Reykjavik – Where to Stay and Eat

It’s no secret that Iceland is probably one of the trendiest countries to visit right now, and it’s not hard to see why. For those looking for a trip that is like no other, Iceland fits that bill. As the site of where they film Game of Thrones and created the world from Interstellar, it’s easy to wander around the country and feel like you’re on another planet.

The capital of Reykjavik is about a 50 minute drive from the airport. When you fly in, be sure to stop in the Duty Free liquor store to stock up on some alcohol for your trip if you want to save some money (liquor is very expensive in Iceland due to the taxes). Beer and wine can be purchased in country though for reasonable prices (Einstock and Borg are both excellent beer options). Vínbúdin was our store of choice frequently (this chain has locations throughout the country).

Driving around the country is quite easy, and it seems like most of the rental cars come with GPS. Everyone speaks English and are all very friendly, so it’s not hard to get around–which is lucky because any tourist trying to pronounce Icelandic words will undoubtedly be spewing out gibberish.

As I alluded to earlier, food prices are quite high. But despite the prices, the quality of most of the food we ate was excellent. DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER. It’d be a total waste of your money. The tap water is probably the cleanest tasting water I’ve ever had. Keep in mind that when you run the water hot, it smells a little funky, like rotten eggs, because of the sulfur, but it’s fine when it’s running cold.

Reykjavik itself is a very unassuming city. There are no skyscrapers, and the atmosphere is very slow-paced and chill. I’d recommend giving yourself a weekend to see everything in Reykjavik, but you probably don’t need much more than that. Most of the highlights from the trip are from the sights outside the city, and I’ll be getting into each of those in upcoming blog posts.

One other thing–obviously Iceland is cold. But what I hadn’t realized is how much the cold would affect the battery on my cell phone. So my advice would be to make sure your phone stays as close to your body as possible, and on the really cold days (especially when you’re out on the glaciers), be very judicious in choosing when to take pictures. My phone died on several occasions just from being out in the elements too long. My advice is also to invest in a portable charger like I did to kick start it back to life in the car.

Where to Stay

Hótel Óðinsvé
Þórsgötu 1, 101 Reykjavík

Great location, fantastic front desk staff. Don’t bother trying to put the address in the GPS because for some reason those Icelandic letters in the street name don’t show up. Instead, put the hotel name in the “Points of Interest” category and it should show up that way. For $300 a night, three of us shared one of their 3 bed flats.

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Where to Eat

SandholtBrauð & Co., and Bergsson Mathús for breakfast
Address and hours on their respective websites.

It’s gotta be something in the water. We were convinced of it based on how good the bread in Iceland is. Any one of these locations offers delicious brunch options with their pastries, such as chocolate croissants and raisin danishes, being the highlights. Sandholt and Bergsson Mathús are good options if you want to sit and eat. Bergsson Mathús is a bit smaller, and cozier, but Sandholt has more food options, including lunch options to-go. I recommend grabbing sandwiches from Sandholt for lunch later in the day, especially if you’re going to be driving the Golden Circle. Brauð & Co. is more of a grab and go place; be sure to grab one of their cinnamon rolls.


Brauð & Co.

Bergsson Mathús

Lækjargata 2a, 101 Reykjavík

This steak house was a little tough to find; we kept missing the small sign that leads to an alley which takes you to the building it’s in. This restaurant is quite pricey, but not any more pricey than going to a really nice steakhouse in the states. On the menu were various items which you probably won’t find elsewhere (such as puffin and whale). Full disclosure: We tried both the puffin and whale. Was there a bit of cognitive dissonance doing it? Absolutely yes. And although we were assured by one of our tour guides that the whale that is served isn’t the “endangered” kind, it still felt a little off. But alas, we tried it, and my advice — don’t bother. It’s nothing to write home about. You can order sashimi and it’s practically the same thing. What is worth writing home about from Grillmarkaðurinn? The black sea salt butter that came with the delicious bread (the bread again!), the 27 day aged ribeye, and the Golden Circle cocktail.

Skólavörðustígur 14, 101 Reykjavík

You can make the argument that the single best entree may have been the 27 day aged ribeye from Grillmarkaðurinn, but I think most from my group would agree that Sjávargrillið was the best overall dining experience. The prices were a bit lower and the ambiance was a little brighter and more casual. The specialty of this restaurant is seafood, and that’s what we went with and on the whole, the entire meal was a winner. Each of our entrees was excellent: the catch of the day catfish with mashed potatoes, the salmon with cous cous, the fried cod with cous cous, and grilled tuna with bok choy. The appetizers included lobster tacos, carpaccio, and Arctic char. But the highlight was the creme brûlée with liquid nitrogen pistachio ice cream dessert which one member of our party declared “This is it!” and joked that his trip at that point may as well have been over.

Hot Dogs
Various locations

They love hot dogs in Iceland. Not totally sure where that love comes from. But it’s a lot like how Hawaiians love SPAM type thing. The street hot dogs are a good drunk food or if you just want a snack. They’re not really any different from a New York hot dog, but the bun is toasted and the gravy they put on it is pretty tasty.

Where to Drink

Mikkeller & Friends
Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík

This dark, cozy, bohemian style beer house offers 20 different styles of beer on tap. It’s definitely a great spot if you want to lay low after a long day of sightseeing, but because you’re so closely packed in with other customers, don’t be surprised if a conversation sparks with your neighbors.

