A few weeks ago, my husband and I flew down to Oaxaca, Mexico for vacation. We had read that the food was amazing, the people were friendly, and the town was beautiful. All of these things were exactly true.
We spent four days and four nights in the city of Oaxaca before heading to the coast for a few days and then returning for a few more days in the city.
From the airport, we took the colectivo (small van or bus) instead of a taxi. You need buy a ticket inside the airport after you leave baggage claim. You also wait in the same line if you want to get a taxi. The cost is $80MXN per person. We learned the hard way that you cannot buy tickets from the driver or other employees outside of the airport.
On Friday and Saturday nights, there seem to be a lot of weddings at the Templo de Santo Domingo. I highly recommend hanging around this church in the late afternoon or early evening for some great people watching. This area comes alive in the evenings. Grab a drink with a view of the church and enjoy watching the Oaxacan wedding traditions unfold before you.
-Unless a price is specifically written out (and sometimes even then) know that almost everything is negotiable.
-Before ordering any food, ask the price and make sure that you understand what you are getting for that price. We had many vendors who would show us the bill corresponding with the cost when we would ask “how much?” (bao nhiêu in Vietnamese, pronounced bow n-you)
-We were occasionally quoted a price that was inflated tremendously. When we countered with a lower price they would usually take it immediately. I read that the Vietnamese expect and appreciate a good negotiation. They do not consider it rude. We found this to be true. In some countries, the negotiation seems like a way to try in a rip you off, but here it is seems more like it’s what they think they can get away with. When you press them, they’re fine with a lower price. This is not to say that you won’t run into people whose plan is to try and separate you from your money. Be cautious and always ask questions.
-Most of our taxi drivers spoke very little English, so we were thankful for the small amount of Vietnamese that we had learned. The taxi drivers also do not seem well versed in explaining what they are doing or where they are taking you.
-Only ride in taxis with meters and tell them to turn it on. We used the taxi company Vinasun exclusively as they have a great reputation and an app for your smart phone.
-When researching this trip I came around many accounts of travelers renting motorbikes (motorcycles, Vespas, etc.) even though it is technically illegal to do so. What I didn’t grasp until we were in the country was that motorbikes were the only real option for independent travel outside a city. While I am glad that we did not rent motorbikes as we had no prior experience riding them (and we met far too many travelers with motorbike injuries and accident stories to tell), I did not like that this limited in our transportation options. In Hoi An and Tam Coc, we were able to rent bicycles cheaply, but could not cover the distances that a motorbike could. On Cat Ba, the hills were too much for a mere pedal bike and the only other option for getting around the island was by tour bus. Before I visit Southeast Asia again, I would take the time to become more familiar with motorbikes and how to ride them safely.
– Taking domestic flights within Vietnam was definitely worth the money to save some time. We flew VietJet Air three times with the average price for a one-way flight at $53USD. Beware that the site is buggy and it took me multiple tries to book tickets on each attempt. The trains take too long when trying to cover long distances. The sleeper bus is doable if you’re short in stature and small in build, but if you taller than 5’8” you’ll have a hard time fitting in the reclined seat.
– Consider using a trip to Vietnam as a cheap shopping opportunity. Need new t-shirts and flip-flops…why not get them there? If you’re looking for custom dresses, suits, etc., it might be worth more of a look than we gave it. Even for everyday things (sandals, umbrellas, etc.), it’s usually way cheaper to get them in Vietnam than at home. Also, the pharmacies in Vietnam offer most pharmaceutical drugs over the counter. When we needed Cipro and cough medicine we bought it there and the prices were cheap.
– It was easier to find triple rooms in Vietnam than it has been in other countries. This was great since we could usually split a hotel room three ways and it was only a bit more expensive than all three of us staying in a dorm together (along with others).
– As a traveler you cannot drink the tap water in Vietnam. Thankfully, you can find bottled water everywhere. Just shop around in each town or city you visit to find the going rate. The best deal we came across was 6,000VND for 1.5L of water.
-Vietnam is an amazing country to travel in when you are on a budget. The cost for my husband and I for this three week trip was just under $2,000USD which includes all of our flights, food, transportation, etc. We definitely could have spent even less than we did in Vietnam, but we wanted a few creature comforts once in a while; privacy, a clean bathroom, imported wine, and hassle free transportation in the form of taxis and faster ferries.
