Somewhere in Hanoi at this very moment, small plastic stools are filling up on overflowing sidewalks. Chopsticks clatter against clearing plates, marinated meats sizzle on a grill, and kaleidoscopes of exotic fruit fly through noisy intersections. Hungry spectators swarm the narrow streets, sniffing out the next stop on their gastronomic pilgrimage. This is Hanoi, where the sidewalks come to life at mealtimes.
Vietnamese cuisine seduces the senses. Each ingredient harmonizes with its counterparts, creating a sublime symphony of flavors. And when done right, street food is the most authentic way to sightsee through your tastebuds.
Hanoi's unpretentious hideaways humbly host the city's best dishes. Forget Michelin stars; inside these hole-in-the-wall kitchens is where the real magic happens. When embarking on a quest for Vietnamese street food, here's what you need to know about what and where to eat in Hanoi.
What is it?
A staple dish of Hanoi, bún cha is a flavorful noodle soup with grilled pork. Almost exclusively served during lunch, bún cha is comprised of rice vermicelli noodles, charcoal-grilled pork belly or grilled grounded pork, room temperature broth, and a basket of herbs to adorn your bowl. The broth itself is a magnificent feat, subtly enhanced by fish sauce, the cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine.
Though undoubtedly deserving of fame in its own right, bún cha was made infamous by Anthony Bourdain and President Obama's dinner together in Hanoi. The hype is real - if you only get to try one dish in Hanoi, let it be this.
My favorite places to get it in Hanoi:
Huong Lien (aka "Bún Cha Obama") 24 Le Van Huu Bún Cha 34 34 Hang Than
What is it?
Vietnam's breakfast of champions. By far the country's most famous dish, the term pho actually refers to the type of noodles specific to this bowl of heaven. It's made of tender rice noodles, herbs, meat (typically chicken or beef), and a savory broth that packs a punch. In Vietnam, the best pho is judged by the flavors of its broth.
My favorite place to get it in Hanoi: Pho Gia Truyen 49 Bat Dan
You can also find it on pretty much any given street corner. Pull up a plastic stool and dive in!
Com Bình Dân
What is it?
Literally translated to "commoner's rice", com bình dân is a heaping plate of rice generously topped with a colorful array of side dishes. The expats I met in Hanoi lovingly dubbed it as "pointy rice", because you can point to all of the mouthwatering toppings your hungry heart desires. As it was traditionally a workman's lunch, a hearty plate of com bình dânwill likely keep you full until dinner.
My favorite place to get it in Hanoi: Bo De Quan (Vegetarian friendly) 164 Au Co, Tay Ho
Bún Bò Nam Bo
What is it?
Known simply as "beef noodles" in the south, bún bò nam bo makes magic out of vermicelli noodles, roasted peanuts, bean sprouts, and fresh vegetables. To unlock the dish's true flavors, drench eat bite in the delectably tangy blend of fish sauce, sugar, lemon, and chili.
My favorite place to get it in Hanoi: Nha Hang Bach Phuong 67 Hang Dieu
What is it?
While every chè dessert beverage or pudding is slightly different, each boasts a savory amalgam of textures. My favorite blend featured kidney beans, mung bean paste, jelly, and tapioca, stirred together and topped with coconut milk. While not overwhelmingly saccharine, a refreshing glass of chè will still satisfy one's sweet tooth.
My favorite place to get it in Hanoi: Street Vendor C2, Ngo 34A Tran Phu, Ba Dinh
What is it?
Savoring a fluffy cup of Vietnamese egg coffee is like drinking crème brûlée. Pioneered at Hanoi's Giang Cafe, this delicate and frothy concoction is comprised of bold Vietnamese coffee, condensed milk, and egg yolks whipped to perfection. Not only does it satisfy the need for a morning jolt of caffeine, but it also makes for a sweet afternoon treat.
My favorite place to get it in Hanoi:
Ca Phe Giang 39 Nguyen Huu Huan
What is it?
Akin to a caffeinated slushie, sipping on coconut coffee takes me back to sunbathing on a white sand beach. While its tropical vibes feel seemingly out of place in Hanoi's urban chaos, its tastes and textures are substantially more refreshing than your average Frappuccino.
My favorite places to get it in Hanoi:
Cong Caphe 54 Hang Dieu
Tranquil Books & Coffee 5 Nguyen Quang Bich
Street Food 101 with Hanoi Street Food Tour
Not quite knowing where to start on my first day in Hanoi, I took a crash course in street fare with Hanoi Street Food Tour. Their beginner's guide to street food introduced me to some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, while also providing me tips on how to find the best spots on my own.
Bún cha - noodles with grilled pork
Our tour guide Mango had an infectious love for Vietnamese cuisine, and her passion brought the tour to life. As we devoured a myriad of traditional dishes, Mango peppered our tour with restaurant recommendations, useful phrases, and historical anecdotes. She also offered personalized substitutions for those of us with food intolerances, and went to great lengths to ensure that everything I tried was gluten-free.
Nom bò khô - dried beef salad with green papaya and fresh herbs
Not only did we get to taste Hanoi's best dishes, but we also got to watch how some of them were made. After warming our bellies with our very first bowls of bún cha, we wandered over to a street vendor making bánh cuon thit, a steamed rice flour pancake stuffed with pork. Hypnotized by the methodical process of making this delicate treat, we were able to experience the dish's flavors more profoundly.
Bánh cuon thit
Street food is not only the backbone of Vietnamese cuisine, it's a defining element of their culture. Getting a comprehensive lesson in Hanoi's history and gastronomy helped build the foundation of a successful trip. Stuffed and satisfied, I walked away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this vibrant community.
Never have I fell victim to such an overpowering culinary love affair. Despite my euphoric tastebuds, Hanoi still left me with an insatiable hunger for more. Until I get the chance to visit again, I'll surely be daydreaming about my next bowl of bún cha.
What are your favorite cuisines you've tried abroad?
Is there a country whose gastronomy stands out as the best?
Disclaimer: Hanoi Street Food Tour graciously invited me on this tour, however, all opinions expressed are my own.
As a Celiac, I took this tour at my own risk. While Hanoi Street Food Tour can make substitutions to accommodate a gluten-free diet, they cannot completely guarantee avoiding cross contamination.
"Just hop on and hold onto me", Tara nonchalantly assures as she tosses me a helmet. "It'll be fine!" The motor rumbles, and I'm quickly awakened from my jet lagged daze. I'm greeted with my first daylight views of Hanoi from the back of her motorbike, bolting through Old Quarter's tangle of traffic.
As we dart through town, whizzing past lanky French colonial mansions and opulent decay, adrenaline is pulsing through my veins. I'm intoxicated by the city's dilapidated beauty, set to a soundtrack of blaring horns and roaring motorbikes.
There doesn't seem to be a method to the madness on the streets of Hanoi. Hurtling through intersections feels like an an all-or-nothing gamble. Yet somehow, bikers navigate the chaos with an unexpected grace that miraculously keeps everyone alive.
Mincing through the mob, we cross town and park at Cong Caphe. Exhausted yet exhilarated, I feel as if the most thrilling part of my day has passed. However, I quickly come to realize that crossing the street in Hanoi is an even more unnerving task.
"Inch your way across the street, assuming drivers will part around you. Keep your eyes forward, and don't make any sudden, unpredictable movements."
I hesitantly step off the sidewalk, lingering for several seconds too long. I anxiously hop back up, eager not to become Vietnamese roadkill. I take another deep breath and charge forward.
A sea of bikes tear past me, swerving around me and honking wildly. An elderly Vietnamese man saunters beside me, completely unfazed. Bounding through the cacophony of tenacious bikers, I cross the road unscathed.
This enigmatic city has given me the most authentic of welcomes, and thus commences my week in Hanoi.
