Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Skydive Interlaken: The Best Thing I've Done Abroad

The best thing I've ever done abroad | Adelante

For as long as I can remember, skydiving had always been at the top of my bucket list. Last summer when I was back in Seattle to get a new visa, I convinced my mom to jump out a plane with me for my 25th birthday. Seeing my home from such a drastically different perspective made me appreciate the beauty of Seattle in a much deeper way. Furthermore, free falling from 14,000 feet made me positively euphoric. I immediately knew I was hooked.

While my mom touted that once was more than enough, I could only respond with a smirk. I quietly suspected that my next jump was imminent. So when I stumbled upon Travel Channel's list of the world's best places to go skydiving (with Seattle ranking as #4!!), I looked up flights to Switzerland on a whim. When I unearthed a ridiculously cheap flight to Basel, I immediately booked my next skydiving adventure in Interlaken.

Except this time, I chose to switch it up. Because why jump out of a plane when you can jump out of a helicopter?

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There are about a thousand reasons why I shouldn't have gone to Switzerland. Of my many flaws, my impulsivity seems to be the one that gets me into the most trouble... while also allowing me to make the best memories. Spontaneously booking a skydiving pilgrimage to Switzerland was the best bad decision I've ever made. 

Financially, it completely screwed me over. People always talk about how expensive Switzerland is, and good lord, they're not lying.

Jumping out of a helicopter costs roughly the same amount as my rent, which alone is more than half of my monthly paycheck. So if you do the math, you'll realize that this immediately puts me in the red. While I also teach private English lessons after school and earn a few bucks here and there from blogging, freelance projects and photography gigs, it's not nearly enough to fund skydiving and a social life. Needless to say, I've been staying in and eating a lot of canned soups and spaghetti this month.

When I developed a nasty sinus infection a few days before my trip, I started to wonder if draining my bank account while simultaneously making myself sicker would be worth it in the end. In all honestly, it was still worth every penny. Here's why:

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Experiencing such an unparalleled adrenaline rush while surrounded by breathtaking scenery was positively surreal. While skydiving in Seattle was epic in its own right, jumping out of a helicopter in Interlaken was on a completely different level. 

Without the fear and anxiety that accompanied my first jump, I was able to fully appreciate the jaw-dropping views of the Swiss Alps. Admiring the majestic mountainscapes while falling from the sky was an overwhelmingly sublime experience. After the free fall, my veins were pulsing with adrenaline, exhilaration, and an incomprehensible amount of joy. I was buzzing with euphoria. I couldn't stop smiling all day long.

Sure, I had to say no to other adventures in Switzerland and forgo experiencing the local cuisine in lieu of cheap sandwiches made from stolen hostel goodies. And unsurprisingly, I got a lot sicker and was out of commission for two weeks afterwards. The rest of February has been spent scrounging cheap tapas, cutting back on the Spanish nightlife, and obsessively pinching pennies until my next paycheck. But without a doubt in my mind, the sacrifices were 100% worth it. Skydiving out of a helicopter in Interlaken was by far the most memorable thing I've done abroad, and surely one of the best experiences of my entire life. 


Have you ever gone skydiving?
What's the most memorable thing you've done abroad?



This is not a sponsored post, but I genuinely can't recommend Skydive Interlaken enough.
They were friendly, professional, and made me feel safe throughout the entire adventure.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Eating Gluten-Free in Florence

A Celiac's complete guide to eating gluten-free in Florence, Italy

In lieu of celebrating my third expat Thanksgiving in Spain with a roasted turkey, I had a hankering for pizza. Pillowy mozzarella, juicy tomatoes, tart arugula and buttery prosciutto. I could almost taste the tangy bliss. But the last time I went to Italy, things didn't go so smoothly.

Pizza, pasta and pain

A month before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2010, I ventured to Rome to Eat, Pray, Love  my way through the Eternal City. In between gooey pizzas and heaping plates of spaghetti, I spent my time running to the bathroom, keeling over in abdominal pain, and fighting fatigue and soreness throughout my entire body. Trying to keep up with the fast pace of sightseeing was positively grueling.

At the time, I couldn't connect my pain to what I was putting in my body. I just figured it was normal to get sick after two beers or a bowl of pasta. After all, doctors had been giving me various nonsensical explanations for the past 11 years. From, "You're not eating right for your blood type" to, "You're just drinking too much coffee", no doctor ever pegged gluten as the culprit. So neither did I.

