Learn from your (or my) mistakes! And your (or my) successses! Learning is an important part of life. Here are my top 5 lessons learned from EuroTrip 2017.
If you REALLY want to do something, try not to save it for the last day. Paella was probably the one food that I was most excited to try in Barcelona, and we saved it for the final day, a glorious finale. But due to unforeseen circumstances (in this case, a restaurant whose Facebook page said they were open when they were not), we were denied our paella and now must wait for a return trip to get the real thing. Although Ox and Stone‘s paella is pretty damn good in the meantime…
Check the local news. We had stayed well up to date on the Catalonian political situation leading up to the trip, so we were aware that we might have to be flexible if any craziness started to go down. Knowing this coming in, we did not get overly frustrated when the pro-independence crowd shut down every major roadway back into Barcelona. OK, we did get a little frustrated, but we did not panic. We rolled with the punches and had an exciting road trip through the Catalonian back woods instead.
Have a backup plan. Related to the point above, I also needed a separate backup plan just for myself. I had planned to propose to Rachel in Girona on the day that we were stuck in traffic! But, knowing that transport might get tricky, I had made a backup plan to propose in Parc Güell later in the trip. Unfortunately, that plan did not work out either for other reasons. But the point is, it’s good to plan ahead for things that might go wrong, so that you don’t waste too much time scrambling or panicking when things don’t go exactly as planned.
Learn some of the local language, and don’t be afraid to use it. I had previously learned French in high school and some Spanish in college, but I was a little rusty. It was fun to dust off my skills using Coffee Break Spanish and French, and Duolingo leading up to the trip, so that I could execute some basic conversations in the local language. Although almost everyone knew English, it did come in handy in a few situations, and the locals generally were appreciative of the effort. I even learned a few key Catalan phrases as well, to try to win over some of the Catalans in Barcelona.
Work some relaxation time into the itinerary. I am always guilty of violating this one, as you may be able to tell from some of my jam-packed trip recaps. I won’t lie, the last day of this trip was pretty rough. It was our fourth day in the same city, and the travel time finally caught up to us; we were dragging for most of the day. Luckily we summoned some energy for a great final dinner, but working in some more down time, especially after 24 straight hours of travel on the way to Marseille, might have helped us keep the energy up consistently throughout the trip.
With that out of the way, now for the fun stuff! Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip. Let me know what you think about EuroTrip 2017 in the comments! Where should I go the next time I visit Europe?
This is it – sadly, we have reached the end of EuroTrip 2017…
Explore El Born and Barceloneta
Dinner at La Flauta
Day 8: Last Day ☹️
After a late night, we were a little slow moving on the morning of our last day in Barcelona. Our plan was to start the day in the El Born neighborhood, and check out the Museu Picasso after doing some wandering. And that’s just what we did.
I did not get any photos inside the Picasso Museum (I think it was not allowed, or at least frowned upon). Anyway, I would recommend it for a dreary day, such as the one that we had. Or, of course, if you are a museum or art aficionado. It seemed to be a very popular attraction, at a reasonable cost.
We were all pretty tired after the museum, so we found a spot nearby called Vila Vinoteca, which was a small market and café with good coffee drinks and a selection of tapas-related items including jamón, cheese, and a separate area with a wide array of wines.
With our batteries recharged and the sun coming out, we decided to walk over to the beach in the Barceloneta neighborhood and try to find some fresh paella. We had two options, one recommended the prior day by our bike tour guide, and another that we had found in our research. Cognizant that we were approaching the “dead time” of Barcelona’s eating schedule between 3pm and 9pm, we turned our cell phone data on to check the hours. Both were open! Or so we thought…
BOTH of the places that we had looked up and thought were open were definitely not open. We had been talking about paella for the past four days; needless to say we were very disappointed at this major fail. We took some time to sulk on a bench and ponder what to do next. At this point, fatigue from a busy week was setting in and we were all a little hangry (myself probably most of all). We definitely did NOT want our Barcelona paella experience to be sub par, so we ultimately decided to wait until next time for paella, instead of giving in and getting a lesser paella at a touristy place. After we talked it out, we snapped some pictures of the beautiful beaches before heading back toward the hotel.
At this point we split up, and Rachel and I went to find some food while the others did some shopping around Las Ramblas. We ended up getting a snack at a place called Wok and Bao, which was not bad by any means for fast food, but it was no paella 😔.
We regrouped at the hotel and prepared for a meal that we had been looking forward to for a while: dinner at La Flauta. But first, we had one more craft beer spot to check out. We took the metro back out to El Born, and headed into Ale&Hop. After running into somebody that I played baseball with in college (the world is crazy small), we sat down in the back with some good wheat beers among a pro-Catalonian independence crowd fresh off a (peaceful) demonstration and march down Las Ramblas. We felt pretty good about picking a spot that the locals clearly enjoy as well.
After a couple of cañas, we headed back to the Eixample area, where La Flauta is located. We tried to get there pretty close to when it opened, since we knew it was a very popular restaurant and they do not take reservations. We encountered a 45-60 minute wait that was absolutely worth it.
