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Greece: Athens, Mykonos, Delos, and Santorini

26 Aug

I traveled to Greece during the same trip as Turkey. These are actually two countries to easily combined into one trip. Lots of people doing the Greek Islands and Turkey go down to Ephesus and take a cruise ship or ferry over to the islands. Since I only went to Istanbul, I flew from Istanbul to Athens. Most people I had talked to about traveling to Greece say you barely need a day in Athens because you’ll hate it. I, however, really enjoyed Athens and was bummed not to have spent more than a day there.  To begin, it’s exhausting to try and see everything in one day.  Secondly, there is also a great vibe in the city of Athens.  There are cafes and people everywhere.  The city only begins to get crowded around 9pm, so having dinner at 11pm is completely acceptable.  I would suggest at least spending several days there if you don’t mind crowds and enjoy touring cities.

The Acropolis, especially at night, is absolutely stunning and the Parthenon is everything you expect and more.  IMG_1411To see these sites in person is surreal.  We spent about two hours walking around the IMG_0396Acropolis before walking to the new (although now it’s five years old) Acropolis Museum.  This museum was designed amazingly.  When you walk up to the entrance the walkways are glass so you are able to see below into the city ruins.  The top level of the museum was built to mimic the Parthenon and shows what it would have looked like during it’s time.  Next we went to the Ancient City of Athens but sadly due to the crisis it was closing at 3pm instead of it’s regular time.  I wish we would have been able to spend more time exploring.   We just got to the Temple of Hephaistos before we were kicked out.  This is one of the best preserved temples of its time.03270008

The shopping around the Acropolis and on the main shopping street consists of both what you expect to see in a touristy area and also some really need craft shops.  I bought a tapas platter made of olive wood thinking it was probably way over priced only to find it was actually a great deal compared to shopping on the islands.  We then ate of first Greek salad of the trip, which I would then proceed to have as an appetizer for every meal.  The food in Greece is spectacular.  Everything is amazingly fresh and feels so healthy.

IMG_1472To get to the islands, we took the subway (almost $35 Euros cheaper than a taxi and avoids the massive traffic jams) to the airport and took a 20 minute flight to Mykonos.  If you can afford it, the way to stay on the Greek Island is nice family owned hotels.  I was less impressed with Mykonos than I thought I would be, especially since at one point we were shooed out of a store because we didn’t look wealthy enough!   My Mom did flip him off on the way back home later that night, so either we got our revenge or looked even more trashy than before.  At least it made us feel better!  The islands are definitely pricey and it seemed as though the people were much less friendly.

Struggling to find activities, I decided we should try to catch a ferry to the island of Delos.  What a great idea.  Delos is about 30 minutes by ferry and is an ancient Greek and Roman city began around 3,000 years ago and IMG_1543seized to exist after around 1st century B.C.  The islands has amazing mosaic floors, temple ruins, and the HUGE base for a HUGE statute of Apollo.  You also can hike up to the highest point and see all sides of the island.  This is really worth the trip.

We then took a ferry to the island of Santorini.  I LOVE THIS ISLAND.  There is so much to do on this island and it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen with my own eyes.  We stayed at the Artemis Villas in Imerovigli.  This is a great location because you are walking IMG_0547distance (30 minutes) from Fira, the main town, and it’s a little more secluded.  The hotel had amazing views of the volcano and ocean, which made for breathtaking sunsets.  At sunset each night they provided you a treat.  The first night was cake and champagne, so you really might be in heaven.  I rented a car on the island because it’s big enough you’ll need one to get around.  First we visited the Ancient City of Thera.  My mom and I followed directions and parked our car at the bottom of a giant mountain.  The road (we thought) implied we couldn’t drive up the mountain and we saw some people hiking.  So we began the trek up this VERY steep mountain, the whole time going how do so many people manage this.  Well turns out as most things in Greece, of course you can drive to the top!!!  These are worth seeing and the hike is grueling but great exercise with ocean views the whole way.

Akrotiri is a must do.  These are ancient ruins from 2000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. that were buried under ash and pumiceIMG_1604 from a volcanic erruption.  It is an amazing sight and only show 1/30th of the orginal city.  The whoel site is under a new climate controlled building which is amazing in itself.  When we visited it had only been open 4 months.

Other fun things to do include wine tasting (we went to Gaia Winery located in an old tomato factory right on the ocean), beer tasting at the Santorini Brewery, hike from Oia to Fira (about 6 miles each way), catch an outdoor movie in English at the Kamari Open Air Cinema during the evening, and visit the caldera (the volcano).  If you visit the caldera, make sure to take the donkey ride back up to Fira from the dock.  It is a crazy experience.

Food, the most important.  Like I mentioned before, I had a Greek salad with every meal.  We also would eat by the water whenever possible and have fresh seafood.  In Oia (which is the fancier part of the island), it’s well worth taking the 300 stairs down to Amundi Bay to have dinner or lunch.  The restaurants both have an outdoor oven and freshly caught fish you can choose from.  Another restaurant that’s a must do in Santorini is Naoussa Tavern.  There’s no reservations and always a line but worth the wait.  Plus you can drink wine while you wait!

