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France Provence Travel

Autumn in Provence: Your Next Favorite Trip

October 4, 2019

“The South of France” is a hugely popular summer destination among travelers worldwide. Dreamy flower fields, aqua coastline and festivals – what’s not to like? Huge crowds and expensive prices for one.

This is where I offer you an attractive alternative: Autumn in Provence.

I really enjoy traveling in this region during the shoulder season of late September, October and November. The crowds are smaller, hotels are lower priced, it’s easier to book last minute and the weather is still pretty beautiful (in fact, my water-loving husband has been known to take a dip in Marseille’s gorgeous Calanques as late as October!)

My first trip to Provence was in November of 2011 and since then I’ve spent several more years exploring the region and enjoying it’s autumnal charm.

The grounds of Chateau LaCoste vineyard in late September.

Getting There

The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The airport has undergone a renovation in the past few years and it’s a pretty chill airport to fly in and out of.

Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.

Transportation

I would say it’s almost essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. You can do so easily at the airport but I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!

Weather & What to Pack

Just for reference, here is a breakdown of the average temps for Marseille in the fall months:

Month Average High/Low (Fahrenheit)  Average High/Low (Celcius)  Days of Rain
September 78° / 61° 25.5° / 16.1° 3
October 70° / 55° 21.1° / 12.7° 6
November 60° / 47° 15.5° / 8.3° 5

As you can see, it’s pretty mild weather. I would say a daily uniform of jeans, comfortable walking shoes or boots, tops that can layer (short sleeves for the warm sunny days and sweater for overcast/chillier ones), scarves and a light leather or jean jacket. If you tend to get colder you can pack a heavier coat but honestly I’ve never needed one, even when I visited in winter.

I made the mistake of choosing fashion over comfort during my first trip to Provence and tried to walk around cobble stoned villages in heels! Oy. I would say save yourself the pain and opt for a flat or chunky heeled boot or walking shoe that’s comfortable to walk and explore in. Also make sure to pack sneakers or hiking boots if you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful trails. If you are visiting in September or October you can optimistically throw a bathing suit in your suitcase in case it’s warm enough to take a dip in the Calanques.

Me during my first trip to Provence in November 2011 (standing on the top of the Cap Canaille)! This has become my typical Provence Fall uniform:
Jeans, layered tops, cropped jacket, scarf & flats.

Taste All The Wine

In my opinion you can’t miss the vineyards in the South of France in the autumn months. Even if you’re not a big drinker or wine connoisseur, the landscape and scenery alone is worth a day of touring around and visiting the vineyards. Trust me, driving through the beautiful Plantane tree tunnels with their changing golden leaves is a magical experience you will not forget. Of course, it does help if you like wine (and have a reliable DD)!

There are basically two wine regions that are easy to visit from here:
Provence and the Rhone Valley.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the wine regions included in Provence. Personally, I enjoy the Bandol, Cassis, & Aix en Provence area (this includes my absolute FAVORITE vineyard Chateau LaCoste), particularly for rosé and white wines.

If you travel a bit north towards Avignon into the Rhône Valley you will find the prestigious region of Chateauneuf du Pape which is well known for it’s reds. You can visit the little town there and as you drive along the countryside roads you will pass vineyard after vineyard.

The Luberon region (within the Rhône) is also filled with vineyards – we had a great experience staying at Chateau Perreal, a vineyard with vacation rentals onsite (this is pretty common).

(From Top Left: Rosé at Chateau LaCoste, Foliage in Chateaneuf de Pape, Outside Chateau Perreal in the Luberon, Pool at Chateau Perreal at sunset.)

Visit Fairytale Towns

It’s no coincidence that painters like Van Gogh and Monet used the South of France as a consistent subject: the towns and landscapes are right out of a painting! Speaking of Van Gogh, the town of Arles is home to the cafe that was the subject of his famous “Cafe Terrace at Night” and is worth seeing. Other favorite towns in the region that are gorgeous during fall are Gordes, a postcard perfect perched village, Isle Sur La Sorgue, a tiny town filled with canals and antiques, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a small hamlet with a “magical” natural fountain at the top of a hill. Honorable mentions include: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Les-Baux-des-Provence, and Lourmarin.

The great thing about these towns is that a lot of them are close together so you can knock out several in a day, making the most of your vacation! I’ve put them on a google map you can reference below:

Also the larger cities of Aix en Provence and Avignon are worth spending at least a day visiting – Aix is great for shopping and Avignon is great for history (the immense Papal Palace there was the seat of the Catholic Church from 1309 to 1376).

Featured Post: My Favorite Spots in Provence

(From Top Left: Arles, Isle Sur La Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Walking in the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, The Pool at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, View of Gordes from outside the town)

Really Get to Know Marseille

As I’ve shared in some of my other posts, I think Marseille is a completely underrated French city and you could spend days or weeks exploring it. If you are limited on time though, you can definitely get to see a lot of the main sites (Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde, to name a few) in a few days.

I’ve written a large guide to visiting the city which includes all my favorite spots and you can find here, and an Instagram Guide to Marseille’s best photo ops here.

Featured Post: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

(From Top Left: Marseille’s Vieux Port, The funky Cours Julien Neighborhood, a street in the Panier Neighborhood).

Enjoy the Amazing Nature

This region is RICH in beautiful nature and scenery. One of my favorite things to do here is visit the Calanques, a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, but is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time.

There are also plenty of options for hiking, one being the Mont Saint Victoire at the outskirts of Aix en Provence. This resource provides guides to other options in the area with detailed info on length, time and difficulty.

(From Top: Port Miou Calanque near Cassis, View of Marseille from the Mountains, Mont Sainte Victoire.)

In Conclusion…

There are honestly so many wonderful activities to do in the South of France in the fall, I would say it’s hard to go wrong when planning your trip. I hope you consider visiting during this beautiful time and that this guide is a helpful starting guide to creating your perfect itinerary.

Bon voyage!

Ireland Kinsale Travel

A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland

July 5, 2019

Even though I’ve been to Ireland 3 separate times, each trip has held special meaning for me. My first trip was during St. Patrick’s Day weekend when I was studying abroad in Italy, visiting my friend who was studying in Cork. I had dreamed of visiting Ireland since I was a little girl (for some reason I always felt a pull to the idea of it’s rolling green hills) and so my first brief trip there was a realization of that dream. My second trip there was also special because it was with my love (at the time my soon-to-be fiance who is now my husband) and it was to celebrate my 30th birthday.

This most recent trip was also special, as I traveled with my best friend Molly. Molly and I met our freshman year of college in the dorms and had always talked about doing a trip to Ireland together. The trip was over 10 years in the making but we actually did it and had an amazing time touring around together! After spending our first night night in Cork City, our next stop was the colorful and quaint Kinsale, a seaside village on the south coast of County Cork. Molly had a particularly important reason to visit Kinsale: not only did her great grandfather grow up here but she also has relatives still living in the town!

Imagine walking into a local shop in Ireland and telling the person working there that you are actually their cousin visiting from America!

That was the scene when Molly and I walked into Mylie Murphy’s Bike & Bait Shop and were greeted by Gillian, Molly’s cousin with whom we soon became fast friends. Between loaning us bikes to explore with, chatting over photography and Instagram strategies (Gillian owns a LOVELY plant and gift shop in Kinsale, see below) and enjoying a (few) bottles of white wine over lunch, Kinsale became a destination that will hold a special place in my heart. 

Candy colored shops, locals enjoying an ice cream cone from the local Centra, sailboats on the horizon and fields of colorful yellow flowers – Kinsale is postcard perfect! We stayed there for 4 nights and it was a great amount of time to explore and relax. I would certainly recommend stopping by for at least a day if you are visiting Cork City, and staying for a few nights if you have the time. We were there in late April and it was still a bit chilly but very popular – I can only imagine how lively it gets during the summer months. 

