Helpful Tips For Travel, House Siting & Animal Care

Essential Italian: 20 Italian Words and Phrases (That Will Have You Sounding Like a Local)

You’re planning a trip to Italy, but you don’t know a single Italian word. You’d like to have some basic greetings and vocabulary for your visit, but you don’t know where to start.

Well, you’re in the right place to learn some essential Italian words and phrases (so you can order all the geleto and vino your heart desires)

First time visitor? You have find out first what the cheapest airport to fly into Italy are!

Functional Italian 101

Below is a list of  the most useful Italian phrases to get you through your Italian holiday or move. Bear in mind, if you’re travelling to touristy areas, it is highly likely people will speak English. However, this is not always the case, and Italians appreciate it very much if you simply try to speak their language. They are very friendly and willing to help you, even if they don’t understand you.

The below phrases, paired with smiles and gestures, are sure to benefit you during your stay in Italy!

Hello/Goodbye – Ciao (Chow)
Good day (appropriate any time before 5 PM) – Buongiorno (Bwahn jore-noh)
Good evening (use after 5 PM) – Buonasera (Bwahn-uh-Sarah)
Thank you – Grazie (Grat-see-eh)
You’re welcome/go ahead – Prego (just how it sounds)
*Can I have ....? – Posso avere…? (Posso uh-vare-eh)
*Questo – This (Kwes-toe)
How much (in reference to cost)? – Quanto costa? (kwan-toe cose-tuh)
**One coffee, please. – Un caffe, per favore. (Oon kaff-eh, pea- fuh-vore-eh)
Where is the bathroom? – Dov'è il bagno? (Dove-eh eel banyo?)
What is your name? – Come ti chiami? (comb-eh tee kee-ahm-ee?)
My name is _____. – Il mio nome è _______. (Eel mee-oh nome-eh eh ______)
Nice to meet you – Piacere (pee-uh-chair-eh)
Excuse me (formal) – Scusi (Skoo-zee)
I’m sorry – Mi dispiace (Mee dee-spee-ach-eh)
Have a good day! – Buona giornata! (Bwahn-uh jore-not-uh)
Have a good evening! – Buona Serata! (Bwahn-uh sare-awe-tuh)
I don’t understand – Non capisco (Non kuh-pee-skoh)
I don’t speak Italian – Non parlo Italiano (Just like it sounds)
Do you speak English? – Parla Inglese? (Parla Een-gleh-zay?)

*Pair these two phrases together to make a full sentence: Can I have this? I typically use this phrase to order food at a restaurant if I can’t pronounce the name of the dish. “Posso avere questo?” paired with pointing can get you many things!

**Remember, a “caffe” in Italy refers to a shot of espresso. If you want a long coffee, asked for “un caffe Americano”. If you want a cappuccino, asked for “un cappuccino”. If you want an espresso with some milk, as for “un caffe macchiato”.

Well, there you have it! These 20 phrases will have you sounding like an Italian in no time.  Remember, Italians are very friendly and they appreciate the simple gesture of attempting to speak Italian. 

This post was from expat Cammy Romanuck Murphy, a Canadian blogger living in Italy. She came to Italy with virtually no Italian language skills. To begin with her Italian could be  described as “slightly painful” but “absolutely functional”.  

Learning a new language can be a very rewarding experience and can help to immerse you in a country’s culture. Also important when travelling? THE FOOD (especially in Italy)! Our favourite Italian dishes are Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, Tuscan Porcini and White Truffle Risotto, and Tiramisu (click the links for authentic recipes and the history of each dish). For more travel tips, “locals-only” city guides, and delicious European recipes, head over to Cammy's blog, The Traveling Cook Abroad or on Instagram @thetravelingcookabroad

The 6 Cities In Switzerland You Need To Visit (If You Love Good Food & Scenery )

As shown in the classic film 'The Sound of Music' Switzerland is absolutely gorgeous.

The stunning lakes, cute Swiss cities, rolling hills and the impressive Swiss Alps, which dwarf everything else in sight. It's a nature lovers heaven.

Everywhere you look is something amazing, so where are the best places to visit in Switzerland? We have hand picked out the best of the best places in Switzerland for you!

 We have you covered from unique & quirky accommodation all the way through to Michelin Star eating experiences. 

Note: Switzerland is an expensive place to visit so find out what the cheapest airport to fly into Europe are before planning your trip!

See The Best cities in Switzerland to Visit!


Location: 90 km South of Zurich - around 1 hours 15 minute drive.
Where to stay: The Angel's Lodge, the cutest little ski lodge, where every room has an amazing view of the mountains. Where the owners come out to greet you personally, hand over the keys, and encouraged you to enjoy their beautiful town. Especially the railway that connects Engelberg to the bustling town of Lucerne, about an hour away.

