My Favorite Travel Book: The Historian

The Historian

My absolutely favorite book about travel is called The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  It is a tale of three intersecting timelines of a family working together to track down and eliminate Dracula. The story spans several different generations and also several different countries during these different time periods.  I am probably going to botch the summary of this book so here is what it says on the back of the book:

 

“Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters.  The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor”, and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever know – and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out.  It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula.  Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula.  Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself – to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a young vibrant scholar and her mother was still alive.”

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This book has inspired me to go to many different locations and we honestly have traveled to Romania and Istanbul because of this book.  I have read The Historian several times and I also have it on audiobook.  I am obsessed!  I love the blending of the different timelines with different cities and the adventure and history in this book.  Everytime I read it I want to go off on an adventure, to hunt down mysteries of the past, especially if Dracula is involved.  This book totally feeds into my nerdy history side as well as the adventurous side.  The Historian gets me: a little nerdy, partly wanting to spend time in the library but also wanting to explore the world.  It is everything I am looking for a travel book.  It may not be your typical travel memoir but it does inspire me to travel and really what else are you looking for in a travel book?

 

Our Top Movies for Curing Wanderlust… Or Not…

Our Top Movies for Curing Wanderlust

 

Movies are a great way to inspire wanderlust but if all you want to do is travel then perhaps watching movies about travel is not the way to go.  We are reckless however and decided to throw caution to the wind and we rounded up our favorite travel movies to have an all out travel movie binge.  Suffice to say this did not cure our wanderlust at all and merely made the list of places we want to go even longer!

 

So here are our favorite travel movies for curing wanderlust….or not

 

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen at his finest.  Alex may disagree and say Annie Hall but I think he is just in love with the character of Annie Hall.  Midnight in Paris combines all that is wonderful about Paris, from walking in the rain, exploring the expat community of the 1920s, taking us back to the Belle Epoch and introducing us to characters such as Dali, The Fitzgeralds, Hemingway and Toulouse Lautrec and in essence causing us to fall in love with Paris all over again.  Midnight in Paris is really a love letter to Paris and how it really is one of the greatest cities in the world.  Clearly we are smitten.

 

The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited is one of my all time favorite movies and was actually my first introduction to Wes Anderson; how I missed his other movies I have no idea!  The Darjeeling Limited was one of the first movies I saw that truly made me want to visit India.  It is still on my list but just watching that movie makes me want to buy a ticket.  It also helps that all the characters are fabulously quirky!

 

Charlie Countryman

Charlie Countryman is not really a travel movie per se but is more of an action movie that takes place in Bucharest, Romania.  It stars Shia Labeouf who, after his mother’s death, decides to follow the advice she gave him and head to Bucharest.  While on the plane there he befriends Victor, a Romanian, who is returning home from visiting the USA with a gift for his daughter.  From there the movie takes an interesting turn which involves Shia Labeouf, aka Charlie Countryman, getting involved with a girl, the underbelly of Bucharest life, and a bit of the crazy hostel partying.  It is an interesting mix of action, violence and comedy.   This movie may not be for everyone but having visited Bucharest and loved the city Alex and I definitely enjoyed this movie.  We also would be more than happy to return to Bucharest after watching this, just keeping in mind to stay away from crazy ex-husbands.

 

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday is probably my favorite movie ever and I am definitely one of those people who absolutely adores Audrey Hepburn.  I think I actually started reading Gossip Girl because of Blair Waldorf’s love of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  But that is not the point.  The point is Roman Holiday is a fantastic movie about a princess who decides to go off on an adventure in Rome since she is never allowed to have free time.  Along the way she runs into Gregory Peck, a dashing American journalist, and an adventure ensues.  It is a wonderfully light movie and it always makes me want to wander the streets of Rome.  Fun fact there is actually a Via Margutta, just no 51 that I could find, but the streets is absolutely beautiful with dripping ivy and artists’ workshops.  It is located just off Via Babuino and Fellini used to live on this street.

 

180degrees South

This movie is pure adventure. You can Ask Ashley but I love documentaries. Ashley can read all day and I can watch documentaries all day. “180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless” is one of my favorite documentaries. It follows the adventure of Jeff Johnson as he travels from Ventura, Ca  and all the way down to Patagonia, Chile. He was trying to recreate the 1968 journey of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins who took the trip in their Ford E-Series Econoline Van. Instead of going by land in a car the entire way he sails from Mexico south down the coast. His journey ends with his attempt to climb Corcovado volcano. I love this film, the entire time watching I just wanted to pack my bag and just go. It is what Ash and I live for, a must watch.

