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Sep 25 2017

Things to Do on Kauai's North Shore

Category: Best Of | Favorites | General | Itineraries | Lists | Sightseeingkmaxwell @ 05:23

Known as "the Garden Isle" thanks to the lush tropical forest covering much of its 562.3 sq mi of terrain, Kauai has been featured in more than 70 Hollywood movies and TV shows—in large part for the breathtaking beauty of its dramatic peaks, scenic waterfalls and stunning canyons.

If you're lucky enough to visit this peaceful island in the middle of the Pacific, consider adding the following sights and activities to your itinerary:

Kilauea Lighthouse

This century-old lighthouse situated on a rocky peninsula 180 ft above the ocean is located in the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a protected breeding ground for many Hawaiian seabirds. Placards along the walkway provide information on wildlife visible from the point, including the red-tailed tropicbird (koa'e 'ula), Layson albatross (moli), great frigatebird ('iwa) and more.

Tours are offered, but times vary based on availability of staff and volunteers. The refuge is open 10 am-4 pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Kilauea Lighthouse from the lookout point

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Aug 7 2017

A Day in Austin, Texas

Category: Best Of | Favorites | General | Itineraries | Sightseeingkmaxwell @ 09:34

As the fastest-growing large city in the United States and the second most populous capital city (after Phoenix, Arizona), Austin has much to offer – from finger-lickin’-good barbecue to honky-tonk dance bars to large cultural events, such as the annual South by Southwest festival.

A day is not nearly enough time to experience all of Austin’s gems, but if it’s all you have, check out these highlights to get a feel for the city. And along the way, don’t forget to join the locals in “Keeping Austin Weird.”

Texas State Capitol

Start the day with a visit to the Texas State Capitol. Completed in 1888, this pink-granite structure, designed in Italian Renaissance Revival-style, features wood wainscoting and an impressive rotunda, along with nearly 400 rooms. Its surrounding grounds, decorated with various statues and monuments, provide plenty of photo ops.

Guided tours are free and available throughout the week. They generally depart every 30 to 45 minutes and last approximately 30 minutes.

Texas State Capitol building

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Jun 30 2017

Historical Sites to Visit near Athens

Category: Destinations | General | Sightseeing | Historykmaxwell @ 09:12

There is much to explore in Athens—from museums to ancient architecture to the vibrant nightlife. But many of the region's most fascinating archaeological sites lie outside the city. If you're ready to dig deeper into Greek history, head to these remarkable spots. ("Yamas" [cheers] to adventure!)

Mycenae

Located southwest of Athens, in the northeastern Peloponnese (a peninsula in southern Greece), this archeological site was one of the major centers of Greek civilization during the late Bronze Age Era. In fact, the period of Greek history from about 1600-1100 BC is called "Mycenaean" in reference to this important citadel.

According to Greek myth, Mycenae was founded by the legendary hero Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae. It was also the home of Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Greeks at Troy. Be sure to check out the Lion Gate, which served as the main entrance to the citadel and is the only surviving monumental piece of Mycenaean sculpture.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae; via Wikimedia Commons

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Jun 23 2017

Fairy tale castles in Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal, just 15 miles from Lisbon, may be small, but it packs a powerful punch with a number of incredible castles and villas, many of them with exquisite gardens. The palaces and manors nestled among the forested mountains are stunning, and exploring them all could merit a stay of several days in Sintra. The town also makes for a great day trip from Lisbon; and while all the sights are worth seeing, these are some the castles that we think are the dreamiest.

                         Palacio Nacional da Pena

                                                     The Pena Palace; photo via Sintra-Portugal.com.

The Palacio Nacional da Pena is the most iconic sight of the Sintra skyline. Its colorful facade, which mixes an almost dizzying number of architectural styles, contains a well preserved 19-century summer home, but the big draw here is the stunning views from windows and terraces. On that note: It's a rather steep climb up to the palace—taxis and tuktuks are available, but we recommend bringing plenty of water and good walking shoes, because the ascent through lush gardens and forest is almost as wonderful as the views from the top. This is perhaps the most popular tourist site in Sintra, so get there early to avoid long lines—and to avoid intense heat in summer.

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Jun 12 2017

Portland's Finest Roasters

Category: Best Of | Cafes | Favorites | Listskmaxwell @ 04:19

In a city known for its specialty coffee, it can be hard to choose among the dozens of micro-roasteries and cafes that dot the downtown streets. But choose, you must. This coffee mecca takes its java-sipping seriously, and it’s one of the best ways to get a true taste of Portland. Skip the Starbucks for now (especially if your time in the Pacific Northwest includes a stop in Seattle, where you can visit the original Starbucks), and check out these local standouts instead:  

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Although this roaster and retailer has been recently acquired by powerhouse Peet's Coffee, it began as a grassroots operation that popularized a new type of cafe experience—one that elevated coffee from commodity to craft. There are now multiple locations throughout the city, as well as sites in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Head to the headquarters on Salmon Street for free public tastings, where you can sip samples and learn from one of their knowledgeable baristas.

