Trolls and Giants in the Land of Ice

September 2022

Some of the photos I am posting are from other members of the travel group. I unfortunately didn’t not keep track of who took each photo. I apologize for not giving due credit.

It all began with a post from travel expert Eric Hansen who has a YouTube channel Backpacking TV and you can follow him on Instagram @EpicTrails365. He was approached by TrovaTrip to host a trip to Iceland and he invited his followers to join him. We signed up right away.

Great hosts, great group of people to travel with and our guide Bara was amazing. She adapted to our group and adjusted the itinerary to our level of activity perfectly. I highly recommend a tour guide. The sites are fairly far apart and it really helped to have someone who knew exactly where to take us. She even threw in some special extras.

The places we went to were definitely where the tourist go but it’s not like other places we’ve visited. Even at the most crowded waterfall it was still a very reasonable number of people. There were the occasional Instagram posters who were trampling areas they weren’t supposed to be in but mostly it was like minded people who absolutely were in awe of the landscape. The trip there was pretty easy. From NYC it was just 6 hours. The airport was small and easy to navigate.

Weather – I am not a person who likes the cold. A couple of days into a visit to any location with snow and I’m over it. We visited Iceland in September. The highs during the days were in the 50s. According to Bara we had unusually amazing weather. I think it drizzled the first day we were there and the rest of the days it was sunny and blue skies. We packed lots of layers and rain gear. One day I wore my long underwear but the rest of the time standard long pants, long sleeve shirt, sweater, heavy jacket, and hiking boots were fine. No gloves, scarves, or hats required. But again, we had unusual weather and everyone says to expect the weather to be all over the place so pack appropriately.

Because this was a package everything was included – where we stayed, where we ate for main meals and the sites we visited.


We flew into Reykjavík and stayed just one night before we were off on our bus. We didn’t really have a chance to explore that first day. Several of the people in our group stayed a week longer. If you are doing a group thing and plan to stay a few extra days I recommend staying after the group part is over. That way you have a better lay of the land and can go back to the things you want to further explore. Our only stop in Reykjavík that first day was Skal a bar around the corner from our hotel. The food was amazing. Fresh and interesting.

Salt Baked Beets with walnuts and homemade mascarpone; Roasted sunchokes with smoked creme fraiche, hazelnuts, apple and brown butter; Smoked arctic char with sour cream, cucumber and herbs. The drinks were the special that day and I can’t remember what they were but they were delicious.

We stayed that first night and the last 2 nights at Hotel Klettur it was nice, clean and comfortable. Great location. One thing that took us a while to figure out, you had to put the room key in a slot near the door to turn the lights on. It was a very ingenious way to conserve energy and make sure people turned out the lights when they left the room. Most hotels had this. Most of the architecture in Reykjavik was newer and basic. Built for the weather. I’m sure there are historic sites, museums etc but we didn’t get to see them because we didn’t stay longer. I regret not staying. Just a couple of extra days would have been enough to really see the city.

Day One | Canyons, Geysers & Hot Springs

Our first site was Thingvellir National Park. Waterfalls, canyons, and historic sites. Game of Thrones filmed several scenes in the canyons. Click here for other filming locations in Iceland. As you can see, it wasn’t super crowded. There are other people there but it was really easy to snap photos without people in the shot. It was also easy to stray off from the group to see other parts of the park. No one was over by the church and the cemetery (my favorite part 🙂

Next stop was Geysir Hot Springs. This was one of the touristy places. Lots of people trudging along not really taking in the view. I would still recommend stopping here but it wasn’t may favorite. The springs were hot, really hot. In the first photo you can see bubbling, that’s boiling water. They had signs everywhere not to touch the water it was scolding hot. The geysers were just feet away and there was just a small rope around it. It was pretty exciting when they went off.

The next stop was massive Gullfoss Waterfall. It’s really hard to tell just how massive this was. If you look closely you can see the people walking along the path in the first photo. We needed raingear to protect us from the spray. In the third photo you can see how the path leads to the top of the waterfall. The view was beautiful.

At the geyser park there was a nice gift shop, restrooms and a restaurant with good food. Most of the food, even at the tourist spots were good. Nothing crazy, just freshly made burgers, soup, sandwiches etc.

Following the geyser we stopped at a hot springs, Secret Lagoon Hot Springs it was not a fancy one but I don’t think it would have mattered. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m not a hot tub person, really not even a water person. You change in a locker room and they want you to shower in a group shower before you put on your swimsuit. Which I can tell you did not happen. I felt awkward enough changing in front of the group I was with. After strategically working with my towel I managed to get changed, showered with my suit on. Then jumped in. Yep it was warm water. You just stand around with everyone in a warm pool of water. The springs are off to the side and they build a natural wall of stones to divide it and create a little stream as it runs down the stream it cools off enough for the pool. So if you aren’t sure if it’s worth doing or not. There are no surprises, it’s exactly as pictured where ever you go. A warm pool of water. The changing facilities might be a little more private but in the end you are just standing around in a warm pool.

Our first night on the road we stayed at a farm just outside of Hvolsvöllur – Hotel Fljotshlid It was beautifully natural. We saw a glimpse of the northern lights. It was simple, dorm style accommodations and a nice meal. The view was spectacular though.

Day Two | More Waterfalls, Sneaker Waves & Pizza

On our way to Skogafoss Waterfall we stopped at a farm that was at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The visitor board explained how the farm continued even after the volcano erupted. Which was something that we saw a lot along the way. Traveling on the road around the perimeter of the island you have mountains and volcanos in the center with glaciers in-between them filling up the valleys. You can see how the landscape has changed depending on if the glacier has receded or if there was lava from an eruption.

Next stop was Skogafoss Waterfall there’s a fairly steep climb to the top, stairs most of the way but only a rail or rope in certain places. Once you are at the top it’s pretty flat. You can continue to hike along the path and eventually end up on the other side of the mountain. Camping is allowed most places but they are having to make changes to those rules because farm and home owners had tourists camping on their property without asking and then asking to use their bathrooms or kitchens. So if you do want to camp, be sure to look into the rules before you go.

Next stop was Reynisfjara Beach, as we drove there, our guide cautioned us several times to be sure to stay away from the water’s edge. The waves are very erratic. They have warnings for sneaker waves. If you search for Reynisfjara Beach sneaker waves you’ll see videos. The beach has beautiful black sand, the most interesting cave with natural columns and several rocky islands just off the coast. There was also a little restaurant, Black Beach Restaurant. Again, everything was fresh and well made and the restrooms were nice. Even at the tourist spots or parks the facilities were really nice.

On our way to Fjadrargliufur Canyon we stopped at a little village called Vik and had pizza at Black Crust Pizza. They make their dough with volcanic ash and serve some of the pizzas with red pepper jelly. I will never eat pizza without jelly again. Imagine a cracker, with cheese, prosciutto and jam. That’s what it was like. Delicious. After beer and pizza, our guide asked us to walk down to the water and collect a stone for our next stop.

