5 Memorable Meals Abroad

I love food. The older I get, the worse my obsession is becoming. It’s what I like to do for fun. When I first started traveling on my own (as in, without my parents), I didn’t care about what I was eating. But over the years, I’ve increasingly dedicated more and more of my budget to trying different meals, desserts, food, tours, etc. while traveling.

Below I am listing experiences I’ve had outside of the United States where either the food was absolutely delicious, or the experience was unforgettable. These are in no specific order.

1st Memorable Meal – Scones; Bath

When William and I were in the United Kingdom, we went on a tour by bus that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath all in one day. While in Bath, we basically were just dropped off to do what we pleased with our time. Our guide, David, had mentioned on the bus ride to Bath that he would be spending his time in a scone shop right behind the Bath Abbey. He said he had already called in advance to make sure they had lots of scones. He also talked about how much he loved them, how they would be fresh, etc.. My priority was seeing the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey, so I thought we would only get to try a scone if we had enough time. Luckily, we did (barely). David was in there and we joined him with a couple of other Americans. The American guy started to use a knife to break his scone apart, and David exclaimed, “No, no, no, no, no! Jesus broke the bread with his hands; you must break the bread apart.” Sure enough, it broke perfectly in the middle. Then he taught us that you spread the jam, but just put a “dollop” of cream on top. You don’t spread the cream. All of this was apparently symbolic, and the order mattered (upon further research though, I know other parts of England put the cream on before the jam). This scone was literally not only the best scone ever, but one of the best pieces of bread I’ve ever had in my life. I think about it all the time. The rest of my trip in the UK, I kept buying scones in other places but they never were the same. I tried to buy all the ingredients here back home but failed miserably at creating even a semi-close attempt to what these were. I did not remember the name of the shop, but after walking on Google maps, I believe it is the shop called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

meals39
Bath Abbey

2nd Memorable Meal –  Anticuchos; Lima

On my trip to Peru, I had read that anticuchos (cow heart) was a popular dish there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about trying that prior to the trip, but once I had been in Peru for a week and felt really comfortable, I wanted to test it out. The only problem was I was out of time and on my way to the airport. My group and I had an excursion in Lima at the Indian Markets, and across the street there was a little mall. We tried running around to see if we could find any place selling anticuchos but failed. Then we were on the bus going back to the airport, so as a desperate last attempt I asked the guide if he knew a good place in the airport to try it. Luckily, he did. He recommended a Peruvian restaurant in the food court just after security called Manos Morenos. My friend Randy and I ordered a meal’s worth, and it essentially just looked like steak on a kebab. It came with a sauce – I have no idea what it was. BUT IT WAS GOOD. The sauce was delicious. The anticuchos was delicious. If I ever go back to Peru, I will be ordering that a lot more often. It wasn’t the best meal of my entire life, but the fact that something that seemed scary and weird was so tasty, and that I was brave enough to try it, made it very memorable for me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3rd Memorable Meal – Food Tour; Rome

In Rome, William and I went on our first ever food tour. I highly recommend this tour, but make sure you are starving when you arrive. We all met up at a metro station and then walked to our first stop, a Sicilian coffee shop. We tried coffee there, and even though I don’t care for coffee, I actually drank my whole cup. If someone forced me to drink coffee, I guess I would prefer Italian! We also tried a cannoli and it was magical and amazing (we returned to the shop later in the trip for one!), but more on cannolis in another post. Our next stop was Bonci’s, a “fast food” pizza shop. Bonci is a famous, TV featured chef, and one of his main beliefs for making his pizza is that you should always stick to just 3 ingredients on top. However, think more outside of the box than what Americans typically put on pizza. The ingredients varied from different types of greens to macaroni and cheese. And they all were so good. Each person in the tour picked a type of pizza available at the time, and then we all got to try each other’s. There were some that sounded gross to me that ended up being amazing. William and I returned to Bonci’s because we were so impressed. We wish we had one here! A good tip for ordering pizza from these places too, is when you ask for your piece, you need to tell them an approximate weight (or at least show how big of a piece you want with your hands). It’s basically just a giant rectangular pizza and they cut off however much you want, and weigh it to price it. Continuing on, we went into a little shop to try different jams, spreads, truffles, and cheeses. I learned about the importance and deliciousness of Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese. The cheese was so fresh (for cheese anyway), and I didn’t think I would like combining the truffles and jams with the cheeses but our guide knew how to make the perfect tastes blend together. We visited a butcher and cheese shop, and then continued onward to try different meats like prosciutto. I’ve never had meat literally just melt in my mouth the way these slices did. We continued onward again to a place where we tried various pastas. I wasn’t as impressed with the pastas (I’m a red sauce kind of girl and none of these were). However, William ended up discovering Carbonara pasta. He loved it so much, he ordered it for every meal on the rest of the trip. Finally, at the end we stopped by a legitimate gelato place that makes it fresh and had a wide variety of unique flavors. I tried a blueberry with some type of Southern American chocolate. This tour was amazing, and really filled you up. Our guide was kind too, as well as the Welsh couple that joined us. We even all hugged and kissed goodbye at the end. I also loved this tour because our guide was so knowledgeable about food, the Italian laws behind food, where food came from, what different regions of Italy were known for, etc. It was so much to take in, but so absolutely interesting!