Stumptown Coffee cafe in Portland, Oregon; photo via Wikimedia Commons

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May 5 2017

Lively music and plenty of pints: A pub crawl in Galway, Ireland

It should come as no surprise that Galway, Ireland is home to great nightlife: The country is covered in pubs, and the presence of a major university, plus a reputation as a hotbed for traditional music make Galway one of the best places to embark on a pub crawl. Anywhere you go in the city, you can generally rely on a friendly atmosphere, good pints and whiskeys, and pub fare that ranges from serviceable to excellent, plus many offer live music nightly. These are a few pubs that we think stand out in Galway for their notable food, lengthy whiskey lists and stellar music.

                                               

                                      The facade of the King's Head Pub; photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The King's Head is one of the oldest pubs in Galway—it's been in operation since the 1600s, but the building dates from the 13th century—and it also happens to serve one of the city's finest menus of pub fare. The burger and fish and chips are recommended, but the menu is varied and offers several homey, traditional Irish plates, too. Great Guinness and an ample whiskey list, along with friendly staff and a comfortable, low-key vibe make this place a must-visit. Like all great Irish pubs, it hosts live music every night of the week.

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Apr 21 2017

A few great meals on the island of Moorea, French Polynesia

The island of Moorea, just north of Tahiti in French Polynesia, has managed to maintain its wild, rugged, natural beauty, though it continues to grow in popularity with tourists. Resorts now dot the mountainous islands, and while dining options in the hotels are always a safe bet for a decent dinner, there are some fantastic restaurants that are worth getting out to, for spectacular views and exciting menus. These are a few of our favorites.

              

                              The tables at Moorea Beach Cafe look out onto the lagoon; photo via Tahiti.com.

Located right on the beach, Moorea Beach Cafe offers excellent views and pleasant breezes along with good traditional Polynesian food. The fresh seafood is always a reliable choice. The bright yellow umbrellas beckon, and the lagoon vistas are enhanced by good service and a varied menu. No other restaurant on the island is quite as close to the ocean as Moorea Beach Cafe, or quite so charming.

Le Lezard Jaune is another exceptional offering on Moorea. This French restaurant will very likely be the best meal you have on the island: Steak and freshly caught fish are perfectly prepared, served in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Dessert is recommended. For something different from the resort restaurants, make the trek to this place (pickup and drop-off from your hotel is provided by the restaurant).

                               

                                                   A prawn dish at Snack Mahana; photo via Wavelet.me.

Snack Mahana is a casual spot right next to the water, especially good for fish—try the garlic shrimp. The steak is also recommended, and portions are large. The vibe is relaxed, and the service reflects that, but for a fine meal in a wonderful location (though, in French Polynesia, they're all wonderful locations!), Snack Mahana is a solid, unpretentious option. Go early, as it often sells out, and is only open for lunch.

The decor at Rudy's Restaurant might be simple, but the ambiance is special, mostly thanks to the incredible menu of finely prepared French food. Excellent service and pickup and drop-off from your hotel round out the amenities at this place, but it's the food that really steals the show. The parrotfish is a standout that draws raves. This place is a must-visit on Moorea.

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Apr 7 2017

Earthly delights: Shopping in Porto, Portugal

Set along the gorgeous Douro River, Porto, Portugal is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and a must-see for many reasons. Among the historic sites and museums, there is also magnificent shopping to be found, for everything from artisan chocolate to fine clothing. Portugal's second largest city is full of chain and specialty stores for any and every kind of product, but these are a few of our favorite spots for special souvenirs and exciting experiences.

                 

                                             The grand staircase at Livraria Lello; photo via Portugal Resident.

Can there be any doubt that Livraria Lello is the most beautiful bookstore in the world? It draws people in such numbers that there is now a charge of a few euros to even enter the store—but the fee goes towards any books you may buy! This ornate shop stays packed; go early in the day, when it's less crowded. An absolute must-see in Porto.

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Mar 13 2017

Cuenca, Ecuador: A South American jewel

The beautiful city of Cuenca, Ecuador, has become something of a sensation as a retirement and expat haven for Americans; but the same things that have foreigners flocking there will attract tourists, too: 16th- and 17th-century architecture, beautiful vistas of the Andes mountains, nearby Incan ruins and good museums, among many other sights and experiences. This primer lists just a few reasons to visit this bustling city on the river.

                           The lively, colorful city of Cuenca, Ecuador; photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The city of Cuenca stays busy with markets every day of the week: The main market on Plaza Rotary sells mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, while steps away on Plaza de San Francisco, another market boasts food as well as souvenirs and a variety of household items. Small flower markets pop up all over town regularly. The larger food markets tend to have stalls selling food ready to eat, and it's usually a safe bet that it'll be tasty—but weak stomachs should use caution in eating street food. Ecuador is an agricultural heaven, and any fresh produce is local (with the exception of apples—it's too warm to grow apples in Ecuador); be sure to wander a market and try some of the fruit and veggies on offer.

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Feb 27 2017

Escaping the all-inclusive: Delicious dining elsewhere in Punta Cana

If you get tired of the all-inclusive menu at your resort while in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, there are plenty of options to shake things up, from traditional Dominican fare to stunning restaurants right on the beach; these are a few if our favorites.

                              Image result for jellyfish punta cana

                                       Jellyfish's deck faces the ocean; photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Sitting right on the edge of the waves of Bavaro Beach, Jellyfish serves exquisite, freshly caught seafood. It's truly an experience just for the views, and the food matches in excellence. For a perfectly charming lunch or dinner spot outside of the resort complex, this place can't be beat.

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