Category: Travel

Turkey Chili

Cook time approx: 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds turkey meat, ground
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 large stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped with seeds removed (leave some for spice lovers)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes
  • 30 oz canned red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • shredded cheddar cheese (optional garnish)
  • sour cream (optional garnish)

Directions

1. Using two burners (1) heat oil in a large heavy pot over high heat, (2) heat oil in one large skillet over high heat.

2. To the skillet, add turkey and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Use a heavy kitchen spoon to stir and break any lumps while it’s cooking.

3. Simultaneously to the large pot add onions, garlic, pepper, celery, jalapeño. Stir to blend. Cook for the same 5 minutes.

4. Add turkey meat to pot. Add oregano, chill powder and cumin. Stir to blend. Cook for 5 minutes.

5. Add tomatoes, chicken brother, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer,  stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

6. Add drained beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

7. Serve in bowls with cheddar cheese, and sour cream, if desired.

Western Germany

FREIBURG

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.

 

TRIBERG

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BADEN-BADEN

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NURBURGRING

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRANKFURT

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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.

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Next time we want to see the town of Talmont on the water.

Barcelona, Spain

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

London, UK

  Currently £1 = $1.55

I flew into London Gatwick airport from Amsterdam with Easy Jet, a budget airline. When I landed I was planning to take the National Express bus but ended up buying a £20 Gatwick Express train ticket instead. The buses don’t run as frequently and they are at least an hour and a half ride into the city, while the train only takes thirty minutes (once your at the train station.)

I decided to Couch Surf for my first time. I’ve always wanted to do it and London seemed like the perfect place because I wanted to experience the city like a local. My host lived in Zone 1, the touristy expensive heart of the city, aka downtown Central London. He picked me up at the train station and we got on the tube.We walked past the smallest Chinatown I’ve seen and stopped at a Wasabi sushi so I could grab a bite to eat.

We then went right nearby to Samuel Smith, a traditional English pub, which is exactly what I wanted. Here I met an American girl from Westport, CT who went to high school with an old family friend of mine. I also spoke to a group of guys about whether or not soccer is popular now in the states. They’re convinced it’s as popular as American football.

The pub shut down and we walked a block up the road to The Warick, a trendy English bar. Here I randomly met the Chinese Ambassador in Britain. On our way to the bus we stopped at a casino, which my host is a member of. I watched a bit of the Stanley Cup final that was on tv. Surprisingly the crowd at the casino was mixed male/female and most of the people inside were there for drinks and the tv.

My first Couch Surfing experience was a bust. My host snored loudly and the room was very bright. I ended up only getting about an hour of sleep and knew I wouldn’t be able to stay another night. So I booked a hostel and before I left for my new neighborhood we went for an Indian lunch at Needoo. My host then walked me down to the river. We crossed a few foot bridges and walked through a waterfront restaurant area that was packed with business lunchers and yachts. I got to see the Tower Bridge, the famous bridge in London; London bridge is actually a flat concrete pathway right next to this fancy bridge. 

 I took the underground at Tower Bridge to King’s Cross and walked to my hostel, Click 261 on Gray’s Inn Rd. The hostel is on the newer end and I stayed in the cheapest dorm, $28 per night in a 18-bed dorm. The room is cramped and smelled like feet. The showers are cramped as well, and the lounge/kitchen is in the basement downstairs with no natural light. However, I did manage to get the first bed in the room which meant I had some privacy, as long as the main door was closed.

I relaxed and did laundry then I headed back to King’s Cross and took the underground to Waterloo station by the south bank. [One of my Montreal friends is from London. She came to NY last summer and I showed her around, now she's showing me around her city.]

We spent the evening at South Bank, which is a massive outdoor waterfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars. We took a walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridge so I could get a great view of Big Ben, the Parliament and the London Eye. 
 For dinner we had chili ramen at Wagamama. It was prefect because I had been craving ramen but also because we love our spicy foods. After dinner I took the tube back home.
The next morning I took the free walking tour available through the hostel. The tour started outside the Covent Garden tube. First we went to Trafalgar square with the lions. I learned that the term “stiff drink” refers to when Admiral Nelson’s corpse was preserved in a liquor barrel at sea and the sailors drank from it anyway.

We walked to Waterloo Place. Then St. James palace and saw the changing of the Queen’s guards, a procession of guards with the traditional red coats and tall black fur hats. Down the road is Buckingham palace, and the flag on top announced that the queen is in the residence- it’s her birthday tomorrow. 

 We walked through the beautiful St. James park to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, where the royal marriages take place. 
   I left the group and had lunch nearby at The Old Star across from St. James Park underground. I ordered the Fish & chips board served with mushy mint peas. It was a must do while I was here, and it was worth it. The cod was fresh and the peas were chunky. 
 Afterwards I walked to Soho and down Carnaby shopping street. I went searching for a hat for Ascot but all I found were the same shops we have at home. 