 

Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The one gift I believe that was given to me on this earth was the power of my imagination. I’m that 24 year old who thrives in the realm of imagination. “The, Secret Life of Walter Mitty “  is about a man who dreams about being the adventurer that he admires. He only dreams but stays behind the safety of his desk. Then his whole life changes when a photo goes missing from his favorite traveler. So he throws away his insecurities and goes out searching for his lost photo. It opens his eyes and teaches him that it is more important to go out and live then it is to make a buck. This was our movie. Was it award winning?  Hell no, but it got the point out that it is important to get out in the world and live! Breathe the fresh air and face the challenges of life and just be free from the constraints of everyday life.  Plus now we want to go to Greenland.

 

Up

Oh Up, only Pixar could have made a movie like this; heartbreakingly sad in the beginning but so incredibly uplifting at the end.  Up is a movie for all ages of adventurers and will have you wishing you had a chimney so that you could sail your house to South America with balloons.  If you do not like this movie than I am not sure if we can be friends.

 

Funny Face

Another one of Audrey’s movies to make the list; Funny Face is about Audrey Hepburn as an unfashionable philosopher/bookworm who is discovered by Fred Astaire and taken off to Paris to model for a women’s fashion magazine.  The story is one told many times before but is accompanied by the beautiful backdrop of Paris and the songs and dances of Fred Astaire which quickly made this one of my favorite movies.  Also don’t forget about the crazy philosophers and Audrey Hepburn’s dance about empathy, who wouldn’t want to be a beatnik in Paris?

 

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones has inspired me since I was a little kid to explore the world and discover its ancient treasures.  These movies are probably one of the main reasons I actually studied archaeology to be truthful.  Every time I watch Indy go off on an adventure and defeat the Nazis I want to put on my fedora and head out to see the world.  I also learned about Petra from Indiana Jones which is one of my top places to visit.

 

Stand By Me

I loved this movie when I was younger. It is the perfect childhood movie for a boy. The story of four young friends who go out on an adventure to look for the body of a missing dead boy. It deals with all the troubles of being a young boy. The adventure part is what drew me in. Going out into the unknown to search out what they thought might just be a wild goose chase. The idea of just going no matter what the price is what drew me into the movie.



Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings

I do not believe I need much explanation of why these movies and books make me want to get out of my seat and explore. Stories of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and Tom Bombadil(for those of you who have read the books) inspire travel in people everyday, celebrating the idea of throwing caution to the wind and taking a step out of ones comfort zone. That is what I am addicted to, I am addicted to forcing myself out of my comfort zone, being that small Hobbit and heading out into the world to face the unknown, making the unknown known and realizing how beautiful the world actually is. In a way it is kind of freeing when you don’t know what’s going to happen.

 

Moonrise Kingdom

Before Alex and I had even seen Moonrise Kingdom, Alex’s parents called us to let us know we had to see the movie because the main couple reminded them of us.  That is always a good start to finding a movie about travel.  Well we watched Moonrise Kingdom and it was so infused with wanderlust that we just fell in love with the movie.  If you have not seen Moonrise Kingdom yet please watch it; it is a quirky Wes Anderson (what else could it be with Wes Anderson involved?) film with a phenomenal cast.  The whole story revolves around 2 twelve year olds, Suzy and Sam, who fall in love and run off into the wilderness together.  Hilarity ensues as Suzy’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, and Sam’s scoutmaster, Edward Norton, track them all over the island along with Bruce Willis, as Captain Duffy Sharp, and some of Sam’s fellow scouts, who really don’t like him.  Believe me this movie will inspire you to set off into the woods with a tent and a record player and never come back.

 

Paris, Je T’aime

Is a movie composed of short stories that take place across the different arrondissements in Paris.  Each neighborhood has its own story and is directed by a different director.  I do not love all of them but there is still something magical about seeing all the different neighborhoods of Paris.  My favorite one is about a teenage boy who witnesses his friends taunting all girls who walk by and instead of joining in befriends one of the young Muslim girls walking by.  The whole movie is interspersed with images of Paris and really takes you on a visual tour of the city.

