Over the past several weeks I’ve had the chance to discover a game-changer platform called Mercato, which delivers the best specialty and local food shops right to your doorstep. During these pandemic and extreme weather times, Mercato has become a new best friend!
Not only are the website and app extremely user friendly and easy to use, the entire process from order placement to delivery has been seamless every single time. You can easily browse each vendor, all the grocery offerings and then schedule a one-hour time frame for your delivery, even for future dates.
Here is a highlight of my experiences so far using Mercato. I am officially hooked and will definitely be ordering again and again!
Pita Inn Market– Most everyone in the Chicagoland area is familiar with the popular restaurant chain Pita Inn, but many do not know there is a wonderful Pita Inn Market that sells Middle Eastern groceries and some favorite staples from the restaurant like fresh baked pita, hummus and babaganoush. I decided to make a Mezze Platter and ordered all my must-haves, while also discovering some fun new Middle Eastern delicacies. My family LOVED this platter, and I can’t wait to recreate it when I can host parties again in post-pandemic times.
Metro Spice Mart– The opportunity to have Indian groceries delivered downtown is life-changing. I’m not kidding. When the only option to purchase Indian groceries back in the day was to make the trek to Devon Street and buy everything at once, having Mercato deliver these groceries to my home was truly a moment in time I will never forget. Not only that, I was so impressed with the variety and multitude of options you could purchase from the Indian stores such as Metro Spice Mart. I wanted to make something quick and easy, so I ordered several varieties of stuffed, frozen parathas as well as all the ingredients to make a boondi raita yogurt dip. Perfect for a meal or Saturday brunch and took literally 15 minutes to make.
Masalas Groceries– Because I was simply so blown away by having Indian groceries delivered, I just had to do it again! This time I ordered from a different store called Masalas Groceries and got everything to make masala dosas, including all the fresh items like cilantro, potatoes and ginger. I had seen ready made dosa batters being sold in Indian grocery stores and never tried one before, so I figured this was a great opportunity to try it out (we got the Priyems brand). Let me tell you, it was awesome! So easy to use and made very tasty dosas hot and fresh at home.
I know I sound redundant when I keep saying Mercato has been a game-changer, but it really has. I have sincerely enjoyed discovering this platform that is helping support local grocers in our communities, while also creating a way to discover cool shops I would probably not have found on my own.
You should definitely try Mercato and use code ‘vegtourist’ to get $10 off your first purchase. I am confident you will love this delivery platform just as much as I do. 😊
Please Note: While this post is sponsored by Mercato, all opinions are my own.
For as long as I can remember, Hawaii has been on my bucket
list of places to visit. I’ve grown up seeing this magical place in tv shows,
movies, magazines, travel fliers, you name it. It always just seemed like this
mystical land that I knew I’d one day make it to. And, I’m happy to say, that I
can finally cross off Hawaii (well, Kauai only) from my list. I’ve become so
enamored, that I know I need to see and experience more of the island life
again sometime soon.
When I mentioned to others that I was going to Hawaii,
almost every single person made the same comment; if you can only go to one
island, Kauai is the one you should go to. It’s very lush, has lots of outdoor
activities and is unbelievably beautiful. While I don’t think you can go wrong
visiting any of the Hawaiian Islands, I’d say this sentiment is on point.
Kauai is also known as the filming site for many popular
movies like Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, to name
a few. That should help paint a picture of this rugged, tropical landscape. With
the famous Na Pali Coast and stunning beaches, Kauai truly is paradise. I’m
sharing some of my favorite things we had the chance to see/eat/do during our 5-day
There is honestly so much to see that I think no amount of time will feel like enough. We did SO much in our 5 days and I feel like we barely scratched the surface. I’m listing just a few favorites out of all of that we had the chance to see.
Waimea Canyon- Absolutely not to be missed, I kept calling it the “lush Grand Canyon” cause that is what it looks like. Make the drive to the lookout for the most spectacular views.
Na Pali Coast- Another place that can’t be missed is the Na Pali Coast. One of the places I was most excited to see on this trip and it’s worth seeing it from any vantage point you can (air, sea, land).
Kilauea Lighthouse- Not only a picturesque lighthouse, but also some fantastic views of the edge of the Na Pali Coast.
Spouting Horn- Right along the coast line, I like to describe Spouting Horn like the ocean version of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. It’s a tall shooting geyser
ALL the beaches- We stopped as at many beaches as we could, but I know there are many, many more! Each was beautiful in its own way 🙂
I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of vegetarian food on Kauai and I have to say I was blown away at not only how many options there were, but how fresh everything was. We had some fantastic meals and treats, and here’s a highlight of some favorites.
