Now we were getting a bit crabby, but hey, it’s the start of our vacation adventure. Bumpy, however, was not the right word. It was like driving through a tank trap. But we finally arrived at the boat dock, to the smiling faces of our awaiting boat. Then Gonzo promptly threw my luggage in the lake (accidentally) while trying to heave it on the boat. (It was retrieved after a minute or so.)
After a 10-minute boat ride, we arrived at our lodge’s boat dock on the other side of Lago Desierto as it started to spit rain. We walked quickly up the hill to be greeted by more smiling faces for a quick tour of the beautiful lodge.
We then started to hear things like eco-friendly, no power these hours, no hot water these hours, put all trash (even bathroom and toilet trash) in garbage, blah, blah, blah, and, oh, yeah, no WiFi.
“Wait, what?” we both said.
Following came an explanation about location, access, power, blah, blah, blah. Come on, they get WiFi on the moon.
We got to our room, looked at each other and I said, “We just drove 110 hours and feel like we just got out of a clothes dryer, arrived here to find limited power, water and no WiFi, and they threw my luggage in the water. What the hell did we book? Are we camping?”
Guess what? It was one of the best hotel experiences of our extensive travels. Typical spoiled Americans.
If you want to stand in line, Austin is the place. It’s an incredible food town with a great vibe and unique local foods, quirky brands, and, of course, barbecue. But so much of the best is served out of containers/food trucks/food trailers/Airstreams/metal boxes/dumpsters transformed into “places that serve food.” And the lines don’t stop at smokers and brisket. Turns out Austin residents and guests alike also stand in line for tacos, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.
I can’t remember the last time we said, “Let’s go to LA for a long weekend.” New York, of course. Boston, no question. Chicago, absolutely.
Los Angeles has everything on the checklist that most cities don’t: consistently great weather, selection of incredible hotels, fantastic restaurants. Unfortunately, what ties them all together is a very long line of cars. If you’re walking on a street or an oh-so-rare sidewalk without a dog, people will actually stop and ask if you’re okay.
That said, we never complain when business brings us there often, and we always add on a few days. The key to a successful trip? Find a neighborhood and stay within a 5-mile radius to keep your sanity. And stick to Uber and Lyft and make them do the heavy lifting.
The other key? Stay only one night and rent a car to drive to Santa Barbara/Montecito.
No matter where we are, other than Boston, it usually only takes a few words out of David’s mouth before whomever we’re talking with asks if he’s from Boston.
His usual response is yes, a hundred years ago, but we go back often.
You won’t get a list of the best duck-boat tour operators in Boston from us, but you will get plenty of great places to eat and drink. We like to go often enough to have more great recommendations than even the Bostonians (they’re a tad provincial about their neighborhoods).
We love Boston. As I mentioned, David is from Boston and has been seeing a lifetime of transition there. I’ve been going at least once or twice per year for nearly 20 years… And the town never gets old.
Charleston is the anti-Los Angeles. Charleston exists to balance out the Orlandos of the world. It has actual history. It’s walkable. You can bicycle. It has neighborhoods. It has soul.
And now, it also has great restaurants, hotels and cocktail bars.
If you’re from the Midwest, there’s the added bonus of warmth (except in the summer months, when it’s called “suffocation” with the humidity). The city has low-country and Gullah roots that shine through in its food and culture, and is ideal for eating, walking, and biking—just beware the cruise-shippers wandering around during the daytime.
Washington, DC can be great—but keep in mind, it’s an expense account town. Translation: more expensive than it should be. Stay away from driving, if you can—there are taxis and Ubers everywhere, and traffic is a disaster. As always, we suggest using your feet instead. One of our favorite walking areas is between Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, where some of our favorite restaurants (with plenty of weeknight mojo) are located.
Chicago is a first-tier US city with a food scene that’s exploded over the past fifteen years to rival New York’s (although in a completely different way, emphasizing the hearty over the spectacle—with the exception of Alinea’s showstopping dinner service and the Aviary’s cocktails, a production in itself). Sure, it’s cold in the winter, and it is actually windy—but there’s still plenty to do to fill up a couple of days, and the summers are nothing short of spectacular.
Granted, the two trips were a bit different. 2017 started in Montecito, with more hiking and hills than biking and ocean. And, of course, the tiny prancing dogs that populate the streets of Montecito (with accompanying owners) are a bit more pretentious, with a tad more Botox.
2017 ended in Carmel, with more biking and ocean than hiking. The Carmel dogs are more laid back, relaxed, friendly and comfortable in their skin—eschewing the Botox and the covering of grays.
(Yes, it’s true that dogs do look like their owners.)
And then there was everything in between the prancer parades bookending the year:
During a recent round of physicals (to make sure I don’t fall over dead on work property), one of the doctors asked how I would rank my life.
“Really,” he said, “are you sure? It’s not often I hear that from people.”
“I’m sure,” I said. “A 10.”
To which he responded, “Maybe you should go to Bhutan. Aren’t they all happy there, too?”
When it rains and you’re caught in the narrow streets of San Sebastián, Spain, should you buy an umbrella? Or should you simply go to the bar and drink Cava?
In case it was really a question to begin with, the answer became even more clear when a tiny white dog came prancing down the street on his owner’s leash, looked up at us huddled in a doorway, then proceeded to pee on the umbrella stand and walk into the bar’s entrance. I think that’s clear enough.
“I can’t even pretend to know where that is.”
“Oh, back to Africa?”
“Weren’t you just in Central America?”
“I hear Spain is nice and warm this time of year.”
“Oh. Sounds nice.” (Blank smile)
“Do you have to fly into Mexico City to get there?”
“Ummm, why?” (Our response: “Do you know where it is?”). “Ummm, no.”