What to eat: For dinner, head to The Ski Lodge . Our friend Elaine says, and I quote ‘I'm not exaggerating when I say I ate the best burger. of. my. life. They use a natural gas smoker to cook the burgers. Eating it was like having an out of body experience, it was that good. I don't even have a picture because it was so delicious, I devoured the whole thing before I could even remember to take a photo. ​

And for drinks later on: The Core Irish Pub, is an adorable Irish pub, just a short walk from the restaurant and the lodge (everything in Engelberg is a short walk). You might not expect to visit an Irish pub in Switzerland, but you would be remiss to pass this one up. It had a vintage atmosphere, jovial staff, and an ice cream freezer stocked with Ben & Jerry's. (droooling)

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Location: 70 km North of Geneva - about 1 hour dive, or 230 km South West of Zurich - About 2 hours 30 minute drive.

Why: Lausanne is an under-the-radar destination with lots to offer: pristine lakes, views of the snow-capped Alps, the nearby Lavaux Vineyard region (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a picturesque old town. Truly one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland.

What to see:  Beau-Rivage Palace is a timeless icon on the shores of Lake Geneva - dating from 1861 – it’s considered to be one of Europe's finest hotels, offering exquisite gardens, refined service, a world-renowned Cinq Mondes spa and an elegant two-Michelin starred restaurant.

The 10-acre manicured gardens, which look out on the lake and Alps, was the place-of-choice for Coco Chanel, who sought the hotel’s enveloping calm for respite from difficult post-war years. The historic hotel was also where the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and has hosted a roster of famous guests, from Nelson Mandela to Charlie Chaplin. Diana Ross and Phil Collins each had their respective weddings at the hotel as well.

Cities In Switzerland You Need To Visit

Where to eat: Guests of the Beau-Rivage Palace can order an exclusively Swiss wine tasting menu to accompany dinner at the hotel’s two Michelin-starred Anne Sophie Pic restaurant with the guidance of their Head Sommelier Thibaut Panas, the Champagne region-born wine expert voted Sommelier of the Year in 2014 by Gault & Millau.

Anne-Sophie Pic
cuisses de grenouilles - GINKO

The Lavaux Wine Region

Location: Starting at St. Saphorin you head through a diverse route up and downhill through the gorgeous vines to the town of Lutry.

Why: The Lavaux wine region has been a protected UNESCO site since 2007. Wine has been produced in the area since Roman times, with eleventh-century monks continuing production. To honour this local heritage, the Beau-Rivage Palace can arrange wine tours for guests to experience the region, often meeting with the producers themselves.

What to See: The nearby Chaplin’s World museum is also really awesome – it’s an interactive exhibit on Charlie Chaplin and the birth of film & comedy. (Chaplin spent his final years in the region.) 

What to Eat: Lunch at the Cafe de la Poste in Lutry. The filet de perche is a really special treat and is the perfect side of the gorgeous view over the stunning lake Geneva Cafe de la Poste is full of locals and traditional Swiss food.


Where to stay: Baur au Lac has spectacular views of the distant Alps and is even surrounded by its own park on the shore of Lake Zurich!

 You almost forget its still in the midst of one of the most bustling cities in Switzerland - Zurich - boasting a truly privileged location. For over 170 years, it has held a reputation as one of the leading luxury hotels in the world and has long since grown to be an institution in the Swiss finance and business metropolis.

Baur au Lac view

Where to Eat: The hotel boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant and has hosted the likes of Alfred Nobel, Richard Wagner, Marc Chagall and many other notables figures throughout its history.

Where to Drink: To supply the luxury hotel’s roster of royal and noteworthy guests, the hotel opened its own cellar and distribution centre, Baur au Lac Vins, at the end of the nineteenth century, which today, houses some 1.4 million bottles. More than 100 producers are exclusively distributed by Baur au Lac Vins in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

What to see: The Baur au Lac produces its own honey with a hive that serves as a mini-replica of the hotel itself. Because bees collect nectar and pollen from blossoms within a 3 ½-mile radius of their hive, the honey harvested is local Zurich honey.

The hotel also produces its very own, house-made line of gourmet Swiss chocolates - CHOCOLAT 1844. The name derives from the year the Baur au Lac was founded by Mr. Johannes Baur, who was a confectioner before opening the hotel. 

Baur au Lac bee hive

Not to Be Missed: Kronenhalle, the first vegetarian restaurant in the world! This is a real treat and recommended for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike - you never know it might just change your life!


Location: 230 km South West of Zurich - About 2 hour 30 minutes drive, or 120 km East of Geneva - About 1 hour 30 minutes drive.

Luxury Eco Pods in the Swiss Alps. Now before we tell you about these, we must warn you. These Eco Pods are the coolest accommodation we have ever seen, and we are not responsible for impulse holiday buying!

