Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat

So you’re traveling through southern Thailand, based in Phuket or perhaps Krabi right now, and you want to see Phang Nga Bay. You’re correct – Phang Nga Bay is a must if you’re within a two-hour drive. And the best way to hit the sites? A day-long boat tour stopping at different islands for an hour or so at a time.

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We booked our tour through Tour East. It included a van pickup from our hotel in Phuket (the cheapest hotel yet at $15/night with all of the amenities), a speedboat tour of four of the islands (including James Bond island, of course), canoe tour through Panak and Hong Islands, and lunch in a floating village. Totally ideal for a nine hour tour.

The day started off to an excellent start when our tour guide introduced himself as Sexy Linda. Moral of this post: when given the opportunity to take a tour through the coast of Western Thailand or really anywhere via someone named Sexy Linda, DO IT. Mind you, this person was totally male-presenting and identified as male, and just happened to be called Sexy Linda. I was into it.

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The first island of the day was Koh Khai, a lovely little spot with lots of fluorescent green tropical fish swimming around it. Luckily, Sexy Linda provided us with snorkel masks to observe the fish and the coral with. The island also had plenty of feral cats and Coca Cola vendors. Everything you need at 10am on a Thai morning.

Next up was my personal favorite part, the canoe tour of Koh Panak and Koh Hong. These islands are full of moss-covered limestone caves, I.e. The most beautiful stuff of your life (especially if you’ve grown up in a desert). Most of these caves are so small that you can only get to them via canoe, hence that aspect of the tour. And guys. This was Pure. Magic. Some of the cave entrances were so low that we had to lay down in the canoes to fit through them, which was an adventure in itself. Being so close to the water is so calming and peaceful, and once we entered the caves they were all far bigger than I expected. Like I said, pure magic.

After canoeing came lunch on Koh Panyee, the village on stilts. This place. Was. So. Cool. First of all, our lunch was so fresh and delicious (like everything in Thailand thus far), and consisted of Tom Ka Kai Soup, spring rolls, yellow curry, and some kind of unidentifiable coconut dessert. Koh Panyee is fascinating not just because it’s a “floating” village, but because the whole village practices Islam and is therefore a lot stricter than the rest of Thailand. Women had to have shoulders and knees covered, for example, a la the Buddhist temples, and there was no alcohol allowed on the island. (Never fear, though; Sexy Linda made sure we knew that the next island included on-site bars.) We visited the floating soccer field where some Australian tourists were playing soccer with local kids, which was just great to watch, and lots of shops advertising fresh coconut and Thai pearls.

The final two islands of the day were Koh Ping Kan (James Bond island), and Kai Nai, the aforementioned island bar island. Koh Ping Kan is famous because the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) was filmed there. Honestly, it was just as beautiful as the rest of the islands, but since I haven’t seen the film, that part of the charm was lost on me and the tourist to island ratio made it the low point of the tour for me. It did have a nice little hike, though, and let’s be clear – by low point I mean I only enjoyed it very much instead of incredibly much. So. Still a win.

Kai Nai, the final stop, featured some delicious Thai cocktails, hammocks, and a pearl shop. I bought *wildly cheap, authentic* pearls for my sister and myself, and we spent most of our stay on this island swimming in the unreal turquoise-colored water.

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Oh, now might be a good time to mention that Doug and I pretended to be British for the whole trip, as some sort of only slightly sociopathic challenge for ourselves. By the time the nine hours on a boat were coming to a close, and we were getting fatigued, I had to often elbow him to remind him that as far as the South Africans and the New Zealanders on our boat knew, we were from the motherland on an extended spiritual journey. I remain convinced that we pulled it off; Doug thinks we were found out from the beginning. WHO’S TO SAY?*

*(Hello, nice South African family who was on our Phang Nga boat tour on January 3, 2017. If you’re reading this, it’s you. You’re to say. Please tell us if we were convincing Brits.)