 

So there you have it, our movies to totally not at all cure wanderlust but really just increase it.  If you need to take a mental vacation and cannot travel pop in one of these movies, but don’t say we didn’t warn you if you start planning your trip immediately! (most likely it will be to Paris since it seems most of the movies we love are inspired by that wonderful city)


Also check out Latitude 34’s list of 16 Movies to Inspire Travel and thank you guys for the idea to add the trailers!

Baci, the Best Damn Italian Restaurant in Town

 

Baci Cafe and Wine Bar

Ashley and I are coming up on our two year anniversary since we left Rome and moved back to California. We both can’t believe it has been this long already;  it seems just like yesterday that we were enjoying our lives in the eternal city of Rome. So to say the least, we are missing Rome and all our adventures there. One of the things that we miss the most is the cuisine and we have noticed that we have become very picky on the Italian cuisine that we eat. To sum it up we have become snobs about Italian food. We have high standards when it comes to Italian food and that is just a fact that we are going to have to accept. We have spent these last two years looking for that Italian restaurant that would remind us of Rome and I believe that we actually found the restaurant hiding in the small California town of Healdsburg.

Baci is a small town Italian restaurant that does things right. They keep the meal simple and stick to what makes Italian cuisine so fantastic: the simplicity of fresh ingredients and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

Photo courtesy of the Press Democrat
Photo courtesy of the Press Democrat

 

 

Now one thing to know about Healdsburg, Ca is that there is no shortage of  good restaurants up here. We are in the heart of wine country, so good food is in abundance. Baci though, stands out in our minds because it reminds us of our past life in Italy. As you enter the restaurant you are welcomed with the pleasant sound of dinner conversations coming from other diners; then the smell of cooked tomatoes and and freshly roasting garlic whips through the air and grabs your nose and puts it at attention.

Baci is a medium size restaurant, it is not the size of your local ma and pop place but it is not the size of your local chain restaurant. As you walk into the main room you see their clay wood burning oven in the back and someone is baking their fresh bread or pizza as the dining room is laid out before it. Even when the place is packed you feel like you have space. It does get loud but that fits right in with an Italian restaurant. Locals and tourist alike sit side by side eating and drinking local wines. The first person you will see is probably one of the owners, Lisbeth Holmefjord, who is in charge of the front of the house and the wine selection. She welcomes you with a big smile and greets every customer with the same upbeat attitude.  Coming in out of the kitchen are busy serves and the chef greets locals at the tables, asking them how they are. He is the man making sure the food comes out to you just right from the kitchen. His name is Chef Shari Sarabi and just like his wife Lisbeth he always greets people with a smile. One feels like they are at a family get together and are apart of the family when they dine at Baci. I have been to Baci now ten times and I have received this type of greeting every time.

At the table I felt like I was truly a part of the party. Baci has a great wine list highlighting some of the local Sonoma County wines and great Italian wines and if you decide to bring your own wine also buy a bottle of their’s as well because you will get free corkage. Take your time looking through the menu because they are many excellent options. When Ashley and I eat out we like to go big especially when it is an Italian style restaurant. I’m talking a couple of bottles of wine, a few appetizers, a couple of main courses, and desserts with a couple of after dinner drinks. Last but not least, to keep it real Italian, some espresso to wash it all down.

We will start with one of the most basic starters done in almost all Italian restaurants,  Bruschetta all’aglio, pomodoro e basilico: Grilled rustic bread, tomato, onion, garlic, basil, parsley & extra virgin olive oil. The crunch and the softness of the bread with the sweet tomato, the bite of the garlic and how all the ingredients work together show what Italian food is all about; balance and fresh ingredients. It might be eight dollars but the portion is a decent size and worth it. If you are looking for Italian style prices just remember you’re not in Italy.

