Archives for July 2016

Set Sail For Salcombe, South Devon

Salcombe south devon

Conventional wisdom says the best way to make an arrival into a harbor town is to come gliding towards its shores on the bow of a boat. You know; the wind in your hair, the sun bouncing off your shades, the sweater tied around your neck (just in case), and the beauty of the town coming further into focus as you bob ever closer.

Well, I sailed in to Salcombe, South Devon in a rental car, and I ended up falling in love just the same.

Why?

The Coastline

It was in that car on the hills above Salcombe where I saw the South Devon Coast for the first time – for a fleeting moment through a frame of leaves – and this specific slice of shore was all it took to become infatuated with both the region in general and Salcombe in particular.

I was behind the wheel, so I couldn’t pay too much attention, but what I managed to see in that split second was enough to send my imagination running wild: untamed waves crashing on stones, sea foam being flung, and a backdrop of tropical trees and caramel beaches I never knew existed in England.

salcombe south devon

The Vacation Vibe

After regaining my breath from the view above town, we parked our car and strolled into town, where things got even better. Our route took us by plenty of pastel cottages – most adorned with cursive wrought-iron signs announcing names like ‘Home Sea Home’ – docked sailboats, squawking seagulls, and stacks of crab baskets. Kids were fishing for crustaceans from the dock as parents watched on, creating a downright heartwarming (did I just stype heartwarming?) holiday scene. Above it all sat the softest rolling hills you could imagine, in swaths of green and straw.

salcombe south devon

Basically, the town felt like every summer vacation anyone’s ever taken has been bottled up and brought to this little corner of South Devon. As we strolled past the boutiques selling boat shoes and other assorted garments that complement sea legs, we only had one question on our mind: what’s for dinner?

winking prawn salcombe

The Winking Prawn

We have a bad habit of showing up somewhere on our first night of a trip without the slightest clue of where to eat, and it tends to work out great every time … fifty percent of the time. The Winking Prawn (of course they have a restaurant called the Winking Prawn in Salcombe) ended up being a godsend.

We stumbled into The Winking Prawn after a fifteen minute stroll from the harbor that took us past stately homes and lush gardens, and this pink-hued beach shack dished up some of the most mouth-watering sea bream and cider (Hunt’s Sparkling Heritage, if you’re wondering) I’ve ever had. They’ve also got one of those ‘kitchsy-but-cute’ wooden boards where you stick your head through a hole to make it look like you are actually a sea creature, and we all know you can’t ever pass one of those up.

salcombe south devon

The Ferry-ing

Being located on an estuary certainly has its advantages (like the spectacular natural scenes I described above, alongside fantastically fresh seafood), but there are some practicalities that need tending to in a place like Salcombe: namely, getting to the other side. Luckily, there are a handful of romantic ‘foot-passenger only’ ferries plying these waters, and they add another layer of allure to this seaside town. Ferries set off for neighboring East Portlemouth all year round, and seasonably to upriver Kingsbridge and local beaches. Even if you don’t take a trip for yourself, toasting the ferries at The Ferry Inn like we did – with a view to the water where the ferries float – is a great way to while a way an hour or two.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hallgrímskirkja Church, Iceland

This is Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland. I think it’s cool for two reasons: it’s unusual looking and there’s also a statue of the famous explorer Leif Erikson outside of it.

 

Hallgrímskirkja Iceland

 

 

The Best Baths in Budapest

Like most top-notch tourist draws in the world, before most travelers even arrive in Budapest, they’ll typically have a slideshow of iconic images swirling in their mind.

Paramount among the scenes of Budapest is the drop-dead gorgeous Hungarian Parliament building, the regal set of bridges that span the Danube, and naturally, the sight of a bunch of half-naked old dudes playing chess in an outdoor pool.

Oh, it’s true, but those guys aren’t just hanging out in any old pools, these concrete ponds are proper thermal baths.

Budapest’s baths are legendary, with the city’s serendipitous spot over hundreds of hot springs to thank. This combination of geology and geography led to the building of a bevy of formal baths centuries ago, and the subsequent proliferation of tales touting their healing powers. These baths have been a huge part of the fabric of the city ever since, and no trip to Budapest is complete without a dip. So, to help you get your feet wet, here is a list of some of the best baths in Budapest, and what they are best suited for.

gellert baths budapest

Most Beautiful BathGellért Baths

This is one of the the most famous in town, and it is also the most beautiful bath in Budapest. The Gellért  Baths reside in a palatial Art Nouveau building, and will have you feeling like royalty when you wade into its waters. Grand adornments abound, like pillars, sculptures, and colorful mosaics that lend an air of opulence to the bathing. And that’s just inside. Outside, the pools are just as lavish, set amongst gorgeous gardens and even featuring a wave pool in summer.