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Regardless of whether or not we successfully duped a boatful of people into believing we hailed from another nation, the Phang Nga Bay boat tour was a standout highlight of our Thailand trip. When visiting the area, especially if you’re stationed in Phuket, I will not forgive you if you miss this. Neither will British Natalie from Brighton.

 

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Where To Go If For Some Reason You Happen To Find Yourself In Bratislava: Guest Post by Laura Baranik

So you’re in Central Europe for a limited time only and you want to hit the hottest of the Austro-Hungarian hot spots. These are, inarguably, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. (If you want to be really cool, you’ll throw Český Krumlov into the mix, too.) Guess which capital city hasn’t reached the top of the tourist charts? I’ll tell you, since you’ve probably never heard of it: Bratislava, the forlorn little Slovak town that – at just 35 miles away – is the schlumpy suburb to big, beautiful Vienna.

But wait! People DO visit Bratislava! Most of them are just taking an involuntary pit stop on the Danube river cruise between Vienna and Budapest, but still – I’ve occasionally even caught them enjoying themselves!
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Ok, I’m a (semi-) local, so like any good Slav, I can get a little cynical. In all seriousness, though, there are so many Bratislava spots I love that I had a hard time deciding what to put on this list. Here are the ones that made the cut*:

Korzo: You won’t find “korzo” on a map, but ask any Bratislavan and they’ll tell you – it’s the stretch of pedestrian-only cobblestone streets leading from Michalská Brána (Michael’s Gate), past the main square, and over to Hviezdoslavovo Square, the long plaza at the foot of the National Theatre. On summer nights, the korzo heaves with outdoor restaurants and bars, live music, and swarms of ice-cream-carrying promenaders. Follow the masses – and the green laser pointers.
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Kontakt: A non-tourist-trap island in an ocean of korzo tourist traps. No-frills seasonal local and international food, plus craft beer on tap and outdoor seating for people-watching purposes. Try the chicken paprikáš with (their words, not mine) “the best dumplings ever.” Cheap and chill.
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Koun: The name of this super-cute artisanal gelateria is the phonetic Slovak spelling of the English word “cone” – so pronounce it that way! Rotating flavors include marzipan, raspberry-mint, and “Sexy Chocolate” (they had me at “sexy”). Take your koun to a bench under the trees on Hviezdoslavovo Square.

The Blue Church: Of all the supposed must-see Bratislava sights (the bridge, the castle, etc.), the Church of St. Elizabeth – known to everybody as just “the Blue Church” – is the only one that you actually must see, even if it’s slightly outside the old town center. Built during the Secessionist era by Hungarian architect Edmund Lechner, the Blue Church is totally unique, and totally blue.

U Kubistu: Housed in a building designed in the rare Cubist style, this Cubism-themed café is a local favorite and a great place to stop for a meal, coffee, or cocktail after checking out the Blue Church. Creative, healthy-ish food made with local ingredients.

Kompot / Slávica: If you’re looking for souvenirs to bring home, avoid the hideous keychains and folk dolls in the tourist shops along the korzo – most of them were probably made in China, anyway – and support young local designers instead. Kompot sells tasteful souvenir t-shirts bundled into jam jars (kompot means compote, get it?) and Slovak-themed socks, which are clearly super cool because I bought three pairs just for myself. Next door, Slávica showcases Slovak and Czech design items, including jewelry, home decor, and traditional linen blueprint.
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Urban House: With its couches, cold brew, and avocado toast, this sprawling coffee shop is more Brooklyn than Bratislava. But it’s the perfect place to go if you need to get work done while you travel – the coffee is bangin’ and they’ll let you hang out and use the wi-fi for as long as you want. (Two sister branches, Urban Space and Urban Bistro, are nearby.)

Buchtáreň: Originally a food stand, this little shop serves a Slovak specialty that you’d normally be hard-pressed to find outside your grandma’s house: hand-made buchty. Imagine a fluffier version of a steamed bao bun, filled with jam or Nutella and decorated with as many toppings as you want – poppy seeds, powdered sugar, cocoa, hot melted butter… YUM. MY.

