Travel: A beer tour in Amsterdam

September 20, 2014

amsterdam

Oh Amsterdam, how I loved you. After a series of hilarious unfortunate events, like almost taking the wrong train into the city centre, losing my 72-hour tram pass 2 hours after I bought it and our tram taking forever to arrive no matter where we were, we actually got settled into our AirBNB. For a minute. We promptly ran out the door as our beer tour was starting soon. We booked our beer tour with Urban Adventures, which promised to be a small group walking tour with lots of beer history. We thought it would be the perfect way to beat the jet lag and get a quick glimpse of the city on our first day. When we arrived to the meeting place, the tour had already left! All because of our tram being late (again!). I quickly turned on my roaming (ARGH) and called our tour guide, Sean. He was really understanding and told us that they were only a few blocks away. He met us on the sidewalk in front of the pub after giving us directions. PHEW.

amsterdam6

Sean was super knowledgeable about the local beer scene, something that made Alex very happy. The beer scene in the city is often overlooked since it has to compete with big companies like Heineken. There are some great places around to drink good craft brews that won’t break the bank. We have a pretty exciting beer scene in Atlanta right now with microbreweries popping up everywhere. We have a couple within walking distance of our home! So, we are always looking into new beers and breweries. [If you're interested, our pal Drew has blog where he reviews beers brewed in Atlanta and elsewhere. It's really great.]

amsterdam7

Our group consisted of an older couple from Australia and one man traveling on its own. It was a fun group despite the age differences. As previously stated on their site, this is definitely not a bar hop, but you do drink a lot. The tour includes a full pint of beer, of your choice, at each bar. We stopped at three bars and at the last one, we were offered a plate of meat and cheeses. We made the rookie mistake of not eating beforehand, that was fun!

Our first stop was Cafe Belgique. It’s the cutest bar. It’s a small pub, one of the smallest in Amsterdam actually! They have 8 beers on draft, mostly from Belgium. The decor is a bit quirky, yet stylized. Alex and I got a glass of La Chouffe and it was awesome. So crisp and smooth. Luckily, we can find it in the States!

amsterdam2

The next place we stopped by was a brew pub called Bierfabriek, where their specialty is chicken. They also serve other tapas and vegetarian options. The place was set up family style with giant wooden tables and benches. We sat up at the bar and everyone ate peanuts while we waited.

amsterdam8

amsterdam5

amsterdam4

We ended our tour around 10 p.m. when the rest of the folks left. At this point, Sean took us to one last bar before he left for the night. We really enjoyed talking to him about his adventures in Colorado, Atlanta and everything in between. It didn’t feel touristy at all being on this tour, which I appreciated immensely. I feel like it’s a good way to experience the local scene while sharing some stories and getting to know people over brews.

amsterdam9

 

amsterdam10

amsterdam11

And of course, we ended our first night with a waffle covered with dulce de leche. So good! Thanks Urban Adventures for the fantastic tour!

amsterdam3

Have you ever done a beer tour? What did you like about it?

We did not receive compensation for the tour, all opinions are our own as usual. These pictures were taken in August 2014.

Travel: Arashiyama, Pt. 2

September 14, 2014

title

We just came back from Iceland and Amsterdam so I will doing a few posts about it in the coming weeks. Well, whenever I finish unpacking and uploading my photos. But, as promised, part deux of our day in Arashiyama. You can find part one of our day here.

arashiyama

ladies

After we visited the monkeys at the park, we wandered into town to see the rest of the temples and the famous bamboo forest. But first, we had to stop for some sticky buns.

sticky2

stickybun

We walked into the grounds of Tenryuji Temple, but most of the temple was under construction. This is the only photo I was able to take, sadly. It looks so majestic from the outside, so make sure to stop by. It’s one of Kyoto’s five great zen temples and the largest one in Arashiyama.

temple After we left the temple a bit disappointed, we tried to figure out how to get to the bamboo forest. The city is easily walkable (and if you want, easy to ride your bike rental around) but for some unknown reason, we had such a hard time finding the bamboo forest. It’s almost like we were walking around it forever, but never quite finding it. There weren’t any signs pointing toward it and the map we had kept stirring us the wrong way. But after 45 minutes of aimlessly walking around, we finally found it! And of course, as usual, it was right under our noses.

