Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Expat Self

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in my expat experience that’s often been the case. When I made the decision to move to Germany roughly four years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Thankfully it ended up being the best decision of my life and I have few regrets. However, as with all big changes there are certainly some things I wish I had done differently.

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  1. Learn the language before you go

When I moved, I essentially knew no German, as the move was rather unplanned. Granted it was my choice to move so quickly, but with only five months from decision to moving I didn’t have much time to prepare. While I did take a couple of intensive courses when I arrived, I wish I’d taken a beginners’ class in my hometown. Once you know the basics of a language, it becomes much easier to pick up new words and phrases on your own; you can figure things out without frantically google translating every second word! After arriving in your new home, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with work and making friends, but if you make learning the language a priority in the beginning, your expat life will be much easier in the long run!

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  1. Save as much money as possible

Moving abroad is expensive! As well as making the journey and finding an apartment, you’ll need to buy basic necessities and get out and explore your new home – it all adds up! If I had known just how quickly my savings would run out, I would have worked a few more months and cut back on my expenses before the move. Back home it’s also much easier to pick up odd jobs, as you normally have the right to work and speak the language. Whether it’s babysitting, mowing the neighbor’s lawn, or getting a short-term gig at a store or restaurant — make the extra cash while it’s still easy.

Use your move as a chance to get rid of things you don’t need and raise a few extra bucks by selling them. Once you’re in another country, are you ever going to use the bike at your parents’ house, or that old phone that still works? You’ll also save on moving costs.

Once you move, I suggest setting up an account with a service like Transferwise as soon as possible. The money you save on unnecessary bank fees can be spent on delicious food or fabulous experiences in your new home instead.

  1. Ask friends abroad what they miss from back home

I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends already living in Germany when I moved. Unfortunately, I was so focused on asking them about visas and other big issues that I didn’t think to ask about the smaller things in life. For example, it’s very hard to find certain baking items in Germany that I love back home. You can find substitutes, but if you’re looking for all-purpose flour, vanilla extract, or premade frosting, you’re out of luck! Some medicines or toiletry items are also difficult to find, or quite different than what your used to. I have many American (and German) friends that ask me to bring back a favorite makeup brand or snack from my trips back to the US — little things can make a place feel like home.

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  1. Don’t over pack

On a similar note, there’s a fine balance between packing those little items you love and not overloading your suitcase. If you haven’t used it recently back home, you probably won’t use it in your new country. Make sure to keep in mind that certain items of clothing won’t be useful, or even appropriate in your new home. Those cheap shoes you bought for the short walk from your office to the car might destroy your feet when you try to walk the 1.5 km home from the metro station. And those sorority t-shirts from your younger days might make you stand out in many parts of the world — and not in a good way. If you’re worried about what the locals wear (like I was), take a look at blogs or social media accounts from people living there. TripAdvisor or expat sites like InterNations can also be useful for any questions you may have!

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  1. Don’t worry about what you cannot change

Unsurprisingly, moving abroad can be incredibly stressful. It’s hard enough to move across a city, but moving to a new country where you’re likely to need a visa, health insurance and various other documents can be downright overwhelming. While it’s a good thing to take these challenges seriously, keep in mind that there is only so much preparation you can do. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about my visa being denied or never finding apartment, and I wish I could go back and tell myself to relax, that things will work out, and a friendly attitude will help with many problems.

No matter how positive or prepared you are, problems or complications are bound to come up, but you learn from your mistakes (or sometimes from other people’s). I once spent several hours traveling to Munich to renew my visa, only to find out that the office was closed that day; the correct hours were listed on the German version of the site, but not the English page. Naturally I was quite annoyed, but instead of letting it ruin my week, I managed to arrange a fun night with a local friend and went into the office bright and early the next day. Now I make sure to check both website versions, and give myself extra time in case something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, I’ve not yet discovered a working time machine, so there’s no way to go back and make life easier for my younger self. But sometimes it’s best to learn from your mistakes — it certainly makes you remember the lesson better! If you haven’t made the big move abroad yet, I hope you can save yourself some trouble with my tips! And if anyone has figured out how to make filing taxes in America easier for expats, please let me know!

