Tagged: real places i’m going

A port wine-soaked tour of Porto

Douro River in Porto

View of the Douro River from the Palácio de Cristal

Happy 2016, all! Christmas is officially over, so I’m sad to report that the amount of Christmas market content on this blog will drop by at least 75 percent (don’t worry, though; 25% is more than enough to work with).

The holidays can be a rough time in general, and then add in FOMO from social media’s constant stream of other people’s vacation destinations, and it can get downright awful. If you’re still feeling residual FOMO doldrums, it’s time to imagine a trip that you yourself would love to take, and then plan it in as much detail as possible!

Today let’s take a look at a trip to Porto, Portugal. My brother lives there, so my dad and I headed over to spend our Christmas holiday with him (so unfortunately I was one of those people inadvertently causing FOMO, sorry!!!).

Porto sunset

Porto sunset from Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto is a seaside-town with lots of beautiful architecture and zero shortage of port wine. And given that #myaesthetic is anything that makes me resemble an old British man, I fell in love with all things port-related. I’m proposing here a short afternoon itinerary, which will require a driver, however (Porto’s kind of spread out). So have your DD on hand and let’s get started!

  • Fortify yourself with lunch: Don’t start on an empty stomach. I recommend Cafeina, located in Porto’s chic Foz neighborhood. The food here is beautiful and delicious. In fact, despite joking all week about the “Instagram Husband” video and not getting the whole taking-pictures-of-your-food phenomenon, my dad finally broke down here — over a seared foie gras appetizer.

    If you’d really like to treat yourself, head to The Restaurant at The Yeatman in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the Douro River from Portugal. This is where all the port houses are found, so after lunch you can head right on over. The Yeatman is the only restaurant in Porto with a Michelin star, so it ain’t cheap, but it has incredible reviews.

  • Ruby, tawny, and vintage port wine

    Ruby, tawny, and vintage port wine

  • Taste all the port: Fun fact about port and Vila Nova de Gaia: once the wine is bottled (in the Douro valley, about 100 kilometers from Porto), it’s only allowed to spend one winter at the vineyard, then it gets floated down the Douro, to Gaia and its respective port house.

    Port house tours are great fun and you get to learn more than you ever thought possible about the wine. And best of all, you can do tastings! We went to Graham’s, and I fell in love with their tasting room: it looked just like a British library, complete with photos of Winston Churchill. ūüĎć

    Other port makers include Sandeman, Taylor’s, Ferreira, and Ramos Pinto; you really can’t go wrong.

  • Walk it off: You got this.

    Livraria Lello

    Livraria Lello, bookstore of my dreams

    Of vital importance: You must see the Livraria Lello, known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Legend has it that JK Rowling used Lello as inspiration for Harry Potter (she lived in Porto for several years). It’s 5 Euros to get in (you can buy tickets in the stall across the street) but well worth the price of admission. And despite what I read everywhere on the internet, they were allowing people to take photos!

    Lello is walkable to a bunch of other fun sites. For instance the gardens of the Palácio de Cristal. These boast a breath-taking view of Porto and the Douro, and are perfect for photo ops. And I’d probably be whipped by all the citizens of Portugal (jkjk I’m sure the Portuguese would be perfectly pleasant to me) if I didn’t mention the TILES. The exterior of the Igreja do Carmo and the interior of the São Bento train station are famous for their tile work. Go and straight up litter Instagram with your shots.

  • Igreja do Carmo

    Igreja do Carmo — and those tiles!

    Craving a seaside walk? The promenade at Foz is gorgeous, and you’ll have a front-row view for some awe-inspiring ocean waves. You’ll also be close to the Foz Do Douro Urban Park, which is pretty and charming and all that good stuff.

By the time you finish sightseeing, you’ll probably feel lovely enough to return to wherever you’re staying and watch a Bones marathon, which is exactly what you should do. Or, you know, go out to dinner and check out the nightlife. I don’t know how you have all this energy, but whatever, you do you!

