Top Five Places to Eat in New York City

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Where to eat in New York?

I’ve been routinely asked by friends, visiting whatever city we are currently in, where to eat and what to do. I am always happy to share. As a result, I often find myself writing the same stuff over and over again. It is time-consuming and not the most effective way to deliver my message. I finally decided to write my own suggestions down, so I can share them proactively before anyone asks.

I plan to make it a series of articles for the places I know more or less, such as New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Paris, Hawaii, Santiago etc.

The first in the series is New York City. It’s simply because we are here at the moment and the chemistry from all my experiences is still in my blood, vivid and exciting. By no means should this be considered the ultimate guide for the best joints I can think of in New York City. I just find myself more often in these places than anywhere else. There must be a good reason for that, but not necessarily for everyone. Also, all suggestions are hyper-location-sensitive. We choose places to live with a high “walkable” score where it’s safe to go out anytime and car is optional.

Think of the West Village (Manhattan, New York).

Kesté Pizza & Vino … or simply Keste

For me, the first stop in New York is Keste Pizza on Bleecker and Morton. In the past, when I had long enough layovers at JFK (6-10 hours), I would definitely jump on a train to the West Village just to have a bite of this exceptional thin pizza crust, Napoli style. Usually I am starting to think about Keste pizza way before landing, which definitely makes me sharp focus on the baggage collection task and choosing the fastest method to reach Manhattan.

Funny enough, all tourist guides list the John’s Pizza on Bleecker across the street from Keste. I never tried that place, as their pizza doesn’t look to me the way I expect pizza to look like. It’s more like a melting pie with tons of boiling cheese and other unidentified elements on top. Everything is dripping down out of control, and subconsciously I know my stomach will rebel at accepting this product. Either way, I am grateful to John’s Pizza enormously, as they manage to keep a decent line of tourists in front of their establishment. If not for them, I am positive that these fellas would be standing in front of Keste where…..

…. there is always a waiting list for 10-20 min anyways.

Over time I have tasted different options from Keste’s menu. They have a great selection of Pizza Blancas, regular pizzas, and house specialty plus …. gluten-free anyone? I don’t recall regretting my choice, whatever I felt like ordering on any given day. Usually I go for the one with fewer ingredients. Less stuff being thrown on top tastes better to me. I particularly  try to avoid any ingredient that may turn into a paste after its mandatory run through the brick oven, such as squash. Margherita pizza is a great choice in this regards. Simple and delicious!

Bosie Tea Parlor

Conveniently located on Morton street a hundred steps south from Bleecker Street, Bosie Tea Parlor will blow your mind with the best French dessert in town. Period. Although it’s my personal opinion, the French chef Damien has awards to support this claim. It comes as no surprise, because he is a third generation pastry chef imported directly from France. He knows how to make his macarons melt in your mouth. The selection of flavors is overwhelming. From lavender to rose to darjeeling to salted caramel to bacon-maple. Wait what? Yes, the bacon-maple flavor!

I like their selection of other pastries too. Because it’s a tea parlor with hundreds of fine loose leaf tea options on display, many of Bosie’s high-end designed cakes and tarts would also have tea flavors. How do you feel about a darjeeling tart, or green tea eclair, or  …?

Not every tea parlor can brag about offering Lapsang Suchong tea for their customers. It’s such a controversial flavor that no shop owner around the world would ever recommend you one unless you know what you’re getting into. Some people describe it as a tea made of smoked salmon.  You can’t be neutral towards this type of stuff. You either hate it to the vomiting reflex or love it like nothing else. I’ve been a Lapsang Suchong follower for years. There was time when Lapsang Suchong was the only tea I drank in the morning.

I have a personal story about Lapsang Suchong and Bosie Tea Parlor.

Once upon a time, when we lived in the hood, we noticed that a new tea joint with tons of tea jars on display had opened its doors. We love tea, so we got in. A waiter was still learning about the house tea selection. No surprise; she completely blanked out on my inquiry about availability of the Lapsang Suchong. To avoid confusion, I decided to order something else, but she was diligent and delivered my question to the guy running around behind the bar counter. Suddenly he stopped in disbelief that someone actually asked for that, looked at me with admiration, and proclaimed he had a leftover from his personal stock. Then he spent 15 minutes opening all the cabinets behind, above and beyond the counter, constantly apologizing that he couldn’t find it quickly enough. Right about the time when everyone was ready to give up and I started feeling quite uncomfortable for putting him through such a hurdle, he exclaimed he found it! A small bag of five or ten ounces of tea it was. He then went on to brew a whole teapot for me right away, and made it a treat on the house! I think they have carried Lapsang Suchong in stock ever since, just in case a crazy customer like me would ask. I always do though. Over time, Nicky, the owner of Bosie Tea Parlor, became my personal friend.

Bosie Tea Parlor has since opened a location in East Harlem. This is where their main supply is coming from. Another place has opened recently in Columbus Circle

Malatesta Trattoria

Malatesta is a cash-only establishment with a great nostalgic interior, reminiscent of a place you could easily stumble upon in Italy. They serve homemade pasta and some seafood choices from the specials of the day. I like their bowl of mussels and bruschetas for starters. Panacota for dessert is unbeatable! The menu prices are very reasonable, so you may be surprised at how inexpensive great food could be in the one of the most expensive hoods of Manhattan.

On weekend evenings you may encounter a wait line of 20 to 40 minutes, but the wait is totally worth it. To minimize the wait time come earlier, before 8 PM. You may get seated right away.

Malatesta has a sister restaurant, Malaparte, just a few blocks up the street. The food is good there too, but more expensive. I also find that it lacks the Malatesta’s original charm with waiters speaking with a thick Italian accent.

Taïm Falafel & Smoothie Bar

Taïm Falafel & Smoothie Bar was recommended to me as soon as we arrived in New York by a nice landlord Joe who showed us his apartments in the West Village. I recall we were passing by a falafel joint, and I showed signs of excitement. He mentioned that there is a better place he always goes to on Waverly Street at Perry. I remembered the name Taïm, which means Delicious in Hebrew.

