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October 10, 2017

Milan, Italy – Style and so much more!

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Milan is the capital of the Lombardy Province in northern Italy and the second most populous city in the country after Rome, with nearly 3.3 million people. Calling Milan a well rounded city is a bit of an understatement as it’s a leading world city in industry, finance and commerce, education and the arts, healthcare and research. Most people know of Milan as the “Fashion Capital of the World”, but it is also the “Design Capital of the World” too. In this post I will feature some of the many highlights of Milan. When visiting this iconic city of fashion and elegance you might like to consider getting the mood by riding in style from Malpensa Airport into the city.

Milan Cathedral
Duomo di Milano is the largest church in Italy and the 3rd largest in the entire world. This grand cathedral was built over a period of 400 years and wasn’t completed until 1805. Not surprisingly, it’s design has a mixture of styles reflecting preeminent fashions of the changing times and it certainly has had it’s detractors and admirers over the last few centuries. It is the number one tourist attraction in the city and one of the really cool things about it is that, for a fee, you can go up on it’s roof and see the myriad of elaborate spires up close.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This is “mall shopping” on a style level I’ve never seen before. The galleria is an amazing 19th century structure, comprising of 2 four storey bisecting arcades in the shape of a Latin cross. The space between the arcades is covered by an arched roof of glass and cast iron and where they bisect, there is a magnificent octagonal glass dome that is 154 feet high. It is the oldest shopping mall in the world and the arcade connects the Piazza del Duomo (the square in front of Milan Cathedral) and the Piazza della Scala ( the square in front of La Scala Opera House). The entrance from Piazza del Duomo is framed by a magnificent triumphal archway. The galleria has all the big name fashion shops but I’d go there just to see the architecture alone.

La Scala
If you are opera buffs like my parents you’ll know that La Scala is one of the top opera companies in the world, so be sure to check out the season program and book online in advance for the popular operas.

Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
This monastery is very unimposing on the outside and completely belies the splendor within. The rooms within are decorated with amazing frescos, some of which are over 400 years old and still in amazing condition.

Il Cenacolo
The monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie houses Il Cenacolo, the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo de Vinci which dates back to 1495. Because of the way it was initially painted, the condition of this fresco began deteriorating soon after it was completed. Due to this decay and despite, and in some cases because of, numerous attempts at restoration (the last in 1999) very little of the original painting remains. In spite of this the painting is a big drawcard and due to it’s popularity you need to book online a few months in advance. It is also recommended to do a tour so you can learn more about the story behind the painting and appreciate it more.

Attractions near Milan

Milan is only 1 hour by train or a 2-2.5 hour drive to another great northern city Turin. Genoa on the north-west coast takes about 1.5-2 hours by train and 2-2.5 hours by car. Because of it’s proximity to the coast many tourists choose to visit La Spezia and cliff-edge villages that create the picturesque Cinque Terre.

Despite North Italy being the most industrialized region of Italy it also famous for the natural beauty of it’s many lakes. The most well known ones are Lakes Maggiore, Como and Garda which lie at the foot of the Alps and/or Dolomites and are lined by gorgeous villages with a lot of character. It takes less than 2 hours to drive from Milan to any of them. Lake Lugano is another of the larger lakes – it is partially in Italy with the rest of it lying over the Swiss border. It’s hard to imagine any lake more beautiful than Maggiore or Como, but some of northern Italy’s smaller lakes are arguably even more pretty e.g Lago Iseo and Lago d’Orta so be sure to visit more than the big four.

Image by Jess Wood under Creative Commons license.

September 28, 2017

Bordeaux, France – more than famous wine region.