Exploring Cat Ba Island
After several days of soaking up Hanoi's energy and charisma, Tara and I hop a train to Hai Phong and catch a small boat to Cat Ba Island, where we spend a day exploring the terrain before sailing off to Ha Long Bay.
Eager to discover this idyllic retreat, we rent a cheap motorbike outside our hotel and take off. Island driving is a refreshing escape from the anarchic streets of Hanoi. We comfortably cruise across Cat Ba, marveling at the verdant rolling hills and jagged silhouettes of Lan Ha Bay in the distance.
We weave through misty jungle roads and stumble upon the Hospital Cave, which was used by the Viet Cong as a secret hospital and safe house during the war. We pass bucolic villages and rice paddies, stopping frequently to admire the lush scenery around us.
We pull into an empty parking lot. "Your turn to drive!" Panic ensues. Driving a car has always terrified me. Driving a motorbike?! Out of the question.
I'm finally persuaded to take the driver's seat and hit the gas. I swerve a few times before I get the hang of it, and the next thing I know, I'm speeding across the lot.
"Ready to hit the road?" Not quite.
With the wind whipping through my hair and a smile plastered to my face, we continue our journey across the island. We wrap up our bike tour at the dreamy, deserted paradise of Cat Co 2. The jutting shadows of Lan Ha Bay command the horizon, while enchanted emerald waters beckon us to the bay.
Day Trip to Chua Thay
After settling back into Hanoi, Tara and I motorbike through bustling villages and farmlands to explore the ancient temples of Chua Thay. With mountaintop shrines, a gargantuan cave, and a pagoda over 900 years old, this town off the beaten track is a refreshing escape from Hanoi's colorful chaos.
Just 40 minutes from Hanoi's Old Quarter, this hidden gem has all the makings of a perfect day trip. We explore the village and pagoda below, then hike our way up to Chua Thay's breathtaking mountaintop temples. Making the climb is surely the best way to burn off all those Vietnamese spring rolls and bowls of pho.
Chua Thay also boasts an otherworldly limestone cave, which is rumored to contain the bones of soldiers from the Vietnam War. The steps to the cave are steep and nearly treacherous; don't try to rock climb in sandals (lesson learned).
Getting to know Vietnam by motorbike is one of the most enchanting ways to discover its soul. It's not just a means of transportation, it's a way of life. Exploring like a local can be slightly terrifying, but it's easily the most memorable way to discover this enigmatic country.
Enamored by Vietnam's energy and feeling like pictures couldn't quite do it justice, I tried my hand at making my first travel video. Check it out, and witness me fumbling with chopsticks, zipping through the Vietnamese countryside, cruising Ha Long Bay, and devouring all the street food.
VIETNAM 2017 - YouTube
Have you ever ridden a motorbike in a foreign country?
If not, would you try it?
Disclaimer: Ride at your own risk. All the information provided on adelanteblog.com is for general information and entertainment purposes only, and is the expressed opinion of myself. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk. Under no circumstances will I be liable for any loss or damage (including without limitation indirect or consequential loss or damage) arising out of or in connection to the use of this website.
Say hello to California's newest resident! In case you missed it on Instagram, in May I packed my bags and bid rainy Washington adieu. Since then, I've asked myself every day in awe, "Do I actually live here? Is this real life?"
I never thought any city could excite me as much as Madrid. Los Angeles has effortlessly stolen my heart, and I truly wonder how it took me this long to end up here.
After reaching my breaking point with the weather and feeling irreversibly burnt out on teaching, it was time for a change of climate and careers. I'd been flirting with the idea of moving to LA for years, and it finally seemed like the right time to take the leap.
From there, everything serendipitously fell into place. I stumbled upon my dream job at Daniel Wellington, moved in with my best friend Meghan in downtown Los Angeles, and settled into a life that suits me far better than Seattle ever had.
The Last Bookstore
Aside from nesting in my apartment and adjusting to my new job in social media, I've been making a solid effort to discover the city through my tastebuds, explore new neighborhoods, and soak up enough sun rays to make up for 20+ years of Vitamin D deficiency.
From brunches to beach days, sometimes I still feel like I'm on vacation. Every time I smell the sea breeze on my way to work in Santa Monica, I half expect to be woken up from a dream. While at times it all feels too good to be true, I have to remind myself that it was an tumultuous journey to get here.
Breaking up with Madrid and trying to put down roots in Seattle resulted in one of the toughest years of my life. I had outgrown the Pacific Northwest, and coming back felt like forcing a puzzle piece into a space that didn't quite fit. Combined with seasonal affective disorder and a teaching position that wasn't my passion, I needed to hit a hard reset. Now that I'm in LA, every day is like a breath of fresh air.
Brunch at Bottega Louie
While I feel like the universe conspired to get me here in the most unexpected of ways, I can honestly say that I haven't been this happy since Spain.
As the chaos of moving has subsided and I'm settling into life as an Angeleno, my intention is to be much more consistent with this blog. Some exciting changes are ahead, so I hope you stick around!
Having a La La Land moment at Griffith Observatory
Are there any places in Los Angeles that I need to check out immediately? Let me know your favorite spots!
In lieu of celebrating my third expat Thanksgiving in Spain with a roasted turkey, I had a hankering for pizza. Pillowy mozzarella, juicy tomatoes, tart arugula and buttery prosciutto. I could almost taste the tangy bliss. But the last time I went to Italy, things didn't go so smoothly.
Pizza, pasta and pain
A month before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2010, I ventured to Rome to Eat, Pray, Love my way through the Eternal City. In between gooey pizzas and heaping plates of spaghetti, I spent my time running to the bathroom, keeling over in abdominal pain, and fighting fatigue and soreness throughout my entire body. Trying to keep up with the fast pace of sightseeing was positively grueling.
At the time, I couldn't connect my pain to what I was putting in my body. I just figured it was normal to get sick after two beers or a bowl of pasta. After all, doctors had been giving me various nonsensical explanations for the past 11 years. From, "You're not eating right for your blood type" to, "You're just drinking too much coffee", no doctor ever pegged gluten as the culprit. So neither did I.
Fast forward six years, and I now have the common sense (as well as the diagnosis) to know that, no, it's not normal to get sick after every meal. Furthermore, it's not normal to visit Italy and suffer through constant pain the entire trip.
Thankfully, it's surprisingly easy to navigate Italy as a Celiac. In fact, I've found Florence to be the easiest place to eat gluten-free throughout all my travels. Italians are incredibly well-informed about Celiac disease, and knowing how to deal with gluten-free needs is common knowledge in restaurants.
Why are Italians winning the gluten-free game?
According to the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC), about 1% of Italians have Celiac disease. Though that may sound high, this statistic is roughly the same in the USA and across Europe. But with gluten as the cornerstone of Italian gastronomy, the need to accommodate Celiacs is significantly greater.
To understand why so many gluten-free options abound in the land of pizza and pasta, let's contemplate the Italian culture of cuisine. Of the many things that Italians are known for, perhaps their most notable qualities are their social nature and deeply ingrained love of food. Life happens at the dinner table, so to deliberately leave someone out of the mealtime merriment would be simply preposterous.
In a culture that places the utmost importance on enjoying food, eating gluten-free isn't a fad, it's an ailment that needs to be dealt with. That's probably why the AIC recognizes over 4,000 gluten-free restaurants in Italy. The Italian government even gives Celiacs a stipend of up to 140€/month to cover additional food costs. So... when can I move there?!
Art, architecture and accommodating intolerances are just a few things that Italians do right
Senza glutine, per favore
With a myriad of gluten-free options and an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards accommodating Celiacs, eating gluten-free in Florence shouldn't be a considerable challenge. The following restaurants have my favorite senza glutine (gluten-free) menus in Florence, so prepare your tastebuds for a gluten-free feast of Italian treats.
Just in case, print out a gluten-free Italian restaurant card to show your waiters if you have any doubts about a dish's ingredients.
