We flew from Santorini to Athens International and took the metro (10 euro each) direct into Central Athens- getting off at Syntagma. A 10 minute walk lated we arrived at Themelio Luxury Suites located in Plaka, the historic center of Athens, a tht foot of the Acropolis. It was a 4 room apartment complex with a courtyard. I booked our studio on Orbitz but is also an Airbnb ($100 per night with cleaning.)
We visited the Acropolis first thing in the morning, which happened to be across the street from our hotel (20 euro each ticket.) It was a Saturday and the place was PACKED with tourists and tour groups.
After we walked to the Central Athens Market, through the meat and fish stalls. The unique butcher cuts to Greece are whole lambs, whole goats, rabbits with the fur tail still on, cow tongues, cow livers and large pig feet.
For seafood there’s different sizes of octopus, cuttlefish, and large scale fresh fish.
By lunch tim we were tired of Greek food so we found the highly rated School Pizza Bar located between the Central Food Market and the Flea Market. We ordered a procuitto pizza at 12:45pm and the wait staff let it sit in the kitchen (and get cold) until we complained at 1:30pm that multiple customers who came after had already received and finished their food. We received a fresh (and undercooked) pizza over an hour after we ordered. That’s what we get for venturing off Greek food our last day in Greece.
We walked through the Flea Market- a mix of tourist junk and an actual home goods flea market, which we loved.
We continued walking and found ourselves passing ruins and back in the old town. We stopped for beers at Kosmikon, a very cute white painted restaurant in the heart of the old town. I tried the Amstel alcohol-free, which tasted exactly like Amstel light.
We spent the afternoon walking and shopping around the area. As a 18-month anniversary honeymoon gift Nick bought us an oil painting by Baari from Orlik Gallery. The painting reminds us of the Chania, Crete port.
We went back to Kosmikon for dinner, then to patisserie Diogenes for a last drink.
At 5am we ordered a Uber taxi and headed to the airport for our flight back home. At the airport we waited in the Goldair Lounge across from gate A11.
We rode the Minoain express 2 hour ferry from Herkalion, Crete (70 euro per person for Economy Plus) to Santorini Port. At the port we found our name on a rental but the car had not yet arrived. We figured someone from the company was driving it from the airport (the main rental location on the island) but instead we were waiting for another customer to return the car on his way out. The staff took the keys from him and handed them directly to us- not cleaned or checked.
We crammed all of our bags into thr car and drove up our first winding road of the week to Santo Winery. We tasted a sparkling rose, a non-fermented white, and an organic red. Each tasting of 75ml was 3.40- 7 euro.
We stayed at an incredible hotel in Oia called Nostos Apartments. They were not actually apartments. The hotel is on the lowest level of the town closest to the water which means our views of the 3 million year old caldera were unobstructed. The entire town was carved out of original rock making all the hotels, restaurants, shops, etc caves. Our hotel had an infinity pool and a small breakfast room with breathtaking views. I would 100% stay at Nostos again if we went back. (500 euros per night, amazing breakfast included. Poolside drinks were cheaper than bars in town (4 euro beer, 4 euro fresh juice.)
Our first night we went to dinner at Sunset at Ammoudi Bay- I made the reservation a month in advance and in October it was still slammed. Google maps said the walk was 20 minutes as the bay is located on the other side of the town. What google maps did not tell us is that the restaurant is at the bottom of the 140 meter above sea-level mountain we were currently on top of. We walked down, then 2 hours back up. We took 756 physical steps, 250 actual steps counted, all on a very steep incline. Thank god I was never attempted to wear heels in Greece.
There are a few restaurants down at Ammoudi Bay, Sunset being the most popular. Our table was directly next to the water- no gate/fence in between the table and chair legs and the edge of the pier. There was a ladder which I bet has been used once or twice before.
We started with the scallops with black lentils, and the sun-dried (then grilled) octopus, which is tougher but has more flavor than traditional boil then grilled octopus. For our entree we shared a 1kg sea bass which we picked out, and paired with the grilled vegetables. The food was delicious.
On Wednesday we went on the 8 hour Georgaros Fishing Trips Santorini (89 per person.) The tour included transportation to and from the hotel but we opted to drive to Vlychada Marine ourselves. The owner/captain is Anthi, she’s been fishing with her dad since she was young and started her own tour company.
We stopped near the coasts of White Black Red beach and fished/ snorkled. The crew cooked a fantastic meal of soft shell shrimp and grilled and fried fishes.
After a long day on the water we went back to relax in Oia. We read by our pool and enjoyed the view, fresh juice, and olive oil, oregano and bread we brought from Crete.
Dinner at Lotza. Casual traditional food overlooking the water. We had the Santorini Fava dip, Briama (roasted vegetables with yogurt) and bolognese. We stopped for an after dinner drink at Meteor Cafe, a vintage eclectic jazz mini bar overlooking the bay. Pricey at 8 euro for a glass of red wine “from the barrel.”
On Thursday we did the must-do walk from Oia and Fira, which took 2 hours 10 minutes. The walk is a mix of cliffside trails and walking through XXX. The views are insane.
Fira was insanely packed with cruise tourists- 4 cruise ships. The locals kept saying this was abnormal for October. The vibe of Fira is cheap touristic, and average compared to the posh town of Oia was had become accustomed to.
We decided to get away from the crowds and cruise cable cars aka away from the water views. We found Absolutely Fabulous, a spot off the beaten path for fresh juices and a Greek Crepe. Then grabbed a House falafel wrap and tomato balls from Falafeland, one of the best falafels I’ve ever had. Then we walked around the corner to LukuMum for loukoumades but we were too full for fried dough balls so we opted for a banana nutella crepe instead.
