For the Love of Travel – Animal Encounters

Although the week of love has passed, the Valentine’s Day holiday had me thinking – what do I love about travel? A post on all those things would last for days, so I narrowed my focus.

With two googly-eyed pugs staring at me as I pondered my love of travel, I immediately thought of all the animals we’ve seen along the way.  So this post is devoted to my love of animals around the world. There are  plenty more I’d like to (safely) encounter, but this is a good start.

 

Capybara in Curitiba-PR, Brasil

Monkeys in the park, Maringa-PR, Brasil

 

Stray pups taking a break from the sun inside the cathedral, Maring-PR, Brasil

 

Ducks working the rice paddy fields in Ubud-Bali, Indonesia

 

Dog outside a home in Ubud-Bali, Indonesia

 

Elephant love outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Starfish on the coast of Jamaica

 

Grey Seals in Howth, Ireland

 

Burros on the island of Antigua

 

And a few from around home…

 

Kentucky Beef Cattle

 

Kentucky Rescue Horses

 

Googly-eyed Kentucky pugs

 

 

 

 

Irish Food Markets

Ireland didn’t draw me in with food; it was the scenery I wanted to see. But after multiple trips, I’ve learned that when it comes to all things culinary this is a country that is not restricted by its boundaries.

Despite the confines of an island, the Irish make the most of resources. Cheeses, breads, and seafood; you will find few places in this world with better offerings. Foods not grown there can be found in markets as well, and they are the best imports available; cherries from Italy, plums from France, and chocolates from Belgium.

If it weren’t for my husband tugging my arm as a gentle reminder that there are other sights to see; I’d spend the whole day in an Irish market. Should that opportunity arise, here are a few I’d choose.

Cork English Market

Favorite Find:  Cheeses and seafood

A main attraction in Cork, I researched this market for months before our trip. Be prepared to explore countless displays of Irish milk cheeses, and seafood that has yet to touch a freezer.

 

Tip:   If you are taking a day trip to the surrounding cities stop in and grab a sandwich from the Sandwich + Salad Bar to take a long. They are big, but don’t plan to split them. One bite of the gourmet ingredients, and you’ll want it all to yourself.

 

St. George’s Variety Market, Belfast

Favorite Find:  Scones

Our only option to visit the St. George’s market was early, as soon as it opened on Friday, around 6:30 am. What we saw was enough to make me visit again on our next trip. While I would have enjoyed sticking around to see the final pan of paella being prepared before our eyes, I had to settle for a take-away blueberry scone for our train and bus trip to Giant’s Causeway. By settle, I mean the scone was absolute perfection.

 

Tip:  The market opens at 6:00 am on Friday, but wait until about 8:00 am to go if you want the full experience.

 

Dun Laoghaire Sunday Market

Favorite Find:  Breads

Occasionally, I find markets by accident. While strolling around Dun Laoghaire late on a Sunday morning, that is exactly what happened in People’s Park. First I saw the vendors, then I saw the food, and then it dawned on me that I’d discovered my happy place. Although small and not in a permanent structure like the others I’ve described, this market provides everything you want in a Farmer’s Market:  fresh produce, shopping families, and a view of the Irish coastline.

 

Tip:  Seeing the whole market won’t take long, so plan to grab some tea at the small shop in the park and spend some time people watching.

 

Kilkenny Farmer’s Market

Favorite Find:  Local and imported fruits

I admit I have some luck when it comes to finding markets. I seemed to have a knack for being at the right place on the right day. That’s what happened in Kilkenny. Only 2 hours before we were set to leave and travel to Dublin, my husband returned from a run to tell me they were setting up a market by the castle. Much more rushed as I would have liked, we grabbed some fruit and chocolates for our trip. As an US American who has limited exposure to the fruits of Europe this market was an eye opening experience.

 

Tip:  Allow plenty of time to talk to the vendors, especially those offering organic produce. They are full of interesting information about the fruits and vegetables of Ireland and beyond.

On the Other Side: Port Antonio, Jamaica

We took our driver’s heckling in stride. “But, you’re not the typical tourist,” he said on several occasions throughout the day with a laugh; usually when we passed an attraction that the majority of visitors would have flocked to.

