First time travelers to Japan will likely find themselves overwhelmed with all of the information that is available, EVERYWHERE. At least that is how I felt. I would plan and then get lost in my plan, then start over and get sent down a spiral of endless options again. I only had 9 days and I didn’t know where to start, what to do along the way or how to wrap up this potentially once in my lifetime adventure.
I remembered what is important in life is to experience the experience. Regardless of what we chose to see and do it was bound to be memorable and our shared experiences will last forever.
The reality is, there was absolutely no way to cover everything we wanted in such a short period of time. Even if we were heading to Japan for several months, I guarantee you that we still would not be able to see all the beauty and wonder the country contains. The highlights for me consisted of half the stay in Tokyo and the other half in Kyoto and we made day trips to Nara and Osaka.
If you are planning your trip to Japan, put your mind at rest, pick what is important to you to see and do and have no worries. It doesn’t make sense to get stressed about any trip that you go on. Your on vacation and your mind needs to be at ease. Sometimes, picking less activities is more enjoyable. I left this beautiful country with more joy than I expected and by the grace of God I will have the opportunity to visit again.
The Meiji Era was the first half of the Empire of Japan from October 23, 1868, to July 30, 1912. During this time the Emperor Meiji, led the industrial growth and modernization of the country and the Japanese people held Emperor Meiji and his family in the highest regard. I visited the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya, Tokyo as it was ranked one of the top Shinto shrines to visit in the area. At the start of the path towards the shrine, I reached a wall of barrels of sake wrapped in straw. Every year barrels, pictured here, are given to the enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Sake Brewers Association along with members of other associations as a symbol of respect for the souls of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, whom was also buried here.
Sake is a Japanese rice wine with a very strong taste and can have as much as 20% alcohol volume. Sake is said to be the oldest known alcohol that dates back to 4800 BC in China and 300 BC in Japan. By the 1300s breweries allowed for mass production and during the industrial revolution hand work by villagers was no longer necessary. It seems to be that since about 1904, Japan has been strongly branded with this fermented rice specialty. I drank sake with a coconut violet cocktail mix nearly every night for the second half of my trip. It became my tradition to wind down after a day of walking for about 8 hours. Respect be to the Emperor and family souls.
Tip: Purchase a JRailpass (at least 2 weeks before you depart for Japan) to give you more flexibility to see more that just one city when you visit this spectacular country.
I can hear one of my favourite tracks “Where the streets have no name”. U2 fans can hear it too.
Walking through the streets of Tokyo had me practicing my patience at least 100 times a day and even with the frustration of being lost in translation, I still love this city! There are street signs, but they are not always easily visible and there are so many alleyways for shopping and sometimes dining. It’s easy to get lost. Thank God for my T-Mobile International plan. I was able to use the google maps to help us navigate.
I have a very important tip…
When using Google maps, put in the address you are going to but do not press directions. The moment you do, it will send you off course. Just load the location so that you can see where you are walking. It sounds weird, but I promise you this is the best way to use google maps right (May 2018) in Japan with a US phone.
My eyes were faced with unending stimulation as I people watched, stared at the skyscrapers, bowed at the temples and walked through the parks and there were no shortage of sites to experience in this amazing city. I will definitely be back!
Long ago, I heard about the efficient rapid transit and its complex map. Like my attitude with New York’s subway lines, I chose not to be intimidated and to just take my time to get my bearings (even with this method, the crew I was with still got lost a few times). Whether I was on the street or underground, I always had to pay attention very carefully to the signs. The street signs outside were not always obvious, but underground everything is written quite well, except the signage for elevators are less obvious.
For every plan that you make in Japan, add an extra 30 minutes to your schedule to allow for your travel errors. No matter how good you are at reading maps and taking directions, you are bound to get lost at least once.
If you have been to Tokyo, I would love to hear about your experience. How many times did you get lost?
Getting lost is part of the fun, as long as you are not in a hurry to get somewhere. I find that you can learn more about yourself and a city when this happens. You also learn about the people that you are traveling with. It’s okay to go offtrack, especially in Japan. I never felt threatened or unsafe and people try to be helpful even if they can’t speak much English.