Bruschetta al Pomodoro
Bruschetta al Pomodoro

The next appetizers on the menu for us always is, Burrata: Fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream on grilled bread, sauteed leeks, pancetta, topped with roasted tomato, pesto, and extra virgin olive oil. This is comes in at fourteen dollars but well worth the price. Three great sized pieces of creamy burrata that just melts in your mouth. Now if you do not know what burrata is then this is the only thing you need to worry about getting it because it is cheese sent down from the heavens. Once you have a bite you will never be satisfied with any cheese again. Baci has extremely fresh burrata which is important. Another very traditional appetizer is Prosciutto e Melone: Thinly sliced Parma Prosciutto with local summer melon. This is a must mention since it is still summer. It is a very simple dish with fresh juicy cantaloupe and salty prosciutto which work really well together and eating this dish is pure joy. It will cost you fourteen dollars for the dish but hey you are eating out so splurge a little.

proscuitoo e melone

It is time for the main dishes and this is what Baci does so well. We are going to start with our favorite. I think Ashley would go to the end of the world for this dish, luckily it is a five minute walk from our house; Gnocchi alla bolognese: Traditional slow-cooked meat sauce made from American kobe beef, veal, and pork ribs , tossed with house made gnocchi. I think the the description says enough but I do not believe words can describe it except that it is like eating soft sweet little pillows of homemade pasta with sauce that just makes your mouth salivate. Ashley and I both agree that this might be the best dish in the restaurant.  This dish however, is more on the expensive side going for twenty dollars but lets  blame it on the homemade gnocchi and the Kobe Beef!

 

Gnocchi al Bolognese
Gnocchi al Bolognese, so good!

When we can agree that only one of should order the gnocchi the other often orders the Rigatoni Con Salsiccia: Short tubes, Italian pork fennel sausage, fresh tomato, garlic, tomato sauce, and basil chiffonade. Again Baci shows how simple well sourced ingredients work together. The pasta cooked in the traditional method of al dente. The plate is not drowned in sauce but perfectly proportioned to the pasta. The sauce has a sweetness of the tomatoes but the a nice balance of savory and salty from the sausage and other ingredients. The sausage is amazing and mixes well with the sauce. This dish comes in at eighteen on their menu.

Rigatoni al Salsiccia, so amazing!
Rigatoni al Salsiccia, so amazing!

If you are looking for traditional Italian try the Tagliatelle alla Carbonara: Flat long pasta, pancetta, chicken broth, black pepper, egg yolk, and parmesan. This is a dish that I know very well from living in Rome which is where this dish started.  I tend to be very picky about it because so many people mess it up but of course not Baci. The sauce was done right and not over eggy and the pasta is again done in the al dente style. The presentation is done nicely as it comes on a plate in a little ball. During the winter this is the perfect dish to keep one warm and full. This dish comes in on the cheaper side going for sixteen dollars.

I judge Italian places a lot by the quality of their pasta.They are the most simplistic dishes and if they can’t do the simple things right how else are they supposed to do the complex things right? Baci knows how to make a good bowl of pasta, it is that simple.

The good food does not stop there, it is time for desert and of course an espresso. I like to go with the tiramisu or occasionally even simpler with the freshly made biscotti with coffee, or even the affogato which is a wonderful blend of gelato and coffee.

The best 3 chocolate mousse
The best 3 chocolate mousse

Now there is a lot on the menu I did not hit. The have an eclectic menu with a mixture of dishes; I did not go into the carne e polo. I tend to stick to the pasta which is so good. If you you are a little more hungry they have pasta and meat combinations for the big appetites. Baci is one of the better Italian restaurants that I have been  to since I have been back home. I believe it is because they focus on making Italian cuisine the right way with fresh ingredients and keeping it simple. Baci overall gets an 9/10 out of ten from me. The only negative thing I have to say is that it can be a  little expensive. The food itself gets a 10/10 and I highly recommend this place for a good night out in Healdsburg Ca.

Tiramisu, I love you
Tiramisu, I love you

Our Favorite Summer Destinations

The Arches in Oregon from our Pacific Northwest Road trip
The Arches in Oregon from our Pacific Northwest Road trip

Summer is almost half way over, can you believe it?!  We certainly can’t.  This summer has felt more like summer than the past ones for Alex and I and so in honor of summer and how wonderful it is, we thought we would put together a list of our favorite summer destinations from our past articles.  That way when the cold starts again and we are dreaming of summer we can always come back to this post and think of all of our great summer trips!

 

The Cinque Terre

The Rock at Monterossa, one of the 5 towns in that make up the Cinque Terre
The Rock at Monterossa, one of the 5 towns in that make up the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is 5 small cities located along the Italian Riviera and are some of my favorite Italian beaches.  They are characterized by bright houses built into the cliffside and the bright aquamarine Mediterranean Sea.  The Cinque Terre is a perfect summer destination for relaxing along the beach, hiking the 5 cities and overindulging in Trofie al Pesto, one of the best dishes in the region.

