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Our Top Five Places To Visit In Chile

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We have spent nearly four months traveling through Chile from north to south, east to west, and south to north again.

Due to the country’s unique shape, Chile can actually be quite an overwhelming country to conquer. Not the width, with the average east to west span only 177km (110 miles); it is the length of Chile, extending 4,270km (2,653 mi) that makes travel here so daunting. Expect lots of loooong bus rides, since the best places to visit are hundreds of miles north or south of each other. The Atacama Desert, for example, is a 24 hour bus ride from Santiago, for most the next logical stop southward while traveling through Chile and over 4,700km (2,920miles) from Puerto Natales, the jumping-off point for Torres Del Paine National Park. Despite its geographical challenges, Chile is an incredible place to travel with glaciers, deserts, lakes, the Andes mountains and thousands of miles of coastline.

ChileWe’ll cover logistics and keeping to a budget in Chile in a future post, but for now we wanted to share our top five favorite places to travel through in Chile.

5. Elqui Valley

An serendipitous discovery on our recent trip from Santiago to Iquique, the narrow Elqui Valley stretches all the way from the adorable beach town of La Serena (about 7 hours north of Santiago) to the Argentine border – roughly 140km. There is a dramatic contrast between the rough mountain sides and the lush green valley in between, where grapes for pisco and wine are cultivated, as well as Chilean papayas, avocados, oranges and other fruit. Little towns with sleepy town squares dot the valley and you can stop at a pisco distilleries that invite to stop for a tasting. The valley is also known for its crystal clear night skies, perfect for excellent star gazing conditions. Elqui Valley ChileVisit the valley on an organized tour from La Serena or take the public bus which stops in the main towns: Vicuña is the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral; Monte Grande is where you can visit Gabriela Mistral’s childhood home; Pisco Elqui makes a great base for two or three days of hikes into the mountains, bike rides or horseback riding. If you have more time, spend a couple of days – there are some great hotels in the valley (mainly in Pisco Elqui) and that way you get to see that amazing clear night sky!Elqui Valley Hotels

4. Lake District

The Lake District is about 1,000km (620miles) south of Santiago and is often compared to Switzerland and Austria, thanks to its many lakes in an Alpine setting. However, the surrounding volcanoes (there are six of them) and touches of Chilean culture definitely gave the area its very own charm, despite traces of German settlers found everywhere – especially in the widespread kuchen custom! The region is a mecca for hikers and active travelers. You can do anything here from here climbing volcanoes to rafting or other water sports, skiing in the winter months and mountain biking in the summer. There are twelve lakes that give the region its name, and you can spend weeks exploring the Lake District’s National Parks without getting bored. We only visited Pucon and Puerto Varas because the weather was not great when we visited the area, but Temuco, Villarica and Osorno would also have been worth a visit.

Chile Lake DistrictIf you visit the Lake District, you should consider visiting the island of Chiloe from here, which is only a couple of hours away that offers a rare look at a more indigenous side of Chilean culture.

3. Valparaiso

Chile’s historic seaport city sprawls up the sides of 42 hilltops, making it the most unique city we visited in all of Chile. One of the most important players in world trade in the 19th century, there is a bohemian vibe and crumbling grandeur in Valparaiso. You can take several ascensores, steep hillside funiculars, up and down the hills and get lost wandering around the maze of cobble-stone streets and alleys that all magically connect the hills. As if the houses themselves aren’t colorful enough, there is street art everywhere, little cafes dot the hills, and we loved the view over the sparkling lights across the bay from our lovely B&B, the Casa Kreyenberg. The graffiti and the buildings that are in need of restoration (much of Valparaiso has been renovated since the city was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003) give parts of Valparaiso a gritty feel, but that is part of what defines the colorful city by the bay.Valparaiso Chile

2. Torres Del Paine

Uninterested in the famous 4-5 day W Trek, we almost gave Torres del Paine a miss, but we ended up spending much longer in town than we originally thought. By in town, we mean Puerto Natales, the city and jumping off point for the Torres del Paine National Park. The city itself is a pleasant place with great food and modern facilities – albeit almost entirely geared toward trekkers. The National Park offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Patagonia: glaciers, mountain lakes, waterfalls and the Cerro Paine mountain range which is a paradise for trekkers. Guanacos roam freely through the steppe and might actually the only other sign of life you’ll encounter for hours on a hike. Even though we didn’t hike any of the trails with the best views, you can drive around the park and see the main landmarks in a day or two (there are several lodging options in the park, from basic refugios to high-end glamping).

Torres Del Paine National Park

1. San Pedro De Atacama

Our absolute favorite place in Chile is San Pedro De Atacama, a tiny town in northern Chile, surrounded by the driest desert in the world – the Atacama Desert. The town itself has maintained its Spanish-colonial charm with a bright white church on the tree-filled town square and one-story adobe homes that now house little hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores. San Pedro De Atacama ChileWe were amazed that this little town in the middle of the desert turned out to have some of the best food options in all of Chile and the surrounding area can keep you busy for days: tours to the Valle de la Luna, El Tatio Geyser, mountain lagoons and hot springs, salt flats and salt caves – no matter which direction you choose, the landscape is spectacular. Similar to the Elqui Valley, the Atacama has some of the clearest night skies in the world and you can take a stargazing tour to observe the milky way from the southern hemisphere.san pedro de atacama hotels

What about Santiago?

We spent over two months in Chile’s capital and have grown to love Santiago… slowly. We have to admit that it was a slow burn and it took us a couple of weeks to truly love Santiago, which is way more time than most travelers have. But since you’re likely to spend at least a couple of days here, these are the things you shouldn’t miss in Santiago, and if you have more time, make sure to go beyond Central Santiago.

Santiago ChileHave you been to Chile? What are your favorite places? Please share them in the comments below!

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Five of our favorite markets in New York City

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There is no better way to absorb the essence of a city than to visit its markets, and it doesn’t much matter if those are flea markets, ordinary fruit and vegetable markets or those meant to sell cheap trinkets to tourists.  There is just something about strolling past the stalls, taking in the energy of buyers and sellers, the different languages, smells, foods, the local handicrafts, clothes, antiques and souvenirs. Some markets have a real sense of purpose while others just seem like fun cultural experiences.

New York City has dozens of weekly markets, seasonal fairs and flea markets to choose from and, as is our custom, much of our time in NYC was spent checking out the markets. If you’re headed to New York and are looking for a way to soak up the city, this list of our top five favorites (plus three honorary mentions) is a great place to start:

Markets of New York City

Our Top Five Favorite Markets 

5. Union Square Greenmarket

Set right on Union Square, this market has some of Broadway’s most historic buildings as its backdrop. The Greenmarket is a paradise for health-conscious eaters – with locally made yogurt and honey, grass fed beef, organic fruits and vegetables, artisan breads and vegan muffins. If you come in the afternoon before the market shuts down, you’ll be able to find some of the best deals. Obviously, the variety of produce is much bigger in the summer and fall months, but the market is open year-round. When the Greenmarket initiative started in 1976, there were only 12 farmers – today, there are over 230 farmers who belong to the Greenmarket network, the biggest farmers market network in the US which has 54 markets in New York City alone. Union Square Greenmarket even made CNN’s Top Ten Fresh Markets In The World.

Union Square GreenmarketDetails: On the north and west sides of Union Square Park every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8am to 6pm; Closest Subway Station: 14 Street – Union Square (4, 5, 6, N, Q, R, L Trains)

Union Square Market4. Brooklyn Flea

Brooklyn Flea takes place every Saturday in the Fort Green neighborhood of Brooklyn, and felt like the biggest flea market out of the many we visited in New York. We were beyond excited to pick up an authentic Masala Dosa from an Indian food stand (although at $10, the price was nearly 20 times an ‘authentic’ price!).We wandered through the set-up of antiques and second-hand stalls selling everything from kitschy ceramic owls and in-your-face reminders of a segregated past to up-and-coming furniture dealers and trend-setting jewelry makers. Just opposite the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, the Brooklyn Flea is one of the fastest growing flea markets since its inception in 2008, now attracting over 200 vendors every week.

Brooklyn Flea New York CityDetails: Every Saturday from 10am to 5pm at 176 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (Subway: Clinton-Washington Aves on the G Train, Lafayette Ave on the C Line)

Brooklyn Flea Market Fort Greene3. Williamsburg Flea / Artists & Fleas

The Williamsburg Flea Market is an offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea, taking place on Sundays at the East River State Park in Williamsburg. Over 100 vendors offer antiques, vintage, furniture, unique Brooklyn-made clothes, distinct indie fashion, memorabilia and jewelry, plus over a dozen food stalls – many of the vendors are actually selling at the Saturday flea market in Fort Greene, so if you have only one day to visit the flea market – they’re both equally as good, but we love the set-up right by the East River with Manhattan’s skyline on the other side, and had a great time eating our delicious Salvadorian pupusas right by the water. Of course this is also the place to come for some hipster spotting, as typical Williamsburg locals – designers, creators, vintage collectors and foodie enthusiasts – all see this Flea as an established and important fixture in the neighborhood.