WHERE TO STAY

Kinsale Cozy Studio/Tiny House

We had a wonderful 4 night stay at Rosemarie’s adorable cottage! Rosemarie went above and beyond to make our stay comfortable, starting with picking us up at the bus so we wouldn’t have to walk with our bags which we really appreciated. She and her dog Curly were so friendly and gave us plenty of tips on where to go and what to do in Kinsale. The cottage was beautifully decorated and well equipped with breakfast and snack staples and toiletries. The location was close to the main village (about a 5 minute walk) and the front yard had a gorgeous view of the water. I would definitely stay here again and would recommend to anyone planning to stay in Kinsale.

FAVORITE EATS

Bulman | Summercove, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

A colorful (and popular!) spot on the outskirts of town as you head towards Charles Fort. The inside has a cozy and jovial atmosphere while the outside affords you a great view of the water. Come a little after lunch hour in order to try to avoid the crowds.

Fishy Fishy | Crowleys Quay, Kinsale Co, Co. IE, Ireland

If you love seafood and want to treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner, this is your place! We had an amazing meal here with Molly’s family. Delicious mussels, seafood pie and a rhubarb cobbler that was the perfect ending to the meal, washed down by a bottle (or 2?) of the house white wine. Elegant atmosphere and great service.

UNIQUE SHOPPING

Greenhouse & Other Stories | 8 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Ireland Co. Cork

Molly’s cousin Gillian owns this adorable shop filled with beautiful plants and curated gifts including stationary, pots, jewelry children’s clothing. I would definitely recommend stopping by if you’re looking for something unique to bring home for someone, or a little gift for yourself.

Aesthetically pleasing display at Greenhouse & Other Stories

Rain Bath & Beauty | 42 Main Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

Assortment of gorgeous responsible and ethical beauty products – a great shop to buy something to pamper yourself with.

Gourmet Pantry | 4 Market St, Sleveen, Cork, Ireland

We did a lot of self-catering in Kinsale for our evening meals (buying prepared foods, cheeses, wines etc and bringing them to our AirBnB.) While there are a few groceries downtown, this shop has higher quality and locally made items – perfect for a picnic, aperitif or souvenirs to bring home (jams, crackers, etc).

LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE

Dalton’s Bar | 3A Market St, Sleveen, Kinsale, Co. Cork, P17 E068, Ireland

Molly is a huge fan of traditional Irish music, so we went out to listen to a session pretty much every night. That said, we had our best live music experience in Kinsale at Dalton’s Bar during our first night out in Kinsale. We went in on a Monday night, which is when they have an open mic situation of sorts called a “sing-a-long” with a local band to back up the hauntingly beautiful melodies. Cozy interior with a fireplace, friendly bartenders, and unlike more touristy places that play the same 5 Irish songs to a raucous audience, during these sessions everyone shushes the patrons before the person starts singing so everyone can listen and enjoy. It was a genuinely moving experience and I would definitely recommend this place especially if you are here on a night they are doing a sing-a-long.

The Harbour Bar | Scilly, Kinsale, Ireland

Off the beaten path, this bar was truly unique. It’s inside a house where the owner has turned his first floor into a pub. You grab a drink from the fridge (bottled beer, wine and mixed drinks only), pay, and make yourself at home while his little jack russell terrier might jump into your lap. There is old fashioned decor, a TV with the game on, a local crowd and a stunning view of the Harbour (hence, the name).

View from the Harbour Bar

ACTIVITIES

Drive out to The Old Head

About a 10 – 15 minute drive from downtown, the Old Head is a must see. Like a mini Cliffs of Moher, it’s adjacent to a well known golf course and is the closest piece of land to where the RMS Lusitania sank. We went during golden hour to check it out and it was absolutely stunning, especially with all the seabirds flying around below us. It would be a gorgeous spot for an evening picnic or to take photos.

Scilly Walk/Charles Fort

There is a nice walking path from downtown Kinsale to Charles Fort. (We actually took bikes even though I don’t think you are technically supposed to bike on the walking trail.) You can take Lower Road and follow it from the downtown up to the Spaniard Bar, then past the Bulman Pub and out to the fort. You pass great views and lovely homes along the way, there and back is a little over 5km.

Explore Downtown Kinsale

Kinsale’s downtown is incredibly charming. I am a sucker for colorful waterfront towns and Kinsale certainly hits the mark. There are plenty of cute shops to explore, cafes to duck into and the locals we met were all very friendly. If you get the chance to immerse yourself in this place for a few days, definitely do so.

Headed to Kinsale? Don’t forget to pin this post!

Amsterdam Netherlands Travel

A Solo Girly Guide to Amsterdam

May 20, 2019

What do you first think of when you think of Amsterdam? For a lot of Americans at least, people associate the city with legalized marijuana (actually this isn’t even true) and the red-light district. In fact, according to Lonely Planet, recent polls have shown that only 7% of the Dutch people actually use pot and only 5% of customers frequenting the red-light district are Dutch. So, when I decided to take my first solo trip to this city, I wasn’t really sure what my experience as a female traveling alone would be. The short of it: 1. I was pleasantly surprised, and 2. I wanted more time.

So, when I decided to take my first solo trip to this city, I wasn’t really sure what my experience as a female traveling alone would be. The short of it: 1. I was pleasantly surprised, and 2. I wanted more time.

WHERE TO STAY

My first task as a solo female traveler was finding a safe, clean, well-located yet affordable place to stay. And let me tell you, that last part wasn’t easy. Hotels in Amsterdam are generally expensive and during this time of year even more so. Even so, I was able to book a room at Hotel Adolesce for 100 euros/night. I had a bit of a mishap with my dates and ended up booking the wrong night (LOL), but the owner was so kind in letting me switch and giving me an even larger room with a canal view. I liked how the hotel was a bit out of the crazy tourist zone so I could come back to a quiet and calm location after sightseeing, but yet was within a 20 minute walk to all the major sights. I would 100% stay here again and would recommend it as an affordable option in Amsterdam for solo, couple or friends traveling.

WHAT TO DO

When visiting a new city, I like to spend some time just walking around and getting a feel for the energy and culture. Actually, I walked an average of 10 miles per day on the two days I was there! Here are some of the highlights:

Van Gogh Museum

This was my #1 priority for my Amsterdam visit and it did not disappoint. Make sure to pre-book your tickets here as soon as you know you are going to Amsterdam because it will sell out. I booked my tickets about a month in advance. This is also true for the Anne Frank House (see below), which unfortunately I didn’t realize and the tickets for the dates for my visit were sold out. If you love Van Gogh’s art and are interested in his life, I would definitely recommend making this a priority. I also recommend getting the audio guide for 5 Euros more as it gives you so much more background into Van Gogh’s works and life.

Moco Museum – Banksy Exhibit

I hadn’t planned on visiting this museum, because I didn’t know about it before my trip, but I’m so glad I decided to stop by. You really only need an hour or less and if you’re interested in Banksy’s art and street art in general, it’s a nice way to spend a little time. Also it stays open late: 7pm during the week and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The Banksy Exhibit runs through September 2019 and you can pre-order your tickets online for a discount here.

Canal Tour

This is kind of a no-brainer. If you want to see a good portion of the city while learning about the history and architecture, a Canal Tour is really the best way to do it. There are several companies that offer them, and I chose to use Lovers Canal Cruise for no reason other than I found them first. Most tours originate near Centraal Station, and you can buy tickets there or at one of several tourist offices. Pre-booking didn’t seem to be necessary, I bought a ticket the day of for a boat leaving 1/2 hour from my time of purchase. 

Jordaan

I loved this neighborhood! Beautiful Canals, cute shops and quaint streets – this area was my favorite part of Amsterdam. I’ve linked shop and food/bar info below. 

Floating Flower Market

Touristy? Yes. But it’s fun to walk through and a nice spot to buy souvenirs, from tulip bulbs, to off brand Delftware and everything in between. Make it the last stop of your daily exploring and stock up on goodies for yourself and your people back home – just make sure you get there before it closes at 5:30pm. Find more info here.

Typical Booth in the Flower Market. They all pretty much look like this!