[Harry Potter] I walked to Cecil Court St. off Charing Cross Road, the street Diagon Alley was inspired off of. It’s full of used book stores. One store was selling an original signed copy of HP. 

 Later on in the evening I went to Clink78 Clash Bar. Clink78 is down the road from Clink261, and in the basement is a real bar where only guests are allowed. They were doing a Spain themed night so for my first drink I had cinnamon sangria.

I went to lunch at Wahaca near Oxford Circus. My London friend recommended it and she did not disappoint. I got the salmon sashimi tostadas and the Sonora chicken salad. 

 I met up with her for the second time on Oxford Street and we walked around that shopping area and to Selfridges department store near the posher side. After we took the train to Richmond (her neighborhood,) a town outside London proper. For dinner we went to Dehli Orchid, an Indian restaurant at my request. She knows her Indian food and we were able to get real spicy food, not the western version of spicy. We each got chicken murg xacuti, a dish she got my addicted to back in Montreal. 

  After dinner we walked up a hill to Roebuck pub, which has a view of River Thames and the lush greenery around. Many of the bars in Richmond have permits so customers can drink outdoors, in this case across the street on the park pathway. It was 9:40pm and still light outside. Another friend of ours from Montreal came for a drink; she also lives in Richmond. 

 The next morning we drove through the massive Richmond park. The park looks more like a forest with tall grass and big groups of deer grazing. It was the perfect English countryside setting. 

   I took the train back to London, then another train out to Watford, north west of London. I got off at the last stop, Watford Junction, and walked to Southern Cross, a bar with rooms upstairs. I got the cheapest room for $65, which had a single bed, a sink and a shower. However, the toilet is shared outside. It was a bit weird but overall a decent room with a comfy bed and a TV.

That night I went to dinner with a girl from my travels in Malaysia/Singapore who lives in Watford. We ate at Tarboush, a popular shisha restaurant in town. We then grabbed a drink at a bar on the promenade and I learned that Strongbow cidre is originally from the Watford area. 

 The morning I walked around town, relaxed on the lawn besides the church, and ate a bunch. At 2:45pm I caught the Harry Potter shuttle bus to Warner Bros along with a huge crowd of people. I had been incredibly excited to go to see the making of Harry Potter. When you first enter you see a 5 min. clip with the producer talking about how the movie blew-up. At this point I cried. Seeing the excitement in cities around the world over a decade of time, I was reminded of every opening night film I waited for.  

Then we saw a short film and the screen lifted and the actual entrance to Hogwarts was right there. We walked through the massive doors and into the Great Hall. One thing I hate about movie sets is that everything looks fake and much smaller. On the tour I saw most sets including the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s home, the Weasley home, etc. I saw tons of props and green screen behind the scenes. Especially with Harry Potter almost every scene is done with a green screen, which for me took away some of the magic. However, I was completely taken aback when I saw the massive model of Hogwarts castle (about 15′ tall,) and the videos on how they use it to do all castle filming. Every single shot of the castle is actually just of this model, and ever single shot of Harry outside the castle is with a green screen.  

         After the studio tour I took the shuttle bus back to the train station, and the train back to my hostel. I grabbed my bag from the storage room and moved to St. Christopher’s Oasis, inside St. Christopher’s Village, a party hostel near the London Bridge tube. Later on I went to the bar downstairs and met a few boys from Reno. All the guests were American or Australian, and I was by far the oldest person at the bar. The Oasis part of the hostel however was perfect. It was an all girls section and most of the women staying in the 12-bed dorm were long term.

In the morning I took the bus to Liverpool street station where I met up with a Brazilian friend from my travels in Thailand. We spent the morning walking around Brick Lane, Shoreditch and Old Street. The areas reminded me of a mix between the East Village and Williamsburg in NYC, except these neighborhoods are more unique and felt like the original. The people living and working around here also seemed more real, and tattoo’d. 

   We then jumped on a bus to go to Camden Town, her neighborhood and another area I was told to check out. All I was told was that there’s a big market where you can buy touristy things but I was pleasantly surprised to find a market that also had a massive gourmet street food section, tattoo shops, regular clothing, and mostly locals, not tourists. A canal runs along one side of the food market and there are a few outdoor bars on the other side. We grabbed a falafel and sat on the waterfront watching the Venice boat go up and down the canal. After eating we had a bottle of wine at The Ice Wharf, one of the river bars. Later on we went to The Elephant Head, her local watering hole. 

