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Polaroid Of The Week: The Lush Mountains Of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico puerto vallartaTo be completely honest: I didn’t want to spend my last few days in Mexico in Puerto Vallarta. I wanted to stay in San Pancho or in Sayulita, which are both smaller beach towns north of Puerto Vallarta, and where I had spent my birthday. But because the season was just about to start in San Pancho most cafes were still opening at unreliable hours (if it all), and I needed wifi to get work done. In Sayulita, there were a few places I knew I could work at (with okay wifi, but still not great speeds) but struggled to find decent accommodation. Since I had several deadlines looming over me, I decided to do what seemed the most reasonable: to return to Puerto Vallarta, which I knew had a much bigger selection of available accommodation and great wifi. As much as I loved the vibe in the smaller beach towns, sometimes the digital nomad has to put work first, especially after a slow month in November.

And after a couple of days back in Puerto Vallarta I realized how much I actually liked the town that had seemed like a big resort town at first. Yes, there are casinos, golf clubs and cruise ships. Yes, there are giant all-inclusive resorts. But there’s also the Old Town, the Zona Romantica, with cobblestone streets, with ornate churches and bright pink bougainvillea trees that form a perfect contrast to the whitewashed colonial houses. And then there’s the dramatic backdrop: the lush green jungle-covered mountains that hug the Bahía de Banderas, the bay alongside which Puerto Vallarta stretches. I loved my morning runs on the Malecon, the wide promenade, which is lined with stunning bronze sculptures, and my explorations of the neighborhoods up in the hills, which offer jawdroppingly beautiful views over the city and the bay. I loved the variety of cafes and restaurants and gay bars (albeit almost all of them being heavily men-focused) and even a microbrewery, and that on Playa de los Muertos, the southernmost beach of Puerto Vallarta, you can dine right in the sand.

While Sayulita and San Pancho were smaller and more laid-back and I could still find completely deserted beaches there, I came to appreciate Puerto Vallarta in the end and boarded my flight knowing that I’d be back one day.

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: November 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. 

Where I’ve been

I started the month with a few days in Los Angeles, which were not in my travel plans at all… followed by a full four weeks on Mexico. Which, well, also wasn’t part of my original plan, but in hindsight, I couldn’t have asked for a better turn of events, leading me to Puerto Vallarta eventually, where I am writing this now. You might remember from last month’s round-up that I was basically stranded in the U.S. after my trip to Istanbul fell through… read on to find out how I ended up in Mexico instead.November 2016I flew into Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, where I spent a week, including a day trip to Tequila, and headed west from there to spend some time exploring the most popular towns along the popular Riviera Nayarit: Sayulita, San Pancho and Puerto Vallarta.

I had originally toyed with the idea of also visiting Guanajuato and San Miguel Allende, two towns north of Mexico City, but I quickly scrapped these plans – I didn’t want to travel too much and rush around, knowing I’d be having a limited amount of time because I would be flying back to California in early December. And even though I felt like I wasn’t moving around all that much, I ended up sleeping in 11 different beds over 30 days, meaning I was moving to a new places roughly every three days (that said, I moved places within cities several times, ending up sleeping in four different places in Puerto Vallarta, for example.)november collage

Life Lately

Sigh. It’s been quite a month. Donald Trump is president-elect. I got sick twice. I turned 36. It could’ve been such a great month, enjoying Mexico.. but, you can’t escape reality. Even when you’re in beautiful surroundings. While I was completely bummed out about the canceled trip to Istanbul at the end of last month, I got over that disappointment pretty quickly. As soon as I hit the ‘Purchase’ button for my ticket to Mexico, I was giddy with excitement. And now, after a month in the sun, I think this was a much better way to spend November than in Istanbul, where it would’ve been equally as cold as it had been in Seattle.

The disappointment I couldn’t shake off all month however: the U.S. election results (see Lowlights below). I tried to make myself feel better in so many ways: I started reading a page turner. I went to the beach. I socialized. I spent hours chatting with my closest friends and family. I hugged puppies. And kitties. I ate tacos. Drank margaritas. Ate more tacos. But the news and social media were a constant reminder of what had happened and gloomy headlines made me realize that even though I was in Mexico, this was a reality that was still there.

But let’s look at the highlights of the month – and luckily, the highlights outweighed the lowlights by far in November!November in Mexico

Highlights

Los Angeles.. again!

After I was in a bit of a funk when I spent nearly a month in the LA area in September, I was in high spirits when I arrived this time around. I was only supposed to have a layover in LAX, and fly straight to Istanbul from there, but after my trip to Turkey had been canceled only two days earlier, I decided to still use my ticket from Seattle to LA and figure out things from there. It was an excellent decision, because I arrived in LA during a heat wave and after basically shivering for the entire month in Seattle, I was more than ready for some hot weather. Being in 90F weather made me so happy. I also happened to be in town for a party my friends Jen and Chris threw at their house, I was able to reconnect with a friend I gotten into a little argument with in September, and I checked off a couple of neighborhoods off of my LA exploration list that I’d never been to: Highland Park and Mount Washington, which is up in the San Rafael Hills overlooking the city.Los Angeles november2016

Returning to Mexico

Well, you might think the ‘returning to..’ was a theme this month, but I was actually traveling to places in Mexico that were completely new to me. It was during a morning stroll around LA’s Highland Park neighborhood, which is largely Hispanic, that I decided on a whim to purchase a ticket to Mexico. Now it would’ve been easy to go to Mexico City or another place I already knew, but I decided it was time to see a new place. During my month in Mexico this past March / April I had only visited a couple of new places (Cuetzalan and El Tajin), but there’s so much of the country I haven’t seen yet. And that’s how I ended up buying a ticket to Guadalajara, and it felt absolutely amazing to be back in Mexico when I meandered through the beautiful historic town center, picking up fresh fruit from a street vendor, and enjoying chilaquiles for breakfast.  I just love this country, and it is one of those places where I can fall into a routine again easily, feeling at home straight away.Mexico November 2016

Beach life in the Riviera Nayarit

I just love beach life. There, I said it. Even though I’m a city girl through and through, sometimes all I need is a dose of beach life to make me feel better. You might remember that I was struggling a little bit in Seattle because of how cold and rainy it was – well, a few days on a beach is apparently all I need to feel alive again. I’ve already touched on my not very exciting routine of beach runs, ocean dips, SUP sessions and sunset beers in last week’s Polaroid, but I want to say it again: I love beach life, and I felt the same way during my time in Long Beach in September.Mexico Beach Life

Birthday splurge in Puerto Vallarta

Being a freelancer means I am constantly hustling for business, trying to make ends meet, and this means: I am traveling on a budget most of the time. The times that I decide to splurge on a truly nice place to stay are rare, and my birthday this month was the perfect excuse for a little extravaganza. I had a visitor from the States, and so we didn’t only splurge on a fancy apartment in Puerto Vallarta, but also on nice meals during which I actually focused on the meal instead of working through it. The same goes for cocktails (which I wouldn’t drink by myself) and hours spent away from my laptop. When I wasn’t traveling solo this month, I felt like I was taking in every moment much more consciously, and particularly those that made my birthday so special: rooftop cocktails, SUPing in the ocean, jungle hikes, and setting working hours, because I have to admit that I can easily spend all day long in front of my laptop when I’m by myself, and that includes a whole bunch of ‘wasting time on the internet’, which would be better spent with a book on the beach.Birthday in Mexico

Lowlights

Post election blues

The biggest lowlight of the month has been the election, without a doubt. Even though id predicted the outcome exactly as it happened, discussing it with friends of mine already back in Europe this past summer, once the results were confirmed, I couldn’t stop crying for two days straight. Two days straight. I don’t even remember the last time I cried that hard. I was sobbing uncontrollably in a Starbucks in Guadalajara, causing a scene. It wasn’t pretty. In case you’re wondering why this affects me, as a German, to such an extent, here’s a hint, but I have a detailed post coming up on that topic early next year, just in time for my 7-year quitversary (I wrote about my 5-year quitversary here) in which I will finally shine light on the big changes ahead of me that I’ve been hinting on for a few months now. (And if you belong to my inner circle of newsletter subscribers or Snapchat followers, you know what I’m talking about).