Stará Tržnica (Old Market): The area in and around the vaulted Old Market Hall has become something of a scene, with a small cluster of food trucks outside the main doors and a colorful new minibrewery pub (Výčap u Ernöho) attracting customers both day and night. On Saturdays, the hall has a farmer’s market, where you can eat a hot lokša (potato crêpe) slathered in duck fat. You didn’t come here to diet, did you?
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KC Dunaj: Drink with the cool kids at this multi-level “cultural center,” accessed through the back-alley service entrance of a Communist relic department store. There’s a beer bar on the ground floor and a greasy club in the basement, but don’t get stuck downstairs: take the freight elevator up to the roof bar and have a borovička (juniper brandy) with a spectacular view of the city. The top floor doubles as a gallery and event space, so you might find anything from a board game night to a live Balkan band. Just go with it.
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City Walls: Take an evening to explore the other side of Old Town. Turn off busy Venturská Street and follow Prepoštská westwards through the iron gate and up the shallow stone steps. At the top is Úzka (Narrow) Street, which runs alongside the last remaining section of Bratislava’s medieval city fortification walls. You might stop for an evening tea or a glass of wine at the tiny outdoor Tea Bar before wandering the wall’s pathway and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the highway to Židovská Street. The steep paths on the hill leading up to the castle are dotted with bars and pubs, and once you stumble your way to the top, you’ll be rewarded with an epic view over the Danube, and Austria beyond.


Alas, that view will necessarily include the Nový Most, also known as the UFO Bridge and perhaps Bratislava’s most recognizable landmark. Ugly-architecture fetishists may find the gargantuan 1960s-style flying saucer and mass of steel cables enthralling, but I prefer to keep the spaceship at a distance: without it, Bratislava would be much less the red-headed stepchild to Vienna and Prague that it is today. In order to build the bridge and its adjoining highway, the Communist government razed a huge section of the city center, permanently erasing the centuries-old Jewish Quarter and its famous synagogue and slicing a deep, deadening gash between Bratislava’s castle and the Old Town. Looking at that self-righteous monstrosity just makes me sad, you know?

Anyway. Has the cranky Slav convinced you to visit Bratislava yet? Trust me, it might not be such a bad idea to check it out sometime. Even of your own free will.

*I did my research during the summer, so some of these are season-specific.

Laura Baranik is a writer, editor, and actor based in New York City. For two years, she was the head restaurant critic for the Czech daily newspaper Lidové Noviny, in collaboration with her own (now-defunct) food blog, The Prague Spoon. She also wrote monthly lifestyle and humor columns in the Czech-language edition of InStyle magazine and the Prague street mag Think Again, as well as occasional op-eds and features for Lidové Noviny and its supplemental magazine, Pátek. In 2017, two of Laura’s poems were included in the book New York City Haiku, published by The New York Times and Universe/Rizzoli. She is currently planning the launch of a new, NYC-oriented writing project. http://www.laurabaranik.com

Siem Reap Siem Reap Siem Reap

When we booked our Thailand trip, we added a few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, because I figured as long as we were so close I couldn’t not see Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I imagined that the temples would be the main draw of Siem Reap, and I’d mostly vibe with Thailand. TURNS OUT Siem Reap was my favorite part of the trip after Phang Nga Elephant Park.

First of all, Cambodia uses the American dollar as currency (along with their native riel) so the exchange rate was so obviously nuts. The amount of things that cost “one dollar one dollar one dollar” was surreal. An entire fresh pineapple or coconut, for example.

In Thailand and Cambodia we stuck to hotels rather than Air BnBs because hotels were SO cheap and felt easier to navigate with any sort of language barrier. Our little villa was part of the Angkor Spirit Palace – just close enough to the city and the temples to make tuk tuk rides unbelievably cheap, but not one of the giant resorts (which are a thing. I was not expecting giant resorts, and their proximity to the literal huts that locals lived in was especially wild). It came with hotel cats which is always a plus for me.

