Amalfi Coast, Italy

My post from the Amalfi Coast

IMG_9491To quote my friend, Anna Moyer: “It’s hard to overstate the beauty of the Amalfi coast.”  On the bus, every hairpin turn was breathtaking.  You’re incredibly high up from the waters below, and the towns living in the mountainside are beautiful as they peak around each curve in the road.

We arrived in Positano after an early morning flight and two crowded SITA buses, yet time stood still for the rest of the day as we explored the many nooks and crannies of this dreamy place.  Positano is full of numerous staircases, and long winding roads, that will do a number on your calves.  We took a very, very leisurely pace the entire time as this was Corey’s first trip since Tignes.

Near the main docks, there were numerous linen boutiques, sandal shops, and limoncello grocers.  Lemons are big here- not just in popularity but also in size.  I also loved the stores selling ceramic-ware painted with bright lemons against navy on all sorts of bowls and platters.

We dipped our toes in the super clear water, and took a nap on the pebbly beach late in the afternoon, before making the trek back up to the local Trattoria.

The streets are lovely as you can see.  Many of them are draped with wisteria or have brightly painted building.  We imagined how crowded it must feel in the summer as you can barely walk two by two on the narrow lanes.  On the street sides, single file is a must so you aren’t nipped by a local bus or scooter.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures around every twist and turn.


This morning, I tried running stairs to get the day started but I only lasted about twenty minutes.  The Positano steps kicked my butt, but there is no photographic evidence as I could barely breathe, no less snap a selfie!  Wouldn’t an early lunch be a better idea?  Corey found Fattoria La Tagliata, a true gem, up towards the town of Nocelle.  I wanted to visit Nocelle as this is where the Il Sentiero degli Dei (Path of The Gods) trailhead starts/ends, but honestly, if you didn’t want to hike, then I’d still highly suggest a trip to this restaurant as your main activity for the day.  It felt like the Italian grandmother-chefs were picking young garlic right out of the garden to use for our family style meal (and later we discovered there was a mini-farm outside!)  You arrive on the terrace and three small plates with a bottle of house wine are immediately brought to your table. There is no need for a menu.  Prego!!!

We didn’t do the Path of the Gods as it was too strenuous for my kidney-healing man, but we did take the bus to Nocelle so that I could at least say I saw the entrance to the path.  If we return to the coast, I’ll be bringing a solid pair of hiking boots.

The remainder of the day was spent on the small terrace in our hotel room just taking in the gorgeous scenery and reviving my blog (or ‘slog’ as Corey has taken to calling it as it’s majorly delayed in posts (slow + blog= slog).  Better yet, wait for the exclusive to Corey’s blog- or ‘clog’- coming out…. TBD 🙂


Day three took us on a day trip to Amalfi, another town just a thirty minute boat ride along the coast.  The town has a smaller beach, but a livelier square and Duomo.

Visitors can enter the crypts and cathedral for a mere three Euro to see the Monumental Complex of St. Andrew.  We had a seaside lunch followed by a gelato cone (I found the sorbet yogurt flavor and felt very satisfied).  We didn’t indulge in the fried seafood cones along the way, but did some window shopping for linen, leather and limoncello.

We caught another crowded SITA bus up to Ravello, a very pretty town, high up in the cliffs.  Suggestion for SITA straphangers: buy your round trip tickets at the tabacchi shop, and get to the busstop early.  We were visiting in April when it’s less crowded and still felt the pushing and shoving to climb aboard.  Though SITA looks like our version of a charter bus, they line people up into the aisles like a local city bus.

Ravello was as picturesque as ever, and we spent a majority of our time in the Villa Cimbrone, an exclusive hotel with gardens that are open to the public.  The wisteria that hang down along the walk and the stunning views of the Mediterranean made it well worth the 7 Euro.

On the way back from the gardens, we opted for Mimi Bar Pizzeria for a quick meal before our Ravello Piano Concert.  Jackpot!!! The pizza crust was chewy and delicious, and it was the best pasta with ‘sea fruit’ (clams and mussels) I had on the entire trip!!! I can’t say enough good stuff. The trip advisor reviews in the link below don’t have enough exclamation points to do the restaurant justice. We will definitely return if we are in Ravello for more red sauce and seafood.

