Around the World in 2017

Castle

I have been doing a lot of overseas trip planning lately and it got me to thinking of all the places I have been and want to go in the future. It wasn’t until I sat down with a map and started writing down all the countries that I realized I had been to five continents and well over 20 countries (some multiple times)! Not as many as a lot of travel bloggers, but I’m not really a budget traveler. I fall somewhere around mid-range with a rare luxury experience. I save up for big trips and enjoy myself, but I don’t need to stay in fancy hotels. I’m good with a basic, clean room, a bowl of whatever from the place around the corner, with a bottle of good wine. However, all travel styles have advantages and can give you a different outlook on where and how you travel. I wanted something totally different this year so I am about to embark on a more budget friendly solo Euro trip. It will be a big step outside my comfort zone at my age, but I’m really looking forward to a different perspective and new experiences!

2017 Planned Travel List:

UK (again)

Ireland (again, but staying with friends! YAY!)

Spain

Dominican Republic

Peru (Hiking the Salkantay Trail and Machu Picchu)

Napa or Willamette Valley

Where are you planning to go in 2017?

Tanzania: A Photo Essay

African sunset

Sunset at Ndarakwai Ranch

As far back as I can remember, I’d always wanted to visit Africa. It seemed like the most vast and remote place to a small town Texas girl. Many years and numerous countries later, I finally made it to Tanzania. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go on  safari, and visit Zanzibar. Here is my Tanzanian journey:

Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kili camp

Camping above the clouds on Mt. Kili

Lava Camp

Lava Tower Camp (15,213 ft.)

Uhuru

Highest peak in Africa at 19,341 ft.

Tarangire Park

Tarangire National Park

Maasai Guide

Sunset walk with our Maasai guide in Ngorongoro Crater

Safari

Safari View

Elephants in Tanzania

Lots of elephants in Ngorongoro Crater

Zanzibar Beach

Beach in Ras Nungwi, Zanzibar

Market

Zanzibar market scene

Fish market

Zanzibar fish market

Stone Town

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam

While Tanzania was my first stop in Africa, it certainly will not be the last. I have my eye on the sand dunes of Namibia, another safari in Botswana, and wine tasting in South Africa. Where would you like to go?

 

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5 unique things to do in Rome

On every trip I take I try to balance the typical touristy activities with more off the beaten path experiences. I like to see the things that make a place a destination, but I personally find that doesn’t provide the most memorable experiences. I like talking to the locals to find out where to eat, shops to visit, and their favorite places to go.

I have been to Rome several times and have seen all the big sites, but I keep going back because I keep discovering more things that I love about the city. It is big, loud and delicious, but has hidden pockets of beauty. For me, it is like getting to know a person. You see all the superficial stuff first, but then you start to share experiences with a place. It eventually becomes a friend that you enjoy seeing over and over again.

5 unique things to do in Rome:

  1. Park of the Aqueducts

It took us a while to find The Park of the Aqueducts located along the Appian Way. You basically get on the metro and ride it out to the last stop and keep walking through a suburban neighborhood. We did eventually find it and spent a relaxing, quiet afternoon admiring the 2,000 year old handiwork away from Rome’s crowds. You can spend a whole day walking the park. There are also several neighborhood cafeterias where you can grab a few to-go items and have a picnic in the park. If you need a break this is a fascinating place to go.

aqueduct

The Park of the Aqueducts

2. Testaccio neighborhood

We stumbled upon Testaccio on a food tour and loved the non-touristy vibe of the neighborhood. It is business as usual here with locals chatting in the square, grabbing a coffee, or picking up groceries. There isn’t a major site to see here so it isn’t crowded. Testaccio slaughterhouse used to pay its workers in fifth quarters so this is the neighborhood to go to for tripe  if that is your thing. If not, they have a wonderful market and low key restaurants serving up delicious, straight forward food. It is a place that I will visit again and again.