 

Crete

This is Matala on the south coast of Crete.  The rock is covered with manmade caves from the neolithic period and in the 1960s they were completely overrun by hippies
This is Matala on the south coast of Crete. The rock is covered with manmade caves from the neolithic period and in the 1960s they were completely overrun by hippies

Crete is possibly my favorite place in the entire world and this is a perfect place for a summer trip whether you are interested in relaxing by the sea, hiking, eating amazing food or exploring Crete’s fascinating history.  You can explore the ruins of Phaistos and Knossos which date back to 2000BCE or you can hike the Samarian Gorge and after go for a swim in the Mediterranean.  Crete has it all and the people are so fantastically friendly.  Crete will always be one of my top destinations regardless.

 

Paris

The Sacre Coure dominates the skyline of Montmartre in Paris
The Sacre Coure dominates the skyline of Montmartre in Paris

While Paris in the Springtime may have been made famous thanks to Ella Fitzgerald, Paris is a city you can visit at any time of the year.  Summer can be busy but it is worth it to just wander the city.  Think long afternoons in the park by the Eiffel Tower, taking a long coffee break at an outdoor cafe, dining in the late evening while the sun sets at 10pm and then having a Kir Royale or listening to live music in a bar.  Paris is meant for the summer.  Soak up the sun, eat glace, visit Versailles, and live the Parisian life.

 

Rawaii

Absolutely love the longtail boats all over the islands of Thailand.  So glad we were able to hitch a ride on one of these bad boys to Coral Island
Absolutely love the longtail boats all over the islands of Thailand. So glad we were able to hitch a ride on one of these bad boys to Coral Island

I think we can safely say that our absolutely favorite place in Thailand was Rawaii.  Rawaii was everything we wanted out of Thailand.  We rented a beach house, we drank beers all day at the Paradise Beach Bar, we rented a longboat and visited nearby Coral Island.  It was essentially paradise and I could stay there forever, or at least all summer long, drinking mai tais on the beach.

 

Sedona

Bell Rock Sedona
Bell Rock Sedona

Summer in Arizona can be hot but that doesn’t mean you should stay away especially if you plan on visiting Sedona.  Sedona is the heart of red rock country in Arizona and it is well worth a trip to see these beautiful mountains.  I would highly suggest taking a sunset jeep ride through the red rocks, it was so exhilarating!

 

Brussels

The medieval Grand Place n the heart of Brussels
The medieval Grand Place n the heart of Brussels

 

Our summer weekend trip to Brussels was perfect.  It was full of exploring the quaint cultural center of Brussels, discovering pubs and eating frittes and waffles!  Brussels is a little different than your typical summer beach retreat but Brussels has everything you want out of a European city.  Plus any excuse to drink rare Belgian beers is A OK with me!  And make sure to overindulge in the waffles and beer, after all bikini season is only a few months 🙂

 

Thessaloniki

The Harbor in Thessaloniki
The Harbor in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is our absolute favorite city to escape to.  Whenever Rome would get overwhelming we would pop over to Thessaloniki to chill out.  There is not a ton in the way of sightseeing, you can see the sites in a day really but it is a great city to explore the small streets, visit the markets, spend all day out at the harbor drinking frapes and then head out for a late dinner and some even later nightlife.  When you finally make it back to your hostel make sure it is Little Big House for one of the best hostel experiences Alex and I have had.

 

Disneyland

A summer without at least one Disneyland trip is a summer wasted
A summer without at least one Disneyland trip is a summer wasted

What can we say?  We are suckers for Disneyland and a summer is not complete without at least one trip to Disneyland, although I always try to go early June before school is out of late August/early September once school is back in.  However, if someone asked me to go tomorrow, I totally would.  Every time Alex and I go we always get new Mickey ears as well, it has become somewhat of a tradition. And a trip to Disneyland is also not complete without a Dole pineapple whip and watching the fireworks; there are no better fireworks in the world.

 

Rome

The sprawling city of Rome
The sprawling city of Rome

We just recently published an article all about Rome in summer and all the awesome things that Rome has going on in the summer but all I really have to say is GELATO at any time of the day! If that isn’t enough to make you want to visit Rome I don’t know what is.  Sure they have the Pantheon and the Vatican, and maybe their neighborhoods are full of charm, and the pizza and pasta is to die for, and they perform operas in old Roman bath complexes; but we all know the real reason to visit Rome in the summer, it is Gelato and it always will be.