Ristorante Ciro & Sons
Via del Giglio, 28/r
I began my feast at Ciro & Sons with the gluten-free bruschetta topped with succulent tomatoes, fresh arugula and a light drizzle of olive oil. The refreshing combination of flavors invigorated my tastebuds and helped tide me over until my pizza finished cooking to perfection.
Next, I devoured the decadent gluten-free Vesuvius pizza with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, truffle, arugula and tomatoes. The gooey mozzarella melted in my mouth, while the fluffy crust actually made me ask the waiter, "Are you sure this is gluten-free?"
I washed it all down with a gluten-free Peroni beer, which was the first Celiac-friendly beer I've truly enjoyed in months. While I was extremely tempted by the dessert menu, I passed it up in favor of more gelato. (When in Rome Florence, right?)
Ciro & Sons boasts an extensive gluten-free menu, although some dishes can be on the pricier side. Their claim to fame is winning first place in the World Championship for Gluten-Free Pizza and the World Championship for Organic Pizza. (Side note: what's a girl gotta do to be a judge in these competitions?) They even sell boxes of their famed gluten-free crust at the restaurant.
Gluten-free bruschetta? That's amore.
Note that reservations are required if you plan on ordering their gluten-free pizza.
Da Garibardi Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 38/r
Nestled next to Florence's Central Market, Da Garibardi is packed with lively locals rather than hungry tourists looking for their next quick bite. As the only native English speaker (and solo diner) in the joint, I surely stuck out like a sore thumb. Granted, that made the restaurant feel all the more genuine.
Unabashedly loud families and overly-affectionate couples surrounded me, and I had to admire how quintessentially Italian it all felt. Then there was me, seated in the corner, alone on a hot date with a colossal bowl of gnocchi. Elizabeth Gilbert would have been proud.
Picking just two dishes from the vast gluten-free menu was a difficult feat, but I eventually settled on the crostone cavolo nero e fagioli:gluten-free toast with Tuscan beans, cabbage, olive oil and garlic. Once again, the bread was so crispy and delectable that I had to double check if it was really senza glutine. The hearty combination of beans and cabbage made for the ultimate winter treat, and I could have easily indulged on more if I hadn't also ordered the gnocchi al pesto di cavolo nero e pancetta croccante:gluten-free potato gnocchi with pesto and crispy pancetta.
The gnocchi effortlessly achieved the perfect level of creaminess, while the pancetta added an extra savory punch. I sipped on a glass of Chianti as I relished my meal, and predictably skipped the gluten-free dessert menu in lieu of more gelato.
More Tuscan beans, please
Via Gioberti Vincenzo, 93
Cozy and unpretentious, La Luna is the neighborhood pizza joint you'd take your family to on a typical Friday night. This mom & pop eatery is tucked away in a residential neighborhood, so you're bound to be the only foreigner in the joint. Though this hole in the wall could easily be missed, its simple charm and authenticity make it well worth the trek.
The staff's English was rusty, but after a few smiles, per favore's and grazie's, I was happily devouring my meal. I started with the fried mozzarella, which wasn't particularly extraordinary other than the fact that I hadn't eaten mozzarella sticks in over six years.
Next, I gorged upon the gluten-free Margherita pizza draped in buttery mozzarella, tangy tomatoes and pungent basil. As this was my first meal of the trip, I made the mistake of trying to eat my pizza with my hands, American-style. I watched in horror as the molten cheese promptly slid into my lap. Feeling publicly shamed, I took an inconspicuous peek at the other diners and noticed that they were all eating pizza with forks and knives. Duly noted.
I topped off my feast with the gluten-free tiramisu, which left me positively satisfied (and desperately in need of someone to roll me back to my hostel).
Via dei Neri, 13/r
As Florence's only gluten-free bakery, Starbene is unquestionably Celiac Heaven. Just a five minute walk from the central Piazza della Signoria, this quaint pastry shop was one of the best stops on my gluten-free pilgrimage. The owners are remarkably friendly and were eager to recommend their favorite specialties to me.
When I asked what their favorite Florentine treat was, they pointed me to a gluten-free cream puff saturated with rich pistachio filling. Fluffy and oozing with flavor, I savored each bite as if it were my last meal on earth. I also picked up a creamy chocolate tart to take back to the hostel with me (with the intention of saving it for breakfast, but you can only imagine how successful that was).
Grazie, gluten-free dessert gods
Via del Campanile, 2
This popular chain crafts their scoops of high-quality gelato from organic ingredients and fresh seasonal fruit. Focused on sustainability, Grom also utilizes biodegradable spoons and cups. The staff were well-informed about which flavors were gluten-free, making sure to steer me away from any scoops that weren't Celiac-friendly. I've heard they're also pretty careful about avoiding cross-contamination, but I was too busy flirting with the cute gelato scooper to notice any of that.
On my first venture to Grom, I paired caramel and Himalayan salt with hazelnut gelato. It was the ultimate trifecta of sweet, salty and savory. The next morning I tried a seasonal scoop of persimmon gelato, because who says you can't have gelato for breakfast?
The breakfast of champions
Piazza del Duomo, 45/r
In the shadow of the iconic Duomo, Gelateria Edoardo is best known for their whimsical flavors made from all organic ingredients. Though located in the heart of touristlandia, you will only find the purest and highest quality ingredients here. Their gelato is free of preservatives, additives and artificial flavors - so you can eat as much as you want without feeling guilty... right?
While there were plenty of gluten-free options to choose from, I landed on cinnamon paired with honey and poppyseed gelato. The cinnamon was exceptionally creamy, while the smooth honey and poppyseed was packed with flavor. With such unique and decadent flavors, it's no wonder Edoardo is rising to the top of Florence's artisan gelato scene.
The near freezing temperatures outside had nothing on this view
For more gluten-free options in Florence, check out the top floor of Terracafè next to the Santa Maria Novella train station for snacks, light meals and other sweet treats. Le Botteghe di Donatello in the Piazza del Duomo also has a tempting gluten-free menu featuring a delectable assortment of pasta, pizza and meat dishes.
Do you have any food allergies or intolerances?
If so, how do you deal with them on the road? Have you had a similar experience in Italy?
It's no secret that I sightsee through my tastebuds.
Although I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2010, avoiding gluten has not stopped me from tasting my way around the globe. Upon traveling to Croatia with my mom, a fellow Celiac, I was determined to make it one of our best foodie adventures yet.
Croatia had been at the top of my bucket list for years, but I knew relatively little about its cuisine. As we ate our way through Croatia, we were surprised and delighted by how Celiac friendly the food is.
With each stop on our adventure through Croatia, it became easier to find gluten-free options. We started off in Zagreb, venturing into Zagorje to visit Trakošćan Castle and Varaždin. We stopped in Plitvice Lakes National Park on our way to Split, where we sunned ourselves until hopping a ferry to Hvar. After a heavenly island escape, we ended our trip in the magical city of Dubrovnik.
While Croatia itself is a dream destination, the gastronomy alone is reason enough to visit. If you're planning a trip to Croatia with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, here is my complete guide to eating gluten-free in Croatia.
While most restaurants don't have a separate gluten-free menu, some may mark which dishes are bez glutena (gluten-free). If the menu doesn't specify, don't hesitate to ask the restaurant if a dish contains gluten or can be prepared gluten-free.
In general, be wary of sauces, desserts, and most polenta. Always double check when ordering soups and stews, as many can contain flour or pasta. Just in case, print out a gluten-free Croatian restaurant card to show your waiters if you have any doubts about a dish's ingredients.
Surprisingly, most restaurants are actually quite knowledgeable and accommodating. This could be due to the heavy influx of tourists in recent years, or simply because Croatian cuisine is naturally gluten-free friendly. In fact, most of my waiters already knew which dishes were safe to eat without having to go back to the kitchen to ask.
Eating gluten-free in coastal Croatia
Cuisine on the Dalmatian Coast is remarkably similar to Italian fare, which makes it all the more convenient to navigate as a Celiac. Due to its fresh Mediterranean flavors, you usually can't go wrong with seafood, grilled fish and meat, vegetable dishes, or prosciutto with melon.
Authentic Croatian risotto is not prepared with flour, which usually makes it a reliable choice. (That said, it's wise to double check with each restaurant.) If you're feeling adventurous, try the crni rizot, a black risotto made with squid ink. Be sure to also try peka, a method of cooking meat and vegetables under a domed baking lid.
Eating gluten-free in continental Croatia
Continental Croatian cuisine, on the other hand, is heartier than its coastal counterparts. Continental Croatia features a stronger emphasis on meat dishes and heavy stews. As opposed to the Italian-inspired gastronomy of Dalmatia, this region's cuisine is influenced by its central European neighbors. The Austro-Hungarian tastes make it slightly more difficult to find naturally gluten-free options.
In Zagreb and Zagorje, we relied on roasted lamb, potatoes, and charcuterie plates. Vegetables are generally used less in continental fare, but we were still able to find the occasional salad. While it was less convenient to eat gluten-free in continental Croatia, we still found a plethora of viable options.
With a myriad of gluten-free options and a cuisine that naturally accommodates Celiacs, eating gluten-free in Croatia shouldn't be a considerable challenge. The following restaurants have my favorite gluten-free dishes, so prepare your tastebuds for a gluten-free feast of Croatian treats.
Founded in 1886, Proto is one of Dubrovnik's oldest and most revered eateries. Known for its exquisite seafood, Proto specializes in fish dishes using traditional recipes from local fishermen. Atop the elegant terrace, one is sure to enjoy five-star service and cuisine.
Proto has attracted a distinguished list of patrons, including a glamorous array of actors, musicians and royals. If you're willing to splurge, look no further than Proto. Reservations recommended.
Contemplating the GF menu on Proto's breezy terrace
This romantic rooftop restaurant, perched atop the chic Hotel Prijeko Palace, offers an entirely unique gastronomic experience. Serving a tasty array of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, Stara Loza incorporates gourmet flavors with memorable twists. My tastebuds rejoiced as I indulged on a fresh citrus salad and juicy sirloin steak with Brie, wasabi and pepper jam.
While the cuisine is decidedly out of this world, the dreamy vistas and whimsical settings make Stara Loza all the more impressive. Reservations recommended.
Stara Loza's rooftop views at blue hour
Named after Barcelona's most iconic market, Bokeria is a mecca of modern Mediterranean cuisine. This bustling restaurant thrives in a former hardware store, where contemporary flavors are reflected in the fittingly sleek and industrial decor.
After our first lunch here, the heavenly flavors and impressive wine list convinced us to come back for a second meal. I still dream about the carpaccio with pickled onions, candied walnuts and honey mustard, along with the pear, asparagus and gorgonzola risotto. (Reservations recommended.)
Legendary carpaccio at Bokeria
Ulica Bana Josipa Jelacica 3
My rooftop feast at Paradigma was the crown jewel of gastronomic experiences in coastal Croatia. Resting atop an elegant terrace with inviting views of the sea and old town, Paradigma serves a blend of traditional Mediterranean gastronomy with unique contemporary twists. Indulgence is the name of the game here, as exemplified by our decadent feast.
We started our meal with champagne and fresh oysters, which were served in a variety of flavors including raspberry tapioca, cucumber foam, fresh watermelon, burrata, and jamón ibérico. The unconventionally sublime flavors effortlessly seduced my tastebuds. Next, we savored a Jerusalem artichoke and rose soup, followed by baba ghanoush risotto with green olives, goat cheese and eggplant espuma. (Reservations recommended.)
Bokeria's pear, asparagus and gorgonzola risotto
Uje Oil Bar
Pioneered by Croatian olive oil retailers, this trendy bistro is hailed for its seasonal Dalmatian fare. The interior is cozy yet refined, while its romantic alleys offer picturesque al fresco dining. You can also sample a variety of Uje's extra virgin olive oils, which may tempt you to pick up a bottle of liquid gold on your way out. Whether you're in the mood for cheese and charcuterie or hearty Dalmatian classics, look no further than Uje Oil Bar.
Giaxa Petra Hektorovica 3
Our most decadent meal in Hvar was enjoyed at Giaxa, where we savored carpaccio with black truffle and Parmesan, lamb rack with white polenta, and green beans with pancetta. After an extravagant meal and several glasses of Pošip wine on the cozy terrace, Giaxa goes down as one of my favorite restaurants on the Dalmatian Coast. (Reservations recommended.)
Gariful's fresh mussels (not pictured: a phenomenal glass of local rosé)
Along Hvar's polished waterfront lies the elegant terrace of Gariful, where the sparkling seaside views are almost as sublime as the seafood. From the patio's white tablecloths adorned with fresh seafood and world-class wines, one can watch opulent yachts sail into the harbor and chic passersby strolling the Riva (and maybe even spot a celebrity or two).
The refined nautical settings exude luxury. Though the prices are steep, the locale and fresh fare are worth the splurge. Reservations recommended.
Nikole Tesle 10
Located in the heart of downtown Zagreb, Vinodol serves some of the capital's best cuisine. Gourmet yet unpretentious, Vinodol is revered for its classic continental dishes. Their succulent meals are prepared using seasonal ingredients, which follow traditional Croatian recipes.
Savor the spit roasted lamb, seasonal soups, and charcuterie plates piled high with local sausages and cheeses. Pair them with a velvety glass of Croatian wine from Vinodol's phenomenal wine list. For a romantic and relaxed meal, reserve a spot on the airy covered patio.
Vinodol's platter of spicy sausages and fresh cheese
Restoran Bedem Vladimira Nazora 9
Named one of the Top 10 restaurants in Croatia, Bedem is the crown jewel of Varaždin. Two distinguished Croatian chefs have come together to establish this gastronomic gem, which is nestled just behind Varaždin's castle. Using fresh and local ingredients, Bedem serves some of the highest quality creations in continental Croatia.
Here I indulged on a five-course meal that was arguably one of the best dining experiences of my life. Every dish was bursting with flavor, and the chefs went above and beyond to accommodate my gluten-free needs. Out of all the incredible meals I devoured in Croatia, my feast at Bedem was surely the most memorable.
A five-star meal at Bedem
Note: Although I'm usually quite sensitive to cross-contamination, I didn't get sick from any of these restaurants. That said, I did not look into how these restaurants prevent (or fail to prevent) cross-contamination, so eat at your own risk.
Happy New Year! I apologize for my recent absence, for these past few months have been an absolute whirlwind. While I acknowledge that this post is terribly overdue, 2016 was too epic not to pay tribute to!
This past year had its fair share of low moments, including getting detained, breaking up with Madrid, and working through the hardships of repatriating. But 2016 also brought me to 12 countries and over 35 cities, gave me a sweet ending to my memorable chapter abroad, and brought me back to the beloved Pacific Northwest.
Between the legendary adventures and unfathomable challenges, it was truly one hell of a year. To celebrate this year of extremes, here's a look back at my 16 favorite travel memories of 2016.
My first adventure of the year was a solo trip to go skydiving in Interlaken, Switzerland. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, skydiving out of a helicopter in the Swiss Alps was by far the most memorable thing I've ever done abroad.
As I experienced an unparalleled adrenaline rush while surrounded by the most striking scenery, I was filled with an incomprehensible amount of joy. My exhilaration was positively surreal. After the free fall, I was buzzing with euphoria and couldn't stop smiling for weeks.
2. Venturing through Petra
While planning my spring break trip to Israel, I knew I couldn't travel all the way to the Middle East without fulfilling my dream of visiting Petra, Jordan. Ultimately, spending a day channeling my inner Indiana Jones was one of my all-time favorite adventures. I'm eager to get back to Jordan someday to explore more of what this amazing place has to offer!
