Winter Trip in Paris

Winter Trip to Paris | Travel Guide

Paris, je t’aime.

When I had to make a trip to London this past January, I decided that I wanted to tack on at least one other major European city to explore.  With a couple of girlfriends on board, we decided that Paris was the perfect location for a winter girls’ trip.  Wine, cheese, croissants, art, and scarves – what’s not to love about winter in Paris?  Oh, and there’s no tourists to be seen save us. 

24 hours into our trip and I had already fallen in love.  Meals are three hour affairs involving multiple courses shared languidly over intimate conversations with wine.  Everyone is impeccably dressed, there is a cheese shop on every corner, directly next to the bakery, and you can’t find a bad glass of wine if you tried.

We spent over a week in this historic and entrancing city and I can’t wait to return.  

Here’s a few of my favorite images from the trip, along with some that we hired Flytographer to take for us, along with recommendations for your winter trip to Paris.

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STAY: Montmarte was our favorite neighborhood, but you also can’t go wrong with the Marais.

EAT: I dare you to find a bad bottle of wine in this city.  I double dog dare you to find bad cheese.  Doesn’t fucking exist.

  • Anne and I had been anxious to try out EatWith ever since we’d heard about the concept: EatWith’s goal is to bring strangers and travelers together at tables around the world in local’s homes.  You sign up to eat with others and learn about new cultures and food traditions and Paris seemed like the perfect place to try it out.  We absolutely adored our meal with Claudine more than any other meal we had the entire trip.  It was incredibly memorable from start to finish – so much so that we ended up inviting her to join us for dinner later that week.  I’m feeling thankful to have had such a unique experience and to make a new friend!
  • Restaurant Jeanne B in Montmarte feels a bit like stepping into a charming farm-style delicatessen, if that is a thing.  Spiraling sausages hang from the ceiling and the daily changing menu is presented on chalkboards at your table.  We enjoyed the experience and the variety so much, it became the only spot we returned to twice on our trip.
  • The cathedral like ceiling and mirrored accents make the sparsely decorated Daroco feel extra chic but also warm  and cozy somehow.  They offer wood fired pizzas and homemade pasta for those looking for a bit of comfort in an incredibly stylish setting.
  • Do not confuse Les 110 de Taillevent with it’s 3 star Michelin rated big brother around the corner.  Although, if you do, they are used to it and will simply direct you to where you are supposed to go.  Despite showing up late, they will graciously seat you amongst the 110 options for wines by the glass and feed you stunningly prepared food.
  • Our favorite meal in Marais was at Le Dôme du Marais, which feels remarkably like eating in your own private garden.  The building was originally utilized as an auction house to fight against poverty thanks to Louis XVI.  It’s absolutely stunning inside and the food is exquisite to match.

DRINK:

  • We were told by no less than 10 people that a drink at Les Philosophers was a must.
  • We spent an extraordinary amount of time at Le Gisou, partially because it was literally across the street from our flat, but also because it was charming, cozy, had a great staff and an even better bathroom.
  • The Bar Hemingway is a must visit, but only for one drink, because that’s all you can afford.
  • The Bistrologist is perfect for late night cocktails.  Their drinks are inventive, the decor dimly lit and intimate, and it feels a bit like a speakeasy.  The kitchen also stays open really late if you find yourself wandering the streets and starving at midnight.

EXPLORE

  • After doing the graffiti street tour in Bogota, Colombia, Anne and I have been inspired to find more walking tours, whether street art related or not.  Paris actually offers it’s own street art walking tour hosted by Street Art Paris.  They offer tours in Montmarte, the Left Bank, and the one we chose, Belleville.  Since we were staying in Montmarte, we thought it would be nice to explore a neighborhood we weren’t already wandering on our own.
  • The cooking classes at La Cuisine Paris are worth the expense!  We participated in the market class, which starts off in a nearby outdoor market.  You collectively pick a plan for your meal, shop for ingredients, and then return to the La Cuisine kitchens to prep, cook and share your meal together.  It was a wonderful experience and I was even able to come back home and recreate most of the aspects of the meal on my own from memory!
  • If you’re a wino like me, a wine tasting is a must-do.  The classes at O Chateau will walk you through the French vineyards and regions.  We walked away with a much greater appreciation of French varietals and their appellation system.
  • Gonçalo Silva was Flytographer’s first ever photographer hire and I was pretty excited to meet him and have him do a Paris portrait session for us.  We ended up having a blast wandering the charming streets of Montmarte with him and another Flytographer photographer, James.   We all loved each other’s company so much that two bars and a meal later, we finally concluded our evening together!