Mexico Sunsets
At least the sunsets were pretty…

Anyway, back to the post-election blues. Luckily I know what to do in situations like this: do something that makes me happy. In this case, it was giving the green light to a visitor from the States to come down to Mexico (which I had been on the fence about), surround myself with other people (I moved from a deserted B&B to a social hostel), and get my ass to a beach. In all honesty though, I am still shaken to the core by the outcome of the election and it took me days to get a full night’s sleep after 8 November. After the first few days of resignation, sadness and disappointment, I am now trying to be more optimistic about everything but I have to admit that I am still struggling to come to terms with it.

Mexico arrival day

dani solo travelThe day I arrived in Mexico, I nearly had a panic attack. I was so busy the day leading up to my departure from LA that I didn’t even have time to think about all the things that popped into my head during my plane ride to Guadalajara:

  1. OMG I haven’t traveled solo in months
  2. OMG I haven’t traveled outside the save havens of Europe and the US since April (and back then I didn’t travel alone in Mexico!)
  3. OMG I never traveled in Mexico by myself.
  4. OMG I didn’t put cash on my debit card, so I can’t use an ATM upon arrival.
  5. OMG what if I forgot all my Spanish?!

Full on panic mode! Luckily, as so often, everything fell into place as soon as I arrived in Guadalajara. I found 87 pesos in my change purse from my last visit to Mexico – just enough to get me into the city on the public bus, my Spanish came back to me as soon as I had to ask for directions to the bus into town, luckily traveling by myself is something I’m pretty good at, and, well, Mexico is one of the easiest countries to travel in, no matter if solo or as a couple.

Being sick on the road

This month I got sick twice: I had stomach issues on my first day in Mexico (I assume from some fresh fruit I had picked up) which led me to spend more time in the bathroom over the next couple of days than I was comfortable with, and then I got a cold just in time for my birthday on Sunday. I am still battling my cold (that’s the disadvantage of staying in fancy hotels with AC – I am sure it was the drastic difference in temperature between the chilled room and the 90F heat outside that made me sick) and once again I was reminded that being sick on the road sucks.

Mexico life
When I wasn’t sick, life was pretty sweet though..

Slow business

Luckily the peso / dollar exchange rate was in my favor this month, making Mexico even cheaper than it had been during my last visit in the spring. Because I didn’t earn a lot of money in November, which was quite disappointing. It definitely helped that I was in an inexpensive country, where I usually didn’t spend more than $35 a day (except for my week of birthday splurges).

pinnacle pool sunset
Slow business did not stop me from splurging on a hotel with a gorgeous infinity pool for a few days…

Other happenings

snapchat
The instant feedback on Snapchat is amazing.

Snapchat love

I don’t really know in which section to put it, but I want to mention my Snapchat community briefly – this medium has brought me so much closer to my those following my raw, unfiltered journey on their phones. (For those of you who don’t use Snapchat, it’s an app that lets you record 10-second clips of anything you see / do and keeps it live for 24 hours. After that, it’s gone forever). And especially this month, I was so appreciative of all the supportive messages I received, not only for my birthday, but also when I was feeling really down after election day. So much empathy, outpouring of love and uplifting words from complete strangers still blow me away. Thanks to everyone following me and interacting with me – I love the instant feedback to everything I’m doing. (If you want to follow my adventures in real time, add me on Snapchat: Mariposa2711)

What’s next for me

I’ve already mentioned that I am on my way to sunny California.. for the third time this year! After a long weekend in LA I will be heading north, however – and that’s a first for this year, and a first in over six years, to be completely honest. The only time I visited the wine countries of Napa and Sonoma north of San Francisco was in 2010, and when the opportunity arose to revisit Sonoma, and the town of Santa Rosa, where I spent barely any time back then, I didn’t have to think long. After that, I will finally return to New York – but not for long. I had originally planned to spend the winter in South East Asia and already secured a housesit in Vietnam (which, you may remember, was on my travel wish list for this year), but urgent matters are calling me to Germany. You know that this must have been something super urgent, if it gets me to return to Germany in the death of winter (More on that soon, I promise).November travels

I will now be spending the Holidays with my family instead of a kitty, and while I am not a big fan of winter, I do appreciate Christmas markets, baking cookies, drinking Gluhwein, and see my nephew’s and nieces’ eyes light up when they see the wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree. I only spent one Christmas at home since 2007, which was in 2014, and still have fond memories of it, so I am not too upset about this sudden change of plans… and Vietnam will have to wait a little longer.

I am not sure yet what I’ll be doing for New Year’s Eve – knowing myself, I might end up going on a last-minute trip, so who knows where the last round-up of 2016 will come from…
November 2016 travels

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Why People Are Speaking About The New York Speakeasies

cocktail-new-york

Although the best cocktail bars in New York City are widely publicized and highly frequented, there are others that are kept under wraps – way under. Hidden bars, or Speakeasies, are increasing in popularity throughout NYC, giving people an exclusive thrill and throwback to Prohibition. But of course no good secret remains a secret, right? So here is a list of some of the best kept “secret” hidden bars in NYC.

Top Secret is Trending

Ever since we saw Leonardo DiCaprio on screen as the dashing Jay Gatsby, everyone has been clamoring to experience the Roaring 20’s, and this includes Speakeasies. This is not only an NYC phenomenon, there is a slew of hidden bars in other prominent American cities, like Chicago, and an increasing interest throughout Asia as well, where Speakeasies can be found in Shanghai and Tokyo, among others.

So how are these bars becoming known about if they are so secret? Well through the wonderful modern day word-of-mouth: social media networks.brooklyn bridge at night 2015

Three Classes of NYC Speakeasies

Private

These Speakeasies are about as private as it gets. They don’t even have a website and yet they are still receiving quite a buzz. People are reviewing these locations on Yelp and mentioning them across social networks, including blogs and online newspapers. They are somehow intelligently gaining all the benefits of social media marketing without actually making themselves officially present online. It is a bit of a wonder, and yet it is exactly this secrecy that is making them so appealing and a thing to be talked about.radisson blu royal cocktails

  • Attaboy – so under wraps that they don’t even have a menu, just tell the bartender what your poison is and they will create a completely original custom-made mix for you. To find the bar, look for the window with the neon “A” on Eldridge Street, Lower East Side.
  • B Flat – wander down Church Street, Tribeca, and look for the black door marked with 277. Head down the stairs and be greeted by the live jazz performances that make this Speakeasy feel like it’s really from the 1920’s.

Semi-private

These semi-private locations do have websites for the bars, usually including some kind of contact info – phone number or email address – through which you can make reservations, and may or may not disclose the address of the establishment. But no more than that do they divulge.hooch cocktail manila

  • Fig 19 – hidden behind the Loge Gallery, on Chrystie Street, Lower East Side. The entrance isn’t glamorous, but once inside, glittering chandeliers make you realize that this is a secret treasure.
  • PDT – an acronym for Please Don’t Tell, located at St. Marks Place, East Village – accessible through the vintage telephone booth in the Crif Dogs restaurant. Simply ring the buzzer and a hostess will open the phone booth and usher you inside.

hooch cocktails philippines

Online, but oozing Speakeasy class

And of course some of these Speakeasies are fully equipped with a website and all of the necessary social media accounts, but are still dedicated to giving that Speakeasy experience. And since their entrances are hidden, they still qualify as a “hidden bar,” even if their location is publicized. Furthermore, it still requires people to stumble upon them – whether in the street or online – so they are still not widely known about.