It really is delicious!

Taïm has a variety of Mediterranean food choices. My personal favorites are Mixed Falafel Platter and Sabich Platter.

A couple of years ago, Taïm opened another location in the Nolita/Soho area. The same owners opened Bar Bolonat on Hudson and Balaboosta Restaurant on Mulberry St. Those two are more upscale options.

Like everyplace nowadays, Taim Falafel has a mobile option too. It’s a food truck. Depending on the day of the week, it shows up in Downtown, West Soho, or Flat Iron. Check Taim’s food truck schedule if you are into catching them.

Cafe Gitane

Another cash-only place is Cafe Gitane (Gipsy’s Cafe – translation from French). They serve Moroccan-style French cuisine with a take away/delivery option. For some historic reason I prefer their SoHo/Nolita location on Mott Street, even though their West Village place was always around the corner. Cafe Gitane in Soho just feels more appropriate for the type of cuisine and ambiance they offer.

It’s a completely unpretentious place with limited outside sitting and a tight room to sit inside. Whether it’s their old-fashioned magazines, green waiters’ dresses, or other decor elements, this cafe gives me an impression that I have traveled back to the seventies, to some seaside town in France.

I usually order Moroccan Couscous, which is served with tiny chunks of red pepper, eggplant, raisins, pine nuts and hummus (optionally with amazing Merquez sausages). I usually wrap up with bread pudding which is very special, soft and smooth. A small piece of dark chocolate on the side of your cup of coffee is a little treat with a long-lasting impression. I will walk for 30 min any day just to have another lunch or dinner at Cafe Gitane. To make this task easier, CitiBike just installed a bike station right in front of Cafe Gitane.  Today I can do this in five minutes by bike.

Le Pain Quotidien

There are Le Pain Quotidiens in every part of Manhattan. In the past some of my French connections commented that Le Pain Quotidien isn’t up to the level they are used to. Perhaps,  but hey, at the end of the day we are not in Paris either. Also, keep in mind that Le Pain Quotidien is not French, but Belgian. Perhaps this is where the difference is coming from.

Le Pain Quotidien (Daily Bread in French) is where my daily supply of baguettes comes from. Not only in New York but in Buenos Aires too.  On top of that, I often enjoy their croissants, organic jams, coffee, hot chocolate, tartines, quiches, soups and many other quality options. One undisclosed trick I use in the morning is to order a croissant with coffee. With a croissant you can request the complimentary jams, three big jars on a rack. Mornings that start on such a positive note typically kick off a very pleasant day.

A couple of unique things about Le Pain Quotidien: they provide a communal table for customers to share, and some of the locations offer bakery classes.

Using Le Pain Quotidien’s iPhone app for payment is swift and allows you to earn free goodies, such as a tartine, a drink, or a pastry. I am so blessed to spend most of my time within walking distance of one Le Pain Quotidien or another. I feel like they should offer some sort of lifetime subscription for people like me.

 

 

Our Anniversary Trip to Patagonia

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Nov ’09. Albion River Inn, Mendocino, California.

Bride-bouquet-BW-5466Five years ago, Kristina and I got married at the Albion River Inn on the beautiful coast of Mendocino in Northern California. It was a very spontaneous wedding at a hotel booked five days in advance following a short notice given to a few friends. Obviously most of them couldn’t make it. It was Thanksgiving weekend, after all, what I was thinking? So there were only eight of us, the family members and a couple of friends.

This was an epic day of my life with tons of memories to cherish for years.

One regret is that Kristina’s mom and dad were far away. This is where I could have planned better. There are plenty of ways to get married. Run to Las Vegas, organize a Hawaiian getaway for a hundred guests two years in advance, pretend you’re Lord of the Ring in the Redwood forest, or buy/re-sell a $20M all-inclusive package.

None of these fits my style or financial standing. On that windy day in November 2009, my good friend Mateo, who is a pilot, rented a four-seater plane for us. We flew over the Californian coastline for an hour through the turbulent air, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge, hidden lakes and rivers, a hillside Buddhist temple in a massive forest, and the waves of the Pacific rolling over dramatic coastline.

That was an experience on its own, an unforgettable one.

Nov ’14. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Five years fast forward. We are enjoying our new life in Buenos Aires with our eleven-month-old Eva. She just started running around like she’s trying to make up for every minute spent in a stroller. We still hadn’t had a chance to visit Patagonia on the Argentinean side.

On this Thanksgiving afternoon, which marked our fifth anniversary, I said, why not go to Patagonia tomorrow? Next thing you know, we got our plane tickets, just minutes before Aerolineas Argentina’s office closed. I hadn’t bought paper airline tickets at an agency for well over a decade. However, a 40% discount on cash exchanged at the dolar blue rate would make a hefty difference one can’t ignore. South-America-Lago-ArgentinoOur flight was leaving from Buenos Aires for El Calafate at six o’clock the following morning.

Dressed for summer in Buenos Aires, with a backpack full of winter clothes, a suitcase full of Eva’s toys in one hand and Eva’s BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light in the other, and a pile of Argentine pesos in a pocket, we skip it through the priority line at the Aeroparque.

That was the most efficient check-in in my travel career. No more than 10-15 minutes from check-in counter to gate. Argentines love kids—so all doors are open in front of you, the traveler with a little baby in your arms.

Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino at estancia cristina Our three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate was eventless. As soon as we stepped down onto the ground, one thing became absolutely clear: This is a very different world from what we are used to. With less than three habitants per square mile living in the Santa Cruz province, the second biggest province of Argentina, it feels muy tranquilo! The vast abundant land, crowned by the snowy mountain peaks on the horizon, left me speechless for a few minutes. Argentino Lake in Patagonia

Another thing that will steal your attention is Lago Argentino, the biggest lake in the country. In particular, its glacier-infused water. No photo can do justice to how beautiful the color of the water is. Lago Argentino color The water color in Lago Argentino is related to the glacier flow. The lake receives most of the ice from the glacier and thus absorbs most of the “rock flour”—rocks ground to white powder by the ice scraping against the rock floor of the valley. Depending on the concentration, glacial flour turns the lake waters a gray-green hue, or milky turquoise. Absolutely amazing! Then you will notice a tip of an iceberg stuck somewhere on the opposite shore.

