I just want to say a great big thank you to all those beautiful people I met on the road, and those at home, without whom I never would have made it to the end of (or maybe even started) my journey. You were my springboards and my guiding lights, even if we didn't speak the same language. I feel truly blessed to have had you in my life, however long you stay:
Mario and Filomenia, who gave me my first warm, safe home-away-from-home
Cristina, my Roman anchor
Marcello, who opened my eyes and my heart to the wonders of the Eternal City
Eleonora, my considerate landlord in Florence
Eleonora's boyfriend (I'm sorry I almost knifed you)
Kind Croatian man who drove me and my suitcase to Hotel Kastel
Jozica, Alan, Iris, Branimir, Snjezana and family, who took me in and treated me as one of their own for ten days
Rebecca, who gives horses (and people) a refuge in Croatia's unforgiving economy
Kevin, the driver who got me safely (eventually) to the San Rocco Hotel in Brtonigla
Dan, the tour guide who introduced me to the world-class food and wine of Istria
Mladen, my landlord in Pula who drove all the way to Brtonigla to come and get me
Antonio, who offered guidance, company, respect and a truly local experience of Athens
The young Japanese couple, who also stayed with Antonio and warmed my heart after less than 24 hours of knowing each other
Elena, the generous and fun-loving Cretan who gave me a free private tour of Knossos and introduced me to raki (really, thanks for that)
Agapi, my landlord and fellow countrywoman on Crete
Debbie and Piper, two class acts I had the privilege of experiencing Santorini with
Kostas, who doesn't know how he made my day in Chania (I'm sorry I turned you down)
Edwin, Peruvian cowboy/cancer survivor/therapeutic riding instructor/trail guide/travelling wrangler (you are truly an inspiration)
Mary², who gave me company and courage (not to mention a few much-needed laughs) on the trail in the Andes
Mom, Dad and the rest of my family, especially Grandma, without whose endless love and (not always voluntary) support, I never would have had the means or the nerve to make this invaluable investment in myself. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I was sitting on an outdoor patio in Santo Spirito Square in Florence, eating lardo di condotto, pappa al pomodoro and prosciutto e melone when it occurred to me to make this list. It was my last meal in Italy, and I felt tremendously lucky to have stumbled upon such quality food at such decent prices. Luck, in my opinion, shouldn't be a prerequisite to eating well. Good food is easy to find anywhere, if you know where to look:
- Rosso Vivo Wine Bar in Cipro (near the Vatican/Prati district) - intimate with excellent cocktails and one of the best cacio e pepe's I had in Rome
- Da Cesare in the Prati district - a locals-only trattoria where both waiters and patrons speak Italian and you can get real, quality Roman specialties at non-touristy prices (I loved the fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and their millefoglie is a must-try for dessert)
- Il Gelato Bistro in Cipro (near the Vatican/Prati district) - fresh, homemade gelato with a lot of natural flavours (my favourite was fig)
- Della Palma Gelateria near the Pantheon - more than 150 flavours as well as a full bar/café, pastries and their rich, thick-as-mud hot chocolate, which also happens to come in a variety of flavours
- Armando al Pantheon near (you guessed it) the Pantheon - this family-run gem is a welcome, reasonably-priced respite from the rampant tourist traps that dominate the area; it's the real-deal, serving homemade buffalo mozzarella and AMAZING Spaghetti alla Matriciana; be sure to make a reservation, though; this small and intimate trattoria is packed every day even for lunch!
- Da Fortunato al Pantheon - just steps from the Pantheon, the seafood and homemade pasta is the thing to get at this "splurge-worthy" white-tablecloth joint; their homemade bread basket (with a variety of breads) is well-worth the extra two euros; their Spaghetti alla Vongole and Carciofo alla Giudia were perhaps the best meal I had in Rome, and their buffalo mozzarella is so fresh it's liquid inside
- Café San Eustachio near the Pantheon - old-school, locals-only and much cheaper than the neighbouring Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe (the cream-filled rum Baba is not to be missed)
- Gusta Pizza near Santo Spirito - best Napoli-style pizza in Florence, made in a wood-burning oven with only the freshest ingredients; like eating in someone's home with family-style dining and pour-your-own wine; at five euros for a pizza margherita, the prices aren't bad either!