1, 105, Þórunnartún, Reykjavík

This beer garden could not be more opposite in atmosphere to Mikkeller & Friends. Located within the lobby of a hotel, this beer hall was brighter, had higher ceilings, live music, and the clientele was much more professional. That being said, the beer offerings were still quite excellent and Bjórgarðurinn had more more of a food menu.

Questionable Restaurants

Matur og Drykkur

We came to Matur og Drykkur in order to have a  traditional Icelandic meal. I feel a bit torn because I don’t want to give it a “bad” review; the service and atmosphere were actually quite nice. But the food was, shall we say, unique. Some of us really didn’t like it, other were okay with it. Personally, I didn’t hate it, but it is a meal that will test your palette.  A lot of the food is really salty. And the cod head I ordered was truly bizarre–again it didn’t necessarily taste badly, it was just weird. So my advice is this: If you really want to step out of your comfort zone, give this place a try. But don’t go if you’re really hungry, or are not willing to pay a high price for a meal that may not necessarily sit well in your stomach.

The bizarre cod fish head…


We stopped by here for a drink before dinner, and it wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t as great as the reviews would make it seem. The cocktails were perfectly decent and fun, but for the price I’d prefer to spend my time and money somewhere else.

Coming Up: Things to do in Reykjavik

Quick Tip: Getting back into the U.S. from Mexico requires a big cooler

I recently traveled to a friend’s beach house in Puerto Peñasco/Rocky Point, Mexico and discovered (but not at all surprised) that while you can get into Mexico really easily, getting back into the U.S.? Not so much.

This is a just a quick tip for those of you who are driving into Mexico and planning on driving back into the U.S.  Pack a cooler–a big one.

This was us for 3 hours

The traffic jam we hit trying to cross the border added about 3 hours to our drive, and most of that 3 hours was spent sitting in the 100 degree sun baking our van.  Despite the A/C being on full blast, only hot air was filling up the van because we were moving an inch every 5 minutes. We did not prepare for such a wait, and I’ve never experienced as much jealousy as when I could see folks in the cars around us popping open their coolers and drinking ice cold waters and beers.

Traffic, traffic, traffic…

While there were a few folks on the road selling drinks, tamales (yes, we bought some and they were delicious), souvenirs, and use of their toilets, even for Mexico the prices were a rip off, so you may as well get that cooler filled up yourself.

I’m not sure if all the border crossings are like this (we were crossing into Arizona), but I would suspect that they are.  And it probably should have been an obvious thing to prepare for; it was just an oversight on our part–one that you should make sure not to make.

But of course it was all worth it because for 4 days I got to see this…

Brew Coup

Do you love breweries?  Do you love traveling?  Well if the answer is yes to both, check out Brew Coup.  My buddy is kicking off his new site with his guide to breweries in North Carolina, and will be updating it with his reviews of breweries around the world. And having sampled well over 1,000 beers, this guys knows what he’s talking about.  Check it out!

Hanoi: What to Do

A few days in Hanoi is chaotic at best because there is so much that you can do. Aside from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, Hanoi is full of activities worth checking out. There’s a lot to cover so I’ll get right to it.

Hỏa Lò Prison Museum
Open daily 8 a.m. — 5 p.m.

This is probably my favorite of the museums we visited purely because it was so visceral. Nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by POWs during the Vietnam War, this prison held Vietnamese revolutionaries during their struggle for independence from the French as well as famous Americans, such as Senator John McCain. Much of the exhibit consists of prison garments worn by Americans and a lot of propaganda videos portraying the prisoners as being treated super well (which were very amusing). But all these displays were a stark contrast to the dungeon cells that they kept unruly prisoners shackled down in, the main room made to fit only 40 prisoners, but held 100 with only one barrel for a toilet, and the several methods of torture on display, along with the french guillotine used for executions.

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Vietnamese Women’s Museum
Open daily 8 a.m. — 5 p.m.

The Vietnamese hold their historical women in high regard, and that is reflected in this museum. This, along with the Hỏa Lò Prison, I think are a better combination of museums that show the history of Vietnam than the actual National Museum of Vietnamese History (coming up). The exhibits in this museum highlight all aspects of what it means to be a woman in Vietnamese culture and shows profiles of numerous women of different historical backgrounds. Some standout parts for me were seeing the bamboo tubes used to keep umbilical cords until that child passes away, a bracelet given to a girl fighting the French with her name on it, so that if she died her father could ID her body, and the picture of a mother embracing her son who she thought was a traitor for years, but in actuality was a double agent.

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Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake

There’s no way you won’t walk along this lake at some point if you’re staying in the Old Quarter. Whether during the day or night, this serene body of water offers a nice getaway from the crazy traffic and there’s a good chance you’ll see folks dancing or doing Tai Chi on the shores. Take a walk over the Huc Bridge and check out the Ngoc Son Temple (Open daily 7:30 a.m. — 5:30 p.m.; 20K VND) to learn more about the myth of the giant turtle who lives in the lake and protects the magical sword used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam.

