UK beaches: The surprisingly-beautiful British coastlines

For Beach Thursday this week, I wanted to do something different. I asked myself, what is one of the least-likely beach destinations for globetrotters to pick? That’s when UK beaches came to mind.

best UK beaches Porthcurno

Porthcurno Beach located in…the UNITED KINGDOM?! Keep reading to learn more! (Simon Clayson, Flickr)

I always knew the British coastlines are wildly beautiful. I had seen snapshots of its jagged cliffs over azure waters on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

However, I never imagined long sandy British beaches.

I always thought that UK beaches were either full of pebbles, too small to lounge in or would be too cold to enjoy them at all anyway. But boy, was I wrong! Whether you are around Edinburgh or London, just park and fly (or drive!) to one of these spots.

Best UK beaches: My picks

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset

Yes, it is in every brochure — but justifiably so. Bournemouth Beach, a mere 2-hour drive from London, busts any myth stating that a British beach holiday is an oxymoron. Golden soft sand (a good 7 miles of it), clean waters, a pier and promenade full of places to eat and drink make it the best UK beach holiday destination. Thanks to its artificial reef, you can even go surfing here. Parking is expensive though, so plan accordingly.

top UK beaches Bournemouth

Popular Bournemouth Beach (Jeremy Tarling, Flickr)

Green Bay Beach, Porthcurno, Cornwall

In my opinion, the best UK beaches are Green Bay Beach and Porthcurno. They are simply too gorgeous for words. Their water can be as crystalline as any Caribbean beach (!), the sand is fine and soft, the rock pools and stream that goes down the beach are perfect for small children.

best UK beaches Cornwall

Porthcurno beach from Minack Theater. WOW! (drgillybean, Flickr)

A must do when visiting the area is to go see a play in the spectacular rock-hewn, open-air Minnack Theatre! I was flabbergasted after finding out that Porthcurno didn’t make it to the Best Beaches in the United Kingdom Tripadvisor list. Maybe that’s a good thing? 😉

best UK beaches Minack Theater

Minack Theatre: what a stunning place for a play! (Liz Smith, Flickr)

Sinclair’s Bay, Caithness, Scotland

A Scottish beach that doesn’t even have a proper attraction page on Tripadvisor. Whales, porpoises, and 16th-century castles make the mostly-deserted Sinclair’s Bay a unique beach destination in the UK. Located in Caithness, its 4-mile coastline is ethereal. Another wonderful hidden gem! Photos can’t do it justice.

top UK beaches Sinclair

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe by Stefan Klaas, Flickr

Gwithian & Porthgwidden Beach, St. Ives, Cornwall

And here I thought the only St. Ives was in Switzerland. Anyway…! Gwithian & Porthgwidden are other Cornwall spots that will impress even the most discerning beachcombers.

Gwithian really has it all: bug free, great seafood (at a great price), rock pools, and sand dunes. The beach is also great for windsurfing. The best part? Visit around November in order to see a seal sanctuary, located in a cove past Godrevy light house. A traveler once reported seeing over 130 seals at once!

What about Porthgwidden Beach?

Top UK beaches Porthgwidden Cornwall

This is Porthgwidden. Um yeah…exactly. (Photo: Richardo York)

Great Bay, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly

To really get away from it all, head to Great Bay in the Isles of Scilly. A 20 minute walk from the dock, this UK beach is only reachable by foot. For this reason, it is never crowded. The best thing to do while in St Martin’s, by the way? Snorkeling with the seals. Now that’s another one for my travel bucket list!

best UK beaches Great Bay Isles of Scilly

Little Bay, Great Bay, Isles of Scilly by David Edwards, Flickr

For more UK beaches that didn’t make my list (but still come highly recommended), please visit the official Visit Britain site here.

top UK beaches Minack Theater

Minack Theater again! (Simon Clayson, Flickr)

What are your fave UK beaches? Would you visit the UK for them?

