SO. When we left off (you know, like a year ago), we were just leaving the Frog Level Brewing Co on a trip to we took with friends to Ashevile, NC that occured almost two years ago. Don’t remember (because, why would you)? Let me refresh your memory:
We had spent the morning hiking and ended up at Frog Level to hydrate and grab some snacks. We decided that we wanted to be able to enjoy more than one beer and we had about a 30 min drive ahead of us, so we went back to the apartment. We had a pretty exciting activity set up for the night:
Drunk bike rides! I’m sure you are familiar with the setup, I’ve seen similar activities in a lot of different cities (on our recent trip to Budapest we even spotted a bachelor party wearing tighty whities having a brisk ride around town). The premise is that you bring your own beer on board and ride around for about an hour and a half. For anyone that was worried about physical exertion like I was, the bike has a small motor and is not actually dependent on your pedaling. The driver was funny and we had a good crew on our ride. We used Amazing Pubcycle and it looks like they’ve changed their tours up a little bit. Now they offer a 1.5 hr ride with stops at a few bars or a 40 minute Nomad tour. Either sounds fun, but the one we did had no stops.
After our ride we decided to track down some dinner. We heard a lot of good things about Tupelo Honey Cafe, but they had a ridiculous wait time (seems to be the norm, we have one in Greenville and it’s ALWAYS packed). We walked around a bit more and happened upon Mayfel’s. We looked it up, it had good reviews and a more reasonable wait time, so we got in our best Mardi Gras mindset and Cajun’ed it up.
Our waitress recommended peel n eat shrimp, so we got that as an appetizer. It was good, but didn’t really stand out from any ol’ peel n eat shrimp? We also enjoyed some Seafood Etouffe, Gumbo, and Meatloaf, among other things.
All of our main entrees were great, but the dessert was probably the best part. Beignets! P.S. I’ve tried to make beignets before from a mix someone brought us back from New Orleans and they were so flat. These were 1,000,000x better, unsurprisingly. Very soft and fluffy.
After dinner, we continued to chip away at the population of Asheville breweries. Our first stop of the night was Funkatorium. This is Wicked Weed’s brewery and taproom that is dedicated to sour beers. Which, as it turns out, I was the only one in our little quartet that likes sour beers. So, I loved it. Everyone else tolerated it. We decided to split a flight rather than get individual drinks and I think I ended up finishing them all after everyone had a sample. You certainly have to like sour beers to enjoy but it’s so unique and a cute space so I think it’s worth a stop!
Our last stop of the night was Hi-wire Brewing. This place was pretty packed and had some sort of live music going on. I was impressed with their diverse selection of beers and had a hard time narrowing it down. We sat at the bar and enjoyed a few beers before calling it a night.
We started off our final full day much like we started our first full day. Exactly like it, in fact, with a plate full o’ biscuit. I went with the Chicken Mimosa biscuit this time and a side of fried chicken gravy. All delicious again of course.
After breakfast we drove to the Biltmore with plans to see the estate all dolled up in holiday splendor. We drove all the way there, stood in line, and were told that tickets were $75 PER PERSON to walk around this giant house. A bit steep, no? Ultimately we decided that we weren’t willing to invest several hundred dollars into this high fallutin’ endeavor and went back to what we do best, beer.
We went to Sierra Nevada for lunch, we couldn’t get all of the food that we saw the other day out of our heads. We inquired about a tour but they were booked up for the next few weeks (??), apparently this is the sort of thing that you need to do arrange in advance. After two failed attempts at activities, we decided to just accept what the universe was telling us and just sit/eat/drink some more. At this point in the trip my body was completely rebelling against all of the rich and fattening food and demanded some vegetables and roughage (ifyaknowhatimean).
We each did a beer flight and I got the seasonal salad (which was some combo of arugula, chickpeas, roasted red pepper and a vinaigrette). The food at Sierra Nevada is almost all small plate/shareable type dishes with a focus on local ingredients. The menu changes often and everything we tried was fantastic! Nick and I have been back on a few occasions and have always been impressed with what we’ve tried.