These eco pods are packed full of surprises. Scandinavian-designed bathrooms linked to warmed fresh spring water, wooden floors, and large floor-to-ceiling plastic windows with unobstructed views of the valley. The pods have amazing insulation, private wooden fireplaces & soft rugs which ensure you are cosy no matter what time of year.

They even have one very special pod that faces the stunning Lake Geneva! Oh, and we can’t forget the most important part - massage services can be organised in your suite! 

Luxury Eco Pods with Breathtaking Views of the Swiss Alps Switzerland 2 - Glamping Hub

- Dogsledding tour
- Snowshoe hiking
- Hiking with dogs
- Paragliding with a certified pilot
- Family & kids guided hiking tour 

Luxury Eco Pods with Breathtaking Views of The Swiss Alps Switzerland
Luxury Eco Pods with Breathtaking Views of The Swiss Alps Switzerland


Location: 70 km South West of Zurich - about 1 hour drive, or 250km North East of Geneva - about 3 hour drive.

What to see: The Kaltbach caves, an amazing 22 million year old labyrinth for ageing cheese.. The temperature and humidity of the cave are controlled naturally and Cave Master checks the wheels daily to ensure they are maturing properly. (Now that is some cheese love!)

The Kaltbach caves

What to do: Tours of the Kaltbach caves are open to the public where they get a chance to learn more about the ageing process, view the rooms within the cave, see an interactive ageing wheel and taste the kaltbach cheeses.

Why Is My Cat Sneezing? (And Being Super Cute)

Why Is My Cat Sneezing?

 A cat sneezing has got to be one of the cutest things ever. It can turn your little kitty into (even more) of a heart melter.

Generally, there is nothing to worry about; just like us cats also randomly sneeze. This is usually just from a tickle in the nasal passage.

However, there are some signs you need to watch out for that can mean your cute little feline friend may have something a little more serious going on:

• Smelly breath
• A cough
• Mucus
• Coughing blood
• Discharge from eyes
• Re occurring sneezing fits

If your cat shows any of the signs above you should consult your vet ASAP. Your little guy might have a bit more going on that just an adorable little sneezing fit.

1. Tooth Trouble

Cat playing with toothbrush

Just like humans cats teeth need looking after. If you notice abnormally smelly breath this may be a sign of a dental disease. Tooth infections, gum disease & dental abscesses are very bad news for cats. Infections can cause bacteria to grow in the nasal sinus; this can cause inflammation and cat sneezing. If you notice bad breath (aside from that delicious cat food smell) or discomfort while your cat is eating, get in touch with your vet right away and discuss your options.

2. Respiratory Infections

Another common cause of sneezing is associated with a respiratory infection, most often a viral infection. That’s right, our feline friends can get colds too!

Likely infectious diseases include:

  • Cat Herpes Virus
  • Calicivirus
  • Chlamydia Infection
  • plus
    Bacterial infections such as Mycoplasma

Some signs to watch out for include:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • An aggressive cough

Fungal infections are less common in cats than in humans, however, they can cause big problems for felines with inflammation of the nasal passage and big discomfort. All of these cases will require a trip to the vet and a course of antibiotics.

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3. Chemicals

Cats have sensitive noses. Chemicals in the air such as tobacco smoke, perfume, cleaning products & other foreign household chemicals can cause inflammation and a cat sneezing fit. This is the natural way for the cat to rid itself of the foreign irritation. Generally, it's not a big deal and the best cure is to isolate the chemical to stop your cat sneezing.

4. Allergies

Cat scratching

Allergies are less common in cats than they are in humans, but still not unheard of. Allergies can be broken down into three main groups. Food, environment and flea allergies. Environment allergies are the same as what causes those aggravating hay-fever-symptoms in humans and can cause big discomfort for your feline friend.

Flea allergies are the most common in cats and are caused by fleas, to be more specific the fleas spit. (Eww) Flea allergies cause huge itching & discomfort in your cat and can be fixed with a trip to the vet and some flea treatment.

Food allergies are most commonly caused by lamb, beef, seafood, corn, dairy products and some wheat products. Obviously, these can differ from cat to cat and if you have any queries you would be best to speak with your vet.

Potential symptoms of a cat allergy can be:

• Vomiting or diarrhoea
• Itchy, discharging eyes
• Snoring
• Sensitive or swollen paws
• Coughing
• Wheezing
• Sneezing
• Paw chewing or swollen, sensitive paws

Potential causes of a cat allergy:

• Cleaning products
• Some cat litters
• Pollen, plants, grass
• Mold, mildew
• Perfume & Cologne
• Foods
• Prescription drugs

The best fix is to isolate your cat from the route of the reaction. As always consult your vet if you have any concerns (especially with fleas) and they will get your little guy purring again in no time.

5. Foreign objects

Chances are your cat is a very active little guy and loves poking his head around in the yard. This is prime territory for foreign objects to find their way into your cat's nose. Things like dust, grass, sand etc are very common. Usually, your cat will sneeze and dislodge anything that has made its way in. If something was lodged in there be sure to check your cat has sneezed everything out. Anything that is remaining in there could turn into a nasal infection. If you have any doubts or concerns consult your vet.

