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Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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

Dive: Cozumel

Eat: Dona Paula- The Pozole Place (VERY local), Los Taracos (taco pastor), La Conchinita Food Cart, La Floresta (fish tacos)

See: Coco Bongo – just to know

Honey Ginger Soy Salmon

Cook time approx: 20 minutes


  • 1 lb salmon, cut into 2 pieces (skin on)
  • One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 dashes pepper
  • 1 pinch of salt


1. Rinse and pat dry salmon.

2. Rub garlic and ginger into salmon. Add all other ingredients to a bowl and mix. Pour mixture over salmon filets and let marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours in fridge.

3. Preheat oven to 375.

4. Bake salmon for 15 minutes. Serve.

I served the salmon with rice and Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower with Sriracha

Cook time approx: 20 minutes


  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3/4 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha


1. Preheat over to 400 degrees.

2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.

3. Add cauliflower to bowl and use hands to spread sauce over all the cauliflower pieces.

4. Place cauliflower on backing sheet and place in oven.

5. Cook for 10 minutes, then toss, and cook for another 10 minutes of until tender. Serve.

Western Germany


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.

Perfect last morning for the perfect trip.

We flew Condor airlines direct back to Austin.

Strasbourg, France

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.

Paris, France

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.

img_8175.jpgWe 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.

Apple Store in Paris on our 9 month anniversary.

Gemozac, Bordeaux, France

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.

Barcelona, Spain


We stayed at The Hipstel hostel on Carrer de Valencia, which is one block from Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s famous commissioned houses. The hostel is in an older apartment building. Clean, private bathrooms available, and our 12 bed room was airy and had an attached indoor terrace room.

Our first stop in Barcelona was Sagrada Familia. We walked to the church, bought tickets for the next available time (1 hour wait,) and walked across the block to Aitor restaurant to grab a drink.

After seeing Sagrada Familia we strolled down Carrer de la Marina. We stopped at a local corner cafe, Ve de Gust, for mussels. We continued to walk around the area for a few hours. We stumbled upon the Arc de Triumph and its’ park and had the chance to see some local street performers.

We then walked to Restaurant La Pepita for dinner which was highly recommended by our friends for tapas, but unfortunately we couldn’t get in. The restaurant looked cute but the wait was too long. A must for next time. So instead of La Pepita we walked towards our hostel and stopped at ArtEspanole for seafood paella, which was terrible.

img_8120.jpgThe following morning we woke up early and walked up Carrer de Garcia, then an incredibly steep street to Park Guell. Park Guell was great (just as last time) but touristy crowded (just as last time.)



On the way home we shopped along Garcia on the way home. Nick got a great vegetarian sandwich at Mary Market below our hostel and I smelled the Brie Meaux Truffe for a while. At 12€ a slice I couldn’t get myself to buy it.

After napping we walked down La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter. Stopped at McDonalds to try it and Nick got his first European Big Mac. A disappointment as expected. We then bumped into the large food market on La Ramble and immediately re-regretted the McDonald’s decision. We bought fruit juices and drooled over the seafood and charcuterie options.

img_8123.jpgWe continued down to the marina and walked along to the beach neighborhood of the city. Dipped our feet in the water and plopped on the pebble tide and collected beach glass for hours. Barcelona’s trash is my treasure. Bought beers from a local selling them on the beach.

Our last dinner in Barcelona was absolutely fantastic. La Castanya, a small modern tapas spot. Women eating at the bar started raving about their food as we walked in and immediately we were comforted. I got a Ginger rosemary gin and tonic. And we shared assorted dried tomatoes, bruschetta, octopus salad, pork shoulder charcuterie, beef tartar, and more.

After dinner we bar hopped. Met a South African couple that lives in the U.K. at our first top, ended up at an 18 year old club at our second stop, then ended at a cocktail lounge.

