Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru    Cuy (Guinea Pig) at Kusikuy in Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru

As with many travelers that swarm the notorious Gringo Trail annually, Cusco was the launching point for our two-week Peruvian adventure. Located at a not-so-comfortable 3,400 m (11,800 ft) above sea level, the historical Inca capital boasts numerous attractions that left us, quite literally, breathless.

Getting There and Around

From DC, it was quite the trek to Cusco. There are no direct flights to neither Lima nor Cusco from the three WAS airports, and all flights to Lima from DC take place late afternoon/evening…making an overnight at the airport to make your AM Cusco connection all too likely. Our journey went like this: IAD >> PTY >> LIM >> CUZ. A heart-stopping 42 minute connection in Panama City was followed by a 5 hour overnight layover in Lima, bringing our total travel time to just over 14 hours. Buenas suerte friends, buenas suerte.

From the airport to the Plaza de Armas (city center), a taxi will cost you 10 soles. You MUST negotiate fare before getting into the cab. If you don’t like the price the drivers give you, walk away and find another car. Meters are non-existent in the cabbies, so buyer beware. No need to tip unless the driver handles your baggage, in which case 1-2 extra soles would be appropriate. Once you’re in the city center, everything is reasonably walkable. If you get tired, a cab to various parts of town shouldn’t cost more than 5 soles max.Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Stay

We stayed at Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta on Jiron Pumacahua for $10 a night per person (4 bed, ensuite bathroom). The hostel is zero frills but has the necessities: free blowdryer, linens, towels, breakfast, and luggage storage (what, did you think I wheeled my Samsonite along the Inca Trail?). There’s hot water and heat, but both were of dubious quantity, a pattern that repeated itself at our various hostels across the country. The staff was friendly and spoke English if you need it. My only complaint would be that the hostel was located about 15 minutes walking from the Plaza de Armas, which wouldn’t be a problem except that we had to walk through the narrowest of alleyways, with traffic, to get there.

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The Waffle Window
3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR

Portland - Waffle Window Portland - Waffle Window

Portland is well known for its many breakfast destinations. Whether you’re looking for simple cafes, fancy coffee shops (stump town), crazy donuts (voodoo), or a hearty sit down brunch, Portland has something for everyone. The Waffle Window is another quick and delicious breakfast option, an unassuming (literal) hole in the wall next to the Bread and Ink Cafe, serving up crisp, golden waffles topped with sweet and savory ingredients.

Portland - Waffle Window
(Above: my brother and I deciding from the selection of delectable treats)

Our choices on this particular morning included:

  • The Whole Farm” – thick cut pepper bacon, sauteed mushrooms, spinach, roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, and chevre cheese atop a crispy, sugared Portland-style Liege waffle;
  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Dipped Waffle – waffle with creamy peanut butter with generously drizzled chocolate;
  • The Rose City” – fresh local strawberries, rose cream, whipped cream, and a rhubarb sauce set on a sugar waffle;
  • Cold Chocolate Dipped Waffle – dipped in chocolate and refrigerated, this is exactly what it sounds like – a chocolate covered sugar waffle!

Portland - Waffle Window Portland - Waffle Window Portland - Waffle Window
(left: The Rose City; center: Peanut Butter Chocoloate; right: The Whole Farm)

The sweetness of the sugar waffles provided a delicate contrast to many of the savory ingredients, which is why I think The Whole Farm and its cousins (a bacon-less Farm Fusion, a spicy bacon cheddar jalapeno, and a Bacon/Brie/Basil with peach jam) are must-haves when you come to Waffle Window. Not to mention the fresh fruit in the Rose City, their complex selection of dessert waffles (blueberry cheesecake or waffle ice cream sandwich, anyone?), and you can’t forget to take a cold chocolate dipped one for snacking on the road.

With all prices lower than $6 (mostly in the $4.50-5.50 range), this is a breakfast that won’t blow your budget. And while you are around, check out the neighbouring Hawthorne District, a fun and ecclectic area to explore in SE Portland.