6. Intranasal vaccines

If your cat has recently been vaccinated it is possible that they will get a case of the sneezes for a couple of days. This is nothing to worry about and quite normal. Do monitor your cat sneezing for a couple and days and if they do persist (or get worse) be sure to contact your vet for best advice.

The Coolest New Co Working Space in Chiang Mai (Rooftop Bar Included)

With an ever-increasing number of digital nomads, remote workers, location independent workers or whatever the newest term they are using these days is, there is always hot demand for working and meeting space.

Personally, I don’t like working in a café or a restaurant. I often find myself getting distracted by all the different smells, noises and that always avoidable loudmouth on the phone. Working at home is really good but unless I am living in a suite apartment I find it very difficult to make the transition from bed to the ‘office’ and back to bed again.

There has been a decent influx of co-working spaces and alternative areas around Chiang Mai. I am a huge fan of working in a co-working space. I find it’s a great way to meet like-minded people, get more productive and get that real office feel that some of us need.

If you are anything like me, you like to spend your days working in the morning, then lurking the neighbourhoods of a city trying to find new and exciting food & places to hang out. This is where we managed to stumble across one of Chiang Mai’s newest and in my opinion coolest hotels / co-working spaces.

Nestled halfway down an unassuming street near to Chiang Mai’s Boxing Stadium and beloved Myeongdong hot pot restaurant is a space called Isty Hotel.

This hotel opened recently in the last week of January 2018. We were lucky enough to spend the day hanging out at this hotel at the end of January, just before this brand new hotel opened for business. This is what we thought.

The Lobby

When you first walk in the first thing you will notice is the giant communal driftwood table. This thing is amazing, located in the main lobby it is an inviting open area. Perfect for eating breakfast, having a meeting or getting some work done. The rest of the lobby is a modern combination of concrete, brick, wood and metal. Which to be honest is actually really warm and welcoming.

The Co Working Space

The co-working space is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. They offer their own brand water for free, lots & lots of fresh fruit on platters. This is paired very well with a selection of plants and other greenery around the space. They have comfortable chairs, a tonne of desk space/power points and I could not forget the amazing view of the pool. They also have a bookshelf with a decent selection of biographies, inspirational books and other knick-knacks in case you are looking for some inspiration mid work session.

The Kitchen

Next to the co-working space, they have a communal kitchen for the guests who are staying. This is a super clean brand new kitchen. A very well stocked kitchen with all the essentials, every appliance you can think of and gorgeous wood bench tops.

Throughout the whole place, they have some really rad inspirational quotes made out of metal on the walls. This flows right through from the entrance way, to the pool, co-working space, lobby, hallways and rooftop. A really nice touch!

The Rooftop

Their rooftop is one of the coolest in Chiang Mai. It has comfortable astroturf, amazing views of the mountains, and the amazing Myeongdong & Lakjum Moomtuk hotpot restaurants. Thanks to the owners also owning a furniture store they have an endless supply of the worlds most comfortable and quirky furniture throughout the hotel. The roof has a fantastic selection of bean bags, human cat beds and bar seats.

The Rooms

The rooms are super modern, comfortable rooms. Compared to other rooms we have seen at a similar price point we have seen these are very spacious, comfortable and liveable.

Our favourite part of the whole place (aside from the roof) was the nets that hang from the second floor above the check-in desk. I can only describe them as the trampolines on a catamaran. These are a cool addition and something that I have never seen inside a hotel before.

The Verdict

All & all we had an awesome time hanging out at the Isty Hotel. Its now one of our favourite rooftop gardens & co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. We love the unique furniture and feel of the place.  We plan on heading back to Chiang Mai in late 2018, we can’t wait to hang out here and get some work done!

(Just kidding we want to hang out on the roof and swing around in the net!)

Top 6 Dog Friendly Pubs & Cafes In Dublin (Your Pooch Will Love you For Taking Them!)

 While living here and pet sitting in Dublin we have noticed it can be difficult to find somewhere dog-friendly to stop off for a quick meal or pint when out walking.

We have slowly started compiling a list of places we have stumbled into (or out of) with the little doggies around the place.

We have been living down in South Dublin so at this stage the list is mainly in the South Dublin area. We hope to keep adding to this as we move around the Dublin!

Note: If your debating whether to visit Dublin, you will find it one of the cheapest airports to fly into EuropEe! So we recommend a visit ASAP!

So let find out where to find the dog friendly pubs and cafe of Dublin!

1. 1909 Restaurant and Wine Bar, 31 Castle Street, Dalkey.

With the perfect setting right in the heart of Dalkey 1909 Restaurant and Wine Bar is not one to be missed.