Last summer I discovered a beautiful restaurant called Lavelle on King Street West in Toronto. I stopped by in the afternoon before the crowds to observe the beautiful skyline and enjoy the gorgeous rooftop patio.
Something about rooftop patios designed with such luxury automatically gives me a burst of energy and pumped for a fun girls night out or a hot date with handsome husband.
As you can probably guess, the airport in Albuquerque is pretty small and as long as you have no checked bags, you can get out quickly and shuttle to your car rental within 15 minutes.
Old Town is the most popular area to visit and see the artifacts, many of which are imported in from Mexico.
We spent only a few hours before making the road trip for a one night stay in Santa Fe. This place brought a warm energy to my heart as it has a homey and vibrant feeling that gets everybody. They don’t call this place the land of enchantment for nothing.
What to See:
Peruse through Old Town, and make a stop in the quirky shop, Guerilla Graphix, which is a great place for awesome souvenirs, trinkets, and unusual things that bring memories to your favorite episodes of Breaking Bad.
The architecture throughout New Mexico is a sight to be seen. The Pueblo Revival architecture is an adobe (mudbrick) construction and the walls are usually painted in earth tones. Wherever we visit in the world, we always admire old church structures. We took a walk through San Felipe de Neri Parish, the oldest church in Albuquerque. The original structure actually collapsed after a rain storm in 1792 and then this one was built the following year.
Where to Eat:
There is a new area called Restaurant Row, which we heard about from a local, but we decided to stick with the nostalgic icons of Albuquerque and went to The Frontier for classic Mexican eats. This restaurant first opened in 1971 and it appears the owners want you to feel like it is still 1971. The establishment is well maintained and the washrooms were well kept. Side note, my mom always told me to visit the washroom of an establishment before dining and if the washroom is well kept it’s a good indication that they operate with high standards in the kitchen. Anyway…the place really is a down to earth casual style. You order your food at the kitchen counter, step aside and wait for your order number to be called. The restaurant is huge, the food was cheap and the place was packed. We took our food to go and we were in and out in about 15 minutes.
Our next stop was a little wacky, but a lot of fans of Breaking Bad take a drive to the house where the show was filmed. An older couple has purchased the house as their dwelling and are forced to deal with dozens of cars that stop by to take a picture every day. They have even put up an iron fence to gate the home and pitched a sign that reads “take your photos from across the street”. Just as we pulled up, the couple decided to sit outside and stare at us and the others that pulled up for photos. They are obviously annoyed, but we got our pictures and didn’t need to linger for too long.
I’m sure there is more to discover in Albuquerque, but we ended there and ventured out to Santa Fe.
Guerrilla Graphix. 206 San Felipe St. NW Albuquerque
Walt’s house in Breaking Bad. 3828 Piermont Dr. NE, Albuquerque NM
Studies have shown that giving your brain new experiences can help produce natural brain nutrients and help prevent Alzheimers. As youngins we were active and curious and awakening our senses. As adults sometimes we have to try a little harder to be curious.
High on the list of cool activities in Santa Fe, we discovered Meow Wolf. This place is an artist collective with art that is guaranteed to stimulate all of your senses. Consider this museum a playground for all ages that allows you to touch everything. Open the doors around you and see where they lead. Question and test EVERYTHING. If you want to take your time to understand this place, you will need to open the mailbox and read the letter before you enter the house. There is a mystery for you to solve while you visit, but you will be just fine if you just decide to go through the place feeling, seeing, taking pictures and even walking into a refrigerator that leads to a secluded room.
I highly recommend this place!
Additional Cost: $1 for 3D eyewear (very few exhibits actually require the eyewear)
New Mexico has a ton of scenic hikes and at first I didn’t know where to start. I had seen pictures of canyons, but driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, it wasn’t as obvious as I expected. Our hotel in Santa Fe gave us a list of several hiking trails for beginners to advanced outdoors enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the staff wasn’t helpful and seemed really care-LESS to give us options. Fortunately, I spoke to the shuttle car driver outside of the hotel and he told me his favorite place in the area is Tent Rocks. He praised the geology and the appearance of the canyon when it rains. Well…it wasn’t raining, but I was motivated to be captivated by the features he described.