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Can I get a hygge?: Winter in Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens at ChristmasTivoli Gardens at Christmas (photo by @mandy_n)

It is absolutely the wrong time of year to even think about what I’m about to write about, buttttttt… my blog, my rules. Neener neener!

So, there’s this Danish concept called hygge which, like all the best¬†foreign words, cannot really be translated into English. The closest we can come is “cozy,” but really it’s all about soft candlelight (or #literally ALL the fairy lights — see photo above), a roaring fire, a warm boozy beverage, and good companionship. It’s one of the ways the Danes get through the long, dark winters (though there is a summer version of hygge that mostly involves barbecues and picnics) and still have their sanity more or less intact.

And it’s hygge that I think of when it’s been 95 degrees every day for basically the last two¬†months.

Leslie Knope - Everything Hurts and I'm Dying gif

So what better time to put FOMO-busting to good use? Let’s hygge it up!!

My dear friend Mandy and I traveled to Copenhagen in November 2013: prime hygge season! We stayed in N√łrrebro, a funky neighborhood just outside of center city, perfect¬†to escape to after a day of sightseeing.

There are tons of cozy and comforting places to visit so you can get your hygge on.

  • Ravnsborggade: One block up from the waterfront, this small street is lined with adorable boutiques that, come mid-November and after, host miniature Christmas markets. Antique shops like Ingerslev Antik (#22) let you outfit your own home with all the vintage hygge you can, while Bungalow (#17) has stylish paper goods, Christmas ornaments, lights, and textiles for decorating with a more modern, but still homey, touch.

  • Sandwich from Smag in Copenhagen

    ~*~*THE*~*~ sandwich from Smag (photo again by @mandy_n)

  • Smag: This sandwich shop‚Äôs cafe is not really all that much in line with hygge, but their food itself is some of the most comforting you will ever eat. (If you‚Äôre looking for a cozier setting, you can take your food to Kaffeplantagen just up the street; they won‚Äôt mind.) Take, for instance, their smoked salmon sandwich, which when we had it was complemented by dark rye bread, a green pea puree spread, whole peanuts, arugula, and pea pods. We had to fight temptation to not go back for it every day we were in Copenhagen.

  • Kaffeplantagen: Danes are famous for their love of java, so where else to look for hygge than in a coffee shop? Grab one of Kaffeplantagen‚Äôs creamy, foamy lattes — be sure to dust it with cinnamon, if the barista hasn‚Äôt already — and choose from their beautiful selection of pastries. They also serve savory food, but in limited quantities, so try to get there right at lunch if you‚Äôre looking for something heartier (and if for some bizarre reason you‚Äôve decided to forgo eating at Smag).

  • Bevar‚Äôs: Bevar‚Äôs is one of the more hyggelig caf√©s in N√łrrebro. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and also have free Wi-Fi, so it‚Äôs a popular all-day hangout spot. The crowd turns livelier in the evenings, though, when there’s often musicians performing. On these nights, people put their computers away and start chatting with unfamiliar faces; however, the music is still low enough where you don‚Äôt have to shout. If you‚Äôre there on your own, grab a glass of wine at the bar and make conversation with the bartender; they‚Äôre happy to give you some recommendations on how to find what‚Äôs hygge in town.

  • Barking Dog: What better way to warm up on a damp, chilly day than with a hot toddy? The Barking Dog offers several different kinds (though unfortunately you won‚Äôt find the standard Christmas gl√łgg — mulled wine), and its caf√© has plenty of nooks where you can hole up and forget about the rest of the world for a while. Their cocktails are handcrafted — think specially chipped ice, freshly zested citrus, etc. — so they take about 3-5 minutes to prepare. Service takes a while on weekends, but it‚Äôs quite an enjoyable show to watch.