Travel Notes: Destin, Florida

Tucked away in the Florida Panhandle on a peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay lies Destin, otherwise known as “the world’s luckiest fishing village.” If you’re Destin-ation bound (heehee), Destin’s white sands and emerald green waters are sure to please. Here are our notes from our weekend in Destin. Have fun!

Getting There and Around

The closest airport to Destin is Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS), followed by Pensacola (PNS) and Panama City (ECP). VPS is approximately 20 minutes away from Destin, while PNS and ECP are approximately 1 hour away. You’ll need a car to get around; I didn’t see much by the way of public transportation.

Stay

We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites by Carlson for 28,000 Club Carlson points. The hotel was no-frills, but it had free Internet and breakfast, so for 28k points you can’t really complain. It is located across from Henderson Beach State Park and right in the middle of Destin, so location was ideal. The hotel also had free fresh-baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies nightly!

Travel Notes: Destin, Florida

Eat

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Darwin, Discovered - Xiao Long Bao (Dim Sum Garden)

Dim Sum Garden
59 North 11th Street, Reading Terminal/Market East

As frequent visitors of New York City, we always make a point to grab some xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplings) whilst playing in the concrete jungle. When we heard there was a place that served the same in Philly, naturally, we had to check it out.

Located in an underpass nearby Reading Terminal Market, Dim Sum Garden is a small hole-in-the-wall conjuring up memories of Chinatown NYC (or really anywhere, for that matter). Set with small Ikea plastic tables and chairs (some of which have seen better days), the layout was open enough that you didn’t feel like you were dining with strangers, despite its size (a common occurrence in NYC).

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The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.
112 S 18th St, Rittenhouse Square

Franklin Mortgage Investment Co. - Gordian Knot  Franklin Mortgage Investment Co. - Battle of Blythe Road
Left: Gordian Knot; Right: Battle of Blythe Road

Stepping back in time,  Franklin Mortgage Investment Company is a Prohibition-era speakeasy tucked away amongst the bars and restaurants on 18th Street. It has received numerous accolades for serving up some of the best cocktails in the city, so we decided to investigate.

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Ray’s Cafe and Teahouse
141 9th Street, Chinatown

darwindiscovered_philly2013_rayscafe04

When I think about siphon brewed coffee, images of handlebar mustaches, skinny jeans, and plaid come to mind. Chinatown? Not so much. D and I desperately needed a place to recharge, and since Yelp does not lie…into this cozy establishment we went. Ray’s boasts an impressive line up of beans, including Jamaican Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Royal Kona, and a variety of blends. I selected the Japanese charcoal roast (sumiyaki) and spent the next 30 minutes in a state of caffeinated bliss. The cup and saucer! The chocolate/sprinkle dipped madeline cookie on a doily (sprinkles are key)! The eensy weensy cream pitcher! Here’s the best part…the cream remained untouched because the coffee was that smooth. At $7.50 a cup, I wouldn’t make this a daily habit, but for a pick-me-up experience it was worth every penny.

Ray's Cafe and Teahouse, Philadelphia, PA

 Ray's Cafe and Teahouse, Philadelphia, PA  Ray's Cafe and Teahouse, Philadelphia, PA
Not a java fiend? The bubble tea was perfectly creamy, the tapioca balls just the right amount of chewy. Hungry for more? The food at other tables smelled delectable, and I also hear it’s BYOB. Service is friendly and quick. Give this place a go.

More posts in our 48 Hours in Philly series:

Philly Sips: La Colombe Torrefaction
Philly Sups: Pat’s vs. Geno’s
Philly Stay: Radisson Plaza- Warwick Hotel Philadelphia (Hotel Review)
Philly Sips: Ray’s Cafe and Teahouse
Philly Sips: The Franklin Mortgage Investment Co. 
Philly Sups: Dim Sum Garden