Frog legs recipe with quinoa: French fusion dish (Hostel Cooking series)

Asian, Cajun or French — I really don’t know. But when I got home last Monday, the delicious, buttery aroma coming out of the kitchen called my name. I ate (ok, almost licked) everything that was put on my plate by my roommate. Amused, Josh said that he was glad I liked his frog legs recipe (scroll down to the bottom to see it).


French frog legs recipe


Frog legs. I ate frog legs. I was the guinea pig for my roommate’s frog legs recipe. I’ve had my fair share of quirky travel food, but never in a million years did I ever think I could ever possibly eat frog anything. Yes, as much of a hyperbole as the former sentence was — those were my feelings towards frogs. But oh, how things can change!

Don’t look at me like that.

If anything, you can always try this frog legs recipe, a French fusion dish according to Josh, on your friends and see what they think. But I kid you not, as you are cooking, you’ll be tempted to try the sauce. THEN, you’ll be hooked 😉

Plus, once cooked on a plate, they don’t look so much like little human legs

Be adventurous for once. YOLO!

(Gosh, I did not just say that)

fried frog legs recipe

Another simple frog legs recipe: Cover them in batter and deep fry them, just like chicken wings! (sorta). Photo: JaulaDeArdilla, Flickr

A bit of history: Frog legs in French cuisine

Frog legs have been eaten by the southern Chinese (since first century AD) and even the Aztecs. However, you will never guess how they became a well-known French delicacy (source: The Guardian UK)?

Hint: Monks and the Catholic Church. I see you laughing — just keep reading.

Apparently, monks were getting a little chubby back in 12th-century France. For this reason, the Catholic Church decided to put them on a diet — no meat for you! (Except for a few select days of the year).

Brilliantly (or not so much?), the monks could get away with classifying frogs as fish, so they could eat as many of their meaty legs as they wished. Whether they could still lose the weight or not, we don’t know (wouldn’t that be a brilliant fad diet though?!). What we do know is that religious, starving French peasants followed suit and the rest is history.

Now, let’s get you cookin’ mesdemoiselles and messieurs!

Hostel Cooking series: Amphibian recipe

Citrus-honey frog legs with quinoa


What you need:
Step 1
3 tablespoons honey

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup orange juice

2 habanero peppers, chopped (don't forget to wear gloves!)

1 pound frog legs

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons thinly sliced onion

3 tablespoons of butter

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Get cookin
Step 2
Stir together the first 8 ingredients. Toss frog legs in marinade to coat evenly, then set aside. Marinate for about 1 hour.
Step 3
Drain the frog legs well, reserving marinade, and toss with cornstarch to coat.
Step 4
Heat the butter in a large iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the legs until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side.
Step 5
While the frog legs are cooking, bring the marinade to a simmer in a small saucepan. Simmer for 3 minutes.
Step 6
Cook quinoa (as directed in package). Serve hot frog legs over warm quinoa, pouring marinade over. Garnish with parsley.

French frog legs recipe with quinoa


Would you try this frog legs recipe?

Surprisingly easy to find and make!

Spanish superstitions: Part 13 of the World’s Superstitions Series

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday! After a 5-month hiatus, the World’s Superstitions Series is back. This week, we will learn about the quirky beliefs and traditions stemming from Spanish superstitions. Are the Spaniards guilty as charged? No doubt about it. Their superstitions list is so long, this post is merely an introduction.

Spanish superstitions, flag and fans

Spanish soccer fans (David Wilson, Flickr)

Spanish superstitions list

* Let’s start with a Halloween Spanish superstition: Never leave a chimney uncapped, as witches may climb down it (and into your house)!

* Remember how Latinos believe that both Friday and Tuesday the 13th are unlucky days? In Spain, only Tuesday the 13th is avoided like the plague for events or traveling. There’s even a saying that solidifies this belief: Martes 13: ni te cases, ni te embarques (literally meaning “Tuesday 13: Don’t get married nor embark [a ship],” it actually rhymes in Spanish ;)).