Red Light District

Yes – I was curious. So I decided to walk around the RLD and check it out. I was a little worried to go at night, but honestly I had no need to be worried. I went around 9pm and it was super crowded – men, women, families, groups of tourists…I felt perfectly safe. And it was indeed something to see, but I only needed 15 minutes or so. If I were to go again I would have visited the Museum of Prostitution for background and context. As a solo female, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay too late because I imagine it only gets rowdier.

PSA: If you know you are going to Amsterdam and you want to visit the Anne Frank house, reserve your tickets ahead of time here. You can only buy tickets online. I unfortunately didn’t realize this and when I went to reserve 2 weeks ahead of time they were sold out. Every day at 9am they release 20% of the tickets for the day so you can log on and try to purchase, but that is a risk (I was unsucessful). When I go back to Amsterdam I will definitely make this a priority and reserve well ahead. 

If I would have had more time I would have visited more museums, particularly the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House. I think in nice weather it would be nice to take a chill day and hang out in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green space. Next time!

EATING AND DRINKING

It’s funny, as a solo traveler I found that eating in a restaurant wasn’t a priority for me. My days consisted of walking around till I got hungry and then grabbing something on the go, because for some reason a high-end or atmospheric dining situation is much more enjoyable with another person. I joked that my “Amsterdam Diet” was walking 10 miles, stroopwafels for breakfast and vlaamse frites for dinner. That said, I did eat well, including a nice sit down lunch on a canal that I treated myself to (solo travel tip: when dining alone it’s fun to set yourself up at a place where you can people watch). 

Broodje Bert | Singel 321HS, 1012 WK Amsterdam, Netherlands

Great place to grab a healthy lunch adjecent to the Jordaan. If you can and the weather permits, grab one of their canal side tables and enjoy the people watching. The burger is famous here but they also have other choices, including vegetarian options. Also very affordable!

Polaberry | Prinsengracht 232 H, 1016 HE Amsterdam, Netherlands

After following this place on Instagram, it was at the top of my lists of spots to see. Adorable little shop owned by blogger Polina Burashnikova with handmade chocolate covered berries as well as cake pops and other goodies. There are also an assortment of girly Amsterdam themed souvenirs and stationary at the store for unique gifts for yourself or others.

Bar Parry | Eerste Looiersdwarsstraat 15, 1107 SN Amsterdam, Netherlands

This cute little wine bar in Jordaan was recommended to me by a friend. When I got caught in a downpour, it was the perfect spot to hide out and enjoy a glass or 2 of wine. Very quaint and solo traveler friendly!

Van Wonderens Stroopwafels | Kalverstraat 190, 1012 XH Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another instagram find! If you’re going to try fresh stroopwafels, why not make sure it’s the prettiest stroopwafel in the city? And it was also tasty – the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.

Vlaamse Fries | Literally Anywhere, Amsterdam

Hot Fries, served in a cone and slathered in sauce were my dinner of choice after walking 10 miles a day in Amsterdam. You can find these fry shops all over the city, but here’s a guide put out by iAmsterdam if you need some recommendations. It’s a must try food if you’re visiting the city. 

UNIQUE SOUVIENERS

Kunstboer | Prinsengracht 270, 1016 HH AMSTERDAM

Unique accessories for children and adults – glittery unicorns and cute animal theme is king here. You can also customize your own apparel and accessories with their unique patches. Such a cute shop!

Locals | Spuistraat 272, 1012 VW Amsterdam, Netherlands

Loved the selection of stationary, apparel & accessories by (you guessed it) local Dutch artists.

It’s a Present! | Gasthuismolensteeg 4, 1016 AN Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another fun assortment of gifts for all ages, many with a Dutch theme. I bought the cutest little notebook here by the company Orange Panda. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Amsterdam is architecture & art, canals and bicycles. Amsterdam is historic yet modern. Amsterdam is clean, safe, friendly and green. Amsterdam is compact and easy to explore on foot. Being there during tulip season and the week leading up King’s Day, it was crowded but tolerable and I was still able to wander down some quiet streets. 

I absolutely loved it. I would come back as a solo traveler, with my husband, with friends or with kids (some day!), and I really hope to make another trip here soon. 

Peru Travel

Why You Should Definitely Do a Homestay on Taquile Island

March 27, 2019

When thinking of a visit to Peru, one thinks of llamas, ceviche and of course Machu Picchu. There are so many places in this beautiful and diverse country thought that can take your breath away, and Lake Titicaca is one of them. Located on the southeast border of Peru and Bolivia, this large blue lake is famously known as the highest navigable body of water in the world at an altitude of 12,507 feet. 

When we first considered going to Peru, Lake Titicaca was not really on my radar. In fact after reading another blogger’s article (who I won’t name), who said it was the least favorite art of their trip, I was almost dissuaded to go. I am so glad that my husband convinced me otherwise though as it was a completely unique and beautiful experience I almost didn’t get to have.

We arrived in Puno just before sunrise after a 6 hour overnight bus ride from Cusco. I was a little leery of the long haul bus situation but Cruz del Sur, the company we booked with, had comfortable reclining seats, bathrooms on board, pillows, blankets, snacks…honestly it was more comfortable that sleeping on a plane! 

At the bus station in Puno we encountered several people rather aggressively promoting their tours of Lake Titicaca. We opted to wait and simply take a taxi to the port to see what ferries and boat taxi collectivos were available. We ended up talking to people in one of the few offices on the dock who said that once they got enough people they would depart to Uros & Taquile, the two islands we were wanting to visit (we had also booked our homestay on Taquile so we would be sleeping there.) It was very cheap (around 25 soles aka $8.3 USD) for a RT ticket and we were told we could take the 2:30 pm boat the next day back to Puno.

IMPORTANT: Pack light! If you are staying on Taquile Island, only bring a small bag, preferably one you can carry on your back. Taquile has NO CARS and you will be walking, uphill to where you are staying, so having a large bag would be impossible. We almost brought our big rolling suitcases and we would have been pretty screwed so at the last minute we decided to leave them at the office of the boat company. (Spoiler alert: everything was still there and intact when we returned). 

We first stopped at Uros, which are a series of floating reed islands constructed by the people that live there. I heard this this was the most “tourist trappy” part of the area, so my expectations were low, but it was a pretty unique sight. Once you arrive on the island you are given a presentation (in Spanish) by a local explaining their way of life and how the islands were built. You are then invited into the home of another local who will take out all of her handicrafts and try to sell them to you. This part is a bit awkward, as we had no interest in buying a bunch of woven goods, but we did get away with buying a friendship bracelet and a keychain.

After Uros the boat continues on to Taquile and it takes about 2.5 hours…for some reason the boat is EXTREMELY slow but this bodes well if you are prone to seasickness as you will most likely not have any problems! At the port on Taquile we were greeted by our family stay host, Señor Celso. We booked our accommodation with him that very morning on Booking.com, and he got in touch with me via WhatsApp to confirm the time we would be at the dock. He walked us to his home which was up several steep hills (be prepared, the altitude here is no joke) and showed us to our room which was clean, comfortable and detached from the main house. We also had access to a real bathroom with running water (not a given on the island) and a hot shower. We were told that the island has no electricity except for solar panels, so if we wanted to charge our phones we would need to give them to him to do so with his solar powered battery.

Life on Taquile is wonderfully and refreshingly simple. 

The air is some of the cleanest you will ever breath, due to the lack of car fumes. The only sounds you here are from people and nature, and the green hilly fields are filled with purple and yellow flowers from the potato plants they grow. You pass people dressed in brightly knit traditional clothing – sometimes weaving as they walk. The only restaurants on Taquile are cooperatives, meaning that local families take turns working at them and supplying the ingredients. They eat an almost strictly pescatarian diet, and your meals there will always consist of quinoa soup to start, followed by grilled trout and potatoes with muña or coca tea to finish. There is also a huge knitting cooperative where the locals work to handcraft beautiful garments that you can purchase. If I had to do things all over again, I would have saved space in my suitcase and money spent at other markets to buy more of their wares, as there was almost no comparison to the quality between what we saw there and the massed produced items of the markets in Lima and Cusco. Breakfast was provided for us by Celso’s wife (delicious pancakes) and we chose to add on dinner to our stay (trout soup & omelet) which was also very good and a nice experience to dine with the family. It was also quite interesting to communicate because they did not speak English (only Spanish and their native Quechua language) and we had very rudimentary Spanish, however we were able to have meaningful interaction. Celso’s 13 year old son sat with us as well, working on his knitting as his father had taught him. 