  • The Back Room – located on Norfolk Street, Lower East Side, this is an original Speakeasy from American Prohibition. It therefore has a historical right, as well as a good atmosphere, to be included on this list. Patrons can visit the bar through the same hidden entrance behind the bookcase that was used by patrons over 85 years ago. Look for Lower East Side Toy Company to find the spot, enter through the gate and head down the flight of steps.
  • Raines Law Room – look for the unmarked stairwell on West 17th Street, and head down and ring the bell. You will be escorted into a cozy room with couches and hear music from the 1920’s lightly playing in the background. Need a refill? Pull the lamp string to turn on your table light and a waiter will come straight over.
  • Beauty and Essex – head through the fully-functional modern day pawn shop front entrance and head towards the back to the circular staircase. Head up towards the bar for a Rat Pack kind of evening.

new york central park drink

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Polaroid Of The Week: Sunset and surfers in San Pancho, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico 2016 san pancho mexicoThe last few days in Guadalajara were rainy, grey and cold. I had planned to stay there longer, but the weather made me change my plans. Instead of spending more time inland, I’d head straight to the coast. My first stop would be Sayulita, a small surfer town on the Pacific, and then I would visit San Pancho, a few miles further north, even smaller than the already tiny Sayulita, but a few of my friends had spent a winter there a few years back and loved it.

I couldn’t have made a better decision than traveling to the coast. I started my journey on a rainy morning in Guadalajara (it was pouring down the second day in a row) and a couple of hours into the bus ride, the rain stopped and the scenery began to look a lot more tropical. Four hours after hopping on that bus, I was let out on the side of the road right next to a guy selling coconuts fresh off a palm tree. The air felt sticky and hot. This was the climate I felt right at home in.

I’ve been enjoying beach life in both Sayulita and San Pancho since I got here: Watching the surfers, taking in the spectacular sunsets every day with a beer or two, taking a quick dip in the ocean when it gets too hot. I went on jungle hikes, on sweaty runs along the coast, I sipped fresh coconuts and ate too many tacos. I almost feel as if I was on vacation, even though I am spending way too many hours behind the screen of my laptop – but I don’t mind it. Knowing that I’ll get to recharge my batteries on the beach after work is all I need to make me happy right now.

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Cenotes, Beaches & Maya Ruins: A Taco-Fueled Yucatan Road Trip

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Not long after our two weeks in Colombia together, I was reunited with my favorite travel buddy, Miss G, in Mexico. It was her first time in the country, and it was my job to give her the best introduction to Mexico possible – a mix of culture, food, and scenery.dani coba ruins

I didn’t have to think long about where I’d take her: the Yucatan Peninsula/the state of Quintana Roo. This part of Mexico, a peninsula in the southeast that stretches along the Caribbean coastline all the way down to Belize, is my favorite part of the country, a region that I could return to over and over again.tulum beach mexicoI knew I could give her a great taste of Mexico here, with abundant Mayan culture at historic sites like Chichen Itza, Tulum and Uxmal; beautiful Spanish-colonial towns like Valladolid, Campeche and Izamal; dreamy beaches in Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Mahahual; dozens of cenotes – natural freshwater sinkholes – for something completely unique; swimming with turtles and flamingo watching for wildlife, and plenty of taco stops along the way.
cenote valladolidOnce I started to map out my dream road trip in detail, breaking it down day by day, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to fit in all the places I ideally wanted to visit. This was the route for our week-long road trip:yucatan-road-tripIf you have more time than we did (ten days), I recommend you take this slightly longer route, which includes the Yellow Town of Izamal and Las Coloradas, the Pink Lakes near Rio Lagartos (flamingos included, if you’re visiting at the right time of year!). You could end your trip in Isla Holbox and swim with whale sharks (July until October) or on Isla Mujeres like we did.yucatan-road-trip-extendedIf you’re wondering why I didn’t include Merida in the second option, which is just a short drive from Izamal, it is because I wasn’t too fussed about Merida when I visited a few years back, but that’s my personal opinion. I know a lot of people would disagree and definitely include Merida.

But back to our route. I chose my route with the intention to showcase some of Mexico’s finest: remarkable Maya ruins, splendidly beautiful beaches, and some authentic Mexican village life.valladolid mexico churchMexican village life in the form of a sleepy little fishing village was our first stop. We picked up our US$9 per day rental car at the airport in Cancun and headed straight south towards Playa del Carmen. On the way, just off the main highway to Playa, sits Puerto Morelos. Even though it’s far from not touristy – there are some fancy condo buildings further down the beach – in its core, it is still pretty much untouched by the mass tourism you find in Playa or Cancun. Fisherman sell their catch right on the beach, which is lined with colorful little fishing boats. You won’t find a Senor Frogs or a steak restaurant here, but instead, little mom-and-pop restaurants dominate the ‘restaurant scene’, if you can even call it that.puerto morelos mexicoFrom Puerto Morelos, it is only another 45 minutes to Playa del Carmen, where we spent a couple of nights. I wanted to use Playa as a base to explore a couple of cenotes, and there are quite a few of them just a short drive from Playa.

What is a cenote, you ask? Cenotes are underwater sinkholes or underground caverns which result from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. They come in different shapes and forms, some are covered, others are open, and there are over 7,000 of them scattered all over the Yucatan peninsula.cenote jardin del eden yucatanIn fact, they are unique to this part of Mexico and belong to an extensive underground network of rivers and caves, many of which remain unexplored. Those that are explored have one thing in common: they all have crystal clear turquoise water and often they have a large underwater cave system which you cannot see from the usually round, open cenote entrance. In short: they are perfect for snorkeling and diving and are a must-visit on a trip to the Yucatan.dani cenoteI tried to fit as many of them as possible into our road trip to introduce Miss G to several kinds of sinkholes: covered ones, underground ones, and open ones, and our first one was going to be an open cenote south of Playa named Jardin del Eden, Garden Of Eden.cenote jardin del eden iguanaJardin del Eden is aptly named in my opinion, because this open cenote is surrounded by lush green plants and trees, and you can see all the way down to the bottom of it. This is one of the bigger cenotes I’ve seen, and what you see from above isn’t even everything there is: we kept seeing groups of divers peek out of the water every now and again, which made me wonder how big the underwater cave system was.cenote jardin del edenOur second day in Playa was spent right in town, because this beach deserved some time, too:playa del carmenI have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Playa itself though, simply because it is just so Americanized and tourist-focused, but I know that other people like it. Fifth Avenue, the main drag that runs parallel to the beach through Playa, is lined with malls, souvenir shops and restaurants, many of which don’t even serve Mexican food, but European or North American fare at U.S. prices. I don’t mind it for a stroll, but we didn’t spend much time in Playa itself.dani playa del carmenOur hotel, the Grand Hyatt Resort, was right on the best stretch of the beach, Playa Mamita, and I have to admit that I found it hard to leave my sun lounger by the gorgeous infinity pool. Can you blame me?hyatt playa del carmenI know that other travelers spend a week or longer in Playa, but some of my favorite places along the coast, the Riviera Maya, are actually further south. Our next stop was one of them: Akumal.akumal beachThis small beach town is located about 30 minutes south of PdC, or 25 minutes north of Tulum. Once a hidden gem, the secret is out now. During previous visits, I’d never seen the beach as busy as this time around, and that’s for one very good reason: there are sea turtles feeding off the sea grass right off the shore here, and you can swim with them. While years ago, you’d see only a few individual tourists floating face-down in the water turtle watching, this time around there were entire tour groups in the water, easily recognizable by their bright yellow, orange or red life jackets.
dani akumal
As soon as we walked up to the beach, we were approached by a bunch of guys trying to sell us a pricey snorkel tour. Since when do we have to pay for this?, I wondered. For all I knew, access to the beach was free. So be careful: Don’t let anyone convince you you need to join a tour. No need for that! All you need is a snorkel and a mask.I wasn’t surprised when I later read in an article that Akumal is struggling to maintain sustainable tourism due to the increased number of tourists, and that the turtles are showing signs of stress due to the high number of humans in the water.turtles akumalApologies for the bad quality of these pictures – Just to give you an idea of how close you’ll get to the turtles. Make sure to bring a good underwater camera and, extra pro tip, a disposable camera doesn’t qualify as such.