Iceberg fell off the Upsala Glacier and now is floating around Lago Argentino seeking a new foster home

A post shared by Vadim Oss (@vadimoss) on

El Calafate

El Calafate is a small Patagonian town. Nothing is remarkable about its architectural heritage, but if you have a lake view from your room it makes a ton of difference. We ended up staying in La Cantera boutique hotel. Although we hoped for the last-minute deal, our discount actually came from paying cash in pesos. A room with a lake view, top-notch service, and the convenience of a ten-minute walk to city center made it the best deal in town.

Many hotels are located very far from the center, so you need a cab to get around. La Cantera runs a shuttle service from 8pm till midnight to pick up its guests from the bars and restaurants. Nice!

Know Your Accommodation Options

We didn’t choose the easy way to come to La Cantera. We first went to Koi Aiken hotel which is quite far (non-walkable) from the center.

The first room we were given didn’t have hot water at all, nada! The receptionist looked at Eva, then at the dry faucet, and made a remark: That’s the problem!

The second room we were moved to had broken window frames. Let me tell you, the Patagonian wind is not a joke. With overnight temperatures dropping nearly to the freezing point, you don’t want to be stuffing your blanket into these holes in the frame. The receptionist suggested we keep the curtain closed, so the wind wouldn’t blow Eva out of her crib. Another suggestion was to turn the radiator up all the way. We panicked imagining Eva accidentally touching this scalding hot piece of metal. The hotel keeper exclaimed again, That’s the problem!

We decided to give another room a try. All we needed was hot water and no wind howling over our bed. The third room had water running from the faucet but it wouldn’t get warm enough. The hotelier promised again and again: It will get hot, just let it run. No luck! After five or seven minutes we lost hope and she admitted again, That’s the problem!

We called a cab to get away. On the way back in town I was thinking whether or not the tripadvisor rank of 55 out of 77 in El Calafate was fair for that hotel.

So check your accommodation options carefully!

Estancias

Estancia Cristina on Lago Argentino Estancia is a word for many refuges built over time by Patagonian pioneers. They came down here from different parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century and gave this land a breath of new life.

Nowadays the Estancias are protected identities of the Patagonian landscape, and are still around, serving different functions. We were planning to visit two estancias.

Estancia Nibepe Aike

Estancia Nibepe Aike Patagonia Estancia Nibepo Aike is named after its Croatian founder’s three daughters—Nini, Bebe, Porota—and the Tehuelche word Aike meaning “place.” Estancia Nibepo Aike presents visitors and guests with imposing view of Lago Argentino combined with the activities of an active sheep- and cattle-breeding establishment.

Estancia Cristina

At Estancia Cristina Estancia Cristina was founded in 1914 by an English couple, Mr and Mrs Masters. They lived in tents pitched by the lake during their first year. Their new home was named in honor of their little daughter Cristina, who didn’t survive pneumonia.

The Estancia stretches over 22 hectares of land surrounded by glaciers, snow peaks, and lakes of great natural beauty. Even up to today, there is no viable way to get to Estancia Cristina besides sailing on a boat to the most northern point of the Lago Argentino. Mr Masters had to buy and rebuild a steamboat to bring all his family and his cattle to this remote location. At some point the herd grew to also include 27,000 sheep, 30 cows and some 50 horses.

Due to our limited time in Patagonia, we decided to stay at Estancia Cristina only.

Random Recommendation from the Past

Almost a year ago, I randomly met a couple from New York wandering around Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires. They had just got back from Patagonia. We started talking about traveling Argentina and Alexander, the guy, mentioned that they had the best time at Estancia Cristina. I took a note of his recommendation and had it in mind to experience it for ourselves.

It’s totally worth talking with strangers. I get solid proof of this now and then. You never know how it will shape your future life.

Getting to Estancia Cristina

Boat to Estancia Cristina

It takes a few hours to get from El Calafate to Estancia Cristina. Forty minutes on the Estancia’s shuttle to Puerto Bandera, then a couple of hours on a boat. Once arrived, we were astounded by its incredible beauty. There are many things to explore around the Estancia. Plenty of lakes, waterfalls, the lake shore—there is no shortage of things to do here. Estancia Cristina We spent two incredible days at Estancia Cristina exploring its natural beauty and eating well. Their regional cuisine, featuring slowly roasted Patagonian lamb and other local produce, is to die for.  The staff was also incredibly friendly and attentive. The place itself, despite strong winds howling non-stop, is so peaceful and relaxing.

It inspired me to put a 24-hour moratorium on checking my emails.

We also saw some horses running around. They seemed to be wild. My understanding is that they belong to the Estancia and are used for horseback riding excursions. We tried to sign up for one of these tours but with eleven-month-old Eva that wasn’t a good idea 🙂

Discovery Tour to Upsala Glacier

Upsala-Glacier-Pano-1016 Estancia Cristina also offers a Discovery adventure to Upsala glacier, and trekking activities. We signed up for the Discovery tour. You ride on a 4×4 truck up the mountain road through the rocks and ancient forest. The truck ride is a very exciting part of the tour. You will see many lakes, meadows and spectacular mountain peaks.

After a while, the road ends, and you walk a little further to the vista point. The view of the glacier, the channel, the colors of the rainbow above it and snow peaks are splendid.

From the top, Upsala Glacier looks amazingly peaceful. Be prepared to be blown off the cliff if you don’t pay good attention to the wind gusts.