Along our road to our last stop for the day, Fjadrargljufur Canyon, where the road Hrifunesvegur meets Sudurlandsvegur there’s a little rest stop. People started building cairns there. We each added our stones to build our own little cairn and leave our mark in Iceland. I absolutely loved this.

Last stop for the day was Fjadrargljufur Canyon, easy hike to the top then flat from there. If you prefer not to hike up you can drive a little further down the street from the main entrance to a second parking lot. Then walk over to the look out area. There is a path further along the canyon from there but we stopped at the overlook. The path is far from the edge and has a little rope to keep you off the flowers. The look out area has a metal railing so you can get closer to the edge if you want to. See the sheep in the last photo. Sheep just run wild wherever they want to go. At the end of the season all the farmers go and collect their sheep and bring them in for the winter. It’s a big deal there. We found sheep in the craziest places.

Bara had a surprise for us and we made an unscheduled stop. At a little town called Kirkjubæjarstofa there was a folktale about 2 nuns from 1186 you can visit the website to read more about the area. We parked in the parking lot of Kjarr Restaurant next to the Klausturhof Guesthouse. There’s a path just across the street from the parking lot with a picnic table. It’s pretty hard to see. Beautiful little creek with amazing old trees and rocks around the water’s edge. There’s a little stone step path that you climb through the woods to get to the top. You could see for miles. The hike down was just as steep but if I can do it almost anyone can. A suggestion of walking sticks for next time was well noted.

Wow what a day! We hit the ground running on this trip and never stopped. We made it to our next hotel, the nicest of them all and the best food. Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We had a delicious meal for dinner then they have a breakfast buffet. Most of the hotel’s had the breakfast buffet but this one was definitely elevated. More warm dishes and offerings. We stayed here 2 nights.

Day Three | Boat Rides, Diamonds & Ice Caves

Next day we were off to a boat ride in Glacier Lagoon and visiting Diamond Beach. The boat ride takes you around a lagoon next to a glacier that is slowly receding. As parts of the glacier break off the icebergs float into the lagoon they slowly float down the river to the ocean. As they reach the ocean they get washed up on shore of the black sand beach. The guides on the boat ride were outstanding. So happy to be there and happy to show us around. There was a little stand with necessities and quick food. I kept hearing about the Icelandic hot dog with crispy onions so I gave it a try. The hot dog is served with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. It was a good hot dog. I’m not sure I’d wait in line for an hour for one (in Reykjavik there’s a famous food truck with them an people do in fact wait that long) but it was good while we waited for the next leg of our trip. There were also bathrooms and several food trucks there. The boat tour company was Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours.

After the boat ride and a snack we drove across the street to the Diamond Beach. Where the icebergs wash up on the black sand beach. I couldn’t take enough photos. (the first photo is from someone else on the trip. Not sure who.)

Next we drove about 30 min to go off road over what looked like Mars terrain to a glacier. We boarded a truck with giant wheels (if you have back problems you wouldn’t be able to ride in this vehicle. It just hauled ass over every rock there and you bounced all over the place). The “road” was over the ground that was left after the glacier receded. There’s no vegetation yet just dirt and rocks of all sizes. Once you arrive we hiked another 15-20 minutes to the edge of the glacier. Donned spikes for our shoes and hiked up the glacier. There were some interesting holes to look down but aside from being able to say I hiked on a glacier it was just a giant slope of dirty ice. Now the cave underneath, that’s a completely different story. The opening was very large you just walked in. The ceiling is ice so it looks like you are under a river. There’s a river flowing through it. As you walk further back into the cave it gets smaller for a short time and we had to duck down as we walked. That was just for a minute then it opens back up, turns a corner and ends. But it was so beautiful. If you look closely in the cave photos most have people in them. That will give you the scale and help you see what’s up and what’s down.

Another amazing day, finished with probably the best meal we had on the trip. Dinner at Foss Hotel.

Day Four | Hiking, Hot Springs & the Backside of Waterfalls

On the road again, to Vatnajökull National Park this was a big hike up over the mountain. At the end we had the best fish and chips from a food truck at the visitors center/camp area.

Once again our guide surprised us with a little side trip to Kvernufoss waterfall. We were virtually the only group there visiting these falls. Moss covered boulders along a winding river in a canyon that takes you to a hidden waterfall. That you can walk behind. It was dreamy.

Our last stop for the day was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This one had the most tourists. Tourist, the annoying kind that are rude and throw cigarette butts on the ground. It was ok. Kvernufoss gave us the behind the waterfall experience without the nasty people and the walk to the waterfall was much nicer. Seljalandsfoss you need rain gear. You walk up to the waterfall around behind it and back out. There’s a fairly steady stream of people walking through and you will get wet from the spray and the mist. The location had restrooms and gift shops. There was a food trailer with quick snacks and coffee. Mostly packaged items.

On our way back to Reykjavik we stopped at Reykjadalur Hot Springs. This was an easy 2 mile hike from the parking lot to a hot spring. They did have places you could change but they weren’t private. It was a platform with a divider but you were divided from each other not everyone else. Again, not a water person so I just opted to put my feet in. In the parking lot was a really cute visitors center. Nice bathrooms (they were pretty nice everywhere we went) and a restaurant that made waffles that were delicious.

Back to Reykjavik

Back in Reykjavik we decided to hit some of the restaurants I had seen online before our trip. The first 3 photos are from Sandholt Bakery. We stopped here the first day we arrived and grabbed a coffee. I wanted to go back to have lunch but we got there just after they stopped serving meals. Their bakery and desserts were yummy anyway. The next 2 photos are Braud & Co a bakery, also end of the day so they only had a few things left but also yum. Next 3 photos are from Cafe Loki. I knew it would be touristy, it’s right across from the Leif Erikkson Monument downtown. They serve traditional Icelandic food. From the YouTube channels it looked pretty basic. The item that got my attention was the ryebread ice cream. I have no way to describe this. It doesn’t taste like rye bread or like ice cream. It’s not overly sweet, its also not creamy. It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve eaten but it wasn’t bad either. Definitely worth trying though. We didn’t have to get a table, I just ordered at the counter. The last photo is from Joe & The Juice which was in the airport. They made smoothies, pressed sandwiches and coffee. If I’m ever there again, I will definitely pick up a sandwich when I land and again when I leave. As with most of the restaurants in Iceland, fresh made farm to table food.

To Wrap it Up

So glad we made this trip. As I said, I highly recommend a tour guide. She understood what we wanted and customized the trip to fit our preferences. There were lots of campers and camp sites as well. If you want to travel without a guide try visiting some of the YouTube channels for Iceland. I really liked Iceland with a View she has an entire channel devoted to Iceland. Her point of view is unique as well because she’s an American living in Iceland. I also liked the post from The Ryan’s Travel – What do Icelander’s Eat.

