Be Our Guest…

We like to visit Disney quite often, my daughter loves going there, she considers it her second home. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Magic Kingdom, as hubby and I would drive up and spend the day during our early years of dating, and living in Miami, it makes for an easy weekend trip.  I will say however, I have never been a fan of the food options at Disney.  I get it, people don’t visit the parks for the food, unless you’re at Epcot, which is an entirely different experience. However, I have always felt that the parks should have more options than the stale sandwiches (I recently had one that was absolutely awful) and the same boring hamburgers and plain salads offered at most of their eateries. The only other place where we have had a decent meal at times is when we have reserved at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Well, someone must have been listening because the dining experience at Be Our Guest, the recently opened restaurant inside of the Beast’s castle, is exactly what I was looking for.  So much so, that on our last trip a month ago, we decided to just call them up on the same day and see if any reservations were available, and sure enough they were, at 10:15 PM.  Well can I tell you, that we grabbed that reservation right away, and the restaurant was completely packed with more people coming in for dinner after us.

Be Our Guest Entrance

Be Our Guest Entrance

The beautiful stained glass window at the entrance.

The beautiful stained glass window at the entrance.

You see, we had already had the pleasure of dining at Be Our Guest on our trip last summer and we loved the entire experience.  First and foremost, the restaurant offers 3 meticulously “imagineered” dining areas, each designed to immerse diners in the heartwarming mystery and romance of Beauty and the Beast.  The first is The Grand Ballroom, which is where they always seat us. It’s absolutely gorgeous, you really feel as if you have actually stepped into the movie, with its high, domed ceiling, the beautiful chandeliers and snow-laced Gothic arches. The second room is The West Wing, which is a bit darker, may even be a bit scary for the little ones but this is where you can catch a glimpse of the enchanted rose. And the third is The Castle Gallery, resembling Belle’s private library, with the enormous figures of Belle and Beast dancing.  As far as I know, you cannot choose which room to dine in, but you are invited to walk around and take a look at the entire interior of the restaurant.

The main dining room

The Grand Ballroom dining room

The gorgeous 12 foot chandeliers

The gorgeous 12 foot chandeliers

The West Wing

The West Wing

The enchanted rose in hte

The enchanted rose in the West Wing

Figurine of Belle & the Beast Dancing.

Figurine of Belle & the Beast Dancing in the Castle Gallery

Now on to the food…

When we first arrived at our table, we saw the beautiful red napkins, folded like roses, my daughter (and I) loved that.  Then came the yummy hot bread rolls (keep in mind we were starving).  Of course my daughter fell for the tourist trap of the Souvenir Castle Goblet, a light-up castle-themed souvenir goblet with choice of fountain beverage, for ONLY $16.99, typical Disney.  I started off with a cup of the Potato Leek Soup and it was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Next came a menu full of divine options, including dishes like Sautéed Shrimp and Scallops with seasonal vegetables and mushrooms served in a puff pastry with a creamy lobster sauce and Layered Ratatouille, oven-baked zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, and caramelized onions sliced and layered on quinoa served with a bell pepper sauce.  Well, we all decided on the Grilled Strip Steak with garlic-herb butter and French fries.  All I can say is that my daughter devoured hers. It was absolutely delicious! Important to note that the kid’s menu also offers items such as Mickey meatloaf, seared mahi mahi and whole-grain macaroni with marinara sauce. This is also the first restaurant in the Magic Kingdom to offer a variety of beer and wine (this has actually caused some controversies with some die hard Disney fans). I’m not a big drinker but who doesn’t enjoy a nice glass of wine with a late dinner?

The menu and the rose napkin...nice touch.

The menu and the rose napkin…nice touch.

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Potato leek soup.

Grilled strip steak with french fries!

Grilled strip steak with French fries!

On to the dessert trolley….where do I start? They all looked amazing!  My daughter of course ordered The Grey Stuff, a chocolate shell, cookie crème topped with Lumiere’s special “Grey Stuff”. We had heard about this and boy are we glad she ordered it, it was really yummy. I decided on a Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcake, yummy vanilla sponge cake, strawberry mousse filling and cream cheese icing!

The dessert trolley...YUM!

The dessert trolley…YUM!

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The famous light-up castle themed goblet and the yummy desserts!