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Fast forward six years, and I now have the common sense (as well as the diagnosis) to know that, no, it's not normal to get sick after every meal. Furthermore, it's not normal to visit Italy and suffer through constant pain the entire trip.

Thankfully, it's surprisingly easy to navigate Italy as a Celiac. In fact, I've found Florence to be the easiest place to eat gluten-free throughout all my travels. Italians are incredibly well-informed about Celiac disease, and knowing how to deal with gluten-free needs is common knowledge in restaurants.

Why are Italians winning the gluten-free game?

According to the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC), about 1% of Italians have Celiac disease. Though that may sound high, this statistic is roughly the same in the USA and across Europe. But with gluten as the cornerstone of Italian gastronomy, the need to accommodate Celiacs is significantly greater.

To understand why so many gluten-free options abound in the land of pizza and pasta, let's contemplate the Italian culture of cuisine. Of the many things that Italians are known for, perhaps their most notable qualities are their social nature and deeply ingrained love of food. Life happens at the dinner table, so to deliberately leave someone out of the mealtime merriment would be simply preposterous.

In a culture that places the utmost importance on enjoying food, eating gluten-free isn't a fad, it's an ailment that needs to be dealt with. That's probably why the AIC recognizes over 4,000 gluten-free restaurants in Italy. The Italian government even gives Celiacs a stipend of up to 140€/month to cover additional food costs. So... when can I move there?!


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Art, architecture and accommodating intolerances are just a few things that Italians do right

Senza glutine, per favore

With a myriad of gluten-free options and an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards accommodating Celiacs, eating gluten-free in Florence shouldn't be a considerable challenge. The following restaurants have my favorite senza glutine (gluten-free) menus in Florence, so prepare your tastebuds for a gluten-free feast of Italian treats.

Just in case, print out a gluten-free Italian restaurant card to show your waiters if you have any doubts about a dish's ingredients.


Ristorante Ciro & Sons

Via del Giglio, 28/r

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Gluten-free bruschetta? That's amore.

I began my feast at Ciro & Sons with the gluten-free bruschetta topped with succulent tomatoes, fresh arugula and a light drizzle of olive oil. The refreshing combination of flavors invigorated my tastebuds and helped tide me over until my pizza finished cooking to perfection.

Next, I devoured the decadent gluten-free Vesuvius pizza with prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, truffle, arugula and tomatoes. The gooey mozzarella melted in my mouth, while the fluffy crust actually made me ask the waiter, "Are you sure this is gluten-free?"

I washed it all down with a gluten-free Peroni beer, which was the first Celiac-friendly beer I've truly enjoyed in months. While I was extremely tempted by the dessert menu, I passed it up in favor of more gelato. (When in Rome Florence, right?)

Ciro & Sons boasts an extensive gluten-free menu, although some dishes can be on the pricier side. Their claim to fame is winning first place in the World Championship for Gluten-Free Pizza and the World Championship for Organic Pizza. (Side note: what's a girl gotta do to be a judge in these competitions?) They even sell boxes of their famed gluten-free crust at the restaurant.

Note that reservations are required if you plan on ordering their gluten-free pizza.

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Hey now, hey now, this is what dreams are made of

Da Garibardi

Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 38/r

Nestled next to Florence's Central Market, Da Garibardi is packed with lively locals rather than hungry tourists looking for their next quick bite. As the only native English speaker (and solo diner) in the joint, I surely stuck out like a sore thumb. Granted, that made the restaurant feel all the more genuine.

Unabashedly loud families and overly-affectionate couples surrounded me, and I had to admire how quintessentially Italian it all felt. Then there was me, seated in the corner, alone on a hot date with a colossal bowl of gnocchi. Elizabeth Gilbert would have been proud.

Picking just two dishes from the vast gluten-free menu was a difficult feat, but I eventually settled on the crostone cavolo nero e fagioli: gluten-free toast with Tuscan beans, cabbage, olive oil and garlic. Once again, the bread was so crispy and delectable that I had to double check if it was really senza glutine. The hearty combination of beans and cabbage made for the ultimate winter treat, and I could have easily indulged on more if I hadn't also ordered the gnocchi al pesto di cavolo nero e pancetta croccante: gluten-free potato gnocchi with pesto and crispy pancetta.