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton is an incredible display of design, color and architecture designed by Frank Gehry.  While we were visiting, they were hosting a traveling exhibit of 130 artworks collected by Sergei Shchukin, on display for the first time outside of Russia.  It was a really incredible collection, featuring tons from Matisse and Gauguin, not to mention the building itself.
Bogota Colombia

Explore Bogotá, Colombia

Although I recently traveled to Colombia and posted about our days in Cartagena and Medellìn, I’d been holding off posting about Bogotá for one very important reason.  The first thing any tourist does in Bogota is to head directly to the famous and historic Candelaria district.  Home to the Plaza Bolívar, the Museo del Oro (the gold museum), and some of the most vibrant street art in the world, the district is bold, colorful and always filled with people.  Although it’s a popular place to stay for backpackers and hostelers, it’s lacking in nicer accommodations.  This doesn’t prevent the tourists from flocking here and the streets are always filled with strolling people at any hour of the day.  Anne and I had read about an off-the-beaten path hair salon-cum-bar-cum-boutique where no one is formally trained and you can’t specify what you want done with your style.  Of course it piqued our interest.  After taking an uber down to the neighborhood, it was one of the first places we happened upon randomly.  Anne had just settled into the chair to get her haircut when Nancy Trejos walked in and struck up a conversation with us.  Nancy, a travel writer for USA Today, was doing a story on Bogotá for the paper and interviewed us about why we were there.  This past week, my photos (and a quote from me) were featured in her story for the newspaper.  You can see the full article via this link.  

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with a day or two in this vibrant South American city.

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STAY: There are airbnb’s all over Bogota and you can’t really go wrong.  For the foodies, you’ll want to be in Chapinero.  In addition to an airbnb, we also found ourselves at the Hotel Rosales Plaza, which was quite delightful, reasonably priced, had a huge bathroom (bonus for us after weeks in airbnb apartments) and wonderfully located in the Rosales sector.

EAT: Bogotá is going through a culinary gourmet explosion and the city is filled with incredible options around every corner.

  • Abasto was one of our favorite brunches during our entire Colombian trip.  The menu is creative, laden with egg dishes, and the coffee is exceptional.
  • Our tasting menu meal at Matiz was the first of our trip and one of the most memorable.  It was a veritable bargain compared to similar meals in the states and we both left incredibly full.  The chef came out afterwards and thanked us for coming, in addition to asking for our feedback.  From start to finish, this was a stand out experience and is not to be missed.
  • Salvo Patria is a perfect stop for lunch or dinner.  The inventive menu offers a rotating list of changing specials based on local ingredients creating a hip spot the locals frequent to linger over long lunches.
  • Our meal at Rafael Osterling was one of our other stand out favorites in Colombia.  The setting itself is incredible.  Be sure to make reservations ahead of time and if you’re lucky, you can get seated on the outdoor patio.  The Tiradito (a Peruvian way of preparing fish) is outstanding and the burrata and ravioles are not to be missed.
  • By the end of our trip, we were desperate for some comfort food and both of us always gravitate towards Italian for this.  Our meal at Julia Pizzeria was exceptional.  Seated at the bar, we met an awesome young man from Los Angeles who had recently moved to Bogota for work.  We shared salads, pasta and pizza over a lingering wine filled meal with him.

DRINK:

  • The Bogota Beer Company is a well known favorite here with locations in 12 different Bogota neighborhoods.  You are certainly never far from one of their outposts, no matter where you are.
  • The Irish Pub in Candelaria may seem like a strange place to make a stop while you’re in Colombia, but the patio is incredibly inviting and always filled with locals after they get off work.

EXPLORE

  • Bogota has become world renown for it’s street art thanks to the decriminalization of the art.  When graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer, the current mayor took charge and helped turn the culture of the art around by offering up public walls and creating safe spaces.  Today, businesses and artists work together to create vibrant murals on the outside of businesses.  The Bogota Graffiti Tour was started by local graffiti artist CRISP as a way to help tourists and locals alike understand and appreciate the growing art.  The tour itself is free but the docents work off tips, so make sure to bring some cash.
  • Feeling brave?  Let one of the self-described “hair assassins” at La Peluqueria bring out your essence.
  • Every Sunday, the majority of major thoroughfares are shut down to become bikeways for the locals to get out and spend the day with their families.  You’ll see walkers, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers parade past for most of the day!  Referred to as Ciclovia, you can learn more about where it takes place and how to participate here.
  • If you are feeling energetic, you can hike up the 1.5 km steep steps to Monserrate, which overlooks the city from 10,000 feet up.  If you’re feeling lazy, catch the cable car out of the Candelaria.

 

Medellin

3 Days in Medellìn: A Travel Guide

 Medellìn is a beacon of culture and officially one of my most favorite cities ever: the people are generous, enthusiastic and welcoming, the mountains are captivating, the food and coffee is incredible, and the city is incredibly clean and proud.  This city, once famed for it’s violent and storied past, has transformed itself into a star-attraction in a country that has everything going for it.

Medellìn was named the 2013 “City of the Year” by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute for it’s transformation and quick turn-around.  Utilizing revitalized civic spaces, green parks, libraries, art galleries and the creation of a world-class metro system and infastructure that connects the city’s poorest neighborhoods with its center through innovative solutions such as giant escalators and cable cars, Medellìn is now a world-class travel destination thanks to its dedication to the inclusion of all it’s inhabitants.  For those of you who think it’s dangerous: Medellìn isn’t even to be found on the list of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world anymore, though you will find New Orleans, Baltimore and Detroit on there.

Medellìn is called the “city of eternal spring” by it’s people for it’s permanently pleasant weather.  The people are called Paisas and they are a proud, hopeful culture that loves to talk.  They will serenade you with stories about their city, their past, and their future.  Their pace is a bit slower and they aren’t in a rush.  They are beautiful: everyone in this city is attractive and they dress well.  They have inquisitive natures and they want to talk to you: although we found that Colombians, overall, were incredibly welcoming and generous, this was even more apparent in Medellìn where every person we encountered wanted to know where we were from and why we decided to visit their city. 