Well, we almost rolled out of this place, but the best was yet to come. Everyone has a chance to meet the Beast and have their photo taken with him on the way out (too bad Belle is not available too).  Even though our daughter is already a teen, this was probably her favorite part of the night.

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Meeting the Beast!

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Dancing with the Beast…priceless!

All in all, we love this restaurant and will probably continue to have meals here on our visits to the Magic Kingdom.  Next time I think I’d like to try breakfast! But make sure you make reservations WELL in advance, as they are extremely busy all the time.

Have you been to Be Our Guest?  I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this restaurant?

My Signature

Be Our Guest Restaurant
Magic Kingdom Park, Fantasyland
(407) 939-5277

Breakfast
8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Lunch
10:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner
4:00 PM – 9:30 PM (although they take reservations past 11pm)
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Dazzling Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, or as it is known, the “Pearl of the Adriatic” is simply breathtaking, and according to playwright George Bernard Shaw “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik”. I agree with him. While I have had the pleasure of visiting magnificent places along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, and the Greek Islands, Dubrovnik was simply a place that was still on my bucket list, and I just had to check it off.  After seeing so many glorious photos of this sleepy, medieval town (a UNESCO Heritage site since 1979), I just knew a visit to Croatia was a necessity.  Luckily I was blessed with the opportunity of visiting Dubrovnik recently and it certainly lived up to its reputation, how could it not…beaches, cliff diving, ancient medieval town, beautiful terracotta roof tiles, great food, fantastic nightlife and add a bit of romance. And one of the things I also really enjoyed about this place was that even though we visited during the peak of the summer in August and yes, there were hundreds of tourists everywhere….I could still feel the difference, it’s not quite as spoiled as some of the other destinations like Venice or Mykonos, which was pleasantly surprising.  Entering the city through Pile Gate, there’s still the feeling that not too much has changed.

Beautiful Dubrovnik!

Beautiful Dubrovnik.

More beautiful Dubrovnik!

More beautiful views…

But first I must brag a bit about our hotel, the Hilton Imperial…wow!  Since I am all about the views on my trips, I had researched that certain properties in Dubrovnik offered amazing views of the old town and city walls. After looking into a few, we decided on the Hilton and splurged on a suite which guaranteed the coveted Old Town views, and it did not disappoint…here is what we saw while peeking out our windows:

View out of our suite window.

View out of our suite window.

More views from our room...

More views from our room…

Hilton Imperial Hotel

Hilton Imperial Hotel

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View of our hotel from the city walls (that’s how close we were).

In addition to the views, the hotel offered a delicious buffet breakfast and a number of different amenities, along with a fantastic location just a few steps away from the historic entrance at Pile Gate. There are also plenty of buses and taxis available right outside the hotel, making it easy to get round town and to the nearby beaches.

Dubrovnik’s picturesque city wall surrounds this gorgeous city perched above the Adriatic Sea. Tourists flock here to parade down the old town’s shiny streets, which again, in the height of the summer, can get quite crowded.  But in my opinion, walking the city walls, cannot be missed.  While walking the full perimeter atop the old city walls, (and no, you don’t have to walk the entire perimeter), you will be rewarded with the most amazing views.  Perched up above all the orange rooftops and church spires, you can circle the city and gaze down on it while you take in the ocean and surrounding islands.

The steep stair you must climb to go up to the city walls.

The steep stairs you must climb to go up to the city walls.

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Onofrio Fountain, one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

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The views from the walls.

More beautiful views…

For a fantastic panoramic view of this walled city, take the funicular up Mount Srd to the Napoleonic Fort Imperial, which overlooks the entire city. Scrub surfaced Mount Srd, stands 400 meters above Dubrovnik. It can be also be reached by car (15 minutes) or on foot (90 minutes walk). If you decide to visit the mountain, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views over the city.

Taking the funicular up ...

Taking the funicular up …

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The views of the old town are amazing!

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Our daughter enjoying the views on the way back down.

As with most popular European cities, Dubrovnik has its fair share of traditional tacky tourist shops, as my husband likes to call them, along the main drag but don’t be discouraged.  You can also find some places  selling beautiful embroidered tablecloths and linen, Dalmatian wines, spirits (known as rajika), and delicious preserves and dried fruit, all beautifully packaged.  Oh and the old city is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about traffic as you wander through the marble-paved streets.

