Glasgow, Scotland

I recently spent a handful of days in Glasgow with my cousin David. We didn’t have much planned but definitely found things to do to occupy our time; mostly eating.
The city itself is not what most would call beautiful but it has an edgy, raw feel without the hint of crime. We walked through George Square, toured the City Chambers and visited the Kelvingrove Museum, and the Gallery of Modern Art (all for free, no less). But I think what really made me enjoy this city was the food. I did not have a bad meal while I was there. From the kebap shop to Ubiquitious Chip; everything was delicious, fresh, and relatively affordable. Here are some of the highlights.
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A view of the Cathedral from the Necropolis.
It serves some tasty, strong cocktails as well as some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had.
This was the perfect Italian style thin crust pizza. It was worth the wait at the West End location. You can also check out their other location in the city center. At about £9GBP per pizza it’s an affordable and delicious lunch or dinner option.
Check this place out in the West End for live music and an amazing array of whiskies to taste. We spent an evening drinking whiskies that the knowledgeable bartenders recommended.
They serve up a tasty and authentic bowl of pho but I also heard very good reviews for a place called Hanoi Bike Shop.
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A delicious bowl of pho.
This is an elegant, yet affordable restaurant which was lovely as expected. Right in the heart of the city center is this traditional gem that has stood the test of time. We had the set lunch menu and at £25GBP (which included a glass of wine), my two course meal was delicious and worth the splurge.
This place is actually two restaurants in one. I had lunch in their upstairs terrace restaurant. I did not choose from their set lunch menu but opted for the delicious mussels and a small pork pie which was wonderful. At about £15GBP, my lunch was cheaper than the set lunch in the downstairs restaurant.
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Mussels with chorizo and hearty bread to soak up the savory broth.
I am still thinking about this place and it’s food. It’s another restaurant worth the wait (or make a reservation). I had two dishes and a glass of wine for £20GBP. I highly recommend the beet hummus and whipped feta dish. I even tried to return later during my trip. Part of me was sad because I couldn’t get a table but the other part of me knew that there were other amazing places to try instead.
This is where I ended up when Ox & Finch couldn’t take me and I was not disappointed. I had their Thyme for Gin cocktail to whet my appetite followed by a beet salad and a gnocchi dish. I could not have been happier nor fuller. Once again, a delightful meal for under £25GBP.
After all that eating, we spent a few of our days wandering the streets of Glasgow, grabbing a drink at a few local bars (my favorites were Inn Deep and the bar in the Centre for Contemporary Arts), and enjoying the comfort of our room at the Charing Cross Guest House. What I really liked about this was the location (walking distance to both the city center and to the West End), the free breakfast (with your choice of continental or full Scottish breakfast), and the hospitality of the front desk staff. At $54USD a night for a double room, it was well within my budget.
While staying in Glasgow we took two separate day trips. The first was to Loch Lomond. It only took about an hour by train to the town of Balloch which is walking distance to the water. We choose not to take the scenic ferry ride but went hiking along the water’s edge instead.
We also took a train and ferry to the Isle of Arran. We spent our day hiking around the isle. If given the chance, I would love to return to see more of this beautiful part of Scotland.
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Here I am at the top of our hike on the Isle of Arran.
Glasgow, Scotland

Guadalajara, Mexico

Guadalajara is not a pretty city in the conventional way but it has a lot to offer visitors. The city is large and sprawling. And in the four days that I was there with two friends, I did not get to see nearly as much of it as I would have hoped but that means I have lots of exploring to do when I return.

 