* Boys and girls: Watch your feet when mama is sweeping the floor! According to Spanish superstitions, if broom hits the feet of a single person while sweeping the floor, that person will never get married.

* Never you leave your purse or wallet on the floor — you’ll attract bad luck. Your money will run away (or someone will steal it)!

Spanish superstitions, water toast

NEVER do this. Why? Read on (Viren Kaul)

* Never toast with a glass of water: This is bad luck! In fact, it will get you seven years of bad sex. Bring on the sangria, people.

* In several Spanish households, moms preach to their children the walking barefoot will make them sick (specifically, catch a cold). Thus, it is prohibited to walk without slippers or shoes around the house. This superstition is not exclusive to Spain, by the way. Growing up in Puerto Rico, my mom used to yell at my sister for walking barefoot all the time! As for me, I would always get in trouble due to my constant encounters with the lethal Puerto Rican sereno

* Never take a shower after dinner. According to Spanish superstitions, you’ll have a heart attack!

* Hear or see a cricket? Rejoice: That’s great luck! And if you kill one? Go to church, for you have committed a sin.

Spanish superstitions, cricket

Crickets and Spanish superstitions: Great luck (Mark Robinson)

* On New Year Day, right when the clock hits midnight, one must throw a bucket of water out the window for purification and good luck. I love this one, especially because my family does it every year 🙂 Spanish superstitions and traditions, clearly, are deeply embedded in Puerto Rican culture.

* If a loved one calls you, don’t answer the phone with a “hello” — say bendición or bendiciones (“blessing” or “blessings”) instead. This is another lovely Spanish tradition that was brought to the Caribbean. Back in Puerto RIco though, it is mostly used to greet the elderly or your grandparents (out of respect).

* It is the Spanish belief, as is tradition, to name your child after the name of the Saint to which that day is dedicated. This one is close to my heart, as my grandfather (may he rest in peace) of Canarian descent named all my aunts and mom after the Saints of their birthdays.

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife, Canary Islands (Photo: BeeLoop SL)

That’s all for Spanish superstitions this week! If you would like a particular country featured, just contact me with a short blurb and list of unique beliefs and superstitions. Conversely, if your country has been previously featured (below), comment on that post to add on to the list!

Previously featured countries – World Superstitions blogs:
Puerto Rico
The Netherlands

Got more Spanish superstitions to share? Comment below!

European Halloween traditions and festivals

Ever wonder how European Halloween is celebrated? I do! For this reason, I decided to feature quirky European Halloween traditions and festivals for this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday post.

European Halloween poster

Halloween poster by Giovanni, Flickr

Learn more: Halloween origins, myths debunked

European Halloween traditions are not even a mix of the original neopagan, Roman and/or Celtic celebrations anymore. If any practical rites take place at all, none of them have any ties to the aforementioned backgrounds. Moreover, certain studies affirm that the holiday is simply an American import nowadays, emphasizing hyper-consumerism, particularly in middle Europe (Wikipedia). It all depends where you go, though! Some places turn spooky — while others simply get sexier. How so? Let’s take a look at some Halloween traditions in European countries I have visited:

Austrian Halloween traditions

Many European Halloween traditions involve rituals in order to call dead souls back. In Austria, a lamp is lit up, bread and water are left on the table on Halloween night to welcome these spirits. In fact, many Catholic Austrians remember the dead for an entire week period between October 30th and November 8th. This “holiday” is known as Seleenwoche (All Souls’ Week).

European Halloween traditions, Austria

Halloween flyer in Vienna (nozoomii, Flickr)

English Halloween traditions

The origin of American trick-or-treating traces back to one of the oldest English Halloween traditions. On All Saints Day eve (October 31st), small soul cakes are baked and given away. Families gather and stay up late, burning candles in all rooms of the house to guide souls and even glasses of wine to refresh them (Wiki). This tradition was called souling, and children not only went door-by-door for cakes, but they also had to sing songs and even prayers to the dead in order to receive them.