While we were out and about we decided to visit another brewery outside of town, Oskar Blues. This place was about as different from Sierra Nevada as you can get. No grand entrance, no fancy hipster menu. Just a warehouse, some beer, and games. My favorites from here were their IPA Pinner Throwback IPA, and their pilsner Mama’s Little Yella Pils.
We enjoyed several challenging games of Jenga (Nick’s first move was always to remove the bottom two sides so the whole tower was balancing on ONE block) before heading back to Asheville proper.
Once we were back at our apartment we decided to stay close by and enjoy a few West Asheville establishments (besides Biscuithead). Things were a tad fuzzy at this point so I don’t exactly remember where we went for dinner. I do know that we went to Pour Taproom, which was such a cool place. Rather than serving beers by the pint, you get a wrist band and they have like 30+ taps set up. You scan your wristband and pour as much as any beer (or cider, or wine) that you want and just pay by the oz at the end. I was able to enjoy more sour beer here and have this lovely, blurry, pic to commemorate the event.
They also had a lot of games in the basement (including pool and GIANT SIZED Jenga) that we enjoyed until we went home and concluded our Asheville trip.
Overall this was a great trip with great friends, we loved staying in West Asheville and found it to be a great cheaper alternative to downtown Asheville. I don’t think I had a bad beer or meal the entire time we were here and can’t wait to go back!
Wellll I planned on recapping our December Asheville trip for this Travel Tuesday, but with all the moving, I am not even close to going through all of the pictures on my camera. So that will have to wait for another day. Try to contain yourselves.
If you missed it, we are in the process of moving from Wilmington to Greenville, so I thought it might be a good time to list some of our favorite Wilmington spots before they are all a beloved distant memory and I have no recollection of the beautiful beach dream that I’ve been living (not dramatic at all). This past weekend was likely my last weekend in Wilmington for the forseeable future, so we spent some time hitting up my favorite spots.
Aka, the best part of the area. There are three main beaches in the Wilmington area, and even more if you look across the river in Brunswick County or north at Topsail. For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the three around Wilmington.
Wrightsville Beach is probably the most popular beach near Wilmington. It’s easily accessible from downtown (a straight shot on 74), has a ton of restaurants, is home to “The Loop” (a popular running route), has more beach houses than hotels (which helps keep the beach less crowded), and is generally a “nicer” beach. You will also see more boats and activities like kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, thanks to the lovely Intracoastal Waterway. If you are looking to really explore Wilmington and/or are an active vacationer, Wrightsville is your jam.
Carolina Beach is a little further away from Wilmington proper and is more….touristy? than Wrightsville. There are more souvenir shops, kitschy beach themed restaurants/buffets and bars, more high rise hotels, etc etc. This reminds me of the beaches that I would vacation at as a kid. There is a boardwalk with an arcade and a small amusement park. Definitely a family vacation vibe. If you have kiddos on board, Carolina is a winner.
Kure Beach is just past Carolina Beach and is the quietest of all three. It has less restaurants (but still enough to get you by) and shops than either Wrightsville or Carolina. There is also free parking so Nick and I hit this beach a lot (is there any harder pill to swallow than having to pay for parking at the beach where you live? In Virginia Beach there are some lots where you can park for free as a resident, get with it Wrightsville.). If you plan to be a total beach bum and want quiet and serenity, Kure is the beach for you.
Oh, the food. The glorious, glorious food.
This is definitely one of the things I will miss MOST about Wilmington. For the first six months we lived here, we talked nonstop about how much we loved the weather and the food. We couldn’t shut up about it. We annoyed and alienated all of our friends. But it’s ok, because we filled that void with MORE FOOD.
Fish Bites – This isn’t a surprise to anyone that knows us. This is stop 1 on our Wilmington tour when people visit us. Fish Bites is very unassuming, it’s in a shopping center in the middle of Wilmington, far from downtown or any of the beaches. But it’s our number 1 recommendation if you are looking for simple seafood. We had family members want to go here 3 times in one long weekend visit, it’s that good. Their fresh catch is my default choice, and I highly recommend the coconut sauce with that (unless it’s tuna). They also serve raw oysters during oyster season that are delicious if that’s yo thing. The mussels appetizer, the crab dip, the zucchini fries, all amazing. I could go on and on about this place, but I’ll spare you. Just be sure to go. We tell everyone we know about it and have never gotten anything less than glowing reviews in return.