The gnocchi effortlessly achieved the perfect level of creaminess, while the pancetta added an extra savory punch. I sipped on a glass of Chianti as I relished my meal, and predictably skipped the gluten-free dessert menu in lieu of more gelato.

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More Tuscan beans, please


La Luna

Via Gioberti Vincenzo, 93

Cozy and unpretentious, La Luna is the neighborhood pizza joint you'd take your family to on a typical Friday night. This mom & pop eatery is tucked away in a residential neighborhood, so you're bound to be the only foreigner in the joint. Though this hole in the wall could easily be missed, its simple charm and authenticity make it well worth the trek.

The staff's English was rusty, but after a few smiles, per favore's and grazie's, I was happily devouring my meal. I started with the fried mozzarella, which wasn't particularly extraordinary other than the fact that I hadn't eaten mozzarella sticks in over six years.

Next, I gorged upon the gluten-free Margherita pizza draped in buttery mozzarella, tangy tomatoes and pungent basil. As this was my first meal of the trip, I made the mistake of trying to eat my pizza with my hands, American-style. I watched in horror as the molten cheese promptly slid into my lap. Feeling publicly shamed, I took an inconspicuous peek at the other diners and noticed that they were all eating pizza with forks and knives. Duly noted.

I topped off my feast with the gluten-free tiramisu, which left me positively satisfied (and desperately in need of someone to roll me back to my hostel).

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Salute, Firenze!

Starbene Gold

Via dei Neri, 13/r

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As Florence's only gluten-free bakery, Starbene is unquestionably Celiac Heaven. Just a five minute walk from the central Piazza della Signoria, this quaint pastry shop was one of the best stops on my gluten-free pilgrimage. The owners are remarkably friendly and were eager to recommend their favorite specialties to me.

When I asked what their favorite Florentine treat was, they pointed me to a gluten-free cream puff saturated with rich pistachio filling. Fluffy and oozing with flavor, I savored each bite as if it were my last meal on earth. I also picked up a creamy chocolate tart to take back to the hostel with me (with the intention of saving it for breakfast, but you can only imagine how successful that was).

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Grazie, gluten-free dessert gods

Grom

Via del Campanile, 2

This popular chain crafts their scoops of high-quality gelato from organic ingredients and fresh seasonal fruit. Focused on sustainability, Grom also utilizes biodegradable spoons and cups. The staff were well-informed about which flavors were gluten-free, making sure to steer me away from any scoops that weren't Celiac-friendly. I've heard they're also pretty careful about avoiding cross-contamination, but I was too busy flirting with the cute gelato scooper to notice any of that.

On my first venture to Grom, I paired caramel and Himalayan salt with hazelnut gelato. It was the ultimate trifecta of sweet, salty and savory. The next morning I tried a seasonal scoop of persimmon gelato, because who says you can't have gelato for breakfast?

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The breakfast of champions

Gelateria Edoardo

Piazza del Duomo, 45/r

In the shadow of the iconic Duomo, Gelateria Edoardo is best known for their whimsical flavors made from all organic ingredients. Though located in the heart of touristlandia, you will only find the purest and highest quality ingredients here. Their gelato is free of preservatives, additives and artificial flavors - so you can eat as much as you want without feeling guilty... right?

While there were plenty of gluten-free options to choose from, I landed on cinnamon paired with honey and poppyseed gelato. The cinnamon was exceptionally creamy, while the smooth honey and poppyseed was packed with flavor. With such unique and decadent flavors, it's no wonder Edoardo is rising to the top of Florence's artisan gelato scene.

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The near freezing temperatures outside had nothing on this view

For more gluten-free options in Florence, check out the top floor of Terracafè next to the Santa Maria Novella train station for snacks, light meals and other sweet treats. Le Botteghe di Donatello in the Piazza del Duomo also has a tempting gluten-free menu featuring a delectable assortment of pasta, pizza and meat dishes.

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Do you have any food allergies or intolerances?
If so, how do you deal with them on the road?
Have you had a similar experience in Italy?


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Perfect Weekend in Imperfect Porto

The ultimate weekend guide to Porto | Adelante

Crumbling, colorful and crass, the beauty of Porto lies in its picturesque imperfections. A true diamond in the rough, this city is lived in and well loved.