Six trips to Jamaica and not one had taken us to Port Antonio. That is, until this past December. I searched high and low for a private driver to get us there from Ocho Rios. Our original desire was to visit Twyman’s Old Tavern Coffee Estate in the Blue Mountains, but with a road damaged from the last hurricane I could not find a driver in our price range that also had the appropriate vehicle to navigate the terrain.

We settled on a day sightseeing in Port Antonio. After several drivers offered a day full of raft rental, swimming and extra entrance fees upwards of 150 USD, I finally found Paul. He gladly took us where we wanted to go, but that wasn’t without a comment here and there indicating that he didn’t quite understand where we were coming from.

 

Frenchman's Cove

 

Since I first discovered Port Antonio through websites and blog posts, I wanted to see if it would keep the promises made about its beauty; its uniqueness among other cities of Jamaica. When experiencing the Parrish of Portland first hand, I wanted to watch, to see, and to eat; not ride, splash, and spend with hoards of other visitors.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting as we set off on the two hour drive from Ocho Rios. We had taken a similar driving tour of Antigua a few years before, but the experiences were not at all similar. It was another reminder that while the area is referred to as “the Caribbean,” each island has its own identity; its own vibrant personality.

The road to Port Antonio wraps along the north coastline of the island. Regardless of your destination, a short drive along the route is well worth a few hours of your day.

 

A stop for a photo along the drive

 

Once we arrived in the city, we realized our guide did have a few things in mind for us. This was a relief because while I had great intentions for researching exactly where we wanted to go, a busy work schedule prior to our trip never allowed those intentions to become actions.

With a camera in hand, the day can be summed up as: shoot, sit, reflect, marvel and eat. The attractions we visited are not unlike those others would flock to, but we did them on our own schedule, taking plenty of time to absorb all that was around us.

And all that was around us was both good and mediocre.  There are parts of Port Antonio that I would return to in a heartbeat, others I would skip in search of other interesting areas of the island.

Errol Flynn Marina

When we arrived at the marina, it was my first realization that we were out of resort territory. The marina website boasts that this is the ‘other side of Jamaica,’ and I wholeheartedly agree. Being where tourism is said to have begun on the island, of course there are accommodations, but mega resorts there are not. The area also began to show signs of the independent traveler; the backpacker interested in taking on a culture alone, or perhaps with a few new friends met at the hostel.

 

Errol Flynn Marina

 

While the skyline and sail boats made for a few beautiful photos, the Marina left a lot to be desired. Even with the accompanied historic brochure which usually sparks my interest, we walked, shot a few photos, and were ready to leave.

 

Errol Flynn Marina

 

Frenchman’s Cove

After paying a 6 USD fee per person, we entered the gate to Frenchman’s Cove, instructed that while we could go to the beach we could not explore the rental cottages on the property.

 

Frenchman's Cove

 

Frenchman’s Cove is like a peek-a-boo of beauty. This is where you will want to spend an hour or two sitting so take your sunscreen, your book and some spare change for a Red Stripe. The small beach looks out over waves that seemed angry the day we visited. A small break in the landscape allows a full view out to sea. We arrived mid-morning and only a handful of people were around making for a peaceful reading spot.

 

Reading and watching at Frenchman's Cove

 

Chairs are free, benches can be rented and a bar will serve you your favorite Caribbean cocktail. In our case, this was a Red Stripe Bold.

 

Red Stripe Bold at Frenchman's Cove

 

Boston Bay

Between half-finished houses and smoking jerk stands, Boston Bay appears out of nowhere. Another sneak peek at the ocean, surf stands dot the coast line, and a soccer field for pick-up games with the best view on the island can be seen in the distance.

 

Boston Bay

Boston Bay

 

There isn’t much to do here, unless you surf, I suppose. But no one dared to tackle the waters during our visit. The beach does, however, provide the backdrop for some stunning photos.

 

Perfect spot for a swing - Boston Bay

 

Boston Bay Jerk Center

Jerk is what we had waited for. Real jerk; the kind with spicy heat smoked into the bone. I guess I should have heeded the warnings about the Boston Bay Jerk Center. I had read several times that while good, it wasn’t anything spectacular. We arrived and grabbed a bench as a group of backpackers were settling their bill. We were immediately rushed by several salesmen – meat, drinks, sides, and finally jewelry for dessert.

 

Boston Bay Jerk Center

Boston Bay Jerk Center - the kitchen

 

A bit confused on how the process would work with our driver, we did not take full advantage of his advice. He had suggested that we settle the price before ordering, but distracted by all that was around us, we felt pressured to quickly make our selection. I thought I was getting better at the whole bartering thing, but I took two steps back on this trip.