Here, we got all of the classics one last time. Patatas bravas, pan con tomate, jamón, escalivada, pimientos padrón, and some other items as well. Everything was excellent, and this was definitely in the top 3 meals that we had on the whole trip, if not THE top meal. The staff was friendly, the vibe was lively, the food was delicious, and the prices were super reasonable. We could not have asked for a better finale!
And with that, EuroTrip 2017 sadly came to a close. I was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to embark on this trip, and spend it with my wonderful travel companions. My first time in Europe was nothing short of a smashing success!
Stay tuned for my lessons learned and key takeaways from planning and executing this trip – coming soon…
Next Time in Barcelona:
PAELLA!! This was a major fail that I am borderline depressed about.
Visit during the warmer months.
Get more views from Montjuïc and Bunkers del Carmel.
See more of Gaudí’s architecture – Cast Batlló, Casa Milà, etc.
I know some of y’all have been to Barcelona – tell me what I missed in the comments!
We had two main events planned for Day 7: a guided bike tour that we had previously booked through Airbnb Experiences, and dinner at a trendy new restaurant in the Raval called Chaka Khan.
We were up early, as we had to get out to the Sants neighborhood to catch our bike tour by 10:30am. We hopped on the red line, and stopped for a quick and light breakfast at 365 Cafe. It was nothing to write home about, but here I am writing about it – this was purely a convenience stop, and it got the job done.
From there, we walked through the peaceful, quiet neighborhood over to Veni Vidi Cycling Culture. The streets were virtually empty, as Sants seemed to be a more residential neighborhood and we were walking through on a Friday morning.
Veni Vidi is a small vintage/classic road bike shop, and the vibe of the place certainly matches the “vintage” description, with all of the old bikes on display in the teal-tiled showroom, old books, records, and other trinkets on the shelves and walls, and a small workshop in the back.
The four of us arrived along with another couple, and we all chatted with the owners and tour guides as they selected the bikes that were the best fit for each of us. After a few warm-up laps around the block, we were off!
The four of us were on a private tour with Gian, our fearless leader, and other couple went off with another guide.
I’ll cut right to the chase here. I cannot emphasize this enough: DO THIS BIKE TOUR IF YOU ARE VISITING BARCELONA!!! This was a fantastic way to see the city. We spent roughly 4 hours riding through several neighborhoods, making a few stops along the way for drinks, tapas, and photos. A couple of us were a little nervous about the vintage road bikes, but we got used to them in no time. Plus, Barcelona is a very bike-friendly city – we were grateful for the dedicated bike lanes and bike traffic lights on the main roads!
Our first stop was at Bodega Marín, in the Grácia neighborhood. The bodega was a tiny, family-run shop with a few locals crammed inside, and several outside on the sidewalk as well, enjoying vermut and croquetas. We locked up our bikes and had a few snacks and drinks, as our guide answered the millions of questions we threw at him.
We continued on through the tiny streets of Grácia, stopping along the way at Plaça de la Vila de Grácia to take photos and catch our breath.
Our next stop was Bar Bodega Quimet, also in Grácia. Here we had what may have low key been one of the best dishes of the trip – a simple, yet fresh and delicious cold fish, the name of which I foolishly forgot to jot down and now cannot remember 🙄.
For the rest of our tour, Gian let us choose our own adventure. It had come up earlier that we had not yet seen the famous Sagrada Familia, so he led us there for our last stop. The pictures don’t quite do it justice; it is quite an impressive sight up close and personal.
After the Sagrada Familia, we headed back to the Veni Vidi shop, riding by a few more sights along the way. The shop owners greeted us upon our return with a nice glass of wine, which we enjoyed as we rested our legs and talked about how great the ride was!
It was about 2:30pm by this point, and our guide had recommended a lunch spot in the Mercat de Sants which does a great menu del día, which is a common thing in Barcelona: typically a very affordably-priced prix fixe lunch offering on weekdays. Unfortunately, the line was crazy long and we were starving! We decided to quickly hop back on the metro and get some tapas closer to our hotel.
We ended up at Bar Cañete back in the Gothic Quarter, where we were able to sit right down and eat up! We certainly appreciated the motto printed on the menu: “Fuck your diet.” We obliged, opting for most of the classics – jamòn, pan con tomate, red wine, etc. Everything was great, though it was a bit more expensive than some of the tapas we had elsewhere, likely due to its proximity to Las Ramblas.
After our late tapas lunch, we headed back to the hotel to refuel before our 10pm dinner reservation (we learned our lesson – Barcelona eats late!). Dinner was in the Raval at a trendy new restaurant called Chaka Khan – but first, we stopped again for some wine and tapas on the way. This time we popped into a small corner bar called Colibri. It struck as a popular student bar, as there was a rather small, but young and rowdy crowd seated outside. I actually had to use some of my Spanish here – or at least it seemed like I did, so I gave it a shot.