Ravello’s Concert Hall offers weekly concerts in a small venue with great acoustics.  If you’re into classical music, this would be a must see.  This is illustrated by the fact that we ran into one of Corey’s colleagues while waiting for the concert to start!  She had heard similar reviews of Ravello’s concert society and made sure to stop in as well.  Giuseppe Di Bianco’s piano recital concluded our already peaceful afternoon.  Unfortunately, after the limoncello at intermission, we had to leave to catch the last bus to Amalfi and Positano.  Stepping out into the quiet stone paths after hearing a talented musician made for a great evening.  Add to this, the local church was holding their Good Friday procession, complete with babies dressed as angels, and a candle lit parade.


We left Positano mid morning and spent the day wandering the new, flatter streets of Sorrento.  The area feels a bit less ‘beach-vacationy’ as the beach is much smaller here, though the waters are just as clear blue when you look over the edge of the boulevards. It’s easy to take day trips from Sorrento as well so there is a city/ transport feeling, in my opinion.

There’s more affordable shopping here, and more space for outdoor eateries. We didn’t find a great lunch spot, but we didn’t find a lovely linen shop where the gentlemen dressed Corey to the nines! The fashionista spirit of Italy is still strong though we were many miles from Milan.  We were offered delicious samples at Nino and Friends, a souvenir shop featuring local treats.  I found a purse that I couldn’t resist, and then we made our way to the grocery store to ensure we had provisions for Easter Sunday and Monday.  We learned that many restaurants would be closed or would have limited hours for the holiday so it was time to stock up for an Easter picnic.  Would you believe we met a family from Ewing at the grocery store!?  Corey has a magnet for meeting people around the world!  While he reminisced about dirty Jersey highlights with two college-aged siblings, I purchased mortadella, parma ham, olives and artichoke hearts with their mom.  Her son is studying abroad in Germany, and he and his sister bought their mom a ticket to travel to Italy for the first time on their spring break.

Dinner was around the corner from our hotel, and the fish of the day with homemade pasta was a major thumbs up.  We also spotted many tables sharing multiple pizzas so it seems you can’t make a bad choice at Il Convivio.


Since Sorrento is a hub for day trips, we caught an early train to Pompeii and Erculano to see the historical ruins created by Mt. Vesuvius.  On Easter Sunday, the trains stop running at 1pm so we did a quick tour at each site, and promised to read up on these when we had more time.  You can see just how intricate the cities must have been, and Ercolano still had paintings on the walls as well!

We ventured into the side streets of Ercolano and saw Easter parades with flags and traditional dress.  The slight drizzle couldn’t stop the celebrations and chants. I wondered how much I should be considering that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano even though we were most likely just hearing thunder rolling in with the rain clouds.

We found a serious bakery selling Easter treats and gelato. Yes, of course, we joined in with the purchasing of pastries and spun gelato cones, even in the rain.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch by the hotel pool and spent the remainder of the grey afternoon between the hotel lobby tethered to wifi and the hotel bar for a beer and wine happy hour.

Dinner was at Ristorante Bagni Delfino, a restaurant right on the docks that was open on Easter Sunday.  The staff was incredibly nice, and I must say the gratis pre-dinner prosecco was a nice touch.  After the sun set, the main square in Sorrento still felt lively, with many people out celebrating the holiday.  Everyone was dressed up and out with kids and loved ones, treating themselves to gelato or just enjoying the night lights.


For our last full day on the coast, we caught an early boat out to the Isle of Capri.  We hit a bump in the road, or should I say, a bump in the waves, as they felt reminiscent to the waves on our Thailand trip. Corey soothed me by telling me the waves were not nearly as rocky as we’d experienced before (which was true), and that we were ‘almost there’ numerous times even when we weren’t.  I admittedly found myself pumped with more adrenaline than I’d expected while on the boat so getting back on solid ground was a good start to being on the island.  Truthfully, the views didn’t compare to Positano, Amalfi or Ravello as we took the uphill walk to the town center. High end shops and small cafes line Piazza Umberto, the main plaza, where you’ll find many day-trippers.

We wandered to the Giardini di Augusto to look out on the Faraglioni, two distinct rock formations in the true blue sea.  Unfortunately, there weren’t boats being allowed into the Grotta Azzurra, as the waves were too choppy.  We hear the magnificent blue ocean is supposed to be unreal in this cavern.