The negative tone of the experience isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy the food or the variety. The highlight was the opportunity to try roasted breadfruit. One bite and you will know exactly why it got its name. A fruit that has the texture of bread it certainly is. And despite the simplicity of the roasted yam, it remains a favorite from the meal.

 

Jerk Chicken

Roasted yam

Our Server

Roasted breadfruit

 

We wouldn’t venture back to the Boston Bay Jerk Center. To us, while the people were friendly – which has always been the case for us in Jamaica –  it was a tourist trap that was disguised as an authentic experience. Thirty-seven US dollars got us two Red Stripes, 2 orders of jerk chicken, a roasted yam, and a roasted breadfruit. We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying better jerk chicken elsewhere on the island so I’d suggest that you keep exploring.

 

Boston Jerk Center

 

Blue Lagoon

At first I wondered why we were creeping down an alley scattered with a few local craft vendors. “It’s just over there,” our driver said. I looked up and dark turquoise water filled every frame of my view. We didn’t take a raft ride and we didn’t jump in, but the Blue Lagoon filled our senses.

 

Blue Lagoon

 

We stood for a while, as there isn’t much of a place to sit, took some photos, and watched a few daring souls take their raft out to the tree swing, splashing into the almost unnatural looking water. I had no desire to join them, but in all fairness they looked like they were having fun. If we had a desire to swim or take a raft ride on our trip, this would be the place to do it.

 

Blue Lagoon with that very natural, yet unnatural looking water.

 

Twyman’s Coffee

As mentioned, our original intent was to visit Old Tavern Coffee Estate. This coffee is considered the cream of the crop when it comes to 100% Blue Mountain coffee. It is the only single-estate Blue Mountain coffee. The price reflects this, but we prepare for such indulgences.

After inquiring about finding the coffee at a local market, Paul offered to take us to downtown Ocho Rios. This was the only place we fit in on the entire island – tourist central. But visit was worth every effort the moment I saw a bag of Twyman’s coffee on the shelf. It was a day of ups and downs that ultimately ended well.

 

Boston Bay

 

Yazoo Brewing Company – Nashville, Tennessee

Depending on where you reside, you may not give a second thought to craft beer and local breweries. Meaning, it is the norm for you; special, but nothing special at the same time.

However, if you live someplace, like say, Kentucky; it’s a little bit of a different story. Here, the  movement is beginning to rumble like the inside of a volcano; once dormant, it has now come to life.

It seems to be everywhere, and everyone seems to be talking about it. Well, maybe it is just that everyone I hang out with is talking about it. You tend to get into a lot of beer conversations when you are both a food blogger and a traveler.

So a couple weeks before Christmas, with craft beer on our mind, we decided to cross the border and check out what was going on in Tennessee.

Yazoo Brewing Company is located in the heart of Nashville, near downtown and close to Vanderbilt’s campus. We arrived on a Saturday, it was cold and there was an NFL home game there the same weekend.

 

Simply put, people were in the mood to tour a brewery and drink some beer.

We had an entertaining tour guide who was full of information, as well as knowledgeable about her beer and the process that goes into making it.

I’m a sucker for a good, living-my-life’s-dream kind of story and Yazoo has it. I’m also partial to people who name things after their dogs. I’ll get to that later.

Once you have been on as many brewery and distillery tours as we have, one tends to zone out on the process explanation. Yes, you pick up the important facts about what type of hops are used and what awards have been won, but otherwise, I’ll admit, I glaze over a bit.

That is, until it is time to taste. And taste you will, in your take-home pint glass.

On our tour we tried three delicious beers:  Dos Perros, Hop Project and Hefeweizen. And by try, I mean that we had at least a half pint of each, more if there was extra left in the growler.

 

Dos Perros is a Mexican-style beer named for the owner’s two dogs. Our guide described it as a darker beer that doesn’t taste like a dark beer. I have to agree. It had a mild, smooth, nutty flavor that was a bit unexpected.

 

I anticipated that the Hop Project would be, well, hoppy. Not being a huge IPA fan, I wasn’t expecting to like it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hoppy as I was expecting which is a good thing in my book. I’m not sure how you would feel should you be an IPA advocate.