The next day we drove from Santa Fe toward Albuquerque to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. We arrived at about 1:30 pm and the staff (which are all volunteer) has the entrance blocked because the parking lot was full. Bear this in mind as you will need to wait for people to leave before you can enter. We waited about 15 minutes, but we have already decided that the next time we visit, we will go first thing in the morning.
We chose to do the Slot Canyon Trail as it goes a little higher up and was supposed to be a bit more challenging and less busy. Whichever path you choose, know that both trails are clearly marked and well maintained. You will not get lost. We saw families with toddlers taking in this adventure as well. The trail got quite narrow at times and sometimes slippery, so exercise caution along the entire route. This place was another example of God’s beauty and I was mesmerized the entire time. Rocks tell the tale of the earth’s history. Hiking through this national conservation you will see the volcanic drama that took place once upon a time.
Parking: $5 cash only
Time to complete the Slot Canyon: 1.2 Miles; 45 minutes up and 50 down (including the time we took to stop in shaded areas and take pictures)
Tips: 1. Arrive early in the day.
2. Bring and drink plenty of water.
3. Wear closed toed footwear. I saw at least 4 people wearing sandals.
Leave a comment and let me know what some of your favorite trails are.
Another short and sweet trip in South America and this time in Peru! We covered as much as we could in 4 days. Our ultimate goal was to get up to Machu Picchu, which we did on a Saturday. I’ll share more about that adventure in another post.
We arrived in Lima on a Sunday and had two days to explore this major city. I found Lima to be a beautiful city because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the landscape and its history. Each neighborhood has its own little story to tell. I found the streets to be vibrant with mostly locals and very clean. Before venturing out, always consider what is important to you most and then design how you want to take on the city. We always tour the area that we are staying in first, to get to know the lay of the land.
Where to Stay
Miraflores – this is a trendier upscale area, which is known as one of the more affluent neighborhoods for living and also offers a ton of shopping. We stayed at the Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores. The hotel is ranked as a 4.5 star and that is a fair rating. The location is prime as you can walk to the beach in just 11 minutes and if you love to surf the waves here are perfect for the thrills of an avid surfer. From here you’re only a 15 minute walk to Larcormar, a high-end fashion mall that overlooks the ocean. Even if you don’t plan to shop this is a sight to be seen. There are tons of cafes and parks within less than 10 minutes. You can spend your first day walking this area, people watching, talking to people, and visiting artisans selling their crafts in the Kennedy Park.
Make a stop for a photo at the Love Park(cover image).
There is no shortage of food selections, but on a Sunday, which also happened to be Easter Sunday, quite a few spots were closed. Without any recommendation, we decided to go to Cafe Cafe to order some authentic Peruvian food. I ordered the Oporto Drunk Chicken. I’m surprised I ordered that because I hate anything that has to do with being drunk, even the word irritates me. The dish was made of corn and chicken and prepared similar to a risotto with a Peruvian yellow sauce. My husband ordered the Cafe Cafe Style Stir Fried Beef with a side of fries. By the way you will see meat served with fries often. The service here was great and if you don’t speak Spanish, this is a restaurant that’s got you covered with an English menu and English speaking staff. We sat outside as the weather was perfect for hanging out on the patio and people watching.
I saw Inca cola on the menu and had to see what that was about. This can’t be an official Inca drink, it’s made by Coca-Cola.
Cafe Cafe. Calle Mártir José Olaya 250, Miraflores 15074, Peru
Take a Bite of Something Sweet
One of my favorites treats are churros! We found this place, Manolo, with four varieties: chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla and original.
Manolo. Av. Larco 608, Miraflores – Lima – Perú
Hit the Main Square, which is known as the Plaza de Armas. This name remains consistent in all the major cities in South America that I have been to. Here you will find all of the historical buildings along with the Presidential Palace and St.Francis Cathedral.
