1.20.2016

Barcelona Guide


I'd wanted to go to Barcelona for the longest time and I finally made it happen last summer. It was everything I'd hoped it to be and a lot more. (I was a bit weary about it being overrun with tourists, but thanks to the neighborhood of both my hostel and hotel, I had a great experience and can't wait to return.) Here's what I did and would do again! 

Where to stay:

Hostel One Paralelo- This is hands down one of the best hostels I've stayed in. They have a great family dinner every night, nightly bar hopping events, and awesome staff. Between the great community vibe of the other guests and the lovely Poble Sec neighborhood, I wasn't ready to leave and move to a hotel when my other traveling partners arrived in Barcelona. (In fact, the day after I checked out, I brought my friend back to the hostel for another pub crawl and we were welcomed with open arms.)
Hostal Live- This is the hotel we stayed in after our amazing stay at Hostel One. It is clean, reasonably priced, and has friendly staff. The neighborhood is also outside of the touristy Las Ramblas area.


What do see/do:


Sagrada Familia- A MUST. While it can be overwhelming to feel like you have to visit every church/cathedral you see in Europe, you can't forgive yourself if you leave Barcelona without seeing this awe-inspiring masterpiece. You need to book your timeslot in advance (online).


Park Guell- Another must-do although the crowds can be crazy. (Again, you need to book online in advance as tickets are limited.)



Food Tour with Devour Barcelona- I first used this great company in Madrid and I'm pleased to report that they've recently expanded their tours to include Barcelona. We had an excellent guide who walked us through the Gracia neighborhood and showed us some real gems.

Beach day at Barceloneta Beach- While other areas of Spain have far more beautiful beaches than those of Barcelona's, there's something to be said for an amazing city that is located on a nice beach. If you have the time, plan to spend part of an afternoon here and unwind.

Boqueria Market- Yes, this place is insanely touristy and crowded but it is fun to do a quick visit and grab one (or three) of their amazing juices. I preferred the Gracia market as it was more low-key and the selection was equally unrivaled.


Where to eat:



Quimet y quimet- Come here for a standing-room only bite to eat and drink. The place fills up extremely quickly and the hours can be a bit unpredictable so try to call ahead if you're not already in the neighborhood. The family behind the counter is jovial and helpful, even if you don't speak a word of Spanish or Catalan. Try the preserved foods or any of the sandwiches they have on offer. (Tip- if you're staying at the hostel mentioned above, this tapas bar is only a 2-minute walk away.)



Cal Pep- Go here if only so you can have the best white anchovies of your life and die happy.


Where to go out at night:




XiX bar- Just down from Plaza Espanya, this gin and tonic bar has a lengthy menu of gins and top-shelf tonics, with Fever Tree being among the latter. Along the bar, they have various bottles of infused gin (think peppercorns, cinnamon, and citrus peels) and on the back wall, you can find the more "pure" gins.



Los Juanele- Flamenco bar -This is an authentic hideaway in central Barcelona (we were the only non-Spaniards and also the only under-40 year olds). There is an unmarked door so don't be discouraged if you can't find the place on the first try. We sat at the bar and had the sweetest bartender all night. A jamon and cheese plate with gin-tonics was on the menu for us and he treated us to shots at the end of the night. It was so fun to see cute older Spanish couples dance flamenco the entire evening.



Opium- For a fun way to end the night dancing, this is one the mega clubs on Barceloneta beach. You can be sure the music will be good (one night, we got to see Sander Van Doorn) and if you're like us, you can cap it off with a 5am swim in the Mediterranean. (Just be sure that no enterprising pickpockets try to snag your belongings which almost happened to us!)



Bar Marsella- Supposedly one of the city's oldest hangouts, this timeless absinthe bar is a real treat. (We stopped here as part of my hostel's pub crawl.) Try to play a game of "concentration" with the elderly bartender- you won't win.


