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Begur! Costa Brava! The magic of the Mediterranean. Turns out Costa Brava region is yet another place I would happily live. Reading about Hotel Aiguaclara on a travel blog lured us to Begur—a town I’d never heard of—and we had the good fortune to discover its coastal path. You must visit, and when you do, please stroll these magical coastal walkways.

View of the 10th century castle of Begur in the upper right as well as views of hilly town of Begur and its stunning sea views.

Begur’s backstory

Thanks to Begur’s hilltop views and strategic location, everyone from the Greeks to the Romans have staked their claim and left their cultural mark. Splashes of Cuba are present, too, in the richly ornate colonial mansions and public buildings. Both the money to build and the architectural style came from Spaniards returning from Cuba in the mid-1800s with their newly colonized riches. If the cultural influence isn’t enough to tempt you, Suddenly, Last Summer (starring Liz Taylor) was filmed in Begur and the climax takes place atop the 10th century castle that looks over the town (and upon which I stood).

Exploring Begur

Although more off-the-beaten path than Barcelona, Begur still receives its share of tourists. Because of its appeal, visiting in late summer or early fall is—like in most of Europe—more relaxed. The city is refined, clean, elegant and retains that old-world, wealthy colonial feel. Hotel Aiguaclara—a colonial style mansion built in 1866—sits near the old town. This is the hotel that beckoned us with its gorgeous breakfast buffet (honestly I can’t fight a lavish spread), colorful and welcoming decor, and incredibly friendly service. Due to it being mid-week in shoulder (aka, start of the off) season we were upgraded to a two-bedroom junior suite that had us feeling quite subtle glamour rock n roll.

Charming antique hotel facade with a mural in Catalan reading made with love.
Made with Love, Hotel Aiguaclara
Wife, being so fabulous in Hotel Aiguaclara.

Cami de Ronda

The coastal paths—known as Cami de Ronda in Catalan—have been used for centuries to fight pirates, help shipwrecks, and catch smugglers. Nowadays the magical coastal paths are a gentle tourist draw but mainly just magic for the people lucky enough to live there. There are three paths linking eight coves and beaches down the steep hillside from Begur. I dream of renting a seaside abode that steps out onto the path. Some dreamy late summer month my wife and I will just write and stroll the azure sea waters.

Exploring the coastal path out of Sa Riera

Our first afternoon, we walked from Begur to Sa Riera, a sweet cove with a handful of restaurants, a small sandy beach with access to the northern coastal path. This sign waited for us.

A tile sign written in Catalan welcoming visitors to the beachside village of Sa Riera.
In Catalan: Friend, Sa Riera is not a mirage or a fable, it is a beautiful corner of Costa Brava.
Welcome and enjoy.
Wife, heading north on the Northern Coastal Path. The water was such a dreamy clear turqouise.

Our second day we got wise and drove to Sa Tuna instead of attempting to walk. The road down the mountain is miniature, full of hairpin turns, and sharp drop-offs. Drive the 10 minutes with caution but, oh is it worth it. Once there, you can stroll the coastal paths and swim in the coves. From Sa Tuna, the Eastern Coastal Path takes you to Aiguafreda and back in ~ 45 minute walk. The weather was perfection, but the water was a bit brisk. Here are some of the views:

Gorgeous views
The swimming pad where the river of Aiguafreda merges into the Mediterranean Sea. The path (up behind me) scrolls along the seaside in front of luxury houses and beach villas and tiny restaurants and lush forest.
Coastal path outside of Sa Tuna to Aiguafreda. Have you ever seen bluer water? Or a cuter “little” seaside cottage?
That water! So clear! The path wends along in front of houses, over the teeniest little beaches, and anyone can access them. It felt quite paradisical.

Our last day we ate lunch at Toc Almar, a fancy beach hut restaurant perched over the softy, sandy beach of Aiguablava. We both agreed that maybe we were meant to live on the Mediterranean Sea? Afterwards, we walked the Southern Coastal Path from Aiguablava to Platja Fonda and back. Dreamy.

Lunch at Toc Almar at Aiguaclara

I’d love to return and do a more concentrated effort to hike along Spain’s glorious coast line. Have you been?

Here are some shots of our darling Hotel Aiguaclara. I’m a big fan. There were tons of nooks and crannies and everything just so. Below are also driving logistics for visiting the beach and the coastal paths. Bye, we love ya.

