craft beer

A Quick Stopover in Madrid

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Those taking un viaje to España, listen up: the capital city is not one to skip. Yeah, yeah, I know you have other places to be but trust me on this one, you will not regret a night or two in Madrid. Actually, it's more likely you'll be wishing you stayed longer! Madrid is a perfect blend of bustling metropolis with cool, vibrant culture that gives Spain its flair. If you fly Spain's national carrier, Iberia, it's an easy, direct flight and then you'll have an opportunity to relax on the Renfe Ave (aka the high-speed train)* to get to your next destination. While there are muchos activities to keep you ocupado for days in this ciudad, here's a list of 5 things you can do if you're only there a short time but want to experience some of the local culture:

  1. Soak in the grand surroundings in Plaza Mayor. This expansive space is a busy and often touristy area but no better way to get the taste of a city by visiting its most central square. Not to mention it also helps you get your bearings. 
  2. Hang with the locals at an authentic tapas bar. There's nothing more typical of Spain than its small plates culture. Bodega de la Ardosa is a popular traditional spot packed full of locals and visitors alike all socializing, imbibing and filling their bellies. (Calle de Colón, 13)
  3. Indulge in some churros con chocolate. Centrally-located Chocolatería San Ginés has been serving these delights forever and it's always a solid choice to end your evening. (Pasadizo San Ginés, 5)
  4. Skip the sangria and opt for some local craft beer instead. Spain actually drinks a lot more beer than you'd expect and chill places like Fábrica Maravillas are doing a great job with their craft brews. (Calle de Valverde, 29)
  5. Take a siesta in Parque del Retiro. What's the point of a vacay in Spain without embracing the midday rest? With dinner not starting until 9p or even later, you're gonna need it and this beautiful park is a wonderful place to relax.

Need a place to rest your head? Do it in style at the perfectly-located, beautiful Principal Hotel. Rooms are elegant and comfy and best of all you are welcomed with a glass of cava to enjoy on the rooftop terrace that looks down on the bustling Gran Vía. (Calle Marqués de Valdeiglesias, 1)

*NOTE (from experience, unfortunately): Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to go through security at the train station and get to your platform which closes its doors 5min prior to departure. You'll also want some time to watch the turtles frolic in the indoor tropical sanctuary. You're welcome. Adiós!

Fantastic Food, Fizzy Wine & Fast Cars in Modena

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As I mentioned in my last post, the Italian region of Emilia Romagna is not necessarily on every tourist's radar and it should be for good reason. If you decide to drop on in, and you should, the small city of Modena is a perfect spot for your home base. Its piccolo size makes Modena very walkable in about 15 min max from one end to the other and it is full of lively piazze and cute places to stop and have a spritz.

Modena is only a 30-min drive from Bologna and reachable by regional train (although the car will come in handy for venturing outside the city). Its location is somewhere in the middle of Milan, Venice and Florence making it an easy, less-touristy stop on your vacation to the larger cities. The most convenient airport to fly into is Bologna's Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) but visitors can also opt to fly into Milan's Malpensa Airport (MXP), Florence's Peretola Airport (FLR), or Venice's Marco Polo Airport (VCE) depending on what else is on the agenda. We flew into Bologna and made Modena our homebase for exploring Emilia Romagna but you could also fly into one of the larger cities and make your way through the region, stopping in places along the way. An Italian road trip...the best kind! Regardless of how you do it, make sure Modena is on your list. Here are my recommendations for a magical and memorable stay:

SEE & DO

Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande - As the name suggests, this is the largest of the piazze in Modena and where you'll find il duomo. Perfect for grabbing a cappuccino and watching the world go by.

Piazza della Pomposa - This lively square in the northern corner of the city is a little more quaint and a great place for aperitivo or post-dinner drink.

