The Roman World Beyond Italy

Traveling has brought us to many corners of the world — and one group of people keep popping up: the Romans. At its height, the Roman Empire was the most extensive political and social structure in western civilization. Subscribe to our Big & Small Travel Youtube to watch our adventures in Rome and more.

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates on a Budget

Here’s how Big & Small Travel saw all the highlights in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in just 48 hours without breaking the bank. Dubai, the largest city in United Arab Emirates, has a reputation for all things grand and luxurious—it has the tallest building in the world and the only 7-star hotel in existence, after all. But you can very much see this Middle Eastern gem on a budget. Watch the video to find out how.

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VIDEO: See the Best of Rome in Just 3 Minutes!

There are few places left in this world where you can casually walk through 2,000 years of history. Wandering through Rome, Italy, you are constantly reminded of a storied empire that laid the foundation for Western civilization. Around every corner, you’ll run into a formidable ancient monument, grandly gilded cathedral, or priceless piece of Renaissance art. But behind all that outward splendor and beauty are tragic tales of power, religion, death, and destruction – this is history served up in all its brutal rawness.

To capture Rome in every bit of its glory, Big & Small Travel present this quick video of its highlights.

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Updates: Videos, Vietnam, and Photos!

We are going through a lot of photos and videos now. So, take a look at some of our Vietnam pictures from Hoi An in Central Vietnam. Also, we have included a few videos from Asia, Europe and the USA. Enjoy!

Watch some Big and Small Videos below and subscribe:

Updated Best Coffee Spots in San Francisco Bay Area

Summer is almost upon us, so what a better way to get energized and excited than discussing —- Coffee in the San Francisco Bay area. We have updated our San Francisco post on the best coffee roasters. Here is the new updated link Coffee: The New San Francisco Treat

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Mount Bachelor in Oregon and Rural Northern California

Big and Small Travel are on Youtube! We post travel videos showcasing recent trips and excursions. Our most recent videos from 2016 include Mount Bachelor near Bend, Oregon where Big and Small go snowshoeing for the first time! Check it out below:

We enjoy the urban slides of San Francisco, California at Seward Street. Watch Handstand Steph fly and fall on these fast slides below:

Lastly, J-Crew got a chance to explore Northern California in an area near called Brownsville-Challenge, California. Check it out below:

Classic Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco

California is such a romanticized destination, from its dramatic coastline to its quirky characters — and it’s all best experienced on the road. Subscribe to our Big and Small Travel Youtube  and watch our travels in California. 

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica. The beginning of our journey.

One of the best and most popular road trips in the Golden State involves driving along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway between sunny Los Angeles and foggy San Francisco. Here’s our photo guide to must-see sites and stops along the way, starting in L.A. and going north.

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Coffee: The New San Francisco Treat

Coffee is a way of life for us here at Big and Small Travel. Many a night, Julian and I lie awake, excited for the morning when we can savor a wonderful cup of joe. But it’s not just simply the thought of the steam warming the face or the bold, earthy liquid flowing through the digestive tract, warming the heart and awakening the mind. And it’s not about the caffeine… not always, at least. It’s the whole cafe experience that goes with this morning ritual, from ordering it (even from the crankiest and snobbiest of baristas) to taking that first comforting sip. Here, we attempt to give you a practical and thorough guide to San Francisco’s most famous coffee brands, spots, and trends. The city’s coffee scene has quickly grown in just under the last decade, especially since the launch of local favorites like Blue Bottle and Ritual back in 2005.