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Some of the beautiful linens sold in some shops, all embroidered by hand.

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, Prijeko 6

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, located at Prijeko 6

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Sugar coated lemon and orange peels are sold in certain shops, and packaged in cute souvenir bags.

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My daughter loved these pretty ceramic figurines.

And of course in the 100 degree weather we were experiencing, a long day at the beach accompanied by a sunset cruise, is a must. We chose to visit Banje Beach, because of its location, with beautiful views of the walls of the old town and Lokrum Island which is nearby.  I will say, as much as I enjoyed the beach with the crystal clear, cool water, I wish I would have brought some water shoes, as the beaches here are full of large stones and pebbles and by the time we left our feet were hurting quite a bit.  There is a 2-hour sunset cruise along the Dubrovnik coast where you’ll need your camera to capture the most glorious sunsets while in your own private boat. See the city walls from the sea as well as various reefs, the lighthouse and Lokrum Island. In addition to this cruise, there are many other boat excursions leaving from the harbor, also offering terrific views of the coast.

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Famous Banje Beach with views of the old town in the background.

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Hubby and daughter enjoying the crystal clear and cool water…

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Getting ready to board the submarine ride…

Here we go...

Here we go…

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Views from the sub…

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More views…

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View of Banje Beach from the sub.

While there are many good restaurants in town to choose from (although for the more popular ones make sure you have reservations), fresh yummy seafood can be had almost anywhere.  Take a look at this, right by the harbor:

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Ready for a late lunch!

Fried sardines.

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Fried calamari

And last but not least Dubrovnik is home to several locations used in filming the hit TV show Game of Thrones, which I know nothing about (gasp).  Take a three-hour tour around the Dubrovnik old town to see where most of the filming took place. Upgrading your tour will include an extra one and a half hour trip to Trsteno Arboretum.

Here are a few more photos of our trip for your enjoyment.

Rooftops of Dubrovnik

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Near Pile Gate entrance.

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One of the many side street cafes.

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The famous Clock Tower.

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St. Blaise with its monumental stairway at center, and the Gothic column of Roland right in front.

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The beautiful Venetian looking Sponza Palace.

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Having some of the best pizza at Domenica Pizzeria…yum!

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Enjoying some crepes and gelato at Dubrovka Cafe, which also offers amazing views.

Have you visited dazzling Dubrovnik?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…

My Signature

Radiant Rhodes

Rhodes, (Rodos) is one of the most beautiful of the Greek Islands.  Situated in the gorgeous Aegean Sea and the largest of the Dodecanese islands, it’s actually closer to Turkey than it is to mainland Greece.  We have traveled to Greece several times, primarily to Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, and somehow had never made it to Rhodes, until last summer.  And boy am I glad we finally made it.

To begin with, out hotel was magnificent. Rhodes was the last segment of our 17 day trip and we were exhausted from so much sightseeing, not to mention the August heat.  After extensive research (like we typically do), we decided to stay at the Atrium Platinum Hotel in Rhodes Town. This place was gorgeous from the moment you walk through the lobby and we had the luck of getting upgraded to an Executive Family Suite which had a sea view and a personal pool on the balcony! The room itself was super spacious and our daughter had her own bedroom and bathroom. The beds were so comfortable we had a hard time leaving the room after our nap. The breakfast buffet in the mornings offered everything you could possibly imagine, my hubby’s favorite being the crepe station with all sorts of toppings, especially melted white chocolate! However, if you’re planning on having dinner in the restaurant, men have to wear a jacket and pants (no shorts), and since we packed light for this island trip, we couldn’t have dinner there.  Not a big deal for us though, we rarely have dinner at our hotels, as we love to explore and find recommended places in town. And the hotel’s main pool is amazing.  My daughter never wanted to leave.  Also worth mentioning is the mini-mart by the pool, selling everything from food and suntan lotions to souvenirs. Extremely convenient and less expensive than ordering from the poolside café, which took 30 minutes to bring us cold drinks.  And if the beach is more your thing, just cross the street and enjoy the water. Take a look at this:

The pool at the Atrium Platinum

The pool at the Atrium Platinum

The Atrium Platinum Hotel

The Atrium Platinum Hotel

Crepes with white and milk chocolate.

Crepes with white and milk chocolate.

Our daughter enjoying the heated private pool on our balcony.