I hope that the officials will find a way to protect the turtles and increase their efforts in making tourism sustainable here, because, with or without turtles, Akumal is one of the most beautiful stretches along the Riviera Maya, and I’d hate to see this little paradise ruined.akumal beach pelicanDespite the popularity of the turtles, which are on the part of the beach that is closest to the street, it is still possible to find an empty stretch of beach here, if you walk further down the bay, away from where the turtles are.akumal beach mexicoFrom Akumal, we drove further south, and half an hour later, we arrived in Tulum. I was especially excited for Tulum, because here we would visit the first (out of three) Mayan ruins which I had planned the road trip around. I had been to Tulum years ago, and even though the ruins there are not as stunning as Chichen Itza or Palenque, their spectacular cliff top setting, overlooking the turquoise Caribbean waters, makes them stand out from all the other Mayan ruins in Central America.tulum ruinsThe Maya lived in the region which today is made up of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are known to be one of the most sophisticated civilizations of their time (AD250 – AD900). To this day, you can find the ruins of their cities, their temples, their religious centers and their infrastructure throughout Central America, and there are around 20 Mayan ruin sites on the Yucatan Peninsula alone.tulum ruins yucatanTulum was mainly serving as a port for the larger Mayan city of Cobá, which would be the next set of ruins we’d visit. Tulum is believed to have had between 1,000 and 1,600 inhabitants, compared to around 50,000 in Cobá, to give you an idea of the size of the site. There is only one major structure here, El Castillo, a 25 feet (7.5 meters) tall pyramid.tulum castilloBecause of its proximity to Playa del Carmen and relative closeness to Cancun, Tulum is one of the most popular ruin sites, and always packed. Knowing that, I made sure we’d arrive at the crack of dawn.. well maybe not that early, but we got to the gates just after 8am, when the site opens, and we got our tickets without having to wait in line, enjoying our stroll around the ruins with barely any other tourists around.tulum ruins mexicoBy the time the sun started burning down on us, we were ready to leave. We had timed our visit perfectly: when we walked back to the car, several massive tour groups were entering the ruins, and no less than 20 large buses were spitting out tourist after tourist into the parking lot. If you want Tulum without the crowds, definitely head there early.tulum ruins1Instead of returning to our hotel, we drove straight to Tulum’s glorious beach – without a doubt one of the prettiest along the Riviera Maya. An extra wide stretch of beach with powdery, white sand for as far as the eye can see, and this water, with its incredible I-don’t-know-how-many shades of blue.tulum beachWe found a beach bar, settled into our beach chairs and didn’t leave our spot for the rest of the day, until it was time for dinner, which brought us to Antojitos La Chiapaneca, a taco place in the village (not by the beach) that came highly recommended and exceeded our expectations by far. It was so good that we ended up going back there the next night – even though Tulum has dozens of dining options. But could there really be anything better than these seven peso tacos?tacos tulumWe could have easily spent another day on the beach in Tulum, but the next day was reserved for more cenotes. After having swum in an open cenote, we wanted to see a different kind of cenote – a covered or partially covered one. After doing some research, it was a close tie between Gran Cenote and Cenote Dos Ojos, and I finally went for Gran Cenote. Dos Ojos, a covered cenote, seems to be the most popular cenote in Tulum, but I found the admission pretty high (MXN200 admission if you bring your own equipment and are prepared to walk 3km to the cenote, or MXN500 for a ride to the cenote, a guide, snorkel equipment, and a lamp), and I knew we would be visiting a couple of covered cenotes in Valladolid later in our trip.tulum gran cenoteGran Cenote was the perfect mix of covered and open cenote, and with a lower admission (MXN150) it allowed us to add another cenote to our tour of natural sinkholes. Gran Cenote did not disappoint: crystal clear water, a large area for swimming, and a covered part where you could swim through and reach another open part of the cenote. We snorkeled, marveled at the underwater rock formations and the stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave, sunbathed on the wooden deck and watched the turtles that were swimming in a separate area.Gran Cenote MexicoAfter a couple of hours, we were ready to check out another cenote and we went to Zacil-Ha, which was just a little further down the road. This cenote was mainly frequented by Mexican tourists, I had read, and was only MXN50. When we arrived, there were only two other people around, and later on three girls arrived to film a music video there, other than that, we had Zacil-Ha to ourselves.tulum cenote zacil haThe cenote is much smaller than the Gran Cenote, an almost perfectly round-shaped natural swimming pool – at least that’s what you see from above. After a while, we saw a couple of divers emerge, and descend again, and were gone for long enough to lead me to assume there must be quite a large underwater cave system here.cenote zacil-haThe best part of Zacil-Ha was the zip-line that went right above the cenote. You can take a thrilling ride which ends with you plunging into the water from a considerable height. Don’t expect a proper zipline with a harness – it is basically just a handle that you hold on to and let go of once you reach the center of the cenote. Definitely worth the 10 pesos we paid for it. Since this cenote is small and on the road to Cobá, you could even stop here for a quick dip on the way to the Cobá ruins, where we’d head the next day.dani coba treeCobá is about an hour inland from Tulum, and couldn’t be more different from the seaside ruins. This Mayan city is surrounded by thick jungle and gets much less visitors than Tulum or Chichen Itza, and the grounds are so spread out that it’s nearly impossible to see everything without a bicycle. Luckily, there are plenty of bikes right at the entrance, waiting to be rented, or bicycle guides, who have a seat for two in front of their bike to drive you through the jungle from one structure to the next. Feeling a little lazy, we opted for the latter option which turned out to be pretty convenient, because that way we were taken on the route that made the most sense and we were able to take in the beautiful jungle instead of focusing on not getting lost.coba bicyclesThe most exhilarating part of a visit to Cobá is the climb up Nohoch Mul, which isn’t only the highest pyramid in this city, but in all of the Yucatan. The views from up here make you realize just how green this part of the country is: the jungle stretches to the horizon in all four directions. It is one of the few ruin sites where you can still climb a pyramid, and Nohoch Mul with its 120 uneven, large stone steps up to reach the top at 137 feet (42 meters) is quite the challenge for most visitors. The way down seems even more daunting, and the lone rope dangling from the top for tourists to hold on to is used by every single person slowly clambering back down.coba main ruin mexicoCobá is certainly one of the most interesting temple complexes on the Yucatan: older than Chichen Itza, known for its elaborate stone carvings, and the famous sacbeob, a network of elevated roads that connected Cobá with other Mayan cities throughout the region. What I love most about this site is the jungle setting, and that it is less crowded than the other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, Chichen Itza in particular, which would be our third set of Mayan pyramids.Coba MexicoI am not sure why Cobá is less popular with tourists, given that it is close to both Playa Del Carmen and Tulum and has a ridiculously low admission fee of only MXN57 – especially compared to the steep MXN232 Chichen Itza charges.coba ball courtAfter touring the ruins for a couple of hours we stopped in the actual town of Coba (which is tiny) for a quick lunch in a local Mexican restaurant before hitting the road again. According to GoogleMaps it would take us about an hour to get to Valladolid, where we’d be spending the next couple of nights, but it took us closer to two hours for us to finally get to what is still my favorite Mexican village.valladolid volkswagen beetleValladolid was the stop on our road trip I was most excited about, because I had fallen in love with this colonial town in 2010, but during all of my visits to Mexico since, I had never made it back there. Now that I’d seen so many other Spanish-colonial villages all over Latin America, and visited several ‘magic villages’ (as 83 villages in Mexico were declared, thanks to their cultural, historical, or natural treasures) – would I still adore Valladolid as much as I did all those years ago?valladolid mexico churchI didn’t have anything to worry about: Valladolid had barely changed over the past few years, and was still as charming and sleepy as I had remembered it. The pastel-colored houses with their colonial courtyards were still beautiful, the churches striking, and the main plaza with old ladies chatting on benches while vendors were walking around selling granizados out of their little carts was as delightful a place to sit in as ever.valladolid cathedralAnother thing that hadn’t changed? How hot Valladolid was. With average temperatures of 93ºF (34ºC), the town can feel unbearably hot, especially in the afternoon, and with no ocean anywhere nearby, we were thankful for the three cenotes here. Cenote Zaci, is right in town, and Cenote Dzitnup, is about five miles outside of town.
valladolid housesDzitnup was the one we chose for our first afternoon in town, a cenote that is actually made up of two different sinkholes, Samulá & Xkekén. They are both covered and undeniably two of the most remarkable cenotes I’ve been to, so it didn’t surprise me that the setup was vastly different from when I first came here a few years ago.
cenote valladolid (2)Back then, you could nearly miss the entrance to the cenotes if you didn’t pay attention, but now, a big tourist plaza had been built around them, charging MXN90 admission to enter both, and a number of souvenir stands lines the path to each cenote. I realized that these two cenotes had become part of a tour, probably the Chichen Itza tours from Cancun, but luckily we didn’t encounter a bus load of tourists while we were there – as a matter of fact, the tourists in both cenotes seemed to be mainly Mexicans.
cenote xkeken mexicoWe started with Cenote Xkeken, which you can’t see at all from the outside. A small entrance leads to some stairs which go down into the cave, and once you reach the big cave room it is almost impossible not to be in complete awe. The ceiling is covered in stalactites of all sizes, and then there is the bright blue refreshing water.cenote xkekenAfter a quick dip we walked over to Cenote Samula, which used to be famous for the long tree roots hanging from a small hole in the ceiling of the covered cenote. However, there wasn’t much of the tree roots left when I went there this year – either they were cut off or fell in, I am not sure. This doesn’t make Samula less impressive though, and again, you can’t even see the entrance, but access the cavern through a tiny hole and walk down a set of stairs until you reach the water. In this cenote, the rocks and stalagmites underwater are even more dramatic than in Cenote Xkeken, and you’ll want to bring a mask and a snorkel to be able to fully appreciate them.cenote xkeken mexico1We got off to an early start the next morning – once again to beat the tourist crowds. Our final, grand destination was Chichen Itza, the most popular Mayan ruin site of the Yuctan.
chichen itza daniAnd it is easy to see why this UNESCO World Heritage site is so famous: the structures here are extraordinary, especially the perfectly restored main pyramid, El Castillo, which is jaw-droppingly stunning. It is on this stepped pyramid where during the equinoxes (21 March and 21 September), shadows on the steps of the pyramid resemble a descending snake. The temple has 365 steps – one for each day of the year – which is only one feat to show how sophisticated the Mayan culture was, and how it was integrated into their buildings and religious centers.chichen itza mexicoThe site has enough structures to keep you exploring for at least half a day, with the Temple of the Warriors, and the massive Great Ball Court, where the Mayan ballgame was played and which is the largest in the Mayan world.
chichen itza mexicoThere are fascinating structures like El Caracol, an Observatory, and the Jaguar Temple. All of Chichen Itza’s buildings are restored in such detail that there are frescos and the ubiquitous serpent heads that ornate many of the temples.chichen itza el castilloUpon leaving, we saw tour bus after tour bus arrive, and I can only recommend staying in Vallodolid or one of the hotels near Chichen Itza if you don’t want to share the site with hundreds of tourists (the pictures at El Castillo were taken before the crowds arrived).chichen itza skulls mexicoFor us, all that was left was the long drive back to Cancun, and long before handing over the keys to our rental car at the airport we were already pondering where our next Mexican road trip would be..tulum sunset

