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Tequila, Art and Mariachis: Experiencing the Real Mexico in Guadalajara

guadalajara street

Guadalajara was never on my travel wish list for Mexico, I admit it. The blank spots I’ve been wanting to fill on my Mexico map are places like San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Copper Canyon and the beaches on the West Coast – Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, and San Pancho, all of which I’ve been wanting to visit since reading about them on a bunch of travel blogs a few years ago, when several bloggers based themselves there for their winter escape.guadalajara airport sunsetAnd that’s exactly how I ended up in Guadalajara: Its proximity to said beaches. I was looking for a place to fly to that had easy access to the coast, and which seemed worth exploring. Guadalajara sounded interesting enough: the cultural capital of Latin America in 2005, a university town, a city with art museums and a historic city center, and a city with several Jose Clemente Orozco murals, one of the famous Mexican muralists whose art I adore. What more could I ask for? A great flight deal ($109 from LA, booked only three days in advance) sealed the deal.guadalajara street art wall hummingbirdMy instinct had once again brought me to the right place. From my very first stroll through the historic center, I was much reminded of Mexico City – and you all know how much I love Mexico’s capital.guadalajara fountainMost streets of the historic center with its beautiful well-preserved, colorful Spanish-colonial buildings were lined with trees, there was more street art than I expected – and it was among the best I’ve seen in all of Mexico, and the museums were indeed as world-class as the travel guides promised.Street Art GuadalajaraI had only two nights booked in Guadalajara, but I quickly decided to make a week out of it. Three days in a city of over four million people were just not enough.guadalajara colonial buildingGuadalajara is actually made up of three cities: Guadalajara, Zapopan and Tlaquepaque. The historic center with its imposing cathedral in the center was where I spent most of my time, and the four plazas that surround the cathedral, laid out in the form of a cross, make Guadalajara’s center one of the prettiest in the entire country. After dark is when the plazas really come to life, with food stalls setting up, entire families gathering and having a snack, and young couples making out on the benches everywhere.Guadalajara Jalisco MexicoThe cathedral itself is well worth a visit, a massive structure which took 50 years to complete (construction started in the 1560s) and whose architecture is an interesting mix of Gothic, Neoclassical and Palladian styles. The gothic twin spires in particular give the cathedral a unique look – the third set of towers built after the two previous ones fell during earthquakes.Guadalajara Mexico JaliscoEven though the historic center and the surrounding neighborhoods are walkable, I was happy when I discovered the city had a shared bike system, Mi Bici. I downloaded the app to see where the stations were, paid 80 Pesos (US$3.92) for a 24-hour rental with free rentals for up to 30 minutes, which is common for most bicycle shares I’ve used, and off I went. (I later discovered that a 3-day rental for MXN$160/US$7.84 would have been a better deal, but I think it’s still very cheap).Guadalajara ArtI biked around the center, took the bike over to the Plazuela De Los Mariachis, a little square that is dedicated to one of the city’s most famous inventions – Mariachi music originates in Guadalajara. Similar to Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, several mariachi bands were hanging around here, possibly waiting to play for potential customers who are looking for a mariachi band for a wedding or another event, but also to serenade customers who were eating in the restaurants around the plaza (for a tip, of course).Guadalajara Jalisco1I also biked over to Avenida Chapultepec, a wide boulevard lined with restaurants and bars, an area that didn’t seem like much during the day but which came to life at night when Guadalajara’s students and twenty-somethings filled the trendy bars in and around Avenida Chapultepec, as I’d learn a few days later when a group from our hostel made our way over there on a Friday night for some drinks. Of course I found here, like everywhere in Mexico these days, some excellent local craft beers on the menu.guadalajara streetThe bike came in especially handy when I wanted to visit the Museo de Arte Zapopan, a modern art museum which is located in the Zapopan part of town. It was a welcome excuse for me to check out that part of town, which I might not have gone to otherwise, because it was pretty far from the historic center, where I was staying.guadalajara zapopan art museumThe museum turned out to be one of those contemporary art museums that made me think several times ‘Really? This is art?’, and it was much smaller than I expected, but the architecture in Zapopan and the striking Basilica Nuestra Señora de Zapopan, which dates back to 1730, made up for the slightly disappointing museum (which luckily had free admission. I would’ve regretted paying for it, I think).zapopanI much preferred the Museo de las Artes de la Universidad (MUSA) in the center of Guadalajara, which didn’t only win me over with some impressive pieces of art, but also with its auditorium, in which Orozco had painted both the walls behind the stage as well as the inside of the auditorium’s dome. Both murals depict, typical for Orozco, social injustice and resistance against the system.guadalajara orozco mural musaAnother art space in Guadalajara that shouldn’t be missed is the Hospicio Cabañas, one of the oldest and largest hospital complexes in the Americas, and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Orozco painted the domed chapel of the 19th-century neoclassical hospice complex – 57 frescoes cover the walls and the ceilings. It is one of his masterpieces.guadalajara orozco muralBut art in Guadalajara doesn’t stop there: In recent years, Guadalajara has become more and more of a hub for young artists from all parts of Mexico and beyond. Art galleries have been popping up around town, and a residency and alternative cultural education organization supported by the State of Jalisco’s Ministry of Culture and the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, PAOS (Programa Anual de Open Studios), has been attracting artists from all over the world. The program offers a month-long residency at the Museo Taller Jose Clemente Orozco, the former residence and workshop of the late Mexican muralist.guadalajara art museumAnd then there’s the street art which fills entire building walls and doors. Even on the colonial houses the art never appears disruptive, but rather adds to the crumbling facades. I stumbled upon a new great piece every day on my wanderings around town, one of the best murals was right outside the MUSA Art Museum:MUSA MuralWhile I didn’t fall in love with any of the foods I tried in Guadalajara (and admittedly, sometimes struggling to find a vegetarian option on the meat-focused menus), I thought the tortas ahogadas, which translate to ‘drowned sandwiches’ – and they are in fact drowned, in sauce – were quite delicious, albeit messy to eat. They are usually stuffed with meat but I found several places that offered vegetarian versions . Guadalajara’s most famous dish is Birria, a stew that is made of goat meat, roast chiles and spices – if you’re a foodie and would like to try it, check out one of the birrierias in town.guadalajara carGuadalajara doesn’t have a typical drink, but it is so close to the town from which Mexico’s most famous drink originates that almost everybody visiting Guadalajara takes at least a day trip there: Tequila. Of course you can also get it in every single bar in Guadalajara, but after seeing photos of vast fields filled with blue agave plants in a travel article a while back, I wanted to see the little town for myself, and most importantly: take a distillery tour.tequila agave plantI am not the biggest fan of tequila (the thought of tequila usually brings back memories of too many tequila shots in my early 20s, complete with licking salt off my hands and finishing the shot with sucking on a slice of lemon), but I thought that a distillery tour and a tasting of some higher end tequilas might change my mind.tequila shopA few other people from the hostel also wanted to visit Tequila, and so we decided to head there together on what turned out to be a pretty rainy Saturday. Saturday is the only day that the Tequila Express runs, a train that goes from Guadalajara to Tequila, solely for tourists, complete with mariachi bands, tequila and some snacks. However, once we saw the hefty price tag (MXN$1,200 US$59), read some lukewarm reviews and found out that we wouldn’t even get to see the town itself, only a distillery, we opted for the more economical way to get there: taking the bus.tequila rutaWhat was supposed to be a 90-minute trip turned into a two hour journey, and when we finally reached Tequila, we were starving. We decided to get some food before finding out how to hop on a distillery tour, of which there are many in the little town, including well-known tequila producers such as Sauza, Tequila Herradura, Jose Cuervo, Cofradia and the El Llano Distillery.tequila jalisco mexicoSeveral touts approached us, trying to sell us their tour, and we finally agreed to join one that left an hour later, which cost MXN$180 (just under US$9), leaving us enough time to grab lunch, and maybe see a little bit more of Tequila.tequila mexicoStrolling through the streets of the village made me wish I would’ve come for an overnight stay. Tourists were roaming the streets now, which were lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. Tequila itself is beautiful, but I think I would’ve enjoyed the village more after the crowds had left and the tequila barrel-shaped vehicles that brought visitors to the distilleries had also left for the day, enjoying a quiet evening on one of the benches in the town square.tequila barrel carWith its colorful Mexican houses, an 18th century stone church and leafy plazas it deserved being included in the list of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, towns around the country that offer visitors a ‘magical’ experience because of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance.tequila jaliscoThanks to Tequila’s significance in producing Mexico’s most famous export, Tequila and the surrounding area have also been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status. For most people, a day trip is probably enough, but I would’ve also added an extra day to check out another distillery, because there are so many in and around Tequila, which is why the region also likes to promote itself as the ‘Tequila Trail’ – think Mexico’s answer to Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.tequila agave fieldOn this visit though, there was only time for one. The tour we’d been sold was for the Orendain Distillery, a family-run, award-winning tequila producer which was founded by Don Edwardo Orendain Gonzalez in 1926. It was fascinating to learn more about the production of tequila, a drink I knew literally nothing about, other than that it is produced from the agave plant. But which part of it?tequila orendain distilleryDuring the tour, we learned that tequila is made from the piña, the heart of the agave, which, once the spikey leaves have been removed, indeed looks like an oversized piña (Spanish for pineapple). It takes 8 to 10 years until the agave can be harvested though – the tequila business sure is a long-term investment. The companies who were smart enough to extend their Blue Agave fields a decade , however, are now the ones that benefit from the growing popularity of high-end tequilas inside and outside of Mexico.tequila orendain ovensDistilleries here proudly serve ‘100% agave’ tequila – this is what you should look out for, if you, like me, have bad memories of tequila-related headaches, because the 100% pure tequilas don’t cause hangovers, if enjoyed in moderation.tequila tequila shopThe tour of the distillery was highly informative and shows visitors pretty much the entire process of tequila making: first, the piñas are roasted in an oven, then, the sugar is extracted and fermented for 7 to 12 days, and lastly, the tequila is distilled (usually twice), which means ferments are separated by heat and steam pressure.tequila orendain fermentationThere are three different types of tequila: Blanco (bottled immediately upon distillation), Reposado (aged for at least two months), Añejo (aged for at least a year, but less than three) and sometimes there is a fourth one, Extra Añejo (over-aged). We get to try the main three types during our tasting and are surprised how different the tequila tastes from the mediocre stuff we’ve previously tried. Especially the Añejo, which is smooth and tastes more complex.tequilaWe are in good spirits as we walk through the pouring rain back to the bus station to catch a bus back to Guadalajara, and we all agree: coming to Tequila was eye-opening in many ways. The three of us agreed that we’d all been converted to Tequila drinkers, each of us carrying a small bottle in our bags, to enjoy back home.tequila orendain tequilas

