Dan and I attended our friends Pryor’s and Bryan’s wedding earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia and, since my parents live in Virginia and I had not seen them alllll of quarantine, we met them for two fun-filled days of wine tasting in Charlottesville, Virginia before the wedding! While Dan and I have wine tasted all over the world, from Mendoza, to Stellenbosh, to Bordeaux, we had not spent a lot of time in Central Virginia, so we were pumped to try some VA wines, especially since I am from Central Viriginia!
Dan and I stayed a few nights at the Conrad Bora Bora in August, shortly after French Polynesia re-opened to Americans on July 15th. We had an amazing time at the Conrad. The Conrad is top notch, super classy, and much fancier than the Hilton that we stayed at on Mo’orea or the Intercontinental Tahiti. But, it was also more expensive and difficult to reach. This is Dan and my review of the Conrad for those planning a visit – happy trip planning!
Yep, we did it. After strictly locking down for 3.5 months in New Jersey (and missing 3 trips along the way), we were majorly itching for a getaway when restrictions were finally lifted. We initially planned to travel within the US but honestly, the US is going to shit with its handling of the pandemic. So we looked else where and realized that a number of Caribbean destinations were open/opening to US travelers. We settled on Antigua, which was one of the first Caribbean countries to open to the US back on June 4th, and upon researching, Antigua handled the pandemic quite well. We decided on a short trip over the 4th of July, from Thursday, July 2nd – Tuesday, July 7th. This article details our travels and hopefully will shed some light on the issue for those trying to decide whether to travel this year.
Its Cinco de Mayo on a Taco Tuesday people, and we’re stuck inside. That’s mighty cruel. So in an effort to boost my own sprits, I wrote this post about a tasty little cafe in Condesa, Mexico City that Dan and I visited in 2018! I had meant to write about it before and never got around to it, but now seems like a better time than ever!
In planning our trop to Seoul, Korea, Dan and I were very excited to try allll of the food, but we also knew that we would have some trouble accessing some of the more local cuisine, especially of the street food variety, so I booked three (!!!) food tours during the course of our six day trip. Nope, I do not regret it at all and each one was quite delicious. Our first food tour was centered around Gwangjang Market, a busy market frequented by locals, as well as some tourists in the know. More so now with the release of Netflix’s Street Food Seoul episode – featuring Gwangjang Market.
We entered Gwangjang Market early on a Sunday morning and despite it being rainy and cold, the market was largely open and packed with people, mostly Koreans. Our tour guide walked us through the most famous intersection of Gwangjang, as seen on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition, and pointed out some less authentic, more tourist oriented stalls in this popular area. He advised us to avoid them at all costs.
Our tour guide then led us to our fist proper stop – a humble stall serving noodles and dumplings – as featured on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition (!!), and we sat down for our first taste of the day (well, we did have some breakfast, which would later regret). Sitting at this food stall was quite exciting, as we did not realize this famous one was on the tour! Second surprise, the benches affixed around the cooking area are all heated! Totally genius and this perk made our meal much more comfortable on a cold morning. Our first food was two bowls of kimchi – the traditional red version that we often see is the US and a green variety that, according to our guide, is only found in Korea. We were also given a bottle of soju – Korean liquor – to drink with our breakfast… The kimchi was, as expected, way better than anything I’ve ever had in the US, and the green kimchi was my favorite of the two. It was absolutely delicious! The soju was a little much for a Sunday morning but, when in Seoul? We managed to finish the bottle.
It’s the holiday season and time to review one of my favorite holiday spots in New York City! You’ve all seen it – Rolf’s German Restaurant on the East Side (22nd and 3rd). This is the famously booked restaurant that is decked out to the MAX in Christmas lights, baubles, dolls, and Santas. Seemingly forgotten until the Christmas rush, Rolf’s offers authentic Alsatian food that is good year-round. However, it is best at Christmas, despite how difficult it may be to score a reservation. Well, this will be my 3rd year going and I’m to give you all the required information to secure that coveted reservation and enjoy a holiday meal (albeit next year)!
First off, if you are looking for a reservation during holiday season, you cannot book too early. I always make reservations in September or early October via telephone (there is NO internet booking capability) early in the day. Rolf’s takes down handwritten reservations and stops answering its phone once November hits (and often sooner if booked up). If you miss the reservation call period and you are in NYC, stop by and try to make a reservation in person. Weekday lunches are your best bet for last minute reservations during the holiday season.
You should also know that Rolf’s has some interesting rules regarding meals during the holiday season. As of this year (2019), Rolf’s only takes reservations of parties of up to 4 people and each reservation is limited to 1 hour and 15 minutes (they will ask you to leave)! Seating is tight and service is quick, but its worth the effort, even for a meager 75 minutes! Also, since the restaurant is so tiny, this is not the place to come with loads of Christmas shopping – there’s simply nowhere to store it!
