How to Spend a Perfect Four Days Relaxing in Seminyak

When I think of Seminyak. Bali I think about mind-blowing sunsets, days spent lazing and sipping delicious cocktails at beach day clubs and exploring the neighboring village – dreamy Canggu by scooter, enjoying fresh fruit smoothies under swaying palm trees.

Highlights of our Time in Seminyak

  • To die for sunsets at Potato Head Beach Club
  • Lounging away the day at Beach Day Clubs
  • Exploring dreamy, hippy, tranquil, Canggu
  • Fresh fruit juices and smoothies (mango and pineapple smoothies looking at you!)
  • Bargain Shopping for Balinese treasures
Mr. Potato Head Sunset
Sunset – Potato Head Beach Club

Here are my favorite beach clubs:

Mano Beach Club

Located right across from the the Petitenget Temple on the beach front, Mano is laid back with a chic pool, bean bag chairs and delicious lunch food and smoothies. We went back at least twice. Lounging on the beach bag chairs, munching on toast piled high with avo, heirloom tomatoes and feta and sipping our smoothies was a perfect way to while away an afternoon.

Mango Smoothies Mano Beach House 2
Mango smoothies at Mano Beach House
Semniyak Bali Avo Toast! (1)
Avo toast at Mano Beach House!

Potato Head Beach Club

Perfect Sunset Potato Head Bali
Cheers to one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen

For sunsets, you cannot beat the swanky Potato Head Beach Club to watch the sun dip into the Indian ocean in style. We arrived just before sunset after a day spent in Canggu, grabbed strawberry daiquiris, and swam leisurely in the bright green pool while watching the sky explode into shades of fire red, orange, magenta and finally deep purple. Potato truly comes alive at night. The atmosphere as the sun set and the sky lit up was electric. The pool was filled with revelers so thrilled to be witnessing such a spectacular scene, it was one of those moments you experience while traveling that you wish you could hold close forever, and share with everyone you know.

Mr. Potato Head Sunset 2
Brad loves sunsets….also cocktails.

Sunset Bali Beach Club

Magical Sunset Bali

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First evening in Seminyak. Sunset is not as spectacular as at Potato Head, but still not too shabby!

*You pay $20 dollars to enter Potato Head, which can be used towards drink credits, which you will want because the tropical cocktails are fresh and fabulous. They have a tasty menu and day beds, but I preferred the smaller more relaxed beach clubs during the day.

Mrs. Sippy:

We had a fabulous, very relaxing time lounging the day away at Mrs. Sippy. Mrs. Sippy is a beach club with salt water lagoon pool, onsite restaurant, swim up bar, day beds and tropical vibe They charge 200K for a day bed, (about 20 bucks) which includes credits that can be put toward food and drink.

 

Dreamy Canggu:

Canggu Beach Bar 1
DONE ūüėÄ View from Beach Bums, overlooking Batu Bolong Beach

Canggu is a half hour scooter ride from Seminyak, and the most beautiful village.  Canggu is a dreamy, tranquil beach town surrounded by rice paddies and filled with tiny Warungs, low key beach bars and surfers.We sat at beach bars sipping fresh pineapple and strawberry smoothies, listening to the sound of the waves crashing and the palm trees swaying overhead. It was the exactly the type of remote, relaxing moment you crave while on an island, when you feel like you and a handful of others are the only people in the world.

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Smoothies at Beach Bum Cafe in Canggu
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Iconic bright bean bag at The Sands in Canggu, overlooking Batu Bolong Beach. Brad rented his surfboard from this place.

Brad spent a few hours surfing, and I lounged on a beach chair, reading a book, sipping sparkling water and playing with the friendly neighborhood puppy who took an instant liking to me, and napped underneath my chair. We had fresh salads and sandwiches at The Canteen Cafe and returned to Seminyak relaxed and ready for a sunset party.

Local puppy in Canggu
This little guy and I had an instant connection. After playing, he lounged underneath my sun chair all afternoon.
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Temple next to the Canggu beachfront.

Shopping:

Bargain shopping in Seminyak was a treat. I came home with several pairs of wide legged beach pants decorated with elephants, as well as jewelry. Be prepared to haggle and the weather is SULTRY, but you can find some great bargains. Other excellent options: beautiful bright jewelry, handwoven straw handbags.