Island Taco– Some of the best ever cilantro lime tofu tacos as well as bean and spiced rice enchiladas.
Jo Jo’s Shave Ice– A must while visiting Hawaii in general; shaved ice! This one from Jo Jo’s was special because we got the pineapple and coconut shaved ice, but found underneath it all was macadamia nut ice cream. So delicious!
Moloaa’s Sunrise Juice Bar– A great recommendations from my friend Amanda. This roadside stop had so many fresh juice and smoothie options as well as great breakfast and sandwich options.
Java Kai– Loved this adorable spot in Kapaa and I had the best ever iced macadamia nut latte. Wish I could have another one right now.
The Right Slice– OMG do not leave without getting the mango pie! It was to die for (I only got a picture of the blueberry pina colada though). Wish I could’ve brought an entire pie back!
Thai Food Coconut Corner- This spot had great vegetarian options and we really enjoyed the pad Thai as well as tofu curry with pineapple.
Kalapaki Bay Sunset Cruise– No joke, we landed at the airport, picked up our rental car and head straight out on a sunset catamaran cruise with Kauai Beach Boys. This cruise is situated on the Hulei’a River in Kalapaki Bay, so different than all the other sunset boat cruises along the Na Pali Coast. We had a blast on this chill cruise, where we sipped on delicious tropical drinks and enjoyed the beautiful views. What an amazing way to kick-off a Hawaiian adventure!
Hiking the Kuilau Ridge Jungle Trail– An absolute must while visiting Kauai is a hike through one of the many trails on the island. The lush, green, beautiful landscape lends itself to a plethora of options from pretty easy to probably one of the hardest, steepest hikes around. I choose to go the more easy-moderate route on this trip with Kauai Hiking Tours. While the elevation was not that difficult compared to other hikes I’ve done before, what got me on this hike was all the mud! It definitely made for a fun adventure and my first time using hiking poles on a hike. I had a blast though and our awesome guide Jeremiah was so knowledgeable and took us to some great look out points. At the end of the hike, we also got to see the famous rainbow eucalyptus trees, which are something cool I’ve never see before!
Auli’i Luau– One of my bucket list items for many years has been to go to a luau in Hawaii and I can finally put a check mark next to that box! One of my biggest concerns though has always been how much (if any) vegetarian items would be available. I was beyond excited when I saw that not only does Auli’i Luau have very clearly marked vegetarian (and vegan and gluten-free) options, but it’s the only beachfront luau in Kauai. It was a no-brainer then that we made it a point to experience Auli’i Luau. The setting, drinks, food and performances were spectacular and we had a great time (even though it did rain on and off). If you’ve never been, a luau is definitely something fun to experience, especially when in Hawaii.
Na Pali Sunset Cruise– One of the most famous coastlines in the world belongs to Kauai; the Na Pali Coastline. There are many sunset cruise options available and we had the chance to go out with Kauai Sea Tours. I’ve been on many excursions around the world and I have to say this was one of the best ones I’ve ever been on. Everything from the catamaran itself to the crew, hospitality, service and food/drinks were exceptional. Of course the views were out of this world…that majestic coast line with all the vibrant colors and cliffs truly took my breath away. A work of art by Mother Nature. And, the biggest and probably best surprise of them all was the sheer number of whales that we saw! There must have been at least 30 whale sightings on our trip and that honestly brought the biggest smile to my face. The sunset was spectacular on the evening we were out and all in all, one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on, hands-down.
So, as you can see, we covered quite a bit in just 5 days. What an amazing adventure and I can’t wait to visit more islands of beautiful Hawaii. Until we meet next time, I’ll have these amazing images etched in my memory forever. Love you Kauai!
Please Note: While some experiences were sponsored, all opinions are my own.
As part of my weeklong trip with my parents to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we had the privilege of staying at The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta (PV) for three nights. This was my first time to this beautiful resort and let me tell you, we loved it!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our amazing host Hector and he pulled out all the stops for our welcome; some fun props for photos, a delicious non-alcoholic drink and a huge welcome sign all waiting for us. Wow, we really felt like celebrities for a moment!
After checking-in, we arrived to our fantastic room with the most wonderful view from the balcony. Not only that, there were the cutest and tastiest treats waiting for us in the room alongside some champagne. You better believe we thoroughly enjoyed these thoughtfully curated welcome gifts.
The Westin PV is a beautifully landscaped property with tall, lush, palm trees making the resort feel almost like a secluded tropical island. I really loved this about the Westin PV and I took tons of pictures every single day while walking around and lounging by the pool. We definitely enjoyed relaxing poolside as well as beachside in pergolas (what the Westin PV calls their cabanas). We had our own private pergola for the stay and we took full advantage of chilling by the water, listening to the ocean waves and dozing off in the afternoon. Definitely living our best lives!