The next day we departed from another side of the island, so we got to see even more beautiful scenery and dine at another cooperative restaurant before catching our boat. I left feeling refreshed, enlightened grateful to have such an awesome opportunity. Out of everything we did in Peru, this might have been my favorite and certainly my most memorable experience, and I hope this post encourages you to look into doing a homestay on this island like we did!

Things to do on Taquile Island:

Walk around – the scenery is remarkable here. You can walk to the top of the mountain to see Inca Ruins and an incredible 360 degree view of the island and the lake.

Visit the main square and knitting cooperative. We spent an hour sitting in the sun in the square, observing the locals and tourists and even kicking around a soccer ball. There are little convenience shops, a cooperative restaurant, photo exhibit and even a place to get a special passport stamp.

Swim! We walked to the smaller beach which was closer to where we stayed. There honestly wasn’t a clear path down to the beach, but we figured out a way to get down there. We were the only ones, besides a herd of curious sheep watching our every move. The water was pretty cold, but Mike swam anyways…I watched with the sheep.

Get to know your host family. Even speaking basic Spanish I was able to find out things about their way of life, education system, what countries their tourism mainly comes from, etc. By staying with a local family you have a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about a remote culture.

DON’T FORGET:

Pack light! There are no cars or ways to carry luggage other than your own brute strength.

You might not have acccess to electricity, so charge your devices before you go and pack a portable batter/charger if this is important to you.

USEFUL LINKS:

Inn Taquile Familia Celso 

Celso and his wife and son were a delight to stay with. Very helpful, yet we had time and space to do our own thing. Our room was clean and comfortable, the shower was hot and they cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast. I would definitely recommend them for your stay on Taquile Island!

Cruz Del Sur Bus Line

We had a great experience with this bus (we also did their bus from Lima to Ica.) Very comfortable and safe.

Peru Travel

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

March 21, 2019
One glass of vino for the road in Ollantaytambo

The Journey to Machu Picchu…undoubtedly the holy grail of the Peru Trip.

Before I planned on going to Peru, I really didn’t know much about the process of getting to Machu Picchu, except that it was near Cusco. Fly to Cusco – go to Machu Picchu. Easy, right? Well, turns out, there are no direct roads leading from Cusco to Machu Picchu. You cannot drive, Uber or take a taxi. I knew you could trek there via the Inca trail, but due to our visit being during the rainy season (it closes in Feb for maintenance) that was not an option for us. There are other treks and expeditions you can take though that involve hiking on alternate trails.

The other option is to get there by a combination of train to Aguas Calientes (a small Hamlet at the base of Machu Picchu) and then a bus to take you up the mountain to the site. If you’re up to it, you can also walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, which I’m told can be done in about an hour and a half.

When you arrive in Cusco there are tons, and I mean TONS of tour agencies offering to coordinate your trip to this World Wonder. On our hotel street alone there were at least 5 different tour agencies. We stopped by one of them to inquire about pricing, and they were able to quote us a price of $250 USD per person for the next day, including train, bus, admission & guide. Having just arrived in Cusco and feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided to not make a quick decision and do some other sightseeing first, then try to DIY it for Machu Picchu. It ended up being a good thing we did because the next day we came down with food poisoning and were confined to the room all day (imagine if we had pre-booked all of our tickets for the next day?! Phew!) 

A few people had told me that the best way to see Machu Picchu was to sleep in Aguas Calientes and then take the earliest bus to see it at sunrise. In the non-rainy season you can take a train directly there from Cusco, but during the rainy season the busses replace trains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, so we figured we’d be more comfortable in a taxi and it would also give us time to hang out in the village (an ancient Inca town that is a wonderful place to explore if you have time). We took the 3:35pm PeruRail Vistadome trains which is the mid range train with a panoramic view. Your other options for trains are the Expedition, the budget option without the panoramic windows, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury rail experience. We chose the Vistadome because the Belmond was way out of our budget (although it looks sweet!!) and I wanted the panoramic windows because I heard the view from this train ride was unreal (and it was).

The train was really nice – they serve you complimentary tea/coffee and a snack while you ride up and the views really are spectacular – it took about an hour and 45 minutes. Arrival in Aguas Calientes is exciting – everyone is coming for one purpose and you can feel the energy and excitement. The town itself is so strange – in the middle of this beautiful lush jungle mountain setting are these buildings all piled up on one another, every other one under construction. There are also no cars besides the buses that go up to Machu Picchu. There are a selection of budget to luxury hotels and hostels here (there is even a super luxury resort right at the entrance to Machu Picchu). We chose a mid range option, Gringo Bill’s based on it’s price, last-minute availability and Booking.com rating.

When we checked in we were told by the front desk clerk to immediately head to the Machu Picchu office and bus ticket counter to ensure we had our tickets for the next day. You can buy admission for a 4 hour time slot, as they only allow a certain number of people to view the site at once. You can also purchase admission to climb Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain with your admission tickets, which I’ve heard are both amazing but given my fear of heights and our food poisoning recovery status still in flux, we decided not to do either one and just purchase the admission from 6am to 10am. The bus tickets are general admission and you can get on at whatever time you choose. We had a lovely dinner at Tree House Restaurante, one of the more high-end dining options in Aguas Calientes. 

The morning of our visit we were worried we wouldn’t make the first bus (the first bus leaves at 5:30AM), but there were several buses lined up to accommodate people and we got on one right away. The bus ride also has phenomenal views so try to get a window seat! Once you arrive at the entrance you will immediately be approached by guides offering their services. We ended up joining a group of English speaking people with a guide so we payed significantly less per person than having a private tour. Make sure you secure your guide before you enter, as once you enter there are no guide services. Unless you have an independent knowledge of Incan history, I really do think it’s essential to have a guide, otherwise you won’t really know what you are looking at and having the background adds so much to your experience. 

There are also NO BATHROOMS inside the gates Machu Picchu, only at the entrance, so make sure you go before you go, if you know what I mean, and bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry…although you may have to share with a llama. We had an amazing 4 hours at the site before taking the bus back, grabbing a quick lunch at French Bistro 

COST

Okay, so in the beginning of this post, I told you that the tour agency quoted us at $250 USD per person and we decided to try our DIY luck. Here is our DIY price breakdown of what we payed PER PERSON in USD:

Machu Picchu Cost Breakdown PP in USD
Taxi to Ollantaytambo $30.00
Vistadome PeruRail Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes $60.00
Machu Picchu Entrance Fee $50.00
Round Trip Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu $24.00
Joined Group Guided Tour $6.00
IncaRail Voyager Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco $54.00
TOTAL $224.00 *

*Accomodations & Food in Aguas Calientes NOT included

So, as you can see, we did not save much doing a DIY version – HOWEVER, I would say my takeaway was that you can DIY it for a similar price and have more choice and freedom over your time frame. If you don’t want to worry about anything and have everything already pre-purchased and taken care of, doing it through an agency should not cost you much more than buying it piece meal. I also would recommend sleeping in Aguas Calientes the night before as I liked being one of the first people to enter the site.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

Remember that all of this was done during the Off Season, so prices and availability will vary if you visit during more popular times. If you do decide to visit during the popular season, I would recommend booking all more in advance than we did!

Bring water and a snack with you – after you enter the gate of Machu Picchu there are no services. There are bathrooms and a snack bar right outside.

If you bring your passport you can get a special Machu Picchu stamp!

Try to get a window seat on the bus up the mountain, the view is spectacular. 