Outdoor lounge area of the Hotel Aiguaclara.
One of the outdoor nooks at the hotel.
Woman lying on a bed looking at camera.
Our two-room junior suite was chilled out elegance.
After dinner lounge.

Logistics:

  • Distance-wise, walking from Begur to the beaches is doable but the lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure makes it a no-go. Our first day we walked from Begur to Sa Riera and it was a steep, hot, and often sidewalk-less hike. I definitely don’t recommend.
  • There’s a free beach bus that you’d be wise to hop on, especially during summer. You might lose your mind attempting to access the beaches in summer via car due to minimal parking and minuscule roads in and out.
  • Late season presented no problems in driving to and parking at the beach.
  • Look for a hotel with parking. Especially in the old town, parking is limited and will be an added cost if your hotel doesn’t provide.

From Barcelona to Begur

After landing in Barcelona, we got our bright blue, super miniature rental car and drove to Begur. The drive was only 1.5 hours and super chill. Driving in Spain is like driving in any major U.S. city. Along the way we stopped through Petrallada (a town carved of stone) which was utterly charming and completely empty. If you want food, coffee, or souvenirs after late summer, be sure to arrive after 12pm. This town seems to thrive on tourism, and since it’s an historic stone-carved town, it’s the perfect place for a roadie (espresso, hey). As long as you don’t want a morning espresso.

Woman walking through the town of Petrallada
Tiffany strolling Petrallada
A stone gate in the town of Petrallada.

Like every Italian town, Lecce loves coffee. Caffe, caffe macchiato, caffe latte, you know the drill. But the real specialty in Lecce is the caffe in ghiacco or the caffe in ghiacco with latte di mandorla. These sweet, cold drinks are particular to the Salento region of Puglia and are said to have originated in this charming, baroque city.

Caffe in ghiaccio—a short espresso over ice with a healthy amount of sugar—is perfect for a hot afternoon. Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla features that same iced espresso with a frothy sweet almond cream poured over top. Both will get you fired up real quick. In addition to beautiful coffee drinks, Lecce itself is magical.

photo of a female saint statue carved of white stone in a church
This sweet angel of suffering had thee most enchanting light up halo.

Lecce is the perfect landing spot for exploring the northern region of Salento. For the visually-minded, Salento is best known as the heel of Italy’s boot. From Lecce’s vantage point you can quickly reach gorgeous beaches on the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, plus explore the interior of this stunning olive- and wine-producing region. Beyond strategic positioning, Lecce the city shines. The centro storico has ruins dating back to the 3rd century B.C. and the city reflects the range of cultures that have held power since then. Narrow cobblestone streets, medieval and baroque architecture, painfully cute piazzas and squares and a whole boatload of beautiful churches to rival Florence and Rome. The walled-in original old town was constructed from pietra leccese, a local soft, yellow limestone that causes the entire old town to glow as the sun sets. All in all, Lecce is the perfect place to stay awhile.

Perhaps most importantly is the really, really yummy coffee. (I never cared too much for coffee, but my very clever wife changed that when we met, thank god. Now I cannot imagine wanting to start my day without it.) Lecce’s local pastries—my newly acquired passion—will make you weep. The pasticciotto, reported to have been born here, is a small bun-shaped morning dessert (let’s call them what they are, people) filled with a creamy, oh so subtly lemon custard. Sometimes there’s a variation on the filling (nutella or pistachio cream) but lemony vanilla is the norm. The texture of the pastry is closer to a cookie than a cake. It almost reminds me of the texture of cornbread. Did I mention it’s delicious? It’s not too sweet, it’s smaller than the palm of my hand, tastes great with une caffe, and is totally legit to eat before 10am.

 

close up of a cappuccino and pasticciotto
Pasticciotto with some nutella for good measure

Where you drink coffee in Lecce (in all of Italy, really) depends on how you want to drink your coffee. If you prefer a leisurely beverage and newspaper moment, you’ll pay for ‘servizio.’ This means that in addition to the cost of your order, you’re paying the waiter to take your order and bring it to you. Sitting at a table can take a long time so if you are in a hurry don’t opt for this. Seated service is fun only if you’re not in a rush. If you want caffeine inside you, quick, or if you are in a hurry, you must order at the counter. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than an espresso knocked back while standing at the bar and then chased with wee glass of bubbly water. Perhaps this is a holdover from my booze drinking days, but I adore the experience. It provides all the perks of taking a shot on the go (like a bar crawl!) without any of the booze-y impairment—just wonderful coffee superpowers. The counters are for standing only, so don’t get any airs about asking for a barstool. You order directly from the barista, then pay after you drink. Oh how I imagine that my limited Italian sings when I say, “une caffe macchiato, per favore!”