3. Experiencing Tel Aviv like a local
When one of my sorority sisters moved to Tel Aviv, I saw it as my golden opportunity to finally visit Israel. Between exploring local markets, attending a local synagogue, and observing my first proper Shabbat, I got to go deeper than the traditional tourist experience.
I felt overwhelmingly grateful to have a local guide show me Tel Aviv's authentic charisma. By the end of my trip, I had my heart set on finding a way to move there someday. (On that note, does anyone know how a shiksa can get a job in Israel?!)
4. Being blown away by Jerusalem
Jerusalem is easily the most captivating city I've ever been to. Visiting "the most contested piece of land in history" was an emotion-filled day, and required quite a bit of processing afterwards.
Tensions were high, but the spirit of the city was full of life. Jerusalem took my breath away in countless ways, but absorbing its character was an experience I'll never forget.
5. Floating on the Dead Sea
While Israel's variety of beaches is nothing short of sublime, nothing quite compares to floating like a cork on the Dead Sea. After visiting Masada's commanding ruins, we ventured to the resort town of Ein Bokek for a lazy afternoon along the Dead Sea.
More than 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Due to the unusually high concentrations of salt, effortlessly floating in the water makes for a relaxing, otherworldly experience. (Just don't get the salt water in your eyes!)
6. Eating my way through Asturias
The colorful fishing village of Cudillero
Nestled along the rugged coast of the Bay of Biscay, Asturias is truly Spain's best kept secret. Time and time again, Asturias seduces me and reminds me of the incredible diversity that is to be found within Spain.
And the food... oh, the food! From fresh seafood to rich fabada, Asturias is a culinary mecca. As I ate my way through Oviedo and Cudillero, I probably consumed a year's worth of calories. Spicy chorizo a la sidra, tangy Cabrales cheese, hearty and comforting cachopo, creamy arroz con leche... the list goes on. Washed down with a crisp glass of hard Asturian cider, and my taste buds were in a complete state of euphoria.
7. Soaking up Seville
As the first place in Spain to capture my heart, I felt inclined to bid Seville adieu before leaving the country. Though I've visited countless times, I just can't get enough of its southern charm.
I had less than 24 hours to revisit my favorite places, and I even squeezed in a tapas crawl with Devour Seville Food Tours. While my quick farewell trip wasn't nearly long enough, I know in my heart that I'll be back.
8. Returning to Cádiz
For the first time since studying abroad in 2010, I finally made my return to Cádiz. Though the city hasn't changed much in six years, I felt like a completely different person. (Can you believe that back then, I actually hated living in Spain?! Blasphemy!)
While revisiting old haunts felt entirely bittersweet, I had an incredible time giving the city the second chance it deserves. After this visit, I felt like things have finally come full circle.
9. Stopping in Stockholm with my BFF
Spotted in my natural habitat
We came, we ate, we conquered. After a marvelous week of hosting my best friend in Madrid, we took off to Stockholm for a weekend. Scandinavia never fails to enamor me, and Sweden is certainly no exception. From the pristine waterfront views to the colorful architecture, Stockholm had me swooning.
10. Coming home to Paris for a weekend
As Gertrude Stein ever so wisely proclaimed, "America is my country, and Paris is my home town." Paris was the first city I ever truly fell in love with, and despite countless visits and a magical study abroad stint, my intense love affair has yet to subside.
I knew I had to visit one more time before moving across the pond, so I spent a long weekend getting lost, catching up with old friends, and devouring as many Ladurée macarons as possible. It was even more perfect than I had imagined.
11. Exploring the Dalmatian Coast with my mom
The sun-drenched coast of Dubrovnik
My European farewell tour concluded with an unforgettable trip through Croatia with my mom. We started off in Zagreb, venturing into Zagorje to visit Trakošćan Castle and Varaždin. We stopped in Plitvice Lakes National Park on our way to Split, where we sunned ourselves until hopping a ferry to Hvar. After a heavenly island escape, we ended our trip in the enchanting city of Dubrovnik.
While Croatia abounds with dreamy escapes and enthralling adventures, there's nothing quite like the dramatic beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. Each place we visited effortlessly seduced us. While I'll always cherish my memories from this trip, a part of me will always dream of going back.
One of the most memorable parts of our journey through Croatia was escaping Hvar's Old Town for a home-cooked dinner in a family-owned olive grove, surrounded by striking views of the Stari Grad Plain. Our gracious hosts prepared an authentic Dalmatian feast for us, complete with homemade cheese, tapenades, wine, and freshly caught sea bass.
As the sun lazily sank into the rolling hills below us, we chatted with the family about their olive grove, their families, and Croatia's tumultuous history. Amid the hordes of tourists abounding in Croatia, genuinely connecting with locals was a refreshing change of pace.
Though it looks like a scene from a wooded fairytale, Croatia's resplendent Plitvice Lakes National Park is anything but a figment of the imagination. Sixteen cascading lakes beget a series of majestic waterfalls, highlighted by pools of clear jewel-tone water. A most impressive feat of nature, Plitvice Lakes is the ultimate bucket list-worthy adventure.
Located in Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra fissure is where two continents rip apart. Thanks to Arctic Adventures, I was able to snorkel between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This crack between the continents is filled with glacier water clear enough to see down to 100 meters!
The water gets its pristine qualities from being filtered through underground lava for 30-100 years. Due to its extreme visibility, the Silfra fissure is widely regarded as one of the best dive sites in the world.
The Silfra fissure is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates
15. Jet setting to Los Angeles for birthday celebrations galore
Posing with the LACMA lights
Since my best friend Meghan lives in downtown Los Angeles (and Seattle constantly deprives me of Vitamin D), I find myself taking frequent trips down to LA. I booked a spontaneous trip for my birthday in July, and followed up with a trip in December for my BFF's 30th birthday.
I could certainly see myself living in Los Angeles someday. Between the sunshine, bustling city vibes, and the wonderful friends that live there, I can't stop buying tickets to visit. (Thank goodness for Alaska Airlines miles!)
16. Taking an impulsive solo trip to Puerto Rico
When I spontaneously booked my ticket to Puerto Rico two weeks before leaving, I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, it was my favorite solo trip I've ever taken.
Between the stunning scenery, vibrant culture, mouthwatering cuisine, and incredible people I met, I fell more and more in love with this island as each day passed. Exploring Puerto Rico brought me back to life, and ultimately gave me the energy I needed to start the new year with a sense of purpose.
A snorkeling trip to Vieques, Puerto Rico
WHAT'S IN STORE FOR 2017?
While 2016 will be a tough year to beat, 2017 is already shaping up to be quite memorable. I rang in the new year on the road, I started taking Portuguese classes, and I just moved into a new apartment near downtown Seattle!
For my spring break in April, I'll be heading to Hanoi, Vietnam to visit one of my best friends that I taught English with in Madrid. It'll be my first time in Southeast Asia, and I couldn't be more excited to explore a new corner of the world. On my way home, I plan on taking advantage of an extended layover in Seoul, South Korea.
Given my newfound love for the Caribbean, I'm also in the midst of planning a potential trip to Cuba in July. I need more sunshine, palm trees, and a rum cocktail in hand, por favor!
As you can see, I have a terribly long backlog of blog posts to crank out. I can't wait to share more photos and stories from the past year's adventures, so stay tuned!
Crumbling, colorful and crass, the beauty of Porto lies in its picturesque imperfections. A true diamond in the rough, this city is lived in and well loved.
Often overlooked by tourists in favor of Lisbon's notoriety, the hidden charms of Porto make it all the more enchanting. Its decrepit elegance asserts it as one of the most unique and unpretentious European destinations. Unabashedly effervescent, Porto is a small city with a big personality.
While absorbed in Porto's electric reverie, it's impossible not to become infatuated with its brazen personality. Battered yet beautiful, unrefined yet exquisite, the city's contradictions make it peculiarly magnetizing. Its charisma is one of a kind, and should therefore be experienced accordingly.