bamboo2

Let’s just say it was worth it, as the forest is unlike anything we’ve seen before. What really stuck with me though was the soft noise of the bamboo moving back and forth, rubbing against its next door neighbor, ever so gently. It was such a peaceful sound. I almost forgot that I was surrounded by rowdy tourists and random kids running around.

bamboo

bamboo3 After walking along the bamboo forest path for a while, we headed back to the bus stop to grab a bus to the Golden Pavilion. The buses in this area come often and are easy to ride. The drivers were super helpful when it came to transfers and figuring out what bus to get on. As soon as we jumped on the bus though, it started raining. We got soaked as we entered the temple grounds, but luckily we had our ponchos with us. The Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji Temple is a replica of the original temple that, you guessed it, burned down in 1950. After surviving a war where all of the buildings but the Pavilion were burned down, a monk with alleged schizophrenia burned it down and was later caught and imprisoned. The gold leaf exterior has a special purpose as it repels negative thoughts and feelings toward death. You can’t go inside, but you can walk around the gorgeous gardens after catching a glimpse of the gold temple.

goldtemple

Eek, so soaked from the rain!

Eek, so soaked from the rain!

goldtemple3

And that was it for our day trip to Arashiyama. It was one of my favorite stops of our trip. I may or may not have to do with the monkeys :).

In case you missed it, here’s part 1 of our day in Arashiyama. These pictures were taken on October 2013.

Travel: Japan’s Arashiyama, Pt. 1

August 17, 2014

title

Long time, no see! Summer has been hectic around these parts, between work, freelance and preparing for our next adventure. But I’m back for one (or maybe two!) more posts before we head to Europe. So here we are, back to Japan! Using Kyoto as a home base, we traveled to nearby cities for day trips. Arashiyama is on the western suburbs of Kyoto, and once on the JR Sagano Line, it takes about 20 minutes to get there. The small city is famous for its bamboo forest, several large temples and MACAQUE MONKEYS (!!). The town has so much charm and we enjoyed walking from the train station to the main part of town, about 10 minutes. The area is perfect for riding bikes, sadly most shops were closed while we were there.

train

 

house

That lady on the bike was my favorite.

That lady on the bike was my favorite.

Our first stop, of course, was the Iwatayama Monkey Park. This post is mostly about those furry little dudes so you’ve been warned! They were number one on my list of things to see.

After being traumatized by the Inari Shrine climb (we had no idea we were basically hiking up a mountain!), we saw the map of the Monkey Park and freaked out. But it ended up being an easy climb.  It was an overcast, but warm day. Over 170 monkeys live in this park. We had a good chuckle when we realized that they put the humans in a cage in order to feed the monkeys. As it should be, probably. There’s a small fee for the park that you pay at the entrance.

entrance

As we approached the summit, these little dudes were watching us from nearby branches. They roam wild, but are accustomed to humans and interacting with them. They are friendly, but many of the signs warned against looking at them directly in the eye.

monkey

signmonkey

monkey2 bwmonkeys

We went inside the summit to feed the monkeys. It only costs about 100 yen for a bag of food. We bought three and the monkeys were so glad. They were so funny and curious. Tiny monkey spam! monkey3

tinymonkey

This tiny guy was such a troublemaker. He was so adorable!

bwmonkey2 The view from the mountain is breathtaking! You can see the whole town from above. I could not stop laughing at how silly these monkeys were. They really did not care that we were there.

collage2 On our way down the mountain, we found this abandoned playground. Of course we had to get on this awesome slide!

meslide

I’m glad we made the monkey park our first stop that day. We were able to explore and watch them do silly things without rushing. Part 2 of our Arashiyama day coming up!

These pictures were taken on October 2013.

 

 

Travel: Why I Travel

July 30, 2014

I read this piece at the DearBearWolf launch party at Mammal Gallery on May 13, 2014. If you haven’t yet, check out ATL-based DearBearWolf here.

In Takayama, Japan, filling up my travel journal with temple stamps.

In Takayama, Japan, filling up my travel journal with temple stamps.

We woke up at 3 a.m., jet-lagged from a way too long flight across the ocean. I almost threw my phone across our tiny hotel room as I barely opened my eyes. But I manage to convince myself that waking up was worth it as he gets up and gets ready. I manage to search the internet for a phrase translation and write it on the back of a crumbled food receipt from the night before. The cold air hits my face as we stumble outside to catch a cab and it hurts more than it should have. Is there a word in another language that explains the state of being awake prior to having a caffeinated beverage? As I take my first bite of sushi that hasn’t been outside of the ocean but mere hours, I thought about how glad I was that I woke up today.