Below, Julian covers 10 local coffees. He evaluates each brand by flavor, body, and acidity. As the scene continues to blossom, this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but a trusty snapshot into the great variety of coffee options available in the City by the Bay. Battle Mountain are based around the Russian Hill, Twitterloin, TenderNob neighborhoods, so first up is our nearby pick: Equator Coffee. —HandstandSteph

Equator Coffee | Overall Rating: 9.2   Acidity: 5.5   Flavor: 9.5   Aftertaste: 8.5
Equator Coffee was started by Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell in a Marin County garage in 1995, well ahead of the third-wave coffee revolution that would hit San Francisco in the 2000s. Their first cafe didn’t open until 2013 in Mill City (pictured), and they opened their San Francisco location, situated in the Warfield Building on 986 Market Street (near the infamously dubbed Twitterloin). More importantly, their coffee is exceptional, created with a whole lot of care for the beans themselves and where they are sourced from. We tried a cup of the Colombian single-origin as well as their house blend; both were smooth, rich, and velvety. Self-described as a “concierge” roaster, Equator focuses on wholesale coffee sales, but their cafes offer a unique experience with helpful and knowledgeable baristas. There is a variety of coffee sold at Equator, many with beans from Colombia, as well as places like Rwanda, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The owners are dedicated to providing good working conditions to every farm they work with as well. Overall, Equator has a fantastic mission with exceptional coffee. We think it’s a great pick, especially for those that prefer darker roast coffees.

Coffee! Coffee!
Contraband Coffee Bar on Larkin Street in Russian Hill

Contraband Coffee | Overall Rating: 7.2   Acidity: 8   Flavor: 8   Aftertaste: 6 
Contraband is on the forefront of coffee in the Bay Area, serving beans from Latin America to New Guinea to Yemen — not typically your standard fare. Contraband makes coffee a science, even employing a precision coffee brewing contraption called the Blossom, designed by a former Apple designer/NASA engineer, which specifically calibrates for a “more nuanced” cup of coffee that offers less astringency and bitterness, and more sweetness — be prepared to pay a pretty penny for this selection, though. Overall, Contraband serves quality coffee that is acidic and generally strong. To our taste buds, though, the beans seems “over-roasted” because of the complex and wild nature of their selection. I give Contraband a 7.2, an above-average score that also takes into consideration price and presentation.

Ritual
Ritual Cafe on Valencia Street in the Mission

Ritual Coffee | Overall Rating: 8   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8   Aftertaste: 7.7
Another popular Bay Area brand, Ritual defines coffee as a “delicious, sweet, and complex fruit.” Ritual’s coffee has bite and is generally on the more bitter and acidic side of the coffee spectrum. Ritual uses fair trade beans from Latin America and Africa, where they work intimately with their coffee bean producers. Ritual prides itself on craftsmanship by utilizing a Hario V60 pour-over station to exquisite effect. I’m generally a classic dark roast guy, but I appreciate the way Ritual specializes in light roasted single origin coffee beans and also features “seasonal” espresso beans. The Ritual espresso or macchiato has an expressive and covertly nutty quality that perks you up with the right amount of acidity, flavor, and body. Ritual were one of the pioneers of the artisan coffee movement in SF, and their passion and social consciousness has contributed much to their success..

Sight Glass Cafe in SOMA, San Francisco
Sightglass Cafe on 7th Street in SOMA

Sightglass Coffee | Overall Rating: 7.5   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8.3   Aftertaste: 6.9
Sightglass has carved its own space in a more desolate part of SOMA. If you like Blue Bottle (mentioned below), you’ll probably love Sightglass. The cafe’s grand industrial space is wonderful and ideal for working. I usually opt for the Colombian coffee called Finca Las Florestales that they describe as having “sweet flavors of grape juice, mango, and guava … complemented by a syrupy body and pluot-like acidity.” This acidity is what gives the coffee its brightness and, more significantly, its liveliness. Sightglass also offers beans from Latin America and Africa. The acidity and berry notes are the major components to Sightglass’ specialty light roast, so as a fan of darker roasts I typically prefer a bolder brew.

Four Barrel Cafe in the Mission loves playing records especially classic rock.
Four Barrel Cafe on Valencia Street in the Mission shows off an impressive vinyl collection

Four Barrel | Overall Rating: 8.7   Acidity: 7.0   Flavor: 9.7   Aftertaste: 8.1
Four Barrel’s home in the Mission is complete with roasters, vintage machines, and even turntables. Coffee and records go well together — and Four Barrel’s vintage ambiance goes well with their old-fashioned roasting methods. The cafe offers no Wi-Fi, which means tables are thankfully free of Macs. This is definitely a place to enjoy a great cup of coffee over a good conversation. A Four Barrel cup of coffee is clean, sweet, and complex, with just the right amount of acidity. Four Barrel has a diverse selection of beans that span the globe; I’m partial to the Latin American varieties. They pride themselves on having an “artisan” approach. As it says on their site, “We hold our roasters’ dedication to the constantly changing variable of coffee in high regard.” This means they’re coffee is always smooth, bold, and goes down easy.