Practical Information

Where to Stay in Guadalajara

I first stayed at a B&B, which I didn’t love, and decided to move to a hostel with great reviews that I had found on Booking.com. I made the right decision: Hostal De Maria, in a converted old mansion, was in an excellent location in Plaza Colón. It has private rooms as well as dorms, a beautiful colonial-style courtyard, lovely colorful decorations and breakfast is included. Double rooms are US$20, a bed in a 6-bed dorm is US$9.guadalajara church

Where to Eat in Guadalajara

  • El Sazon de la Comadre – Large selection of Mexican breakfasts
  • Finca Riveroll – Fabulous little specialty coffee shop (serves sandwiches, pastries and breakfast)
  • La Lupita Cantina – Great Mexican food, and in the evening it turns more into a bar.
  • Chai – A coffee shop chain that serves also Western food (mainly sandwiches). Big variety of delicious chai creations.
  • Alta Fibra – Best value-for-money for a vegetarian lunch – Three courses including a drink for MXN$55 (US$2.69)
  • El Gato Café – Small cozy café near the MUSA which also serves tasty cakes and other food.
  • La Bottega – If you love coffee, you have to stop at La Bottega, where I had the best coffee in Guadalajara. A small independent coffee shop that uses Mexican coffee beans.

huevos rancheros

Where to Drink in Guadalajara

The Guadalajara Pub Crawl, which combines a narrated tour of the city with samples of the most popular drinks of the region and an introduction to some cool bars is something I would check out next time I’m in town. Since this tour only runs on Fridays and I had already made plans for that night, I couldn’t take this tour during this trip.guadalajara street art

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Polaroid Of The Week: Quito’s Stunning Basílica del Voto Nacional

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week ecuador quito

I’m back in South America! And it strangely feels like I’ve never left, even though it’s been nearly eleven months since I said goodbye to Colombia. But considering I was in Mexico until mid-April and then again a whole month in November, it shouldn’t be too surprising that everything feels strangely familiar.

The Latin America traffic craze, the bustling markets and town squares, the noise (horns, speakers, megaphones), the street food vendors everywhere.

There were a few things though that made Quito, my first stop in Ecuador, feel different: 1) there are many women in traditional native dress, with long skirts and braids, hats and colorful shawls, which remind me a lot of the native dress in Bolivia.

And 2) The altitude! Quito is the second highest city in the world (only La Paz sits higher), and with an altitude of just over 9,200 feet I definitely felt the affects of it. I don’t think I’ve been to a place that high since traveling around Bolivia three years ago.

I’ll leave my thoughts on Quito for a separate article, but let’s just say I didn’t really connect with the city. That doesn’t mean I had a bad time here, but I didn’t see anything truly amazing and didn’t feel like I needed to spend more time here than the 4 days I had in Quito. I wandered the streets of the historic Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), I visited several of Quito’s stunning churches including the Basilica of the National Vow, pictured, which is he largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. I went to the new part of town (where I had an amazing Ecuadorian hot cocoa!), I went to the city’s biggest park and roamed the central market, and while all of that was nice, it just didn’t feel very special. Maybe it was the chilly weather (temperatures in Quito are in the 60s year-round) and the fact that it rained every day (thankfully not all day), Quito just didn’t wow me. I will be back in Quito at some point to use it as a base while taking a couple of excursions (I am planning to take a mountain bike tour of Cotopaxi and to visit the famous Otavalo market) – maybe I’ll warm up to Ecuador’s capital then.

Next stop: The Galápagos Islands!

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48 Hours In Austin, Texas

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When I visited Austin for the very first time last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. My plan was to spend a month in the capital of Texas, hoping this would give me a good amount of time to explore the city whose slogan is ‘Keep Austin Weird’. Even though this slogan had me suspect that I’d love the city, I had no idea just how much I’d fall for Austin.

With dozens of live music venues, excellent craft beer, countless food trucks, plenty of outdoors activities, especially along the river, and an overall laid-back attitude, the city won me over during my month there.

Because I had the advantage of being able to spend four full weeks there, I took my time to explore every nook and cranny of the city, but I know that most people come to Austin for a quick weekend getaway. And while I’ve already shared 33 Things I Love About Austin, I wanted to give you a more structured overview of how to spend a weekend in Austin.AustinHere is my perfect weekend in Austin for you – including places to eat and drink, what to do and what to see on a first-time visit:

Friday, 2pm: Welcome to Austin

Luckily, nearly all Austin hotels are conveniently located downtown, which makes it easy to explore the city on foot. If you’re not hugely into walking, I recommend you take advantage of Austin’s easy-to-use bike sharing system. The shared bikes, called B-Cycle, have a great ‘Weekender Pass’, which gives you three full days access to the bikes for only $15 and includes an unlimited number of free rides up to 60 minutes (a 24-hour pass is $12).

The best way to use the B-cycles is to download the free app – that way you have an overview of all available stations around town.

Start with a ride around Downtown to get your bearings: 6th Avenue is the main drag, especially at night, lined with cool (and some cheesy) bars and restaurants. Congress Avenue runs from the State Capitol all the way down to the Colorado River. Once you get to the river, follow the bike path alongside it.

If you turn left, you can ride all the way to Ladybird Lake and beyond (go either until Frontage Road Bridge or Pleasant Valley Road Bridge, cross the bridge and circle back to Congress Avenue Bridge). If you turn right, you will get to Zilker Park and get superb views over the Downtown skyline. Stop at Doug Sahm Hill in Butler Park (on the other side of the river) for the best skyline views.austin texasIf you don’t want to rent a bike, you can easily walk the same route, it will just take you a little longer. A good walk would be across the Congress Avenue Bridge, turning left on Roy and Ann Butler Hike & Bike Trail, walking through Butler Park, crossing the river via the Lamar Street Pedestrian Bridge, and walking back to where you started on the north side of the river.

Food trucks

Reward yourself for your walk or cycle tour with your first taste of Austin’s famous food truck scene. I recommend Valentina’s TexMex BBQ (11500 Manchaca Road), Tommy Want Wingy (94 Rainey St), and Chi’lantro (Asian-fusion comfort food; 823 Congress Ave).

If you have a B-cycle or a car, venture a little further and try one of the tasty food trucks on Austin’s East Side, for example East Side King Thai Kun (1816 E 6th St), Micklewait Craft Meats (BBQ meats; 1309 Rosewood Av), or The Peached Tortilla (banh mi tacos & other Asian-fusion fare; 5520 Burnet Rd #100). Alternatively, head to the food truck park on S 1st Street and W Live Oak Street, where you find Venezuelan, Indian, Baja Mexican & Japanese Fusion, and desserts. Vegans will love Arlo’s (900 Red River Street).austin food truck

5pm: A Stroll along South Congress

It is almost time to go out and explore Austin’s nightlife – start with a stroll over S Congress Ave Bridge, which connects Downtown with SoCo, short for South Congress, where you will find a number of independent shops, restaurants and bars, and some fantastic old-fashioned neon signs.