If you are unable to score a reservation during the holidays, you can wait in line for the bar area (for cocktails only, no food is served in the bar during the holiday season). To do this arrive, as early as possible and join the long queue on 22nd Street. You will probably wait hours for an overpriced cocktail, but this is an option to get that Instagram shot. Bucket list: check. That being said, if you’re local, decorations go up in early October and stay up well into the new year, so you can go and get that shot early or late. We actually took Dan’s cousins in October of this year just to see it! It was not crowded at all and we could stay as long as we wanted!
In any case, if you have a reservation, review the menu prior to arriving at Rolf’s. You do not want to waste your 1.25 hours looking at the menu. You want to waste it taking Instagram pics! Rolf’s makes choosing your food pretty easy – their menu is online and they don’t do specials during the holidays.
The one wild card is the drink menu, which is usually pretty fantastic! Rolf’s always offers fun holiday cocktails, as well as a long schnapps list and beer by the stein. Be ready to make a quick decision. Due to the time crunch, we generally order drinks as soon as the waiter comes by. Usually a Gluhwein, but sometimes we go rogue!
As you will see from reviewing the menu, the menu at Rolf’s is fairly small and is solely compromised of traditional Alsatian dishes. Think pork and veal schnitzels, potato and cabbage based sides, and even rabbit. For the most part, main dishes cost around $35 USD and come with two sides. While a bit pricey, it is New York and Rolf’s dishes are HUGE!
My go-to meal is generally the above-pictured veal schnitzel, which is served with spatzel (German pasta), a lemon, and green beans. The schnitzel is pounded very thin and is always tasty. The spatzel is my favorite side dish, and I barely touched the green beans (I had better things to eat). I usually also order a side of German potato salad to split amongst the table, which was absolutely large enough to split between 4 people.
Other popular dishes are the meatloaf, which is even larger than the schnitzel and is served with purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, and the Jaegar Schnitzel, a non-breaded piece of meat served in a mushroom cream sauce, that is served with green beans and spatzel!
Despite the dishes being huge, I always order dessert, which are really good! Recently, I’ve split the Black Forest Cake and the Apple Strudel, which is served warm(!), with my fellow dinners. Both are terribly delicious and huge.
All in all, I think Rolf’s is a super fun NYC Christmas experience. Its worth the annoyances, but only if you book early or go at an off time. I don’t think waiting in line for just drinks is worth it, but that’s up to you. If you go that route, arrive early and be prepared to wait a long time and be super crowded inside the standing-room only bar.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Rolf’s German Restaurant:281 Third Ave, New York, NY 10010. T: 212-477-4750 and 212-473-8718. IG: rolfsnyc. Open 12h – 20h, closed on Monday through Labor Day. Christmas decor up October – May.
ON A BUDGET
Rolf’s at Christmas is definitely a worthy splurge! If you are on a super tight budget, you can wait in line for access to the bar – but drinks are still $18 – or find another fun bar decorated to the nines for Christmas! There are a lot in NYC!
Dan and I finally vacationed in Montenegro earlier this year! I had been dreaming of going to Montenegro for seriously like 10 years, and I was really excited to execute this trip! In planning, and in my last 10 years of Montenegro dreams, I mainly focused on the Adriatic coast: the Bay of Kotor, Budva, Petrovac, and Sveti Stefan. When actually planning our trip, however, I learned that Montenegro has much more to offer than its gorgeous coastline, including a really good wine industry. Yes, who knew?! The center of Montenegro’s wine industry is the tiny town of Virpazar, so we promptly booked a stay in Virpazar as part of our trip.
I have wanted to visit the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro for years, and I finally went for a week for Dan and my 2nd wedding anniversary this past August! We spent 11 days in Montenegro and Belgrade, Serbia, with most of those days in Perast, Montenegro. Perast, and the Kotor Bay in general, were even more beautiful than I imagined, and I highly recommend them as an “off the beaten path” destination for travelers.
For those unfamiliar with Perast, which I am assuming is most people reading this blog (ha), Perast is a tiny, tiny town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Perast is located about 30 minutes from Kotor, Montenegro and 1.5 hours from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Currently, Perast only has a population of around 400, but it has loads of history and a very Venetian feel, which makes sense, as Perast was part of the Venetian empire. Perast was also home to one of the best sailing schools in the world and historically educated some of the most well-regarded sailors. To date, Perast maintains the feel of a small fisherman’s village, but the look of a super swanky and expensive destination.
While today Perast is mostly a tourist town, its well worth a visit. Perast has only one main road, running right along the Bay, with most businesses being located right on this road. The entirety of the town can be walked in 20 minutes, but you should spend at least few hours soaking in the city. Its charming and you will want to stay longer. If visiting from neighboring Kotor, plan to spend a half-day, including lunch at Restaurant Conte.