Williamsburg Flea Market Brooklyn New YorkJust around the corner from the River State Park is the indoor Artists & Fleas market. When it opened in 2003, it did so in an old warehouse on what was a neglected part of North 6th Street, before Williamsburg’s popularity exploded shortly after. Open on Saturdays AND Sundays, this is the best place to come for everything from creative inspiration to furnishing your new apartment. Here you will find paintings and photography by local artists, antique books, jewelry handmade out of just about any material – and the same goes for furniture and other accessories.

Artists & Fleas Williamsburg BrooklynDetails: Williamsburg Flea is open on Sundays from 10am to 5pm from April to November inside East River State Park at Kent Ave and N. 7th St in Williamsburg; closest subway stop: Bedford Avenue (L Train) or you can take the East River Ferry to North 6th Street.

Artists & Fleas: Open on Saturdays & Sundays from 10am to 7pm (year-round); location: 70 North 7th Street between Wythe and Kent Avenues; closest subway stop: Bedford Avenue (L Train) or you can take the East River Ferry to North 6th Street

Tip: If you are visiting New York in the winter, there is a ‘Winter Flea’ in Brooklyn’s historic Skylight One Hanson building (formerly the Williamsburg Savings Bank in Fort Greene). It is worth visiting this flea market for this famous Brooklyn landmark alone! More than 100 vendors sell here from late November to early April every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Location: 1 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY (Closest Subway Station: Atlantic Ave for the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, Q Trains; Atlantic Ave – Pacific Street for the D, N, R Trains)

2. Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

We made the rounds of the city’s markets, so several of the stalls at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market were familiar by the time we made it there. Held Saturdays on 39th Street in Hell’s Kitchen: Here’s why we love this one so much. The location is great and the market was relatively empty considering its Midtown Manhattan location, within walking distance to Times Square. This market is a paradise for collectors of antiques, vintage clothes, oddball memorabilia, retro items, jewelry, furniture and its rumored that many set designers and props masters come here to source decorations and furniture for Broadway and Off Broadway shows. The only thing that is missing is a line of food stalls, but since Hell’s Kitchen is a hub for great food, that didn’t really affect us much at all. The Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market was actually named one of the Top Ten Shopping Streets in the World by National Geographic.

Tip: The Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market also runs the Antiques Garage (every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm, 112 West 25th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) and the West 25th Street Market, also every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm, located on West 25th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue.

Hells Kitchen Flea Market New York City ManhattanDetails: Open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 5pm year-round (weather permitting). Location: West 39th Street between 9th & 10th Avenues; closest subway stations: 42nd Street / Times Square (A, C, E, N, Q, R, S, 1, 2, 3 Trains)

Hells Kitchen Flea Market Manhattan New York1. Smorgasburg (Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5)

Our absolute favorite market is Smorgasburg, a food market right by the Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side). Like the Williamsburg Flea, Smorgasburg also belongs under the Brooklyn Flea umbrella. There are two – we much preferred the Brooklyn Bridge Park location on Sundays over Saturdays in Williamsburg.

Smorgasburg Brooklyn BridgeHere you can grab a fresh-made pizza, Bolivian empanadas, raw vegan food, ice cream, coffee, Vietnamese street food, Mexican tacos or anything you could possibly think up and then sit down right in Brooklyn Bridge Park looking right out at Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Foodies love New York institutions such as Keizo Shimamoto’s ramen burgers, Blue Bottle Coffee, Milk Truck’s grilled cheeses, Butter & Scotch’s pies, and Lone Empire’s smoked briskets, a favorite with meat eaters. Come early though, or you’ll face long lines and crowded tables. Top tip: Definitely come hungry!

Smorgasburg DumboDetails: Open on Sundays from 11am to 6pm (April through November). Location: Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park; closest subway stations: Borough Hall (2, 3, 4, 5 Trains), Court Street (N, R). You can also take the ferry to Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO Pier 1 ferry stop from Wall St./Pier 11, North Brooklyn, or E. 34 Street.

brooklyn bridge view from brooklyn bridge park

Honorable mentions

Chelsea Market

Not a market in the traditional sense, Chelsea Market is more of an upscale assembling of restaurants, bakeries and food stores housed in the former home of the National Biscuit Company, where the first ever Oreo was made in 1912.Chelsea MarketThe industrial aspect of the building was maintained when it was transformed into a market, creating an industrial chic vibe. Eateries include the fabulous Green Table, Chelsea Thai, a small storefront of the Artists & Fleas market from Williamsburg, plus Amy’s Bread – which has excellent cupcakes and other sweets, The Fat Witch – some of the city’s best brownies and Eleni’s famous cookies. Just off the Highline Park, this is a great pit stop for snacks to eat up on former railroad line turned green space and park, all with great views over Lower Manhattan.

chelsea market spicesUpstairs and out of reach for the everyday tourist are several television studios, including Food Network’s headquarters, where Iron Chef is filmed.

Details: 75 Ninth Ave., New York, NY 10011; closest subway station: 14 Street (A, C, E Trains); 8 Ave (L Train)

Smorgasburg Williamsburg

Sure we already mentioned Smorgasburg, and we made clear that we prefer the ‘other’ one, but we love Smorgasburg so much that our second-favorite Smorgasburg is also our second favorite food market in New York. The vendors are similar to the ones in Dumbo, offering food from all over the world and classic American grub like burgers and grilled cheese. Many famous New York eateries sell here, like the Red Hook Lobster Pound, Blue Bottle Coffee, The Meat Hook, People’s Pops popsicles, McClure’s Pickles, and many more.

Williamsburg Brooklyn SmorgasburgDetails: Every Saturday from 11am to 6pm (April to November), see #3 for directions.

GreenFlea 

A great excuse to stroll through the Upper West Side, the Green Flea market on Sunday has dozens of vendors of antiques, collectibles, vintage clothes, jewelry, handicraft, food and more. Located right next to the Natural History Museum, the Hayden Planetarium and a short walk from Central Park, you can easily combine a morning here with an afternoon museum visit or stroll through the park.

New York GreenfleaDetails: Every Sunday from 10am to 5.30pm on Columbus Avenue between W. 76th and W. 77th Streets; closest subway stations: 81 Street –Museum of Natural History (B, C Trains), 72 Street (1, 2, 3 Trains)
New York City Markets
What is your favorite market in New York City?

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33 Things We Love About Santiago de Chile

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We spent nearly two months in Santiago and came to love it more with every day that passed. There are certainly more than only 33 things to love about Chile’s capital, but we wanted to share the 33 most memorable things that made Santiago so special for us:

1 Santiago’s subway art

We mentioned this in our Polaroid of the week series and there’s a good reason we’re bringing it up again here. Santiago’s subway stations each have their own art throughout – murals, sculptures, paintings and contemporary design.

Santiago de Chile subway art

2 Work out machines

We took back our health and wellness in our Santiago condo, but even without the spacious three-bedroom housesit, staying fit would have been possible on the many workout machines found throughout the city’s green spaces.

Santiago workout machines3 Dog houses

Seeing stray dogs in the streets is always heartbreaking, no matter where we travel. Santiago was one of the few places where we didn’t immediately want to rescue them all Not only are they well-fed and treated so nicely by people who pet them and give them love, but the city even provides them with doghouses in the parks.

santiago dog houses4 Mote con huesillo

This typical Chilean drink might be too sweet for some, but I found it refreshing after hiking up to Cerro San Cristobal for an hour in the sweltering summer heat. Mote con Huesillo is a strange drink that consists of dried peaches and cooked wheat in sweet tea which is not drunk but eaten with a spoon.

mote con huesillo5 The cemetery

Santiago’s Cementerio General turned out to be one of the most impressive cemeteries we have ever visited. Filled with grand mausoleums, ornate graves, obelisks and statues, it is one of South America’s largest cemeteries with nearly 2 million burials – including President Salvador Allende’s massive family mausoleum.

Santiago Cementerio General images6 The Andes mountains surrounding the city

We loved seeing mountains on almost all sides around Santiago. Not sure if it is because both of us are from flat places, but seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Andes never got old.

Santiago mountain views7 Cafe con piernas – Coffee with legs

We have talked about these quirky coffee shops in detail already – read all about them here.

Santiago Cafe Con Piernas8 Lastarria Neighborhood

The Lastarria neighborhood is without a doubt one of Santiago’s prettiest neighborhoods: grand, beautifully restored buildings mixed with colonial charm with restaurants and cafes spilling out on the sidewalks. We loved wandering through the streets here, especially during our Foto Ruta photography Tour, which allowed us to zoom in on the little details throughout the neighborhood.