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with 3 days in Medellìn.

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STAY: The areas surrounding El Poblado are the most popular with tourists.  This includes the neighborhoods of Manila, which is where we stayed, and Parque Lleras.  The streets are safe to walk at all hours of the day and filled with hip and stylish restaurants and coffee shops.  You can get an entire apartment to yourself for $45-60/nt on Airbnb.  We stayed in a charming apartment in Manila and Al Alma Cafe and Hija Mia both within walking distance.

If Airbnb isn’t your thing, there’s a wealth of mid-range hotels and budget hostels in the area.  If I’d had to pick one, you probably would have found me at the Art Hotel.  If your budget is higher, I’d head to The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel.

EAT:  Medellìn is filled with heavier and more traditional (read: arepas and empanadas) dining options than Cartagena and after a week of travel and eating out, we were ready for some variety and comfort food.

  • Cafe Zorba was our standout favorite in this city. It could have been that two weeks of travel and seafood left us craving fresh salads and something different, or it could just be that it’s exceptional in both it’s food and it’s atmosphere.  Although the cafe is large, it feels warm and cozy thanks to it’s open air upstairs patio filled with small lamps, comfortable pillow topped benches and modest tables that encourage whispered jokes and intimate laughter.  Make sure you order at least one pizza – their brick oven thin crust pies come out crispy and is certainly where they excel.
  • Although we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant that no longer existed, we ended up at the endlessly charming Peruvian fusion restaurant Tal Qual.  Themed around art, the walls are filled with color.  The restaurant is split into a number of small alcoves and rooms that makes it feel both bustling and intimate simultaneously.  Don’t skip the meat skewers or one of their pasta dishes.
  • We should have also eaten at El Cielo, but we didn’t have another three hour dinner experience in us and after a week of eating out already and the incredible eating experiences we had in Cartagena, we weren’t clamoring for food.  El Cielo has made press for it’s gastronomic creativity and is featured on most Best Of lists for both Latin and South America.  If you’re jealous of that time I went to Alinea, this is the budget option.

DRINK:

  • Drinks with a view: head up to the top of the Envy Rooftop Bar to where bartenders fun and tropical cocktails like watermelon basil margaritas while DJ’s spin tunes to accompany one of the best views in Medellìn.
  • Bonhomia is a great place to park yourself for a late afternoon snack and a drink.  The huge patio of outdoor seating and bright lights is attractive and offers great street views while you feast on platters of house-made charcuterie.  There’s a large wine list that also offers half bottles.
  • Viva Italia! had the best wine list we found in the area and although you are welcome to stash yourself on their 2nd story patio and watch the locals cruise by in their fancy shoes, they also offer all their bottles for sale in this hybrid Italian Restaraunt meets wine bar.
  • Established in 2008, 3 Cordilleras offers five craft brews in a happy hour like setting every day after 5 PM.  For about $5, you get 5 beers (beers, not tastings) and an explanation in rapidly spoken spanish about the history of the brewery and the brewing process.  We opted to skip the tour and just stick with the beers.
  • Downtown’s historic Salon Malaga is like stepping back into a time machine.  The walls are covered in memorabilia and old jukeboxes litter the floor.  The tables are filled with locals during the day who stop in to chat and drink tinto.  If you’re lucky, they have a selection of 3 Cordilleras craft brews on hand, but they stock up on Thursdays for the weekend crowds and were mostly sold out the day we were there.

EXPLORE

  • Real City Walking Tour’s free tour of the downtown area of Medellìn is a must do for every traveler.  I’d reccomend doing it on your first day in the city as their expansive four hour tour provides you with scope on the area, it’s troubled history and the Paisa culture.  The tour occurs twice a day and reservations are required.
  • Wander the lush pathways of the Botanical Garden, which feature, in addition to other things, 40 acres of exotic orchids. The entry is free.  When you’re ready for a break, stop for lunch at In Situ, where contemporary dishes are served up while you gaze out through wide open doors that leave you feeling as if you’re in the garden itself.
  • Head to the Plaza Minorista to sample Colombia’s wide range of tropical fruits.  Although you can do this by joining any number of organized tours, there’s really no reason why you can’t go on your own, as we did.  The Colombian people are incredibly kind, generous and inquisitive and they are more than ecstatic to see tourists, and gringos especially, wandering their stalls.  They were eager to chat with us, asking where we were from and why we were there and each vendor we purchased from explained the fruit and cut it open for us to sample.  Our favorite was the pitahaya, similar to an Asian dragon fruit.
  • Ride the cable car.  Medellìn’s people are incredibly proud of their metro system and in fact, it was the cleanest metro system I’ve ever seen in the world.  There wasn’t a speck of trash to be found, people never ate or drank on the subway and the cars themselves were in pristine condition.  As part of a social and economic development strategy to help revitalize the poorer areas of the city, Medellìn installed cable cars to provide connectivity to it’s massive hills.  The views are tremendous and you can get off at various stops and explore the barrios all for less than $2.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • A Pablo Escobar Tour.  Paisas do not like this man and they do not want him immortalized or paid tribute to.  In fact, during our walking tour of the downtown area, he was the man-who-was-not-named and in discussion, we used code names to reference him as to not incite anger from nearby locals who cannot speak English and may have misinterpreted our discussion as praising him.  Escobar brought years of pain, violence and fear to this city and the memories are both recent and tragic.
Cartagena

Cartagena Travel Guide

Be still my heart.