Our daughter enjoying the heated private pool on our balcony.

The Old Medieval Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest continuously inhabited medieval town in Europe. To wander through the town is a unique experience for all to enjoy, since it’s mostly a pedestrian area, with streets full of shops and restaurants. Although the back streets are mostly residential, particularly in the Jewish Quarter.  The town is surrounded by medieval walls with several gates as entry points, most folks enter through Marine Gate, the main entrance to the town from the harbor. Inside of these walls are roughly 200 streets or lanes that simply have no name. However, in my opinion, getting lost and wandering around the streets is half the fun.  It reminds me of the winding streets of Mykonos, which also have no rhyme or reason.

The entrance through Marine Gate.

The largest shopping streets appear to be Orffeos, Socratous and Aristotelous.  Orffeos Street is a wide road with tourist shops and restaurants near the Gate of Saint Anthony, which connects with Socratous Street, the main shopping street of the old town. This becomes Aristotelous Street when you get to Ippokratous Square, the main square in front of Marine Gate, which surrounds a modest Castellania fountain, and is framed by the old Chadrevan mosque on the west and the Palace of the Castellan on the east. All around, coffee shops and restaurants are bustling with tourists hanging around, eating ice cream, sipping drinks and snapping a million photographs.

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Shopping on Orffeos Street

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More shopping streets

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Shops on Socratous Street with the Suleiman Mosque in the background.

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My daughter not knowing where to go next?

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Beautiful ceramic hand painted crosses

After touring the sites of the old town, you might want to walk around the walls, which is a remarkable example of a fully intact medieval structure, although it can be viewed from just walking around the outside. Here are a few more photos for your enjoyment:

The d’Amboise Gate

The d’Amboise Gate

The beautiful Suleiman Mosque, located on top of the town's hill at the end of Socratous street.

Beautiful Suleiman Mosque, located on the town’s hill at the end of Socratous street.

Ippokratous Square, the main commercial hub of the old town.

Gorgeous ceramic pottery sold at various stores.

Gorgeous ceramic pottery sold at various stores.

St. Catherine’s Gate

The beautiful fountain on Ippokratous Square

Beautiful building behind us.

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Another view of the shops.

A view of the harbor from St. Catherine’s gate.

A view of one of the island's beaches.

A view of one of the island’s beaches.

View of the Acropolis of Rhodes from the taxi.

I would also strongly recommend if time permits, to take a day trip to Lindos and to also visit the nearby island of Symi. Unfortunately we ran out of time, but both places are high on our bucket list when we return to Rhodes. And don’t worry about driving if you aren’t renting a car, there are plenty of bus and ferry excursions available.

Have you been to Rhodes or any of the other Greek islands?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…My Signature

Sanibel Shopping

Sanibel is one of my favorite places to visit for a quick, relaxing vacation.  Living in Miami, we have the luxury of being less than a 3 hour ride away, so we take advantage of this, and spend many weekends (sometimes even day trips) in Sanibel. If you’re not familiar with the area, Sanibel is a barrier island located near Fort Myers off the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. The island has a laid-back tropical, Caribbean feel that also offers breathtaking sunsets, great eateries (my favorite being The Island Cow) and fantastic shopping.  It’s no wonder Sanibel was recently named the #1 family-friendly vacation spot in the country during NBC’s Today show.  We love everything about the island and while we also enjoy visiting Naples and Marco Island, Sanibel remains our favorite.  It’s so relaxed and cozy, I just love to spend my days on the white sand beaches collecting shells or riding bike through the adorable streets with the beautiful houses, and finishing off the day with a great meal and some fun shopping. And if you’re looking for beachy themed and preppy stores (think Lily Pulitzer, Vineyard Vines and Spirit Jersey), look no further. On our last trip it rained pretty heavily, so I had hubby take me from shop to shop (after all, I had to make use of my time there). Here are my favorite stores on this amazing little island.

FantaSea
2075 Periwinkle Way, #37
239.395.3300
www.fantaseasshells.com

This has to be the store that I loved most on my last trip.  Everything in this shop is beach themed, including gorgeous bedding, scented candles, bath & body products, clothing, home accessories….you name it.  Simply gorgeous, both the items sold and the store layout.  Trust me, once you walk into this place, you will convince yourself you need to by a beach house and completely decorate it with items found here.  Take a look at these…

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I just had to buy the wooden sign and add it to my beach life collection on my windowsill.