SoCo is the neighborhood to find some of Austin’s most eclectic shops, like Uncommon Things, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, Allens Boots (with over 4,000 boots, definitely peek inside!), Monkey See Monkey Do, and the Yard Dog gallery. If you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to a cupcake at the Hey Cupcake food truck, to some ice cream at the famous Amy’s Ice Cream shop or stock up on candy at the epic Big Top Candy Shop.

There are some great murals down here as well – look out for the Willie Nelson mural and the I Love You So Much graffiti. Güero’s Taco Bar is a good place for a sundowner margarita, and June’s is a wine bar with a nice patio.austin congress ave bridgeMake sure to walk back towards Congress Bridge in time for sunset, because that’s when – between March and October – Austin’s most unique and free show begins: the flight of the bats.

7 – 8pm: The Flight of the Bats

Since 1980, Mexican free-tailed bats have made their homes in the concrete crevasses of the bridge, and over 1 million bats fly out of there at sunset every night. It’s a rare spectacle to see, especially considering you’re right in the heart of a big city. In fact, this bat colony is the largest urban bat colony in the world! You can either watch the flight of the bats from the top of the bridge or from a big grassy spot near the river below. Be warned: This space fills up quickly.austin flight of the bats

9pm: Bar-hopping along Historic Rainey Street

Just north of Congress Ave Bridge is Rainey Street, a street lined with historic bungalows that are now home to some of Austin’s trendiest bars.

You can either opt for a food truck dinner – there are several on Rainey Street, for example: Art of Tacos, or the tasty Via 313 Pizza Truck behind Craft Pride, Boca inside the Container Bar, or Big Fat Greek Gyros – or you could do a fancy dinner just around the corner from Rainey Street, at what is one of the hottest tickets in town these days: Geraldine’s, a contemporary gourmet restaurant inside the fabulous new Hotel Van Zandt. If you want to treat yourself to a fancy dinner at Geraldine’s, make sure to reserve well in advance.

End your first night in Austin by bar hopping until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore. Places worth stopping at are Blackheart, Banger’s Beer Garden (with over 100 beers on tap), Craft Pride and the Container Bar, which is made out of shipping containers.Austin Rainey Street

Saturday, 9am: Brunch

There are several excellent brunch spots in Austin, but my favorite is 24 Diner (600 N Lamar) which serves solid portions of all your brunch favorites and special treats like their sweet potato hash, or a waffle sandwich. Mimosas are only $3.95 and brunch cocktails start at $7.austin 24 dinerIf you have to wait in line (which you most likely will, since it is the weekend), head to Waterloo Records a couple of doors down to check out some new releases. Waterloo is a great old fashioned vinyl store, which are hard to find these days (but don’t be surprised to see CDs here, too).

If you’re a Whole Foods fanatic, you have to check out the Whole Foods flagship store after breakfast, which is located just across the street from 24 Diner. The 80,000 sq. ft market is more than just your regular Whole Foods – there’s a bar, a wine bar, an eatery, even a makeup counter. Plus a bunch of products that you can only get here.umlauf sculpture garden

11am: Street Art Heaven

Hope Outdoor Gallery is just a couple of blocks from 24 Diner and is a vast outdoor graffiti park – a must-see for street art lovers! The colorful walls are the remainder of an abandoned building, and street artists are allowed to leave their mark here. It is basically an ever-changing outdoor gallery, and you’ll probably be able to see some artists at work during your visit. If you climb all the way up to the top of the hill (the building ruins sit on the side of a hill) you also get some nice views over Austin.

If you’re not into street art, head to the small, yet beautiful Umlauf Sculpture Park ($5 admission) near Zilker Park instead.Austin Hope Outdoor Gallery

1pm: Food Truck Lunch

After your filling brunch, you probably won’t be all that hungry yet, but there’s always room for a small snack from a food truck or for a couple of Torchy’s Tacos. I’ve already given you some food truck recommendations, but for more ideas check out 20 Essential Austin Food Trucks and The Best New Food Trucks In Austin in 2016.tacos austin

3pm: Time for Culture

Austin has a number of places to get your culture nerd on: there are several top-notch museums (Blanton Museum Of Art, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Contemporary Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum) – pick the one that best fits your personal interests. The Guardian has a great overview of the 10 best museums in Austin, my personal favorites were the art museums.

And then there’s also the Texas State Capitol, an imposing red granite building that is only second in total size to the National Capitol in DC (it is even 15 feet taller than the one in DC!), which can be visited in a free half-hour guided tour (note that the last tours on Saturdays start at 3.30pm).Austin Culture

6pm: BBQ Dinner

Austin is famous for its BBQ scene and you have to try at least one barbecue joint on a visit to Austin. Franklin’s (900 E 11th St) is the most famous one, but the notoriously long lines there can make it difficult to fit it into a short visit, so here are some alternatives: Kerlin BBQ (1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin ); La Barbecue (1906 E Cesar Chavez St), Freedmen’s (2402 San Gabriel St); Terry Black’s BBQ (1003 Barton Springs Rd); Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (6610 N Lamar Blvd) and Lambert’s Barbeque (2nd Street District).austin bangers beer garden

8pm: Sunset Drinks

For sunset drinks, head up to one of the rooftops. For great views and al-fresco cocktails, head to The Hangar Lounge (318 Colorado St), The Market & Tap Room (319 Colorado St, Austin) or The Handle Bar (121 E 5th St).austin hangar lounge

9pm: Live Music

You can’t visit Austin without getting a taste of its wonderful live music scene. Austin has something for everyone – country, rock, jazz or blues – whatever you’re into, pick up a TimeOut (https://www.timeout.com/austin/things-to-do/things-to-do-in-austin-this-week) and see who is playing where on the weekend you are in town. The Continental Club on South Congress is one of the most popular and oldest venues, Antone’s is best for blues, and The Broken Spoke is great for two-step, The White Horse for country and then there’s the Red River Music District with venues like Stubb’s, Mohawk and Cheap Charlie’s.

Note: If you want to take a free Texas two-step dance class at the Broken Spoke, skip the sunset drinks and head to the Broken Spoke around 8pm. Lessons take place Wednesdays to Saturdays from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

11pm: Drinks at a Speakeasy

If you aren’t tired yet, hit up one of Austin’s excellent speakeasy bars. The Midnight Cowboy, right on 6th Street, is probably the most popular one, and getting inside without a reservation is impossible (reserve a table online http://midnightcowboymodeling.com/). A solid and less crowded alternative is Garage which is located in a parking garage and has a large selection of delectable cocktails.drinks

Sunday, 9am: Texas-style Breakfast

Austin is known for its Tex-Mex cuisine and breakfast tacos. For the latter, head to El Primo (2011 S 1st St); Veracruz All Natural (1704 E Cesar Chavez St), Juan in a million (2300 E Cesar Chavez St), Pueblo Viejo (1606 E 6th St) or Taqueria Mi Trailita (5301 Manor Rd).

If you’re more in the mood for a full-on Tex-Mex breakfast, head to Curra’s Grill (614 E Oltorf St, Austin) for Huevos Curras (eggs over carne asada), chorizo con huevo and other scrumptious Mexican-inspired breakfasts, plus a number of creative Tex-Mex style cocktails. Trudy’s Texas Star (various locations) is another solid option for migas, chilaquiles, huevos motulenos or other Tex-Mex breakfasts. Drinks are only $2.50 until noon and $4.50 after that (until 4pm).

Bouldin Creek Café (1900 S 1st St) is the best vegetarian restaurant for breakfast.tex mex breakfast

11am: Kayaking on the Colorado River

After your brunch feast, it is time to burn some calories. If you’ve opted for a B-Cycle bike pass, take a bike and head to the river, where you can rent kayaks at Congress Kayaks ($15 per hour). It is now time to get out on the river, and an hour kayaking can bring you all the way to Lady Bird Lake (west) or to Zilker Park (east).

If kayaking is not cool enough for you, rent a stand-up paddle board at Live, Love, Paddle and paddle around Ladybird Lake ($20 per hour).

Going out on the river was one of my favorite activities in Austin, and the views over Downtown from the river were wonderful. If you head to Ladybird Lake, moving away from the Downtown buildings, you’ll notice how green Austin really is.Austin Kayaking

12pm: A Walk in the Park/Pool Time!