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More Port Wine Please

My friend and I left rainy Munich on a Friday morning for the sunnier skies in Porto, Portugal. I’ve been wanting to visit Portugal for ages now and was very excited to finally make a trip there. We touched down and were welcomed by blue skies and warmer temperature- just what one looks for on vacation. Our first stop, after checking into our hotel, was to see the riverfront. It did not disappoint! There are beautiful brightly colored buildings lining the pedestrian area along the water. While lots of people were also out enjoying the weather, it didn’t feel crowded. After walking along the main section, we settled on the terrace of Wine Quay Bar and enjoyed some red wines and snacks. Watching the sunset over the water was a perfect way to start our vacation. It was also entertaining watching out for the seagulls that try to swoop in on your food! The bar actually hands out water guns to scare them away, which we found amusing.

After finishing our drinks we stopped by a small bar offering Port wine tastings, so we got our first sample of the local sweet drink. Then it was off to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, Camafeu, which we really enjoyed. I got the veal, which was delicious, and also really enjoyed their white port tonic, which is white Port combined with tonic water and orange peel. We wandered around the city a little more before heading back to the hotel.

Our first full day in Porto started off slightly overcast, but thankfully the weather ended up being beautiful. We made a quick round of Mercado do Bolhao, which is worth a brief stop. Then we made our way to Clerigos Tower and climbed to the top. The view was quite impressive, and the climb wasn’t bad at all. After that we just spent time walking around the city, and ended up finding some beautiful streets to explore. Then we stopped for a beer and to try a local dish called francesinha, which is “ ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries” (thanks Wikipedia). It was a very heavy dish, but tasty! Since that apparently wasn’t enough of a snack for me, I also got a cup of delicious drinking chocolate at Chocolataria das Flores.

Next we took Portos public transport (an interesting blend between a tram and train), across this striking bridge to Gaia, which is a small village across the river from Porto. It offers a wonderful full view of the city, especially if you start at the high vantage point the top of the bridge offers. Then we headed down towards the water and booked a tour at Sandemans, a famous Port cellar. The tour was short and sweet- especially as it ends with a sample of two Port wines. We took our time crossing back to the Porto side, enjoying the view as the sun went down. Then we sampled even more Port at this cozy bar.

We had reservations at a great tapas place, which we really enjoyed. I got a tuna dish and a roastbeef angus toast, which were both delectable. The prices for high-quality food (and service) is very reasonable in Porto, especially when compared to what I can get in Munich. We each got two large tapas dishes, some oysters and several drinks for around €50. By the end of the meal we were stuffed, and our next day started early, so we headed back to the hotel.

Our second full day we booked a private tour to see Portugal’s only National Park, Peneda-Geres.  It’s about an hour and half drive from the city, but you get to see a lot along the way. The tour was led by a young biologist, who was clearly passionate about what he was doing.

We started the day in a tiny village inside the park, where you could see a fascinating mix of old and modern ways. We drove some of the narrowest streets I have ever seen a car fit through, and all the while watching out for dogs, cats, chickens and more. The communities still wash their laundry in communal outdoor areas, and store corn in Portuguese granaries known as ‘canastros’ or ‘espigueiros’ above the ground, where they are protected from hungry rodents. But there are also satellite dishes dotting the old houses and the local pub advertises their big screens for watching football games. Sadly these villages are facing a large population problem, as younger generations move to cities for work.

After going through the village we did a short hike down a steep hill to a beautiful waterfall. Because it was February, there was no one there with us, and it was incredibly relaxing. Apparently in the summer it becomes so crowded that the tour doesn’t even bother stopping there, so doing the tour in late February had its advantages! Then we did a bit more off-roading in our Land Rover before stopping for lunch in another small village.  The food and the service were great, we got to try a large variety of dishes, including goat and a sweet pasta dish for dessert- called aletria.