We took the local bus from Fira back to Oia (1.80 euro each) and relaxed at our pool again.
Our hotel conceriege managed to sneak us into Fino last minute without a reservation and we are so happy he did. The restaurant ambience is laid back sophisticated and the food was incredible. Jazz music played throughout our 2.5 hour meal. We had the sea bass ceviche, grilled prawns, chevre peach salad, sea bass and lamb ribs with (a to die for) carrot puree and whipped hummus, accompanied by a glass of local Syrah and two draft beers. I would not get the sea bass again as it was bland. It is one of the pricier restaurants in town but the portion sizes were large compared to those back home. Dinner came to 116 euro with tip. I would 100% go back here.
After dinner we walked to Hassapiko Bar (also known as Mary Kay’s) for milkshakes and people watching. This is the only trendy/dance friendly bar in Oia and it definitely attracts the fun drinking crowd. It’s a beautiful pastel old fashioned eclectic bar that serves ice cream and lunch-type foods.
We had a final breakfast at our hotel over looking the bay then went to buy the blue sunglasses I’d been eyeing at Kopajak, a Mykonos sunglasses company.
We spent our last day in Santorini at multiple spots within 5km of each other in the middle of the island. First stop was Art Space Winery, a museum/ art gallery/ winery where we got a wine production tour from the owner who Nick claims was speaking in English. We then went to Santorini Brewery (the only local beer,) where we viewed the bottling process in action. We did the free tasting which included Yellow Donkey (a pale ale and our favorite,) Red Donkey and Lazy Donkey.
From here we headed up the road to Metaxi Mas for our 2pm lunch reservaton. The restaurant sits on a hill overlooking the east side of the island. We ordered grilled local mushrooms, chick pea hot pot with smoked trout, seafood pasta in Santorini cherry tomato sauce and lamb shank. The food was delicious but the sun lurked over and eventually the patio turned into musical chairs as all the guests started sweating, myself included.
After lunch we drove down to Kamari Beach, a black pebble beach town. We slowly walked along the water exfoliating our feet, and camped out on lounge chairs at one of the many beach front bars and had fresh juices (honeydew and pineapple.)
We left our apartment in Austin at 3pm on Thursday. 5:20pm flight to London on Norwegian Airlines. Landed at Gatwick at 8:45am. 7 hour layover in London with airport change to London Luton. 3:05pm flight to Athens on Wizz Airlines, landing at 9:25pm. 10:45 flight to Chania, Crete on Olympic Airlines, which was delayed. Landed in Chania at 11:30pm. 30 minute taxi to Chania. After check in we got to our room at 2am. Door to door the trip took 27 hours.Chania
The old town is pedestrian-only so our cab driver was only able to take us to one of the entrance points (25 euro from the airport.) While we waited for a hotel escort our driver snagged us some roasted chestnuts from a bar nearby. We stayed at Elia Palatino, a boutique hotel right next to the harbor (382 euro for 4 nights including breakfast.)Saturday we walked around the old town. We went to the Maritime museum, and then along the stone jetty where we saw great views of the harbor and mountainous island. We continued into town and grabbed a snack at Plaka, a colorful hippie cafe. We are the most incredible fresh plate of warm tomatoes, olives, feta and hearth bread drenched in olive oil. It was the best food we ate in Chania and hands down one of the most amazing dishes we’ve ever had.The Old Chania Market was a tourist trap but a great place to buy gifts. The market is a mix of food (seafood, olives, cheeses, honey) local products (handmade kitchen supplies from olive tree wood, leather bags, sponge and olive oil soaps,) and knick knacks.We watched sunset from a restaurant at the harbor where we snacked on tzatziki and mussels, had drinks at rooftop restaurant in town that had live greek music, and had a terrible dinner at a Godfather themed restaurant back on the harbor.Sunday we took a jeep excursion with Geogioupolis Safari tours (69 euro per person.) The owner Stelious was our driver and entertainer. We met Stelious and four other tourists (an Aussie and his wife who live in Guangzhou and an older Kiwi couple) next to the Old Market. We climbed into the jeep (taking turns throughout the day being in the back on the sideways seats) and off we went for an 8.5 hour tour.The tour: we visited archeological sites/graves and had coffee under a 2,000-year-old tree, went to a Byzantine church and samples local raki, honey and olive oil from a shop (purchased a small bottle of oil for our hotel,) drove off-road for ~2 hours through the White Mountains, saw vultures, walked on a black sand beach, ate at a tavern, and visited an olive oil mill where we saw the 2,000 year old olive tree- the second oldest in the world. The tour was not exactly as described- we were promised a hike which never took place, and unfortunately it was too cold to swim, but it was nice to see the island terrain.How to test for good olive oil:
1. Make sure the oil is a dark green