We found our way to the water, next to a marsh. We sat on the ground for what seemed like an eternity. We were cold, but we kept moving to make sure we stayed warm. He ventured down the hill to make sure we haven’t missed them, due to the light pollution. In a blink of an eye, they appeared. The northern lights were dancing in the sky for us. A tear traveled down my cheek as we watched them dance.

After walking for eight hours around a historic city with a terrible past, we approached the train station to continue our journey. My stomach grumbled as we took our belongings out of the locker and I asked if we should eat. The yellow light of the train station illuminated the food stalls on the sides of the long, wide hallway. We walked under an escalator and saw an elderly Japanese man standing outside his small restaurant with no sign or name. We walked in and he showed us what he was offering in his own language. After a few hand gestures, we sat down across a warm bowl of soup. The homemade noodles and broth were rich with flavors my taste buds have never experienced. We ate until we saw the bottom of the bowl. To this day, it is the best bowl of ramen I’ve ever had.

We arrived to this beach-side hostel after eight hours of traveling in a very crowded bus in the middle of the night. We went to sleep right away. I woke up, no longer car sick, as a soft mist landed on my face. It was around 5 a.m. and you could see the first rays of the sun out of the horizon. I quickly put on my shoes and ran two miles to the shore. I hate running, but in that moment, all that mattered was for my eyes to meet those sun rays. I sat on the moist sand and ran my fingers through it. I watched the sunrise by the still, quiet ocean and after, jumped into the cold water with clothes and all. I felt alive and welcomed by this town in the middle of our continent.

I read in the New York Times last week that people are happier during the planning and anticipation stage of their trip than when they are actually at the destination. I call bullshit. At least for me.

Happiness for me is eating my way through a new city.  Happiness is having an escape from your daily reality, while boarding a machine that defies physics every day. Planes are pretty weird that way.

Happiness is escaping our routines, contemplating things we couldn’t before and consider obscure possibilities – as we walk through crowded streets and listen to languages different from our own. I travel because I need to. Just like being a writer and needing to get these words out on a daily basis. I travel because your mind transforms when you are away from home – it’s bottled up creativity, knowledge and experiences.

Travel is a passion, an obsession. It’s a priority. For me. The excitement of feeling like an explorer, being spontaneous, discovering history and the connection of it all — it makes you more human. Robert Louis Stevenson said “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”

That’s why I travel.

Travel: An Oahu Road Trip

June 25, 2014

title_road-trip

The day after we went scuba diving we rented a car to explore the island. Oahu is the third largest island of all of the Hawaiian Islands. However, you can drive around the island, with stops included, in about 8 hours. The night before we downloaded the Gypsy Guide for Oahu – a really awesome self-drive tour iPhone/Android app that provides you with cool historic bits as you drive around the island. It tells you where to stop and what’s next (including driving directions) since it’s based on your global positioning. You can buy it at the App Store, plug it into your auxiliary port (or in our case, turn up the volume really high) and start driving! We rented a cute Fiat from Enterprise for the day.

We stayed right next to Diamond Head so we started our driving tour there. We were going to stop at Pearl Harbor, but that particular day was sold out. If you plan to visit the Memorial, get tickets well in advance! They sell out fast and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a free one on site. You can get them here. So instead we got on the highway and headed to the Dole Plantation!

dole

We ate Dole Whip and walked around the gift shop. We didn’t take the Plantation tour, we heard it was overrated. If you went, what did you think?

Alex had some fun inside of this pineapple

Alex had some fun inside of this pineapple

We hopped on the car and drove past so many fields. Hawaii is so beautiful. The weather was breezy and kinda warm – enough to keep the windows down. We headed up to the North Shore. We stopped at Matsumoto for their famous shaved ice. We got the guava-flavored shaved ice. It was delicious and the perfect (first) snack for the drive.

shavedice2

shavedice

After passing the surf shops, we arrived at one of the many beaches, parked and walked over to the sand. We walked over rocks and around the shore. The cloudy day was definitely feeding my soul. It was the perfect temperature.

beach

beach2

As we headed out of the area, I spied a shrimp truck in a gas station and no, it wasn’t the famous Giovanni’s. It was a giant blue truck that would quickly change our life. [I mean, I just told Alex if he remembers it and he closed his eyes and sighed. It's that good!] We stopped at the Blue Water Shrimp Truck and got a garlic shrimp plate to share. The plate was huge — packed with rice, pineapple and delicious shrimps with an amazing sauce on top. If you’re ever in the area, make sure to stop by. You won’t regret it! We pondered on getting more, but we knew we had more shrimp trucks after this.

