Charleston on my mind, with Kathryn Budig

Charleston, SC is a beautiful, historic city rich with culture, activities, and fabulous food. I was lucky enough to live there from 1999 to 2001, but so many new restaurants and businesses have popped up in my decade and a half absence that I’m collaborating with my amazing best friend, Kathryn Budig, on this post. KB is an international yoga teacher, writer, foodie, model, and all-around badass warrior of love, who just so happens to live in Charleston. Since I have easy access to this well-traveled and knowledgeable woman, I figured I better tap her for assistance.

Some things about Charleston haven’t changed since I lived there. For instance, walking around downtown from Rainbow Row to the Battery will never get old–the architecture and charm of this area are top notch–there are a multitude of fabulous restaurants from which to choose, and it will always be oppressively humid in the summer.

Unless you’re a fan of 99% humidity, I don’t recommend visiting in the dead of summer. That being said, even if you do, the Charleston charm will still grab your heart.

I asked Kathryn some of her favorite things to do in order to best show off the city. (Her answers are in italics)

For a casual dinner?
My favorite casual night out would start at Pearlz for their oyster happy hour (their house oysters are fantastic!), maybe a custom cocktail at The Gin Joint (you pick two adjectives and they make the drink based off of your choice words: genius), and then head to Sean Brock’s Minero for his delicious take on Mexican cuisine (the golden burrito is to die for).

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“Wrapped for your protection. Start at the top & work your way down.”

 

Drinks with a view?
I adore Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. There are plenty of casual restaurants there with great seafood and a fantastic place to watch the sun set as the dolphins swim by.

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Dolphin-gazing at sunset

 

Nice dinner?
I find myself at The Obstinate Daughter in Sullivan’s Island all the time—lunch and dinner. The food is amazing (best pasta in Charleston, right behind Indaco), and you can be casual during the day or dress up for dinner.

 

Favorite beach?
It’s a toss up between Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with the beaches here. They’re all pretty fantastic.

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A Sullivan’s Island vista

 

Favorite bar?
The lavender martini upstairs at Cypress is so lovely, and I already mentioned how much I love The Gin Joint. The bar attached to Husk is totally sexy, too.

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Burger night at Cypress plus lavender martinis AND wine

 

Fave activity?
So many! I love to stand up paddle board on Shem Creek, hit the beach, walk the bridge or Pitt Street Bridge with my dogs, stroll The Battery daydreaming about what it must have been like to live there back in the day, attend a Riverdogs baseball game, oh right, and EAT! This town is full of endless delicious restaurants.

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Shem Creek paddleboarding, complete with dolphin sightings

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A totally jump worthy bridge walk

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Many people go to the baseball stadium for The Riverdogs, but that day, we went for Kathryn’s yoga class

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Isle of Palms beach selfie

 

Should you find yourself planning a trip to Charleston, here are some of my lodging recommendations–I’ve personally stayed at several, others are recommended by reputation:

Charleston Place

Right on King Street in the heart of downtown. I stayed there when it was an Omni, so I can’t speak to how it is currently, but the location is fabulous.

The Vendue

This is a smaller inn with a rooftop bar/restaurant. Fantastic location with lovely rooms.

Airbnb

With airbnb you can find cheaper places all the way up to luxury apartments in just about any area you’d like. Downtown is great to be in the thick of it, but also old town Mount Pleasant is an option. It’s conveniently located to get downtown as well as Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. I haven’t been out to Folly Beach in years, but it has a more casual feel than Sullivan’s and was always a favorite of mine.

Wentworth Mansion

Fancy. Expensive. Gorgeous. If you can afford it, go for it!

Zero George Street

Very charming boutique hotel in a great location for getting to all the goods that downtown has to offer.

Days Inn

This Days Inn is a more affordable hotel option in a really great location.

There are several budget friendly hotels downtown and too many B&Bs to name. The moral of the story is that you should check out Charleston and you certainly won’t go hungry while you’re there. My trips usually involve a 3 meal per day eating agenda… I mean business when it comes to food!

 

 

Roatan: the food and the activities

Roatan is home to the second largest barrier reef–you know, after that other one in Australia–and, therefore, has a huge diving community. Full disclosure: I am not a diver, so I can only give partial advice. That being said, I did ask some people who know, and did take a snorkeling trip with a dive company. Next trip, I WILL get scuba certified.

