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Belize for Couples

The best things in life are the perfect mix of two ingredients:  strawberries and cream, jam and toast, peanut butter and jelly.  We have found the perfect combination of the carefree Caribbean and the flair of Latin American:  Belize.

We’ve put together the perfect couple’s itinerary for your visit to this paradise.  We found 10 days was ideal to relax and see the key sites.

The exchange rate with United States dollar is set at one dollar for every two Belizean dollars. This makes monetary conversions very simple. Most places take American dollars and credit cards.  English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to have a little Spanish in your back pocket.

Getting There

Belize has one major airport in Belize City.  It is easily accessible from just about anywhere in the lower 48 states.  Major departure cities include: Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston.  We elected the three-hour flight from Dallas.  It could not have been easier.

Once you arrive, take a taxi into Belize City. The airport is a ways out-of-town, about 10 miles.  It should cost US $25.  Don’t pay more than that.  (You are already paying double what the locals pay.)  Candidly, we didn’t find much to see in Belize City.  There are some rough spots, make sure you take precautions for personal safety, especially at night. Have your taxi drop you off at the boat terminal. From here you can purchase tickets and board boats to the many island locations. We elected to take a boat to Ambergris Caye.  If time is an issue you can also book a short flight from the Belize City to San Pedro. The boat takes roughly an hour and a half.  The flight will get you there in 30 minutes. The boat ride can be a little rough depending on weather.

Costa Blu Belize

Costa Blu Belize

Resort Life

We highly recommend that you start your vacation on the beach. Select from one of many resort locations along the ocean. You can get everything from simple accommodations to five-star resorts. Definitely pick one with the pool.  We elected to stay at the beautiful Costa Blu Resort at Ambergris Caye.  It is an intimate resort that focuses on providing world-class diving.  The staff is friendly, and the food on premises is really good.  We highly recommend the conch ceviche!

Snorkeling

Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world.   Definitely bring your Go Pro camera!   Your resort can help you in booking snorkeling trips. We elected to use Tuff N Nuff. We went out for two different half day excursions: shark alley, and Mexico rocks. We would recommend both to you. The excellent dive masters were so helpful and patient. Eric was especially nice to Luci who had trouble with her mask at first. They provide all the gear that you need.  They also offer insights into the flora and fauna you will see. If you are scuba certified or would like to become so, there are so many places that offer this service. Again they provide all of the equipment and excellent dive masters. On our visit to Mexico rocks, we swam with nurse sharks, turtles, and even an moray eel.  It was incredible.

 

Chill at the pool/beach

Arriving in Belize you immediately go into relax mode. Whether it’s sitting by the beach or enjoying the sun by the pool, you cannot help at leave all your worries behind.  We elected to have a couples massage right on the beach. Our resort arranged it and the cost was reasonable. We paid $90 for a 90 minute massage with the sounds of the sea and breeze tickling our faces.

Shopping at San Pedro

The major town located on the peninsula is called San Pedro. This rough and tumble beach town gives you access to a wonderful restaurants, souvenir shops, and more T-shirt shops and you can shake a stick at. We highly recommend Elvi’s restaurant for lunch or dinner. You’re not going to find high-end retail shops here. Just the sort that offer fun little trinkets to remember your trip.

Once your stress has melted away when you’re ready for adventure hop on the boat or plane back to the mainland. Here you’re going to need to rent a car. After doing our research there’s only one place that could offer the border transfer documents into Guatemala and that is Crystal Auto.  They have a solid selection of vehicles, it is not a bad idea to rent a jeep   Buy the GPS.  Cell service is a little spotty there. The main roads in Belize are fine, but you have a lot of large speed bumps and potholes the size of Texas or a German Shepherd. There is one major road running north and south and east to west.

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Day trip to Tikal Mayan Ruins

We highly recommend a side trip to Tikal, the ruins in western Guatemala. It is a beautiful four-hour drive from Belize City. Well worth the travel. You will need to have a rental car that allows you to leave Belize and enter Guatemala. Crossing the border is a bit of an adventure.  The Belize side is fairly straightforward, the Guatemalan side not so much. You will need to trade some Belizean dollars into Guatemalan dollars. Keep in mind, border agents only speak Spanish on the Guatemalan side.  Be prepared for a lot of gestures and pointing.  There are a lot of teenage boys and men more than willing to help you figure out the border procedures, especially if you have a car. We let them help us and tipped them afterwards.

IMPORTANT:  You also need some Guatemalan dollars in order to enter in the Tikal National Park. We made the mistake of not having cash, we had to drive all the way back roughly an hour each way to get cash. Do not make this mistake.

There are two hotels in the park.  Accommodations are not stellar. Both are a bit rustic. We recommend staying inside the park as travel in and out of the park takes a lot of time. There are many guides that are available via your hotel.  Please visit with them before you book your tour. The command of good English is not widespread.  If you keep walking at a good pace you can see the entire complex in one day. You will definitely want to take pictures in the morning and evening, as the light is best. Pack gallons of mosquito spray and sunscreen: both will be an issue.  We elected to take the sunrise tour. This was a mistake. We did not check the weather. Eight out of ten days you will not be able to see the sunrise. The fog is too thick. Have your hotel check the weather forecast for the morning.

There is definitely a different feel in Guatemala. The language barrier is significant at times. The culture is remarkably different. With that said, well worth the adventure.