Angkor Spirit Palace set us up with a tuk tuk driver, Mao, for our stay. He picked us up from the super clean and lovely Siem Reap airport to begin, and from then on out we told him where we wanted to be and when and he arranged all of our rides. It was SILLY how easy this was, and getting to the city was only $2 from the hotel. Our temple DAY cost only $18.

Which brings me to the beginning of the temples! Our first night we climbed Phnom Bakheng (getting to the base via Mao, of course) to see the sunset. It was cloudy so our view was sadly obscured, but the temple itself was still an amazing introduction to the city’s insane history.

Before visiting the temples, you have to purchase a day pass. The sweet thing was that our pass for the next day included the evening before’s sunset visit since that’s such a popular trajectory. KEEP YOUR PASS ON YOU. If you lose this piece of paper you can’t get anywhere close to the main attractions. A lot of tourists had laminated lanyard pouches for them, which honestly was smart.

It’s also good to note that ladies, you must have your knees and shoulders covered. A long skirt or capris will do the trick. I opted for a skirt because of the heat, and carried around a “temple shawl” sheer scarf just in cast my shirts were ever suspect. See above coconut photo.

After the sunset viewing – as much as possible, at least – we hopped into the city for dinner. We told Mao to pick us up at 9pm since we had a 4:30am departure time the next day. More on that in a sec.

We found this totally beautiful French-Cambodian restaurant, Le Malraux, for dinner. I had forgotten that Cambodia was colonized by the French for a while. We vowed to try some traditional purely Cambodian food which we did all over the next day.

This was the first time we ate bread in two weeks. I loved the Thai rice and noodle-based meals, but MAN some fresh bread tastes amazing when you haven’t had it in fourteen days.

The next morning, Mao picked us up at 4:30am, bright eyed and bushy tailed for our sunrise Angkor Wat visit. Okay, so every tourist who ever goes to Siem Reap does a sunrise Angkor Wat visit, and you will feel like you are competing with all of them for a spot on the lake. But this phenomenon was 1000% worth the early hours and swarms of people. Once you get a good spot – I recommend the left bank of the lake, less populated with just as clear a view as the center – watching the sun rise is totally transfixing.

After sunrise, we explored Angkor Wat in the daylight like normal humans. Our day’s temple tour afterwords included Bayon, Phimeanakas, Thommanon, Baphuon, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm. Angkor Spirit Palace recommends this route as their sunrise day tour, and we were thrilled with it. Chances are, your hotel in Siem Reap has a tour and driver available to recommend when you book your reservation, and Angkor Spirit Palace’s was significantly cheaper than any tour site packages. Plus, Mao packed us breakfast and a case of water (almost all of which we drank. It’s HOT in Cambodia in January).

I matched this local horse and thus bonded with it. Doug, wearing purple, did not match and the horse bit his foot.

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My favorite temple was Ta Prohm, which a big tourist grab since Tomb Raider was filmed there. Another perk of our sunrise tour was that we still arrived early to the temples, beating the midday rush. The colors of Ta Prohm were so gorgeous, and the entire temple has been taken over by massive tree roots. It’s also huge, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get lost exploring which is exactly what I love to do.

It was about 2:00pm when we got back to the hotel, and we were exhausted. Lots of stairs on those temples! We napped HARD before going out to properly explore Siem Reap’s nightlife.

We opted for a traditional dinner of Lamok and Lap Khmer and went for a pub crawl on Pub Street (literally called “Pub Street,” lest we become confused as to where to find the pubs). Drinks, especially beer, were so cheap so we sampled quite a few places. W also indulged in rolled ice cream and taking in the night market sites. Siem Reap felt alive at night in a different way than Phuket. Yes, Siem Reap still housed many tourists, but it felt like the whole city was in on the fun and it wasn’t just a show for the tourists.