Practical information

Tips for renting a car in Mexico

I was initially tempted to rent a car via RentalCars.com, an Expedia-owned car rental company I often use in the US – but these prices seemed too good even for me (being a cheap ass!):

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Instead, I opted for the slightly pricier Priceline.com, where cars start at US$4 per day. I was skeptic but willing to give it a try, thinking that even with additional fees and taxes it couldn’t add up to more than $20 a day. And sure enough, there are some additional charges in Mexico that are not covered by credit card car insurance (most credit card companies offer up to 14 days coverage overseas – before you go on your trip, check what kind of coverage is included in your credit card. Nerdwallet has a good overview of all credit cards and what kind of insurance they cover.)

Note: All car rental companies in Mexico require you to purchase basic personal liability insurance (sometimes called third-party liability insurance). They do not accept personal liability insurance through U.S. credit cards. However, they are by law required to include this fee in the rental price, so don’t let them fool you and tell you it has to be added.

Some car rental companies will try to sell you a so-called ‘supplemental liability insurance’ on top of that. It is not mandatory, but at only around $13 a day it is worth considering.

A comprehensive article on everything you need to know about renting a car in Mexico can be found here.grand hyatt playa del carmen infinity pool daniThird-party liability insurance can also be purchased through an independent insurance provider, by the way. I’ve done that several times (through iCarHireInsurance, a UK-based company), including this trip and their daily rates are about half of what you pay at the rental car counter. I paid around GBP6 per day. If you decide to go for this option, there are two things to note: 1) You have to purchase your insurance before you start the rental and present the policy number at the counter. 2) Not all countries accept third-party insurances, so check beforehand if your destination does accept it.tulum beach

Important: Another additional and not insignificant charge to your credit card will be a security deposit which you’ll get back when you return the car. The amount of this will depend on the total of your rental – I was charged around $1,500 but other companies charge more (US$3,000 are not uncommon). The amount was returned to my credit card upon returning the car.

Road conditions: The roads in the Yucatan are in very good condition, especially the 4-lane road between Cancun and Tulum and the fast route between Cancun and Valladolid. We found ourselves on unpaved roads occasionally (usually to get to a cenote) but nothing our economy car wouldn’t have been able to handle. Be careful with the ‘topes’ though, horrid speed bumps which you’ll encounter frequently.cenote drive

Gas stations: There are plenty of gas stations all over the Yucatan, but note that there are still gas stations that only accept cash, no credit cards.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Agave Fields In Tequila, Mexico

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico tequila jaliscoWhen I mapped out my Mexico trip and tried to decide which city to fly into, it basically came down to one decision: Flying straight to the coast or visit a new city first. And as much as I was ready for some beach time, my curiosity to explore another Mexican city won. And Guadalajara won for three reasons: It is known to be cultural and artsy, it is relatively close to the Pacific coast, and it is only 70 kilometers from Tequila. A travel writer I follow on Snapchat had just gone there and her snaps from Tequila looked so gorgeous that I wanted to see the agave fields for myself, and visit a couple of tequila distilleries – even though I am not a big tequila fan (I have a margarita every now and again, but straight up tequila wouldn’t necessarily be my drink of choice).