Throughout the meal we drank sweet wine from the region and ended lunch with a shot of local liquor and some espresso to wake us from our food coma. And if you’re looking for an affordable place to spend the night, many of the local restaurants like these also offer rooms or small cabins to rent, starting at around €25 (per person) a night.

Then it was on to another waterfall! After that we stopped high atop one of the mountains to get some pictures of the amazing view before driving through one of the oldest parts of the forest. We ended the day by planting a tree in an area of the park that had been burned years before, as part of the company’s mission to help the environment.  There we also got to see remnants of an old Roman road- the Roman Geira, some of which is quite well preserved. Then as we drove the curvy roads back to Porto, we were treated to a colorful sunset over the hills. All in all it was an amazing day, and a great way to burn off all the calories we had consumed earlier on the trip!

Porto and the surrounding area is a really beautiful place to visit and perfect for a short weekend trip. There is definitely enough to do in the city to fill two days at a relaxed pace, and if you also incorporate some trips to areas outside the city, you should stay even longer. My only regret is not being able to bring back some Port Wine- next time I’ll have to stop at the duty-free section.

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Three Days in Hamburg

Ever since I moved to Munich, people have been telling me that I would also love Hamburg. So a friend and I finally booked a trip to go awhile ago, and our trip ended up coinciding with perfect weather (which is not what Hamburg is known for).

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After sampling a Franzbrötchen, this delicious local pastry, our first full day in Hamburg we started with what else- a free walking tour, The tour gave us a good overview, we saw the town center, the Speicherstadt (the largest warehouse district in the world) the very expensive Opera house and ended up at the harbor. The annual Hafengeburstag (Harbor Birthday) was going on the weekend we were there, so all along the water there were food and drink stands. We found a nice spot on a rooftop restaurant and enjoyed some local beer while watching a demonstration of a water rescue via helicopter

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Then we grabbed a local dish, a meatball covered in fried egg, and relaxed until our second tour started. Tour number two was of the infamous red light district. We did a similar tour in Amsterdam, but Hamburg’s district is much larger and also a huge party area. The “people watching” on this tour was fascinating. Lots of bachelor and bacherlorette parties, motorcycle gangs, and groups of rubbering-necking tourists (like ourselves). The tour showed us some famous/infamous stomping grounds, and also delved into how the Beatles started in Hamburg, something I was not aware of.

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Our second full day started with touring some of the large war ships parked in the harbor for the celebration. The technology on these ships is amazing. The weather was once again gorgeous, so we headed to this large promenade in the red light district that was filled with a mouth-watering collection of food trucks. These were probably the best food trucks I have experienced since moving to Germany. We sampled some arepas, empanadas and a nice selection of frozen cocktails, including a frozen blended mojito, which I would highly recommend.

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Since apparently that wasn’t enough food, we got dinner at a delicious Lebanese restaurant around the corner from our Airbnb. Then it was back to the Harbor for the fireworks. The waterfront was packed, but we snagged a spot near the front and were rewarded with a beautiful display

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Our final day started with a trip to the worlds largest Miniature museum. Even if toy trains and models aren’t your thing (they aren’t mine), the museum is worth an hour or two to walk through. The attention to detail is unbelievable, from planes “taking off”, to nudists bathing along the rivers and car accidents along the autobahn.

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We finished off our trip with another visit to the food trucks, since there was still so much we hadn’t sampled. This time we enjoyed a burger, a topping-heavy hotdog and Bangerlicious (a version of Poutine in Germany).

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Hamburg is a beautiful city, and it’s so nice to be on the water, but I have yet to find a German city that I love as much as Munich. So it’s back to Bavaria I go 🙂

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What to do on a Beautiful Day (or Weekend) in Munich

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So you’ve made it to Munich, and you have just a couple of days to see it all. Here are my top suggestions of things to do:

Like many cities, Munich is much more exciting when the weather is nice, so most of my suggestions are weather dependent. But if you are looking for things to do in rainy or cold weather, here are some suggestions.

