How to Spend a Weekend Getaway in Gualala

Oh, St. Orres in Gualala! We have been visiting this Russian themed Inn with rustic cabins on the northern California coast for seven years. Good friend’s told us about this place, and we haven’t looked back since. We recently spent a long weekend at the Rose Cottage in December for my birthday. St. Orres is impossibly romantic and relaxing.

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Glorious AF

We usually stay at the Rose cottage, a beautiful cabin with fire place, deck, a view of the sea and unbelievably comfy beds. Breakfast is delivered to your door each morning, to be enjoyed in bed. Rosemary, the on site chef usually serves fresh fruit and homemade coconut granola, ginger bread and a creamy veggie quiche. Nibbling breakfast and sipping hot coffee in the plush bed, while listening to the crackling fire and taking in the sea views is the most relaxing and luxurious experience.

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View from the cottage

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Sweeping views about 10 minute walk from the cottage
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B ❤ B. Gualala styles!
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View from the living room

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Homemade brekkie

They also have a beautiful secluded beach about a ten minute walk down the road, with sweeping sea views along the hike, and a hot tub. We like to jump in the hot tub around sun set for a leisurely soak with views of the sea.

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I am such a sucker for a sun setting over the water

Gualala has a four start restaurant in their atrium, which is lovely, but we like meals at the bar best of all. Surrounded by wood paneling and stained glass windows the bar is gorgeous. St. Orres serves the world’s best basil martinis, you can smell the muddled mint on the air as the bartender strides by, and they serve yummy bar bites, such as coconut shrimp, chili relleno, shrimp quesadillas, mussels in wine, great fries and aioli.

 

We have also stayed at the Wildflower lodge – a smaller cabin with a literal deck in the redwoods and Sequoia, a gorgeous expansive cabin with deck, sea views and a sunk in Japanese tub.

More Gualala Pics:

 

*Note: In the spirit of honesty, I will say we had a few disappointments this time around. The fireplace in the Rose Cottage was out of order, and lounging in front of the crackling fireplace reading books and listening to the sound of the ocean crashing against the shores is one of the main draws of the cabin. We spoke to Rosemary the owner about it, hoping that she would comp us a night or at least a meal because we have been visiting this place for the past seven years, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries but instead she was aggressive and quite off putting. Then, the last evening I got food poisoning. I think, sadly enough, this will be our last trip to Gualala. But, we do have some gorgeous, magical memories!

Exploring the Berlin Xmas Fair

What to expect: A glorious, glittering historical backdrop, live Christmas shows and music, adorable woodland inspired ornaments and all of the gluwein.

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When I Brad and I first stepped into this market we made an audible..oooh!

There are many Christmas Markets to choose from in Berlin, spread out around the city. We chose to stroll the most famous option – the Gendarmenmark in the Mitte district, set in one of Berlin’s most beautiful squares.

20171231_162347This market is smaller and more intimate then the ones that I am used to, and the  backdrop is an absolute showstopper. Also, this market lasts until New Year’s Eve, which is a very fun and festive way to the spend the evening. We stopped by the market before our NYE’s party.

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C’mon….I need this little guy!

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Insert actual angels singing on high

Merry Christmas everyone!

Next up on the blog: A weekend getaway to St. Orres in Gualala – a Russian themed Inn and rustic cabins on the northern California coast.

How to Spend a Winter Holiday in Budapest

Highlights:

Here are some of the most wonderful experiences in Budapest:

  • Luxuriating in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath
  • Losing yourself in the labyrinthine Ruin Pubs
  • Dinner at Mazel Tov
  • Exploring the Jewish District
  • Views from the Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Strolling the Christmas marketsIMG_1039

Thermal Baths: Széchenyi is the largest thermal bath in Europe. I love a good thermal bath, and if a country boasts beautiful thermal baths I bolt right for them. This is among my favorites. Surrounded by what looks like a gorgeous yellow cathedral and cascading with steam, Szechnyi is a true treat for the senses. I love the wave whirlpool. Grab a glass of bubbles, luxuriate in the steaming hot baths and take in the general splendor. We were quite lucky with our weather and it wasn’t too chilly but I imagine lounging in the heated pools as the snow falls would be a beautiful experience as well.

