Last-Minute Getaway to Indonesia: Bali & the Gili Islands in 10 days

It’s not often that the stars align for a last-minute bucket-list adventure, but in October, we hit jackpot with the winning combination of last-minute time-off and award-points availability. And just like that, we were off on a last-minute ten-day trip to Indonesia.

For many, the name “Bali” conjures the images of a tropical paradise made famous 20+ years ago. However, we had been amply forewarned that undiscovered waters are far in the past. Now, only a three-hour flight from Australia, Bali’s southern beach areas are over-developed and over-crowded with tourists that never leave the resort towns to explore or experience the rest of the island. It’s akin to an Australian Miami. There are plenty of snobs who have claimed that “Bali is spoilt.” Equipped with that warning, we planned an itinerary to find the oasis beneath the tourist façade. And Bali did not disappoint.

Knowing we’d be fresh off of 27+ hours of flights/layovers, we laid out the following game plan: unwind with a few days of relaxation, get active with a few days of exploration, and finish with a few more days of relaxing before journeying back to the NYC hustle.

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Nusa Dua

First stop: unwind and relax after too many hours of flying to Indonesia. Luckily, there is no shortage of beaches within 20-30 minutes of the Denpasar International airport. However, we’d been warned about the beaches in Bali. As all Bali beaches are technically public beaches, most are over-packed with throngs of holiday goers and an increasing amount of garbage. So we did our research and realized we had two options: find a great resort with a secluded beachfront or go to one of Bali’s off-the-beaten path options. We ended up doing both, starting with the first option so as not to add additional driving hours after a long-international haul.

We can’t say enough good things about the St. Regis Bali Resort in Nusa Dua. It was, in fact, the most luxurious stay either of us has had, and an indulgently relaxing place to kick off our trip. When we landed at the International Airport, the St. Regis had arranged for the airport staff to pick us up at our gate and whisk us through both immigration and customs, so that we didn’t have to wait in the hours-long arrival lines for foreigners. The resort is beautiful – with a large open lobby that shows off the manicured resort property all the way to the ocean. The service is second-to-none. The beachfront is kept immaculate and the staff from the swim-up pool bar also serve beach guests. There are two giant pools that snake through the property – a regular pool with giant billowy cabanas and a swim-up bar adjacent to the beach – and a salt-water pool “river” that snakes through the property. The on-property restaurants were good, the cocktails were excellent, and the staff can arrange for any type of activity – we went parasailing. We spent a very-out-of-character two days not stepping foot off the property and loved every minute of it.

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Pool & Daybeds at the St. Regis Nusa Dua

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Parasailing in Nusa Dua

Ubud: Bali’s cultural center

After settling into vacation mode in Nusa Dua, we made our way to Ubud. Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and is also central geographically, so we decided to use this jungled city as our base for the middle part of our trip.

Our very first impression of Ubud was…not great. We were dropped off in the center of town, and we were absolutely taken aback by how touristy the city felt. The narrow, decrepit streets (and even more narrow sidewalks) were crammed with backpackers and trinket shops. Our first-impression was uninspired. But, after a few days, we realized that the city’s notorious beauty was quite literally behind the tourist exterior. Once we stepped off the streets, even into a restaurant, the shop would open to the back revealing serene backdrops of rice paddies. Do yourself a favor, when you see the Starbucks, walk through it – the back opens up to the most gorgeous temple on a pond of lotus flowers – almost completely hidden from the view from the street.

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Lotus Temple hidden behind the Starbucks…

What to do in Ubud:

  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces – breathtakingly lush and green

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  • Go on an extreme swing over the rice terraces – not for the faint of heart!
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Totally terrified on this swing!

  • Campuhan Ridge Walk – a ~15-20 minute light hike/walk with lush, sweeping hilltop views, that will take you right into town. Artisan shops and cafes dot the path, so give yourself time to meander and shop. Our favorite was Wayan Rana, whose minitature paintings were a must- and he gives art classes from his studio. We loved this!