The Westin PV has an emphasis on wellness and even has an entire program focused around it. Like other Westins, there is a focus on #sleepwell with the Heavenly Beds in all the rooms as well as #eatwell with healthier culinary options (I’ll discuss more about this later). We were so lucky to get to experience some of the great amenities and wellness offers throughout the resort. Here are some of the fun things we were up to during our stay:
Sunrise Yoga Class- We enjoyed an early yoga class in the wellness center with a specially trained yoga instructor. It was a great way to stretch and start our morning on a positive note.
Beachside massages- Quite possibly one of the best experiences EVER! If you’ve never had a massage beachside, I highly recommend it, and do it at the Westin PV. My parents got Swedish massages and I received a Thai Massage (which is more stretching than a regular massage). Listening to the sounds of the ocean waves and tropical birds, with a light breeze on our skin was one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating experiences. It is a must!
Relaxation at the Spa- Even though we loved our beachside massages, we did still have to check out the spa, didn’t we?! ha ha. My Mom and I treated ourselves to facials and not only loved our treatments, but the estheticians were amazing as well. Mom and I left with glowing, radiant skin and we truly felt like a million bucks.
As I mentioned earlier, the Westin also has a special focus on lighter and healthier meal options at the restaurants throughout the resort as well as room service. Each day we were treated to some of the #eatwell concepts prepared by Chef Gerardo De la Pena. He went out of his way to showcase his amazing culinary skills and how the Westin can accommodate any dietary restriction. Our vegetarian food at each meal was next-level. Take a look:
I’ll leave you with just a few more pictures of our wonderful time at the Westin PV. I truly can not rave enough about the service, the property, the food and our overall experience. If you are looking for an escape from reality for a bit, this is your place. I promise you will love it.
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta, all opinions are my own.
Here’s a real testament to how much I love Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; I went there not once, but twice already this year! And it’s only October! Now if that doesn’t speak volumes for a jet-setting, international traveler, I don’t know what does. Read all about my first visit here.
On both of these trips I stayed at the wonderful Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa. The Marriott Puerto Vallarta (PV) just completed a huge renovation with everything from rooms to the gorgeous new pool with swim up bar and restaurant. I absolutely love the décor and inviting space the Marriott PV has created. The beautiful landscaping and welcoming design aesthetics really create a relaxing environment for your stay. Take a look:
I was so lucky to have the opportunity to bring both of my parents on this trip. One thing we consistently noticed throughout our stay was the exceptional service. The staff always greeted us saying “welcome home” and asked if we were enjoying our stay and if there was anything we needed. A dedication to next-level hospitality and the utmost in customer service are definitely a cornerstone of the Marriott PV ; you can see and feel it, without it being overbearing. We truly felt the warmth of each and every staff person, who seemed vested in making our overall stay extraordinary.
In addition to the stunning property and friendly hospitality, the resort lends itself to fun activities as well as the ultimate in relaxation. The Marriott PV team set us up with some great adventures, but also built in plenty of downtime for us to relax and enjoy the hot Mexican sun by the new infinity pool (I’m still rocking a lovely bronze glow from my trip by the way).
More than that, you’ll notice how the team went above and beyond to personalize our stay. They truly took to heart who we are and what we enjoy and created unique moments to celebrate us. We felt so special and were literally left speechless at moments; just take a look at some of the ways we were treated like royalty:
In- Room Deliveries– Upon arrival to our room, we were greeted with so many lovely gifts and treats! And, every single day there were more surprises awaiting us.
Private Tequila Tasting– A dedicated tequila tasting of the proprietary blend the Marriott PV has developed on its own, led by Audrey Formisano, the resort’s tequila sommelier . This was my first time doing a tequila tasting like this. It was fun…and strong 🙂
Special Vegetarian Dinner– An exquisite 7-course vegetarian dinner prepared just for us. Not only did the team create a beautiful vegetarian menu for us to take home, they designed white linen napkins with my Vegetarian Tourist logo on it! Talk about attention to detail! The executive chef presented each course to us and we absolutely LOVED everything we had for dinner and still talk about it to this day. And, wait til you see what the pastry chef created at dessert, just for me:
Spa Treatments– A visit to the tranquil spa Ohtli on the Marriott PV property is a must. A full-body massage and body wrap definitely helped this city girl feel completely relaxed and left my skin feeling baby soft. I highly recommend getting any treatment you can at Ohtli, it’s so serene and has the best amenities!