Since I’m already talking about scuba, I’ll start with the activities…

You do not need to do a boat tour, but for approximately $75/person, it’s totally worth it. Our house was located on Orchid Beach–convenient walking distance from both West Bay and West End. Our first morning, we hopped in kayaks and paddled out to the reef, tethered the boats to a buoy, and snorkeled around the shallow reef. Not many large groups of tourists make it there, so the reef is very much intact and alive.

Several days we walked to West Bay Beach and set up camp all the way at the end, in front of the Grand Roatan Resort. If you go there a couple of days in a row, and are like us and will talk to anyone, make friends with Xiomara (Flaca for short). She gives a decent beach massage for dirt cheap and will give you tips on where to get cheaper beers and locally made (DELICIOUS) empanadas.

The water in West Bay is so clear and so blue (due to the white sand and probable blasting of the reef to create tourist swimming zones) and it’s an easy swim to AMAZING snorkeling. The reef is shallow, but if you carefully navigate past that part to the drop off, it’s quite surreal. Observing the other world that exists under the sea is spectacular.

*Do find out from the locals which days are cruise ship days. If there are only 1-2 in port, it’s still ok, but once you get more, this beach is kind of a zoo. Now, I was able to witness several cruise ship people suit up in their snorkel gear (with flippers) and carefully back into the knee-deep, perfectly still water. Those laughs were worth the crowds for a day, as people-watching is a favorite pastime of mine. Here’s a tip: If you’re planning to snorkel at West Bay Beach, and don’t want people like me to poke fun at you, put your flippers on in the water and just walk straight in. After all, the water looks like this:

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Shea ladies at West Bay Beach

For our snorkeling trip, we went with Clearwater Adventures and were so happy with that decision. Denisse Mazu, the dive master, was lovely and really provided us with a fabulous experience. When staying at The Pink Orchid, Clearwater couldn’t be more convenient as it’s, quite literally, a stone’s throw from the house.

Our snorkeling trip included a few stops at great reef sites as well as an old shipwreck. A truly unique highlight was our lunch stop in the village of Crawfish Rock, where Miss Dulce invites you into her home and serves a yummy, homemade lunch (for $10/person). Another family on the boat was far more prepared than we were, and brought some toys and trinkets for the kids in the village. I have a few pictures of the adorable kids, but if you’d like to see professional ones, that family just so happens to contain photographers and you can see the better versions here.

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Some of the children of Crawfish Rock

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The View from Miss Dulce’s Porch

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Crawfish Rock Dock

Another dive company that came recommended by someone more experienced than I, is Las Rocas, located in West Bay. I cannot personally vouch for their dive experience, but I can say that their $7 fish tacos were one of the best things I ate the whole time I was in Roatan. The restaurant is super casual, super beachy, and it just feels right. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the “monkey lala”, which is apparently the drink of the island and available everywhere. It’s kind of a cross between dessert and drink as it’s a combination of vodka, kahlua, vanilla ice cream, coconut cream, and half and half. This is not my drink of choice, but it is delicious.

So, on to the food…

  • I mentioned Las Rocas’ restaurant and you should definitely give it a try for a casual, affordable, beach dining experience.
  • Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken in West End is so good! Another destination if value is your goal (approximately $8/person for a full meal with sides). They don’t appear to have a website, but here is their Trip Advisor link.
  • Beachers, on West Bay Beach is a good day drinking spot that has tasty bloody marys and a scrumptious jalepeño cheddar burger that they just could not understand why I wanted without a bun. If you eat/drink here, you’re welcome to use the beach chairs in front…a win-win.
  • Roatan Oasis came highly reviewed and recommended, but we found it to be just ok. Some items were really good, but some were so-so. At the prices they charge, it all needs to be really good, in my opinion. Look here for other reviews though. Perhaps we went on an off night and I would certainly be open to trying it again, but give me fish tacos at Las Rocas over this any day.
  • Our last night was spent with a little treat to ourselves because, can you really ever treat yourself enough? As I mentioned in my other Roatan post, Caribe Tesoro is a B & B in a fabulous location, with a decadent restaurant called Leña Parilla. What a treat it was to sit right on their dock and watch the sunset complete with cocktails and exceedingly friendly waitstaff. Four of us opted for the tomahawk steak, and one went with the Mahi Mahi. Everything, from our grilled romaine Caesar salads to the steaks were delicious. The meat was perfectly cooked to the chef-recommend medium rare and was paired with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and asparagus. The wine list could afford to contain some higher quality wines, but we did end up with a good Malbec. My sister lived in Chile for 7 years, worked in the wine industry there, and is a level 2 sommelier. I am a self-taught wine aficionado (translation: I drink a lot of wine). So bearing that in mind, we thought the wine list could use some help, but we’re picky when it comes to our booze. For the more casual wine drinker, it’s probably fine. In their defense, they had been open one week when we dined. Our experience wasn’t complete until our very friendly and accommodating server (Glenn Jr) pointed out his “pet” barracuda living under the dock.
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Dinner on the Caribe Tesoro dock at sunset