What are some of your favorite summer destinations?  

My Favorite European Island: Crete

Crete is simply a stunning island, there is no where else I would contemplate buying property
Crete is simply a stunning island, there is no where else I would contemplate buying property

If you have not me personally you may not know of my undying love of the island of Crete but I am about to announce it to the world.  Crete is hands down my favorite island in Europe.  When people think islands in Europe I am not sure that Crete is always a top contender but I absolutely love it.  From beautiful beaches, one of the most stunning bays in all the world, hiking the Samaria Gorge, the food and the sites I would happily live here; actually one of my goals is to save enough money to buy property on this island.  Crete is my dream home.

 

There is so much to do on Crete and the people who visit just Chania or Heraklion and Knossos miss out on all the island has to offer.  When I first visited Crete I actually spent a month there studying (there is a reason I chose to study Classical Archaeology); we were based in Rethymno, the third largest city on Crete.  It is exactly ½ way between Chania and Heraklion so it makes a great base for exploring the island.  Rethymno is an amazing place because the beach is right there, there is great food in the town and you can really see the different influences on this city.  There are Turkish buildings, a Venetian fortress and there is also WWII history as well.

The Streets of Rythmno
The Streets of Rythmno

One of the coolest things I did while in Crete was hike the Samaria Gorge (I am not really a hiker but I survived).  This hike was 16 kilometers or 10 miles long.  We started by descendingand walking down switchbacks for about an hour and then finally the trail leveled out.  From there it was just a straight shot through the gorge, accompanied with dizzy heights of stone surrounding us and wild Cretan mountain goats leaping nimbly across the stone.  When you finally exit the gorge there is still a 3km walk to the town of Agia Roumeli which is a small town almost completely cut off from the rest of Crete.  It is accessible only through the gorge and the ferry.

This is where you get dropped off when you want to hike the Samaria Gorge.  It ends at the water...
This is where you get dropped off when you want to hike the Samaria Gorge. It ends at the water…
Friendly warning signs which are very helpful when you are stuck in a gorge 10 miles long
Friendly warning signs which are very helpful when you are stuck in a gorge 10 miles long

Crete is also famous for its archaeology and perhaps the most well known site is the city of Knossos, dating back to 1700 BC, and it is considered the oldest city in Europe.  Knossos is an interesting site however, because when it was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in the late 1800s not only did he dig it up but he also decided to redecorate.  Sir Arthur Evans certainly used his imagination when he reconstructed the palace to some degree and what you see at the site it not necessarily accurate or even ancient.  Knossos is not my favorite site in Crete simply for this fact. (Archaeology Snob obviously)  There are so many wonderful Minoan ruins all over Crete to visit instead.  My favorite is Phaistos which is located in Southern Crete and while it is not necessarily as impressive as Knossos, the ruins are real and do date back to 1700 BC, so considering what is left that is rather impressive.

I was famous for tramping around Crete in impractical clothing.  White linen pants to visit an archaeological dig, why not?
I was famous for tramping around Crete in impractical clothing. White linen pants to visit an archaeological dig, why not?

 

Crete also has wonderful beaches and the Bay of Balos is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world.  Unfortunately I have not seen it myself due to extenuating circumstances involving an allergic reaction (not mine!) but all my friends informed me that I missed out.  Just another reason to go back!

The Bay of Balos courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Bay of Balos courtesy of Wiki Commons
This is Matala on the south coast of Crete.  The rock is covered with manmade caves from the neolithic period and in the 1960s they were completely overrun by hippies
This is Matala on the south coast of Crete. The rock is covered with man made caves from the neolithic period and in the 1960s they were completely overrun by hippies

Crete also has fantastic food; they are famous for that Mediterranean diet that allows them all to have insanely long lives.  Perhaps my favorite dish from Crete is Dakos.  Dakos is a salad comprised of a barley husk that has been saturated in tomatoes and olive oil and then topped with feta and oregano.  I miss that meal so much!

Dakos, photo courtesy of Greek-islands.us
Dakos, photo courtesy of Greek-islands.us

 

Crete is my dream, whenever people talk about Europe I find someway to bring Crete up.  It is just such a fantastic island and if you have a chance you should not hesitate to go.  Spend a month there, rent a car and drive the island, it will be worth it, I promise!