European Halloween, soul cakes

“Soul cakes for Samhain” (Samantha, Flickr)

German Halloween traditions

Some may call it a superstition, but it is a German Halloween tradition to put all knives away on the night of October 31st. It is done to prevent the living from hurting the spirits (and vice-versa!). On the other hand, while kids don’t usually go trick-or-treating, Halloween parties are common. Costumes and decorations are imported from the USA.

Now comes the real German tradition: Martinstag. While it is celebrated on November 11th instead, it was still much like Samhain: Feast marking the end of the harvest season. Nowadays though, it marks the start of Christmas shopping (and markets!) and it commemorates “Sankt Martin (c. 317-397), Bishop of Tours, one of the most revered European saints” (

Stankt Martin, German Halloween equivalent

“St. Martins Day in Halle (Saale)” (gynti_46, Flickr)

Icelandic Halloween traditions

Halloween in Iceland is not that popular (as of 2012 at least!). You may find the odd expats or locals dressing in costumes, trick-or-treating or using the day as another excuse to party. However, they do not comprise the majority.

The Icelandic do have a similar tradition, though, held on Ash Wednesday. Kids have the day off from school, go out singing and even dress up (but not like witches or vampires) in exchange of candy (Iceland Review).

Italian Halloween traditions

Interestingly, the Catholic Church was pretty successful at purging most Italian Halloween traditions and pagan feasts in the 17th century. Yet, many customs came flooding back from the USA in the 90’s. American pop culture and TV shows such as The Simpsons are to blame for the rekindling of costumes, decorations, and traditions. Personally, I think we can blame the New World for most European Halloween traditions nowadays. Just go to a US online costumes store and see how many international shoppers try to ship costumes this month!

Spanish Halloween traditions

Irish Celts migrated to Spain, taking their customs with them. For this reason, Spanish Halloween has strong Samhain roots. Celebrations in the Iberian peninsula are somewhat different from other European Halloween traditions, though.

Like in most of Latin America, Spanish Halloween traditions are celebrated throughout a 3-day period in October & November. It all starts with Dia De Las Brujas (Witches Day) on October 31st, followed by Dia De Los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st, and culminating with Dia De Los Muertos (literally meaning “Day of the Dead,” but known as All Souls Day) November 3rd. The most popular custom on Halloween Day is to drink quemada: A mixture of aguardiente, unground coffee, orange peels or lemon rind, and sugar (

European Halloween, Spanish quemada

“The original [Spanish] queimada only contained lemon rind, coffee grains and between 100 and 120 grams of sugar per litre of alcohol. In some areas of Galicia, the traditional way of preparing the queimada is within a pumpkin, which is cut at the top and the insides are scooped out. The queimada acquires the taste of the pumpkin, which can be very tasty. ” (

Switzerland Halloween traditions

As a local website accepted, Halloween has “crept” into Swiss culture. Kids dress up, go trick-or-treating, and even carve pumpkins. What many are not aware of, though, is that Switzerland has a long-time history with the fruit.

Pumpkin lanterns were “like batteries supplying energy […] So to have a pumpkin in your house gave you this energy,” says Sergius Golowin, a writer from Bern ( Also, according to folklore, the strong winds in the Swiss valleys during this season are thought to be “ghostly processions” — the traveling spirits of the dead.

Halloween in Switzerland

Halloween painting on a building in the old town of Lucerne, Switzerland (kara brugman, Flickr)

Conclusion? Even though Halloween originated in Europe (Ireland, to be exact), many of the festivities are not celebrated in most countries of the Old World. If costume parties and decorations are found, they are typically American imports. It is more likely to find an analogous festival or celebration (in which Europeans go trick-or-treating) on a different day of the year.

Know of any other quirky European Halloween traditions? Share!

Best beaches near Rome — and how to get there (photo essay)

Wait…ruins and beaches? People forget how close The Colosseum is to the coast. Even when visiting in the summer, unsuspecting travelers skip the beaches around the ancient city entirely, driving or flying to farther towns for their Italian beach holidays. This week’s Beach Thursday photo essay features the best beaches near Rome and how to get there!