Head to Barranco and Surquillo. Barranco is a pretty cool artsy area with bohemian charm. You will see a ton of wall murals near the Bridge of Sighs. I had read that people walk across the bridge, hold their breath and make a wish. We did the same and I am ready for my wish to come alive.
While you can have some of the best ceviche anywhere in Peru, it is noted that chefs in Lima have perfected the dish. On this note, it was a must to indulge. I tried the ceviche served with calamari at La Picanteria. A side of corn nuts was served and I learned that I should add the corn nuts into the dish. I took the photo before I added the corn nuts.
Surquillo, Sta Rosa 388, Cercado de Lima, Peru
La Picanteria. Surquillo, Sta Rosa 388, Cercado de Lima, Peru
Make Lima more than a city to pass through on your way to Cusco and Machu Picchu.
I arrived in Sydney on Thursday morning and had 4 full days to see the city. Sydney was awesome, right from the start. Whether you love museums, parks, architecture, galleries, food, shopping, beach or water sports, you can find it all here. I had beach time on the top of my list! Next I knew I wanted to check out the waterfront and see the nationally recognized Sydney Opera House. I explored the city as much I could without cramming too much in. If you would like to follow the same itinerary, here is what I suggest:
Day 1: Take a couple of hours to explore the area where you are staying. I always do this in every city that I arrive in. It helps me get to know the lay of the land. In Sydney, I stayed in the heritage hotel called The Grace. I highly recommend this hotel for its location, price, size of the suite and the maintenance. The Grace Hotel is centrally located and walking distance to cool places like the Spice Alley.
After exploring your area and perhaps a little bit of shopping head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens. As you walk through the gardens, you will reach a point (right at the top of Mrs. Macquarie’s Road) where you have a gorgeous view of the Sydney Opera House. If you love taking photos, this will be a nice angle for you. After that, you can walk through the park to get to the Opera House. I walked into the theatre to chill a bit in the lounge. I didn’t leave without snapping a couple more pics of this magnificent place.
Take a stroll along the Circle Quay and stop in to the Aboriginal Art Gallery. There you will find a collection of art from world renowned artists. A visit to Australia is not complete without learning something about its first rightful owners of the land.
The weather was great and the sun was yet to set for several more hours so we took a quick ferry ride to the famous Bondi Beach. Leaving the beach and getting back into the central business district (CBD) is very easy. Just hop on a bus heading to Town Hall or St.James Station.
Darling Harbour. Sydney is surrounded by water, so of course there are multiple spots to catch an amazing view of the city. Darling Harbour also has the Australian Maritime Museum and the Welcome Wall honoring more than 6 million overseas migrants that have settled in the country. I didn’t go through the entire museum, the first level is free and if you like American history you may enjoy the display. I perused through for about 10 minutes and then moved on to see more of Sydney.
Barangaroo South. A short walk away is the Barangaroo South district, which is still going through development, but there is enough to please your appetite for food, retail therapy, and great photos opps.
If you love walking head over to The Rocks, and tour the cobble laneways and visit with local artisans. You can cover this area in 30 minutes and then walk up to the Harbor Bridge. You can walk across the bridge and get an up close experience of this wondrous engineering without doing the BridgeClimb (which I was not interested in). Once you get across the bridge, you will be in Milson’s Point area. If it is a Sunday, there may be a local fashion market happening. You can catch the train from here back to where ever you need to go (perhaps your hotel to take rest).
Manly, Manly Beach, and if you have time head up more north to Palm Beach. If you make it to Palm Beach, plan to veg on the beach because there is nothing around in this secluded area, except gorgeous mansions, one restaurant and a small shop. It took about 40 minutes from Manly to get here by bus and it was well worth it. There are multiple ways to get to Manly. You can use the fast ferry or take the Manly Ferry (which is more economical and you can use your Opal card). Both options will give you the spectacular views of the Sydney harbour and surroundings.
If you like to discover neighbourhoods that feel more local, yet still have something to offer tourists, then you need to hit the Spice Alley. I heard this place referred to as a little Singapore in Sydney. I have yet to travel through Singapore, but the plethora of food option, flavors, and smells is exactly how I imagine Singapore to be. Spice Alley is in the heart of Chippendale and don’t get this name twisted with the male tour group. Chippendale is a happening area popular for its converted warehouses, galleries, green space, and shopping.