To soak in all of Porto's unpredictable charms, it's ideal to stay at least three nights. Be sure to balance out the sights with plenty of aimless wandering. Fully experiencing the magic of Porto means making time to get lost within its enchanting streets.
It's imperative to sightsee with your tastebuds here, and climbing the city's unapologetically steep hills will help burn off the calories from all of the delectable petiscos you are sure to devour. For a deeper look into Porto's history and cuisine, I highly recommend taking a tour with Taste Porto Food Tours.
For backpackers and luxury travelers alike, Porto is sure to seduce the senses. It's only a matter of time until this underrated destination becomes one of Europe's most popular, so now is the time to fully enjoy its raw beauty and unadulterated authenticity.
Are you ready to revel in Portugal's most mouthwatering dishes, memorable wines and breathtaking sights? You could easily spend a lifetime basking in Porto's simple pleasures, but a long weekend will happily suffice.
To maximize your time and experience the city's best restaurants, wineries, shops and monuments, allow me to share with you my complete weekend guide to Porto, Portugal. Saúde!
Mercado do Bolhão Rua de Fernandes Tomás Perhaps the most iconic open air market in Portugal, Mercado do Bolhão has been serving up fresh and local ingredients for over 100 years. Although the structure is in mild disrepair, this historic marketplace showcases a kaleidoscope of produce and a quality selection of fish and seafood. Many of Porto's finest restaurants and hotels primarily buy their ingredients here, for their products are widely regarded as the freshest.
Sardines marinated in olive oil and chili pepper at Bolhão Wine House
Taberna Santo António Rua das Virtudes 32 Dining at Taberna Santo António is like partaking in a large family dinner. Comfort food takes on a new meaning at this no-frills eatery packed with hungry locals, each devouring traditional home-cooked meals such as rich cozido á Portuguesa (meat, potatoes, rice, cabbage and carrots) and bacalhau á Braga (Braga-style codfish). If you're craving an authentic Portuguese experience, look no further than here.
Casa Santo António Rua da Assunção 40 This darling and unpretentious tasca serves small Portuguese tapas, also known as petiscos, in an all-you-can-eat fashion until you tell the waiters to stop serving you. Multi-course meals can include delectable fresh goat cheese with honey and raisins, cured ham, marinated olives, curried carrots, black eyed peas salad, specialty cod dishes, spicy pork and grilled chouriço served atop a flaming grill. Don't miss the rich chocolate mousse that tastes delightfully akin to brownie batter. Flor dos Congregados Travessa dos Congregados 11
Over 150 years old, this iconic hole in the wall is famous for its "24-hour sandwich". Juicy pork belly is marinated in spices for 20 hours, and then the meat spends four hours cooking to perfection in a wood-fired oven. Combined with cured Portuguese ham and roasted tomatoes, this dish provides the perfect balance between sweet and savory.
Cozido á Portuguesa at Taberna Santo António
Rua de Conceição 106
This trendy kitchen is known for their unique mariazinhas, which are gourmet bite-sized sandwiches. Pair a craft cocktail with sliders made of alheira (smoked Portuguese sausage), goat cheese, spinach and caramelized onions, or boar loin with goat cheese, tomato confit, caramelized onions and pesto. Gluten-free bread is also available.
Rua Actor João Guedes 5
Open since 1899, Café Progresso asserts itself as Porto's oldest café. Head to this cozy coffee shop for a leisurely brunch or a quick caffeine jolt. For less than 6€, you can fuel up on a traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast or fresh fruit salad, coffee and orange juice.
Rua do Choupelo 250, Vila Nova de Gaia
Across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia lies Taylor's, one of Porto's oldest and most celebrated wineries. For a 7€ tour and tasting, you can try their delectable white, tawny and ruby Port wines. Not only does the tour cover the basics of Port wine, but it also delves into the history and culture of Portuguese winemaking. However, the best part of the tour is sipping on the sweet liquid gold that helped put Porto on the map.
Bolhão Wine House
Mercado do Bolhão, Loja 9
A hidden gem in the historic Mercado do Bolhão, Bolhão Wine House offers three Port wine tastings for 7€ (Mondays through Saturdays). This up-and-coming wine bar is run in the owner's grandmother's old flower shop, and aims to utilize products from other stalls in the market so that everyone can benefit from their success. Aside from exquisite local wines, you can also purchase gourmet snacks and artisan souvenirs.
Pass the Port, please!
Rua de Ferreira Borges 86
This quaint wine bar serves an unparalleled selection of quality wines, thanks to top-notch sommelier Diogo. Highlighting wines from every region of the country, it's hard not to leave with a newfound appreciate for Portuguese vinho. My favorite pick was the 2007 Hereditas from the Alentejo region, which was delightfully full bodied and spicy.
Livraria Lello & Irmão
Rua das Carmelitas 144
Did you know that JK Rowling began writing the first chapters Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone while she was teaching English in Porto? Rumor has it that the Hogwarts uniforms were even inspired by the uniforms of University of Porto students. After visiting this whimsical bookshop, it's no surprise that this locale was also a possible inspiration to Rowling. Gliding up and down the shop's staircases makes you feel as if you're wandering through the halls of Hogwarts. It costs 3€ to enter, but your ticket acts as a voucher if you choose to later make a purchase.
A Vida Portuguesa
Galeria de Paris 20
This gift shop nestled just around the corner from Livraria Lello is known for its colorful assortment of authentic "made in Portugal" souvenirs. Here you can pick up local treats such as fragrant soaps, colorful tiles, artisan kitchen supplies and unique postcards. They also offer a tasty variety of Portuguese delicacies, which unsurprisingly make for the best gifts for friends back home.
Sunrise from the Dom Luís I Bridge
Dom Luís I Bridge
If this double-decker metallic bridge looming over the Douro River reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, you are definitely onto something. This impressive structure connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia was built in 1886 by Téophile Seyrig, one of Gustave Eiffel's protégés. While the towering bridge is a magnificent feat within itself, its upper deck also boasts some of the most spectacular views of the city.
Miradouro da Vitória
Though seemingly derelict, this hidden lookout offers some of the most sublime panoramas of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the Douro River. Stop by around golden hour to truly capture the city's magic.
Golden hour views at Miradouro da Vitória
This Romanesque cathedral is not only stunning in its own right, but it also offers some of the most striking vistas of the city. Peek inside for a quick dose of culture, or simply take in the remarkable views of Porto from above.
Porto's Sé Cathedral
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Porto's historic center is brimming with dilapidated charm and unabashed charisma. The darling medieval streets flaunt crumbling tiles, bold details and bright pops of color. Wander through the twisting alleys, gaze up at the locals perched on their balconies, and soak in the neighborhood's picturesque imperfections.
Rustic charm in the Ribeira
São Bento Railway Station
Perhaps the crown jewel of all train stations, the interior of São Bento is covered in elegant azulejos that depict the history of Portugal. Over 20,000 traditional blue and white tiles adorn the walls of the station, creating one of the most arresting sights in the city.
Dip your toes in the ocean and eat some of the region's best seafood in this seaside town just 15 minutes from downtown Porto. With surfing schools on the beach and vast stretches of sand to soak up the sun, Matosinhos is the ideal oceanside escape.
When hunger strikes, head to O Gaveto (Rua Roberto Ivens 826) for fresh seafood, traditional caldo verde (soup with kale, potatoes, chouriço and olive oil) and invigorating vinho verde (young Portuguese wine). Don't miss out on their heavenly clams served in a fresh olive oil, garlic, cilantro and white wine sauce.
To get to Matosinhos from downtown Porto, take bus 500 from Praça da Liberdade. With a single ticket costing only 1.50€, the ride boasts sublime views of the coast. Or, take the blue metro line to the Matosinhos Sul stop, which costs 1.50€ for a single ticket.