Barrio Lastarria Santiago de Chile9 Swimming pools with a view

There are two public swimming pools in Parque Metropolitano that have some of the best vistas of Santiago: Piscina Antilen and Piscina Tupahue. You can hike to the latter one from the Cerro San Cristobal viewpoint and be rewarded with a refreshing experience!

Verano del 2008, Piscina Antilen, Santiago
Piscina Antilen via Armando Lobos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/armandolobos/2254296096/

10 Le Fournil

This French bakery and restaurant is by far our favorite eatery in Santiago. Admittedly not exactly Chilean cuisine, Le Fournil set out to bake the best bread in Chile and we say, Mission Accomplished – the breads, pastries and full breakfasts are to die for.

santiago breakfast le fournil11 La Piojera on a Friday night

This famous ‘fleahouse’ is the perfect introduction to Chilean drinking culture. The bar is known for its notorious terremotos, which means earthquakes, which are half liter cups filled with Pipeño (a sweet fermented wine), pineapple ice cream and Fernet (a strong herbal liquor). Headaches are guaranteed on Saturday mornings, but the Friday night atmosphere packed with locals provides a true South American experience.

Santiago de Chile nightlife12 The beautiful churches

We were surprised how many churches there are in Santiago, and there is such a variety of different styles: colonial churches dating back to the 18th century, neo-renaissance, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur-inspired Basilica de Sacramentinos, neo-gothic and baroque architecture. Even though the external weren’t always remarkable, the interiors were always stunning.

Santiago de Chile churches13 Street art

Buenos Aires has an amazing street art scene, and coming from there to Santiago, we weren’t sure how this capital would compare. Even though the city has such a different vibe, street art here is gorgeous, intelligent and everywhere! The best neighborhood to spot the most street art is Bellavista.

Santiago de Chile street art pictures14 The old-fashioned phone booths

Even though most of the phone booths are understandably out of order, they make gorgeous little spots to take cover from the rain around the city.

santiago phone booth15 Peluqueria Francesa

This traditional 19th century barber shop is still up and running, as retro as it is functional, and the restaurant of the same name right next store pays tribute with antique memorabilia that fits with the barber shop theme.

Peluqueria Francesa barber shop Santiago de Chile16 Fresh watermelon everywhere

We loved the pop-up stalls on the side of the roads during the summer months selling fresh watermelons. If you don’t want to carry an entire watermelon, you can just get fresh cut-up pieces.

santiago de chile fresh water melon17 Innovative contemporary architecture in the Las Condes and Providencia neighborhoods

In contrast to boring steel and glass blocks of financial districts around the world, Santiago takes serious pride in expressing their booming economy and optimistic future through its architecture. The country’s best architects have been called upon to create such unique skyscrapers, office towers and downtown hotels.

Contemporary architecture in Santiago de chile18 Free walking tours

We mentioned it before – Santiago is not exactly filled with tourist attractions, but there are three different free walking tour companies in the city that operate entirely on a tipping basis and let you choose between a total of five different walking tours! Santiago might not have as many tourists as other South American destinations, but the ones that come and visit can get a great tour with only few people and an insightful local guide. Nobody should miss going on one, as we suggest in our quick guide to Santiago.

19 The traditional pharmacies

Where can you still find pharmacies like this nowadays?!

santiago pharmacy20 Fish market madness

Visit the fish market at Mercado Central in the morning when the trucks with the day’s catch and witness an intense commotion, or wait to dine on fresh seafood in the cute restaurants right in the market later in the day.

Santiago de Chile fish market mercado central21 Public sculptures

We loved the public sculptures so much that we decided they deserved their own post – take a look at some of our favorite pieces in Santiago here.

Sculptures in Santiago De Chile22 Parque Bicentenario

This park have free sun chairs and umbrellas, wide green spaces, flamingos swimming in the pond and is one of the most fun outdoor spaces in the city. By far our favorite park, we spent many afternoons here with the puppies in our care, and which is why we recommend heading here if you want to go beyond central Santiago.

Parque Bicentenario Santiago De Chile23 The views from Cerro San Cristobal

While Cerro Santa Lucia, the other famous Santiago viewpoint, might be considered the prettier one, San Cristobal has the better views. From here you see how spread out Santiago is, and with the Andes in the background, we always felt like we were in such a special place.

santiago and andes24 Resale shops on Bandera Street

When we heard about the second-hand stores on Bandera Street, we didn’t think all that much of it but stopped by anyway. What we found was loads of  stores selling quality clothes, leather jackets, business suits, handbags and shoes – all of which fit non-Latina body shapes!

25 Pizza machines in the subway stations

We are not sure about the quality of these pizzas (yeah we are, it’s probably not that good!), but just having the option to throw money in the slot, click on the toppings that you want and hold a steaming pizza in your hands three minutes later is probably amazing after a night out.

santiago pizza machine26 Sunsets with a mountain backdrop

We were ooh-ing and aah-ing almost every night when the sun set and the sky started to turn orange, purple and finally dark blue. We highly recommend to visit one of the many hotel rooftop bars or the Cerro Santa Lucia or San Cristobal lookouts if skies are clear.

santiago sunset27 Fruit and vegetable vendors

Even though there are plenty of big supermarkets well stocked with fruits and vegetables, the city is filled with fresh fruit and veg, from the main market, La Vega, and simple fruit and vegetable vendors selling their produce from their own personal carts around town.

fruit and vegetable cart in santiago de chile28 Bike friendliness

Santiago has surprisingly many bike lanes, called ciclovias, which are usually lined with trees, have space for joggers as well and run for miles across the city.

29 Strawberries in January

We were lucky enough to be in town for strawberry season, and when it hit, it seemed like there were strawberries for sale everywhere in town, for as little as $1 per kilo! The strawberries are all natural and taste like strawberries of old, how they are supposed to taste. We devoured so, so many kilos.

strawberries santiago30 The nightlife in Bellavista

Bellavista is the place to be on a Saturday night – the bars, pubs and clubs around Pio Nono street are bursting with cheap booze deals. We loved the atmosphere especially on warm summer nights when most of the parties spilled out onto the streets.

31 El Huerto – the best vegetarian restaurant in Santiago

While Buenos Aires turned out to be a paradise for vegetarians, in Santiago it was harder to come by decent vegetarian food. Luckily we made our way to El Huerto (which is nowhere near anything we wanted to visit), as it turned out to be our favorite vegetarian restaurant in town.

El Huerto Restaurant in Santiago De Chile32 The contrast in the architecture

The contrast between the typical colonial houses, and the glass towers in Providencia and traditional German half-timbered houses show Santiago society’s many sides.

Santiago de Chile architecture33 Pedals an the art of multi-tasking.

Sure you could just enjoy a rest on a park bench, but why not combine that with a lower body workout?! We love these little foot pedals you find in front of many benches throughout the city – and took advantage whenever we could. Jess pedaling in SantiagoHave you been to Santiago? What are your favorite things about the city? Share in the comments below

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33 Things We Love About Buenos Aires

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We have told you that Buenos Aires was our favorite destination in 2012, and shared all the things we think you shouldn’t miss when you go there, but what exactly is it that made us fall for Argentina’s capital? We’ve covered it in the Buenos Aires edition of our Things We Love series.

1 The tree-lined streets

Between the ornate European architecture and wide, tree-lined avenues, it often felt as if we were in Paris, not in Buenos Aires.Buenos Aires tree-lined streets2 Ice cream

This city is an ice cream lover’s paradise. The minimum size is a cone with two big scoops, which is all we ever got, but people everywhere order 1/2 kilo or even a kilo of ice cream (that is 2.2 pounds of ice cream, for those of you who don’t do metric). The main chains are Freddo and Volta, and we also found this little cafe called Dieci on Avenida Santa Fe that had two heaping scoops for $3.

Ice cream in Buenos Aires3 Street art

Because it is not only NOT illegal but also socially acceptable, artists in BA have been able to create an outdoor museum of incredible street art, which we raved about here.
Street Art Buenos Aires4 The dog walkers

The Argentine people love their dogs, but living in condos and apartments is tough on their canine friends. A law states that dogs must have plenty of time outdoors, so dog-walkers are hired and often have 10 or more dogs on a giant, braided leash together at once. Surprisingly, the dogs adjust well and walk proudly together as a pack. Adorable!

Buenos Aires dogwalkers5 Cafe scene of Palermo

The independent little coffee shops and cafes that sprawl out onto the sidewalks in Palermo are great for coffee lovers, people watchers, digital nomads and sampling Argentine treats like homemade alfajores.