shrimp

Our next stop was Turtle Beach, where sea turtles hang out by the shore and you can see them up close. There’s a volunteer group that keeps an eye on tourists and makes sure that no one disturbs them, but you can still get really close. To get there, you park on the side of the road and cross the street to the beach. It’s really easy to get to and the app tells you when you get there as there’s no sign.

turtle-beach

Hidden entrance to Turtle Beach

Beautiful sea turtles

Beautiful sea turtles

We stopped at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck for another snack and it was a bit underwhelming. The shrimp were chewy, small and didn’t have much flavor. It was much more expensive for way less food. I know this is a popular stop but I personally did not think it lived up to the hype.

Giovanni's + their shrimp scampi

Giovanni’s + their shrimp scampi

My favorite stop of the tour was Lai’e Point. We parked our cars and saw the large islet in the distance with a giant hole in it. The waves in this area are large and powerful. The fog made everything better. I’m a huge fan of cloudy, rainy days so I’m glad it turned out that way.

laiepoint

We skipped the Polynesian Cultural Center and stopped at the Chinaman’s Hat. Since it was raining at this point, none of the pictures came out. Our next and last stop was the Byodo-In Temple. It was pouring by the time we got there. Even then, I’m glad we stopped. The temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It made us nostalgic for our Japan trip.

temple

fiat

The fog was my favorite.

We got back around 5 p.m. and returned our car to Enterprise. (Pro tip: Just rent your car for one day at a time since parking fees in Hawaii are crazy high! We used Kayak to rent ours for about $35/day) That night we stopped for some ramen at Marakame Udon. It was a delicious (and cheap) treat! I strongly recommend Gypsy Guide for your Oahu road trip since you can stop whenever and enjoy the scenery. It was nice to see the island without the pressure of a group tour.

Have ever done a road trip in Hawaii or elsewhere in the world? 

Read more about our scuba diving experience in Oahu here and how we found cheap tickets to Hawaii here

These pictures were taken on February 2014. You can download Gypsy Guide here.

#FlashbackFriday – 2010 Costa Rica Trip

June 13, 2014

Back in 2010, my partner-in-crime Emily and I grabbed our backpacks and bought tickets to Costa Rica over New Year’s. It was an amazing almost two weeks of solid backpacking, getting to know the country a little better and delicious food. I still can’t believe this was four years ago! We stayed at the Wide Mouth Frog hostel and they were really great. We went zip-lining during our time in Quepos as you should (and actually signed up through the hostel office). Here’s a little flashback of our time there.

costarica_1

costarica_2

costarica_3

Have you ever gone zip-lining? Did you like it?

Travel: NYC, Part 1 – Mood Fabrics

June 9, 2014

Title_Mood

At the end of April, I booked a random trip to NYC with my friend Diana. Well, not that random — she wanted to go fabric shopping and what better place than New York City. She opened an Etsy shop after we took some sewing classes together and needed more fabric for her scarves.

It rained most of the time we were there but on Friday, we hit the ground running and went over to Mood Fabrics. You may recognize this store from every reality show competition dealing with design, including Project Runway. It’s a really awesome place. It looks small from the outside, but it’s two floors full of rolls and rolls of fabric, ribbon and entire walls of buttons and zippers. Here are few pictures from our fabric adventure.

mood2

Fabric time!

This little guy was hanging out around the store.

This little guy was hanging out around the store.

Emily came with us too.  She's more into tapestry and making pillows.

Emily came with us too. She’s more into tapestry and making pillows.

fourthings_mood

The decor by the elevator is so amazing. // Hi!

The decor by the elevator is so amazing. // Hi!

These photos were taken on May 2014.

Travel: Nishiki Market + Cooking class in Kyoto

June 1, 2014

title_kyoto One of our favorite things to do when we are home is to cook. Alex is really into grilling, smoking meats and cooking big meals for our friends. For me, I love baking — as you can see from my blog, I’m kinda obsessed with baking pies. So when we travel, we try to eat everything and learn how things are made so we can try to replicate them at home. In Atlanta, we have this amazing street called Buford Highway, where we can find all kinds of ingredients from all over the world. We are really lucky to have it.