Some miscellaneous info about the island:

Pretty much everyone speaks English, although the island is part of Honduras. The locals seem to speak Spanish, a local dialect, and English, which is apparently the first language they learn.

West end is buggier than West Bay. There are “noseeums” and mosquitos just waiting to devour a sweet succulent human such as myself. If you’d like to bring me with you, no need for bug spray, otherwise I highly recommend it.

Off the beatean path, and reportedly great, is Hole in the Wall. This place is NOT fancy, go figure, so disregard the reviews that complain about how rustic it is.

I did not make it to La Sirena de Camp Bay, but it is owned by the brother-in-law of a friend of mine, has great reviews, and is in a remote location that I WILL visit next time.

In true Caroline fashion, I did experience a touch of gastrointestinal distress (no one else did though), so I always recommend traveling with the appropriate drugs.

For now, that’s all I’ve got, but I shall return to this beautiful little island paradise one day.

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West End sunset

 

Roatan for the Win!

My family and I decided we’d do Christmas differently this year (er, last year, 2015) and planned a Caribbean getaway to the beautiful island of Roatan–the largest of the Honduran bay islands. We live in the Washington, DC area and were able to fly United from Dulles to Houston, Houston to Roatan.

At first sight, I was hooked…

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As we walked into the airport, an American expat greeted everyone and helped to organize the lines. She was a volunteer because she claimed “you can’t spend every day at the beach,” though I’m not convinced of that. After clearing customs, we were scooped up by our van driver and taken to Eldon’s Market for booze food and supplies. The store has a good selection of food, alcohol, and other necessities. If you’re renting a house or condo, this is a smart/essential stop to make.

As for rental houses, I did hours of research. Hours. Being our first visit to the island, I thought it would be nice to stay somewhere between West Bay and West End–two popular areas among visitors. Our house, The Pink Orchid, was nestled on a hill between them. I thought I did my due diligence in lodging research, but even I was pleasantly surprised by the house. The kitchen, for starters, was better equipped than my own (minus the Vitamix), the owners–on account of their variety of vessels from which to consume alcohol–could definitely be my friends, and the house was clean, comfortable, and charming… with this view:

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Pink Orchid deck hammock

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Pink Orchid sunset

If you’re trying to view the house website from an apple mobile device (without flash), try their VRBO site here. There is a dock just below The Pink Orchid where you can float, swim, or flag down a water taxi to take you either to West Bay or West End. The reef beyond the dock, which is an easy kayak to the buoy, is intact and teeming with sea life. Oh yeah, and the house comes with two 2-person kayaks.

If you’re interested in a similar area, but prefer a hotel, check out Xbalanque. We walked by it each time we went to West Bay Beach and it is quite chic, serene, and beautiful.

If staying in a town is more your speed, look no further than Caribe Tesoro. Seriously. We happened upon this gem of a B & B each time we walked from The Pink Orchid to West Bay Beach, remarking on its beauty with each pass. Quite unfortunately, it took until our last day to stop in. As far as I can tell, they are the only place with a beachside pool, which also has a little island with hammocks, a water slide, and a swim-up bar. The friendly staff and beautiful view are a nice addition to an already fabulous spot. After touring a few of the B & B rooms, as well as their 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo, I know a stay there is in my future. We spent one day of leisure at Caribe Tesoro, and were smitten with the place–enough to book dinner on their dock for that (our last) night. My next Roatan post will be more food/activity-focused, but I must mention that Leña Parilla, the CT restaurant is well worth a try.

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Caribe Tesoro in late afternoon light

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Shea ladies enjoying the swim-up bar

 

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The stunning water of West Bay

There are some un-touristy places to stay, that I did not visit, and can only mention by name, should you care to dig deeper:

-Sandy Bay is an area where many locals live, but also has rentals available.

-Even quieter, yet reportedly stunning, is Palmetto Bay (see 2 beautiful rentals I found here and here).

