Travel‎ > ‎

Recommendations

Becky and I always talk big about writing up our travel recs. Well...look, I started!

Africa

I've sadly only ever been to a small portion of southern Africa. That's a lot of continent left to explore, yo!

Important: If you are going on safari, especially to remote reserves/parks and staying overnight for a few days, ask for the food that the staff eats. Otherwise they'll try to give you European-style food (which sometimes is fine, and sometimes is really meh). But the food that the staff eats is absolutely delicious and completely different from anything you can get in most of the US! They might not believe you at first -- but especially if you're staying for a few days, they'll get used to you being a weirdo and asking for their local food; they'll open up to you more, and you'll generally have a MUCH better experience. And amazing food too!

Botswana

Zambia (and crossing into Zimbabwe)

South Africa

My "must" list for the Capetown area:
  • Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden: http://www.sanbi.org/frames/kirstfram.htm
  • Cablecar ride to the top of Table Mountain, and then a hike around the mountain
  • Dinner at Moyo: http://www.moyo.co.za/
  • Boulders Beach: walk right up to African penguins; you could even swim in the water with them! 
  • Robben Island Tour: http://www.robben-island.org.za/
    • a note on this...your experience at Robben Island very much depends on your tour guide. Some people who go are like "eh, it's a prison, the guide was boring, it was like he was reading the guidebook verbatim." For us, it was TRANSFORMATIONAL. We had a former prisoner as our guide, and he told personal stories, historical and political contexts, passions and poetry, and vibrant descriptions of life in and out of the prison. I could spend a whole afternoon talking about what I learned from this man. So I definitely recommend going, even if your guide may be hit or miss. Because it could be the hit of a lifetime.
  • A tour of a township (shantytown/slum -- how most indigenous SA natives live); we went to Khayelitsha -- you'll probably go with a tour group; it's important to find a tour company that is owned and run by Africans. If I can find the name of the company we went with, I'll add it.
  • Walking around the Cape Malay area, especially if you've got a guidebook that tells you the history of the area. It's a well-cared-for and colorful neighborhood that's at risk of disappearing in the next economic development boom, so check it out while you can!
  • Two must-eat places:
    • Charly's Bakery: 38 Canterbury St, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
      • The sweets are very sweet, so they're not to everyone's taste, but you have to go just to see the place. Try to avoid Googling it in advance, so you can be surprised when you get there! It's more fun that way.
      • The building used to be the Jewish library -- South Africa was one of the few countries that would take Jews trying to escape the pogroms and persecution in Europe in the late 1800s - WWII (because the ruling class would take anyone who was white, even if they were Jews). So there's interesting history to explore there, too.
    • Biesmiellah: 2 Wale St, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
      • This is an old-skool Cape Malay curry restaurant (not everything is spicy). It may be overrun with tourists at this point, but when we went, it was full of locals and a place Ray remembers going when he was teaching in CT. Definitely not a place to go for ambiance, but it's food you can't get in California, so you might as well try it!
    • If you find yourself exploring African cuisine in ZA, definitely have mielie pap -- that's Ray's strongest comfort food memory. More info here.
A note: Capetown can be very very windy. Not cold, just windy. A light windbreaker with a hood is a great accessory.

In other parts of South Africa:
  • If you like wineries, small towns, and nature walks: rent a car and drive The Garden Route.
    • In particular, we visited Oudtshoorn, 'cause that's where Ben's grandma is from. It used to be the ostrich capital of the world, and you can still visit ostrich farms...which is SO WORTH IT to see adorable baby ostriches!
    • Moessel Baai is also a beautiful beach town with funky rock formations to play in. I think the Moesselbaai lighthouse is where benjie's grandpa proposed to his grandma. =^)
  • Cape Point: windy but stunning! The southernmost tip of Africa, complete with baboons wandering around. We even saw zebra.
  • Knysa Heads offers lovely hiking opportunities along the coastline
  • Cango Caves: very fun spelunking, if you want a break from gorgeous scenery and amazing beaches. ;^)

Asia

...eating. That is what I recommend...