But let’s just assume the weather is good 🙂

  • English Garden (Englischer Garten)- is not so much a “garden” as a park, one that is bigger than Central Park and very beautiful. There are several nice biergartens, including a fairly famous one at the Chinese Tour (Chinischer Tur bus stop). The beer is a little pricier here, but if it’s sunny I highly suggest enjoying a half liter or two in the garden. If you feel up to it, you can rent bikes from a place like Mike’s Bikes and bike through the garden. Make sure to stop by the Eisbach to see the surfers, who are pretty much always there (even when it snows).

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  • Sandemans free walking tour- I’ve done this tour twice and both times I learned a lot of interesting things about the city. They take you on a nice walk through the highlights of downtown and cover a lot of history. The tour runs twice a day from the city center.
  • Neues Rathaus /Glockenspiel- one of the most overrated tourist attractions in the world, BUT the building that housing the glockenspiel is beautiful and right in the center of town, so you can’t miss it.

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  • Viktaulienmarkt– a 5 minute walk from the Glockenspiel is the beautiful little market complete with a small biergarten. Sample some fresh pretzels, grab a sausage (wurst), and a radler. A radler is a mixture of helles (a light bier) and lemonade. It sounds strange, but it’s delicious and refreshing. While there, I also suggest this small chocolate shop- they have the best hot chocolate– you can either buy it there to put in hot milk or bring home blocks of it to make yourself next time cold weather strikes.IMG_4007
  • Local bierhalls- I would suggest the Augustiner Keller, Lowenbrau Keller or Weisses-brauhaus. Augustiner Keller has a nice outdoor area, as does Lowenbrau. Lowenbrau also has an impressive 2-story indoor hall. Weisses is good because it has a very large bier menu and is right downtown next to Marienplatz, but it is not a (total) tourist trap like some of the other places around.
  • The Isar- is the river that runs through Munich. If you rent a bike you can easily bike along it for miles, or just get off a the Sbahn stop “Isator” and walk alongside it in either direction. Drinking in public is allowed in Munich, so stop along the way and grab a cold bier or a radler to enjoy.

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  • Gärtnerplatz– is a beautiful area located near Viktaulienmarkt. There are some great restaurants and cafes nearby, and the platz is normally covered in flowers.

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  • Schloss Nymphenburg– is a palace located a 15-20 minute tram ride from downtown (tram 16 or 17). There are paid tours of the inside, but I would suggest just walking around the beautiful gardens and photographing the impressive exterior. There are several cafes and gelato shops close by where you can grab a snack to bring with you on the grounds.

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  • Hirschgarten– if you’re already heading to or from Schloss Nymphenberg then you are close to Hirschgarten, which is said to be the world’s largest biergarten. The garden itself is nice, though nothing mind-blowing. However, the biergarten part is fairly impressive and you’re sure to get the local experience- not many tourists venture out there, even though it isn’t far from downtown. If you really want to look like a local stop at a local grocery store or café and grab some snacks. In Bavaria you’re allowed to bring your own food to biergartens as long as you buy the drinks there.

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  • Olympiapark– home of the 1972 Sumer Olympics, it is a beautiful area to wander around. You can take a look at the funky painted bungalows (I used to live in one) or make your way up to the top of the Olympic Tower for a great view of Munich or even a delicious meal, if you want to shell out the money (it’s a Michelin star restaurant).

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  • For places to eat (besides the bier halles mentioned), check out my posts on Munich restaurants.

P.S. Even if it is warm and sunny, bring a light jacket or umbrella with you because there is always a good chance the weather will change quickly.

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My new Favorite Place

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I went into our Amsterdam trip with mixed expectations. I’d always wanted to go, so I was certainly excited, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting the prettiest city, probably due to its reputation regarding drugs and the infamous red light district. However, the city was much more beautiful than I’d imagined it would be. Not only are the canals lovely, but so are all the little side streets, the narrow slanted buildings and the bike clogged avenues.