See more Italian beaches: Best beaches in Sicily

best beaches near Rome, Fregene

Peter Casier, Flickr

Best beaches near Rome (in no particular order!)


Did you know that Ostia Antica is actually Pompeii’s less-obnoxious sister? Only 30-40 min. away from the city, Ostia is not only considered the capital’s beach, but it is also a lesser-known point of interest. A worthy day trip from Rome whether you are looking for more interesting ruins and/or a beach escape. I recommend you hit the ruins early in the day, then refresh at the beach after lunch.

How to get there: Take the train (Metro Line B) toward Piramide station. Once there, go up the stairs in order to take the ROMA-LIDO train all the way to the end (C. Colombo Station). If you wish to see the ruins, get off at Ostia Antica station instead. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Extra tip: Since Ostia is quite close to Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, it might be a good place to spend your last day or afternoon in Italy.

best Beaches near Rome, Ostia

Ostia Beach (•• Federì ••, Flickr)

Anzio and Nettuno

Want a plate of seafood with that beach trip? Only 57 km south of Rome, Anzio is a fabulous fishing port. You may also take a ferry to the Pontine islands of Ponza, Palmarola, and Ventotene in the summer.

How to get there: Take the Roma-Nettuno train from Termini. Once at the station, it is only a 10-15 min. walk to the sea 😀

Extra tip: Make sure you take the express train in order to get to the beach in an hour. You may also get there by bus, but beware: If you are only in Rome for a few days, you don’t want to take a 3-hour bus ride (each way!).

best Beaches near Rome, Anzio

“Near San Felice Circeo, between Anzio and Terracina” (Alessandra Kocman, Flickr)


Visiting Sperlonga is like taking a day trip to the Greek islands. Picturesque white-washed buildings make this a lovely little city. It has two different centers: A pedestrian-only one by the old town (lots of steps, gorgeous views from here!) and a second one open to traffic, leading to the beach. Blue-flagged for meeting high standards of cleanliness and water quality, Sperlonga is without a doubt the most beautiful beach near Rome.

How to get there: Take the train Roma-Napoli via Formia and get off at Fondi-Sperlonga. Once there, take the hourly bus (in the summer; every other hour in the winter) from the train station to the center. Total travel time is about 1.5-2 hours.

Extra tip: Do not rent a car and drive around the city in the high season — it’s unlikely you’ll find a parking spot!

best beaches near Rome, Sperlonga

Sperlonga beach (Alessia, Flickr)

Santa Marinella

Location location location — that’s Santa Marinella. Often quite crowded on weekends, it is not my top choice for beaches near Rome. However, I must admit that it is the most convenient. A stretch of its coast has free access, allowing you to bring your own towel (or chair) and enjoy. Alternatively, you may rent a cabana from one of the resorts and dine at one of the many seafood restaurants. It is a place you go to be social and/or people watch!

How to get there: From Rome Termini, take train on Roma-Pisa line toward Santa Marinella. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes.

Extra tip: This goes without saying, but I’ll tell you anyway. If you are seeking for a speck of solitude on the coast, Santa Marinella is not the right day trip from Rome for you.

best Beaches near Rome, Santa Marinella

Not the best beach near Rome, but the most accessible: Santa Marinella (pandemia,Flickr)

Did I leave out any of the best beaches near Rome? Comment below!