We sat along the garden walls with our parma, olives, tomatoes, pesto and bread picnic lunch as many of the Capri eateries are expensive.  Corey treated himself to a ‘Capri Special’ drink: fresh orange juice with lemon granita.  It dawned on me that Capri Sun must be based on this very juice!  We traveled back down to the Marina Grande on the funicolar, a train that goes straight up and down the hill on one track (just like the one on the snowy mountains of Tignes).

O’ Parrucchiano had the most stunning ambiance.  It felt like dining in a magical citrus grove, and I asked that Corey propose to me again because it was such a fairytale.  Stick to the seafood dishes as my veal Milanese wasn’t much to write home about.  As we walked home from dinner, teems of people were spilling out of Gelateria Primavera so we had to try it…When in Rome? (the saying still applies even in Southern Italy, right?)



Naples

A few people told us to skip Naples–that it wasn’t worth dedicating a night of our trip here.  But we liked seeing the different personality of this city.  Yes, it’s grittier than any locale on the Amalfi coast, but it’s also the third largest city in Italy.  It’s a mix of graffitied walls, and quaint restaurants, with neighborhoods that are definitely showing signs of change in many ways.

Our first day of walking was close to Piazza Dante.  The neighborhood lanes had two sides. The main strip, Via Dei Tribunali, was lined with pizza shops, souvenirs booths, and churches offering tours of the underground cities of Naples.  Off this main drag were dollar stores, tobacco carts, and drabber alleys brightened only with hanging laundry.

The central duomo’s interior was beautiful, and the plaza in front was a hangout for teens, and boys playing futbol. We participated in a slightly uneventful tour of the San Lorenzo Maggiore Scavi Museo to see the ancient market buried below the foundation of the church.  The fact that Naples has underground tunnels, markets, and piazzas is really neat, but the tour wasn’t too exciting…more of a tourist trap upon reflection.

Via Toledo is full of commercial shops like H&M and Adidas but this huge street does lead you right down to the water.  We stopped for a caffè nocciolato at Il Vero Bar del Professore, a cafe renowned for rich hazelnut cream coffee.  Before heading to the seaside, you pass the gorgeous Basilica Real Pontificia San Francesco da Paola.  Cars aren’t able to drive along the waterfront (Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope) and it was nice to see joggers in the evening, and friends strolling along enjoying the views of Capri and Mt Vesuvius in the distance (we were sure we were looking at one of these!)

We passed Castel dell’Ovo, a fort-looking castle jutting right out on the waves.  Taking a right up past the huge waterfront hotels takes you to the Chiaia neighborhood. This is an area that feels completely different from the lanes we’d walked earlier in the day. There are boutiques and fine art galleries.  I’d read that we should visit a wine bar with a rooftop but before we found it, we passed BISI.  The owners swept us up before we could say no and they were terrific. The cocktails were perfect, especially since they were keen to create something based on our personal taste. With each drink, you’re served a board of small snacks done incredibly well. Apparently, the owners also have another spot called Trip which we will hit up on our next visit to Naples.

We still hadn’t had dinner but it was good that we had emptier stomachs for our meal at Tandem.  They are known for their rich meat ragu and meatballs.  I loved the checkered tablecloths in the intimate space.


 

 

It was amazing to see Corey’s energy returning each day. For our final day in Italy, he were up for more walking.  We took the funicular up to the Castel Sant’ Elmo to see the view of the entire city.

We visited the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or Madre, a contemporary art museum listed in the 36 Hours in Naples article. The entrance makes you feel like you’re in a funhouse.  We saw large walls highlighting art with one off kilter photograph, or a large circle with abstract scribbles.  I liked the gallery dedicated to imago mundi, a set of published books.  The works are voluntary and published in a collection to show contemporary art from countries all over the world.

By noon, it was time to brave the crowds to see if we could get a table at Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo.  If you’re in the birthplace of pizza, this is one of the most popular places to dine.  We arrived at twelve on the dot, and we were seated immediately–lucky us!  It definitely lived up to its reputation, and I even had a few bites with cheese to get the real experience.  A YUMMY last meal!!! It’s worth noting that there is another Sorbillo down the block, but it’s easy to tell the difference as there are swarms of people outside of the best one.