Acetaia Pedroni - Venture about 30 minutes outside the city center to experience one of the best balsamic vinegar producers in the region. This family-run acetaia offers guided tours to learn about the intricate details of producing this "liquid gold." After the tour, dine in their osteria where you'll have the chance to taste the thick, syrupy substance (*note: NOTHING like we Americans know) with your yummy dish of pasta. After having actual aceto balsamico di Modena, I'm convinced what we've been getting here in the States is not real! (Via Risaia, 6, 41015 Castelfranco Emilia)

Museo Enzo Ferrari - If you're into fancy cars and nice things, then this is the museum for you. Learn about the man behind the brand and admire these works of art in the area where the sports cars were born. For those interested, there are shuttle buses that bring you to the 2nd museum in Maranello (about 30-min away) which is where the factory is located. For those looking to splurge a little, it is possible to take a Ferrari for a drive from both locations. (Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, Modena & Via Alfredo Dino Ferrari, 43, Maranello)

EAT

Osteria Francescana - This 3-Michelin starred restaurant run by chef Massimo Bottura was named the Best Restaurant in the WORLD in 2016. Dining here will not be cheap but will be memorable to say the least. Be sure to reserve your table at least 3-4 months in advance or risk disappointment! (Via Stella 22, Modena)

Franceschetta 58 - Located on the outskirts of the city is this contemporary little cousin of Osteria Francescana. This place is a perfect way to experience amazing food from talented chef Bottura if gastronomy and fine dining is not really your thing (or if you simply cannot get a table at Osteria Francescana). Not a bad choice on the menu. Be sure to go with an empty stomach and make a reservation. (Strada Vignolese, 58)

Ristorante Da Danilo - A great place to experience the typical food and drink of the region like tortellini in brodo (ricotta-stuffed pasta in broth), tortelloni di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta in a butter and parmesan "sauce") and lambrusco. Great wine list. (Via Coltellini, 31)

Mon Cafè - A lovely place to have coffee and breakfast, and reminiscent of a stylish Parisian cafe. The owners, who also own a B&B in-town (info below), are extremely welcoming and accommodating. Excellent coffee and pastry and a sophisticated outdoor terrace make this place a must. (Corso Canalchiaro, 128)

DRINK

La Bicicletta Caffe & Salumi - Located in a quaint piazza, this lively salumeria is a great place to be for aperitivo (happy hour) sipping on an Aperol spritz. There is a large, outdoor patio for when the weather's nice and yummy snacks to go along with your drinks. (Via Sant'Eufemia, 26)

Al Goblet Birroteca - If you need a break from wine or are simply curious what local craft beers are like, head here. Its location in Piazza della Pomposa makes this place perfect for aperitivo or post-dinner drinks when you can expect the crowd to be congregating out in the piazza. (Via Castelmaraldo, 41)

Caffeteria Giusti - This tiny little hole in the wall makes a great spritz served with some salty nibbles and is great for a more intimate, quieter aperitivo. When the weather is nice, there are a couple tables outside under the loggia. (Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 83)

STAY

B&B Quartopiano - Unlike the larger hotels in this city which are limited and nothing special, this stylish 2-bedroom bed and breakfast run by owners of Mon Cafè is a cozy place to rest your head and bellies. The decor has a warm, charming, farmhouse feel to it with neutral linens and vintage furnishings and the owners are very welcoming, offering their local recommendations. You can opt to have breakfast at their cafe too which was lovely...and included in your room rate. Rooms from 100eur/nt including breakfast. (Via Bonacorsa, 27)

If you're looking for fantastic food, fizzy wine and fast cars then put Modena on your next Italian itinerary. I promise you will not regret it! Buon viaggio!

The adorable reception area at the B&B Quartopiano

The adorable reception area at the B&B Quartopiano

Cozy room Guerriero

Cozy room Guerriero

Eclectic, vintage decor 

Eclectic, vintage decor 

A cute farmhouse kitchen at the B&B Quartopiano

A cute farmhouse kitchen at the B&B Quartopiano

Lovely little dining table for breakfasts

Lovely little dining table for breakfasts

Aperitivo....our favorite time of day!

Aperitivo....our favorite time of day!