Often overlooked by tourists in favor of Lisbon's notoriety, the hidden charms of Porto make it all the more enchanting. Its decrepit elegance asserts it as one of the most unique and unpretentious European destinations. Unabashedly effervescent, Porto is a small city with a big personality.

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While absorbed in Porto's electric reverie, it's impossible not to become infatuated with its brazen personality. Battered yet beautiful, unrefined yet exquisite, the city's contradictions make it peculiarly magnetizing. Its charisma is one of a kind, and should therefore be experienced accordingly.

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To soak in all of Porto's unpredictable charms, it's ideal to stay at least three nights. Be sure to balance out the sights with plenty of aimless wandering. Fully experiencing the magic of Porto means making time to get lost within its enchanting streets.

It's imperative to sightsee with your tastebuds here, and climbing the city's unapologetically steep hills will help burn off the calories from all of the delectable petiscos you are sure to devour. For a deeper look into Porto's history and cuisine, I highly recommend taking a tour with Taste Porto Food Tours.

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For backpackers and luxury travelers alike, Porto is sure to seduce the senses. It's only a matter of time until this underrated destination becomes one of Europe's most popular, so now is the time to fully enjoy its raw beauty and unadulterated authenticity.

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Are you ready to revel in Portugal's most mouthwatering dishes, memorable wines and breathtaking sights? You could easily spend a lifetime basking in Porto's simple pleasures, but a long weekend will happily suffice.

To maximize your time and experience the city's best restaurants, wineries, shops and monuments, allow me to share with you my complete weekend guide to Porto, Portugal. Saúde!

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EAT

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Mercado do Bolhão
Rua de Fernandes Tomás

Perhaps the most iconic open air market in Portugal, Mercado do Bolhão has been serving up fresh and local ingredients for over 100 years. Although the structure is in mild disrepair, this historic marketplace showcases a kaleidoscope of produce and a quality selection of fish and seafood. Many of Porto's finest restaurants and hotels primarily buy their ingredients here, for their products are widely regarded as the freshest.

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Sardines marinated in olive oil and chili pepper at Bolhão Wine House

Taberna Santo António
Rua das Virtudes 32

Dining at Taberna Santo António is like partaking in a large family dinner. Comfort food takes on a new meaning at this no-frills eatery packed with hungry locals, each devouring traditional home-cooked meals such as rich cozido á Portuguesa (meat, potatoes, rice, cabbage and carrots) and bacalhau á Braga (Braga-style codfish). If you're craving an authentic Portuguese experience, look no further than here.

Casa Santo António
Rua da Assunção 40

This darling and unpretentious tasca serves small Portuguese tapas, also known as petiscos, in an all-you-can-eat fashion until you tell the waiters to stop serving you. Multi-course meals can include delectable fresh goat cheese with honey and raisins, cured ham, marinated olives, curried carrots, black eyed peas salad, specialty cod dishes, spicy pork and grilled chouriço served atop a flaming grill. Don't miss the rich chocolate mousse that tastes delightfully akin to brownie batter.

Flor dos Congregados
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Over 150 years old, this iconic hole in the wall is famous for its "24-hour sandwich". Juicy pork belly is marinated in spices for 20 hours, and then the meat spends four hours cooking to perfection in a wood-fired oven. Combined with cured Portuguese ham and roasted tomatoes, this dish provides the perfect balance between sweet and savory.

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Cozido á Portuguesa at Taberna Santo António

Ó Maria
Rua de Conceição 106

This trendy kitchen is known for their unique mariazinhas, which are gourmet bite-sized sandwiches. Pair a craft cocktail with sliders made of alheira (smoked Portuguese sausage), goat cheese, spinach and caramelized onions, or boar loin with goat cheese, tomato confit, caramelized onions and pesto. Gluten-free bread is also available.

Café Progresso
Rua Actor João Guedes 5

Open since 1899, Café Progresso asserts itself as Porto's oldest café. Head to this cozy coffee shop for a leisurely brunch or a quick caffeine jolt. For less than 6€, you can fuel up on a traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast or fresh fruit salad, coffee and orange juice.

DRINK

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Taylor's
Rua do Choupelo 250, Vila Nova de Gaia

Across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia lies Taylor's, one of Porto's oldest and most celebrated wineries. For a 7€ tour and tasting, you can try their delectable white, tawny and ruby Port wines. Not only does the tour cover the basics of Port wine, but it also delves into the history and culture of Portuguese winemaking. However, the best part of the tour is sipping on the sweet liquid gold that helped put Porto on the map. 