Best Sicily beaches: Spectacular scenery, turquoise waters (photos)

Unfortunately for us in the Northern Hemisphere, summer is coming to an end and autumn is falling upon us. However, beaches are always on my mind. Today’s Beach Thursday photo essay will focus on the best Sicily beaches. Yes, another beautifully subjective list by yours truly. Next week: the best of beaches around Rome + how to get there. Enjoy!

best Sicily beaches, Castellammare del Golfo

Castellammare del Golfo (Photo: fazen, Flickr)

Best Beaches in Sicily

Perfect for those wanting to squeeze adventure into their beach holiday. Hike volcanoes, natural reserves, and even go diving & paragliding. Rumor has it that the best beaches in Sicily are found on the west coast of the island. Do I agree? Absolutely. Conveniently, the most spectacular scenery and beaches are clustered together:

San Vito Lo Capo

best Sicily beaches, San Vito Lo Capo

San Vito Lo Capo, arguably the best beach in Sicily, is located in a valley, sandwiched by gorgeous mountains (salvatore ciambra, Flickr)

Favignana, Egadi islands (off Sicily’s west coast)

best Sicily beaches, Favignana

The Egadi islands are located off Sicily’s western coast (Sicilia Mare, Flickr)

Eraclea Minoa

best Sicily beaches, Eraclea Minoa

Expansive coast awaits at Eraclea Minoa (valben, Flickr)

Riserva Naturale Orientata and Scopello

best Sicily beaches, Scopello

Scopello, Sicily: Stunning (Vincenzo Giordano, Flickr)

For diving, you may hit nearby Ustica or Scopello. Be warned, though — while the underwater world in Scopello is gorgeous, the rocks on the beach can be cutting. Appropriate footwear is recommended.

Best beaches in Sicily, honorable mentions: Vendicari Reserve, Gardini-Naxos, Castellammare del Golfo, Sampieri, Modica, Cefalu, and Pozzallo.

best beaches in Sicily, Pozzallo

Pozzallo beach (Jacques Zammit, Flickr)

Hope you enjoyed traveling through the best beaches in Sicily! The rest of the series, including other parts of Italy such as Rome, Puglia, Venice, and Tuscany vicinity, will be published next month as Beach Thursday editions.

San Vito Lo Capo landscape, best Sicily beaches

Another one for San Vito Lo Capo: My absolute favorite! (salvatore ciambra)

Have you visited the best Sicily beaches? Which ones?

Sochi Russia weather: Subtropical Paradise and Winter Olympics Host?

As I brainstormed for a topic to write about for this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday, I stumbled upon an article about Sochi Russia weather and its “330 days of sunshine.” I was confused. Even more confused I was as I kept on reading, learning that Sochi is also known as a city of 3 seasons. No winter? But… isn’t it RUSSIA?! That’s when I knew I had to write about it.

So today’s article won’t be so much about culture, but more so about geography. Either way, we will learn why Sochi Russia weather is quite pleasant most of the year–even as this Black Sea resort town will be the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Sochi Russia weather, humid subtropical

Sochi Russia weather makes it a premier resort town in the Black Sea (Fabio – Miami, Flickr)


Located in western Russia, just north of the disputed territory Abkhazia, Sochi is one of the longest cities in the world (source). It spreads out 147 km along the Black Sea and its unique subtropical climate makes it one of the warmest cities in its latitude. To put it in perspective: Sochi’s latitude is comparable to Boston, Massachusetts in the US.

Sochi Russia weather, location

Location of Sochi, Russia (NormanEinstein, Wiki Commons)

Sochi Russia weather year-round

Sochi Russia weather is quite ideal for most vacationers in the region. Water temperatures average 76° F (24.4° C) between June and October, while air temperatures range between 79° and 81° F (26° – 27° C). Conversely, between January and April, temperatures average 52° F (11° C) during the day and 39° F (4° C) at night. To a Puerto Rican like me, those are some chilling numbers. However, to an European or fellow Russian, that’s “mild winter” weather at best.

But why IS this, though?! Sochi’s weather is mild year-round because it borders a warmer inland sea (vs a cold ocean), plus it’s very close to Turkey and the Middle East, which are warmer even in winter. Moreover, the surrounding mountains shelter the city from the freezing wind chills and temperatures of northern neighbors, making it the perfect seaside resort.

Sochi Russia weather, beach

Sochi, Russia beach (Socialism Expo., Flickr)

Sochi and the Winter Olympics

Now, how could Sochi’s humid subtropical climate allow it to clinch the XXII Olympic Winter Games host “title”? The Greater Caucasus Mountains Range is in its vicinity. Average temperatures in the mountains fluctuate between 35° – 32° F (2° – 0° C) in January and April–and we know we can get way lower than that once you go to a peak. Ah, voilá!