Beijing

No matter if you are going for work or for fun, make sure you have a map in Chinese of where your hotel is -- you can print one out from the hotel's website. That's the only way to tell a taxi driver at the airport where to take you, unless you speak chinese or a chinese-speaker is meeting you at the airport. They don't really use addresses, taxi drivers just know landmarks and some street names!

Also, this website is SO USEFUL:
you put in an English address, and it can text it to you in Chinese. That way you can just show the phone to a taxi driver and it all works. MAGIC.

Must-Dos:

  • HouHai lake in the evening for outdoor ballroom dancing! We went twice, soooo much fun.
  • Visit the Olympic Stadium & Water Cube, preferrably around sunset. Sunset is best because you get to see the buildings light up. Better get there before the whole thing sinks into the ground... 

Favorite restaurants:

Xian Lao Man
  • The best jiao zi (dumplings) I've ever had. Especially the eggplant/meat ones (I think it was eggplant/pork).
  • http://www.mobilenative.com/record.php?poi_id=9p3qwnac6E0%3D
  • it's hard for taxi-drivers to find, 'cause it's around on the side of the "Hua Zun Mansion" (condo building) and you can't see it from the street. 
    • We had to have our taxi driver call the restaurant to get specific directions.
    • It's also close to a Line 10 subway stop (jiandemen), if you don't mind a bit of a walk.
  • HUGE MENU of dumplings to choose from; they don't speak any english but they have an english menu if you ask for it.
Hi De Lao hot pot
Ma La Xiang Guo -- Experience sichuan-style mouth-numbing yummyness at its finest! There's one in the mall at the second-to-last (southern) subway station on the Blue line...have a chinese-speaking co-worker look it up for you and/or take you there. Great for small groups (4 - 6 range) and SO YUMS. I haven't seen this style of cooking/serving in the US, so I really enjoyed the "differentness." If you don't like spicy at all, though, don't bother. =^)

Additionally, if you want to try the famous Roast Duck meal, QuanJude is the best place. 
Seriously. I tried a couple. It's not cheap, but it is much much better than the ones in the more touristy areas.

But overall, Chinese food has HUGE variety, much more so in Beijing than basically anywhere else. So try not to eat western food -- just try something new and Chinese every time!

Singapore

Must Dos:
  • National Botanic Garden
  • Peranakan Museum
  • Singapore Zoo (and Night Safari)
  • Singapore National Museum
  • At least one walking tour, I liked the Chinatown one 
  • At least one outdoor hike, I really enjoyed the Southern Ridges trails and McRitchie Reservoir (monkeys!)
Skip:
  • Sentosa
  • Orchard Road, except to eat (unless it's Christmas, then you should go for the sheer madness of decorations)

Must Eat:
  • 2am Dessert Bar
  • Black Pepper Crab (while you're there, try Chili Crab too, but I like black pepper crab wayyy better)
  • Hainanese Chicken Rice
  • Popiah
  • Din Tai Fung
  • Fresh soymilk (either from a hawker centre or from Mr. Bean, where you can also get yummy bean pancake things)
  • Curry puffs


Australia

...oh gawd it'll take a solid month just to write up stuff for this continent alone...

Sydney 

Our favorite restaurants in Sydney are handily compiled in our travel blog: http://lavendrome.net/blog/?p=29 (or http://174.62.72.181/blog/?p=29) -- oh how I wish I could go to gelato messina right now!
Here's a place-holder writeup on visiting Sydney that I will someday fill out and make more organized.




Central & South America

...Ecuador & Belize favorites coming someday...

Europe

Switzerland
We gotta post our observations from 2 weeks living in Zurich and one week traveling around. Coming soon!

Czech Republic
The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora (Czech Republic) 

Ireland
eat veggie soup in as many Irish pubs as you can...