Bars, bars, bars: Barhopping in Reykjavik

Reykjavik at midnight

Reykjavik at midnight

Yikes, only a few posts into this blog and I’m already awful at it! It’s been over a month since I blogged, but in that time I went to Iceland, helped friends plan (and pack for!) a trip to Paris, and am now helping other friends plan a vacation in Iceland and France. So I have been keeping busy on the travel front; I just haven’t been sharing it with you fine folks.

Well, last time we left off at restaurants in Reykjavik, so this post let’s chat about a few of the bars ‚ÄĒ only this time I have the added bonus of in-person knowledge.

I got into Reykjavik on a Saturday at 5:30am. As a result, I¬†was totally out of sorts all day and unfortunately didn’t get to appreciate the full Saturday-night pub crawl that normally happens (starts at 11pm, ends ????). So, most of my bar experiences happened midweek when Reykjavikers don’t¬†normally hang out, and to be sure, I mostly met ex-pats on these adventures. Still lots of fun, still great people and good conversations, but less “authentic” perhaps. (I still met my fair share of Icelanders, though, so you can put your tiny violins away; I shall soldier on!)

Anyway, without further ado, let’s talk about bars!

  • Mikkeller and¬†Friends Reykjavik: Mikkeller is a Danish brewery that I really wanted to go to when I was in Copenhagen, but didn’t have enough time. They brew a vast amount of beers and let you sample before you buy, which, if you’re a completist, can probably get you in some real trouble! I came here directly from my dinner at Dill (they share a building) and wasn’t ready to go home yet, and I’m glad I did.

    It’s a dude-heavy atmosphere for sure (men at a beer bar, go figure) but very laid-back; I felt totally comfortable coming here on my own. I chatted with a Spanish guy who lives in the same town as my parents ‚ÄĒ small world, amirite? ‚ÄĒ and his Icelandic friend, so it’s definitely a great place to get a mix of locals and travelers.

  • Drinx Bar at Kex Hostel: Kex is not your typical youth hostel filled with young backpackers touring on the cheap. They have a variety of rooms at different price points, so all sorts of folks¬†stay here. It’s also really well integrated into the town, and Reykjavikers often come here for a drink or two at Drinx. I spent my birthday in Iceland, which was a Monday night¬†‚ÄĒ not exactly a huge party night for Icelanders ‚ÄĒ and figured Kex would be a good place to grab a drink since it has an international “population,” if you will.

    The bar is beautiful: it’s done up to look like the library in a manor home, and it faces the bay, so you have a view of the water and the mountains across the way. (How’s that for poetry.) They serve food and of course also have a decent drink selection ‚ÄĒ it was here that I tried¬†Brenniv√≠n, one of the most famous Icelandic schnapps, and affectionately nicknamed “Black Death.” There was a ton of people there, even on a Monday night, so I was able to make some¬†friends and properly ring in my new year!

  • √Ėlstofa Korm√°ks og Skjaldar¬†(or just √Ėlstofan): This was where I¬†attempted a leg of the Saturday night pub crawl, mostly because I had heard that it was a good fit for the 30something crowd. :/ Turns out it was just the thing for my jet lag; I was able to have a quiet drink while still feeling right proud of myself for managing to be¬†out on the town. It’s very neighborhoody, very chill: when I first got there it was about half-empty but over the hour or so I spent it got calmly raucous. The bartenders will chat with you and you can also talk to your neighbors; if you’re feeling less social there are tables around the perimeter where you can hole up and do your own thing.

  • Snaps: I had dinner here my first night in town, still in a jet-lagged haze. In fact, I almost didn’t go here at all, but it conveniently was a 5-minute walk to my apartment, so it was my compromise with myself. It ended up being a fantastic spot with delicious food. I suppose it’s mostly known for being a restaurant, and a very popular one at that: if you don’t reserve in advance you’re probably going to be sitting at the bar, which is where I happily ended up. Almost the moment I sat down my two seatmates and I got to talking, and we more or less spent our entire dinner in conversation. The bartenders/waiters were awesome and really accommodating¬†‚ÄĒ good-naturedly humoring¬†my neighbor when he asked about four different waitresses what the catch of the day was when he didn’t believe it was a type of catfish. Snaps¬†was a fun and delicious introduction to the town, and it rightly earns its title of one of CNN.com – Reykjavik’s¬†coolest bars.