Catch – Catch is located on Market St., also in a shopping center and not near downtown or the beaches (I guess I have a type?). The chef was featured on Top Chef Texas and is a bit of a local celebrity. It’s a bit more expensive than Fish Bites (~$30 per entree) but the food is a little more high end/modern/creative as well. Their menu changes frequently, so my recommendations are probably useless, but their asian-ish entrees are always amazing.
Las Olas – Mexican food is my favorite food. Period, the end. And for me, Mexican food really comes down to the salsa, and the salsa here is FANTASTIC. It’s super fresh and super cilantro-y. Their seafood tacos are amazing, and you have to get the Street Corn as a side. Nick and I used to live across the street from this place when we first moved to Wilmington, and I could have eaten here weekly. Or daily. The owners of this restaurant own a couple other in the area, I’ve tried k38, but not Tower (which is located in Wrightsville), and it was just as good.
Britt’s Donuts – I will preface this recommendation by saying I don’t even like donuts. Whaaat? I know. But here I am, recommending a donut joint. We heard about Britt’s from our apartment maintenance manager when we first moved here, and after the conversation I promptly forgot all about it, because I am anti-donut. We were checking out Carolina Beach a week or so later and walked right by it and I was all “oh yeah, that’s that donut place that guy was telling us about.” We were between meals and decided just to have one each to see what the BFD was. OMG IT WAS HEAVEN. These are the lightest, sweetest, fluffiest donuts you will ever have in your entire life. They only make one kind, but it’s the only kind you will ever need. They created the absolute perfect donut and it would be an insult to you to serve you anything else. There is usually a line all down the boardwalk during the summer, but it’s worth it. I recommend getting at least half a dozen per person. My brother-in-law holds the current record of eating an ENTIRE dozen in one day.
Mott’s Seafood Channel – I know, this isn’t even a restaurant, but it is hands down the best fish market in Wilmington. If you are visiting and have access to a kitchen, do yourself the kindest favor you possibly can and make dinner in one night. And buy that dinner at Mott’s Seafood. It’s located near Wrightsville Beach, and after trying a ton of different fish markets in the area, it’s the only one we go to now. Their seafood is always SO fresh, and we have fun trying all kind of different things according to what’s in season. The employees are especially helpful and we always ask what is the freshest/what looks good. If you happen to be visiting between October and May GET THE STUMP OYSTERS if they have them.
SO, those are my “must-do” places in the Wilmington area, and now I’ve successfully bummed myself out about not being able to visit them again.
I’m going to go be sad about not living at the beach anymore, K bye.
Athens. The birthplace of modern society, democracy and philosophy. It’s interesting to read travel recaps and tips/advice for visiting Athens because there seems to be one of two themes, the “Athens was kind of gross and I didn’t love it” and “Athens is amazing and gets such a bad rap”. So I was a little apprehensive and curious to see which side of the fence I would fall on. My boy Rick Steves doesn’t love Athens, so I went in with my expectations slightly lowered.
We arrived in Athens after another 4 am flight (zzzzzz) and were taken straight to our apartment, which was within rock throwing distance to the Acropolis. We set our bags down and geeked out over the apartment a little bit (another amazing patio, my patio game was so strong on this trip), then got our heads together to figure out the day. We decided to head to the Acropolis (I think we were so enticed since it was RIGHT THERE and felt the ancient draw), which ended up being a poor planning choice. By the time we left, it was around 10 am. We walked around to the front entrance of the Acropolis and bought our tickets.
Those white chairs are our patio. This view is from our walk up to the Acropolis
At the Acropolis, you buy one ticket (for €12) with approximately 12 stubs. There are separate entrances to a lot of the specific areas and other sites throughout Athens, and each entrance costs you one ticket. However, you get one specific stub to the main Acropolis area (with the Parthenon) so that you can only enter that area once. The remaining tickets are valid for :
Olympieion (Temple of Zeus)
North and South slopes of the Acropolis
Our crew was starting to get a little hangry, so we decided a snack would be a good choice before heading in. We got some little (overpriced) sandwiches from the snack shop out front. They were just ok, but they got the job done. While we were eating, we watched the droves of tour buses come in and drop people off. We briefly debated if we should do something else with our time since it was going to be obviously crowded, but we ultimately decided to head in.
SO. MANY. PEOPLE. We knew it would be crowded, but wow it was really, super duper, extremely crowded. There was no freely walking around to be had. We were basically part of a large mass/line that just moved along from site to site. Once we got up to the main Parthenon, it opened up a little bit and we were able to walk, but there were still people allll around. We immediately knew that we had made a mistake, but given that we had used our one entrance to the Parthenon, we fired up our Rick Steves audio guide and made the best of it. The temples here are amazing to see. The Parthenon is MASSIVE, and the view of Athens from up high in the background cannot be missed. I also particularly liked the Erechtheion (a temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon), the statuettes here were very well preserved. Something interesting that we learned in the audio guide was just how many times the Acropolis has been attacked. To hear it all laid out, it’s a wonder any of it is still standing!
After we left the Acropolis, we headed to the Acropolis museum. The entrance here is separate, but a great deal at only €5. The Acropolis museum was recently redone and was beautiful, open, and modern looking. Here they had a lot of the sculptures and pediments from the top of the Parthenon in front of a picture, so you could get a great idea of what the whole thing looked like. It also delved into some of the pre-golden age of Athens art and sculptures, which derived a lot of inspiration from Egypt. The museum isn’t huge and took us about an hour to get through.
One of the things we talked about in the islands was that we didn’t see a lot of the “typical” Greek foods that we were expecting, like gyros, hummus, pita, grape leaves, etc. In talking to others, we concluded that those are more typical of mainland Greece, so we were excited to get our fill of those foods here. We set off to Kostas, a small souvlaki place. Kostas has been operating since 1950 in Athens and has a limited menu and a long line, both signs of great quality food! They cook all the of food fresh, so the line doesn’t move extremely fast, but it’s well worth the wait. We were chatting in line with a woman that was originally from Athens, but lives in Germany now for work, and she said when she’s back hom she always makes a point to visit Kostas. We each got one souvlaki and a beer, but the souvlakis are on the smaller side, I probably could have split a third with Nick.
After Kostas, we walked back to the Acropolis area and walked through the Ancient Agora. The Agora is down the hill from the Acropolis and was the central meeting place in Ancient Athens (probably similar to the Roman Forum in Rome). We got to the Agora around 3, and it was practically empty. Such a refreshing change from our crowded morning at the Parthenon. We again, used our Rick Steves audio app to guide us through. The Agora was a lot larger than I expected and had a lot of buildings and art to view. This ended up being one of my unexpected favorites from our time in Athens, I highly recommend making some time for the Agora during your visit.
We apparently went through the Agora backwards (the main entrance is in Monastraki area, we came in on a back road), so we ended at Monastraki and decided to walk around and check out the shops. The shops here were filled with some of the more popular Greek items, leather sandals, oils, olives, jewelry, etc. We ended up finding a really cool local foods shop (in our quest to locate some beer to carry back…) and got some meats and cheeses to enjoy as a snack, and also picked up some Greek yogurt for breakfast the next day. I was pretty excited about having an actual legitimate breakfast option. We also ended up getting some fruit (figs and grapes) from one of the food carts in the main square. We also decided to pick up some lunch for ourselves for the next day (we went on a tour to Delphi) from Thanassis Souvlaki, another highly rated Souvlaki shop in Athens. We had these wrapped up to-g0 and put them in our fridge when we got home for the next day.
When we got back, we started our normal routine of showers and enjoying beers on the patio before heading to Scholarchio for dinner. I would not consider Scholarchio to be a great local joint, but the food was quick and fit the bill. And more imporantly, we were in bed nice and early after our 4 am wake up time. The menu is set up that you can order a set amount of dishes based on the number of people in your party. Since we had 4 people, we got to pick 10 dishes (from 15 that they brought out on a tray) and each got wine for €15 per person. All in all, not a bad choice if you are nearby and want a quick meal! We got meatballs, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, greek salad, calamari, braised lamb, tzatziki, and fried zucchini among other things that I don’t remember. The meatballs and the grape leaves were our highlights!