Here are my favorite places for drinking coffee, and the ways in which to drink them, and some hot tips on the best pastries in Lecce:

Cappuccino and pasticciotto on a lazy Sunday: Caffe Alvino:

close up of a capucchino

Word on the street is Caffe Alvino prescribes to the traditional pasticciotto recipe, which contains shortening. So beware if you’re a veggie. The shortening does make the dessert damn fine and super moist. The Caffe Alvino cappuccino is creamy and smooth and the patio seating in front of the cafe provides an ideal spot to overlook the ruins of the Roman amphitheater built (NBD) in the second century, B.C. Enjoy your morning respite while tourists and locals come and go on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Inside are miles of marble and chandeliers and mountains of cakes and ornately pastel pastries that will boggle your eyes. Their rustica (a mozzarella and tomato filled phyllo dough savory pastry) is a good alternative to sweet. Cost for two cappuccino, two pasticciotto and a table: 5 euros.

 

Coffee at the counter: Bar Rosso e Nero Internet Cafe:

close up of an espresso shot in a white espresso cup

Despite their headline as an internet cafe, these guys don’t have a website. Searching ‘Rosso e Nero’ won’t do the trick easily, either, as Rosso e Nero is as ubiquitous as Caffe Valentina or Quattro Cafe…it’s a shout out to the type of coffee they use. In any case, follow this google maps link to this local spot. It’s only open until ~6pm. The baristas were so darling when we were there (which was almost each morning for a week) and the macchiato just right, at approximately 80 cents. Their pasticciotto had a healthy amount of cream and came in two sizes. I also loved their cornetto cioccolato (aka chocolate croissant). A few guys also ordered caffe correctos, which is morning drinking in the way that only Italians can make elegant: espresso with a shot of grappa slipped in to correct things.

Classic caffe in ghiacco with almond syrup: Bar Alvino  

close up of a local specialty coffee in a clear glass

A short trek from the main city center but worth the experience, Caffe Alvino is famous for this sweet almond drink. It’s counter service inside the cafe, so belly up and don’t be shy. The bartender specially froths the almond cream to order and puts on a whole show of layering the ingredients, which of course makes the experience fun and playful.

Wherever you go in Lecce you’re bound to find tasty coffee and tasty pastiocciotto. We tried a pistachio one so you don’t have to. It wasn’t bad, but hot damn those vanilla ones are good. Beyond just caffeinated beverages Lecce has delightful regional cuisine (like orecchiette with parsnip green pesto), fascinating museums and a wonderful contemporary art museum called MUST. I learned the hard way while using the ladies room at MUST that what I thought was a pull for flushing the toilet was actually a 911 bathroom alarm that reverberated through the entire museum complex, so we certainly made some friends that day. I’ll write more on our September 2018 Puglia trip soon. Until then, here are some more Lecce photos.

Italian produce stand
Roasted chicken for 5 euros good enough to make us weep
woman in a purple dress walking through an art gallery
Immediately prior to accidentally pulling the museum bathroom alarm
like the class act that I am
close up photo of turnip green pasta, a regional specialty
Orecchiette with parsnip greens. Crisp flavor and chewy pasta and holy mackerel so good
close up photo of pistachio pasticiotto
Pistachio pastiocciotto. Pretty good, but vanilla is way better.

Beautiful Bangkok, a city run by tuk tuk power, street vendors, and centuries old golden buddhas.

Sky high commerce and crumbling poverty jostle for street space while long tail boats cruise up and down the Chao Phraya river.

Little kids are canal swimming and tourists are Instagram posing and food vendors slinging moo ping pork skewers, all under resplendent portraits of King Rama X of Thailand.

Our first day in Bangkok, sparkling fresh with jet lag, we  explored the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew—The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Bangkok was our first leg on a three week tour of the country.