Palermo Cafe Scene Buenos Aires6 San Telmo Market

San Telmo’s Sunday market was one of the best flea markets we have ever visited. The street performers, buskers and Brazilian drum groups, tango dancers and packed bars along the long street called La Defensa seems more like a big street party than am outdoor walking market.
San Telmo Sunday Market7 The architecture

For the first few days before we went on our Free BA tour, we were constantly marveling over how European everything looked. We found out on the tour that ships in the 19th century brought agricultural goods to Europe and rather than return empty, they were weighed down with building materials for the Argentine elite.
Buenos Aires architecture8 PIZZA!

The pizza in Buenos Aires is incredible, you know how we feel about that!
buenos aires pizza argentina9 Tango

Unlike lost traditional dances of other countries, the Tango is still very much alive in the city. From the the Sunday market in San Telmo and tourist restaurants of La Boca to local milongas (tango bars), tango is everywhere in BA.
Buenos Aires Tango10 The accent

Never in a million years did we think we’d fall for the distinct Argentine accent where ‘playa’ (beach) becomes ‘plaisha’ and ‘yo’ (I) become ‘sho’. In fact, when, on the first day we moved in to our Wimdu vacation rental, the porter asked if he could carry my backpack by saying ‘sho la shevo?’ I giggled at how funny it sounded and it took a long time to get used to hearing expats speaking the distinct dialect. Cut to six weeks later and it wasn’t just the accent that was so endearing, but also the rolling Italian rhythm and exaggerated hand gestures to match.

11 The smell of the flower stalls in every street
There are flower vendors in almost every street in Buenos Aires, and sometimes you can smell them before you even see them, conveniently masking the smell of garbage often piled up on the streets (hey, we didn’t say BA was perfect). We love that you can just pick up flowers anywhere!
flower vendor in buenos aires12 Porteños working out 

What with all the pizza, steak and smoking as if the world were ending tomorrow (see ‘feeling like the city could fall apart at any moment’ below), you might get the impression that Porteños are an unhealthy bunch, but it’s quite the opposite. Gyms are everywhere and all morning ladies walk around with yoga mats under their arms (I loved BuenaOnda Yoga), and popular outdoor workouts include running along Puerto Madero and doing boot camp or other exercises in the park (that’s me cooling down in the pic below).
buenos aires bootcamp palermo13 The balance of old and new throughout the city

San Telmo is filled with antique shops and breezy squares, Palermo Hollywood has restaurants with glass store fronts and celebrity chefs. You can have an all-organic vegan lunch and spend the afternoon in an old school cafe with waiters dressed in black and white carrying big trays filled with espressos and medialunas, harking back to times before diets and low-fat butter. Monday to Friday people in suits and ties are glued to their smartphones, but weekends are reserved for taking it slow, with long drawn out asados (barbecues), late nights and lazy days in park.

14 Medialunas!

These flaky, sugary croissants are a popular breakfast dish in Argentina, not only in the capital, but there is just something so special about the deals in every cafe in town for Cafe con Leche (coffee with milk) and three medialunas in Buenos Aires.

medialunas in buenos aires15 The 9th of July avenue

Crossing this monster avenue with a total of 16 lanes takes between two and three traffic light cycles, but we love it for its shops, restaurants, hotels, the iconic obelisk and the grand  opera house, Teatro Colon.

Buenos Aires Avenida 9 de Julio16 Sunsets over Puerto Madero

We loved watching the sunset over Puerto Madero, a newly regenerated former port area of the city.

Puerto Madero at sunset17 Confusing attitude towards protests and strikes

There are over 30 protests every week in Buenos Aires. Our second day in the city, we were on a city tour, and our guide Ana pointed out several ‘buses escolares’ (school buses) on the side of the road. “Uh oh,” she said almost indifferently, “there’s a protest.” Sure enough, down the road, hundreds of protestors were gathered on the 9th of July Avenue (none were school children; protestors just come into the city center on school buses). When we asked her why, she said, “Who knows, who cares.” One night, over one million protestors gathered in BA and several hundred thousand in cities around Argentina. We were having pizza not a mile away in a packed restaurant where no one seemed the least bit bothered. How people can so passionately take to the streets yet so casually block out the chants of others is a confusing element of Buenos Aires life.

buenos aires strike18 Entrepreneurial expat community

The Argentine capital is overflowing with expats, thanks to very relaxed visa regulations and moderately enforced start-up rules. The expat community is fascinating, very in-the-know and fun to hang out with while in town.

19 Romantic local moments

The world’s middle and upper classes are so homogenous nowadays, so we loved how, on morning walks, we would often pass men and women in small, local cafes reading their newspapers and drinking coffee as if it were a century ago and everyone wasn’t in a race against the clock.

buenos aires neighborhood cafe20 The parks

What a green city! Like any other major capital city, sprawling cement covers much of Buenos Aires, but there are massive parks all throughout the center, some of which qualify as little forests. We spent many afternoons reading in the green spaces here.

Buenos Aires Parks21 The Recoleta neighborhood

Parisian style architecture lines this pristine neighborhood, most visitors to the city will pass through here at some point as it is home to the Recoleta cemetery where Evita Peron’s body is now buried.

Recoleta Buenos Aires22 The feeling that the city could fall apart at any moment 

Protestors, chaos, lack of any level of faith in the government and increasingly suffocating inflation, Buenos Aires feels like a Latin powder keg ready to pop, and although you would think you should be scared of these elements coming to a head, instead the city feels electric, daring, and like you better live it up now before it all falls apart.

23 The strong guys who carry the buildings

Dani took loads of pictures of these guys holding up the city’s most beautiful buildings.

Buenos Aires stone figures24 Multicultural City 

Spanish and Italian influence is obvious, but there is a large Jewish, Polish, English and Arab influence in the city, too.

25 The attitude toward LGBT rights

Argentina was the first South American country to pass full on marriage equality laws, and the LGBT community is completely integrated with very little homophobia in wider society – despite being a Latino and heavily Catholic country.

Buenos Aires LGBT26 The dedication to Mate

Mate is a stimulant herbal drink, and the people of BA are addicted to it! People drink mate in the park, at work, in cafes and we often saw people refilling from their Thermoses right on the street.

Mate in Buenos Aires27 The cemeteries

Massive above-ground mausoleums line what are like mini city streets in both of the major cemeteries in Buenos Aires. While most tourists visit the Recoleta, mentioned above, hardly anyone makes it out to the much bigger and more beautiful Chacarita cemetery that Dani visited a few days before we left town.

Buenos Aires cemeteries28 The beautiful billboard holders

Much like the Metro station signs in Paris, the beautifully ornate green billboard holders in Buenos Aires are just one of those little, even subconscious, details that make BA such a romantic place.

buenos aires billboard madonna29 El Ateno Grand Splendid Bookstore

What was once a grand theater is now the grandest of bookstores, and bibliophiles can devour literature while sipping coffee right on the theater’s stage.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid Book Store Buenos Aires30 The incredible amount of veggie restaurants

Meat, pizza, meat, meat, pizza. That was all we heard about BA before arriving, but it turns out that the people have a healthy attitude towards meatless meals!

Buenos Aires vegetarian food31 Milka Stores!

Entire stores are dedicated to this popular German chocolate, and after months of bad chocolate choices, Dani was in absolute heaven being able to get back to her absolute favorite sugary vice!

buenos Aires milka stores32 Public transportation

Sure, the buses might not stop all the way before you jump on, and getting change can be difficult at time. The Subte might not run very late and petty theft might be common, but using the city’s interactive online map, we were able to get around the city by bus (50 cents a ride) and subway ($1.25 a ride) super easily day and night.

33 The cats in the Botanical Gardens

Dozens of them all over the place, licking and cuddling all day long. Obviously Dani’s favorite place in BA, she even chose to spent a part of her birthday afternoon here!
cats in buenos airesHave you been to Buenos Aires? What are the things you love about the city?

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Our Top 5 Favorite Destinations of 2012

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What a year! we really outdid ourselves in 2012, traveling to India, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires and now Santiago de Chile. We are putting together lists of our ‘top five favorites’ to help you with some inspiration for where to go in 2013. Earlier this month we looked back at our favorite beaches of 2012and now our favorite overall destinations of the year. We hope you get some ideas for your own travels. As always, we are happy to answer any questions in the comments about your trip planning for 2013.