Colombia was just named Lonely Planet’s 2nd best travel destination for 2017 and with good reason: the sheer variety of landscapes, cultures and welcoming people make it a dream travel destination.  When I met my Colombian friend Christian Cardona in Portugal this past year, he convinced me that travelling to Colombia had to be next on my list because it was the “gem of South America.”

He was not wrong.  I have fallen in love with this country again, and again, and again as I explored it the last two weeks.  Around every corner is a surprise waiting to delight you and in Cartagena this is especially true.

 Cartagena is incredibly special: it’s a place of vibrant color, late nights of dancing, romance and seafood.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination and it is clearly the backbone of Colombia’s tourist economy.  Cartagena is unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  We easily spent five days in this city and never tired of wandering it’s streets.  

The humidity is off the charts in Cartagena so be prepared to drink lots of limeade and wonder why you even took a shower.  Be prepared to be wet, sweaty and hot the entire week: dance close to someone and embrace it.

Here’s some of my favorite images from our travels there and my personal mini Cartagena travel guide for navigating this beautiful city.

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STAY: You will want to stay within the city walls for it’s charming historical winding streets.  Pops of bright color, inventive door knockers and churches around every corner are steeped in old world colonialism.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible seafood.  We ate octopus every single day.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $80-160 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Luis and Monica’s Old Town apartment.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

If you aren’t interested in the straight tourist experience, then stay in the nearby barrio of Getsemani, the burgeoning, borderline hip neighborhood that’s an equal mix of locals and ex-pats.  While the richest originally lived in the northwest corner of the walled city, this is smaller and poorer section of the original city, which now features more modest architecture but an electrifying atmosphere.  Most of the best bars and dance clubs can be found in this hood and it’s starting to fill up with hostels, airbnb options and boutique hotels such as Casa Lola.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Cartagena were intimate and featured long lists of seafood every way.  Restaurants in Cartagena open late (expect to eat after 7 PM every night), or confusingly, sometimes not at all, and reservations are usually needed, especially with large groups.

  • El Boliche chefs Oscar Colmenares and Viviana Díaz dish out incredible ceviche that honours and partners with the local fishermen.  Each meal starts with a bowl of homemade soup, a tradition in Colombia.  This place is incredibly intimate and only seats 25 – swing by and make a reservation in order to make sure you get a table.
  • La Perla is dim, stylish and comfortable.  Beat the humidity of the streets of Cartagena by stepping into this cool oasis that serves up Peruvian style ceviche and is best known for their tiraditos, thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass.  The staff is incredibly gracious and attentive and willing to pass around the pisco sours and their wine list was one of the better ones we encountered and was filled with dry whites, reds and roses to accompany any meal.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Carmen.  Although this restaraunt seats many in multiple different rooms or with the option of al fresco on the patio, the experience feels intimate because everyone is split up.  Our waiter did an excellent job of choosing wines and helping recommend dishes for the night.  The highlight of our meal was certainly the pez negro, a thick strip of barracuda seared in black olive oil and accompanied by raviolis filled with seafood and ricotta.  Reservations recommended.
  • Restaurante Donjuan is collected and cool.  Dishing out Basque style delights in an exquisite setting, the menu boasts a dizzying array of starters and shareable plates.  If you can’t get a table here, try it’s sister restaurant next door, Maria.

DRINK:

  • Alquimico is a new addition to Cartagena but clearly a welcome one.  Reasembling a Manhatten speakeasy, the swanky cocktail focused joint is in a two story dimly lit building and features custom cocktails prepared with local Colombian fruits.
  • Demente is a trendy, hip new staple to the Getsemani barrio and features Colombian craft beers from Bogota Beer Company and 3 Cordilleras, brilliant cocktails and a cool outdoor patio with long communal picnic tables perfect for the large group that failed to make reservations for dinner inside the walled city.  It’s clearly the place for ex-pats and tourists to be seen.
  • Cafe Havana is the local Cuban hotspot packed to the brim for those looking to salsa almost every night after 11 pM.
  • Alma Restaurante is located in the Casa San Augustin, now a boutique hotel that retains the beauty of Cartagena’s colonial architecture with it’s original frescoes and centuries-old wood-beamed ceilings.  The outdoor patio is shaded and perfect for an afternoon snack and a glass of wine.  Their list is extensive and features a fantastic selection of Spanish, Portuguese and South American vineyards.