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Bolhão Wine House
Mercado do Bolhão, Loja 9

A hidden gem in the historic Mercado do Bolhão, Bolhão Wine House offers three Port wine tastings for 7€ (Mondays through Saturdays). This up-and-coming wine bar is run in the owner's grandmother's old flower shop, and aims to utilize products from other stalls in the market so that everyone can benefit from their success. Aside from exquisite local wines, you can also purchase gourmet snacks and artisan souvenirs.

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Pass the Port, please!

Prova
Rua de Ferreira Borges 86

This quaint wine bar serves an unparalleled selection of quality wines, thanks to top-notch sommelier Diogo. Highlighting wines from every region of the country, it's hard not to leave with a newfound appreciate for Portuguese vinho. My favorite pick was the 2007 Hereditas from the Alentejo region, which was delightfully full bodied and spicy.

SHOP

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Livraria Lello & Irmão
Rua das Carmelitas 144

Did you know that JK Rowling began writing the first chapters Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone while she was teaching English in Porto? Rumor has it that the Hogwarts uniforms were even inspired by the uniforms of University of Porto students. After visiting this whimsical bookshop, it's no surprise that this locale was also a possible inspiration to Rowling. Gliding up and down the shop's staircases makes you feel as if you're wandering through the halls of Hogwarts. It costs 3€ to enter, but your ticket acts as a voucher if you choose to later make a purchase.

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A Vida Portuguesa
Galeria de Paris 20

This gift shop nestled just around the corner from Livraria Lello is known for its colorful assortment of authentic "made in Portugal" souvenirs. Here you can pick up local treats such as fragrant soaps, colorful tiles, artisan kitchen supplies and unique postcards. They also offer a tasty variety of Portuguese delicacies, which unsurprisingly make for the best gifts for friends back home.

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EXPLORE

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Sunrise from the Dom Luís I Bridge

Dom Luís I Bridge

If this double-decker metallic bridge looming over the Douro River reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, you are definitely onto something. This impressive structure connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia was built in 1886 by Téophile Seyrig, one of Gustave Eiffel's protégés. While the towering bridge is a magnificent feat within itself, its upper deck also boasts some of the most spectacular views of the city.

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Miradouro da Vitória

Though seemingly derelict, this hidden lookout offers some of the most sublime panoramas of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the Douro River. Stop by around golden hour to truly capture the city's magic.

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Golden hour views at Miradouro da Vitória

Sé Cathedral

This Romanesque cathedral is not only stunning in its own right, but it also offers some of the most striking vistas of the city. Peek inside for a quick dose of culture, or simply take in the remarkable views of Porto from above. 

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Porto's Sé Cathedral

Ribeira Neighborhood

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Porto's historic center is brimming with dilapidated charm and unabashed charisma. The darling medieval streets flaunt crumbling tiles, bold details and bright pops of color. Wander through the twisting alleys, gaze up at the locals perched on their balconies, and soak in the neighborhood's picturesque imperfections.

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Rustic charm in the Ribeira

São Bento Railway Station

Perhaps the crown jewel of all train stations, the interior of São Bento is covered in elegant azulejos that depict the history of Portugal. Over 20,000 traditional blue and white tiles adorn the walls of the station, creating one of the most arresting sights in the city.

ESCAPE

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Matosinhos

Dip your toes in the ocean and eat some of the region's best seafood in this seaside town just 15 minutes from downtown Porto. With surfing schools on the beach and vast stretches of sand to soak up the sun, Matosinhos is the ideal oceanside escape.

When hunger strikes, head to O Gaveto (Rua Roberto Ivens 826) for fresh seafood, traditional caldo verde (soup with kale, potatoes, chouriço and olive oil) and invigorating vinho verde (young Portuguese wine). Don't miss out on their heavenly clams served in a fresh olive oil, garlic, cilantro and white wine sauce.

To get to Matosinhos from downtown Porto, take bus 500 from Praça da Liberdade. With a single ticket costing only 1.50€, the ride boasts sublime views of the coast. Or, take the blue metro line to the Matosinhos Sul stop, which costs 1.50€ for a single ticket.


Have you ever been to Porto?
What other recommendations would you add?