Ogoh Ogoh:

As luck would have it, we arrived in Seminyak a few days before Nyepi, a religious day of silence in Ubud. The day before, Balinese people parade sculptures of Ogoh Ogoh – demons who drive away evil spirits from their towns and villages. We noticed locals working on several of these massive statues as we were riding our scooter around Seminyak.

 

Thinking ahead for next time РI would definitely spend time in Ubud, because it was an absolute rain forest paradise, soul nourishing dream of a place. I will return to Ubud again and again. I would then spend a week between Canggu and Ulluwatu.  I would probably spend a day in Seminyak, for some beach day club lounging and spectacular sunsets.

Next blog post – One week in Australia! We’re headed to Sydney mate!

 

Ubud Travel Guide: Jungle Villas, A Sacred Monkey Forest & Rice Terraces Galore

How do I begin to describe my all-encompassing love for Bali?! Ubud, particularly stole my heart. Gorgeous, lush, spiritual and enchanting, Ubud was a fabulous introduction to Southeast Asia.

Highlights of our Ubud Adventure:

  • Strolling the rice terraces and taking in the glorious, expansive views
  • Hanging out with monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest
  • Exploring the temples and learning about Balinese Hinduism
  • Luxurious massages and jungle flower baths
  • Swimming in the infinity Pools
  • Scootering around the rice terraces, town center and surrounding villages
  • Drinking fresh fruit juices, smoothies and cocktails! (I’m looking at you pineapple & coconut)

As our time in Germany came to an end, we wanted to make a last hurrah, and take the long way around to San Francisco. We decided to spend a month in Bali, Australia and New Zealand. In the midst of preparing for an international move, saying goodbye to friends and celebrating Brad’s graduation, I was frantically planning this month trip to the Southern Hemisphere, and I loved every minute of it! I planned a week in Bali, a week in Australia and two weeks in New Zealand. I easily could have spent a month in each of these jaw droppingly wonderful places, and fully intend to return as soon as humanly possible.

Alright back to topic – beautiful, beautiful Bali!

How to Spend a Week in Beautiful, Breathtaking, Bali

Bail Rice Terraces.jpg
Tegalalang Rice Terraces

We began our Bali adventure in Ubud, a small village in the middle of the rain forest, filled with expansive rice paddies, a sacred monkey forest, temples, a deep spirituality,   fresh fruit & juices at every turn and one of the most beautiful cultures I have experienced. I was completely enthralled. I would return to Ubud in a heartbeat.

We found our jungle villa on AirBnb for 50 bucks, I know. We were served a tropical breakfast on our deck each morning, including dragon fruit, mango, pineapple, an array of Indonesian options and strong coffee by the most welcoming staff. We arrived in the evening around twilight, and when the owner walked us down the winding steps to our rain forest property I gasped!

 

We rented a scooter for a very minimal expense – seriously, less then 5 bucks a day, which I highly recommend to get around Ubud. I have heard that some Eastern Asian countries can be a very intense experience navigating on a scooter, (looking at you Thailand) but Ubud by scooter was low key and the perfect way to explore the island.

Strolling The Tegalalang Rice Terraces – Views for Days

Our first full day in Ubud, we headed right for the famed rice terraces. Coming straight from Germany in February, Ubud was so ridiculously balmy, exotic and tropical it felt like a practical joke!

Ubud Bali Tegallang Rice Paddies.jpg
This is happening!

After our stroll through the rice paddies, we headed to one of the open air restaurants surrounding the paddies for an expansive, mind boggling view and a drink.  We listened to the soft pop music playing, sipped our juices and felt the light breeze through the palm trees. This was the Ubud of my dreams.

 

Ubud Bali Rice Paddies Drink Break!
Drink break with a view! * After TWO German winters my soul needed this you guys*

*I had intended for this to be a hike through the rice paddies, but Ubud in March is sultry AF, so I would highly suggest you plan on a stroll, as this is the best way to experience the lushness.

Oh, the fruit in Ubud. I am a huge sucker for tropical fruit and Bali ranks up there with some of my favorite countries. (Why is fruit in the Southern Hemisphere so much better?!) Bali boasts dragon fruit, and massive mangos and fruit I have never heard of including the crinkly, scaly, snake skin fruit – shown below.

Ubud Bali Fruit
Tropical fruiiiit stand – Tegalalang!

Exploring the Sacred Monkey Forest – Ancient Temples and Monkey Fun!