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5 minutes earlier this bike held 2 children and 1 dog. It seemed to be a very popular mode of transportation, especially for families.

We booked an airbnb (as per usual) that was within walking distance of pretty much everything. Amsterdam is a highly walkable or bikeable city (though I was too intimidated to bike, as it can get a little crazy). Our first night we wandered around the beautiful Jordaan district, which has lots of great restaurants and quaint streets. We stopped in at a restaurant that essentially served international tapas- small plates and large shared platters. It was a nice find and the service was so friendly, as it was at pretty much every place we went to. This was a nice change from Munich where the service ranges…. They recommended a cocktail place nearby to us, where we treated ourselves to some very unique and delicious drinks.

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Our first full day in the city we started bright and early at the Anne Frank House. I would say this is a must-do if you visit the city, for many reasons. I read her diary when I was younger and have seen several film adaptions, but seeing it in real life is significantly more emotional, even if you are relatively unfamiliar with her story. I would suggest trying to get tickets beforehand (from the museum’s site), because by 9am the line was stretched around the block. We left the house and had breakfasts at a pancake place recommended on TripAdvisor. It was a little disappointing (p.s. you can check out all my reviews from our trip here…- I finally started writing reviews on TA instead of just reading them).

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Then we headed over to take our favorite free walking tour. We always take the Sandemans tour when it’s offered in a city. The tour gave a very nice overview of the city, and shared interesting facts- like that at least 87% of the people in Amsterdam speak English, and that it has more nationalities (177) than any other city in the world. Next we grabbed a fantastic lunch at a teeny tiny burger place called Lombardo’s.

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We wandered around some more before heading out to a nice dinner at “Senses”. I also highly suggest this place, though it isn’t cheap. But hey- treat yourself! After our leisurely dinner we headed to a English comedy night at  Boom Chicago. The show featured 6 comedians, some local, some not, who put on a 2 and a half hour show and it was great! I hadn’t seen a live comedy act in several years and I forgot how much fun they can be. If you go, I highly recommend splurging for the couch seats-they are still a good value and very comfortable.

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Saturday started off in the best way possible- with brunch! I have missed ‘American’ style brunch so much, and this place, Bakers & Roasters, really hit the spot.

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 We spent the rest of our day taking a canal tour to see the city from the water. The “tour” aspect was lacking (walking tours typically offer much more information), but the views were great. And because we were in Amsterdam we signed up for Sandeman’s red light district tour, which was interesting and entertaining. I know it must sound like I get paid to endorse this company- but I promise I don’t! Anyways, it’s not a family friendly tour (hopefully that is obvious) but it’s tastefully done and touches on both the history and the future of the industry.

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On Sunday we headed to the city of Deventer, which is about an hour away, to visit my cousin and her husband. They took us on a bike ride all around the city and countryside, which was absolutely beautiful. I felt like I was biking through a scene straight out of Pride & Prejudice (even though we were not in the UK). We had a lovely lunch in a garden café and enjoyed a great dinner at a beautiful old country manor as the sun went down. It was so nice to spend time with family and to get to visit them in their home.

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I hope I can make it back to Amsterdam sometime soon- there is so much left to see and many more places I want to eat. And next time I hope to bring a better quality camera to better capture the beauty of the city- an iPhone just doesn’t cut it 🙂

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San Francisco

It’s been awhile since I’ve traveled anywhere, and even longer since I’ve traveled someplace new within the US. But this past week I got to visit one of the top places on my “US travel list”- San Francisco! It started out as a business trip, but at the last minute two of my friends got to join me. I’m so glad they were able to make the trip, since we hadn’t seen each other since Munich, and exploring a new city is always more fun with friends!

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View from my Airbnb

 Before they both arrived though I did manage to see a bit of the surrounding area, namely the Palo Alto area and some of Stanford’s campus. I have to say it made me want to be a student again- driving through their gorgeous, palm tree-lined campus. It certainly didn’t hurt that the weather was fantastic and everything was a lush green due some much-needed rain that came and went before I arrived. The houses in the Palo Alto area are adorable, though ridiculously priced (we’re talking 2 million for around 1,500 sq. feet).