The Grand Palace is tourist central (us included) due to its religious, historical, and political importance to Thailand since its construction in 1782. Also, it’s really beautiful. Glittering mosaics, gilded gold, and opulent murals adorn every building. The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) is only 26 inches tall and has seasonal outfits of gold for summer, rain, and cool.

How tourists dress is important to Thai people, especially when visiting revered religious sites. It’s hot in Thailand, but we took care to wear modest clothing at all times: think pants or skirts to knees and no tank tops.

The November was muggy and in the mid-to-high 90s. The action of the city streets is enervating, no matter how much iced tea + condensed milk you drink. My wife is an expert lodging-finder. Usually when we travel for long periods we arrange home exchanges, but this trip we stayed in hotels. Our Bangkok hotel was a dream.

Chann Bangkok Noi, was accessible only by foot or boat. A taxi carried us as far as it could into a dense, riverside neighborhood where hotel staff met us at a foot bridge to guide us in. We walked several blocks down a raised pathway that peered into backyards and jungly terrain. We hooked a sharp left through a break in the corrugated metal fencing and down a sidewalk (marshy swampland and homes on stilts on either side) until suddenly coming upon the Chann Bangkok Noi sign.

Chann Bangkok Noi provided true respite from the chaos of Bangkok’s streets. After our Grand Palace adventure, we slept the merciful sleep of the jet lagged to prepare us for our walking cultural tour the next day led by Bangkok Vanguards.

My wife and I love walking tours to experience the heartbeat of a city and learn more from locals about local life. I’ll tell you all about the cultural tour here…it was really fabulous and I took lots of pretty pictures, so check it out.

Nashville, land of honky tonk dreams.

This small town big city is like Austin, Texas and Butte, Montana had a steel guitar baby. All the wee bricky homes of Butte, with the rolling green, mid-city river, rhythmic soul of Austin.

We’ve been eating, tour-nerding, and exploring neighborhoods. Neon signs, BBQ grills, deep fryers, and Southern greens are all around. Getting acquainted with the Ryman Auditorium had me reeling. Bluegrass was born on its stage and every single sequin-suited country singer worth their boots has rocked there, while the star-making Grand Ole Opry lived there from 1943 – 1974. Then, walking out the Ryman’s door and stepping onto the Broadway strip, hearing the honky tonk angels at iconic joints like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge just sealed the deal. Maybe everybody’s a star in Nashville.

It’s so damn charming here. The cozy boutiques and neighborhoody vibes, country music and street art had my heart singing. On top of that, we came to visit family, so that had a sweetness all its own. Nashville is completely new to me, and we did a lot in five days, most of it revolving around food. But—if for some reason—you’re teleported here and only have one day to explore, I’ll share this snapshot of East Nashville (plus a sprinkle of other fun) for your adventuresome soul.

East Nashville

We geared up for the afternoon at Pinewood Social with food, libations, and locally roasted Crema Coffee. My lady can be a cranky shopper so I like to give her a little booze before we mosey into uncharted waters. I don’t drink, so I loved their creamy latte with the special coconut and almond milk blend. Their low-key, upscale menu (shaved brussel salad with grilled salmon for me) fits the industrial chic vibe of the large warehouse. It’s been converted to house a cozy sitting zone, coffee shop, big central bar, tufted booths, and an indoor bowling alley, swimming pool out back, airstream bar, and bocce ball. Heaven? Yes.

Afterwards, we headed straight to 5 Points—at the intersection of Woodland, Clearview, and North 11th—and began the Country Christmas shopping experience at the badass collective called the Idea Hatchery.

A handful of local businesses incubate in the low rent, minimal overhead, community setting of the hatchery. I loved Walker Creek Confections‘ Sea Salt Carmels and am gifting a bag to my mama if I manage not to eat them on the plane. I also adored Haulin’ Oats and their mason jars full of oatmeal magic. I got so damn figgy with it this morning.

Next, we popped over to Art and Invention. We got a sweet Joan of Arc hot pink savior of wall art chain metal thing. You know the kind. Made by local artist Wynn Smith, the shop is full of Nashville artists’ paintings, jewelry, metalworks, and  more. It’s sweet.

We paused the shopping bonanza and took in some dancing bears and muraled ladies rising up by artist Leah Tumerman. Street art shines all over in this city.