4th Memorable Meal – Grilled Cheese; Copenhagen

I visited Denmark in January, and on this particular day I had spent a lot of time outside. In the morning, I caught a bus to visit the Little Mermaid statue just off the river. Then I wandered along the coast through a park, back into the city, visited a castle, and then had been walking on wards for about 15 minutes to reach the SMK Art Museum. I was hungry, I was cold, and I was praying that the museum had food inside because I didn’t see any restaurants near me. They luckily had a café next to these giant glass windows overlooking some beautiful scenery. I ordered a grilled cheese and hot chocolate. It was such a relaxing meal. I was at peace, I was warm, and the grilled cheese is the best I’ve ever had. I think they used several different types of cheeses. The hot chocolate was on par as well.

meals24

5th Memorable Meal – Kawaii Monster Cafe; Tokyo

The Kawaii Monster Café is really touristy, I’ll admit. It is located in Harajuku in Tokyo. The food was not that great and it was expensive. However, the theming and experience were awesome! We were fortunate enough to go during a time that was not too crowded at all. The concept is that you are entering through the monster’s mouth. Then once inside, there are 4 different themed rooms you could be sitting in: Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand, Bar Experiment, or the Mel-Tea Room. We sat in the Mushroom Disco area because it looked the coolest in the pictures. They do allow people to wander the restaurant to take pictures though, so you can definitely see all the spots. There is also a giant carousel in the middle, and the various workers there are “Monster Girls” who are dressed in crazy costumes. They put on a dance like show on the carousel every so often. It wasn’t super impressive, but still fun to watch. The food and drinks are also very colorful and neat looking. William ordered a green monster burger, and I got pasta that was rainbow colored! William also ordered an alcoholic beverage that came with blue and red phials, and he had to pour them in to mix his drink while looking like a mad scientist. The Kawaii Monster Café is definitely cool to check out at least once.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m hoping to have several more amazing food experiences in the future. Specifically, I’ll be in Thailand next summer. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

Advertisements

Budget Breakdown – UK

Warning: This blog post’s purpose is not to solely provide entertainment, but to present a realistic breakdown of expenses spent on a trip. The goal is to help create ideas on how to cut back, help set expectations, and to see how my money was spent based on airfare, lodging, transportation, attractions and meals.

I went to the UK back at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. It was the very first international trip that I had ever planned! It is a good trip to breakdown on here since I had so little money (for such a big trip) to travel with at that point. If you really are bound and determined, you CAN make it happen!

Here’s a look at the dates we had our trip for reference.