USEFUL LINKS:

PeruRail

IncaRail

Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel

The Tree House Restaurante

La Boulangerie de Paris

Machu Picchu Ticket Office

Colombia Travel

Colombia Highlights

October 29, 2018

Medellin → Cartagena → San Andres/Providencia → Palomino → Minca

MEDELLIN

STAY

Finca Marrokos | Kilometro 4.5 Via Aeropuerto hacia Hipodromo, Via Guarne, Rionegro 054040, Colombia

This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.

61Prado Guesthouse | Cl. 61 #50 A-60, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

This is where we stayed when we were in Medellin. The neighborhood was somewhat residential but the hotel was nice and clean and had a 24 hour restaurant (super convenient) and ROOF DECK with an awesome day and night view of the city! 

EAT & DRINK

Hacienda | Cra. 49 #52-98, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

A bit touristy but nice with typical food, a Lonely Planet recommendation. We mainly ate at the hotel and then had a meal out at Hacienda.

DO

Real City Tours -Free Walking Tour

Register online before to save your spot. Meet up with group is a few metro stops away from Hotel – MUST DO especially if you’re only there a day!

After the tour you could take the metro to the cable car and ride it up to Parque Arvi to see another awesome view of the city. Only costs Metro fare! Once you take the cable car up the Parque Arvi is nice and you can walk around it, there were little markets & food.

Guatape & El Penol Day Tours

This was awesome and your hotel will have information on this. It’s a full day tour that includes some different countryside villages, El Penol which is this huge stone tower you can climb (there are stairs!!) with an amazing view, meals & a boat ride on a lake. Just a heads up though if you get carsick, the ride is a little zig zag-ish 🙂

CARTAGENA

STAY

Hostal Santo Domingo Vidal | Calle San Juan #25-72, Getsemani, Cartagena

Nice, simple, breakfast available … 5 minute walk from walled city. I liked staying in the Getsemani neighborhood outside the walled city because it wasn’t as expensive or touristy and had a hip vibe. Lots of street art and near a square with bars and restaurants. Young clientele.

EAT & DRINK

Ohlala Bistrot | Calle Larga Callejon Vargas, Getsemani, Cartagena

Very charming & airy bistro with a French chef. Decor and food was delicious, a great place to eat lunch. Nice wine & ceviche!

DO

The old city of Cartagena is a great place to wander, shop & take pictures. To be honest, we didn’t do many of the typical “tourist” things, but I liked bargaining for the oh so trendy threaded bags & sandals with colorful pom poms. Ask a local maybe before you go looking what they think you should be paying. They also offer the free walking tours, but we did not take advantage because we weren’t there for very long.  

PALOMINO

STAY

The Dreamer Hostel | Palomino

We had a great stay at Dreamer! Since we were on our honeymoon and we’re in our thirties lol we opted for a private room & bath with a terrace, but they also have dorms available. This place had a great location on the beach, a nice pool & a large bar and restaurant. This is a good place to stay if you want to meet other travelers but also have the option of privacy. You are also not limited to just eating or drinking at the hostel, as there are other options within walking distance. 

We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta and then from Santa Marta to Palomino. You can also fly directly to Santa Marta or Barranquilla, depending on where you’re coming from. 

EAT & DRINK

I’m not going to lie, we pretty much ate all our meals at the Dreamer. Honestly, it was so convenient that it was right on sigh and the food was decent. They do a very looooong happy hour at their bar with very yummy drinks. They also have trivia night! If you’re not into the hotel food, there are several options as you walk along the beach and on the road leading up to the main highway. It’s a cool little backpacker/yogi community there.

DO

Besides the pool on site and hanging at the beach (which is pretty but unfortunately the waves are a little strong for swimming), there are lots of activities in the area that the staff at Dreamer are happy to give you info about. One of the biggest attractions is Tayrona National Park, which you can get to by bus. We actually ended up getting talked into chartering horses (!) to ride to the beach, which was a cool experience but also a little scary. Seriously, sometimes I just had to close my eyes and pray that the horse could manuver the twists and turns. It did cut out a lot of time though so we were able to enjoy the beaches for longer. Not all of the beaches are swimmable, but the horses & guides took us to Cabo San Juan de Guia, which is the most popular and is swimmable. There was a place there to eat lunch. We ended up walking back along the beach for a bit and then through the marked trails in the jungle which was really pretty, we even saw a Capybara

Another fun activity we did with some other travelers we met was tubing. The staff at Dreamer will let you know what time tubing trips are leaving, and there are guys on motos that will be offering tubes for rent. They take you on their motos with your tubes and let you off at a trail, where you still have to hike quite a ways to get to the river. Wear flip flops! Some of the girls that came with us didn’t wear shoes because they didn’t want to worry about them in the tube, but then they had to hike for a long ways without anything to protect their feet from the bare forrest floor, complete with horse poop and fire ants. Trust me, you will be happy you have protection on your feet for that. Also I would suggest to bring beers or something to drink. Once you get to the river, it’s literally just floating down lazily until you reach the ocean. It would have been nice to crack open a beer while relaxing and taking in all of the birds and other wildlife we saw. It’s really cool because you get to see where the jungle meets the ocean, all the while getting to know your new Dreamer friends. It’s a nice way to spend a half day!

PROVIDENCIA/SAN ANDRES

When we first booked our trip to Colombia, we weren’t even aware of these islands – no joke. BUT, they were such an amazing and memorable part of our trip, I can’t imagine our honeymoon without our visit to these jewels. The islands belong to Colombia but are closer geographically to Nicaragua and have a total Caribbean feel. You can take an hour flight from Cartagena to San Andres, we flew Viva Colombia. San Andres is nice but Providencia was pure paradise. To get to Providencia you have to either take another small plane or a 3 hour catamaran boat ride (we did the boat ride, and definitely took our Dramamine!). 

STAY

Hotel Refugio de la Luna | El Bluff, Providencia Island, Colombia

Carmeni provides a very comfortable guesthouse in a scenic location. We had breakfast and fresh juice every morning, and interacted with her very nice family when we were there. She also was super helpful arranging for us to be picked up from the boat, helping us rent a golf cart, tips on what to do each day, etc. I would definitely recommend staying with her if you can!

EAST & DRINK

The first day we went to the beach and found an open air restaurant with a guy grilling fish – this is common, casual and inexpensive. 

Cafe Studio | Soroeste, Providencia Island, Colombia

Very popular spot- cute little restaurant with a garden. We ate there for dinner one night, I had the black crab – delicious but I did feel a little bad later when we passed a bunch of black crabs on the way to Roland’s Bar (see below). 

Roland Roots Reggae Bar | Manzanillo Beach, Providencia Island, Colombia

This place is THE place to go at night on the island and everyone knows about it! Be prepared to drive your moto or golf cart down a long road (just ask all the locals, they will direct you) and watch out for the giant black crabs crossing the road. Once you get there you’ll find hammocks, a bonfire, coconut drinks, reggae music, dancing and cute dogs. It’s really fun.

DO

First thing you will want it to rent a golf cart or a moto bike to get around the island, as cars are rare and unnecessary. Our hostess arranged for a driver to pick us up at the dock when we arrived, and then she also helped us rent the golf cart from her friend. This will be the only transportation you need during your stay.

We spent one day here on the beach (the sand and the water there are pure magic) and one day snorkeling at Crab Cay. Our hostess recommended where to go to find snorkeling equipment to rent and we drove our golf cart there and were met by people trying to rent us equipment. You can rent them fairly cheaply, and then we talked to a guy who we ended up paying to take us to the Cay on his boat (not far) and then pick us up after snorkeling to take us around to a few other locations. That was totally worth it, and you can bargain for a rate. You also will have to pay a fee at Crab Cay because it is a national park. The snorkeling was amazing- lots of beautiful fish and Sea Turtles! There is a bar where you can get a drink before and after snorkeling, in a coconut OBVIOUSLY. 