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Cite du Vin

Once you visited Paris and got that ticked off your travel bucket list, it’s well worth worth looking further afield for perhaps a more authentic French experience. The sixth largest city in France, Bordeaux lies in the south-west of the country near the Atlantic Ocean, in the Bay of Biscay. It is a port city with the large tidal Garonne River passing through it. Bordeaux is a mini Paris of sorts, having a large number of preserved historical buildings, second only to the capital in France. Surrounding area around Bordeaux is one of the best wine producing regions of the world. As someone who enjoys relaxing with a full-bodied red in hand, I can think of nothing finer than taking leisurely drives around the vineyards and stopping off at beautiful chateaus to partake in some wine tasting and a spot of lunch. There are many rentals in France, providing luxury accommodation for parties from four up to thirty people.

Getting There and Getting Around

As of early July 2017 Eurostar has a new, faster train trip from London to Bordeaux ( with a quick switch of trains in Paris), getting there in just under 6 hours. Return tickets cost from GBP110.
As well as from many cities throughout France and Europe, you can also fly to Bordeaux directly from the following cities in the U.K.: London, Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton and Edinburgh. There is no need to get a taxi from the airport into town. The public airport bus to central Bordeaux is Alignes 1(line one) and comes every 10 mins. Tickets are €1.60 and are purchased from a vending machine, right beside the where the bus leaves from. Correct change is required or use a credit card. There is a easily legible map of the bus route and stops along the way.

Bordeaux is a city that is very walkable, if you have the time and legs. My parents were there recently and were very impressed with the city’s tram system. There are four tram routes which have quite an extensive radius. They travel overground, are clean and efficient, and run frequently. You can buy your ticket at any stop using coins or a credit card, and you will get change. Tickets are €1.60/hour. There are other options/passes but that is what my parents used. You have to validate your ticket upon entering the tram and they do have inspectors so it doesn’t pay to cheat.

There is an excellent Information Centre close to the large Quincones Tram B and C interchange, on the corner of Cours 30 Juliette St. There is clean and coin operated toilet on the corner there too which is a bonus for us ladies :-)

Things to do in Bordeaux

Wine Tours

You can’t visit Bordeaux without going on a tour of the local wine region. My parents purchased their tour tickets from the Information Centre. They opted for one of the more expensive ones which took a maximum of 8 eight people in a very comfortable “people mover” van. The tour cost £70 for a half day tour from 1400-1900 hours. They visited two very interesting and different chateaus in the famed Saint Emilion region.

Cite du Vin
This modern wine museum, just completed in 2016 and situated on the bank of the Garonne River, is a must-see. It tells the story on wine from ancient to modern times with interactive displays, films, live entertainment etc. The building has an extraordinary design, supposedly replicating the “swirl of wine” in a wine glass. The ground floor has an enormous circular wine bar with approx. 14,000 bottles of wine from prominent wine growing areas in 70 countries of the world. Wine is purchased by the glass which costs € 5-15. On the 8th floor is a large wrap-around bar from where you can see great views of Bordeaux and the Garonne River. It is a great spot from which to see the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas, an impressive vertical lift bridge completed in 2013, that can allow ocean going liners to travel up the navigable part of the river. The Bridge was completed in 2013. They even give you a complimentary glass of wine to enjoy the views. You can get to the Cite du Vin on Tram B.

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The Water Mirror (Miror d’Eau) at the Place de la Bourse
This amazing and large water feature is a wonderful playground for children and adults alike, as well as a photographer’s dream. Imagine if you will a nearly 3500 square metre slab of black granite, covered in 2 inches of water, creating the largest reflecting pool in the world. To the pleasure of everyone on a hot day, the splash park alternates between still water and a low mist. The Water Mirror and the beautiful old buildings that surround it look especially stunning at night when they are lit up by lanterns.

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Place de la Bourse and Miror d’Eau

Other Places of Interest

Porte Cailhau is an historic city gate, built in 1495, and worth a photo op. Near the Garonne River it is within easy walking distance from the Miror d’Eau, and the Pont du Pierre which is the oldest bridge in Bordeaux. The Garonne River itself is not that attractive as it tidal and therefore a bit muddy, but the bridge does look beautiful lit up at night.

