Weekend in Richmond

Head sculpture at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Last weekend, Sean and I packed our overnight bags and made a spontaneous trip to Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond is only about 90 miles away from us, yet we’ve only ever passed through the city on our way south. We spent our getaway exploring downtown and the old neighborhoods, visiting Museum of Fine Arts, and eating and drinking our way around the city.

Hope you enjoy the highlights!

Day One


Our first order of business in Richmond was food and drink, of course. We headed to the Naked Onion sandwich shop and got the famous Pork Belly Banh Mi (pictured above) and Manchego grilled cheese with red pepper coulis. These sandwiches were good and such a bargain as this take out place is a local cheap eats favorite.

From there, we needed a little refreshment and being cider fans, we visited the Blue Bee Urban Cidery. Since it was a cooler day, we sat inside one of the cozy stone walled tasting rooms. We’ll visit again on a warm day to enjoy the outdoor ambiance and the special hops and ice cream sandwiches they serve!

After lunch, we stopped in the famous Jefferson Hotel to admire the grand lobby with tall marble columns, burgundy walls, and portraits of presidents and snap a few photos. They serve a lavish brunch on Sundays and we made a note to return to enjoy that soon.

Next up was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which houses some great collections. We particularly enjoyed the Greek mummies and ancient Italian exhibits. In addition, the outside grounds are beyond beautiful and we were intrigued with the unusual sculpture of a head which changes from male to female depending on what angle you look at it.

At 4 o’clock, it was cocktail time, so we headed to The Rogue Gentlemen. This small dive bar serves the most interesting drinks, each labeled with its dominant characteristics (sweet/refreshing/citrus/herbal/bitter/smoky/etc ) so there’s little chance you can order wrong. Sean ordered a cocktail called “Vampire Kit to ward off Vampires” which had garlic infused Oster Vit, Beckerovka, rum, and lime. I know the garlic part sounds a little weird, but I promise you, this drink was really tasty and fresh!

They can also custom create a cocktail just for you. I jumped at the chance and requested something herbal and refreshing and got this lovely rum, blood orange, and basil creation.

When in Richmond (or anywhere in the South, really), you must eat pimento cheese. So we couldn’t resist the jalapeño pimento cheese crostini platter. This restaurant also serves a tasting menu with each course only $12. This is such a bargain compared to prices in DC and we observed some really tasting looking things coming out of the kitchen, but we had other dinner plans at Burger Bach, so we stopped with our cheese platter.

So, the burgers were awesome. Sean is so picky when it comes to burgers being from Texas and son of a rancher and all, but these were made from New Zealand beef and he approved.

Day Two

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On Day Two in Richmond, we made our way at 9 am to The Fancy Biscuit. When we arrived, there were nearly 50 people waiting in line ahead of us! Not ones to be deterred, though, we stayed in line. This is usually a good sign that the food is something special.

And it was so special! The Fancy Biscuit might be my favorite new restaurant.

They specialize in biscuits (hence the name) but not your plain biscuits with butter and grape jelly (though I don’t mind those either). These are biscuit creations with all kinds of toppings from goat cheese to collard greens to apple slaw.

We ordered two versions. One had pepper jelly, goat cheese, and fried chicken. The other had a poached egg, ham, and Sriracha hollandaise. So good! Will definitely be trying to recreate these at home.

Our final stop on our Richmond itinerary was the beautiful Maymont Gardens. It was the perfect early Summer day for a walk in the park, and this one featured both Italian and Japanese gardens. This park was absolutely free, which amazes me, and it was the best way to end our weekend trip to Richmond.


DC Eats: Pineapple and Pearls

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Don’t let the name of this restaurant fool you. It’s no frothy lightweight experience.

In fact, this year Washingtonian magazine ranked Pineapple and Pearls the number one restaurant in DC.

And let me tell you. Getting a reservation here is no easy feat. You have to be on the website the second- no millisecond – the reservations open and hit “reserve” before you can blink. There’s no hesitating at all.

This is how you beat out 2,000 other eager diners (so we were told by our server) for a dinner spot. But even then, your meal might start at an awkward time like 9 pm on a Wednesday night and go until almost midnight like it did in our case.

 

Even though I’m more of a person at heart who’d rather be in her pajamas in bed by 10 pm, we were so excited about going to eat here.

The restaurant is a classy tiny room with space for only about 30 diners at a time. Because we were a party of two, we sat at the chef’s counter, where we got to see all the action as it happened in front of us.

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Like our meal at Minibar, it is truly fun to watch the chefs in their habitat, and the whole scene unfolds like a perfectly choreographed event.

The meal starts with something called “Afternoon Tea” which offers up a trio of little bits including a foie gras canele paired with a teacup of gin with Cloosterbitters, rum, and quince.

Next, we had a series of more tasty dishes including beef tartare & caviar, charred octopus, split pea consommé, and a french omelet.

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All delicious, but I have to say I was partial to the octopus. Didn’t know it could taste that good.

The next course was black sea bass (another fish I didn’t know could be so delectable)

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This was followed by probably my favorite of the entire night, a sweet bread taco served along side a mescal tequila.

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At about this point, I could’ve stopped and been perfectly happy with the meal.

But there was one more savory to come!

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Like this trio of sides (persian rice, white beans, and dolmas) for the lamb dish.

The savory part of the meal completed, the next course was a resheshing pineapple granita with soda.

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This was followed by our last fancy drinks of the night, amari and coffee, served with dessert.

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I think you need a close up of the dessert. It was Okinawa purpose potato ice cream (close to our hearts) with chocolate cake and chestnuts.

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Finally, the meal rounded out with the most exotic fruit plate with starfish, banana chocolate lollipops, and candied gooseberries.

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All in all, the food was delightful and the service was top notch.

But in the end, perhaps one of the most luxurious parts of the experience is there is no bill at the end.

No check. No waiting. No figuring out the tip. You pay upfront for all of it when you get the coveted reservation (food, drinks, and gratuity).

So, you just decide when you’re ready to leave, get up, and go.


Greece Trip- Day 3, Santorini

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The next stop in our Greece trip was the island of Santorini. If you plan on visiting Greece, you absolutely cannot miss it!

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After a lot of research about getting there from Athens, we found the easiest and maybe most cost-effective way (considering time and effort) was flying. We booked flights through Aegean Air at about 69 euros per ticket, and the flight took about 30 minutes.

Many people stay in busy Fira or touristy Oia, but we stayed in between in Imerovigli. The Afroessa Hotel blew us away with its staggeringly beautiful views.

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All 10 rooms in this small boutique hotel have ocean views and a private terrace where you can enjoy breakfast gazing at the ocean or a glass of wine as the sun sets. They also have small kitchenettes so you can purchase some grocery items.

It was also really easy to get to both Fira and Oia by local buses, which only cost a few euros for a trip.

The first day, we hiked the famous trail from Fira to Oia. I highly recommend it!

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This hike is like nothing else… first, it winds up through the narrow maze of streets of Fira, past cafes, chapels, and curio shops. Next it takes you past hotels and homes with sweeping Caldera views, then through the rustic mountainside, and finally ends in the pristine white stucco village of Oia.

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Many people do this hike first thing in the morning, but we started it a few hours before sunset and arrived in Oia just as the sun was going down.

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Give yourself about 3 hours if you’re starting in Fira, and take lots of water, a hat, and sunscreen! There are so many wonderful things to look at along the way.

Trust me, it’s worth it!

 


Athens, Day 2

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In my last post about Athens, I mentioned we easily explored as independent travelers here.

That said, if you’re only here a day or two like we were, an organized tour of the major ancient sites is a great idea.

Alternative Athens offers excellent walking tours to historic sites, street art around the city, and local foodie haunts. We did the 4 hour city highlight tour, covering 5 major sites and teaching us everything we needed to know about Greek mythology and ruins.

I highly recommend this company. Our guide was informative and lovely, and the company was accommodating. Originally no tours were scheduled the day we wanted, but they ran one because of our interest.

This tour cost about 46 euros per person and we each also bought a combination pass for 30 euros, which let us access many historic sites over 5 days, including the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora, and Kerameikos Ancient Cemetary.

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After our tour, one of the highlights of the day and the whole trip was seeing the changing of the guards.