2. Shake the bottle and flip upside down. If the bubbles are small and moving slowly to the top it is good. If the bubbles and big ans fast moving it is bad. Small bubbles means it was cold-pressed.Immediately after being dropped off back in Chania we picked-up a fresh pomegranite juice (3.80 euro) then sat at Epea Pteroeyta for a beer. This is the cafe where our driver snagged us chestnuts the first night, which we had spent 2 days searching for since. Turns out the owner of the cafe only randomly brings out the chestnuts late evenings.We had a fantastic seafood dinner at Glossitses on the harbor. The restaurant was decently priced (11 euro for a main dish) and less touristy than the restaurants located in the middle of the harbor. We ordered the taramousalata (white roe,) avocado salad, mussels in white wine and grilled cuttlefish.We would definitely go back here.I paid for our hotel for 4 nights. The plan had been to take a day trip to Heraklion on Monday, then head back Tuesday morning for our ferry to Santorini. Unfortunately it turned out the bus from Chania to Heraklion was 3 hours each direction- Google maps says it’s only an hour drive. The thought of spending 6 hours on a bus for a day trip, and/or waking up at 4am to take a morning bus to our ferry was unthinkable so we made a quick decision to change up our schedule. I booked an Airbnb for Monday night in Heraklion and our fourth night stay in Chania became a wash.Rethymno
Monday morning we had room service in our hotel then walked to the public bus station on Kidonais street. A ticket from Chania to Rethymno cost 7 euro, and it’s a 1.5 hour bus ride. We took the 10:30am bus.Rethynmo turns out to be a very quaint town, far less touristic than Chania. We immediately regretted not spending at least one night here. After disembarking from the bus we walked to the Fortezze Castle (4 euro entry each.) The castle sits on the waterfront at the west end of town and has incredible views of the city, water and landscape around.We walked along the waterfront and stopped at Cool Cafe for a fresh papaya and mango juice, then continued into the narrow alleyways filled with shops.We ate lunch at Sto Karfi Kai Sto Petalo where we were taken care of by the sweetest matronly owner. We ordered the 7 Greek Traditional dishes with 1/2 bottle wine for 18.90 euro. The dishes included moussaka, pork stew, cretan salad, tatzatziki, favas beans, stewed vegetables, and meatballs. It was a great sample of local cuisine.We walked back to the bus station in the rain and took the 3:45pm bus to Heraklion (9 euro each.)HerkalionWe stayed at Stella’s Airbnb near the Old Town and the water. We only had a few hours in town so we walked around the square, shopped at a stocked olive wood store, ate our fist Greece Gyros at Politia, and got gelato from Davinci.The next morning we walked to the ferry port and took Minoan Lines to Santorini (70 euro per ticket.)
To save money I chose a 7 hour layover in London with an airport change on our way to Greece.
We flew Norwegian Airlines and landed at Gatwick at 8:45am. Took the 30 minute express train to London Victoria station- 20 pounds per person.
The walk around town was a nightmare. Friday morning rush hour mixed with Friday tourists, and of course cold grey skies. We saw Wistminster Abbey, Big Ben (completely under construction/scaffolding) and Parliament.
We had a coffee at St. Stephen’s Tavern across from Parliament and a Full english Breakfast at The Admiraly next to Trafalgar Square. We walked into multiple pubs on our way to the square to check if they were serving lunch yet (aka fish n’ chips) but no luck.
Next time Stay at: Red Tree House B&BEat at: Pujol 1 USD = 19.25 pesos Weather: 84 F / 50 F
We were originally booked for Denver but a major snow storm canceled all flights for the next 3 days. 3 hours after our flight was canceled we switched gears and repacked for a long weekend in Mexico City, somewhere neither of us have been but have always wanted to explore.
On Thuraday we woke-up at 3:30am and drove to Houston International Airport. A short 2 hour flight later we landed in Mexico City. We walked a mile through the airport to the metro where we took the yellow line to the pink line to the blue line, getting off at Zocalo. The steamy non-airconditioned ride cost us each 5 pesos ~ 25 cents.
Our Airbnb was located on Republica de Peru 87 in the Quinceria and Baptist gown district in the Historic Center of the city. A small 1 bedroom in a the only modern building in the neighborhood.
After checking in we ventured out first heading to Plaza Garabaldi. The plaza is normally bustling with mariachis but it was quite on a Thursday. We sat down at a local street vendor for a traditional tamarind chili michelada and spicy peanuts. Afterwards we walked around the Historic City Center district. For dinner we grabbed al pastor tacos and a ham torta at Taqueria Tlaquepaque, a street vendor. Behind the street cart and up a skinny spiral staircase we ate in a tiny room (with maybe 6ft ceilings) on tiny stools.
Friday morning we grabbed a fresh squeezed OJ on the street (15 pesos) and a fruit cup (25 pesos) on our walk to the Palace of Fine Arts. The museum featured an exhibit of the Parisian photographer Brasaii. The floor above was lined with gigantic colorful murals each depicting some form of capitalism versus communism. After the museum we walked to a bank to exchange money. The bank teller sent us to Ci Bank where we were told we need a passport to exchange. Unfortunately we did not have a debit card on us either so we walked back to the Airbnb. This roundabout errand took us 2 hours – Mexico City is huge.
By the time we headed back out with cash it was too late to go to another neighborhood so we wandered around for a few hours. We had an elote from the street market in the Park Almeada Central and Nick bought a fanny pack. For a real afternoon snack we stopped at El K-Guomo, a local seafood cantina near the Palace of Fine Arts. There are two locations around the corner from another- both the same. We ordered an Octopus tostada (40 pesos each), shrimp cocktail (90 pesos), a michelada and a Corona for (35 pesos each)- $10. They started our meal with a complimentary large saltine covered with fish cocktail.
Afterwards we stopped into Karsapan bakery (one of the best local bakeries) and picked up some pastries for home.
