When I heard that the site of Jesus’ baptism was only a 20 minute drive from where I was staying in the Dead Sea, I decided that I needed to see it, despite not being religious (I did grow up Christian). We arranged for our excellent driver to take us to the Baptism site before driving the few hours south to Petra. Since it’s close to the Dead Sea, the baptism site can be visited as day trip from either the Dead Sea or Amman. The entire visit takes about 2 – 2.5 hours, depending on how long you need to wait for the next tour. And, for those looking for information, the site is actually called Bethany Beyond The Jordan. There are signs on the highway leading up to it.
Jordan, a small country in the Middle East existing between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia (!), recently reopened for travel, and Dan and I spent almost two weeks in Jordan in May 2021 right when it opened up post-COVID lockdown! While I will write more about our trip as a whole, we started our trip with a weekend on the Dead Sea, which was lovely and a great way to start a trip! And yes, while visiting the Dead Sea from Israel is well-known, you can also visit the Dead Sea from Jordan!
WHAT IS THE DEAD SEA
The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake – not a proper Sea – sandwiched between Jordan and Israel and the West Bank. The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River, of biblical fame. The Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea because of its salinity (i.e. saltiness); it’s so salty that nothing can live in the Dead Sea for any extended period of time.
After a somewhat disappointing visit to the new American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK two weeks ago, Dan and I made our way to JFK’s Emirates Lounge for a proper breakfast and drinks before departing on Emirates’ morning flight to Dubai. Spoiler alert, the Emirates Lounge was great and service was fantastic. We both prefer this lounge to the new American Express Centurion Lounge.
Whether it was COVID related, that we didn’t know what to order, or that it was the holidays, we did not have the best food on our trip to San Jose and La Fortuna, Costa Rica (someone tell me where to go next time!). But, we did have an absolutely fabulous dinner on my birthday at a restaurant in Escazu called Gallo Rojo, or the Red Rooster.
Gallo Rojo is a casual eatery with indoor and outdoor seating, although even indoor is “open air” in the Western neighborhood of Escazu. There is parking on site, but we took an Uber from our hotel, the Sheraton San Jose. We had made a reservation in advance via messaging the restaurant on Instagram, one of my favorite ways to make restaurant reservations in foreign countries where I don’t speak the language! Luckily our reservation was all set and we were seated at a lovely table outside.
The menu at Gallo Rojo is a mix of Costa Rican and Asian dishes, and it was all excellent. And before you think that’s really strange, the owner’s father is Costa Rican and his mother is Tiawanese, so he knows both cuisines very well. He also studied in Argentina and Los Angeles and has worked at known restaurants world wide. Its no surprise that this place is good. The food is also shareable, so Dan and I split a few dishes over the course of the evening.
Now, for the good stuff! Dan and I started our dinner with the house sangria. The sangria was very good and not at all sweet, which is just how we like it.
Thereafter, we ordered several dishes, our favorites of which were the civiche, the dumplings, and pork belly and fried chicken Bao buns! My very favorite was the fried chicken Bao bun. It was just really, really tasty!
Our favorite part of the meal, however, was our drive home. Unknown to us, San Jose imposed a 9 PM curfew between Christmas and New Years, during which time Uber cannot operate. Well, we just missed the Uber deadline and taxis were no where to be found. Luckily, the owner drove us home to the Sheraton Escazu! Now that is birthday service!!
STEAL OUR DINNER
ON A BUDGET
While cheaper food can certainly be found in Escazu (and even more so in San Jose proper), Gallo Rojo is quite reasonable.
My birthday is the day after Christmas and since it often gets bundled with that holiday, I like to really celebrate (otherwise, it just gets lost). We usually do not go away for my actual birthday due to its proximity to Christmas, but this year, since Christmas was largely cancelled (thanks, COVID), we flew to San Jose, Costa Rica on Christmas evening and were there to properly celebrate my birthday on the 26th!
The day started out with complimentary breakfast at our hotel, the Sheraton San Jose, which is actually located in the ex-pat friendly suburb of Escazú. I was pleased that were were seated outdoors on an open-air terrace and the weather was gorgeous – sunny and about 70 F (21 C). I was even more pleased to learn that the hotel breakfast was totally delicious and honestly, some of the best food we had on the trip (spoiler alert, we did not love Costa Rican food). For my big birthday breakfast, I had the tastiest cappuccino and a plate of proper rice and beans, plantains, sausage, taquitos, and the most amazing chicken quesadilla-like thing in a yellow sauce, all topped with a spicy red salsa. Birthday off to a great start!
When researching things to do in Dubai, I learned that Friday Brunch is a very popular thing in Dubai. So, clearly we had to sign up! There are so many options for Friday brunch in Dubai, from pub fare at Dubliners Irish Pub to super upscale experiences at top notch restaurants. We opted for the renowned Traiteur Brunch at the Park Hyatt Dubai! Known to be one of the best and most popular brunches in town, we booked a table before we left the US and were not disappointed. When planning, however, I had a lot of questions. Hopefully this post helps to answer some of your questions.
En route to the Maldives last November, Dan and I spent four fabulous days in Dubai! Partly as a stop over en route, but mostly to see some of Dubai! It was our first time in Dubai, and given its location and good flight connections, I’m confident we will return. There’s a ton to do in Dubai and we had a difficult time deciding exactly what to do and how to fit everything into four days! For those planning a trip, here’s a recap of what we did during our four day stay. Feel free to replicate!
FIRST DAY IN DUBAI – 12.5 HOUR FLIGHT & ARRIVAL IN DUBAI!