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Driving through Stanford’s campus.

I also got to explore the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, which is where my Airbnb was. It’s a vibrant area, with lots of restaurants, cafés and bars, as well as a super convenient healthy grocery store called Mollie Stone’s (the stores are a cross between a Whole Foods and a “normal” grocery store) that was open late- perfect for grabbing dinner after work.

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I had two standout food experiences during the business part of my trip. One was at a place called Kitchen Story where I had a fantastic Panang Curry with a delicious blend of veggies, including avocado. I also grabbed lunch with my boss at a local burger chain, Super Duper, which is similar to a Five Guys (but more organic/bigger menu) and it was scrumptious.

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Fast forward to Friday evening, my friends and I checked into an Airbnb in the Sunset area and headed towards the Mission area to get dinner at a place that was recommended by a few friends, Southpaw BBQ. We got some good drinks and great barbecue, complete with a range of barbeque sauces to accompany them. Then we checked out a nearby rooftop bar for some scenic city views.

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On Saturday we started the day off right with a fabulous brunch at Brenda’s French Soul Food. They had the 2nd best beignets I’ve ever had (2nd to Café Du Monde) and then I got a huge egg dish stuffed with oysters, bacon and scallions. I can’t vouch for any of the side dishes it came with because I was too stuffed from the beignets!

 IMG_0003_2 IMG_0005_2Next we took a drive around some of the beautiful hilly neighborhoods and snapped some pictures of the painted ladies.

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After a lot of driving to find (barely) reasonably priced parking, we saw a bit of Fisherman’s Warf before hopping on a Ferry. Sadly, I only got a couple of pictures because it was crazy windy once you stepped foot outside on the deck. After a longer than anticipated ride, we got off in Sausalito. Unfortunately it was already getting dark and things closed very early, but we managed to see the main street and got rewarded with a nice sunset over the bay.

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We capped the night off in China Town where we got an awesome dinner at House of Nanking, which also came recommended by a friend. It was exactly what we were looking for, and the wonton soup was the best I’ve ever had (and perfect for the cold I had come down with). By the end of our late dinner we were all stuffed and exhausted, so it was back to the apartment.

It tasted much better than it looked...

Filled with delicious dumplings.

On our second and final day in the city, we headed straight to the Golden Gate Bridge after a quick breakfast. As you can see in the pictures, we lucked out again with fantastic weather! Then it was back to Castro where I made us wait in line at Ike’s Place. I don’t normally support waiting in line for a sandwich, but these might have been worth it. Tip for other travelers- call in your order instead, but make sure you do it about an hour before you’re hungry. I got the Paul Reuben and I was impressed.

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The rest of the day was spent enjoying the nice weather at an outdoor café, before we went to watch the Oscars at a food truck party.

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My first trip to San Francisco was definitely a great one, and I’m already looking forward to my next business trip out there in a couple of months. There is still so much to see and so much food to try. Till next time!

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A Weekend in Italia

Back in the beginning of October, myself, Toby, and 2 friends made the drive down to beautiful Italy for a weekend full of ageless sites and delicious food.

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Americans snack on chips, Germans snack on sausages with mustard.

We arrived in Verona just as it was getting dark, and after checking into our respective Airbnb accommodations, we set out to get our first Italian meal. Our first restaurant choice was too full, so we settled for a less “authentic” place, but the food was fine, and the wine was good! We wandered around the beautiful old streets, and I bought my first gelato-yum! Then we stumbled upon this tiny little cocktail bar, where this amazing bartender created some of the most delicious concoctions I’ve ever had. All we did was give him guidelines, and he whipped something up. For example, I asked for something slightly sweet and fruity, and he created this wonderful pineapple and ginger drink that was unlike anything I’d ever sipped before. Naturally, we made plans to return the next evening.