Packing – whatever they tell you to pack, pack. Normally the weather is all over the place. We were there in early September. We had t-shirt days and days with long johns. We were lucky and had warm sunny days but that isn’t usual. So come prepared. Most of the YouTube channels have packing tips.

We didn’t really need cash. We used our credit card just about everywhere. I grabbed $100 in Icelandic Krona at the airport when we arrived and ended up only using it as a tip for our guide at the end. I know usually they say don’t exchange money at the airport they charge a higher fee. But with a group I didn’t want to have to make the group stop so I could exchange the money and I didn’t want to have to search for a place to exchange the money in town. It was worth the extra fee to get it over with.

The airport is nice, easy to get around and had great restaurants and friendly staff. The gift shop actually had the nicest t-shirts I saw on the whole trip. Gifts were a little hard to get. It was either tourist junk made elsewhere or hand made items that were hundreds of dollars. And living in the south a $300 wool sweater doesn’t really make sense.

As active as this trip was is was so relaxing. This was the first group/tour guide trip I’ve been on. It was a great way to travel. I’m not sure it would work everywhere. It worked in Iceland because even the touristy places are beautiful. It’s not like normal vacation places. It would be hard to miss the “good spots”. It also helped we had such a great group to travel with.

Savannah Ya’ll

What a difference in Savannah the last few years. Last time we were there, maybe 10 years ago, the shopping on Broughton Street was mediocre with a couple of mid level chains. The restaurants were either country, old folky, or touristy. The River area had just been redeveloped but as with every decent size city
it was definitely their tourist trap.
But now! The shopping is great, lots of great chains like Anthropology, J Crew, and Banana Republic with more coming and even more cool smaller shops like Chocolate by Adam Turoni on Broughton and a new location on Bull (ridiculous and he has fake grass as carpet in an all white store so perfect) 24e (a very cool furniture and housewares store) on Broughton and also on Broughton…

The Paris Market

This beautiful shop has unique new and antique items. Their coffee shop has pastries and sandwiches from local bakeries. We went there every day. If I lived in Savannah I would be there all the time. Brought home a long mirror and old wooden box that the sales lady was kind enough to finagle out of the display and call the manager to find out how much to sell them to me for because they were just display pieces. I bought a damn sandwich every day! They were just so delicious. The St Germaine was the best with chicken. They were out of them the other 2 days so I got the charcuterie sandwich with salami – also really really good. The bread was just a perfect baguette.

and the restaurant options, although still limited have grown enough that we ate in an amazing restaurant each day we were there.

I highly recommend visiting when you are visiting somewhere. They have tons of articles and lists about the local food scene. I found an article from a food writer about Savannah who felt the same way I did about most of the restaurants in Savannah but mentioned 3 new places that were changing everything.
Plus a friend recommended 2 more.

Where to eat…

The Wylde

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This place is a short 15 min drive over to the river, Google Maps will take you on the highway but on our way back it was just as easy and way more scenic to take Derenne to Bull. First of all the atmosphere was just stupid. It was a beautiful crisp winter day the sky was perfect blue, you’re sitting out on a
cool slightly hipster dock with a southern flair.

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The waitresses know the food and were super friendly. The owner is there cleaning tables and greeting people. As we walked up the chef was at the back door scaling a fish. That’s fresh! So we ordered as much as we could. Hemingway Daiquiris – which aren’t anything like the daiquiris you’re used to.


Good White Rum
Grapefruit juice
Lime juice
Maraschino cherry liquor
Garnished with a brandied cherry

We ordered the housemade wild boar sausage on toast with truffle butter – don’t get scared, that’s the fanciest thing they had. And it was so good. The toast was crispy and the sausage had a loose texture with tons of flavor and none of it was gamey. In fact we made such a big deal over it that the chef dropped off an extra tray of it.

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The details matter too – everything was served on real trays or plates, no plastic or paper. They used cheap trays you get from the restaurant/kitchen stores and it makes a huge difference.

Fresh grilled fish with a beautifully toasted bun (again, details) radish, pickled red onion and arugula. Crispy fish with creamy, slow cooked, high quality grits. Succotash, roasted potatoes and green beans, and of course collards. The best collards I’ve ever had. Tender and slightly sweet with a little kick.

And we tried one of everything for dessert! All housemade from scratch. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be made with great fresh ingredients and maybe put a little interesting twist on it.

Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie and Ice Cream sandwich, and Bruleed Bananas with Cookie Crumble and Ice Cream

We didn’t go see it, next time, but while you are out there it’s a short drive to the Bonaventure Cemetery – can’t wait to go next time.

Collins Quarter

They gutted the front of the old building and left the shell so you are sitting at street level but you can see the walls of the old basement and where the first floor used to be. The architecture was really interesting. Collins is on Bull Street center of Savannah’s historic district. Very hip crowd hanging out there
and very crowded on the weekend.

   At Collins Quarter they have a lavender mocha that was velvety and rich. Fresh pastries every day. We had the brown sugar banana bread with a mixed berry compote and mascarpone. I know shut up!

Watch out for the biscuits and gravy, way way too spicy for me. As delicious as they look I couldn’t eat it.
But if you like spicy you’ll love this.

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The waitress recommended the eggs benedict, which is what I should have gotten. Fortunately my friend shared his. And as simple as it was the oatmeal with fig and apricot compote and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts was so good I made it at home.

For lunch we split the smashed avocado with feta, tomatoes, micro herbs, and a poached egg all on fresh toasted bread and the sandwich of the day which was grilled gruyere with ham and mushroom.

The Florence

At the end of Whitaker Street on Victory Drive. It’s a converted Ice Factory. Again, details details. They have a little bakery and coffee shop that’s open for breakfast and a main restaurant open for dinner and brunch. We of course visited for all of the above.

The coffee shop is serious. The make their own mocha syrup, in fact he was out when we stopped in so he made some fresh for me. Their baker was trying out bagels for the first time and she nailed it. Perfect crust and not too chewy inside. They also have various croissants and pastries, all buttery and flakey. We had the gruyere and ham croissant and the cranberry danish and Blake tried the bagel. They also sell their croissants at The Paris Market’s coffee shop.

Dinner. Shared the Florence Bread Plate with apple butter and sea salt olive oil and fresh butter. Various types of fresh baked bread. Ate it all. Followed with the bruschetta topped with smoked trout crème fraiche and potato chips and pork belly with romesco and escabeche

I had the Egg Yolk Ravioli with ricotta, mushrooms, brussels, butternut squash, radish, puffed parm, and ham and kale broth. Sorry the pictures are so dark.

Tommy and Blake each had the Painted Hills Sirloin, root veg gratin which was rich and creamy, oyster mushrooms, celery root, and braised collards. Melt in your mouth good.

