What’s Your Favorite Place in the Whole World?

I am asked this question a LOT, as I’m sure you are. And while you’d think I’d have an answer to this by now since I write about and dissect all my travel experiences, turns out I still hesitate whenever I’m asked. So I bring to you a top five list, based on some non linear and completely arbitrary criteria. Enjoy!

1. Morocco

Image

This is usually my immediate answer to the favorite place question. This was one of the best trips I’ve taken and Morocco is one of the most interesting, compelling, mysterious and beautiful places I’ve been. What makes it number one? The way I felt after the trip. It’s the country that inspired me to start this little blog. I wanted so badly to immortalize the experiences I had there, to encourage others to go. The people I met there were incredible and if I could go back this instant I would. I would eat at Earth Cafe, go back to Ben’s farm, visit the Jardin Majorelle and go talk to some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met.

2. Negev Desert, Israel

Image

I am a city girl. Sure I grew up in the suburbs and we had trees and grass there and I even saw some mountains growing up when visiting my grandparents in upstate New York and taking annual ski trips. But when our bus crossed into the vast desert in Israel and we were surrounded by wide, flat, sandy desert on all sides, my face was pressed up against that window so hard and I was trying desperately not to blink for fear of missing this glorious landscape. I took a million photos when we went outside to explore Ben Gurion’s grave, and when we came across a waterfall in the middle of a hike I thought I was experiencing a mirage. This one again makes the list because I will never forget the awe I felt when first hit with the shocking beauty of this incredible place.

3. Mont St. Michel, France

Image

Speaking of being shocked with awe inspiring beauty while young and on a tour bus, the image of the beautiful island of Mont St. Michel in the distance will forever be etched in my memory. It was more than a decade ago, on my first trip outside the US (after begging my parents and working weekends at a bagel store to pay for it) and my best friend Allie nudged me awake so I could look out the window. Seeing it from the distance was amazing but once inside this former secluded monastery, it was completely unlike anything I had ever seen. Not that I had seen much at the time because as I said this was my first trip outside the country and actually the first time I had ever been on a plane, but still, we’re going with the wonderfully arbitrary rule of listing my top places based on how I felt when I first saw them, so this one most certainly makes the list.

4. Lagos, Portugal

Image

Our trip to Lagos was so hilariously clumsy, but after all the little mistakes we made in trying to reach the Point de Piedade, I will never forget Randi looking up at me as I crouched, clinging to the narrow stone staircase I was attempting to walk down, saying “Amy, you’re REALLY going to like this.” This was one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and after making so many errors in judgement that trip, it was a much needed travel victory.

5. O’Fournier Winery, Uco Valley, Argentina

Image

I never wanted to leave here. As soon as we arrived at this massive Argentinian winery and sat down to our meal and wine tasting, we looked out at the lake, which reflected the vineyards that had turned a gorgeous vibrant red in the fall as well as the monumental Andes mountains just beyond the vineyards. We sat at the winery’s restaurant eating the delicious olive oil bread I had become obsessed with when we ate at the winery owner’s wife’s restaurant the night before (got all that?) which was dubbed the best restaurant in Argentina (post about this coming soon.) The fact that I got to eat this olive oil bread twice was such a delightful treat, and then I was served the best steak of my life. On our last day in Argentina, to be sitting in this experience, eating delicious food and drinking amazing wine, staring out at this surreal scenery (oh did I mention the clouds were irradescent?) was an experience I hope to one day re-live.

Have you been to any of my top 5 places? Do you agree with this list? What are your favorite places in the world?

Advertisements

One Day in Uruguay

On our last full day before departing for wine country, we woke up super early and boarded a ferry called the Buquebus to Uruguay. The fact that we could add another country to our itinerary made it a no brainer decision to make the trip there. Patricia, our favorite concierge, booked the whole thing for us, and we boarded this boat that looked like a casino/cruise ship/night club and was so massive that you sort of had to wonder “how does this thing float?”

On the other side of the Rio de la Plata in Colonia, Uruguay, we wandered around and explored the coastal beauty of this little town before stopping to have a quick bite to eat. At the restaurant, a really adorable and seemingly well cared for stray dog laid himself down in front of our table. I fed him some of my sausage, and he inspected it carefully before eating it. He sat with us for the rest of the meal and when we got up to leave, our new pup friend, who I named Muchacho, stood up as well. We started walking, and he followed suit. Muchacho loved us and walked around with us for awhile longer. We loved him too, and entertained the brief thought of bringing him back to New York before admitting that such a thing would be logistically and financially impossible, and likely illegal.Image

We parted ways with our beloved Muchacho who we had grown so attached to, and rented a vehicle that looked part golf cart/part ATV. I wanted to rent a motorbike because I’ve never been on one and I knew Matt had driven them around during his trip to Asia, but he was afraid of me getting hurt (which I certainly appreciated – I am a bit injury prone.) So we took off in our Uruguayan golf cart, which apparently you’re allowed to drive down major roads and highways in. We followed the map to an old bullfighting ring, which despite being very cool looking, wouldn’t let tourists inside. Then we kept driving, getting lost, meeting more well kept stray dogs (though none as amazing as Muchacho), and eventually came across an old horse racetrack. The entire area seemed somewhat abandoned, aside from a gardener and a few horses rolling around in the mud. We stayed here for quite awhile, it was incredibly peaceful and serene, and we felt like the only two people in this tiny little country.

ImageImage

Image

An Overlooked Argentinian Delicacy

We expected to eat a lot of really delicious steak in Argentina. And we absolutely did. But with all the hype about Argentinian steak, there is one really incredible dish that just doesn’t get enough attention. So after always playing second fiddle to steak, I dedicate this post to the often overlooked Argentinian delicacy: The Empanada.