The great thing about Colibri was the prices – they had solid tapas at very affordable prices. We went for some pan con tomate (duh), escalivada (roasted eggplant, peppers and other vegetables), and a bowl of olives, before walking over to Chaka Khan.
Chaka Khan is is a lively and eclectic spot, offering a very wide array of international cuisine. In most cases, I would shy away from places like this, expecting that a restaurant trying to do too many things won’t be great at any one thing. But, I saw that Chaka Khan was getting great reviews in its early going, so I was very excited.
Chaka Khan has two menus: the “Chaka” menu with smaller plates for the bar, and the “Khan” menu for the more formal restaurant area. We were seated upstairs and given our Khan menus, and we started our eclectic culinary tour with various oyster preparations, some served warm and others cold.
These were two of the best things we ate all trip! I wish we had gotten more of them. But we decided to save room for the main courses, which were also outstanding. I had an excellent soft shell crab dish from Singapore which I would also highly recommend, along with the deep fried bread side.
By the time dessert rolled around, I had consumed a bit too much wine to remember to snap a photo of the AMAZING ice cream sandwich that we got. Bummer.
We basically closed the place down, but we weren’t ready for bed yet. In our previous research we had identified another craft beer bar in the Raval that looked good, so we decided to check out Ølgod! There we found a great selection of beers, a young and lively crowd, and a DJ spinning some sick beats. Definitely a good Friday night spot. We had a few beers there before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night.
So, this post is getting kind of long, so I’m going to split it up and cover the last day of our trip in a bonus Part 3 post! Until next time…
Veni Vidi bike tour!! I can’t stress enough how awesome this was.
We pick up the recap of EuroTrip 2017 on the way out of Aix en Provence, as we begin the drive back to Barcelona, where we planned to spend the remainder of the trip! This part of the recap will cover the route back to Barcelona, and our first full day there.
ALL the tapas – jamón ibérico, pa amb tomaquet/pan cont tomate, patatas bravas, etc…
Stroll the Gothic Quarter
Day 5: A long drive from France to Barcelona
We set off from Provence around 12:00pm, intending to stop in Girona for a late lunch and a quick tour of some of the locations used in Game of Thrones. All was going as planned, and we were making great time as we crossed the border back into Spain. But then, all of the sudden, traffic was at a complete standstill as we approached the small city of Figueres.
Keenly aware of the ongoing Catalonian independence debate and the recent independence referendum vote, we quickly assumed the worst. Well, maybe not the WORST, but one of the worst case scenarios for travelers on a schedule: that there was some kind of widespread transportation strike going on.
We turned on data on our cell phones and did a quick Google news search. Sure enough, there was a massive protest going on, blocking all major routes into Barcelona. And we were still about 2 hours away! Apparently protestors were physically blocking the roads in some areas, and huge big-rig trucks were just parked on the road, blocking on and off ramps.
After about 2 hours of trying to go back and forth between the major roads to see if either of them had been unclogged, it was starting to get dark, and we didn’t know if or when this protest was going to end. We had long since given up our dream of visiting Girona, so we decided to get adventurous, and try to self-navigate the back roads and take the long way into Barcelona. Overheard as a group of 4 frustrated foreigners tried to navigate the Spanish countryside:
“Let’s just take this little road to Banyoles, then we will figure it out from there.”
“OH!! It looks like we can get to Besalú if we take a right here.” “Is that even a good thing?” “I think so.”
“Wait, turn around, it looks like this road ends in a river.”
“If we can take this back road to Olot, then we can cut down to the C-63 and we will be good to go…”
“Guys, this is turning into a dirt road into this dark forest.”
“This looks like where we are going die…”
The protests ended up dying down around 7 or 8:00pm, because I guess even protesters need supper. Our convoluted back-roads route ended up taking us back to the main route to Barcelona shortly thereafter. We FINALLY made it to our hotel, the Hotel Vueling, at around 9:30pm, about 4 hours later than planned. Then, after dropping off the rental car back at BCN airport, we were ready for a damn beer.
The hotel was located on Gran Via, which was a great location as it was within walking distance of the Raval, Sant Antoni, and Eixample neighborhoods, as well as Las Ramblas. With the day we just had, we were looking for something walking distance that served food late, and luckily one of the places we had researched beforehand was right around the corner: Fabrica Moritz brewery and pub.
It was a massive space that would be great for large groups, and the have a very expansive menu. After plenty of jamón ibérico, pan con tomate/pa amb tomaquet, patatas bravas, and some tasty house brews, we were finally at ease.
Day 6: La Boqueria, Las Ramblas, and Barri Gotic
The next morning started with a quick workout at the hotel, followed by a walk through the Raval, en route to La Boqueria – the most famous market in Barcelona.
The Raval is known as a hip, diverse neighborhood with a lot of bars, international food options, and young people. The narrow, old streets have somewhat of an edgy feel to them, but it’s clear that gentrification of the area has long been underway.
En route to the market, we made a quick stop at Nomad Every Day coffee shop, regarded by many to be in the top echelon of Barcelona coffee.
