Iguazu Falls: Absolutely Must See Once in Your Life


 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


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


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!


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

Just share below!

A Perfect Piece of California on the East Coast


Montauk Lighthouse

It was around the tenth anniversary of my living the California dream that we decided to move from San Francisco to New York. I enjoyed every moment in San Francisco but felt like I needed a change. A change of the evergreen trees and the ever-the-same SFMOMA selection. A change from the decoration of the natural environment to locked-up urban living. Also, a good buddy of mine lived in New York for a few years and I suspected he was having too much fun without me. Ironically, he moved to back to San Francisco one month before we moved out to New York. I still can’t believe it wasn’t intentional.

I had an employer back then and the whole deal was structured as a relocation. It was a pretty sweet deal, if you want to know the truth. I desperately wanted to move to New York and my employer was willing to pay the big bucks to make the move a reality. One of the greatest benefits of being employed. (I don’t recall many others, though.)

When we moved, my New York co-workers were puzzled about my decision to move east. Everyone seemed to be dreaming of California as this magical place, where the grass is greener.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the move was so exciting. It went against the conventional wisdom, which I generally enjoy doing in life.

I recall my colleague telling me at the time: Ok, tough boy. I’ll talk to you again when winter comes to town.

When winter came, it was one of the most brutal in decades. Mayor Bloomberg took a lot of heat for messing up on the emergency snow removal.

Snow Removal not in effect

Nevertheless, I was happy to be on the East Coast, with all its disproportionate weather hardship, hurricane ladies Irene and Sandy, and supposedly unfriendly New Yorkers. Only one thing didn’t come naturally to me. I realized that I need to buy a lot of new seasonal clothes… and another five-millimeter-thick wetsuit.

Surfer in Montauk

A very few of my California-dreaming co-workers would visit a little town at the northern tip of Long Island, about a three-hour trip from Manhattan, but with all the best of California…

It’s Called Montauk

Sunset at Ditch Plain Montauk

That was my first impression of Montauk. You can surf, you can get tan. Naturally tan, not burnt tan like under the warm California sun.

I learned that the Atlantic gets warm like Hawaii for two months at the end of summer. Thank the Gulf Stream. During those months the scene turns into something out of the French Riviera. Oh, no, hold on—I’m thinking of the Hamptons, not Montauk.

But wait!

Water never gets warm in California. It’s freezing, five millimeter wetsuit freezing. Those girls in bikinis playing volleyball on the beach and swimming in the ocean are a lie the rest of the world loves to believe in. None of it really exists in San Francisco. You can argue over LA and San Diego, sure, maybe, but I won’t sign off on that either. Water is still surprisingly cold!

Over time I’ve met a lot of people who’ve shared their disappointment about California being so far from what they imagined. It’s quite an impressive feat of marketing, how forty million people convinced the other seven billion that California is a better place to be. In many ways it is, but your California dream could be much closer than you think.

Let me tell you why Montauk is just like California, or even better.

Because of Its Surf Culture

I started surfing in Santa Cruz, a little town a two-hour drive south from San Francisco. If you want to see a perfect example of a surf town, visit Santa Cruz.

Surfboards stacked into the 60s VW vans, guys changing into wetsuits right there on the street, taco stands, even a boardwalk and a perfectly shaped California pier.

In many ways, Montauk looks to me like a little Santa Cruz on the East Coast.

Montauk at sunset


But when I give it a little more thought, it’s actually vastly different.

Montauk is different from Santa Cruz in that it isn’t an intense local surfing environment. In Santa Cruz I almost got into a fight with a local guy once. He wasn’t happy with me surfing next to him at the Four Mile Point, a hidden surf spot north of Santa Cruz. People would just push or even punch you if you got in their way.

The “Valley Go Home” sign is a notorious welcome note for anyone traveling on highway 85 from San Jose to Santa Cruz. It’s a great example of how hostile the local attitude can get.

Valley Go Home sign on highway 85 Santa Cruz


With all due respect to the great surfers of Santa Cruz, come on—the ocean doesn’t just belong to the lucky few who were born on the coast.

Still, one thing about Santa Cruz, they do have their own O’Neil surf shop. But then, I was surprised to learn there’s also a surf shop in the middle of Manhattan.