 

  • Try the famous Kopi Luwak, the most expensive cup of coffee in the world (definitely worth a taste) on a coffee plantation. Also known as “cat shit” coffee by my family, it’s made from coffee cherries eaten by wild civet cats…whose digestive systems remove the acidity. A pound of these beans goes for $100-500!
  • Go to the gorgeous Yoga Barn property for a yoga, meditation, or other holistic wellness class (or stop at the café for some delicious food & great ambiance)
  • Shop! There are dozens of artisans – painters, wood carvers, batik printmakers, sculptors, jewelers, kite makers, etc. – we recommended having a driver (there are no shortage of taxis everywhere!) take you to a few of the crafts villages outside of downtown, where you’ll get to see the craft process (and get better prices).
  • We hiked up Batur, the volcano ~2 hours drive from Ubud. While the sunrise views were beautiful, each of us had done enough sunrise hikes to note that this would be one we might skip. Be forewarned, you’ll have to leave at 2am to arrive in time for sunrise. Bring serious sneakers or hiking shoes – and LOTS of layers, it gets seriously cold. It’s a real hike, but doable. If you’re short on time in Bali (or have done other sunrise hikes in your travels), you’re not missing much by skipping this one.
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Sunrise atop Mr. Batur

  • We also went to a Balinese healer in a nearby village. It was a unique experience. Definitely do your research before you go – this is a good place to start.

 

Eats!

Ubud has no shortage of great restaurants. A few of our favorites:

  • Balinese Home Cooking is a must. Balinese people live in compounds made up of multiple family homes for various generations of kin and several gardens centered around a family temple. None of this is visible from the street, as these compounds are behind high-walled fences. The family-run Balinese Home Cooking invites you into the family compound, where you’ll get a rare glimpse into modern traditional Balinese life, set in the family’s beautiful gardens. The food is incredible and the prices are unbeatable. The owners are keen on encouraging cultural exchange and will come by and answer questions about how Balinese families live.
  • Waring Babi Guling Ibu Oka 3. Made famous by a raving Anthony Bourdain, this roasted suckling pig joint is an Ubud institution. Just the best. Go early as they run out quickly. Once you’ve visited the original, which is sparse, try out Ibu Oka’s sister’s ambient downtown restaurant, Rai Pastis, which opens up to rice paddies, and gets Ibu Oka’s pig daily as well.
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Christian beyond excited for this roast pig

  • Mozaic. Everyone told us about Mozaic, and it did not disappoint. This was fine-dining at it’s best. The restaurant tops Restaurant Magazine’s Top 50 restaurants in Asia and is rumored to be gunning for Indonesia’s first Michelin Star. We ordered from the multi-course pan-Asian menu, made from local ingredients, and sat in the heavenly twinkle-lit garden. The cocktails were inventive, the food was the best we had the entire trip, the service was top-notch. And while expensive relative to the rest of our meals in Bali, it was worth every rupiah (and let’s be honest, it wasn’t any more wallet damage than a meal in NYC).

Where to Stay in Ubud

Do yourself a favor and stay just outside the city, avoiding the noise and traffic of downtown. We stayed at Villa Saraswati a mile north of downtown and located along the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Owned by a retired Australian couple, Villa Saraswati was heaven – and they thought of everything. It’s a 5-room, adults-only villa, and has won Trip Advisor’s best hotel every single year. The rooms all have outdoor showers, the pool is beautiful, and the staff is helpful and lovely. They provide rides into town or to the top of the ridge walk and were extremely helpful with restaurant reservations. I’ll admit that we daydreamed about buying and living in the property more than once – it’s that wonderful. Couldn’t recommend it any more highly.

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The pool at Villa Saraswati – perfect after a long day of touring in the sun

Up North: Amed

The Gili islands are only accessible from Bali by boat – and so we knew we’d need to get to one of the coastal towns to make the trip. We spent an evening in Amed, in Northeast Bali, which has world-renowned diving – and is especially famous for a Japanese WWII shipwreck, only a few meters from shore – one of the only wrecks accessible for beginner divers. If you’re going through Amed, we recommend the 25-minute drive to the Lempuyang Temple to see the Gates of Heaven, an awe-inspiring “split gate” style of Hindu Balinese architecture. We stayed and ate at Baliku Dive Resort, which was clean and well-appointed, with terraces that overlook a magnificent sunset over the sea. Be warned: there are dozens of steps to get to any of the rooms – not for the faint of heart.

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Gates of Heaven at Lempuyang Temple

The Gili Islands

We settled into the last leg of vacation in the picturesque Gili Islands, situated just off the coast of Lombok Island, Indonesia. There are three islands in total: Gili T (the largest and party island full of young backpackers), Gili Air (quieter with a mix of nice bars and restaurants) and Gili Meno (the smallest and quietest of the three). We choose Gili Air to get a mix of seclusion with options for grabbing a bite or a drink. The speedboat took ~1.5 hours from NE Bali to the Gilis, which are only about 3-5 minute boat one from the other.

Gili Air was off-the-grid paradise. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed. No cars – and no motorbikes. To get around the island, your options are a bicycle or horse-drawn cart. The island itself is tiny – it took us about 10 minutes to bike the diameter from one side to the other – and would’ve only been about 45 minutes to go around the entire perimeter.

In Gili Air, we found the white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters that many mistakenly attribute to Bali. And while it took a little additional traveling, it was absolutely worth it.

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Gili Air is off-the-grid paradise (and see how close it is to Lombok in the background?)

Where to stay in Gili:

The Mandana Suites and Villas is Gili’s only boutique hotel. Newly constructed, it was a breath-taking accommodation. We took full advantage of our room’s private plunge pool and outdoor shower. The Mandana also had the best breakfast we had the entire trip.

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The Mandana was a gem

Where to Eat & Drink:

  • Warung Sunny – the best Indonesian food we had on the Island, and different from the Indonesian food we had in Bali (like the rest of Indonesia, the Gilis are Muslim, and so the food traditions are slightly different). The chef also does cooking classes here!
  • Mowie’s Bar for sunset drinks and live music
  • Pockets & Pints – if you need a break from Indonesian food, this new pita-pocket sandwicherie is a must. They also have dozens of fun games to borrow during your meal.
  • Musa Cookery – Baja-California-style vegan café, perfect for coffee, bowls, and light fare
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Sunset drinks in Gili Air

What to do in Gili

We mostly took this time to recharge but if you are into SCUBA diving or interested in getting your license, being in Gali is the perfect place and time to do it. We recommend 3WDive; the highly professional instructors were lovely, helpful, and just a lot of fun (I had no interest in doing scuba and ended up LOVING it!). The diving here is spectacular and this is a fairly inexpensive place to get your PADI. While we didn’t get certified we were able to go on a few dives to “discover SCUBA diving.” We spent an afternoon under the sea with a dozen giant turtles. Simply incredible.

 

Final stop: Seminyak

We spent a full day traveling from Gili to Seminyak (speedboat to a bus…that gets caught in a LOT of traffic near the coast), but we wanted to stay near the airport our final night to break-up the traveling. Seminyak, one of the more luxurious resort-towns, is filled with great restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. We had no shortage of recommendations from friends. As our luck would have it, I came down with a virus, and so we did none of the aforementioned. The silver lining is that we were staying at the majestic Oberoi Hotel & Resort. If ever there was a place to spend your final 24 hours doing nothing but unwinding and relaxing before a long international flight, that hotel would be a top contender. Not quite what we had planned, but no complaints from me (And if you’re looking for Seminyak recommendations, send me a note and I can pass them along!).

All in all, our 10-day itinerary had just a little bit of everything from relaxing to exploration- and we got to explore Bali & the Gilis beyond the standard resort-only trip.  While Bali wasn’t entirely what we expected, we fell in love with some of its more-hidden charms, and were so thankful for this last-minute escape.

 

 

 

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Roadtrip along the Coast of Portgual: One Week in the Algarve + Portuguese Riviera

An indulgent week of wine, cheese, fresh seafood, and coastline, at clearance sale prices…and only a short flight from the US.  Sound like a dream vacation?  Read on.
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Ponta de Piedad, Lagos