Sunshine & Salsa in San Juan

The tropical side of San Juan Puerto Rico

The tropical side of San Juan Puerto Rico

The capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan, is more than just a port of call on your Caribbean cruise or a layover on your way to the BVIs. It is a fun place to experience some culture--a mix between European (from its history with Spain) and latin (from its location)--along with the usual sun and sea you get with a Caribbean vacation. And perhaps the best part is that it is a direct flight from several major cities on the east coast making it very convenient. In just about 4 hours you can be transported from the 30-degree snowy weather in Boston to the salsa club, mojito in hand. It is these two things--culture & convenience--that give San Juan an advantage in my book. Here are my reccos on what to see/do/eat/drink and where you should call home on this island.

 

WHERE TO STAY

San Juan has an old, historical center where most of the action (and culture) is however there are not many hotels to choose from in this area and it is sans sand. To hit the beach, you must venture outside of the old city walls to areas like Condado or Isla Verde. If you want the nicest beaches in the area, appreciate being close to the airport and don't plan on spending much time in Old San Juan then Isla Verde fits your bill. But if you want the best of both worlds--having a (small) beach AND being close to the cultural city center--then Condado is the better choice.

Condado is located about 10-15 min by car from Old San Juan and has a good selection of hotels and resorts to choose from. I had the pleasure of staying at the Condado Vanderbilt, a 5-star hotel that opened in a historical mansion in December 2014, and highly recommend this to anyone who can afford it. Rooms during high season can be pricey but sites like Expedia often offer discounts and recently I've seen rooms going for less than $300/nt (the Zika effect maybe?). This luxurious hotel boasts 3 pools with an oceanview (perfect for enjoying your piña colada), glasses of champagne upon check-in, one of the best spas on the island (Turkish hammam anyone?) and comfy rooms with gorgeous marble bathrooms. It is located on a small, rocky beach but guests have access to the public beach next door or can use the amenities at the La Concha hotel also located next door. (Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1055 Ashford Ave. San Juan)

Views from the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

Views from the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

View from our room overlooking the Condado coastline
View from our room overlooking the Condado coastline
The terrace at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

The terrace at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

My favorite of the 3 pools at the Condado Vanderbilt 

My favorite of the 3 pools at the Condado Vanderbilt 

WHAT TO DO

  1. Explore Old San Juan - The old city is a must-see with its cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and historical fortresses. Get as far away from the cruise ships as possible to truly experience the charm this place has to offer (the area around Calle Sol, Calle San Sebastián, Calle Luna, and Calle del Cristo is wonderful) and enjoy spectacular views from Castillo San Cristóbal. Oh and of course, no trip is complete without getting a custom-made Panama Hat from Ole Curiosidades! (105 Calle de La Fortaleza San Juan)
  2. Visit El Yunque Rainforest - For a little taste of nature, make the 45-minute trek out to the tropical rainforest, the only one of its kind in the U.S. There are many trails for hiking, waterfalls for swimming, or for a little adrenaline rush rent an ATV or zipline through the treetops. (El Yunque Portal Visitor Center, PR-191, Río Grande)
  3. Go Salsa Dancing - To really get a taste for some Puerto Rican spice, get those hips moving at Nuyorican Cafe in Old San Juan and experience some salsa music. Don't worry, a little liquid courage is acceptable. (312 Calle San Francisco, San Juan)
  4. Charter a boat - Whether you prefer hoisting the sails or living the lux life there are several ways to hit the high seas. Options include a private luxury yacht charter around San Juan Bay with Charters Puerto Rico and a group catamaran & snorkel tour aboard the Spread Eagle II to the picturesque islands off the shores of Fajardo in northeastern Puerto Rico.
  5. Experience a natural wonder - Take a kayak through the Laguna Grande bioluminescent bay located off the shores of Fajardo. The bright blue glow emanating from the water at night is worth the hour drive from San Juan.
Colorful buildings along Calle Luna in Old San Juan

Colorful buildings along Calle Luna in Old San Juan

Check out those terraces...so pretty! 

Check out those terraces...so pretty! 