 

I’ll go ahead and tell you, my favorite beer is always a Hefe, so I’m a bit biased. Yazoo’s version is full of banana flavor.

 

 

Go, tour, drink, support a dream.

 

Where’s it at: 910 Division St.  Nashville, TN.

When to go:  Saturdays, if you want a tour. They start at 2:30 and happen every hour until 6:30.

How much it will cost you: $6, and it’s quite a steal. You’ll get a nice tour, about 1.5 pints of some darn good beer, and a you get to keep your pint glass.

Plan to buy and take back home:  Dos Perros. It was the most unique of the three we tried. It’s worth packing a few bottles in your bag for later.

 

 

 Yazoo Brewing Company

910 Division St.
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 891-4649

@Yazoobrew

Yazoo on Facebook

Las Vegas 2010

Las Vegas is one of those destinations that people seem to either love or loathe. My husband and I are on the side of love. I’m not sure what it is, but some unexplainable force draws us to the bright lights, entertainment and food. It also doesn’t hurt to have some amazing scenery and outdoor opportunities nearby.

Summer decor in the Bellagio

Summer decor in the Bellagio

Oh, and did I mention the deals. We never travel to Vegas without a deal and they were so great in late August that we planned a last minute trip to take advantage of two – free food with a stay at Paris, and free Blue Man Group tickets, food discounts and an incredible price for a stay at Palazzo.

We make the trip west about every year and this was our 5th visit. Our last trip was November 09, and each year we find new trends which lead to a different experience every time. If you are considering a trip in the near future, this is our wrap up of old favorites, new finds and great deals.

 

 

New in Food On the Strip

The 24-hour Buffet. It seems the big push to get travelers back to the buffet line for a reasonable price is the 24-hour buffet.  We received two free for staying at Paris Hotel and Casino for two nights and considering that we always have budget in mind, we took advantage.

This is how it works. The clock starts the time you buy the buffet pass. You then have 24 hours to visit for any meal at any buffet within that family of casinos/hotels for no extra charge.

Tip: Get a players card before you buy the buffet even if you don’t gamble. Your buffet status will go on the players card and you won’t have to wear a ridiculous arm band for a day which makes you feel like you are at a theme park water attraction.

Final thoughts: We’d never buy this on our own. We were so sick of buffets – the food, the atmosphere (although not the desserts) by our last visit. However, this is coming from people who don’t really enjoy buffets and usually average two meals a day while in Vegas due to portion sizes. If you are a buffet lover on a budget you may love it.

 

 

New Sights to See

City Center is the new hotel, casino, shopping and residential section which resides between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio. The architecture is impressive as are the small details throughout the property. It also added some new restaurants and a Cirque show, Elvis, to the strip. The whole area had a feel that was unique to anyplace else on the strip.

 IMG_2565

 

Sculpture in courtyard outside the Aria

Sculpture outside in the courtyard, outside Vdara

Wall fountain outside Aria

Fountain outside Aria

Final thoughts: We wouldn’t stay here without an incredible deal. City Center feels completely isolated from the strip. Perhaps that was the goal, but it doesn’t feel like the Vegas we enjoy. On the positive side, it’s opening has restored the tram from the Bellagio to Monte Carlo which we are very happy about.

 

Friendliest Place to Exercise

Red Rock Canyon, hands down. Rent a car and make the short drive out to the park. We went on Saturday morning for a run and were among large groups of cyclers and runners. I think everyone we passed offered a smile and hello.

IMG_2610

Final thoughts: The weather at the canyon is much cooler than the strip which was welcome for an August morning run. Get there as soon as the park opens to reduce your time in direct sun and be prepared to start on an incline and for plenty of rolling hills thereafter.

 

Least Favorite Trend

The beach clubs. Some hotels, namely the Encore and Venetian, have beach clubs which are in a separate section of the pool area.  Despite the separation, they are still visible and audible from the general pool areas. These aren’t to be confused with the adult pools, but they do appeal to the party scene. It is somewhat like the night club had moved to the pool. It was amass of very drunk people stumbling from the pool to their rooms along with fights breaking out.

Final thoughts: If this is your thing, have at it. For us, no thank you. We like to have fun, but will take it without all the drama. And, oh, there was drama!

 

New Trend to Be Aware Of

Daily resort fee. As we were researching for our trip we noticed that almost every hotel now has a mandatory daily resort fee ranging from about $15 to $20 depending on hotel. This fee includes access to the fitness center, internet access, local phone calls and a paper. The fee is added to the nightly cost of the hotel and tax is added.