-Pristine Bay is home to the only luxury golf resort and 5 star restaurant.

As always, I recommend bringing meds to cover all sorts of potential ailments (primarily gastrointestinal in nature). See here for info.

More to come!

 

Happy New Year!!

Wishing everyone, near and far, a happy, prosperous new year! I

have some great Roatan information in the works as well as a vintage Machu Picchu post. Stay tuned. In the meantime, and in the spirit of the Beatles…

Merry Christmas from Roatan

Just a quick post to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from paradise. I will, of course, write all about my trip when I return, but for now, I’ll just enjoy this…

Washington, DC: the quick and dirty tourist’s guide

You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” ~Italo Calvino

Washington, DC is a beautiful, iconic city. A friend once said, after making her first visit to DC, that it looks exactly as our nation’s capital should look. I have to agree. Having lived in or near it for most of my life, I love to show it off to tourists. I am a self-proclaimed expert at the quick and dirty tour for out-of-towners.

If you have a few days, the museums are great and many of them are FREE. That being said, my quick tour doesn’t include them, but click here for info on the Smithsonian (i.e. free) ones.

Without further ado, here is the best way to take in the history and grandeur of Washington, DC quickly. I first did this with a friend who had just a few hours to see the sights. After the tour, he left saying it was the best part of his trip to the US.

W Hotel Rooftop bar views:

If you get lucky, you’ll see Marine One come in for a landing on the White House lawn.

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You can eat there for brunch or just have cocktails prior to going elsewhere. The view is fantastic, but you definitely pay a premium for it. It’s kind of a club scene after dark, which I don’t appreciate, so I prefer brunch/lunch/pre-dinner drinks.

*special note: if the snipers are on the roof of the White House, someone important is home, or will be soon*

 

The White House:

Just a short walk from the W Hotel

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My mom, sister, and a visiting Australian in between

 

Monuments and the Mall:

If you find yourself there during the day, park near the mall and take a walk. Even quicker, though, hop in a cab/uber after dinner and ask them to drive you past the Jefferson, stop (and leave the meter running) at the Lincoln–definitely run up the steps for photos, then turn and observe the Washington Monument towering over the Reflecting Pool. Round out the tour by driving past the Capital dome, my favorite building, and a stunner whether set against the dark night or a blue, cloudless sky. Right now there is scaffolding on it for repairs, but hopefully it will be back in all its glory soon.

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Vietnam Memorial

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World War 2 Memorial

 

Turn 180 degrees, and here’s what you’ll see (click here for the movie version):

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Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

 

A side trip, which is WELL worth it is to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s somber, powerful, and wonderful.

 

Restaurant options:

Founding Farmers  – good for brunch, lunch, or dinner with yummy drinks and very reasonable corkage fees should you decide to bring your own wine to save some $$. The food is delicious also, but can you tell where my priorities lie? Yes, with the booze.

Old Ebbit Grill – historic (the oldest saloon in the city), iconic, and walking distance to the W, the monuments, and the White House. It’s a little dark on the inside, but so convenient.

Blue Duck Tavern – only nearish to all the monuments, but so so delicious.

There are, of course, tons of other scrumptious options for food, but I had to stay on task.

 

Iceland Part 2… the details

This trip was planned on a whim, just 2.5 weeks in advance. I booked my flight on Wow Air, as it was the only cheap-ish flight at the time. They are a budget airline that offers no frills and cheap fares, but charges extra for everything– from water to a carry-on over 5 kg (11 lbs). I did the backwards thing and booked my non-refundable ticket prior to reading reviews of the airline I’d never heard of. Many reviews were terrible, but I had no problems. On top of a fare deal, they seem to have a nice sense of humor–a much appreciated feature. Oh, the planes are a stylish fuchsia.

(click photos to enlarge)

Due to the snow potential and time constraints, we stuck with the southern part of Iceland for our exploration. After landing at 5:30 am, we got our rental car, and headed to the blue lagoon, with a breakfast stop along the way. The lagoon is only about 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, so it’s convenient to go on your way in or out of the country. I highly recommend getting your tickets online in advance here. Yes, the lagoon is a tourist trap and, yes, it is worth visiting. Arriving when they open will cut down on the amount of people there ever so slightly. Be sure to put the lagoon mud (located in pots around the edge) on your face–meant to soften skin and contain anti-aging properties. Don’t get your hair wet! The high silica levels in the water render hair completely unmanageable.