On our second day in Buenos Aires, as we were wandering around downtown and intentionally getting lost in the city, we stopped into a restaurant on Puerto Madero that came highly recommended (though I wish I could say we stumbled upon it accidentally. But really, there are reasons people recommend places and guidebooks write about them. It’s ok to be unoriginal). At Cabana Las Lilas that afternoon, we sat down at a table in this massive establishment that overlooked the brownish waters of the Rio de la Plata (still pretty though!) and ordered. I wasn’t super hungry, so I went with the veal empanada appetizer as my meal. I’m not sure what I can say about these empanadas other than – they were among the top things I’ve eaten in my life. Biting into that super flaky bread and tasting the warm juicy meat inside was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I savored every single bite of those empanadas, and was even generous enough to share one with Matt. He was super jealous because his pork tasted like cardboard after comparing it to my empanadas. And so began one of the greatest love stories of our time.

I had my second “this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life” experience on that last day in wine country when the amazing people at the Giminez Riili winery served us empanadas while we were tasting wine. I was informed that the crust had butter in it, and as a lactose intolerant person I’m supposed to avoid foods like these, but after one small bite, there was no way I was going to be able to control myself and not eat the rest of that empanada. Matt went crazy over these guys, too. My vocabulary is too limited to find an accurate word to describe how strongly I felt about them. We had a lovely time at this winery and sampled amazing wines and looked out at the beautiful scenery in front of us, but eating these glorious meat pockets was the hands down best experience we had there. Tied with the Cabana Las Lilas empanadas, they were quite possibly one of the best things we ate during the entire trip.

So, yes, Argentinian steak is delicious and all, but when I think back to the cuisine of that country, my salivary glands long for the empanadas. Until we meet again.

Get Lost in Buenos Aires

Image

20120611-215151.jpg

I totally get why people move to Buenos Aires. The city is intoxicating – it is vast, it’s architecture is phenomenal, it’s a melting pot of different cultures from all over the world, but it still maintains its rich history, albeit a fairly modern one. Before I arrived, I had heard that Buenos Aires is like France, like Spain, like New York, and while I understand these comparisons, it’s actually like none of these places; a city wholly unique in every way. And you could easily live here for an extended period of time if not permanently, because as with any of the cities mentioned, there’s just always so much to do – somewhere new to eat or some street to explore that you’ve never walked down.

We spent most of our time exploring this fascinating city, stopping at the must see tourist spots – Recoleta, the Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, the obelisk, Cafe Tortoni to see a Tango show, La Cabrera for steak (more on that in an upcoming post), the San Telmo market on Sunday, Puerto Madera and La Boca. You’ll find all these places in a guidebook, your friends will all recommend them – and I would too, I mean it would be a shame to come all the way to South America and miss these landmarks, but my caveat would be to set aside an entire day or two to just get lost in this crazy city. Just wander and explore, because you will stumble upon the best food, perhaps some interesting people, and the most glorious buildings that are just like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Our many moments of getting lost brought us to Buenos Aires’ oldest bookstore, took us past beautiful churches, let us into a delicious pastry shop, and showed us some of the craziest street art I’ve ever encountered. So my biggest tip for those spending some time in Buenos Aires – get lost.

 

Arriving in Buenos Aires: The Glu Hotel

Image

20120607-113125.jpg

After a Xanax induced ten hour nap on the plane to Buenos Aires (guys, I don’t know why I haven’t been taking this shit for YEARS – this was the first time I’ve slept on an international flight, and I was out cold for most of it – such a success!), we landed and went to our hotel. The Glu Hotel came highly recommended by a friend, and we liked it for it’s location, cleanliness, etc. but most of all – the amazing concierge service. We particularly loved this one woman, I think her name was Patricia, who sat us down upon arrival, drank coffee with us and told us all about the neighborhood we were in and the surrounding neighborhoods. She booked everything for us, from our ferry to Uruguay, to our nightly restaurant reservations. She showed us where everything was on the map, told us where to see the best tango show, and didn’t make us feel silly when we asked ridiculously annoying, American tourist questions.

The most amazing anecdote though, came at the end of our trip, when we left Buenos Aires to go to Mendoza. Matt bought this beautiful vintage print of the Boca Junior Soccer Stadium from a crazy looking antique store (read: store full of absoluate junk) in San Telmo, and we were really worried about bringing it on the plane because it wasn’t wrapped very securely. So we decided to carry it on. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when loading up the cab to go to the airport and fly to Mendoza, we apparently forgot to grab the poster since it was separate from the luggage, and left it in the hotel lobby. Which we obviously didn’t realize until we were boarding the plane. Total fail. Matt called the Glu to see if they still had found it – luckily they did, and they graciously offered to hold it for us until we returned to Buenos Aires the following Saturday before our trip back home.

That’s not the end of the story though – when we were unpacking at our hotel in Mendoza, Matt suddenly stopped and looked up in disbelief at me as he realized he left all his American cash (hundreds of dollars) in the safe at the Glu hotel, 1,000 miles away.

I offered no help aside from telling him to go downstairs and call them right away. And guys, when he called, our girl Patricia told him not to worry, she put him on hold, checked the safe, and retrieved his cash. She then held that AND the print for us, all of which was returned when we went back to Buenos Aires the following Saturday, and all valuable items made it safely back to the United States.

So, yes, in addition to having clean, big rooms, delicious coffee, and a great location, the Glu Hotel surpassed all of our expectations. On that day we returned to Buenos Aires and went back to the hotel to see our old friend Patricia, it legitimately felt like home.