During our three days in Siem Reap I certainly felt like we accomplished our list of things to see, but I’d love to go back for another week to visit the outer temples and really become immersed in the city. Maybe I’ll have the guts to try fried cricket next time.

Lisbon Day 5 & Madrid Day 1 ☀️

Free Tapas and Rooftop Terraces

Our last day in Lisbon and first evening in Madrid was mostly a travel day, though the flight between the cities is only a quick hour hop. Shoutout to TAP Portugal airlines for having wildly affordable fares and flights every hour! We grabbed ourselves a 5pm flight, giving us time for a leisurely lunch and walk along the waterfront (with a final nata pit stop on the way back). A 10 Euro taxi took us and our carryons to the airport, and we were off. By magical perfect city, bye Vicente and the slightly-too-hot Air BnB room. Hola Madrid! 💃🏻🕺🏻

Our Madrid pad was a DREAM. It was beautifully centrally located and came with a lovely outdoor terrace for Spanish evening musings. Our hosts, Michael and Miguel (I’m not kidding) gave us more recommendations than we knew what to do with. With those and our Google Maps starred up, we were READY. Our first stop was a favorite tapas place of M & M’s a block away from the apartment called El Mollete. It was tiny, authentic, and tested my Spanish vocab just enough. I’m almost disappointed when too many people in foreign countries speak English and I can’t work on the language. Anyone else feel this way? Just me?

 


Regardless, we learned that food in Madrid was a bit pricier than Lisbon, but wine and beer were still cheeeeeaaapppp. So that was A+++. M & M’s place was in the heart of Chueca, neighboring Malasaña. These were for sure the two most fun neighborhoods to go out in at night (we later learned that Chueca is the gay neighborhood – at first we just thought Madrid was even more accepting than NYC! Which it still might be, reagardless, fun on fun on fun around here).

After tapas that first night, we wandered Malasaña (a soon-to-become nightly ritual) and ended up at a gin & tonic bar – the national drink of Spain, it turns out! They offered a gin of the week special, and since we were slightly travel tired we just stayed for one before calling it. Next stop, sleeeeeeep.

We began our first full day in Madrid by checking out the Royal Palace and Temple of Debod which were both SO close to the apartment. The Temple was a gift from the Egyptian government, and definitely didn’t look like anything else we’d seen in the area. I also just love the idea of one country giving a whole other country a gift. Like France, for example, I see you with Lady Liberty. Solid move, guys.

For lunch part 1, we hit up the Mercado San Miguel, which is a open-stall market in a big warehouse a la Time Out Lisbon. We found some little empanadas, and left pretty promptly because it was swamped. Here’s a photo from Spain Attractions since I was too overwhelmed to remember to photograph.1838E4A2-B969-481C-8982-F1886050A17F-4235-000006B8A7F1E6B3.jpeg

Picture this, but with 1000x the amount of people.

Next, we wandered to Chocolateria San Gines for some churros con chocolate. These churros are actually savory compared to the Mexican churros we’re used to in the States, hence the rich DIPPING CHOCOLATE that you can then DRINK afterwords. HI HEAVEN, FANCY MEETING YOU HERE.

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My Double9 Duck is seeing Madrid’s finest.

We continued towards a *legit* tapas bar off of one of Madrid’s many pequeño side streets. What makes it so legit, you ask? Well traditionally, tapas are served for ~free~ with the purchase of a vino or cerveza. Apparently the more you drink, the bigger the plates get, which is all kinds of exciting. At El Tigre we each opted for one pint of beer and were given a LARGE plate of bread, Spanish ham, and cheese. If you’re lunching on a budged, these tapas bars are the way to go! Here’s a list of some of the best bars with said deals:

  • El Tigre (our fav and a local hangout)
  • Taberna La Tia Cebolla
  • La Paloma Blanca (beer isn’t cheap, but portions are massive)
  • Petisqueria
  • Indalo Tapas
  • El Rincon Abulense
  • El Respiro (very close to El Tigre, if El Tigre is full pop on here, or make it stop one and two of your afternoon tapas crawl!)
  • La Pequeña Grana – we didn’t actually make it here, but it’s in Granada so if you’re jonsing for some tapas in the area, check it out!