Finish your visit with a walk through Zilker Park, which, at 351-acres, is one of the biggest green spaces in Austin. If you are a fan of Botanical Gardens, it is well worth checking out the Zilker Botanical Gardens ($3). If you’re visiting during the summer months, pack your bathing suit and stop for a swim at the gorgeous Barton Springs pool, over three times longer than a football field and fed by the Barton Spring, the fourth largest natural spring in Texas. ($8 for non-residents, $3 for residents).Austin parks

2pm: Food Truck Time

After your swim or walk in the park, treat yourself to one last food truck meal before heading to the airport. Within walking distance from Zilker Park are the amazing sandwich truck Hey!…You Gonna Eat or What?, The Mighty Cone (fried meats & veggies in tortilla cones), and Kebabalicious (all three are located in 1720 Barton Springs Rd).food truck austin gourdoughs

Practical Information

  • Austin doesn’t have Lyft or Uber, but there are several similar rideshare options – here is an overview of the best Lyft and Uber alternatives in Austin.
  • If you’re on a budget, take advantage of bus No 100 which brings you Downtown from the airport in less than half an hour for only $1.75 (you’ll need exact change). A taxi, in comparison, is around $30.
  • The best way to get around if you don’t have a car and don’t want to rely on car sharing services is the B-cycle bike sharing program.
  • Austin’s public transportation system is pretty decent though, and a 24-hour bus pass is only $2.50 (a single ride is $1.25).
  • GoogleMaps directions worked well to show me bus routes and schedules, but you can also download the CapMetro app for the most accurate information and to buy tickets via the app.

Austin Texas1

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Polaroid Of The Week: Snowy New York City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week USA New York City Brooklyn Bridge Park WinterAfter returning from Israel, I only had a few short days in Germany before I boarded a flight back to New York – just enough time to pack up my clothes and a few other belongings I wanted to bring to New York with me and hug my friends and family goodbye.

When I arrived in New York, I learned that I’d been lucky – had I flown a day later, I wouldn’t have made it to New York, because a massive blizzard hit the city, causing over 1,700 flights across all three airports to get canceled. That blizzard was the first real snowstorm I’ve ever witnessed! Yes, of course we get snow in Germany, but not like this. Seeing the city get covered in 10 inches (30 centimeters) of snow in the span of a few short hours was an incredible experience for me – I was amazed to see how quickly New York transformed into a winter wonderland. I watched the spectacle from the inside of a warm coffee shop while I was working and couldn’t resist taking a couple of walks through the snow, even though I decided NOT to bring my winter jacket with me to New York (I brought a vest because I figured it’d be enough for my last few days of winter). The novelty of the experience made me forget how cold it was and I adored the quietness of Manhattan in the snow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York that silent.

Yesterday, I woke up to bright blue skies and lots of sun, which made the winter storm the day before almost seem like a dream. Even though I am not the biggest fan of running in the snow I put my running clothes on and went for a jog along the East River. It was just too perfect of a winter day to not enjoy the views over Manhattan – another first for me, a winter run in New York.

This will be as much as I am getting of winter in New York – I am escaping the cold weather and won’t be returning until the spring! My next Polaroid will be coming to you from Ecuador, my first new country of 2017.

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Best View Over Tel Aviv

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week israel tel aviv viewsI spent the bigger part of the past week in Israel before returning to Berlin, where I was greeted with snow. It couldn’t have been a greater contrast: On Thursday, I went running in a tank top on the beach, and on Friday I went running across icy & snowy Tempelhof airfield.

After a couple of days in Jerusalem we took the bus to Tel Aviv and spent my final days in Israel in what is one of my favorite cities in the world. It was the perfect way to end my trip – after a few chilly days, the weather was sunny and warm, and we splurged on fancy hotel right by the beach, using a discount code for Hotels.com. We did all the things I love doing in Tel Aviv: morning runs along the beach promenade, strolls through Carmel market and Jaffa flea market, eating lots of sabich sandwiches (I fit in two visits to the legendary sabich sandwich place on the corner of Frishman and Dizengoff Str). Luckily we took advantage of Tel Aviv’s bike sharing system, which I discovered during my last visit, and cycled off some of the calories. We wandered the streets of Old Jaffa, the oldest port town in the world, and went to the hipster neighborhood Florentin to hunt down new street art. We also checked out a brand new indoor food market where I had the only drink of my trip – an Israeli microbrew. I couldn’t leave Israel without trying at least one new craft beer, and we’d gotten to Tel Aviv just in time to break my ‘Dryanuary’ alcohol detox.

I took the Polaroid from a viewpoint I go to every time I am in Tel Aviv: right when you enter Jaffa, which sits on the far southern end of the city, there is a viewpoint halfway up the hill that offers fantastic vistas over the coastline and Tel Aviv. And every time I visit, there are new cranes, building new skyscrapers, adding to the constantly changing skyline. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I return to Israel.

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Top Ten Free Things To Do in Melbourne

melbourne

Melbourne is one of Australia’s most awesome cities – for many it is even the best city in the country. And they’re not the only ones to think so: Melbourne is regularly voted on the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ lists, and has plenty of things to see and do for visitors. Luckily, most of the things that make Melbourne great are outdoors and / or can be enjoyed for free – for example, some of the city’s best museums and art galleries are free – so check out ten things to do in Melbourne that are not only awesome but also absolutely free:Melbourne

1 Take the tram

The tram is one of Melbourne’s most iconic sights and can’t be missed on a visit to the city. The City Circle Tram can be taken for free – it goes in a 30 minute circuit and you can get on and off where and how often you like. Just look out for the gold and burgundy colored tram and hop on wherever you see it.

2 Free museums and galleries

Melbourne has a great number of world-class museums and art galleries and they are all well worth a visit. If you don’t want to pay for it but still see some excellent art and educate yourself, these are the Melbourne museums you can visit for free:

  • National Gallery Of Victoria

NVG International is one of Australia’s best art museums and you will find a comprehensive collection (over 73,000 works of art!) of ancient Egyptian and Roman art, Asian exhibits and classic Renaissance and Baroque pieces. You’ll find works by Rembrandt, Cezannes and other great masters here, as well as contemporary art, for example by Picasso, and paintings include Rembrandt and Cezanne. Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.

  • RAAF Museum

The RAAF museum has a huge display of old air crafts. Its aim is to educate about Australia’s wars and it is located in a military base, the RAAF Williams. There are also flying displays held every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1pm.

  • Ian Potter Centre NGV Australia

The Ian Potter Centre consists of over 20 galleries with artwork that present the history of Australian art, including drawings, decorative arts, fashion and also photography. There are also some galleries that are entirely dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art. Opening times: Daily from 10am to 5pm.

  • Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)

Here you find a fantastic collection of contemporary art including video and photography, sculpture, sound, movement and electronic imaging – an excellent contemporary art museum. Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm.

  • Australian Centre for the Moving Image

This is the first museum of its kind in the whole world, and is dedicated to the moving image. This ranges from cinema to digital media, and there are two multi-format cinemas. There are always changing exhibitions and movie and art installations – a fascinating museum not only for cinema buffs. Opening times: Daily from 10am to 5pm / 6pm on weekends.ACMI, Federation Square

3 Explore Melbourne on foot

Melbourne is a relatively walkable city and especially the narrow lanes in the business district are great to be explored on foot. There are lots of street cafes where you can sit down and watch the world go by while having a delicious cappuccino. Check out the self-guided coffee walk I recommend in this article.

You can also walk the Bay Trail, which starts at St Kilda Pier, continues through the lovely Achland street cafés, passes through Luna Park and the St Kilda Marina. The path finally ends in Brighton, and you will pass several parks, cafes and restaurants on your way. It takes about 2 hours to walk and by walking it, you get to experience the closest beach to Melbourne in St Kilda.

4 Take the free tourist shuttle bus

I get it, not everyone loves walking as much as I do. If you prefer a tour, then the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle is perfect for you. It runs every thirty minutes between 9.30am and 4.30pm and stops at all of Melbourne’s major attractions, such as Federation Square, Queen Victoria Market and Chinatown. If you don’t want to get off but simply enjoy the sights from a window seats – the full circle takes around 90 minutes and covers sight beyond the loop of the Circle Tram which only covers the Central Business District (CBD). The on-board commentary provides interesting information about all the landmarks you pass, plus some trivia about Melbourne.so melbourne

5 Stroll through the city’s best markets

Queen Victoria Market is Melbourne’s most famous market, and you can get anything from fresh produce, fruits and vegetables to pets, plants and clothes here. There are over 1,000 market traders and the market covers seven hectares – you can easily spend a few hours strolling through the market stalls. Market days are: Tuesday and Thursday from 6am-2pm, Friday from 6am to 6pm, Saturday from 6am to 3pm and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.