Castillo San Cristóbal, one of many fortresses protecting Old San Juan 

Castillo San Cristóbal, one of many fortresses protecting Old San Juan 

Shopping for Panama hats at Ole Curiosidades. So many ribbon options! 

Shopping for Panama hats at Ole Curiosidades. So many ribbon options! 

WHERE TO EAT

  1. Marmalade - The best of the best that Old San Juan has to offer so don't expect to have a cheap meal here but do expect it to be life-changing. Mediterranean meets Caribbean cuisine using the freshest ingredients. Chef's tasting menus available for a really special occasion. Reservations are a must. (317 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  2. Santaella - One of the most-sought after tables on the island is at this hip, chill restaurant located in the lively Santurce neighborhood. Cuisine is Puerto rican using fresh, local ingredients and the craft cocktails are creative and fun. Reservations are a must. (219 Calle Canals, San Juan)
  3. Aguaviva - Cute little place in Old San Juan with yummy seafood. Order the ceviche sampler with tostones (fried green plantains) and some pineapple mojitos. Que delicioso! Reservations recommended. (364 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  4. Pirilo - Great for a casual night of pizza and beer. Fun atmosphere. Also in Old San Juan. Does not accept reservations. (207 Calle Tanca, San Juan)
  5. Oceano - This is the place for upscale Caribbean dining in a modern, beachfront mansion located in Condado. Snag a table outside for lunch with a view or head indoors for dinner in a trendy, sleek atmosphere. Reservations recommended. (2 Calle Vendig, Condado)

 

WHERE TO DRINK

  1. La Factoria - Delicious craft cocktails in a hip, rustic speakeasy (yes, there are hidden bars in the back!) with great music in Old San Juan. Ambiance gets A++. Order the Lavender Mule and if you're lucky it will be served in a stainless steel mug with a lavender sprig. Best drink all week. (148 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan)
  2. The Mezzanine at St. Germain - Another great craft cocktail bar in Old San Juan that has a more vintage, lounge-like, living room feel to it. This is the place to go if you want a little history with your mojito. Turns out, this place used to be the headquarters for the Puerto Rican nationalist party. (156 Calle Sol, 2nd Floor, San Juan)
  3. La Taberna Lupulo - If you need a rest from all the rum, head to this bar in Old San Juan for a lengthy craft beer list served with some proper 80s tunes to delight the ears. (151 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan)
  4. La Barrachina - The piña colada originates from Puerto Rico and this place in Old San Juan is where it all started. There is a nice outdoor patio to enjoy your creamy coconut and pineapple creation. (104 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  5. Caribar - Located at the waterfront Caribe Hilton hotel in Condado, this place also claims to be where the piña colada was invented. Give both places a try and see for yourself which one does it best. (1 Calle San Gerónimo, San Juan)

 

So the next time you're looking to plan a trip to the Caribbean, consider San Juan. The quick, direct flights make it a great destination for a long weekend or you have more time, spend half of your week in San Juan and the other visiting Puerto Rico's gorgeous islands of Vieques and Culebra. Buen viaje!

Hola from Old San Juan! 

Hola from Old San Juan! 

An old lookout point at the fortress in Old San Juan 

An old lookout point at the fortress in Old San Juan 

View from the infinity pool at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

View from the infinity pool at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

Cocktails poolside. Cheers! 

Cocktails poolside. Cheers! 

Ireland Day 2: Cork & Kinsale

River Lee, Cork City Ireland
River Lee, Cork City Ireland

I feel like Rick Steves saying this, but thanks for joining! For day 2 of the Ireland adventure, we're headed south to County Cork. Cork city is just shy of about 3 hours from Galway (which, incase you missed it, I covered with County Clare in my last post). It was definitely the largest distance we had to cover on our trip so we did it as efficiently as possible and took the major highways. We chose to see the city of Cork and the little seaside town of Kinsale, which I HIGHLY recommend. Here are the highlights:

CORK

Located on an island in the River Lee, the city of Cork is a lively college town with a youthful vibe. Strolling the major roads I could have sworn I was in an English city by glancing at the shops and buildings (a mini London perhaps), but once I tucked away down some smaller streets and alleys I felt back in Ireland again. The city was decorated for Christmas which made for a festive vibe. It was fun to explore and was a nice city but was not my favorite stop just because the culture didn't feel as rich as other places we visited and I tend to enjoy the smaller towns more than the bigger cities. But to be fair, we did not spend a lot of time here.