I took this opportunity to try my first affogato – a double shot of espresso with a scoop of ice cream. I chose pistachio ice cream. It was lovely.
With a new pep in our step, we were en route to La Boqueria! About 5 minutes later we emerged onto Las Ramblas and pushed our way through the tourist crowds to get to the market. I came in with two goals; to get a famous Boqueria fresh fruit smoothie for 1 euro, and to get a MEAT CUP. Within minutes it was mission accomplished. There were smoothies and meats everywhere.
After our appetizers and doing some walking around, we decided to sit down for a real breakfast at the Ramblero stall.
After breakfast, we wanted to walk around and explore the beautiful streets of the Gothic Quarter. We came across several pleasant and lively plazas, and eventually happened upon the Barcelona Cathedral, which was magnificent.
Next up was Parc Güell, a park in the Gràcia neighborhood designed by the legendary Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí. Tip! Cabify is Barcelona’s Uber/Lyft substitute. It works pretty much the exact same way, and the fare was reasonable.
We elected not to pay the fee to enter the middle of the park where the main Gaudí structures were; we were content to walk the free surrounding paths and take in the breathtaking views of the city.
After a lot of walking around, we were ready to sit down and have a beer! It’s a little bit of a challenge to find good beer in Barcelona, but we had done our research and knew of a place in the Gothic Quarter called Kaelderkold. A casual place with 20 or so craft beers on tap, it was exactly what we were looking for to unwind a bit.
Next, we ran into an issue that we were aware of going into the trip: restaurants don’t open for dinner until at least 8pm! At least the good ones…
It was 6:30pm, and we were wander the streets around our hotel looking for a good place to have a bottle of wine and some light pinxtos, thinking that SOMETHING must be open. Nope. The only places open were the ones with pictures of their food on multilingual menus outside the door. No thanks!
We decided to go back to the hotel and utilized our free “welcome” drinks, before walking back to La Volàtil, pretty much right when it opened.
The place was empty, but we had a good experience talking to the waiter in detail about some of the items on the menu, and we got a seat where we could see straight into the kitchen as our food was made. We had some very good tapas (pan con tomate!) and wine as an appetizer, before walking down Gran Via to Crudo Bar, where we had a 9:30 reservation.
Crudo is a casual yet stylish bar and restaurant specializing in fresh seafood, but also serving the standard Catalonian tapas plates. We had some more pan con tomate (duh!), some jamón, some ceviche, and various other small seafood plates. All were fantastic!
After dinner, we really didn’t have anything specific planned. We all agreed that we were in the mood for a beer, so we ended up going back to Kaelderkold to close out the night.
Stay tuned for the rest of our stay in Barcelona!
Views from Parc Guell
Jamón ibérico and smoothies from La Boqueria
Nomad Every Day
General feeling of safety in all sections of the city that we visited, despite protests and political tension.
Not yet – Part 2 of our stay in Barcelona still to come!
After about 36 hours in hectic Marseille, the group was ready to check out the more quaint side of southern France. The next portion of the itinerary called for a breakfast in Marseille, followed by a drive up to Aix en Provence.
Day 4 started with another early morning run down La Canabiere to the port area, followed by checking out of the hotel and heading to Coogee for some breakfast and coffee. This was low-key one of the best meals we had on the whole trip. Nothing out of the ordinary, just very good coffee, muffins, and a fresh avocado toast with delightful smoked salmon, in a very interesting but peaceful space.
Next, before leaving Marseille for good, we wanted to get one more great panoramic view, and we had heard that there was a great one up at Notre Dame de la Garde. We heard right.
With our Instgrams all set to blow up with those sweet vistas, it was time to hit the road north to Aix en Provence.
We arrived around 12:30 at Le Pigonnet, about 5 minutes outside of downtown Aix. In the planning phase, we had made the conscious decision for the hotel in Aix to be our “splurge” hotel, since we were only staying there for one night. As we did our research we found that Le Pigonnet had a nice suite called “The Garden Apartment” available for $340. From what we could tell, it had two bedrooms, two nice bathrooms, and a big common area for the four of us to hang out in.
That was a heck of an undersell; this place was unbelievable. After checking in, we were escorted through the gorgeous grounds, back toward the pool, and through an iron gate with a “PRIVATE” sign. Through the gate was a private garden with a picnic table and lawn chairs, with a stone path leading up to a door. We stepped inside, expecting to be led down a hall to our suite, but instead, our escort simply said, “Bienvenue, enjoy your stay!”
We were in shock. The Garden Apartment consisted of a magnificent foyer, two large bedrooms each with an accompanying newly renovated luxury bathroom, a massive stocked kitchen and dining room, and a huge great room. It so exceeded our expectations that we spent probably about an hour just marveling at the place, and wondering how we got it for only $340. On our way out the front lobby we noticed a rate sign on the wall which confirmed that we had somehow landed this room at over a 50% discount. An off-season steal!
Exploring the grounds.
Jambon dans le jardin.