And so I found myself on a bus to Tequila on my very last day in Guadalajara, excited for agave fields and for an education about Mexico’s national spirit, one that, admittedly, I knew very little about. While the day trip didn’t exactly turn on the way I was hoping for (rain instead of blue skies, too many hours spent on a bus, bad planning), I immediately fell in love with the little village of Tequila. I could feel that we weren’t far anymore when agave fields started to line the street on both sides, with their distinctive green-bluish leaves.

The village itself is one of Mexico’s fifty or so Pueblos Magicos, Magic Villages – a title that Tequila well deserves. Colorful colonial houses, cobble stone streets, colonial churches, and tree-lined plazas where street vendors try to tempt you with fresh roasted corn or with ice cream. I instantly wished I would have come for longer than a few hours on a day trip. The highlight was, of course, visiting a tequila distillery, where we were shown the entire process of tequila making. Starting with the big piles of the piñas, the agaves’ round centers, which are thrown on a conveyor belt – the first step of the actual tequila production. We got to see the milling and fermentation, the distillation and finally the bottling. And of course we were not leaving before everyone had tasted the different kinds of tequila produced here: Blanco (bottled immediately upon distillation), Reposado (aged for at least two months), Añejo (aged for at least a year, but less than three) and Extra Añejo (over-aged).

As I said: the day trip to Tequila could’ve been planned better, but yet: I am so glad I went. In fact, it made me add a road trip following Jalisco’s entire Tequila Trail to my travel wish list.

P.S. You can follow my journey in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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35 Places I Love In Seattle

seattle-gas-works-park4

I’ve decided to change things up a little bit with my Things I Love About… series. Instead of telling you all the things I love about Seattle, I’ll share 35 places I loved with you (It was supposed to be 33 places, but somehow I ended up with 35!)

These are my personal favorites from a month in Seattle, so this list is pretty biased and focuses on the things that I love: craft beer, parks, speakeasy bars, great views, cool neighborhoods, food, and of course COFFEE.

I feel like I only got a taste of Seattle during my four weeks there, and with so many rained-out days, I also didn’t get around to visiting all the places I had on my to-do-list, so please consider this list by no means complete. These are some of the places I loved, so feel free to use this post for some inspiration for things to check out on a trip to Seattle. For practical information, scroll down to the end.seattle miners landing

1 Golden Gardens

This gorgeous beach in the north of Seattle made me wish I was visiting during the summer months, but even on the chilly October day I visited it made for a nice autumn walk along the beach. There are several hiking trails and two wetlands in the park. I think this is also an amazing spot to watch the sunset.seattle golden gardens

top pots doughnut2 Top Pots Doughnuts

I’ve done thorough research on the topic of doughnuts during my time in Seattle, and can attest that Top Pots have the best doughnuts in town (their Apple Fritter is to die for). If you’re a doughnut lover, I’d recommend skipping the highly praised General Porpoise and heading straight to one of the Top Pots branches instead.

3 Joe Block Park

This little gem of a park is a place I would’ve never found, had a friendly local not pointed me towards it. A little-known park (even for Seattlites!) it is a little tricky to find, but well worth getting lost. It is located in West Seattle, close to the port, and basically on the way to Alki Beach. But since it is closer to Downtown Seattle than Alki, the views here are actually better (Alki is also known for fantastic views over Seattle). There is a walking pier that has an observation deck with benches at the end, offering sweeping views over Downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. I loved this place and would go back for a sunset picnic next time.seattle skyline at sunset

4 Storyville Café

Another place to while away a rainy day? Storyville Café! The coffee is excellent, and the pastries are divine. I’ve only been to their branch in the Queen Anne neighborhood so I don’t know if all of their cafes have fire places, but that definitely added to the coziness factor. There is also a branch right by Pike Place Market.seattle coffee2

5 Seward Park

I loved this little park which occupies the Bailey Peninsula in Lake Washington so much that I dedicated an entire Polaroid Of The Week to it – I loved the paved trail that goes around the entire peninsula along the water, and the dirt trails that lead up the hill through the forest. If you make it here, I recommend combining it with a meal in the cool Raconteur restaurant (inside a bookstore, always worth going in, if you love books as much as I do) or a coffee at Caffe Vita (see below) in the nearby Seward Park neighborhood.Seattle Seward Park1

6 Café Chocolaticafe chocolatti seattle

Luckily for both  my waistline and my wallet, I only discovered this place during my last week in town (and still managed to visit twice). This is seriously some of the best hot chocolate outside of Paris, where I’ve had the thickest, richest hot chocolate in my life. A cup of it is basically a meal in itself. My favorite: the Dark Vader (Raspberry Hot Chocolate). Extra tip: You get a free truffle on your first visit. Yes, they know how to make you addicted. I don’t think there’s a better place to spend a rainy afternoon than at one of the five Chocolati cafés. (The downtown branch is in the Public Library which is also worth a visit).

7 Fremont

This neighborhood in the north of Seattle describes itself as the ‘Center Of The Universe’. While I am not sure how much I agree with that, I loved the artsy vibe in this neighborhood: there are plenty of sculptures, some street art and even a troll who lives under the Aurora Bridge and is cherished by the locals. So yes, Fremont is one of Seattle’s quirkier neighborhoods. If you go, don’t miss the Theo Chocolate Factory Tour – it’s only $10 and includes a chocolate sampling. There’s also a factory shop worth visiting should you not make it on a tour.seattle fremont street art

8 Olympic Sculpture Park

The Olympic Sculpture Park sits right on the shores of Puget Sound and belongs to the Seattle Art Museum. If you’re into art, both are worth a visit. The Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of every month.seattle olympic sculpture park

9 Gas Works Park

I loved this park for its stunning views over Lake Union and since it is sitting on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company, a gasification plant, the rusty remnants of the plants make for awesome photo ops. Every time I went there on a sunny day, the meadows were filled with sun worshippers. Just like Freeway Park, this is a park that’s unlike any other park I’ve been to.Gasworks Park Seattle

10 JhanJay

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, I highly recommend stopping by JhanJay’s, where I had the best vegetarian Thai food outside of Thailand. There are two branches – one in Ballard and one in Wallingford. You’ll thank me later.seattle thai food

11 Frye Art Museum

Another great art museum – and this one is FREE all the time! Located in the First Hill neighborhood, you can walk to the Frye Museum from downtown.

12 Alki Beach

This might be my favorite beach in Seattle – and a great place to run or walk. Alki Beach is 3.1 miles (5k) long and offers sweeping vistas of Downtown Seattle. It’s a little out of the way in West Seattle, but if you have a car, it’s worth going there and you could combine it with Mexican food & drink happy hour at Cactus, or a doughnut breakfast at Top Pots, artisan pizza at Phoenicia or more scrumptious burritos at El Chupacabra (scroll down to #26 for more details).seattle alki beach sunset

13 The Top Of The Smith Tower

Head up to the newly revamped Temperance Café and Bar on the 35th floor observatory deck of the Smith Tower. Not only do you get tasty Prohibition Era-inspired cocktails here, but also amazing views over Seattle. Tickets have to be reserved in advance, and you can choose between tickets for the bar or simply the observation deck.