Palazzo
Palazzo

Final thoughts: We have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it is nice to have access to the fitness center since that was always about $20 alone, and internet is a plus. However, that extra daily fee is hard to swallow when you think you are getting a great deal on a room and have to tack that on in the end. Not all hotels are doing it, but many are so if you are concerned pay attention when booking.

 

Best Meal Off the Strip

Lotus of Siam. This was recommended by a friend and can be found in many guide books. It is in a small, internationally-influenced strip mall not far from the strip, and the cuisine of focus is northern Thai. The photos of the owner with many celebrity chefs and prints of media coverage were enough to tell us this was a popular place, yet it still has a very local feel. We went for the lunch buffet which was under $10.

lotus of siam

lotus of siam 2

Final thoughts: Outstanding! The closest thing we’ve had to the Thai food we ate during our visit to Thailand last year.  I couldn’t get enough of the sticky rice, red curry and ginger tofu. If you are in Vegas you must make a meal of it!

Summer in Vienna

stephansdom

Stephansdom in Vienna

When the summer months arrive in the northern hemisphere, my thoughts go to Vienna. It was a place that I had never thought much about visiting, but outside circumstances took me there a few years ago. Shortly after I arrived, as I slowly crept up that long escalator and the view of the majestic and ominous Stephansdom came into view, I realized it is possible to fall in love with a city.

My trip to Vienna presented a lot of firsts in travel for me. Perhaps that is why it holds such a special place in my heart. Aside from a trip to the Caribbean, it was my first international trip and my first trip to Europe. The city was also the host of my first adventure as a solo traveler. Well, sort of.

My flight to Vienna was my first international flight alone. Funny how at that moment I had no idea how many of those were ahead of me going back and forth to Brazil. I was headed there because my husband was taking part in a three week study abroad program for his MBA. We explored the city center some over that initial weekend, but the rest of the week I spent my days walking the streets, shopping and exploring museums alone, and my evenings with my husband and his classmates. It was at this point I realized that traveling alone is just as invigorating and exciting as traveling with someone you love.

uwien

Campus of the University of Vienna

While it may seem that I liked Vienna so much because it launched me onto this journey of a travel-lover, there is much more to it. Vienna is an incredible city – the food, the drink, museums, Mozart, summer festivals, outdoor markets, public transportation – there are too many wonderful things to mention them all.

My husband and I like it so much that we can hardly bear to go to Europe without a stop in Vienna. We have returned since that first trip in 2006 and will likely be there again next summer. If we have our way, it is one of two locations in this world where we would gladly take a second home.

So now, let me get to the point. Keeping with the format of the Antigua post from a few months ago, here are a few reasons why you should get yourself to Vienna and what to do once you are there.

 

Why is Vienna different?

I’ve tried multiple times to put this into words and this is what I have come up with. Vienna has multiple tourist attractions yet the way the city is designed I never felt overwhelmed with tourists as I visited them. You feel as though you are part of the culture when you are there. A strong contrast to cities such as Prague, which I enjoyed, but felt completely claustrophobic. Vienna is fabulously designed with bike and walking lanes and incredible public transportation.

 

Why summer in Vienna?

The Film Festival auf dem Wiener Rathausplatz. The Film Festival at the Vienna Town Hall Square is an event from July to early September where films are shown on a large screen mounted on the Rathaus. Throughout the square are vendors selling foods that represent a variety of international cuisines – German, Brazilian, Italian, Indian – as well as local beer and also wine. Yes, it gets crowded, but you can grab your food and go sit in the park nearby. You don’t even have to watch the film to enjoy this festival. Tip: Take a few spare euros with you for the bathrooms which are located to the left of the Rathaus. Be sure to give them to the attendant and don’t drop them in the money bowl. Yes, I was reprimanded for doing so.

rauthaus

Film Festival screen and viewing area

filmfest1

Film Festival food area

 

Where to hang out?

One of our all-time favorite restaurants is the Schweizerhaus. It’s not exactly a secret, but I would consider it a hidden gem, mainly because you will take an adventurous walk through Prater (an amusement park/fair) to find it. The beer garden is typically open March through October. Get there early because once the huge groups of people find their table and park it, they are there to drink for the night.

shaus

Entrance to beer garden and restaurant

shaus2

Beers are poured like this all night long.

beer

A healthy dose of Budvar.