After our Tapas we strolled to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum to sample some art from the 13th-late 20th centuries. We spent a solid two hours touring the floors, so make sure you give yourself some buffer room if you visit (which I recommend you do!) We saved the big museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia, for the next day, and were very glad we didn’t try to cram three giant halls’ worth of art into one day. The brain can only take in so much culture no matter how Spanish and impressive it is, ja feel?

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Just look at those peachy majestic walls and tell me you don’t want to spend multiple hours here.
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And here we are INSIDE one of the Thyssen’s masterpieces, because why not?

Finally, we took a siesta because, duh, and afterwords began our evening at the Dear Hotel’s gorgeous rooftop terrace bar. (Funny story, when we were waiting to be able to go up to the roof a server asked if we were being helped, and instead of saying we were waiting for the terraza, I said “terreza” which is not a thing but he took it as we were waiting for our amiga Tereza and I was embarrased trying to explain that.)

When we were finally let onto the terraza, we each had orangey-wheaty crisp, delicious beers and watched the sun set over the many old and cobblestoned (again with the cobblestones!) streets. If you’re in Madrid during nice weather, definitely hit up the Dear Hotel for at least one sunset. Plus, you’ll be excellently positioned to explore the Chueca and Malasaña nightlife once you’re done.

We did just that, popping into one of the only restaurants that could take us sans-reservation on a Saturday night. The more you know: if you’re planning on eating in one of the more popular Madridian neighborhoods on the weekend, make a rez! Restraurants in Chueca were booked for the whole night, but we took note of places we walked past for our later meals.

Finally, we had a nightcap at 1862 Drybar, a Malasaña haunt we’d seen wandering the previous night. I ordered a dragon-themed cocktail to stay on brand that came with a heat warning, and though it sadly didn’t make me breathe fire, it was a taste bud wake up call for SURE. A short jaunt back to casa M&M ended our first full day.

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Lisbon Day 2

Crying Over Cod

As much as possible, I try to avoid jet lag by just willing it not to exist. (Some trips this works better than others. I’m looking at you, 3 am wake up in Italy.) Traveling is a lot more enjoyable if you can kick the time difference as soon as possible. This usually means making yourself stay awake on the arrival day, and going to sleep no later than 9 or 10pm. This can be tough, hence our accidental nap on day 1. But we did manage to then stay awake until 10:30 or so and wake up around 9am Lisbon time on day 2. Jet lag vanquished!

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Our Air BnB was only a short walk from Castelo do Sao Jorge, a medieval-era castle that still stands guard over the city. We didn’t even know there was a castle when we booked this leg of the trip. (Oops, how about that research, eh?) So this was a great little surprise!

We were not expecting how hilly Lisbon is. Our calf muscles definitely felt it (plus the five-floor walk up to our Air BnB), but walking more than you ever expect is one of the things I’ve embraced about travel. Plus, it evens out when you eat all of that pastel de nata. Or something.

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The grounds of the castle offered incredible views, and so many peacocks! We LOVE animals, so any unexpected wildlife is A+++. The peacocks were so used to people and they were expert models.

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We climbed all around and visited the castle’s camera obscura, a mirrored lense on the highest turret that offered a 360 degree view of Lisbon. We weren’t allowed to take photos or videos of it, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was cool and totally worth the short wait.

Next we bought some fresh local berries because, of course, and headed down to Alfama, the artsy neighborhood by the water. Another unexpected Lisbon thing: Tuk Tuks everywhere! We didn’t actually take one (nor did we take the trolley, which looked lovely) because we are walking fiends, but they were awesome and brought back some very fond Thai memories. The roads in Lisbon are tiny and cobblestoned and I love them. No wonder people love SoHo and the West Village in NY so much; what is it about cobblestone streets? Romantic as eff, that’s for sure.