There are more touristy things that you can do like, visit the Blue Mountains, The Toronga Zoo, and do the Bridge Climb. All of which, I have heard amazing stories. If you have done this, let me know about your experience.
Getting around by public transit in Sydney is super easy. You will need to purchase an Opal card, which you can do upon departure from the airport. For all the insider tips on getting around with public transit click here.
In Cairns, you will need to rent a car to really explore the area well. We drove about 130 km from Cairns to the Australian rainforest of Daintree National Park. Millions of years ago, much of Australia was covered by rainforest. The climate became drier as glaciers disappeared and continents shifted. This area is one of the last refuges of Australia’s tropical rainforest and owned by the Aboriginal people, specifically The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people.
Upon arrival, you will be welcomed at the visitor center with educational material and a souvenir shop. You can buy a shuttle bus ticket, which will take you up the road getting you closer to the Mossman Gorge and saving you walk time.
Melbourne is full of character and you won’t run out of things to do, especially if you love quirky sites and culture. You can spend several days discovering interesting neighborhoods. Brighton is an affluent area about 11 km outside of the central business district. We took a stroll along Brighton Beach specifically because we wanted to see the beach bathing boxes. We went very late in the afternoon and it felt like a bit of a ghost town because we expected there to be so many people. I even thought there would be vendors selling things out of these quirky colorful home like boxes. I was completely wrong. I have heard that in the early part of the day it does get super busy.
This side of the beach didn’t seem like a place for lounging and more of a site seeing art installation that is excellent for postcard pictures. Apparently, these bathing boxes date back as far as 1862, when bathing in the daytime in the open was restricted. The beach was even divided for males and females.
These sort of bathing boxes were usually used as shelter from wind and for changing in and out of swimwear. Similar bath boxes or bath huts also exist in France, England, Italy and South Africa and have been used for vacationing as well.
I’d love to hear your stories with bathing boxes across the world.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit São Paulo, Brazil. One of the cool things to do is check out Beco de Batman also know as Batman Alley. If you love the graffiti in Melbourne, you will be blown away when you get to Beco de Batman.
Apparently, well know street artists from all over the world have come here to make their mark. The first piece of art, which was a drawing of superhero Batman, was placed here in the 80s and since then the walls have been covered by vibrant paintings that draws crowds from all over the world.
We took an Uber for only a few dollars from where we were staying.
Have you been to Brazil? What cool places did you experience?
Spice lovers in Sydney need to head down to Sydney’s Spice Alley.
From what I heard this place mimics a street right out of Singapore. Fellow travelers who love spicy food… consider this your food corner in Sydney. I was looking forward to this place, when it was first mentioned to me and it completely met my expectations.
Tucked away in the must visit, Chippendale district, you will find yourself drawn to Kensington Street for shopping, food, drinks, and possibly accommodations at the unique designer hotel, The Old Clare Hotel.
Where to Eat
There are a plethora of restaurants to choose from with a street style or you can choose surrounding restaurants with more of an enclosed formal dining style. We ordered the pad thai and the fried rice from bang luck thai. The Thai/Vietnamese fusion flavours with wonderful colours and aroma were perfect and it was evident that the chef is working with authentic recipes.
All over the world people crave coffee as a drip, espresso, latte, macchiato, cortado and the list goes on. Traveling through South America, drinking coffee more than once a day was a usual thing for me. Actually, in every city that I visit, I usually like to try a local coffee spot and if I’m feeling kind of sugary…I’ll have a doughnut too.
In Australia, I had a hard time finding drip coffee. First on the list was espresso or cortado. If you absolutely, need to have drip coffee you will have to go to Starbucks. Even McDonald’s doesn’t have the drip coffee, it’s all about McCafe and the baristas are off to their own special corner to make a specialty coffee for you. I don’t like going to North American places when I’m not in North America. The whole point of travel is to experience something new!
After having lunch in the Spice Alley, we found this cute Korean cafe, 85 Degrees, which we later realized is a chain throughout Australia. The coffee and cake combo was a must after our spicy thai lunch at spice alley.