WHERE TO STAY IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO
Perast has many hotels, plenty for all the tourists in town, yet does not feel overly touristy or crowded. Since there are many options in choosing a Perast hotel, I would look for the following characteristics: 1. Is there air conditioning (since Perast’s buildings are old, some do not have this amenity) 2. Is there a pool? A pool is useful in the hot summer, especially since there is no proper beach in Perast. 3. Location of the hotel and your room. As buildings in Perast are old, many hotels have rooms in multiple buildings, and hardly any hotels have elevators. Confirm you are staying on the ground level if you have trouble with stairs. That being said, many hotels have golf carts to transport visitors around town (just call the front desk) and will have a strong local insist on carrying your luggage to your room (don’t forget to tip!).
We stayed at the lovely Hotel Conte, which we absolutely adored!! Hotel Conte’s main building is located next to Restaurant Conte in the center of town, but its guest rooms are spread out in several buildings . Our room was located high in the town over looking the Kotor Bay – what a treat!
Hotel Conte offered American-style air conditioning and a pool just outside of our room. Hotel Conte also had golf carts to drive guests around town and the staff insisted on carrying our luggage to and from our room, so the stairs were not a problem. If you do have mobility issues however, be sure to ask for a ground level room.
In terms of other hotels, most seemed locally owned and quite charming. The only chain we saw was an Iberostar outpost, which also had a golf cart driving guests around. One downside of staying on the Kotor Bay, no loyalty chains here.
WHERE TO EAT IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO
If you talk to a Kotor Bay local, they will tell you that Perast has some of the best food on the Bay, and recommend a meal in one of Perast’s many waterfront restaurants. At least that’s what several locals told us! And they weren’t wrong; Perast has a string of waterfront restaurants right on the Bay, which make for particularly romantic sunset dinners. Our favorite was Restaurant Conte, where we ate twice! Reservations for more popular restaurants are recommended for sunset, especially on the weekends during high season. However, since there are so many restaurants, you should be able to find a table on most days even for dinner during high season. Most restaurants feature a similar menu of seafood, pasta, and pizza, showcasing Italy’s influence on Perast.
Restaurant Conte. We stayed at Hotel Conte, which is attached to Restaurant Conte, and dined here twice. Conte’s speciality is seafood, and more than one person told us that this is the best seafood restaurant in town. Both of our meals and service were excellent. Make a reservation if you want to sit on the water like us; Conte books up.
Konoba Skolji. Just off the water, Konoba Skolji specializes in Balkan meats, as well as seafood. Meat is cooked in an outdoor grill, which definitely catches the eye. We choose this restaurant based on several reviews I read online. Unfortunately, neither of us loved our meals at Konoba Skolji. We found them to be fine, but nothing to write home about. That being said, Konoba Skolji is good alternative if you don’t want seafood or pizza.
Bocalibre Pizza. A quick and casual pizza restaurant in a pretty courtyard. The dinner pizzas were just OK. The banana-Nutella dessert pizza, however, was out of this world. No reservations needed.
Pirate Bar. A simple beach bar serving hamburgers and a few fried things. We only had sunset drinks here, but the Pirate Bar would be useful for a quick lunch or for those traveling with children.
WHAT TO DO IN PERAST MONTENEGRO
Perast is best for relaxing, strolling the town’s sole road, sipping a cafe of an adult beverage, and popping into the few shops in town. One end of town to the other only takes about 15 minutes, but its a fun stroll and there are numerous shops and cafes for breaks. Be sure to try the Pomegranate wine from the little wine stand – a local sweet wine!
In terms of actual sight-seeing, Perast’s St. Nikola Church houses an interesting bell tower that tourists can climb, as well as a small maritime museum.
However, Perast’s main attraction is located on a small man-made island just off Perast’s coast in the Bay – St. George Island and Our Lady of the Rocks. Both are small man made islands in the Bay of Kotor that are best seen from Perast. Tourists cannot (well, are not supposed to) access St. George Island, as its a working monastery. However, tourists are welcome to visit Our Lady of the Rocks, which houses a gorgeous church with paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a Baroque artist from Perast, and a really interesting art museum.
Legend has it that Our Lady of the Rocks Island started as a “pile of rocks” when some local fisherman saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. After that sighting, fisherman continued adding rocks to until the island formed. Entrance to the island is by small boat from Perast that leave almost constantly during the day in high season. The island is also home to decently clean public WCs. Entry is a few Euros, as is the boat shuttle. Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour on the island.