MINCA

STAY

Casa Elemento | How to get there

We went to Minca for the sole purpose of staying at Casa Elemento. My husband saw the 20 foot hammock on it’s website and was totally sold. It was Quite. A Trek. Not for the faint of heart, and done easier if you only have a backpack, which we did. Once you get to Minca you ride on the back of a mototaxi for 45 minutes straight up a mountain through beautiful, albeit muddy, terrain. Once you get there though, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

The food is excellent, the staff is super chill (it seems like it’s made up of travelers who visited the hostel and wanted to stay), and the guests are friendly. There are resident dogs, a cat, and most delightfully a toucan that lets you feed it! The wifi is non existent, but it didn’t matter. The bathrooms are also open air to the wilderness, as are the “private cabanas” which are basically 3 walls around a bed with an open front view of the mountains and valley below. It was a little bit different for me and a lot more exposed to nature than I’m used to. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

From Casa Elemento there are birdwatching and coffee excursions but sadly we did not have time and the weather had turned rough (we experienced the start of hurricane Matthew there). After our delicious dinner we drank with the new friends we had made and played games until late in the night as the fog rolled in. Such great memories were made and it was a wonderful end to our trip. 

Charleston Travel USA

A Girl’s Weekend in Charleston

April 27, 2018

For the past 4 years, my high school friends and I have taken a trip to a different destination to reconnect and sightsee. This year we chose Charleston! I have to admit, while Charleston has already been on my radar for some time, I am an avid Bravo fan and watching their series “Southern Charm” really made me want to visit ASAP. Here are the highlights and recommendations – I did a lot of research beforehand consulting some of my favorite bloggers (particularly Grace Atwood @ The Stripe who has great recommendations on so many topics), and an interview consulting the Southern Charm cast on their favorite spots. Between Charleston and New Orleans so  this year, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more special spots in my own country.

STAY

Church Street Inn | 177 Church Street, Historic District, Charleston, SC 29401

Charleston’s a very popular destination right now and we really struggled even months out to find a decently priced AirBnB in a good location. I decided to search for hotels, and found this one through Booking.com. The reviews were amazing and the price was surprisingly low for the location (under $200/night, split between 3 people). The rooms are 2 floor suites with a kitchenette, living area, 1/2 bath and TV downstairs and 2 beds, full bath and TV upstairs. The decor was a bit dated/old fashioned but everything was clean, the staff was mostly friendly and the location was UNBEATABLE. We were right in the heart of the historic district, could walk to plenty of shops & restaurants and were right next to the Charleston City Market (see below). I would most definitely recommend this place!

EAT

Charleston is SUCH a foodie city. Before we went I joked with my friends that we would have to eat 8 meals a day during our trip to get everything in. While we didn’t do THAT, we were able to hit some great spots during our time there. I’m still dreaming about the scallops at The Macintosh…

Second State Coffee (formerly Black Tap Coffee) | 70.5 Beaufain St, Charleston, SC 29401

Cute coffee shop a little off the beaten path downtown. I tried the famed “Black Julep” which was refreshing, they also have wifi and plugs aplenty if you are trying to get some work done there like I was.

Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits | 476 1/2 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, Also in Charleston City Market

So good! We went to the location in the Charleston City Market as it was so convenient to our hotel. It was SUPER busy on a Saturday morning, so if you want to beat the line maybe try it during the week if you can. The wait was worth it though – I tried a 3 pack of their mini biscuits which was the perfect amount of food for breakfast. I had the Cheese & Chive, Blackberry & the Buttermilk Biscuit.

Bitty & Beaus | 159 Church Street, Charleston, SC

Another coffee place! A really special place where they employ people with physical and intellectual disabilities- it was so warm and inviting. The coffee was really good too! Please support this business if you can.

The Obstinate Daughter | 2063 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482

Oh my gosh – where do I begin? Our lunch here was epic. We got there right at noon (this was on a Thursday) and had our total pick of seating & we chose the porch. As we were leaving it had really filled up, so getting here early is good. I had the Pan Bagnat which was served with the most delicious balsamic veggies. My friend Tyler’s Chicken, Brussels & Farro was equally good if not better – everything was so flavorful and seasoned perfectly! I also had their Blonde Bloody Mary- not as salty as a normal bloody and made with yellow tomatoes, quite tasty and refreshing! Please eat here – you will not regret it.

FIG | 232 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

All my resources and everyone we encountered in Charleston said FIG is THE BEST restaurant in Charleston. As soon as you know you are going to Charleston, go to their website and try to snag a reservation.

If there aren’t tables available, you can add an alert for yourself on the RESY app telling you if/when a table opens up for the date and time of your choice which is exactly how I was able to get us a table at 8pm on a Thursday.

Wonderful ambience, amazing food (“elevated takes on Southern Classics”), awesome service. They change their menu frequently, but we got their pillow-like gnocchi as an app & the grouper and they were both excellent. It was pricy but not crazy, I think we payed around $100 for the both of us (just 2 of us on the trip went to FIG) plus wine. If you want to treat yourself, this is the place.

The Macintosh | 479 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

This place was also VERY good. Hipster vibe with exposed brick and industrial lightbulbs. Our waitress knew a lot about food & wine and was really fun, suggesting things for us & making good conversation. It’s tapas style so the 3 of us shared a bunch of yummy treats, including the best scallops I’ve ever had. It was a similar price point to FIG and closer to the bars and restaurants on King St for going out after if you choose. 

NIGHTLIFE

Republic | 462 King St, Charleston, SC 29403

Okay I’ll admit – I dragged my friend here because they often go here on Southern Charm and I was hoping for a cast sighting. My friend was a good sport and indulged me, and honestly I thought it would be a little cheesy…but it was surprisingly cool! It was a Thursday when we were there and the outdoor patio was really nice, we were able to get drinks and a seat right away. There was also live music! The inside seemed less quaint and I can imagine it gets really busy and possibly annoying on weekends. 

The Commodore | 504 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403

This was another Southern Charm pick – cast member Shepard Rose is a co-owner. A little off the beaten path this place has a total retro 70s vibe. The staff was friendly, we got a seat right at the bar and they had good live music. We got there before they started charging cover (a perk of being in our 30s – we go out early and come home early now!) which was a plus. It started getting crowded right as we were leaving.

Kamiskys | 78 N Market St, Charleston, SC 29401

This is a well known dessert place in Charleston, but if you go for Happy Hour like we did you can enjoy $5 dessert martinis with your decadent pastry! We all split the cherry crumble and each tried a different dessert martini. I had the Kahlua Espresso for a pick-me-up and my friends tried the Thin Mint & Chocolate respectively, all delicious.

DO

Sullivan’s Island Beach | Atlantic Ave, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482

This beach was clean and pretty – there was a lot of wind when we were there but otherwise it was very pleasant! We were told Folly Beach had a little more going on in terms of bars, restaurants and shops but we were happy with this quieter beach. It was also during the week when we went so I imagine it would  be more crowded on the weekends/in the summer.

Boone Hall Plantation | 1235 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

Beautiful & expansive property & gardens and lots of history – about a 25 minute Uber from downtown. The house on site is not actually the original plantation home but was built in 1936 by a Canadian family that bought the property. They still have original slave cabins with museum exhibits inside and you can hear a presentation by a Gullah woman. The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands, and this women did such a good job telling the story of slave history in the area and the Gullah culture. The property has also been used in numerous TV & Movie productions, including The Notebook (!) and was where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married. Also – if you are in the market for a sweetgrass basket – there is a woman making and selling them here and the prices are lower than the City Market (see below).

(From Top Right: Sullivan’s Island, Boone Hall Plantation, Gardens at Boone Hall.)

SHOP

Walking up King Street you will find everything from antique stores, high end designers, chain department stores & local boutiques. Here are a few spots that I thought were special:

The Charleston Preservation Society Shop |147 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Loved all the local flair at this shop! The owner/staff were so nice and they carried a variety of items made in Charleston as well as a large collection of books. I was obsessed with the Brackish Bowties, made entirely of feathers.