National Museum of Vietnamese History
40K VND/Adult, 15K VND/Student
Open daily 8 a.m. — noon, 1:30 p.m. — 5 p.m.
Closed 1st Monday of the month

For an overview of the history of the area, this museum encapsulates all of Vietnam’s culture and heritage dating back to its prehistoric periods. While the Hỏa Lò Prison Museum and Women’s Museum were a bit more engaging to me than this one, if you’re into archaeology, this is the place for you. On top of the prehistoric fossils and relics, the museum features several of Ho Chi Minh’s manuscripts, anti-French revolutionary artifacts, and more Vietnam War stuff. They say no photos are allowed, but no one seemed to follow those rules, so snap away.

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Bach Ma Temple
No charge
Open Tue-Sunday 8 a.m. — 11 a.m., 2 p.m. — 5 p.m.

We stumbled upon this temple completely on accident, and were drawn in because they were having a concert that was open to the public. We discovered that it is supposedly the oldest temple in Hanoi. It had the most elaborate decorations of the temples we’d see in the city, and was so compact it kind of felt like going to your hoarder grandma’s house with all her trinkets and stuff everywhere (though this could be due to the fact that there was a concert going on).


Temple of Literature
30K VND/Adult, 15K VND/Student
Open daily 8 a.m. — 5 p.m.

This temple is dedicated to Confucius and is much larger than the Bach Ma Temple. It’s made up of multiple plazas and displays several dozen stone tortoises with doctors’ stelae (a stela is a tablet that acts as the story/diploma of the doctor). Multiple pagodas in the temple house shrines to kings and Confucius, and it’s easy to see how this quiet complex would be a nice place for studying.

Long Bien Bridge

If you want to go for a bit of a hike, check out the Long Bien Bridge. A symbol of the Vietnam War, this bridge was bombed by the Americans numerous times, but was always repaired and to this day represents Hanoian resilience. We didn’t actually make it all the way across, but that shouldn’t stop you if you want to try.

Mido Spa
26 Hàng Mành, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm
Hà Nội 10000, Vietnam
Open daily 9 a.m. — 11 p.m.

Like the rest of Southeast Asia, there’s no shortage of places in Vietnam to get a massage. While I can’t speak to all of them in Hanoi, Mido Spa was quite nice. Being so affordable, I decided to try a hot stone massage for the first time and with that experience I’ve pretty much ruined all other massages for the rest of my life. The hot stones worked out the kinks better than any Swedish, Sports, Thai, or Deep Tissue massage I’ve done in the past. So with all the walking you’ll be doing, take a few hours off, and for about a quarter of the price you would pay in the U.S.– “Treat yo self!”  (There are no photos because that would just be weird.)

and for cheap!

Drinking on Ta Hien and surrounding area

At night, Ta Hien and the surrounding area turns into a smaller version of Pub Alley in Siem Reap. Tons of people are out on streets enjoying beers and street food. If you want to go really cheap, look for Bia Hoi (25 cent beers) signs and have a seat. Bia Hoi generally isn’t offered at the normal bars; it’s just random people who make kegs of it and sell it out of their homes, but it’s an actually pretty okay pilsner and, in some cases, tastes better than the already cheap $1 corporate stuff like Bia Siagon or 333. It was at one Bia Hoi stand that we met a couple from Chicago who were wrapping up a four year Peace Corps stint. We drank multiple beers together for three to four hours and our tab ended up being about $10 total! It’s in this area you can also catch live music on the streets, see the amusing “Obama” Bar, or go into a club and inhale helium out of weird balloons that they sell (really, really popular with the locals and the most bizarre thing I’ve seen at a club). They’re pretty strict about their curfew in Vietnam, so don’t expect to go out partying super late.

Dong Xuan Market and Night Market in the Old Quarter
Dong Xuan hours: Daily 7 a.m. — 9 p.m.

Like many other markets around the world, Dong Xuan Market offers the usual food, clothes, electronics, gifts, etc. for locals and tourists. On the weekends in the Old Quarter, several blocks are closed to motor traffic in order to have a pedestrian only street market that starts at Dong Xuan and runs south to the Hoan Keim Lake.  It’s definitely worth taking a walk down to see, but for my money, I’d save the souvenir shopping for Hoi An (that post is upcoming).

Coming Up: Halong Bay


Beers and Bites in Denver

My trip to Denver didn’t really include any food places that would knock your socks off, but there are a few dishes and some breweries (there are A LOT of breweries in Denver) that are worth checking out if you happen to be in that particular area.  However, I wouldn’t go out of your way to find any of these places if aren’t already close by.

La Biblioteca
1610 Little Raven St, #200
Denver, CO 80202

One of the appetizers at this bar pretty much made the night.  The Ahi Tuna Taco appetizer is phenomenal.  Because the bar is attached to the Zenga restaurant next door, the taco shell they use is made out of wonton.  The crunch from that, along with the guacamole, mango, sticky rice, and fresh tuna make this the single favorite dish I had in Denver.  Admittedly, it’s a little pricey ($13.50 for three pretty small tacos), but it’s something I had no problem getting over because the dish was that good.

Yum. Just yum.
Yum. Just yum.

Steuben’s Restaurant
523 E 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

This retro diner had one of the most eclectic crowds I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.  Sitting at tables around us were, and this isn’t an exaggeration, a fancy Great Gatsby dressed baby shower (I think?), three Amish looking people, two African American guys dressed like they were extras in Straight Outta Compton, Grandpa and Grandma Joe, and, of course, a slew of plaid wearing hipsters.  Wearing just t-shirts and jeans, I’d say we were the “normal” looking group, but I’d suffice to say that each one of those tables also thought that about themselves.

Along with the diverse crowd was a fun, neighborhoody vibe.  The music was loud, the food was good, but their beer selection needs work (there are no draft beers).  Their cocktail list however was extensive.  There’s an outdoor patio for the warmer days in Denver and our waitress was super efficient.  If I was going to suggest one thing to get on the menu, it’d be the gravy fries appetizer.  It’s essentially their version of poutine.  It’s not as good as Duckfat’s, but it’s right up there.

Denver Beer Company
1695 Platte St
Denver, CO 80202

In keeping with my recent tradition of going to local breweries, Denver Beer Company wins the prize for the most dog friendly of the breweries I’ve seen.  Beyond being able to play with other customers’ puppies (which truly is awesome), Denver Beer Company is a pretty run-of-the-mill brewery.  The place has the same feel as Allagash in Portland, ME and their beers, although very good, aren’t anything spectacular.

Illegal Pete’s
Several locations throughout the Denver area

This Mexican place looks like a group of BMX bikers and skateboarders got a hold of a Chipotle and made it their own.  Imagine a Chipotle, but with skateboarder stickers all over the place, tattooed employees, and a bar with 20 local beers on tap.  The setup is the same as Chipotle where you make your own burrito, but they do offer fish, and before they roll up your burrito they mix up all the ingredients in a bowl (so that you don’t get that annoying bite of only rice).  Outside there are picnic tables and a giant bocce court.   It’s open late night as well, so you can get your Mexican fix at 2 AM after a night of drinking.

Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 18th Street
Denver, CO 80202

My co-workers and I discovered this place because it was the answer to one of the team building scavenger hunts we had earlier that day.  Apparently it is Denver’s first craft brewery.  Located downtown, the brewery itself is actually pretty large; there’s a giant pool hall on the second floor which they say is Denver’s biggest.  We only were able to pop in for a drink and a quick pic with the Wynkoop gorilla (which sadly is on my co-worker’s phone), but the best beer of the trip goes to Wynkoop’s Cowtown Milk Stout — definitely worth a try if you like darker beers.

Cowtown Milk Stout
Cowtown Milk Stout

909 17th Street
Denver, CO 80202

Unbeknownst to me before I got there, Panzano is actually the restaurant for the Hotel Monaco Denver downtown.  Since my company’s meeting was in that hotel, we had an informal dinner there the night we flew in.  I wasn’t really expecting that much thinking it was just the hotel restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised at how good my dish was.  The Ragu di Agnello (House made mafaldine pasta, lamb ragú, demi-glace, and Pecorino tartufo) was delicious.  Having just been in Italy a few months ago, this dish comes pretty damn close to what I had over there and I would definitely recommend it.

Ragu di Agnello

Drinking Beer in Portland, Maine

Portland, Oregon may boast popular breweries like Rogue and Deschutes, but Portland, Maine has quite a few breweries of their own.

Maine Beer Company
525 US-1, Freeport, ME 04032
Hours: M-Sat 11-7; Sun 11-5

Located in Freeport, ME near the giant L.L. Bean headquarters, Maine Beer Company boasts what I consider probably the best quality beer of the breweries in the area.  Offering a $10 flight of four or $18 for a flight of eight, this brewery is pretty no-nonsense when it comes to naming their beers (e.g. Four of their beers are called Beer I, Beer II, Beer III, and Beer IV).  While the $18 may seem a little steep, their pours are very generous and the beers are very strong, so you’ll be feeling nice and good by the end of it.


They have a wonderful seating area outside next to the giant solar panels that power the place and offer pretty good pretzels from a local bakery called When Pigs Fly that would’ve been better if they found a way to serve them hot.

Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way, Portland, ME 04103
Hours: 11-6

Allagash is probably the most popular company to come out of Maine since most people know of their Allagash White.  It’s located technically in Portland, but resides in an office park outside the city; you’ll think you’re lost until you roll right up to it.  Allagash offers a free tasting of a flight of four that they choose for you.  Their beers are very good, though I could have done without the sour one, and Allagash’s tasting area/patio probably offers the most “fun” since there are games such as Cornhole, playing cards, Jenga, etc. available for the patrons.

Shipyard Brewing Company
86 Newbury St, Portland, ME 04101
Hours: M-Sat 11-5; Sun 12-4

Shipyard is the least well known nationally of the Portland breweries we visited, but it is a local New England favorite.  Their brewery is located in the city itself, and their tasting room feels more like a tourist gift shop than a brewery.  That being said, in addition to all the souvenirs you can buy, they offer a free tasting in the back tasting room and unlike Allagash, you can pick which four you’d like to try.  Their beers are unspectacular, but solid.  They could up their glass game a bit though as the tastings were served in dixie cups.  All that being said, the server was the friendliest of the three breweries we visited, and I did come away with an awesome Shipyard beer bucket.

43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101
Hours: Sun-Thur 11-9; Fri & Sat 11-10

Get this. Just get it.
Get this. Just get it.