When the buzz started to run low, we headed over to the converted garage turned coffee mecca that is Barista Parlor. Caffeine dreams really do come true. Shot of espresso, side of dark chocolate, soda water. So grown up.

Coffee not doing it? Nothing like sugar to save the day. We hit up local legend Five Daughters Bakery for a fix. My wife thinks gluten free donuts suck booty, but I feel real fancy free when I get to indulge. To that end, I loved their Paleo Crushers. I had both the orange chocolate and gingerbread. They were both dense and sweet and not reaaaalllly donuts but they tasted good. (P.S. The gingerbread dominated.) The 100 layer donut is their claim to fame. The vibe inside the bakery is hot pink neon and super fun. We also liked the charming 12 South neighborhood spot.

12 South

We clearly led this trip with our stomachs. The 12 South neighborhood was also really cute. I am in LOVE with Frothy Monkey coffee and their seasonal specialty, the Golden Monkey. Steamed milk, espresso, turmeric, ginger, and a lil sweet syrup. So dreamy and right.

12 South has its share of murals, too.

The ‘hood also has a slew of fancy/pricey boutiques and fabulous eateries like Edley’s BBQ. The 1/2 chicken was damn fine and the BBQ sauce just the right combo of heat and sweet. Local studio Liberation Yoga had a Christmas Eve class taught by Raquel Bueno that was so sweet and special and centering before diving into the tornado of wrapping paper and whirling dervish that is a four year old nephew opening gifts.

There’s so much more to do and see here. Next time I’m touring the new site of the Grand Ole Opry and will venture out into the Smokey Mountains. And maybe hang out with Dolly Parton.

 

This time jet lag snuck in the back door, resetting the clocks like a teenage daughter out till dawn. Back in our Oakland bed, home from Denmark, I had a whole week of sleep, cycles, and serenity. Yes. YES. I have finally transcended jet lag. Then the crabbiness , the microscopic analysis of domestic affairs, the subtle bickering with my wife. And there it was, bursting into day eight of our return like a real concern, the un-emptied dishwasher becomes the central focus of my silent sulking. Delayed onset jet lag, you sneaky snake.

We’re home and antsy. Finding problems to fix. The punishment for hurtling through multiple time zones. Is this why I meditate? So I can remember there are no problems? Jet lag is a luxury not a problem. Empty the dishwasher.

Oakland’s shifting summer weather is like Copenhagen, but higher highs punctuate the fashion climate. Back home I am in a short sundress, the room so muggy one night it’s hard to sleep. Two days later, I wear a pea coat. The witchy Bay weather never settled for long.

In bed, I order shoes—both lamenting and justifying such a quick 180 from my new slow fashion resolution. Copenhagen gave me an awakening of conscious: Think about what business practices I support with my spending. Did jet lag cause me to forget? Miz Mooz, are you slow in your fashion? Do you sustainably source your materials, protect the environment, and respect workers’ rights and wages, or do forced hands and smushed lives stitch the darling mauve leather Shay sandals I just had shipped? I swear though, the shift is happening. For years I’ve been opting not to pay attention to who makes my clothes. What do they call that, an inconvenient truth?

Maybe awakenings can be gradual. As a result of slow fashion research, I have foresworn Forever 21. Not that I’m surrendering to the age gap—god no. I forever love the trashy fashion they churn out. I’d wear that shit all day, gold bomber jacket perfectly matching my gold foil leggings. But I’ve started to feel like an asshole if can afford to buy fair labor clothes and I don’t. I would never feel like an asshole in gold foil leggings though.

My wife hasn’t slept all week. Jet lag swooped her up and tumbled her hard. I slept like an angel baby for 7 days straight. All week I reveled, free from intense self-obsession and self-centered fear. Is this the promised land, I thought? Is this how normal, sleep-hydrated brains work? Have I finally arrived? My years of fitful sleep and anxious brain chemistry miraculously rewired by the fresh, Copenhagen air. I finally solved life. 

And then day 8. Delayed onset no sleep. Delayed onset internal clock rebooting to a 9 hour time zone change. Delayed desire to be helpful and empty the dishwasher. Is this domestic bitchiness attributable to jet lag or am I passing the buck?*

By the way mom and dad, so sorry I would come in late and reset your bedroom clock on the weekends. Like you didn’t have a watch at your bedside. Like this actually worked?

by: annie.

 

*I emptied the dishwasher. It took me, like, two minutes.

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