The next day, we had an excursion to Delphi on the agenda. We were heavily considering going to Delphi before our trip, but talking about it with some of the other folks on our wine tour in Santorini really sealed the deal for us. A couple on their honeymoon did an excursion during their stay in Athens and absolutely loved it, and even raved about the tour group that they used. We got the name of the tour company (G.O. Tours) from them and booked our trip during our first day in Athens. The tour ran us €86 per person, but we were assured it was well worth it.
In the morning we got up and had our super legitimate breakfast of yogurt, figs, honey and pistachios. It was everything I had been dreaming about for a week and a half. We met our group at a local hotel at 9:00am to get picked up by the bus. It seemed like the buses went around and collected people from their various hotels around Athens and brought them all to this main spot. From there, people got off the buses and were re-boarded according to their tours. It was pretty interesting and seemed like a good logistical way to accomplish that (the industrial engineer in me was very pleased).
The ride to Delphi is about 2+ hours from Athens. On the way there, the tour guide told us a few stories and tidbits about both Athens and Delphi. The most surprising was that the Greeks prounounce it Del-pheee rather than what I am used to, Del-f-eye. Just kidding, there were way better stories than that. According to our tour guide, Delphi was formed by Zeus. He wanted to find the center of the world and sent two of his eagles in opposite directions, with the theory that where they met would be the center of the world. The two eagles met in Delphi, and the rest is history. After Zeus found the center, Delphi was taken over by Python, a son of Gaia (Earth). Eventually Apollo defeated and slayed Python and the people built monuments and performed games in his honor. Delphi is probably best known for being a major site of the Greek oracles. The oracles were women that Apollo was said to communicated through. People would travel far and wide to visit the oracles with questions. The woman would speak and the priests would translate her answers. Our guide said that the priests usually used clever wording and vague answers to get around not actually knowing the future :).
The bus stopped once at the halfway point for a bathroom break and snacks. Here Nick and I split a couple of pastries, baklava and kataifi (the bird’s nest looking item). I also had a cappuccino.
When we made it to Delphi, there were a few other buses and tours coming in, but nothing like the Acropolis the day before. The road up to Delphi is windy. The setting of Delphi is absolutely beautiful, it’s surrounded by mountains and olive trees and we got some of my favorite pictures here.
After our tour guide walked us through, we had about 45 mins of free time to walk around and revisit anything that piqued our interest before we met at the museum. The museum was fairly small, but with our tour guide I felt like we got a great overview of the traditions and examples of art in Delphi. Most of the art was in the form of sculptures that were built to honor Apollo and other gods.
After we left the museum we were let off in the town by Delphi, where the majority of our tour group went to a local hotel for lunch. We had heard from our Santorini friends that the lunch was just ok (and would run €20 extra per person) so we found a nice outdoor area and ate our sandwiches before shopping around a little. I’m so glad that we did, because Debbie and I had our best Athens score here! We both were looking for some olive pottery, but were being pretty picky about it having to be made in Greece and of good quality. I got a bowl and Debbie got a few olive oil dishes.
Our ride back to Athens went by quickly (and I may have even snoozed a little). Our tour guide and bus driver were a little concerned about traffic getting back, as there was an upcoming election that week for Prime minister and a speech was planned that night in one of the main squares so lots of traffic was expected. We asked to be dropped off in Monastraki, but the closest they could get us with road closures was a few blocks away. Which was totally fine! We got to walk a little back through Monastraki and see a few more shops. We decided to take another route through town and hit up a restaurant that I had read about called Melilotos. Melilotos is considered to be “Modern Greek cuisine” and had a great sounding menu. We ended up getting four things to split, including a salad with goat cheese, stuffed chicken, pasta with mushrooms and chicken, and pasta with beef and truffles (this was the clear favorite). Everything was delicious! One of our favorite spots in Athens.
We stopped again at our favorite shop on the way home and picked up some more yogurt. We chatted a little with the owner there and sampled a few different kinds of nuts. We ended up getting some more pistachios. The owner told us that all of the foods and snacks they had in their deli case were made by his grandmother daily and brought in.