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The Grey

On Jefferson Street a few blocks off Bay was converted from an old Greyhound Bus Station. They kept 90% of the bus station intact. They did a beautiful job restoring this old building and gave it a really hip new vibe. Of all of the places we ate though this one had a little hint of pretentiousness. It was a little too hipster for me. Lots of buzzing about but the waiter wasn’t that attentive and it took 3 hours for us to eat. The food was delicious and the atmosphere beautiful, the servers are friendly, but.. I don’t know just not quiet my thing.

Again, I apologize for the dark photos but I figured they’d frown on me turning up the lights.

We ordered – roasted beets with buttermilk yogurt and greens. Rainbow carrots with cream cheese, rye, and caraway. Pork shank with greens and a johnny cake.
Smoked collards, leek, onion, and shallot.

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Dessert we had the Pot de Crème with vanilla, molasses, and candied peanuts. Chocolate Parfait with chocolate pudding, spicy peanuts, peanut butter whipped cream, and chocolate wafer. Sweet Potato Pie with toasted oats, honey, caramel, whipped cream.

The Pink House Tavern

The restaurant is pretty touristy. But the tavern in the basement, not the bar at the back of the building but the one in the basement was warm and inviting. Standing in front of the building go down the stairs to the left of the front door. The tavern has this great English tavern vibe in the original basement of this old mansion.
Drinks and atmosphere were great.

22 Square Bar

The 22 Square Bar at the The Andaz Hotel

We had a couple of drinks here. The bartenders were great. Gave us samples of things they were mixing for other people and the menu was fancy but not over the top. The restaurant also called 22 Square looked delicious. Blake had eaten there before. We didn’t get a chance this time but it looks like the perfect place to go for drinks and snacks.

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Aside from just walking around, because the homes and gardens are ridiculous. They are inspiring and so well restored. I usually take tons of pictures for ideas for my own yard or home. There are lots of tours of the historic homes. I highly recommend doing that. We toured the Mercer-Williams House, its the house from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You only get to see the garden and the first floor. It’s still set up the way Williams restored it in the 1970s and looks lovely but the furnishings aren’t historic and you only see the first floor because the family lives in the rest of the house. The garden was neglected too. I haven’t been on other historic home tours in Savannah so I can’t compare but click here for a list of all the homes you can see.

Tours Shopping and Sites

Historic Home Tours of Savannah

The River front area is really touristy. We walked along it one night didn’t go in anywhere. The bars were either dirty or very touristy and the shops all sell crap. It’s worth walking down there but there’s nothing really worth staying for.

I always like taking a historic tour of some kind, preferably as soon as we get there. It helps you understand the area and all the buildings you are walking by. There are always walking tours, carriage rides, and bus or trolley tours. Just pick the kind you like the best. Here’s a link for Historic Tours

Some other places to visit

Wormsloe Plantation Historic Site

Massie Heritage Center

Shop Scad

Habersham Antiques Market

There are so many options for places to stay. You can book a whole house on AirBNB or VRBO or check into a beautiful Inn or Bed and Breakfast. I would try to get something in the historic area and something that’s close to everything. The historic area isn’t very big so it’s very easy to walk to almost everything. But parking is terrible. So you don’t want to have to constantly be trying to find a parking space. Trust me, walk.
And be aware if you park on the street overnight they have signs for what day the streets will be swept but it’s a little confusing. The sign will say Street Sweeping Sat 12am – 4am which means don’t leave your car there Friday night. I know that doesn’t sound confusing now but when you just glance at it you see Saturday but it means Friday. Fortunately, they don’t tow your car they just give you a
$25 ticket you can pay online.

When you are looking for a place, look at the rooms. If they only show you the living room or the lobby skip it. You want to see the rooms. Some places will put all the money in the lobby area and the rooms suck. Make sure there’s a picture of the bathroom too. With a house rental sometimes you get an amazing deal and a beautiful home and sometimes its just a regular old house. You have to prioritize what matters to you. Location (do you want to be in the middle of everything or on the water)? Price (the rental homes are usually a great deal a whole house that sleep 8 people – $350 a night / $87.50 per couple)? Size (do you want all your friends or family together)?

Figure out what matters the most and start there. If you want to be close to everything, only need a room for 2 people, and don’t care about the price – go for a 4+ star hotel. If you have a big group with varying budgets and still want to be in the middle of everything go for a rental home. If you want the experience of a historic home go for the rentals, inn or bed and breakfast.

Last little note, the week days were much less crowed. We could get in almost anywhere and had less trouble parking. They clearly have a lot of people who visit for the weekend. It was night and day and we weren’t there during any particular holiday. Plus hotels etc. are usually cheaper during the week.

Asheville – Hippies Hipsters and Haunted Houses (well not really I just wish)

Ok so the Biltmore Estate is not the Haunted House at Walt Disney World but from certain angles outside it looks like the most awesome haunted house ever! Inside is pretty cool too but they won’t let you take pictures – damn it.

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The Biltmore Estate

That photo is from their website.
My photos of the front of the house sucked.

These are the ones I took closer up. They aren’t too bad.

   Standing in the patio area in front of the house.

The drive up to the house (sorry did not take pictures I was enjoying the view and forgot) you drive past creeks and fields and through beautiful woods. The landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park in NYC designed the property for George Vanderbilt. Is seems like just natural woods but he actually designed it all. You drive through a beautiful gate then past the ticket and welcome center and along a 2 mile winding path, every step is the same route taken by Vanderbilt and their guests 120 years ago. They’ve done a beautiful job of keeping the property as it was when it was built and as it was intended.

You can do a self guided tour or take several behind the scenes tours. I recommend renting the audio equipment for the self guided tour. They give you so much info on everything you are looking at. I can’t describe the magnificence of this house. The family was pretty amazing too. They paid their employees NYC wages and paid all their medical expenses. When someone became ill they continued to pay them and held their job for them. They built a village where married employees lived. (the Biltmore Village is still there some of the original homes are restaurants and shops and the rest are now hotels and stores but you can still see where this little village was) There’s just so much info about this family and the estate.

Here are a couple of links

Wikipedia – Biltmore Estate
Biltmore Estate Website

Off the amazing library is a patio covered with a grape vine. From the family photos you can see they spent a lot of time here. The patio over looks a large side yard that at one time had a pool. From this yard you can see the amazing grounds and it leads down to
the formal garden and green house.

That gravel area was where the pool was. It originally was like this then they added a pool for their daughter Cornelia. Later it was taken out again to restore it back to the original yard.

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The garden was mostly bare from photos it looks like spring is the time to go to see it in full bloom. The trees all had color still and they still had plenty of plantings just no flowers. Inside, the green house was filled with tropical plants.

After touring the house we had Afternoon Tea at the Inn on Biltmore. It was a great way to include a little bit of the Vanderbilt tradition in our visit. I highly recommend arriving a little early and having a drink at the bar and sitting on the terrace to take in the view.
Again – no pictures, sorry.

