Campeche, Mexico

After a handful of days in Mérida, my friend and I made our way to the sleepy town of Campeche. When we arrived, we took a taxi from the bus station to our Airbnb. The ride cost about $45MXN.

We stayed in an Airbnb for four nights. It’s located about two miles outside of the city center but is accessible by bus and taxi. Our host was very friendly and showed us around the property. There is a pool (though unheated), a patio, and the Gulf of Mexico right in the backyard. The water is calm and warm though there are rocks in the water so I recommend wearing water shoes. Since we had a kitchen in the apartment, we walked to a supermarket nearby and grabbed some groceries. We stayed in for a handful of meals to save some money.

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The view from our Airbnb patio.
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There’s a sidewalk that stretches for miles along the shore as well as bike and running paths as you get closer to the city center.

When we did go into town, we ate some amazing food. One of my favorite meals was at La Olla de la Pagoda. My friend and I were given a complimentary cup of zucchini soup with pesto that was jaw-droppingly good. Our entrees were also delicious and affordable at about $70MXN each. I wish we would have gone back a second time.

We stopped at Restaurant Los Abuelos for lunch one day and were not disappointed. Our meals, enchiladas verdes and a chile relleno, were flavorful and enormous. Our total bill with drinks was around $180MXN.

We also grabbed coffee at Café Sotavento. We didn’t eat there but the food looked fantastic.

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We wandered around Campeche and enjoyed the colorful buildings and architecture. We also did a little shopping while in town. We wandered into Casa de Artesanias Tukulna but were actually more impressed with the handmade options in a store across the street. I didn’t get the name of the shop but they sell beautiful jewelry, textiles, and gems. I highly recommend stopping in.

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Our few days in Campeche were very relaxing though I think it helped that there were no cruise ships pulling into Progreso while we were in Campeche. I definitely recommend checking the cruise ship schedule ahead of time and then plan accordingly. It can get very busy and crowded. I can’t wait to go back and continue exploring Campeche and the area.

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Campeche, Mexico

Mérida, Mexico

I spent a handful of days with friends in Mérida and really enjoyed the town. We stayed at the Nomadas Hostel to save a little money. If the hostel didn’t have a pool, I can’t say I would stay there again. The rooms were acceptable but the free breakfast was not good and the customer service at the front desk was poor. Also, we had to wear wristbands while staying there. People kept asking us if we were staying at an all inclusive or if we’d been at a rave.

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Wristbands, seriously?

We spent our days wandering around town, eating and drinking, and lounging by the pool at the hostel. We visited Mercado San Benito a handful of times for some cheap food.

We also took a cooking class with Urban Adventures. We toured the market with Gustavo then went to his aunt’s house for a cooking lesson. Once all the food was ready, we ate an amazing meal together as a group. This was definitely a highlight of my time in Mérida.

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Photo credit: Pamela Dawn

Thanks to the lovely and talented Pamela Dawn for sharing her amazing photos with me. Find her Instagram feed here.

Along with the cooking class with it’s delicious local dishes, we kept eating (and drinking) our way around Mérida.

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One of the many delicious spreads while visiting Mérida.

We stopped by Huevos Motuleños twice for breakfast. The food and the service were outstanding. The main dining room is small but there is additional seating and an outdoor terrace upstairs.

We popped into La Negrita Cantina for drinks and enjoyed the lively atmosphere. We also visited Mercado 60 for a drink and some food. It was fun but more expensive than I think it’s worth.

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When we needed a light snack or meal, we’d walk down to Gorditas Doña Gorda. The gorditas are small; one is a perfect snack, 2-3 work for a light meal. Each gordita costs around $15MXN. Also, they have a handful of vegetarian options on the menu.

For delicious tacos, we visited Wayan´e. There are a handful of locations but we went to the one on Calle 59. I ordered three tacos and a Coke. They were filling and my lunch only cost $42MXN.

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In between eating, we visited the cathedral and learned about the city and its history.

We stayed in town for most of our visit but did spend an afternoon at the beach in Progreso. We hopped on a bus ($38MXN roundtrip) and were there in about 45 minutes. The beach was clean and not too crowded for such a hot day.

