Tag Archives: food

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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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

Balkans Road Trip Part 1: Belgrade, Serbia

It’s a city not known for it’s beauty.  In fact, it’s often referred to as one of Europe’s ugliest capitals.  But what Belgrade, Serbia, lacks in aesthetic , it makes up for in personality.  A city whose most recent history includes its dark role as the capital of former Yugoslavia, Belgrade is one of Europe’s oldest – and most conquered – cities (having been settled by Celts and conquered 38 times – by the Romans, Slavs, Byzantines, Frankish Empire, Bulgarian Empire, Ottomans for 500 years, and Hapsburgs).

With a few delightful pedestrian boulevards (Knez Mihajlova  and the Bohemian Skadarlija in particular) scattered amongst the rest of the city’s crumbling Soviet-era cement blocks, Belgrade’s true charm lies in its under-developed tourism (and prices!) and perfectly developed, thriving nightlife.

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    With Ari’s Serbian friend Tamara in front of St. Sava church, which has been under construction for 80 years

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    Remnants from the 1999 NATO Bombing

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    The iconic Hotel Moskva

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    The main pedestrian area Knelz Mihailova

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    Sunset from the public park at the Fortress looking over the Sava and Danube rivers

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    The famous Victor monument

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    Knelz Milhailova at night

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    me & the bro walking around the bohemian Skadarlija street

 

We arrived for both the largest football match in the city (with riot police lining every street) and the Belgrade marathon (which was drastically different from my favorite day in New York).

What to do:

  • “Walking tour”  There are free walking tours that run daily, or you can do what we did and create your own (click for our map), check out the itinerary below – you can see almost everything in <2 hours.  Best of all, nearly all of Belgrade’s attractions are free (and are local, not tourist, spots)
  • Belgrade Underground – our one paid tourist activity, and glad we did it.  A great (and passive) way to discover the hidden underground places from Belgrade’s 38 times being conquered, including Yugoslavian bunkers, ancient Roman ruins, and Ottoman buried wells. 12 Euro.
  • Nightlife!  See below – don’t miss it!
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Walking through the underground bunkers

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Entrance to the Yugoslavian secret bunkers

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Looking out from the fortress onto the Danube

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Ari in front of the ancient Roman ruins…in what once operated as a club

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Military remnants & the military museum

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Gov’t buildings at night

Eating, Drinking, and Nightlife:

  • A mix of Eastern European with some Turkish influence, Serbian food is, on the whole, not particularly inspiring.  The highlight was the cheese-filled phyllo dough burek pastries, which we lived on the entire weekend.  Note: Almost all bakeries (pekaras) are closed on Sunday, which we learned the hard way
  • Nightlife starts late.  Begin with dinner/snacks at 10pm at a kafana, which is a traditional tavern.  The best have live bohemians bands that play Serbian traditional music, from whom increasingly-rowdy tables of guests “order” their favorite sing-alongs.  Make sure to order some rakija, the traditional Serbian brandy shots made from various fruit.  We had apple, pear, plum, and peach, each less palatable than the one before, but all part of the experience.  Reservations for kafanas are required, even if they look empty.
  • Conclude the night with one (or many) of Belgrade’s clubs.  We went to Plastic, which is the most well known in Serbian nightlife.  People don’t start arriving until about midnight – the party closes at 4 and moves next door to Mint, the after party club with shared owners.  As the weather warms, people walk from one to the next of the floating clubs along the river, which boast international DJs and impressive parties.  There are no cover fees to enter the clubs, but reservations are required.  Drinks are extremely inexpensive – with Rakija/whiskey costing $2-$4 per drink.  No wonder the nightlife is so impressive!
  • Lastly, I have to mention the homemade wine.  It’s terribly sour…but apparently it’s Serbian custom to mix it with Coca Cola, which forms a saccharine drink they call “bamboo.”  Don’t ask.
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The band serenading patrons in the smoke filled kafana

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#untzuntz at Plastic

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#letustakeaselfie at the club

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Sour homemade wine + Coca Cola = bamboo?

Where to stay

  • At $54/night, our AirBNB rental a few minutes walk from the city center could not be beat.

Our (approximate) walking tour
1. Tasmajdan park and Church St Marko
2. National Parlament 
3. Terazije Street (with the iconic Hotel Moskva)
4. Trg Republike
5. Skadarlija  – great Kafanas!
7. Studenski Trg 
8. Knez Mihajlova – the main pedestrian thoroughfare 
9. KALEMEGDAN FORTESS – go for sunset, you’ll be glad you did! 
10. Belgrade Port 

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Stockholm Stopover

On our travels from Denmark to Iceland, we had a short stopover in Sweden, which, despite uncooperative weather (blustery rains from start to stop), we really enjoyed.