Upsala Glacier by Boat

Upsala Glacier is one of the biggest glaciers of the Patagonian Icefield. It recedes very quickly though. Ten kilometers (six miles) of its body length have been lost in the last twenty years.

All orphan icebergs floating in Lago Argentino were once a part of Upsala Glacier before chipping off and running away from home. Estancia Cristina offers a chance to see the icebergs from a boat. On a clear day the colors will amaze you!

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito-Moreno-Glacier-Pano-1396 Perito Moreno Glacier is what most of the people come for in El Calafate. The glacier is unique because it is one of the three glaciers in Patagonian Icefield that is stable. This means that over time it doesn’t reduce in size. However, the ice is being pushed out from the glacier and collapses in a spectacular way.

The glacier can be observed from many platforms or from the boat. It’s one of the most amazing natural wonders I’ve ever seen. The light reflecting in massive chunks of ice, sticking up to 200 feet above the surface, is something that will stick in my memory for a long time. The glowing blue color of the ice is mesmerizing.

This is the most popular attraction in El Calafate area, a.k.a. a tourist trap. Being on a boat with a couple hundred people who ran simultaneously from one side to another while taking selfies was not necessarily the experience we were looking for. If I had to choose the same tour again I would totally skip the boat part. Or perhaps select a smaller boat tour.

We found it’s much more interesting to gaze at the glacier from land. There are several balconies that allow you to observe the entire glacier from different angles and elevations. The most exciting part was seeing small ice ruptures, when a chunk of glacier chips off the wall and collapses, with cheerful excitement from the crowd.

Here are ten interesting facts about Perito Moreno Glacier.

1. Perito Moreno Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz province of Argentina. The province is part of the Argentine Patagonia.

2. The glacier is an ice formation that measures 250square kilometers (97 square miles). The Glacier is 30 kilometer (19 Miles) long.

3. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the 48 glaciers in Patagonian Ice Field. It is an extension of the Andean Ice that is shared with Chile. The Glacier is the third largest reserve of Fresh water in the world.

4. The Los Glaciares National Park, of which Perito Moreno Glacier is part of, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981 by UNESCO

5. Due to its accessibility and beauty, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the biggest tourist magnets to the Patagonia region. The glacier is barely two hours away from El Calafate by bus.

6. The Glacier is surrounded by scenic ice-capped mountains and forests such as lengas and ñires.

7. Rapture – Pressures from the weight of the ice slowly pushes the glacier over the southern tip of Lake Argentina damming the section and separating it from the rest of the lake. With no outlet, the water-level on the dammed side of the lake can rise by as much as 30 meters above the level of the main body of Lake Argentina. This eventually causes rapture and the huge block of ice tumbles down on the lake. It is one of the most beautiful sights to see.

8. The glacier extends to the Chilean fjords and in the east to the Argentine lakes.

9. There are two types of trekking available to tourists on the glacier. The first one is the mini-trekking option that takes about an hour and a half and the other is the big ice option that takes about 5 hours. It is up to you to choose how long you want to remain outdoors on ice.

10. The raptures on the Lake Argentina come in 4-5 years intervals. The last to occur happened on March 2, 2012.

We didn’t have much more time left to explore other areas of Lago Argentino.

Is there anything else equally exciting that we should see on our next visit?

Please share in the comments section.

5 Things That Brought Me Back to Kauai a Dozen Times

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My new travel post seems to be long overdue. A few pictures from friends visiting Kauai triggered some great memories of my own visits to the Garden Isle. I’ve been there at least a dozen of times, usually staying in Kapaa on the east side.

Ocean view condo at Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa

One disclosure: I am totally biased about this Hawaiian Island. It’s by far my favorite one. A few special things about this island make me happy to return again and again.

1. As Its Name Suggests, It Really Is a Garden Isle

From the moment you land on Kauai you will be impressed by how green the island is. The airport is located on the east side. Here there is much less green than on the North Shore. Still in all, the lush mountains you see through the plane window make it look so much greener than its neighbor islands Oahu and Maui.

Landing in Lihue airport Kauai

Then you go see the North Shore, and your perspective on natural beauty will be taken to a new level.

Kalalau Trail Hike

Na-Pali-Kauai-Panorama-1500x300

To experience the best of Hawaiian nature, I recommend visiting Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. To get there, Kristina and I went on the 11-mile Kalalau trail hike (a 22-mile round trip). Because we had to carry a few days of food and water, it was one of the most grueling experiences of my life. Going up and down the face of a tropical mountain with all of that behind your shoulders is a very sweaty experience.

Kalalau Trail Hike Na Pali coast

Even locals start respecting you more once you’ve completed this hike. The trail begins in Ha’ena State Park at the northwest end of Kuhio Highway (Route 56), about 41 miles (a 1 1/2-hour drive) from Lihu’e Airport. Although leaving vehicles overnight at the trailhead is not recommended, nothing happened to our rental car for the four nights we were hiking.

The end point of the Kalalau trail is the Na Pali Beach. This is where visitors can legally camp for up to five nights. A day hike of up to 6 miles from the trailhead, as far as Hanakoa Valley, no longer requires a permit. In order to hike beyond Hanakoa Valley in the Na Pali Coast State Park, though, a camping permit is required. Bear in mind that due to the limited number of permits issued every month, you may need to request your permit well in advance—weeks or even months. It’s possible to do it online here.

We managed to buy permits a few days in advance only due to a cancellation. It’s possible to do that by visiting the Kauai Department of Recreation office in person. Here’s the address:

County of Kauai Department of Recreation
4444 Rice St., Pi'ikoi Building, Suite 330
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766
Phone: (808) 241-4463
Email: recpermits@kauai.gov

A Day Trip to Na Pali on a Sea Kayak

There are a couple more options for seeing the Na Pali coast that won’t require as much effort as the Kalalau trail hike.

A day long round trip on a sea-kayak with Napali Kayak, for instance.