After exploring the grounds a bit, we were off to Chateau la Dorgonne, a winery about 35 minutes outside Aix, between the towns of La Tour d’Aigues and Mirabeau. Visitors to the winery are given a map of the vineyards, and have the option of taking the short route (45 minutes) or the long route (about 90 minutes) self-guided walk around the property.
A kitty roaming the grounds.
Dogs roaming the grounds.
Horses roaming the grounds.
Upon our return to the small shop, there was a tasting set up for us, mostly consisting of their reds and Provençal rosés. The wines were very good, and the tasting was free! We bought a few bottles, and grabbed some house olive oil, with the intention of picking up a fresh, warm baguette on the ride back that we could dip in some olive oil in our *private* garden! We did just that (buy one get one free baguettes!), and enjoyed the fruits of our travels. It was a blast!
Dinner, however, presented a bit of a challenge. We wanted to check out Aux Petits Oignons, a raved-about cheap eats spot in Centre Ville, but upon further review it was closed on Tuesday evenings. Bummer! But not to worry – we had backups. Or so we thought…we made a last-minute reservation online at a place that Google Maps said was open, but when our Uber dropped us off, it was closed. WTF!? The place took the online reservation when it was closed? Poor design. I didn’t even take down the name of the place, I was so flustered.
Anyway, at least we were still feelin’ good from all that wine earlier, so our spirits were still up. We wandered around Centre Ville to see what looked good, and ended up popping into an Italian restaurant called Le Four Sous le Platane. It was a solid meal, and the first place where I tried the Provençal favorite, pastis: an anise-flavored apertif.
After dinner, we walked around Centre Ville a bit more in the dark, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that there was actually quite a bit of life in this small town on a Tuesday night. It seemed like there were a lot of students hanging out at various bars around the area. That said, we couldn’t agree on where to go next. What we could agree on was that we were already sad that we’d have to leave Le Pigonnet in the morning. So, we decided to close out the night with the delightful bartenders at the hotel bar, where we learned the phonetic difference between “beaucoup” and “beau cul.” Definitely look into that if your a first time visitor to a French-speaking country…
Day 5: Aix en Provence (morning)
We woke up the next morning planning to check out of the hotel and head back to Centre Ville to walk around in the daylight and grab some breakfast, before hitting the road back to Spain.
We explored for a while before stopping at Cafe Weibel for breakfast and pastries, which was amazing – exactly what you would imagine breakfast at a French pastry shop to be.
After breakfast, we perused the small market that was right outside Weibel, and picked up some aromatic Marseille soaps for Christmas stocking stuffers.
And with that, we were on our way back to Barcelona, with a stop to see some sights in Girona along the way. Or so we thought…stay tuned…
Chateau la Dorgonne
Baguettes and olive oil
Centre Ville – on a Tuesday!
Go at a time of year when the lavender fields are in bloom
Part 1 of EuroTrip 2017! I was unbelievably excited to get this trip underway – my first time in Europe! I was a a little bit concerned that jet lag might put a damper on our enthusiasm once we touched down after the overnight flight from JFK to Barcelona, but trusty old adrenaline kicked in, and Part 1 was a grand success.
Hiking in Les Calanques
Putting our French skills to the test
Days 1 and 2 – Flight to Barcelona and Drive to Collioure/Marseille
When it was all said and done, we spent about 24 hours traveling before we could officially say that we had made it. We had found a $400 round trip flight with Iberia from JFK to Barcelona, which meant that we had to start it all off with a 6-hour drive down to JFK from Rochester. Add in the roughly 8 hours of flight time to Madrid, another hour to Barcelona, and some layovers, and we were just about 20 hours into the trip before we were on the road in our rental car for another 5 or 6 hours en route to Marseille!
After a lovely flight with some better-than-expected food and less-than-ideal sleep, we landed in Barcelona at around 10am on Sunday morning and got on the road in our Citroen Picasso minivan around noon. Driving out of the airport, we were struck by how much the area around Barcelona reminded us of San Francisco. Neighborhoods built into the hills, the dry, 60-degrees-and-sunny weather, and the water brought me back to the drive from SFO to San Francisco on West Coast Trip 2015.
After getting over some initial nerves about how I would cope with European driving (turns out they do drive on the right side of the road!), we were on our way to Marseille. We had picked out a few options for cities and towns to check out along the way to split up the Sunday drive. Girona, Perpignan, Collioure, and Bouzigues were all on the list, but we ended up choosing Collioure based on when we started to get hungry.
Collioure is a beautiful, tiny, fortified coastal town in France, just across the Spanish-French border.
The first order of business was finding the castle and waterfront, and snapping some pics for Instagram! We walked through the narrow streets to get to the main waterfront area, and took in some lovely views of the Mediterranean and the castle protecting the town.
Next, it was time to find some food. Being careful to avoid the potential tourist traps near the water, we ventured back inland and checked out a few menus before landing on L’Ostra, a small oyster, tapas and wine bar.