Before dinner we went for cocktails at Gin Gin in the La Condesa neighborhood, the trendy hip gringo part of town. We took an 30 minute uber for $10. I somehow managed to get a last minute reservation at Lorea in La Condesa for dinner. The restaurant is on the Conde Nast must-try list as well as many others. The menu is different every day and is prefixed featuring 13 courses. 1500 pesos ($75) for food and 890 pesos ($44.50) for drink pairings which is optional. We the full experience. Our daily consisted of regulars like soft shell crab, sea bass and steak, but also included lettuce soup with dried shrimp, corn fungus and zucchini flower tempura filled with ice cream. The drink pairings ranged from beer to a green tomato cocktail. Overall we were impressed by the food ingredients but underwhelmed by the flavors.
Saturday morning we took the blue metro to Tasquena then transferred to the train to Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Total time was about 1 hour. The train to Xochimilco cost 3 pesos each and the only way to get a ticket is to pay a local and use their metro card. The train is only a few cars and a tight pack. For a good 20 seconds on the journey the train slowed and we were on a full tilt. At one point there was a teenage boy standing next to us with a bouquet with a live butterfly on it; we’re guessing the bugs legs were glued. We passed what looked like refugee camps. We followed the Emparacado signs to the dock filled with identical primary colored boats with neons name plaques. The maximum captains are allowed to charge is 450 pesos per hour per boat though most tourists do not know this. The captain started with 1500 pesos for 2 hours but Nick haggled down to 850 pesos.
We were served a bucket of coronas before disembarking. On the water way there are boats selling souvenirs, elotes, micheladas, ponchos, flower crowns, tequila, bonsai trees, etc. There are also marichi players. Along the side of the river there are cantinas and flower shops. The waterway was packed with boats as to be expected on a Saturday. Most of the boats were filled with 10+ people Mexican families that brought full-meal spreads with them. The experience was local but very touristy, almost like Disney World for adult.
After the boat ride we walked to the main indoor market in town- Mercado Xochimilco. We walked through stall after stall of fruit, vegetables, raw meats, moles, spices, clothes, shoes, electronics, etc. In the middle are food stalls. We shared a bowl of chicken pozole from Polozeria St. Raul which was fantastic. We also bought a coconut juice and a mamey fruit, which we discovered at dinner the night before. We then headed back into the city getting off the metro at Pino Suarez. We walked to La Ciudadela, the handmade market. I bought an embroidered clutch and Nick bought a pestel and mortar. Haggling was not to be had here.
We watched the sunset from the roof of our Airbnb and watched Mexican fireworks in the distance that looked like random flashes of sparks in the sky. We had a chilled dinner at Barriga Llena, a local dive located on a square a few blocks from our Airbnb.
Monday we spent the day in La Condesa. In the morning we took an uber to Museo de Arte Moderno but ended up skipping the museum and walking through the park instead. We walked up to Chapultepec Castle but didn’t have enough time to tour. We had lunch reservations at Contramar, the best seafood restaurant in the city, and it turned out to be one of the best seafood restaurants we’ve EVER been to. We shared the ahi tuna tostadas which are out of this world, the shrimp ceviche in green sauce, the octopus with paprika, the tomato salad, and the grilled whole fish with half red and half green sauce. Nick had 2 beers and I had 2 glasses of white wine. Total meal cost 2500 pesos = $131
Afterward we walked around La Condesa and Roma neighborhoods. We stopped for coffee at Alamangre Cafe, a green beer at McCarthy’s Irish Pub (it was St. Patrick’s Day,) and at the HOP Experience for an IPA. We attempted to shop at a great store called the Happening but all the shoes and clothes were too small.
We kept walking towards Central and stumbled upon streets filled with tents. Most likely refugees. We finally took Lime scooters most of the way back to the Airbnb. Our last night we took it easy and went back to the same food vendor we ate at the first night.
Monday morning we took a 30 min Uber to the airport costing us $15. We went through security at the airport and had our pestel and mortar confiscated as apparently the guacamole maker is a weapon, but bottles of liquor purchasd duty free are not. When we boarded our flight in one of the last boarding groups we were told they needed to check one of our bags because overhead was full so we gave them Nick’s bag. When we got on the plane we saw there was an excessive amount of free overhead space so we figured they were just being pricks. It wasn’t until we landed at 5pm and took the shuttle to the parking lot that we realized they had stolen our car key from the bag. We were targeted.
At 6:41pm we called Hydundai Roadside and paid for a tow truck that was supposed to arrive in an hour or less. At 9:45pm we moved into the parking shuttle office to warm up. At 11:19pm a tow truck arrived, the 3rd company that was dispatched. The driver was a young lady from New York. We spent 4.5 hours total in long term parking, went with the tow truck to drop off my car at the dealership at 11:55pm, got dropped off at a Waffle House, then spent the night near the airport at and Airbnb room. We got back to the Hyubdai dealship at 7:15am and wasn’t able to get a new key and hit the road back to Austin until 9:25am.
$85 tow + $20 tip (after 4.5 hours in the cold I would have given her more if I had it)$48 Airbnb near airport, $24 Waffle House dinner, $6.50 Uber to Airbnb, $9.25 Uber to dealship, $358 New car fob Unexpected Cost $555.75
Due to Hurricane Irma our annual family holiday vacation landed us in Playa del Carmen this year. We flew into Cancun and took a private transfer ($50) one hour south to our resort, The Royal Playa del Carmen. The perfect resort if you want luxury, party and relaxation right on the beach, in the middle of the tourist strip. For most of us it was not our ideal location, and certainly not our ideal beach setting, but for one year it was a nice change. We were able to explore the town, dive into the backpacker scene a few nights, and had our price option for scuba companies- I paid about half the price I usually pay within a remote resort.