5. Arenal, Costa Rica

I thought we knew Costa Rica up and down, except for the Osa Peninsula, which is a truly off-the-grid adventure deserving of its own dedicated trip.  That’s why, after our housesit on a small Costa Rican beach this year, we didn’t plan to travel much. We slipped in a short stint at one of our favorite nearby beaches, Samara, and headed to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano, which neither of us had been to yet. In a rare move for Central American travel, we rented a car and drove from the Pacific coast,through national parks and jungles, curved and swiveled around Lake Arenal and arrived in town, thinking the gorgeous ride would be the highlight of our stay. We couldn’t have been more wrong. We love everything about the set up in Arenal. Even though it hasn’t erupted in years, the volcano is an imposing figure you can’t miss from anywhere in town. At a certain point on the road out of town, practically every hotel has hot springs and we spent a day at the best choice of them all, Tabacon Grand Spa. There are massive waterfalls and a full range of day hikes around the volcano, depending on your level of fitness. Restaurants in town are overpriced tourist traps, but we opted to eat in the typical Costa Rican ‘sodas’ which offer great value for money and the healthiest option in town, a vegetarian casado.
Arenal La Fortuna Costa Rica

4. Kampot, Cambodia

This little city is not the first place you’ll hear about in Cambodia – that would be the ancient kingdom of Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap. You would probably also hear about Phnom Penh, the country’s capital and the beautiful coastline of the Sihanoukville area (which we named one of the Top 5 favorite beaches we visited year). Somewhere further down the list is the sleepy city of Kampot, famous for its production of both salt and pepper. Kampot Pepper is served on the table of the finest restaurants in Paris, we were told on a day tour which brought us out to the salt fields, the pepper fields, a fishing village,and a gorgeous hike in the countryside. Everything in this quiet, riverside town is accessible by bicycle and the restaurant scene is surprisingly developed – we had easily the best coffee of our time in Cambodia right here in Kampot.
Kampot Cambodia

3. Mexico City, Mexico

We have spent quality time in Mexico City before, including two weeks in 2010, but there is a specific reason why it makes our list tin 2012. Mexico City has what only the greatest of all cities have, and that is the ability to be all things to all people and yet completely different with every single visit. We returned to Mexico City in August for a long weekend and managed to pound the pavement for hours on end and not retrace our old stomping grounds and favorite spots from our trip in 2010. We spent one day at an art market in San Angel, another in the suburb of Ciudad Satélite, where we stayed at the beautiful Casa Roa Bed & Breakfast,and another on a walking tour of the San Rafael neighborhood. Two months later, we ended up back in the city during a 12 hour layover, so with limited time we headed straight to the Centro Historico and scarfed down our favorite tacos on Calle Uruguay and hit up Dani’s favorite La Ideal bakery for some fresh pastries. As we walked through the streets back to the modern, efficient airport bus that evening, we couldn’t help but notice the smiles. For being such a big city in a country with such a dangerous reputation, the capital is packed with families, lovers, artists, businessmen and women, police, protestors, market vendors and tourists all going about their days and we loved every chance we had this year of dipping into Mexico City life.
Mexico City

2. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Popular with tourists and expats of all kinds, this northern Thai city has the magical ability to make its visitors adapt to its pace and style, which is a far cry from buzzing, booming Bangkok. Both within the brick square mile of its more touristy city walls and out into the more local neighborhoods, Chiang Mai incorporates all the things we love about Thailand without most of the mess we disliked in the capital and down on some of the overrun islands. For example, the city is practically littered with ornate, peaceful Buddhist temples and monks in their orange robes constantly sweep past on motorbikes and bicycles, in tuk tuks and on foot, always with a smile that feels both insanely exotic and totally normal at the same time. And yet, Chiang Mai is also stocked with modern coffee shops, really fun walking markets, super fast internet, fashionable locals and online entrepreneeurs from all walks of life. Most of all, we ate like Kings in Chiang Mai. Organic, healthy food at under $4 a meal, fruit smoothies for under a dollar…yes, we most definitely miss Chiang Mai…
Chiang Mai Thailand

1. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires takes the top spot by a landslide, miles beyond anywhere else we visited this year. If you remember, I wasn’t even that impressed with the city when we landed there in November, as it reminded me of anywhere I’d already loved in Europe – Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris. So, it may have taken a little while for Buenos Aires to win us over. It didn’t do so overwhelmingly, or all at once. Instead, it seeped in slowly…the romance, the food, the culture, the architecture, the street art, the hot-blooded protestors, the complicated history and complex politics of ‘isms’ and ‘ists’, the dinners at 11pm, even (and I swore I wouldn’t say this, but I am) the accent that makes ‘playa’ into ‘plaisha’, the rolling Italian speech rythyms and the hand gestures to match. The city isn’t perfect, with garbage on the streets, corrupt politicians, and rates of inflation we’ll never understand, but that only adds to the intrigue. Loving Buenos Aires was unexpected, but knowing it exists settles our wandering souls just a bit. Buenos Aires is our number one pick because it is the only place we say that you really have to go, a place where you could spend a year and not scratch the surface. It is definitely the city we visited in 2012 we could see ourselves returning to multiple times throughout our lives.
buenos aires argentina

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Our Top 5 Favorite Beaches of 2012

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This year will go down in history as the year of the beach for the two of us!

All those days in the office before we started traveling long-term, our thoughts would drift to what it would be like to live on the beach and wake up to the crashing of waves on the shore, the sound of seagulls and being barefoot through the sand. Well in 2012 we certainly got our wish in a year that saw us living over five months on the beach. We spend longer stints in Mexico and Costa Rica, and took trips to the sandy shores of Singapore, Malaysia, India and our number one spot that often gets overlooked by its famous neighbor Thailand.

Read on for our five favorite beach experiences of 2012:

5. Varkala, India

While we didn’t see what all the hype was about on the beaches of Goa and Kerala, we did fall for the cliffs of Varkala, about an hour north of Trivandrum in the far south of India. What the laid-back village lacks in culture is easily made up for by walking the paths along the gorgeous cliffs, looking out over the wide beaches below. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants for every traveler’s budget, and the sunsets here were breathtaking.

Varkala Beach India4. Samara, Costa Rica

Long-time readers will know that Samara has been a favorite beach of ours since we first ended up there on whim back in 2011. This October we were lucky enough to return for a few days and were excited to find that this Costa Rican beach hasn’t lost any of its charm. Although the waves of  Samara are perfect for newbie surfers, the long stretch of sandy beach feels empty even in the high season, with restaurants and hotels well hidden behind the palm trees that line the shore. In a country so popular with international tourists, Samara is one of the few secret spots that combines a great selection of accommodation and relatively few tourists.

Samara Beach Costa Rica3. Langkawi, Malaysia

We had never even heard of Langkawi, an island off the Malaysian coast in the Andaman Sea, but somehow we found ourselves promising a Canadian expat we would go there when she so passionately insisted we visit the favorite part of her adopted country. We ended up spending a week there, and Cenang Beach was by far our favorite beach on the island. Powdery, soft white sand, clear and shallow water, palm trees and incredible sunsets. This is really the perfect vacation island for travelers from near and far.

Langkawi Malaysia2. Mahahual, Mexico

Odds are, you have never heard of Mahahual, unless maybe you have taken a short Caribbean cruise. A popular cruise port once or twice a week in high season, Mahahual is otherwise a small, relaxed fishing town on the Yucatan peninsula with incredibly warm, turquoise water. This was the closest place from the remote beach house we housesat this past summer, and we found every excuse to make the trip. Making sure not to be there on ‘cruise ship day’ we would lay in the rows of empty sun chairs lined up along the beach, working on our tans and sipping cool Mexican beer. Heaven on Earth!

Mahahual Mexico1. Otres Beach and Koh Rong, Cambodia

Cambodia takes the crown for our favorite beach in 2012! There are actually TWO beaches here that tie for first: Otres Beach, on the mainland, and Long Beach on the little known island of Koh Rong. Just a quick tuk-tuk ride from the popular beach town of Sihanoukville, a trip to Otres Beach means avoiding the touts selling tourist trinkets, and focusing on what is important: relaxing in your sun chair with a cool coconut, staring out at sea. The few restaurants and bars here are of better quality than in town and somehow it feels like the sunsets are, too!

Otres Beach Sihanoukville CambodiaFor those of you who are serious about your deserted beaches, Koh Rong’s Long Beach was an amazing experience. The small island two hours off the coast of Sihanoukville only has a handful of guest houses and not much to offer in the way of diversion, but with the seven mile stretch of crystal clear water on the other side of the island, we could have cared less. We were particularly unimpressed with the side of the island where the port is and even considered leaving a day early, until we were told about a path that leads over to the other side of the island. It is an hour-long hike across an entirely untamed islands, which included much tripping, a bit of falling, profuse sweating, more swearing and a 75m descent straight down by clinging to a rope that mysteriously appears the minute you need it to finish the way down. Walking out into the clearest water we have ever seen, however, made the hike entirely worth it. Of course, we found out later you can rent a boat, round-trip, for $25 to take you and ten of your closest friends from the port on a 15-minute ride around to the otherwise deserted Long Beach. But we preferred working hard to reach our absolute favorite beach of 2012!

Koh Rong CambodiaNow we want to know from you – what is the best beach you visited in 2012? Better yet where is your favorite beach in the world?