On a somewhat related note, Shipyard is a block away from Duckfat, a local Portland favorite eatery.  All I need to say is this:  Get the Poutine fully loaded with duck and egg.  That is all.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s easy to say that I’ve had a pretty good year of traveling in 2015 and my final trip of the year started off with a weekend in Amsterdam and then a week in Tuscany/Florence.  Amsterdam has always been on my bucket list and this city offers far more than its deviant reputation of the Red Light District and legal marijuana.  It boasts several amazing museums, canals and bridges that arguably trump those in Venice, and a great nightlife.  And it is all very doable in a 3-4 day weekend.

Our trip didn’t start off too well however.  I won’t get too much into the details so I’ll truncate it a bit.  First off, don’t fly United Airlines internationally.   Just don’t.   Secondly, if you’re going to use AirBnB be aware of a few things.  1) Their help numbers didn’t work when I tried to reach them in an emergency.  2) If you book an apartment through AirBnB, be sure that the apartment you’re choosing has been thoroughly reviewed positively.   It should have at least 15 reviewers give it a thumbs up.  We rolled the dice on a place and let’s just say our first morning of Amsterdam constituted of an unguided walking tour of the city with our luggage.  (In the end, we got into the apartment we rented, but it was completely unprepared, dirty, and smelly and the apologetic owner claimed that she had cancelled her AirBnB account the week prior…)

After that unfortunate morning, we put aside our frustration because we were set to explore.  The first thing you’ll notice in the city is how big of a biking culture it is.  I’ve never seen so many people on bikes in my life.  Be sure to be careful on the sidewalk, because unlike in the US, the bike lanes are part of the sidewalk and not the street, so if you stroll into one, you will most likely get in the way of the cyclists.

Getting around the city center is easy by walking and almost all of the locals speak impeccable English.  With words like “flüggåәnkб€čhiœßølįên” (for you EuroTrip fans) you’d think getting around Amsterdam would be more challenging, but the Dutch are all very fluent in English (at least the ones we met) and it came close to feeling like we weren’t even in Europe at various points because of how comfortable we felt.


One other thing we were told is this, and you should know it going into your trip.  GET ALL TICKETS IN ADVANCE.  It’ll save you a ton of time waiting in line for the museums.  They offer package deals as well that include various combinations of canal rides and museums that I would highly recommend you take advantage of to save some money.  Also, apparently the locals don’t go out on the weekends because they don’t like dealing with tourists, so their “going out” nights are Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Here are a few of the things we did on the first day:

Heineken Experience

This is worth checking out, especially if you’re a beer drinker who’s done a few brewery tours in the U.S.  This is like a U.S. brewery tour on steroids.  No need to get an audio guide because the whole thing is in English.  The tour itself begins with a pretty standard history of Heineken, the beer making process, and then a tasting.  Then it gets a little wild.  First you go on a “Star Tours” like ride where you’re in a room that moves and sprays mist and stuff at you while a movie plays showing the beer making process as if you were in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.  Then you walk through an Epcot Center like multimedia chamber with all sorts of random games, light things, music, etc.  The end of the tour consists of a lounge area that looks like a nightclub where you can get two fresh, cold Heinekens as part of your ticket fee.  Be sure to check out the tables with the electronic table tops.  You’ll notice that wherever you set your beer, an electronic “coaster” pops up underneath it.

NJOY Cocktail Bar
Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 93
1017 PX Amsterdam, Netherlands

Be sure to grab a drink at NJOY.  We actually just chose this place randomly to get a quick drink before exploring for the evening and it paid off.  First off, the drinks were amazing.  Expensive, but amazing.  If you’re lucky enough to get the bartender we had, order an Envy (it’ll be a flaming cognac drink) or a “Rum Old Fashioned” which isn’t on the menu but a libation that our guy put together himself.  Secondly, the bar looked like it was owned by Prince.  Everything was in purple.  For the people in DC, imagine if Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street was actually a classy place — that’s NJOY.  What really set the place apart though was the staff.  The staff were friendly and sociable enough, but what put them over the top was that they went out of their way to put together a full two page list of things we needed to see, do, where to eat, drink, etc.  And we utilized this list to a great degree throughout the trip and never came across anything on it that wasn’t a very good experience including where we went to dinner afterwards…

Castell BAR-becue Restaurant
Lijnbaansgracht 252-253-254
1017 RK Amsterdam, Netherlands

Which brings me to Castell.  In general, Danish food isn’t anything to write home about.  In fact, they love American hamburgers in Amsterdam so much, there was practically a burger joint on every block.  But this place Castell could arguably be the best meal of the trip (it was definitely my buddy’s favorite, though I reserve my favorite for a Tuscan place I’ll blog about later on).  The place was packed when we got in, so make a reservation.  We just happened to be lucky enough to grab two open seats at the bar.  Castell has a dive bar vibe, but at the same time hip, trendy and classy.  The bar area ended up being pretty awesome because it had really, really comfortable bar chairs, and the counter was cushioned on the end to put your elbows on comfortably.  The steaks, oh my god the steaks.  Perfectly done.  Can’t say anything else about it, just perfect.  Now admittedly, we were drunk when we ate here, but I’m fairly confident the food is amazing there no matter what condition you’re in.

Next up: I’ll get into what Amsterdam is notorious for — The Red Light District.

WTF – Both the name of the bar and what happened that night.