It’s Called Saturdays NYC

The guys that run Saturdays Surf NYC are pretty keen on roasted coffee. The founder was raised in Seattle, where he spent hours at his parents’ coffee shop. It turns out that combining the highest quality coffee roast (La Colombe) with top-end surf supplies was a good idea to try out in New York.

Saturdays Surf NYC in SoHo, New York

The surf shop, or rather the coffee bar, became more appealing to SoHo residents than to the surfing community. On a busy day, shoppers would willingly stand in line for fifteen minutes to get a cup of coffee. Riding the wave of popular demand, Saturdays opened another location in the West Village, where the public can also watch surf footage projected onto the wall. I actually enjoy visiting the Perry Street location more, as the servers usually keep their attitude in check. The SoHo baristas are notorious for spicing up their service with a drop of hipster snobbery.

You may argue that a good cup of coffee is worth enduring a bit of snobbery for. Regardless, the coffee remains damn good at Saturdays Surf NYC.

Coffee cups at Saturdays Surf NYC


A Weekend Warrior Paradise in Montauk

“Saturdays Surf NYC” is a clever name for a surf shop. The idea is you work all week long and spend your Saturdays surfing somewhere on Long Island, preferably at Montauk. This was my life in New York. We would wake up around 7am on Saturdays, hop on the subway to Penn Station and then ride the LIRR to Montauk.

It’s fun to bring a surfboard on the subway just to see other passengers’ looking at you…


NYC surfer in subway

While killing time on the train I would get work done, or take a nap when cell reception degraded (no, there is no WiFi on the train). Kristina would practice her drawing skills.

Montauk is the last stop after all types of Hamptons (Hampton Bays, Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, etc). On arrival we would either catch a cab to the beach for eight dollars per person, or take the twenty-minute walk. If you plan to take a cab from the beach back to your train, make sure you collect business cards from all the taxi drivers at the station on the way out. In the evening, you can call for a pick-up; thirty or forty minutes in advance is sufficient.

Alternately, you can do what we did one day, have a surf shop owner give us a ride to the station in a van full of pumpkins. Thank to my surf buddy Magnus from Norway for capturing this moment inside the pumpkin van.

Riding a pumpkin van in Montauk


Fashionable Side of  Montauk

Over the last few years, Montauk has become a magnet for young, hip New Yorkers looking for a short escape from the summer heat of the urban jungler. All of a sudden Montauk became a super cool spot for bohemian New Yorkers to spend weekends. Fashion magazines started glamorizing the town, with its fisherman and surf culture.

Of course this meant that all the town’s motels started going bananas during the high season. A hotel room you could get for $70-90 per night most of the year started costing $750 for a minimum three-night weekend stay.

Surf Lodge Dining terrace


Within a five or ten minute walk from the train station is a place with no shortage of customers. It’s a hotel and bar, Surf Lodge Montauk. How about a queen size bed for $400 a night? I am afraid to say that that’s the price with a discount. The two-bedroom suite is available for $1,750 per night during the peak season. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s no parking along the road for a mile on either side of the Surf Lodge. These are the nights that the best parties go down there.


Dancing at Surf Lodge Montauk

DJs or a live band start warming up the public before sunset, and the party goes nuts till late at night, with girls in designer dresses and high heels dancing in the sand.

Hipsters Are Great, But What Else Is There to See in Montauk?

The best way to explore Montauk is on a bike. We once stayed at the Montauk Yacht Club, which provides free bikes to guests. Some other hotels offer the same.

Getting around Montauk on a bike


Montauk Point Light is the oldest lighthouse in the state of New York and the fourth oldest working lighthouse in the United States. It was built in 1797 by commission from George Washington and was the first public work of the newly formed United States. It’s located in the Montauk Point State Park. You cross town and keep going to the very end to reach the park.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

We were lucky to see the lighthouse when it was all lit up for the holidays. The lighting is a big event; many families come for the ceremony and celebration.

Montauk lighthouse lit up for holidays

Where to Eat in Montauk

That’s a tricky one. Despite the fact that Montauk is historically a fishing town, it’s not very easy to find great places to eat. I definitely do not recommend places like Surf Lodge: not necessarily fresh food, horrendously overpriced, and served with a big attitude.

There are still some excellent choices though.