But here’s a picture of the view from our table at tea, very similar to the view from the bar’s terrace.

2015-11-06 Asheville Wedding Biltmore Estate Afternoon Tea View from the window

Afternoon Tea

Grand Bohemian

I looked at the hotels in the Biltmore area – the Grand Bohemian is beautiful, brand new building that looks ancient. The rates are really reasonable. The Inn on Biltmore Estate and the Village Hotel are crazy expensive. $400+ and it doesn’t include admission to the house. Both are so far away (4 miles I think) from the house that you would still have to drive there so I’m not really sure what the perks are. You can rent bikes, go for a horse ride, and do all of the other things on the estate without staying there. The Grand Bohemian is in the Biltmore Village, across the street from the entrance gate to the Biltmore.

2015-11-07 Asheville Wedding Grand Bohemian Red Stag 2

This is the Red Stag Grille in the lobby of the Grand Bohemian.

These photos are from Google

There are several B&B’s, hotels, and lofts for rent on Airbnb and VRBO downtown. I don’t recommend the Grove Park Inn. It’s really really dated and not worth the price. It’s about a 15 min drive from downtown to the Biltmore. So stay where you’ll be the most. It’s very easy to drive around the city but hard to park downtown. Although there are parking garages.

The food and bars in Asheville are great. But after a few days it’s kind of hipster overload. When you are planning where you’ll eat I highly recommend mixing in something other then farm to table rustic or you’ll be so over it pretty quickly. Same thing for the craft cocktails. I think we’re about to implode with this stuff. The drinks are getting more and more complicated or really not complicated at all just described in an obnoxiously complicated way.
Can I just get a Makers and ginger please.


Biscuit Heads

2 locations – get there early or on a weekday or the line will be out the door. And totally worth it!

Cat head sized fresh made biscuits, a long list of gravies, the gravy of the day was bacon mushroom, a jam and butter bar, and tons of cool options. Top picture is a biscuit with greens, pimento cheese, mushroom bacon gravy, and bacon. The jams were homemade sweet potato butter, peach strudel butter, strawberry jam,
and citrus basil jam. Stupid good.

Tupelo Honey Café

Can’t go to Asheville without going here. And even with all the new places that have opened in the last 10 years it was still on the top of my list. We had breakfast and dinner there this time. And the service is unbelievably genuine southern hospitality.

Breakfast – wheat toast with pimento cheese, fresh tomatoes, and pepper bacon and a sweet potato pancake bigger than the plate with pecan granola on top and sorghum syrup.

Dinner – country ham wontons with a Brussels sprout slaw and the veggie plate with greens, beans and mac and cheese.


They took 3 restaurants and turned them into one very cool rustic farm to table place. We had an afternoon snack at the bar and breakfast. Would love to go back for dinner.

A dark rum, homemade pear ginger beer and soda and one of the local craft beers on tap. Their house made charcuterie, pickles,
and local cheese board.

2015-11-07 Asheville Wedding Rhubarb 1

Breakfast – fresh everything. I forgot to take a picture of my house made English muffin with bacon and a sunny side up egg. A friend got the cruffin. A croissant that is baked in a muffin tin with bacon, cheese, and thinly sliced potato and comes with a side of cream cheese and chives. Once again, stupid good. They also had
another option with rhubarb jam.

There are tons of options for brunch usually on Saturday and Sunday and every place has their own take on Bloody Mary’s


Right next to Rhubarb. This place was a welcome break from all the hipster rustic-ness of everything else in town. More refined – still had a nod to that whole vibe though.

My pictures are dark and not doing it justice. Braised then pan seared pork shoulder with sweet potato puree and apple sautéed with greens. Smoked butternut squash with goat cheese, golden raisins, pecans, and crispy leeks with a kale currant and pear salad. So yummy.

Some other places that I don’t have pictures for but you could try

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

They are across the street from Rhubarb – they have a small shop where they sell chocolate bars and ice cream and next to it is the lounge where they sell desserts and drinking chocolate

Wicked Weed

A local brewing company that also has a great restaurant and full bar. Upstairs is the full restaurant and outside they have fire pits. Downstairs is a limited menu and just beer and wine but you can sit outside (they have heaters when it’s cold) The bar snacks were great. Didn’t try the sandwiches but they also looked great.
Definitely want to try them next time.

Social Lounge

Fun quiet bar with a cocktail called the Buttercup. As my friend says it’s so good she’s sure it has crack in it. I agree, I was hooked immediately. The upstairs outside patio was really nice.

Every block downtown has a bar or a brewery. There are tons of shops, restaurants, galleries, and antiques. In the Biltmore Village area you have the chain stores like J Crew and William Sonoma.

Their airport is tiny so it’s so easy to get in and out.
20 minutes from downtown too.

Click here for more info about Asheville.


Sarasota Sunsets

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and just visited Sarasota for the first time.

2015-08-23 Sarasota 29th Anniversary Ritz beach club 6

The downtown was a cool mix of 1920’s Mediterranean – mid-century modern – and chic new buildings. It was really easy to walk around the entire downtown and the beaches and other sites were a very short drive away.

We were there in late August when Ringling was out and all the snow birds were still up north so it was pretty dead but the up side to that is we didn’t have to wait for anything and we didn’t really need reservations to anywhere. But it was 1,000 degrees so we ended up spending a lot of time in the water. I definitely want to go back to see some of the other sites and spend more time exploring when it’s more pleasant.

You can tell there’s a large retirement community there – every block has an Italian, steak or old school seafood restaurant and a lot of the shops downtown were well lets say – mature. I’m assuming there’s more diverse shopping nearby because it’s an upscale area so there must be a Jcrew somewhere. But they have lots of new exciting restaurant options too. Farm to table – locally grown – and interesting prepared. I think the young people are slowly infiltrating the place.


Cute historic house with a modern interior. The chef literally catches the fish in the morning for the dinner menu.

Parmesan beignets with honey, pear and thyme – Local cobia with vegetable slaw and potatoes Lyonnais

Louies Modern

Because this is their slow season they weren’t open most of the time we were there – the only opportunity we had to eat there was for Brunch. Which was really good but I’d love to go back when we can try their dinner menu.

Buddy Brew Coffee

Right next to Louies Modern there was a little coffee place that shared an open air lounge area with Louies they had great coffee and a little a/c area to enjoy it. But during months with nice weather the open air lounge area would be awesome to hang out in. I imagine in the evenings it doubles as a bar area for Louies.

Jack Dustys

The main restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, we met friends there for drinks and the waitress overheard us say it was our anniversary so she brought over a cheese tray with marcona almonds, honeycomb, dried and fresh fruit and crackers. My drink was Hendricks gin with ice cubes made of 3 different juices, mango, passion fruit, and rose water with a lily. You drink it slowly so the ice cubes slowly melt and mix with the gin.

   Their breakfast had everything you can imagine only house made with local ingredients. Perfect service.