 

pork knee

Pork Knuckle, specialty of the house!

 

What to eat?

There are actually three very specific things we are sure to fit in during a trip to Vienna. The first is a Döner Kebab, the Turkish sandwich with chicken or lamb, tomato, onion, yogurt sauce and don’t forget to add hot sauce or the red pepper. We get them outside the U-bahn stations, specifically at Westbahnhof, or at the Naschmarkt.

kebab

The second is the Mozart Croissant from Anker Bakery. It’s a croissant filled with marzipan. In fact, anything you come across that is Mozart means it has marzipan. I believe this has something to do with it being one of his favorite sweets. You can find Anker everywhere in Vienna, on all major shopping streets and in most U-bahn stations.

anker

Last Mozart Croissant of the trip, on the train to Prague.

The third is a any kind of bratwurst or sausage in general. How in the world the US came up with that crappy canned version or even the fat and short versions at cookouts, I have no idea. Real Vienna sausages are nothing like them and one of my favorite foods.

sausages

 

What to drink?

If you are at the Schweizerhaus, try a Radler. But be sure to order it with the strong German emphasis – RAD-LAH!! It is beer, usually Budvar with a lemon soda. Sweet and refreshing, and yes, maybe a little girly.

Otherwise go for Ottakringer which is brewed in the city. If you have the time, go take a brewery tour and enjoy plenty of free samples. One that I especially like is the Ottakringer Kirsch bier which you can get at the Ottakringer booth at the film festival. It is a tasty beer with a mild cherry flavor.

ottakringer

Ottakringer booth at the film festival.

 

What is the one must-see attraction?

This one is easy for me, Schönbrunn Palace. Gorgeous landscaping and an incredible view if you are willing to take a little hike. The zoo on the grounds is nice as well.

schonbrunn1

schonbrunn2

Gardens around the palace.

schonbrunn3

schonbrunn4 

 

What you won’t need?

A taxi. Vienna has the best public transportation system I have encountered to date. The U-bahn and the S-bahn, although we didn’t use the S-bahn much, makes it so easy to get around. Remember that this was my very first solo travel experience. If I could handle it, you will have no problem at all.

 

Best unexpected experience?

Visit a heuriger, a wine-tavern. It will take a U-bahn ride and likely another trip on the bus, but it is worth it to get out of the center of the city and see more residential areas. You will be surrounded by gorgeous vineyards as you sit at picnic tables and drink local wine and wine spritzers to your heart’s content.  We went to The Wolff Buschenschank heuringer on our first trip. It was gorgeous, but there are plenty of others as well. Tip: Learn the words for German foods. We knew a handful of phrases before going, but nothing that helped us order food once we got out to the heuringer.

heuriger

Streets outside the heuriger.

heuriger2

Outdoor eating area inside the heuriger.

 

After writing this I realize I probably will need a part II on Vienna. Once I finally make it there for the Christmas markets there will surely be a part III!

Travel Tips: Ask the Right Local

bowrington street market hong kong

Bowrington Road Market in Hong Kong

The one travel tip you hear time and time again is that if you want to know what to do, what to see and where to eat, ask a local. This advice makes complete sense. A person living in the area or who grew up there will be full of helpful information. As travelers they are our link to a true, cultural experience.

I completely agree with locals being your best travel resource and put this tip into practice often. However, I also suggest taking it a step further. The specific local you ask will have strong influence on the information you receive. There is always the chance that the advice you get won’t be helpful at all.

Why do I feel this way? Well, during our time in Brazil I came across local advice that was sometimes helpful. Other times I realized that I knew more about where I was living than did the local I questioned.

This isn’t uncommon. When I think of my own country and consider some questions a visitor could ask me, there is a good chance I wouldn’t know the answer. Many times it is based on our personal interests and one certainly can’t know everything.

If I hadn’t done more digging and sought out those people who gave the best advice I would have missed out on a lot. Before you travel to a new location consider the following things before you take local advice and run with it.

 

Consider that the best local to ask may be an ex-pat. 

When we hear the phrase “ask a local” a person who grew up in the specific country you are visiting typically comes to mind. However, the most I learned about Brazilian history and culture came from expatriates living in the places I was visiting. Why? Well, they took an interest in their new land and learned intriguing pieces of information backward and forward. They also learned from locals, but they took it to the next level and were able to explain it to me in a way I understood. Perhaps this is because we shared the common desire of learning about a new place.  