ATM Cave

Hands-down our favorite activity in Belize was visiting the ATM cave. You will need to book a trip in advance with a tour company that leads small groups through to Cave. You will need to be able to: swim, climb, and be ready for a significant hike.  The ATM cave complex is ancient Mayan religious site.  The cave is filled with archaeological artifacts and geological formations. Cameras and video cameras are not allowed in the cave. Sorry we don’t have any pictures. You begin the morning about 8 a.m..  Your guides will pick you up from your hotel.  From the main parking lot, your guide will take you on a short jungle hike, which includes a river crossing. There is a rope stretched across the river to use your crossing.

At the mouth of the cave you guide will give you a short introduction of what you will see in the caves and the will emphasize importance of staying together. The company will supply you with a helmet and a flashlight for your helmet. There is a moderate creek that runs through the cave. At the mouth of the cave your swim roughly 50 yards   The rest of the journey will be hiking and climbing.

Toward the end of the hike you will climb a ladder remove your shoes and walk into the main sacrificial chamber. There you will see a well-preserved skeleton of a sacrificed Mayan as well as interesting pottery and other ancient artifacts.

The entire experience was impressive.  It was unlike anything we have ever done.   We highly recommend it. It is a bit on the expensive side running roughly US$100 per person.  The guide service provides lunch, and transportation to and from your hotel in the area.

Caracol

If you’re up for another day of exploring Mayan ruins. We highly recommend Caracol ruins. Getting there is a wonderful adventure. You will need a high clearance or a jeep type vehicle to get there. There are several small river crossings as well as some jungle jeeping to get to the location. It is roughly 2 hour drive on a rough unpaved road. Toward the end of the journey you will need an armed guard to get to the ruins. Each day the Belizean army runs an armed guard service from the army base into the ruins. There’s no cost for this service but you have to be on time. There’s a sign in & out location there. Don’t let this scare you away, it is really straight forward and safe.

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Make sure you have plenty of fuel as well as food as there are no services on the entire road into the ruins. There are guide services that can take you on this trip if you would like. Candidly, the drive in and out of Carocol is a lot of fun.  What makes the ruins better than Tikal would be the number of people.   There were only other 15 people at the entire complex during our visit. This makes for great pictures and you can take your time and seeing each of the ruins.

Enjoy your trip to Belize! The country offers something for the body and soul.  Relax on the beach, swim with schools of fish, then explore the ruins of an ancient civilization.

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Fighting at the Better Marriage Conference

 

Better marriages 2015

Exciting news!  The Fighting Couple have been invited to be presenters at the upcoming Better Marriages Conference in St. Louis, MO on July 9-11th, 2015.  If you live in the mid-west and your relationship could use a tune up.  (Who doesn’t?) We invite you to join us!

The conference is being put on by BetterMarriages.org.  Their mission is to promote better marriages by providing enrichment opportunities and resources to strengthen couples.  They have regional events throughout the year that promote vibrant relationships.  Once a year the organization holds their Annual Marriage Conference, inviting couples from across the country to participate in helpful workshops to improve their relationship.

So what will the Fighting Couple be sharing?  Sorry, It’s top secret.  Let’s just say it is going to include a lot of laughs, a few wild and crazy stories from the road, a dash of couple advice, and a lot of fighting.

Are you thinking of attending?  Need more info?  Check out their website:  Conference Info

This will be our first visit to the gateway city.  We are beyond excited to discover what this wonderful city has to offer.  Any locals have any tips/recommendations/good BBQ joints?  Send us a note!

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How to See Machu Picchu

On top of almost everyone’s bucket list lies a very special location: Machu Picchu. This mountain fortress located just outside Aquas Caliente is just one of them most special places we have visited in our travels. The commanding views from Machu Picchu rival any vista we have taken in.

Why go?

We get asked a lot, is Machu Picchu really that cool? Take our word for it:  It is. Set your expectations high: few places live up to the exquisite beauty, intricate history, and fascinating architecture.  Machu Picchu certainly one does.   The only thing likely to ruin your visit is weather.  We will talk about that later.  So what is Machu Picchu?  The Inca Fortress of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century. It is a collection of 150 buildings, temples, homes and bath houses. It was apparently abandoned 100 years or so after its construction due to reasons unknown. There is no evidence that Europeans ever laid eyes on it during their conquests in South America in the 1600s.

The Perfect Day at Machu Picchu

The Perfect Day at Machu Picchu

You may want to check out National Geographic’s “10 secrets of Machu Picchu.”

Machu Picchu was “rediscovered” by a Yale professor named Hiram Bingham. Bingham engaged local residents to assist him in exploring the area. They led him to the ruins that had been taken over by the jungle growth. Over the next 4-5 year Bingham led expeditions to clear the growth and uncover one of the wonders of the world.

Why go? The site is fascinating on so many levels. First you have the intricate stonework that makes up the entire fortress. The farming techniques using terraces with mud from the river below is incredible. Little is known of the ancient Inca religion, but temples and religious sites are on display in the mountain perch. Again, the views from Machu Picchu are simply breathtaking. The green mountains cut against the blue sky are something to behold in person. If you love photography, You will fall in love with Machu Picchu.

But the real reason you should go to Machu Picchu, is the spiritual energy of the place. It’s difficult to describe. Here you are in such a beautiful setting, amid architecture that is way before its time, you sense that this is a wonder of the world.

When to go

Machu Picchu is open to visitors year round. The entire area is a jungle climate zone, so rain is always a possibility. It does rain more in October to mid April. The peak visitors season is July-August. But if you select this time to visit, be prepared for hordes of people. We visited in April and it was perfect.   Always pack a sport towel to wipe down the camera.

Machu Picchu

It is hard to take a bad picture of the place.