The Skinny Dip Charleston Edition | 345 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina

Beautiful space with clothing & accessories. They have such a nice collection of local Charleston designers and cute/preppy southern staples! Also, they have an upstairs which is a cafe/bar with a terrace! Hello? You have everything you need right here. 

The Charleston City Market | 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

This reminded me a bit of the French Market in New Orleans – a large (partially enclosed) corridor with vendors selling local products, food, art & souvenirs. The locally crafted famous Sweetgrass baskets are also for sale here and are a popular (but expensive) souvenir!

Skinny Dip: The Charleston Edition
Australia Travel

3 Weeks in Australia: An Itinerary

September 28, 2017

Sydney → Whitsundays → Cairns → Cape Tribulation →
Melbourne → Great Ocean Road

SYDNEY

STAY

Sydney Hotel CBD | 88 Liverpool Street, Sydney Central Business District, 2000 Sydney, Australia

This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.

EAT & DRINK

Brickfields | 206 Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Australia

Delicious breakfast cafe option in the Chippendale neighborhood (the neighborhood adjacent to our AirBnB in Ultimo.) As I discovered early, Australia has an amazing coffee culture, so most cafes we visited were superb. This place had a cute atmosphere and delicious latte & fruit granola bowl.

Sea Bay | 372 Pitt St, Haymarket, Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia

In the heart of Chinatown, this small & basic asian food place was recommended to me by a summer camp friend who spent 7 years living in Sydney. Definitely a local spot (we may have been the only tourists, which was a good sign), the dumplings were really good and it was BYOB!

Momo Bar Manly Beach | 28 Market Pl, Manly NSW 2095, Australia

Take the ferry to Manly beach for a fun little excursion (see below) and enjoy a Poke bowl or dumplings at Momo! This was my first Poke bowl (chunks of raw, marinated fish — usually tuna — which is then tossed over rice and topped with vegetables and umami-packed sauces) and I fell in love with the dish – they do it so well here! There was a nice place to sit outside and people watch in this funky & laid back neighborhood.

Old Fitzroy | 129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia

Another rec from my summer camp friend, this cozy pub was a great find. It’s below a theater so you have show traffic coming in and out, and it’s clear it’s a local spot where the bartenders know their customers by name. 

Mary’s | 6 Mary St, Newtown, Sydney

For my love of Bloody Marys, I made the long trek to Newtown to try their famed version. The restaurant/bar is not well marked so it has a speakeasy vibe, and the inside is dark and filled with graffiti. I got there right when it opened which was good because it gets busy! They serve burgers and fried chicken, and the ($20!) Bloody Mary comes with a melted slice of cheese & piece of bacon on top of the glass. While it wasn’t the best Bloody I’ve had (I prefer the New Orleans version with the pickled green beans!), it was certainly the only drink I’ve ever ordered that came with melted cheese and I really enjoyed the unique decor and vibe there. 

DO

Bondi Beach

It’s easy to take public transport to Bondi Beach and I would definitely recommend it. Cool vibe, pretty water & views, nice trail for walking along the coast. We were there in winter but there were still surfers to watch.

Manly Beach Ferry

I loved this excursion! You can easily grab the ferry in Sydney Harbor and it takes you by magnificent views of the opera house, skyline and Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was a really nice beach and there were lots of restaurants to choose from, including Momo where I had my first and probably best ever Poke bowl! We also bought the majority of our souvenirs here, as there were a few well stocked tacky gift shops.

TRANSPORTATION

I found Sydney’s Metro system very easy to use. We were able to get on right and the airport and it easily brought us to the CBD. You can buy a card that you can fill and refill throughout your stay.

WHITSUNDAYS

STAY

Hibiscus 006 – Hamilton Island 

There are many islands that make up the Whitsundays, but Hamilton Island is the one that most people stay on and has a choice of resort accommodations. We were going back and forth between staying on Hamilton Island vs staying at Airlie Beach which is the town on the coast where you can access the islands. I’m really glad we decided to stay on Hamilton Island because I loved it there. People that stay in Airlie beach then access the island by ferry, and from my understanding the town is more of a backpacker’s haven/party town. It also made sense for us to stay on Hamilton Island because you can fly directly from Sydney. The condo company we stayed with (found through Booking.com) had someone pick us up right at the airport so it was really convenient. 

Although you can access booking accommodations from AirBnB or Booking.com, they all put you in contact directly with the resort company. Since it is an exclusive island, just keep in mind that everything will be more expensive. There is a general store to buy food to cook and several restaurants, but you will be pressed to find bargains as your choices are limited.

We had a nice unit with 2 bed/baths that had an outdoor patio and beautiful view of the sea. We were still jet-lagged so we watched the sunrises daily and it was truly magical (I said I felt like I was witnessing the dawning of time). Cockatoos, Kookaburras & Wallabies all came to visit us during our stay. 

EAT & DRINK

As I said above, there was a general store and liquor store so we were able to stock up on food so we didn’t need to go out for every meal. This was nice because we did have a fully equipped kitchen and could eat and drink out on our patio.

TAKO | Marina Village, Front Street, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia

This was our “nice meal out” for our stay here and it was pretty good. Asian/Latin fusion right on the harbor. Be prepared to spend 20 AUD on a margarita though! This is actually a pretty normal cocktail price in Australia. Eek!

One Tree Hill | One Tree Hill, 4803, Australia

Sunset cocktails here: This is a MUST DO for Hamilton Island! We did it our last night and I was sad we hadn’t done it the other nights. Cute cocktail bar at the top of the large hill on Hamilton Island- amazing view of the whole island and the sea. You can sip tropical themed cocktails and watch the sunset – it’s magnificent.  

Bob’s Bakery | 137 Front St, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia

This was a good option for inexpensive breakfast or lunch on the harbor. Sit outside and share your meal with a friendly cockatoo!

DO

Whitehaven Beach Excursion

I would say this is also a must do. Yes, it is expensive and it seems like a short amount of time to spend on the beach for a lot of money. But, this beach and the sand there is like nothing else I’ve experienced, and I think you’d regret coming all the way to the Whitsundays and not seeing this beach. The sand is made of silica, making it so much softer and whiter than normal sand. Beautiful AND exfoliating! You can book this tour through the resorts, I believe we booked ours through the front desk of the Reef View Hotel. 

Animal Sanctuary

Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, as it was being renovated from cyclone damage. Theoretically though, you should be able to do this while you are here if you choose! You can meet Aussie animals & cuddle Koalas here, as well as attend a Koala Breakfast.

Hamilton Island Beach/Tidepools

There is also a nice beach & a luxurious pool in the resort area. The when the tide is out you can walk out really far and see lots of marine wildlife. We also saw a little sting ray & a sea turtle when swimming at the beach there! The pool is a beautiful place to lay out and there is a few bars there (although we brought our own wine from our condo!). 

TOWNSVILLE AREA

STAY

Butterfly Valley / Paradise Kingfisher | Damper Creek, QLD, Australia

After Hamilton Island we ferried to Airlie Beach and rented a car to drive up to Cairns (approx 7 hours). We decided to stop halfway so we could do Billabong Sanctuary & stayed at this nice cabin north of Townsville. It was in a beautiful setting (a little ways back from the main road) and we were able to walk to the waterfalls in the morning before heading out to Cairns. We didn’t spot any cassowaries here but we did see a wallaby! You can grab dinner and breakfast in nearby Cardwell

DO

Billabong Sanctuary | 11 Country Rd, Nome QLD 4816, Australia

Cuddling a Koala in Australia was basically my top priority. We passed this sanctuary on our road trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns as it was about halfway. I thought it was a great park and the staff was really friendly and knowledgeable about the animals. We got to meet and pet dingos, baby crocodiles, wombats, feed wallabies and kangaroos ate out of our hands…it was pretty amazing. And yes, I got to hold a koala, which you pay extra for but it is SO. WORTH IT. You even get a professional souvenir photo! 

