Minneapolis restaurants. Oh, the restaurants!

I came here with exactly 1 friend in the Twin Cities. That beautiful woman has managed to see me about 10 times already, despite the fact that she has a toddler, infant twins, and works full-time. At the recommendation of my amazing friend and her husband, my mom and I made reservations at Spoon and Stable. I have since found out that we were incredibly lucky to get said reservation since most people book weeks in advance. It was either meant to be or someone cancelled at the last minute–probably the latter, but the end result was the same.

I’ve lived in some foodie havens–New York City, Charleston, SC, even Washington, DC is catching up–but I am so impressed with what Minneapolis/St. Paul has to offer. Like, seriously impressed.

Everything about Spoon and Stable makes it worth the trip. Each morsel that touched my lips was delicious. The One of the most important things to me about a meal is the wine that accompanies it, and they have many great options, as well as craft cocktails.

The restaurant is truly beautiful and has top notch service. I am anxiously awaiting my opportunity to return.

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delicious endive salad

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my pot roast was so good I forgot to take a picture

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for “special” occasions there is cotton candy

 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Spoon and Stable, but I really LOVED Corner Table. I’m on a constant mission for restaurants that can be my place–ones in which I can go frequently and kind of be known. Corner Table is definitely more that than Spoon and Stable. It’s neighborhood-y, friendly, and completely fabulous. Unfortunately, I have no photos of my trip there, but I shall snap some on my next visit… and there will be many more visits. When I went, we asked one of the owners to pick our courses and pair the wine. OMG, was it fabulous! Not all of the wine pairings were what you’d traditionally receive. For instance, he paired a lamb dumpling with a really funky white wine (versus a red that you may expect with lamb) and it was glorious perfection. If I lived in their neighborhood, my waistline and wallet would be in big, big trouble.

You need reservations (unless going at some odd time and hedging your bets), so plan ahead. I have so many restaurants left to try, so bear with me. As of now, I absolutely love this place!

 

**Online dating update: The 1 guy, out of 4, that I liked, that I didn’t hear from after meeting, finally did reach out…

I’ll leave you with a pre-debauchery photo of my friend and me at the Solo Vino wine tasting event in St Paul.

aforementioned beautiful friend at the Solo Vino Rosé tasting

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!

 

Machu Picchu on a Budget

I took this trip several years ago, but think the information is useful enough to go ahead with a delayed post of it. I shared the details with a friend, who used the same hotel and trek company, more recently, and loved it. Whether or not you plan to hike some version of the Inca Trail, visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu are so worth it. I did this for quite a reasonable price considering the level of service received… naturally, I want to share the info.

You’ll most likely fly into Lima, then connect to Cusco.

Tip: schedule the flight to Cusco early in the morning, when the chance of cancellation for wind conditions is less likely.

Less wind over the Andes = less scary

Cusco is a beautiful little city, set at a gentle 11,000+ feet (3,400 m) of elevation. If you don’t live at that altitude, you WILL feel this. You might even wonder, “how the hell will I walk for 4 days like this?” It is possible to have that thought and still complete the Inca Trail hike. Diamox also helps with the elevation (see here for some drug info).

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Beautiful Cusco

I stayed at a quaint hotel, called Encantada, on the outskirts of downtown Cusco. It was quiet, comfortable, and cozy, with warm and helpful staff. The location keeps you off the noisy streets of the city and also allows some time to practice walking up hills at a higher than normal elevation.

Breakfast is offered every morning and coca tea is always available in the lobby, which is more like an idyllic living room (with fireplace) than a hotel lobby.

There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and day hikes to keep you occupied and happy in Cusco for days. My main goal was to hike the Inca Trail, so I only planned for the “required” 2 days of acclimation before setting off. I wish I’d had more time to explore.

The hike

If you are relatively active and fit, you can do this hike… and should. I’m referring to the 3 night/4 day Inca Trail trek. There are tons of guide companies, of varying cost and amenities, from which to choose. After hours of reading reviews, I went with Llama Path–a porter and eco-friendly company that seemed to have smaller groups, happy customers, and were reasonably priced.

Our group of 8 also had 1 guide, a chef, and whole staff of porters tasked with carrying (and setting up/breaking down) camp. We saw other groups out there with at least 20 people in them. 8 was nice.

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Our small group + our “red army”

At times, I felt as though I couldn’t take another step, even with the mound of coca leaves in my cheek, but we all made our way up countless steps, over an almost 14,000 foot pass (Dead Woman’s Pass–named because the mountain looks like a woman in repose, not because they’re terribly sexist), down through the jungle, only to go up again, and finally to Machu Picchu.

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Day 2 is definitely the most trying with 2 high altitude passes

Somehow, the food they serve is actually really good. Perhaps it’s the combination of altitude and exhaustion, but I swear it was delicious, relatively speaking.  Each morning you’re awoken by one of the staff members bringing coca leaf tea to your tent in an effort to help with the altitude. It may or may not work.