Ruin Pubs: A few years ago these pubs began gaining popularity in Budapest’s Jewish district, and I have never experienced anything quite like them. Lose yourself in the fever dream artwork and labyrinthine, seemingly never endless corners of these pubs. Filled with an assortment of bizarre and whimsical odds and ends – I’m talking a room full of giant green kangaroos and multi colored lamps at Instant, and increasingly insane animal inspired art at Szimpla Kert (one wall is covered by a painting of a massive gerbil devouring a knight) the Ruin Pubs provide endless entertainment. We preferred Szimpla’s relaxed atmosphere during the day and Instant at night.

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Hello! The Szimpla Kert green kangaroo never fails to make me smile

Szimpla:  Huge pub with old mismatched items such as plants, the aforementioned green kangaroo & a room full of antique lamps with music, food & a garden. Offers several wine bars, and a restaurant serving pub eats in addition to countless other hidey-hole bars.

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Brie Szimpla
Szimpla Courtyard

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Instant: Twenty six rooms in a former apartment building. Head upstairs to find the smaller, calmer areas or join the revelers below in the “enchanted forest”, surrounded by artwork depicting woodland musicians, winged hippos and a wharthog-shaped glittering disco ball.

A sampling of the artwork:

 

Eats: Mazel Tov: I had my birthday dinner at this gorgeous Israeli restaurant in the Jewish District. So delicious and atmospheric we went several times. Filled with streams of twinkling lights hanging down from the ceiling and covered in lush green cascading plants. Mazel Tov has live Israeli music, delicious Middle Eastern fair and fun cocktails. My favorite was the warm hummus bowl with falafel and Israeli salad.

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Warm hummus bowl with falafel & chicken shwarma plus Israeli salad ❤
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Entrance to Mazel Tov

Wine Bar:

Doblo: This chic, romantic wine bar feels like you are sipping vino in the inside of a cave. Very atmospheric. We had a great time chatting with the bartender and learning about Hungarian wines.

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Who knew Hungarian wines were so delish?

Tuning Burger: Yummy place for burgers and chicken sandwiches. Great fries

Tuning Burger

Bakeries: Mlinar. Delicious bakery with flaky pastries, both sweet and savory. Very budget friendly. We ran straight for this little place when we found one in Croatia as well.

The Castle & Fisherman’s Bastille: Walk across the iconic Lion Bridge and up to the castle for the most gorgeous views over Budapest. The Fisherman’s Bastille is Gothic and gorgeous and straight from a fairytale. Tip: We went around twilight which has the most amazing violet views over the Danube to the city.

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Fisherman's Bastion.jpg

 

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The Christmas Market/Parliament: Take some time to visit the festive markets – the food is the real standout here. Mulled wine thick with floating apples, langos (fried hungarian flatbread) with exotic toppings, steaming chimney cakes and more. Then head to Parliament building for the gorgeous lion sculptures and glittering Xmas tree for a festive treat.

Buda Xmas

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Lion Parliament Buda

Grand Cafes: These look like a cross between an Opera House and a baroque cathedral and are total showstoppers. They are wonderful for sipping coffee, sampling the Hungarian pastries, and letting your imagination run wild about the Hungarian creatives – writers, artists and poets, who frequented the cafes in the 20s. We went to Centrál Kávéház. I ordered the decadent Dobos Torte (a chocolate sponge cake topped with a caramel glaze) and did not regret it. Cafe Gerbeaud at Vosmorty Square and the New York Cafe are also beautiful.

Where to Stay: We stayed at an AirBnB in the Jewish district and loved it. Everything is very walkable  – about two minutes to fabulous restaurants, cafes, wine bars, ruin pubs and boutique shops. Also, and I kid you not, our Airbnb was about thirty bucks for a beautiful, spacious, airy apartment.

Budapest is a gorgeous, gothic, vibrant city. Full of rich history and a welcoming culture, we had so much fun, we went twice in 18 months! It was particularly gorgeous in winter. We absolutely love Eastern Europe and cannot wait to explore this part of the world more.

