Tag Archives: seafood

Isla! Just the Two of Us….no?

Upon booking our spring break to one of our favorite Mexican hideaways, Isla Mujeres, I had to text one of my friends to rub it in that we were heading back to Isla.  Imagine my surprise when he texted back that he and some other mutual friends from our small town had also just booked a vacation there during the same week! Their group of six soon grew to another group of six and so our private getaway became the best of both worlds–relaxing beach days for two followed by fun evenings out with friends. Like the never-experienced luxury of being on a tropical vacation in your own town!

And so we were off!  Russell gets so excited at the airport when we go on vacation.  russell-airportGlad to see the TSA didn’t crush all of his joy in the security check point.

Once in Mexico, typical days on Isla consisted of a morning beach walk and breakfast at our hotel, NaBalam http://www.nabalam.com.  A few days I went to yoga, once at Na Balam by a true yogi–a, dare I say, shaman?  This spiritual little guy made for a nice alternative to my usual yoga.  He even gave Russell an hour of yoga therapy during the week.  Another day I ventured down to yoga class on the skydeck of Cabanas María del Mar.  That yoga instructor was more California surfer than Indian guru, making me chuckle every time I was in a pose and he would prompt in his Zen-stoner vibe, “Relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxxxxxx”.

After the morning workouts, we would settle into our daily routine of sunbed surfing while overlooking beautiful North Beach.  After a regimen of read, swim, repeat, I waited until it seemed an appropriate and judgment-free time to order my afternoon bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and some lunch. isla-16 The new restaurant at Na Balam has fantastic food, like these octopus tostadas and fresh seafood ceviche. There’s just nothing better than lying in “bed” all day on one of the best Caribbean beaches while people bring you seafood and pour you wine.  Ahhh…..p1060398

As hard as it was to break up that lovely daytime routine, we agreed to go with our friends one day on a ride around the island on golf carts.  We’ve been to Isla several times and know the golf cart route well.  Our morning began with a ride along the windy, rough side of the island where we stopped to walk around awhile on the rock formations.  My friend Ron, doing his best impression of James Franco from 127 Hours.  Luckily he did not have to saw off his arm…p1060363

After working up an appetite from our climbing, we continued south to Colonia La Gloria, the neighborhood housing most of Isla’s residents.  Here we would find Mango Café, one of the top rated restaurants on Tripadvisor.  www.facebook.com/mangocafeisla

It seemed the word was out as this place was packed so we were told it would be about a 25 minute wait for a table.  We made the most of our wait by strolling around the neighborhood and befriending some little girls.  Some of them decided to use Russell for their hide and seek spot.  “Hey, let’s hide behind this big, white guy!”p1060366

And so our playdate was interrupted by a wave across the street signaling our table was ready.  ¡Adiós, chicas! The Mango Café did not disappoint!  Do not come here looking for a “light breakfast”.  Some of us ordered breakfast quesadillas while the others ordered the Stuffed Poblano Chile which came out as large as a deep fried football!p1060370An hour later we all waddled out of the place and continued further south, passing the Crayon Housep1060375and making our way to one of the island cemeteries.  If you’ve never visited a Mexican cemetery, it is a must.  Nothing scary here, looks more like a mini-golf course than anything from a Halloween movie. p1060380p1060376 The tiny mausoleums are interesting and made for a nice little digestive stroll.  *Side note, one should not consume 3,000 calories before noon. And so we were off again to Punta Sur, the southernmost point of the island, where conveniently there was a bar in a judgement-free zone so many in our group partook in a piña colada.  Nothing goes better on top of a deep fried football than a 600 calorie frothy drink! Ahhhh……vacation.

After a walk about and some photo ops on the lovely south end, p1060386

we were back on the carts and northbound up the calm, eastern side of the island.  With no agenda, we decided we would make stops as they called our attention so it was no surprise when our lead golf cart pulled into the Ice Bar.  A tourist trap if there ever was one, we went for it and donned our yeti-esque parkasp1060390 in the 90 degree lobby and entered the solid ice bar and its freezing temps.  I loved that we paid thousands of dollars to escape the cold and then paid money to be in the cold.  p1060395We Americans are so strange! Anyway, it was a fun thing actually and I know we really did need two more margaritas on top of the deep fried football.