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Blue Bottle | Overall Rating: 7.9   Acidity: 8.7   Flavor: 7.3   Aftertaste: 7.6
Blue Bottle has become an institution in the Bay Area. The company originated in Oakland, Calif., where its founder was sick of ubiquitous “grande eggnog lattes and double skim pumpkin-pie macchiatos.” The name is inspired by Central Europe’s first coffee house (The Blue Bottle) — an awesome story; read here. It’s important to note that Blue Bottle serves beans that’ve been roasted within the last 48 hours. The coffee is strong and vibrant and the body is nice and full, with a clean yet acidic finish. As referenced above, their signature light roast has potent berry notes that may turn off fans of darker roasts. Still, Blue Bottle continues to grow, even expanding to New York. Overall, their coffee is worth the typically cheaper price tag, especially for those craving more acidic and fruity tones.

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Contraband Coffee Bar on Larkin Street in Russian Hill

Highwire Coffee | Overall Rating: 8.2   Acidity: 5.8   Flavor: 8.7   Aftertaste: 8.1
Highwire Coffee is based in Oakland, however it is available at Craftsman and Wolves in the Mission area of San Francisco. Highwire Roasters proclaims to “love the guts in a cup of fully developed coffee” and “the subtleties that speak to its place of origin.” The core espresso blend I had was full of body, smooth, and perhaps the least acidic coffee I’ve ever had in the Bay Area. Highwire offers darker roasts that are more akin to a typical cup of coffee found in many European countries. However, their philosophy is that light, medium, and dark roasts are all delicious in their own special way. Still, their blends are typically more balanced and less acidic than those favored among the “third wave coffee” scene, led by Blue Bottle and others. Highwire is also available in Oakland at Nido and Hive, the Place to Bee.

Philz at Van Ness, San Francisco
Philz Coffee on Van Ness Avenue near Civic Center

Philz Coffee | Overall Rating: 6.1  Acidity: 6.5   Flavor: 6.7   Aftertaste: 5.7
Philz has also become quite an institution in the San Francisco Bay Area. They pride themselves on their artisanal and high quality coffees, and the unique experience of ordering the coffee itself. While you typically pay first for coffee at most cafes, Philz has reversed the process. At Philz, the experience is friendlier and funkier than many of its contemporaries. The coffee is made to order, and the menu can be quite intimidating for newbies, especially with wacky names like Jacobs Wonderbar. You can request a roast, flavor, and sweetness that is exactly to your liking. But a major drawback here is that they don’t offer espresso — a purist coffee lover’s delight. Still, Philz has mastered the art of the fresh pour-over coffee. They feature several different blends, from light to medium to dark roasted, and even offer multiple decaf options, along with flavors like mint mojito. What makes Philz unique is that you can carefully craft and tweak your coffee until you’re 100% satisfied — which often just seems to be more of a headache after the already overwhelming ordering process.

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Bicycle Coffee | Overall Rating: 6.8   Acidity: 7    Flavor: 8.9    Aftertaste: 8
Bicycle Coffee, based in Oakland, is readily available throughout the Bay Area, especially at funkier alternatives like Revolution Cafe in the Mission and Another Cafe near Nob Hill. Bicycle Coffee, whose beans come mainly from Central America, is dependably smooth. To a newbie, it may seem moderately strong since some medium roasts can be bitter. However, the beans vary seasonally and every cup of coffee depends on your barista, too. The round, oak notes and caramel hints dominate in a typical cup of Bicycle coffee, a reliable morning pick-me-up.