Naturally, when we went to Kyoto we signed up for a cooking class. After much researching, we settled on Taro’s cooking class. He offered to teach us how to cook miso soup from scratch, other side items and best of all, KOBE BEEF. Real Kobe beef is hard to find despite several restaurants saying they offer it. Kobe beef comes from a specific strain of wagyu cattle, raised in the Hyogo Prefecture.  It’s famous for its beautiful marbling (the high quality fat melts at room temperature!) and flavor. The beef goes through several inspections and must meet specific requirements — where they are raised, who are the parents and slaughtered only at specific slaughterhouses. Due to the strict nature of the process, a lot of producers, especially in the U.S., cross a wagyu cow with an angus cow and call it “Kobe style beef.” But it’s not the same! Not at all. Let’s just say that all of those requirements are worth it because that beef was AMAZING.

We signed up for the optional Nishiki Market tour before the cooking class. It was nice to have someone to tell us what everything was! Taro met us there with another couple and he picked up the ingredients for our class as we walked around.

nishiki1

Nishiki Market in Kyoto is over 400 years old!

nishiki2

We loved sampling all of the pickles and fish.

An old lady came up to me and offered me this octopus with a quail egg in its head. When in Kyoto, right? It was so good!

An old lady came up to me and offered me this octopus with a quail egg in its head. When in Kyoto, right? It was so good!

nishiki4

After our walk around the market, around 2 hours, we took the bus to Taro’s house. His wife and the cutest kid I’ve ever seen welcomed us into their house. Seriously though, the little kid was dressed up as Sailor Moon. Be still my heart. Their house is SO beautiful. We really felt like home there.

Our class was small, about 6 couples — all from different parts of the world. We sat around a table as Taro explained to us the menu and the origin of Kobe beef. He even showed us the certificate for the beef we were going to eat that day and checked it online. Then we moved over to his kitchen and he asked for volunteers as we cooked the menu. Except for the Kobe beef — he cooked that himself as that particular piece was over $100!

Ready!

Ready!

Taro shows us the ingredients // cucumber pickling with just salt!

Taro shows us the ingredients // cucumber pickling with just salt!

Taro's daughter was such a little helper

Taro’s daughter was such a little cutie

us_cooking

I cooked some miso soup that we’ve repeated since we got home // Alex helped cut some veggies + cook tamago — a sweet square egg.

Kobe beef with its certificate.

Kobe beef with its certificate.

The final result!

The final result!

Taro’s class was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. He speaks English really well, his family is so welcoming and his knowledge of the ingredients helped us understand Japanese culture a little more. I would suggest adding the optional Nishiki Market tour, it’s a real treat. Plan to be there a whole afternoon, until about six. You can book your class here, with Kobe beef or vegetarian.

Have you ever taken a cooking class in another country? If so, where?

These photos were taken in October 2013.

Travel: Nashville

May 27, 2014

Wow, this month has flown by! I’ve been out of town every single weekend in May and I’ve had a pile of freelance projects to finish so updating the blog fell by the wayside. Don’t even ask me about the state of my laundry. It may or may not look like THIS. But, let’s catch up, shall we?

Let’s start with this past weekend — Memorial Day! Alex and I grabbed the pups and headed to Nashville for a quick weekend trip. It was Alta’s first road trip and she was a rockstar! She’s growing so fast. We rented an airbnb and it had a pool! It was wonderful. We had an event to attend Saturday so we only explored the city, mostly the 12 South and the Belmont area, on Sunday. Here are a few photos of our weekend.

us

We stopped in Chattanooga to let the dogs walk around

We stopped in Chattanooga to let the dogs walk around

Our amazing airbnb!

Our amazing airbnb!

pie

I baked a pie — Blueberry Buttermilk Pie 18/50

Las Paletas + Imogene and Willie at 12 South

Las Paletas + Imogene and Willie at 12 South

We hung around 12 South on Sunday afternoon + Burgers at Pharmacy

We hung around 12 South on Sunday afternoon + Burgers at Pharmacy

dogs

Bluegrass at the Station Inn in Nashville

Bluegrass at the Station Inn in Nashville

Mandatory stop for local honey + fresh peaches at a roadside market

Mandatory stop for local honey + fresh peaches at a roadside market

kickass_mural

We had a little bit of fun walking around Cabbagetown when we got back to Atlanta

Did you have a good Memorial Day? Where did you go?