2015-08-22 Sarasota 29th Anniversary Ritz Jack Dustys tea

For dinner we had coffee rubbed steak with a house made steak sauce, pork belly Panini with peanut butter and banana (not usually on the dinner menu but I wasn’t very hungry so the waitress offered the lunch menu – the Ritz is cool like that) – dessert was chocolate mousse and a couple of skinny mochas.

Their homemade molasses bread baked in a can and served with fresh butter and sea salt

Some places we didn’t get to eat but want to try next time…


Social Eatery and Bar

Selva Grill

Nancy’s BBQ
in the historic Burns Court of downtown

The Ritz-Carlton Beach Club on Lido Key

We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on the bay

It was right at the edge of downtown so we were able to walk everywhere – even though it was crazy hot we just sucked it up. But if you went in November it would be lovely walking weather. To get to St. Armands or the Beach Club on Lido Key it was a quick right out the driveway and over the bridge – about a 5 min drive. We rode bikes to a beautiful waterfront neighborhood with complimentary bikes (paddle boards and kayaks were available too). This Ritz was exactly what I expect in a Ritz so accommodating and great at making you feel special. Everyone asks your name and remembers it the next time you see them. Like you’ve been visiting there for years. They find you chairs by the pool, adjust your umbrella, cover your chairs in towels, bring you an ice bucket with water and wait on you hand and foot. We drank cucumber, gin and St Germain in the pool and Modelo’s over looking the beach at the Beach Club.

My only complaint is that they need a separate smaller pool without kids. Rich kids can be obnoxious. Their parents pay no attention to them and no matter what corner of the pool we tried to hide in one of them was constantly splashing by us or almost jumping on our heads even though I was shooting my best stink eye at them.

The Ritz has private residences at both locations but at the Beach Club it’s just private. The hotel guests get to use the pool, access to the beach, the tiki bar, and the pool side restaurant. Same amazing service. Every evening they have a sunset party with bongos at the tiki bar on the beach. The bartenders were so hospitable – every time they made someone a frozen drink they would give samples from what was left over in the blender.

   On our bike ride we visited a couple of the historic neighborhoods in Sarasota. I started to read a coffee table book as I was waiting in the lobby, I didn’t get to finish it but the history of Sarasota is pretty interesting – Google it or look it up on Wikipedia. There’s a historic downtown that leads to an area called Burns Court that is a cool collection of shops now. That leads you to the Orange and Osprey Ave neighborhoods where there are waterfront homes. Turn west off of Osprey Ave onto Lincoln Drive. The 1 block oak lined drive that ends in a cul-de-sac has a park in the median. All the homes are new but built in historical styles and just really well done. Architecture and landscaping.

Turn west onto Bay Point Drive off of Orange Ave. and at the end of the drive you’ll see this beautiful mansion that overlooks the bay. The second photo is the backyard. If you look carefully you can see deck chairs on the roof we think there was a pool up there. What a dream, it reminded me of the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom and if know me you know that’s a compliment.

Most of the other homes in the area were just big. No character at all but this one was amazing.

Some places we didn’t get to see partly because of time and partly because as I already mentioned – it was a 1,000 degrees. So next time we visit it will be cooler and we’ll go see these sites…

Ca d’Zan
the Venetian inspired home of the Ringlings

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
downtown near the Osprey neighborhood

Sarasota Jungle Gardens
just before Ringling

St. Armands
a shopping and restaurant area on a little island between Sarasota and Lido Key, it was very Tommy Bahamas

Mote Marine Aquarium
on the north end of Lido Key

There are also a ton of theaters and an opera in downtown Sarasota.

A friend whose daughter went to Ringling stays at the Lido Beach Resort right on the beach with it’s own tiki bar. Great option for next time. Can’t wait.


What an awesome city Nashville is. It’s a refined southern city that loves music and art with just the right amount of country and even then it’s a funky kind of country. When you have art you have creative people and where you have creative people you have amazing shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
Creative people make amazing things
not just art to look at but art you listen to and literally consume.

Support Art in your own town, even if you don’t “get” art
I bet you “get” good food, artisanal beers, bakeries, markets, and homegrown music.

Let’s Start with Breakfast

The Barista Parlor has 2 locations the original in East Nashville and the new location in the Gulch both are awesome and they take their coffee very seriously (they don’t have decaf) and the mocha’s are made from shaved local artisanal 70% dark chocolate. It’s slightly bitter but so smooth. They have breakfast sandwiches and pastries from scratch – like buttermilk biscuits with sage sausage peach jam and eggs or country ham with chili infused maple. Peach granola. Skillet cornbread with cheddar eggs sausage and honey drizzle.

I think just about every restaurant in Nashville does brunch – they take if very seriously. We went to The Tavern in Mid-town they have a long wait time every Sunday but honestly I wasn’t that impressed. It was fine but it felt like a chain and the food was just fine and in Nashville don’t ever settle for fine. The white trash hash was a keeper – tater tots with cheese bacon and green onions.

2015-07-05 Nashville Tavern white trash hash

Another awesome breakfast (or lunch) place was Biscuit Love also in the Gulch. They have biscuit donuts filled with blueberries and topped with lemon custard. Nashville’s famous hot chicken and biscuits with homemade pickles and everything is from scratch.

2015-07-01 Nashville Biscuit Love donuts

Breakfast Lunch or Dinner

Didn’t get a chance to try The Southern but it’s on the list for next time. It’s right downtown it has everything from house made granola to a hillbilly wrap with greens, black-eyed peas, chow-chow, eggs, cheddar and pulled pork – What?!

We did hit Pinewood Social I can’t imagine going to Nashville and not going there at least once. Located in SoBro They have a bowling alley they salvaged and an outside area that overlooks the river and has bocce ball and little cozy pools that you have to make a reservation for – plus a super cool airstream they serve delicious snacks from. The bar is run by the Patterson House a really cool speakeasy in Mid-town, the coffee is by Crema which is just a few blocks from Pinewood and the menu was created by a former Catbird Seat chef (have not been there yet – tough to get a reservation). The menu at Pinewood is ever-changing and always amazing. Various bruschetta, peaches with burrata, and bacon wrapped meatloaf with mac and cheese.

Fidos in the Belmont Village near Vanderbilt. Really cute area that feels like a small college town right in Nashville. The main street is 21st Ave and there are tons of cute shops, restaurants, and coffee shops there. Fidos is a great breakfast or lunch spot. Craft beers and homemade everything – lots of comfort food.

2014-08-01 Nashivlle Fidos 1

It’s Dinner Time!

Butchertown Hall in Germantown, apparently Nashville’s first suburb. Beautifully restored little Victorian homes, old brick warehouses converted to apartments and restaurants, and cute little shops. We had the trinity (brisket, ribs, and sausage) with pickles and tortillas, a creamy slightly spicy cheese dip with sausage, tomato salad and roasted brussels spouts.

