to Sete Cidades – could have easily been Ireland!

To give you some background, “Sete Cidades” means Seven Cities in Portuguese and the name can refer to a number of things, including the huge (dormant) volcano that covers the western part of São Miguel Island, the green and blue lakes that are in the volcano’s crater, or the tiny town just next to the lakes.  You will want to see both the town and the lakes, also referred to as Lagoa das Sete Cidades, and the fantastic panoramic view of it all from the Kings View viewpoint!  

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The Kings View.

ITINERARY

Assuming you are not on a tour, start any trip to Sete Cidades with checking the SpotAzores free phone application. The Azores have a crazy climate and, at least on São Miguel Island, the weather can change very quickly. SpotAzores has cameras at tourist hotspots throughout the islands and lets visitors see the weather and level of cloudiness at each site. I recommend having a loose itinerary when visiting the Azores and finalizing it depending on the weather.  On our second trip to Sete Cidades, we left Ponta Delgada around 9:45 a.m. after breakfast.  Sete Cidades was looking great on the SpotAzores application, and we got some great pictures. However, on our first visit with the tour group, it was super cloudy at Sete Cidades.  After waiting for about 20 minutes, the clouds lifted for a few minutes and then came back. Thank goodness we had a second trip!

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Driving to Sete Cidades.

It took us about 45 minutes to reach Sete Cidades from Ponta Delgada (where we stayed). We had GPS in our rental car, but we ended up using Google Maps (yay T Mobile!) because we did not have a specific address for the GPS. Google Maps ended up taking us directly to the Kings View. You’ll definitely know when you get there because there will be so many other cars crammed in one little area, and you will probably see a bit of a traffic jam. There is also an abandoned hotel just next to the Kings View. If you happed to arrive in the town of Sete Cidades first, you can just do this itinerary in reverse (that is what we did on our tour).

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The great parking debacle.

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The abandoned hotel at the Kings View.

Given the number of cars, finding a parking spot can be tricky. We basically stopped wherever there was room; there are really no parking rules, nor anyone enforcing them. The Kings View is completely free and in good weather, food and souvenir vendors set up at the Kings View. There are also very basic restrooms at the Kings View.

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Made it!

Once you manage to find a parking spot, get your gorgeous pictures!! I recommend bringing a selfie stick!! You really cannot get enough pictures!! Pro tip – if its cloudy when you arrive, wait about 20 minutes; the weather changes REALLY fast at the Kings View! For example, 

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This was the view when we arrived.

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This was the view 15 minutes later.

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This was the view the following day.  Crazy difference!

After getting pictures from the Kings View, a lot of people, myself included, enter the abandoned (and allegedly haunted) hotel to get pictures from the rooftop. This is also free, but also probably illegal. To climb to the roof of the hotel, walk in the main entrance to the hotel (on the same side as the Kings View) and follow other tourists to the top. If you are planning to do this, wear tennis shoes. The hotel is in ruins and there is a lot of junk and water on the floor. I wore Jack Rodgers – big mistake.

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Dan entering the abandoned hotel.

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The interior.

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More of the abandoned hotel.

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View from the top: totally worth it!

After taking all the pictures, drive down to the small town of Sete Cidades, which will take you past a few other view points (worth the stop if you have time) and across the bridge linking the green and blue lakes of Lagoa das Sete Cidades. Its pretty popular to stop on the bridge and take photographs! And, the lakes reminded me SO MUCH of Irealnd…where I just happen to be going for Thanksgiving!

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The bridge – could have been Ireland.

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Looking at the Green Lake.

Just a bit past the bridge separating the Green and Blue Lakes is the tiny town of Sete Cidades. The town is really no more than an intersection with a  pretty church, the Church of Saint Nicholas, and some snack shops. Definitely take a walk around the church! Entrance is free.

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Church of Saint Nicholas.

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The interior.

OTHER DESTINATIONS NEAR SETE CIDADES

After visiting Sete Cidades, you have pretty much hit the highlights of Sete Cidades. But, if you have extra time, there are two other interesting places nearish to Sete Cidades that I recommend to round out your afternoon. The first is the natural thermal springs of Ferraria.  The natural thermal spring of Ferraria is a natural spring right on the Atlantic Ocean that is warm enough for swimming during certain hours of the day. There is also a proper spa – Termas da Ferraria, which has indoor and outdoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna, steam room, and hot and cold pools.  I am going to write a whole post on this experience, but it was a nice little add-on to your trip to Sete Cidades, and the scenery is pretty stunning!

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Termas da Ferraria

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Oceanic thermal springs!

The second place that I can recommend is the Arruda Pineapple Plantation! As you may know, the short, stocky pineapples are grown in the Azores and quite the fruit! They are sweeter and much more expensive than their North American counterparts. While somewhat disorganized, the Arruda Pineapple Plantation allows visitors to walk around their facilities and peek into the greenhouses growing the little pineapples! Arruda also give away free (small) pineapple liquor samples and has a cool gift shop and a snack bar. Arruda is quite close to Ponta Delgada, so you could definitely stop in on your way back to town!

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Arruda – Pineapple from the Azores.

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Pineapples in the greenhouse.

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The beautiful Arruda Pineapple Plantation!

STEAL OUR TRIP

Azores Tours: The tour company I used. Azores Tours was quick to respond to my emails and the tour was great! The cost was €60/person for a full day tour of Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo, including lunch. This is a good option if you have limited time and want to see a lot (as they go all over the island), are not renting a car, or want to learn a lot about the history of the island. I really enjoyed the tour and would definitely do it again!

Sete Cidades: Visit Azores information on Sete Cidades.

Arruda Pineapple Plantation: Rua Doutor Augusto Arruda, Fajã de Baixo, 9500-454 Ponta Delgada, Portugal. Open daily 9h – 20h, closes at 18h October – March. You can easily visit the Arruda Pineapple Plantation from Ponta Delgada.

Termas da Ferraria: Rua Ilha Sabrina, Edifício Termas da Ferraria, 9555-102 Ginetes, Ponda Delgada, Açores. E:termasdaferraria@gmail.com. Generally open Tuesday – Sunday, 11h – 19h. Call or email to confirm (they are responsive to email). Termas da Ferraria also has a restaurant that is essentially free if you buy entrace to the paying spa. The oceanic springs are free and packed with locals.

SpotAzores: The greatest app for the Azores.

ON A BUDGET

São Miguel is generally quite inexpensive and the further you get out of Ponta Delgada, the cheaper things get. For example, here is a picture of the menu at a restaurant in Sete Cidades:

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Your largest expense will probably be renting a car, as visiting Sete Cidades is free, as is  a basic visit to the Ferraria thermal springs and the Arruda Pineapple Plantation.

Damas: My New Favorite Restaurant In Montreal

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.

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Montreal.

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!

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The interior of Damas.

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.

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fresh salad.

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. 

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Steak tartare.

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! 

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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!

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Sea bass with tomato and caper salsa.

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Both of the seafood dishes together!

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! 

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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…

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The table, complete with the excellent bread and beetroot hummus!

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Hummus trio.

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!).

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More food – beef!

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.

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Rose ice cream cone.

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!

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Dessert with honey & pistachios!

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

Damas: 1201 Ave. Van Horne, Montreal, QC H2V 1K4. T: 514-439-5435. Make a reservation here.   

ON A BUDGET

Damas is a bit on the pricey side, but Montreal has restaurants for all budgets. For more budget friendly options, check out Juliette et Chocolat, Olive et Gourmando, and Marche de la Vilette!

Brewery Spotlight: Jester King Brewery, Austin, Texas

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!!

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Oktoberfest 2014…not Jester King!

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!

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All Of The Food In Austin, Texas!

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!

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South Congress Street. Austin, TX.

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.

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The beautiful Texas state capital

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A Post-Wedding Week In The Azores!

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!

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One of the many volcanic lakes on Sao Miguel Island!

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Eating Our Way Thorough East London!

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!

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East London.

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Wareontheglobe’s Guide To Visiting The Duomo Complex, Florence!

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!

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The Duomo Complex, in black and white.

LOGISTICS

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!

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Ceiling of the Baptistery

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Airport Lounge Review: Aspire Lounge, T5, London Heathrow

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.  

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LDN!

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).

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sketch: the prettiest tea in all of London.

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.”

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London!

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The Wareontheglobe Layover: London Edition

London, England is a traveler’s dream and a bucket-list destination on most traveler’s wish list. However, many tourists, especially those flying in from the US with a connection in London, try (often unsuccessfully) to squeeze London in on a layover between the US and another destination. I have heard this story a lot: you get a great flight deal but have hours to kill at Heathrow Airport and you are considering going into London…is it doable? Well, yes and no, depending on time and travel style.
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Beautiful London from Westminster Bridge!

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How to Beerfest at Cannstatter Volksfest (aka the Stuttgart Beerfest)!!

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!

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My Guide to Port Tasting in Porto, Portugal!

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?!).

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A Porto wine cocktail!

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!

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Vila Nova de Gaia from Porto.

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The Douro Valley – the BEST Day Trip From Porto!

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!

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The Douro (river and valley).

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A Douro Valley vineyard.

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Why You Should Visit Porto, Portugal!

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!

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Who doesn’t love this scene?

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Restaurant Review: Osteria L’Upupa, San Miniato, 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!

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San Miniato from Frederick’s Tower.

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Favorite Photos from Venice, Italy!

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!

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Venice in black and white.

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Venetian gothic.

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An Itinerary for a Quick Stopover in Milan, Italy!

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

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Not New York modern, but certainly more modern that most Italian cities!

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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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