 In the morning I moved hostels again, this time to Holland House, a residential hostel near the Victoria station. The hostel is on a beautiful street of white townhouses across from a private residential park. My room had three beds; the other two girls in the room lived there and I felt like we were sharing a dorm room in college, or rather I was visiting them. There is a dining room downstairs and a buffet dinner is included in the £10 a night price. Not only was it the cheapest hostel I stayed in but it was also the nicest- if you’re not looking for a social atmosphere but just a place to get a quite nights sleep. I did get lucky with roommates though; one was fun and the other was quite. 

I took the tube to Oxford Circus and met up with my Vermont friend who I met in Bali and traveled through part of Borneo with. The entire reason I stayed in the UK was because she invited me to the Ascot horse races. I shopped for a fascinator, shoes and a matching purse, which all matched perfectly with my pearls. We walked around all day and stopped at a pub in Soho for lunch. 

   The next morning I stopped at Sainsbury, a cheap chain supermarket, and I picked up lunch and two bottles of champagne. I met my Vermont friend at Waterloo train station at 9:30am. We took the one hour train to Ascot for Royal Ascot, the famous horse races that the queen attends. On this Thursday we had tickets for Silver Ring, the cheapest section where you can bring in your own food and beverages (one bottle of champagne per person.) The lawn was packed with girls in pretty dresses wearing big hats and fascinators, and the boys were very dapper in suits. We had an all-day picnic. We could barely see the track from where we were sitting but I did get up a few times to see the horses. 
     We spent parts of the day at The Stag bar near the race course. I tried a proper Pimms for the first time and I have to admit I’m not a fan. We met some Irish men at the bar after the races and ended up taking a taxi to Richmond with them. Here we sat at a bar on the waterfront and watched the sunset, then later on we went to Viva nightclub. Around 3am I realized that the tube and buses were no longer running, which is something I’m not used to, and I had a minor panic attack because we were in the suburbs. I ended up having to take a forty minute (and $60) taxi ride back into the city. 

The next day I went to Topshop and finally did proper shopping for my first time in the past 8 months. One pair of shorts had a $50 tag and they rang up for only $5, a nice surprise sale. I only bought a few basic items but it feels great to have new things- a big white fascinator didn’t seem to do the trick. 

I ate dinner with my roommate in the dining room and went to bed early. The next morning I woke-up, bought champagne, and met Vermont and a friend of hers at the Waterloo train station. This Saturday we got Grandstand tickets, the section in between Silver Ring and Royal Enclosure. This section consists of an interior stadium-like area with bars and food stands; however, it’s all classy. Outside there are tables and chairs on the lawn, and inside above the first two floors is the Royal Enclosure, aka the boxes. 
 The races don’t start until 2:30pm but there’s a parade for the queen and horses around 2pm each day. This time I actually made it to the track side to watch. I saw Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip pass by in a carriage only a few yards from me. She wore an orange outfit, probably to offset the rain clouds. At the end of the day I saw them again as they were vacating the Royal Enclosure. It’s amazing to me how they get so close to the public without intense security around. 
   I bet on two horses in one race and lost on both. I drank some more Pimms, ate a burger and fries soaked in vinegar, and enjoyed the outdoors a bit. The weather was grim with drizzles here and there; typical London weather but nothing I want to be outside in. The outfits in Grandstand were more extravagant than Silver Ring, and at the end of the day we watched the Royal Enclosure let out and then I got to see the designer outfits. Some of the hats were outrageously decorated with massive feathers, flowers, brims, etc. After the races there was a band playing in a bandstand, and thousands of fancy drunk merry Brits sang along to traditional songs. Then it started to downpour and we made a run for it back to the train. My free shiny red ballet flats had puddles in them, and I found out my fascinator is waterproof. 
 On the way home I picked up a large soup from Sainsbury, my millionth and final trip that store. I took a hot shower, watched West Wing and sipped on soup on my final night in London. The next morning I got a refund on my Oyster tube card, then took the Gatwick Express train to Gatwick Airport. I did my VAT refund and got £30 cash back- VAT refunds is something I just learned about. I flew Norwegian Airlines to Copenhagen, then to JFK. 
 

Budapest, Hungary

 On Sunday we said farewell to Bob, then Dave and I walked past St. Stephan’s church and the Opera House on the way to our hostel. We stayed in a 8-bed dorm in Carpe Diem Vitae aka Vitae, not Carpe Diem, which is the shitty sister hostel. Vitae is on the 5th floor of an apartment building with an interior walkway. Many apartment buildings in Budapest are designed this way. 
   