Getting There

We must be candid, getting to Machu Picchu is not easy. It is not close to anything. With that said there is an easy way and hard way to get to Machu Picchu. Before we get to the way that we prefer, you must know that there are a number of different hikes through the sacred Valley along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This is a much beloved route of backpackers from around the world. They brag about the beauty of the trail leading to the fortress. There are many guides and travel agencies that can arrange all of the details for this kind of trip. Everything from rustic camping to full on ultra “glamping.”   We have heard some backpackers complain that after traveling the Inca Trail, visiting Machu Picchu was actually anti-climatic.

The whole camping hiking thing is just not for us.

For those who are pressed for time or want to take the easy way, We will walk you through it. Most journeys to Machu Picchu begin in Cuzco, Peru. We flew from Lima to Cuzco, then used it as our base to see the Sacred Valley and Machu.

Peru Rail now runs the main train from Cusco to Augas Calientes. There is also a luxury option called the Hiram Bingham run by the Orient Express. The train trip runs 3.5 hours one way. (Sit on the left side of the train going up. It has the best views of the river.) Overnighting in Aguas and coming back the next day is always a viable option. We were pressed for time and did the whole thing in one day, which is doable, just keep in mind the train waits for no one. The train doesn’t actually depart from Cusco, it departs from a little suburb called Poroy. It takes 20 mins or so from your hotel in downtown to get to the train station. The ride takes you along the beautiful Urubamba River. You see a number of little farms and families along the way. Simply beautiful. You can also see the hardworking Sherpa’s linking up with hikers headed out to take on the Inca Trail.

The beginning of the Inca Trail.  This is the HARD way to get to Machu Picchu.

The beginning of the Inca Trail. This is the HARD way to get to Machu Picchu.

As stated above, Machu Picchu is extremely popular. Train tickets do sell out. It is critical that you buy you tickets on the Peru Rail site as early as possible.  You will also need to purchase your tickets into Machu Picchu as well, in advance.

Once you arrive in Augas Calientes, buy water. You can secure a guide in town if you wish, but the entire site is seeable with a guidebook. We actually did both. We saved all our questions for our guide. You then board the bus and head up the switch backs. If you are at all motion sickness prone, meds would be appropriate. These bus drivers are crazy! It is a two-hour hike by foot one way.

The winding road to Machu Picchu

The winding road to Machu Picchu

There are bathroom facilities at the venue. Bring some bills or coins for the tip. There is a small snack bar there at the main gate.  Once you leave that venue, you will need you actual passport to get back in.  DONT FORGET TO BRING YOUR PASSPORT!

If you elect to see Machu Picchu’s sister Huayna Picchu, you will need a separate ticket to climb the peak. Our good friends returned from attempting the hike last year. It is rigorous, and at altitude, keep that in mind.

Fighting Couple Tip: Eat an early or late lunch and let the crowds go eat. You will get some great pictures, like this one:

Machu Picchu

The Views of Machu Picchu. Mike taking it all in. There is something special about this place.

Machu Picchu is truly one of the wonders of the world. We cant recommend it enough to you. Have you been? What were your impressions? Any tips for couples wanting to see the place? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

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A Ticket to South Africa

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”—Ernest Hemingway

They say that you shouldn’t start blog posts with a quote.  They say that it some how takes away from rest of the post.  I think that is bunk.  Hemingway was onto something.  His thoughtful comment completely captures how we feel about Africa.  While our visit to South Africa was short, it changed us forever.  We want to take you along on our discovery.

Township south Africa

A view of Soweto

The Soweto

Our African experience began in Johannesburg, South Africa, affectionately known as Jo’Burg.  We endured the long flight from the States.  It continues to amaze us that you can board a flying tin can and travel half way around the world in less than a day.  Once we got our feet underneath us, we joined up with our guide Henry and headed for the Soweto.  Soweto is short for “South Western Township.”   The sprawling shanty metropolis is the home to 1.3 million people.  It has a rough and difficult history that we won’t dive into here; needless to say, we felt that it was important to see and attempt to understand first hand.  Our guide drove us around the Soweto, pointing out the hospital, when electricity came to the area, and how all the city functioned. Our guide took us into a couple of homes. We met the families that lived there.  Our “abundance guilt” bubbled up in our hearts.  A visit to the township was powerfully instructive. We ended our tour at Nelson Mandela’s house and mentally exhausted.

The next morning we hired our rental car for our adventure.   You would think that we would engage a Range Rover for the self-guided safari that we were embarking on?  No, we went cheap.  We opted for the four-cylinder Chevy Aveo.  Bad decision.  But we will save that story for a little later.  We headed north on highway one.  Our destination:  Zimbabwe.

Going into Zimbabwe

Crossing the border into Zimbabwe

Destination Zimbabwe

One of Luci’s lifetime goals is to visit Zimbabwe.  Why would an Idaho farm girl set a crazy goal like that?  We do not know.  The journey took a little over 5 hours.  As we approached the border crossing, we began to have second thoughts.  Zimbabwe does not have the friendliest relations with our fair country.  We parked at the South African checkpoint on the south bank of the Limpopo River.  We went in and were greeted by a grim-faced bureaucrat.  We explained our intent to cross into Zimbabwe, get our Passport stamped and return.  We both saw the blood kind of drain out of his face.

“Why are you doing this thing?” He politely asked.  We smiled and tried to explain.  Rather than attempt to counter our stupidity, he instructed us to do a number of things for our safety.  “Pull your car around to the front of the building, it will likely be stolen or broken into.  Go there, come back quickly and see me when you return so I know that you have returned safely.”