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We visited the Feira de Ladra, or fair of thieves, a craft street market that happened in Alfama every Tuesday and Saturday. I love when I happen to be in a city on one of the days that these things go up. I did buy an azulejo tile, though from a small artisan shop, not the Feira. Definitely an eye feast, though!

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For dinner that night we went to Cantinho do Avillez, which. GUYS. Laura Baranik, my dear friend and former food critic, recommended this place and I CANNOT SECOND IT ENOUGH. It was my favorite meal the whole trip (and we ate tons of excellent food!)

So chef Jose Avillez is a big deal in Portugal and has a few restaurants. Cantinho is one that is so reasonably priced, but the quality is unbelievable. Pretty much from the get go we decided to go IN on this dinner, and the whole thing only came out to 99 Euros. Allow me to go into mouth-watering detail:

We started with a bottle of Vinho Verde, because wine in general in Lisbon is CHEAP AND DELICIOUS. I’m not really a white wine person and was totally surprised when I tasted Vinho Verde earlier that day and loved it. It was a crisp 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Lisboa that day, and the chilled wine was DAMN SMOOTH.

To start, we had A LUMP OF BAKED NIZA CHEESE and seared scallops that actually fell apart in my mouth. Another thing about meals in Portugal: you’re served bread and olives as a starter, and if you eat them, you’re charged for it. We almost always just ate and paid for the olives because I freaking love olives and these Iberian Peninsula olives were FRESH. Since we were going in on this meal, the extra 2 Euro for the bread spread was a no brainer.

Then, for the main course. Doug and I almost always share meals because we’ve been blessed by the relationship gods with similar tastes. Laura specifically recommended the bacalhao with “exploding olives.” She said it actually brought tears to her eyes, and how were we NOT supposed to order it after that?

It did not disappoint. The cod was even more buttery and melt-y than the scallops, and the olives all but disintegrated when speared with a fork. You know how cooked cherry tomatoes squirt when you pierce them? Think that, but olives, and more elegant. The cod had a motherf*king runny egg nestled in the middle, and was dressed with bread crumbs and some kind of lettuce. All of the flavors sort of melted together to create heaven.

We also shared a steak sandwich, and wow was it good. It was so simple – steak, butter, and bread, but when the ingredients are all so fresh and cooked so perfectly I wouldn’t have wanted anything else on it. We tried our best to savor this meal but ended up eating it in .2 seconds. #noregrets.

Then, for desert, the menu boasted that a dish called Hazelnut x3 would “change your life.” Done. Our server, Io (who was amazing and I would honestly go back to Lisbon just to visit), was wary of the fact that we wanted to cry and then have our lives changed during this meal. But like, mission accomplished.

The dessert was hazelnut ice cream topped with whipped hazelnut cream and crushed hazelnuts. Boom. We also had a warm chocolate cake, because we were living and I am a chocolate fiend, and tried a glass of the port that was recommended with the hazelnut. Another thing I have now discovered that I like: dry white port! I always associated dessert wines with being too syrupy and sweet, but no ma’am, this nectar of the heavens was smooth and nutty and just dry enough.

After sadly saying goodbye to Io and the Cantinho, we wandered down to Pink Street, Lisbon’s former Red Light District, to Pensao de Amor, our air bnb host’s favorite bar. The interior was BEAUTIFUL. I felt like I was in some kind of Harry Potter parlor, except sexy. They definitely played on the former-brothel theme; the level of aphrodisiac in each cocktail was marked by the image of an erect penis. Gotta love Europe.

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We shared a 3-peni cocktail that came in a teapot and had violet liqueur, blood orange, and something else. I honestly don’t remember but it was DELICIOUS, and I have never felt so simultaneously classy and vampy whilst sipping a beverage. Out of a china teacup. Thank you, Lisbon.