Sochi Russia weather, skiing

“Krasnaya Polyana: About 25 miles inland from Sochi” (RIA Novosti archive, Mikhail Mokrushin on WIki Commons)

Now that I know more about the pleasant Sochi Russia weather and its beautiful coastline, I’ll definitely add the resort town to my travel bucket list. What about you?

Have you been to Sochi, Russia? Would you plan a beach getaway there?

Traveling through a St Pete Beach Russian restaurant: What an experience!

If there’s one thing I love to do when not traveling is to still travel. That is, Travel Through Food! Of course, I’ve tried yet another new cuisine, despite the fact I haven’t traveled outside of Florida in about a month. Buckle up as I present a St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review and my first experience with Eastern European food!

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant, Florida

St Petersburg Nights in Florida?

Uninviting all-black building. Tacky decor. Odd vibe. Half-off discount coupon in hand. “What have I gotten ourselves into?” I thought, as I looked at my handsome date. Little did I know, 2 hours later, I would walk out thinking “This is the best date night we’ve had in a long time”

After having experienced it all, I can’t stop smiling. Even today: Two days later!

St. Petersburg Nights: St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review

What happened at this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant?! We waited more than hour and half for our food. Then, the food was just ok–spices so foreign to my palate. The Russian vodka had already hit me in the head. The entertainment was a cheesy Russian man, sax in hand, with auto-tune and midi-like karaoke songs. Oh, let’s not forget the Russian lady in the black lentejuelas dress, occasionally jumping in.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant

Inside St. Petersburg Nights restaurant

Ahh, I’m traveling.

For 2 full hours, Blaine and I were transported outside of Florida and into Russia. According to other reviewers, this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant is as authentic as it gets. The ambiance includes a full bar, dance floor, hookah, and even belly dancing (every 2nd Tuesday of the month) and burlesque shows (every Thursday).

The menu: At a glance

What about the menu? Several varieties of the staple dish perogies, in addition to chicken, liver, kabobs, pastries, and other Eastern European favorites. An even greater selection of Soviet-era vodkas and beers. While we thought the food was bland, maybe we are just not used to it. Besides — the smooth vodka and tasty Oreshki more than made up for it.

Our apps and drinks

We ordered a round of Stolichnaya vodka shots and a Baltika 6 Porter to start. Not a minute passed before the shots went straight into our heads. Oh boy, this is the good stuff.

For our app, we chose the assorted cold cuts. The Russian smoked meats were not really what I was expecting. But then again, give me anything smoked and I’ll like it.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant drinks

Apologies for the overexposure — bad camera, but good Russian drinks

The entertainment

Then it was time for Mr Boris and his sax. Boy, is he funny. In an all-white John Travolta suit he came out, trying to teach us Russian. Then, he was off, playing along Spanish cha-cha songs and ballads (but, of course, sung in Russian). I found this quite particular: Is Spanish music that popular in Russia? How were they influenced? All I can tell you is that Russians are, imho, are some of the best Latin-dance and ballroom dancers out there.

 The long food wait and our main courses

We waited for a good hour and half before getting our main entrees. Yes, this would be unacceptable to most Americans. However, we later learned that the reason food takes long to come out is because they want you to enjoy the surroundings, the music, your drinks. In short, it is a Russian tradition to truly enjoy your time with your friends or date when you go out to eat.

Ironically, the long food wait is the reason why we thought this was the best date night we’ve had in a very long time. We were not in a hurry. We took all the strangeness in. We went with an open mind. We laughed at the quirkiness. We talked about our future travel plans and how we both love being in “uncomfortable situations.” How happy they make us.

Ah, this is why we loved this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant so much!