I just had to buy the wooden sign and add it to my beach life collection on my windowsill.

Naples Soap Company
2075 Periwinkle Way
239.312.4236
www.naplessoap.com

So lately I have been coming across so many new soap, bath and body products stores (I have blogged about a few already).  And I can’t help it, I love them all.  On this last trip to Sanibel I came across The Naples Soap Company, offering all sorts of sea salt scrubs, bath bombs (I love those), olive oil soaps, body butters and shampoo and conditioner bars.  Their soaps are all hand made in the US, and they use quality ingredients, which are all vegan-based, eco-friendly, and never tested on animals.  Well, all of this sounds terrific, but all I know is that I bought my daughter a lavender lime bath bomb, which was literally…the bomb.  The scent was amazing and she loved her bath. I also splurged on a Lavender Vanilla Sea Salt Scrub, which I just fell in love with.

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 Sand Castle Gifts & Gourmet
2075 Periwinkle Way, #20
239.472.2201
www.sandcastlegiftsgourmet.com

When you walk into Sand Castle Gifts & Gourmet you are immediately drawn in by the spicy scent, a result of their Sand Castle Seasonings, party dip mixes and seasoning blends, made in small batches on Sanibel, and sold exclusively in this store. This terrific little shop also sells many other Floridian treats like coconut patties, salt water taffy, Tortuga rum cakes, local honey and drink mixes in beautiful gift packaging.  They also sell adorable coastal themed home accessories and gifts such as tumblers, kitchen towels, mugs and beach bags.  You can’t miss this place.

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I had to by one of these starfish kitchen towels, so cute!

Gifts for all!

Three Crafty Ladies
1628 Periwinkle Way
239.472.2893
www.threecraftyladies.com

OK, so I am super crafty, but sewing and knitting have unfortunately never been my thing.  I can barely sew a button on.  However, when I came across this beautiful shop, (the name of course caught my eye), I just had to stop in.  The store had an incredible and unique selection of quilting fabrics, sewing notions, cross stitch patterns, scrapbooking papers, paints & canvases, arts and crafts supplies and so much more! They specialize in high-quality cotton fabrics, including a large selection of batiks and tropical prints. And if you have time and love to craft, drop by and create one of their Make-it-and-Take-it Souvenir Crafts, available most Thursdays from 10:00-4:00!  I actually found some very unique Sanibel and Captiva scrapbooking papers that I had never seen anywhere else.  Definitely a place to make a stop at, especially if you enjoy sewing.

My daughter, being the crafter that she is, loving this store!

My daughter, being the crafter that she is, loving this store!

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Sanibel Island Bookshop, Jewelry & Boutique
1571 Periwinkle Way
239.472.5223
www.sanibelbookshop.com

The Sanibel Island bookshop carries a large selection of books, many by local authors, of which I picked up a few and can’t wait to read and review on the blog soon.  They also carry some exclusive lines of jewelry, including Trollbeads, Kameleon and Lovelinks, as well as, Lindsay Phillips switchflops, Spartina bags, candles, toys and stationery items.  Definitely a very unique bookshop, as their tagline says “A Great Place To Be Stranded”. Also worthy of a mention is MacIntosh Books & Paper.

Beautiful notebooks and journals for sale.

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Many books by local authors.

Fresh Produce Sportswear
2075 Periwinkle Way, #33
239.395.1839
www.freshproduceclothes.com

This is one of the many locations of Fresh Produce Sportswear stores, offering fun, coastal designs and also a great selection of jewelry and Vera Bradley products (you know how much I love VB).  Make sure to check them out when you’re visiting all of these great stores of Periwinkle Place. Also worth a mention, Simply Boutique, a few doors down from here, selling Lily Pulitzer, Spirit Jersey and various other accessories and clothing.

Great Vera Bradley selections at Fresh Produce.

Jerry’s Foods
1700 Periwinkle Way
239.472.9300
www.jerrysfoods.com

This is a charming grocery store, which anchors Jerry’s Shopping Center, also on Periwinkle Way, (most everything in Sanibel is located on Periwinkle Way), and it’s only one of two supermarkets on the island.  The shopping center has a pretty courtyard, which offers outdoor seating for the eateries and also houses some gorgeous tropical birds in some very large cages, which attract a ton of attention from the tourists.  You will also find some great shops in here, but the market is the main attraction.  Oh, and inside the market, there is a café, serving local favorites such as the Grouper Sandwich. But what cannot be missed is their famous Jerry’s Key Lime Pie, voted the best in all of Sanibel, and trust me, I tried it and it’s got my vote as well.