Famous for its high quality of life, remarkable efficiency, renowned cuisine and unfavorable exchange rates, life in Denmark certainly isn't cheap. As one of the most expensive European destinations, adhering to a tight budget in Copenhagen can be a tricky feat.
Although Scandinavia is one of the priciest corners of the world, you shouldn't feel deterred from visiting the breathtaking city of Copenhagen. With a little bit of planning, it's possible to navigate Copenhagen on a budget and experience the city without breaking the bank. Here are six ways to save money while exploring the Danish capital.
1. Cruise the canals
Since Copenhagen is made up of several different islands, the city's striking landscape is dominated by water. Some of Copenhagen's best views can be seen from its series of sparkling canals, and boat tours offer a decidedly unique perspective of the capital. While most canal tours charge 75 DKK (10€), Netto-Bådene offers hour long tours from Nyhavn for only 40 DKK (5€). The Netto boat tour boasts stunning views of some of the city's most memorable sights, such as the Opera House, the Little Mermaid statue, the Black Diamond, Amalienbourg Palace and Christianshavn.
The colorful ships of Nyhavn as seen from the Netto-Bådene tour
2. Soar up the Tårnet
As the tallest tower in Copenhagen, the Tårnet offers unparalleled views of the Danish capital. Completed in 1928, the tower gracefully rises above Christiansborg Palace, which currently houses the Danish Parliament. From the top of the tower, you can see all the way to Sweden on a clear day. Not only does the tower of Christiansborg Palace boast the most spectacular panoramas of the city, but it's also completely free. The tower is open every day except Monday.
The view from the Christiansborg Palace Tårnet
3. Embrace your inner hippie in Christiania
Anything goes in the hippie freetown of Christiania, a self-governing commune in Christianshavn. Established in 1971 by squatters, this semi-autonomous community is now Denmark's vibrant hub of counterculture. Upon leaving the district, you'll even notice a sign warning, "You are now entering the EU".
While exploring Freetown Christiania, you can find whimsical artwork, eclectic huts and homes, picturesque lakeside views and a handful of cafés, eateries and beer gardens. The district is perhaps most notorious for its Green Light District, where you can openly purchase cannabis products from the stalls along Pusher Street. It's free to explore the grounds, but keep in mind that photographs are not permitted.
Outside the entrance to Christiania
4. Grab some grub at Paper Island
In the aftermath of the new Nordic food revolution, Copenhagen's gastronomic scene has become a defining element of Danish culture. Thankfully, you don't have to pay astronomical prices to get Noma-quality food. At the former cellulose processing plant of Papirøen (also known as Paper Island), you can find an entire warehouse filled with Copenhagen Street Food's glorious array of food trucks.
The market houses over 35 different food stalls with a plethora of international options to choose from. Focused on promoting sustainability, Paper Island utilizes old storage containers and recycled materials for its food stalls and dining areas. Meals typically cost between 50-75 DKK (7-10€).
Don't miss the Belgian fries doubled fried in duck fat from the Copper and Wheat stand!
5. Relax in the city's many green spaces
Copenhagen is celebrated for its variety of parks and lush green spaces around the city. Although the weather isn't always nice enough to enjoy them, these areas get crowded quickly when the sun eventually makes its debut. Hop over to King's Garden, home to the Rosenborg Castle, for a picnic and some people watching. The Botanical Gardens, which are part of the University of Copenhagen's Natural History Museum, also offer picturesque spots to relax. Don't be afraid to copy the Danes and explore more of Copenhagen's parks by bike!
Copenhagen's Botanical Gardens
6. Brush up on Danish history on a walking tour
It would be a shame to visit Copenhagen and let its enthralling history slip through your fingers. Get a mini history lesson while exploring the city with Copenhagen Free Walking Tours. On the three hour walking tour, vivacious guides will cover most of the city's major sights and landmarks while also explaining their historical context. Although the tours are advertised as "free", guides typically expect around a 75 DKK (10€) tip at the end of the tour.
Have you ever been to Copenhagen? In your opinion, what are the best ways to save money in Scandinavia?
Is it just me, or did the new year sneak up on us? It's hard to believe that February is just around the corner. But with a new year comes new adventures, and I have a pretty good feeling about 2016! While I hit most of the cities on my 2015 travel bucket list, there are still plenty of places in Europe (and beyond!) that I absolutely must see before moving back to the States.
Seeing as this will be my last year living in Spain, nailing down my 2016 travel plans has been a rather daunting task. The old cliché of "so much to see, so little time" has never rang so true. I'm starting to feel like I'm racing against the clock (... and my bank account is suffering accordingly). But I'm determined to make the most out of my last six months abroad, so here's what's on the calendar for my 2016 farewell tour!
After my first skydive in July for my 25th birthday, I knew I'd be hooked. I dragged my mom along with me (because she's not a regular mom, she's a cool mom), and afterwards she feverishly insisted, "I certainly won't be doing that again!" I could only respond with a smirk, because I knew it wouldn't be long until I jumped out of a plane again. But I suppose I was mistaken, because this time I'll be jumping out of a helicopter!
One of the best parts about being a teacher is having spring break, so this March I'll be heading east to visit one of my favorite sorority sisters in Tel Aviv. I'll arrive just in time to celebrate Purim, a festival similar to Halloween that commemorates Queen Esther. Safety permitting, I'm hoping to take a few day trips such as Jerusalem and... Petra, Jordan
I've dreamt of seeing these ruins for years, and drooling over Jessica's stunning photos only intensified my wanderlust! Seeing Petra in person would be an absolute dream come true, so here's hoping a quick jaunt from Israel is safe and feasible! Cádiz, Spain
It's been six years since my disastrous study abroad experience in Cádiz, and I've spent the past two and a half years postponing my return. Before I leave Spain for good, I need a redemption trip. While my semester abroad in Cádiz was less than ideal, its trials and tribulations pushed me to grow and challenge myself in new ways. While living there wasn't necessarily a good fit for me, it's still a gorgeous city worth visiting. I know returning will bring back a lot of mixed emotions, but at this point I feel ready to face those demons and fully embrace everything wonderful about this charming southern town (... especially the beaches!).
My best friend Meghan is coming to visit me in May (hooray!!!), and while she's on this side of the pond, we plan on popping over to Sweden to visit her cousin. I've been dying to get back to Scandinavia since I fell in love with Copenhagen last spring, so I can't wait to see what Stockholm has to offer!
Before moving to Madrid, I promised myself that I'd make it to Croatia. Twenty-two year old Courtney dreamt of the seemingly endless champagne showers of Yacht Week, but twenty-five year old Courtney knows that eight days on a boat may cause an accidental Dramamine overdose. Land, ho! Though my lack of sea legs prompts me to forgo the party boat experience, my mainland itinerary will hopefully be balanced out with plenty of island hopping.
I can't think of a better way to conclude my time abroad than by revisiting the city I love the most (shhh, cover your ears, Madrid). Paris was the first city I ever truly fell in love with, and despite countless visits and a magical study abroad stint, I still can't get enough. This June, I plan on getting in a large dose of French goodness before I go home and have to wait another five years until I can afford it again. (Just kidding... I hope. Please be good to me, grad school loan gods.)
The cheapest one way ticket home is through Iceland, which is especially convenient considering Iceland Air offers a free stopover for up to seven nights! Since Iceland has been on my bucket list for years, my last European hoorah will include a few days in Reykjavík on my way back to Seattle.
A bittersweet return to Seattle
Home sweet home
As ludicrous as it sounds to say out loud, I think I'm finally ready to move back to Seattle. It's time for me to take the next step in my career, I have absolutely no savings and I'm ready to live closer to my family. Leaving Madrid will surely break my heart (alright, more like shatter it to pieces), and I expect my transition back into reality to be particularly gruesome, but I still feel called to come back home and take the next step - whatever that may be. Leaving Seattle after Christmas break was unusually tough this time around. My week at home reminded me of how solid my community is, and I feel a renewed gratefulness for my friends who still make me feel as if no time has passed.