CAIRNS

Disclaimer: I would actually not recommend going to Cairns! We went there to meet up with our friends who were attending a wedding and used it as a place to take a Great Barrier reef excursion. I was not really impressed with the city and we didn’t love the time we spent there. In retrospect I would have done our Great Barrier Reef excursion from Port Douglass or Cape Tribulation (see below). BUT- if you do happen to find yourself in Cairns on your Australia trip, I would HIGHLY recommend the AirBnB we stayed in below because it was awesome! 

**Also – we were able to attend an authentic Australian BBQ in Cairns for which I will be forever grateful. It was much better than the food we had at the weird casino/restaurant/frat party we dined at the night before!**

STAY

Kev’s Classic Queenslander / Cairns Central | Parramatta Park, Cairns

Kevin’s place was really cool. It’s in a good location- not right downtown in the hustle and bustle but close enough to walk (about a 20 min walk from the harbor or a 5 minute drive.) Close to shops & restaurants. Kevin was very pleasant before and during our stay and provided tips of things to do in the area and for our next leg of the trip. The ambience of the house is awesome, we loved the artsy decor and beautiful porch and succulent garden. It was also very well equipped with wifi, Netflix, coffee, tea, filtered water etc which we definitely appreciated. I would certainly recommend Kevin’s place if you’re looking for a home in Cairns for your stay!

DO

Ocean Free | Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

If you’re doing a Great Barrier reef excursion from Cairns, I would recommend this company. While the weather we had during our excursion wasn’t amazing, the experience with this boat/crew was. They were so funny, friendly & knowledgeable, I really enjoyed the day with them! I just did snorkeling, while some in our group did scuba diving as well. My husband hadn’t initially thought he would do scuba, but was able to decide once we were out there to add it to his trip. They really help you and make sure you know what you are doing especially if it is your first time. We saw clown fish (Nemo!), a giant clam and since it was whale breeding season we actually saw a momma and baby humpback whale which was SO COOL! They served a nice lunch & snacks too. If you tend to get sea sick, DEFINITELY take dramamine. I do get sea sick and the dramamine kept it at bay. My friend who did not take dramamine felt pretty ill, as the water can get choppy on your way out to the reef. 

CAPE TRIBULATION

STAY

Cape Tribulation Holiday House The Daintree | Cape Tribulation, QLD, Australia

This AirBnB was so cool! It’s described as a “yurt” but it is definitely a modern & luxurious one. Surrounded by trees and beautiful butterflies and birds, we really enjoyed our time here. There was a huge porch with a hammock and the rooms and open design were so appealing. There were 2 couples staying here and one room is a little more private while the other one is lofted over the living room. It is fully equipped and we were able to do a nice little barbecue one night! We could walk down to the beach and trails from here and the hosts were very responsive & helpful although we did not meet them. The internet out here is very touch and go – it is not a function of where you stay – but when we called with issues our hosts added more data to their service so we could try to connect. Not that you would necessarily want that – as you’ll see it’s a great place to be “disconnected.” 

EAT

Whet | Lot 1 Cape Tribulation Road | Road Cape Tribulation Qld 4873, Cape Tribulation

There aren’t too many restaurant options out here in the jungle, but we had a lovely dinner at Whet, complete with delicious seafood & twinkle lights on the porch.

Floravilla Ice Cream Factory | Corner of Cape Tribulation Road & Buchanan Creek Road, Daintree, Queensland 4873, Australia

We stopped here on our way out of the Daintree – great flavors of homemade ice cream and a nice place to sit and enjoy it.

DO

Cooper Creek Wilderness | 2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation, Queensland 4873, Australia

This is the #1 rated activity in Cape Tribulation, so we decided to book a tour for our group. This is an expansive property owned by the Hewett family and it is where they live. Angie gave the 4 of us our tour and she was so knowledgeable about the land, ecosystem, history and animal/plant life. She gave us so much information as she took us through the forrest and pointed out things as we walked along. There are cassowaries that live on their property and although we didn’t see one of these rare creatures during the tour (there are only 4000 left in the world), we DID see one walking along the side of the road on our way to the property which was really cool! I would say it was definitely worth doing and we learned a lot while getting to experience nature.

Swimming Holes & Creeks

Please consult with your hosts or guides about areas that are good to swim in. We were told by our AirBnB hosts about a creek/swimming area up the road that was safe called Emmagen Creek. By safe, I mean relatively free of crocodiles. Yes, this is terrifying but you do have to be VERY careful and mindful about Saltwater crocs that inhabit this area. This means NO swimming in the ocean or getting close to the waters edge, especially at dusk. Again, your hosts will help you out with this and please listen to them. If you’ve heard that everything in Australia wants to kill you, this area is a testament to that. You will see signs at every beach warning about the crocs. This is not meant to completely scare you off the idea of visiting this area (or Australia in general) but it is just something to be aware of and act accordingly. I was freaked out reading about all this stuff before our trip (sharks, jellyfish & crocs, oh my!) but we were fine. Also, if you happen to visit during the winter (Australian winter is during our summer!) like we did, you will at least be somewhat free of the jellyfish/stinger risk.

MELBOURNE

STAY

Luxury House in South Melbourne | South Melbourne

I was so sad we only had one day/night in Melbourne, as I found it to be a really cool city! Our AirBnB was in South Melbourne, outside of downtown, but near shops, restaurants & the large market. The place itself was super nice, trendy and well equipped, and our hosts let us store our luggage with them when we couldn’t fit it all in our car for our Great Ocean Road excursion.

EAT & DRINK

Magic Specialty Coffee | 286 Ferrars St, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia

Coffee shop near our AirBnB in South Melbourne – awesome example of Australia’s amazing coffee culture. Great lattes, smoothies, sandwiches & pastries with a nice outdoor dining area. Seems to be a hip spot with the locals.

Gazi |2 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

I learned from my friend that there is a very large Greek population in Melbourne- the largest outside of Athens! She took us to Gazi, a restaurant of celebrity chef George Calombaris, for lunch. The decor was really cool with flowerpots hanging down from the ceiling and I got a Greek “bento box” which was delicious. 

Goldilocks Bar | 264 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

We grabbed drinks at this rooftop spot after walking around Melbourne for the day. It was nice and warm under the heat lamps and provided a great view of the skyline. 

DO

South Melbourne Market | Corner of Coventry & Cecil Streets, South Melbourne

Again, I so wish I had more time in Melbourne, I could have spent hours at this market! Instead I spent a half an hour quickly walking around before we had to catch our flight back to Sydney. Everything from food, flowers, local artisans…looked like a great place to do some wallet damage. Next time!

Street Art | Hosier Lane, Melbourne

There was so much street art in Melbourne but the best we saw was Hosier Lane. Don’t miss it, & be ready to take lots of pictures!

GREAT OCEAN ROAD

STAY

Apollo Beach House | Apollo Bay, VIC, Australia

We drove from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles and decided to then drive back towards Melbourne and stay at Apollo Bay for the night. This beach house was so nice- panoramic views, large rooms, sleek furniture. Since we were there in the winter we got a good rate but I’m sure it’s a pretty penny during peak season. 

EAT & DRINK

Moons Espresso Bar | 108 Mountjoy Pde, Lorne, Victoria 3232, Australia

In the morning after spending the night in Apollo Bar, we drove along the incredibly scenic coast to a quaint town called Lorne to have breakfast. There were several options and we chose Moons which was good! Can’t go wrong with a flat white and avo toast, & they did it well.

DO

The 12 Apostles | 275 kilometres west of Melbourne, approximately a four-hour drive along the Great Ocean Road.

Breathtaking. There’s not much else to say besides that. Rocks jutting up from the ocean & beautiful cliffs. Definitely worth the drive (and the drive itself along the Great Ocean Road is magical). Get here and take your time, take pictures & walk along the beach.

Gorge Chocolates | 1432 Princetown Road, Princetown, Victoria 3268, Australia

This was an unexpected stop along our trip from Melbourne when the brewery we had planned to visit was closed! Really good locally made chocolate on a farm where you can visit and pet the animals. Great place for a pit stop!