vacations

The Truth About Third World Travel

I recently discovered the site Wait But Why and am hooked.

For each post, Tim Urban, the site’s sole writer and illustrator, delves into a topic—like How to Pick Your Life Partner, or Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy—in such a hilarious, honest, intelligent and insightful way. I’ll find myself reading and laughing out loud and exclaiming, “That’s awesome—and so true!!!”

Take, for example, this post, “Traveling to the Third World Is Great and Also It Sucks.”

As Urban describes it:

You know that upsetting person who posts pictures on Facebook of themselves doing some delicious- or beautiful- or wild-looking activity in somewhere like Tanzania or India or Peru? And even though they’re posting for their own purposes as part of a skillful weave of Image Crafting and Jealousy Inducing, it makes you yearn anyway as you sit there in whatever shitty life you’ve chosen for yourself?

The thing you need to remember is that they did some careful cropping on the photo—they cropped out the misery. Misery is a government requirement when you visit a country like Tanzania or India or Peru and your body is totally unaccustomed to the ecosystem, but that’s easy to forget when you’re not there.

So it’s not that your upsetting friend isn’t having a great time—they are—but beneath their shit-eating open-jaw delighted smile and upward-extended arms grasping into the succulent mist of a waterfall, just a couple feet down are aching, blistered feet, malaria-ridden-mosquito bitten legs, and some gurgling diarrhea nightmare.

He then goes into detail about why third world trips are so amazing but also so miserable—in a very logical way.

I have to agree 100%!

Most of my favorite trips have been to third world countries. And while they were life-changing and pretty fabulous overall, there was a fair share of misery involved.

Like:

  • Peeing all over my jeans because I wasn’t accustomed to using a drop toilet. (China)
  • Staying in a hotel that lacked heat and hot water in winter, in the middle of a dessert. I was so frozen I didn’t even want to wash my hands after going to the bathroom. (Bolivia)
  • Having to use the buddy system to walk home after dark due to the risk of violent crime. (Guatemala)
  • Getting so tossed around in rough water while snorkeling that I actually threw up. (Nicaragua)
  • Taking icy showers with no water pressure in poorly heated hotels/homes. (Almost every third world country)
  • Not being able to flush toilet paper. (Almost every third world country)

I almost feel like an ass writing all those out, because it shows just how lucky we are. You don’t often think of flushing toilet paper as an amazing luxury. Or browsing in a shop without being an easy target for persistent store owners.

salesman-1 salesman-2

So yes, third world trips are fantastic. But I don’t believe anyone who says there’s not discomfort and misery involved!

(Images by Tim Urban via Wait But Why)

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A Long Weekend in New Orleans

I try to take an end-of-year trip each time I find myself with a few unused vacation days in November or December.

In 2013, I put my last two days towards a trip to London. At the end of 2014, Evan and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, right before the holidays.

I had high hopes for a Christmassy trip, with warm, humid weather in the low 70s. Unfortunately, it was chilly, rainy and cloudy for our entire trip.

Still, we had a great time—it’s hard not to, in NOLA! The city is unlike anywhere else: gorgeous architecture, a European vibe, great music and lots and lots of amazing food!

Evan and I flew in on Thursday night. We checked into our B and B, the Green House Inn, on Magazine Street…

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

…and settled into our room.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We were starving, but since it was after 10 p.m., most restaurants were closed. So we headed right to Bourbon Street. Our first stop was Killer Poboys, a little shop run out of the divey Erin Rose Bar. We both inhaled shrimp poboys (which were prepared banh mi style, with shredded carrots, cilantro and Sriracha aioli) and Abitas.

Killer Poboys, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Afterwards, we poured the rest of my beer into a to-go cup, and walked down Bourbon Street. (Another reason I love NOLA—it’s kind of nice to walk down the street with your drink!) We ducked into a few bars, and Evan got one of those infamous hand grenade drinks.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the French Quarter without getting beignets. We topped off our night with a few, plus cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe DuMonde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Beignets | nycexpeditionist.com The next morning was chilly and gloomy. We walked down Magazine Street to Mother’s, a NOLA institution that opened in 1938. The restaurant is super-casual, and known for its ham.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

You walk in, grab a menu, and wait on line to give your order at the counter. Afterwards, you take your number, find a table and wait for someone to bring you your food.