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Buses to Progreso leave from the Auto Progreso station.
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Mérida is filled with color and texture.

When I started planning my next move, I wanted to know all of my bus options. As I’ve mentioned in a past blog, the bus companies in Mexico (ADO and and it’s subsidiaries) are getting organized and a little more expensive. In Mérida there are two different bus stations one for the 1st class buses; another for the 2nd class buses. They are near each other so that makes it easier. And while they offer the same routes, the departure times, trip lengths, and, of course, prices are very different. To get from Mérida to Campeche, I chose to take a 1st class bus (but not the Platinum option) which cost about $127MXN one way. ADO also has an app that you can download but the ticket prices are a tad higher, maybe an extra $1-3USD per ticket. This is also true of purchasing tickets through their website. If you have the option, I recommend buying tickets at the bus station so you can save a little money and this way you know exactly where you need to be. I found another blog that covers the ADO bus system in more detail. I recommend checking it out if you plan on taking a lot of buses around Mexico.

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Choose your bus station; but choose wisely.
Mérida, Mexico

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent had so much more to offer than I was expecting. I thought it would be a sleepy, little town where I would get bored after a few days. But that definitely was not the case. After five days, I kept finding more places I wanted to check out and I couldn’t fit everything in. I also found that the tourism website was very helpful, more so than I expected. I recommend visiting it for practical information as well as recommendations around town.  

For the first two days, I was on my own and stayed at the Kaba Hostel. While I had a great stay there, it was further from the city center than I would have liked. But it also gave me a chance to check out the Southeast side of town before I moved to an Airbnb with a friend on the North side of town. 

While in town, I took advantage of the good weather and wandered and meandered everywhere. I also took a boat tour, a free walking tour, and even rented a kayak from Hostel Uppelink.

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Kayaking the calm canals of Ghent. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I also took a free night walking tour. The guide, Ben, had a lot of very interesting history and knowledge about the city. And he timed the tour to end just at midnight.

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I visited all of the churches in town and, of course, the Ghent Alterpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). For art lovers, this is essential. For everyone else, it’s also essential. Pay the €4, listen to the audio guide (offered in a bunch of languages), and learn about the incredibly interesting history of this artwork. 

I also visited the Museum voor Schone Kunsten for an exhibition called Women of the Baroque. The entrance fee for both the permanent exhibit and the temporary exhibits was €14. All of the exhibits were wonderfully curated. I was also able to see the panels from the Ghent Alterpiece that were being restored. 

But more than anything, I enjoyed the food in Ghent. The city has fully embraced the local and organic food movements. There are food co-ops, farm to table restaurants, and vegetarian options galore. My favorites where Lokaal, Soep Plus, and Le Botaniste. Note that Le Botaniste looks really fancy from the outside but is actually very casual.  All three of these restaurants were affordable, healthy, and delicious. 

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I ordered a trio of hummuses at Le Botaniste. Yum!

I also checked out a few of the organic markets. My favorite was the Beo Markt. They do have a restaurant thought I didn’t eat there, I did buy delicious fruit and vegetables.

For drinks, I found a great little wine bar called Baravins. I liked the place so much I stopped by a second time during my visit. The bartender was friendly, helpful, and generous with the snacks.

I also ate some delicious Italian food while in Ghent. My friend and I had dinner at Shazanna after grabbing drinks at Baravins. Our pizzas were amazing and filling. My dinner and a glass of wine cost €22. I ate more Italian food a few days later when I visited Firenze for lunch. It is a cozy restaurant with a great family feel. If you are in the area, check it out.

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Firenze was a delicious place to pop into after a visit to the art museum. The olives and wine tided me over until my pasta arrived.

On my way into town, I didn’t use public transportation when leaving the train station and hoofed it all the way to my hostel with my backpack in tow. But on my way out of town, I decided to take the tram to the train station. The cost for one ticket on the Lijnwinkel tram was €1.60. Later, I found out that this same transit system is in Antwerp, and possibly other cities in Belguim. 