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The Basilique St Michael and Bell Tower is an interesting place to visit, especially on Saturday morning when they have a huge antique market. Place de la Victora is an interesting stop too. It has one market type street (Rue Sainte Catherine) and the rest of the area has a trendy feel and is a great Cafe scene.

The Galerie Des Beaux Arts is a mid sized gallery. It lacks the big names of Rembrandt, Vermeer, or Van Gogh et al, but it is “big” on Rubens, and a great array of French artists including Matisse. My parents have been to many of the world’s big name galleries and were a little underwhelmed by this one.

July 8, 2017

New Zealand’s Heaphy Track – One of the Great Walks!

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New Zealand has some of the world’s best walking tracks (or as they call them in Kiwi land, “tramps”!) and the Heaphy Track is one of them.
It is situated on the north western coast of NZ’s South Island within Kahurangi National Park. You can choose to walk the track over either four or five days. My group did it in 4 days but if I had my time over again I would choose the 5 day option. 78.4 km is a long way!

The Heaphy Track is not a circuit track so you have to consider your transport options in and out. You can walk it from South to North (Kohaihai end to Collingwood end) or North to South (Collingwood to Kohaihai). Sometimes 2 groups of friends will arrange to walk the track from opposite ends, meet in the middle and swap the keys to their cars so that they can both drive out. We drove to Karamea (the small township near Kokaihai) from the city of Christchurch and stayed the night. The next morning we took a helicopter flight to the north-eastern end of the track and then walked the track back down to our car. Of course you can arrange to catch the helicopter to either end.

We walked the track from North to South but on reflection I think South to North would have been preferable. There are two reasons for this. On your first day you are carrying more weight because you are carrying food for 4 days. From the southern Karamea end, the the first day involves walking along a largely flat track up the picturesque coastline. Three of the first day’s highlights are the grove of Nikau, Scott’s Beach and the inlet camp site at the end of the day. However, walking from the northern Collingwood end the first day is mostly uphill through beautiful native bush. I found this quite tough with a full backpack and wished I’d walked from the southern end which would’ve allowed me to ease myself into the hike, as it were.

So we walked 5 hours up through the forest to Perry Saddle Hut and stayed there the first night. The next day was a very long day! It took me about 8 hours to walk across the alpine tussock grasslands of the Gouland Downs to the Mackay Hut. It’s supposed to take 6.5 hours but one of my knees was playing up and causing me pain.
Day 3 involved descending through beautiful bush and then crossing and following the gorgeous Heaphy River out to meet the sea where we stayed our 3rd night at the Heaphy Hut. The final day we walked south along the coastal track through the forest of Rata and Karaka trees and Nikau Palms. There are quite a few swing bridge crossings of streams which can swell into torrents after heavy rain so be careful. There are opportunities to walk along the beach in some places. The sea is breathtakingly beautiful but you should NEVER be tempted to go for a swim – it far too dangerous.

The Heaphy Track is one of the great walks of the world. You get to see such diverse landscapes along the way – beech Forest, alpine tussock grassland, podocarp forest and coastal palm trees. I would love to do it again and next time I would be better prepared. I would do some training beforehand and make sure I had more comfortable boots. I developed blisters on the 3rd day and was a bit of a cripple on the last day which was a shame as it did impair my enjoyment of what otherwise was a spectacular last day. Bring some plasters!

Image by Christoph Strassler under Creative Commons license.

February 21, 2017

Hamburg, Germany – the Highlights

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Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city and has a big personality all of its own. It offers something for everyone, whether you’re a culture vulture, shopaholic, outdoor lover or history enthusiast.

This northern German city between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea is one of the busiest ports in Europe. The city centre is built around two artificial lakes and a network of canals. Take a stroll along its many waterways to see why it’s called “The Venice of the North”. Spare time to visit the local fish market, the Merchants District – take a boat tour or jump on a ferry. Even in summer the wind can be brisk, so pack a sweater.