After the Ice Bar, we stopped for lunch(????!!!!) at Playa Lancheros, a requirement when on the island.  It is a great spot to take a swim, which we did, and chill out for awhile before making the final journey north back to town and the hotels.  Of course we went out to dinner that night, don’t really remember what or where as I think my clothes were so tight it blocked circulation to my brain.  No more 10,000 calorie days on this trip I said the next morning.  Through sheer will power and restraint I was able to keep the rest of the trip below 5,000 a day.  I know, you are thinking about my sacrifice and I appreciate it.  A “diet” on vacation—what??

Anyways, the week went on with more sunning, swimming, reading, and wine, with a little snorkeling by the bridge mixed in for cardio.  Nights were a whirlwind of one great seafood dinner p1060416after the next at places like Rolandi’s Pizzeria, Asia Caribe, Muelle 7, Olivia’s, and Jax.  There were also some nice breakfasts at the market stands behind Na Balam and, of course, the out of this world Lobster Eggs Benedict at Rooster Café.

There were a lot of celebrations too that week on the island.  While sitting at a bar one evening, we watched the set up of a child’s birthday party in the street and restaurant next door.  Russell was instrumental in helping them hang their piñata p1060412and it was great watching the kids smash it in the street as tourists walked by.  We also got to celebrate our friend Karen’s birthday one night.  I think her birthday wish was to not get back on the ferry at the end of the week!  We started her big night in style with sunset cocktails on the balcony of their room at Ixchel Hotel.  It was so romantic watching the sun go down from that vantage point, till our friend Andy photo bombed our big moment….or did we photo bomb him?  Whatever.p1060441

As we had come to the last day of our trip, we decided that since we did originally book the trip as a romantic getaway that we should have one intimate dinner just the two of us, so we headed back to the south end where we dined at Maria’s Kan Kin. This was a truly memorable evening with patio seating overlooking the infinity pool.  We were there in time for sunset, which made for an even better view looking across the bay at the lights of Cancún. We started out with a shrimp appetizerp1060450 and finished up with a seafood pasta and this beautifully prepared grouper. Fantastic!p1060455

And so ended another great week on Isla Mujeres.  You just can’t go wrong with a vacation here.  And you never know what new friends, or in our case this time, old friends, you’ll run into!

As a parting note, whenever I go to Isla I try to think about jobs Russell and I could get here and maybe stay awhile.  I found that my translation skills could be needed at this supermarket. Mmmmmm….nothing more refreshing on a 90 degree day than a “cool” beer!



Five Reasons to Love the Cinque Terre

And the countdown begins of my cinque favorite things!


5. The Water. Exiting the Monterosso al Mare train station, the sound of crashing waves is enough to lift the stress of even the worst day of travel. These Mediterranean waters IMG_0391are the star of all five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  The ferry connecting four of these villages is a great way to get around.  Side note—when waiting in line for a ferry, no matter how hot it is, please do not put your shirt like this! P1050746 It is the best way to NOT look like a local.  If you need to cool off in the water, the best spots are the lagoon at Manarola and the beautiful beach of Monterosso.  When we left the ferry in Manarola and headed into the town, we stopped to watch the divers from the rocks and as we stood there sweating and filled with water envy, my sister-in-law suggested, “Why don’t we just go back to the beach at Monterosso?”  It was the declaration of what we all must have been thinking and without a word, we ran back toward the ferry we had just left.  It was already starting to pull away, but we were able to jump on and within 25 minutes we were swimming and lying on the gravelly shore.  Whatever your preference, there are two beaches in Monterosso—the “free” beach where people’s towels are scattered right on the pebbles and the private beach where 25 euro will rent you two beach loungers and an umbrella until 7 pm.  I know this because on our first day there, we spent nine hours in these chairs, after which we made the beautiful walk back to the hotel through…