Oh you guys – I was so excited to visit this forest. This has been a fantastic monkey sighting year for me. First we played with squirrel monkeys (my most favorite of all!) in Cape Town, then we saw baboons and vervet monkeys at Hluhluwe‚ÄďiMfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa and now the forest. WIN!

The Sacred Monkey Forest is filled with ancient Balinese Hindu temples and Balinese long tailed monkeys scampering about the place, enjoying their monkey lives. Picture this: mother’s cuddling their babies while flipping from tree to tree, monkeys rolling about and playing with their toesies, monkeys lounging on top of ancient elephant sculptures. They were mischievous and delightful and hilarious. These monkeys were well cared for, well fed, safe and healthy.

Ubud Bali Monkeys on Elephant Statue.jpg
Monkeys and ancient elephant sculptures – does it get any better?
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Monkeys are so expressive! Look at this little guy. He is just so EAGER.
Ubud Bali Brie in Monkey Forest
Just looking for monkeys in the 700 year old scared forest full of temples.
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Do you think this little guy sits here thinking… I come here to visit every day and they never EVER talk to me!
Ubud Bali Beautiful Monkey Sacred Forest
The macaques are revered and cared for as part of the spiritual life of the temples.
Ubud Bali Monkey Forest Catepillar Goddess
Balinese Hindu Sculpture. I love this. She is so joyful.

Exploring Temples and Falling Love with Balinese Hinduism

Balinese Hinduism was one of the most beautiful and soul nourishing religions I have experienced. The connection Balinese people have to the natural world around them is inspiring. I was completely enchanted by this compassionate culture.

Ubud Bali Brie on Stairs Gazing at Temple
In awe of Saraswati Temple in Ubud – Balinese Hinduism is pure magic
Ubud Bali Hindi Elephant Goddess Sculpture.jpg
Stumbled upon this beauty at an art galley – notice the jungle creeping through the windows in the background. Ganesh, the elephant God, is covered in marigolds – flower offerings to the Gods is part of everyday life in Ubud.

The daily flower offerings to their Gods was one of my most favorite parts of Ubud town. Bamboo tray offerings full of delicate frangipanis, marigolds and other flowers along with an array of sweets and incense were placed around the village – in villas, on the steps of homes or storefronts. Our AirBnb Owner told us the Balinese people often make these offerings up to three times a day. The temples were filled with worshipers, and sculptures were robed in colorful materials and flowers. In Ubud, you can feel the way the Hindu faith permeates day to day life.

Ubud Bali Temple

 Massages, Aromatic Scrubs and Jungle Flower Baths

The massage we received at Bali Botanica was one of the best of my life. We booked a 90 minute massage, followed by an aromatic scrub, and a flower bath. When Brad and I walked into the spa and glimpsed our flower bath already prepared for us, set against the jungle backdrop we both gasped. IS THAT FOR US?!

Allow me to attempt to set this scene for you. The bath was filled with delicately scented silky flower petals, that filled the room with their soft aroma. We were given fresh ginger tea hinted with lemon and cinnamon, and we could hear jungle sounds from our bath. We even spotted giant blue butterflies and a jungle lizard while lounging, as I am the Queen of animal sightings: a tiny tortoise swimming amidst a herd of water buffalo in a watering hole in South Africa – I SEE YOU!

FUbud Bali Flower Bath Jungle View Close Up.jpg

Ubud Bali Brie Flower Bath.jpg

Jungle Infinity Pool

Ubud Jungle Infinity Pool
Jungle infinity pool – Padma Hotel

This beauty is the infinity pool at The Padma Resort. Bali is known for having some truly incredibly infinity pools, and while trip planning I found that the Padma Resort offered a pretty epic day pass to their infinity pool. For less than $20  Brad and I were given day access to the pool, 2 fresh fruit cocktails, and a voucher to enjoy afternoon tea which included all manner of yummies such as Balinese appetizers, scones, coffee, decadent caramel/chocolate deserts and fruit all with a brilliant view.

Ubud Bali Infinity Pool Cocktail Time!
Fresh pineapple coconut cocktail, OF COURSE

Ubud Bali Padma Infinity Pool

There was a rather intense tropical storm while we were lounging at the pool, so we opted to sit in the Jacuzzi, and check out the afternoon tea during the storm.

Balinese food – Fresh fruit, juices, and coconuts!