Chromatic Coffee | Overall Rating: 8.0   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8.3   Aftertaste: 6.9                    First, we stumbled across Iron & Steam Espresso Bar and were dazzled by the 60-year-old Gaggia lever machine. Unfortunately, Iron & Steam Espresso bar is closed, but Chromatic Coffee, based in San Jose, is  readily available in the SF Bay area. Chromatic coffee sticks to the back of your throat and penetrates your digestive system in a powerful way. The taste and flavor are very strong with bold hints of cacao bean — it’s almost as if you’re drinking rich, raw hot chocolate. In essence, the tiger mottling effect comes from the crema, the thin and dark golden-brown layer atop the espresso shot. This crema contains emulsified oils, created from the machine’s high pressure, which disperses gases within the liquid. Much of the shot’s aromatic and nuanced flavors is pronounced in the crema. Overall, I was impressed with Chromatic Coffee and their devotion to unique singe-serve coffees from ethically sourced beans. It may be worth a visit to Santa Clara to check out their home base.                    

With those 10 options, I feel lucky to live in such a vibrant and happening town for coffee, especially since this scene has only come about in the last decade. And I’m happy to see a recent return to more dark roast coffees in the area. It’s important to note that the darker the brew, the higher the coffee is in beneficial phytonutrients, which not only help in the carmelization process but also increase antioxidant activity. All that said, in the end, all we desire is a fine, reliable cup of coffee to start our day. Fortunately, San Francisco offers a plethora of choices. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I will review international brands, featuring powerhouses like Nespresso and Illy.

Rethinking Ukraine

On the heels of change and rapid-fire revolution in Crimea, I’ve recently been thinking about a trip I took to Ukraine back in 2011. I was mostly in Odessa, located on the Black Sea near Crimea, the spot currently causing frustration among the U.S. government, which is bringing back a sense of “Cold War” tension. The situation there has me looking back at my experience in the country in a different light.

Staring down Lenin at a beautifully adorned park in Arcadia near the Black Sea.
Staring down Lenin at a beautifully adorned park in Arcadia near the Black Sea.
Ukraine — from its architecture to its food to its dialects — was how I imagined Russia to be. Traveling with a friend, who was able to speak conversational Russian to most of the locals probably made this seem even more plausible. Together, we saw Lenin memorials and Soviet-era symbols and met amicable Russians; but even the locals we met spoke Russian, claiming that the Ukrainian and Russian languages were similar enough. With the current political controversy, I wanted to research more about the Ukrainian/Russian connection. The media’s portrayal of Russia’s recent reclamation of Crimea makes the move seem somewhat out of the blue, aggressive, and imperialistic. But looking at this situation objectively, you have to go quite a ways back: Kiev, the modern capital of Ukraine, is often referred to as a mother of Russian Cities, in other words, the founding place of Russian civilization. And while the land has seen many conflicts over the centuries, the country of Ukraine as we know it today has only been independent since 1991. That’s only a little over two decades, and during my visit there, I could definitely see and feel how inextricably linked it still was to Russia.
Odessa Waterfront
Strength in powerful babies at the Odessa seafront.
But as I write this, it’s the Ukrainian people who are stuck in the middle of this crisis, who are being used by each influencing side. There are even rumors that both sides may be funding militias and promoting instability. The Ukrainians I got to know were generally stoic and reserved — well, aside from the night I made the mistake of asking for additional cheese on a pasta dish at Odessa’s Club and got charged almost $25 for it and was escorted to the nearest ATM! Still, overall, I felt safe there, which makes it even harder for me to believe this is the same region where a violent revolution has recently taken place.

My time in Ukraine was filled with fun memories, so I wanted to show a more peaceful side to this wonderful country. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

Pink
More stunning architectural beauty!

The Lada
Posing with the Russian Lada, the mythical and infamous symbol of past Soviet-era cars.
Stern
Stern and stark memorials to yesteryear.
Gothic
Exquisite Gothic architecture decked out with gargoyles.
CCCP
A colorful shirt, glamorizing the Soviet days, boldly on display in another main street store. (Pre-2014)
Fancy cars on a tree lined street in Odessa.
Fancy cars on a tree lined street in Odessa.
Badges galore!
Soviet-era pins and badges near one of the main tourist streets in Odessa.