The courtyard with outdoor seating in Jerry's Shopping Center

The courtyard with outdoor seating in Jerry’s Shopping Center

One of the many tropical birds outside in the courtyard.

One of the many tropical birds outside in the courtyard.

Jerry’s Cafe Interior; the best Key Lime Pie in Sanibel!

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H2O Outfitters (Jerry’s Shopping Center)
1700 Periwinkle Way, #2
239.472.4717
www.beachstuffinc.com

Conveniently located inside of Jerry’s Shopping Center you will find H2O Outfitters, carrying a complete collection of apparel, accessories, swimwear and jewelry.  Some of the premier clothing lines include Tommy Bahama, Tori Richards, Columbia, Billabong, Quicksilver, Life is Good, and the famous Spirit Jerseys (my daughter loved her Sanibel one).  Definitely stop in if you’re looking for some good quality t-shirts and beach accessories.  Owned by the same company, check out Beach Life in Chadwick’s Square, directly across from the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva, for additional brands from Lily Pulitzer and Vineyard Vines.

H2O Outfitters, photo courtesy of Beach Life.

H2O Outfitters, photo courtesy of BeachStuff Inc.

Sanibel Spirit Jersey

Sanibel Spirit Jersey

No matter what you like to shop for, I am sure you will find it in Sanibel.  Have you ever visited Sanibel?  I’d love to hear which shops you enjoyed most.

My Signature

Pasteis de Belem

My family and I recently visited the gorgeous Portuguese capital city of Lisbon on our summer vacation.  I promise a full post on this stunning place very soon, but today I would like to share one of our favorite memories from this trip….the cream custards found all over the city, the famous pasteis de nata.   Let me start off by saying that we all love sweets in my family, but oh my….the moment I tasted these warm custard mini pies…I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Being Cuban, I have had my share of pasteles in my life, but I guarantee you, these were something quite different.

The yummy pasteis de nata

The yummy pasteis de nata

Pasteis de nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts, are everywhere. All the cafes and bakeries have them, and in both of the hotels where we stayed at, they were a staple in the breakfast buffet.  It is a common sight to see the locals enjoying their pasteis with their cafe in the morning. However, if you are looking for the absolute best ones in town (even considered the best by the Portuguese themselves, as our taxi driver was telling us), you must pick up some pasteis at Pasteis de Belem, a bakery in nearby Belem that’s been making these treats since 1837 when monks from the neighboring Mosteiro dos Jeronimos started selling them as a means of making money (their history is quite interesting and can be found on their website). The cafe is usually bustling with tons of tourists just waiting in line (yes there is a line outside most of the time, but it moves rather quickly), to order their delectable pasteis. Once I tasted these, I understood what makes them so famous. While most of the other pasteis throughout the city were also delicious, (they truly are sold everywhere), these were simply perfect. The flakiness and crispiness of the crust combined with the smooth, warm and creamy egg flavored custard was just divine. Oh and if you first look at them and think you got a burned one, do not worry, the tops are slightly burned so the sugar caramelizes. Some folks like to sprinkle cinnamon or powdered sugar on top, but I just ate my plain, I truly wanted to savor the flavor of these heavenly tarts everyone was talking about.

The lines of tourists and locals outside ...

The lines of tourists and locals outside of Pasteis de Belem in Lisboa…

All I can say is thank goodness we walked for miles everyday in Lisbon, because we were eating these pasteis on a daily basis, and boy are we glad we experienced that slice of heaven.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Other delicious pastries and snacks sold in the cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis with a cafe.

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Pasteis de Belem, Lisboa

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Interior of the cafe. Photo courtesy of Maisturismo News.

Have you ever tasted the famous Portuguese pasteis de nata?  I would love to know your thoughts.