 

My Favorite Wine Bar in Budapest

November in Budapest
November in Budapest

I fell in love with Budapest from the moment Alex and I arrived in November of 2011; the wide architectural streets, the parks with their fall colors, the baths and the proud castle of Buda rising above the Danube.  Budapest just has a class and elegance that I love.  One of my favorite places that Alex and I discovered was a wine bar called Faust.  Faust is located in Buda and it is near Matthais Church underneath the Hilton Hotel.  Yes, I said underneath.  It is not associated with the Hilton but you do have to reach it through the Hilton and then descend underneath the hotel to the network of caves that make up much of the hills of Buda.

Faust Wine Cellar Photo Courtesy of Faust's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FaustWineCellar
Faust Wine Cellar
Photo Courtesy of Faust’s Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/FaustWineCellar

Faust specializes in Hungarian wines and palinka or Hungarian spirits.  You can either do a wine tasting or have a traditional Hungarian meal paired with Hungarian wines.  When Alex and I first went we went just for a wine tasting.  The wine cellar is small and only has room for about four or five tables so I would highly recommend making reservations.  Alex and I are generally bad at that though, so we just waltzed right in but luckily when we arrived the owners, Barbara and Gabor, were able to accommodate us.

Wine Map of Hungary, photo courtesy of Carpathian Wines
Wine Map of Hungary, photo courtesy of Carpathian Wines

We were given a list of the flights they were tasting that day along with a map of the wine regions of Hungary.  That day they had two tasting options, one with 8 wines and one with 5 wines and they both included a taste of Palinka and traditional savory scones with cheese called pogacsa.  Before that day I had never had Hungarian wine and I quickly fell in love.  Alex and I opted for the tasting of 8 wines, thinking that we would not make it back (but then we learned they offered a wine pairing with a Hungarian dinner, so we did that as well).  We started out with a Pinot Gris, a dry white wine from Borbely Winery which is located southwest of Budapest.  Then we tried the famous Tokaji wine called John’s Bless from Bene Winery.  This was my favorite white that we tried.  We also tried a chardonnay and a dry Pinot Noir Rose.  Rose is definitely underrated and if it had been summer I probably would have purchased a bottle.

Trolley up to Buda
Trolley up to Buda

After 4 whites we moved onto the reds.  We tried 3 dry reds, which in my humble amateur opinion are the best kinds of reds.  The first red we had was called Soproni Kekfrankos, Blaufrankisch from Raspi Winery.  Blaufrankisch is a type of grape that grows in Hungary along the border with Austria.  It produces a late ripening grape and results in a spicy flavored wine and I love me some spicy wines.  The second wine we had was called Bull’s Blood, so obviously it was good.  Bull’s Blood is a typical Hungarian red blend which comes from the northern region of Hungary.  The third red we had was called the Castle Defender which was another big dry red wine.  The final wine we had was the Fat Grape, a Takaji Koverszolo wine, and it was a sweet white wine.  It was a perfect finish to the wine tasting experience.

The lion guarding Buda Castle
The lion guarding Buda Castle

Not only were the wines absolutely amazing and a complete surprise (and now causes me to hunt out Hungarian wine whenever I can) but the staff of Faust were the nicest people.  We were not only able to learn all about Hungarian wines and Palinka but they also invited us back to learn more about Hungarian food and wine pairings.  Barbara and Gabor were the nicest people and we were so glad to be able to talk to them and learn more/anything about Hungarian wines.  Because of them, Alex and I will probably end up taking a nice little drive through Hungary and go wine tasting as much as possible next time we end up there.

Sunset over the Danube
Sunset over the Danube

 

If you liked this article check out our pieces:

The Ruin Pubs of Budapest Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the Danube
The Ruin Pubs of Budapest
Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the Danube
The Train to Bucharest Old Town Bucharest
The Train to Bucharest
Old Town Bucharest

 

 

My Favorite Time To Travel: Fall

Sunset over Piata Unirii in Bucharest
Sunset over Piata Unirii in Bucharest
Beautiful Fall Leaves at Budapest Castle
Beautiful Fall Leaves at Budapest Castle

Fall is my favorite time to travel.  There is something about the cooling of the weather, the leaves falling and the tourists deserting the monuments that makes fall my favorite time to travel.  Fall has always been my favorite season so its really no surprise that its my favorite time to travel.  My birthday is in the fall and I have always identified with the idea of fall ushering in a fresh start and new adventures.  It is always great to be somewhere new on my birthday and I am just glad it occurs in the fall.