Green Spaces

Hamburg is full of green spaces, waterfront walkways and bike paths. Budget conscious tourists can stroll through the cobbled streets window-shopping and see the buildings change from old brick warehouses to uber-modern architecture by crossing any of the 2,300 bridges that span the canals. Walking around the two lakes or relaxing along the banks of the river is a free and an enjoyable way to spend some time. Or take a tour, public transport or rent a bike. In the summer you can go swimming, kayaking and sailing or take a boat tour on the lakes, and in the winter, go ice-skating. Hamburg is one of Europe’s greenest cities. Planten und Blomen Park is among the most visited with its old botanical garden, the largest Japanese garden in Europe, a tropical house and numerous children’s activities. Another popular attraction is Hagenbeck Zoo, home to over 200 different animal species and a four level aquarium.

Art and Culture

For culture enthusiasts, there are loads of museums and art galleries. The Maritime Museum explains Hamburg’s maritime history and the Miniatur Wunderland has the largest model railroad in the world. While Spicy’s Spice Market inter-active museum has over 800 exhibits and different spices to touch, smell and try.
For art lovers, there are seven centuries of art, from medieval to contemporary, in the Kunsthalle’s three different buildings. And a visit to the Deichtorhallen is a must for lovers of contemporary art and photography.
Architectural wonders abound with many significant churches, such as St. Nicholas, which was the tallest building in the world for a short time in the 19th century, and St. Michael’s whose bell tower has beautiful views of the city.

Vibrant Night Life

At night, Hamburg has a vibrant vibe, from classical concerts to loud club music. St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn area are full of clubs, while Schanzenviertel has more laid back bars. A must-see for many tourists is the red-light district of Reeperbahn, where you can retrace the steps of the Beatles before they became famous.

January 3, 2017

10 Tips for Making Your Summer Holiday Affordable.

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Although things appear to be turning the corner economy-wise, most of us still have to plan our summer holiday on a tight budget. Whether we holiday in Europe, North America, Asia, or further afield, the more flexible we can be with our arrangements, the more we can save.



Booking Early:



Early booking, 10 or 11 months before you wish to holiday, will often get you substantial discounts. Most operators sell a certain amount of cheaper rooms and apartments in the early days. When they go, the price goes up.

 

Booking Late:



This is where flexibility comes in. Tour operators want to fill their rooms and apartments. When business is slow, big discounts come into play, sometimes as much as 50%. If you’re even more flexible, and are prepared to accept the tour operators choice of ‘somewhere’ in France, Spain, the Balearics, Canaries, or other hotspots, then booking last minute will often attract even greater discounts.



Search the Internet:



Check all holiday types on the internet. Depending when you can travel, making your arrangements independently may well be cheaper than taking a tour operator’s package, but beware, if the operators slash prices, their option may be cheaper.



Check All Inclusive:



All Inclusive isn’t everybody’s idea of a holiday, but don’t dismiss it. All inclusive is very popular with families and groups, and can be a big saving against half or full board hotels. In the off season, when children are back at school, all inclusive packages can be substantially discounted, often to a level of self-catering units.



Play the Waiting Game:



If you find your ideal package on a tour operator’s site, fill in your details, email address etc, but don’t buy, leave the site. Next day you may well find an email in your inbox offering an additional discount – ‘if you book your package today.’



Booking Insurance:



Because you’ve bought their holiday, doesn’t mean you have to buy their holiday insurance. Check out specialist travel insurance companies online. Their plans are often cheaper, and more comprehensive, than tour operators.

 Also some credit cards provide you with free travel insurance when you pay for the bulk of your trip expenses e.g overseas flights, with that card.

Car Hire:



If your holiday plans include car hire, check out international car hire companies. While tour operators may well offer ‘discounted’ car hire if you buy through them, the big hire companies often offer a discount for pre-booking, especially out of season.



Car Insurance:



Don’t be caught out by the excess insurance trap. If you’re confident about driving abroad you may choose to forgo the excess waiver insurance. If not, then buying a separate, independent excess waiver policy may well be a cheaper option. Shop around on this one.