 

Montjuic Fountains/Park- Take a bottle of cava and enjoy it on the steps above the fountain or in the park with a view at sunset. The night we were there, we got to see a group of Spanish folks squaredancing. My Texas travel buddies joined right in.


Barcelona- we will be back!!!!

1.18.2016

"Eat With" in Rome- Dining with Locals

video

There's an "airbnb" for everything these days and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Connecting with locals while traveling adds so much more to the experience and "Eat With" (an online platform and community that connects travelers with locals who like to cook) is no exception. While in Rome last July, we were fortunate to attend Giovanna's "Roman Dinner" on her beautiful rooftop terrace in the Prati neighborhood near the Vatican. We were a group of four travelers and there was a solo German traveler who attended as well. Giovanna's boyfriend and friend (and her turtle!) rounded out the guests. The meal was delicious from start to finish and the dishes she chose to make were perfect for the very hot weather we'd been having, even by Rome standards. Many of the dishes were family recipes passed down to her and incorporated vegetables and herbs that she grew on her terrace. She was the quintessential Italian host and even brought out some delicious cheese and meats when one of the people in our group revealed he didn't like veal. While Giovanna is a museum educator by day, it's clear that her passion for cooking does not take the backseat. In addition to the many "Eat With" dinners she hosts regularly, she also writes a food blog documenting her recipes. 

Eat With is expanding to many countries but their biggest base is in Israel, Spain, and Italy, so if any of those destinations is on your list, I highly recommend signing up for a dinner.


 Grilled eggplant
 Potatoes with rosemary from her roof garden 
 Vegetable lasagne with tomatoes from her roofgarden
Veal saltimbocca and a simple salad with delicious lettuce from--you guessed it--her roof garden


A delicious zabaglione, her grandmother's recipe, which she kindly handwrote for the German guest
 A lovely evening!


11.11.2015

Budget-friendly hotel in Bruges: Hotel Fevery

This hotel is awesome and just off the beaten path in Bruges.  Paul, the owner, is super friendly in a reserved, endearing, European way.  The breakfasts are tasty and served in a cozy room.  The hotel is "green" so the water pressure isn't great, but that's what you should expect in an ecohotel.  Apart from the service, the best part about this hotel is the price.  We got a 2-room suite (with a shared bathroom) for 250 euros (the two-night total!)  I'm sure it's higher in the summer, but this was my second trip to Bruges in March and winter is a magical time to visit Bruges.

Also, there is a direct bus you can take here from the Bruges train station.  It is a short walk from the bus stop and a lot cheaper than a taxi.



11.08.2015

Food Tour and Underground Tour in Naples, Italy


I've written about my positive experiences with foods tours here and here. When I was in Naples, Italy, I was hopeful to find something of similar caliber. There was not as much choice or competition as I found in other European cities, but I eventually settled on "Eat in Italy Food Tours". My guide, Simone, met me in the waterfront district of Chiaia, which was where our tour would take place. As it was last-minute, I ended up being the only person on the tour and overall, it was enjoyable. The culinary highlight was a visit to a restaurant for eggplant parmesan. While the caprese salad left a bit to be desired (the tomatoes were unripe), the eggplant parmesan was everything I love about the dish- it was meaty and the slow-cooked sauce had a very mellow flavor.
A historic coffee shop displaying coffee makers from various eras!
A walk in a garden

Wine tasting of Campanian wines
A simple but tasty pasta
The tour culminated in a visit to the "Naples Underground" or Napoli Sottterranea which provided a respite from the sticky summer heat. Deep under the chaotic bustle of the city lies an extensive underground "city" of tunnels and rooms built from volcanic rock and ash, also known as tufo. It has existed since Neapolis was founded by the Greeks around 470 B.C. Over time, it was used for various purposes including underground aqueducts, Christian burial grounds, garbage dumps, and finally as a bomb shelter in World War II.

Disclosure: this is not for the claustrophobic. Some of the tunnels we went through were extremely narrow. (It is similar to the Catacombs of Appian Way, if not more narrow.)

A chilling scene of a room frozen in time from WWII, including a child's rocking horse.