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On our first full day in Verona we started the morning off viewing Juliet’s balcony, and the hundreds of thousands of names and hearts scribbled all over the walls.

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Then we headed over towards the Verona Arena, which was quite neat. We then briefly checked out a nearby castle, Castelvecchio, before having a delicious lunch.

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After lunch we wandered around the winding streets a bit more before meeting up for the winery tour we had booked. There was only 6 of us on the tour, and we all got in a van to make our way out to a picturesque town situated on the Gardasee outside of the city. The weather was amazing, and we grabbed some more gelato as we walked around. We continued our drive through the countryside and ended up at the winery, where we received a short tour and then got to sample several wines.

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Once we returned to Verona we made our way over the river to a restaurant our winery guide had suggested. She warned us that the owner was “strange”, but said it was her favorite place, so off we went. We arrived at 8:30, which in Germany is prime dinner time, but is apparently early for Verona, since the place was barely half full. We are seated, and the infamous owner comes over to take our wine order. Toby points to the wine we decided on, but the owner isn’t having it, he shakes his head and wags his finger at Toby and points at another wine. What can you do? We nod and say Grazie. Next we try ordering an appetizer, but that also get a loud “no, no” and another item pointed out. Thankfully both the wine and the appetizer ended up being great, though I still have no idea what type of meat we were served.. (maybe horse). Lastly, we order our main dishes, three of us have no issue, but my friend wanted to order one dish without meat, and the owner was not pleased. He stands over her, hands on his hips, looking like he is about to explode as she tries to explain her choice in rough Italian. He storms off and then comes back a few minutes later and we finally finished ordering. This man was hysterical, stomping around his restaurant, randomly breaking out into song, waving people in off the street, yelling at waitresses and basically providing free entertainment all evening. The food was all wonderfully fresh and very filling, and we ended the dinner with free shots of limoncello. By then we had also made friends with our Russian neighbors and my friends had managed to get a picture with the boisterous owner. It was definitely the authentic experience we were looking for, and by the time we left with our new Russian friends around 10:30, the place was packed with Italians out enjoying their late dinners.

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After dinner we went back to our new favorite cocktail place, which was packed, and ordered a round of cocktails, which did not disappoint. I asked for a drink that had mint, but wasn’t a mojito, and I can’t even properly describe what I got, but I would absolutely love to have it again.

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There was such a nice atmosphere, people were milling around the bar, enjoying the balmy evening and it was great way to end a busy day.

On Saturday we took the train down to Venice. Sadly that took much longer than planned due to our original train being canceled, w­­­­hich forced us to go on a later and slower train, so we missed the walking tour we had booked. Luckily, Venice is the perfect city to just wander around in, though we sometimes would wander down streets that dead-ended at the water.

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I love cities like Venice, where you can feel like you are lost one second, and the next, emerge into a giant courtyard filled with tourists, or lovely shops and old churches. We got a fabulous and cheap meal at a small café that had the best spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever had. Then we made our way to St. Mark’s square and took a break by the water. The city was crowded in certain areas, but nothing like I imagine it must be in the summer. Eventually we leisurely made our way in the direction of the train station, stopping to get snacks and take pictures along the way.

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For our last dinner in Verona we went to a restaurant recommended by a local, where we had a simple but delicious dinner, and some very refreshing house wine.

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On Sunday we decided we head back in the direction of Germany and stop in a town suggested by our winery guide. The drive along the river and up the mountain to get to the town was breathtaking, if a bit scary at times. The roads are quite curvy and narrow, but the views were worth it. We arrived in this quaint (if a bit touristy) town called Malcesine and enjoyed a coffee on the Sea before walking around. Thankfully shops are open on Sundays in Italy, so we got to buy some spices, pasta and other Italian treats. We had a relaxing lunch before heading back on the road.

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It was the perfect mini vacation. We had such amazing weather, saw a lot of beautiful sites, and of course stuffed ourselves with pasta of all kinds. I would love to go back to everyplace we visited, especially the Gardasee area.

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