If you love beaches and you have looked at possibly visiting New Zealand then you likely have heard of Piha Beach. This is a world famous surfers beach 40 km west of Auckland. A friend had told us to “hire a car”, that’s kiwi speak for “rent a car”, upon arrival in Auckland and start touring around as much as possible. I absolutely loved the drive along the coast, but it wasn’t easy. First off, we were driving on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right and to top it off we were driving up the mountain and many times we were so close to the edge, I feared for my life. Be encouraged though, as the drive is worth the eye-popping experience. You will see lush green hills and valleys with abundance of wildlife including sheep, cows, and alpacas. You will make windy turns up and down the hills and finally come down to Piha. When we arrived I felt my mind and spirit reach a state of calm. I thought, “aaaaaaaaah, Piha”.
Piha Beach is a beautiful black sand beach surrounded by enormous cliffs. I’m not a fan of black sand though, it was too hot and I had to keep my flip-flops on so I didn’t burn the soles of my feet. After spending some time on the beach, we took a hike up the rock to have a beautiful aerial view. You will also find secluded beach areas. Be careful though the sea here can be vicious and life threatening.
Visiting this place from Auckland is an easy short and sweet day trip.
Somewhere in New Zealand
I am so thankful that I connected with this part of the world. All praises and glory to God.
There are over 10,000 beaches in Australia and to be exact the University of Sydney has counted 10, 685 beaches. I would not be surprised if there are more in hidden places that man has yet to walk. My trip was short and sweet and I only had a chance to visit a few places. I never get tired of visiting the beach, even though my purpose is not to tan because I am blessed with dark skin. I love the sun and for its rays to kiss my skin giving me the dose of vitamin D that my body needs for good health. I love listening to the sounds of the water and feeling more connected to the earth. When I get to the beach it is my moment of peace and calm from all the chaos and pollution in any city. This post is to highlight one beach in Northern Sydney.
Palm Beach, Manly, Sydney
The journey we made to this beautiful beach took us about 90 minutes and we started with the Manly ferry from Circular Quay. The ferry ride is about 20 minutes and boasts spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Once we disembarked from the ferry, we walked to catch a bus to Palm Beach and that bus ride was about 60 minutes. I like taking the bus so that I can view the city as the locals do everyday.
The long bus ride is worth it and you will realize that as you begin to approach this affluent area where the median home is selling for $2.6 Million. A little fun fact for you: the long running Australian tv show, Home and Away is filmed here.
Palm Beach is along the Tasman Sea, within the South Pacific Ocean. I was there on a December afternoon and the sky was a bit overcast, but there was enough sun to lay out and veg for more than a couple of hours without the risk of getting burnt. The tide and temperature of the water was perfect for riding the waves and as we frolicked with every wave. The surfers were nearby catching the bigger waves outside of the swimmers boundaries. Let me remind you that when visiting the beaches in Australia, you must stay within the yellow and red poles, which are marked as the safe zone monitored by lifeguards on duty. The waves can shift and mother nature can be violent at any time.
There is also a public pool at the end of the beach which we noticed wasn’t busy. In that area, you can take a walk along the huge rocks and admire more of God’s creation.
Palm Beach is one my favourite beaches in the world. I still have more to see! As always, thank God for travel!
Sydney, Australia is one of my favorite cities that I have visited. It has an incredible skyline and multiple harbourside views for walking, dining, and touring in the heart of the city. The most popular attractions include the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I love Sydney because it is a walkable city and the public transit is easy to figure out and extremely accessible. When visiting Sydney, stay in the central business district, also known as the CBD. I stayed at the Grace Hotel and its location was perfect for everything that I needed to do. I was walking distance to the Opera House, Darling Harbour, the Circular Quay, all the shopping, the Contemporary Museum of Art, the Rocks Precinct and more.