My summary for this trip: I can’t wait to visit Italy again! Neither can Corey. Check him out feelin’ good.

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Quickshot:

Positano (and the small town of Nocelle)

  • Eat at Fattoria La Tagliata (this is a 20 min bus ride outside of Positano so get yourself a bus timetable). Fattoria means farm, but I thought it could be a hint that you’ll gain weight after eating here….’fat’toria…get it?
  • Give yourself 4-5 hours for the Walk of the Gods (there are many other websites so if this one doesn’t suit you, no worries)
  • Spend an evening at a local trattoria- this is a more laid back vibe, less formal than a ristorante;  any locals can point you in the right direction. We enjoyed C’era Una Volte, up about 200 steps from our hotel.
  • Get lost in the shopping lanes and winding roads of Positano- no maps needed.  Just take in the views when you need a break.

Amalfi

  • Yes to gelato. All of it will be good.
  • See the Duomo di Amalfi (crypts and cathedral for a quick 3 euro)
  • Boat travel seemed optimal for a day trip to many of the coastal towns. Just make sure to check when the last boat leaves.

Ravello

Sorrento

  • Eat at Il Convivio (pizzeria and ristorante)
  • Walk to the seaside and sit on the docks on a sunny day
  • Eat at O’ Parrucchiano to feel like you’re in a fairytale grove
  • Shop at bottega21 for a bag or wallet or glasses case
  • Walk the main cobblestone lane to Nino and Friends for generous samples of Sorrento treats… even if you don’t have room in your suitcase

Napoli Food Suggestions

  • Apertivos must be at BISI– the owners are too good to their guests!
  • Eat at Tandem for ragu (make a reservation if you can)
  • For pizza, the first choice is Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32). I’ve also heard that Da Michele is tasty and a close walk nearby if you didn’t want to wait.
  • Il Vero Bar del Professore for a coffee pitstop (Piazza Trieste e Trento)
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Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Island Ride: Koh Samui & Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

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16Dec2016

We conquered our long flight from Heathrow by sharing favorite wedding memories, reading about the Thai islands and watching three (subpar) movies: Finding Dory, Suicide Squad, and The BFG.  Koh Samui’s airport welcomed us in the humidity with a one loop baggage claim, and a small taxi stand of drivers eager to pick up tourists. We were using Koh Samui for its convenient airport, but we’d be heading immediately out to Koh Tao, a smaller island famous for snorkeling and diving.  However, at the ferry dock, we were told the Koh Tao ferries were canceled for the day as there was ‘big wave’.  ‘Big wave’ meant that it wasn’t safe for boats to travel to Koh Tao until the following morning.

A small glitch in our travel plans, but we made the most of it.  After a quick booking at the Mermaid Inn, we started to explore this part of Samui island.  We passed the ‘smelly market’, as locals call it, due to the numerous fish vendors who throw out their fish remains at the market entrance.  I was wowed with the toads, and mounds of homemade curry pastes on display.

It was easy to spot the major landmark here: The Big Buddha. The Big Buddha was very big indeed.  It was flanked by various smaller statues and ngars (snake like figures).  I used a kimono style robe from the shared tourist rack at the entrance as my shorts were not long enough to enter the grounds.  This was a first of many borrowed accessories needed to enter temples in Thailand.

Leaving the temple, we wandered towards the Bob Marley jams playing out of a local spot.  It was decorated with shells, colorful lights, and cabanas with bean bags.  The owner let us know the food set out was free and that we should help ourselves to fresh seafood!  She hailed from Leicester and had been living in Samui for eight years.  We met a variety of characters that night since she had a group of English friends reuniting together on an island vacation.

We tried the various Thai beers to find a favorite for the remainder of the trip (Singha, Leo, and Chang– in that order for me).  The evening was so relaxing even though we didn’t make it to Koh Tao as planned.  We’d be on the first ferry at 8am the next morning.


17Dec2016

I’m not really sure how to post about today.  We were in a rocky situation with our boat trying to get to Koh Tao—so much so that we didn’t make it to the island.  The waves were so rough that we, and all of the passengers, were holding on for dear life.