We stumbled upon 1909 while at the Dalkey Lobster Festival. We headed down the side of the restaurant and got a table next to the outside piano. They had some lovely live music playing.

We had 2 chihuahuas with us and they were welcomed with open arms (and blankets). We would highly recommend 1909 for the wine and dog lover, the wait staff were even happy to get the chihuahuas a carrot from the kitchen!

1909 wine bar

1909 wine bar

2. The Kings Inn, 45 Castle Street, Dalkey.

The Kings Inn

One of our favourite pubs here in South Dublin. The Kings Inn is a great place to stop off and get some shelter when it starts to rain. The staff here are extremely welcoming and will take care of all your needs and keep the dogs hydrated too! 

They have reasonable prices, a fantastic atmosphere, and live music! What more could, you want?

3. The Druids Chair Pub, Killiney Hill Rd, Killiney.

We came across The Druids Chair Pub while making the hike up from Killiney beach to Killiney Hill with the dogs. With a Great location and a fabulous view from out the front, we could not say no. 

The staff loved the dogs and made sure they were hydrated and happy. The Druids Chair is a charming classic Irish pub and does an amazing pie (and an even better Bloody Mary!) 

You might even be lucky enough to spot their close neighbors Bono or Enya while you're there!

The Druids Chair

4. Pupp, 37 Clanbrassil Street Lower, Dublin.

We were put onto Pupp by a friend who said it is a must! We packed up the dogs & went for a walk around Portobello. Ending up in Pupp for a coffee and a fabulous brunch.

What a marvellous place for any dog lover! They are the most pet friendly cafe ever! They have everything covered for your dog, form drying towels, pet accessories & a healthy treats menu.

They do have a couple of rules to abide by so make sure your dog is :

On a lead
Calm & quiet (and doesn't mind strangers patts!)

Pupp cafe

5. MVP, 29 Upper Clanbrassil Street, Dublin.

MVP Dublin

MVP Dublin

If you are you in the Portobello area or taking a stroll along the Grand Canal MVP is a perfect dog friendly spot to drop in with your furry little friend.

This beautiful little two story pub arguably stands for Most Valued Pets because of the owner's love of dogs and humans alike. They have an awesome Wine & Tapas menu on a Thursday and serve up a great selection from Spudbox.

Be sure to take advantage of their Pint of Becks & A Potato deal for 11 Euro before 7 pm daily. We also recommend you head in for the smoked brisket. They smoke it in they on-site one of the best gas smokers, a Weber Genesis ii lx!

Also, keep an eye out on every 1st & 3rd Thursday of the month for events upstairs, this is aimed at humans but what dog doesn't like cinema night?

6. The Doghouse Blues and Tea Rooms, Howth Dart Station, Dublin.

The dog hosue blue

We were lucky enough to get around to Howth one weekend too and stopped in at the conveniently located Dog House Blues and Tea Rooms. The smell of wood fire pizza lured us in and to our delight, they would even seat the dogs with us!

They have a great atmosphere with a large outdoor area with lots of unique seating and a great food menu. They also have a cigar menu which was a really cool surprise, the Macanudo was great. The staff are welcoming and love to see your four legged friends in tow!

We are always out looking for new dog friendly places to take ourselves for a well earned pint or coffee when out and about with the dogs. If you have any places for us to check out please let us know! Otherwise stay tuned for updates of our latest discovery's.

Everything You Should Know About The Conch Shell Before going to The Bahamas


Adult conch shell

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself holidaying in one of the 700 odd islands in The Bahamas, it’s only a matter of time until you stumble across their beautiful conch shells in a market, or indulge in their national dish, conch.

Pronounced ‘Konk’ conch is a calamari like firm white meat with a chewy texture found within the conch shell. You can get conch every way imaginable; Conch Salad, conch burgers, conch gumbo, conch curry, creamy conch chowder, cracked conch and the beautiful cracked conch sandwich to name just a few.

Conch have been on this planet for around 65 million years and you will generally find them in the shallow, warmer waters of our planet. Usually in waters below 100 meters deep within the safety of the seagrass beds. Unfortunately, the number of conch is in decline. A study in The Bahamas over the past 5 years has found that one of the healthiest adult populations of conch has dropped by a staggering 71%. 

But why is this?

One contributing factor to this is the shallow habitat the juvenile conch shells cluster. The very shallow waters are extremely accessible to humans. This means the juvenile conch shell gets fished before it has time to reach sexual maturity and reproduce (which can take up to 6 years in some cases).

Conch have it pretty tough. They move at a snail’s pace (literally), apart from the tough outer conch shell they have no defense mechanism & and they are the food of choice for lobster, crab, tourists and the locals alike.