Vik and beyond

I chose Vik as our first spot. It’s a very small town on the southern coast, about 3 hours from the airport and 2.5 hours from our farthest destination of Jökulsárlón.

Airbnb has several listings in Vik, but none of the available ones were quite what I wanted, so opted for the Icelandair Hotel. It was quaint, reasonably priced, and clean. As someone who lives for her next meal, the restaurant being good was an added bonus. After only 2 hours of sleep on the plane and driving most of the day, staying in for dinner was a welcomed option.

Vik has black sand beaches, birds, ponies, and picturesque views such as this:

Church on a hill in Vik

Church on a hill in Vik

It is not uncommon to see the picnic site sign while driving around Iceland. Such a sweet country.

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The first night in Vik, we could barely muster the energy to go to the restaurant in the lobby (which was fantastic, by the way) and almost had Jameson on the rocks for dinner. Our second night, however, we did some research and set out for Haldórskaffi, a small, warm restaurant in town. I can’t say it’s a locals place, but it’s hard to tell if any Icelandic haunt is really for locals or not. The population in the entire country is just over 300,000, so a large group of tourists can easily take over an establishment on a given night. Haldórskaffi was packed, so we sidled up to the bar for our wait…go figure. The food is pretty good, but not great. For some reason I didn’t get the burger, but had read that it’s fabulous. 

While eating, we missed a brief Northern Lights appearance, but set out in search of them. Plenty of Jameson, and hours later, we gave up and went to bed. The quest for Aurora led to a hungover late start on the third day. The drive from Vik to Reykjavik is easy and, of course, stunning. Even if retracing your steps in Iceland, the scenery looks different in the other direction. 

On to Reykjavik

Perusing AirBnB listings in Iceland will teach you 2 important things: 1) Icelanders love to use the word “cozy” when describing apartments–something they must think tourists are seeking when visiting a place with “ice” in the name. 2) All listings will tell you the proximity to a pool. The natives LOVE their heated pools and even frequent them after work to socialize.

There are SO MANY great AirBnB options in Reykjavik, so I picked one that was centrally located and adorable, with a really comfortable bed to boot. Most of the island has geothermically-heated water… which means it smells like sulfur (or rotten eggs). Get used to it and embrace the natural resource.

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The owners have a few other rental apartments, as well as a hotel, which I did not see, called OK Hotel. A perk of staying at any of Kathy’s properties is the 15% discount at her really yummy K-Bar–a Korean restaurant infused with a little Icelandic flair. DEFINITELY try the cauliflower and the dumplings (both pork and tofu were delicious).

The warm decor at K-bar

The warm decor at K-bar

Whether you’re in Reykjavik for just a day, or longer, you have time to explore the Golden Circle–see my other Iceland post for pictures–and knock out a few top tourist attractions. It’s easy to do this on your own, but there are plenty of tours to take as well. If on your own, be sure to stop in Laugarvatn and eat at Lindin. IT IS DELICIOUS! And, sadly (kind of), so is the reindeer burger… like, really good. I ate Rudolph.

In addition to all of that, here’s the view:

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So, my 4 full days in Iceland definitely weren’t enough and I WILL be returning. The country is not only stunning, but easy to navigate on your own. At least a week is needed to drive the Ring Road, which is as it sounds and circles the whole country. I’m not sure how passable the road would be during the winter, so it will be a summer trip for me.

Tips:

  • Food and alcohol are expensive–pick up some booze at duty free, preferably in the US, where it’s cheaper, though it’s possible to stock up when you arrive at Keflavik airport. The second duty free you encounter is for incoming passengers.
  • Note that it almost never gets dark during the summer and there is very limited daylight in the dead of winter.
  • The Aurora Borealis is more elusive than you might expect. The lights start showing up in October, but are the strongest on cold, clear nights, and best seen away from the light pollution of cities. If you happen to see anything like the famous photos, consider yourself lucky. They don’t always show up as colors and those photos are often the work of a DSLR camera on a slow shutter speed.
  • Airwaves is a music festival that occurs at the beginning of November every year. Next year, I think I’ll go. My cousin and his wife DID go last year and loved it. If you’d like to know more about Reykjavik’s coffee and music scene, go here.
  • Learning to pronounce the name of that volcano that shut down Europe for a bit–Eyafjallajökull–is a fun activity.

**I get nothing for recommending these places, but would be happily accept freebies**