The Inspiration
In 2008, I’d visited Lisbon, Portugal with my brother on our way to southern Spain.  We explored the lovely, but unremarkable, capital, and hopped on a bus that traversed the coast before crossing the border.  The views were breathtaking.  Watching the sun set from the bus window, I promised myself I’d return to explore the Algarve coastline.
Fast forward 9 years: Boyfriend and I are brainstorming week-long vacation locations.  We’re trying to find that perfect balance: not too far for just one week, good food/wine/weather, beautiful scenery,  and relaxing but also just enough exploration that it doesn’t feel like we’re just going down a Fodor’s checklist.  Oh, and our first international vacation together.  Ante upped.
I offered up the idea of a road trip through Portugal.  Quick, inexpensive flights from NYC.  Sunny, not-too-hot days in May before the European tourists descended upon it for the summer season.  Seafood, cheese, and wine to our hearts’ content.  Small enough to visit multiple locations without spending alldayeveryday in a car.  And massively inexpensive, not just relative to the rest of Europe, but in absolute terms.  The best of Europe, on clearance sale.  After some quick Facebook crowdsourcing, we had our itinerary.
The Itinerary
We spent just over a week in Portugal, flying into Faro and out of Lisbon, but this itinerary could easily be done in reverse, or as a roundtrip in and out of the same airport.   We stayed in Albufeira, Lagos, and Sagres in the Algarve and then spent 2 nights in the Portuguese Riviera in Estoril/Cascais. We spent ~ 2 nights in each town.  However, we both agreed that were we to do the trip again, we’d spend more nights in our favorite towns and just add in day trips to other places – which is what I’ll recommend below.
PRO TIP: If you know how to drive a manual car, rent that.  We paid ~100 Euro for the week (which includes the “one-way fee”), instead of 4x that for an automatic car.  If you don’t know how to drive stick shift: learn.  For Portugal and for life.And if you don’t know how to navigate a roundabout…don’t worry you’ll get plenty of practice on this trip.
We flew into Faro and drove immediately to Albufeira, ~45 minutes away from the airport. Albufeira served as our base for our first few days to explore the cute fishing village of Portimao, the beach resorts of Praia de Rocha, and the dramatic “Cliff” beaches of Falesia. However, we would recommend driving the extra hour on day one and base-camping in Lagos.  All of the sights can be visited as quick day trips from there.  Must: eat at Os Arcos in Portimao.  You’ll need a reservation.  And you’ll need to get the seabass and the garlic shrimp.  You can thank us later.
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Cliffs of Falesia

Our recommendation:  Spend most of the week in Lagos and Sagres.
Lagos is a quintessential ancient port city.  While its cobblestoned “old town” can be visited in one day (good place for gifts, but otherwise not much), Lagos has great restaurants, bars, and beaches – and with several great resorts and Airbnb options, it’s central enough to unpack there for a few days.
Where to stay: Cascade Wellness and Lifestyle Resort.  Out of the center of town (quick drive), beautiful pools and great food. Or – lots of great Airbnb options for houses with pools!
What to do: DO NOT MISS: sunset at Ponta de Piedade.  Rent bikes from Praia Dona Anna and bike to Ponta de Piedade, which we would’ve done with more time.  Go on a boat and explore the caves (we did this elsewhere).
Where to eat: Get the fish of the day at Dom Sebastiao, which is an old-school restaurant in town. At Cascade, the tapas (black pork and Serpa cheese with pumpkin jam) was something we talked about for weeks afterward.
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Ponta de Piedade

Sagres, sits on the end of the continent.  At the tip of the continent of Europe, surrounded by sawgrass, is the tiny Portuguese surfer village of Sagres.  It feels like the end of the earth in the most delightful way.
Where to stay: Memo Baleeira Hotel, incredible location, short walk into town and right on the water.  Great views.  And inexpensive.
What to do: Spend part of the day at Cape St. Vincent, aka end of the continent. Watching the waves crash against the giant cliffs is simply breathtaking. We also did dolphin watching there in a tiny boat w a marine biologist. Dolphins!!!

 

Where to eat: Eat at Vilha Venha – shrimp in piri piri, drumfish with coriander and garlic. Friends also raved about Carlos, which is across the street.   Our personal favorite: the local grocery store, which had insanely good wine and cheese; we bought some and climbed the hill next to the hotel – which overlooks the port – to watch sunset there.  According to our hotel’s concierge, the views are just as good as those from the fort (which we skipped).  It did not disappoint.

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End of the Continent, views from Cape St. Vincent, Sagres

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Dophin cruiser!