Zimbabwe border

Welcome to Zimbabwe

At this point, both of us were having second thoughts.  If our rental car company didn’t want us to drive across this river into this country, why in the world are we going across?  Like walking the plank, we bravely marched across the baboon ridden bridge.  We were headed by foot to Zimbabwe.  We were obviously tourists. Luci had her camera around her neck.  We didn’t have our belongings wrapped in a sheet or carrying grocery sacks across the bridge on our heads like others crossing.  As we approached, we were welcomed by camo-clad militia men with AK-47s strapped to their backs.  Each in turn looked at us with healthy suspicion.  We nervously whispered back and forth to each other…”keep walking, keep walking.”   We entered the run down custom’s house.  It was sheer craziness.  Crowds pushed forward to face the three to four border agents that were behind bars.

The heat that day was blistering.  Humidity was off the charts.  The air was close in the steamy small room.  We were unsure of ourselves.  Our naivety was written on our faces.  A couple of different agents came from one of the back rooms and pulled us aside and suggested that we pay them to make the process go faster.  We declined.  The price was adjusted.  Again we opted out.  In the developing situation, it soon became clear that the likelihood that we were going to make it out of the experience without our wallets being lightened significantly was highly unlikely.  Was it worth it for the Passport stamp?  I said, “Let’s go.”  We walked out.  We dashed back across the bridge to check back with our caring friend and find our car unmolested.  We had accomplished our goal.  We had set foot in Zimbabwe.  The adventure was just beginning.

South Africa Safari woman

The view from the veranda of the lodge.

 

A peaceful outpost

We made our way back into the savanna of South Africa.  We had done our research and found a quaint bed and breakfast on a small reservoir, the Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge.  This was our first taste of the night sounds of Africa.  It was wonderful.  We had our dinner on the veranda overlooking the water and listened.  We recounted our brave adventures that day and started to connect with the place that we had traveled so far to see.

The next morning we would head out on our self-serve safari to see some of the most incredible animals in the world.

Africa was truly a grand adventure!

 

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A Sweet Break in Paris: The Gourmet Chocolate Museum Choco-story

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Tree Hugger: Because no other tree brings so much joy to my life.

Paris: the city of love, and all things decadent. A person could spend all day gazing at antiquity at the Louvre (or getting left there), shopping at designer boutiques, or gawking at window displays of towering macaroons. But one thing you shouldn’t miss is another decadent experience, one that you and your spouse won’t fight about: Chocolate.

The Gourmet Chocolate Museum in Paris otherwise known as the Choco-story Museum should be on every tourist’s list. It was on 1000 Fights and we are glad we took the time to go there. Sometimes you can feel a little museumed-out in Paris. There is a museum for everything. But take heed. No other museum will leave you wanting to hug a Cacao tree or tasting the best hot chocolate tasting in the world.

The Choco-story: Gourmet Chocolate Museum is relatively new on the museum scene; it opened in 2010.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less impressive than some of the century old cousins.

We rode the metro to Bonne Nouvelle and walked a few steps. It was clear this wasn’t a major tourist area. The street leading up the museum was lined with food trucks, with crepes, ice cream, and other delightful sweets at half the price of the area around the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. The visit was starting off right! But I only had one thing in mind: chocolate.

Just one of hundreds of examples of antiquity surrounding chocolate. This particular relic has a cacao bean front and center.

Just one of hundreds of examples of antiquity surrounding chocolate. This particular relic has a cacao bean front and center. Perhaps for fertility?

The entrance price to get into the museum is 9 Euros and 3 Euros for hot chocolate at the end of the tour. I thought the price of the hot chocolate was a little high, but after having it, I would have gladly paid double.

As we entered, I tried not to get distracted as a wall of chocolate at the gift shop beckoned me to taste. But I kept trekking. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the history of cacao and chocolate. It begins with the basic beginning of chocolate; the cacao bean and how long it’s been worshiped, literally.

Chocolate isn’t older than dirt, but close. Visitors are able to transport themselves back in time and walk through 4000 years of history from the Mayans to the Aztecs to Columbus. No Paris museum would be complete without historical artifacts and the Chocolate Museum is no different. I was surprised the extent of the collection of Mayan and Aztec relics. It painted a picture of how much the cacao influenced the culture. There was even a section on the cacao bean used as currency and as an offering to the God Quetzalcoatl.

Rabbit anyone? It will cost you 10 cacao beans. Aztecs used cacao beans as cash. It was that valuable!

Rabbit anyone? It will cost you 10 cacao beans. Aztecs used cacao beans as cash. It was that valuable!

The second floor of the museum is more modern: the last 500 years, essentially beginning with Columbus’ first taste of the drink Tchocatl (he didn’t like it) to modern Europe. There are cases full of chocolate cups/mugs and chocolate services. You can tell a chocolate cup versus a tea cup because the mouth of the cup is much larger. A chocolate pot will have an opening in the top to froth. There is also a delightful section of antique chocolate boxes.

I discovered to my delight, that a ceramic figurine of a woman I inherited is really a chocolate box from the early 1900s. Chocolate boxes used to be quite ornate and are now collectible After oohing and awing over the chocolate services vs. tea services, we headed downstairs to the basement.

Note the openings for the wooden frothers.

Note the openings on the top of the pot for the wooden frothers.

Just some of the many antique chocolate boxes on display.

Examples of the many antique chocolate boxes on display.

The basement of the museum is dedicated modern chocolate. There are fun games for kids to play.  One of my faves was a computer adapted test to show you which kind of chocolate you like the most and why. I like white (it’s the fat of the cocoa bean) and milk (more sugar). But the best way to end the tour is with a demonstration on how modern chocolate is made. The museum uses commercial grade chocolate from Belgium for its samples and gift shop called Belcolade. It’s worth an airline ticket just to taste it. It’s the second largest chocolate producer in Belgium and they use 100 percent cocoa butter. When

you taste the chocolate, you can tell it’s the real deal.