I haven’t done this but based on the feedback of others a day of paddling in the Hawaiian waters may also be very exhausting. Keep in mind that this tour isn’t an option during the winter season, when big ocean swells make it very dangerous to kayak in open waters. Even during summer season, trips are occasionally cancelled due to big-wave conditions.

It sounds like my kind of adventure. I may try it on my next visit to Kauai.

Take a Boat to the Na Pali Coast

Na Pali coast boat tour with Captain Andy

A boat ride with Captain Andy’s. That’s the easiest one. They offer different 4-6 hour catamaran tours on a daily basis. My sister did this for her birthday this year and her experience was amazing.

How About Hiring a Chopper?

Honopu Beach, a.k.a. Cathedral Beach, at Napali Coast by Wally Gobetz

Apparently there is also a helicopter tour that flies over the Na Pali coast. You may consider this option if you’re very short on time and are willing to see the most of the island in 55 minutes. It’s also the only way to explore some remote parts of the islands, such as Mount Waialeale, arguably the wettest place on Earth.

2. Never Ending To-Do List For All Types of Nature Enthusiasts

From surfing to hiking to biking to sky-diving to paragliding to zip-lining to kayaking to snorkeling, Kauai offers a full set of activities for different tastes and interests.

Besides surfing, the most amazing thing I’ve done in Kauai is sky diving. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Kristina and I. Imagine, a tiny airplane takes you 10,000 feet above the island. Then when you start questioning whether it’s really a good idea to be that high and your hands get sweaty, you jump off and see the entire island as if it were in the palm of your hand.

Sky diving Kauai, Hawaii

It was absolutely amazing! The most troubling thing for me was getting over the fact that the plane was supposed to drop us off far out over the ocean. It was hard to believe that the wind would take us back to land so easily. No doubt the guys at SkyDive Kauai knew what they were doing. They made sure everyone felt safe and comfortable.

Do you feel like sky-diving is pushing it over the top?

Then check out Kayak Wailua or zip-lining through the rain forest. It’s super fun and your grandma can do it.

Zip-line Princeville Kauai

3. A Bike/Pedestrian-Friendly Place to Visit

Once the East Kauai’s Coastal Multi-Use Path project is complete, visitors and locals can bike from the Lihue airport all the way to Anahola.

Kauai East Coast's Bike Path

Although the project is still a work in progress, the completed parts currently open offer an amazing experience: to bike or stroll or walk along the magnificent Coconut Coast of Kauai. It’s something you should definitely try in the morning or before sunset, when the heat is not so exhausting.

There are 7-8 completed miles of the Kapaa Bike Path:

4. Amazing Variety of Climates and Terrains

It’s hard to believe, but in Kauai you may drive for a couple of miles and move from tropical rain to sunny and dry conditions. The rule of thumb is:

  • South Shore is dry
  • North Shore is wet
  • Everything in between is in the middle

When it rains at Hanalei Bay on the North Shore or Kapaa on the east side, you may have a perfect sunny day at Poipu down south.

One interesting fact is that the Mount Waialeale region receives heavy downpour throughout the year. As a result, Hawaii tourism officials call it the wettest place on Planet Earth. No wonder it looks just jaw-droppingly gorgeous!

Waialeale crater the wettest place on earth

One of the biggest attractions of Kauai is its Waimea Canyon, located on the western side. Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water,” a reference to the erosion of the canyon’s red soil.

Waimea-Canyon-Panorama-Kauai-Island-smWaimea Canyon Panorama by Bryce Edwards. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

5. Some of the Greatest Beaches in the World

It’s very cliche to say, but Kauai does have some of the most beautiful beaches out there. Some of them are hidden and some are in every guidebook. While I normally surf at Kealia, which stretches along the Kuhio Highway, I prefer to visit more secluded places when it’s time to relax. Keep in mind that almost all of the places I like pose an above-average safety hazard, so if you enter the water it’s at your own risk. Below is the list of my favorites.

Polihale Beach on the West Side

Polihale Beach West Kauai

This beach is hard to get to but it’s totally worth the trouble. You have to drive west almost to the end of the highway and turn left just before the road ends at the military base. Then you need to drive for 4 miles on a very rough unpaved road. This last leg used to take me up to 40 minutes before I got to the beach parking. I’ve heard the road was improved, so nowadays it should be faster. Car rental companies usually don’t allow customers to drive their vehicles there and may void insurance if they happen to find out you did. So if you break down there, you’re on your own. Still in all the beach is absolutely amazing and it’s a great place to spend the entire afternoon and watch the sunset.

Donkey Beach on the East Side

Donkey Beach at Kealia, Kauai, Hi

It used to be a quiet and secluded place rarely visited by tourists. That was before the new shoreline property development and Kauai Bike Path came to life. I had some great surf sessions at this little beach. Some people warned that unattended parking lot may attract some unwanted elements, and over time many cars were broken into.(It never happened to me as I always leave my car empty.) Now you can ride a bike to this beach, so there’s less to worry about.

Hanalei Bay Beach on the North Shore

Hanalei Bay by MickeyF

This is one of my favorite spots in Kauai. A dramatic backdrop with lush green mountains and waterfalls makes Hanalei Bay a very unique place on the island. If you’re not staying on the North Shore, getting to Hanalei Bay is a commitment. It’s totally worth spending the entire day here. There is a small town with the same name a couple blocks away from the beach. It has everything from an organic food store to fish restaurants to nighttime bar entertainment. Did I say that there are two very good surf spots far out in the bay? Now I did, but it’s not my advice that makes them crowded on a good day, but rather their first-class quality.

Do you have your own favorite spot in Kauai? Just share in comments below.

How to buy an iPhone 6

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It’s that time of the year again!

Everyone wants a new iPhone. For those lost souls wondering how to buy one, Apple provided a very encouraging message in various languages.

how to buy an iphone 6

Well, watching how messages in French and Japanese are fading away one after another is fascinating…

Check it out before it’s gone

The one that really sticks is Visszatérünk!

It’s a great reminder to get back to my Duolingo.