Being so close to the Spanish border, we noticed that this place almost had more of a Catalan influence than French. We ordered pan con tomate, jamon iberico, and of course, oysters and a bottle of red wine. The food was fantastic, and the owners of the bar were very friendly (and spoke just enough English). It couldn’t have been a more perfect first meal of the trip.
With a little bit of daylight left, we walked around the town some more, this time getting some pictures of a tiny church on the other side of the waterfront area.
With the sun starting to set, it was time to complete the journey to Marseille. Our destination was Le Ryad boutique hotel, off of La Canabiere, which is one of the main avenues in Marseille. After a minor mishap that resulted in me driving around the tiny streets of Marseille by myself with no phone or directions (it’s a long story), we were checked in and ready to go find some grub.
We had just enough time to walk from the hotel to Toinou for some really great seafood. We got a huge platter of seafood with dippin’ sauces, a bunch of baguettes, and a bottle of house wine at a very reasonable price. We were off to a great culinary start.
Word to the wise – I would recommend taking an Uber around La Canabiere at night, especially on a Sunday night or weeknight when the area is kind of dead. As we walked around the corner on the way to dinner, we walked right by a legit brawl in the street, and the rest of the walk to Toinou was very desolate. Be careful out there!
Day 3 – Marseille
The plan for Day 3 was to start off with an early hike in Parc National des Calanques, on a route that we had identified that starts in Cassis, about a 35 minute drive outside Marseille. However, an early morning run beforehand down to the port and back revealed that it may have been a bit too cold for hiking. We decided to bundle up anyway, and head out to Cassis. We parked the car, got out, and instantly decided that it was indeed too cold for a hike. But Cassis looked nice, so we decided to explore and try to find a spot for breakfast.
Not much was open in Cassis on a Monday morning, except for some bars on the harbor with locals drinking pastis or espresso or who knows what, curiously watching a confused group of Americans wandering aimlessly at non-peak tourist time, incredulously wondering why nothing is open. Finally, we found a pastry shop and filled up on croissants before grabbing a “takeaway” cappuccino at one of the aforementioned bars.
While the day was off to a bit of a rough start, we figured we might be able to still catch some sweet views if we drove around the Calanques. And we were right!
With lunchtime approaching, we headed back to the hotel to change before heading out for dejeuner at Le Fantastique. Lunch was terrific; the menu rotates constantly, as they select only three meal options to serve each day. Everything was very fresh, and reminded us all of a great home cooked meal. I chose chicken thighs over a bed of yellow rice, topped with a lovely gravy. It probably has some kind of French name, but I forgot. Oh, and good cheap wine!
Next up on the agenda was walking around Le Panier district, which is the part of town just north of the port with quiet, narrow streets and old beautiful architecture. There was also some colorful street art in the neighborhood.
After some exploring, it was time to do some more exploring! We took a ride over to the Cours Julien neighborhood, which is supposed to be the diverse, eclectic, hipster neighborhood of Marseille – and also known for having a lot of street art. We arrived at Le Quartier de Createurs (that’s “creators,” not “creatures”) just at sunset, which allowed us to get some great pictures of the colorful “Escaliers du Cours Julien” and views out over the streets below.
We didn’t have too much time to lollygag around unfortunately, but we had reservations for bouillabaisse at the old Marseille stand-by, Chez Fonfon. A couple of us had tried bouillabaisse in America, but it is a whole different experience in its homeland of Marseille. Or at least at Chez Fonfon.
First, the waiter brings around a massive platter of pre-prepared fish, and describes each in detail. The fish used in the day’s bouillabaisse is whatever was caught fresh at the market that morning. We had 5 varieties in ours (but I cannot remember any of them at this point).
After the fish presentation, a pleasant Frenchman comes around with a piping hot pot of red fish stew, accompanied with toasted baguette slices and various aioli and sauces. He ladled out a bowl for each of us, and we went to town on the delicious broth until, some time later, an outrageous amount of cooked fish came out on a plate for each of us, along with some potatoes.
The socially acceptable way to proceed from that point was to take the pieces of fish and potato, dip them into the broth, and chow down! The delightful Frenchman with the stew pot came around several more times for refills, and by the end of it all we were stuffed.
But just because you’re stuffed doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert! The group was struck by a sweet craving, so we set back out to find some tasty treats at La Cantinetta, a very well-reviewed Italian restaurant in Cours Julien that was high on our radar. We only had the amazing desserts, but the rest of the food coming out the kitchen looked incredible as well.
And just like that, after finishing off our bottle of Montepulciano, Day 3 of EuroTrip 2017 was complete!
Olympique de Marseille match
La Cantinetta for dinner
Hiking Les Calanques (when it’s a little warmer)
What do you think of this trip so far? What did we miss? Leave a comment!
Welcome to EuroTrip 2017! Here is a preview of what’s to come…
I embarked on my maiden voyage across the Atlantic with Rachel, and two of our closest friends (Steve and Nicole) about a month ago in early November. Judicious usage of my vacation time at work throughout the year allowed me to take a full week off, which we used to turn this into a Saturday – Sunday (8 days/9 nights) excursion. And I still have some time left to use for a New Year’s Eve trip!
The locations for the trip were selected somewhat randomly. We knew we wanted to go to Europe, and we spent a few months keeping an eye on flight deals from various sources, eventually choosing a round trip flight from JFK to Barcelona for $400 that we found via The Flight Deal newsletter. The deal was for the time period that we were looking at going, which also happened to be outside the peak season for visiting the Mediterranean, so we felt like we could possibly find good deals on hotels too. And we did!
Here is what the overall itinerary ended up looking like:
Drive from Rochester to JFK airport early Saturday.
Fly out of JFK Saturday evening, landing in Barcelona early Sunday morning.
Pick up a rental car and drive to Marseille, stopping in Collioure along the way.
Spend 2 nights in Marseille.
Drive to Aix en Provence for 1 day/night.
Drive back to Barcelona, drop off the rental car and stay 4 nights before flying back home the following Sunday morning.
Needless to say, I will be planning a return to Europe very soon. I’m super excited to share more photos and details from this trip over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for breakdowns of our itineraries in Collioure, Marseille, Aix en Provence, and Barcelona!
New Year’s Eve is coming up – an occasion that recently has called for a short trip to celebrate for my group of friends! With most lines of work offering paid holidays for NYE and/or New Year’s Day, NYE is a great excuse to plan a quick 3-4 day excursion. Over the past few years, my friends and I have chosen locations that are within close driving distance, and thus do not require us to use a lot (if any) of our vacation time. Hanging with friends, exploring a new city, with no vacation time required?? Sign me up!
Recently, for us here in Rochester, NY, this has meant spending NYE in Boston, Montreal, and last year, Ottawa!
Here are some spots to check out if you find yourself in the Canadian capitol during the cold winter months…
Byward Market. The market itself is well worth a visit, and the surrounding neighborhood is packed with bars, restaurants, and other places of interest. Both times that I have visited Ottawa I have stayed in Airbnb’s in the ByWard Market area – it is safe, walkable, and lively.
Level One/Loft. This cafe/bar/board game heaven was our absolute favorite place that we visited in Ottawa. We loved it so much, we ended up going here twice in the few days we were there! The warm and cozy feel is a perfect break from the bitter cold outside, and their massive game library is enough to keep you and your friends busy for as long as you want to stay. They have the classics for the casual board and card game player, and even the die-hard board game enthusiast would be hard-pressed to name a game that they do not have. Throw in a dynamite tap list and really good coffee drinks, and it’s game on!
Beavertails. An Ottawa staple, these friend dough treasures are well worth braving the cold. There are multiple locations throughout the city, including one right in the Byward Market.
Ice skating along the Rideau Canal– if it’s open. Unfortunately, both times I have been to Ottawa in the winter, the canal has been closed for skating (this time because the ice wasn’t thick enough yet, and last time because it was literally -25 degrees outside). But it usually opens up around the first week of January, so if it’s a cold early winter season it might be open for you on NYE!
Escape Rooms! If you find yourself wandering around Ottawa on New Year’s Day, you may find that, well, a lot of places are closed. As we randomly discovered, one type of establishment that must never close is escape rooms – another great activity for when it’s well below freezing temperature outside. We stumbled upon the first one, didn’t make it out, and then we made it our mission to get out of one. We ended up doing two more (successful both times!) that afternoon, and there were several more that we could have tried as well. I don’t have any real stats, but I have to think that Ottawa must have the most escape rooms per capita of any city.
Kettleman’s Bagels. Located in the Glebe neighborhood, Kettleman’s specializes in Montreal style bagels, which are smaller, denser, and sweeter (and, I think, better) than the New York style bagel.
I will definitely be back to Ottawa soon, perhaps when it’s a bit warmer than 0 degrees…comment with suggestions on what to see next time!
One of the ways I like to cram in some extra exploring is by extending existing trips by a day or two, either to investigate the destination more thoroughly or check out a surrounding area. In this case I was going to a weekend bachelor party at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, to which the closest major airports are Kansas City and St. Louis. I picked Kansas City, and flew in a day early to go on a tour de BBQ!
I landed in KC around 5:30pm local time, and checked into my Airbnb, which was on a relatively quiet and picturesque street in the Midtown-Westport area. A few of my fellow bachelor party attendees, including the bachelor, had caught wind of my idea and also flown in early, so we coordinated our Ubers to arrive at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Q at 6:30pm.
Previously known as Oklahoma Joe’s, Joe’s Kansas City patrons cram inside a gas station on the Kansas side of KC. Anthony Bourdain has listed this joint as one of his “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.” I have a hard time disagreeing with him.
I got their signature “Z-Man” sandwich – sliced brisket, with melted provolone cheese, fried onion rings, and their signature sauce. Already in heaven, I was given a rib by one of my companions, and my head started spinning. I thought that we have some good barbecue here in Rochester NY (which we do), but I have never had a rib this good and I don’t expect to ever again…unless I return to Joe’s.