During the demonstration, a docent shows how a praline filled chocolate is made. The docent had Belcolade chocolate made and then showed how commercial molds and machines help set the chocolate. The sample was amazing, but not as amazing as the hot chocolate. As we exited, we got to choose from six types of chocolate including Aztec, Spanish, speculoos (gingerbread), hazelnut, milk and dark. The hot chocolate isn’t powdered, prepackaged, grossness. It’s a literal chunk of chocolate on a stick that is set in the steaming hot milk to melt and enjoy. When the Chocolate Museum says hot chocolate, they literally mean hot chocolate.

The tour took about two and half hours. You could do the museum in less than hour, but it wouldn’t take more than three. Unlike some museums where I felt tired and overloaded, I left the Chocolate Museum on a sugar high and ready for some more adventure. With all that Paris has to offer, it’s a sweet break not to be missed.

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Painted Ladies: A San Francisco Walk About

Its time to fall in love with some painted Ladies in San Francisco.  The Fighting Couple has been on lots of tours and by tours we mean, academic, informative, open-ended questions, catered to a small group, kind of tours. We don’t follow umbrellas. We learn so much on “good” tours that we like to go on tours even when it’s a city we have been to many times.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italiantes, Queen Anne and Stick.

There are three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne and Stick.

So on a recent couple’s trip to San Francisco;I jumped at the chance to go on a Victorian Home Walk.  Enter our guide, Jay.  Jay gave one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.  I’ve always had a fascination with Victorian homes. I find them beautiful and after going on the walk with Jay, I adore them even more.

Painted Ladies Tour

I met Jay with a few other folks at Union Square. As an introduction to what we would be seeing, he explained how the area once was full of single family housing prior to the 1906 earthquake.  Standing there looking at a crowed shopping center and the sea of humanity milling around, it’s hard to imagine the now commercialized area was once home to thousands before the fire associated with the earthquake leveled the wooden homes. Jay was very knowledgeable about the housing patterns before and after the earthquake and fire changed the city.  I have a mid-blog post confession.  I am curious. (Mike would say nosey!)  You know when you are on a “good” tour when the tour guide can actually answer your questions!

Pacific Heights

Our exploration of the antique homes took us to the Pacific Heights area. Going on the Victorian Home Walk is just that: a walking tour.   Our first stop was the gorgeous Queen Anne Hotel. How I want to stay there! Before we went inside, Jay trained us to spot the three types of Victorian homes: Italianate, Queen Anne, and Stick. Then we ventured inside the splendid hotel and had free rein to look around. It’s gorgeous! The former girl’s school is a Victorian’s dream hotel. Its plush interior and ornate furnishings represent classic Victorian style, and like Jay said, “No one could stuff a room like a Victorian.”

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

Gorgeous example of craftsmanship, but the paint is far from authentic.

As we walked down Pine Street to Webster and over to Broadway, Jay pointed out how Victorian homes changed over time. As technology improved, the outside of homes became more decorative. But then it wasn’t hip anymore to look ostentatious. For instance, during the 30s and 40s any ornate fixtures on the outside of the homes were replaced to make it look more modern or in my humble opinion: plain. The exteriors were painted stucco or replaced with dull siding. The first floor gardens of the Italianates were removed to make room for the automobile. The boxed shaped livery stables are now condos.

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My favorite home on the tour. It’s so delicate.

One of my biggest fascinations was the change in color of Victorian homes. Painted Lady, anyone? No, that’s not a Yuppie drink at your favorite bar. It’s the term originated in San Francisco for Victorians painted with three or more colors. Most Victorian homes weren’t painted that way to begin with; in fact, painting your restored Victorian multiple colors to accent the trim and gingerbread didn’t become popular until the 1960s. Originally, Victorians were painted with three colors: the window trim was painted black or very dark green, highlights were white and the overall house color was one color, usually an earth tone that would not fade or show the dirt like brown or dark green. If you see a beautiful home today with a rainbow of colors (yellow, green, blue, red), it’s fun and makes the house pop, but it’s following the pop culture of 40 years ago, not the original color schemes.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian.

Another classic Italianate style Victorian. Note how there is now a garage where a garden once grew.

The pace of the tour was steady, but not like a race. I never felt at any time that I was rushed. It was also casual enough that there was appropriate downtime to quiz our guide on the things we were seeing. “Why does this house have three doors?  Why does this house have a bay window but the one next door doesn’t?  When was this built?” You get the gist. I’m sure Jay was glad when I stopped asking questions!  This tour tops our things to do in San Francisco list.

Did you know that you can “Ask the Fighting Couple Anything?”

Celebrity Mansions

The tour lasted roughly two and a half hours. We ended the tour in the she-she-la-la area of celebrity mansions overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Jay pointed out Jessica McClintock mansion-painted all white like her designer wedding gowns. We saw the house from Mrs. Doubtfire and the house a few doors down where Robin Williams lived. Jay was full of celebrity gossip from those who live or lived in the area. But you’ll have to go on the tour; I won’t dish any here.

What struck me most about this tour was Jay’s unique knowledge about the individual homes we saw. It’s wasn’t the kind of stuff you could find in a history book. It was the type of information he personally gathered from living in the city and doing tours for 20 years.  Most of all, I never felt like I was on parade. In fact, I felt like a local being shown around by a local. I wasn’t on tour bus with a bored driver reading an approved script over a microphone.  I was shown a local side of San Francisco, a place where people live.  