P.S. T-mobile offers a reminder about iPhone 6 on Sep 12. Not sure which message I like better.

Preorder iphone 6 with T-mobile

It’s hard to get to Buenos Aires but it’s two times harder to leave

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It’s pretty hard to get to Buenos Aires from the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps that’s why I heard so little about this amazing place while I lived in the States.

Seven months have passed by quickly and Eva has grown enormously. Yesterday our doctor said she is extra large by Argentinean standards. Well, in a good sense of course:).

It’s time for us to pack our summer stuff and head over to Cartagena, Colombia, a 16th century Spanish colonial town that is currently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then Santa Marta with its Tayrona National Park and magnificent Caribbean beaches. We are also hopeful of visiting San Andrés. Even though we are planning to come back in a few months I find it pretty hard to leave Buenos Aires. We will certainly miss all these wonderful people that we’ve met here.

I thought that pictures of our neighborhood life would explain better than a thousand words.

Viva Buenos Aires!

Iguazu Falls: Absolutely Must See Once in Your Life

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 The Power and the Beauty of Iguazu Falls

Devil Throat of Iguazu Falls from Argentinean sideIn our digital age we’re surrounded by opinions, in list form, of the 10 or 100 or 1000 things to see before you die. I think life expectancy must be on the rise the way people keep adding stuff to their To Do lists. It’s always too soon to die, the list is always growing. But it is also very subjective. A wonder for you could be a “whatever” for others.

Iguazu Falls, though, on the border of Brazil and Argentina, are among the rare natural wonders that inevitably make it onto the top of everyone’s list. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984 started to draw more attention to its beauty, as well as to its ongoing preservation struggle.

I’d heard about this place many times, but didn’t realize how magnificent it actually is.

Iguazu Falls on Brazilian side

Visiting it, at last, happened to be one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of my life. The falls are 1.7 miles long, divided into many different waterfalls by tiny islands and islets dotting the Iguazu River at the edge of the plunge. These falls range from 197 to 269 feet high.

Lush green islands in Iguazu Falls

The Falls’ maximum recorded flow is 45,700 cubic meters per second. To put things in perspective, 45,700 cubic meters is about how much water would be used if every single household in the state of Texas flushed their toilets at the very same moment. That’s how much water was going over the falls every second. That’s a lot of water if you ask me!

To sense how powerful it is, one needs to get very close to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic semi-circular water drop at Iguazu Falls.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, once visited Iguazu Falls. When she first laid eyes on the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!”

Poor Niagara indeed!

Where Iguazu Falls Are Located

Iguazu Falls the Triple Frontier region

Near the Falls there are three major cities, in three different countries separated by the Iguazu River. They form a triangle known as the Triple Frontier:

  • Puerto Iguazu, a frontier city in the province of Misiones, Argentina
  • Foz do Iguaçu, a city in Paraná, Brazil, that is three times bigger than its Argentinean neighbor
  • Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay

Two of these countries can claim part of the waterfall as their own: Brazil and Argentina.

Keep in mind that 80% of all the waterfalls are on the Argentinean side, while 20% are in Brazil. Each perspective is unique, but you definitely have more options approaching your target from Argentina. When visiting, ideally plan on spending one day exploring the Argentinean side and keep a few hours reserved for Brazil on the following day.

As we prepared for our trip, we read a number of online comments about armies of mosquitoes and bugs attacking visitors on the Brazilian side, so we decided to skip it completely. Dengue fever is a real thing in this part of the world, so we were little uneasy about it.

You can also take a boat tour of the Falls from either side, if you feel like you didn’t get wet enough exploring on your own.

Furthermore, you can actually book a place on an exciting helicopter ride, in order to view the Falls from on high. The chopper departs from the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu.

If you want to see the entire Iguazu Falls, both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side, you’ll enjoy your experience much more if you set aside at least two days to soak in all the beauty, and to enjoy all that Iguazu Falls has to offer you as a tourist, guest, or visitor to the area.

Getting to Iguazu Falls

While a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls may take up to 20 hours, travel by air is quite easy. A flight from Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires will get you to Iguazu Falls in less than two hours. The airport on the Argentinean side (IGR) is just 6 miles (10 km) away from the waterfalls, and 13 miles (20 km) from the city of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. A cab ride will cost you a bit more than in Buenos Aires. For a ride from the airport to Iguazu National Park, we paid 220 Argentine pesos, approximately $20 USD at the dollar blue exchange rate—what you might call the “peer-to-peer” rate 😉

Because we were traveling with a five-month-old baby, we decided to stay at Sheraton Iguazu Hotel, right there in the National Park in front of the waterfalls. Eva seemed to love the rain forest and the sound of waterfalls.

Standing at Sheraton hotel Iguazu in front of the falls

More economical accomodations are available in the city, but these entail a 20-30 minute ride to the Iguazu National Park, where the waterfalls are located. Entry to the Iguazu National park will cost foreign citizens 215 Argentine pesos per person, so a bit less than $20 USD at the “dollar blue” exchange rate as of time of writing. So budget this in, as there is no way around this expense if you want to see the waterfalls.

What to See at Iguazu Falls

Excitement on the train riding to the Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls

Once you are in the National Park, you can take a free open-air train to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). Keep your hands and feet clear from the coatis. These guys feel home at any train station, and may leave you with a nasty bite:

After a seven-minute train ride, you disembark at the top side of the river and have to walk for 1100 meters (0.7 miles) towards the vista point. It’s a nice twelve-or-fifteen-minute walk over ramps erected above Iguazu river.

Ramps at Iguazu Falls

 

At the end of the walk, you will see something absolutely amazing: The Devil’s Throat. It’s hard to capture the power of this place, one needs to experience it.

Just watch the 30-second video below (make sure your speakers are turned down).  This is what I call a dramatic drop:

Besides the Devil’s Throat platform, there are a couple of trails leading to the other parts of Iguazu Falls. You may take the Upper Trail to see waterfalls from the above. Eva was happily asleep when we discovered the Adam and Eva waterfalls. We learned that the white noise of the waterfalls works very, very well at putting Eva to sleep.