We stayed at an Airbnb near Parque Alcalde. The apartment was very nice and had a balcony which we took full advantage first thing in the mornings and then again in the afternoons when we needed a rest from wandering the city streets. I cannot recommend this Airbnb host enough. He was so accommodating, helpful, and gave us some great information on the city. And he has multiple properties in Guadalajara to choose from.
We had originally planned to stay near Avenida Chapultepec Norte and thus found bars and restaurants to check out in that neighborhood. We dined at El Sacromonte and I would highly recommend it. I had steak in a delicious sauce for around $250MXN.  We also wondered down the way and split a bottle of wine at Romea. It was very chic and a bit on the expensive side (our bottle of wine cost $730MXN) but a nice treat to sit outside on a nice evening and enjoy some delicious wine. Later during our long weekend, we went to Pigs Pearls in the same neighborhood. We needed a break from traditional Mexican food and grabbed burgers. Lunch (a burger and a glass of wine) was perfect change of pace and only cost $85MXN.
We definitely ate a lot of food while we were in Guadalajara and it seems as though the street food was easier to find at night than during the day. Much like anywhere else, I would recommend if you’re eating street food find vendors that are busy with locals, saddle up, and eat everything. We did eat in the mercado in the city center one day for lunch and it was delicious. Also, we are here during Lent in the Catholic faith and there were a lot more fish options than I would have thought we’d find. Hopefully this is not just during the Lenten season but is all year round.
Usually when I sit down at any sort of food vendor in which prices are not listed, I ask what the prices are. But I found in Guadalajara that when I didn’t ask first, all of the prices were perfectly acceptable and I never had any issues with people over charging me. This might be because I speak enough Spanish to order food and ask questions. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. And while a lot of people here do speak English, I think that it was easier for everyone when I used my small amounts of Spanish.
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This torta ahogada (the drowned torta) included pork, cabbage, onions, and a tart tomato sauce.
We also ate at a little place called Casa Mitote which serves Oaxacan dishes. It was so delicious and were so glad that we caught them on a night when they were actually opened.
We attended a performance by the Jalisco Philharmonic while we were in town. The music was just lovely and tickets were very affordable. We had wonderful seats in the center of the theater for $220MXN each.
We also visited Tlaquepaque on a Saturday which was a nice break from the city. It was also a great place to shop for locally-made crafts. Some of the items that we found here were very similar to other items we found in Oaxaca but at cheaper prices.
Few locals had amazing things to say about taxi drivers so we opted to use Uber when we needed to get around the city and could not walk the distance. We took one from our Airbnb to the city center and it cost about for $2USD one way. There are currently two train lines that serve parts of Guadalajara but since we were not here very long and we tend to walk a lot of places, we did not take advantage of the public transportation.
I also visited the Panteon de Mexquitan cemetery one afternoon. The architecture and stone work of the mausoleums was beautiful though some where in sad states of repair. I really enjoyed wandering the quiet paths and reflecting on this cities history and its people.

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Guadalajara, Mexico

Christchurch, New Zealand

After spending a quick four days on the North Island, we flew into Christchurch on the South Island and spent the day wandering around town. We stayed the night at an Airbnb apartment. At a cost of $168 USD, the two bedroom apartment served the four of us very well. Being able to spread out and do some laundry were great perks. The apartment is within walking distance of downtown and the Botanical Gardens.

The river that runs through the Botanical Gardens
Christchurch seemed to have a lot to offer and rebuilding efforts were abundant. There were little shops, bars, and restaurants everywhere along with a lot of construction especially near the Cathedral. If I had more time, I would have loved to stay in Christchurch a little longer to explore and see what else it has to offer. There were also many signs for parking. We had walked into the center of town, but the parking situation seemed like it could be a good, cheap option. I would guess city government is hoping to entice more people to come into the city.
The remains of the Christchurch Cathedral. Rebuilding efforts are under way. 

We grabbed a drink and snacks at a little place near High Street called The Lower 9th Diner. They offered tasty Cajun-inspired food. We also made the necessary trip to Pedro’s House of Lamb. Pedro’s has a take-away only location in Christchurch (I am under the impression that the restaurant location did not make it through the 2011 earthquake). We were a group of four so we picked up two trays of lamb and potatoes at $35 NZD each. We ate until we were stuffed and then ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Girona, Spain

Girona is a picturesque town that has a lot to offer if you are ambitious or is a great town to wander aimlessly if you are less ambitious. There is more than enough to do to keep you occupied for a handful of days or it could be wonderful base for side trips in the region.
We spent one morning walking the ancient walls of the city. Starting behind the cathedral and walking south, it was a wonderful way to see the breathtaking view of the town and the surrounding landscape. It took just under an hour and it was free.
 

We wandered the streets of the old town and the new. There is more history (the cathedral, St. Felix’s church, etc.) in the old town but there is more shopping (H&M, Zara, etc.) on the newer side of town.

Foodwise, Zanparzan was a great find. The night we went in, it was standing room only for awhile. Luckily, we were able to snag a table quickly, camped out, and ate to our heart’s content. The pinxtos where delicious and were about €1.40 each. We also stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant that was actually worth going to (I find that Mexican food outside of the States and Mexico usually isn’t very good). It was not cheap (about €15 for an entrée and margarita) but the food at Maguey, Cort Reial 1, was a nice change from tapas and pinxtos.

While in Girona, we stayed in any apartment we found on www.airbnb.com. The man who owned the apartment, Oriol, also has a bike tour company (click here for the website). While we did not have the opportunity to take a tour with Oriol, he was such a wonderful host that I can only imagine the tours to be well planned, entertaining, and a great way to spend a day.

View from our apartment in Girona.

For side trips from Girona, I recommend going to the tourist office and asking for bus schedules. We looked online but couldn’t always find good, basic information. Also, keep in mind there are two bus stations in Girona. One is just outside of the old town but the other is further south in front of the train station.