 Now the conchs’ Caribbean habitat is made up of different countries and with each country comes different regulations, fishing techniques, and views on the current state of numbers. This makes it quite tough to try and regulate what size conch are being taken, thus making it harder to boost the conch population again. The Bahamas National Trust has set up a Conchservation (konk-servation) campaign to help protect Conch in The Bahamas through policy change, research and citizen science. You can find out more about the Conchservation campaign on their website here.  

Should I eat the conch, or not eat the conch?

We say you should try the conch. Chances are you are only going to be in The Bahamas once. Just be very careful to only eat adult conch and try to support restaurants, shops and market stalls that sustainably source their conch. Also, try to stay away from buying arts & crafts made from the juvenile conch shell.

How to recognise an adult conch Shell

  1. You can only tell the difference between adult and juvenile conch when they are still in their shell, or not ‘knocked’.
  2. The lip of the conch should be fully flared and well formed. (The juvenile conch will have a smaller ‘rolled lip)
  3. The lip should not be paper thin, you are looking for a sturdy thick lip.

One great place to head for a great selection of conch is Bugaloo’s. They have a great ‘From The Crawl’ menu featuring an awesome selection of conch dishes with all the essentials. Even better they will also take you out the back so you can select your own conch shell and they will take the meat out for you! 

o (2)
Conch shells
Fresh Conch in ocean
Conch Salad
Coconut cracked conch

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Syrah Vs Shiraz: When Is It Appropriate To Say What?

Syrah VS Shiraz: When Is It Appropriate To Say What?

Ok, so I’ll admit, when I heard that Jay and Britt lived in Australia, I wanted to write about Syrah.  Or Shiraz as they’d call it - Mark Aselstine of Uncorked Ventures

Honestly, it might be the most misunderstood varietal out there today.  I mean, we can’t even agree on the name and while that’s not entirely unheard of in the world of wine, no other grape really gets split quite as evenly.  

I mean, does it really bother you if someone makes a Carignan or a Carignane? Sauvignon Blanc and Fume Blanc might be the same, but how often do you really see Fume Blanc being used on a label?

The general naming convention in terms of Syrah and Shiraz is pretty simple.  Some time ago, Australian vintners started using Shiraz to help differentiate their style of the grape, from those being made in France.  They were bigger, more extracted and generally grown in a much warmer growing region.

Of course, things have changed and the caricature of Australian wine that was told to the press for so long isn’t nearly true any longer, in much the same way that the same tale was told about California wine for so long.

But, thinking about the Australian vs international spelling of the varietal got me thinking, what’s the deal with Syrah in America’s west coast wine regions?

To help decipher where the grape is going, I decided to look at Syrah being produced in five spots in three states

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Ballard Canyon Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara is way, way more than Pinot Noir.  But, after the success of Sideways, Santa Barbara is having trouble convincing people of that.

Paso Robles California

In many ways, Paso Robles is the home of Syrah in America.  Some time ago, the grape had gone almost extinct in the state.  In fact, so had all the Rhone varietals (which also include Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussane, Marsanne and another 20 or grapes). If your headed to California make sure you check what the cheapest airports to fly out of are!!

Then the Rhone Rangers were founded and they quickly became an effective trade group.  Over the years, Syrah has continued to grow, from only 200 or so planted acres back in the 1980’s to well over 15,000 acres now.  In fact, more Syrah is planted in almost every calendar year currently than existed in then state when the Rhone Rangers were founded, according to the California Department of Agriculture.

Paso’s grown along with their favorite varietals and a region unknown to basically everyone that sits about 3 hours from both San Francisco and Los Angeles without any natural market of its own, now has been called “The Next Napa” by Wine Spectator.

One small tip for Paso, eliminate everything east of the 101 freeway and stay somewhere close to town which boasts a HUGE central European style square with a park, library, restaurants and shops.

Napa Valley California

In one of the first meetings I had after opening my online wine club, I had a winemaker who made $125 a bottle Cabernet (which was like 95% of his production) tell me that the $40 bottle of Syrah he was selling me was the most important grape on his property.  It was shocking on a few levels. Part of the reason of course was that he was looking for a way to differentiate himself and to grow sales in a spot that wasn’t quite so competitive.

Fast forward a few years later, I asked him via email how the Syrah was doing and he said quite succinctly, that they had grafted it over to Cabernet. That about sums up Napa Valley’s experience with Syrah.  The wine is good, but it’s financially impossible for it to work.

One small tip for visiting Napa:
Stay on one end, finish on the other. If you stay in downtown Napa, make the slow winding trip up the 29 and finish in Calistoga. Or vice versa. Spending too much time in the car happens to plenty of people, Napa traffic, especially on weekends is rough. 

Skip the long tourist lunch. Eat something quick, like a burger, or taco shop.  Save your time since most wineries are only open 11am-5pm.

Rogue Valley Oregon

What do you picture when you think of Oregon wine?  Pinot Noir, right? So does everyone else.