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

Jay the Victorian home fountain of knowledge.

And just like a local, when we ended the tour at the Union Street Shops, Jay showed us which restaurants to the get the best sandwich, the best pasta and the best seafood. I treated myself to a to a pumpkin spice cream puff at Pacific Puffs.

The next time you are in San Francisco; don’t miss the  Victorian Home Walk. It will be the best $25 you spend in the city.

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Victorian Home Walk who provided this experience.  Check some gorgeous painted ladies out next time you are in San Francisco.

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Two Turkish Delights

One of the great under-discovered locations we have visited is Turkey.   We want to take you to two of the most interesting places to visit on your holiday in Turkey.

girl hot springs Pamukkale-The Cotton Castle

Have you ever wanted to walk on clouds?  A visit to Pamukkale will give you that chance.  Located in central Turkey is one of the world’s geological wonders.  Pamukkale in Turkish or Cotton Castle in English was formed by the 17 hot springs in the area.  Water coming from the springs ranges from  95 °F (35 °C ) to  212 °F  (100 °C)!  The water carries calcium carbonate that creates white deposits called travertine.  The creation is so striking.  As we drove into the area the stark white cliffs took our breath away.  The entire side of the cliffs are made up of small pools that drip down to the next.  It almost looks like the entire side of the mountain is covered in snow.

What to do?

view of hot springsHow does soaking in natural hot springs and swimming around the ruins of a Greek Temple of Hierapolis sound?  Drive up the back side of the mountain to the large parking area.  There you have two options.  You can head for yourself and go from pool to pool along the cliff.  The water is not “hot” but the pools are lukewarm.  They are not very deep, not even close for any kind of swimming, but more suited for sitting and soaking.  This is an extremely popular place for both Turks and visitors from abroad. This has been the case for the past 2000+ years!  The best part of taking in the pools is the view of the valley in the distance.  Beautiful!

The second option is to take in the Pamukkale resort.  It is a facility that surrounds the pools with the Greek ruins.  There is a nominal charge to go swimming.  There are facilities for food, clothing change as well as lounging and people watching.

Pamukkle hot springs

In addition to enjoying the hot springs, the Pamukkale area is surrounded by archaeological and cultural historic sites.  One of the seven churches of Revelation is located a short distance away.  Check out our recent post on visiting all seven of the locations.

 The Best of Bodrum

Our next stop on our Turkish adventure is the beach resort city of Bodrum.  If you’re looking for a Turkish escape that will stir your senses, a holiday to Bodrum will be perfect for you. This picture perfect resort hums with the hustle and bustle of locals and holiday makers alike enjoying the sunshine in the beautiful Bodrum bay.

Situated on the south western side of Turkey, Bodrum commands a stunning coastline that marries with the Aegean Sea. Enjoy long, lazy days relaxing on Bodrum’s golden beaches, not forgetting to dabble in some fun water sports to ensure you have a holiday to remember. Bodrum is perfect for families with small children, thanks to the warm, shallow waters that gently lap the soft sands – perfect for paddling and building sandcastles with the kids! There’s a lot for the grownups to enjoy too, such as a romantic sunset stroll along the shore sinking your toes into the soft sand.  Highly recommended!

Romantic Bodrum

If you fancy exploring on holiday, you won’t be disappointed with the sights and sounds of this picture perfect location. The breathtaking Bodrum Castle is a must see, as well as the cosmopolitan marina dotted with colorful boats creating a contrast of the traditional and modern. The castle hosts several fabulous festivals every year, creating a party atmosphere not to be missed – it’s definitely worth trying to tie your holiday date in with one of these events if you love to dance the night away. Take a stroll through the old town, barter with the locals for fine handmade goods or get lost in a bustling bazaar for an hour or two. There’s no shortage of new sights to discover in Bodrum, so you’re guaranteed a new experience every day of your holiday.

One of the best ways to visit this wonderful corner of the world is to join a tour operator. You can book Thomas Cook packages to Bodrum at any time of year, as the Mediterranean climate ensures hot, sunny, summer days and mild, balmy winters.

Add these two wonderful Turkish destinations to your travel plans.

 

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Tell us your Mistletoe Moment and Win $150

We are looking for the best Mistletoe Moment from 2012!  The lovely winner will be awarded a $150 Visa gift card!  Wow!  Finally it is OK to Kiss and Tell!

Christmas kissSo what exactly is a Mistletoe Moment you ask?

Simply put, it’s a moment in time when you and your special someone get taken in by your surroundings, the sights, and smells but most of all, each other!  You could be with 10,000 tourists in St. Mark’s Square in Venice or in the middle of the Amazon where you are surrounded by 10,000 bugs!  It could be anywhere/anyone?/anytime but it MUST be magical!

The holidays are a wonderful time to remind us the importance of one another.  Here at 1000Fights we believe that the greatest gift we give is each other.   We celebrate all of you couples, especially those of you that get out and explore the world together.

 

wedding day

The Kahles our 2011 Winners

To get your creative juices going, here is the winner from 2011 :

The Kahle’s from Wanderlivin

“A wedding can mean many different things to different people. To the bride it’s the most important day of her life. That’s why when I was told my hairdresser canceled on me the day before the wedding I tried to shake it off. When half of my family couldn’t come because of Hurricane Irene I tried to shake it off. When my photographer didn’t show up – I couldn’t shake it off. Walking down the aisle in distress I saw my husband and the way he looked at me as I walked down the aisle. When I reached him I pulled his face down for a kiss before the minister could even start as the waves of Monterrey Bay crashed around us and bridesmaids giggled at the ministers disapproval.”