More drinks and patio sitting once we got home!
For our last day, we slept in a little, ate another yogurt and fig breakfast, and headed out to the National Archaeological Museum. The museum is the largest in Greece and has the largest collection of Greek artifacts. The museum is organized by historical period and medium and goes from Prehistoric, through Classical and ending with the Roman period. The museum has both tour guides and audio guides available. However, the cost of the guided tours isn’t very clear and seems to depend on the number of people that you have present. Of course, all of this was irrelevant for us, as we had our Rick Steves audio guide fired up and ready to go. My favorite statues were the ones in the Classical and Hellenistic period that depicted the Greek gods (this was a personal favorite). We also got to see the actual frescoes that were retrieved from Akrotiri. We took about two hours in this museum. In my opinion, this is a must-see if you are visiting Athens! It gives you a great view of the history of the mainland and a lot of the islands as well.
We originally intended to find a nearby place for lunch, but struck out with two locations being closed. We eventually decided to just go with something easy and open, and ended up at a pretty touristy location, Smile Restaurant. This place checked all of my normal “do not eat here” boxes, a lot of advertisement, pictures of the food, menus in multiple languages, advertisements for other tours around Athens, etc. But it was also pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor (#39 out of 2000+ restaurants in Athens) and we were hungry. I was pleasantly surprised with the food and I finally got my pastitsio that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere. Nick and Bob got the souvlaki, and we also ordered the Greek salad and the Special Smile Salad.
After lunch, we set out to cross off the rest of the sites that came with our Acropolis ticket, as well as the Olympic Stadium.
We started with the Olympic Stadium (officially called the Panathenaic Stadium), which housed the first instance of the modern Olympics in 1896. The original ancient Olympics were held in the Greek town of Olympia. It’s only €5 to enter the stadium (and that comes with a free audio guide and the opportunity to run around the track!), but we were more interested in continuing on to some other sites and didn’t want to invest the time.
Our next stop was the Olympieion and Temple of Zeus. We saw the columns that make up this site from walking around town, and they seemed to be the largest and very well preserved. Seeing them up close was really cool. They are located at a big intersection in Athens, so it’s really neat to see the old and the new so interspersed. To get some background on these sites, we listened to parts of the Athens City Walking Tour from the Rick Steves app. You are able to select specific tracks from the tour, so we just did that for whichever site we were at.
Right around the Olympieion, you are also able to see the Arch of Hadrian. Hadrian was an emperor of the Roman empire, but held a great admiration for the city of Athens. He did a lot of work to restore and preserve the city, and aimed to make it a cultural center of the empire. The arch was built by the Greeks to honor Hadrian and all he did for their city.
Next we headed to the Acropolis to see if we could sneak back in to the main area during a non-crowded time. This was a no-go, so we explored the North and South slopes. This was really neat, there were a lot of intricate caves where people used to place statues and trinkets to honor the gods on their trek up to the main Acropolis. We also got to enjoy some more great views from this vantage point.
We decided to head to dinner close by again, we were all a little worn from all the activity of the whole trip and wanted to have a relaxing last night. I actually don’t even remember the restaurant we went to, and have no pictures of the food, so it must not have been that great. We took one last walk through Monastraki and headed back for some beers and patio sitting, the perfect way to cap off our trip!
All in all, I really enjoyed our time in Athens and Delphi. I would certainly add Athens to your Greek itinerary, there are things that you see here that you don’t get from any other place in the world. It was inspiring to me to be among such important and ancient artifacts, and in a spot where so many events and people existed that affect our culture and way of life, even today. However…I can kind of see why some people dog Athens. The easiest comparison is to Rome, they both are large cities that have similar ancient culture and ruins. Athens certainly isn’t as pretty as Rome (SO MUCH GRAFFITI) but I found it easy to overlook that to appreciate the food and the culture here.
And that’s it for our Greece trip! Next I want to do a “planning” post with tips and tricks that we found useful, specific to Greece. Then it’s on to recap our December trip to Asheville, NC
Have you ever been to Athens? What was your favorite site? Did all of the graffiti turn you off at all?