Blogging for the memory of this event seems strange as it was an unforgettable experience.  Passengers were losing their stomachs all over the place, the anchor of the boat broke off and hit the front window on the boat, and the waves were so high that even while Corey was gripping his seat, he was still flying up in the air.  I spent most of my time squeezing his arm, keeping my eyes shut tight, and using my deepest yoga breathing.  He was a rock for me while the waves were crashing on top of the boat, and he was also a source of calm for other people as well.  The Thai crew were barefoot outside on the bow in the sheets of rain trying to fix the anchor, but no one gave any announcements about what was happening when the motor stopped!  It felt like an eternity before they told us we’d go back to Koh Pha Ngan due to ‘big wave’.  One of the crew members played  ‘My Heart Will Go On’ as we filed off of the boat.  I didn’t think it was funny.

We spent the next 24 hours with a small group of travelers- the You Only Boat Once crew (YOBO!).  We huddled around a cell phone and wet maps to find a place to stay on such short notice, especially as so many places were packed with full-moon-partygoers. We found the Sabaii Bay hotel and made our way to what felt like an oasis.  It had been two days on the islands and I hadn’t laid on a beach, but I was grateful just to be on land!

We went for lunch in a garage with a woman cooking the daily specials in just four silver pots.  We took a walk in the rain just because we could.  Then we had happy hour with the YOBO crew: a newlywed couple from Vancouver, a younger couple from Gothenburg, and an Argentinian woman about our age traveling on her own.  The day’s events definitely brought us closer together. We shared stories about traveling, work, and ‘must see’ places for our remaining weeks late into the evening.  It felt like a good sign that the rain stopped while we were getting to know one another.


18Dec2016

Our boat ride was an easy one!  The weather was sunny and I even had time to walk on the beach before we took off.  Before the trip, everyone in the YOBO crew seemed to be carefully weighing breakfast options in anticipation for the upcoming ride.  Overall, we were all in hopeful spirits with the sun shining.  On the boat, we sat in our same seats, almost superstitiously.

Just walking to into our last hotel on Koh Samui was incredibly different to our past two evenings.  This hotel was luxury.  Thank you, SPG points!

We changed into our bathing suits for the first time in three days.  We read on deck chairs, swam in the ocean, had drinks in the infinity pool and basically ordered everything on the menu.  We surrendered to complete and utter relaxation.


19Dec2016

Though we didn’t leave the resort hotel, we did run along the beach the next morning to see the other bungalows down the coast.  We also felt proud of our mini workout in the fitness room before the breakfast buffet!  La gon (goodbye) Thailand, for now, but we’ve got plans to get back to Koh Tao in the future.

*Apologies that this post is out of order. These Thai islands were actually the start of our honeymoon!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Charming Hoi An, Vietnam

21Dec2016: Arrival in Hoi An

The Hoi An River Town Hotel welcomed us with coconut crackers, a map, and an enthusiastic staff member named Thu.  She provided suggestions for local food spots before we went into town.  The lantern-lit streets felt luring compared to the claustrophobic market stalls of Siem Reap.  Hoi An had a small town feeling, like being somewhere that you’d definitely walk into people more than once. It’s center is full of artists, garment makers, cafes and dimly lit restaurants.  Along the riverside, people are buying paper lanterns to launch into the river for a lucky wish.  While the open air store fronts were still full of signaling vendors, we felt like we could stroll along without being bothered much by the other visitors and hawkers.

We ate at a popular restaurant called Morning Glory- so popular, in fact, that the illustrious vegetable was sold out by 7pm.  The squid stuffed with pork, and the bahn xeo (an egg pancake or crepe) were the best plates of the evening.  Then we spent the remainder of the night wandering streets full of tailor shops, all promising they could make any size, color or style clothing we desired by the following evening.  Even the shoe shops said they could make sandals and sneakers for us if we didn’t see our size on the floor.  We ended up taking the bait at Peace Tailor and Bari Tailor, and fashion designing ensued.  Peace Tailor had nice options for Corey while Bari had better fabrics for women.  Corey started the rumpus with three suits that night!


22 Dec2016: Day Trip to My Son Temple (pronounced Mee Son)

We started our morning with the international buffet at the hotel.  I liked how the omelet station was also serving up steaming bowls of pho.  Our guide, Mr. Le Xuan Thong, promptly picked us up at 9am for our tour of My Son temple.  The temple site itself was small and not nearly as grand as Angkor Wat, but Mr. Thong was such an excellent guide that we felt our time was really well spent at the ruins.

