I can’t believe I had never been to Chicago until last week! It’s not that I hadn’t tried. Something always came up, and I had to cancel my plans: a hurricane, a fight with my college boyfriend, etc. I was beginning to think I’d never see the Second City! I finally made it, and I’m so glad I did. Chicago is more beautiful and vibrant than I ever imagined. Here are some of my favorite pics from my walk around town.
We travel a lot. I know, right, you’ve met us. Anyway, I wanted hubby’s birthday to be extra special—so I let him pick where we went for once 😝 I have to admit the Belizean islands that we visited were very touristy, but sometimes that’s a welcome change and we definitely had a wonderful time. San Pedro was fun. Caye Caulker was laid back and lovely for bike riding, swimming and lounging at the Lazy Lizard. The snorkeling at Hol Chan in between the two islands was incredible, too! We swam with a sea turtle, a moray eel and nurse sharks.
What really made the trip special, though, was our visit to the jungle.
We stayed outside of San Ignacio at Table Rock Jungle Lodge in a villa near the Macal River. We had so much fun hiking by the river, watching the wildlife from our balcony and chatting with the staff about life in Belize.
The most adventurous part of our trip was taking a day to trek into Guatemala to see the Tikal ruins. It was a long day but worth every minute! Personally, I found the Tikal ruins and the jungle setting even more fascinating than Chichen Itza. We rode through Guatemala on Carnival, too, so we got to see a few local parades along the way.
I caught the travel bug long ago. There’s no cure, and I’m happy about that. I’m even more excited about how contagious the travel bug is. For many years I traveled solo—staying by myself in big cities and hopping on tours to see the countryside and waterways of the world. Now, I have a travel partner. It was this month 4 years ago that we took our first international trip together through Morocco and Madrid—and it went so well that we were married 8 months later! (We would have gotten married immediately, but my family convinced us to have a wedding).
Travel partnerships are like any other—you have to be compatible. If one person loves 5-star resorts on the beach and the other likes to backpack through big cities, you may not be travel compatible (or you may learn from each other’s ways—both sound pretty good to me).
My hubby and I travel in the same style. We travel cheap. We pack extremely light. We don’t buy souvenirs. We like to stay in the heart of the city for a few nights and in a beach or jungle bungalow for a few more. We like to sample the local food, drink and music and chat with people from around the globe. I like seeing the major attractions—hubby couldn’t care less. So, I’ve learned how to fit in a few of the top attractions for each trip without making him feel like he’s on a bus tour.
We enjoy travelling together so much that we really went crazy in 2017: Grand Cayman, Nicaragua, Cabo, Peru, Key Largo, Lisbon and Dublin. It’s been a wonderful year of travel. Nicaragua warmed my heart. We met so many amazing people and just fell in love with the country. Peru was the adventure trip of a lifetime: food-touring in Lima, trekking around Machu Picchu, kayaking through the Amazon jungle. Lisbon was simply magical.
Two months from now we will start our 2018 travels with a beach and jungle trip to Belize—then it will be time to recharge the travel budget!
We overuse the word amazing as a descriptor, and that’s because the world is amazing! Lisbon was no exception … but it can be more aptly described as magical.
The old-school trams glide up and down the hilly historic district. Narrow alleyways open up to breathtaking views of castles and cathedrals. Small shops serve the most delicious local pastries.
We only had four days in Lisbon, so we had to make the most of it. Really, it was a love affair with food and wine. Here are our favorite things we did on each day.
1. Take a Walking Food Tour
When we arrived, we hired a private guide through Withlocals to take us on a tasting tour of the city. This was the perfect thing to do on our first night there. It was a walking tour, so we got the lay of the land, and we went to some of the best local spots that we would have never known about had we gone around on our own. The food and drink tastings were fantastic and our guide Camila was wonderful. It felt like a friend was showing us around her city. You must, of course, taste the pastel de nata—a delicious custard pastry—and Ginjinha cherry liquor, as well as the cheeses and wine and sardines. Later, we were watching Anthony Bourdain in Lisbon and when he ended the show with the most delicious sandwich in the world—the Bifana pork sandwich—we knew first-hand how amazing it really tastes.
2. Wine Tasting at BA Wine Bar
On our second day we just wandered around the city. It’s a great place to get lost and an easy place to get found again. That night we went to BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto. If you’re into wine, this is a must. You have to make a reservation in advance (which you can do from their Trip Advisor page) because they only have a few tables and they give you an individualized experience. Keep in mind that for food, they serve only meats, cheeses, oils, bread, honey and tinned fish. This was plenty for us and absolutely delicious. Had we known the tinned fish would be so good, we would have ordered more of that and a smaller meat and cheese plate! This place is all about the wine. Portugal doesn’t export much of its wine, which is too bad for the rest of the world! At BA Wine Bar, they will ask you about your wine preferences and price range and bring you a few wines to sample. Then you pick the one you want by the glass. You can repeat this process as desired and don’t have to try the same wines as the rest of your party. I tried crisp whites, rosè and tawny port. All of it was amazing!