4.The Streets. P1050688Coming to the Cinque Terre from the hustle and bustle of the larger Italian cities, it doesn’t take long to appreciate all of the pedestrian alleys and lanes. P1050691Around every corner is another picturesque street begging to be photographed.  It’s also great for strolling, as the coast forces a person to slow down, and the lack of Fiats makes this lot easier.  Many of these streets snake through residences with doorsteps and balconies filled with flowers.  P1050689Other streets in the town centers are livelier with a mix of locals and visitors.  It doesn’t hurt that many of these streets are dotted with cute shops like the Pesto Lab and great restaurants, which brings me to…

3. The Food! It’s no secret this is a highlight of most of my trips and the Cinque Terre with its fresh seafood is no exception. As with many meals on our Italy trip, we loved to start off with a tureen of mussels and those at La Grotta in Riomaggiore were some of the best.  I think I soaked an entire baguette in the sauce.  Food coma!  If you find yourself in Riomaggiore, you will be surrounded by passersby eating some of the greatest street food since gelato.  I can only refer to this as a seafood snocone!  P1050736It seems like every other person we passed was eating one of these creations.  However, I prefer my calamari to be eaten at a table with a nice bottle of Dolcetto like we did at La Grotta.  Another standout restaurant was Ciak http://www.ristoranteciak.net/ in Monterosso.  Always packed, it is a great idea to make a reservation, or like us, luck out and snag the only unreserved table outside.  Our group started with a fantastic seafood antipasto and then my brother-in-law and I shared the seafood ravioliP1050763served tableside in a steaming clay pot.  After our waiter served us our first helping, my brother-in-law stepped in and dished out our seconds, looking like the owner of the place in his all black attire.  P1050772I don’t think our waiter shared his tip with him.  Another food experience that bears mentioning is our hotel, Hotel Marina http://www.hotelmarina5terre.com/ . Most Italian breakfasts consist of some coffee and a croissant, but this place owned by chef Eraldo sees to it that all guests start the day with an extravaganza.  Besides a layout of pastries, fruits, juices, and coffee, guests have their choice of an enormous cooked to order omelet or fruit or chocolate crepe.  P1050777Starting the day on the breakfast terrace with this feast and then letting it settle by relaxing up on the lemon tree terrace overlooking the sea is my idea of heaven. P1050572 But after thinking about all of the food consumed in the last 24 hours, a person starts to think about taking…

2. The Hike. All five villages are linked by a hiking trail that was previously a goat path. P1050606Be advised that some sections of the trail may be closed due to conditions and some sections are much more strenuous than others.  My poor husband Russell had hurt his knee the night before we left on our trip so hiking the whole stretch was out of the question.  We did, however, tackle the most difficult leg between Monterosso and Vernazza.  Most of this stretch consists of uneven stone steps that never seem to stop ascending finally followed by the descent into Vernazza,P1050662 all of these steps like a bad dream to someone with a knee injury.  P1050626As for me, a person with no ailments, the hike was no easy task.  Even though we left at 8 am, about two hours later as we walked into Vernazza, I was a sweaty mess.  Some advice—bring water, a handkerchief, and a bathing suit because you will want to jump in the water when you are done.  This section is best avoided if it is wet or rainy as the steps can get very slippery and the trail is very narrow in places. P1050624 The hike is an excellent way to burn off some of those calories, but the greatest thing about it is…

1. The Views. It doesn’t matter whether you are walking the trails, sitting on the ferry or the beach, or just enjoying your evening wine on the lemon terrace, magical views are everywhere. The colors are just exploding whether it is the sea, the vineyards, P1050614

the flowers,P1050680

or the rainbow of buildingsP1050724 that make up these towns.  The Cinque Terre is a photographer’s dream, with every click a work of art.  Visiting here is like being inside of a painting you never want to leave. P1050667 In fact, the only negative thing I can think of about the Cinque Terre is when you have to get back on that train and leave.