This underground city represented everything I loved about Naples, particularly the immense history that included both optimistic and very dark periods of history. I can't recommend this tour enough.

10.29.2015

Daytrip from Split to Krka National Park in Croatia

When A. and I were planning the Croatia leg of our summer 2014 Eurotrip, we wanted to see the well-known Plitvice Lakes, but it was too far away from Split, the town where we were staying. After reading about another national park, Krka, and seeing that it was much closer, we ended up booking a tour with Split Excursions. They are a local tour company with several different itineraries- we opted for the "Krka Waterfalls and Sibenik group tour" and it was an enjoyable experience. 

The bus left at a reasonable morning hour from Republic Square, a central meeting point in Split and we departed for Krka National Park. While the waterfalls are magnificent, they are insanely crowded in the summertime, so I recommend crossing the main footbridge and rather than go right towards the waterfalls (Skradinski buk), take a left where it is much calmer and an excellent place for a dip. We had plenty of free time at the waterfalls before meeting back at the bus. 





We were then taken to a beautiful small town within the park (Roski slap) for lunch at a konoba (Dalmatian style tavern). This was in the middle of an insane summer downpour and lightning/thunder storm so we ate a simple lunch inside the cozy restaurant. Everything was from the area including local meats, cheeses, crusty bread, olive oil, wine, and dangerously strong local spirits. 

After lunch, we had the opportunity to explore this area of the park, Roski slap, where it was much more peaceful. It is home to many unique birds and plant life.

At this point, the clouds had parted and we were treated to an insanely beautiful vista of a monastery.


We then headed to the beautiful town of Sibenik, where we saw the St. Jacob's Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and also had ample free time for exploring the town and enjoying an aperitif by the seaside. All in all, I'd recommend this tour if you are staying in Split and have limited time to explore on your own.




9.12.2015

Avoiding Tourist Traps in Trastevere

Walking through Rome's Trastevere neighborhood at night is magical,  but many of the restaurants leave a lot to be desired. I can't count how many bad microwaved meals I've had here- some reminiscent of Chef Boyardee. 

On my latest trip to the Eternal City, I was a bit luckier. 

First up? Pianostrada Laboratorio di CucinaKatie Parla guided me to this gem tucked away on one of Trastevere's narrow backstreets. The place is run by three kind women who offered to cut our sandwiches in three for my two friends and me. 


What to order: The squid ink bun sandwich with mozzarella, fig jam, basil. It is probably one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. A tomato and burrata sandwich was fantastic as well. 

Tip: It's a tiny space so go early to snag a seat.


Place: La Prosciutteria

This wine and prosciutto bar is nothing out-of-this-world but a safe bet in a neighborhood full of subpar offerings.

What to order: A heaping butcher block covered in sliced fruit, stinky cheeses, grilled vegetables, and more. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass as well.



Place: Antilla pub

Not traditional in any way, this bar had extremely nice bartenders and the best damn pina colada that side of the Atlantic. We found our way there several nights in a row and the corner location provided prime people-watching.

7.21.2015

On A Search for the Best Lobster Roll

Cameron's Lobster House~ Brunswick, ME

Despite the fact that my mom grew up in New England and I have cousins from Maine, I never experienced the pleasure that comes from eating a lobster roll done right, until three summers ago.

It started with hearing my family's tales about their delicious roll in Ogunquit, ME. I had to stay back at the hotel as I was sick and trying to gain enough energy to attend a wedding the next evening. After I recovered, I made sure to go on my own quest for this New England specialty.  Before the drive back to Massachusetts, I found a perfect lobster roll joint in my cousins' home town of Brunswick, ME. At Cameron's Lobster House (18 Bath Rd), you will ascend to crustacean heaven.
As far as I'm concerned, there are only two ways to eat a lobster roll: either hot with butter or cold with mayo and I'm partial to the latter.

Stay tuned as I'll soon post my own attempt at making a lobster roll all the way out here in the Pacific Northwest.