More Budapest Pics:

 

 

 

Exploring the Stuttgart Christmas Fair

What to expect: blocks & blocks filled with whimsical Christmas stalls, German Xmas music, international foods, frosty temps and so much gluwein 😀

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Located in the middle of the city center, and easily accessible by train, the Stuttgart Christmas Fair has a festive, rollicking vibe. This market is sprawling, filled with beautiful stalls selling every Xmas related decoration you could imagine. The food includes the typical German fare – sausages, fries, maultaschen (german dumplings), damfnudle (yeasty sweet roll that is not my favorite) as well as international foods –  langos; Hungarian fried bread covered in your choice of sour cream, cheese and garlic butter (which as mentioned in previous blogs is my fav) pulled pork fries, soups, etc.

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The angels! The glitz! 
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I need this in my home
Stuttgart Xmas Market
Pink Santas!? Come on :D:D

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This year, the market is being on November 27th and ends December 23rd.

Prost!

 

Next up on the blog – general merriment at the Berlin Christmas fair.

My Most Favorite Christmas Market in Germany

The medieval Christmas Market in Esslingen Germany, is my most favorite market. This was my first foray into German Christmas markets and my most beloved.

Located in Southern Germany, about 10 minutes from Stuttgart, this enchanting market is pure winter wonderland magic. It completely transports you to another time and place in history. Strolling the Christmas markets, sipping a mug of steaming plum gluwein as blacksmiths, potters, glassblowers and weavers conjure up the spirit of Christmases long, long ago is the most festive experience.

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We were lucky enough to live in this gorgeous town for eighteen months, and were able to fully enjoy this Christmas market to the max! I was mildly obsessed with it.

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Set in squares winding through the gorgeous old town, surrounded by half timbered houses, the setting could not be more glorious. The market is filled with whimsical, lovingly created stalls selling every Xmas related item you could imagine including – homemade decorations, Merino wool throws, medieval toys and swords, wooden sculptures, liquors in potion bottles, and other gorgeous items. 

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This is the medieval area
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Wreath envy
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Backdrop: the Glockenspiel
Esslingen Xmas Market
How magical is this stall?! 😀

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At various times during the market, fire dancers and Christmas choirs perform. A parade of magical creatures on stilts also makes surprise appearances!

As if this setting wasn’t fantastical enough picture this: a parade of centaurs blowing their woodland horns, and other magical creatures followed by a fairy with gossamer wings on stilts, striding down the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, weaving among the twinkly market stalls under the falling snow.

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Live. Action. Manger! Brad and I visited this guy daily.

Last year my very favorite drink was a decadent plum gluwein sold in the medieval part of the market. The mulled wine is tart, rich and the perfect way to warm you as you wander through the glittering stalls.

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I know what two of the nine signs mean 😀

Because we spent the last two holiday seasons in Germany, and so much time exploring the markets themselves, it feels a little odd not to be there this year. I must say Germans absolutely know how to do Christmas right! If you are a fan of yuletide cheer, I highly recommend planning a trip to the German markets – they are beautiful, whimsical, festive as hell, and will live on in your memories as the most glorious of Christmases.

More Gorgeous Xmas Market Photos to Put You in the Spirit: Heidelberg & Ludswigsburg:

Coming up next on the blog: General merriment at markets in Stuttgart and Berlin.

 

 

 

How to Spend Five Days in Riga

Riga in April AKA: Our Winter Holiday in Latvia

Last April, we found ourselves with a surprise five days off, and I wanted to visit someplace new and unexpected, someplace we would most likely never have a chance to visit if we weren’t based in Germany, so I planned a trip to Riga, Latvia. Here are some highlights:

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Sveiki from Riga!

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Oh, just a Latvian armadillo…

Riga is part of the Baltics and an absolute gem. We weren’t sure what to expect from this Baltic city but we had a fabulous time exploring the medieval Old Town, lounging in the underground pubs, listening to live folk music, chatting to the friendly locals and indulging in some great meals. Riga is very budget friendly, so this is a place to splurge.