“James Bond movie, right?”
It wasn’t that special (Hendrick’s and Fever Tree), but after more than a week of wine for breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner, it tasted like springtime.
It surprised us to know you can get tired of wine. Of course, it was momentary. After the gin, we had wine with dinner.
Do we seek safe, convenient, and dependable? No, no, and no. What lost opportunities that would make for.
We seek memorable moments and defining details. Yes, there is a margin of error with that criteria, but here’s the rundown on a few of our best experiences (many of which make a great mini-vacation without a lot of travel hassle)—note: International Edition to follow:
(Or, more aptly named, Three-Day Country, Two-Hour Towns)
When you live in cold climes, you’ll inevitably be on a quest to stay warm in the winter—leading to our Seeking the Sun series. For us, these trips are usually three-day countries filled with a smattering of two-hour towns. Why only three days? Often, that’s all it takes to recharge and expose your skin to some much-needed humidity.
Here’s a handful of favorite things we saw being transported on moto in Vietnam:
We were supposed to go bicycling in the Dolomites. But, apparently we were the only idiots who wanted to bike ride in a mountain range to elevations of 11,000 feet, so they cancelled the trip for September and we had to re-direct our travel.
We hadn’t thought about Sicily, but it sounded great. It was historic, land-and-sea-focused, and had lots and lots of hills. (We must have been in our ill-fated, short-lived “We can ride mountains!” phase.) And it was still Italy.
Or was it?
The difference is in how you experience the city, or really how you experience anything. You can’t approach Paris as a bucket-list item, with a checklist to mark off items you can say you’ve seen. That’s touring Paris. That picture of the Eiffel Tower you get from just sightseeing when the tour bus stopped? You can download it from any computer and save the airfare. (Trying sketching that bad boy, then you’ll really see it).
The moon rise doesn’t have the same acclaim. Maybe because it’s less consistent. Maybe it’s because no one actually really knows the phases of the moon, even though they pretend to. Waxing, waning, wha???
But if you have the chance to see a full moon rise while drinking gin and tonics among zebras, it will change you.
Such is the magic of Africa.
Lima is not our favorite city. In fact, it’s probably in the bottom five of our list.
Or bottom two.
But Lima was start of another “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, so we made the most of it. We walked the parks and the neighborhood of Miraflores. We ate at several incredible Gaston Acurio restaurants. We tried (and, thankfully, succeeded) not to get robbed or have our cell phones ripped from our hands while riding in cabs. And we left within 30 hours.
The boat was nearly still, anchored in the bay with a half-full moon hanging in the starry sky above. Diana Krall’s “Just the Way You Are” began playing over the central speaker system echoing into the warm night air. Our new friends from Michigan got up and began dancing across the boat’s wooden deck as we lounged, drinking our wine.
You can’t make this shit up.
When you travel as much as we do, you’re hit with inevitable questions:
“Aren’t you worried about your safety?”
“What do you pack?”
“What’s your favorite place?”
The first two usually get a smartass response from me, and the last one is somewhat audience-dependent. But, the true answer is “If I have one favorite, I haven’t traveled enough.”
We just returned from Morocco and wanted to commend you on the most horrific example of service and efficiency in the travel industry, ever.
If your goal is to eliminate all tourism and air travel in and out of Morocco, congratulations on a job well done.
Yours ever so truly,
Typical of us, all thoughts came back in rapid-fire, scatter-pattern fashion with no rhyme or reason and no order or organization. Before I post an entry, I usually attempt to turn our random thoughts into a narrative to make us look less crazy. But for Japan, I’m going to just include our list and hope you can follow along.
For us, Japan was a breeze. A direct flight to Tokyo, a car to the hotel, a brisk walk around Tokyo to wake up followed by the first dinner of truly the freshest fish in the world served with sake and wine, and you collapse for a great night sleep.
The country has garbage scattered everywhere. Cows are also everywhere. They have their run of the place and they like to eat the garbage, which includes a lot of cardboard boxes. (Maybe we can blame Amazon for that, too?) If India was big into delivery pizza, I’m certain the cows would only eat the delivery pizza boxes, not just the regular boxes. Would you go back to eating a basic box after a pizza delivery box?
Puglia (Puh-lee-a) is the heel of the Italian boot. The leather of this part of the boot isn’t as high end as in Milan, Rome or Florence, but it’s well-worn, confident and genuine.
What is Puglia?
Flat, olive trees, olive trees, old olive trees, older olive trees, olive trees. Oh, and the dry stacked stone walls. Everywhere. And, the Adriatic and all of its influence.READ MORE
A stop in Florence
On our way to Puglia, the heel of the boot in Italy, we decided to spend a few days in Florence. We hadn’t been in a number of years, and we wanted a little contrast of city and eating and drinking prior to the trip. (We were anticipating serenity in Puglia’s seaside historic towns and beautiful Adriatic water. Serenity is tough for us sometimes; we have to wear ourselves down enough to earn it.)READ MORE
On this tiny side street it finally felt smaller, less crowded, more accessible. Almost charming.
Our quest for what’s new in everyday champagne led us to Alsace, home of Cremant D’Alsace and thousands of other, most notably, white wines.
Alsace is the border where France and Germany confusingly meet. Are we in Germany? Are we in France? Croissants or brotchen? Visiting the area doesn’t clear up the confusion. Language-wise, it was actually pretty easy for us. We cobbled together our “menu French” with my high school German.
The first ones to the party.
I’m usually up for anything he throws at me. Moscow and the Black Sea? Sure, fascinating and interesting. China? Absolutely. India? Yes, incredible.
Burma? I have to say, I didn’t jump up and down over that one.