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant, forester roast

Forester roast: My date’s pick

Eastern European Lobster pierogi

Eastern European lobster pierogi: My pick. An interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Once the main entrees were placed on our table, my date couldn’t help but whisper “wow, I can taste the hardship.” I looked at him kind of angrily, but I know he didn’t mean to be offensive. Eastern European and Russian food can be quite foreign to the American palate. Even a well-traveled Puerto Rican like myself had a hard time processing the flavors. Oddly enough though, I still enjoyed my lobster pierogi. A “safe choice” at first glance, they were actually quite different from what I was expecting! (By the way, my date, ended up kind of liking the tamed spices of his Forester roast)

Our dessert? Oreshki! We ate those delicious cookies as we walked to the beach after dinner.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review, oreshki

Oreshki (or walnut cookies) at this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant looked similar to these (Photo: su-lin, Flickr)

St. Petersburg Nights restaurant: In a nutshell

I’ll be the first to admit it: Most Americans would hate this place. “Slow service, bland food” are adjectives most have used to describe this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant in their online reviews. However, those that come with an open mind and understand they are taking a peek at a radically-different culture and cuisine will sure have a wonderful time at this establishment. Bonus: The beach is just a block away (perfect for a romantic post-dinner walk!).

Just remember: Only bring open-minded people, with whom you love to spend time with. Otherwise, your may feel like you’re in prison…

Have you ever been to a Russian restaurant? What was it like?

Vik Iceland beach and the South Coast: Photo essay

As I promised last Friday on my Iceland waterfalls photos post, today I will publish some never-seen-before shots from my winter trip there. Thus, Vik Iceland beach and surroundings are this week’s Travel Tuesday features.

Also read: Iceland Couchsurfing and hitchhiking

On the map: Vik, Iceland

Vik Iceland beach and town location

While I usually travel on a shoestring and recently discovered the joys of travel without a plan, I took 3 tours while in Iceland and they were well worth the money. Not only was Go Travel Iceland the agency that offered the cheapest tours around, but also they are the most thorough. I remember our tour guide, owner Gumi, taking us to rugged off-beaten-path places in his van that not even other 4×4 tours would go into! The passion for Iceland was reflected on Gumi’s face at every stop we made, and he truly made my trip to Iceland incredibly memorable (in addition to my Couchsurfing hosts of course!). Hope you enjoy the Vik photos we took during our South Coast tour!

The town of Vik

The full name of the southernmost village in Iceland is Vík í Mýrdal (Wikipedia). It is home to only about 300 inhabitants and in constant threat of natural disasters. Not only does it have the Mýrdalsjökull glacier right above it, but also the Katla volcano happens to sit right below the glacier! It is said that the only safe place, if Katla were to erupt, is the town’s church.

Vik Iceland beach road sunset

On our way to Vik! I made our tour guide stop =P

Vik Iceland beach town

The town of Vik from our van window (the “safe” church afar)

Glacier from Vik Iceland beach

Glacier from the road: On our way to Vik beach

Vik Iceland beach: Solidified lava and black sand

While I have posted photos of the amazing formations of Vik’s volcanic beach before, I got a couple more to show you!

Vik Iceland beach formations

Entering the famous Vik black sand beach. I couldn’t believe my eyes

Vik Iceland beach lava stairs

Marcello and I climbing the amazing lava formations

Vik Iceland beach solidified lava

Solidified lava! This particular wall gave me a weird sense of vertigo when I photographed it

Vik Iceland black sand beach

Me! =)

This was the last stop of our South Coast tour. Needless to say, it was sad when we had to leave. So after hours of beautiful landscapes, and a beaming orange sunset, the town of Vik said farewell. Fortunately, we had a local electronica concert, some happy Couchsurfers, and delicious Icelandic food waiting for us in Reykjavik.

Vik Iceland black sand beach sunset

Farewell, Vik!

Hope you enjoyed these Vik Iceland beach photos! I’ll post more of our other stops, including one of NatGeo’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the world, next week.

Comment: Have you been to Iceland? Is it on your travel bucket list?