14 Georgetown

Seattle’s oldest neighborhood is industrial and still feels a little gritty, but it is quickly becoming super hip and makes for a fun afternoon: there are a couple of cool coffee shops (The Conservatory and All City), a superb Mexican restaurant (Fonda La Catrina), Georgetown Liquor Company and a couple of small breweries (Georgetown Brewing Co and Machine House Brewery), all a short walk from one another, and there is also some cool street art to admire.Georgetown Seattle

15 Ballard Locks

The Ballard Locks are a complex of locks in the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the west end of Salmon Bay. Apparently they carry more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. which makes it fun to hang around for a while and watch the water being drained or elevated in order to let ships pass through. Don’t miss the salmon viewing station on the south side of the locks – here, you can watch salmon migrate up the fish ladder between June and October.Ballard Locks Seattle

16 Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizza

I am a huge pizza snob, especially after spending so much time in New York City. Domino’s or Papa John’s? Hell no. Never! If I treat myself to a pizza, I want a thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza. I spent quite a while researching the best Neapolitan-style pizza in Seattle and finally settled on Tutta Bella, which has five branches in the Seattle area, and hit the spot. On my list to try next time I’m in Seattle: Via Tribunali, Pizza Credo and Veraci.tutta bella pizza seattle

17 Kerry Park

Even though I wouldn’t necessarily call this little lookout a park, I’d definitely recommend visiting it for its amazing views over Seattle’s skyline and Elliott Bay. If you’re lucky and the weather is good, you’ll even see Mount Rainier from here. While you’re there, why not check out Queen Anne Ave just a few blocks north of Kerry Park? The 5 Spot is great for a casual dinner, or further up the road, How To Cook A Wolf is a more upscale Italian restaurant. The aforementioned Storyville coffee shop is also on Queen Anne Ave.seattle kerry park

18 Fremont Sunday market

I’ve already mentioned Fremont, but the Sunday market deserves an extra mention. A mix of flea market, handicraft market and food market, it makes a fantastic Sunday activity and you can easily combine it with a stroll around the rest of the neighborhood. The nearby Milstead & Co has been awarded the title of the best coffee shop in all of Washington several times.seattle fremont market indian street food

19 Rainbow Crosswalks in Capitol Hill

Of course Capitol Hill isn’t only worth a visit for its rainbow crosswalks, but also for its lively bar scene. What used to be Seattle’s gayborhood has branched out a little more over the past few years (some might want to say the neighborhood has gentrified) it is still the city’s prime gay hot spot.seattle capitol hill rainbow crossing

20 Wildrose

Speaking of gayborhood – Wildrose is not only Seattle’s only lesbian bar, but also one of the last remaining lesbian bars on the West Coast, and the longest running lesbian bar in the country. Most fun on Wednesdays for karaoke.

21 Espresso Vivace

Another outstanding coffee shop and coffee roaster in Seattle, Espresso Vivace has been around since 1988 and has three locations in Seattle. I loved the ‘quiet rooms’ in both locations I visited, and it didn’t hurt that their biscotti were mouth-wateringly tasty, too. Vivace was also awarded the title of ‘Washington’s best coffee shop’.seattle coffee4

22 The Gumwall

It’s gross, it’s weird, but it is also something you should definitely see. There’s also some cool street art in Post Alley, where the gum wall is, and since it’s right by Pike Place Market, it’d be silly not to check it out while you’re there.

Gumwall Seattle

23 Pike Place Market

And while we’re at it: Pike Place Market is on every Seattle visitor’s to-do-list, I think, and I expected it to be super touristy. However, I was surprised to see just how many locals do their fresh produce shopping here, especially in the fish section. Another surprise: how many good restaurants there are in Pike Place. I loved Country Dough, Pieroshky Pieroshky, Pike Place Chowder, Three Girls Bakery, and I still have some places on my to-do-list for my next visit, like the Pink Door, as I didn’t make it there during this visit.Pike Place Public Market Seattle

24 Speakeasy Bars

I love speakeasy bars, and so I was excited to find out there were quite a few bars in Seattle where I could splurge on a tasty cocktail in a fancy setting. While I was disappointed that Bathtub Gin doesn’t have any resemblance to its New York counterpart (nope, no bathtub in there!), it’s still a speakeasy-style bar. The Needle & Threat, inside the Tavern Bar, is probably Seattle’s most iconic speakeasy bar, so make sure to reserve a table in advance. Backdoor at Roxy’s in the back of Roxy’s Diner in Fremont is another classic speakeasy, as is The Knee High Stocking Company in Capitol Hill. The above mentioned Temperance Bar on top of the Smith Tower is also a speakeasy.

25 Kubota Garden

This Japanese Garden in the south of Seattle is the perfect urban oasis. I went for some tranquility and self-reflection and couldn’t have chosen a better spot. What makes Kubota Garden special? 20 acre of greenscape that blends Japanese garden concepts with native Northwest plants. And the best thing? It’s FREE!seattle kubota gardens

26 El Chupacabra: Burritos & Tacos

The best burrito I found during my time in Seattle – I loved the atmosphere in their Phinney Ridge branch (self-described ‘Mexican cantina with punk rock roots’ – to give you an idea), but the Alki Beach branch beats it with its waterfront location. No matter which El Chupacabra (the 3rd one is in South Lake Union) you head to, the food and drinks won’t disappoint.

Side note: Another amazing taco place is Tacos Chukis.el chupacabra seattle

27 Green Lake Trail

The 2.8-mile trail that loops around Green Lake was one of my favorites and I bet it is even more gorgeous in the summer. I was told you can even swim in the lake! Reward yourself after a walk around the lake with some no-frills diner fare at Beth’s Café.seattle greenlake park

28 Pie Bar

Pie and liquor – need I say more? A combination that can’t be beat! If you don’t care about a drink with your pie, get a slice to go at the take-out window. And if one pie place isn’t enough, check out: Pie in Fremont, Pie Bar Ballard (owned by the twin sisters who own the original Pie Bar in Capitol Hill) and A La Mode Pies.seattle pie

29 Columbia City

I stumbled upon this neighborhood when somebody recommend Empire Espresso to me, which happens to be in Columbia City. Apparently, it is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire country, with European and East African immigrants, Orthodox Jews and other cultural groups. I ended up returning several times to check out other places like Geraldine’s (great breakfasts), Columbia City Bakery and Flying Lion Brewing. I loved the ‘villagy’ feel of Columbia City and how walkable it was.

30 Biscuit Bitch

I didn’t even like biscuits & gravy, but Biscuit Bitch has converted me. After eating breakfast there I wanted to go back every single day. They have three branches in Downtown Seattle, including one right by Pike Place Market (the Belltown branch is usually less busy). Expect Southern-Inspired breakfast dishes with an emphasis on, you’ve guessed it, biscuits and gravy. Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Not a problem!seattle biscuit bitch

31 Caffé Vita

Yes, another coffee shop! Caffe Vita recently opened a branch in Bushwick, one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, and in L.A.’s hip Silver Lake neighborhood, and that’s an indication of what kind of coffee shop Caffe Vita is: definitely a hipster hangout. The small independent coffee roastery focuses on sustainable farm-to-cup relationships with local coffee farmers in Latin America and their baristas are incredibly knowledgeable about the coffee they offer.

32 Freeway Park

This might not be Seattle’s prettiest park, but it is surely its most unique: it was built on top of a freeway, as the name suggests. It is an interesting park – a series of irregular plazas that are intertwined and mixes concrete walls with planting containers and trees. I’ve never seen a park like this anywhere in the world.seattle freeway park

33 Cowgirl Espressobikini barista seattle

I can’t write about Seattle without mentioning the bikini baristas, which are a unique component of Washington and Oregon (plus one bikini barista coffee shop in Hawaii). They’re basically little roadside shacks in which scantily dressed girls serve caffeinated drinks. Even though they’re called bikini baristas, they don’t always wear a bikini – sometimes, it’s just a tiny string and a couple of strategically placed stickers. These coffee shops – despite serving excellent coffee – aren’t without controversy, as you might expect, and this video has some insights on bikini baristas, if you’d like to learn more about them.

seattle fremont brewery

34 Microbreweries

It was too hard for me to pick only one here, so I’ll just leave you with microbrews in general, and some suggestions. I love that Seattle has a microbrewery in nearly every neighborhood! Ballard seems to have the largest number in a relatively small space (8 breweries in a 2-mile radius!), and I recommend this brewery crawl as suggest by Thrillist. For a complete list of all microbreweries in Seattle, check out Eater’s Essential Guide To Seattle’s Top Breweries.