Fall in Vienna
Fall in Vienna
A Fall Evening Over Prague
A Fall Evening Over Prague

Overall though (and my birthday aside) fall is a great time to travel; the fall months, especially October and November, are fringe months so often times prices are lower and temperatures are lower (in the northern hemisphere at least) but the weather is usually still really nice wherever you go.  In the southern hemisphere October and November are Spring so you are still in the fringe season before the heat really sets in.  Also prices are lower all around, Alex and I have been able to visit some pretty amazing places because the prices were lower in the fall.

John Lennon Wall in Prague
John Lennon Wall in Prague
Alex and I went to see the White Tower in Thessaloniki and then spent our time in a cafe along the harbor drinking coffee.
Alex and I went to see the White Tower in Thessaloniki and then spent our time in a cafe along the harbor drinking coffee.
Delirium warms the soul in the fall, especially their delirium red, the best cherry beer in the world
Delirium warms the soul in the fall, especially their delirium red, the best cherry beer in the world

Traveling in fall also means that you can start to see cities turn on their Christmas charm.  Many European cities have Christmas Markets that go up in November with amazing local food and winter desserts.  They also will have some type of warm delicious alcoholic beverage such as mulled wine and spiked chocolate.  One of the best things about travel in fall is the warm cinnamon and sugar rolled bread you can find all over Eastern Europe, it happens to pair very nicely with palinka too.

The Beginning of the Christmas Markets in Budapest.  They served this amazing Hungarian pizza there and they had sour cream on the side for it!  They don't have sour cream in Italy so this was a big thing for me!
The Beginning of the Christmas Markets in Budapest. They served this amazing Hungarian pizza there and they had sour cream on the side for it! They don’t have sour cream in Italy so this was a big thing for me!
This bread was by far my favorite thing that I ate in Eastern Europe.  I had it in Budapest where it was cooked over a fire and then rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  I had it in Romania and Prague as well.  I could literally have had one everyday, it was so delicious!
This bread was by far my favorite thing that I ate in Eastern Europe. I had it in Budapest where it was cooked over a fire and then rolled in cinnamon and sugar. I had it in Romania and Prague as well. I could literally have had one everyday, it was so delicious!
My Favorite Dessert being cooked over the fire at the Budapest Markets
My Favorite Dessert being cooked over the fire at the Budapest Markets

My favorite travel photos to take are in the fall.  The changing colors of the leaves combined with the softening sunlight can produce stunning photos even for amateurs like me.  Fall is a magical time of year when the weather cools down, you can explore a city by yourself, the leaves change and it becomes perfectly acceptable to spend your time in a pub when you get a little chilly.  If you have not had a chance to explore a new place in the fall I would go now.  Go explore somewhere new in the fall!

Hanging out in Vienna with the Elephant
Hanging out in Vienna with the Elephant
Feta Stuffed Peppers in Thessaloniki, Fall means I can eat whatever I want
Feta Stuffed Peppers in Thessaloniki Fall means I can eat whatever I want
Fall in Romania from the Train
Fall in Romania from the Train
Pumpkin Soup in Budapest aka the best soup in the world.  I don't even like pumpkins and I had this soup twice while I was in Budapest
Pumpkin Soup in Budapest aka the best soup in the world. I don’t even like pumpkins and I had this soup twice while I was in Budapest
Stuffed Cabbage at Caru' cu Bere in Bucharest, which is one of the oldest beer houses in Bucharest dating back to 1879
Stuffed Cabbage at Caru’ cu Bere in Bucharest, which is one of the oldest beer houses in Bucharest dating back to 1879
Sunset over St. Stephens in Budapest
Sunset over St. Stephens in Budapest
The Fall Leaves are very complimentary to my photography skills
The Fall Leaves are very complimentary to my photography skills

If you liked this article about our fall travels check out some of the other places we have been to in the fall:

The Ruin Pubs of Budapest
The Ruin Pubs of Budapest
The Train to Romania
The Train to Romania
Alex in Amsterdam
Alex in Amsterdam
A Night with the Green Fairy
A Night with the Green Fairy
The Old Byzantine Walls in Thessaloniki
The Old Byzantine Walls in Thessaloniki