Ghent, Belgium

Reims, France

After spending a long weekend in Paris, I made my way to Reims for a few quiet days by myself. Most tourists probably spend an afternoon in Reims or skip it altogether, but not me. I was looking for a small, adorable town to wander through and that’s exactly was I got.

I booked an Airbnb for two nights on the southern end of town. My private bedroom with shared bath was stylish and oh so comfortable at $49USD per night. My host was friendly and helpful though her English was limited (as is my French). The apartment is a bit of a walk from the train station (Gare de Reims) in town but this did not deter me. Note that there is no left luggage facility at the Reims train station. There is, however, a new service called Nanny Bag that was suggested to me by the tourism office.

I visited both the cathedral and the basilica during my time in Reims. I cannot recommend these enough. Both buildings are awe inspiring to wander through. And, both are free. Plus, if you have just come from Paris, you will actually be able to enjoy and appreciate these spaces without hordes of tourists.

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Our Lady of Reims.
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Our Lady of Reims shot from the park behind the cathedral.

I also visited the Surrender Museum (Musée de la Reddition) and really enjoyed this small but significant piece of history. While I consider myself generally knowledgeable about World War II, I had never heard of Reims and the important role the city played.

While in town, I treated myself to a decadent lunch at Anna S. The prix-fixe menu was seasonal and delicious. It was such a filling meal that I did not eat dinner that night. It was my only splurge while in town but at €42 (which included a glass of wine), it was well worth it.

I also ate some mussels while in town. I researched a few places but my Airbnb host recommended Le Grand Café and she did not steer me wrong.  Once again, my meal was accompanied by wine (when in Rome…) and cost €22. 

After two days in Reims, I was ready to move on to my next destination. For this, I needed to make my way out to the high speed train station (Gare Champagne TGV) just outside of town. I searched and searched (using my cell phone) for good information on local buses and tram lines and came up empty handed. Later, I was able to find this online map for the trams and local buses which opened on my laptop.

Before boarding the tram, you must buy a ticket and then validate it once on the tram. There is an option for paying via cell phone but I didn’t research this as I only used the tram once. The city is not that big and I love to walk and explore. 

Reims, France

Kobarid, Slovenia

We didn’t originally plan on visiting the small town of Kobarid but I am so happy that we did. We rented an apartment in the city center which included a parking spot, wifi, and a washing machine. For $65USD per night, the three bedroom apartment was more than we needed but was the same price as some of the hotels in town. We took advantage of having a kitchen and a grocery store across the street to save some money.

We explored the surrounding area as well as the town itself. We walked and then hiked  to Slap Kozjak. This is one time that I was happy to have other hikers on the path as finding the waterfall was a little confusing.

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The closer you get to the waterfall, the narrower the path becomes.

We also visited the Tolmin Gorges. The visit to this gorge involved a lot more climbing and hiking than the Vintgar Gorge but was just as stunning. Sadly, due to the climbing, I did not take any photos to share. But once again, the €5 entrance fee was worth the chance to explore this stunning area of Slovenia.

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The Soca River runs just outside of Kobarid.

While in town, we visited the Kobarid Museum, (Kobariski Muzej). The place is packed with photographs and mementos from battles fought nearby during World War I. There is a short video presentation which is offered in multiple languages. I am glad we stopped by and learned more about this incredible area and it’s history.

Also while in town, we did what we do best; eat. We visited a few of the local restaurants but none stood out like Hisa Polonka. We actually ate here twice in three days. The dishes vary in size so beware of ordering to little or too much. The food was delicious and the service was friendly and inviting. Both times we ate there, our bill averaged around €45. This included drinks, appetizers, and entrees.

We also enjoyed a local food and art festival while in town. The food options (mussels, pastas, stews, etc.) were all tasty and flavorful though not as affordable as one would expect in such a small town. We ate lunch and grabbed a few local beers and glasses of wine and spent a total of €42. There were local musicians and singers performing for the crowds which we really enjoyed. We had a wonderful time in Kobarid and I would recommend a visit to this charming town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kobarid, Slovenia

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

We said goodbye to El Castillo and headed north to Rio Celeste. The drive was smooth sailing which surprised us. The roads were in good condition and we didn’t encounter any traffic or other issues. We stopped off at a roadside soda and had some of the most delicious food including pan fried tilapia.