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost over and over and over again in the streets of the walled city and Getsemani.  The vibrant colors, cascading flowers, overhanging balconies, street performers and artisanal shops supply days of endless entertainment.
  • Get your extra tourist on: Volcàn de Lodo el Totumo” is a strange 15m high volcano mound about a half hour outside of town.  Legend says that the volcano once was active but a local priest, seeing it as the work of the devil, sprinkled it with holy water and the lava miraculously turned to mud.  The mud is silky, at moments gritty, and so dense that you float effortlessly and confusingly on top.  For a mere few dollars you can pay one person to let you climb up into the mud bath, then you can pay another person to give you a questionable “massage,” and then another to carry your shoes around, and then some women to aggressively strip you down in the river afterwards and make sure your orifices are clean.  It’s preposterous and worth the $10 you spent laughing.  Don’t book a tour to do so – simply hire a car for the day to drive you out here and for double the fun, have him take you to the mangroves afterwards where you can arrange for a 30 minute kayak tour through the narrow water channels of the mangroves.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer offers two options for photographers in Cartagena.  I love hiring my own personal photographer while on vacation – photos make exceptional souvenirs and I can’t imagine a more romantic or colorful place than Cartagena to be photographed.  I am one of Flytographer’s Lake Tahoe photographers and have utilized their services for my own personal shoots in both Bangkok, Thailand and Porto, Portugal.
  • If you visit during early November, chances are you’ll be here for Cartagena’s Independence Day celebrations when a lively atmosphere takes over the city.  Carnaval de Cartagena starts on Friday with a three hour parade started on one side of the walled city that snakes it’s way through the town.  Bands of teenagers roam the streets with disposable canisters of foam, ready and willing to offload it’s contents into the hair, heads and backs of any likely suspect.  No one is spared.  The weekend’s festivities also include Colombia’s Beauty Pageant where they elect Miss Colombia for the year.
Alfama Buildings

Three Days in Lisbon

It wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a stop in this large, sophisticated city with pockets of old world European charm. Spend three days in Lisbon and you’ll have plenty of time to discover all the pockets of wonderful things this area has to offer.

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Lisbon, while charming and mysterious, wasn’t quite as thrilling for me after spending so many days in Porto. It’s a much larger city and it feels that way.  That being said, it’s a worthwhile stop for two to three days while you are exploring the country.  Although I won’t return for a second visit, I am overwhelmingly happy that I visited and it wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a visit to Lisbon.

STAY: You want to stay in the Alfama district: it’s tight magical winding streets are even smaller than those that have a similar feel in Porto.  There are tiny restaurants and cafes tucked into every corner with traditional food and Fado music, the melancholy but traditional music of the country.  There are charming and vintage private rooms to be had on Airbnb in the area for $20-40 a night in the area and entire flats for $35-$70.

EAT:  I had a harder time finding cuisine that I was over the moon for in Lisbon, simply due to the grander larger nature of the city.  Small intimate recommendations were harder to come by here: Lisbons’ seem to pride themselves on being a cosmopolitan city and most of the places that were suggested were fancier and more American than we were looking for.  That being said, I had some solid meals in the city, the most memorable of which came on my last night in a small restaraunt with three tables run by one older woman who spoke no english.  She fed me the traditional dish of Portugal: salted cod with shredded fried potatoes and it was clearly the nation’s comfort food.

  • Queijaria for afternoon snacks or lunch: this place was quaint, unassuming and filled with amazing cheese.  It’s a great place to stop and refill mid day while you are out exploring – you can quench your thirst with a glass of wine and eat cheese and antipasto to your heart’s content.
  • Garrafeira Alfaia is dark, unassuming and comfortable.  Dine on traditional black pudding rice with cumin, sausage with scrambled eggs or the secret black pork Lagareiro.  If you aren’t that hungry, order more wine and cheese.  I may have consisted on pure wine and cheese this entire trip.
  • Frangasqueira Nacional for lunch.  This small grilled meat shop offers nowhere to sit, but quite possibly the best blood sausage and roasted chicken in the city.  Order up a mixed meat platter and head down the road to the Principe Real Garden to enjoy it.  After that, head down the road to the Botanical Garden to walk off your massive food coma.

DRINK:

  • Solar do Vinho do Porto is a warm cozy place to curl up on the couch with a book on an overcast day.  It’s dark and wonderful in there and the selection of ports will astound you.
  • Listen to Fado at anywhere that draws you in at night in Alfama.  You can wander the streets until you hear something that intrigues you or make dinner reservations

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost in the streets of Almalfa.   The view is particularly gorgeous from Miradouro de Santa Luzia.  Wander all the way up to the mediaeval Castle of São Jorge, the royal residence until the early 16th century.
  • The Museu Colecção Berardo has an impressive collection of modern art and no entrance fee.  It had more Warhols than I’ve ever seen in one collection!
  • Still not museumed out?  Head up to the Museu da Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian which has an incredibly impressive collection of ancient world, religious and Impressionist and European art.
Porto Portugal

A Week in Portugal: Porto Travel Guide

This past March I took advantage of a great excuse to explore Europe: Fearless Photographers offers a yearly photography conference in different European cities and this year’s conference was in Porto, Portugal.  I was excited to attend what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enriching experience.  I met some incredibly loving and adventurous people who I look forward to a future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and it’s beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of it’s historical buildings, discovered a love of expensive port and ate like a king.  Porto’s people are unvaryingly calm and collected: they have soothing voices with evenly paced pronunciation that makes you feel incredibly tranquil in their presence.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of my friend and kick ass travel companion Shaunte, of Shaunte Dittmar Photography, and myself by Momento Cativo for Flytographer.

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Porto won me over in every way from head to toe.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination: unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  I could easily spend weeks in this city and never tire of wandering it’s streets.  Here’s a mini Porto travel guide of navigating this beautiful city.

STAY: You want to stay in the Ribeira district: it’s charming historical winding streets and churches around every corner give it the old world European feel.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible food.  The riverside offers unbeatable vantage points of Porto, especially if you cross over the bridge into Gaia for an evening.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $40-70 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Hugo’s TocToc Studio.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Porto were tiny and intimate.  Most had five tables or less.  Most had three people working, or less.  Restaurants in Porto open late (expect to eat after 8 PM every night) and reservations are usually needed.  We were there during Easter week, which is a big holiday for most of Europe, and in some cases it was hard to get reservations for places.  At dinner most nights, we started just asking them to bring us whatever they wanted to serve us or whatever they thought they did best, and the results were always inspiring.  Of all the places I’ve traveled, Porto will remain in my heart as one of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve ever had.

  • A Sandeira for lunch: score a bowl of homemade soup and a sandwich for 5 euros.  Like most wonderful Porto restaurants, this place is incredibly intimate and has very few tables so go early if you don’t want to hang outside waiting for a spot to open up.  It’s worth the wait!
  • Our meal at La Piada was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The staff is incredibly gracious.  The restaurant itself is wide open, with tall ceilings, a tree in the middle of one of the tables and local art on the walls.  The couple who owns the restaurant is Italian and Portuguese and they offer piadinas: a small italian flatbread filled with Portuguese staples.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Porta4.  There were three tables in the entire restaurant and two brothers taking turns cooking and serving us.
  • Amarelo Torrada for breakfast: if you are dying for something bigger than an espresso, this gal never minded serving me up a large americano.  I was craving eggs and actual breakfast for most of my trip, but these guys had some wonderful breakfast like toasted bread combos like cream cheese and lox that were a good stand in.

DRINK:

  • I found Livraria da Baixa on my first day and I returned every day thereafter.  The staff is warm, welcoming, and remembered me and my drink.  They mix a great cocktail and if it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the patio and people watch.  If it’s a rainy day, you can while away the evening in the incredibly cozy upstairs lounge.  Just push the bell on the bookshelf when you are ready to order another round!
  • Graham’s is one of the oldest and most renown of the Port makers in the area.  Tour their famous lodge overlooking Gaia and Porto and then partake in a tasting in the tasting room.  Be forewarned: the vintage tawny tasting is worth the expense but may ruin you in regards to port forever.  I have come to the new self realization that it is not that I don’t like port – it’s that I don’t like cheap port.

EXPLORE:

  • Take a boat trip on the Duoro River.  This is one of the few things that I wasn’t able to do and wish I had.  You can view the architecture of Porto from a new vantage point, or take a boat all the way up the river into the wine growing region and go wine tasting.
  • Go on a church tour: Igreja dos Carmelitas has an incredibly picturesque traditional tile wall on the outside.  Clerigos Church offers a 75 meter tall tower that offers unprecedented views of the city from the top of it.  Expect a wait to climb the 240 stairs if you are there at a busy time.  The Church of Sao Francisco is filled with gilded Baroque decor.
  • Get your tourist on: Lello & Irmão Bookstore is apparently the third most famous library in the world, most likely because it supposedly inspired many aspects of Harry Potter for JK Rowling.  The architecture inside is supposedly incredibly stunning.  I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for four hours to go inside, so I’ll have to go back.  If you really want to see the inside, you might go first thing in the morning before it opens to avoid the crowds, or right at closing.  Cafe Majestic opened in 1921 and used to be the meeting point for the area’s elite and creatives.  I was told it’s incredibly beautiful but has “tourist pricing.”  JK Rowling also apparently spent many a day in this cafe on the first book in the series.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer’s photographers for Porto are Ivo and Vanessa.  This dynamic duo of a photographic team are married and totally in love with their home.  They were incredibly fun to wander the city with for an afternoon, exploring the tight winding streets for the best kind of souvenir: photos of ourselves playing in a city we came to love.
  • Visit the Oporto Craft Market: it’s filled with small stalls of homemade art, foodstuffs, and other creations by local artisans.

Flytographer in Porto Portugal

Napa Girls Weekend

Napa Vacation Photographer | Sonoma | Russian River | A Sonoma Girls Weekend

When five girls from Texas emailed me to find out if I’d be interested in following them around wine tasting for a day as their Napa Vacation Photographer, of course I said yes.  They were smart, bright, gorgeous, and hilarious women.  Let me tell you, these women know how to do vacation right and they put me to shame: they rented an amazing house with a cabana and a pool, overlooking vineyards in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County; they hired a driver; brought us picnics; hired ME to be their vacation photographer; and filled the air with laughter everywhere we went.  You want an amazing Girls’ Wine Weekend, hire these girls to plan it!

Want your own Napa Valley Girls Weekend?

STAY:

  • The girls rented this amazing 3 bedroom home in Glen Ellen, Sonoma, on Airbnb.  It has 5 beds, 3 bedrooms and an additional private cottage.  It’s on a quiet road, snuggled up next to surrounding wineries that you can walk to in the afternoon if you have extra time.
  • VRBO also offers a slew of wonderful properties for large group rentals in the area.  This secluded wine country retreat in Sonoma sleeps 7 and has a pool and hot tub.