We were lucky—since it was a rainy weekday, there was only a short line. But on weekends, it can span all the way out the door and down the block.

Evan and I shared a crawfish etouffee omelet, a biscuit and a side of Mother’s famous ham. That omelet was one of the best things we ate on the trip. The etouffee was rich and went perfectly with the eggs.

By the time we finished eating, a steady, chilly rain was falling.

Mothers, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Wandering through the neighborhoods to check out the architecture wasn’t an option. So we decided to ride the streetcar through the Garden District and scope out the grand homes adorned for Christmas.

Unfortunately, I walked us past the streetcar stop a few times. I hadn’t realized that not all stops are obvious—like at Saint Charles and Poydras, if there’s no streetcar coming, regular cars drive right in that lane! After we found the stop, we waited nearly a half hour for a streetcar to arrive. By the time it did, we were soaked.

Still, we tried to take in as much as we could, through the wet, foggy windows.

Garden district home, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode the car to the end of the Saint Charles line, and back. At that point, we were hungry for lunch. We opted for Peche, the latest restaurant from renowned NOLA chef Donald Link. True to its name, it specialized in seafood.

It was the perfect meal for a soaked, chilled couple. Everything we ate was fabulous and fresh—Gulf oysters, gumbo, catfish and greens in chili broth, shrimp over pasta in an Asian-style bolognese.

Oysters at Peche, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com And chocolate banana cream pie! I would go back to NOLA just for a slice of that.

Afterwards, we walked back to the Green House Inn. We were tired and cold from being in the rain all day. Luckily, the inn had a (clothing-optional!) pool and hot tub in the backyard, surrounded by plants.

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Green House Inn, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

That night, we weren’t too hungry because we’d been eating all day. But we felt we couldn’t miss out on a NOLA dinner. We cabbed it to Jacques Imo’s. I loved the place, from the moment we walked in. The main dining room felt like you were at a friend’s house. Strings of Christmas lights hung from the walls and the table cloths had funky patterns. The overall vibe was warm and cozy.

I wish I could go back and re-eat everything we had that night—when I wasn’t drained and slightly stuffed. Because it was all outstanding. We started with a piece of cornbread, followed by their house salad—a bed of baby spinach with one fried oyster on top. I have to say, it was the best fried oyster I’ve ever eaten.

For our entrees, I had shrimp etouffee—which was completely different from the etouffee we had that morning. It was lighter in a tomato-based sauce. Evan had stuffed catfish. Somehow, we finished everything.

Jacques Imo's, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we left the city to go swamp kayaking. The rain had stopped, though it was still cloudy and chilly. We booked a trip through New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours, and drove 40 minutes to Pearl River.

Driving to Pearl River | nycexpeditionist.com We met our kayaking group at a rest stop off the highway. Talk about swamp country! The rest stop looked exactly how you’d imagine one in the Louisiana boonies. Our group leader, who had grown up right on that swamp, helped load us into kayaks. Evan and I shared one, he in the back, me in the front.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Since it was December, the swamp was mostly bare and grey. It had a quiet beauty, though.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

We paddled among cypresses and tupelos.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Occasionally, we came across abandoned boats and river shacks.

Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Swamp kayaking, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Unfortunately, we didn’t see any alligators.

Except in sausage form.

After kayaking back to the rest stop, our guide told us that the gas station there actually serves great alligator sausages. We had to try one—and she was right! It was delicious.

Later that evening, we went to Bacchanal, a place two of my co-workers had visited on separate trips and raved about. It’s located on a corner in the Bywater, an area I find romantic and mysterious. I was hoping to walk around and check out the architecture, but that didn’t happen this trip. Still, I was glad we spent the evening there. Because Bacchanal is truly a special place. It’s a wine and cheese shop in the front, where you can sample wines and buy a glass. You can also pick out cheeses that they’ll plate for you. You then enjoy both, plus other food from their kitchen, and live music, in the backyard. Cheese plate at Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com On the night we were there, a band was playing NOLA-style Christmas music. (And you know how much I love Christmas.) A drummer, tuba player and violinist played jazzy, melancholy takes on the classics.