Large Parties, Family Groups:



If you’re planning a large family get together, or holidaying with a group of friends, check out condos, houses, country cottages, or apartments to let. Large savings are to be had per person. Group privacy is confirmed, and everyone is in the same place when organising those days out.



Tours and Excursions:



Lastly, if you’ve already decided on certain trips and excursions to undertake while on holiday, wait until you’re at your destination before booking. Tour operators receive commission on trips the reps sell. Visit a few of the excursion booths you’ll find around the resort. Compare prices and offers, many offer two for one deals, free child entrance when booking for family, or discounts for large groups. 

January 12, 2016

How to have “a Lat” of fun in Latvia (and Estonia, for that matter)

After a short day in Copenhagen, we made it to sunny Riga, Latvia!  After waking up at our very reasonably priced and comfortable hostel, we headed for the medieval streets of Old Town.

We spent the morning ambling through cobblestone streets snapping shots of the 17th century architecture and crumbling buildings.  Many of the buildings were pillaged in WWII and have been restored to their original beauty.  One of the most notable is the House of Blackheads built in 1344 by the Brotherhood of Blackheads merchant guild.

After listening to a somber street violinist in the square, it was time for some snacks at the Central Market.

The market is housed in four Zeppelin hangars built in 1930.  These hangars were never actually used for aircraft but immediately became the home of one of the world’s largest markets with over 80,000 visitors each day.  Each building has a different theme– meat/dairy, fish, produce, clothing, etc.  Merchants sell everything from hand-knit socks to amazing pastries.

We stuck more to the pastries.

There were plenty of locals stocking up on food, so this was an excellent opportunity to snap a few photos of Latvians in action.  Still being new at that kind of thing, I wasn’t sure how to go about this.  Do you try to take it while they aren’t looking?  Do you ask them?  I went with the former strategy and pretended to take photos of a lot of things around me and then snapped several quick shots when my subject wasn’t looking

This method was only moderately effective.

I got the photo, but apparently the woman with the pink bag was a little camera shy.  She began shouting at me in Latvian and flailing her arms wildly.  Oops.  The people around us stopped and stared while I retreated horrified.  I’ll try the other approach next time!  I did, however, manage to get a second photo of the man with the flowers.

Pre-yelling shot Pre-yelling shot

Luckily, we found some great street food at the market.  Nearly everything cost about 1 Latvian Lat (approx. $1.70) or less, which made for a cheap day of eating.  We enjoyed a black tea for 0.80 Ls, ½ a kilo of amazing strawberries for 0.75 Ls, a fresh homemade donut for 0.10 Ls, an apple filled pastry for 0.16 Ls, a loaf of rye bread for 0.58 Ls, potato pancakes for 1.16 Ls, a stick of cured sausage for 1.07 Ls, smoked salmon for 1.6 Ls, fresh bread and cheese for 1.04 Ls, and 2 beers for 1 Ls each!  This came to a grand total of only 8.22 Lats– about $14– for two days of food.  Not bad.

Estonia was a different story.  A Lat Kroon doesn’t quite go as far north of the border.  The two Baltic countries are somewhat similar in feel except the noticeable differences in quality of life and per capita income.  Riga had a very gritty atmosphere with very few tourists.  It felt like dropping in on the daily life of the local culture, which we really enjoy.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, relies heavily on tourism.  Their Old Town is filled with fancy restaurants, chic coffee shops, and costumed peasants and monks to recreate the Middle Ages for the masses.  There are some great views of the old city wall and towers, and it is undoubtedly a beautiful city.  However, it felt a little disingenuous at times.  Check out our Flickr gallery of Estonia.

Our CouchSurfing host, Mirjam, showed us some of the “real” city.  She also took us around to some other great sights like the open-air museum and the Kadroirg art museum.

On a side note, the lengthened daylight hours in the Baltics requires some adjustment.  The sun doesn’t set until long after midnight and rises around 4:00 a.m.  Add in cross-Atlantic jet lag, and you’ve got a seriously screwed up sleeping and eating schedule.  By the time we were ready for dinner, it would sometimes be 11:00 p.m. or later!

We said goodbye to Mirjam and Estonia last night, and we are currently relaxing in Stockholm after our overnight cruise on the M/S Victoria I.   Our journey through Northern Europe will be wrapping up Wednesday when we fly to Barcelona.  We found some unexpected treasures buried in the former Soviet States, and I’m very glad we started our journey here.

May 6, 2015

Travel Trepidation: Fear and Loathing of New Places

Is “Sarah Palin” on that wall?

The US State Department reports that less than 10 percent of Americans travel abroad each year.  Of that small percentage, most visit Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean.  Generally speaking, Americans just don’t travel internationally.  Let us examine the root of this phenomenon: Fear.

Fear of Headlines

We are told the world is a dangerous place.  Turn on CNN, and you are bombarded with terrifying headlines.  Juárez is a war zone!  You’ll be kidnapped, robbed, or worse.”, they tell us.  “They may force you to watch Mexican soap operas!” The media is so negative, it’s no wonder Wisconsin Dells is packed.

Granted, there are some nasty places in the world, and you shouldn’t dismiss the risks.  I am in no way advocating you hop the next flight to Baghdad.

However, I am advocating you take the “gloom and doom” with a grain of salt.  The world is not as scary as Wolf Blitzer’s furry face would lead you to believe.   In fact, you are probably already taking greater risks in your everyday life.  Consider these violent crime rates ¹:

  • United States:  80.1 per 1,000 people
  • Thailand:  8.8 per 1,000 people
  • Colombia:  4.9 per 1,000 people
  • India:  1.6 per 1,000 people
  • Yemen:  1.2 per 1,000 people

According to the data, you are 50 times more likely to be mugged in Chicago than Yemen.  Yet, I don’t think twice about riding the Green Line or strolling down Michigan Avenue at two o’clock in the morning.  You have to discount these statistics, I admit, as the data are probably skewed from unreported crimes, differing crime-counting methodology, and spotty record keeping.  Even still, you’ll find the vast majority of people make it back relatively unscathed.  With the exception of pick pocketing, most travelers avoid major crimes (Again, such as forced exposure to Maria la del Barrio).

Understand that the headlines are sensationalized, and you cannot let them put you off.  Limit your exposure to high-risk situations and make sensible choices.

Fear of the Unfamiliar

Many hesitate to travel because they are afraid of missing their friends, family, and routine.  We cling to familiarity and resist change at every turn.  Most people solve their fears by frequenting the same destinations year after year– Las Vegas every January or Orlando each summer.  There is comfort in the familiar, and routine can be a good thing.  But what’s the fun in that?  Traveling is about discovery and new experiences.  Nervousness should be a prerequisite– expected and embraced.

Nervousness is what makes travel so rewarding.  It gives you that pre-trip high.  Once you get to your destination, your fears melt away.  You left the jitters on the airplane along with your headphones.  You embrace the familiarity of the unfamiliar and stop worrying about your destination.  You are experiencing the destination first hand, and you see your fears of the unfamiliar were unwarranted.

Of course, then there’s the food thing.  Fried cockroaches?  Toasted arachnids?  The mind runs wild with stomach wrenching combinations.  There is no doubt some dishes will be absolutely terrible and will have you running for the bathroom.  However, others will be wonderful, and you’ll crave them the rest of your life.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve salivated at the thought of those lime-drenched, al pastor tacos on that dimly lit street in Mexico City.  ¡Muy delicioso!

Independent travel forces you fend to for yourself, which can be intimidating.  There is no tour guide or concierge to help you along.  But it’s not just you and your tattered Lonely Planet versus the world either— the invisible network of Couchsurfers and hostel-dwellers will help you along the way.

Your trip is a personal thing, and you can shape it to be whatever you want. 