After a busy, busy day in Bangkok we headed out to see the nightlife by starting at a bar we found through Lonely Planet called WTF Bangkok.  WTF is located on Soi 51, down a relatively dead alleyway.  When you walk in, it’s your typical hipster dive bar with an art gallery on the second floor (which was unfortunately closed).   The mainly expat staff was friendly and our bartender Kris made us feel right at home recommending her favorite Thai beers and a great eggplant/eel sauce(?) dish (and I don’t even like eggplant) from the Japanese restaurant next door that caters to the WTF patrons.

Kris and Brian working at WTF.
Kris and Brian working at WTF.

As the night wore on, and the drinks kept flowing, we began to get really friendly with all the staff working that night, including the friends of the staff who were at the bar, and the chefs from across the street who were regular customers as well.  Thus began our one night in Bangkok (cue the Murray Head).

Needless to say, a massive amount of libations were consumed, so the memory on this one is spotty at best.  As WTF was coming to a close, one of the chef’s, Sam, made the suggestion to all go to a lady-boy bar.  This wouldn’t typically be the destination of choice for myself in any normal situation.  But this wasn’t a normal situation.  This was Bangkok.  So hell yes we were gonna go along to a lady-boy bar with the locals.

Before you get any thoughts in your head, I’m putting this out there: nothing happened with any lady-boys to me or anyone in the group.  Needless to say, the lady-boy bar was very bizarre.  The actual place wasn’t anything special; you could swap out the people in any dive bar with a pool table with lady-boys and that would be the scene.  And to be honest, the lady-boys who ended up hanging out with us were actually pretty friendly.  Even though they were likely soliciting for sex, which we weren’t going to give them, they were still fun to be around.  One of the girls in our group told us that the proper etiquette is to at the very least buy one of the lady-boys a beer, which is what each of us did.

WTF is going on in this picture?  I don't know.
WTF is going on in this picture? I don’t know.

Now I’m completely comfortable with that scene, but I would not have gone to a lady-boy bar had it not been with a group of locals.  I suspect that many of you reading will never end up there.  But I’m glad I did because Bangkok is a city where the societal lines of normality are placed differently than in other parts of the world and it’s something that was worth experiencing.

The lady-boy bar did not consist of the entire night.  We also went and got fried chicken/fried beef from bartender Brian’s favorite street cart, ended up at some random outdoor bar that literally consisted of a bar table and bar stools in a random dark alley, and went dancing again in some random night club down another random alley.  Yes, there was a lot of random in the night.  And because of that, the night ended at 6-6:30 AM.  Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that we had to be up at 8 AM for the Bangkok Food Tour.  My review of that on the next post.

Sydney – Part II

As I said, our second day was much more productive after a decent night sleep.  We woke up quite early and grabbed a coffee by a nearby cafe (Australians love their coffee) and set off to do a circuit of museums before embarking on one of the highlights of Sydney – the BridgeClimb.  Here’s a breakdown of the activities of this day.  Forewarning, I’m not kidding when I said we did a lot this day, so this blog post will be a tad longer than usual.

What we saw

ANZAC Memorial
Hyde Park, Sydney
Admission is free

This ANZAC Memorial (ANZAC stands for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”) was actually supposed to be a quick time killer while we waited for the Barracks Museum (discussed next) to open.  To our surprise, this memorial/museum ended up being one of the most interesting stops in Sydney.  It’s at the south end of Hyde Park, you really can’t miss it, and it’s well worth a visit.  The memorial itself is simple with only a Hall of Memory, Hall of Silence, and Well of Contemplation and the words on the ground simply say “Let silent contemplation be your offering”.  On the exterior, in a place generally where you’d find gargoyles at an old church, there are sculptures of different types of ANZAC soldiers such as doctors, engineers, infantry, sailors, etc.  On the bottom floor of the memorial is actually a free museum.  The museum provides a really interesting view of the life of an ANZAC soldier throughout history (the WWII stories were of particular interest), along with personal stories, letters and other personal effects.

Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Queens Square, Macquarie Street
Sydney, NSW 2000

After the ANZAC Memorial we made our way through Hyde Park, which is a lovely walk on a nice day, to the Barracks Museum.  The price to get in is $10, but if you’re planning on doing two or more of these select museums — Barracks Museum, Museum of Sydney, Justice and Police Museum, or Susannah Place Museum — I’d recommend getting the Sydney Living Museums pass which is $18.  The Barracks Museum gives a really nice history of how Australia started off as essentially a convict’s island and how the community built up from there.  The building itself gives a look at living conditions back in those days and is surprising interactive, allowing visitors to try on different types of clothing, or take a nap in a colonial bed or convict hammock.  The free audio guide is a nice plus as well.  Pretty neat experience.

Museum of Sydney
Cnr Phillip and Bridge Streets
Sydney, NSW 2000

Tell you something; I didn’t love this museum and probably wouldn’t recommend it.  Yes, it gave us a look at some more history of Sydney, but it only really touched upon things here and there (no pun intended).  The historical bits weren’t anymore in-depth than the travel guides we had.  There were two bigger exhibits, one of which was a giant room where kids could play with Legos (admittedly pretty cool, but that did cost extra) and an exhibit on a couple of Australian architects who I never heard of with displays of their work, which if you’re into architecture maybe that’d be cool for you.  There was however a cool theater in the museum which we sat in showing old 1940s documentaries on several things in Sydney, such as the building of the Harbour Bridge and such.  But if you’re only in Sydney for a few days, I’d spend the time you’d spend here on something else.