35 Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room

I can feel you’re rolling your eyes now, but hear me out: I have to admit that I never understood the long lines in front of the original Starbucks, the first ever Starbucks in Pike Place Market which is visited by hordes of tourists every day, rain or shine. And I didn’t even want to go inside the Reserve Roastery, but one day I happened to walk by there and thought: heck why not. And I was impressed! It’s nothing like your regular Starbucks. The 15,000-square-foot space is half coffee roaster, half coffee shop, and has a coffee specialty bar where you can order siphon coffee or an espresso flight – things you don’t get at any other Starbucks.Seattle Starbucks Reserve & Roasting Room

Practical Information

How to get around

I found public transportation in Seattle rather difficult to use (unless you have an unlimited amount of time on your hands) but the Link Light Rail is pretty good for parts of the city and brings you all the way to the airport for only $2.75 (runs every 10 mins and takes about 40 mins from downtown to SEA-TAC).

If you don’t have a car but want to get to some of the further away neighborhoods and attractions, I recommend the Lyft app (cheaper than Uber and they are nicer!).

If you are looking to rent a car, I recommend Rentalcars.com (they are not paying me to say anything nice about them, I just had a great experience with them on my recent trip to LA and got a great rate).seattle lake union Where to stay

Most big hotels are right downtown, which is practical for most sightseeing. Check out Booking.com for the best deals. If you’re on a budget, the Green Tortoise is an excellent hostel right by Pike Place Market. They even offer free tours in Seattle and out-of-town, taco nights and other cool extras.downtown seattle Other resources

  • For food and drink recommendations, check out Thrillist Seattle.
  • Pick up a copy of The Stranger, Seattle’s free alternative culture magazine, which is available in bars around town, or check out their weekly listings online.
  • For things to do and attractions, browse TimeOut Seattle.

seattle mount rainier view

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6 reasons to visit Barcelona next summer

Barcelona beach at sunset

Looking to visit Barcelona? In fact, there is no fix time to visit this beautiful place at any time of the year is just perfect. Particularly in summer, the city undergoes a dramatic change when the local residents seem to take their foot off the accelerator or slow down a bit. It is the normal kind of change from the fast paced life. You have every reason to visit Barcelona in summer, particularly as there are top activities to perform. There are lot many activities to be enjoyed here.

Chilling out in the beaches

Most of the people prefer to visit Barcelona just for the line of beaches. Everyone likes to chill out on Barcelona beaches during summers. The hottest months are the best time to visit Barcelona since it harbours a lot many charming beaches. The place is blessed with accessible beaches which stretch up to 4km. Each beach has different kind of ambience and atmosphere with beach pub and bars that serve drinks and good food.

Barcelona yacht harbor

Visiting Barcelona for scintillating nightlife

Barcelona is extremely famous for its nightlife and in the summers the place is almost a heaven on the earth. What takes place behind the doors of bars and pubs seem to spill out onto the streets with tourists and local residents occupying square to simply enjoy beautiful summer nights till the early morning hours.

The special night Noche de Sant Joan

The ancient festival celebrating summer solstice is the most special night in the Catalonia. This takes place every year on the 23rd of June when the sky gets filled with great fireworks. The beaches are full of bonfires, people and the party last till the dawn hours. The next day, that is, 24 of June, everything is slow.Sagrada Familia Gaudi Barcelona

Summer Festivals in Barcelona

During the time of summer, it seems that there is some festival almost every weekend. The range of summer festivals encompasses Sonar and Primavera Sound to the midsized festivals like Cruilla. There are also intimate and smaller festivals during the time. It hardly matters what kind of music you prefer to listen, you will find something suiting your taste. Summer festivals in Barcelona cater to every taste.

Magical fountain

Although it can seem a bit corny, but there are many who would love to see the fountain accompanying light and musical show. Jets of water are shot into the air and get transformed into amazing mists. It is a fabulous way to spend the summers and mostly the kids enjoy a lot.Barcelona gaudi park guell

Picnic Electronic Barcelona

If you are a music lover, Barcelona is the perfect place for you. On every Sunday afternoon, from 1st of September to the 14th of September, you can enjoy mini music festival and dance to the tunes. Parents can dance and kids can take part in workshops.

For the above 6 reasons, you need to consider Barcelona travel package. To know what to do in Barcelona, check this YouTube video. If you are looking for an airport taxi service in Barcelona, click this link.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Guadalajara, Mexico’s Second City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week mexico guadalajaraWhen it rains, it pours, they say, and that couldn’t hold truer for the past couple of weeks. And I don’t only mean that because it is pouring as I type this – I haven’t seen that much rain since leaving Seattle, but Guadalajara got so much rain today that the streets were flooding – but, as so many of us, I’ve been struggling with the events of this week. That combined with a string of bad news since the beginning of the month has put me in a slump which I’m trying to get out of.

Coming to Mexico was certainly a good decision and is helping me getting my mojo back: As soon as I walked out of the terminal building last week and saw the familiar OXXO convenience store across the street, I felt like I was coming home. And there aren’t many places that make me feel this way. The familiarity of Mexico has also helped me ease into solo travel again, which I haven’t done in a while now, and the weather has been perfect for most of the week – after my depressingly wet and cold October this was much needed.

Guadalajara, which I picked as the starting point for my current Mexico trip, was an excellent choice. I’d never been to Mexico’s second largest city, and it was time to fix that. The city reminds me a lot of Mexico City, which I love, has plenty of awesome street art, beautiful colonial buildings and tree-lined plazas that invite to linger. There is a fantastic art scene here, and I’ve been trying to take as much of it in as possible. The highlight was the Art Museum of the University with a giant, stunning Orozco wall mural and mural covering the interior of the auditorium dome. I felt like it was just yesterday that I marveled at his murals in Mexico City and visited Frida’s Casa Azul for the second time.

I apologize for the lack of content here, but I’ll get back to regular posting as soon as I’m back at 100%. I’ve got a bunch of posts from all over the place for you: Seattle, Mexico, Colombia and Italy!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Seattle’s gorgeous Seward Park

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa seattle seward parkEven though I am already on my quick unplanned stopover in Los Angeles as I type this, I wanted to share one of my favorite running & hiking spots in Seattle with you, which I was lucky enough to get to see in the sun again before it started raining for the last couple of days of my stay (thanks for the wet goodbye, Seattle!).

One of my favorite things about Seattle is the fact that you’re never far from water. No matter if it was Puget Sound to the West (which is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean) or Lake Union between northern Downtown and Fremont, or Lake Washington to the East – there’s water everywhere.

I even got to check out Greenlake in northern Seattle during my last week in town, which has a great running trail around the lake, but I missed out on the Burke-Gilman Trail along Lake Washington my friends had recommended to me – I guess I’ll have to return to Seattle at some point (but preferably in the summer).

Two of my favorite running routes: Along Alki Beach in West Seattle, from where you have amazing views over Downtown Seattle, especially during sunset, and Seward Park in the southeastern part of town, which occupies the small forested Bailey peninsula in Lake Washington. This little peninsula is completely covered in a lush rain forest and has not only a trail that runs straight around the peninsula, but also several trail inside the forest, and an amphitheater in a forest clearing on top of the hill. I’d love to come back there in the summer for an outdoors performance and enjoy the long daylight hours in Seattle.

Goodbye for now, Seattle, and I’m sure I’ll see you again one day…

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