My Signature

 

 

Amazing Athens

With so much going on in Greece right now, I can’t help but have Athens on my mind.  Athens is the first European city my husband and I ever visited together at the start of our incredible honeymoon trip.  It will always have a special place in my heart, and it’s the reason my husband fell in love with Europe (lucky for me).  Through the years I have heard some negative comments about Athens but I have to say that my hubby and I really love it there and I can’t wait to go back for a visit.  A visit to Greece is magical, and perfect for a summer vacation. It’s warm, cheap(er), the people are friendly, the food is yummy (click here for my Greek food post), plenty of history and monuments for all tastes and the islands are stunning. Here are my top 5 things to see and experience when visiting this beautiful, historical city:

Stay at Plaka Hotel in Plaka (Kapnikareas 7, Athens)
If you’re familiar with some of my other travel posts, you will remember that I always like to choose hotels that and comfortable and very conveniently located. The Plaka Hotel is situated steps from Plaka, centrally located near Syntagma Square and a short walk from the Monastiraki metro station. However, if you’re looking for luxury, this is not the place for you.  It’s a 3-star, no frills, clean and comfortable hotel…and quite affordable by European standards.  If you’re only passing through Athens for a few days on your way to the islands, it’s perfect. There are plenty of nice hotels throughout the city, on our honeymoon we stayed at the Hilton, which was beautiful, but far from the city center.  Everytime we’ve been back, we have stayed at the Plaka.  Take a look at the panoramic views of the city from its top-floor rooms and rooftop terrace:

Rooftop view from Hotel Plaka

Rooftop view from Hotel Plaka

Outside of the Plaka Hotel

Outside of the Plaka Hotel

Our clean and cozy room...

Our clean and cozy room…

Strolling through Plaka
Plaka, the oldest neighborhood (and in my opinion) the most charming and beautiful, in central Athens. I love to wander and get lost through its labyrinth of streets (mostly closed to traffic) and whitewashed Neoclassical architecture.  We spent hours on each trip strolling along the narrow, cobbled streets visiting sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops and the random historical monument crammed in between, as is the case in many older European cities.  And of course, enjoying the stunning views of the Acropolis perched high above the city, through every side street. You will find some very interesting shops selling beautiful 18 karat gold Byzantine designed jewelry as well as Greek designed pottery throughout Plaka.  One shop I think is worth a visit is Golden Studio (142 Adrianou Street, http://www.jewelrygreek.com) selling some very nice jewelry.  I also loved various pottery shops such as Fotini (41 Nikodimou Street), and if time permits, stop by Forget Me Not (100 Adrianou Street), where you will find some amazing items for sale, most made in Greece by local artists.

Typical shopping street in Plaka

Typical shopping street in Plaka

One of the many shops selling Greek Byzantine Orthodox icons

One of the many shops selling Greek Byzantine Orthodox icons

Forget Me Not in Plaka

Forget Me Not in Plaka

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Store selling pottery with typical Greek designs

Monastiraki Flea Market
Shopping in Athens is a favorite pastime for tourists and Athenians and one of the best places to buy just about anything is the Monastiraki flea market. Literally meaning “little monastery” Monastiraki is named for the Pantánassa church monastery located in the center of the neighborhood’s square.  I should clarify, it’s only a flea market on Sundays when some of the stores close and people sell old toys, antique furniture pieces, records, all types of items…reminding me very much of El Rastro flea market in Madrid, where one can find just about anything, if you’re willing to rummage through the stalls.  Most of the shops are pretty similar to the souvenir ships you will find in the islands, with items made in Greece, as well as China.

Monastiraki Square, photo courtesy of www.visitgreece.gr

Monastiraki Square, photo courtesy of http://www.visitgreece.gr

Monasteraki, photo courtesy of y Giulia Blocal

Monastiraki, photo courtesy of Giulia Blocal

Also not to be missed in Monastiraki, is the beautiful Mitrópoli (Metropolitan Cathedral), an important Greek Orthodox cathedral and the largest church in Athens. The Mitrópoli is the seat of the Bishop of Athens and an important spiritual center of Greek Orthodoxy. It remains a major city landmark and the site of official ceremonies like coronations and important weddings and funerals. Look at this gorgeous church:

Athens Cathedral

Athens Cathedral

Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south portico

Mosaic of the Madonna and child at the south portico

Lykavittos Hill
For a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Athens, hike to the top of Lykavittos Hill behind the posh Kolanaki neighborhood. It’s a great spot for taking pictures, but can be a hot, sweaty climb during the day, so if you’re not up to the hike in the summer heat, the easiest way to reach the top of the Lykavittos is by funicular, which departs approximately every thirty minutes at Aristippou and Ploutarchou streets. The observation platform offers some of the most amazing views of Athens.  The view reaches as far as Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, provided the sky is clear. Some of the landmarks that are clearly visible from here include the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Parliament Building. There is aslo a café at the top, so you can enjoy the view while taking a break. The view is also quite spectacular at night, when the Acropolis and many other major sights in Athens are illuminated.