12/30/12 – Flew out of DFW

12/31/12 – Arrived at LHR (London Heathrow) after a layover in Frankfurt – midday

1/1/13 – 1/3/13 – 3 Full days in London

1/4/13 – Day trip to Oxford from London

1/5/13 – Day trip on to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath from London

1/6/13 – Train to Cardiff, spent night there

1/7/13 – Day trip to Tongwynlais and Caerphilly from Cardiff, then train back to London

1/8/13 – Bus ride to Inverness, Scotland

1/9/13 – Full day in Inverness and Dores

1/10/13 – Bus to Edinburgh

1/11/13 – Full day in Edinburgh

1/12/13 – Bus back to London

1/13/13 – Fly out of LHR back home

uk8
Conveniently Labeled Underground Station

Plane Tickets:

William and I purchased the majority of our plane tickets with miles. This was before I knew anything about how they worked or how to use them…..I simply knew they existed. Somehow, my dad and I had struck up a conversation concerning them, and he offhandedly mentioned, “Oh, I have about 100,000 miles about to expire with American Airlines.”

WHAT!!!!

After expressing my disbelief and bravely offering my services to put them to good use, my dad told me I could use them as long as I paid for any of the other fees. This conversation had occurred over a year before this London trip, so I used 25,000 miles to fly round trip to New York to visit one of my best friends, Juan, the previous year. We then applied the other 75,000 (probably a bit more) points towards London. We were short by a few thousand miles, and after all of the taxes and fees were factored in, it cost about $600.

Cost of airfare per person: $300.

Lodging:

These were the days before I knew about Airbnb, and William didn’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where we had to share a room. We definitely could have found a better accommodation looking back. In London, we stayed at the Easy Hotel. There are several locations across London, but the 2 we have experience with are the Kensington and Paddington locations. They were essentially EXACTLY the same. You get a bright orange “room” with a mattress surrounded by wall on 3 sides. There is a little patch of floor that allows you to get into your tiny bathroom that may or not may have hot water in the shower. When I first saw the room, I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to laugh or cry. William thought it was hilarious and we never spent time there anyway, so it worked out fine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These hotels on average cost about 40 pounds a night, which roughly was about $60. We spent 8 nights in Easy Hotels.

We also stayed in one cheap hotel near the train station in Cardiff for about $40 (can’t remember the name) for one night. Breakfast was included.

In Inverness, we stayed at the cutest Bed and Breakfast called The Quaich. It’s close to the main part of town, the host was very kind, and the breakfast delicious! I also learned at this breakfast the proper way to eat a boiled egg in Scotland with a spoon. It was about $40 a night including breakfast. We stayed here for 2 nights.

uk3
Inverness, where The Quaich was located

Finally, in Edinburgh, we stayed at a terrible guesthouse (can’t remember name). Firstly, there was NO ONE THERE when we arrived at our check-in time. We both didn’t have international calling plans, so we walked down the street and found a local barbershop that let us use their phone to call. It turned out the poor guy had gone to the hospital after having an asthma attack. We had to wait for 30 minutes before he arrived to let us in. I know health comes first, and that’s a very legitimate excuse but it was still inconvenient that only this one person could help us.

The guy did feel bad and upgraded us to a room where we would have our own bathroom (originally supposed to share one). The stay was fine.

The main problem I have with this place though, is that they double charged us for our stay and never fixed it. When I got home, I saw both of the charges on the credit card account. I tried emailing and calling, but could never get in touch with anyone.

I probably could have been more persistent, but I eventually just gave up on getting that money back. We had stayed 2 nights here for about $60 a night after all taxes and fees.

In total, we spent about (or should have without the extra charge) $720 on lodging for 2 people.

Cost of lodging per person: $360

Transportation:

After reviewing the official London transportation website, it looks like things have changed slightly since I was there. However, my advice will be pretty similar. First of all, journeys on buses and the Tube are more expensive if you are buying an individual, single ticket every time. The locals use something called an Oyster card to pay for their fares. This is a card you can load money onto, or buy certain passes and have them connected to your card. At the London Heathrow airport, you can purchase an Oyster card for just 5 pounds and from there, take the Tube straight into the heart of London. You could also turn your card back in at the end of your stay, and get the 5 pounds refunded.

Your fare price will also change depending on what zones you are traveling to and from. You can take a closer look at this map here.

I did all of the math for William and I based on our itinerary using the chart of fares, and it made the most sense for us to buy a week long pass that we activated on 1/1/2013, valid only for zones 1-2 (I feel like ours may have just been zone 1, but this is not an option anymore. More details on passes here).  London Heathrow is actually in zone 6, but it is the only place outside of zone 1 that we needed to get to/from. So we just paid as we went with our new oyster card to our hotel inside zone 1 on the 31st. Keep in mind also, that even though we did several day trips and a night in Wales, we still needed to use the Tube every day to get to and from the special buses, tours or train stations.