The resort is luxurious. White columns line the entire facade. Each room is a mini suite with a hot tub in the living room, a hammock on the balcony, and 24-hour room service. The hotel has a spa on site and guests are encouraged to use the male/female only facilities- sauna, steam room, blue tiled jacuzzi. Our in-room couples massage was extra but well worth it! There are pilates and TRX classes in the mornings, followed by the typical (and fun) water aerobics in the pool. There are plenty of restaurant options, both buffet and a la carte throughout the resort. La Mediterranean for lunch (pasta made-to-order) and Marie Marie for dinner (those lamb chops!) were out two favorites. Snacks are always out, and bars are open until 1am. The nightly shows performed by incredibly talented local dancers and gymnasts were surprisingly entertaining. But the best part about this hotel is the staff- Maria at the front desk, is our go-to gal.
Our first night we went out with some of the other hotel guests. We brought them to Zenzi, a beach bar with live salsa music. The next evening we met-up with a friend of mine from NYC, who was also in Playa with her family. We ended up at Bar Ranita, a charming international-locals bar off the main road on Calle 10.
The next day we walked around and quoted a few dive shops in town. Phantom Divers was incredibly overpriced, and we ended up going with Scuba Playa Dive Shop on Calle 10 Norte. Nick signed up for the Open Water PADI course, 1-day video, 2-days of dives. His instructor was Rafa. I signed-up for a cenote cavern dive and to also joined Nick’s last day ocean dives. I officially have a certified dive buddy!
Dos Ojos Cenote is made up of both caverns and caves. Fresh water, technical dives. My private dive master for the day was Juan Reynaud, who freelances through Scuba Playa but owns Yucatan Cenotes Mexico in Dos Ojos. He’s French/Mexican, prefers technical dives, has been an instructor all over the world. Our first dive was Barbie Line, a cavern with an open surface, and the second dive was Bat Cave, where there was no open surface. Both dives were dark and required a flashlight for the entirely of the dive. No sea-life, just rock stagmite.
Half-way through the week we decided to day trip. We rented a car from GoCarrito for $65. Terrible customer service but less than half the price of the bigger companies, like Hertz. We drove to the Coba ruins, an ancient Mayan city west of Tulum. We climbed to the top of the tallest pyramid and took in the breathtaking view of the untouched forest around us. Nothing but trees in sight.
On the road back east we stopped at Grand Cenote Tulum, the largest cenote in the area. Essentially a turquoise watering hole in the caves. We checked-in, locked up our stuff, and swam through the cenote. Dave attempted to swim into one of the caves.
We drove through the town of Tulum, which appeared to be a more rundown version of Playa del Carmen. Tulum is known for its posh boutique hotels but those are mostly located on the beach side. We attempted to drive down that way but after waiting in 15 minutes of traffic we turned around. Next time, when it’s not a holiday weekend, we want hang out at Papaya Playa. Or if we’re back in town have lunch at El Camello Jr.
We headed north along highway 307 for 15 minutes and got off right after passing the town of Tulsayab. There were not any highway exits or signs, we just followed google maps. We ended up on a back road along the beach that took us past one private villa after another. Ten minutes of bumpy travel later the road ended at a local restaurant, our destination, Chamico’s.
The best meal we ate on the trip. Yellow plastic tables and chairs scattered throughout bunches of palm trees located directly on the beach. The kitchen was some woks behind the outdoor beach bar. There was a coconut man next to the kitchen, and two ceviche men next to him- one juicing limes and one shelling seafood. Very local, very authentic, very delicious. For 3 of us we got the mixed ceviche with lobster ($15), guacamole ($2.50), shrimp quesadillas ($6) and CocoLoco’s, coconuts with coconut rum added. The portions were huge, the fish was fresh, and the scene was peaceful. Definitely will end up back here.
We celebrated Christmas and NYE at the resort. Not nearly as spectacular as expected, but the special ordered bubbly made it better.
Next time in Playa del Carmen
Visit: Garden of Eden Cenote
Eat: Dona Paula- The Pozole Place (VERY local), Los Taracos (taco pastor), La Conchinita Food Cart, La Floresta (fish tacos)
We came into Freiburg via France on Flexibus. We jumped into a taxi and headed towards the Hertz just south of the city to pick up our rental car. When we got there there it was closed with a sign on the door saying the address moved but no new address was provided, just a phone number. Our driver offered to call for us but no answer. Luckily a fork lift man nearby knew the new location so we jumped back in the taxi and drove to the airport location. A 40€ taxi total. Without having to get nasty the teller at Hertz offered to refund us for our full taxi and he upgraded us to a BMW 320 Diesel, Luxury Edition. Black with caramel colored leather interior. Perfect German car for Germany. A 5 day rental for $134.
We parked in Altstadt, the old section of Freiburg. We had lunch at Hausbrauerei Feierling, a recommended beer garden. Nick’s first Germany biergarten. We had the white and red sausages with a pretzel and house beer. I loved the white sausages which were simply boiled and came with a whole grain honey mustard. The beer was also exceptional.
After we walked to Freiburger Munster, which happened to have a food market going on around it. Lots of sausage stands. On the walk back to the car we went through the university campus and discovered the thousands of bicycles not chained up. A trustworthy town.
We hopped in the car and drove 1 hour to Triberg, the original birth place of the Coo-coo clock. The Main Street is short with a few clock stores, including the House of 1000 Clocks. All the clocks are made locally and range from $10-20,000. There were traditional ones and modern contemporary ones. We ended up buying a small clock from a clock store nearby. Black with a green coo coo bird.
We drove the Autobahn north and at one point clocked 155 miles per hour.