Puerto Vallarta City Tour– We had the privilege of a private half day tour to see Puerto Vallarta with the ever wonderful guide Adrian. He took us to the main area of downtown to walk along the Malecon and see all the great art, walk through Old Town and even visit a tortilleria to see where fresh tortillas are made.
Private Oceanside Cabana– Our own private cabana that overlooked the ocean was right next to the new outdoor restaurant and swim up bar. We thoroughly enjoyed our days here, ordering exotic drinks like strawberry mojitos and pina coladas and having them delivered straight to the cabana. One more than one occasion you would have found at least one of us taking an afternoon siesta. Truly living our best beach lives!
Eco-Friendly Adventure– The Marriott PV has a dedicated program for nature conservation and one of the cool offers they have for guests at the resort is a turtle release program. They take and monitor the turtle eggs until hatching and then along with guests, release the baby turtles back into the Bay of Banderas. We unfortunately missed the evening they were doing the release, but we did get to meet a baby turtle!
Free Time!– And more than anything else, just spending our days relaxing and enjoying the beautiful property and amenities of the Marriott PV was one of the best parts of our stay.
So, as you can see, we lived it up at the Marriott PV! I have to say that in all my years, I have NEVER seen my parents so incredibly happy and so relaxed on a vacation. My parents are not normally beach people and to see them enjoy afternoons in a pool or sitting in a cabana with a pina colada in hand, just seriously touched my heart. That coupled with the BEST hospitality made this a trip we will ever forget. And for that, I can’t thank the Marriott PV enough for the memories they helped us create.
As our wonderful hosts Cristina and Mariana said, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon. Mi casa es su casa.” It’s true, we will come back home soon, that I promise! Wondering if I should just make a trip in December and visit PV 3 times this year??? 🙂
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with Visit Puerto Vallarta and the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, all opinions are my own.
Being the international traveler that I am, I was kind of shocked when I first heard about luxury barging in France. I was shocked because I never heard of it before! As I learned more about this unbelievable way to see France (and other parts of Europe) at a much more relaxed and intimate pace, my curiosity was definitely piqued.
It is no mistake that I am not a typical “cruise” person. But, the Barge Lady Cruises/ European Waterways are anything but typical when it comes to exploring places off the beaten tourist path. Think a luxury hotel on water, with a small group of guests (the average barge accommodates 6-12 people), stopping along in new towns each and every day, all while moving at a very modest 4mph for a one week journey. Basically the exact opposite of a Caribbean cruise with thousands of people aboard a massive ship.
My trip aboard the L’Art de Vivre barge (translation: the art of living) included a full week of exploring Northern Burgundy in France in all its glory the last week of August. What’s nice is you know the general itinerary for the week when you book your trip, so I was well aware of most of the fun in store for before we left. Here’s a link to our itinerary for the week. Our adventure began with pick-up in Paris and a chauffeured connection about 2 hours south to Auxerre. Once we arrived at our beautiful barge, we kicked-off with a champagne toast with majestic Auxerre in the background and then we leisurely got settled into our new quarters for the week.
The barge itself is very well-kept and cozy, and I never felt stuck or claustrophobic (which I have felt before on those large cruise liners). You are able to move freely about the space and really only spend a few hours each day cruising through the locks and canals, which in of itself is so fun to watch and experience. I was usually found sitting on the deck with a latte or some kind of beverage in hand, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the quiet stillness around me.
Each day a 3-4 hour excursion was planned off the barge. These excursions are included in the cruise and you are chauffeured to the site by the captain, who also serves as the tour guide! Our captain/tour guide Matthew was absolutely exceptional with his knowledge and made touring through Burgundy so much fun. Here’s a quick summary of the excursions included in our trip; a visit to a limestone quarry and a sparkling wine tasting in a cave, visiting the famous Auxerre Cathedral and free time exploring the cobblestone streets of the lovely town, a grand cru wine tasting in Chablis and a visit to Domaine Laroche, a visit to the town of Vezelay, where both the town and its 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St Magdalene are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and lastly, visiting the private Chateau of Bazoches. What I absolutely loved is that none of these excursions felt rushed or too heavy on the history and touring part. It was a nice balance of being with the group and getting an understanding of where we were, but also enough free time to roam and do our own thing.
Back on the barge, the rest of the day is yours for whatever it is you might choose; relaxing and reading a book, going for a bike ride or walk along the towpath that is parallel to the canal, sitting on deck and taking in the scenery, chilling in the hot tub, or taking a nap in your cabin. The options are endless and there is no pressure to do any one of the above; you make what you want from your trip on board. This is also something I loved; not having to commit to any one thing in particular and just doing whatever I wanted each day.