The Rocks Discovery Museum
Kendall Lane, The Rocks (enter via Argyle Street)
Sydney, NSW 2000
Admission is free

This is another free museum we went through on the way to the BridgeClimb.  The museum is quite small, but it’s free so it’s a nice little place to stop in and see a little history about The Rocks area of Sydney and a learn a little more about the indigenous culture.   One thing that really stood out about their displays was that the artifacts were in glass cases that also acted as touch screens.  It was pretty neat, looked like something out of Star Trek.  Outside the museum, you can find a lot of little shops and cafes that line the cobblestone streets.


This was the highlight of the day, and one of the signature activities to do in Sydney.  The BridgeClimb takes you to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for some great views of the city and for bragging rights to say you hiked up to the top of the most iconic structure in Australia (there are a number of celebrities that they have photos of at the top who’ve climbed it).  Now before you get any ideas, the walk up is not dangerous even though it seems like it might.  You’re harnessed in, so you would literally have to unhook your harness, hop over a rail at your elbow, and sidestep like 3 yards to fall off.  So don’t be too afraid to go if you’re someone who is a little afraid of heights.  The guides are all excellent, have a great sense of humor, and provide some really interesting facts about the bridge, city, and Australia in general on the walk up (you’re wearing headphones that are connected to the guide’s headset).  They offer walks at all points in the day, but it does get more expensive if you want to go at sunset and the price will vary depending on which arch you want to take to the top.  They also go up even if it’s raining, they do make you take a breathalyzer, and you can’t bring your own camera, so keep that in mind.  The day we went up it was cloudy and windy unfortunately.  That being said, there was something to the unpleasant climate that kind of added to the “coolness” factor of going to the top of the bridge — it felt more like an adventure.  I would definitely recommend checking it out (give yourself at least 3 hours in your day for it).

Sydney Opera House

So, there’s not a whole lot to say because we didn’t go in.  It’s a really neat building though, and you do kind of have to see it if you’re in Australia.  Unless you pay for a tour inside, or go in for a show, there’s not a lot to do outside the Opera House other than take some pictures and read about it in your guidebook.  Actually a lot of what we learned about the Opera House we got from the BridgeClimb guy.

Where we ate

East Circular Quay
Suite 18, 7 Macquarie Street
Sydney, NSW 2000

We actually came here randomly because we were looking for a place to eat lunch that was near the Sydney Harbour Bridge before the climb.  It ended up being a great place.  It’s got good views of the harbour with a good amount of outdoor seating (like most of the restaurants along Circular Quay going up to the Sydney Opera House).  They have a good beer selection of their own brews (I had their Little Creatures Pale Ale), and the food is pretty decent.  The fish and chips I had were really tasty and unlike in the US and London, the dish is surprisingly not greasy.  There was also live music playing for entertainment.


Sydney’s Chinatown is certainly a hopping place, and the night we went it was super busy.  It really felt like a going out place for people in Sydney.  There was no shortage of places to get noodles, dumplings, etc.  The place we chose was called Super Bowl Chinese and we chose it because there was a line 15 minutes long, so we figured it had to be good.  And yes, it was good, and cheap in Australian standards (remember everything there is more expensive to begin with).  But it’s not anything better than a good Chinese restaurant in the US, so I would go scouting it out, but if you end up there it’s not bad.  Let me know if you find a really good place in Chinatown if you ever go and I’ll post it.   Also, we stopped by the Australian-Chinese Ex-Services Monument because it had a bit of personal significance for my family.  If you have a couple minutes, it’s on the edge of Chinatown on the way to Darling Harbour and something to check out real quick.


“Australia from Beth”

Sydney Wildlife Day Tours – If you’re looking to explore more in NSW, this is an excellent tour option. The Whale Watching Spectacular tour with John far exceeded my expectations. The day was packed with stops to interesting and unique Australian sites including Royal National Park, Jervis Bay, Fitzroy Falls, Kangaroo Valley, among others. John is extremely knowledgeable and offered plenty of facts along the way. He explained the meaning and significance of each place, which really added a lot of value to the tour. The van was extremely clean and comfortable and there were plenty of snacks and drinks throughout the day. John was very attentive and considerate; he was more than happy to answer questions or offer to take our photo in front of the beautiful places we were visiting. During our whale watching cruise, we saw a large pod of dolphins and two humpback whales, which was an amazing thing to see! Visiting Hyams Beach was definitely one of the highlights of the day, as it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Sydney looking to see more of New South Whales. The South Coast is often overlooked by tourists coming to visit Australia, but it is truly a beautiful and unique place. John manages to show many of the highlights in this region while educating and keeping a comfortable pace throughout the day

Portland, Oregon

A few weeks ago I was out on the west coast for work and decided to take an addition few days to visit Portland, Oregon while I was out there.  Having heard a lot about the little city’s hipster vibe and seeing episodes of Portlandia here and there (pun intended), I figured a weekend trip to see what it was about was in order.

Didn't see those birds...or Carrie Brownstein.
Didn’t see those birds…or Carrie Brownstein.

Portland definitely lives up to a good amount of the stereotypes that I’d heard – lots of plaid, very relaxed/outdoorsy people, dogs everywhere, and a pretty good food scene for a small city.  Sadly though, I didn’t really see that many “bird” things – another one of those Portlandia inside jokes.