Dinner was Chinese food at Saigon Restaurant in Karlsruhe. The menu was extensive and in German only; the Asian owner did not speak English. Google translate came into play and took quite a bit of time.
LAMBRECHT (Black Forest)
We spent two nights in this small town with family friends of Nicks’. Thursday morning we had breakfast then went on a full-day hike with about 12 Germans, all friends of theirs. It was a German holiday, “Father’s Day.” A bit different in ours in that it’s just about being out with your kids.
The group left the house and walked directly into the Palatinate Mountains from Lambrecht around 11:30am and walked out of the mountains at Neustadt at 8:30pm. While trekking we took many stops to drink white wine spritzers, a traditional drink in this area. In total the group drank over 20 bottles of white wine. Three of the stops were restaurants and four were shacks or look-out points along the trek route.
To our luck the first restaurant had a traditional live band which was a rarity. We sat at long tables and the locals swayed and sang along to almost all the songs. At all the stops we ate liverwurst, blood sausages, salami and brown bread, all traditional German foods. At the second restaurant we ordered rounds of tarte flambe, German/French pizza, thin baked pizza dough topped with cream and ham bits. The cream was a bit much for me but everyone else loved it.
When we finished our hike in Neustadt we took the train one stop back to Lambrecht.
In the morning we drove back south to Baden-Baden, a high end town in the Black Forest often visited by presidents and princes, famous for its traditional Bath Houses. Nick and I went to Friedrichsbath, the more traditional of the two. The bath house is a historic bathing temple that has been around for over 130 years, and resembles those from Roman/Turkish bath houses. Grand in size and design. Walls of marble, ceilings of stained glass, and side walls adorned with roman sculptures and paintings.
We went on a coed nudist day where clothing is not optional. Men and women walk around freely (and together) in the nude with no hesitations or fear of body appearance, something I bet we’ll never see in the US. The bath house has 17 stages of pool/saunas. We chose the 50€ package which included the baths, a soap scrub and a cream massage. Our experience timed by stations went as follows- Shower, warm air, hot air, shower, soap body scrub, shower, steam, hot steam, full bath, whirlpool bath, exercise bath, shower, cold bath, towel down, cream massage, tea room.
After we sipped peppermint tea on the terrace in the reading room in our bath sheets we changed and headed out into the town.Pizza at Lifestyle cafe across from the bath house, then gelato from Martinelli Gelato down in the town center.
Then back in the car for a 1.5 hour drive north to Heidelberg.
(View from dorm)
In Heidelberg we stayed at Steffi’s Hostel in a 10 bed dorm. Both got top bunks and baked in the overnight heat but overall the hostel was clean and spacious.
We were only there for one night but we had the chance to walk along the river during sunset which was lovely. We watched the locals sail, crew and socialize in the park across the river. Heidelberg is a university town so almost everyone on the streets was in their 20s.
We walked through the old town and down to Untere Strauss, the bar street. We had Italian for dinner at Pop restaurant. Great lemon-y carpaccio, overdressed arugula salad, and mediocre pasta. Not the best food but when the outdoor tables cleared for the night to begin we lucked out. The manager saved us the only 2 seat raised bench on the side of the bar; the perfect location for privacy and people watching while still being in the scene. In the morning we checked out and stopped at a bakery for bazaar pastries (a pretzel covered in dried cheese and pepitas.) We then hit the road for our 2.5 hour drive west.
I brought Nick to Nurburgring for the 24 Hour Zurich Race for his birthday present this year.
We got to town and hit the grocery store for snacks and beer. The town was packed as expected, and completely out of ice, which we should have guessed. Also turns out people can bring anything into the race, something we were unaware of. But also turns out good and drink costs are not astronomical there like they are at stadiums in the US.
The race went from Saturday at 3:30pm to Sunday at 3:30pm. We were there from 3:30pm to midnight Saturday.
We slept in our car and woke-up at 7:30am and hit the road.
Our last day/night was spent in Frankfurt. We stayed at Frankfurt Hostel hotel which is located across from the train station, and happens to be the red light district and Chinatown area. We upgraded to a private double room for 58€ versus 18€ per person for a bunk bed.
It was too early to check-in when we arrived so we headed for Chinese nearby at Jade restaurant. It was Sunday after all. Shrimp dumplings, hot and sour soup, chicken with broccoli and sweet and sour chicken. Right on queue.
We had originally planned to skip doing a night in Frankfurt but I discovered a Food & Wine festival going on over the weekend so I re-planned. Fressgass-Fest ended up being a semi-bust. We walked down Kaiserstrauss, a boulevard full of different ethnic restaurants with outdoor seating, to Fressgass street, which ended up being unpopular, at least on this Sunday. The festival was about 3 blocks long and consisted of different food vendors and bars (cocktails bars, champagne bars, and beer only bars) with picnic tables set-up in the street. I started with a mug of champagne and ended with a gin basil smash. Drinks and food were delicious but overpriced throughout the event. We only stayed a few hours but it didn’t look like it was going to pick-up as the night went on. But it was Sunday after all.
We walked home and took a brief nap in the park next to the Main Tower on our way back to the hostel.
Our last evening we met up with a friend of my brothers who is German and lives in Frankfurt. He picked us up and we walked to his favorite beer store nearby. The store was a small convenience store that has two high top tables out front for drinking. Did I mention it’s legal to drink in the street in Germany? I had the local cider which was exactly as I like it- bitter and not sweet. According to our friend it’s common for German girls to mix it with water or Fanta because it’s not sweet enough.