The Grace Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Sydney and was recently restored. This neo-gothic structure was built in the 1920s by the Grace Brothers. I found the hotel to offer the warmth of a heritage hotel with a touch of luxury for an affordable price. The room with the double bed was very spacious and the beds were just as described… “dreamy”. Our room was made up perfectly every day and any time we needed something, the staff was responsive right away. If you want to stay at a reliable hotel with a lot of charm, this will be the place for you. The only downfall for this hotel was the gym. It is on the top floor with a very low ceiling. Weight trainers will have to skip their routine and stick to cardio on the treadmill or the bicycle. Overall, I recommend this hotel for someone who wants a very clean hotel, with a perfect location, and good service. Look for this hotel on Hotels.com to get the best rate.
If you don’t mind staying a little further out, there are some hotels closer to Spice Alley that may be good options too.
No matter how you travel or where you stay, always be thankful for your adventures. I thank God for travel.
South America is known for its delicious foods including steak, empanadas, dulche de leche, ceviches, and yerba mate. On this trip we indulged in so much, except for yerba mate; a tea that’s a staple in the South American diet. We saw people walking in the streets sipping on yerba mate everywhere we went, but we did not see it available on any of the restaurant or cafe menus. That’s all right though, we brought some home with us.
If you love steak, you’ll be in love with asado in Uruguay. Asado is all about the fire, the grill and the meat. Some people call it bbq, but many South Americans prefer not to hear you reference it this way. We had a good portion at Puerto Madero, the steakhouse near the World Trade Center. The steak was juicy and served with fries as a side. The spring weather was nice this day, yet the patio was empty. For most people this would be a bad sign for the restaurant, but we like to give business to the small companies that don’t have a ton of advertising. The owner was so kind to take his time to show us the menu, we couldn’t help but take a seat at his restaurant and we were so pleased that we did.
After this awesome meal we took a walk in the area (Pocitos) and stumbled upon the charming cafe, The Lab. The coffee and treats were perfect and probably the best dessert I had in this country.
The best dessert.
The patio on the second floor of The Lab
Inmigrantes is a local gastropub that opened up about 3 months ago. I think we were the only tourists in the place as the location is tucked away in a neighborhood with not much else around. When we arrived the place was packed, the DJ was spinning the beats and every seat in the place was filled. The kitchen was busy and the wait staff were running tables with a little stress and class at the same time. Our food took a while, but it was worth the wait and the hospitality made up for every minute we thought they had forgotten about us. At the time of writing this article, the restaurant accepts cash and debit only.
Our final meal was in Montevideo at La Otra for asado. We were thrilled to learn that Anthony Bourdain’s team ate at this restaurant and it will be featured on Parts Unknown in 2018. So you’re getting our review about this quaint spot first! We arrived for lunch closer to 4pm, which I would not recommend you going at that hour because the staff seemed exhausted by a hectic afternoon lunch rush. By the time our food arrived we were so hungry, we dived in before taking pictures of the ribs. I give the food 5 out 5 stars.
La Otra Parrilla
A few tips for you when dining in Uruguay.
Tip anywhere from 10% and above.
Ask the restaurant before you sit down if they accept credit cards. There are two taxes totaling 22%, but if you are a foreigner using Visa or Mastercard there is no tax for you.
Some restaurants have a sitting fee for each person on top of your bill. It is written on the menu and on your bill as Cubiertos, which means cutlery in English.
Uruguay is a little laid back country with a ton of charm. I liked this country more than I expected I would. Before the trip was complete I was already thinking this is a country I would love to come back to. I traveled with my husband and my sister and we flew from Miami to Montevideo. Since my husband uses TMobile (which includes South America in the plan) it was easy to get an Uber from the airport right into the city center for about $30USD. We stayed at My Suites in the upscale neigborhood called Pocitos and from there it was easy to walk around and catch an Uber for about $5USD for anywhere local that we wanted to visit. There are so many things that I can say about Uruguay, but for this post let me give you the key reasons why I think you should add this country to your list of places to visit.
Uruguay is one of the safest countries to visit in South America. We walked around in the day and at night and always felt comfortable as we toured around the city streets. Of course we were in a group of three, which may have helped, but from what I noticed as long as you exercise caution you likely have nothing to worry about even if you are traveling alone. This country has a good economy and most people live a very good life, in fact the World Bank labeled this place as a high income country.