We began by visiting the Vasa Museum, which houses the eponymous Viking warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628.  Located on the island of Djurgarden (Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands), we then took the ferry to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old city, and one of the world’s best-preserved medieval towns.  Gamla Stan also is home to many of Stockholms best cafes and restaurants  – and more importantly, the majority of the handful of restaurants open on a Sunday evening.

From Gamla Stan, we took the T-Bana metro back to Normalm, where we were staying, stopping at Icebar at the Icehotel/Nordic Sea Hotel along the way.  Despite the kitsch, the atmosphere was fun and the drinks were cold (vodka + lingonberry juice, anyone?).  With the summer sun, it was still light out when we left, creating the illusion our one Stockholm day was not as brief as it really was.

Where to eat:  We loved Kryp In in Gamla Stan.  Housed in a cozy space in Gamlsa Stan, this top rated restaurant serves beautifully presented traditional Swedish food, such as baked smoked salmon, dill potatoes, and bleek roe.

Where to stay: I’d aim for the neighborhoods of Normalm or Gamla Stan to be centrally located near the city’s top sites.

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Ice Bar

Ice Bar

Ice Bar

Ice Bar

Ice Bar

Ice Bar

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm, Sweden

Amusement Park on Djursgarden overlooking Gamla Stan

Amusement Park on Djursgarden overlooking Gamla Stan

Vasa Museum, Stockholm

Vasa Museum, Stockholm

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Food, food, and more food: 2 Days in Copenhagen, Denmark

It is said that it’s difficult to have a bad meal in Copenhagen, Scandinavia’s culinary capital.  Having spent the past 2 days eating our way from site to site in the Danish city, we would resoundingly agree.  From open-face smorrebrod sandwiches to the confectionary shops found on nearly every street, we loved every bite.

Nine out of every ten adults here rides a bicycle, making this walkable city also one of the most green in the world.  In just two days, we saw most of the city’s  notable sites.  I should note Copenhagen’s famous architecture  – with the contemporary settled in next to the Renaissance and Rococo.   Highlights include the colorful houses along the Nyhavn quay, the late-Baroque Amalienborg Castle, and Henning Larsson’s Opera House.

Other highlights of our walking tours include seeing the Little Mermaid Statue, dining in the trendy neighborhood of Vesterbro, meandering through the controversial semi-autonomous free-zone of Christiana (photos not allowed!), strolling down Stroget – Europe’s longest pedestrian only street, and exploring Tivoli – the world’s oldest amusement park.

When to go:  Summer months –the weather is at its warmest (we had beautiful 70 degree days), and the summer sun doesn’t set until nearly 10PM.

Where to stay:  We used airbnb and found an amazing apartment centrally located in Vesterbro – in walking distance of all of our top destinations.

Where to eat: Madklubben Vesterbro for a trendy build-your-own meal experience,  Kanal Cafeen or Hallernes Smorrebrod (in Torvehallen artisinal food market) for the best open-faced sandwiches, La Glace for decadent pastries.  Oh, and Noma, the restaurant that replaced El Bulli as the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant (reservations need to be made months in advance).

bikes everywhere!

bikes everywhere!

Tivoli

Tivoli

Tivoli

Tivoli

3 Types of Herring:  Mustard Herring, Wasabi Herring, and Herring Salad, served on Scandinavian rye

3 Types of Herring: Mustard Herring, Wasabi Herring, and Herring Salad, served on Scandinavian rye

Town Hall

Town Hall

Guerilla Marketing!

Guerilla Marketing!

King's Gardens

King’s Gardens

Rosenborg Palace

Rosenborg Palace

View of the Marble Church form the Opera House

View of the Marble Church from the Opera House

Hans Larsson's Opera House

Hans Larsson’s Opera House

Exiting Christiana and re-entering the EU and all its laws...

Exiting Christiana and re-entering the EU and all its laws…

Street art in Christiana

Street art in Christiana

Christiana:  No hardcore drugs, weapons, or violence...everything else is game

Christiana: No hardcore drugs, weapons, or violence…everything else is game

Entering Christiana

Entering Christiana

Our Savior's Church

Our Savior’s Church

Thorvaldsen's Museum

Thorvaldsen’s Museum

Smorrebrod!

Smorrebrod!

Copenhagen Sunset

Copenhagen Sunset

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Marmokirken marble church

Marmokirken marble church

Late-Baroque Amalienborg Castle

Late-Baroque Amalienborg Castle

Amalienborg Castle Royal Guards

Amalienborg Castle Royal Guards

the park near the Citadel

the park near the Citadel

charming Copenhagen

charming Copenhagen

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Eating Live Octopus in Busan, Korea

For weeks we’ve been told that a mandatory part of our trip would be eating live octopus, Sannakji, in Busan.

And while not all of us were so brave, Pablo deciding to give it a try…

(please excuse this first attempt to learn how to use imovie)

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