The next morning we grabbed a prosciutto and brie sandwich and coffee from Quatre 14, then went across the street to the empty Meiyu Ungles for a mani/pedi. First thing in I knocked over one of the nail polishes and it splattered all over the floor, two chairs and my legs. Immediately four women were on their hands and knees cleaning up my mess. Then I had two women working on my mani- they clearly wanted to get the hot mess out of there. The women refused to give Nick a back massage because he was a man but he did get a pedi and foot massage. After our “relaxing” time we walked around our hostel neighborhood one last time before grabbing a taxi for the airport. No Uber here.

Sitges, Spain

We were in Sitges for a good friends wedding and had an absolutely amazing long weekend in this beach/mountain Meditterean town.

We flew from Lisbon to Barcelona, rented a car from Europcar, and drove 20 Minutes to Sitges. We parked on the waterfront, put our feet in the water, walked the small beach and grabbed lunch at Ragazzi. Toasted goat cheese salad and procuitto pizza completely hit the spot. After we learned that we could also order off the menus from the the Argentina and sushi restaurants on either side, and I immediately regretted not getting some sashimi as well.

The wedding weekend was held at the villa Almiral de la Font, which is located about 15 minutes into the country side of Sitges. The villa was stunning at the top of a winding cliff. It had 28 rooms and an infinity pool overlooking it’s vineyards, and in the distance we could see the ocean.

4 days. Multiple bottles of cava and wine. 30 people sleeping in the villa. Moroccan inspired outdoor lounge areas. Infinity pool with floaties, and a hot tub. A game room with an Olympic sized pool table. A trampoline. Palm trees and wine vineyards. Hiking trails. Golf course on the Mediterranean. A bedroom with great sunset light and a private back patio. 2 incredibly sweet Spanish woman chefs. An amazing first night meal of authentic tapas at the banquet dining table. Every morning an array of frittatas, shashuka, chorizo, smoked salmon, prosciutto, and watermelon. A final last meal of paella with the best paella rice I’ve ever had. Late night snacks of taboulé and arugula salads. Family, old friends and lovers. A gorgeous beaded white dress. Beautiful white and pink peonies and roses. A Spanish guitarist. An American band of friends. A night full of dancing. And post-wedding flower and Bacchus crowns.


We were the first ones at the villa and the owner Paul gave us a complimentary bottle of the vineyards’ white wine which we sipped overlooking the hills while we waited for the bride and groom to arrive.

The reception cocktail party was at Sky Bar in the Avienda Sophia hotel, which is located one block from the beach in town. Here we had great views of the city and ocean.

During the weekend we took a trip to the grocery store where we discovered that you can purchase canned squid, octopus, clams, mussels, etc the same way we purchase tuna in a can back home. Incredibly jealous of this.


Heading back we took a wrong turn and ended up on a different peak from our villa, but we completely lucked out. We got out of the car and took a mini-hike along the cliffs where we caught an skyline view of Sitges and the ocean.


On our last day in Sitges we drove down to the main beach and took a stroll along the boardwalk. Filled with locals haggling sneakers, bathing suits and sundresses. We stopped in Tapes Pic Nic on the beach for some grilled squid and wine, then walked in the water back towards our car.


Lisbon, Portugal

We flew TAP Portugal from Austin to Lisbon via JFK. Total trip time 15 hours plus 1 hour at customs in Lisbon, and a 45 minute subway to our hostel. We stayed at This is Lisbon hostel which is located at the very top of a hill in Alfama, the old town. Not knowing there was an elevator to get to the top we climbed thousands of stairs and through run down cobblestone streets en route to find the hostel.

I chose the hostel for it’s great views of the city and it didn’t prove me wrong. We were on the peak overlooking a sea of red tile roofs and an old church.We checked in then headed out to stroll the town. No one had warned us that all of Lisbon proper is hills and most of the streets are cobblestone. Note to self that supportive sneakers are needed next time around.