Market

Vendor at the Testaccio market

3. Testaccio Slaughterhouse

Also in the Testaccio neighborhood is the old slaughterhouse that now houses the MACRO al Mattatoio, a branch of Rome’s contemporary art gallery. Testaccio used to be the slaughterhouse district all the way up to 1975.  It is a unique space that still has the original animal pens and meat hooks hanging from the track. The art exhibits complement the space and is a unique place to visit.

slaughterhouse

Testaccio slaughterhouse

4. Baths of Caracalla

What do you see when you don’t want to see the Roman forum again? The Baths of Caracalla were Rome’s second largest public baths built in the 3rd century. It is estimated that 21 million bricks were used in the construction of the baths. Several large pieces of mosaic work along with entire tiled floors have been preserved at the site.  The vast complex of ruins are surrounded by a large green space. There were few people there when we visited and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Personally, I found this to be one of the best ancient exhibits in Rome. I can only imagine how impressive the baths were in the third century!

Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

5. Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius is so completely out of place in Rome which is why it is an interesting visit. Located next to the Protestant  cemetery, it is a funeral monument  to Caius Cestius, a wealthy Roman magistrate. Egyptian architectural style was fashionable after Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. While it wasn’t the only pyramid built in Rome (there was one near the Vatican at one time), it is the only one to survive. After visiting the pyramid, walk through the gardens of the Prostestant cemetery and visit the graves of Keats and Shelley. If you get a nice day, the soft light reflecting off the marble of the tombstones is very beautiful.

Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

cemetery

Protestant Cemetery

 

What are your favorite, unique places in Rome?

Off the Beaten Path: Perissos Vineyard and Winery

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to get out of town. It was hot, downtown was swarming with people for the Austin Food and Wine Festival, and we were fed up with chores and renovation projects. Taking a drive out to the Hill Country for wine tasting was the perfect escape!

I did a little research and stumbled upon a boutique winery just outside of Burnet, TX. I didn’t want to go to the more popular wineries in Fredericksburg, or Driftwood. I wanted to get off the beaten path and find the cute, charming wineries. You know, the kind where the owners are talking to visitors and various animals are running around the property; the kind of place you want to stay all day because it feels like home.

Perissos Vineyard and Winery

Perissos Winery

Perissos is a ancient Greek word from the Bible meaning “exceeding abundantly, beyond what is expected, imagined, or hoped for”. I think that is a fitting name for this lush, healthy estate. With plenty of seating inside and outside, this is a great off the beaten path option for those that want something a little different!

The main building houses a beautiful tasting room, barrel storage, and wine making facilities. The large stone structure was built by the owner, Seth Martin, a former custom home builder and self taught wine maker. We were able to chat with him for a few minutes as he was taking a break from the day’s work. He was super friendly and told us about the crop he just harvested, difficulty of the previous years water shortages, and life as a wine maker and farmer. It was obvious he loved making wine and had such a passion for it. He wanted visitors to explore and spend time on the estate. Everyone working there made us feel at home; even the farm dogs and chickens wandering through the picnic tables and tasting room!Perissos Estate

Now, I have to admit, I don’t normally drink Texas wine unless I’m out wine tasting. Most of the flavor profiles just don’t do it for me. I like big, bold, and serious. Texas wine is more light and playful. However, I did find the 2012 Petite Sirah and 2012 Roussanne to be absolutely fantastic. The Petite Sirah is 100% estate grown while the Roussanne is sourced from Bingham and Oswald Family Vineyards in Meadow, Texas. The two wines couldn’t be more different, but I thought the fruit and minerality of the Roussane and the structure of the Petite Sirah were fascinating. I ended up with a bottle of the Sirah to take home. Now all I need to do is figure out what to make with it. Any suggestions?

Wine

 

 

 

A Food Lovers Guide to Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores signWhat makes a destination truly special? I believe the truth lies in the holy trinity: food, wine, and the best dessert in town. You can tell so much about a place from the establishments that support the community. I learned the Gulf Coast call to arms was “Give me seafood or give me death!”

Once I arrived in Gulf Shores, I immediately started looking for restaurants, food markets, shops, cafes, wine bars, and beach side grills. Because I was on the beach I was determined to take full advantage of the fresh Gulf seafood! Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp gumbo….Sorry, I couldn’t resist the classic Bubba monologue. It was required!

Below is a list of Gulf Shores restaurants that I think any foodie will love.