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Lisbon Day 1

Jet Lag & Exploring Anyway

18699769_10154670043936045_4909169863885706582_n.jpg If I'm flying anywhere for less than multiple months, carry on bags are he only bags I bring. Unless you’re flying Southwest (which you’re not going to be flying if you’re traveling outside of the US), you’ll have to pay for a checked bag, and the thought of risking a bag getting lost internationally is just TOO MUCH for my anxiety. I would like to wear my clothes when I get to my destination, thank you very much. There’s like, seventeen lipsticks in there.

(To take a ~coveted, I know~ peek into my travel necessities, click here)

Plus, not checking a bag means you get to zip off and explore that much faster after landing. I have ZERO travel patience – once I’m there, I’m there! We have new things to see, food to eat*, languages to butcher!

(*I accidentally wrote “food to meet” at first, and honestly really feel that. I love meeting food. Foods are some of my best friends. Vegetable Korma and I have a magical weekend planned.)

Lisbon was the first stop in Doug’s and my ten-day Iberian Peninsula adventure, which happened because we found $350 round-trip plane tickets to Madrid on Kayak and were physically unable to pass that up. Five days in Lisbon, five days in Madrid, with a couple of day trips sprinkled in.

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The first day of traveling east is always difficult because if you’re a smart traveler, you want to STAY AWAKE and BEAT THE JETLAG. Napping is for wimps!

So as soon as we checked into our Air BnB I immediately took a two-hour nap. Whoops.

I will say that before we were able to check in to our Air BnB, we went to a tiny restaurant around the corner and ate like kings for CHEAP. Portugal was already winning me over. The national food of Portugal is bacalhao, or salted cod. What? You may ask. Salted cod? That’s it? But GUYS. It’s honestly something out of heaven. One cab driver we had said there are 1001 ways to cook bacalhao, and during our time in Lisbon we must have tried 996 of those ways.

Not really. But in my dreams we did. I love you, I miss you, you buttery flaky melt-in-my-mouth fish. Write to me!

After a nap and a beautiful post-plane shower, we decided to walk to the Santa Justa Lift, down Praca Rossio, and to the water around Praca Commercio. We had a lot of restaurants starred to explore as well.

Starred? Whatever do you mean, “starred”? I’ve adopted this travel method from Doug, actually, and find it SO helpful. Before we go on a trip we research the area (my research mostly consists of asking friends for recs and the New York Times “36 Hours in ___” articles), and star the places we want to go on Google Maps. This way we can plan our days around the things we must visit, and if we’re ever at a loss for a place to eat or grab a drink, we can check the map and find something starred near to us. Google Maps’ GPS system works even when you don’t have cell data, so your little blue location dot will show up anywhere. Boom.

We were exhausted, yes, but new places are nature’s shot of adrenaline. Or something. I’m also definitely an evening/night person, and seeing all of the people out while the sun was setting was FIRE. It was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature only declined slightly after dark. Amazing.

The Santa Justa lift offered some great first views of the city. The red tile rooftops and azulejo – Portuguese painted tile work on the walls – were heaven for NYC eyes.

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Down the Praca Commercio we dipped our feet into the river while a guitarist played classical renditions of Led Zeppelin. We tried ginjinha, a local sour cherry liquor that honestly tasted like cough syrup straight up, but which we later realized was much better when mixed in cocktails.

We ended the night with some squid ink-fried cuttlefish (I KNOW) at Sea Me’s stand in the Time Out market. We sat next to a very nice but VERY talkative Russian couple, and by the time we had finished our snack at 9pm-ish we were READY for bed and stoked for what the days ahead had in store.

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The Air BnB we picked for this leg of the journey was about a twelve minute walk away from the city center. Our room was small and hot sans air conditioning, but the decor was super cute and our host had a cat named Vicente. For the price and relative convenience, we were overall happy with it!

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