Uruguay has a blend of cultures. The influence of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian is upon this nation and there is also an African presence. If you are around on Saturday afternoon, you can catch a group of people drumming in front of the City Hall. We missed this as we were in Punte Del Este.
The beaches and gorgeous coastline. If you have time take a trip out to Punte Del Este and other cities outside of Montevideo to see how beautiful the coastline really is. There are too many beaches to choose from in Uruguay and surprisingly good surf in Punte Del Este. I don’t know anything about surfing, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been that surprised anyway. To get there, take a bus from Tres Cruces terminal. The cost is $18USD each way and I recommend that you buy your tickets a day in advance to ensure that you get a seat. The bus allows people to stand, but you don’t want to be standing for 2 hours.
Great food. There is a vast selection of restaurants to choose from for asado, pizza, chivito, cafes and even nice fast food joints. I will do a food post soon about all the food we experienced, including the restaurant La Otra. We later found out Anthony Bourdain visited two weeks ago for his show Parts Unknown set to air in 2018.
Kind people. Spanish is the main language spoken, however you will be able to get around even if you don’t know any Spanish. Some people speak English and will do as much as they can to welcome you to their country. We met one woman in the market who spent about 10 minutes telling us about Uruguay and that racism does not exist there. She went on to say that Uruguayans have an African population and they want to see more Africans because there are few. She spoke about the history and the culture and she was so proud to share her experience with us. I always like to talk to locals to get a feel for how they live.
This place is laid back. There seems to be no stress here.
The architecture. Visit the Old City, also known as Cuidad Veija, to take in the beautiful old structures. Make sure to go up to the 22nd floor of the Montevideo City Hall where you can take in a view of the city for free.
The largest outdoor market. If you love to find unique bargains in markets, then you will want to spend an entire Sunday at the Tristan Narvaja. Here you will find antiques, food, clothing, and art. This is the most popular market in the entire country.
Tokyo has quite a few places where you can go to an observation deck to lookout over the magnificent city. We found one that was less crowded, free and easy to get to on our way to Senso-ji. The Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center is just around the corner from Asakusa Station and the building itself, designed by well known Kengo Kuma, is a site to be seen. The first floor is staffed with a team ready to welcome guests (in Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean) and each floor offers either an exhibition or conference rooms and a cafe. Make sure you get to the 8th floor to have your FREE lookout of the Asakusa area. Don’t expect to be able to see the whole city, after all you are only on the 8th floor.
I love to check out food and artisan markets in cities across the world. Most of the time, you can get a good feel for the flavor of a city by visiting the local markets and talking to the vendors. In Madrid, we stopped in the Mercado De San Miguel to check out the food.
This particular merchant served his goods in a sleeve, making it easy to walk and eat your way through the market.
It doesn’t matter what city we go to, we always want to know about the food. People love to eat and finding great restaurants is a must for my tummy and I’m sure for yours too. What I love most about Toronto is all the different cultures and being able to experience them at festivals, street parties, community centers and restaurants. I love West Indian food and I’ll devour a roti any day. I first tried this Trinidadian restaurant, Island Foods, back in year 2000 and since then this restaurant has never disappointed me.
Pictured below is the goat meat seasoned in a curry stew with potatoes wrapped in roti (Indian flatbread). Every single bite had me wanting more, even when I was full. I waited about 25 minutes to place my order and it was worth every minute of the wait. By the way, the lineup of people there was a good reflection of who makes up the population of Toronto and you have not seen diversity until you experience Toronto! We had all ages of people in the line both male and female from Latino to Indian to West Indian to White to Korean to African to Middle Eastern and multicultural peeps all waiting for West Indian Food. I loved it!!!
Now let’s talk about the ambiance of this place. I’m a little surprised there has not been a round of renovations for 20 years. The ambiance is extremely laid back and it is more of a takeout place than a spot you’d want to host a party in.
The food gets five stars!! If you have never had a roti before, let this be a place of choice when you visit Toronto. Vegetarian options are available.
Have you had anything awesome in Toronto? I’d love to hear about it. Please share!