Rolf and Daughters another great place in Germantown, just a few blocks from Butchertown Hall. Great dining experience. I wish I could remember our waitress’ name because she was awesome. The menu has a lot of crazy items so I had to ask a lot of questions and not only was she not rushed or annoyed she was happy to explain everything in great detail and give her recommendations. Really laid back vibe. If I lived there I’d be there all the time. We had agretti, a grain that looks like pine needles that only grows in the Mediterranean but a local farmer figured out how to grow it for them. Sauteed with benny seeds it was so good! Pig head – meh. it was kind of gross. Just bits and pieces of the jowls ears etc. Was not a fan. Little beignets stuffed with cheese and herbs. Would love to go again.

Who wants a Snack?

In the same neighborhood as Fidos on 21st Ave is Hot and Cold a coffee shop with fresh popsicles and flavored shaved ice. I had strawberry topped with fresh strawberries, cucumber, and mint and these little marshmallowie things. Carly had mango and matcha topped with fresh mango and cereal. Crazy. Crazy good!

Oh and there are other things to do besides eat…

The Sounds AAA Baseball Team play in Nashville. Really nice stadium with (sorry I know this is more food) the best ballpark food I’ve ever eaten. Corn and jalapeno fritters, nachos with pulled pork and pickled veggies, hot dogs with spicy peach ketchup just to name what I can remember. The game was fun too with lots of entertainment in between innings and a beautiful sunset over the stadium.

2015-07-01 Nashville Sounds game 3

There are historic sites and museums:

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Antique Archaeology Nashville, Belle Meade Plantation, Belmont Mansion, Bicentennial Capital Mall State Park (with a really great farmers market and restaurants), Tennessee State Museum, the Parthenon at Centennial Park and tons of historic tours.

There are too many cultural sites to name,
galleries, museums, theaters, and music halls.

 There are distilleries, brewing companies, vineyards and wineries.

Check out the website Visit Music City to see the very long list of attractions. Scroll to the top of the page and you’ll see a link Nashville Neighborhoods – great way to understand where everything is. At the top there are also links for events, tours, sports, food, shopping, everything.

If you want to try to stay somewhere in the middle aim for mid-town but everything is pretty spread out. We used Uber a lot and most of the trips for 4 people were $5. Can’t beat Uber!

Just Outside the City…

Lieper’s Fork is a tiny town about 20 minutes outside of Nashville. The entire shopping and eating portion of the town is about 2 blocks of a country road but it’s really worth it. The shops are far from a Cracker Barrel, no kitschy country knickknacks here. Beautiful galleries and antiques. Like at Serenite Maison,  the David Arms gallery, and one of my favorites The Copper Fox Gallery

The food it pure farm to table. Joe’s Farm Store and Café has produce and homemade items up front and a café with amazing bread baskets, sandwiches, salad plates, and desserts in the back. As soon as you pull into this little downtown and get out of your car you’ll smell Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant – the BBQ is amazing and so are all the typical homemade country cooking sides you get with it. This little store is an unassuming country store with a bunch of mismatched tables scattered about and a little stage in the corner. But the music is apparently famous and so are some of the musicians that stop by to jam with whoever happens to be on stage. It’s a really great place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Check out their website to see the events they have scheduled.

Just north of Nashville about an hour on your way to Kentucky is Clarksville, we stopped by Miss Lucille’s Marketplace and Café. Again, great home-made food with a twist and the booth’s have a nice mix of unique homemade items and antiques. They just added a coffee shop as well. Do not leave there without having the brisket sliders on pretzel rolls or the loaded potato salad. Crazy good.


I love Paris in the Springtime (well it’s kind of cold but still really cool)

Top 5 things to would recommend when traveling to France
or areas in Europe around France –

Bring a damn umbrella it drizzled on and off the whole time.

Bring a warm coat/trench coat (for the rain) – it’s really really cold! France is across the ocean from Nova Scotia to give you an idea of how far north it is. Dress like you’re going to Vermont.

Wear sneakers – I don’t wear sneakers anywhere except working in the yard and then that’s only when I have to use a shovel otherwise I’m barefoot or I wear them when I’m at the gym. Otherwise I have a butt load of cute sandals and flats. They are all comfortable, I wear them walking around Disney all day. But they are not good enough for walking in cold damp weather on cobbled stone streets. You walk all day long and when you do get to your location it’s usually a museum etc where you stand on your feet. So wear something with cushion for the cobbled stones and the standing and something that doesn’t rub in the wrong places like ballet flats. By the time we got to Loches the first thing I did was go to a shoe store and by sneakers and I loved how much better my feet felt in socks and sneakers! Wear sneakers trust me! They don’t have to be ugly gym shoes they can be cute sneakers there are lots of them out there. Take your time and find a pair that look good with your outfits and feel good.

The trains are a headache. Take a train as far as you can then rent a car for the rest of the way. We changed trains twice and then took a bus – the station signs are all in French of course and so are the announcements so you never really know what’s going on. The bus stops at every stop so it’s not very quick and our ticket didn’t allow enough time to get to the train station so we missed our train and had to take a taxi to the next stop. A lot of stress. Next time I’ll take whatever train goes the closest to my destination then rent a car at the train station. So much easier.

Get a travel book from Rick Steves. He had really great time saving tips on everything we went to and you can download his tours for everything from Versailles to the Louvre to driving day trips in Provence.

Ok so that’s done. Here’s how I planned this trip. First I have to say – travel agents definitely earn their money because this took a lot of time. I like to have a plan. It should be very flexible but there should still be a plan. From my experience when you just wing it you end up not really doing anything and missing a lot.

Step 1
Once you know where you want to go buy or download a travel book for that country I really like Rick Steves or the DK Eyewitness Travel books. Read about the country, it’s history, all it’s different regions. Make a list of stuff that looks interesting in each region or city you want to visit. If there’s enough stuff in the region to warrant visiting there then keep it on your list. Eventually you’ll have a list of a few areas you want to go to. Then buy or download the specific travel book for that area. For instance first I bought the France travel book. Then when I figured out we would be going to Paris, Loire Valle, and Provence I bought travel books for those regions. Then read about each region and write down what you want to do. Organize the list by days. Like if you see there are 3 towns a few miles from each other with chateaus you want to see obviously you can do those 3 in one day. This way you can figure out how many days you need for each region. Once you have figured out how many days in each region you’ll know how long your trip will be.

Step 2
Now that you know the length of time you’ll be there look in the travel books and online for any festivals for special events that will be happening around the time you’d like to visit. It would suck to go all the way to France and miss your favorite artist’s temporary exhibit by one day. Once you have your dates nailed down. Book your flight. A lot of airlines do a Economy Plus type deal where you pay $60 or so and get a seat with extra leg room. I highly recommend this. Riding for 8 hours on a plane squished into those little seats suck. If you can fly first class – do it! they have their own little cubby and their seats fold down into real beds. But our flight would have been $2,000 more per person for first class and I could think of a lot of other stuff I could spend that $2,000 on.