 

The Lower Trail will get you as close as possible to the waterfalls from below. Although most people call the spray emanating from the Falls a “mist,” prepare yourself for shower-quality refreshment. It’s so close, you’ll get wet before you snap your first photo:

Did I mention that the rain forest around looks like a film set for Indiana Jones? Oh yeah, because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was shot there…

You will also see all kind of species, from toucans to eagles and beyond. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Harpy Eagle at Iguazu Falls

 

Whatever you end up doing at Iguazu Falls, it is a very exciting and refreshing experience!

Can you recommend any sights comparable to Iguazu Falls (besides Victoria Falls obviously)?

Why You Know Nothing About the Hawaiian Islands Until You Visit Them All

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I love Hawaii. Viva the Hawaiian Islands!

The view of the Hawaiian Archipelago from Above

When I first discovered this tropical paradise, I visited five times during a twelve-month period, and still hadn’t gotten enough. I bought an annual pass from the ATA Airlines in order to travel to Hawaii even more often in 2008. But then, as a perfect example of Murphy’s Law, ATA filed for bankruptcy protection that very year. The service was completely discontinued, and my dream of traveling to and from Hawaii for a year was flushed away.

Over time, I’ve been able to visit all four major Hawaiian islands, so I feel like I’ve learned a few facts worth sharing.

When people start planing their trip to the Hawaiian Islands, they may face some real challenges, like in picking their destination. I know, I’ve been there, I was confused myself.

It wasn’t until I visited all four major Hawaiian islands a few times that I was able to distinguish the real deal from pure tourist hype.

Here are the four islands most popular amongst visitors:

 

All four are all very different as far as the necessary travel arrangements, and the experience once you get there. Before making any commitment, you need to figure out which experience could be most valuable for you.

 

Hawai’i Island

Map-of-Hawaii-highlighting-Big-Island-Hawaii

Hawaii Island is also known as the Big Island, or the Island of Hawaii. You are entitled to be confused by its name.

The fact that some people call it “Big Island” and others “Hawaii” is quite confusing. Especially if you consider that the name “Hawaii” is typically used both for one of the Hawaiian Islands and for all of them collectively. So hearing that someone just came back from Hawaii doesn’t necessarily mean that they came from the Big Island. (Most likely they didn’t—this island isn’t the most popular one.) On the other hand, saying I am going to the Big Island, Hawaii, leaves no confusion on the table.

As its name suggests, Hawaii is the biggest island of the archipelago. This island impressed me. First of all, it’s so much bigger than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Despite how small it looks on the map, it takes hours to get from one side of the island to the other. No wonder that in Hilo and Kona it features two major airports, located on opposite shores.

Photo at erupting volcano  by G Brad Lewis

Photo in front of the erupting volcano by G Brad Lewis, known as Volcano Man

Then, too, Big Island is known for its active volcano, which is quite spectacular. It’s a very unique experience to watch flowing lava collide with Pacific Ocean. The volcano continuously generates natural fireworks, with lots of fumes and smaller lava chunks shooting hundreds of yards into the sky.

Pahoeoe lava fountain 30 feet high

 

When you drive around the island, you often have to pass through lava flows that have solidified over many years. It’s incredible to see how a lava flow first kills everything in its path to the ocean, and then, decades later, slowly turns into a channel for new vegetation.

Lava flow approaching the road

 

The Big Island offers impressive views of the erupting volcano. For a while, I considered the National Volcano Park a potential spot to make a proposal to Kristina. (Later on, though, a better opportunity came along.)

One fun fact I found amusing:

house for sale on the lava flowLava from volcanoes flows towards the ocean and solidifies at its bottom. Over the years, enough lava accumulates underwater that it surfaces, creating a piece of land that didn’t exist before. Basically, the same thing that the Dutch did manually for centuries occurs naturally in Hawaii, without any human intervention and over a short period of time. This new land emerging from the ocean is always being settled by locals. Furthermore, I’ve seen people bring a trailer home, set it on the lava crust and put a For Sale sign on it. Entrepreneurial thinking at its best!

Another interesting Big Island phenomeno is the coqui frog invasion.

Every evening, as darkness falls across the lush east side of the Big Island, thousands upon thousands of tiny coqui frogs fill the night with their piercing, unrelenting ko-KEE-ko-KEE-ko-KEE mating call.

Listen it on your own and tell me if it puts you to sleep or wakes you up:

When I first heard the coqui frog call, it I thought it must be coming from some exotic bird. It can be very annoying when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. This species, not native to the Hawaiian Islands, was introduced to the Big Island from the Caribbean in 1988. Frogs hitchhiked on tropical plants imported from Puerto Rico. Unlike in Puerto Rico, this little creature has no natural predator in Hawaii. So its population shot through the roof within a few years.

In Hawaii, chickens, mongoose, rats and even cats have been known to eat coquis, but nothing is eating the frogs fast enough to make a difference. Other Hawaiian Islands are under threat of the Coqui frog invasion. Although a coqui control agent is yet to be found, recent research at UH-Hilo has found that Prozac suppresses coqui libido and aggression, leaving the frog no reason to chirp. But how 10,000 frogs might be put on an antidepressant has yet to be worked out.

The story of the coqui hitchhikers gives us yet another reminder of how fragile our environment is. Changing one little variable disrupt an entire ecosystem.

O’ahu Island

Oahu Island is also known as “The Gathering Place.”

Oahu Island Well, based on that, it must be full of people. I wish I’ve been told ahead of time. Every available patch of beach sand here seems filled with European, Australian, American and Japanese tourists. The latter come here exclusively to shop for designer clothes.

Oahu is home to the state capital, Honolulu. Frankly, if you have only one shot to visit Hawaii, I would recommend spending your time on some other island.