Sometimes I think the only way I can drag Kristina to Montauk on early Saturday mornings is because there is a reward for her at the end. We always stop by at Piazza Primavera for a slice of pizza. Kristina think it’s the best pizza in the world and doesn’t mind traveling for three hours to get a slice. Fair enough, but  I would keep this award for Keste Pizza & Vino on Bleecker in the West Village.

PIzza Primavera


There is also an organic shop we like: Naturally Good Foods & Cafe. We alternate between it and Joni’s Cafe a couple blocks from the beach.



Naturally good Foods and Cafe




Our friends also recommended Dave’s Grill but we never got lucky enough to eat there. It was always either completely booked or closed for the season. A reservation is a must.

Where to Surf

There are a few surf spots in Montauk. Ditch Plains is the most crowded. It’s a longboarder spot where everyone who is learning to surf goes.

Ditch Plains beach during the summer time

I like Atlantic Terrace, as it typically works better for short boarder. The name of this spot derives from the Atlantic Terrace Motel located just in front of the spot. This beach is located near the town center, a few hundred yards north from The Sloppy Tuna restaurant (another hot spot on summer weekends) . It’s about a twenty or thirty minute walk from the train station, and if you’re up for an adventure it’s another fifteen or twenty minutes along the beach to Ditch Plains.

Turtle Cove, located south and west of the Montauk Point Lighthouse, is another classic surf spot out east. The crowds swarm there during the summer as the waves can rival Ditch’s on the right day. There are some areas here where you risk to catch a fisherman’s hook or a ticket for illegal wave riding on the north side of Montauk Point.

Surf Shack surf shop is located just one block before Atlantic Terrace. You can rent a board, wetsuit and other stuff there.

One day I forgot to bring a leash, and catching my board became a physically intensive task. I noticed a van standing on the beach and approached the guys to ask if they had an extra leash. They happily detached a leash from one of the boards. I was only wearing a wetsuit and didn’t have any cash on me to pay for it. One of the guys happened to be the owner of the Air & Speed surf shop and he told me to just pay him next time I came to Montauk.

Beware: The Drunk Train Back to New York

During the summer it’s expensive to get a hotel room, and often impossible. That’s why we would always arrive in the morning and head back in the evening.

If you are planning to catch a train from Montauk to New York on Sunday night, you may want to skip the 7:30pm train Why? You may get some unexpected company joining you in Hampton Bays. Hundreds of dead-drunk teens board the train after partying at the Boardy Barn. This picture may give you an idea of the scene…

Boardy Barn party goers on the way back to New YorkBesides the fact these guys are drunk, loud and don’t exactly smell like perfume, there are other complications.

First, the toilet will be permanently occupied, and there are only two of them on the entire train. You may need to walk through ten cars before you find the second toilet. Imagine how you’ll feel if it, too, is occupied?

Second, if one of these guys standing by you, good luck dodging his inevitable inside-out eruption. I witnessed one gentleman try to protect his high-end clothing by holding his iPad up to a partygoer’s mouth to block the flow of lava.

Anything Else to Add?

Yes, actually. We’ll close with a comical story.

We came to Montauk as a group of four but didn’t have a hotel room booked—a pretty bad idea. I called every single hotel in the area and nearby towns to see if there was anything available. Finally I found the only place that claimed, at least, to have any vacancies, Kenny’s Tipperari Inn.

It was almost midnight. We arrived at the hotel, where there was no one at reception. There were two other guys waiting outside. They looked a bit lost and unsettled. They informed us that the guy in charge of the hotel was quite strange. When they arrived, they said, he told them that their room was not ready, and he needed their help moving a sofa into the room they booked. Well, they agreed to help. They helped him carry a sofa to the second floor—and were then given the keys to a room on the first floor.

That story sounded bizarre, but at this hour we didn’t have any other options. We rang a bell, and a guy in a bathrobe and slippers came out to greet us, a couple minutes later. I said we had called ten minutes before, and came right away because he had confirmed that a room was available. The receptionist said yes, took our money, and then spent some time pondering which room keys to take out of his cabinet, before picking one seemingly at random. Then he told us to follow him.