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Our top five scenic European road trips

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Everybody loves a good road trip, and Europe has more scenic roads than you could cover in a lifetime. Majestic castles, half-timbered houses, rolling green hills and vineyards are some of the things that lift our hearts and keeps us driving!

If we had to pick just five, this would be the list of our favorite road tips in Europe that we recommend:

1. The Amalfi Coast | Italy

The Amalfi coast in the south of Italy is the country’s most beautiful stretch of coastline, where quaint terraced villages are spread through the hillsides stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea are around every corner. The coast route follows the shoreline from Sorrento in the north to Salerno in the south. Your hearts will pound as you hug the road past steep cliffs, and soar when you pass the many vineyards where you may wish to stop and spend a few days. The four main towns on the Amalfi Coast are Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, and they are all well worth a stop.

Italy FlowersBest time for a road trip: March to May, when Spring is in full bloom and the summer tourist season has not yet begun.
Recommended number of days: 2 to 4 days
Level of difficulty: It is a beautiful drive, but difficult. Drivers should be confident on winding, narrow roads. Challenging.

2. The Highlands | Scotland

Scotland’s Highlands are unlike anywhere in the world and a Highland road trip covers some of the most spectacular places in the UK. We recommend a loop, starting your trip in Glasgow and finishing in Edinburgh, heading north through the mountains and locks that make the Highlands so famous, and thenheading back down to the Scottish capital. Start in Glasgow and head to Loch Lomond before continuing north to the small outpost of Fort William from there. Here you can hike the mighty Ben Nevis, the highest mountain of the British Isles, or head west towards Mallaig with a stop at the picturesque Loch Shiel. From Mallaig, take the car ferry over to the Isle of Skye, and head back to the mainland via the Skye Bridge. Fro here it is a short drive to fairytale-esque Eileen Donan Castle.

eileen donan castle scotlandDepending on how much time you have left, we would recommend driving further north to the fishing town of Ullapool and the little village of Lochinver, with its white-sand beaches. Otherwise drive straight east towards Fort Augustus, which is the perfect base to explore Loch Ness. Drive along the Loch to the quaint town of Inverness and take the scenic route via Pitlochry to Edinburgh, and you will see most of the iconic Scottish landmarks like the Lochs, Whiskey distilleries and Highland cows.

Best time for a road trip: April – September
Recommended number of days: 5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty: Roads are narrow and driving is on the left. Medium.

Scotland highlands sheep3. The Romantic Road | Germany

The Romantic Road in the south of Germany offers some of the most stunning scenery of the country. Driving from Würzburg to the foothills of the Alps near Neuschwanstein Castle, you will pass sweeping views, ancient cathedrals and castles, castles, castles. You will drive through the pretty Tauber Valley before you arrive in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which dates back to the 13th century with medieval streets and thick city walls – doubtlessly the pearl of the Romantic Road! Other highlights include the gorgeous town of Nördlingen, Augsburg with its stunning cathedral, Hohenschwangau with its jaw-droppingly beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle and the nearby historic town of Füssen. If you have more time, you can drive up to Munich from here and end your road trip in one of Germany’s most traditional cities. Don’t forget to pack your lederhosen!

Best time for a road trip: Spring or summer, but fall is also a beautiful time to visit.
Recommended number of days:5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty:  The road is fairly easy to navigate, though it can get narrow at times. Easy.

road to the bavarian alps4. France beyond Paris | France

This road trip is the ideal way to combine a trip to Paris with an additional few days to explore the idyllic French countryside. We would recommend starting in Paris and driving through Chartres, Le Mans, Rennes, Caen, Rouen and then circling back to Paris. Just outside of the city, stop in Versailles to see Napoleon’s remarkable palace, and then move on to Chartres, home to a UNESCO World Heritage cathedral, before exploring Renne, which still has plenty of well-maintained wood-edifice buildings typical for that area of France. North of Rennes is the spectacular Le Mont-St.-Michel, a rocky island set in the English Channel, just off the coast, that is almost entirely inhabited by the medieval Benedictine Abbey and church – not to be missed! Rouen is home to the extraordinary cathedral made famous by Monet’s painting, and makes for a fabulous last stop on this French road trip.

Best time for a road trip: Between April and October
Recommended number of days:4 to 5
Level of difficulty: All roads on this trip are easy to navigate. Easy.

France chez marie cafe5. Dublin – Kilkenny – Cork – Galway | Southern Ireland

Southern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, especially along the coast. Our Southern Ireland road trip starts in Dublin and brings you to Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Galway, and ends back in Dublin. This road trip is the perfect way to get to know the culture, landscape and history of Ireland, passing impressive castles as well as picturesque Irish villages. Some of the highlights of this road trip are County Kerry, which has a rugged coastline and tall mountains, and is especially famous for the Ring of Kerry, a circular road that follows a trace of coastline of mountainous fingers jutting out into the ocean. The infamous Cliffs of Moher, which tower 700 feet above the ocean, are another highlight of this trip.

Best time for a road trip: Between March and October
Recommended number of days: 5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty: Left side driving and narrow roads. Not for novices. Challenging.

Cliffs & cottagesNo matter whether you are a seasoned road tripper or a first timer, we would still recommend booking a form of roadside assistance when planning your trip. With that little bit of extra security, the rest is a breeze. Car rentals in Europe can actually be very affordable and with a good map or GPS, roads are fairly easy to navigate. Just make sure you pay attention when driving on the left side of the road in the UK, that takes some getting used to!

Driving through Scotland

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Vegetarian Dixie: The Best of Southern Food

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We. Love. Food. One of the best things about traveling is the new food we try in each new place we visit, and our NYC2NOLA road trip was no different. We were super excited to try all the local specialties and from New York until we hit the South, this was a piece of cake. However, it turns out that finding vegetarian food in the Land of Dixie is a challenge when plates are normally piled high with pork, chicken and shrimp. We did manage to belly up to some fabulous southern restaurants for some traditional soul food. Caution: this post may make you hungry!

charleston mac n cheese sandwichAtlanta, Georgia

Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While visiting a college friend and Atlanta local on our road trip this summer, she insisted we dine at Mary Mac’s, an Atlanta institution which has been serving up classic Southern cuisine since Mary MacKenzie opened it in 1945. 60 years later, this old school southern restaurant serves up southern staples like country-fried steak, chicken pan pie with gravy and sweet potato soufflé, and always with the utmost, genuine southern hospitality. To start, all diners (most of whom are locals – this ain’t no tourist trap) are served ‘potlikker’ (broth of cooking up greens) with bread – and though this usually have chicken in it, the waitress organized us two vegetarian bowls of the stuff. Mary Mac’s is meat-heavy Dixie food, so we both opted for the vegetable plate of four sides, which was a great way to sample several small plates of Southern food. We were already familiar with the Southern Vegetable Plate concept from our road trip stops at Cracker Barrel along the way.

mary macs tea room atlanta georgiaBetween the two of us we had broccoli soufflé, cheese & vegetable soufflé, fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese, coleslaw, a vegetable medley, fried okra, and of course, a side of fresh home-made corn bread on the side. For dessert the three of us split the banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler, which were all seriously good, before waddling out to the car. Meat lovers and veggies alike should check out Country Skipper’s review and great photos of Mary Mac’s for more details.

Savannah, Georgia

This open-minded everyone’s-welcome city may not have many purely vegetarian restaurants, but plenty of places in town have veggie-friendly options on the menu.

Breakfast at Clary’s
You might know Clary’s already from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which hosted many of the scenes of the film. This traditional diner opened over 100 years ago, so they know a thing or two about pleasing local customers to keep ’em coming back for more. Veggie options here include mouth-watering Stuffed French Toast, Eggs Benedict or the ‘Elvis’ – thick-sliced sourdough toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas, the sandwich the King made famous. You can also try classic Southern items such as griddle cakes (pancakes), Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns, grits or Biscuits & Gravy.

savannah breakfast at clary'sThe Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
We have a special place in our hearts for our home-base in town, the Westin Savannah Harbor– where we not only had the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in, but a staff that went above and beyond the call of duty for us. We happened to be in town for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, which was held between the Westin and the neighboring convention center. We got to talking food to Westin’s General Manager Mark Spadoni, and once Mark discovered that we did not believe an intersection of classically Southern and vegetarian food to be possible, he put a challenge out to the head chef to create just that: a classically Southern vegetarian dish. Less than twenty minutes later we were each served a soft, succulent grit cake topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and green asparagus, lightly covered in a subtle, yet tangy sauce. Until that night we hadn’t touched grits (they just seem so slimy), but this grit cake blew us away with its flavor and consistency. Mark made sure to follow this up with two pots of blueberry crumble cake – which literally melted in our mouths.