– As Americans traveling to Vietnam, you need to have a visa to enter the country and it is advised that you obtain the visa before you get to Vietnam. When we went looking for visa information, we were directed to a website (http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/consular) and email address (email@example.com). Having the visa in our passports when we arrived saved a lot of time, energy, and confusion.
–Throughout our three week trip in Greece we noticed that the Greek people working in tourism do not make things easier on you when it comes to explaining how things work or posting signage. For example, we arrived on Santorini and went to the bus station; at the station, there is a kiosk with a person sitting inside. It appears that this is the person from whom you would buy tickets or to whom you could ask questions. When we asked this person questions, he seemed annoyed at having to answer them. Another example is that all the local buses on Santorini begin and end at the bus station in Fira. One would think that putting a sign in the front window of the bus listing the route would be helpful, but they do not do this. It begs the question: if Greek people are frustrated by having to help tourists repeatedly, why would they not make travel clearer and easier for tourists and locals alike?
–Greek house wine is cheap, but it is usually young wine and not amazing. Also, Greece is known for their white wines, not their reds as I would have hoped.
–Most restaurants charge around 1€ per person for a basket of bread. If you do not want it, you can usually say so and not pay for it. However, if you are going to eat it, don’t let the charge bother you and eat up. It’s usually delicious. We tended to ask for olive oil, salt, and pepper if they weren’t already on the table. Also, if we didn’t finish all of the bread, we would take it with us. If we paid for it, it’s ours.
–Sometimes, at the end of a meal in a restaurant, you get a free dessert or a shot of ouzo or raki. This seems to happen in the less touristy areas and restaurants. This definitely did not happen on Santorini, ever.
–Here is the rule of thumb I used when it came to drinking tap water: If restaurants serve you glasses of water (as many do and it’s free), it’s generally safe. If restaurants serve you bottled water (it is not usually free), it’s unsafe to drink the tap water. Generally the tap water on the mainland is drinkable and the tap water on the islands is not drinkable, but ask to be sure. We also tended to ask for tap water on the mainland to save some money. All of the waiters we asked either gave us tap water or gave us a reason why they only serve bottled water.
–Water (tap or bottled) is generally given for free with the purchase of coffee but not tea.
–My friend Rheanna and I found that we could easily share one appetizer and one entree and still be stuffed after eating at most restaurants.
–I would recommend visiting Greece in September or early October. We were there is late October and early November and while we really enjoyed ourselves, we definitely missed out on restaurants and shops that were already closed for the season. And after talking with locals, I cannot recommend going during the summer months. Everyone I spoke with said June through August is so overrun that it’s not as enjoyable for tourists as it could be earlier or later in the year.
–Learning about 50 words of Greek was very helpful. As usual, it endeared us to locals and helped us visit restaurants and bars that were off the beaten path.
–Here is a link to the ferry schedule. This site was much more accurate than we had expected even in the off season.
My friend Rheanna and I spent two days on Santorini. We were skeptical about our visit because of the high profile of the island. We stayed in Fira because it is so centrally located and we had limited time on the island. It’s definitely not a beautiful town, but it worked for our needs. We stayed at the Fira Backpacker’s Place. We booked a private room through Airbnb.com. For $71USD a night, it is one of cheapest places to stay on the island.
The town of Oia is worth visiting and is the quintessential Greek town. If you are going for the day, I highly recommend going early in the morning before it gets too busy. Keep in mind it is incredibly expensive compared to other Greek islands and towns. The rest of the island has a lot to offer so don’t spend all your time and money there. We visited a few of the wineries (check opening hours if you’re there outside of the tourist season), hiking trails, and beaches. The bus system was very helpful, somewhat easy to use (with little help from the drivers), and was the only cheap thing on the island.
We used the buses to get to some of the wineries on the island as well. We took the bus towards the airport/Kamari. On the route back, it stops near the town of Exo Gonia. There are a handful of wineries that are walking distance from each other. We visited Art Space Winery and Estate Argyros as well as Artemis Karamolegos, which also has a restaurant. Here is a link that helped us find all of the wineries.
After two days of hiking, we headed toward Plovdiv. The drive took longer than expected and our fellow drivers were making me nervous (see my blog entry regarding the roads and drivers of Bulgaria). Instead of making it all the way to Plovdiv, we rerouted and went to the Todoroff Hotel.