Bacchanal, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com Evan and I lingered for a while, just enjoying the sounds, food and overall atmosphere. I’d been wanting to experience a bit of Christmas in New Orleans, and I found it at Bacchanal.

We left when the band was winding down, but headed right to Cafe Du Monde. We couldn’t leave NOLA without another round of beignets. 

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Cafe Du Monde, NOLA | nycexpeditionist.com

Favorite Destination of 2014: San Sebastian, Spain

Of all the places I visited this year, one was my clear favorite: San Sebastian, Spain.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was one of those rare cities where I felt I could actually live.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

My family and I spent a few days there, on the tail end of our Spain trip.

I was so glad it worked out that way. San Sebastian definitely closed our vacation on a high note.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian is one of those rare beach towns that feels cosmopolitan.

It has historic buildings, great shops and restaurants, and a river running through it. (It reminded me a bit of Boston and Cambridge.)

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Gorgeous beaches flanked by hills make up its coastline. And the city has an active vibe that I loved: I saw so many surfers, bikers and runners.

Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian also has some of the most unique, inventive and delicious food I’ve come across during my travels. The city is Spain’s unofficial pintxos capitol—small bites served in bars, alongside txakoli, an effervescent Basque wine.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But more about pintxos in a few.

Hotel Okako, a small boutique, was our home base.

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The rooms were tiny, but clean, comfortable and artfully decorated. (That’s my single, below.)

Hotel Okako, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was in an ideal location, just minutes from Zurriola beach and Parte Vieja, the old town.

On our first day, one of Okako’s employees recommended Bodega Donostiarra, a restaurant just a few blocks away.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We had a delicious lunch that included prawns and rice…

Prawns and rice, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and seafood skewers.

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

It was a fantastic first meal in San Seb. And so good that we actually went back two days later for more tortilla…

Tortilla, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…blood sausage…

Blood sausage, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and veal ribs.

Veal ribs, Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bodega Donostiarra, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

On our second morning in town, my mom, E and I walked along San Sebastian’s beaches…

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…to the funicular at the edge of town.

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We rode it to the top of the hill…

Funicular, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and arrived at a bird’s eye view of the city.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

There was also a children’s amusement park that was closed.

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Too bad. I kind of wanted a trip through the Casa del Terror. (Muah ha ha ha.)

Amusement Park, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We made sure to have a few hours of beach time, each day.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

One afternoon was warm and sunny—we all took advantage of it, and enjoyed long, post-lunch naps.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

But since it was early October, not every day was bikini weather. Two afternoons were chillier.

San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

That still worked for me—I didn’t mind bundling up to nap.

Because I needed to rest up for going pintxo bar hopping each night!

It’s hard to capture the essence and allure of pintxos in words. I didn’t really get what was so great until we actually experienced them in San Sebastián.

But I can best describe the scene like this: Imagine a number of bars in one area of town. (In San Seb, they’re mainly in Parte Vieja.) When you walk into each bar, you’re faced with some of the prettiest, most delicious-looking platters of finger food that you’ve ever seen. You can order short glasses of txakoli or beer, and tell the bartender which pieces you want from the platters. Plus, you’ll order one of their hot specialties, which is also about the size of an amuse bouche.

When you’re done eating, you’ll throw your napkins on the floor, then pay your tab. (The amount of crumpled napkins is a good indication of how good the food is.)

Then, you’ll continue from bar to bar, sampling food from each.

We did this all three nights we were in town.

Our favorite pintxo bars included:

Zeruko, a stylish, modern bar with updated takes on pintxos—each plate was so pretty and elegant!

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried several pintxos: octopus, blood sausage topped with egg, marinated mushrooms topped with egg.

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Zeruko, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Barri looked like a dive bar, but had a surprisingly sophisticated menu: veal cheeks, duck breast, mushroom risotto, sweetbread ravioli.

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Not surprisingly, it was crowded every time we went there. (And it was on our hit list, all three nights.)

Borda Berri, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

At Bar Ganbera, the platters of fresh mushrooms beckoned.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We tried them grilled…

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…along with grilled prawns.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We were clearly happy with our selections.

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Ganbera, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Nestor is known for two things: tortilla and steak. To get a slice of the tortilla, you have to arrive early and put your name on a list. Same with the steak. You have to be there close to when they start serving, to get a seat at the bar or a table outside. We managed the latter.

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

From our table, we could order txakolis through the window. (Note the pour: Basque bartenders always serve the drink a couple feet above the glass.)

Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We enjoyed each of Nestor’s specialities as they arrived. First the tortilla, which was as delicious as it was hyped up to be.

Tortilla, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

The the tomato salad—fresh and delicious with lot of olive oil and flaky salt…

Tomato salad, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…followed by charred peppers…

Peppers, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

…and then the famous steak, also perfectly cooked and simply seasoned with more of that flaky salt.

Steak, Bar Nestor, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, a hopping bar with an innovative menu, had one of my favorite pintxos: a slow cooked egg in a pea puree.

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari Gastroteka, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Atari was in a prime location, right across from the gorgeous Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus.

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Outside of Parte Vieja, we had amazing pintxos at Bar Bergara.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I couldn’t get enough of their tortilla or risotto.

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Bar Bergara, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-crawling was some of the most fun I had with my family: Deciding which bars to try, picking out pintxos, savoring the flavor combinations in a setting that’s unlike anything in the States.

Peter, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

M&H, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Pintxo-hopping, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

(We talked about what the scene would be like if someone transported San Sebastian’s pintxo bars to NYC: crowded. Unbearably crowded and expensive.)

I feel incredibly lucky to have shared that experience, in such an awesome city, with some of my very favorite people. My family doesn’t often take big vacations together, so I’m thrilled that our Spain trip turned out to be so wonderful.

Fam, San Sebastian, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

I’m looking forward to more memorable journeys in 2015. Here’s to many travels in the new year!

And wishing Mal, my sister, my very best friend and other half, a happy birthday—it’s her big 3-0 today!

La Casa de las Chimeneas: Our Picos de Europa Inn

We didn’t have an easy time finding lodging in the Picos de Europa—both before or during the trip!

We wanted to stay in one of the mountain villages, not too far from a good trail. Our ideal place was an independent inn that was both rustic and nice. Guidebooks offered few recommendations. Online searches lead us down a rabbit hole of useless links.

After spending way too many hours evaluating every inn in the Picos, Mal finally came across La Casa de las Chimeneas, via Rough Guides. The inn is located in Tudes, a village that appeared close to Potes, a town that seemed to be a jumping off point for exploring the Picos. Plus: They had cats all over their website!

Needless to say, we were sold.

The route from the caves of Monte Castillo to Tudes was long and winding. As the sun set, we drove through tiny villages at the base of the mountains—some comprised of just a few houses! Tudes, where we were headed, was up a long, mountainous road. By the time we reached it, the sun was long gone and we arrived in total darkness.

La Casa de las Chimeneas was at the entrance of the village. Tony, a Brit who owns the place with his wife, Lucia (from Santander), showed us to our apartment.

Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

It turns out that he lived in that house, with his family, until a few years ago, when they moved upstairs from the pub they opened on premise.

The bedrooms were cute and cheery, with a rustic-meets-Ikea aesthetic.

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

Bedroom at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

You could definitely tell that the building was built a while back. The floors creaked. Rooms and staircases were quite narrow. (I felt like I was going to wipe out every time I set foot on the stairs!) Still, it was comfy and cozy.

Staircase at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

The next day, we were able to get a much better look at Tudes and Chimeneas. The inn is actually comprised of several buildings: the one we were staying in, the adjoining bar, a few more across the road.