We were then taken on a very nice river Main and old town walking tour. We crossed the river Untermainbrucke and back on the old Eiserner Steg bridge that leads into the old town. We were on the river at sunset and had gorgeous views of the Frankfurt Cathedral. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant in the old town and downed delicious Schnitzel with green sauce, carrot soup and a grilled salmon salad under large umbrellas while it rained around us.
Our last morning in Europe we were lucky enough to find an indoor food market while walking around the old town. Prosciutto paninis, cherry tomatoes and a coke for our last meal.
On the walk back to the car we walked into a pet store (the fourth of the trip) and found some perfect toys for Coleman, including a squeaky sausage which I’d been searching for.
Strasbourg is a small Rhine river city in Eastern France that is just on the German border. It houses the largest French Christmas Market and is home to Alsace cuisine. Le pain l’épice and tarte flambe are two local favorites. The city also has numerous Michelin star restaurants as well as one of the largest wine collections.
We were only here for one afternoon/night. We stayed at an Airbnb in Le Petit France, the old town located on an island in the middle of Strasbourg. The island was much bigger than we expected but just as cute. German gingerbread houses stand next to French style buildings with intricate Juliet balconies. The streets are mostly for pedestrians and are crowded with stops and cafes. Bikes are the predominant mode of transportation for locals here, and many of the streets are cobblestone.
Our Airbnb was simply for a bedroom in an apartment with breakfast included but we ended up being wowed by our host. Her home was eclectic with art and decor from all over the world. Graffiti artwork, Asian pottery, wooden beams, velvet chairs, painted doors, etc. Our room was a sight to be seen. Our host, Annette, was a lovely woman who only spoke French and German but we had no problem communicating with her. From the looks of her apartment and random photographs it looks like she’s a fun person.
After checking in we set out to venture around the town. Beers at Barbu’to, a cute Italian bistro. We bought Christmas ornaments because we had to in this Christmas town. We sipped espressos at La Cigogne cafe in the town square across from the church before heading inside. Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is absolutely incredible and brought Nick to tears when the 4:45pm bells rang. The church is one of the more intricate ones that I’ve ever seen. The façade is completely detailed and the bell system is designed so that the church itself is helping the acoustics.
We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and snacking. We had the mashed vegetable rings at The Dubliners and for dinner we sat outside of Lohkas and had the Fois Gras, which was incredibly smooth.
We woke up to a lovely spread of yogurts, muesli, fruits, breads, jams and juices. Annette did not eat with up but she was attentive to bring us anything we needed. We grabbed our luggage and headed towards the bus station, hitting a street market on our way. When we got to the Train/Bus station we were told Flexibus is actually located in a different park of town. We bolted to the taxi stand and told our driver we had 10 minutes to make it to our bus, and he got us there in 9. I don’t think he hit the breaks once. He ran through red lights and mostly drove in the bus lane. Our type of driver.
We flew Air France from Bordeaux to Paris and took a Uber to our budget hotel, Grand Hotel Noveau Paris. We walked in and immediately thought of the movie Four Hotel Rooms. The lobby was dark and dingy and the front desk manager was MIA but after a few minutes the old man emerged from the elevator with a massive garbage bin. We checked in smoothly and took the teeny tiny elevator up to the third floor. Our front door molding was so close to the elevator it touched the elevator molding. Our room had a double bed, two tiny bedside tables and a tiny desk all touching each other. The bathroom was smaller than mine was in my studio apartment in NYC, and Nick and I could barely fit in the shower separately. Our window view was of another window, but we had pretty detail on our ceiling. All in all very Parisian and typical for a cheap expensive city hotel.
After checking in we walked through l’isle Saint Louis to Notre Dame, then back north and stopped at Le Petit Bistro for happy hour and a cheese plate (Camembert, goat at blue.) We learned that if you arrive during happy hour you’ll continue to get the deal until you depart- wish the US had this. After sunset we continued our journey and ended up wandering up Rue St Denis and the surrounding area. Restaurant, after bar, after restaurant, after bar. One pedestrian street after another. A very cool area, albeit a bit too touristy. We landed inside Le Relais du Vin for beers (a quieter bar;) their happy hour goes until 11pm. Then stopped in La Fee Verte a block from our hotel on the way home.
In the morning we made the trek up to Sacré Cœur. On the way we tried to eat at Du Pain et Des Idées, apparently one of the best bakeries in Paris, but it was closed. Much hotter than expected we sweated our way to the church but it was well worth it for the views alone.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city. We stumbled into a cute alleyway flea market- Passages des Panoramas, and upon Rue Montorgueil, a pedestrian street full of outdoor cafes. Escargot Montorgueil especially stood out with it’s giant gold snail.
We grabbed a shwarma at Al Moustan falafel bar and bought me new teal New Balances at Foot Locker. My cowboy boots had been murdering my feet for days, and I still don’t understand the fuss.
We had fantastic oysters at Huîtres Regis. It’s one of the pricier meals of our trip but the spot was highly recommended and well worth the cost. They oysters were the largest and meatiest we’ve ever had- nothing like oysters back home. My favorite was the spéciales perles noires Cadoret. We paired them with a lovely white wine, the champagne would have been too much of a splurge on our budget.
Right nearby we bought macaroons at Pierre Herme, another pricey but recommended spot. Passion fruit and chocolate were recommended but unavailable, so instead we tried pea mint, coffee, salted caramel. We ate them in the church park across the street.
Next stop was Les Antiquaires for cocktails and a meat cheese plate, one of our less liked spots. Then we continued our walk west to the Eiffel Tower. We joined the mass crowd sitting on the grass adjacent to the tower, bought brut from one of the men selling liquor to the crowd, and watched the sunset. It’s the first time I saw the lights flicker on the tower as the sun went down.