  • Waffles and whipped cream

    My beauties!

  • Tiu Dropar / Le Ch√Ęteau de dix gouttes: I didn’t expect to go to Tiu Dropar, only because it’s a French restaurant and I was mostly looking to keep to more¬†Icelandic spots. But, having¬†just spent 10 hours on a tour bus careening through drizzly weather, I¬†was chilled to the bone and in desperate need of coziness. This is a basement-level spot, a bit dark but cheerily lit by candles: it’s the kind of place you want to hole up in on a dark winter evening¬†(or a summer evening¬†that’s 45 and rainy). The bar is quite small so it’s more a spot where you grab a table and read, or write, or just gaze¬†off into the middle distance and contemplate life. That is, of course, when you’re not eating waffles and whipped cream. Which should really happen more often. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I’m not eating them right now.

Well, it hopefully will not be as long between posts from here on out. Like I said, I’ve been working on a lot of travel-related things, so I just need to get them up here!

Ver√įi √ĺ√©r a√į g√≥√įu! Or, this is how the Internet told me how to say “bon app√©tit” in Icelandic

At this point we’ve done a lot of groundwork: we’ve talked about why making fantasy itineraries can help you beat FOMO, what kinds of resources to check out when you’re planning these trips, how to figure out what kind of traveler you are….

And, well, I’m pretty talked out right now! What I’m envisioning for this site is to share itineraries, to crowdsource awesome trips, to have a collective space to brainstorm ‚ÄĒ and ultimately, to get y’all fired up enough to take these vacations yourself!

So let’s get to some of the good stuff today. Since I’m taking a vacation in Iceland this summer, I’ll share some restaurants I’ve scouted. Now, I only have a week in Reykjavik and there’s no absolutely no way I can eat at all these places, but remember, this is a wish list! I always like to find way too many places and have them on hand: that way, I can do dinner according to my location and mood. Just want to make that clear in case any of you break out in hives thinking I’m just eating eating eating my way across Reykjavik.

Not that I’m too good for that. I am packing these after all.

Eating Pants

  • Fish Market (aka Fiskmarka√įurinn) and Grill Market (Grillmarka√įurinn): These are owned by the same people and were a favorite with my vegan friend who visited. Everywhere I read, peole are raving about the Grill Market bathroom being really cool?? Per a Tumblr post that’s not letting me link to it (but this is the original author), “it made you feel like you were underwater with the lighting and the waterfall for the sink.”
Treat yo self cupcakes
  • Dill: Right now this is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik; it puts a new spin on traditional Nordic dishes and the menu changes weekly. I have a reservation here and this is going to be my Treat Yo Self 2015 meal.

  • B√¶jarins beztu pylsur: You know what I’m also not too good for? Street meat. (Ok, here’s where I out myself as the world’s worst vegetarian; don’t worry, my stomach punishes me plenty for my sins.) Scandinavia is famous for its hot dogs and these ones are apparently the best!

  • Cafe Loki: All I know about this place is that a Twitter friend had rye bread-flavored ice cream here. That’s all I need to know, frankly.

  • Chuck Norris Bar: Seriously?? This is apparently your standard burger/fries/milkshake fare, only…Chuck Norris-themed.

  • Forrettabarinn: This was recommended on Fathom, one of my new favorite travel blogs. They serve Icelandic tapas, basically: you can get a taste of a lot of the local flavors. The menu right now says they serve seahorse??? I’m hoping that’s just a clever name for a totally normal fish, like how people in Miami eat “dolphin sandwiches” and they’re really just mahi-mahi. Because otherwise D: D: D: BUT! They also serve other totally normal- and tasty-sounding dishes, so I mean, just make sure you’re reading the menu thoroughly I guess!