Overall, Greece is a must.  So much culture, history, and amazing food.  I can’t wait to go back.

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Istanbul, Turkey

14 Aug

Istanbul is a spectacular city where the east and west collide.  This is evident through the food, the buildings, suchIMG_0168 as the Hagia Sophia, and quite literally in the geography where there is a European and Asian side of Istanbul.  Istanbul is fairly easy to navigate and the Turkish people are extremely friendly.

 

As I prefer to do almost anywhere I travel, I booked an Airbnb.com near the Galata Tower outside the Old City, which is much less touristy.  The first thing we did when we arrived was to walk up Istikal Caddesi (the main street) to Takism Square.  Along the way you can take in the Balik Pazar (the fish market), Nevizade Sokak (one of IMG_0068the busiest restaurant strips in the city), shop, drink a Efes Pilsen (local beer), and eat Baklava and Turkish delights.  This street is packed at almost all hours of the night.  It is a must do.

 

The must do sites are as follows:  Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, climb the Galata IMG_1152Tower to see a view of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market (only the Iranian saffron and somuk are worth buying), Topkapi Palace (the best portion is the IMG_1261Harem, which I believe you have to pay extra to see but is worth it), shopping at Arasat Bazaar (nicer bazaar and easier to navigate), and Chora Church.

You must take ferry up the Bosphorus Strait to Anadola Kavagi to tour the ruins of Yoros Kalesi (kind of a hike uphill).  On the ferry ride you can get off in the towns along the way.  We ate fresh seafood in a town called Sariyer on the way back.  Also, you MUST get the yogurt the kids sell on the ferry.  Make sure to put the sugar in it!IMG_1122

 

Also, everyone needs to experience the Turkish Bath.  It was quite an exciting/uncomfortable/slightly terrifying experience.  We went to Cemberlitas IMG_1384Hamami.  You first choose what services you would like (such a body scrubs, massages, bubble bathing, etc), then you literally have no idea what is going on the rest of the time.  I was just taken from one place to another by yelling Turkish women, who were demanding me to remove my clothes, scrubbing me with a turkish exfoliating cloth, then an interesting bubbly cloth, then shooed me off to another room where I was lathered in oil and given a massage (while the ladies chatted to each other the whole time).  By the way did I mention there were many other naked women all around.  We literally laughed about this experience the rest of the trip.  It’s not a bad experience, just an interesting experience.

Now to the important part, what to eat!!!!  Some great restaurants include Furreya Fish, where you must get the fish roll,  Kasap Osam Doner where you should get the isketer doner, Otantik for manti (my fav) and a turkish IMG_1255pancake (then finish dinner with an ice cream cone from the place right outside), and Filibe Kofteisi to get the meatballs.  We also took a cooking class in Istanbul which was a highlight.  We learned how to make five dishes of ethnic Turkish food.  The classes are offered at Cooking Alaturk and reservations are a must.IMG_1365

And by the way, if you don’t like cats this city might not be for you:)

 

Thanksgiving in Del Mar, California

28 Nov

Del Mar holds a special place in my heart.  My grandparents would spend the winters, away from freezing Minnesota, in Del Mar.  Their condo was on the Morgan Run golf course in Rancho Santa Fe.  I have so many memories in this area of California.  It’s where I would go hunting for snails with Fred, the grounds keeper, where I chipped in a golf ball from 100 yards away right in front of my grandpa at the age of 7, and would eat fresh strawberries with angel food cake after every meal.  Lucky for us, my uncle ended up buying a beautiful house in Rancho Santa Fe after my grandma passed away, so we are still able to visit Del Mar at least once a year.

One of the best things about this area is the amazing seafood restaurants.  My favorite restaurant, George’s on the Cove, is located in La Jolla.  We always sit on the ocean terrace, order the mussels, and watch the sunset.   And if you visit La Jolla, make sure to walk down to the water and see all the seals.  I found this guy out sleeping on the beach. Don’t worry, he’s not dead.

As for the shopping, there’s plenty.  But, Solana Beach has an area known as Cedros Avenue which is a design district.  The two stores I make sure to hit every time I’m in California are Leaping Lotus and SoLo.

Tribulation: Bibiana Osteria in DC

29 Mar

My roommate Jenna–from Rome this summer–and I love to try the Italian restaurants in DC and compare them to our experience in Italy.  On Thursday night we went to Bibiana Osteria in DC.  We first sat at the bar and drank Italian beer.  Then we moved to a table to have dinner.  The service was very friendly, but the food lacked in flavor, was overcooked, and at the same time was overpriced. Don’t be fouled by the presentation of these meals, which appear better than they actually are.  Jenna and I like to call ourselves arancini experts because we lived across the street from the most popular arancini place in Rome, Mondo Arancina.  The ones at Bibiana are so dry, favorless, and lack the appropriate amount of cheese to make them gooey and delicious.  When we asked for balsamic vinegar to go with our meal, the server poured it on out plates for us because it was the only one in the restaurant.  That’s right, one balsamic vinegar for the whole restaurant.  In my opinion, I would buy cheaper Balsamic vinegar if it would mean they could be less stingy.  The Washingtonian named this restaurant one of the top 100 in DC last year, but I would much prefer to go to Cassa Nonna.