Other markets that are worth a visit are South Melbourne Market (Market days: Wednesday to Sunday), Camberwell Market (flea market, every Sunday), St Andrew’s Market which takes place on Saturday mornings in St Andrews, Rose Street Artists Market in Fitzroy, and Prahran Market, which takes place on Saturdays.

6 Street Art in the Laneways

The maze of laneways are one the things that makes Melbourne special, and they’re a mecca for street art fans! The best street art can be found in Hosier Lane, but many of the other alleys have street art too.

The laneways aren’t only for street art lovers, by the way: there are plenty of coffee shops, little restaurants, some boutique shops and galleries. The best way to explore the laneways is by picking up a map of all the alleys and arcades from the Visitors Centre in Federation Square.Hosier Lane, Melbourne

7 Royal Botanic Gardens

Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens stretch over 35 hectares not far from the city center, near the Yarra’s South Bank. They are well-known far beyond Australia and even if you are not a huge fan of plants and flowers – you can still spend a relaxing afternoon there. The gardens are open from April to October from 7.30am to 6pm and from November to March from 7.30am to 7pm.

8 Free views over the city

Melbourne has a lovely skyline, and the best way to see it is, well, from above! Luckily there are several rooftop bars with splendid vistas, such as the aptly named Rooftop Bar, Naked in the Sky, or Madame Brussels. The drinks may not be free, but the views sure are (and worth paying for a drink). The Skydeck at Eureka Tower isn’t free – if you head to one of the rooftop bars instead, at least you’ll get a drink AND a view!37 an afternoon and an evening through melbourne

9 Yarra River Art

The Yarra River, which winds through Melbourne’s city center, provides the perfect backdrop for an interesting outdoor contemporary art gallery filled with paintings, sculptures and architecture. There are several impressive sculptures in the Central Business District, along the river and south of it, and I recommend saving this self-guided sculpture walk onto your phone and check out 19 stunning pieces of art along the way. The walk takes around one hour without any stops, plan in another hour to take in the art and to take photos.

10 Fitzroy Gardens

The Fitzroy Gardens are the perfect place for a picnic in the summer, and anyone who is a fan of city parks like New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park will love Fitzroy Gardens. You can get lost on the trails, marvel at the colorful flowerbeds, sculptures and fountains, sun bathe on one of the vast lawns, visit the miniature village. Make sure to find the scarred tree and the Fairies’ Tree!

You can’t explore Melbourne without delving into the city’s amazing food scene! So to complete your Melbourne vacation, check out the top 26 Popular Melbourne Hotels with Restaurant listed by HotelsCombined.Scene from Fitzroy Garderns

Photo credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. Feature Image: Melbourne by Lenny K photography; (1) Melbourne by Yasser Alghofily; (2) ACMI by wehardy; (3) Melbourne by Alan Lam; (4) Hosier Lane by LT Photography; (5) Melbourne Rooftop Bar by Fernando de Sousa; (6) Fitzroy Gardens by Moshe Reuveni

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Six Must-Visit National Parks in Canada

canada national parks

Canada is having its moment – both the New York Times and The Guardian as well as Lonely Planet put Canada on their Hot Destinations List for 2017, and this time it aren’t booming cities like Vancouver or Toronto that are in the spotlight – the attention is focused on the countries natural beauty. Canada is celebrating 150 years of its confederation this year and celebrates it with a spectacular gift to its visitors: FREE admission to all of its National Parks, marine-conservation sites and historic monuments. That’s right, you can visit as many National Parks as you’d like and not pay a dime for it! But deciding which of the 44 National Parks to visit can be daunting, because this being Canada, of course all of them are breathtakingly beautiful and worth a visit.Day 3 - Patricia Lake

To help you decide where to go, we picked the six best National Parks to visit in Canada for you:

1 Banff National Park, Alberta

Banff National Park is not only the country’s first National Park (established in 1885), but also Canada’s most popular one. And that’s for very good reason – think turquoise lakes, rugged snow-covered mountain peaks, wildlife and plenty of hiking trails through the Rocky Mountains – Banff has it all!

Not to be missed: Lake Louise, the picture-perfect glacier lake that appears on most of Banff’s postcards, can’t be missed, but Lake Minnewanka offers jaw-dropping vistas and Lake Moraine is often named one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Best hike: The Legacy Trail, a 16-mile trail that runs along Trans-Canada 1 and has stunning views along the entire path, plus a high chance of wildlife spottings from the wildlife fence at the park’s East Gate (to Bow Valley Parkway). Check out the full list of day hikes in Banff here.

Because Banff is so popular, it can get packed during the summer months, but if you go on day hikes in the park, it’s still possible to escape the crowds. If you want to visit the park during less busy times, avoid going between June and August.Castle Mountain, Banff 2016

2 Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper National Park is just north of Banff, which makes it easy to combine those two. The drive that spans the two parks, Icefield Parkway, is often named as the most scenic drive in all of North America, making the journey worth it already. Other reasons to visit Jasper National Park? Turquoise glacier lakes, wildlife (including elk, caribou, bears and bighorn sheep), backcountry and mountain trails, glaciers forests and alpine meadows. Maligne Lake is the show stopper among the lakes in Jasper, with three glaciers visible from the lake – make sure to bring a kayak and get on the lake!

Not to be missed: The scenic Lake Maligne drive which starts in Jasper and ends at the lake. If you are a star gazing, go in October, when the Dark Sky Festival takes place in Jasper. The park is recognized as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the lack of light pollution in October makes it the perfect time to come and star gaze. That said: the stars you see here are amazing year round, so make sure to check out the night sky.

Best hike: The Skyline Trail, a 42-kilometer backcountry trail that starts at Maligne Lake and takes 2 to 3 days to hike.Day 2 - Your Standard Postcard Shot (Maligne Lake)

3 Prince Edward Island National Park, P.E.I.

Prince Edward Island National Park, named after the island it is located on, sits on the far eastern end of Canada, stretching along the Atlantic Coast. P.E.I. is located east of New Brunswick and north of Nova Scotia, in the Gul of Saint Lawrence. The National Park consists of forests, salt marshes, coastline, sand dunes and the red sandstone cliffs the park is famous for. It is perfect for kayaking, bird-watching, hiking, kite flying and cycling and in the winter you can snow shoe or ski. If you aren’t into hiking but want to see as much as possible of the park, take the Gulf Shore Parkway West on the Cavendish waterfront, a drivable scenic route.

Not to be missed: Cavendish, a small community with red sandstone cliffs and wide sandy beaches, which was the inspiration for the literary blockbuster Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. If you love the book, Green Gables Shore can’t be missed!

Best hike: The Cavendish Dunelands Trail, which offers great views over the sand dunes and several freshwater ponds. If the 4.6 km round-trip hike is too short for you – the trail has links to the Homestead Trail (along the shores of New London Bay) and the Gulf Shore Way (along the top of the red sandstone cliffs with superb views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence).Bowley Pond

4 Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Canada’s most stunning parks. Ancient fjords, imposing sheer-walled gorges, lush forests, barren cliffs and vast lowlands – the scenery here often reminds of Iceland’s otherworldly, breathtaking landscapes. The chances of moose spottings are high here, considering that over 5,000 moose live in Gros Morne, and the vastness of the park often makes you feel as if you were the only ones on the coastal pathways, or on the water – Kayaking through the mighty Western Brook Pond or Trout River Pond is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll never forget.

Not to be missed: Tablelands, a desert-like area made of ultramafic rock, which is usually found inside the Earth and not on top of it, making it look like you are driving on another planet without much vegetation other than a bit of grass.

Best hike: The Long Range Mountains offer six backcountry hiking trails, all of which are considered the best backpacking trails on the East Coast of Canada. They are physically challenging and strenuous, and unmarked, hence only recommended for experienced hikers who know how to use compasses, GPS devices and maps.

A great day hike for less experienced hikers is the 14 kilometer round-trip Trout River Pond Trail which leads you to a picturesque part of the Tablelands, following the north side of Trout River Pond.10_Mile_Pond_Gros_Morne_Panorama_13

5 Wapusk National Park, Churchill, Manitoba

If seeing polar bears is on your bucket list, then Wapusk National Park is the National Park for you! And there’s more than polar bears: Wapusk is also home to arctic foxes, wolves and caribou (wild reindeer). The subarctic National Park is very remote and it is quite an undertaking to get there, but that makes it only more special. The closest town is Churchill, which can only be accessed by plane, or by the twice-a-week train from Winnipeg (takes two nights or sometimes longer, depending on weather conditions). The park itself is made up of tundra, subarctic forest and muske and borders Hudson Bay (sometimes referred to as Arctic Ocean). Cape Churchill is known to be the best location in the world to view and photograph wild polar bears, which is why the park is popular with wildlife photographers. Since there are no roads you have to join a guided tour – check out the park’s website for detailed information on tours.