The hotel includes a spa, a winery, and a restaurant. We arrived with the idea that we would taste their wines and then maybe spend the night. By the time we got there, the wine tasting had ended for the day but the restaurant was open, so we grabbed a bottle of their Mavrud wine and ordered a few appetizers. As we drank the delicious wine (and realized that we could no longer drive the rental car), we asked about staying the night. We had seen it on Booking.com for $56USD for a double room. We inquired at the front desk and they offered us a “single room” (which included a double bed, not a queen bed) for $43USD including parking and breakfast. We took it. While this may not seem like the frugal option, we wondered where else we could stay at a winery for less than $50USD.
Once we dropped our stuff in the room, we decided that we needed more drinks. We wandered towards the center of town (about a 15 minute walk) and found an establishment with a Coca-Cola sign out front and a bunch of men drinking inside. We decided to go for it. Once inside, we realized that this was not really a bar but more a convenience store/restaurant/bar. We ordered two beers and one rakia. The rakia was the equivalent of four shots. We stumbled out of there having only spent 7BGN.
We only spent two days in Plovdiv so I don’t have a lot of recommendations. We spend most of our time wandering the Old Town. We did, however, pop into a wine bar called Vino Culture one afternoon and loved it so much we went back that evening for more drinks, tapas, and live music. It was such a great little space and I highly recommend a visit. We also visited a bar called Nylon which was a great little find. It felt like a neighborhood hangout and while it seemed like we were the only out-of-town visitors there, we felt welcomed.
I have read many blogs that compared Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv and chose one town over another. I would argue that both towns are worth a visit. Plovdiv seems like a regular town that has an Old Town area that attracts tourist. But there is a lot of shopping, art, and cultural options there as well. On the other hand, Veliko Tarnovo seems like a town focused on tourism with a real town hidden behind it. While there is a lot of public art, it feels like tourism is the focus. If I would have had more time on this trip, I would have spent more time in both towns to see what else they have to offer. Check out the Plovdiv tourism website as it is helpful and includes an events calendar which is very extensive. Here are other blogs and websites that I found helpful.
When a friend told me that she’d decided to have her wedding in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I was skeptical about the choice. When she followed it up with the fact that the town has a brewery and a distillery, I was intrigued. When I arrived for the long weekend, I was excited. Lancaster is full of great restaurants and bars, a plethora of art galleries, and a central market that makes your feel like you’re in Europe.
We rented a private ensuite room through Airbnb.com from a lively woman named Bobbie. Her place is about a 15 minute walk from downtown, but there are restaurants and a few shops close by. Downtown has a lot to offer and didn’t have the touristy feel of some other quaint, historic towns on the East coast.
Between wedding duties and events, we explored. We found the pop-up park with food trucks, the Spring House Brewery, and the slightly hidden combined location of the Thistle Finch Distillery and Wacker Brewery.
We grabbed drinks at Annie Bailey’s, an Irish pub with live music on Saturdays. We also popped into Tellus360 (next door to Annie Bailey’s) for some food and more drinks. The food wasn’t inspiring but the drink list was extensive (including many whiskey flight options and local cold-pressed juice cocktails). What makes Tellus360 a great spot is their set-up. The space is four floors plus a rooftop area. They have ping pong tables, dart boards, and a pool table to keep you entertained.
We also had dinner at Aussie and the Fox and were impressed with the delicious food. For about $20 a person (without drinks), we shared a handful of starters, and left full and happy. We also heard rave reviews about the restaurant Pour, though we didn’t make it there ourselves.
We didn’t have a car in Lancaster, which wasn’t much of a problem. We walked just about everywhere and called Uber the few times we needed a ride. If you plan to take time to explore the surrounding area, having a car would be necessary.
While we were sad to leave this picturesque town after an amazing weekend of food, booze, and friends, I would definitely come back for the hospitality, history, and all-around relaxing atmosphere.
My husband and I dragged ourselves to the Amtrak station to make the journey back to the Phily airport. We grabbed one way Amtrak tickets to Philadelphia for about $19 each and then transferred at 30th Street Station to the SEPTA regional rail to the airport for another $8 each. From beginning to end, the trip took about 2 hours.