I could very well come home, feel miserable, panic and buy a one-way ticket back to Spain... but I think I have a pretty good feeling about this next move.
So, to sum up the next step in the words of the late David Bowie,
"I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring."
Cheers to an epic 2016, my friends!
What are your 2016 travel plans?
Will you be visiting any of the same destinations?
After almost three years of living in Madrid, I still get heart sparkles wandering through the streets of Spain's capital. Despite the ups and downs of expat life, Spanish culture has effectively seduced, indulged and transformed me. From the captivating lifestyle to the ability to travel extensively through Europe, Spain has spoiled me in countless ways. My years in Madrid have undoubtedly been the best of my life, and quite frankly, I'm worried that none of my future endeavors will ever compare.
But my time here must unfortunately come to an end, and in just four months I will be tossed back into the cruel reality of adulthood in the USA. Spain's enviable way of life has ruined me for good, and I'm not quite sure how I'll be able to readjust to American mediocrity (and expensive wine).
So, what's so special about life in Madrid? Take a peek at what I'm making a conscious effort to savor these next few months:
1. Tapas, tapas, tapas
Heaven is a gooey slice of Spanish tortilla
The best way to satisfy an indecisive palate is by sharing a variety of small plates and sampling bites of all the different treats. The ultimate solution for culinary commitment-phobes, tapas solve the problem of having to commit to just one dish. They're also known for being delightfully cheap, or in some cases, even free.
Although Granada is best known for its heaping plates of complimentary appetizers, there are also a few bars in Madrid that generously dole out free tapas when you order a drink. Even if you aren't served a legitimate tapa, you'll at least be given a small dish of olives or potato chips to snack on.
To score free food in the center of Madrid, check out La Petisqueira, La Blanca Paloma and El Respiro. Otherwise, head outside the center to more residential neighborhoods. In the neighborhood that I work in, Carabanchel Alto, all of the bars spoil me with overflowing plates of free huevos rotos, cocido or tortilla when I order a glass of wine to cope with the stress of teaching preschool.
2. Phenomenal wine for unbelievably low prices
It's always wine o'clock somewhere in Spain
Every time I visit the USA, I die a little inside every time I have to pay $14 for a glass of Chardonnay. I know it's my own damn fault that I'm a wine snob I have good taste, but seriously, fourteen bucks? ¡Qué va!
The going rate for a glass of wine in Madrid is anywhere between 1.50-2.50€, while a particularly high quality glass can cost you 3.50€ (at the most). Not only are the prices delightfully low, but the selection of native Spanish wines is positively delicious. Rioja, Ribera, Toro, Somontano, Albariño... I'll take a glass (or five) of each, por favor. Looking for great wine in Madrid? Check out De Vinos, Vinoteca Vides, Stop Madrid or Casa Gerardo (Almacén de Vinos) for carefully curated selections of decently priced wine.
3. Unparalleled nightlife
It took me two years to learn how to keep up with Spaniards after dark. In Madrid, the locals start heading to the bars or pre-gaming at home around midnight, and finally roll up to the club around 3 am. After dancing the night away, they slowly make their way home once the discotecas close between 6 and 7 am.
During my first two years as an expat in Madrid, I could only handle this exhausting ritual once every two months. Even when I did make it out until 6, I could hardly function the next week. But now that I'm on Year Three and feel casi madrileña, if I don't do this at least once a week, I feel like I'm doing something wrong. It's not a successful weekend in Madrid unless I dance 'til sunrise and sleep past 1 pm the next day.
Considering that bars back home close before 2 am, I don't know how I'm going to adjust to the pathetic lack of nightlife in Seattle. Clubbing isn't exactly popular in my hipster hometown, so who knows how I'm going to get my groove on after hours. I'm not trying to fly to Vegas every time I want a proper fiesta.
4. Efficient public transportation
Madrid has surely spoiled me with a remarkably efficient public transportation system. While I adore the ability to walk everywhere in Madrid, I can also get to any given destination by metro, bus or train. The system here is well-connected, affordable and relatively idiot-proof.
Given that Spain isn't exactly known for its efficiency, I appreciate their flawless transportation system even more. As someone who harbors an irrational fear of driving, this is the main thing I wish I could bring back to the USA with me.
5. The Spanish dining experience
Federal Café: great restaurant, terrible service. Just the way I like it.
Six years ago when I studied abroad in Cádiz, I positively abhorred the meal schedule, the slow service, and the aloof waiters whose attention you could never seem to grab. And what was that sobremesa business all about? Sitting around the table, just talking for hours after a meal? Who's got time for that?
But after almost three years in Madrid, gone are the days of wanting to eat dinner at 6 o'clock, pining for free refills of ice water and appreciating quality customer service. Now, I live for the late night dinners and the delightfully slow meals. Bringing the check with the food is an unforgivable offense, and I find myself unreasonably put off when friends aren't in the mood to sobremesa. After getting accustomed to Spain's slow service, I feel irrationally annoyed by American customer service norms. I don't want to be bothered or checked in on, especially when it means that I'm therefore obligated to tip 20%. Please take my order, then leave me alone and let me eat in peace!
The Spanish dining experience is not only more pleasant because I can enjoy my meal without being bothered or rushed out to have my table turned, but also because the food here is decidedly sublime. In Spanish cuisine, less is more. The traditional gastronomy focuses on fresh, high quality ingredients, rendering it all the more savory in its simplicity.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the Spanish lifestyle is its relaxed pace and no pasa nada attitude. Spaniards work to live, not live to work. They're not becoming workaholics or multi-tasking themselves to death. Instead, they're focusing on enjoying life. The people of Spain take joy in life's simple pleasures: savoring a caña in the sunshine with friends, engaging in long conversations after meals, and making family their number one priority.
Though most madrileños don't actually nap during the post-lunch siesta hours, I secretly relish when some of the shops close and life temporarily slows down. On the weekends when the city is dead until 11 am, I savor my leisurely morning ritual of grabbing a café con leche at Toma Café, feasting upon some homemade pan con tomate, and slowly getting ready until it's time to grab a vermouth and a bite to eat with friends.
7. The lower cost of living
The view from my bedroom's balcony
My rent in Madrid is on the higher side, mostly because I chose to live in a recently remodeled apartment in a rather trendy neighborhood. (I also picked a bedroom with two balconies and an unbelievably picturesque view.) But while I consider my rent to be pricier than the norm, in reality, it's still insanely cheap. In fact, it's half the price of an apartment in Seattle. That's right, a full 50% cheaper than rent in the USA. (And that's not even taking into consideration the utilities and cleaning services that are included in my rent here!)
Not only is housing reasonably priced, but groceries are also remarkably cheap. On average, I only spend 30-40€ on weekly groceries (not including my specialty gluten-free goods that are usually more expensive). I score the best deals at local fruterías, which are neighborhood grocers that only sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
8. Being fully immersed in an extraordinary culture
Spain exemplifies beauty unlike any other country I've visited. Between the friendly locals, vibrant customs and seductive language, the Spanish culture is decidedly electric. Vivacious, dynamic and unpretentious, Spaniards truly know how to live. Whether it's at the dinner table or on the streets, their love for life is positively contagious.
Being surrounded by such an effervescent culture has made me appreciate life in a new way. Whether it be savoring a steaming cortado at my favorite neighborhood bar before work, taking a short siesta in the sunshine on my lunch break, or eavesdropping on the musical inflections of a Spanish conversation (and relishing the fact that I can understand most of it), life in Spain has taught me to find joy in the relatively mundane.
It will surely break my heart to part ways with a culture that constantly excites me and brings me to life. Though I will try to find ways to bring the Spanish lifestyle back to the USA with me, right now I have to soak up as much magic as I can during my last few months here.
Have you ever lived abroad?
How did it "ruin" you for life?
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