After checking the keys in his hand and the room number in front of him he slowly, hesitantly opened the door. It was dark inside and we went in. He started showing us around without turning the lights on. It was a suite. We felt so lucky to find a place that big for the four of us. The guy wanted to show us the bedroom and opened the door. Suddenly, from inside the bedroom, someone started asking questions in Spanish. We all rushed out of the room in panic. The hotelier explained that he had forgotten that there were people in there. Then he went to the next room and opened it. I noticed there were some musical instruments on the floor and warned him someone might be inside. Sure enough, someone in that room, too, woke up and started asking what was happening. The hotelier apologized and backed off.

By this time I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of continuing to follow the guy, as he was clearly not in his right mind. Around the corner, two other guys were giggling as another couple had just arrived. The new couple said they had booked a room online. The hotelier looked surprised and asked them why they had arrived so late. He said he would need to figure things out and returned to his desk. The four of us, and the two newcomers, were very uncertain about what would happen next.

The hotelier returned and said he had room for everyone. He led us back to the room with the musical instruments and opened the door again. I tried to mention that there were people in there, but it was too late. People woke up and started yelling again. Then he returned to the room where the Spanish speakers were sleeping. After waking those guests up again, the proprietor started knocking on random windows, waking up more guests. The whole process was becoming some grotesque farce.

Finally the hotelier gave up and said he had an unfinished room upstairs where we could possibly stay. That room didn’t have a kitchen yet. And then, at absolute random, we discovered an available room and settled there right away. The other couple were still on their quest for the room they had booked. I’m not sure if they ended up staying in the hotel that night, or not.

We got inside our room and blocked the door with the nightstands. Every time I woke up that night I looked at the window to make sure no one was trying to break in. We were pretty happy to wake up the following morning all alive and ready for another day on the beach.

Magnus out of the water in Montauk


There are tons of other stories about Montauk. Do you have your own one?

If so, just  share below!

An Anti-Tourist Guide to the Most Under-Appreciated Seaside Town in France


Grand Plage at Biarritz from the LighthouseIn conversations about French seaside destinations, most of the hype attaches to the glamorous towns of the French Rivera: Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez and such. But what about the Atlantic coast? What about Basque Country, Normandy and Bretagne?

Biarritz, a small, beautiful town in the southwest of France near the border with Spain, rarely makes it to the top of anyone’s bucket list. Yet, after living there for a month last summer, I’ve come to believe that this town is greatly under-appreciated.

Biarritz has been around for almost a thousand years. It has a long and rich history as a summer spot for the French monarchy, the House of Bonaparte, and many other significant figures in European history. Now, though, it gets more publicity for its surf culture. This is how I ended up there in the first place.

For most of the year, Biarritz is a provincial seaside town with population of approximately 25,000. Around July and August, though, its population blows up, increasing by as much as tenfold, all thanks to the Parisians and English who invade the town during their summer vacations.



Tourist Stuff to Warm Up With

There are a few major attractions that anyone visiting Biarritz should be interested in checking out. Here’s a quick rundown, before I move on to some of the more unique experiences the town has to offer.

La Grande Plage – The main beach in the town center. La Grade Plage is good place for sunbathing, or for sitting in a cafe drinking coffee or a cocktails. During the winter, it’s a great surf spot; in summer the waters warm up but the surf conditions become less ideal.

Biarritz the Main Plage


Le Phare – “The lighthouse” is visible from virtually anywhere around La Grande Plage. It’s a nice observation point. On the opposite side from the cliff, a staircase leads to the other side of the horn, with a view towards Anglet, the next town to the north.

The lighthouse in Biarritz


Hotel du Palais – This resort was originally built as a villa for the wife of Napoleon III. It sits just above La Grand Plage and boasts a nice walking path on its seaward side. Good luck walking the path during the high tide without getting wet!

Hotel du Palais in Biarritz


You May See the Roxy Pro Biarritz Surfing Competition

If you’re lucky. But if you’re not…

It was 2013, on one of those late June mornings when the waters of the Bay of Biscay are still cold and the sun is still hiding behind the clouds. I was surfing La Grande Plage, wearing a wetsuit. All of a sudden I saw a girl in bikini and a pink rash guard picking up her board and paddling out. A cameraman followed her out towards where I sat. I actually had to move aside a couple times, as I kept getting in between the surfer and her cameraman. I was curious what it was all about; I found out a few days later, as this video started blowing up in surfing communities around the world:



The closing shot of this teaser was filmed just in front of me. I was no more than ten feet behind the cameraman.