View of Athens from Lyvitaccus Hill

View of Athens from Lykavittos Hill

Visit the Acropolis
Athens is of course home to the epic World Heritage Site of the Acropolis and its monuments, the most important ancient site in the Western world and must-see in Athens.  This magnificent temple is a great place to learn about the history of Athens, while also getting a magnificent view of the city and the nearby ruins. The Parthenon is a monumental beauty built in homage to Athena, the goddess of wisdom (whom the people of Athens consider their patron). During the summer, the place is swarming with tourists and sadly, the Parthenon is always under construction, but the views are breathtaking.

The Parthenon, source unknown.

The Parthenon, source unknown.

View of Athens from the Acropolis...breathtaking!

View of Athens from the Acropolis…breathtaking!

The Erechtheion is a  beautiful temple built on the most sacred part of the Acropolis, where Poseidon is said to have struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree, a gift to the city of Athens. The Erechtheion’s signature feature are the Caryatids, six maiden columns that support the weight of the south porch’s roof on their heads.  I love this structure, it’s my favorite on the Acropolis.

My favorite structure.

My favorite structure.

Another view...

Another view…

Feel free to ask any Athenian for recommendations, Athenians love to help tourists and share their city.  When we were much younger my husband and I wanted to experience a real Athenian club where the locals went (we had heard they were some of the best in Europe).  We decided to ask a very friendly shopkeeper, whom we had just bought some jewelry from, and she told us exactly where to go.  Needless to say, it was one of the best nights of our lives (and not a tourist in sight).

Here are a few more photos of beautiful Athens!

The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is a Greek Orthodox church and one of the oldest churches in Athens

The Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is a Greek Orthodox church and one of the oldest churches in Athens

Photo Courtesy of Matt Barrett.

Monastiraki Flea Market.  Photo Courtesy of Matt Barrett.

One of our favorite restaurants, Yopia

One of our favorite restaurants, Yopia

View of Athens

View of Athens

The famous Flea Market

The famous Flea Market

Another magnificent view of Athens

Have you been to Athens?  I’d love to know what you enjoyed most.

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What’s In My Carry-On?

With summer is full swing, and many of us getting ready to leave on vacation, I thought it would be the perfect time to come up with a quick list of what to pack in your carry-on.  First let me say that I always over pack, even after so many years of traveling, I just always feel as if I’m leaving something behind. And I’m also not the kind of person that likes to go shopping for toothpaste when I get to my destination…I want to spend all my time sightseeing and relaxing.  So naturally, packing my carry-on is very important to me.  Since most of the  flights I take average 9 hours, after a while, I start to feel a bit claustrophobic, so I need to feel comfortable and keep busy to make the time go by faster.  I also like to carry some snacks for all of us, as we sometimes forgo the plane meals, or fall asleep during the meal times.  Here are my carry-on must-haves:

Snacks for the flight...

Snacks for the flight…

I love to buy a large bottle of water at the airport and keep myself hydrated during the flight. Snacks like almonds, Cheerios and peanut butter are healthy and yummy.  We always pack gum too, as it helps with the ear popping during take-off and landing.  And of course, a little piece of chocolate never hurt anyone!

My carry-on essentials...

My carry-on essentials…

My husband always makes fun of me saying I carry a small CVS in my bag.  I always bring my travel document holder (which includes itineraries, boarding passes, emails from hotels and our passports), my iPad to watch movies, with of course a good set of Beats headphones, a good book and some cozy socks. But I also need to pack things like Advil for headaches (which I tend to suffer from), Visine for my eyes, which get very dry when I’m flying, some hand cream and a travel toothbrush.  If you’re wondering about the Afrin, I also get very congested sometimes.  And of course I never leave home without some hand wipes and my camera!

So, what are your carry-on must-haves?  I’d love to compare notes in case I’m forgetting something!

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