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

I loved the wooden trim and stonework, both outside our house…

The porch at Las Estaciones, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…and in…

Inside apartment 8, La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

…as well as on the historic church, across the road.

Stone church, Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

We also learned that Tudes has all of 30 inhabitants!

…though that’s not too surprising, when you see it from above.

Tudes, Spain | nycexpeditionist.com

Tudes won Cantabria’s Village of the Year award in 2010, which came with grant money to restore some of the buildings.

And as for that pub on the premise? I have to admit, we were grateful it was there! There were no other bars or restaurants in town. We ended up dining there two nights in a row.

The pub at La Casa de las Chimeneas | nycexpeditionist.com

On the evening we arrived, we were so tired from driving and being out all day, that we had wine and dinner there. The food was basic (spaghetti, salads, omelettes), but hearty and comforting. And the next day, after hiking in the Picos, we were way too tired to go anywhere else! Photos from that (awesome) hike to come, next. 🙂

Hotel Ellauri: Zeanuri, Spain

We began our northern Spain trip in Basque Country. The autonomous region’s most well-known destinations include the coastal cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, though we opted to start with neither.

As you might have gleaned from my previous entries, I was feeling a little burnt on city life—as was my family! We wanted to start our trip somewhere quaint and relaxing, away from tightly packed buildings and lots of people.

That’s how we ended up at Hotel Ellauri, in Zeanuri. The pretty little village is in the countryside, about 45 minutes outside Bilbao. It has all of 1,100 inhabitants.

Hotel Ellauri is up a narrow, winding road, on a hillside outside the town center.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Mal, Peter and I arrived on a Thursday afternoon (a day before our parents) and were the only guests there! Not that we minded.

Ellauri is the kind of place I love patronizing. The owners, a lovely couple named Randa and Kepa, built the hotel five years ago. They’re Zeanuri natives, and I could feel the care that went into the place. Each element seemed to highlight the natural surroundings. My room was bright and airy; I especially loved the vaulted wood ceiling and lively green wall.

Hotel Ellauri room | nycexpeditionist.com

The fixtures and bedding were all high quality. And best of all, there were double doors that swung open…

Hotel Ellauri windows | nycexpeditionist.com

…to reveal this view!

Zeanuri, from Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

Just what I’d been waiting for.

Hotel Ellauri felt wonderfully away from it all.

And it was.

On our first night, we tried to have a quick dinner nearby. Randa had hinted that there were no real dining options in Zeanuri or Areatza, another medieval village, and that we’d be better off driving into Bilbao or Vitoria-Gasteiz, larger cities about 30-40 minutes from the hotel, in opposite directions.

But, we figured, how slim were the local pickings? A quiet dinner in the village sounded good to us!

We drove into Areatza to try one of its three bars. (An actual restaurant didn’t seem to be an option.) The hamlet was quiet, and the bars looked like empty townie sports bars. Not quite what we had in mind for our first meal in Spain.

So we headed into Bilbao with no specific restaurant in mind. In our sleep-deprived/jet-lagged/famished state, we spent an embarrassing amount of time circling Casco Viejo for parking. After an hour and a half, we finally realized we’d passed an underground garage multiple times. Once we’d parked, most restaurants were winding down service for the night. But we had a simple yet satisfying meal at La Deliciosa, on Calle Jardines. Though anything would have been deliciosa, at that point!

DSC_0757

The following evening, once my parents had arrived, we ate at Ellauri’s restaurant. Kepa and Randa prepared a fabulous meal of rice and cockles…

Rice and cockles

…and steak and peppers. It was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever eaten.

Peppers and steak

Ellauri proved to be in a prime spot. During our time there, we explored more of Bilbao and the Basque coast, as well as Gorbea Natural Park—whose mountains you could see from the hotel.

Hotel Ellauri | nycexpeditionist.com

…more on those places, in posts to come!

Fall Vacation, Booked: Northern Spain

Errezil view by Oskar Calero on Fivehundredpx

I couldn’t be happier. Over the past few weeks, my family and I have been discussing possible destinations for a fall trip. This weekend, we decided on a place and booked flights: We’re headed to northern Spain at the end of September!