You can read the other great entries from last year HERE.

 

How to enter?  Just two easy steps:

1) In 50-ish words or less, tell us about your “Mistletoe Moment” in the comments section below.  We want all the details: when, where and why.

2) Give us a “like” 1000Fights on Facebook here.  Then leave a comment,: “I had a Mistletoe Moment!” Here.

Stay tuned we will soon announce our celebrity Judges.

 

The Fine Print    (sorry, but it’s really not that bad.)

1) Mistletoe Moment must have taken place in 2012.

2) Entries will be accepted till midnight December 24th, 2012.

3) Final selections will be made by our awesome panel of judges. (To be announced soon!)

4) We will announce the winner on our webpage on December 26th, 2012.

5) This contest is not valid where prohibited. (What a terrible place to be!)

6) Please keep Mistletoe Moments rated (PG-13 or PG, no G’s allowed!)

7) Prize will be delivered via Paypal, or another agreeable method.

8) The last one we promise…remember its OK to Kiss and tell!

 

Please share our little contest with your friends!!!  Just click below to share on Facebook or Twitter.  (Thank you!)

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3 tips for Sun Seeking in the South of Spain

The Spanish do a lot of things very well: revolution, paella and SUNSHINE!  With its sun soaked beaches, lofty climbs, and vibrant cities, Spain continues to invite sun seekers from near and far.   We want to take you along to visit three of our favorite locations for the perfect holiday in Spain.  Don’t forget the sunscreen.

Gaudi BarcelonaThe Terraces of Barcelona

Let’s start our sun seeking tour at the heart of Southern Spain, Barcelona.  Barcelona’s mix of style, art, and warmth beckons sun seekers.  One of the central figures of the city is the renowned master architect Gaudi.  His thumbprint is all over the cityscape.  Barcelona is home to one of his masterpieces which is a sun seekers dream: Park Güell.  For the “un-Spanished” the word Güell is pronounced “Gwell”.   The park is actually an abandoned upscale housing development envisioned by Gaudi which included villas, an elaborate water collection system, shops and the highlight, the gardens.  Gaudi’s talent was injecting animals and nature themes into his designs.   The park is filled with little touches that create interesting finds at every turn.  The focus of the park is its outlining benches.  The tile benches surround the city facing portion of the park.  Gaudi elected to use a snake like theme, which creates these small intimate bends and nooks for sitting with your loved one enjoying the sun.

Getting to Park Guell is a little bit of a chore.  By Metro, Take the green line to the stop “Lesseps”.  From there follow the signs that lead to the entrance of the park.  It is a roughly a 20 minute walk.  It is located at the top of a steep hill.  The effort is well worth it!

Montserrat

TramThe next stop on our Southern Spain sun tour is the mountaintop location, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  This wonderful Benedictine abbey is located 30 miles west of Barcelona.  It is perfect for a daytrip outside the city.  From this wonderful perch you can take in one of the most amazing views in all of Catalonia.  There are a number of small hikes that you can take from the abbey.  This is going to sound a little crazy, but the food at the cafeteria of the abbey is actually really good.   There is not an entrance fee to the Montserrat Monastery but if you wish to visit the museum the entrance fee costs €6.50 for adults.  Of course, you are there for the sun.  Pack a picnic and take a walk across the smooth stones of the mountain top and take in the glorious sunshine.

Getting to Montserrat is half the fun.  Shrug off the easy way and forgo the cram packed tour bus.  Simply catch the Line R5 train headed toward Manresa at the Espanya rail station.  Tickets are very affordable.  I don’t think we paid over $20.  It takes about an hour to get from the Espanya station to the Montserrat stop.  Once there, enter the ticket office and purchase your tram ticket.  Pick a spot to stand near the windows and make sure your camera is set, because the ride up to the top is simply amazing!

Did you know that you can ask the Fighting Couple Anything?  Yes!  “Ask us Anything!”

Costa Brava

The grand finale in our sun seeking adventure is heading up the coastline to wonderful Costa Brava or “Wild Coast”.  The Costa Brava stretches from Barcelona all the way to the border of France.  If you are into sun, sand, and seclusion this is your place.  Unlike its twin sister Nice, France further up the coast, Costa Brava continues to be one of the great under-discovered locations.

Some of the best beaches on the Costa Brava are near Palamos.  The Platja de Castell with it’s warm sand and relative seclusion is one of the areas finest.  The sapphire colored water is so inviting!  You can also follow the old smugglers trail to a wonderful ocean viewpoint on the east end of the beach.  Bring or rent a sand chair, open a good book, and soak up as much sun as you like.

There are a number of different accommodations levels, everything from wonderful resorts like the Rehana Royal Beach Resort to more rustic abodes.  Access to the beach is the key.  We highly recommend you have a car for traveling the Costa Brava region.  Public transport is scare and unreliable.

So these are our recommendations for sun seeking in the South of Spain.  Tell us, what is your favorite places to seek the sun?  Island destinations?  Swanky resorts?  Leave us a comment below.  See you in Barcelona!

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Our Day of Decadence in SFO

Move over wine, there is a new industry in the Northern California: one that is creamier, cheaper, and won’t get your fired if you keep it in your desk drawer and partake all day.

Chocolate.

Sure, San Francisco is known for Ghirardelli; A chocolate so popular there is an entire city square named after it. But if you think Ghirardelli is the only chocolate maker in town, you will be missing out on the city’s emerging industry. Just Google artisan chocolate in San Francisco and you’ll get more than 200,000 hits!