Nevertheless, Oahu is where first-time tourists with zero knowledge of Hawaii typically end up going. I was no exception to that rule. On my first trip, I plunged right into the middle of Waikiki Beach. This is a very wide sand beach, with the Honolulu Zoo continuing along one side.

There is no mystery as to why Waikiki Beach steals the show for first-time Hawaiian visitors. The prices for airfare, hotels and travel packages make it the most cost-effective sprint from the Mainland. Yes, The Mainland. This is what any Hawaiian person—any Kamaina—calls the other forty-nine states of the Union.

There is plenty of good stuff on Oahu, though.

The North Shore presents you with some of the archipelago’s most exceptional surf spots, such as Pipeline, Sunset, and Banzai beaches. Pipeline is one of the most prestigious ASP World Surf Tour spots. The show here is normally run by locals, so it might not be the ideal place to launch your surfing career.

 

Pipeline Local Master by Matt Kurvin

Pipeline Local Master shot by Matt Kurvin

Many Hollywood movies have been shot on this island, and you may recognize some of its beaches from seeing them on TV.

Honolulu, the major hub on Oahu, has a very typical downtown, with the skyscrapers and highways you can find in any average-sized American city. There are massive malls overrun by Japanese tourists shopping for high-end designer stuff “on the cheap.”

If I recall correctly, there are enough cars on the streets of Honolulu to make the simple act of parking feel like your worst nightmare. Can’t find street parking? Well, you can always park your car at a nearby hotel for $25 per day or more. There are some other creative ways to park your car, but it’s always a hassle.

None of that makes me enthusiastic about returning to Oahu any time soon.

Maui Island

Maui Island highlighted on the mapMaui is awesome!

This is where I went five times in a single year. I used to own this vacation rental condo in South Kihei. Any three- or four-night opening overlapping with a last-minute airfare deal would guarantee my presence on the plane to Kuhului (OGG), the major airport in Maui.

My all-around favorite things to do in Maui are the following:

The road to Hana

The rain forest road to Hana

 

If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, as I am, make sure to get some pills. The Hana road through the rain forest is beautiful, but I’m getting dizzy just looking at its curves.

Red Sand Beach in Hana

Red Sand beach in Hana

 

The hill surrounding this beach is rich in iron, that’s why the sand is such a deep red color. Although Maui Revealed guidebook recommends it as a Maui must-see, keep in mind that you need to trespass on private property on the way to Red Sand Beach. You may get your shoes muddy, too, so dress appropriately, and go at your own risk.

 

The black sand beach

Black Sand Beach in Hana Maui

This one is hard to miss while you’re on your way to Hana. Many tourists will take the turn-off to spend a few moments walking along black sand, formed from lava rock ground all the way down over centuries. After seeing a lot of photographs of the beach, though, you might be disappointed, as it doesn’t look nearly black under the Hawaiian sun.

Makena State Park

Pierre Leclerk photo of Makena Beach in Maui

 

Makena State Park is located at the south end of the South Kihei/Makena road, just two miles short of the Haleakala Volcano trail.

Makena Beach actually consists of two beaches, popularly known as Big Beach and Little Beach. Big Beach, a white sand beach approximately 3,300 feet long and 100 feet wide, is bordered by fingers of lava to the southeast and by Pu’u Ola’i, a volcanic cinder cone, to the northwest. Big Beach has a beautiful golden sand and steep foreshore, the result of high surf that periodically strikes the beach.

Little Beach is a small cove with a wide, white sand beach between two lava points on the seaward side of Pu’u Ola’i. The ocean bottom fronting the beach is a shallow sandbar with a normally gentle shore break. A short foot trail leads over the lava point separating the two beaches. Little Beach is known as a nudist gathering point, so get undressed, or at least be prepared watch out.

Watch windsurfers at Hookipa on a windy day

Windsurfers at Hookipa Maui

 

Hookipa Beach is the place to be on a windy day. Hopefully the swell will get big enough to produce overhead waves. This is when the windsurfing scene gets spectacular. I often think that these guys must have born with sails in their hands.

Grab a Mahi Mahi fish taco at Jawz cafe in Kihei or at their fish taco stand near Makena beach

The Best Fish Tacos on Maui

 

The guys at Jawz make the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. Grabbing a fish tacos in their Kihei restaurant was always the first thing on my agenda after renting a car.

Order a fish burger from Paia Fish Market restaurant, then surf at Paia beach

The Best Mahi Mahi burger on Maui

If you didn’t try the Mahi Mahi burger at Paia Fish Market, you didn’t experience Maui to the fullest. Once it’s in your stomach, you can head to any beach you want to and stay happy.

Freeze your a**  off at the top of Haleakala volcano

The view from Haleakala volcano is equally amazing at sunrise or sunset. Many people do hike up in the hours before sunrise. I took an easier route, driving to the top in time for sunset. Whichever way you prefer, please don’t think about attempting it without your ski jacket and a warm hat. It’s so freezing up there, I couldn’t turn the car key in the ignition!

If want a great experience in Maui, I recommend you check out the free tours from the Banana Bungalow Maui hostel. You may hop on their van (it’s not air-conditioned, though), or follow the van in your car. Just tip the tour guides for sharing all their knowledge about those hidden spots they take you to.

Kaua’i Island

Kauai Island on the map highlightedKauai, the Garden Island. Its nickname  says it all.

After visiting Maui and Oahu so many times, I was amazed to discover Kauai. From the moment your plane descends into Kauai, you can see how much greener it is than its neighbor islands.

From the Na Pali coast to Waimea Canyon, from surfing Hanalei Bay to visiting the art community of Hanapepe, from the luxury of Waipouli Beach Resort  to camping at Polihale State Park, there is such a great variety of things to do in Kauai.

I think Kauai deserves its own blog post. Hold tight, it’s coming soon!

Na-Pali-Kauai-Panorama-1500x300

Do you have any other recommendations about the four Hawaiian Islands? I’m pretty sure you do!

Just share below!