The Portuguese Riviera: Estoril, Cascais, and the castles of Sintra
For our final days in Portugal, we drove up the coast and explored the Portuguese Riveria resort towns of Estoril and Cascais and the UNESCO world heritage center of Sintra.
Estoril and Cascais are located about 25 minutes outside Lisbon, technically making them suburbs of the capital, but these coastal towns gained popularity first as the vacation spot for Portuguese royalty in the late 19th century and then as the residences of most royalty-in-exile during WWII.  The towns are beautiful – the architecture charmingly 19th century – and the two are connected by 3km beachfront promenade.
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Walking along the promenade that connects Estoril & Cascais

What to eat: try a pastil de nata custard pastry (we had several!).  MUST: Get reservations at Conceito Food Store, one of the best meals we had in Portugal.  It’s a creative, curated tasting menu and experience, based on Portuguese cuisine. You won’t know what they’re serving that night until it’s on your plate in front of you, but each dish was better than the one before.  Advanced reservations are a must.
If you have friends who have visited Portugal, chances are you’ve seen photos of Sintra.  Known for its Romantic architecture, photos of places like the multi-colored cake-topper known as Pena Palace have been the constant subject of Instagram photos.  Located in the Sintra Mountains/Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, a winding 20-minute drive from Estoril/Cascais (car sickness is essentially guaranteed), it’s worth spending a day in Sintra.  Our tourist highlights included the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace (pro tip: hire a driver for the day, there are so many tourists that it is hard to grab a cab outside the main sites).  We found some of our favorite gifts in town.  And then we walked around and ate all the foods.
Recommendations include Cantinho Gourmet (16 euro for a to-die-for cheese and meat board, see photo!), chocolate shot glasses filled with sour cherry liqueur (found in every chocolate shop in town) and Port tasting in the wine store across from the Nacional Palace.

Could not have dreamt up a better first international trip w the boyfriend…which has only served to create a major case of double wanderlust.  More trips to follow!

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7 Secret Passenger Rights

We already feel like airlines are screwing us enough. Add long delays, overbooked flights, lost bags, and it turns into hell on runway. But there’s a silver lining, if you know what to ask for. Here are seven ways to get even.

Get refunded for bumping It’s hard not to freak out when you’re bumped off an oversold flight. But remember this: you can get paid back. According to the Department of Transportation, if you get to your destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time on a domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international trip, the airline owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare (up to $675). If you arrive more than four hours later than planned, you’ll pocket 400 percent of the ticket (up to $1,350). Still can’t believe it? An AirHelp study found that the average payout is $643.

Ask for cash not flight vouchers Don’t let an airline ever give you a voucher for a bumped flight, or any other inconvenience. Vouchers are like Monopoly money. They look good on paper, but they’re not as useful in reality. Your best bet? Ask for cash or a check because credits almost always come with strings attached (i.e. blackout dates). So before you pass go, collect your $200 — in cash.

Opt out of a tarmac delay So you’re stuck on the runway, forced to watch Taken for the fifth time as the hours tick by. (No offense, Liam.) Lucky for you, you can’t be held on a delayed plane for more than three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international routes (if you don’t want to be at least). Airlines are also obligated to update passengers every 30 minutes, and serve food and water after a two-hour wait. Pass the pretzels.

Cancel tickets for free Got a bad case of buyer’s remorse? Don’t worry, most airlines allow you to cancel or change your ticket within 24 hours for a full refund. In fact, on some carriers (like Southwest) you can even change plans until right before boarding at no charge. But there are some exceptions. Take American Airlines: You can hold a ticket up to 24 hours, but once you book, you’re locked in. Also, keep in mind that third-party sites like Kayak and Expedia have their own set of rules, too.

Pay back for itinerary changes When flights are delayed, rescheduled or canceled, many passengers are forced to rearrange transportation. In situations like these, the airline must either cover all the expenses and fees to reroute you or give you a full refund — even if you bought a non-refundable ticket or were rebooked on a different carrier. So, if the only seat left on the next flight out is first-class, it’s yours without costing a cent. More champagne, please.

Snag a hotel voucher This will be the last time you’ll ever have to sleep at the gate, or worse, on the terminal floor. Airlines are required to offer free accommodations if you’re stuck overnight involuntarily. Just don’t expect the Ritz. These hotel vouchers can be claimed at any time, meaning if you decide to stay with friends instead of a Holiday Inn, you are still entitled to the coupon. It’s also worth asking if they’ll cover meals as well.

Cash in for lost luggage If your checked bag is lost, delayed or damaged, don’t settle for the small $50 sum you’re usually offered. Depending on how much your items were worth and how long your bags are MIA, you could be repaid up to $3,500 per passenger in liability for a domestic U.S. trip, and up to $1,675 on international flights. Hello, shopping spree.

 

By Chelsea Bengier reprinted from Smarter Travel

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1 Week in Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tamarindo Beach

There are few things I like more than a warm escape from the NYC winter.   The usual fix is a weekend in Miami, but this past December, a few of us traveled down to Costa Rica for a real getaway from Christmas to New Year’s.
Not only was it one of the easiest places to travel that I’ve been, but the range and diversity of places to go and things to do — even in such a small country — meant that we were never bored!
We planned our trip with an adventurous start – beginning at the Arenal Volcano and then off to the Monteverde Cloud forest – and a relaxing finish – ending at a surf camp in Tamarindo for a few days at the beach.
Here are my recommendations
 
Arenal/La Fortuna
We flew into the Liberia airport — and boy are we glad that we hired private transport for the 2.5-3 hour drive to La Fortuna, the town outside the Arenal Volcano.  The roads were horrendous and poorly marked.  Thank you, blogs and friends, for that good advice. We spent 2.5 days in Arenal, which was great – there certainly was more to do – particularly with outdoor activities, but we felt like we got a great overview.
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IMG_7280 Top photo: In front of the volcano…before we began the hike…  Bottom photo: after climbing Cerro Chato!

What to do
  • Hike the Arenal Volcano National Park and go to the Arenal observatory.  Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanos in the world.  Note to the non-athletic (like me): the Cerro Chato hike is the devil.  Awesome, but the devil.  Caveat hiker.  You only have to pay an entrance fee to the park, there are free tours at 8:30am.IMG_7390
  • Go to the Tabacon Resort geothermal springs – total luxury.  Spend the whole day and get lunch.  If you want to book a massage, do it ahead of time.  Also, get on line EARLY – check in is very slow.
  • Other things we didn’t do but heard were awesome: La Fortuna waterfall hike, ATVing, hiking around the lake, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and more hiking (sensing a theme here).
Where to eat
While we didn’t have any particularly notable meals:
  • Mediteranneo had very good Italian food (I know!) in La Fortuna, though terribly slow service
  • “Sodas” are small, family run restaurants that are a great place to eat local cuisine and offer amazing value – pricing is usually half of that at other destinations.  Meals ran at $2-5  each!
  • Local food: Casados: you pick a protein (or vegetarian) and get a plate with rice, beans, salads, and plantains.
Where to Stay
  • Luxe: We wanted to stay at Tabacon, but alas, we booked too late during peak season
  • Budget: We stayed at Selvita Lodge, a Costa Rican B&B run by an adorable family. Located in La Fortuna

 

 
Monteverde
From Arenal, we took a van to the MonteVerde Cloud Forest (we used Anywhere Costa Rica for transportation – far and away the safest drivers we found and nicest vans).  Note: bring layers for Monteverde, it was much cooler (much!) and windier than anywhere else we were in Costa Rica
What to do
Everything to do in Monteverde centers around nature.  Our top highlights
  • Incredible guided tour of the cloud fIMG_7391orest.  Well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different animals hiding and the flora, as well as explain what, exactly, a cloud forest is (I still don’t know).  There’s also an adorable humming bird sanctuary on the premises and a great coffee shop.
  • Ziplining.  Errrrmagad.  The scariest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve zip lined elsewhere).  We used Sky Trek for walks along the hanging bridges (can skip, particularly if you do the cloud forest walk).  And then we went zip lining.  High Winds. Insane Heights. Not for the faint of heart.
Tamarindo
Tamarindo was quite the experience.  Because we went over Xmas week…and booked late…all of thIMG_7549e hotels were booked.  So we ended up “Glamping” at the Dreamsea Surf Camp, which was a hilarious (and awesome) adventure.  While next time I’ll plan to stay at a hotel on the beach, we definitely had the besIMG_7486t food of our trip at the Surf Camp (the chef there is amazing) and had built in surf lessons every day (well, some of us) – and even some yoga.  Pack DEET.
The Tamarindo beaches get very crowded – and it’s a young crowd.  It’s a bit of a party town with a strong bohemian, surf vibe.  During the day, the one street that runs along the beach is wall-to-wall with cars.  Despite all this, we were able to post up for free on beach chairs outside La Palapa restaurant every day.
What to do:
  • IMG_7440Take a surf lesson
  • Those sunsets though
Where to eat: 
  • Tamarindo Diria for dinner. Al fresco on water with hanging lamps under tree. Great fish dishes.
  • Noguis for pie.  All of the pies.  Seriously though.  Fish tacos are also great.
  • Mandarina for make your own smoothies
  • La bodega for fresh, healthy lunches and breakfasts