While Perast lacks a proper beach, the Pirate bar referenced above is a beach club and offers access to the Bay, as well as lounge chairs right on the water. If we had stayed longer, I would have spent a day here on the water.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN PERAST
How long one stays in Perast is really a matter of personal opinion. Perast is one of those places where you take it slow, enjoy the views, and simply relax. We stayed 5 days, but you could certainly linger. I felt that 5 days gave us enough time to see Perast and the highlights of the Kotor Bay, without feeling rushed.
If you are visiting as a day trip from a neighboring town, you can stay anywhere from a couple hours to a full day. The town can be walked in less than an hour, but it takes a while to get to the islands and you will certainly want to enjoy a seaside meal.
EXCURSIONS FROM PERAST
While public transportation is limited to the Blue Line bus route, tourists wanting to take excursions and willing to pay for a taxi will find Perast a good base. On our trip, we took a day trip to Dubrovnik (via private car), spent a 1/2 day in Kotor (via the Blue Line bus), and spent an afternoon in Herceg Novi (via taxi). We also did a 6 hour Bay tour from Kotor (again, via the Blue Line bus).
The one negative about taking excursions from Perast is that its expensive. Staying in Kotor will be easier (and less expensive) if you want to take many excursions around the area. There are lots of companies in Kotor offering day tours and excursions, as well as a more robust public transportation system.
HOW TO GET TO PERAST AND PRACTICALITIES
The closest airport to Perast is the Tivat International Airport in Montenegro, which is about 25 minutes from Perast. Coordinate with your hotel to arrange for a taxi. Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, has a larger international airport. Podgorica is about an hour drive from Perast. I prefer to fly into Tivat to save time, but I would fly into Podgorica if it was easier or much cheaper.
While not a member of the European Union, Montenegro uses the Euro and ATMs distribute Euros.
If you rent a car, which many people do and can be helpful in Montenegro (we did not), know that cars are not allowed in Perast during the summer season. Cars must park on either side of town. Some hotels claim to have private parking lots.
Once in Perast, the Blue Line local bus service runs between Perast and Kotor, where you can connect to other bus lines. The Blue Line picks up at Restaurant Conte and comes about once an hour. Check with your hotel for the current schedule (it picked up on the half-hour when we were there). We found the bus to be very punctual. Tickets were about 2 Euro per person, paid directly to the driver.
There are currently no ride-sharing apps (like Uber or Lyft) in the Kotor Bay. However, there are tons of taxi companies, which will drive you all over the Kotor Bay if you are willing to pay. Coordinate with your hotel to call a taxi and confirm the average cost. If a taxi picks you up since there are no cars in Perast, you meet the taxi driver just outside of town near the Pirate Bar.
Everyone in the tourist industry speaks English. English speakers will have no trouble getting around.
There is exactly 1 ATM (outside Hotel Conte) in Perast and no Pharmacies. Bring essentials or buy in neighboring Kotor (20 bus ride).
Perast is extremely safe.
In case you aren’t ready to jump on a plane just yet, here are some more of my favorite pics from Perast!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel and Restaurant Conte: Obala Kapetana Marka Martinovića BB
85336 Perast, Crna Gora. Reservations recommended for restaurant, especially to sit right on the water. Hotel reservations via the linked website. Breakfast at the hotel is awesome – included with most rooms, 10 Euro per person otherwise and to the public.
Konoba Skolji: Open daily 11 – 23. Close to Bocalibre. Reservations not needed.
Bocalibre: Located near the Wisteria Cafe, to the left of Hotel Conte when facing the water. Open daily – 23h. Reservations not needed. Budget friendly.
Pirates Beach Bar: Located near the parking lot just outside town (5 – 10 minute walk from Hotel Conte). Open daily 8 – 21 during summer season only. Reservations not required.
Al-Sahaby Lane is a good, while touristy, Egyptian restaurant right in the middle of Luxor, very close to the Luxor tourist souk and within walking distance of the river cruise port and the Temple of Luxor. Al-Sahaby Lane is located on the roof of the Nefertiti Hotel (there are many steps and I did not see an elevator). Reservations are not required and the restaurant is most certainly casual.
Aswan, Egypt. Its a small city in Southern Egypt, home to the High Aswan Dam, an unfinished obelisk, the Philae Temple, and the Old Cataract Hotel (of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile fame). Its also a really gorgeous city set along the Nile River and the gateway to Abu Simbel. The locals were friendly and, notably (and somewhat surprisingly), it felt more progressive than the other cities that we visited in Egypt. For all of these reasons, I loved Aswan, and I would love to go back and spend more time.
We visited Aswan at the end of a 5-night Nile River cruise earlier this year. I knew nothing – at all – about Aswan prior to visiting and would have certainly skipped Aswan absent our cruise itinerary. However, I am so glad we stopped, as it was the prettiest city that we visited in Egypt! I kept saying that it reminded me of a Greek island. And it really did!