Portland is a great weekend trip, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to fly out there from the east coast unless you plan on doing an entire west coast thing.  The city is easily walk-able since the main part of the city you’d want to see is about a 3 square mile area, or you could travel around using the very convenient (and dog-friendly) $1 streetcar.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights:

Deschutes Brew Pub/BridgePort Brewing/Rogue Distillery and Public House

Deschutes Brewery
Deschutes Brewery

The city is so jam packed full of microbreweries that you can easily spend a day just brewery hopping.  Deschutes was my favorite.  The vibe was lively, the space was rustic/hipstery/laid back with a ton of natural lighting.  The beer flight at Deschutes I thought had some of the best samples (but that of course is entirely my own opinion) and they had a very “earth” friendly menu which included a fantastic pear and goat cheese pizza.  Also, you can stop by Powell’s City of Books afterward – the most ridiculously large bookstore I’ve ever been to. Second favorite was BridgePort, which was a little more modern, almost a little more chain-y, but still a very good beer selection (not as robust as Deschutes though).  Try the pretzels there as well.  And Rogue came in third, not because the quality was bad.  Far from it.  It may have just been a victim of the drank too much and didn’t know what was happening by the time we got there scenario…

Portland Japanese Garden/Rose Test Garden/Nob Hill shopping

Japanese sand garden
Japanese sand garden

To the north and west of the downtown districts of the city resides these beautiful outdoor landmarks of Portland.  It is totally random but at the same time totally makes sense that Portland would have these outdoor, serene, lush floral parks with no sign of urban life a few blocks away from the bustling city.  Adjacent to one another, the Japanese Garden is probably worth visiting before the Rose Test Garden since there is an admission fee (you’ll want to make the most out of your money).  Tip – if you do go during the last half hour it’s open, they will waive the standard admission fee and let you pay what you think is fair for the last half hour.

Strolling Pond garden
Strolling Pond garden

The Japanese Garden is like walking into a zen paradise – the waterfalls, rock sand gardens and lush fauna and flora really offer you an indescribable relaxation feeling.  You could just do nothing but sit and be happy in there.  The Rose Test Garden down the path is more like a public park with rows and rows of different species of roses from around the world.  It is also very nice, but not as serene with all the activity of people playing Frisbee, taking wedding pictures, etc.  A large amphitheater is located next to the Rose Test Garden as well where couples and families can lounge around or picnic.

Additionally, this was unintentional on our part because we got lost, it’s worth finding your way to the Oregon Holocaust Memorial down the street from the two parks.  While it’s obviously a somber place, it’s something you won’t regret viewing.  Once you’re done with the gardens (or before you go) you can easily walk down into the Nob Hill district to do some boutique shopping and grab an ice cream at Salt and Straw.  Try as many flavors as you want, they’re very generous with their samples because their flavors are so unique.  They also offer an ice cream flight.

Portland Saturday Market/Voodoo Doughnut

Portland Saturday Market
Portland Saturday Market

If you go to Portland on the weekend, check out the bustling Portland Saturday Market.  Rows and rows of tents hold different arts & crafts, beer/cider tastings (if Atlas Cider is there, give it a try), local clothing, etc. for you to meander through.  There are also several of the food trucks that Portland is known for there, and I would highly recommend the Greek gyro truck.  When we were there, various street acts were also performing magic and doing other weird…things…(not sure how else to describe a man putting his body through a tennis racket while juggling swords)

Near the Portland Saturday Market is the famous Voodoo Doughnut shop.  It’s open 24/7 and was made famous by being on pretty much every Travel Channel show documenting Portland and featured in several others because of their unique doughnuts and unmistakable pink boxes (No joke, I was accosted by 9 different people when I brought a box back to D.C. asking if they could have one or in the case of one business traveler telling me “You brought that from Portland?  That is f**king awesome).  The line will be long – be prepared to wait.


I suffered that cognitive dissonance that traveler’s often face.  I wanted to visit Voodoo because it was so well known and a “Portland” thing to do.  On the other hand, living in D.C., I hate seeing the long-ass line outside of Georgetown Cupcake and the stupidity of waiting in line for an hour for – a cupcake.  So, we were being those people.  Fortunately for us, we stopped in at a down hour (4 PM on Sunday) so the line was only about 15 minutes long (it can be an hour during peak times).   The doughnut list is so extensive, we just got a dozen of the “Employees Choice” where they just pick good ones for you.  Tip: While I still recommend the Employees Choice if you can’t make up your mind, be sure to get one of the Voodoo doll doughnuts.  It’s a doughnut shaped like a little man with a pretzel “pin” stabbing it.  Our cashier didn’t put one of those in our box and I was sad.  Also, the place is cash only.

Mother’s Bistro and Bar

If you’re in the mood for brunch, check out Mother’s Bistro for a meal.  There’s nothing there out of the ordinary, but the food they’ve got is crowd pleasing and filling.  I’ll also give a nod to their service – they live up to the “It’s all about the love” slogan.  When we asked if we could have a couple of the biscuits that were part of other meals as an addition to our meal, they happily brought them to us free of charge (they probably would have sold at Starbucks for like $5 each because of how huge they are).  The biscuits (and the blackberry jam it comes with) are legit awesome, with our waitress calling them “just plain stupid good”.  The owner/Chef Lisa also came around to greet us and every other table to see how everything was.