You should note –  this place is COLD. We visited in April and it snowed the entire time. I think this added to the medieval ambiance.

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“All of a sudden, I felt very cold…as if I would never be happy again.”
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Of course, OF COURSE, we found the  Dementors
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Brad, just fitting in EVERYWHERE

Eats: Prices are very reasonable in Riga so go ahead and splurge! We had a fabulous meal at Balzambar – great artisanal cocktails and tasty, beautifully plated food. We sat at the bar and had a fun time chatting with  one of the owners who happened to be the bartending champion of Riga!

Folkklubs Ala PagrabsUnderground pub with large potions of  filling Baltic fare, traditional live music, and a rollicking vibe. Felt like we were in a festival scene from Robin Hood 😀 You can easily spend an entire evening here. 

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Priekā!

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Sights around Riga:

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This is the stuff Xmas dreams are made of

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Nightlife and Pubs:

The Armory Bar – Brad has fond memories of being on the shooting team at his school, so I was stoked when I found this armory bar for him, stocked full of weaponry from communist rule that patrons can strip down and reassemble over drinks. The bar men was very friendly and willing to help. Think: bayonets, hand grenades from across the ages, Ak47s and a rocket launcher. Interesting place. You’ll need to find plenty of cafes and bakeries and pubs in Riga if you go between Nov and April because you’ll want to pop into them every 20 minutes or so for a warm drink and some heat. 

Black Magic Bar – Beautiful, atmospheric, underground bar. Felt like stepping foot in medieval Riga. Try the desserts and Black Balsam – liquour made in Riga. Not for the faint of heart. 

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This is Black Basalm – NOT for the faint of heart

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Funny Fox – Fun, relaxed bar in Old Town Riga. Latvians are a very welcoming and friendly people. We had great fun chatting with them in restaurants and pubs and bakeries and learning about life in Riga.

Skyline Bar at the Raddison Blu – For sweeping views over the city and fancy cocktails

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Oh, hello Riga! View from the Latvia Raddison -Brad loves a good rooftop bar!

Where to Stay: We stayed at an Airbnb for about 30 bucks. It was fine, but very minimal. I would recommend staying in the city center, as once you are there everything is very walkable.

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Transport: We walked, took Uber and shuttles. Riga has very good public transport – including heated shuttles that drive around the city, basically much more luxurious busses. They are small, deliciously warm, cheap and delightful.

I loved Riga. This gothic city stole my heart. I can’t wait to visit another Baltic city – I think Tallinn, Estonia looks gorgeous, particularly during the winter. During the summer I tend to long for tropical beach vacations and wildlife, but I love the feel of Eastern Europe or northern Europe in winter.

More Riga Photos: As you can see, no fun to be had here…

 

Sampling Trader Joe’s Holiday Sparkling Wines: The Magnum Has Arrived

This year for the holidays Trader Joe’s is selling magnum bottles of sparkling wine – that is precisely 1.5L of deliciousness for only $12.99! I know, I thought I had misread as well.

Spoiler alert: the bottles are gigantic and festive and I NEED THEM RIGHT AWAY!!!

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Naturally, I needed to sample them right away before the holidays began to make sure they were a good deal. Let’s begin shall we…..

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TJs offers two options: a french bubbly and an Italian prosecco. I chose the L’Eclat Blanc de Blancs to sample first because the bottle is so gorgeous and glittery and festive. I thought the bright gold and red design would be particularly pretty displayed on our kitchen counters. The Blanc de Blancs is a perfectly fine sparkling wine for the price and the spectacle. It is fruity and crisp and easy sipping. It’s even better in a mimosa the next morning served with blueberry pancakes, or whatever you prefer for brunch. (We’ve really been into blueberry silver dollar pancakes lately in our neck of the woods.) I also just found this fabulous looking holiday cocktail and think it would be great with the  L’Éclat. This French sparkler will be lots of fun to serve during holiday get-togethers, or as a host/hostess gift.

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Serving the Magnum:

 

Next up: Sampling the Holiday 1.5L Prosecco!

Oh, this is happening….

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