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August 19, 2015 · 11:46 pm

6 Google Flights Tricks That Are Better Than Any Travel Agent

Chances are you’re familiar with Google Flights. The flight search engine does everything you assume it would, like locate flights based on your ideal outbound time, inbound time and number of stops. After all, it’s the same technology that powers both KAYAK and Orbitz.

The site also includes a whole host of features that aren’t so easy to imagine, probably because they’re so unimaginably amazing. In some cases, this online tool can beat out any human travel agent. Don’t believe us? Check out these six tricks below.

1. Don’t know where to go? Search for a general region, and see a map of specific flight prices.

Just Google “flights to Europe” and click the Flights tab below the search box. A map of the entire continent will pop up, along with prices. You’ll be able to compare how much it would cost to fly to London versus Paris — and you can even filter the options by type of airline, duration of flight and price you’re willing to pay.
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2. Or go with “I’m feeling lucky” to let Google plan your dream trip.

What “I’m feeling lucky” does for search, it also does for flights. Click on a map within Google Flights, pick your departure spot, and click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button tolet Google choose a destination based on your search history and what’s popular. You’ll also see a bar graph letting you know when flights will be at their cheapest.
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3. Google will tell you which flight is the best bang for your buck.

The “Best flights” box tells you which flights are the best combinations of price and speed, so you won’t have to decide whether a layover is a good idea or if a nonstop is worth the extra buck. Google also highlights its top pick in green. It’s like having your very own travel agent say, “If I were you, I’d do this.”
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4. It’ll also show you the lowest price for any given day on the calendar.

You can see prices for your trip on every day of the month, with the cheapest days highlighted in green. A bar graph at the bottom lets you know how prices will likely drop or rise over time.
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5. Automatically see swaps that will save you money.

If you search for a flight that has a similar yet less expensive option, the “Tip” bar lets you know how much money you’ll save if you’re willing to fly earlier, later or from a different airport. Then you can weigh the cost and decide!
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6. Once you find a potential flight, let Google monitor the price for you.

If you find a flight you like, then hit the “Save This Itinerary” button and let the Google Now app track its pricing. You can hit the app on your phone to see how prices are changing, and Google will email you if they dip dramatically.

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The Fall ’14: 14 Things to do in NYC this Autumn

It’s my favorite time of year in New York: the moment between summer-weekends away and the Holiday season.

If you blink, you might miss it.

Here are my 14 top things to do and places to go, eat, and drink for Autumn 2014 in NYC.  (A broad @ home)

Am I missing anything? let me know in the comments

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Do

1.  New Yorker festival  (October 10-12)  In its 15th year, covering a range of topics, with some of the most notable people.  I’m thinking Lena Dunham or Mindy Kaling — any takers?

2. DONE! Barry’s Bootcamp  – I’d always been too intimidated to try this workout, but thanks to a few fit friends (ahem, AD), I now worship at the altar of the Barry’s Bootcamps.  Layla Luciano’s 12:45 pm Saturday workout is, hands down, the best workout I’ve ever had.

3.  DONE! Jeff Koons Retrospective at the Whitney (until October 19th)   “Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era…This exhibition will be the artist’s first major museum presentation in New York”  How I didn’t make it this summer is beyond me

One of the best-curated exhibits I’ve been to in a long time. Do not forget to use the free “ipod-touch”-esque guide given out in the Lobby to hear Koons’ own thoughts on the different exhibits and pieces.  Do not miss!

4.  DONE! The Moth – This open-mic-put-your-name-in-a-hat-and-get-called-up-to-tell-a-story-in-front-of-hundreds-of-strangers-event was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.  Cannot wait to go back. – True Stories. Told Live.  H/t to CK for the suggestion.  (October 6 StorySlam, Theme: Hunger)

5.  Celebrate Oktoberfest  Ok, so it’s not quite the same as going to Germany, but in the spirit of A broad at Home, I want to check out some of the newer beer gardens that will be celebrating Bavarian brews & pretzels.  Particularly this one at Zum Schneider (October 3-12). 