A week long pass in just zones 1-2 is currently 33 pounds. With that converted along with the other times we used the Tube, we probably spent about $65 per person on transportation in London.

William and I also used buses in Wales (to Tongwynlais, Caerphilly, and back), Inverness (to Dores and back), and throughout Edinburgh. In total, this probably ended up being about $15 per person.

We also booked most of our longer local travel through Megabus.

  • London to Inverness (about $20 per person, 14 hour route)
  • Inverness to Edinburgh (about $5 per person, 4 hour route)
  • Edinburgh back to London (about $15 per person, 10 hour route)

The other bus we booked was a special bus that literally just went from London to Oxford round trip for a day without any stops in between. I can’t remember the name of the company, but this was about $20 per person.

uk
On the bus to Oxford

So in total, on buses outside of London, we spent $75 per person.

Finally, we did take a train round trip from London to Cardiff as a splurge. There were buses available, but this was the cheapest route available by train and William really wanted to try one out while we were there! Per person, our train travel round trip was about $60.

uk2
Train Ride to Cardiff

Drum roll please…….In total on ALL transportation, big and small, we spent about $200 per person. For 2 weeks.

Attractions:

William and I did pretty much everything we could possibly fit in, but a lot of the sightseeing was free.

uk10
Most museums in London are free, including the famous British History Museum

For those things that aren’t free in London, they most likely are covered under the London Pass. You can buy a 1,2,3,6, or 10 day pass. We decided to buy the 3 day one because it would save us the most money in the end. It was about $80 per person, but when you consider that certain attractions, such as the Tower of London, are like $30 alone, it adds up quickly.

uk9
Tower of London

You can also add an Oyster transportation option into your London pass, but when we went, it wouldn’t save us as much money.

We paid for other attractions just at the gate (or bought tickets online), as well as booked an undergrounded haunted tour in Edinburgh. We also booked a full day tour that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. Admission to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge were included, as well as the transportation and lunch for $90 per person.

uk1
Stonehenge

So for attractions, we spent about $250 per person in total.

Meals:

This is where we REALLY cut back.

Breakfast – For breakfast in London, there was a Sainsbury grocery store down the street a few blocks. This store would always have something called a 3 pound meal deal. For 3 pounds (about $5), we could get a sandwich or some pasta, a bag of chips and a drink. Breakfast was included in Wales and Inverness at our hotel/b&b. Breakfast Total per person: $55.

Lunch and Dinner – We basically ate at KFC and McDonalds for every meal, because everything else was so expensive. Therefore, our meals totaled at about $5 per person per meal. We did branch out every once in a while, so we don’t feel like the trip was “wasted” or ruined. Food isn’t my biggest priority when traveling anyway though.

We ate at a traditional British pub and a Chinatown restaurant in London, as well as a really local neat pub in Dores, Scotland where we tried Haggis.

Total per person for Lunch and Dinner combined: $150.

Total spent on food per person for the whole trip: $205.

Summary:

So the grand total is……. $1,065 per person for EVERYTHING.

Keep in mind this does depend on your priorities. Time is a priority you have to pay for. If you don’t want to take a 14 hour bus ride, it will cost you. Better meals and local fare will cost more. Taking taxis or renting a car will cost more.

But all I really care about in the end is experiencing and seeing the city I’m in. I am pretty much willing to do anything to get there. And William and I had an AMAZING time on this trip!

If that still sounds like too much for a 2 week trip across the UK, keep these tips in mind.

  • I did splurge on some meals
  • I could have bought groceries
  • I could have waited to have all the miles I needed for airfare (reducing the cost per person by $300)
  • I could have earned hotel points and had free lodging (reducing the cost per person by $360)! Or
  • I could have used Airbnb, alltherooms.com , or stayed in a hostel to cut back on lodging costs
  • I could have taken a bus instead of a train to Wales
  • I could have cut out certain attractions

In the end, if you want to get there, you can do it! Do your research, plan in advance, save those points. And I’m always glad to help.