Because I love being active, I went for a bike ride pretty much every single day (the bikes are stored on board so you can use them at any time). And, these bike rides were hands-down, the best bike rides of my entire life! Why you ask? There are many reasons; the flat, paved towpath that follows the entire canal route the whole week, the fact that there were hardly any other people around, you don’t have to worry about cars or stoplights, the absolutely gorgeous views out in nature and silence! You can imagine as someone who lives in the heart of downtown Chicago, I truly appreciated every single one of these reasons. I jokingly called myself the Tour de France each day.
There was another huge reason for my daily bike rides; the sheer volume of unbelievable food and wine I was consuming on a daily basis! Being vegetarian, I was a bit nervous of how the food on the trip was going to be and work out for me. And let me just tell you, there is absolutely NOTHING to worry about, no matter what your dietary restriction. The chef on board can absolutely accommodate whatever your needs are, and quite honestly, will definitely exceed them. Every single meal I had was beyond words; beautifully and artfully presented, imaginative and absolutely delicious. Not to mention our Hungarian chef Robert, after learning how much I like spicy food, went out of his way to even prepare an Indian meal for me one day! Wow, talk about stellar and personal service. Also, Kat, our hostess, explained in great detail the lovely selection of white and red wine at each meal, as well as the large selection of cheeses we were delighted with each evening. Here’s just a highlight reel of some of the unbelievable food, wine and cheese from the week. And, exactly the reason I needed to go for 2-3 hour bike rides each day!
Overall, it’s hard to put into words what a wonderful week this was. It was rejuvenating, relaxing, fun, adventurous, beautiful, welcoming and amazing. I absolutely recommend you look into Barge Lady Cruises and find an itinerary that makes you really excited (truthfully, they all sound awesome to me and I want to go on all of them, ha ha). It’s the perfect way to explore an area of France (or Europe) that you most likely would not have visited on your own and it’s a way to see some quaint places that are not on the tourist map. It was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) if you ask me and was just the getaway I needed.
After returning from this exceptional trip, I was asked a lot of the same questions (and from messages I received on social media while on my trip), so I thought I’d do a little Q&A here to help with some of the most frequently asked questions.
What does the star rating mean? Is a 3 star barge not as good as a 5 star barge?
Quoting the Barge Lady Cruises website here, “All barges have been rated based on a star system, which is modeled after a hotel rating star system. The higher the star, the bigger the cabins and more amenities on the barge. It is important to note that the service, cuisine, daily excursions and overall experience remains comparable across the board. The star system is helpful in establishing a budget and setting expectations with regards to cabin size and barge amenities.” It’s true; everything about the entire trip really is 5 star luxury and next-level. Do not let a 3 star rating deter you from joining a trip. Our trip was actually a 3 star and as you can see, exceptional in every way possible.
Is this a good trip for families? For kids?
Absolutely! What’s great is that you can even charter your own private barge for just you and your family/friends. I’d love to do this one day and bring my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The crew is absolutely accommodating to all age groups and I think this would be a family trip for the books.
Did you ever get bored? Was there enough to do?
Before my trip, I was a bit unsure of how the days would go, so I brought a book to read, a journal to write in, some magazines and of course had my smartphone (there is wifi available on board). I think in total I read like 20 pages in my book, never wrote in my journal, didn’t even touch one of the magazines and used my phone on board only to share on Instagram! My point being; I was never bored. Ever. I’m also the kind of person that loves to take in my environment and just relax, so it’s not to say that you couldn’t read, write, etc. I just chose to spend my time reveling in the gorgeous French countryside.
What was the highlight of your trip?
As you can see from all the photographs of the scenery, our excursions and the delectable food, there was no shortage of fun to be had. But, what made this trip truly stand-out was the incredible crew. Every single person from the pilot Pierre Yves, to our captain Matthew to our chef Robert and the hostess Kat, they each made this trip so personable and memorable. The care and consideration they showed toward each one of us was beyond what I could have imagined. I was really sad to say goodbye to them on the last day because I felt I had developed a great connection with each of them. In this day and age of less personal connections, it was so heartwarming to be greeted and treated with such respect and consideration. Hats off to this crew who worked so hard day and night for our comfort and enjoyment. They were definitely the highlight of the entire trip!
It’s hard to capture everything I experienced and felt during this trip of a lifetime. I hope I’ve been able to convey even a small portion of how much I truly enjoyed my time on the barge. I look forward to my next adventure with Barge Lady Cruises and I hope you’ll consider it now too!
Please Note: While this post is in collaboration with Barge Lady Cruises, all opinions are my own.