3. Wonder at Belém Tower
Our favorite thing we did on day three was check out Belém Tower. It was too far to walk from our hotel, so we hoped into an Uber (which is super easy to do in Lisbon). The old tower is breathtaking and a fantastic photo opportunity on the river. A lovely women sold local wines from a cart by the tower and provided a plastic wine glass you could carry around or just sit with and take in the beauty of the tower and the river.
4. Arrive Hungry at Time Out Market
Time Out Market is a must for any foodie. The place has a ton of food stalls with everything you can imagine. It’s pricey and crowded but absolutely worth it. We had some of the most delicious seafood we’ve ever tasted. O Surf and Turf was particularly exquisite! Go hungry and sample from several vendors. It’s sooooo good!
Bonus Tip: Use Public Transport
Before you go to Lisbon, you should know that getting around on public transportation is super easy. Get a reloadable metro card (Viva Viagem zapping card) right at the airport and ride into town. The card also works for the trams, trains and ferries.
I was first introduced to Machu Picchu when I read the Celestine Prophecy nearly 20 years ago. From that point on, I wanted to visit Peru. It seemed inaccessible at the time, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming.
I imagined hiking the Inca Trail and watching the sunrise over the historic site. I imagined feeling the energy of an ancient culture long since passed. I dreamed of adventure. But I never went.
Later in life, when I had the means to travel, I chose other destinations before Peru. I traveled through Europe, Asia and Australia. North Africa. Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Central America, but never Peru.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps part of the reason was that I always wanted Peru to be the far off exotic place it was in my mind two decades ago. But over the years, more and more tourists visited Machu Picchu each year and now they are limiting access to the site. So I decided it was finally time to go.
Machu Picchu was just as I imagined. Beautiful. Ancient. Inspiring.
We didn’t hike the Inca Trail, and I’m glad for that! Instead, we stayed in the Sacred Valley for a night and took the train to Aguas Calientes–the small town at the base of the site. We hired a private guide to meet us at the bus queue at 4:45 a.m. Our guide saved us a spot in line and we hopped on to one of the first buses up the mountain with very little wait.
We entered the site as soon as it opened and our skilled guide took us around the less traveled path. He told us about the history of the site and showed us pictures taken throughout the last century. Of course we took plenty of our own pictures, too.
We wandered and wondered–absolutely mesmerized by each view.
A journey I’ve wanted to take for 20 years lasted two hours and was worth every minute of dreaming, planning and seeing.
The best part is that there’s much more of Peru still to see.
Our 13 course dinner tonight at Maido in Lima was one of the best meals of my life. The flavors were phenomenal and complex without being over the top. The service was top notch and the atmosphere was elegant, yet still comfortable and casual. This was a meal to remember. Amazing!
A little pause in paradise at Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman Island
The beach was beautiful and the snorkeling from the shore was phenomenal. There was a coral reef about a 20-30 minute swim from the Westin’s beach, and it was as beautiful as it gets.
We were able to rent snorkel gear by the hotel pool and just jump in the water and go off on an adventure.
The only down side to Seven Mile Beach is that it’s VERY expensive compared to other parts of the island and other Caribbean destinations. But it was posh and relaxing and beautiful. Perfect for a long weekend winter escape!
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
January 15, 2017
San Juan is beautiful! The people are so friendly. The beaches are gorgeous and the food is delicious.
We had an amazing day today. We really wanted to get out of San Juan for just one day on our short trip here, so we decided that El Yunque National Forest would be our destination.
We didn’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car in a place known for not following road rules (we had our fill of that in Costa Rica)! So we hired a guide who took us to a market and then into the forests.
It was an adventure! We waded though streams and crossed slippery rocks and climbed up muddy trails before jumping into a pool at the foot of a waterfall.
If we had been more adventurous, we could have tried the rope swings or natural water slides. But swimming in the cool, refreshing water below the fall was enough for us!
We stopped at a few beaches and had some empanadas and fresh juice on the way back.
It was a wonderful day. Our guide, Manuel, was super cool and knowledgeable and very helpful to me in getting through the tricky parts of the hike.
Although the golden circle wasn’t our favorite part of the trip, it was really interesting and well worth it!
The trek around the sights included the usual characteristic of the “must see” places around the world: large crowds and long boarded walkways, overpriced gift shops, obese birds dining on littered junk food, etc.
BUT the sights were really impressive: the history of the first parliament, the original Geysir after which all other geysers are named, and a giant, gorgeous waterfall.
These sights give the traveler a peek into the wonders of Iceland while also being fairly accessible. We’re glad we rented a car to do it at our own speed – and the roads were easy to navigate.
Our favorite stop was the Kerid volcanic crater lake we stopped to walk around on the way back to Reykjavik. On a clear day, its blue-green water is amazing!
We would definitely recommend the golden circle if you have the time – but if there’s something else you really want to see, there are many other good options!