Back then I was thinking, boy, it takes a lot of commitment to shoot a hot video in such cold conditions.  My respect to Stephanie Gilmore, a five-time ASP Women’s World Tour Champ.

The contest itself was to be held at the Cote de Basques beach, but was called off after five days due to the waves not being cooperative. This didn’t stop the public from talking about the sport and its representatives, though, as that promo video was barreled in the wave of controversy.

Without wading into the debate over nudity and sex appeal, I’d like to point out Steph’s list of “Favorite Cities to Visit”.

All of them, especially NYC, Paris and Biarritz

I second that! May I just add Buenos Aires even though it has zero surfing? If not, Montauk will do but that’s another topic:)!

Biarritz Architecture

In many, cases my adoration of a city begins with a study of its architecture. While many of the more modern buildings in Biarritz are nothing to rave about, the older castle and palace-like structures are inspiring. Who would mind living in a Hotel Particulier kinda mansion?

Biaritz living to its best


This one below is my ideal retirement home. Overlooking two best surf spots in Biarritz, washing its feet in the open ocean, gazing out from its dramatic overlook, this mansion on a cliff has it all.

Well, one day!


Biarritz Castle on the cliff

Villa Goeland could make such a dream a reality for only $200 to $300 per night:). And why not? We live only once, and some Bed & Breakfasts are totally worth the extravagance!


Villa Goeland, the best of Bed and Breakfast

The “Best Crêpes Outside of Brittany” Award

A few years back, I spent some time in the town of Saint Malo, in Brittany, where the art of making crêpes is alive and well. I’ve also eaten many times in the Monparnasse area of Paris, where bretons (the folks from Brittany) settled in the early 1900s and opened up many traditional restaurants.

One little family restaurant just off the Grand Plage in Biarritz completely blew my mind. It’s called La Crêpe Dentelle. It’s run by a couple from Brittany, who ran two restaurants there until deciding one day to move to Biarritz. The owners explained to me that the climate in Biarritz is more pleasant—and, apparently, no one else here knows how to make authentic crêpes. A win-win situation for crêperie owners, then.

Their specialty, a pot of mussels with cider sauce and different types of crêpe blé noir, is to die for. Truly remarkable! These mussels, after a good surf session, are worth flying across the Atlantic for.

Restaurant Breton in Biarritz Crepe Dentelle


Who Would Guess That Golf Is So Much Fun?

Golf course in Biarritz

I would never have learned how to play golf if it wasn’t for Biarritz. Right up until the moment that I hit the ball first time, I hadn’t realized how exciting this sport really is. Golf had always seemed like boring entertainment for rich retired folks. Oh boy, I was wrong big time!

A friend of mine I’d met in Montauk a year before lives in an apartment just over the golf course in Biarritz. We managed to sneak in a few rounds before a big tournament took over the course. What a fun time we had!

Thank you, Jon and Kasia, for introducing me to golf and teaching the basics! There is plenty more to learn—but in the meantime just look at my shoes and pants, what a joker!

Playing golf with friends at Biarritz Golf Course


Centuries-Old Traditions Well Preserved by the Basques

Basque traditional shoes Espadrilles

While Biarritz is situated in France, it has a different flavor to it. It’s a part of the beautiful Basque Country that runs along the Atlantic coast of Spain and across into a little section of French territory.

Espadrilles made in Basque Country by handsOne thing I absolutely adore is their espadrilles, the traditional shoes made in the region for centuries.

Espadrilles usually feature canvas or cotton fabric over a flexible sole made of rope, or rubber material moulded to look like rope. The jute rope sole is the defining characteristic of an espadrille, while the upper part can vary widely in style.

One incredible thing about these shoes is that there is no left or right: the pair is identical. I bought two pairs for my sister and myself. Check it out to the right!

From 14th century up to today, the Basques still make these shoes by hand in many towns in both France and Spain. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the average price of a pair is still somewhere in the range of $10 to $30.

A year later, my espadrilles have gone through mud and tropical rainstorms but still feel solid and comfortable. Depending on my mood I wear them with their back up, or flipped down like sleepers.

I can tell they are made with love, as everything in this world should be:


Have you ever been to this part of the world? What was your experience?