Nick knocked over a money tray from a Living Statuesm on our way out. We had beers at Royal Beaubourg and chatted with a French and Swiss family about Trump. One of them was a huge fan. We then bolted and ended up at California Avenue bar off Rue St Denis.
The next morning we walked to Dim Sum Cantine Montmarte, a dumplings and fish tartar spot. Didn’t end up eating here but would love to next time. Instead we had sushi at Okaka Sushi on Rue Montmarte, cheap lunch specials but not great quality.
Today was all about the Louvre. Unfortunately the Van Gogh/Monet rooms were temporarily closed, something I didn’t know was possible. We made it through over half of the museum before needing to leave for fear of passing out.
A Nutella crepe and an egg/cheese crepe doused in Tabasco put us back on our feet. We stopped at a Carrefour market and walked to Jardin Luxembourg. We plopped down exhausted on the grass amongst the locals.Our last dinner in Paris was at Le Servan. A restaurant that was highly recommended and has great reviews, and happens to be right near our hotel. It was supposedly a seafood spot according to every post but when we got there we found out that it was mostly meats. Unfortunately by the time of our reservation everything we craved on the menu was sold out. We ended up getting the raw squid salad, the beef tataki salad and the white asparagus. The food was okay and the cost is pricey. We’d be willing to try it again for the clams that people rave about, and maybe the octopus that was sold out.
The next morning we headed to Strasbourg on the TGV leaving from Gare l’Est. I bought a baguette sandwich from Les Petits Caprices, a gourmet deli across from the train station. Nick bought food from the street vendor across the street. A panini for lunch and an egg/cheese/chorizo crepe for us for breakfast. The chorizo had an African curry sauce that was fantastic.
——- Next time stay near the canal, near Ten Belles. Artsy hipster neighborhood. Great boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. Eat at Des Pains et Des Idees (bakery), Septime, Clamato, Breizh Cafe (savory crepes), Crabe Royale.
We flew Vueling Airlines from Barcelona to Bordeaux. Took the Navette Shuttle from the airport to the train station in downtown Bordeaux, 30 minute ride, 7€ each. We took the train to Saintes, 1hr 45min, 43€ each.
Calvin picked us up from the train station in Saintes in his new Peugeot and we drove to his house in Gemozac, arriving at 8:33pm. We left our Barcelona hostel at 1:30pm and arrived at the chalet at 9:15pm.
Gemozac is a small village in the Bordeaux region. The wine near the town is fantastic and cheap but the main exports around are Cognac and pigneau, which is a sweet wine with a hint of cognac.
We grabbed a goat cheese, chorizo and veggie pizza from Hasta La Pizza and ate a late dinner at home. The next day we had lunch at Le Lion d’Or, where I had the smoked rainbow trout salad and beef tartar. After we walked around town to check it out. We stopped at a flower market behind the house where we bought an heirloom tomato. Then on to La Caravelle for wine and beer. We drove just down the road to the Gemozac Super U, the local areas miniature Walmart. There were rows of wine from all over the area, including decent local wine in 1 Liter plastic bottles for 1€.
After dinner grocery shopping Nick and I took a drive to Pons, the nearest liveliest neighborhood. We had hot chocolate and drinks at Le Cafe du Donjon,a local cafe right across from the medieval tower in the center of the town. Here we met two women from the local womens Rose Club, who meet every Wednesday for drinks. We quickly discovered that one of the two ladies was Dutch and owned another local restaurant, and already knew Calvin. Our conversation flew from there. We sat and chatted with Ingrid (Dutch) and Gloria (Brutus) for about two hours before driving home.
The following morning we woke up and went to one of the three town patisseries where we bought a corn baguette and croisants. We then drove to Cafe de la Paix for lunch- the Dutch woman’s restaurant. We both had the spaghetti bolognese, which was topped with shredded Gruyère just like I love it.
After lunch Calvin, Nick and I drove 30 minutes west to Cognac. We walked through the old town square, had hot chocolate at Salle de Restaurant A L’Etage, then did a Cognac tour at Chateau de Cognac. I discovered I actually liked this cognac compared to Courvoisier which is too strong for me.
Dinner we went to Rest’O Delices in town for goat cheese hamburgers.
Friday mornings are Gemozac’s Market days in the town square around the church. We bought oysters, fish and vegetables for dinner, as well as my first clear umbrella.
Post-market we drove west to Royan, a large Atlantic beach town. We grabbed lunch at Aux Delices des Crêpes overlooking the beach. We got a scallop crepe which had the coral meat still attached. I personally wasn’t the biggest fan. After we briefly walked on the beach in our boots. It was chilly and breezy, but that didn’t stop sail boats from heading out in the surf.
After Royan Nick and I drove toVignoble Chauraud winery in St. Léger, which produces pineau, cognac, wine and cocktail spirits. We sampled a few of the spirits and chatted with J-Paul Chauraud, the owner and wine maker. We bought a white, rose, red, and Provençal salt mix for 15€ total. We then opened the red and had a glass of wine on at the vineyard before driving home to oysters.
Saturday morning we woke up and headed out for Bordeaux. We had lunch in central Bordeaux at La P’tite Brasserie, which is highly recommended online. It’s a very cute French bistro with hospitable staff. The bartender spoke Spanish with Nick and the waitress English and French with all of us. She even tried to get Nick to practice his French. We were the only customers served a glass of pineau after our meal on the house. 15€ for an entree and plate.
Next time we want to see the town of Talmont on the water.