North America

Vancouver, BC

A wonderfully vibrant city and diverse city with very changeable weather (3 seasons in one day) and very easy to navigate via public transit. Get a Compass card when you arrive at the airport and take the trains & buses everywhere; it's what the locals do! Bonus if you can stay at a hotel with free bikes like the Opus Hotel (best service I've ever received at a hotel), so you can bike the waterfront and around Stanley Park.

Activities we did:
  • UBC Museum of Anthropology -- best museum! Must-see, even if you only have one weekend in the city.
  • Capilano River Park Fish Hatchery and hike -- favorite! The fish ladder is awesome if it’s spawning season (and you’re nerdy like us). Very pretty area for easy hikes -- kid-friendly level of difficulty.
  • Bike ride around Stanley Park. Gorgeous waterfront trail with a separated bike lane that goes counterclockwise around the edge of the park. (Next time: more time at beaches if sunny.)
  • Granville Island Public Market & waterfront walk...featuring the AQUABUS!!! I have so much ridiculous love for the adorable and rainbow-colored Aquabus.
  • Waterfront walk from Yaletown to Telus Science Center, then thru Chinatown to Library Square
  • Lonely Planet's walk through the UBC campus, including the Japanese Garden, free modern art museum, and gorgeous Botanical Garden
    • With a detour down Trail 6 or 7 to Wreck Beach (“naturalist” -- naked people -- and not very beachy at Trail 7, but a lovely river/waterfall along the whole trail. Perhaps sand is better at Trail 6?)
    • Next time, I'd find time to do the “choose your own campus” story walk too!
  • Queen Elizabeth Park / Quarry Garden and Bloedel Conservatory (conservatory is small & good for kids / bird lovers; also excellent on a cold day as it is tropical inside)
  • Fluevog store: the Gastown location is Fluevog Mecca. John Fluevog works here in the design studio upstairs and lives a few blocks away. Gives you a reason to go to Gastown (if you like shoes, that is).
Activities to avoid: Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain. (ALL THE TOUR BUSES.) We also didn’t do the Vancouver Art Museum b/c it was really crowded (folks were lining up for the Picasso exhibit, so we went for MOA instead, much more uniquely BC).

Food: 
The reason to go to Vancouver is to eat. Seriously. Make room in your tummy and put off that diet and CHOW DOWN.
  • Minami: This place wins Vancouver. Best tasting menu! Really seriously do the tasting menu. Absolutely stunning fish. Nigiri to die for served with creative touches; sashimi that melts in your mouth. Surprise favorite: ebi fritter; sweetest shrimp evar.
  • Ajisai Sushi: very nice neighborhood restaurant, no waiting at lunchtime.
  • Santouka Ramen: excellent broth. Bonus: absolutely AMAZING japanese version of lu rou fan (cha shu on rice, I think they called it; pickles too! Egg was meh.) Eat off-hours to avoid long lines, although even the long line is efficient; they are all about turnover and are very politely aggressive about getting you to give up your seat the minute you are done eating.
  • Marutama Ramen: excellent noodles and unbelievably delicious soft-boiled egg (“ben, you have to figure out how to make them like this”). Veggie broth was too rich/buttery for me, but Ben’s was great.
  • Snowy Village: fish waffles!!! (Dessert thing, not actual fish.) Nutella and red bean were both deeeelishious; can’t go wrong with any of them, though.
  • Hawkesworth: very nice modern cuisine tasting menu. Sturgeon dish was my fave; never thought of potatoes as refreshing before! pork main with pickled scallops and oyster mushroom sheets and truffle bits was soooo umame.
  • The Greek By Anatoli: modern Greek; no avgolemono, but still great stuff! Rabbit with orzo and the Kreatopita were highlights.
  • Dinesty: fake Din Tai Fung (cheaper too). Pork dumplings were good, crab+pork too salty. They make the pan-fried soup dumplings too; since the wrapper is thicker they are downright dangerous to eat! But yums. Shanxi (hand cut noodles) were nice, as were the dry cooked green beans. Eat at off hours to avoid long waits.
  • Nice Vice: dairy-free ice cream (coconut-base; deb loved it, Ben’s not a fan.) Try the black sesame!
  • The Point Grill: Surprisingly good cafe in UBC. Go here instead of the little cafe in the Museum of Anthropology after you’re tired of museum-ing.
  • Cafe Medina: yes liege waffles! Get at least two toppings per waffle to try. The food was yummy, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly good. You can get the waffles+toppings to go if you wanna skip the wait. Hot chocolate was totally disappointing.
  • Japadog: we didn’t have the dogs, just the shoyu & butter fries for a snack. So. Much. Umame. It was almost too much.
  • Vij’s: very nice for a grown-up date night (the whole experience takes a lot of time). Fun and beautiful and warm space, really great service. We weren’t overwhelmingly impressed with the food; it was definitely delicious, but frankly, Sakoon in Downtown MV is just as good for modern Indian fusion.
  • Kirin Dim Sum: no carts, but that means stuff is fried to order! Yummy! And since you can get reservations, no crazy-long waits, especially if you go a little early.
  • The Bubble Tea Shop: very nice egg waffles! Try the black sesame. And the tea half-sweet really was half sweet, hooray. Pearls a little overdone but still good. 
  • Xoxolat: chocolate shop, both with their own bars & truffles and other brands/imports. This is what we brought home for Barbecrew and for thank you gifts.