We also took a daytrip to the small town of Bezalu. It was picturesque and lovely. There is a lot of history to see there. Unfortunately, because it is such a small town most of these “attractions” are closed to the public unless you take a 30 minute walking tour of town, which only takes place a few times a day and is only offered in Spanish. But if you want to get into the “sites,” go to the tourism information center to find out the starting times for tours and do so as soon as you arrive in town.The start times for the walking tour are also posted outside most of the main sites.

Bezalu, Spain
Girona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Recently, my friend Katie and I traveled to Barcelona. When we travel together, we tend to focus mostly on wandering around, eating, and drinking. Here are some of our finds and a few tips.

We stumbled across a great little tapas bar in Barri Gotic called La Cala del Vermut, Carrer de les Magdalenes, 6. It’s not far from the Cathedral de Barcelona, but it’s tucked away enough that the tourist crowds can’t find it. We had a small lunch of a few tapas and a drink which cost about €6 per person. The staff was very friendly, answered our questions, and tolerated my poor Spanish.

La Bodegueta, Rambla de Catalunya, 100 is a delightful little tapas place usually full with patrons. It’s too small for standing so grab a table and order something wonderful from the menu. We really liked the Manchego cheese, the tiny pimientos de Padrón (grilled peppers) and the pan tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato and garlic, then drizzled with olive oil). We ate here twice and both times the bill was under €10 a person.

Taktika Berri, Carrer de Valencia, 169 is a great pinxtos bar. At €1.45 per pinxtos, it can get expensive if you eat a lot but you can also try a handful of great items and keep it under budget. The general rule is to let the bartenders serve you unless its very crowded; then you can take what you’d like for yourself. Also, remember that when you are ready to pay, your toothpicks will be counted (usually at the register) and you will need to tell the bartender who many drinks you had. It will all be tallied up. Side note: It seemed that most people did not tip at pintxos bars. I’m not sure if it was because you kind of serve yourself, although they are filling your drinks and bringing around new pinxtos. We decided to tip when we felt that the service was exceptional.

We didn’t only eat and drink, if that’s what you are thinking so far. We also took a bike tour of the city (bad idea), went into the Cathedral de Barcelona (which is free before 12:45 p.m. and supposedly free after 5:00 p.m.), and we made the pilgrimage to La Sagrada Familia. Do not wait in line to get into Gaudi’s church. Tickets are available online via Ticketmaster (for a fee) or you can buy them at one of the many yellow ServiCaixa ATMs and skip the fee. The machines are tricky and don’t seem to work with all credit and debit cards, so try more than one card, pick a date and time, and skip the line at La Sagrada Familia.
We also made more than one trip to La Boqueria, the large market just off La Rambla. It’s a good place to buy produce, cheeses, and ready made snacks, but it is also over-run. Watch your bags while you are there.
Barcelona, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid is the place for eating, drinking, and wandering. There are great tapas bars, wine bars, and restaurants all over the city. My favorite was El Tempranillo in La Latina, C/ Cava Baja, 38, west of the La Latina metro stop. Their wine selection was amazing and their tapas were delicious (especially the roasted veggies with melted goat cheese). On this same street, there are a handful of other great tapas bars. Check out this other blog for lists of great tapas bars in La Latina and around Madrid: http://tapastalk.wordpress.com/tapas-bars/

There’s a great restaurant called Bazaar, C/ San Marcos, 35, just south of the Chuenca metro stop (http://www.restaurantbazaar.com/). The food has an international flavor to it; some Spanish, some Asian flavors but all around good. The prices aren’t too bad either, about 6-10€ per plate, and they have great wines (including house wines).

Last recommendation. San Antón (http://www.mercadosananton.com/) and San Miguel (http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/) markets are great places to eat some delicious food, but it’s an even better deal to take some to go. If you are staying in an apartment or going on a picnic in Retiro Park (which I highly recommend), pop into either market. Buy a little of this and a little of that and you will be amazed at the quality of food you get for just a few euros. American readers, please remember that one pound equals 453 grams, so 100 grams of cheese is enough for a good snack for a few people or to last a few days. Add a bottle or two of wine from a grocery store (for as low as 1€) and you’re good to go.
To get in and out of the city, there is an express bus from the airport to Cibeles (Banco de Espana metro stop) and Atocha (Atocha metro stop) for 2€ each way. It’s easy and quick, the driver can provide change, and, best of all, you don’t have to transfer in any of the many metro stations. Check out this site for more Information:  http://www.esmadrid.com/en/barajas-airport-express

Also, one other tip about Madrid’s metro system: when you look at the system map, the city seems quite spread out and possibly unmanageable. In actuality, the metro stations are closer to each other than one would think (some as little as 3-5 minutes on foot). I recommend that in the first day or two you are in Madrid, don’t buy the 10 ticket metro pass. Figure out where you think you want to go in the city, how much walking you are willing to do, and go from there.

Madrid, Spain