PLAY:

  • The Vichy Springs are a little under a 2 hour drive from Sonoma and offer day use of their mineral baths and pools.  The Calistoga Hot Springs are just under an hour drive from Sonoma and a great way to spend the evening: after 7 p.m. the entrance fee is only $10 so bring a picnic dinner and some wine to enjoy poolside.
  • Local Osmosis Day Spa offers a Japanese influenced spa experience for 2.5 hours that starts in your own private tea garden and is followed up by a Cedar Enzyme Bath and a 75 minute Swedish-Esalen massage for $219!

EAT:

  • The Girl and the Fig offers “country food with a French passion.”  The menu changes daily depending on ingredient availability from local farms.
  • The Harvest Moon Cafe also features daily changing menus based on supply availability from local farms.

DRINK:

  • Stay Safe.  Denise with Da Vine Wine Tours will come to your house or hotel, pick you up, and drive you around every day.  She knows all the vineyards and wine makers.  She’ll set out an unbelievable picnic for you, complete with a table cloth, make appointments for you, and keep you on schedule, all with a smile.  She is awesome and I can’t imagine every doing a Napa, Sonoma or Russian River Vacation without her assistance!
  • Iron Horse Vineyards are rustic and elegant, with grand sweeping views of the Sonoma countryside, exceptional pinots, chardonnays and sparkling wines.  I purchased a bottle of the 2010 Rued Clone Chardonnay while there – it’s delightfully crisp, clean and refreshing.  In short, a porch wine.
  • Lynmar Estate offers great wines and an unbeatable garden.  Their patio is lush, colorful and filled with veggies.  The estate is breathtaking and intimate.  Here you trade vast expanses of rolling hills filled with grapevines for tight narrow pathways overgrown with exceptionally green plants.
  • William Selyem produces award winning knock out pinot noir and I had to buy one, but only one because that’s all I could afford.   The grounds are spectacular, the building awe inspiring and the tasting includes a tour.  Tastings and tours are by appointment only and for wine list members only.  You need at least two weeks head time to make a reservation.  Go here to join the mailing list and make a reservation.

Sunset Sound System Season Opener

At the beginning of April I traveled to the Bay Area for a three day wedding aka THE BEST WEDDING EVER.  It was a quadruple whammy weekend of awesome: wedding photography, trivia nights, amazing food, and I got to spend time with some of my good friends who live in Redwood City.

I didn’t expect to have Sunday afternoon free.  In a surprise turn of events, I was able to join them for an annual Bay Area Party: the Sunset Sound System Season Opener.  It takes place every year at the unbelievably picturesque Stafford Lake Park in Novato.  The 139 acre regional park serves the local community and is able to host large scale events, picnics, musical performances and more.  There is fishing in the lake, a nature trail, picnic areas and a playground and a disc golf course.  Know before ya go: no dogs allowed and no swimming!

It had been a long time since I’d heard some legit deep dark house music so I was more than ecstatic to lay on the lawn of Stafford Park and listen to fantastic sets from Galen, Solar, J-Bird and Doc Martin.

It was a warm, balmy summer like day so there was lots of rosè drinking, napping and dancing.

Travel Photography | Washington, DC

After spending a few days in New York City, Boyfriend and I headed down to Washington DC via bus to meet up with M, my post-college roommate, travel partner and marathon running partner.

A few years ago, M got the hare-brained idea to run a marathon and insisted I do it with her.  We chose the California International Marathon as our first event and despite apparently telling people that I was never going to do that again, we signed up again the following year for the Dallas Marathon.   By now, we are absolute pros at our drink-wine-and-don’t-train-marathon-training-program and took it to the streets of DC for the Marine Corps Marathon, which due to it’s popularity is as difficult to get into as it is to run it.

The race itself was absolutely outstanding, though it did have some lonely moments.  There’s an absolutely surreal bit of it that goes on the freeway overpass to Virginia: it’s very exposed, sun baked, and eerie, as if you’re in a zombie apocalypse movie all of the sudden.   The experience overall was phenomenal and awe inspiring.  It was hard not to cry at the starting line as jets flew over, dropping marines with American Flags and parachutes into the crowd as the anthem played.  It was encouraging to run along side Wounded Warriors as they pushed themselves on hand bikes with no gears up the hills of the 26.2 mile course.  It was invigorating to hear words of encouragement from Marines stationed every 200 yards in the last few miles.  “Keep your head up! Run with purpose!  Never give up!” they called.  It was thrilling to know that you were in the last tenth of a mile when the row of marines waiting to high five you for your efforts at the finish line showed up and then, as you cross the line, another row of Marines, waiting to shake your hand, hang your medal on your head and thank you for supporting them.

You think the laundry list of things to see in New York City is overwhelming?  DC is worse.  I wish we’d had two weeks there to really take in all the sights and museums available to you.  Here’s what we did, but this is by no means the extensive list.

STAY: Fred and Kadija’s Cozy Rowhouse on Airbnb is absolutely perfect for exploring DC from.  It’s extremely close to the NOMA metro stop and made it so insanely easy to get out on foot every day and check stuff out. The house is adequately stocked with almost everything you would need, was clean, comfortable and perfect for a group.  You won’t need a car if you stay here!