 

Research the places you would like to go and use those suggestions as your ice breaker.

morrettes

Morettes-PR, Brazil

Maybe it is a bar, a restaurant or an outdoor market. When you approach a local to ask him or her about the best places to go, tell the place you read about and ask his or her opinion. By doing so, you can determine if you are on the right track. She might tell you that the place you heard of is an ex-pat hangout and that isn’t what you are looking for. Next you can ask for a better suggestion.

 

 

Ask the person who isn’t expecting it.

The information desk personnel at the museum and the hotel concierge will be more likely to give you ideas for tourist spots. This isn’t always the case, but often. When you want to know where to go and what to see ask your waiter, the person behind the deli counter in the supermarket or the open market vendor. If they aren’t expecting your question, they will likely have only their own preferences to go on and you will get a true locals perspective.

 

Hire a local tour guide.

roadside stand in antigua

Roadside stand in Antigua

I loathe tours. I’m not saying there are of no benefit, some people prefer them. But it seems I always get stuck with a group consisting of individuals who disrespect the group and we have to wait on them to continue, or we are with the 21-questions-traveler. You know, the person who asks so many uninteresting questions that the tour guide never gets to talk freely and share interesting information. When we were in Ubud, Bali our small group tour turned into a personal tour because we were the only ones signed up. Then in Antigua we hired a local tour guide for a private drive around the island. Nothing compares to these experiences. You get the information you want from a very personal, local perspective. You may have to sacrifice something else to fit it in the travel budget, but I’ve learned it is worth every penny.

Travel Secrets eBook for Charity:Water

A few months ago I participated in a game of blog tag  which allowed me to share some of my best kept travel secrets. This fun project was initiated by Katie of Tripbase and after the huge response from travel bloggers it was decided that the tips would be turned into an ebook published by Tripbase and used as a way to raise money for charity.

The Travel Secrets ebooks launched today! They are full of helpful tips from experienced travelers and cover just about every continent around the world. My tips for the morning journey in Ubud, Bali and the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand were included in the Travel Tips book, and my tip about Ilha do Mel in southern Brazil is in the Worldwide Beaches book.

The ebooks are free and for each download Tripbase will donate $1 to Charity: Water, an organization that works to bring freshwater wells and clean drinking water to people in developing nations. One hundred percent of public funds donated to this organization go directly to water projects.

I’m thrilled to be a part of this ebook and fundraising project! Please take a moment and click on the badge below to download a Travel Secrets eBook. It costs you nothing, but a little space on your hard drive.  As a result, not only will you have an excellent travel resource at your fingertips, but you will be helping to support a great cause.

I helpedpeople get clean water
led by Tripbase

Food in Curitiba, Brazil – Guest Post at Travel Dudes

Have I mentioned how much I like Curitiba, Brazil? It is a melting pot of fantastic food which blends European influences with Brazilian culinary culture. I did a guest post and travel tip at Travel Dudes last week called Brazilian-German Cuisine in Curitiba, Brazil.  Head over and learn more about one of my favorite eating and drinking spots, Schwarzwald Bar do Alemão, in one of my favorite cities of the world.

 

bar

 

sausage

 

Submarino

Tips for Tackling the Hawkers and Savoring the Foods of Singapore

vendor

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

I’ve put off writing this post for a while. Looking back I think it was because I knew once I finished it, I’d be sitting at my computer, one click away from buying a plane ticket back to Singapore. For a city that had us feeling disoriented and mildly disappointed upon arrival, the transformation we underwent in four days was amazing. Our time in Singapore quickly became a visit we wished would never end.

Yes, I did say mildly disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected of Singapore. Now that I think about it I’m pretty sure it was that I wanted the food hawkers handed to me without much work on my part to find them. That was nowhere near the case. As it turns out, though, our adventures in finding them are some of the best memories we have of our time there.

I’ve eaten at busy churrascarias on a Sunday afternoon in Brazil. I’ve shuffled sideways through the tourist filled streets of Prague and a few days before this trip I drug a suitcase through a crowded street market in Hong Kong. Yet, nothing prepared me for the experience that is the hawker in Singapore.