  • Kaloporti√į Flea Market: Ok, this place is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, this is supposed to be a really cool flea market where you can browse through vintage clothing and Nordic tchotchkes for hours. On the other hand, this is where you can find traditional Icelandic foods like pickled lamb testicles and h√°karl, fermented shark. Now, there’s no way in H-E-double hockey sticks I’m going to try any pickled lamb testicles, but I am curious to try shark, if only as a feat of strength. It did Bourdain in, it almost conquered Andrew Zimmern; I’m horrified but I can’t look away. Wish me luck (or sanity), I guess.

Of course there are tons and tons more. I have a whole other list of restaurants that are also famous for having great bars, so I’ll work on getting that up sometime this week as well. Until then, ver√įi √ĺ√©r a√į g√≥√įu!

[Arcade Fire lyrics about neighborhoods go here!]

When it comes to¬†FOMO-chasing trip planning, one of the key parts is figuring out where to stay. Depending on the town you’re looking at, there may be a huge variety¬†of neighborhoods to choose from. This is where the¬†answers to your questions from¬†this post about travel preferences come in handy once more.

If you have lots of tourist sites on your agenda, that’s an easy one: you’ll probably want to stay as close as you can to these, budget allowing. I’m about the opposite of that ‚ÄĒ no shade! I’m just not a fan of crowds ‚ÄĒ so I usually have to do some creative research. Here are some of the ways that I’ve narrowed down places to stay.

P/c Iain Cameron

Torvehallerne, in Copenhagen (p/c Iain Cameron)

  • Googling “Hipster [city name]” (Shut up, I hate myself)
  • Looking for online neighborhood guides. Airbnb has a handy one, as does Fodor’s and TripAdvisor, though the guides aren’t on a¬†central page, so you’ll have to hunt. Here are Paris ones from Fodor’s and TripAdvisor¬†as a start.
  • Reading through the New York Times’ 36 Hours In… series. I love these, though to be fair, they’re basically a combination of my Googling “Hipster [city name]” (see above!) and “Completely blowing my budget in [city name].”
  • Picking a neighborhood based on its proximity to:
    • A restaurant, coffee shop, or yoga studio I want to check out.
    • Food markets, flea markets, or farmers’ markets. (The best one so far as been Torvehallerne in Copenhagen. Oh man, I’m drooling just thinking about it!)
    • Holiday markets, I can’t forget those!¬†ChristmasMarkets.com is a great resource if you’re like me and are positively obsessed with¬†mulled wine once there’s the slightest chill¬†in the air.
    • Weird tourist attractions. I looooooove bizarre museums, creepy graveyards, strange statues (the Mary Tyler Moore statue in Minneapolis, anyone?): stuff¬†that’s just generally¬†off the beaten path.¬†I’ll punch stuff into Google like “Weird things to do in [city name]” and inevitably find sites like Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, Cool Stuff in Paris, and so. Perfect Internet black hole material!
  • Crowdsourcing on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll see if anyone else I know has been there and has recommendations on where to stay.
  • Going analog. While my research is normally digital, I still love to go to the bookstore and browse the travel aisle. You’ll of course find the Lonely Planet and Time Out guidebooks, but Karen Brown’s Exceptional Places to Stay books are¬†also hugely helpful.
  • Checking out a map, plain and simple. I want to see the geography¬†and¬†get an idea of what’s nearby, how walkable it is (or how close public transport is), and if I’m around any neat spots that my research hasn’t turned up.

So those are the basics I follow for¬†picking a neighborhood. I know, I know, it may sound pretty¬†crazy to put so much effort into a trip you may not ever take (and don’t get me wrong, it totally is). But I’ve always found that the more detailed I get, the more excited I get, and the easier it is for me to forget about the FOMO in the first place!

How do you even plan a trip, anyway?

Today I thought I’d write about a very real trip I’m taking this summer, to Iceland. YOU GUYS I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT. Let me see¬†if I can get through this without breaking into hysterics (but already this doesn’t bode well).