What you’re thinking of though, happens in the Willamette Valley just south of Portland.  The Rogue Valley is named for a river and sits right about where the California-Oregon border does. It’s also a heck of a lot warmer than the rest of the state, based on being both inland and more southern.  

This is almost the exact same climate as the Rhone Valley in France, making it a natural home to Syrah. One small tip for the Rogue Valley: There’s only about 30 working wineries. Reach out via social media, you’ll find a higher percentage of owners and winemakers available than anywhere else in the country.

Walla Walla Washington

Washington’s had a funny process with grapes.  First, they were thought of as the best spot in America to grow Merlot.  Then they went to Syrah. 

Now, it’s Cabernet Sauvignon in some spots, whereas Syrah still reigns in the southeastern most part of the state, Walla Walla. Walla Walla is interesting on so many levels.

First, it’s a world class wine destination that’s only now realizing it in such a way as to build tourist facilities. It’s also not especially close to tourist traffic, so the consumers finding their way to Walla Walla are among the most ardent wine drinkers on the planet.

Photo: The airport wine district in Walla Walla is in a state of transition, as you can tell by the businesses on their signposts

So Why Syrah In Eastern Washington?

Their climate is pretty unique in wine. They receive about the same amount of precipitation that does Bordeaux, but half of it comes in terms of snow.  That’s actually pretty good for grape vines, keeps the top soil healthy, but if the snow comes after bud break, you can lose an entire crop like they did about a decade ago.

A tip for visiting Walla Walla:
There are basically 4 parts of Walla x2. Downtown is highly walkable, but you’ll need a car for the rest. Rent one, but stay downtown because the restaurants are great, the Marriott is brand new and you the tasting rooms in the center of it all stay open later than the wineries which require a car.

Ok, so that’s a quick review of a handful of wine regions that are focused, rightly or wrongly on Syrah. While worldwide consumption of Rhone varietals is on the upswing, that hasn’t held true in more expensive regions.

 For some time that hurt Australian exports, but the country and it’s vintners have found a logical way to combat that: simply planting their favorite grape in regions more appropriate for international tastes.

About The Author

Mark Aselstine is a husband, dad to a couple of loud, active boys and the owner of Uncorked Ventures a wine of the month club and gift basket business located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Politically interested, an avid sports fan you can find Mark chatting on Twitter, usually about anything other than wine.

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8 Things to You Have to Do in The Scottish Highlands

Highland Cattle

 The Scottish Highlands have got to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world. So you might be wondering what to do in the Scottish Highlands?

With huge rolling hills, dreamy scenic lochs and some of the most charming & welcoming people on earth it's very easy to see why. The Highlands boasts a whopping area of 25,657 km2 and a population density of only 9 km2 which is on par with countries such as Russia, Chad, and Bolivia.

 The perfect spot to get away for a long weekend and get away from it all.

Why you should you visit the Scottish Highlands!

Want a place where everyone will be entertained? Look no further than the Scottish Highlands.

 If you're into meandering through the amazing architecture of old buildings, hiking through majestic mountain ranges, diving deep in local cuisine, exploring enchanted forests or camping by one of the hundreds of mist covered lochs you are going to love it here.

The Highlands is a perfect place to head to if you’re a travel photography nut. There are amazing photography opportunities everywhere you turn, from the stunning Highland Cattle to the cloud and windswept peaks of Ben Nevis you are sure to get your next Instagram snap here.

If you are after something a bit more extreme you are after the area of Lochaber in the West of the Highlands. Lochaber holds the name of ‘outdoor capital of the United Kingdom’.

Here you will find everything from, kayaking, mountain biking, ski/snowboarding, golfing, fishing, white water rafting, gorge walking and shooting just to name a few activities.

The Weather in the Scottish highlands

The weather in Scotland has been the butt of jokes for years. In truth, it does rain.. and in some places, it can rain a lot. But that is all part of the majestic and somewhat enchanted feel of the Scottish Highlands. In the west of the Highlands gets the most rain (in Europe) with a whopping 4,577 mm annually. All this rain creates a real lush green landscape and even the odd waterfall here and there.

The best advice you can give anyone going to the Highlands would be from an old Scottish saying - 'there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!'

Scot;and Winter


December through February are generally the coldest months with an average maximum temperature of around -1 to 2°C. The sunsets in the wintertime are to die for.

Beautiful reds, purples, and oranges light up the sky before disappearing and leaving the millions and millions of stars to shine brightly against the super dark night sky. When the conditions are just right it is possible to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis (Or more commonly known as the Northern Lights) which can turn any night into something really special.

The highlands can usually expect around 100 days of snowfall per year and the snow sports season runs from December through to April. However, this is snow dependent so please check the conditions before heading for a snow trip to avoid disappointment.


The summertime in the Scottish Highlands is absolutely stunning. June through August are the warmest months with an average temperature of 19°C. (In the far west somewhere around 15°C).