We walked to Time Out Market, and indoor high end food market that features up and coming Portuguese chefs. We had the Sea bass tartar from Tartar-ia that was served with an apple and beet puree, as well as a prosciutto sandwich and goat brie cheese plate from XX. A glass of nice wine was 3.5€.


We then walked around Baixa Chiado which is full of shops. We stopped into a church and saw a service. We walked towards Barrio Alto, stumbling onto “Pink street” on the way (literally a street painted pink) and well as Texas Bar. We went into Cheers bar (Cheers like the show) and ended up staying and chatting with the South African bartender for a while.

Searching for am authentic restaurant we were lucky to find Taberna de Saudade. It was small and cave-like with a 13€ for 3 appetizer special. The food was mediocre but the atmosphere was perfect for our first dinner in Europe. After the meal we bar hoped then spent over an hour trying to find our hostel. 2 taxi’s and a 45 minute walk later to found it in the maze of the Castello neighborhood.
Monday we took the free walking tour at 11am (runs everyday) meeting at the statue of Luis de Camoes.



Our tour guide Francesco was amazing and we ended up going to lunch with him after the tour and devoured whole grilled fish. We then continued the day with another tourist, from SF. We walked along the water to Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in the city that wasn’t destroyed after earthquake. Here the neighborhood is also on an incline with smaller winding roads.

We walked back through town, stopped at a pastry shop in the Altis Avendie Hotel for egg custards, and onwards to Miradoura lookout point by way of an incredibly long and steep street lined with graffiti art. There is a trolley that runs up and down the street but we opted for the scenic art walk. The lookout point had the best views of Lisbon we saw.

On the walk back to the hostel we grabbed $2 prosciutto sandwiches from As Bifanas Do Afonso, a local window shop in our neighborhood. Dinner we ate at O Piteo da Graca, a packed local spot recommended by our hostel. Grilled cuttlefish and clams cooked in garlic sauce were out highlights.

Tuesday morning we took the train to Sintra, about a 45 minute ride out of town. Sintra is a very cute town that has two famous palaces and a castle.We ate lunch at A Pendoa, a very local spot hidden in town that was recommended by out your guide from the previous day. Nick tried his first Spanish burger that was served with a fried egg and without a bun over a bed of rice and fries.

We then grabbed a tuk-tuk (€5 per person each way) versus the bus (€5 per person round trip) to get a better view of the scenery going up the mountain. The ride took about 15 minutes and was well worth the extra €10. We zoomed through a lush forest that has over 200 species of plants that were all brought in from overseas. We bought tickets for the Palace de Pena and its gardens.

As soon as we purchased tickets it started raining, and continued until we got back to the bottom of the mountain. We bought an umbrella from the gift shop that lasted 1 day before breaking. Seeing the Palace through the mist was an experience but we definitely missed out of seeing the vibrant yellow and orange castle with the lush green surroundings.

We took the tuk tuk back down and went to Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa near the train station for Queijada pastry. Piriquita cafe in town has the best Travesseiro (cheese cakes) but we didn’t make it there.

We took the train back to Lisbon and began our walk towards LXFactory, stopping at Time Out for another prosciutto sandwich on the way. LXFactory is a 1-block artistic hipster street full of shops, restaurants and art galleries. The side walk is adorned with graffiti art. We had drinks at 1300 Taberna, including a glass of green wine. We also tried the local caldo verde soup, a potato soup with chorizo, which was fantastic. Recommend the Atlantida IPA.

An Uber to Mini Bar for dinner, which was recommended by my cousins who had been a few months prior. Mini Bar is one of chef Jose Avillez’s restaurants. While more high end in pricing it is still incredibly cheap as a US tourist. We had about 10 small plates but what really stood out were the cocktail bites and the tuna and steak tartar cones. I even ordered another steak tartar cone for my dessert.

After dinner we walked right up the road to Gingha bar, which was recommended by our waitress. Here we finally tried the famous Gingha liqueur, a cherry flavor. We chatted and drank in the street outside the hole in the wall bar with a young traveling couple from Wyoming, as well as some older Brits.