Step 3
Housing – once I started looking into hotels in Paris I quickly realized I was either going to stay in a dump or pay a crazy amount $750 – $1,000 a night for a decent hotel. So I looked at AirBNB and found amazing apartments for about $74 per person per night. Other sites are HouseTrip and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). A couple of tips – you have to sign up and get approved before you can request to stay at any of the places. They want to make sure you aren’t a crazy person. When you type in the location you can zoom in on the map or select specific areas of town so the options are narrowed down. You can also choose a price range, number of bedrooms etc. Skip how the outside or living room looks and go right to the bedrooms. This is where you will spend most of your time while you’re in the apartment anyways. Make sure the bedroom and bathroom are nice. The rest is just gravy. Usually there’s a street view too. Look to make sure the neighborhood is ok. You don’t want to be staying over a XXX theater – or maybe you do? Look for a place that’s centrally located to the areas or cities you want to visit as well. Location is really important. You don’t want to waste time driving for 2 hours every day. Or having to walk halfway across the city because you picked an apartment in the wrong place. Here’s the apartments we rented. We had the whole apartment but you can choose to rent just a room from someone.

Apartment in Loches (Loire Valley) was tiny but homey and the lady who rented it to us lived upstairs. This was the beautiful garden. The tower was had a staircase that took you down to the lower street. The last picture is the view from the garden of the lower street.

Our apartment in Apt was more like a villa. It had it’s own walled garden. It was a full sized house. Just amazing.

Our second apartment in Paris was small but they all are. It had plenty of room for us. 2 bedrooms and a nice bathroom. More then a hotel room would have. But keep in mind with these amazing old buildings – there’s no elevator.

Each place was different with how we “checked in” they text and email you reminders and you can contact the owners directly. They all spoke English and were very prompt answering any of my questions. The 2 Paris apartments had key boxes. The owners emailed or texted me the door code and the key box code. The Loches apartment she actually picked us up from the bus station and was there to say good-bye when we left. The Apt apartment the owner met us there to give us the key and show us the place and then she was there when we left so we could give her the keys back.

Step 4
Booking special tours etc. If you’re going to go to museum’s and various tourist places you probably should look into a museum pass for the town. Not only is it cheaper but we were able to go through a special door and avoid the longs lines because we had a pass. Usually the city’s website will have a link for a pass like this. Order it ahead of time so it’s one less thing to do when you get there. If you want to see a show or ride a hot air balloon that kind of stuff you should book in advance. The travel books will give you ideas and so will the city’s website.

The hot air balloon was really cool. I’m a huge wuss (just realized I have no idea how to spell that and spell check doesn’t either) I don’t like roller coasters or sky diving and white water rafting. But this was so calm and not scary at all. It just feels like you are floating. It’s really quiet and there’s no wind I guess because we’re moving with the wind you don’t feel it. The basket is high so you don’t feel like you’re going to fall out. I would love to do it again on a clearer day.

Step 5
Other transportation like rental cars and trains. Book those ahead of time again so you don’t have to deal with it when you get there. Most of the travel books will have guidelines for this stuff.

Once you have all this done then keep reading about your areas to learn more about what to see and to better understand where you are going. It’s a lot more fun if you understand what you are looking at. Rick Steves was really good at letting you know which museum’s or attractions were worth it and he gave us great tips to avoid long lines. Most travel books though will just list the most visited places and those aren’t always the best places. Sometimes they are just really touristy. Look online at places and people’s reviews. After reading several things you’ll get a better idea if the touristy place is worth it. Like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre – very touristy but of course you have to see them. And they were totally worth it. Standing next to the Eiffel Tower is kind of surreal.

As far as rudeness goes – because people always say how rude the French are. We didn’t really see that. We would say bonjour and then immediately say Parles-tu Anglais and just about everyone was happy to speak English. Occasionally there was a rude person – but there are rude people in America too. We had 2 taxi drivers that sucked. One acted like he had no idea what I was saying when I asked him to take us to the Eiffel Tower and one drove us out of the way  on purpose. And a guy at the train station said he didn’t speak English then looked over my shoulder at the French people behind me and made fun of me in French. But those assholes aside everyone else was really great!


As far as restaurants go most of the places in Paris wanted you to have reservations.  But that’s really hard to do because no matter how planned out your day is it won’t go according to plan. Things always take a lot longer then expected. So we figured out that the first seating about 8pm needed reservations but then the second seating about 9:30-10pm you could just come and give them your name and wait for a table. Even in the small places that worked. Don’t go to the obvious restaurants where the tourist go. They will suck. They know you are a tourist so the service will be poor the food mediocre and expensive. Look at Open Table to see what restaurants are on there those are usually good restaurants and you can see the menus and pictures. Ask your Airbnb host where their favorite places are. I don’t really ask the concierges at hotels anymore because they just direct me to the obvious tourist places. For Paris I found a book about the best restaurants in Paris – Food Lover’s Guide to Paris and there’s a Cooking Channel show called Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo that I love. She has a website and a page on her website lists her favorite restaurants in different cities. Both the book and Rachel’s website were so helpful to find really good local places. Watch travel shows or look up the show online and look for restaurant suggestions. Bon Appetite is also a good place to look.

Paris Restaurants We Loved

Le Pain Quotidien

Little chain near our apartment on Rue Marie Stuart, but so cute Le Pain Quotidien – rustic tables, fresh bread and jams, and rich hot chocolate.


We found this place in the Food Lover’s guide. Spring serves just one 5+ course meal. No menu they just make you dinner. The service and ambience was amazing. The food was ridiculous. This was our first night in Paris and we really needed a great meal by the end of the day. We arrived at 6:30am (12:30am our time) so we had been up for over 24 hours. We had to check our bags in a city locker because it was too early to check into our apartment. It was raining, cold, and really windy. Then we dragged our luggage 4 blocks in the wrong direction because I was reading google maps wrong. So by the end of the day a really good glass of wine and a great meal was really welcomed.

Verjus Wine Bar

The Wine Bars are small local restaurants that serve wine (a little beer and maybe 3 kinds of liquor) which is hilarious what the French think Americans drink. Every menu had Rum Punch and Mojitos on it. The Wine Bars we went to were like our Dally in the Alley – chef owned, unique and innovative food made with local ingredients fresh every day. Verjus Wine Bar was a Rachel Khoo suggestion.  We had a great fried chicken and banh mi type slaw sandwich and the best chocolate chip cookie and brownie I’ve ever eaten. And wine of course.


Another Wine Bar and another Rachel Khoo suggestion – Frenchie was a tiny little place that was worth the 30 min wait for a table. As with everywhere the people and service were great. Burrata with fava bean pesto, pate, pulled pork sliders, pot-de-crème, and custard with a graham cracker crumble.