How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂

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[Thailand] My Friends, The Elephants

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

I can’t remember who was the first person to tell me to watch where I was going to see elephants in Thailand, I just remember knowing that I needed to educate myself instead of just showing up somewhere random. I knew I wanted to see these beautiful animals, I just wanted to do it responsibly so that I wasn’t contributing to their pain.

Through research and personal accounts of people living in Thailand, I found The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants in the sanctuary have been rescued from riding camps or other places where they were treated unfairly and abused. There, they are provided with everything they need within a safe space. Some may argue that they are still not in ideal conditions, but it’s better than what they had before. Also, as one of the volunteers argued, they have been captive for so long, they are not fit to survive in the wild on their own. Elephants are not meant to be ridden, it’s not natural for them.

We arrived to the sanctuary on the back of a mini truck, well aware that we were in for adventure and that we were going to be in the throws with the elephants.

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We started by changing our shirts and wearing the traditional karen clothing so that the elephants would feel more familiar with us. In order to really win their friendship from the start, we fed them lots of bananas. Literally banana after banana, after banana… they can really eat!

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elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

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We walked around and brought them sugar canes for them to eat. Again, impressive to watch these beautiful beasts eat. This one even tried to eat my GoPro.

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I must admit I was a bit scared. They are beautiful, yet intimidating beasts. They were gentle and friendly and to me, it was scary to think they could be so friendly that they could hurt me without realizing so. For example, being together on the river, a quick playful roll could have basically killed me. Maybe it was just me being cautious, but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind.

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Still, I was able to enjoy and admire them up close and in their natural habitat. We literally got into the mud with them, I went in barefoot to a pile of God knows what. I legit probably stepped on their poop more than once but hey, I did not come all the way to Thailand to stay clean and watch from afar, right?

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The mud made jumping in to the river 10 times more amazing. Sure, the elephants still pooped on the water there, but hey, at least I could clean myself! It was really an experience like no other. The closeness with nature (think walking barefoot through the jungle) and the majesty of these animals (think huge elephant running around like a puppy) was just absolutely incredible.

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

This day really made me want to continue exploring ecotourism. It was interesting, yet not surprising, that the group was composed of people like me from around the world (mid/late twenties all the way to mid/late thirties) hungry for meaningful experiences that do not cause harm and help you learn about the awesome world we live in.

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[Thailand] Best Stay of My Life

There’s traveling. Then there’s traveling for your honeymoon.

Your heart is still full of wedding joy, eager to embrace whatever comes, thirsty for adventures. There are no limitations from the body, mind or even your wallet. With the excuse of “once in a lifetime” we say yes to everything that ignites a sense of passion for this amazing world we live in.

During our Thailand honeymoon, we decided to stay at the Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas during our stay in Phuket and let me tell you, we were absolutely blown away. Never in my sweet life had I stayed in a place like this. We had our own private villa with a private pool, outdoor shower, lagoon cabana and excellent service. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

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Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

I know Puerto Rico is my paradise, but this place was out of this world. Outside of our villa, the views were not that bad either, including sunset cocktails up on a tree house. Every detail here was taken care of, from lighting up torches before the sunset to welcome drinks by the water so you don’t even have to sweat your check-in process.

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

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Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas - Cristina Nogueras - Beaches and Brie - Phuket Thailand

Forget about work hard, play hard.

Work hard, relax harder.

[Puerto Rico] Sunset in Guánica and a Little Bit More

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If you are looking for a romantic and downright amazing getaway in Puerto Rico, you have to consider Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa in Guánica. It’s about 2 hours away from San Juan, but oh so worthy.

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They have their own beach, but what’s really cool about this place is that you can actually take a small boat out to Guilligan’s Island (official name is Cayo Aurora). This is a small island with white sand and beautiful, clear water.

Also in Guánica, you can find a beautiful sunflower farm. I still have not been, but it’s on my list. A less popular but still interesting visit is a stop at the Guánica State Forest, better know as the “Bosque Seco de Guánica” or dry forest. It does not sound appealing but it’s home to some really interesting plants and animals.