On our last day in Ubud, we spent our time lounging by our jungle pool, reading books, and leisurely exploring the village on our scooter. We discovered the most gorgeous little cafe called Dicarik Warung. with a panoramic view of the verdant rice paddies. We sat sipping our fresh coconut water, and pineapple juice, while watching Balinese cranes stroll softly through the rice paddies. It was so peaceful – we felt like we had discovered our own little private paradise in Ubud.

Ubud Bali Rice Plantation Warung Coconut!
Who me? No, I don’t like fresh coconut at all.
Ubud Bali Rice Plantation Warung Pineapple Juice and Coconut!
Fresh pineapple, lime and ginger juice (my new fav), and fresh coconut at the most gorgeous Warung overlooking a rice paddie ūüôā This place was pure bliss.

Bali offers a fantastic array of vegetarian meals and fresh fruit juices and smoothies. My very favorite were the pineapple, lime, ginger fruit juices, or the pineapple and mango smoothies. We could not get enough of them! I also loved all of the coconut water and fresh coconuts everywhere you looked. I found this delicious little place Abe-Do Warung, as a recommendation from the wonderful travel blog¬†Bruised Passports. You sit on fluffy pillows lining the floors near your table, and the cafe is devoted to health and wellness. Warung’s can be found all over Bali and they are small family owned cafes and restaurants. They are typically budget friendly and a great option while dining in Bali.

Ubud Bali Veggie Heaven
Chicken with peanut sauce and rice. Salad with avo and carrots and beats and a citrus dressing.  After 18 months in southern Germany, I was so stoked for salad!

After our super healthy lunch, we spent time relaxing by our pool and then headed into town for happy hour! We sat in the courtyard of Oops restaurant, sipping our frozen mojitos, enjoying the breeze, and lazy Balinese evening.

Ubud Bali Frozen Mojitos
Frozen mojitos two-for-one happy hour! Easiest choice I’ve ever made.
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Town center Ubud

Nightlife:

Ubud has a pretty laid back night life scene. There are some great happy hour places on the main road Jalan Raya Рwe loved the 2/1 deals on frozen mojitos. We also had a lot of fun hanging out at the open air bars listening to live music.

Laughing Buddah Bar: Near the Monkey Forest. Great live music, yummy Balinese apps. Go later for dinner/drinks.

L.O.L Bar & Restaurant РNext door there is a fun open air café with live music is well. Caribbean and reggae music is the order of the day. Tasty, cheap chicken sate for dinner.

Ubud will live on in my dreams as the most magical and spiritual of places. I cannot wait to return! Next blog post – to die for sunsets and dreamy beach bars in Semniyak!

 

 

How to Enjoy Saint Petersburg in Winter – A Four Day Itinerary

Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia

Our time in Saint Petersburg was a bit of a recovery period for us.  We outdid ourselves exploring gorgeous Moscow and the constant snow coupled with the frigid 12 degree weather took its toll. I’m not ashamed to admit it, Russia kicked our asses. Well, it kicked my ass I should say. Brad as always, was fine. We rallied during our exceptional train ride from Moscow to Saint Petersburg however, and managed to get ourselves up and moving for an evening of sight seeing and a wonderful birthday dinner celebration.

Savior on Spilled Blood
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Savior on Spilled Blood

After running around the snow covered bridges/canals, and hitting a few major sights, we went for a fabulous birthday dinner at Katyusha, a traditional Russian restaurant off Nevsky Prospect.

Birthday Dinner Katyusha Russia
Birthday dinner Russian styles!

Designed to look like a 19th century cossack house, dining at Katyusha felt like being welcomed into the home of a Russian babushka in the mountains surrounding Saint Petersburg. Think ‚Äď lace dollies, chintz , floral motif, and waitresses dressed in traditional garb. I am enamoured with Russian folklore and history, and felt transported. I ordered rosemary chicken with potato pancakes, mushroom cream sauce and sour cream. Note ‚Äď everything is served with sour cream in Russia and I 100% support this practice. Afterwards, we sampled homemade Russian liqueurs¬† – cherry, cranberry and black currant, that were so surprisingly tasty we ordered two rounds!

Traditional Russian Birthday Dinner at Katyusha
Birthday meal!
Sampling homemade liqueurs at Katyusha, a traditional Russian restaurant in St Petersburg
Nostrovia!