- Osteria Santo Spirito - all the standard Tuscan specialties with some innovative homemade creations as well; with big portions and free bread and olive tapenade, you get great bang for your buck, especially since they serve only fresh local products; I got a table as I was alone and arrived right when it opened, but it's a good idea to make a reservation
- Restaurant Zeba on Krk Island - family-run with fresh food, incredible seafood and free homemade welcome rakija on the seaside terrace
- Sinkovic Agroturizam in Istria - they produce everything they sell (wine, honey, olive oil, preserves, cheeses, cured meats, pasta, the list goes on…); they're especially famous for their grappa distillery and even keep their own truffle-hunting pigs
- Kozlovic Family Winery - the Santa Lucia is unbeatable
- San Rocco 4* Hotel - their olive oil has won awards as one of the best in the world and their chef puts together a mean gourmet wine pairing; their breakfast buffet is also superb by hotel standards, with local sausage and prosciutto, the famous pag cheese and warm, homemade pastries; you can also get made-to-order eggs and cappuccino included in the price
- Caffe/Bar Hum in Pula's central market area - good selection of iced coffees, granita, fresh-squeezed juice and cocktails for about ten kuna cheaper than anywhere else
- Vodnjanka Trattoria in Pula - tucked away on a residential side-street but well-worth the effort to find; this locals- and cash-only trattoria serves real-deal Istrian home-cooking at remarkable prices; I paid sixty kuna (about ten U.S. dollars) for fresh, cut-with-a-fork-tender Istrian ox over homemade fuzi pasta; they also have a good wine selection and are only open for lunch some months out of the year
- Bistro Osteria Kod Pjera - located in Pula's central market, this fast and casual eatery isn't on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet, but it should be; the food is homemade, incredibly cheap, and, most importantly, delicious (the best I had in Pula); the cevapi is the thing to get (spiced rolls of ground meat and onions between giant, greased-up flatbread), but they have fresh seafood as well; they also serve bambus (a typical Croatian cocktail of red wine and Coke) for half the price of anywhere else; it opens at 9AM and would be an optimal breakfast spot after a late night of partying
- Creta House Taverna in Amoudara Beach (Crete) - again, nowhere to be found on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet, but this traditional family-run taverna's locally-grown, homemade food was some of the best I had in Greece; the meal comes with bread and complimentary spreads, a very full glass of house red is only two euros and the rabbit in wine sauce is to die for
- Kirkor in Heraklion (Crete) - there are two famous bougatsa shops right next door to each other in Liontaria Square; both are good, but Kirkor is where you should be eating bougatsa; the cream bougatsa is classic and delicious, but I also enjoyed the bougatsa with mizithra cheese and honey (a traditional specialty most shops don't make anymore)
- Ippokampos - an old-school seaside taverna serving fresh fish and traditional Greek specialties; prices are better than most places downtown Heraklion (a glass of wine is only one euro and they don't bring bread unless you ask; though it may not sound like it, this is a courtesy, since bread is always an extra charge and brought automatically at most places)
- Peskesi in Heraklion - rustic, secluded and very traditional (some recipes go back to the Middle Ages and earlier); service isn't the best, but the food is well-worth the upscale prices
- Galletto - this bakery in Amoudara Beach (near Heraklion) has cheap coffee, a cornucopia of from-scratch pastries and the best baklava you will ever eat in your life
- 50/50 on Market Street in Heraklion - rustic, tapas-style with reasonable prices and good snails
- Petousis in Amoudara Beach - an expansive taverna with a huge menu serving all the Greek staples, but do not pass up the fire-roasted lamb!
- Uncle George's Taverna in Amoudara Beach - very friendly service from the family owners themselves and good, home-cooked, cheap food
- Mattonella Gelateria and Pasticceria in Monastiraki Square (Athens) - AWESOME homemade ice cream and other desserts; they serve gelato con brioche just like in Italy and some incredible layered sundaes (the kataifi will blow your mind!)
- Attalos Taverna behind the Monastiraki flea market - this back-street taverna with a discreet view of the Acropolis is a rare gem among most of Athens' overpriced tourist traps; wine is about one euro less than everywhere else, bread is only eighty cents and they don't charge a cover or for water; service is friendly but not at all pushy, portions are large and, more importantly, the food was the best I had in Athens (they will bring you back into the kitchen to show you where all the food is being prepared fresh from scratch; the grilled halloumi with vinegar and honey sauce and green salad was one of the best things I've ever tasted); did I mention a complimentary dessert comes with your bill?
- Victor-Victoria in Cusco - a family-run side-street restaurant serving cheap, homemade food (where the locals go)
- Barrio Queen in Old Town Scottsdale - an award-winning chef serves high-quality Mexican food; the tacos al pastor and white sangria are not to be missed; they also hand-make their corn tortillas
- Sugar Bowl in Old Town Scottsdale - a classic 50's-style diner and soda fountain serving old-school sundaes, sodas, floats, malts, etc.