This takes place every day every hour on the hour in front of the Parliament Building. It’s really easy to find… just head to nearby Syntagma Square by metro or bus.
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You’ll wait in a huge crowd facing the tall handsome guards (yes, there is a height and weight requirement) and a few minutes before the ceremony, they’ll let you take pictures next to the guard.

Strictly no touching though!On Sundays, there is a special ceremony at 11 am, involving all the guards and is apparently a sight to behold.

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Finally, one of my all time favorite ways of discovering a city is just wandering the streets, narrow alleys, and off the beaten paths. Athens has dozens of charming chapels to admire and peek inside as well as so many interesting little shops.


Greece Trip- Athens, Day 1

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View of Acropolis from the Plaka Hotel

Hey ya’ll, we just back from a 10 day trip to Greece!

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Over 10 days, we visited Athens and islands Santorini and Mykonos. There’s so much to say, but today is about some of our experiences from Athens.

Our first day, we checked into The Plaka Hotel and explored the city center. Our hotel was perfectly located and had this amazing view of the ruins above.

Walking around the area, I loved looking inside all the small local shops and restaurants in the market district. We saw multiple butchers, spice shops, curio shops, and loofah and soap stores!

We went for a great lunch at a restaurant inside a butcher shop called Karamanlidika, and started our love affair with Greek food. It’s so simple but fresh and tasty.

We ordered a spinach salad, eggplant and zucchini, and greek sausages with yogurt. And Sean, who doesn’t generally go for yogurt in the states, actually enjoyed the authentic Greek version.

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Yogurt with spiced carrots

For our first meal in Greece, this place knocked it out of the park and it turned out to be one of our favorite dining experiences in Athens.

Before going to Greece, we watched a documentary about modern Greece and learned about an anonymous subversive street artist who paints murals on the sides of building all over town. Most of his art is a social commentary on the financial crisis in Greece and criticism of Greek government.

Walking around town, we were able to find some of the murals easily.

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We were so hot (90 degrees every day!) and jetlagged, but we managed to explore a little bit in the Acropolis area.

Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world, and it was fun thinking about how this square facing the Acropolis has likely been a social gathering place for over two thousand years, and it still is!

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After a few hours, we went back to our hotel to enjoy the rooftop patio as the sun went down.

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Have you been to Athens? What are your impressions?

 

 

 



Favorite Meals in Cancun

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During our travels, we tend to focus on eating as part of the overall experience.

Usually, we research a few restaurants ahead of time nearby places we know we’ll be visiting, not wanting to leave good food to chance.(Thanks, Trip Advisor!)

Often really great places can be found going just a little bit off the beaten path.

But we’re spontaneous too if we see something that looks good, fun, or interesting.There’s more to say about this at the end.

Like all our trips, Cancun had some really nice food. Here’s a peek at some of our favorites. (You can see my post about favorite meals in Ireland here.)

The signature green bean soup at La Habichuela IMG_1624

Green chili enchiladas at Piknik

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Churros at Parque Las Palapas Night Market

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Chilaquiles at Sanborns

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Gazpacho and chicken tacos at Rooster Café on Isla Mujeres

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Spanish bocadillo and fruit salad at Rooster Café on Isla Mujeres IMG_7510

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Everything we ate above was delicious and we suffered no ill effects from it.

Unfortunately, we did have one negative food experience on the last night of our trip, which I take full responsibility for. I knew the risk I was taking and I did it anyway. Sean was against the idea the whole time…

Crispy Haus, it was called. It was a food truck with a 1950s theme.

“Everything Crispy, Crunchy, and Crusty” was its motto and we passed it every time we walked from our airbnb to the bus station in the center of Cancun.

They played 1950s music and the waitresses wore pink uniforms. It just looked like it could be a fun experience, but I know, I know! Nothing good could from a food truck with “crusty” in the motto…

We ordered fries, a chicken burger, and a chocolate milkshake.

The fries and burger were okay, but that milkshake.

Let’s just say I don’t think it was made from ice cream or milk or even chocolate.

I don’t know what it was.

Sean did not drink any of it, and sure enough, a few hours later, I was wishing that I hadn’t either.