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Back in Copamarina, you have a nice selection of food, although it falls a little short compared to other restaurants in the south that serve delicious traditional Puerto Rican food. The main restaurant was also closed during my stay, so I can only speak for the more casual dining space.

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Although a day trip to Guilligan’s Island is amazing, you don’t even have to leave the resort to have a wonderful day since they have plenty of activities to choose from. I wanted to do paddle boarding but as you can see from the pictures in a kayak, I was not successful. In my defense, we tried to do two in one, didn’t work too well.

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Let’s face it, he was doing all the work. I was busy holding on tight to the GoPro.

Now, let’s get real. Copamarina is now one of the most special places in Puerto Rico to me because right at the beginning of the year, during the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, my boyfriend proposed. It was a freaking dream and writing about it makes everything feel even more surreal. As I type, I can’t help to notice the ring on my finger shining back at me as a confirmation that everything did happen and I am indeed marrying my partner in crime and love of my life. Permission to gag. Still, not apologizing for being cheesy. 🙂

puerto rico beach paradise beaches & brie

Here I am thinking what a beautiful day, how can it get any better? Little did I know…

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puerto rico sunset guanica

Then, this happened…

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So yeah, I’m getting married! I promise I won’t turn into bridezilla… as long as I am well fed. Also MAJOR thanks to the couple that took the picture right in the moment. I don’t know your names but I will be literally forever thankful.

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I’m still learning the ropes on this whole “being engaged” thing so feel free to comment with advice, warnings or recommendations! 🙂

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January was a trial month: Welcome to Beaches & Brie!

Playa La Selva Puerto Rico - Beaches and Brie

After many months of tossing and turning, I am thrilled to announce that Peace, Love & Diet Coke is now Beaches & Brie. Peace, Love & Diet Coke will always have a special place in my heart but I’ve felt for a while now that I needed to change the name to help shape my journey and portray more of who I am.

When I started Peace, Love & Diet Coke back in 2013, I was in dire need of a creative outlet. Adjusting to the workforce was not easy and this blog gave me the opportunity to share what was on my mind, no guidelines or parameters needed. I’ve learned a lot about what I love along the way, all while nurturing a hunger for life and adventures (and food, duh).

Food and travel are two of my biggest passions, as made obvious by my Instagram feed and ongoing rants about how I want to travel the world. Beaches & Brie is both an invitation and a declaration. I want to continue to explore places and plates all over the world, or as close as my backyard. Check out the new look!

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I’m still me, nothing’s changing. I’m just excited to roll this new phase out and continue to share places and plates with you, with some other interesting nuggets along the way. Stay tuned for more to come.

January was just a trial month, 2016 begins now!

 

[Strasbourg, France] Forever nostalgic

Strasbourg, FranceI will forever be nostalgic of the few months I lived in Strasbourg, France. I really don’t think that feeling will ever go away and I am ok with it, I’ve said it before. I think everyone needs to live abroad at some point in their lives, even if it’s just for a few months. To some it sounds annoying, but I have never heard anyone who has lived abroad say that they regret their decision. Seriously, it opens your eyes, your mind and your soul. It also empties your pockets, but that’s another story.

Instagram did not even exist when I was studying abroad. *Does quick Google search* Ok, Instagram was literally being built as I was studying abroad. I can only imagine the absurd amount of pictures I would have been posting on a daily basis if I had an Instagram account at that point. I had a basic Nokia phone with limited minutes and text messages as my loyal companion, I used bbm (Blackberry messenger) as the way to chat with my family and friends in the other side of the Atlantic and guess what? I took pictures with an actual camera and not a phone. Bizarre, right?

There’s nothing I can write that can wipe away the nostalgia that I’m feeling at the moment, so I will not keep trying. It’s all just really weird and beautiful at the same time. So join me while I reminisce, I hope all of you have a happy place and set of memories that can bring out the same sense of comfort and longing like Strasbourg does for me.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France

Somewhere near Strasbourg…

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It’s called enchanted island for a reason

Just in case I don’t give you enough reasons to visit Puerto Rico on a regular basis, this video by Javier Letour should do it. It’s sweet torture for me right now, facing this bitter New York winter and counting the days until I can return to my one true home. Enjoy!