savannah grit cake at the westinThe ‘Vegetarian Food Challenge’ was a one-off, but we also had the Sunday brunch held in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant – which might just be the best brunch in town! Brunch staples such as made-to-order omelets and waffles, blintzes, hash browns and all the meat you could want (bacon, sausages, beef medallions, lamb, etc), an entire table of sea food and sushi, fresh made-to-order penne pasta dishes, garlic bread, salads, and a dessert buffet that would alone be worth the price: fresh macaroons, éclairs, pies and cakes of all varieties, ice cream, homemade chocolate truffles and pralines, chocolate covered strawberries, bread puddings, crème brulee and mousse, and the Westin Savannah’s signature dish – bananas foster.

sunday brunch at the westin savannahThe Distillery
The Distillery is first and foremost a beer lover’s bar, with hundreds of craft brews to choose from, and though not really a veggie-hangout, we left the place absolutely stuffed. Along with the Black Bean Burger (which we went back for it again the next night) we sampled the grilled cheese, deep fried pickles (surprisingly good) and soft pretzels with a variety of dips. We could also have ordered  a hummus plate with veggies and pita bread, sweet potato or stout fries served with home-made Creole remoulade or chili & ale cheese. We could have ordered a salad without the meat, as well, but somehow the deep-fried pickles seemed to go so much better with craft brews. To top it all off, the owner Michael decided that us two out-of-towners needed to try his ultimate southern dessert creation – a deep-fried moon pie a la mode. Whether this sounds delicious, disgusting or just plain dangerous to your health – order it. Just once. It’s so good!

savannah deepfried pickles at the distilleryNew Orleans, Louisiana

In the land of gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys, it was not easy finding vegetarian food in the Big Easy – but we managed to find a few top spots for vegetarians in town.

Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters
One place where we found plenty of options was at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch, which we would recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans.  The tables are set in a shady, breezy courtyard  surrounded by flowers under a canopy of trees. A jazz trio entertains guests with live music at the perfect volume to still hold a conversation. The sprawling brunch buffet has a generous selection of breakfast and lunch items and if you are not a vegetarian, you can eat your way through dishes like creole seafood omelets, ceviche, spinach and crawfish pasta, seafood mousse, roast beef and chicken breast and shrimps. We enjoyed brunch staples like eggs and potatoes, creative waffles and delicious salads, and with the bottomless coffee we enjoyed classic Southern desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster or Mardi Gras King Cake. Do not waste your time like we did at the disappointing Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues – which serves up a limited brunch (eggs and hash browns, the only veggie options), put on a forced show to tourists and they kick you out when the show ends after an hour. The Court of Two Sisters brunch is an authentic, relaxing experience any day of the week.

jazz brunch at the court of two sisters new orleansThe French Market
This foodie market is a collection of some of the freshest, healthiest options in New Orleans. We loved Meals from the Heart, where we gobbled up a Black Bean soup with fresh avocado. Then we ordered an amazing salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and apples from Albertos Cheese & Wine, right next door. More than just simple stands, these two market eateries have completely different, yet equally veggie-friendly dishes. Meals from the Heart is run by a friendly New Orleans native, while Albertos is run by Spanish Alberto and his Mexican wife. We even went back to Albertos for a second salad we just could not forget about – the mixed vegetable salad with walnuts and gruyere cheese. Yum!!

french market veggie foodMahony’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street
Po-boys are traditional Louisiana sub sandwiches, the most classic option is stuffed with shrimp so not a dish we thought to try. One day while strolling along Magazine Street, we discovered Mahony’s Po Boys, a laid-back po-boy shop with several veggie options. We couldn’t resist being able to sample this NOLA staple, and tore in to the eggplant parmesan po-boy. We rate it as only okay, but that is because we compare it to what might be the best sandwich in the world – the New York-style Eggplant Parmigiana sub sandwich. However, the other options – like the grilled cheese po-boy or fried green tomato po-boy – we would probably have really enjoyed. We had the the fried green tomatoes on the side and loved them.

mahonys new orleansCafé du Monde
Dani’s favorite thing about being vegetarian on the road is that any and all local sweets are not only an option, but an exercise in intercultural understanding. Translation: it is our duty to try the sweets. We could not leave New Orleans without stopping in at the city’s most famous institution: Café Du Monde. This French-influenced, Chinese staffed New Orleans cafe on the Mississippi River has one of the simplest menus in town. Eat the famous beignets (deep-fried dough pastries covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar) and drink the Café au Lait (coffee with milk) made with chicory. The beignets were so good,  we ordered a second plate right away.

beignets & cafe au lait new orleans cafe du monde
This is not a comprehensive list of veggie-friendly Southern restaurants, so please add your suggestions on where to get great vegetarian food and also any tips on other typical southern dishes we need to try on our next trip through the south.

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33 things we love about New York City

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On the east coast of the United States there is place called New York City…oh, you’ve heard of it, have you?

If you’ve never been, you need to go at least once. If you have been, you know you need to go back. We have been to New York twice now and every time we fall ever more in love! Your list might look entirely different than ours, but that is the beauty of New York. The city can be something different for everyone.

Read on for our list of the thirty-three things we love about New York City, then check out our all-time favorite NYC tribute song, and then please add your own favorites in the comments below.

1. The romance of couples in horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

2. The innovative parking spaces.

nyc parking3. And the ways NYC tells you where not to park.

parking sign new york city
4.
Watching the neighborhoods change as we walk all the way down 5th Ave from Harlem to Washington Square.

5. Laying in the sun chairs on the rails of Highline Park – New York’s most exciting urban renewal project.

Highline Park New York City6. Running straight into a mid-morning model photo-shoot in the Meatpacking district.

7. Union Square
Especially the buzz and bustle here from right after the sun goes down until way late into the night.

8. The genius eggplant Parmesan pizza slices at Underground Pizza around the corner from Wall St.

eggplant pizza nyc 9. Reading the paper in Bryant Park

10. Ordering coffee off a Russian menu at Starbucks in Brighton Beach, near Coney Island.

russian starbucks in brighton beach new york11. Standing in Grand Central station and imagining where everyone is going to and coming from in such a hurry.

12. The anonymity
On any given day, celebrities and world leaders join millions of locals and tourists, rich and poor, going about daily life on the streets of New York. Unlike in any other U.S. city, in New York City you, or the person next to you, could be just about anybody in the world.

13. The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn bridge14. Harlem Pride
Black, white, old, young, American or ex-pat, residents of Harlem are proud in a way unlike any other New Yorker.

15. The Library Hotel in Midtown Manhattan

16. Watching tourists watch other tourists in Times Square.

times square at night with people17. The creative urban and contemporary art in the MoMA.

18. The changing cultures in Central Park throughout the day
The pet-owners and joggers in the morning, before the nannies and professional dog-walkers invade in the afternoon.

19. Looking back at the skyscrapers of Battery Park from the Statue of Liberty.

Manhattan Skyscrapers from Ellis Island20. The availability of authentic cuisines from around the world.

21. Observing locals fishing in possibly polluted waters off the Coney Island pier.

coney island fishermen22. The gravity-defying break dancers in Times Square Subway Station.

23. Observing the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish families on Staten Island.

orthodox jews staten island nyc 24. Wandering through Chelsea Market

25. Continuing the wandering through the skyscrapers in Manhattan.

26. Exploring the unique architecture of the Cast Iron district

cast iron district nyc27. Grabbing $1-$2 slices of New York style pizza on the go.

28. The pictures plastered on the walls at the uber-kitsch restaurants in Little Italy.
So many restaurants here have pictures of either well-known celebrities who ate there, or loads of ‘regular joe’ diners from throughout the years. As cheesy, faded and curled up around the edges as some of the pics can be, it still gives that feeling of ‘When you’re here, you’re family’. What else would you expect in Little Italy!

29. The opportunities for perspective
The views from the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building let you get such a good feeling for this dense city.

manhattan skyscrapers from top of the rock30. Spotting film crews and trailers on location filming the next great NYC movie.

31. Contemplating what constitutes a New Yorker
Contrasting people who live out near Coney Island to those on the Upper East Side, and marveling at the fact that no matter their differences, they are all still New Yorkers.

32. Mariachi bands on the subway

mariachi band subway new york city33. New York is within everyone’s budget
With the exception of accommodation, hanging out in New York City can be cheap as chips and exhilarating at the same time. It might be testing out a highly-recommended hole in the wall and people watching in the park rather than Michelin-starred dining and a Broadway show, but no matter your budget, you will have a distinctly authentic New York time.

And now, our all-time favorite tribute to New York City:

We would like to thank nycgo.com for providing us with two New York CityPASSes for our time in New York City. We were able to squeeze in six of NYC’s main attractions in three days without wasting any time lining up for tickets.

If you enjoyed this, you might like to check out things we loved about some other cities on our travels:

Thirty-three things we love about Lisbon
Thirty-three things we love about Mexico
Thirty-three things we love about Nicaragua


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GlobetrotterGirls Holiday Travel Guide 2011

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Holiday travel always begins with the best intentions: spending time with family or getting away from it all and spoiling yourselves. Without the right game plan and a little focus, however, what started off nice enough can rapidly descend into hellish hours of heart-pumping stress. That’s why we’ve created a quick holiday travel guide to help ease the stress during the heaviest travel season of the year.

We can’t make any promises, but these are our tried and tested tricks we have adopted not only since beginning this nomadic life in April 2010 including how to book a flight, packing tips, advice on hiring a housesitter, what not to wear when traveling, and some bonus iPhone apps perfect for travelers.  Enjoy!

Beach & clouds

1. How to book your holiday flight

Book your flights on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon are the best time to buy your plane tickets, as airlines tend to drop their prices on these days of each week, raising them again on the weekend when most people have the time to research vacation plans.

Be flexible with your travel dates

Likewise, it matters what day you choose to fly. For example, Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly. Check out a comprehensive guide on finding a cheap flight in Fare Compare’s article Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

In fact, the more flexibility on departure and/or return flights, the better. Flights on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will be the most expensive of the season, but what you may not know is that certain dates or specific flights are, for whatever reason, much lower than others. That’s why playing around with various dates can help to save you anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars.

Be flexible with your destination

Many of us will be making the trip home to see family, and for those people the destination is fixed. However, many families and extended families travel together during the holidays, whether that be somewhere with sun and sand or on a ski holiday. If the destination itself can remain flexible, your family can search according to the best deals rather than being locked down to a certain location. Hunt around sites like Travelocity or Expedia if you’re based in the U.S. or lastminute.co.uk in the UK and hook into some of the destination specials which can include hotel and airfare to somewhere you may consider a random location. Now we’re not saying book your holidays in Boise, Idaho (no offense Boiseans) just because you find cheap airfare, but keeping your mind open to new destinations can result in snapping up some great hotel + flight deal combos.

Consider a nearby airport hub

If you are daydreaming about a Christmas break in Paris or Bali, don’t get disheartened when flights directly to those destinations are above your budget. Instead, consider flying into Duesseldorf, Germany, or London, England – major airport hubs that sits just a train ride or cheap discount flight away from Paris. Along those same lines, if flights to Bali are too expensive, consider a flight to Singapore and jetting over on Air Asia to Bali for an additional $40.

Don’t wait until the very last minute

Be flexible, not lazy. The dirt cheap last minute holiday is not a myth, but not entirely last minute, either. The best priced vacation packages are available 2-4 weeks before a departure date, when tourism providers (hotels, airlines, tour companies) start to get jittery about filling seats/beds. These great last minute deals usually don’t apply around Christmas, however, so to find any great Christmas flights or packages, don’t put it off. There are some great package deals available again in January, if you can wait.

2. Hire a housesitter

Worry can ruin any vacation, so if you have a house and/or pets that need taking care of, consider ‘hiring’ a house sitter. We’ve done several housesitting gigs, and can’t make it more clear what a win-win situation this is. Become members of sites like housecarers.com or mindmyhouse.com (it’s free for home owners, house sitters pay an annual fee – presumably to weed out anyone not serious).

The process of finding a house sitter is simple – we tell you everything you need to know about housesitting here – and before making the final choice on your house sitter, set up a video-call on Skype. You can get a good feeling about a person when meeting them ‘in person’ over a Skype call. Then, when you’re on vacation, just knowing that someone is on hand for minor emergencies, your house looks lived in (no break-ins), your plants are watered, snow is shoveled and your pets are being taken care of allows you to truly relax and escape.

The best part is that house sitters agree on free accommodation in exchange for taking care of the house/pets – making this free service much cheaper than a kennel!

3. How to Pack for your holiday escape

Get Packing Cubes

We LOVE our new packing cubes, and can’t imagine traveling without them. These inexpensive little travel buddies compartmentalize your travel life. We fit more clothes and minimize the time we spend searching for little things, knowing which packing cube holds which type of gadget. Plus, we’ve cut our packing/re-packing time down considerably.

packing cubes

Pack light

If you want to save time at the airport, not deal with lost luggage or just want to avoid ever-increasing luggage fees – consider traveling with a carry-on only if possible. If you just can’t squeeze everything in to your carry-on (lord knows we couldn’t), shipping a bag or two with UPS or FedEx in the United States might work out cheaper than checking a second or third bag – which can cost $165 or even more depending on whether your flight is domestic or international. We’ve never used Send My Bag, but they promise to ship one piece of luggage domestically within the UK for 16GBP, or abroad for as low as 29.99GBP. If Christmas gifts are what is going to weigh you down, we say purchase your gifts on Amazon.com.

4. How to simplify the day of your trip

Dress comfortably

When your actual departure date finally arrives, play it cool. We never understand getting all dolled up for the airport, but especially during the heightened security of the holiday season, it just makes sense to choose your clothes and accessories carefully. You might just be cutting your own time at security down by seconds, but you will also be keeping stress at an absolute minimum.

  • Wear slip-on shoes
  • Wear a jacket that is easy to get on and off, and avoid too many layers.
  • Wear pants that do not require a belt
  • Along with any 100ml toiletries, pack your earrings or jewelry in a little bag to put on after you’ve been through security if you just can’t fly without it.
  • Do the same with any spare change you have.
  • Keep tickets / passports in an easy-to-reach but not obvious pocket of your bag, and keep laptops handy too.

Charge!

Make sure your electronic devices are 100% charged and ready to go: your phone, your Kindle, your laptop and whatever other devices you need to use. Due to flight delays  plan to use as you travel need to be fully charged. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out where to charge your devices. If there is a place, it could be a challenge to get a spot if everyone is delayed. Being fully charged is a great way to start at least.

Arrive early at the airport

Even if you’re a travel pro who slides in and out of airports on the regular, during the holiday season, arrive at the airport a full three hours in advance. Airports are considerably fuller, and you’ll need time to get through long security lines and early arrival might help you avoid getting bumped on an overbooked flight.

airplane

Talk to as few people as possible

In other words, check-in online and if possible, get your boarding pass sent to your smartphone. Most airlines offer online check-in nowadays while others actually charge you extra when checking in at the desk. Checking in online avoids you getting bumped off the flight, lets you pick your seats and ensure that you and your travel partners are seated together.

Book your airport parking in advance

Airport parking garages tend to fill up quickly over the holidays – make sure to book your airport parking spot in advance! It’s not only the safest way to make sure you’ve got a spot, but it’s also cheaper! Many other airports offer advance booking services. This cuts down on both time and stress to make your holiday travel easier.

***Bonus Tips*** Handy iPhone Apps for your holiday travels

Your smart phone can be your best friend while you travel. We use ours more than we ever thought we would when starting our travels in April 2010. Below are a few useful travel apps for the holidays and beyond:

Emergency Medical Center Locator – Free

This free iPhone app promises to help you locate the nearest medical center – no matter where you are in the world. Using the GPS on your phone or by manually entering location information, uses can find the closest care center within minutes for specialty areas such as trauma, stroke, eye, pediatric, cardiac and burn injuries. We haven’t had to use this app yet (thankfully) but see just one major catch: this app features only the most advanced, state-of-the-art emergency cafe facilities with a proven track record, which limits the number of locations and could possibly cost a bundle.

Free Wi-Fi Finder – Free

This one is great for travel abroad and helps travelers avoid roaming fees and hidden charges by finding you the next, nearest free wi-fi by using your phone’s GPS so you can log-on and get in touch with friends, family or even work (even during the holidays…).

FlightView – $0.99

This is not the absolute best flight status tracking app, but the best deal for ease of use/minute by minute updates. You can track both in-air and upcoming flights, gate assignments, flight delays and cancellations with this app, plus save flight itineraries, add your own notes, see weather radar (U.S. only) and email flight status updates to friends and family directly through the app.

AllSubway HD – $0.99

This great app has downloaded maps of 137 subway systems of the world’s greatest cities. No need to go online, you can zoom in close to look at stops and connections throughout the entire map. Links to fares and times online also available.

XE Currency Exchange – Free

No matter where we travel abroad, we never go anywhere without this free currency exchange app. Keep track of the current exchange rate so you never over spend while on holiday.

iExit Interstate Exit Guide – $1.99, Roadside America – $2.99

We wish we had known about these two apps on our Great American Road Trip from New York City to New Orleans this summer!

For US travel only, the iExit app tells users about each of the upcoming rest stops along the highway, including restaurants, bathrooms and gas stations, which the Roadside America app promises that road trippers will never miss that giant ball of string again. Users can look up what quirky all-American road-side attraction is within a quick road-trip stop from their location.Both of these require internet access so may be limited for international users.

 

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