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant

After driving 12 hours, the first place I went to eat was King Neptune’s. Featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation, I knew I had to try their seafood. King Neptune’s is known for “royal red” shrimp. The small restaurant was completely packed when I arrived, but the service was excellent. I ordered a plate of grilled mahi-mahi, shrimp, rice, and toast along with two glasses of wine for about $30. The seafood was outstanding!mahi mahi fish

The Original Oyster House

The Original Oyster House was featured on Man vs. Food, but it was around the corner from the condo so I thought I would try it. The restaurant is located in a small boardwalk area overlooking a lagoon. My parents and I went to lunch very early so the place was empty. I ordered a broiled seafood platter featuring shrimp, oysters, small crab claws, and flounder for $13. My parents ordered fried shrimp baskets for $11. Overall, the food was very good, but I should have stuck with oysters since that was their specialty. Good drinks and very friendly wait staff!Original Oyster House

Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

Bahama Bob’s sits on the Gulf Shore beach front and was about a quarter-mile from our rental. It looks like a typical beach side cafe–relaxed and unobtrusive. Nothing fancy on the outside, but good food on the inside. Bahama Bob’s offers a small seating area inside with surfboards on the ceiling and an outside patio. Still on my seafood kick, I ordered coconut shrimp and my Dad had a cheeseburger. I have to say that was the best shrimp I had the entire trip. The breading was light and crispy without being too greasy. It was served with a sweet and spicy pineapple dipping sauce. Yum, yum, yum! Both lunches with drinks cost about $20.

Hope’s Cheesecake

I wasn’t able to visit Hope’s storefront, but I had the original cheesecake at Nolan’s restaurant. Most restaurants that I visited in Gulf Shores offered Hope’s cheesecake for dessert. It was wonderful! I love cheesecake, but sometimes it is over cooked, chunky, or too sour. I thought Hope’s was a perfect combination of smooth, creamy texture and light sweetness.

Nolan’s Steakhouse

Nolan’s Steakhouse is considered one of Gulf Shore’s fine dining establishments offering steak and seafood. The main dining room was spacious and seemed to be on par with Bob’s Steakhouse in Austin. Because I was by myself, I opted to sit in the lounge at the bar and chat. Nolan’s is definitely the happenin’ place for retirees. I was, by far, the youngest person in the restaurant besides the wait staff! Boy, can they boogie!

Nolan’s has a decent wine list and offers a “Captain’s List” of reserve wines. I ordered the filet mignon which was served with sautéed veggies and a side of pasta for $30. The entrée, dessert, and three glasses of wine was $78. Overall, I thought they had good food and would visit again.Steak

The Sunset Cork Room

The Sunset Cork Room is a wine bar/restaurant/wine store located in Gulf Shores. They feature a more eclectic menu using locally sourced produce, cheese, and seafood. Sunset also features weekly farm-to-table menus. The small bar seats about 20 people and offered a nice wine selection. My sister ordered a local cheese plate and I opted for the grilled lamb lollipops. Because I was drinking Cabernet and my sister wanted Riesling, we ended up with six glasses of wine and food for about $120. I would consider Sunset a fine dining establishment for this area, but it is quiet, cozy, with good food and wine.Red and White Wine

Seafood Markets

There are an abundance of seafood markets in the area. If going out to eat isn’t your thing or you just need a break, go to a local market and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, or fish. Blalock’s and S&S Market offer fresh and cooked seafood, wine, and all the fixings. I made shrimp and saffron risotto!Seafood RisottoCosmo’s

Unfortunately, I was not able to try Cosmo’s, but it got great reviews online and I heard several locals talking about the restaurant. The Orange Beach Wine Festival is also hosted by Cosmo’s (as well as Sunset Cork Room). The menu offers traditional items with a twist such as banana leaf wrapped fish, duck and sausage gumbo, and BBQ crab claws. Prices are very reasonable at $10-$20 per entrée and they have an extensive wine list. I will make sure to try Cosmo’s next trip!

Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar

If fancy dining doesn’t float your boat, why not try a biker bar? Flora-Bama is located on the Florida/Alabama state line and offers a no-frills dining experience. Just beach, burgers, oysters, and beer. My whole family went for burgers and the food was excellent! Cheap drinks too! The crowd was more family oriented during the day, but it gets more diverse in the evenings. I would like to go back when they have live music.Flora-Bama bar

For those that have been to the Gulf Coast, what is your local favorite?