After a short trolly ride, we arrived at the site in time to see a dance and musical performance.  Mr. Thong shared that the site was built in the 9th century by the Cham people who migrated from India.  Much of the site has actually been renovated and rebuilt by French and German teams after the vast bombing that this area experienced during the Vietnam War.  There were large craters in the ground where mines had exploded as well.  We were warned not to go off the trail as live mines still litter the jungle.

We had a local lunch with Mr. Thong and Mr. Vu (our driver).  The noodle salad was crisp and savory and spicy all at the same time. You should also note that the papadum looking rounds (center picture) were yummy with salad, but if you didn’t eat your round, it was put back into the pile to serve upcoming guests (we found this out afterwards).

We took a bike ride to An Bang beach about thirty minutes away from the town center.  Riding along the ride paddies was beautiful and the beach wasn’t too crowded as it was an overcast day.

We continued our bike ride to Cam Nam Island where we stopped for a snack.  The soup stall caught my eye because of how many people were out front.  Once we sat down, however, we realized it was really just one large group of school girls who were eating together.  The owners, and the girls, were laughing so hard as Corey went to squat onto the small plastic stools next to their table (you’ll smile at the pictures below).  This immediately prompted a selfie moment and we enjoyed eating at this stand because more and more families were bringing their little ones for dinner.

We dropped off our bikes, went back to our tailor shops for final fittings, and then tried Bale Well for dinner.  It’s a spot with a fixed menu of kebabs and wraps.  The staff brought everything to the table, feverishly made a sample roll, and then stuffed one into Corey’s mouth.  Then they stood to watch ‘barangs’ (foreigners) try to make their own rolls while giving directions and pointers.  We ate with two women traveling from Israel and another from Chile who shared their backpacking stories.


23Dec2016: A day exploring Hoi An

With nothing officially planned for today, we started off with a walk around the neighborhood.  We strolled through markets, shoe shops, and quiet residential areas.

Time for a snack after so much walking! Coconut crackers, white rose dumplings, and coffee- not all from the same cafe.  We basically stopped for a taste of anything from the street vendors that looked tasty.  For lunch, we waited in line for bahn my/mi from a place that our hotel suggested.  We figured it must be good if there was a line out the door.  Once we saw the menu we realized why the line was so long- the restaurant had been crowned by Anthony Bourdain.

We captured more moments in the center of town- baguette shops and an art shop and a sleeping stall owner.  We also got caught up in school dismissal.

As it was our last night, we tried our luck at Morning Glory again, but still failed to have a dish of morning glory.  I think Ms. Vy, the restauranteur, has singlehandedly raised the status of the ivy-looking veggie at all four of her restaurants.  We strolled home and relaxed with beers in the hotel courtyard.

It was hard to believe that we’d already finished this leg of the trip.  Hoi An was a delightful first stop in Vietnam, and a wonderful introduction for our ten day stint here.


Quick Shot:

Day 1- Arrival in the afternoon

  • Wander the shops in the town center along Tran Phu street and Le Loi street
  • Dinner at Morning Glory or any of Ms. Vy’s restaurants
  • Tailor Shops: Bari Tailor (30 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Minh An, Vietnam) and Peace Tailor (6 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam)
  • Check out the Night Market on Nguyen Hoang Street

Day 2- Half day tour, Half day bike

  • 1/2 Day Tour: My Son temple (find your own transportation or hire a guide)
  • Afternoon bike ride to An Bang Beach (our hotel rented bikes)
  • Dinner at Bale Well (down a side alley)

Day 3- Wander the Neighborhoods

  • Find some art at Ti Tin Gallery
  • See the market near Nguyen Day Hieu street
  • Eat lunch at Banh My Phuong (2B Phan Châu Trinh, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam)
  • See Tan Ky ancient house and the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall
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Brighton, England

Brighton Day Trip

I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I wanted to get out of the house.  London is still feeling great, but we haven’t been somewhere new since the school year has started.  A day trip to Brighton seemed like an easy remedy.img_7973

Brighton is a seaside town about an hour south of London on the train. It’s really easy to get to from the London Bridge station so we packed our camera and some grapes for the train ride.  Being near the sea meant the first stop had to be for fish and chips.  We read that Bardsley’s fish and chips shop has been serving up piping hot cod and haddock since 1926.  We ordered a platter that included calamari and shrimp as well. Go big or go home!

On the walk to Brighton Pier we saw a surprising amount of graffiti art.  The Royal Pavilion was unfortunately covered by white tents , but you could still make out the ‘oriental’ influence in the architecture. (Yes, the word ‘oriental’ was used to describe the design).  The town’s main shopping area, North Laine, included something for everyone: hemp bracelets and MC Hammer pants were neighbors with expensive coffee beans and gourmet donuts.  Vintage sweaters and records shared the block with H&M and Barbour.  This weekend, there were also stands dedicated to Halloween inspired face painting.

The pebbled coastline stretched for miles, and I can imagine it being dotted with tourists in the summer months. The pier was a predictable scene of tempting arcade games where one could win a million tickets or an apple watch if you could position the coin-pusher-arm or crane-claw just so.  Every few feet, a vendor was selling something incredibly fried, and of course, there was a log ride that Corey had to check out. He also noted the bumper cars seemed more polite than usual- is it really because we’re in the UK?!  We caught the tail end of some Saturday markets on our walk, including a Quaker place of worship that was hosting a craft fair.

We finished our trip with a bag of chocolate sweets for the train ride home, and an airplane sized nip of wine (you can have a tipple on the train!).  It was nice to return home and still have the evening hour to finish a good book.  This mini-outing did just the trick!

 

 

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Algarve, Portugal, Cascais, Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal, Sintra, Portugal

Put Portugal On Your List of Places to See!!!

I can’t believe that we were in Portugal for less than a week! The days feel so long when you’re wandering the streets in Lisbon or when you’re exploring the caves in Algarve.  I feel like we did so much in just four nights. Please put Portugal on the list of places to travel to if you haven’t already.

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Pena Palace in Sintra

Here’s the snapshot of our itinerary:

  • Thursday night- Lisbon (Lisboa to the locals)
  • Friday- Lisbon
  • Saturday- Sintra & Cascais
  • Sunday- Algarve (I’m not sure if it’s Algarve, or The Algarves)
  • Monday- Algarve

9/24/15 Thursday: My first night in Lisbon was on my own because Corey had a working dinner.  The nights here feel like the Bay Area with a cool breeze (layers needed), yet the neighborhoods feel like more like NYC.  The neighborhood Bairro Alto felt similar to the Lower East Side, full of shops, restaurants, and bars which you feel like you’ve earned the right to patronize after walking up and down so many hills.  On Sachi’s recommendation, I headed to Taberna Da Rua Das Flores and had an amazing octopus salad.  After dinner, I went back to the hotel for drinks with Corey and his coworker, Ali.


9/25/15 Friday: While Corey went to his meetings on Friday morning, I toured the neighborhood Belem, keeping a strong focus on the highest priorities- pastel de nata (egg tart)…sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top, and eat at the bar! This was the central reason for my travels to Belem, a slightly out of the way neighborhood.

After fueling up on the egg-custard tart, I walked about 5 miles through Belem towards Baixa (a neighborhood closer to the tourist center).  It was such a gorgeous day to check out the Padrao Dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), Central Cultural De Belem (I only went into the gardens), Torre De Belem (Belem Tower) and the winding streets in the neighborhood.

At this point, I needed to cab to meet up with Corey since I was late after all this meandering. For lunch, we had frango y chips (chicken and fries) in Baixa- the neighborhood near Bloomberg’s satellite office. The chicken is a local favorite and the spot, Bonjardim Rei Dos Frangos, knows how to rock this dish!

After lunch, Corey needed to change out of his work clothes and I needed a catnap after walking so many miles in the morning. We regrouped at the hotel and then went out for the second part of our sight-seeing adventure.

We had to get to Castelo St. Jorge for an incredible view of Lisbon. The castle is on a hill above the neighborhood, Alfama. Then we walked all the way down through the ambling streets of Alfama, peering into shops and cafes.  We headed to A Vida Portuguesa, a lovely shop with items made entirely by Portuguese artists and craftsfolk.  We finished our shopping just in time for our dinner reservation at Cervejaria Ramiroliterally the best and freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten! The langoustine, percebes, and jumbo tiger prawns are still dancing in my dreams. The crab was also super tasty.  Before you go, I can teach you how to eat percebes now, and be aware that you might need to duck flying shells and bits of seafood meat as people are cracking open the treasures at this restaurant. Corey also mentioned that folks end their night by ordering a small filet of steak- that seems blasphemous to me, but to each their own.

Our night ended at Pensao Amor, a historic brothel turned into a dimly lit lounge with tasty drinks. Lisbon, thank you for such an amazing visit!


9/26/15 Saturday: We picked up our rental car and drove out to Sintra, the hometown of Pena Palace.  We rode in a Tuk Tuk to the top, a fun yet bumpy ride. The castle was the most colorful thing I’ve seen, and full of tourists snapping panoramic shots and selfies- we may have been guilty of a few of these ourselves (see below).  We both loved the architecture, the tiles, and the delicately crafted carvings in the castle walls.

Carry on to Cascais’ Old Town, a vacation spot right along the water! Being at this beachtown reminded me of being in Alicante, the town in Spain where Jamie Lynn studied abroad. We ate a tasty seafood lunch (yes, octopus for me again!) and then wandered through the streets buying up small souvenirs, and stealing shots of the locals.  We caught the sunset along the harbor of Baia De Cascais (bay), and along Praia Da Ribeira (beach).

Back in Lisbon, our last stop of the day was TimeOut’s Mercado Da Ribeira! It’s an marketplace with gourmet food right along the water’s edge.


9/27/15 Sunday: We got an early start to the Algarve as it’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Lisbon. The drive took us through Portugal’s countryside, complete with sea mist (fog), and pine trees growing atop the rolling hills. We didn’t have a set agenda for this leg of the journey but soon found that it didn’t matter. Just stop at as many beaches as you can, and you’ll feel full of life! Our favorite beaches were Praia Do Marinha and Praia Do Albandeira. Marinha has such breathtaking cliffs and was wonderful for jumping into the crystal clear aquamarine water. Albandeira had crazy rock formations and caves, yet the waves were too big for swimming (at least based on the rule “don’t swim in the water if locals aren’t in the water”).

I’m getting ahead of myself….The first stop on our trip was Ponta Da Piedade. This is a time where a picture is worth more than a thousand words. I must’ve taken the same picture so many times because I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was at this look out.

We drove on to Praia Do Marinha….a must see when you travel to Algarve (so far everything feels like a ‘must see’ as you can already tell). We checked into Quintinha Village, laid out at Praia Dos Pescadores, and caught the sunset on our rooftop. We knew we wanted to visit the neighboring town, Ferragudo, where our friend, Sam, is from. She suggested we eat at Fim Do Mundo. This restaurant had the friendliest servers and we ate so well. Cheers to the “end of the world” and muito obrigada to Sam for this suggestion!


9/28/15 Monday: I couldn’t believe that we’d only been in Portugal for just four nights. Our last day- though half a day- still felt wonderfully relaxing and full.  Praia Do Albandeira is off the beaten path and was such a gem of a beach. I highly suggest visiting as there are very few tourists- we got there and only one other couple was laying out. Corey and I explored the caves and rock formations. The waves were pretty shocking which we attributed to the Red Moon (earth science?! don’t quote us on that hypothesis).

We had the itch to check out just one more spot, and made our way to Praia de Benagil.  While Corey laid out, I was enamored with the thousands of shells along the beach.  The restaurant, Cinco, looked out over the water and was a welcome meal after missing breakfast due to our excitement to get to the beaches. The drive to the airport was about 45 min but felt like a quick trip thanks to belting out Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson (not mad at the Portuguese mixture of megahits with American tunes).


IMG_4558I’m not sure how to wrap up this post as I still can’t believe that I was just in one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Girlcar definitely needs to add Portugal to the list, the Algarves does have an airport in Faro!

Shoutout to Sachi for being my personal tripadvisor! Your recommendations were top notch.

Shoutout to Sam for your Fin Do Mundo suggestion.

Shoutout to Erica and Brian for visiting Portugal to your honeymoon trip- can’t wait to gush about this place in person!

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