Not to be missed: Try to time your visit so that you get to see fluffy little polar bear cubs! The best time to see them is in February / March. If you come to Wapusk in late October / early November, you won’t see cubs, but about 1,000 polars gather around Hudson Bay, awaiting the freeze-up of the sea.

Best hike: Unescorted visitors are not permitted in the park, so no epic hikes here. During polar bear ‘high season’, guides who lead tours in the park carry firearms in case a polar bear attacks. During the summer months, you can access the park via helicopter for guided tundra hikes.Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

6 Yoho National Park, Field, B.C.

Yoho National Park in British Colombia is another one of Canada’s picture-perfect Rocky Mountains parks, with rugged mountains, soaring waterfalls, magnificent glaciers, sheer cliffs, scenic lakes, turquoise rivers and lush green forests. The name for the park is an expression of awe and wonder in the Cree language – an aptly chosen name.

Not to be missed: Emerald Lake with its stunning glacier and mountain views, and Takakkaw Falls, filled with glacial meltwater in the summer, plunging 1,250 feet to the bottom of the Yoho Valley.

Best hike: The 2-day Iceline-Whaleback-Twin Falls backpacking trail is rated one of the best five day hikes in the Rocky Mountains. You’ll pass Takakkaw Falls, multiple glaciers, Celeste Lake and Twin Falls.Wapita Falls Power

How to plan a trip to Canada: Visas, Exchange Rate & Cheap Flights

The exchange rate is in your favor this year – 1 US Dollar buys you 1.33 Canadian Dollars, and 1 Euro buys you even more – 1.42 Canadian Dollars! It’s the perfect time to visit Canada.

Note: In 2016, Canada introduced eTA, electronic travel authorization, which is now required for citizens of all countries (including the U.S.) to enter Canada (unless you are from a country that requires a visa to visit Canada). The eTA is valid for five years. You have to apply for a Canada eTA online prior to your trip, but it only takes a few minutes to fill out the application.

To find cheap flights to Canada, I recommend GoogleFlights, especially their fare calendar which shows you on what dates you can get the cheapest flights.Emerald Lake

Photo credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons License. Title image: Banff National Park by Geos453 FinalAssignment; (1) Patricia Lake by Siuyant; (2) Castle Mountain by Gord McKenna; (3) Maligne Lake by Siuyant; (4) Bowley Pond, PEI, by Christine Riggle; (5) 10 Mile Pond by mrbanjo1138; (6) Wild Polar Bears by Alex Berger; (7) Wapita Falls by Terry Lawson; (8) Emerald Lake by mzagerp.

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Twelve Essential Restaurants You Need To Visit In San Francisco

In Situ The Forest_Mauro Colagreco_Mirazur

San Francisco is one of the most popular cities to visit in the U.S. – and not only because of the Golden Gate Bridge or its iconic Cable Cars, but also for its diverse food scene. From Mexican and Central American food to Chinese restaurants and authentic Italian cuisine – there is nothing you can’t get in San Francisco. Since there are literally hundreds of restaurants you could go to, I’ve selected ten restaurants you shouldn’t miss on a visit to San Francisco. Of course there are dozens of others that are also worth visiting – so don’t see this as an ultimate guide, but rather as an ‘appetizer guide’ to get you started. This is the 2017 edition – 12 restaurants that are worth including in your San Francisco itinerary. Some of these restaurants have risen to fame in recent months or are brand new and buzz-worthy, others are all-time San Francisco classics, and then there are a couple of fine dining gems.

Chicory, dickory, dock. It’s pizza o’clock.

A photo posted by Pizzeria Delfina, est. 1998 (@pizzeriadelfina) on

Without further ado: Twelve essential restaurants you need to visit in San Francisco:

1 Best Burritos: La Taqueria

The Mission District is a mecca for foodies – thanks to its large Latino population, you find a myriad of Mexican, Latin American and Central American eateries here, and to choose a place for a burrito can be overwhelming. I suggest La Taqueria, which was recently awarded the title America’s Best Burrito. Head there to find out if they deserve this recognition, but the continuously great reviews and long lines speak for themselves. What makes the burritos here special is the fact that they don’t have rice. Instead, the flour tortillas are filled with pinto beans, meat, and toppings that include salsa, guacamole and hot sauce.

Tip: Order your burrito dorado and it will be seared on the plancha until it is crispy on both sides.

Address: 2889 Mission District Street

Voted best burrito in America, or something like that. #lataqueria #missionburrito #burrito #corona #sanfrancisco

A photo posted by Lyndsey Kaplan (@kappiekap) on

Honorary mention: El Castillito (136 Church Street, Castro). What’s special about them is that they melt the cheese inside of the tortilla.

2 Best tacos: Taqueria Cancun

Taqueria Cancun is one of San Francisco’s most popular taco places and has now three locations (in the Mission, SoMa and Bernal Heights) for a reason. It is famous for its tacos al pastor and carnitas. The tacos are loaded with meat, fresh avocado, salsa and sour cream. If you’re in the mood for a burrito, you’re at the right place too. Their Al Pastor Super Burrito is super yummy and super filling.

Address: 3211 Mission Street between Valencia Street and Fair Avenue, 1003 Market Street between Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street, 2288 Mission Street between 18th and 19th Streets

Honorable mentions: The Carne Asada Super Taco Dorado at La Taqueria (see above); the  carne asada and al pastor taco at Taqueria Vallarta (3039 24th St)

3 Best Pizza: Delfina’s

Delfina’s has been going strong for 17 years and has so many loyal local fans that it has now two locations in the city: in the Mission and in Pacific Heights. If you try one of their pizzas, you’ll understand why. The intention of the owners, Annie and Craig Stoll, was to bring Neapolitan-style pizza to the Bay area, and that’s exactly what they did. The pizzas are thin and delectable, chewy and crisp, and the crust is absolute perfection!

Tip: If you’re not too keen on pizza, try their signature spaghetti or their fresh burata. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Address: 3621 18th Street (Mission), 2406 California Street (Pacific Heights)

 

4 Best Burgers: 4505 Burgers & BBQ

4505 is known for its quarter-pound grass-fed beef pattys, which come from a California farm near the Oregon border. Especially the cheeseburger gets a lot of praise (topped with Gruyère cheese and served on a buttery, crisp sesame- and scallion-topped bun with a secret sauce) – it was voted as one of the 33 best burgers in all of America and the best burger in California.

Tip: As the name indicates, 4505 does not only serve burgers, but also BBQ fare: the brisket and the pulled pork are well worth trying, too. Another beloved item on the menu is the Frankaroni (a fried mac-and-cheese-and-frankfurter patty).

Address: 705 Divisadero Street (at Grove Street)
4505

Honorary mention: Super Duper Burger (six locations in San Francisco), Gott’s Roadside in the Ferry Building, and the grass-fed burger at Nopa (see #6)

5 Best Ice Cream: Bi-Rite Creamery

In the summer months, the long line outside Bi-Rite Creamery can be intimidating, but trust me, the ice cream is worth the wait. You’ll notice that it is much creamier than other ice creams, and that’s because they use a higher ratio of cream to other ingredients than other ice cream parlors.

Flavors range from tasty creations such as Salted Caramel, Crème Brulee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Black sesame with Sonoma honey, Orange Cardamom, Turmeric & Ginger with Candied Lemon Zest, Earl Grey, Birthday Cake with Chocolate Cake and Rainbow Sprinkles. But the true show stoppers are the Sundaes. My pick: The Afternoon Snack which has roasted banana ice cream, home-made graham crackers, caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Address: 3692 18th Street, Mission District and 550 Divisadero Street

@pp_amanda112 ^^

A photo posted by Karthik Ramgopal (@karthikrgbits) on

 

6 Best For A Decadent Brunch: Nopa

Nopa is one of the Top 20 restaurants in San Francisco, and in a city with well over 4,000 restaurants, that’s saying something! Most people come here for the wood-grilled burgers (see #4) and the pork chop, but I recommend coming for a decadent brunch. It’s not the cheapest place for brunch (or dinner), but it is money well spent. Whatever you order, make sure that you also get an order of the Custard French Toast (they also have half orders) – you’ll thank me later. You can’t go wrong with any of the other dishes either – they are all finger licking good. Try the Butter Basted Eggs with Tasso Spiced Ham, Soft Polenta, Brussels Sprouts, Romesco and Parmesan Reggiano for example, or the Green Chorizo with Pinto Beans, Red Rice, Braised Greens, Feta and a Poached Egg. Definitely order a brunch cocktail with your dish – they are amazing.