Fear of Perceptions

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get 300 days of vacation at my job.  Most people have to quit or negotiate a leave of absence for a trip like ours.  This is a very scary thing.

Don’t be afraid to get off the career merry-go-round.  You can get right back on when you return.  Admittedly, Kim and I are your typical yuppies, and we aren’t leaving our careers behind to sell hemp necklaces and focus our inner Chi.

Well, at least not indefinitely.

Don’t be afraid of being viewed as irresponsible or uncommitted.  If you do it right, your employer may actually support your decision and welcome you back when you return.  How can anyone fault you for pursuing your dream?  Sometimes we are so worried about how we are perceived that we don’t go to cooking school or join the Peace Corp or take that year off to travel the world.

In summary, don’t let “the fears” paralyze you.  You only live once.  There are thousands of people that travel for months (even years) without being kidnapped by terrorists, subjected to poached monkey brain, or being forever branded as an unhirable hippy.  Just check out our Blogroll.  I think you’ll find a consistent message:

Once you set aside your fears and take that big trip, you’ll never regret it.

So, what are you waiting for?

1. Source:  Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 – 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)
August 17, 2011

Gettin’ Fishy With It

Gettin’ Fishy With It

Just because we aren’t traveling the world right now doesn’t mean we can’t view our own city through the eyes of a traveler.  Chicago has so many amazing places to see and foods to eat that there is plenty to blog about. My “Kim’s Tips” for Chicago started to look more like an e-book than a concise city guide, so for the next few months I’ll be featuring great spots in our home town. Hopefully, I will inspire locals to get out and enjoy their hometown and travelers to stop by Chicago and see what it has to offer!

Isaacson & Stein Fish Company

It’s been a long road, but I have seen the light on seafood. Clark gently introduced me to sea creatures through fried calamari and Captain D’s. Now, I gladly throw back oysters and chow down on a mouthwatering hunk of hamachi sashimi. We moved to the Fulton Market district at the end of April and started wandering around our ‘hood to find the best neighborhood places. We came across a plethora of Italian bakeries, subs shops, and pizzerias (subjects of a future post, don’t worry!). But, the biggest catch was Isaacson & Stein Fish Company.

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Three generations have been running this market for over 80 years and it is the oldest fish wholesaler in the city. The current owner, Sherwin Willner, began working at the market at the age of seventeen in 1967. They sell to restaurants as well as every day folk.  It’s safe to say that the Crab Cake Crusted Trout at Wildfire last night came straight from the icy tubs of Isaacson’s.

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Prepare yourself before walking through the doors. If you have a weak stomach or strong aversion to that overwhelming fishy smell, this is not the place for you! It is, however, Clark’s idea of heaven. It’s full of smelly, slimy, and seemingly smiling seafood. The scene is disturbing enough to bring a nine year old girl to hysterics. It didn’t help that her brother shoved a fish in her face and made it talk. Clark does the same thing to me nearly every visit, so I felt her pain.

In the summer, the gush of freezing cold air is a savoir after the three block walk from our apartment. You’ll hear sounds of fish being scaled, chopped, and tossed into buckets while the very jovial employees chat, laugh, and enjoy their work. If you wear sandals, be prepared for your feet to get icy, slimy, and stinky the minute you walk in the door. Once you taste the amazing freshness of the seafood, you’ll know it was worth it.

Isaacson’s receives daily shipments from Greece, Brazil, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and loads of other countries on the Atlantic.  About 10 tons of seafood per week goes through their doors! They also have a nice supply of locally harvested fish from the Great Lakes. Some of the best sushi joints in the city even get their fish from Isaacson & Stein’s. The merry fish guys that work at Isaacson’s will happily clean and gut your fish on the spot.

The market is very crowded on the weekends, but that’s when you realize how good this place really is. You’ll rub shoulders with chef’s from Chicago’s top restaurants and little old Greek ladies planning a family meal. If you’re craving seafood, definitely head to Isaacson & Stein’s and buy enough fish to eat yourself into a mercury-induced coma.

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