Over the next few days, we spent a fair amount of time relaxing in our luxurious hotel room, reading books, watching movies, drinking fruit tea and eating Milka chocolate. We also managed to fit in some beautiful sights and wonderful bakeries.

Favorites Places And Must See Sights:

Palace Square

The location of bloody Sunday, which some historians say was a key event that led to the Russian revolution, Palace Square is a sight to behold. Stroll the grounds and let your imagination run wild with thoughts of  Andrei courting Natasha in the grand palaces, a fur clad Anna Karenina on a troika ride or Seyit & Sura strolling through the endlessly falling snow.

Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia
Palace Square
Catherine's Winter Palace St Petersburg Russia
Catherine’s Winter Palace

Winter at Palace Square St Petersburg RussiaChristmastime Palace Square, St Petersburg Russia

Catherine’s Winter Palace & The Hermitage:

The Hermitage is fantastic – what an unexpected gem of art and splendor. Catherine’s Winter Palace houses the second largest art museum in the world featuring Da Vinci’s, Monets, Vermeers, Van Goghs, Renoirs, the list goes on and on. Also – Catherine’s rule and rise to Empress was legit fascinating. Coups! Betrayal! Murder!

Catherine's Winter Palace - Heading to the Hermitage
Catherine’s Winter Palace – Heading to the Hermitage
The Hermitage
The Hermitage Foyer
Hermitage sculptures, St Petersburg Russia
Sculptures lining the walkways in the Hermitage

Russian Cathedrals:

Saint Isaac and Kazan

Saint Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg Russia
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg Russia
Kazan Cathedral

Russian bakeries:

I am deeply obsessed with b;day cake eg: I dream about my birthday cake year around.  As this was my birthday week, and I knew I would not be able to find my favorite chocolate and buttercream frosting cake, we made it our personal mission to find delicious cakes around Saint Petersburg. We had so much luck with bakeries in Moscow, that I was super gung ho to try them in Saint Petersburg. I was not disappointed.

Russian bakery pastries, St. Petersburg
Hello, I would like to try all of your treats please.
Mouthwatering treats in St. Petersburg bakery
Bushe Bakery

 

Our fav: Bushe Bakery

After the bakeries, we decided to head out for some birthday drinks.  Our waitress from Katyusha had suggested a cozy cocktail bar. Filled with Russian professionals, one of whom helped us order, it felt very local. The bar served innovative drinks w/ fresh ingredients.  Brad ordered one of the best basil martini’s I have had in my life, second only to Lupe’s martinis, from St. Orres. You could smell the tangy scent of basil on the air, as the waiter carried us our cocktails.

Saint Petesrburg Cocktails - Basil martini and blood orange mimosa
Basil martini and blood orange mimosa (and vodkas, of course)

Train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg:

Russian trains are insanely, next level excellent. They offer complimentary food and drinks, plenty of leg room, coat racks, and announcements in Russian and English. Our train also included a very jovial (albeit intimidating looking) conductor who at one point offered to hold Brad’s coffee for him, showed us how to adjust our seats and even wished me happy birthday! The train was warm, spotless and offered gorgeous winter wonderland scenery – snow encrusted forests, and tiny Russian villages blanketed with snow. Top sights: we passed a frozen lake with a lone child sledding (pretty sobering experience) until we spied his dogs frolicking joyfully and wildly around him. Brad even spotted a fox!

Train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg bound

Where to stay:

The Domina Hotel. Luxurious canal side hotel.

How to pack for Russia:

ALL YOUR WARM CLOTHES. Seriously.  REI is my favorite store for cold weather clothes, and I bought the coat at a North Face in Germany. Merino wool base layer, Smart Wool socks, Uggs or other winter boots. Snow gloves. Fleece lined hat with a pom because they are the cutest, Arctic parka. There are times in your trip when you will still not be warm enough, but the experience is worth it. Trust me. And this is coming from a woman who was chilly in South Africa. In summer.

Next blog post – Road Tripping through the Scottish Highlands!

 

Best Moscow Eats: Cakes, Ukranian Food and Sour Cream on Everything!

I Love Cake:
This snug and cozy bakery was a total delight. Strung with wall-to-wall Xmas ornaments and twinkly lights, the pastel cafe serves gourmet hot chocolate adorned with fresh sugar cookies, homemade cakes and breakfast. And oh, the cakes – cinnamon and ginger bread and cream cheese and wild berry. While we sat perusing the massive menu, and watching the snow fall softly outside, Russian murmurings filled the cafe, as the scent of hot chocolate wafted through the air. I was in birthday heaven. The cafe features a variety of about twenty ornate cakes daily, and the baker’s descriptions were so luscious and detailed.¬†¬†I literally stood in front of this display for five minutes while the baker described the ingredients in each cake – and what’s in THAT one?!?