The views are stunning and the hike is a wonderful experience which ends (obviously) at the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. Once you’ve walked 4 days to get there, you do feel ever so slightly more entitled to it than the folks who took the train in, but there’s nothing to be done about them. When we arrived, however, the Machu Picchu from all the famous photos was not who greeted us…

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A cloud-masked Machu Picchu

There is another peak to climb, called Huayna Picchu, that requires a separate ticket and does sell out. I missed the opportunity when I went, but heard the views are spectacular. If you want to walk up another hill, buy that ticket as soon as you can upon arrival.

I highly recommend doing this hike if you’re physically able. Walking through such a beautiful part of the world, en route to the magical place of Machu Picchu is quite rewarding… and worth it. You’ll pass many Inca sites along the trail as well. After touring MP, a bus takes the group to Aguas Calientes, where you can explore, eat, and wait for your scheduled train back to the bus, which takes you to Cusco. The last day is a long one, worth it, but long.

Without further adieu, more pictures:

 

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Day 1

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Dead Woman’s Pass did not harm this woman!

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Day 3 Inca ruins

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The alpacas are adorable and everywhere

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Who doesn’t do yoga at MP?

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A far less dangerous perch than it appears

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The End!

Drugs, drugs, and more drugs!

I am a nurse infected with wanderlust. If an opportunity to explore a new place presents itself, I jump at the chance– sometimes with or without the means, much to the chagrin of my piggy bank, er …”savings account”.
Because of this passion for new experiences, and as a byproduct of my day job training, I travel with a small pharmacy for all of those “just in case” scenarios. Taking these precautions has enabled me to turn what could be a really terrible vacation into just one unpleasant day, for myself and my traveling companions.
When it comes to the aforementioned “just in case” situations, I am most commonly the one afflicted. From GI bugs in Bali and the Dominican Republic to strep throat from a rented snorkel in Hawaii– all little ol’ me. My bevy of drugs have also been helpful for friends with carsickness, food poisoning, panic, and insomnia. So, what, pray tell, is on my “essentials” list?

For starters, the OTC, or over the counter stuff:
Pepto bismal – always my first line of attack for any stomach issue. A doctor colleague of mine takes a prophylactic Pepto pill every day when traveling abroad to “coat [his] GI tract” and help prevent bugs from catching. Whether or not there’s actual science to that, I have no idea, but it sounds good. And who doesn’t enjoy a black tongue and black stool on vacation (both normal side effects of taking Pepto)? Kidding!
Melatonin- sleepless nights are a sure way to ruin a good time and melatonin is the most gentle and natural way to combat insomnia. When going for a long trip, you can even start taking it a couple days in advance at the time you intend to go to sleep in your destination (or the reverse, before you head home).

Now, onto the list you’ll need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner to prescribe:
For sleep/airplane-
Ambien- I don’t like to rely on this at home, but when you go to sleep in Los Angeles and wake up in Auckland, sometimes melatonin won’t do the trick and staying au naturale isn’t as important to me as being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my early morning arrival. Sleeping on the plane is sometimes a must.
Xanax- I like to spend my money on my actual trip activities, so always fly coach. Xanax is my way of tricking my body into thinking we’re in business class. Almost 30 years of horseback riding has riddled me with a bad back that is prone to muscle spasms from sitting in bad chairs for too long. Can we collectively say “airplane seat”? Since it’s a benzodiazepine, xanax or alprazolam also bears some muscle relaxing properties. It’s really lovely to have a relaxed mind (and body) when settling in for an 18 hour flight in coach. Everyone responds to drugs differently, but for me, xanax doesn’t put me in a coma, so I’m still able to wake up and stretch my legs. The risk of blood clots increases exponentially due to long  flights, so it behooves you to go easy on the sedation.

For the potential stomach bug-
Ciprofloxacin- this is only to be taken when truly needed (I’ve taken it twice). Cipro can take that traveler’s diarrhea and knock it right out. A friend, who shall remain nameless, had her 4 day hike to Machu Picchu completely saved by this drug. Damn raw tomato tried to take her down, but cipro enabled her to have just one terrible day and one underwear casualty. **I am not giving actual medical advice, just tips to bring to your doctor. Many travel clinics are very used to sending people on vacation with meds for the just-in-case scenario**
Zofran- for nausea/vomiting. This is a non-drowsy absolute gem! It has helped me when I just don’t feel right, when altitude is bothering me, and when I’m actually ill. Zofran is up there with Xanax in my travel bestie category. I’m a self-professed vomit phobe, so I never leave home without zofran, literally.

Altitude-
Diamox- if you’re traveling somewhere with high altitude, speak to your doctor about diamox. My favorite effect is that you can actually sleep at altitude when taking it. That being said, it has some weird side effects like tingling extremities and odd taste alterations. Everyone is affected differently, but I was helped immensely when in Peru at elevations of 12,000-14,000 feet.

Again, I am not peddling medical advice, but passing along tips to ponder and, possibly, mention to your physician/nurse practitioner. A few of these medications have helped me immensely while traveling.