SEE/DO

English Market - A large, enclosed market loaded with stalls selling everything from the local catch of the day to fresh produce to baked goods. I'm a sucker for a good food market because you get a taste for local culture so naturally I loved strolling this place. (Princes St)

Fish at English Market Cork
Fish at English Market Cork

Stretch Your Legs - Cork is a wonderful city for walking whether it's along the river banks or down the pedestrian-only streets. In particular, the Paul Street/Emmett Place area, Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding side streets give you a good feel for the city and are loaded with pubs, shops and restaurants.

Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland

Jameson Distillery - Technically in nearby Midleton, this is mecca for whiskey fans. Take a tour with a tasting at the end or skip the tour altogether and opt for the premium whiskey tasting in which you get to sample some rare reserves. (Old Distillery Walk, Midleton)

Blarney Castle - Located about 15 minutes outside of Cork city, this is the home of the famous Blarney Stone. We decided to skip this because Ireland is full of castles that we were going to see and I really didn't care to kiss a stone that thousands of others laid their lips on! (Blarney)

EAT/DRINK

Farmgate Cafe - Located upstairs in the English Market, this delightful eatery serves up fresh, local food sourced from the market below. Choose a seat along the balcony counter for great people watching. (The English Market, Princes St)

Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub - A craft beer delight, this place brews its own beer and has a beer garden for when the weather is nice. (14 North Mall)

STAY

Hayfield Manor - Located about a mile from the city center and tucked away down a residential street, this lovely 5-star boutique hotel is worth staying slightly outside the city for. It was like we were pulling up to an old mansion in the country. The Christmas decorations and fireplace in the lobby were lovely. Rates from 150eur/nt. (Perrott Ave)

Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland
Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland

Imperial Hotel - This 4-star hotel is a good option if you prefer to stay in the city center. Rates from 100eur/nt. (South Mall)

KINSALE

Located on the coast about 30 minutes south of Cork, is the adorable, charming, little seaside town of Kinsale. The buildings are so colorful and the streets super quaint. We enjoyed how quiet it was when we were there but in the summer it can get pretty packed with tourists, but I don't blame everyone because this town is not to be missed.

SEE/DO

Main Street - The entire town is walkable in 15 minutes or less but be sure to stroll this narrow street which is loaded with cute shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland

Market Square - Marked by a museum with an anchor leaning up against its building is this tiny little square full of charm, color and cuteness.

The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum
The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum

EAT/DRINK

Fishy Fishy - Quality seafood restaurant serving up delicious local fare in an upscale setting by the waterfront. The oysters from nearby Oysterhaven were some of the best we've ever tasted and perhaps the oyster world's best kept secret. This is one of the most well-known and highest-regarded restaurants in all of Ireland. Reservations required. (Crowley's Quay)

The Folk House Bar - Perhaps one of my favorite watering holes we visited on the entire trip, this pub had an impressive list of whiskey and craft brews and had a comfy leather couch by the cozy, warm fire. It was more than easy to pass the time here! Also a good spot for live music. Tip: Try anything by Blacks of Kinsale for a taste of what's local. And delicious.(Guardwell)

Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland
Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland

So, to summarize. Kinsale-- get there, you'll love it. It's hard not to. Next time I'd like to stay overnight there. Cork-- a college town but good to experience if you're in this part of Ireland. Next up: day 3 in County Kerry, including some beautiful landscapes in the Beara Peninsula, loads of nature in the Killarney National Park & pub crawling the town of Killarney. Stay tuned and in the words of Rick Steves, "keep on traveling."