- Everything Bagel in Old Town Scottsdale - a huge variety of fresh bagels, sandwiches, multiple flavours of fresh-brewed iced tea and gourmet cream cheese
- The Mission in Old Town Scottsdale - DEFINITELY "splurge-worthy" upscale Latin American; no matter what you order, it will be the best thing you ever ate (I've had the Green Chile Duck, Tableside Guacamole, Butternut Squash Tacos, Chicken Anticuchos, Posole, Fried Banana dessert and Pastillas, all of which blew my mind); they also have a great wine list and cocktails
- Salsa Brava in Flagstaff - authentic, home-cooked Mexican food on Historic Route 66; salsa bar, four-dollar Happy-Hour margaritas and some of the best chicken mole I've ever had
- Pato Thai Cuisine in Flagstaff - tiny and bustling with Thai waiters and fresh, real-deal Thai food; the Thai Iced Tea is outstanding, as are the curries and traditional papaya salad, but a warning: anything ordered at the spice level of three or over will be HOT
- Brandy's Restaurant and Bakery in Flagstaff - a must for breakfast, serving warm, from-scratch Danishes and sticky buns alongside Swedish oat pancakes, Eggs Benedict, steak and eggs, homemade bread and bagels; they also have great specialty coffees or you can order a Mimosa or Bellini with breakfast
- Olde Sedona Family Restaurant Bar & Grill - a cheap, locals-only cowboy bar in Sedona with great drinks, an unbeatable view and often live music; oh, and the food's great, too
Things To Try…
In Rome: cacio e pepe, cappuccino e cornetto, negroni (cocktail), pasta amatriciana, carciofo alla giudia (fried artichoke), prosciutto e melone, tartufo, porchetta, GELATO!!! (I highly recommend gelato con brioche and zabione flavour)
In Florence: ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, lardo di condotto, lampredotto (if you can stomach it - no pun intended), wild boar sausage or prosciutto, candied clementines, bistecca alla fiorentina, fresh pappardelle or tagliatelle con sugo di cinghiale (wild boar ragu), cantucci e Vin Santo (dessert)
In Croatia: olive oil, prosciutto, pag cheese, fresh seafood (especially sardines and anchovies), black risotto, truffles, Turkish coffee, borek/burek (pastry), bambus (cocktail), rakija (liquor), white wine (malvasia is the most famous), fritule (dough fritters), funky sundaes (the Pinocchio Sundae is a popular one)
In Greece: ouzo, raki (AKA paint varnish), visanto (sweet wine - Santorini) bougatsa (pastry), iced coffee, honey (Crete), kataifi (dessert), baklava, grilled halloumi, stuffed grape leaves, fire-roasted lamb, snails, fava (puree of yellow split peas), seafood, gyro, loukoumades (donuts)
In Peru: cuy, ceviche, chicharron, lomo saltado, alpaca, chicha (corn beer), Pisco Sour, Inca Kola, lucuma (egg fruit especially popular as an ice cream or yogurt flavour), caldo de gallina (chicken soup), aji de gallina (spicy chicken), rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), coca tea
In Arizona: MEXICAN FOOD!!! (chicken mole is my favourite), cowboy grub (chicken-fried steak, buffalo burgers, chilli, etc.), prickly pear (popular as an ice cream flavour, in candy, preserves, cocktails, etc.), sarsaparilla, margaritas and caipirinhas, whatever else you want
Budget Travel For Dummies
- Guesthouses or B&B's were always my top choice for accommodations. They're cheaper than hotels and safer/more private than hostels, plus they're a great way to get a truly local experience. Airbnb.com is a great resource, but use discretion. You are staying in someone's home.
- If you want to take home local food products (or even some other souvenirs), do your shopping in supermarkets. They carry the same products as the gift shops for about a third of the price.
- If you're travelling alone, dining out can be the same price as (or even cheaper than) cooking for yourself. Eat in family-run, off-the-beaten path restaurants that look busy with locals.
- Be sure to decline table water or a bread basket, even if they come automatically and seem complimentary. Especially in cities like Rome and Athens, bread and water are often an extra charge on top of the customary cover charge.
- Look for places which advertise "no cover" or "no service charge". If there is no sign, ask before you sit down.
- Don't forget to bargain. In Greece and especially Rome, you can often get the price of a drink reduced or cover charge waived if you seem uninterested in paying what they are asking. This goes for souvenir-shopping as well as dining.
- Take advantage of Happy Hours. A lot of places offer free snacks (most of which were a sufficient meal for me) with half-price drinks.
- Be sure to check the tipping policy in the country you are travelling to. The customs range from tipping being virtually unheard of to "appreciated but not expected" to a twenty-percent standard. Italy, for example, is not a tipping country.
- Street food is your friend. Especially in countries like Peru, you have two choices: you can eat high-quality, homemade food from the variety of street carts hawking local specialties, or you can eat overpriced, frozen french fries in a restaurant. A lot of people are concerned about the sanitation of street carts. Look for the ones with long lines of locals. These people don't stay in business by poisoning their neighbours.
Gap Trip Playlist
Leaving on a Jet Plane by Aerosmith (AKA the theme song of my life)
Cups (When I'm Gone) by Anna Kendrick
Alive by Becki Ryan
Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson
No Reins by Rascal Flatts
Independence Day by Imani Coppola
Good to Be Me by Uncle Kracker
Uncharted by Sara Bareilles
You Gotta Be by Des'ree
Roar by Katy Perry
22 by Taylor Swift
Son of Man by Phil Collins
Wavin' Flag by Young Artists for Haiti
Wake Me Up by Avicii
Don't Let Me Be Lonely by The Band Perry
Big Girls Don't Cry by Fergie
Sky Blue and Black by Jackson Browne
Carry On by Fun
Better Days by Eddie Vedder
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
The Climb by Miley Cyrus (AKA my Machu Picchu song)
Nothing I've Ever Known by Bryan Adams
Compass by Lady Antebellum
Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw
Little Bit Gypsy by Kellie Pickler
Here I Am by Bryan Adams
I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
I Will Always Return by Bryan Adams