After checking in we headed back out. We ran into Judah Fest, a Jewish festival along Kazinczy street, which is also a bar street. The festival was like any other with food, activities, and women selling vintage and handmade jewelry. There were Jewish organizations trying to sign people up, and loud Jewish music playing. We stopped and ate a bean dish and then hummus.  
We continued down the street out of the festival to Szimpla Kert, the famous garden eclectic bar, which is also a farmers market on Sunday’s. We were too full to eat more real food so we bought a kilo of cherries and took a seat. The cherries were really soft but not overripe, which we’d never had before. We chatted with a few German girls who are studying abroad in Budapest. 

 We went to the Great Synagogue, the biggest synagogue in Europe. The bema is magnificent with a gold facade and a colorful ceiling. I was given paper towel to cover my shoulders and Dave was given a yamaka. Behind the synagogue is a gravesite for Jewish heros.  
We walked towards downtown and stopped at Blue Bird coffee. We then went to Erzsebet park and sat on the ledge of the public pool. The pool is only used for dipping your feet and it’s crowded all times of the day. People bring beers during the day and at night all liquor can be found.  
In the middle of the park there’s a few outdoor bars, street food, and a giant Ferris wheel. There was a stage set-up with a band playing, along with men cooking massive skillets of sausages and other Hungarian foods.  
We kept walking and ran into a used book market in a large square. We had a snack at Anna Cafe on a busy tourist shopping street for the people watching. For dinner we went to Kadarka Wine Bar on Kiraly street. I was being incredibly indecisive with both wine and food and the waiter was being a gem, except for when we asked him what food is best and he suggested the burger for Dave and a salad for me. 

After dinner we went to Retox, our sister hostel with a bar. Our entire hostel was there as well. The crowd was young, and the bar was a dump, but the space was big, the drinks cheap, and the people nice.

In the morning we went to breakfast at the elegant New York Cafe commissioned by New York Insurance Company New York Palace.    
We walked through the big City park, past numerous playgrounds and a kids soccer field with mini bleachers. We went to Szechenyi thermal bathhouse, the biggest one which sits on the edge of the park. The bathhouse has three outdoor pools and more than fifteen inside ranging in temperatures, along with saunas, etc. Some of the saunas reach as high as 70 Celsius which is just mad. The interior thermal pools smell like sulfur and hot pee but that’s just the natural hot spring smell. The best pool was the medicinal one. The temperature wasn’t too hot or too cold and the water felt like silk.  
We walked past the zoo, Heroes square, through town and went to Konyha for lunch, a restaurant we had past the day before that had cool sliding windows. We finally tried one of the traditional creams. Every restaurant in Budapest serves veggie and meat creams; a sort of pâté. My fear of them is the amount of mayo but this one only had spinach and feta. We also got fresh fruity lemonade, another thing all restaurants serve.  
We walked down to the waterfront, past our Viking cruise ship which was still there, to the Jewish shoes. The shoes represent the Jewish men and women who were brought to the riverbank and then shot from behind.    
Parliament is right across the road but unfortunately it was closed. We never did get a chance to go inside. We walked back to the social park downtown, and had drinks at Drk Dorko, one of the outdoor bars.

On our walk back home we ran into Gozsdu Udvar, a long pedestrian alley packed with restaurants and bars. In the middle of the alley you can go up or down in the opposite direction hitting more restaurants and a street food outdoor area. The space is awesome and we couldn’t believe we didn’t know it existed. We weren’t hungry for a real meal so we grabbed Pad Thai Wok 2 Go.

Later on we went to Szimpla Kert to check out the night scene there. The bar was great; there were all different types of people all ages. We ordered wine from the wine bar, then beer from the beer bar, and a grapefruit shisha from the shisha bar. It came with a grapefruit head with glow sticks inside the vase.

In the morning we went to Kozpont (across from Konyha) for coffee and sandwiches. It was 10am on a weekday and the local girls next to us were drinking beer. After getting our caffeine fix we walked across Erzsebet bridge and trekked up to the Citadel. You go there mostly for the panoramic views of the city. We came back across on the green bridge farther down the river. When you look back towards the Citadel from this bridge you can see there is a church inside the mountain.    
We walked into Central Market and bought the most amazing sweet cherry tomatoes.  
Lunch was at Trattoria Barca Bianca for the pizza, which we had smelled our first day. On the way home I attempted to shop but all the clothes (that weren’t in American stores) were trashy. I ran back to the hostel and missed getting caught in a crazy hail storm by a few minutes. 

We had beers and sandwiches at Farm, then went to Exit Point to play an escape game. We did Wonderland and couldn’t get out in the end. We made it into the second room but most of the clues were impossible to figure out. After playing we talked to some girls who play regularly and they say you have to ask non-stop for hints in order to get out.

It poured almost all night. After Exit Point we went to Soda bar with our hostel. The bar is famous for having carbonated vodka shots. The next morning we grabbed a cab to the airport and flew to Amsterdam. We then parted ways; Dave to NYC and me to London.