Happy b'day to me! I Love Cakes in Moscow
Oh, this is happening. Happy b’day to me!
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Chocolate ganache, with layers of cream cheese and chocolate cinnamon frosting covered in berries
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Could this be any more cozy?!

Taras Bulba РUkranian restaurant. Bustling, boisterous, full of warmth and good cheer.  Great, rich, comfort food Рdumplings, chicken kiev, etc. * Note, they serve sour cream with everything!*  Features dancing and folk singing. The type of homey, heart-warming experience you are always hoping for when traveling. We had our Xmas dinner here, and this will live on in our memories as one of our most exotic and exuberant Christmas meals.

Bjorn – Decorated with pine needles and pine cones and reindeer antlers, this Nordic restaurant has a rustic yet modern charm. Ordered the mushroom cream soup, served with potatoes and crispy onions and a sparkling ros√© Russian wine. (I didn’t even know Russia produced wine!) Served with a basket full of hearty brown bread topped with large flakes of sea salt, and home churned butter. Made me want to visit the Nordic countries. Located across the bridge from the Kremlin.


Mitzva Bar: Underground Jewish bar in Moscow – right next to Bjorn. Taking the winding staircase down to the bar feels like descending into the lair of a changeling. Massive crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tell the bartender what flavors you like and he will create a cocktail for you. My specialized drink was lemon with Prosecco and a hint of something sweet – citrusy and fresh. Brad’s was…weird. He ended up ordering one of mine. We also ordered a Mediterranean plate with hummus and other dips served in an ornate silver platter. The hummus and olive tapenade were very tasty. There were several other dips that can only be described as overwhelming fishy – just straight fish slime and salt really.¬† Oh well, risk you must take when the entire menu is in Russian!

The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy it in the grand lobby, while imagining Russian dignitaries, artisocrats and artists swanning about the place. Filled with twinkling xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a piano player adds to the ambiance. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. The waitress will also bring snacks including some of the best giant olives I have tasted since since our trip to Greece.

Brooklyn Burger: I have to include this place, because the staff was so ridiculously friendly.¬† We arrived from a 20 minute walk down Arbat street absolutely freezing. Upon realizing that we did not speak a word of Russian, the waiter apologized that he had no English menus but would be happy to help us find something we would like, went though the entire menu with us and brought us two tasty burgers (chicken for me), and a pot of fresh brewed fruit tea. The first thing the waiter asked in a thick Russian accent – “Where are you from? I knew immediately you were not from around here, as you look like you are dressed for the Arctic, and it is not that cold.” Brad and I burst out laughing. (It’s 12 degrees outside! We are covered in snow. It’s COLD man! In what world is this not cold?) Then he proceeded to tell us about how, to celebrate his last birthday, he went to a cabin in the forest with friends, and when they tried to drive home, they discovered the oil had frozen in the car. “That was cold, he said, even for me.¬† Negative 40 degrees is cold.”

Next blog post: Four Days In Saint Petersburg!

Christmastime in Moscow: Exploring Russia’s Most Magical City

Moscow xmas market carosaul

Dazzling, majestic, endlessly romantic and supremely foreign in the best possible way, visiting Moscow at Christmastime is a once in a lifetime experience, and a winter wonderland waiting to be explored.

Saint Basil's Cathedral Moscow
We are in RUSSIA!

We arrived to Moscow around 5pm in 12 degree weather, during an intense snowfall. After taking a harrowing taxi and dropping our bags off at The Veily Hotel, we put on pretty much every item of clothing we packed, and headed into the night for the Christmas market. We had a perfectly located hotel, right next to Red Square. The walk took us through a fairytale snow covered park, along the walls of the Kremlin, past sculptures of bears fighting wolves, and stampeding horses.