6.  DONE! Jay Z @ Global Citizen Festival, (September 27 ): If you want some snark, ask me what I thought of this event.  Luckily, it was a beautiful day spent in Central Park w one of my favorite people.

7.  Upstate Escape: Daytrip to Cold Spring.  Thanks, Sosh, for the inspiration. 

8.  Greenwood Cemetery.  I’m having a total Baader Meinhof moment with the Greenwood Cemetery.  I’d never heard of it and now it seems to be everywhere.  478 acres of p ublic green space from a time before New York had public parks.  Apparently, it is filled with famous residents and has a ton of wild parrots that live over one of the gates. Seems like a good adventure around Halloween while the weather is still nice.  

9. DONE! Matisse Cut-Outs Exhibit at the MoMA.  Totally joyous, beautiful exhibit of Matisse’s ahead-of-his-time “drawing with scissors.”  Didn’t hurt that it was free with my CUID. (Oct 12-Feb 8)

Eat & Drink

10. DONE!  Ivan Ramen  My obsession with ramen only increased after my 2013 trip to Japan and this sraight-from Tokyo LES notable newcomer has a vegetarian-broth base on the menu that will make it one of my first stops this fall 

11.  Barcade  $0.25 arcade games  (Ninja Turtles!) + tator tots + 20+ microbrews… in my neighborhood?  Sign me up.  The Williamsburg bar just opened up an outpost in Chelsea. As long as my brothers aren’t hogging the NES console, pretty much sounds like my happy place.    

12.   DONE!  Dear Irving  this cocktail parlor on Irving Place is the newest creation from the team behind Raines Law Room.  Rumored to be inspired by Midnight in Paris, I’m just having trouble deciding whether to start with The Godfather Part 2 or the Whiskey Business  — 

Possibly the best new date spot in the city — reservations are highly recommended.  Oh, and all of the whiskey-based drinks are awesome.  A particular favorite is their pear-infused take on the Gold Rush.

13. Attaboy  The crisp air makes it easy to trade in rooftop summer nights for cozying up in one of NYC’s many, many speakeasies.  Nope, that’s right, we here in Manhattan are still not over the cocktail + speakeasy craze.  Attaboy is in the original Milk & Honey LES space (brought to us by that very same team!), with the same knock-and-buzz entrance and mixologists-extraoirdinaire.   

14.  Miss Favela – now that I live downtown & venturing to brooklyn is no longer such a schlep, it’s time to visit Miss Favela, the Brazilian comfort food spot in Williamsburg, known for its caipirinhas as much as live Samba music on Saturdays  

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Balkans Road Trip Part V: Montenegro & the Adriatic Coast

It’s hard not to be enchanted by the coastline of Montenegro.  It is what I imagine Croatia was 15 years ago, on the cusp of becoming a highly touristed destination, but still a hidden gem.  Montenegro is the only country we visited that is on the Euro, making it pricier than Serbia and Bosnia, but still quite inexpensive as compared to its neighbors Croatia and Italy.  The food is the best of all worlds: excellent Mediterranean fish,  pizzas, pastas, and, of course, bureks.

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Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

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Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

in town

Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

Highlights:

  • The only ‘fjord’ in the Mediterranean, the Bay of Kotor, and all of the little towns along the Bay.
  • Don’t miss: make a dinner reservation at Galion Restaurant in Kotor and sit out on the water for the sunset.
  • The walled old city of Budva (which is like a mini Dubrovnik) and 3 miles down the Coast, the (now) private island resort of Sveti Stefan, famous as the vacation destination of Elizabeth Taylor and Sofia Loren
St Stefan

Sveti Stefan, private island resort

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View of the bay of Kotor from Galion restaurant (town of Kotor)

 

Word of warning:  Montenegro’s “undiscovered” nature lends it to be a tough place to drive/navigate.  The roads are unmarked, unnamed, sometimes unpaved, un-railguarded on the sides of cliffs, and one lane for two ways of traffic (particularly in Lovcen National Park).

GPS

25 Hairpin turns up a mountain later…

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Ari & Pierre in the old town of Kotor

 

 

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