There were bright lights, pictures of foods both familiar and unidentifiable, writing I couldn’t pronounce even if I tried, vendors asking what we were looking for and long lines snaking through the seating area as diners waited to order their food. It was unlike any dining atmosphere I’ve encountered and it was incredible.

Maxwell

Maxwell Food Center

Yes, I often had to take a seat just to get my bearings and soak it all in, but I would go back and wait patiently in a line the length of the building at a hawker in Singapore in a heartbeat. However, when that time comes, there are a few things I learned from this first visit that I will be sure to take into consideration when planning next.

 

guideGet yourself a guide. Our first stop was a bookstore in a mall near Boat Quay. I’m sure there are lots of guides that can help you navigate the foods of Singapore, but I wanted this one – Makansutra Singapore 2009. This guide didn’t provide maps so we did have to reference those when looking for the hawker centers, but this guide rates the best dishes from the best hawkers and tells you in what area of town to find them. In addition, there are wonderful descriptions of hundreds of dishes which is helpful when wanting to know exactly what you are eating and for writing posts and articles like, well, this one.

 

Don’t expect it to be easy. I have to say I’m pretty proud of us for uncovering the locations of the some of the hawkers we sought out. My most vivid memory is the night we searched for the Soup Tulang at the Golden Mile Food Center located on Beach Road. It took a long metro ride, combined with getting lost at night, asking a kind woman for directions, then walking a few blocks until we could smell the food cooking. Be prepared to spend some time traveling to the best hawkers and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

 

Plan to be overwhelmed. The lights and people alone may require you to sit and gather your thoughts before decided what to eat and where to order it. You may walk into a hawker knowing exactly what you want to eat, and then once you see the lights, menus and lines, completely forget what you went there for. Take your time and enjoy every bite. 

 

Follow the No Reservations trail. Yes, we did, and do this quite often in our travels. If we hadn’t then we never would have known to look for the Maxwell Food Center on Maxwell Road to try the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice or the Soup Tulang from Hajir Kadir from the Golden Mile Food Center. It doesn’t have to be a specific guide or show you follow, but the advice of others, even that from national television, can help you discover some delicious food.

 

chicken rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice from Tian Tian in Maxwell Food Center

Soup Tulang

Soup Tulang from Haji Kadir at Golden Mile Food Center

 

But also make your own path. If we hadn’t set off to discover some foods on our own, or simply walked up to some vendors and ordered what looked good, we would have missed out on a lot. This would have included Mee Chiang Kueh (a sweet dough with fillings such as peanut or grated coconut), Roti John (a Panini-like sandwich with eggs and onion), Wonton Mee (egg noodles with pork and filled dumplings), and Chai Tow Kueh or Carrot Cake (white radishes in a rice flour batter with egg, garlic and other veggies).

 

carrot cake

Carrot cake has no carrots. A mixture of white radish with a rice batter. One of our favorites.

wonton mee

Wonton Mee with pork and plenty of chili sauce and hot peppers.

 

Forget the numbers. I read a lot of numbers prior to our trip that were supposed to tell me the location of a vendor within a hawker. About the only place this helped was at the frequently visited Lau Pa Sat. Otherwise, I never even saw the numbers on the vendor’s booths. They are difficult to find. Use this method if you choose, but we found it much easier to follow the lines if it is a popular place you are looking for. Otherwise, know what the food looks like or the name and give a random vendor a shot.

 

Know the schedules. While the numbers didn’t help us, hours of operation did. This is where a book like the Makansutra guide comes in handy. Some hawkers like the Maxwell Food Center cater more to the lunch crowd while you can get some foods at other hawkers like the one in Chinatown until late at night. Vendors also have different closing days and they can be random such as Tuesdays twice a month. If you have your heart set on trying a food find out the location and schedule of the specific vendor so you don’t miss out during your visit.

 

Ah Boling

Ah Boling - Glutinous rice balls with fillings such as peanut, red bean paste or yam. We passed on the Durian.

Mee Chiang Kueh

Mee Chiang Kueh. Almost sold out when we returned after lunch so we only tried to coconut and peanut.

 

The articles, television shows and travel blogs don’t lie. Singapore is a food paradise. We enjoyed some of the most outstanding food we’ve ever had the opportunity to try. And it’s not just the food, but the experience surrounding it. Long lines, dumplings being rolled, oil splashing out of hot woks, food slapped quickly on a plate cooked to perfection – there is simply nothing like Singapore.