The tour de BBQ started with a bang, but we were sure to leave enough room to try a at least one or two more smoked meats. Next up was Q39 in Midtown – not really upscale by any means, but a bit less casual than Joe’s. The inside was more modern and trendy, with a large full service bar and TVs to watch the games.
I had read that Kansas City smokers are judged by their burnt ends, which are regarded as a BBQ delicacy in some parts. At Joe’s I had to try the Z-Man, so I opted to go with a basic burnt end sandwich at Q39. The ends were super tender, and came slathered in a zesty sauce on perfectly toasted bun. 👌
Hours 3 – 7
Despite our best efforts to save enough room for a third barbecue stop, we were full. It was time to check out the bar scene, starting with Harry’s Bar and Tables. Mind you, this was a Wednesday night, so the scene wasn’t too crazy, but it seemed like the kind of place (and surrounding area) that is probably very lively on the weekends.
After a drink on their large outdoor patio, we took an Uber over to the arcade bar Up-Down, in the Crossroads neighborhood. At this lively spot there was a big crowd playing games, taking in some views on the top floor deck, and drinking very reasonably priced brews.
Green Lady Lounge was a short walk away, and we had another cocktail there as we watched some live jazz. The old school jazz lounge offers free shows seven nights a week, and the bar does a solid job slingin’ tasty classic cocktails.
Hours 8 – 15
The group was up relatively early to pack up for Lake of the Ozarks, and the first stop on the way out was First Watch in North Kansas City. After loading up on avocado toast, eggs, and maple bacon, we were off to the airport to pick up a few more people flying in for the bachelor party.
On the way out of the city heading south, I convinced my car mates to make one final stop for smoked meats at LC’s Bar-B-Q.
Here, again, I had to try the burnt ends. While perhaps not quite as tender as Q39’s, they were still excellent, and LC’s sauce was definitely my favorite of the three places that we tried. What I was more impressed with was the plate of rib tips that we ordered to share, which were amazing.
And with that, at around 12:30pm we took our stuffed selves down to the lake to party. My 18 hour Tour de BBQ was in the books.
The 1000 Islands is a beautiful area, and as such it is a very popular place for people in New York and Ontario to have a cabin or cottage to use on summer weekends.
From Rochester, the 1000 Islands are probably at the maximum driving distance for having a weekend getaway cottage or cabin – about 3 hours, depending on the town. One of the popular getaway towns on the St. Lawrence River is Clayton, NY. One of my best friends has a cottage there, so Rachel and I recently took a quick weekend trip up there to hang with a couple of Bro’d Trippers!
We arrived in Clayton around noon on Saturday, and promptly made our way to the St. Lawrence Spirits Chateau, which had a marvelous view of the river.
The spirits weren’t too shabby either. The Downbound Gin was my favorite, followed closely by the Rye Knot Moonshine. The tasting is only $5 and the spirits are strong, so be careful!
After our tasting we headed into downtown Clayton for lunch and brews at Wood Boat Brewery.
I was impressed by the beers, but even more so by their brick oven pizzas. At places known for pizza I often get a basic margherita pizza so that I can compare apples to apples between restaurants, and that’s what I did here. The crust was the highlight – perfectly browned, not too thick, not too thin, and quite flavorful. Highly recommended.
We followed lunch up with a tasting at Coyote Moon Vineyard – we had a reservation for their wine boat cruise later in the evening, and we wanted to try their wines so that we knew what bottles we wanted to pick for the cruise.
While not directly on the river, the vineyard is still quite picturesque, with a small outdoor stage for live music and a bunch of outdoor games in on the back lawn. The tasting room is small but nice, and they give out some generous pours of their wines, which were very good. If they have the apple pie wine slushy on tap when you visit, do it!
We had just enough time after the winery to sneak in a round of 18 at River Golf Adventures, before heading to Coyote Moon’s downtown location for the booze cruise.
Little did we know, included in the price of the cruise is a tasting of four wines, so that you can decide which bottle you want to bring on the boat. We were OK with that! We just doubled down on our favorites from the vineyard a couple of hours prior, and then made our way onto the boat with bottles in hand. As with any booze cruise I’ve been on, things started a little quiet, with people kind of feeling out the scene and taking in the scenery.
There was a bachelorette party on the boat, us (a group of three guys and a girl), and about 30 middle aged women. We knew that by the time everyone was halfway through their red blends, this boat was about to be lit. Sure enough, about an hour in the trip had evolved into an all-out wine-fueled dance party. It was a blast, and I will absolutely do this wine cruise again the next time I go up to the Islands.
After the booze cruise, shenanigans continued at O’Briens, with food, drinks and live music!
After sleeping off the prior day’s activities, the next morning started with an early run and bike ride. And finally, on the way out of town we hit the #1 most essential stop on any trip to the islands: River Rat Cheese. If you’re not going to get River Rat cheese curds, you might as well not even go to the 1000 Islands, and that’s a fact.
And just like that we were on the road back to Rochester, with curds and a block of maple cheddar in tow. A solid 24 hour trip in the books.
What are some of your favorite weekend getaways? Tell me in the comments!