Honorary mention: Zuni Café, see #8

Address: 560 Divisadero Street

A closeup of a fundamental brunch item from @thewongway. Indeed it is hard to go wrong with this French toast.

A photo posted by nopa restaurant (@nopa_sf) on

 

7 Best Fine Dining: Aster

Aster is currently one of the – if not THE best place for an exquisite dining experience in San Francisco. Rewarded with 1 Michelin star, chef Brett Cooper cooks up his artful, inventive creations in a quiet corner of the Mission District, combining ingredients you wouldn’t normal think go together but that end up complementing each other extraordinarily well. I recommend ordering the tasting menu which is at $65 (additional wine pairing $36) very reasonably priced. With four options for each course, you still get to personalize your dinner, or you can order a la carte (main dishes start at $27.)

Address: 1001 Guerrero St., Mission District

Brassicas, citrus, lemongrass sabayon, espelette #astersf

A photo posted by @brettmichaelcooper on

 

8 Best New Restaurant: In Situ

In Situ is a new fine dining venue inside the recently re-opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA, and chef Corey Lee, who received three Michelin stars, has curated a menu of dishes to which over 80 chefs from all over the world contributed. Since opening in June 2016, the restaurant has already received a ton of praise, including a huge praise from the New York Times who declared it the best new restaurant in the country. There couldn’t be a better spot for In Situ than inside an art museum, because the restaurant itself can be seen as an art installation. The flavors of the (currently) 15 dishes on the menu are as spread out across the globe as the chefs are who contributed to the remarkable menu. Sophisticated eaters will appreciated being taken on a culinary journey that includes dishes from famous international chefs such as Virgilio Martínez of Lima’s Central, David Chang of Momofuku in New York, or René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma.

Address: Inside the SFMOMA, 151 3rd Street

In Situ Carrot, Sour Curd, Pickled Pine_Matt Orlando_Amass

9 Best For A Date Night: Zuni Cafe

The popular Market Street bistro is perfect not only for a date night, but for pretty much any occasion. The space is just as charming as the food is tasty. If you’re planning to come here, make sure to book a table in advance. The roast chicken is the dish that stands out here, but the burger is also regularly named as one of the best burgers in the city (served on grilled rosemary focaccia). Still, the chicken for two roasted in the brick oven, served with a warm bread salad, is unforgettable. If you’re not in the mood for a big meal, it’s also worth popping in here for some oysters and a cocktail at the bar.

Address: 1658 Market Street

 

10 Best Breakfast Sandwich: Devil’s Teeth Baking Company

First of all, Don’t expect a proper sit-down place when you head to Devil’s Teeth Baking Company. Do expect long lines, especially on weekend mornings. Come hungry and bring patience and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best breakfast sandwiches of your life. The biscuit-topped breakfast sandwiches are super filling, and you can choose between the classic bacon-egg-and-cheese ($5.50) and the more extravagant version with scrambled eggs, thick applewood smoked bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado, and lemon-garlic aioli ($6.75).

Tip: If you come on a Sunday, you’ll get to enjoy the delectable $1 beignets.

Address: 3876 Noriega Street, (near Ocean Beach)

 

11 Best For Something Different: State Bird Provisions

State Bird Provisions made headlines around the country when it opened in 2012 and was promptly rewarded the title ‘Best New Restaurant in America in 2012’ – and that’s because of its very own take on the concept of dim sum. Self-described as ‘a restaurant without any programmed elements’, State Bird Provisioins serves dim sum-style ‘provisions’, or bite-sized portions of California fare with a Japanese touch. Don’t expect dumplings here – instead, you’ll get specialties like smoked trout-pickled onion ‘chip & dip’; or sourdough, sauerkraut, pecorino & ricotta pancakes; or curry roasted cauliflower with smoked date purée and pistachio. The ‘provisions’ are served dim sum–style on rolling carts, but there are also ‘Pancakes’ and ‘Commandables’ – the latter two served as à la carte items.

The Michelin star is well-deserved, but made it nearly impossible to snatch up a reservation on short notice. One thing you need to know if you’re planning to eat here: make your reservation well in advance, or you’ll be in line for up to two to three hours, especially on weekends (not kidding). But on the upside, the fabulous seats at the chef’s counter are set aside for walk-ins.

Address: 1529 Fillmore Street

Black butter roasted figs with Wagon Wheel cheese fondue and balsamic. @cowgirlcreamery #getfigged #lucious

A photo posted by state bird provisions (@statebirdprovisions) on

 

12 Best Oysters: Leo’s Oyster Bar

Leo’s Oyster Bar is worth a visit for its retro 70s atmosphere alone – resembling a Golden Era oyster bar that is split up in a ‘Dining Room’ and a ‘Champagne Room’. In addition to a large variety of oysters, you can get clams, lobster rolls, crab legs, crab cakes, mussels and a selection of divine cocktails. The oysters carbonara and the deviled egg with fried oyster on top come highly recommended, and Mr Nicholas’ Liquid Lunch – a vodka or gin martini served with pickled vegetables and olives – gives you the perfect excuse for a midday drink. And since the bar is located in the Financial District, close to many San Francisco hotels, you’re likely to walk by Leo’s Oyster Bar at some point anyway – so make sure to check it out, the decor alone is worth a cheeky drink and some oysters. Tip: There’s not just one bar at the back, but two, so don’t stop at the first door.

Address: 568 Sacramento Street (between Montgomery and Sansome), FiDi

Leo's Oyster Bar

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Spa Day At The Dead Sea

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week israel dead sea 2017This past week has been an absolute roller coaster of emotions: I got my passport back from the US consulate, with only two days to spare before my flight to Israel, and returned to Israel where I was reunited with one of my favorite people in the world. Sadly, it went downhill from there: first, the half-marathon I was supposed to run yesterday was canceled due to bad weather (heavy rain in the desert means flash floods), and I had trained so hard for this race in Germany’s arctic temperatures this month. And then there was Trump’s first anti-immigration action which caused this brand new immigrant to feel more anxiety than ever before. I’ll leave my full thoughts on that topic for my monthly round-up next week, but this and his other political actions definitely put a damper on my mood.

The plan for the rest of the day yesterday – post-race – was to spend the day at the Dead Sea, in which I floated during my first visit to Israel, and which was one of my favorite experiences in Israel, and to treat myself to a spa in one of the hotels on its shores, but since to get there, we’d have to take the same road that my race would’ve taken place on and which was closed because of flash floods, we had to change our plans.

Today, however, we woke up to beautiful blue skies and the sun was shining – the storm had finally moved on. So we decided to still have our spa day and headed to the desert and to the Dead Sea. It was just as stunning as I remembered it – in fact, driving down Highway 90 again made me think that it felt like yesterday that I’d last been here – and I even ended up braving the chilly 70°F (21°C) temperatures and jumped into the Dead Sea to float in the water again.

Our spa day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the road trip to the Dead Sea helped brighten my mood, even though the recent political happenings caused me sleepless nights and a tense feeling in my chest the entire week. I hope that my second week in Israel, which includes time in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, a city I love, will give my strength and my optimism back before I board a plane to New York in early February – the first time officially as an immigrant.

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Walking through Italy: Highlights from the Via Amerina, Part II

historic via amerina

…continued from Walking Through Italy: Highlights From The Via Amerina, Part I

After the first big leg of the hike along the Via Amerina, from Castel dell’Aquila to Amelia, and a good night’s sleep (we were all so tired that we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow), and a typical Italian breakfast (a cappuccino and a sweet pastry), we started the walk to our next destination: Orte, around 10 miles (17 kilometers) south of Amelia.umbria breakfastLike the day before, we traversed vineyards and fields, huffing and puffing as we climbed the hills. On this part of the Via, we also passed an open-air chapel, a reminder that we weren’t just on a random hike through the countryside, but on a pilgrimage.via amerina church

Orte: Another Enchanting Medieval Hilltop Town

The last part of the hike was the most challenging: We could see Orte majestically crowning the top of a tuff cliff front of us, and with a lot of moaning, our legs eventually carried us up the hill, reaching our first stop in the Latium region.orte medieval welcomeWe entered another stunning medieval town through one of several massive stone gates, hundreds of years old, and rested at the town square for a while, watching another flag-twirling performance, before we explored Orte’s well-preserved ‘underground’.orte lazioBecause the town sits on top of a cliff, the Romans built many tunnels, caverns and cisterns underneath the city, some of which can be visited with a tour guide.orte undergroundOrte is not just worth a visit for its underground relics though – the town itself is stunning. Just like with medieval churches, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of wandering through medieval towns, marvel at the imposing stone buildings, follow the narrow lanes to see where they lead me, and imagining what life must have been like here in medieval times. It seems like not much has changed since then, at least on the outside.OrteOnly five miles south of Orte, we passed through Vasanello, another quaint medieval town with a small castle and a beautiful 13th century Romanesque bell tower, which was built with stones that were taken from the Via Amerina.Vasanello Italy1Another highlight of the Via was the leg between Morticelli, where we passed a small necropolis, the Necropoli di Morticelli, where tombs have been carved into the tuff, and Corchiano, where we traversed the Forre di Corchiano, a narrow gorge that follows the Rio Fratta.forre di corchiano italyOn that stretch of the path, we passed a beautiful arched Roman Bridge which was still intact, and several caves with Byzantine graves and tombs. The scenery here is completely different from what we’d seen in Umbria.via amerina bridge