The Bay area is quickly becoming the United States gourmet chocolate heart. Fueled by technology moguls who have given up buying vineyards and making wine with their millions (that’s so 1993), many of these dotcom wonders are turning to creating the next best thing: chocolate.

Chocolate San Francisco1000 Fights got an up close and personal tour of the city’s best chocolate stores and chocolatiers. As part of Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour we got the 411 on the city’s best chocolate while learning about how chocolate is made and why you should eat it (not a problem for us). As part of an intimate tour, the group only had seven people. Now the Fighting Couple are very particular about tours. We don’t like big tours and we expect someone who knows their stuff. We got just the right kind of experience with the Gourmet Chocolate Tour. It was a small tour and Beth knew a lot about chocolate, but more about San Francisco. That’s the benefit of a tour, you get the chance to interact with locals, asking your questions and get a different perspective.

Our tour guide Beth began with some chocolate education by showing us what chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. We got to touch, smell and worship the bean. Beth explained the entire chocolate miracle: from the bean to production. We even got to taste the cacao nibs, which are cacao beans that have been roasted. It’s the rawest form of edible chocolate. We also learned why 1000 Fights loves white chocolate. It’s the fat of the bean. Yes, white chocolate is the cacao butter and unfortunately, doesn’t have the same health benefits as milk and dark chocolate. However, it won’t stop us from eating it.

How to eat ChocolateOur walking tour started at Justin Herman’s Plaza and moved into the bustling Ferry Building Market Place. We started at the self-proclaimed chocolate mecca, Scharffen Berger, where we got a first of many tastes as part of the Gourmet Walks. Just like fine wine, we were told to enjoy the chocolate experience. Instead of popping and chomping on the chocolate immediately, look at it, feel it, smell it and enjoy it. Let the taste sink into your palate and close your eyes. Absorb the chocolate and decipher the flavor. Does it taste of fruit, woods, milk or cream? Remember, wine and chocolate are some of the world’s finest substances, savor them.

The tour continued to Recchiuti’s, local chocolatier where we enjoyed spring Jasmine Tea Chocolate: Jasmine blossoms and green team infusion blended with pure dark chocolate and Burnt Caramel Chocolate: smoky burnt caramel infused in fresh cream with 70 percent dark chocolate paired with spring water. Recchiuti’s is gourmet chocolate on steroids. Just walking into the shop, makes you feel swanky. Even the walls are covered with its descriptions of chocolate heaven-including Lavender Vanilla Chocolates and my personal favorite, Lemon Verbena with organic local lemon verbena steeped into whole cream and blended into decadent chocolate ganache.

Next we continued through the Ferry Building to LaCocina, a local company which specializing in giving local food entrepreneurs a leg up. We had the opportunity to eat the up and coming NeoCocoa truffles including Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Truffle with Hawaiian black lava sea salt and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Truffle. If you go to San Francisco, check out the Ferry Building Marketplace. There aren’t just chocolates there. While we were on the tour, we found  ourselves wishing we had more time to come back and take it in a bit more.

ChocolateAs Beth led us out of the Ferry Building, we started towards Fog City News. In true San Francisco style, we saw a protest. Free Tibet! Locals will say if you don’t see a protest or someone scantily clad or less, you haven’t seen the true San Francisco. As we snaked along the city, we stopped in on Fog City News. The news stand and chocolate shop carries any magazine from any country you want and the chocolate to go with it. The staff personally tries every chocolate offered and I interrogated them, “What does this taste like, do you recommend it, what else would you buy?” The staff knew the answers! You can get chocolate from the world at Fog City News as well as local Northern California favorites. I bought Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Pecher (that’s a peach blossom chocolate for those of you in Lake Woebegone) and Ginger Elizabeth’s Vanilla Been Toffee Almond Desert Bar.

LeonidasAt every stop on the tour, we tasted the incredible offerings, including hot chocolate (at Leonidas) and the opportunity to buy chocolate. The tour even offered a discount card. It made a dent into the $80 worth of chocolate I bought along the way. Beth told us to pace ourselves with the chocolate. I did well until the sixth stop and by then I couldn’t fit anymore chocolate in my stomach. Luckily, we could take it in our “to go bag,” that included Swiss Chocolate maker Teuscher’s famous champagne truffles, obsessed by celebrities including Oprah.  One of the biggest takeaways from the tour is that unlike wine, fine chocolate won’t run you hundreds of dollars. The most expensive chocolate in the world is a fraction of the price of the world’s most expensive wine. For a couple of dollars, you can get a piece of chocolate flown in from the capitals of Europe or better yet, Northern California!

White ChocolateThe three hour tour ended at the Piece de Resistance: CocoaBella Chocolates in the Westfield San Francisco Center for even more tasting and explanations of the chocolate industry. CocoaBella carries designer chocolates from around the world. If it’s not beautiful and tastes amazing, CocoaBella doesn’t carry it. I couldn’t resist buying the Vanilla Cupcake Chocolate made with sweet cream and vanilla frosting ganache mixed with tiny cake pieces from Norman Love, a chocolatier in Florida or Turin Italy’s Guido Gobino’s Peppermint Infused White Chocolate. I bought the most chocolate here, including CocoaBella’s Hazelnut Toffee with Alaea Hawaiian Salt. Luckily, I have hid it where no one in my family can find it.

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco than walking around the iconic city and tasting the mind blowing, marriage altering, moan inducing chocolate of the town. We highly recommend Gourmet Walks. We can’t wait to go back and check out their other tours. After all we, left our heart and more chocolate we’d like to taste in San Francisco.

 

A special thank you goes out to our friends at Gourmet Walks who provided this experience.  Check them out next time you are in San Francisco.

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