Thanks to Scotland’s latitude, in summer the Highlands get a whopping 18 hours of daylight per day! Giving you all the time in the world to squeeze in all the hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, golfing you possibly can.

Our top 8 things to see and do in the Scottish Highlands

1. Hike Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis Looking Down

Ben Nevis Looking Down The Valley

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Standing at 1,345 meters (4,411ft) above sea level Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the British Isles. Located in the Grampian Mountains Ben Nevis attracts around 100,000 climbers a year to take on its peaks. The most common route is the Pony Track (commonly known as the Tourist Route) The Pony Track begins at Achintee just 2km south-east of Fort William. The Pony Track is around 17km and takes around 7 – 9 hours. The Pony Track is considered a moderate hill-walk, this means steep terrain, hiking boots, and good map reading skills. More detailed information can be found here on the Walking Highlands website.

2. Glen Coe

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Often referred to as one of the most beautiful & spectacular places in the UK, Glen Coe is one not to be missed.

There are beautiful views of the Three Sisters of Bidean Nam Bian, & Aonach Eagach. Glen Coe is named after the River Coe which runs through the Glen and is only a short drive from the little village of Glencoe.

The village of Glencoe itself has a dark past being the site of the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692.  The area is absolutely stunning and a must see for anyone who likes a good view and soaking up some history.

3. Visit Loch Ness

A trip to the Highlands would not be complete without a trip to Loch Ness to hunt for the elusive ‘Loch Ness Monster’.

Loch Ness is Scotland’s second largest Loch and a huge 230 meters deep at its deepest point. (Making it Scotlands biggest Loch by volume) One of the best places to take in views of Loch Ness is from Urquhart Castle.

These beautiful ruins are formally a royal castle that has seen some of the most dramatic periods of Scottish history. A perfect spot for an afternoon of meandering, checking out some old towers, prison cells and maybe even spotting Nessie.

Loch Ness

4. Eilean Donan Castle

First built in the mid 13th century Eilean Donan Castle is situated on the small tidal island of Eilean Donan. The island is located at the meeting point of Loch Duich, Loch Alsh and Loch Long and thanks to a restoration project in the 20th century is now accessible by bridge.  

The castle was first built in the 13th century and rebuilt many times and now is one of the most iconic castles in Scotland featuring in James Bond – The World is Not Enough and many fashion and music video shoots. There is a visitor center with all a gift shop, coffee shop and ticket office. Tickets are £7.50 for adults, £4.00 for children over 5 and under 5s free.

5. Grab a pint at The Cluanie Inn

Boasting one of the best pub views ever (we think) the Cluanie Inn is a must for any beer and outdoors enthusiast. The Cluanie Inn is situated in the valley of Glen Shiel and surrounded by 21 easily accessible & absolutely stunning Munros.

They have a range of 13 rooms to suit most budgets. The Luxury rooms boast a Jacuzzi ensuite and one even has a private sauna to wind down after a hike on those really cold winter nights! The bar has an outstanding range of wines, beers, ciders and a very impressive whiskey bar with a range of over 200 of the Highlands best single malt whiskeys!

The Cluanie Inn Scotland

6. Drive the Glen Etive detour

The Glen Etive drive is up there with the most gorgeous in the world. This 24-mile round trip is a must do for any driving and view enthusiasts alike.

The single lane track will have you on the edge of your seat as you pass through the amazing Buachaille Etive Mor.

James Bond fans might want to pretend they are in a DB9 and re enact the famous scene from the movie ‘Skyfall’ which was filmed here. Mel Gibson fans might recognize the views from the background of Braveheart. The 24-mile round trip is defiantly worth the detour and is a perfect spot to pull up and take in the views with a picnic.

7. The Jacobite Steam Train journey

The Jacobite Steam Train, or as it's more commonly referred to as ‘The Hogwarts Express’ has been called the ‘Greatest railway Journey in the world’. This journey is truly something special.

The 84-mile journey runs from Fort William to Mallaig and although the journey is only around one hour and a half long it has some real treats in store. One of which is the very impressive Glenfinnan viaduct, the viaduct has 21 arches and was made famous from its appearance in the Harry Potter films.

The Jacobite has been running cross country twice daily since the summer of 1901. This is a very popular trip and booking in advance is a must, you can get more info and book here on the West Coast Railways website.

8. Visit Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

Kilt Rock is an impressive 90-meter rock face on the Trotternish Peninsula. The cliff face gets in name from its striking resemblance to a pleated kilt, which it gets from the vertical basalt columns resting on the horizontal sandstone base. Some say it even resembles a tartan color.

The nearby Mealt Loch feeds the Mealt Falls. This impressive 60-meter high fall freefalls into the Sound of Raasay below. On a clear and calm day, these falls are breathtaking and you get an amazing view over to the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Lewis.

When the weather is not so good and the clouds are in you get a real mystical and enchanted feeling.