None of us have been there before. (I’ve actually never visited Spain!) To be honest, I didn’t know much about the area until I started researching. But the more I read, the more excited I became. It seems that northeast Spain has pretty beaches, amazing mountains, picturesque vineyards and quaint towns.

We’re still figuring out how we’ll break down our 11 days there, but here’s the rough itinerary we’re considering: We’ll spend the first few days outside Bilbao, exploring the area and neighboring Asturias. From there, we’ll drive to La Rioja, and enjoy some time among the vineyards. Then, we’ll head north, into the French Pyrenees. We’ll finish up with a few days in and around San Sebastian. (Perhaps including Errezil, the place in the photo above.)

Though it’s going to be my first time in Spain, I’m okay with bypassing Madrid and Barcelona. I’d love to spend time exploring both places, but I really need a break from hectic city life. I’m very much looking forward to more low-key enjoyment—and lots of gorgeous scenery.

Have you been to northern Spain or southern France? If so, I’d love to hear your recommendations!

(Image by Oskar Calero via 500px on Pinterest)

My Favorite Quiet Beaches

On Saturday, I went to Rockaway to get my beach time for the week. As much as I love being by the ocean, I’ll admit that I was feeling a little weary of crowds.

Most NYC-area beaches—Rockaway, Jones, Robert Moses, Long Beach, Coney Island—are pretty packed on the weekends. And for good reason! Everyone wants to get away, even if only for a few hours.

I do love seeing so many people escaping the city and enjoying the sand and surf. But the overall experience isn’t all that relaxing. You’re surrounded by others—and their conversations and music—at all times. While there, it’s hard to feel calm and peaceful when you can barely hear the waves over all the din.

I’ve been lucky to travel to beaches that have been both beautiful and deserted. This weekend, I was thinking about them and wishing I could transport myself back to:

Water Cay, Eleuthera, Bahamas

Last year, Mal, Peter, and two friends and I rented a house on Eleuthera. We stayed in a sparsely populated part of the island, and our house was set on a gorgeous, private beach:

Cotton Bay, Eleuthera

Each day we got to enjoy the soft sand and blue waters without seeing a soul.

Our rental also gave us access to the owner’s boat and a captain who could take us out. Of course, we had to take advantage of that! Our captain, Sidney, took us to Water Cay, a tiny island off Eleuthera’s Caribbean coast. It was absolutely deserted, with calm, clear water and fine white sand.

Water Cay, Eleuthera

It was easily one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve seen in my life.

 

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Mal and I went to Big Corn Island in August 2009. The island, and its sister, Little Corn, are located about 40-miles off the coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean. They’re known for being remote and relatively undiscovered by tourists. At the time, that certainly proved true.

We flew to the island on a tiny prop plane, and as we descended, I could barely spot any signs of life. Big Corn looked deserted. And once we got out of the plane, we saw that it basically was.

To be honest, I felt a bit uneasy at just how isolated the island felt. There had been a spate of armed robberies against travelers on the islands, right before we arrived. The first night, our hotel was a ghost town—just two or three other rooms were occupied. And the phones and internet were down. The sun set at 6 p.m. and plunged the island into pitch darkness.

But during the daytime, I was able to forget my misgivings a little, thanks to this amazing beach we had to ourselves:

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

In case you’re wondering, I felt much safer on Big Corn, as the days passed. A small documentary film crew arrived at our hotel from the mainland, as did a few more Nicaraguan travelers. Mal and I had a great time chatting with them—it was just enough people to make the hotel feel less like a horror-movie-waiting-to-happen, but not nearly enough to make the place feel crowded. And the island was just so wild and beautiful, it was impossible not to feel affection for it.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

New Jersey?! Yes, that’s correct! We rented a house on LBI in early June, before summer season really started—which meant that every day, the beaches looked like this:

setting up on the beach

Sure, LBI doesn’t have fine white sand and crystal-clear water. But it was still a nice, deserted beach that we had all to ourselves for days. I’m so nostalgic for that!

What’s your favorite quiet beach?