EAT:

  • Indigo is just around the corner from the Rowhouse.  Order menu items a la carte to share or scarf down by yourself.  It’s BYOB, casual and amazing.  Apparently, it’s the only authentic home-style Punjabi (North Indian) food that you’ll find in DC.
  • Our meal at Tash was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The grilled flatbread rivaled my own and was perfectly accompanied by heaping mounds of Baba Ganoush.  M’s meal, the Gheymeh Lamb Shank, was rich and cooked with precision.
  • Thank god for Teds Bulletin.  I spend four and a half hours of every marathon thinking about nothing but breakfast.  After a serious people-moving snafu occurred after the marathon (apparently moving 100,000 people via public transportation is not that easy), we were a bit concerned that it was so late we wouldn’t be able to find breakfast.  Teds Bulletin came to the rescue and not only did I have the most perfect post marathon breakfast of all time but our amazing waiter treated us to free homemade pop tart treats after we told him what we had just accomplished.

DRINK:

  • Little Miss Whiskey’s is awash with concert posters and a dark, but chill vibe.  The bartenders were great conversationalists and chatted with us for quite some time about our adventures.  The beer selection is varied and filled with local gems and the whiskey knowledge and selection is what you would expect given the name.
  • Beirgarten Haus serves authentic German beer and food in a eerily accurate setting.  It took me back to Oktoberfest.  The draft selection of German brews is extensive and the pretzel bread is not to be missed.
  • The Hawk n’ Dove is practically a historical monument in DC.  It was recently rennovated out of it’s “dive bar” status and while the locals may notice and dislike the changes, we were so comfortable here that we returned more than once to imbibe at the deep dark comfortable bar.

EXPLORE:

Travel Photography | New York City

In October of 2013, I was registered to run a marathon in Washington DC.  I felt we would be remiss to fly to the East Coast and not visit at least one major city other than DC.  Boyfriend and I settled on New York City: he had never been and I was excited to visit with my old college friends who live there now.

When I lived in Texas, I would travel to NYC frequently since it was an easy non-stop flight.  I hadn’t been back since moving to the West Coast and I how I have missed it!  New York City is a special place: not one that I’d ever like to live in, but certainly one that I enjoy vacationing in.  From amazing food, to fun character filled bars, to gorgeous museums and parks, NYC has something to offer everyone.

When we first started planning the vacation, I firmly told Boyfriend that at least one musical would have to be seen.  He complained about everything from the unforeseen price to the unknown forthcoming experience until the show started.  On a tip from my friend Darbi, we bought tickets at TKTS for Once.  It was the BEST musical I’ve ever seen. 

Once is the musical adaptation of the movie from Glen Hansard by the same name.  When it debuted, the musical received eleven Tony Award nominations and won 8 of those awards.  Less than ten minutes into the show, we could see why.  The cast, which also serves as the orchestra, was absolutely outstanding on their minimalist bar-themed set.   During intermission, the audience can walk up onstage and order drinks from the stage bar!

 In addition to Once, we also went to see an Off-Broadway production of Avenue Q, which I knew would appeal to Boyfriend’s love of non-PC humor.

There is an unbelievably long laundry list of things to do while visiting New York City that I won’t even begin to attempt to start.  Instead, here were the highlights of this particular trip for us:

STAY: We have the good fortune of staying with friends for free, but if we didn’t, I’d totally utilize Airbnb to book an adorable room in an East Village Apartment or book a totally affordable room pod at The Pod Hotel, where a room will set you back as little as $95 on a weeknight. EAT BREAKFAST:

  • At any New York City Bodega, where the cream cheese is plentiful, the bagels delicious and the breakfast sandos are made to order for less than the cost of a Venti Drip at Starbucks.

EAT DINNER:

  • Swine – A gastropub with killer cocktails and an extensive and mouthwatering menu peppered with delights like bacon mac’n’cheese, chicken and waffles, and bacon wrapped dates.
  • Joe’s Pizza – I was tipped off to Joe’s thanks to Jimmy Fallon, who likes to support businesses he loves on Twitter.  The pizza was everything you want in a New York pie: hot, messy, and sold by the slice.  Established in 1975 by Joe Pozzuoli, who is originally from Naples, Italy (the birthplace of pizza), Joe’s Pizza is a “Greenwich Village institution” offering the classic New York slice for over 37 years.

DRINK:

  • Upright Brew House in the West Village serves craft beers on tap and in the bottle from New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.
  • Jimmy’s Corner was an unbelievable find.  In a town of $14 beers, we managed to order two and a shot of whiskey in this dive bar and our total bill was less than $10.   Found oddly tucked away in the middle of tourist chaos in Times Square, as soon as you duck inside everything is quiet and calm.  There long narrow bar is covered in photos from Jimmy’s days as a boxing guru and the jukebox has nothing but jazz albums.  Other than myself, Jimmy’s wife Swannie was the only woman in the bar.

SEE THEATER:

  • TKTS – Do not do TKTS as the tourists do, which is to wait in line for hours trying to buy tickets.  Either mosey on down to the South Street Seaport late in the afternoon and buy tickets for whatever strikes your fancy OR mosey on up to the window in Times Square after 6:00 PM, which is long after the rush.  Sometimes theater’s will release additional seats to shows not available earlier in the day.

EXPLORE:

  • The High Line – The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.  It is maintained as a public space for residents and visitors to enjoy by a non-profit group that works with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and is open every day from 7 AM to 7 PM.