Szechenyi baths budapest

Best Bath For ‘Pinch Me, I’m In Budapest’ Moments Széchenyi Baths

This is the biggest bath, the most popular bath, and if you’re curious, the one with the iconic chess players. A golden-colored candyland-esque castle inside Budapest’s City Park, with its 18 pools, Széchenyi is among the largest thermal pool complexes in Europe. You’ll find whirlpools and underwater jets here, and most uniquely, Széchenyi is open all year round, with a steamy wintry bath a truly unique experience.  

dandar bath budapest

Best ‘Off The Beaten Bath’ BathDandar Bath

When we were in Budapest, we stumbled across this hidden gem, and it was a true revelation. We only discovered it by walking past, and took a gamble that it would be fun to see what the lesser known spas were like. While it won’t win any style points (Gellért took them all, anyway), it is laid back, budget-friendly (about a third of the price of the big boys), and almost exclusively used by locals. I can personally attest, that I had been plagued by a sore shoulder for weeks before I visited Dandar, but walked out without any pain, and years later, it hasn’t returned.

Best Historic Bath – Király Bath

This bath feels like a step back in time and a trip to the East combined. Built when Budapest was under Ottoman rule in the 1500s, it maintains its original Turkish architecture (stone walls, arched doorways, and domes) to this day, with the spa’s fading glory only serving to add to its appeal. Király isn’t the biggest spa in town, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with centuries of character and and soothing waters filled with a unique mix of minerals to help mend the body and massage the soul.

 

Photo Credit

An earlier version of this post first appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hope Cove, South Devon, England

We went on summer vacation to South Devon, and I took this picture of this little town called Hope Cove from the Southwest Coastal Path. I recommend doing the same to anyone.

 

hope cove

A Quest to Buy Westvleteren 12 Beer at the Sint Sixtus Abbey

Westvleteren1

By all accounts, the good monks at the Sint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium produce some of the most heavenly brews on earth. And one of their beers, Westvleteren 12, is regarded by many who know way more about beer than me as the world’s finest. In fact, if you punch in ‘world’s best beer’ on everybody’s favorite search engine, these Trappist boys are the first non-listicle result that pops up.

To say the process of acquiring Westvleteren 12 is complicated is to understate the murkiness of the proceedings.

The monks aren’t in it for the money, so they don’t brew a ton of beer, and what they do brew, they don’t distribute to bars or stores. No, they choose to only sell crates directly to people at their abbey, with each person only allowed to purchase once every 60 days. This, inevitably, leads to a thriving black market in the beer, with bottles being sold with a wink-and-a-nod all over the world at jacked up prices; and a ton of people out there making some serious cash posing as innocent locals every two months.

But I digress.

It’s supposed to work like this: you call them ahead, they take down your details (including your license plate), then you show up at an agreed-upon time and pick up your suds.

That didn’t work out so well for me.

Ever since I found out I would be in their neck-of-the-woods, I started calling. For months. It was always busy. I could never get through. It was frustrating, I mean, what were these monks busy doing, praying?

So, I figured I would just show up and see what happens.

Poperinge Belgium

After swerving through several roundabouts in nearby Poperinge (a place so renowned for their beer hops, they have giant statues of them), playing a game of ‘Wait, Is This A One Way Street?’ in the maze-like town center, and badgering sidewalk-strolling Belgians for directions, we arrived at the legendary Sint Sixtus Abbey.

The cars ahead of us were full of black market beer barons, I mean genteel locals all exchanging pleasantries with a chipper man who had been assigned the task of dishing out the beer and, it must be noted, bore a striking resemblance to Steven Avery from Making A Murderer. 

Everyone seemed so nice and friendly, that my confidence swelled.

Westvleteren 12

“This is going to be easy”, I thought.

Our turn came, I pulled ahead, and the beer man grabbed his clipboard and, yeah, started scrutinizing our car and license plate like he was working a border crossing. I rolled down the window, and in my best Flemish (which is English, by the way) pleaded “we don’t have a reservation, sir, but we came all the way from England, and I called for months, and I have a sick dog at home whose dream is to taste Westvleteren 12”. Or something like that.

Being an American used to warm and cuddly customer service, I expected to hear him say:

“Well, you’re technically supposed to have a reservation, but since you came all this way and you seem nice, go ahead and take some beer, and you know what, don’t even worry about paying for it”.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. The monk beer man ended the dream right then and there on the spot. I was crushed. We had come all this way, we had come so close to sipping the nectar of the gods, only to be rejected and leave parched and with an empty trunk.

But then he told us we could buy the beer over at their cafe, In de Vrede, which we subsequently found out is the only place in the world where it is sold in a retail setting. We drove over, bought a twelve pack of Westvleteren 12, and headed for home with smiles on our faces.

Westvleteren 12

Things officially became happily ever after though when we made it back home and I poured the first bottle. The mahogany-brown Westvleteren 12 flowed from its vessel like holy water, overflowing with toasty notes that tickled the nose and a creamy off-white head that pleased the eyes. As I finally sipped the sweet and smoky strong Belgian beer, I immediately knew what all the hype was about, and I was already starting to think about a return trip.

 

 

Abbey photo credit

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse