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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Loke's Bar in Stockholm

Does the name Lennart "Hoa-Hoa" Dahlgren ring a bell? Well, it didn't for me but this former Olympic weightlifting champion is a household name in his home country of Sweden. Mr. Dahlgren also owns a fantastic neighborhood restaurant, Loke's Bar, in Stockholm's hipster Sodermalm neighborhood. The clientele is mostly local and dinner service is packed on a nightly basis. We stumbled upon the cozy place as it was just a stone's throw from the apartment we were air bnb-ing in. Apparently Hoa-Hoa is a dog lover (Loke is a real-life schnauzer) which was evident in the canine friendly restaurant. We enjoyed dinner there on two occasions and both times, we found dogs sitting under the tables, waiting patiently for a stray Swedish meatball.

The food here is traditional Scandinavian fare: potatoes, meatballs, lingonberry sauce, reindeer toast...

If you find yourself hungry in Sodermalm, stop by Loke's and smaklig måltid! (Bon appetit)


Ristorante da Ciccio in Agropoli

"peasant food"

Sometimes my brothers and I give our mom grief for her ability to strike up a (long) conversation with anyone, even when it means holding up a line, but truthfully, her talent is an asset when traveling. From a Swiss-Tunisian laundromat owner extending an invitation to dinner, to a friendly Calabrian cooking for us out of a shack on the beach, my travel experiences are better thanks to her. 

One of these special moments occurred after wandering all around the Campanian town of Agropoli a few years ago. It was that awkward time between lunch and dinner when many restaurants in Europe are closed, but we were starving. After asking random people in the street where we should eat, an older woman recommended Ciccio and called him to see if he was open. Like everywhere else, he wasn't, but he offered to open his restaurant and feed the starving Americans. Ciccio's food is simple and represents the region and its history as a traditionally poor land. One of my favorite dishes consisted of crusty day-old bread revived with pungent olive oil , fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and imperfectly torn pieces of basil. Extravagant it was not- it represented peasant food of the region, but I felt like a queen eating it. 

As Ciccio's restaurant's website states, "The recipes of The Cilento represent a veritable ode to local products and traditions that are passed down the generations." There has been a lot of discussion about going back to the roots of a region, peasant food, and the like. The New York Times recently ran an article about an Italian DJ ("Donpasta") who's made it his mission to preserve Italian culinary traditions. He isn't interested in high cuisine or TV programs like Master Chef encroaching onto Italy's culinary scene. Neither is Ciccio. Ristorante da Ciccio does an excellent job of showing the region's simplicity and the food shines. We returned the following year for another great lunch and here are some of the things we ate.


Comptoir des Mers in Paris

We're smack in the middle of oyster season, which gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my favorite seafood spots in Paris, Comptoir des Mers in the Marais. Several special memories have taken place in this small restaurant, including the moment I received the amazing news from my friends that they were engaged! I also had the chance to share this place with my mother who then proclaimed that she had the best oysters of her life here.
Not to be missed: any of the seafood carpaccios (their tuna is a standout), fine de Claire oysters, heaping seafood platters, and their crisp white wines like Sancerre

Comptoir des Mers is located at 1 Rue de Turenne in Paris's 4th arrondissement. 

Scenes from Lausanne


Two Rooms in Dublin

I had the pleasure of staying at Two Rooms in Dublin when I was there this past February. From the moment we arrived I felt at home, as Garvan brought us freshly made scones and proper Irish tea to enjoy in the dining room. Fred the dog welcomed us as well.  This bed and breakfast is just what the name suggests: two charming rooms within Garvan and Kevin's lovely home. We had the downstairs room which featured beautiful furniture and a cozy fireplace. Every night on our walk back, we could text Garvan and he would have the fireplace lit and ready. There are no electronic distractions in the rooms, apart from an old-fashioned radio. You will wake rested and refreshed every morning. And then slowly, you'll make your way to the dining room for one of Garvan's masterpieces. It could be fresh fruit and yogurt, a smoked salmon scramble, french toast with blueberry compote. You will eat well and you will eat a lot. You may end up buying the Two Rooms in Dublin cookbook as I did, so you can try to master their scones at home. And that might be just enough to tide you over until you can return to Two Rooms.