So I¬†guess¬†I’ve traveled by myself¬†a few times, but usually it’s been to a spot I’ve already visited, or it’s been for business, or there’s some other technicality I’ve made up. This trip, though, is officially a solo endeavor. I’m both¬†delighted and terrified, and to deal with that I’ve been planning my itinerary since November.

To kick things off,¬†I’ll¬†cover the prep work I’ve done¬†to sort¬†out my trip. The first thing is to figure out what kind of traveler you are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you a true tourist or do¬†you want to¬†try to blend in?¬†Do you have a checklist of things to do? Do you want¬†to live like the locals do and find hidden gems? Are you somewhere in between? If you’re mostly interested in sightseeing, you may love guided tours where everything is already planned and you really just have to show up. Or the thought of a tour bus may cause you to break out in hives!
  2. Do the inhabitants speak your¬†language?¬†If you’re going somewhere where your language is not commonly spoken, this could be a challenge! It’s never¬†a reason to skip¬†the trip ‚ÄĒ I mean, I got myself around Japan at age 15 speaking almost no¬†Japanese ‚ÄĒ but you also need to be ok with making a fool of yourself. (In my case I inadvertently¬†stole from a food stall, thinking the food set out was a sample¬†¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į)
  3. Do you want to be in a city or do you want to get off the beaten path? If you’re a city dweller at heart, this means you may be able to skip renting a car and instead use public transport. (Bonus: this also opens up budget for other areas!)
  4. Will you stay in one spot or travel around? A sightseeing vacation may¬†involve a rental car and multiple places to stay. In a place like Iceland, roads can be inaccessible depending on the season¬†‚ÄĒ¬†you’ll definitely¬†you’ll want to know this in advance.
  5. Are you a planner or would you rather go with the flow? If you like a schedule, you should figure out your can’t-miss sites.¬†Also, consider what you’ll do if that site is really, really hard to get to, and decide in advance how much BS you’re willing to put up with. Travel inevitably throws curveballs at you, so if that statement already stresses you out, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.
  6. What do you normally spend money on: food, clothes, experiences?¬†Focus on these same things when you travel. If everyone tells you to check out some¬†life-changing restaurant, but you really couldn’t care less about food, skip it! And don’t believe anyone who says it’s sacrilege to go to Paris and skip the Louvre. The Art Police will not in fact take you away, I promise.

When I answer these questions, it looks like this:

  1. Tourist/blender-inner: I like to play at being a local as much as I can. Tour groups¬†actually¬†drive me¬†bananas, so I’m figuring out¬†my Iceland trip¬†by myself (as much as possible, anyway).
  2. Language: I’m in luck that a lot of Icelanders speak English, but¬†I’ve made an effort to learn some key phrases in Icelandic. (Au√įur, who runs ihearteykjavik.net, has a great podcast series where she teaches some common ‚Äď and less common ‚Äď phrases.) I may¬†end up sounding like an idiot, but in general locals are a lot more receptive when you at least try to speak their language.
  3. City mouse/country mouse: I’m pretty happy in the city or the country,¬†so… next question.
  4. Stay in one spot or travel: I’m keeping¬†Reykjavik as my home base. I’d love at some point to do the Ring Road tour, but that’s a ~10-day trip and I only have a week. Also, most of the things I want to do offer¬†free pickup and dropoff, so I’ll still end up seeing different parts of the island!
  5. Planner/go with the flow: I go either way. There are¬†a few things I’m dying to do, but since I also like to blend in, I’ve left a few days open so I can just explore.
  6. What do I spend my money on?: I normally spend on food and experiences, so I’ve already reserved two dinners and signed up for two adventure trips (horseback riding and scuba diving).

What have I missed? What are the first things you consider when you’re planning a vacation?

In my next few posts, we’ll look at restaurants, lodging, sightseeing, the eternal question of whether or not the Blue Lagoon is a big tourist trap (opinions, please! I’m still not sure), and so on. Happy trails!