Pismo Beach, California

A lovely central California beach town without the pretentiousness of Santa Barbara or Malibu.

Things we've enjoyed:
  • Go to the beach (duh) -- the beach right off the pier near downtown Pismo Beach is usually very nice! And close to restaurants & amenities.
  • There's a monarch butterfly sanctuary, but that's only interesting at the right time of year (Nov - Feb, I think??)
  • Dinosaur Caves Park is fun, but can be very windy. It doesn't really have caves, it's just a nice playground with an epic ocean view and little trails to explore. And some "dinosaur eggs" to climb on.
  • Oceano Dunes is a wacky place -- if your kids are into vehicles, they might love it, although it may be more watching and less interactive unless you meet nice people who might let your kids climb on their (parked) ATVs. There's also a dune trail in the Natural Preserve part of the park that is vehicle-free for dune exploration.
  • A bit to the north is Morro Bay, which features surrey rentals and a nice bike path to Morro Rock. Morro Rock is also home to the effluvial from a nearby power plant, so you can learn about water-cooled power plants via interpretive signage.
  • Morro Bay also has a Skateboard Museum (niche audience!) and a small Natural History museum (free for kids).
Stuff I haven't done yet:
  • There's the whole clamming thing -- Pismo Beach is known for clams (like, to the point where it's a feature in Bugs Bunny cartoons), and there are rules about clamming but it still could be fun to do with your audience. http://www.classiccalifornia.com/wildlife.htm
  • San Luis Obispo also has a Children's Museum, but I've never been there. It's a really cute college down with a vibrant walkable downtown, but I've only gone there for girl-getaway-type weekends, so I'm not so attuned to the kid activities.
  • I've always wanted to do the Point San Luis Lighthouse tour, but that might be more for history nerds than kiddos. But you do get to go past the Diablo Canyon nuclear site, which could be cool to see? Ok, that's a stretch. ;^)

Oahu, Hawaii

Merry & Ben have a spreadsheet of activities, places to stay, and eats here.

This list of food recommendations was the foundation of my first trip to Oahu. Definitely check to see what's still open before you go.

But we found an even better shave ice place: the Aloha General Store, Haleiwa, HI.
It has a cheesy name and the rest of the store is filled with gift-crap, but their shave ice was SO MUCH BETTER than those other two everyone says to go to. The ice texture was fluffier, it didn't melt as fast, and the flavors weren't as tooth-achingly sweet. They filter and freeze their own ice so it shaves better, and they cool their syrups so it doesn't melt as fast. (But we haven't been in 4+ years, so again, old rec.)

Subpages (1): Sydney
Comments