Gorgeous Moscow The Kremlin at Christmas
Returning from drinks at the Metropol, we were rewarded with THIS view ‚̧

Russian Christmas decorations and festivities are jaw droppingly spectacular. A glittering, frosty, winter wonderland, everywhere you look in Moscow is a delight. St. Basil’s cathedral and the twinkling GUM department store form the backdrop of the Christmas market held in Red Square, and the sight is heart stopping. My first glimpse of St. Basil’s Cathedral made me gasp, a puff of frigid air dissipating into the night. I still get chills thinking about my first sight of it in the distance, huge flakes of snow falling silently, as the live band broke into a Russian folk song, so familiar and yet supremely foreign, I nearly teared up with the sheer rush of feeling that overcame me. We were in RUSSIA!

Moscow Christmas Market - First evening
Our first evening in Moscow – straight to the Xmas market
Moscow xmas market carosaul
How epic is this carousal?

We arrived to the Christmas market, and ran around enjoying the electric ambiance as long as we could tolerate the frigid temps. We grabbed two gluweins and joined in the Russian dancing. We strolled the stalls filled with matryoshka dolls and fur hats. We marveled at the Kremlin, and the endless snow, and the lights.

Everything in Russia is more. More grand, more towering, more majestic, more take-your-breath-away frigid than most other places. The monuments are a marvel. The train stations are endless. The carousals in the Christmas markets are two story. We were in awe the entire trip.

Moscow Red Square Entrance To The Xmas Market
Entrance to the Xmas Market
Xmas tree farm - Moscow Christmas Market
Pretty glorious setting to choose your Xmas tree!
Moscow Xmas Market - the winter wonderland of my dreams
Winter wonderland of my dreams

Must See Favorites:

The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy in the grand lobby. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. I have been dreaming of this baby since Brad sent pictures from the grand lobby in Moscow last December. Thought I would die with jealousy. Filled with twinkling Xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a tuxedo-ed piano player adds to the ambiance. During our second visit, a grand gala was taking place and we had the added bonus of people watching as couples swept out of the ballroom, wearing ballgowns and adorned in glittering jewels and furs.

Stranger in Moscow at The Metropol
This is a Stranger in Moscow. From now on, I would like all of my cocktails encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini goblet filled with chocolate please!
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The glittering, gold gilded, iconic Metropol Hotel

Transportation:  Many places in Moscow are walkable, or you can take the train which is surprisingly easy to navigate and very cheap. They also have Uber.

St. Basil’s Cathedral: Awe inspiring on so many levels. Built in the 16th century by order of Ivan the Terrible. We visited mostly at night, and the atmosphere was electric.

The Kremlin: The armory and diamond treasury are captivating and transporting. Like stepping into a Tolstoy novel. We purchased tickets day of. Be prepared to walk quite a ways to access the armory.

The Christmas Market and surrounding streets, particularly Nikolskaya St: Absolutely breathtaking. The markets are open quite late, and as our taxi driver told me: “Moscow is a 24- hour city. She never sleeps.” Shopping at the Xmas Markets: Stroll the stalls full of¬† handmade¬†Matryoshka dolls, colorful scarves, fur hats and other unique items.

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Cathedral of Christ the Savior  Рtook my breath away incredible. Ornate. Incredibly moving experience. Flickering candles, Russians with heads bent in prayer. Sweeping, majestic high arched ceilings with paintings of angels in heaven.

The Bolshoi: Stop at this beloved ballet venue, on the way to the Metropol for drinks and some Soviet glamour! Particularly gorgeous in the evening.

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Lenin’s Tomb: Gazing at the 5’5 Lenin’s perfectly preserved body in an open coffin under bulletproof glass is a truly bizarre experience and lesson in Russian culture. You spend less then five minutes viewing the body, as the que moves very quickly.¬† Armed guards are stationed every 15 feet or so along the walk, and they are vigilant. You are not allowed to carry backpacks, use cellphones or cameras. Speaking is prohibited. I had my hand in my pockets because the tomb was freezing, and at one point a very scary guard walked up to me and gently murmured in Russian that I must remove my hands from my pockets. WHAT? DONE. Time to get out of here! Located steps from the Kremlin wall, the mausoleum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. The entrance is free.

Train Stations: Moscow has some ornate and epic train stations. My favorite – Ploshchad Revolyutsii was flanked by bronze sculptures. Tickets cost less than one euro.

Where to stay:

Veliy OTel’ Mokhovaya Moscow: Perfect location, steps away from the Kremlin and Red Square, through a gorgeous snow covered park. Right next to Taras Bulba, a fabulously fun Ukrainian restaurant with singing and dancing.

Next blog post: Favorite Moscow eats!