Emirates’ direct flight from New York to Dubai departs around 10:30 PM and arrives the following evening, around 8:30 PM local time. After a very, very long flight, we finally arrived in Dubai shortly after sunset! Customs in Dubai, where we presented our COVID-19 negative results (a simple PCR print out in English – nothing like French Polynesia), was quick and easy and we soon had our luggage and were en route to our hotel, the Intercontinental Festival City. We arrived shortly before 10:00 PM and were excited to see the entire hotel was decked out for Dubai’s national day on December 2nd. Very fun.
One of the best, if not the best (a close tie with Roma Sparita), meals that I had on my 35th birthday trip to Rome was at Restaurant Roscioli. Restaurant Roscioli is quite well known in Rome, as both a delicious restaurant and a popular tourist haunt. Despite its touristy popularity, we booked a table for dinner on our trip, and it was so, SO good!
If you are planning a trip to Rome, Roscioli will likely pop up on a lot of “best restaurant” lists and if you are just walking around looking for a place to eat, Roscioli’s charming atmosphere will certainly draw you in – think meats hanging from the ceiling, Italian products stocking the walls, and lots and lots of people. We made a reservation in advance before we left home (recommended) for the wine cellar. Yes, you pick where you sit, and there are four options: (1) the counter bar; (2) the restaurant hall; (3) the wine cellar; and (4) a table in front of the deli counter. Avoid the wine cellar if you can’t do steep stairs and the counter bar if you do not want to sit on a stool. Otherwise, the “options” are all in the same building and use the same menu and kitchen. We opted for the wine cellar because, well, we love wine! I would also note that each reservation is strictly timed and you are only allotted two hours for dinner, which I hate and is very un-Italian. Since we had a late dinner, we were the last sitting for our table and were able to stay as long as we wanted.
On arrival, we were promptly shown to our table, which was down a steep set of stairs in, not surprisingly, the wine cellar. The tables were TIGHT, but that’s somewhat normal in Italy and we were sitting among some amazing and delicious bottles of wine. We kept spotting bottles that we would like to try. It was kind of a problem. The waitress gave us the menu and the huge wine list, and we set out to choose a bottle of wine! We also ordered a couple gin and tonics to start, and these were absolutely delicious. They were also served in the cutest glasses, and there are multiple fancy gins to choose from on their Gin and Tonic list!
After reviewing the wine list in great detail, we decided to ask for a recommendation on a Sagrintino. We ended up decanting a 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino at Dan’s choice. The wine was ridiculously good!
On the food front, Roscioli has a really good menu, from pasta to meat, to fish, the list goes on. We ended up ordering two entrees (aka starters in Europe). First, fresh burrata! Burrata is a fresh, soft cheese, reminiscent of fresh mozzarella but better in my opinion! I was going to order this regardless but, super lucky for us, it was still white truffle season in Italy and there was a special white truffle menu, and the burrata was on it!! So, of course, I opted for the white truffle burrata! For those unfamiliar, white truffles are the most expensive of the truffle family, and they are incredibly, incredibly delicious. They are also only available for a short time period between about November and January. White truffles are priced by weight and the waiter will shave it fresh onto your dish. We went to a white truffle festival in San Miniato in 2016, and black truffles have just never been the same. We were also pretty familiar about how white truffles worked.
In addition to the burrata, we ordered something that was similar to a hotdog slider, basically a very tasty local sausage on a small bun with a pickle and a delicious sauce. These came two to an order and were quite delicious. No truffles on these bad boys.
For my main dish, I initially planned to order to Cacio e Pepe, but I wanted a dish from the white truffle menu, which narrowed it a bit. In the end, I ordered homemade tortellini from Bologna, which were stuffed with pork, and topped with more white truffles! Like the burrata, the white truffle was freshly shaved onto my pasta! This meal, again, was AMAZING!
Dan opted for my original Cacio e Pepe order, so at least I got to try that! As expected, his Cacio e Pepe was beautiful and tasted amazing. It was also a huge dish! I will absolutely order this next time (assuming its not white truffle season).
Even though we had enjoyed so much food at this point, we could not pass up dessert since the food was so tasty! We ended up ordered a fruit plate with chocolate sauce for dessert, accompanied with these famous dessert cookies. We also did a glass of dessert wine – a 2014 Muffato della Sala. The fruit was excellent and a great way to finish off our meal. However, I would probably not order it again, as it looks like every table receives a similar, smaller dessert for free.
All in, this meal was 1000%!!! I cannot go back to Rome without eating here, and I even joined their wine club! For those planning to visit, make a reservation in advance and review the menu (online) before you arrive to maximize your two hour dinner. There are a lot of options on the menu and it can be a little confusing. But don’t worry, the waitstaff is super nice and used to tourists. They will gladly assist if needed! In terms of price, this was our most expensive dinner in Rome, but that was due to my white truffles (about $50 US extra between the two courses – it was my birthday!) and an expensive bottle of wine. I would classify Roscioli as upscale but not breaking the bank.
STEAL OUR DINNER
Roscioli: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Sunday, 12h30 – 16h, 19h – 00h. Reservations almost mandatory and can be made here. There are several options of “where to sit” in Roscioli. All areas serve the same menu prepared by the same kitchen.
Earlier this year with my mother, Dan’s mother, sister, and aunt, and our friend Pryor (frequently on this blog) and her mother went to Paris over Valentine’s Day. On this lovely Girls’ Trip, we took a food tour through Montmartre on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon – I’m talking sunny and 60 degrees! It was pretty great and a fun walk to explore a usually too touristy part of Paris!
Prague is filled with delicious food – from high end Michelin starred restaurants to super casual and inexpensive ones. You will absolutely have a difficult time allocating your meals amongst the options. Despite my deep research on the best places to eat in Prague earlier this year, Dan and I stumbled on a fabulous restaurant while strolling along the Vltava River -Mánes Art Restaurant & Terrace.