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If you see this sign, eat here. Do not pass up an opportunity to eat their dishes food.

We stayed two nights at Hotel Catarata Rio Celeste and visited the National Park Volcano Tenorio during the day. We booked two nights in anticipation of being muddy after the hike. With hindsight, we could have stayed only one night but it was good to have some down time after hiking.

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We definitely spent some time enjoying the hammocks at our hotel.

The following day, we drove up to the park entrance, paid about $1USD to park and $12USD per person. We arrived just after it opened to beat the crowds and to have the hiking trail to ourselves. We hiked in about 30 minutes and then took the stairs down to see the waterfall. It was very impressive and stunning. We were happy to have arrived early and have the place to ourselves for awhile.

We then ascended the staircase and continued the easy hike further into the park where two rivers meet and the water turns a celestial blue. While seeing this sight was interesting, it definitely was a let down compared to the waterfall. If you are not an avid hiker, I would recommend skipping the hike and just marvel at the waterfall.

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We crossed a few bridges on the way to where the two rivers meet.

Swimming in the park is not allowed but there are many points on the river outside the park that you can access. Just park on the side of the road and hop in the water. The water is cold but can be very refreshing after hiking.

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Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We arrived in Puerto Viejo during Santa Semana so the town was definitely busier than normal but was still a great place to visit. We stayed at Casitas La Playa next door to Rocking J’s hostel. We enjoyed being a bit further from town, about 20 minutes walk as the center could get pretty crowded. Rocking J’s plays music late into the night but it was nothing earplugs couldn’t fix. The staff at Casitas La Playa were friendly and helpful and we really felt at home there.

There are multiple small beaches up and down the coast to choose from (including one just a few minutes walk south that has more sand then rocks though it is very shallow). In general, it’s a very rocky coast but there are areas where the water is calmer but does not get deep unless you go out past the rocks.

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We found some delicious food while we were in town though the prices were higher then we were expecting. One of our favorites was Soda Shekina for tasty home cooking. The average plate with a drink cost about $5,000CRC.

We also really liked Monli’s (not to be mistaken for Monti’s next door). We had a few of the fish specials and drinks so the bill definitely added up quickly. But the food and the service were lovely. The mahi mahi special was around $10,000CRC.

For a change of pace, we checked out Soul Surfer for burgers one night. The change was a nice one and we were all happy with our options. They even had two different vegetarian options.

We were also able to eat at the Colombian empanada and arepas place that is right next to Soul Surfer. We came by a few times and they’re weren’t open but we finally connected and it was worth the wait. One arepa is definitely big enough for a light meal as we found out the hard way when we also ordered empanadas and two arepas. We had a heavy lunch but it was very delicious and cost about $9,000CRC for 2 people.

While on the Caribbean coast, we visited the Jaguar Rescue Center in Cocles. For around $20USD per person, we were given a tour of the grounds and introduced to a wide array of animals. We really enjoyed our time there though had to walk there from Puerto Viejo due to the lack of buses and taxis.

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We got to meet this little guy. He was snuggled in a basket with his other sloth friends.

Once again, it’s the buses that really mess things up. This is the first time that I have been in a town in Central America that did not have frequent local bus service or use colectivos or combis to shuttle people from town to town or from one side of a bigger town to the other. The fact that the bus only ran every two hours was very frustrating. I’m not sure if this is a way to force tourists to rent bikes or pay for taxis (which were hard to find) but sadly that is what I would recommend. When the bus would come by, it was a great, cheap option (and the price is based on how far you travel on the bus) but it was so frustrating to try and time it right. Shockingly, the buses didn’t exactly run on time. There are buses that will take you south to Manzanillo and Punta Uva (as well as up north to Cahuita) but catching one was such a pain. So I would recommend renting bikes.  We rented bikes for $3,300CRC for the day.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica