You might know I’m a little obsessed with Viator. It’s like Uber for tours when traveling! Lots and lots of tours for most cities you can imagine, all in one place. So when I booked my trip to Venice, the first place I turned for help with tours and activities was Viator. And really, all three tours I booked really delivered.
Walking Tour & Grand Canal Cruise: This was a great little combo pack of tours and while I was a little nervous about the gap in between sections — three hours — it worked out just perfectly. See, first we did a tour hour walking tour of Venice, which started at 11 am and ended at 1 pm. As part of the tour, we skipped the queue at St. Mark’s, which was handy. We also got to visit during the short part of the afternoon when St. Mark’s is actually lit up, which was nice. Then, I was free until 4 pm to wander the city and uh, eat. At 4 pm, I met a subgroup of the original group for a one hour private water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, which was honestly my favorite part of the trip. This was a very well-executed tour which I very much recommend. Book this tour.
Cicchetti & Wine Tour: My favorite tour hands down! Our wonderful tour guide, Simona, took us to FIVE cicchetti bars in central Venice which I totally probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. We had a little snack at each — some whipped bacalao at one, some ham and tomatoes at another, some fried sandwiches and olives at yet another — AND a glass of wine at each stop! I totally thought there were only four stops on this tour, so I was super sad when I thought the tour was over. BUT IT WASN’T OVER! Which was amazing. We made a fifth stop for more wine, more snacks, even more wine and then dessert. I highly, highly, highly recommend this tour. Book this tour.
Murano & Burano Tour: This tour was an extremely good value, given the mode of transport and the length of the tour — five hours. We traveled by spacious private water taxi to both Murano and Burano and had time to explore each. In Murano, I admired many a set of Murano drinking glasses, but ultimately decided I didn’t have the space for anything in my suitcase. In Burano, I downed some gelato before snapping pics of all the colorful houses. I wish I actually had more time on Burano — even if just an hour more — because the place is so darn cute. The only bad part of this tour is that the ride back from Burano is about an hour. If only they had provided snacks and drinks! Book this tour.
This is the view across the canal from inside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Not a tour per se and not booked on Viator either, but on the last morning of my visit, I braved the traghetto — the larger gondolas that only go from one side of the canal to the other — all by myself and roamed the compact museum and gardens, imagining what it would be like to have a gazillion dollars and be a Guggenheim. I then hoofed it over to the Ponte Accademia and crossed back over to the main part of town. If you are into modern art like I am, this is the museum for you. (Also, check out Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy in London which is running through January 2nd, 2017.)
Stay tuned for more on where I ate and drank in Venice…
My friends Bryan and Stacey bought a place in Biarritz ages ago — 2008? 2009? — and I’ve been promising (threatening?) to visit forever. This year, with a little spare time on hand before my busy season at work, I finally made the trip. And it was one of those trips where you spend the entire visit wondering, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Because Biarritz is really the best of towns. It’s right on the beach and the surf is often up, so there’s a nice laid-back surfing vibe to everything. It’s a small enough town that if you dine out at the same restaurant often enough, everyone knows your name and knows your story and knows where you live or where you are staying or who you know or why you know them. In short, I love Biarritz. I think we should all move there.
I got a great Hotwire deal on the Radisson Blu in Biarritz — read my post for details on how I get great deals on Hotwire — and while the hotel certainly hasn’t been updated in the last seven years — the timeframe recommended for most hotel upgrades — its location — smack bang in the center of town and just a 7 minute walk from my friends’ place — was perfect. It also helped that Stacey knew someone who knew the manager of the hotel, so there may have been some free drinks and snacks involved. We were also pleased with the hotel’s great rooftop pool and bar, where we spent many an hour relaxing and just doing nothing, really, except discussing how it was that we had all gotten so old.
Here’s where we dined while I was in town:
Haragia: Tiny little place just off the main shopping street in Biarritz that serves mainly steak and chips. We perched on high chairs and devoured a number of plates of very good steak. VERY popular so make a booking. I liked it here a lot, although service was both very harried and very slow. We ordered a second bottle of wine and we were nearly done with our food by the time it arrived.
The Beach House: This was about a 15 minute ride (I think) outside Biarritz, but we loved the relaxed vibe and international cuisine. (I love Basque food as much as the next person, but after a few days of it, you start salivating over anything Asian.) We had a table on the outdoor patio, but luckily we were under a canopy because it proceeded to rain like nobody’s business while we were sitting there. While we enjoyed our time here, The Beach House felt like a “beautiful people” kinda place, just fyi.
Bar du Marche: We wandered around Biarritz’s lively central market before settling down here for a big plate of garlicky chiporones. This was a very lively, fun spot and we were lucky to get a table. The restaurant was so crowded that we could barely get to the bar for tapas, which was our original plan.
L’Artnoa Maison des vins à Biarritz: Fantastic, friendly winebar that has recently been refurbed. I stopped in here to pick up a gift for my friends and service was super sweet and helpful. Snacks and a small menu available.
After visiting Biarritz for the first time in like eight years, I have decided that I must make this an annual pilgrimage. It’s a great little town! Put it on your list. (And note that San Sebastian is only about a 45 minute drive away.)
Visiting Kamalaya is a commitment. It’s a commitment to healthy living and well, it’s a commitment to stairs and walking uphill. Because Kamalaya is on a hill. A big one. Get ready for all the uphillness! If you’re planning a long stay — I’m not the only person who stayed two weeks — I have a couple of tips and pieces of advice for you that may make your visit easier and more enjoyable. I searched in vain for Kamalaya tips before my stay and found very few, so I hope the wonders of the Internet bring this post to the attention of all those who are planning a Kamalaya visit.
Bring books. Paper ones. On the detox program, you will spend a lot of time in the infrared sauna, which is 45 degrees C. A lot of people complained about boredom, but I had a bunch of great paperbacks with me so my 30 minute sessions sped by. I also spent a lot of time in the two pools, and loved lazing around with my paperbacks.
Bring slip-on shoes. As you go from treatment to treatment, you will constantly be taking your shoes off and putting them back on again. Sneakers are a hassle. I prefer sandals with ankle straps, and even those were a pain. In hindsight, I wish I had brought a pair of Birkenstocks or something.
Get a Thai SIM card at the airport. While there is wireless in your room and in the reception area — and if the breeze blows the right way, you can also get a connection at the cafe during lunch and at the main pool — having a Thai SIM card made me the envy of many a guest. I bought 15 GB of data at the airport on one of the tourist SIMs they sell right after baggage claim. Surprisingly, I only used about 4 GB of data, and that’s with a lot of Snapchat. (In NYC this summer, I was using 2 gb of data a day sometimes!) I know Kamalaya wants everyone to digitally detox but I really wanted to easily stay in contact with friends and family.
Pick your disposable underwear wisely: During your treatments, there are two types of disposable underwear: regular and g-string. I found the g-strings deeply uncomfortable, so I learned early on to ask for the “big ones” if the room setup looked like it only had g-strings.
Get that big betal leaf starter at dinner. There’s one starter that gives you a bunch of (delicious) betal leaves and then a cornucopia of seeds and other little bits to put in each leaf and eat. It’s very prettily presented — an Instagram moment — and it’s very filling and delicious too.
Bring bug spray. The American in me brought a ton of bug spray — Zika fears — and I really went overboard. But definitely bring some. While the resort does a great job of spraying and putting mosquito repellant candles and incense around, nothing beats a good bug spray. I found that my bites generally occurred at dinner or on the way back to my room after dinner.
Don’t be afraid of the community table: As someone who tends to lean more towards the introvert end of the spectrum, tt took me a good six days to join the community table, but then I am so glad I did. Guests from all over the world, and I met Dan Lepard’s sister too!! (Dan is a well-known baker.) I found that people didn’t tend to join the community table until around 7:30 pm or so.
Ask a mattress topper: The beds are pretty darn firm. While I do like a firm mattress, this was definitely too firm for me. The resort offers mattress toppers to those who ask. While it wasn’t perfect — a Tempurpedic would have been better — it was a lot better than the regular mattress.
Don’t buy a hat at the gift shop. My last minute emergency hat purchase — we were heading out on a boat ride — cost me $173 USD. Yes, you read that correctly. The hat is, uh, handwoven in Ecuador, so there’s that. But I am an IDIOT. I was not paying attention to the exchange rate. I just wanted a hat. 🙁
Take the boat ride! It was truly gorgeous. There was a masseuse on board and the food was delicious and we went snorkeling and we saw the sun set and the staff were lovely and kept bringing us more and more snacks.
Wear sunscreen. This probably goes without saying. But even when it is overcast, the Thai sun is surprisingly strong.
Call the buggy. On a few days of my detox, I was definitely feeling sluggish and low. Conquering the hill after lunch was just not going to happen. The staff will very happily send a golf cart for you and it will seriously be there in two minutes. Do it.
Get a Reiki treatment: “Hah,” I thought. “Laying of the hands??? I doubt it.” Well, I’m a convert now. My two reiki sessions with Jos were strange and weird and wonderful all at the same time. For hours afterwards, I felt amazing, and my poor right ankle — which I’ve sprained multiple times over the last few years — has never been better. All very strange, really. But good strange.
Don’t overbook yourself. My schedule was super action-packed. Three treatments a day most days. I could have used some more downtime. If I go back, I think I’ll do a 7-day package of treatments, booked over ten days of stay.
Pumpkin everything. The pumpkin curry and the pumpkin dumplings at dinner were particularly, pumpkinly outstanding.
Bring your own shampoo. If you’re on a program with a lot of treatments, you will take a lot of showers and particularly, if you have the Indian head massage, the natural shampoo that the hotel offers just doesn’t cut the coconut oil in the Indian head massage enough. It took me two days and six shampoos before my hair felt normal again.
Embrace the coconut. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much coconut juice in my entire life. It was always there for me. I have a new appreciation for the coconut. It’s delicious. At one point, I escaped the resort for a few hours with a couple of Australians. We stumbled into a beach bar and, still on the detox program, I asked the staff for some lemongrass tea. “No tea here. Coca-cola!” was the depressing response. “Ah but you must have a coconut,” I replied. And yes, it was delivered.
Get a long massage the evening you arrive. I had a 90 minute oil massage on the evening I arrived and I went to bed afterwards and slept 12 hours. It was amazing. I had ZERO jetlag in Thailand. Amazing.
Pick up a glass of water at the lunch cafe before heading to the pool. Staff don’t always service the main pool, so I learned early on to ask for a big cup of water before I set up shop. Also, there are extra towels in the restroom by the pool.
I am sure there are more tips I can share — and I welcome any questions — but for now, those are my tips for Kamalaya. I hope you enjoy your stay!
I’ve been to Casita Andina three times now, once by myself, once with my friend Jen and her two-year-old, and once with my friend Karen from Chicago. And each time, I’ve ordered the luscious trout tiradito and wanted to bathe in it. Also, each time the service has been just so wonderfully sweet and friendly. If not for the fact that the loos are on the top floor, I would eat here all the time. (Top floor loos are a terrible idea.) If it’s a nice day, get there early so you can commandeer the outdoor patio on the 1st floor. We did that with Jen and her little one and it was perfect.
Casita Andina is part of the Ceviche empire. The 1st floor dining room is super cozy and cute — like lunch at your grandmother’s. One thing I didn’t notice until much later — the restaurant is gluten free! Ask for bread to mop up anything left over and the best they can do is quinoa bread. (It’s grainy.)
I’m heading to Venice, Italy this week!! I haven’t been since I was 19 years old. That’s a long long time. I’ve been wanting to go for ages, but I’ve also been wanting to avoid high tourist season. Traveling between September and November is my favorite thing to do anyhow, so it all works out. The crowds will be smaller and the light will be softer. I honestly can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited about a trip in ages.
I got a great deal on my BA flight and have booked myself into a decently priced hotel. (Hotel prices in Venice are truly outrageous.) I’ve started a Flipboard with lots of places to eat and shop. (I seriously love Flipboard.) And I’ve already booked some tours via Viator. It’s a quick trip — just three nights to keep costs reasonable — but I honestly can’t wait. Please send me any of your tips and advice!
The pound is at a historic low against the dollar right now, so if you live in the U.S. or are paid in U.S. dollars, you should seriously pack your bags and hop on over the pond for a few days. Come eat all our delicious food — seriously don’t believe what you hear about food over here — and see our plays and well, spend your dollars. Spend ALL your dollars. But spend them wisely. Here are some great ways to save money on dining out in London.
OpenTable Deals: Another big brand name and lots of interesting looking offers to look at here. But beware! Some of these aren’t offers per se but more advertising for prix fixe meals the restaurant offers anyhow.
Bookatable Star Deals: A more local brand here in London, but they’ve still got a great list of offerings. (Same caveat applies however about how sometimes, the deal is the same deal you could get by booking the restaurant directly.)
Lastminute.com Special Offers: Make sure you click the “Special Offers” checkbox here. There’s some great money saving to be had. There’s a nice long list of offers, including The Palm Court at The Langham and Maze Grill.
TravelZoo Restaurant Deals: Confession. I’m kinda obsessed with TravelZoo. One of these days, I will book one of their special offer travel packages. They have a very small list of restaurant offers and they’re geared more towards tourists, but they are always work a look.
Squaremeal Offers: Squaremeal is like totally old school London. This was pretty much the first online restaurant guide in London. Imagine me, in my Cannon Street office back in 2004, wondering where to have dinner. Squaremeal is the website I checked. I think you can tell that they’ve been around for a while because this is a pretty extensive and interesting list of offers.
Living Social: Super quirky list of offers. Would anyone like a whole leg of Serrano ham? You’ll find offers for a few chains, a few afternoon teas, and some touristy bits here.
Money Saving Expert: Ah, Martin Lewis. He is so wise. He also has collated a nice collection of Pizza Express and similar vouchers. Go get ’em!
Buyagift.com: I’d never heard of Buyagift until I started researching this piece but they have a nice quirky list of deals that seem good for tourists and visitors and people who like chain restaurants.
I’m sure there are other ways to save money on London restaurants that aren’t necessarily restaurants…the Happiour app is one that comes to mind. What are you favorites?