The Natural Monuments Of Latium

Instead of rolling hills, we were walking through thick forest, and we learned that the Forre Di Corchiano is part of the WWF L’Oasi di Pian Sant’Angelo, a 254-hectare large natural monument, rewarded this title thanks to its outstanding natural beauty and unique archeological finds.via amerina daniWe left the Via for a quick visit to Civita Castellana, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) east of Falerii Novi, a town also founded by the Falisci, who called it Falerii. Civita Castellana is worth a visit not only for its charming town center, but for its attractive Cathedral, also known as Il Duomo, which has some remarkable geometrical floor mosaics and which has a unique Cosmatesque façade (signed and dated in gold mosaic tiles, dating back to 1210), and Forte Sangallo, the fortress, which was built by Pope Alexander VI. The fortress houses an Etruscan Museum with a considerable collection.civita castellana duomo inside1After spending the night in Civita Castellana, we continued our walk southwards the next morning – 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) to the town of Nepi.via amerinaWe started the day on a particularly lovely section of the route, which led us through hazelnut orchards, the ground filled with hazelnuts that were going to be used for one of Ferrero’s irresistible hazelnut chocolate creations, until we reached the ruins of the walled settlement of Falerii Novi.via amerina hazelnutsCreated by the Romans, the stone entrance gate of Falerii Novi is still intact, and the striking church of Santa Maria of Falerii is still in great condition next to the ruins of Falerii Novi.Falerii Novi Gate and Faleria Church

The Original Via Amerina: Walking on a Roman Road

After that, we continued our hike on one of the best known parts of the Via Amerina: Cavo degli Zucchi, a stretch of the road that is flanked by a series of tombs which are carved directly out of the tall tuff cliff.historica via amerina italyThis part of the road has been excavated over the past 30+ years, uncovering the original basalt rocks that were put down by the Romans to pave the road. The exposed road is so well preserved that you can even see imprints from the wagons that were rolling down the Via Amerina hundreds of years ago.via amerina Necropoli dei Tre PontiThe cliffs that line the road for about 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) house 196 graves between Cavo degli Zucchi and Cava Foce Tre Ponti (also known as Necropoli dei Tre Ponti). This area is known to be inhabited by the Falisci, an ethnic group said to have been of Greek origin, who also inhabited Falerii and Falerii Novi.via amerina Necropoli dei Tre PontiBefore reaching Nepi, we stopped at Castel Sant’Elia, a small town that sits on the ridge of the Suppetonia Valley, a gorge that winds between Civita Castellana and Nepi, up to 656 feet (200 meters) deep and 2,300 feet (700 meters) wide. The Basilica, a medieval church built into the cliff over an ancient temple of Diana, features several mosaics and frescoes that are worth peeking inside for.italy st elia church mosaicsWe made our way up the mountain to the top of the cliff, where we found an old monastery, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria ad Rupes, which houses the Shrine of St Maria ‘ad Rupes’. The shrine is connected to the surface by a tunnel by 144 steps carved by hand by a local hermit, an endeavor that took him 14 years to finish.italy st elia monastery and suppetonia valley

Catacombs and a Fortress in Nepi

And then we arrived in Nepi, another small medieval town with cobblestone streets and a 12th century cathedral, where there were two other sights worth stopping for, the first being Castello Borgia. We were able to climb to the top of one of the circular towers of this 16th century fortress, an effort that was rewarded with breathtaking views over the city and the surrounding countryside, including the Monte Sorrate mountain ridge.nepi view italyThe other unmissable sight in Nepi is the Santa Savinilla Catacombs, an underground cemetery that dates back to the 5th century. The excavated graves are exceptionally well preserved, some of them still housing the bones and skulls of the deceased.nepi catacombsI’ve seen a number of catacombs throughout Europe, but Santa Savinilla, albeit small, was among the most impressive underground graveyards I have been to.

Calcata: Italy’s Most Artsy Village

After our afternoon in Nepi, we ventured off the path, away from the Via, and made a little detour to Calcata, another small hilltop village that is close enough to Rome to visit on a day trip, reminding us that we were not far from our final destination now.calcata italyI fell in love with the village the minute it came into sight: a tiny fortified settlement perched atop a stump of volcanic rock, a small castle jutting out of the stone roofs of the medieval houses, surrounded by lush green forest on all sides.Calcata LaziumCalcata almost ended up as a ghost town when the Italian government declared the village as unsafe in the 1930s, saying the cliffs it was sitting on were crumbling. The majority of the people who lived in Calcata moved half a mile up the road, where they built a new town, Calcata Nuova, which left the village nearly deserted.calcata italyIn the 60s and 70s artists and hippies discovered the little village, drawn by the mythical energy that supposedly emanates from the volcanic stump it sits on, but also by the fairy-tale like feel and the enchanting atmosphere in the village with its crooked streets and maze of cobblestone alleyways.calcata italyToday, the village is home to over 100 artists, New Age types who are selling jewelry, display their paintings and sculptures in little galleries, and run charming little tea and coffee shops. Calcata gets overrun by day trippers from Rome and other nearby towns, especially on weekends, and it is easy to see why – I could’ve wandered the little streets for hours, visiting all the tiny galleries, gorging on homemade cakes while enjoying the views over the surrounding countryside. If I were to go back to Calcata, I would stay in one of the stone houses right in town for a couple of nights, or even take up a month-long artists’ residency.Calcata Italy LaziumThis detour left me feel invigorated, feeding me enough energy for the last part of the trek. Sadly, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to walk the entire last part from Nepi to Rome via Campagno di Roma (17km) and La Storta (20km from Campagno di Roma), with a final 12.5 mile (20 kilometers) day that eventually brings you to Rome and Piazza St Pietro (St Peter’s Square).via francigena hikers

The Final Stretch to Rome

Instead, we started at the trail head for the alternative route which leads through the Insugherata Nature Park. Walking this way means you are not following the traffic-heavy Via Cassia, which meets the Via Amerina on its final stretch to Rome, alternatively walking through beautiful nature for 4 miles (6 kilometers) right into Rome, where the path rejoins the original route near Piazza Igea.via francigenaThe entire walk is 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) and was very pleasant – I preferred walking through the park rather than following the road, especially because I knew we would be walking through the busy streets of Rome later on.historic via amerina italy

The Papal Audience in St Peter’s Square

Getting a first glimpse of St Peter’s Cathedral from Monte Mario was spectacular – at last seeing that the end was near, and that we had nearly reached our final destination.rome viewMost pilgrims plan their arrival in Rome for a Tuesday so that they can attend the papal audience that is held in St Peter’s Square every Wednesday. Even as a non-religious person, I couldn’t deny the special aura in the square, filled with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world who were listening to the Pope’s speech and receiving his apostolic blessing.rome papal audienceNo matter if you are Catholic or not, ending a walk through Italy at the papal audience makes it feel even more extraordinary: you have done something that only very few people do. Going to Rome? Easy. But walking to Rome? An exceptional achievement.rome castell st angelo

The Walk Continues: Wandering The Streets Of Rome

Most of my fellow hikers were tired from the long days of walking and skipped sightseeing in Rome, but I love this city so much, I couldn’t leave without spending at least one day in the city.romeI wandered the streets of Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood, and revisited the majestic landmarks of the city that made such an impression on me when I came to Rome for the first time, back when I was a teenager – the Collosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Fontana di Trevi.rome collosseoIf you walk the Via Amerina or another pilgrims’ route and this is your first time in Rome, I recommend taking a rest day and then spending a few days exploring the city. Even though the walk is a journey in itself, your final destination is too sensational to be left out.rome gelatoI could have spent another week in Rome, but sadly I was pressed for time. I threw a coin over my left shoulder at Trevi Fountain though, the one thing I’ve done on all my visits to Rome, because legend says that throwing a coin over your shoulder into the fountain guarantees a return to Rome.rome fontana di treviSo far, it’s worked for me – I’ll be back.

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