Big & Small’s 2018 Year in Review

Italy, the Middle East, SE Asia, USA and the Balkans

Taking in one of Italy’s most glamorous views in Positano.

Big & Small did slightly less traveling in 2018. Still, we managed to do a complete trip around the globe—starting in Italy, we headed east, only to end up back in Italy for the close of the year. We slept in a total of 41 beds, and visited 8 new countries. Through it all, we made use of planes, trains, automobiles, trams, buses, tuk-tuks, scooters, and our own two feet to get across vast oceans and mountain ranges, charming old towns and coastal villages, and sprawling metropolises.

Here are our top 12 highlights—and all of our YouTube videos!—from Italy to the Balkans, the Middle East to SE Asia, and the USA to a few hidden treasures in between. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates on our adventures!

1. Puglia, Italy

Big & Small skipped the car and decided to rent scooters to explore the charming towns of Puglia, Italy, including the magical home of the fairytale-like trulli—Alberobello! Other towns we visited include: Ostuni, Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Carovigno, Costa Merlata, Torre Canne, San Vito dei Normanni, Monopoli, and Polignano a Mare. We had a few scooter problems along the way, but enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and the stunning coastline of one of Italy’s most underrated regions. Follow our journey!

2. Valbona to Theth Hike, Albania

We made it to the top of Albania!

After a quick change in travel plans, we decided to head into Albania from Montenegro. We had heard about the Valbona to Theth hike, a roughly 10-km trek that takes you between two tiny villages nestled deep in the heart of the Albanian Alps. This is the first time Big & Small hiked with everything on our backs, navigating rocky terrain as we made our way to the peak from Valbona before walking through dense forest on the knee-buckling descent to Theth. We managed to do this hike at the tail-end of the season in October, which meant we were rewarded with spectacular fall colors—swaths of bright reds and oranges blanketing the rugged mountain edges. We relished the fresh air, local food, and lack of WiFi. Just getting to this area of Albania is a journey in itself (including a ferry and some harrowing bus rides). But that means it remains rather unspoiled, and we sure hope it stays that way. We’ll have a video of our adventures in Albania up soon, so stay tuned!

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a city where wars began and olympics were held. You’ll see stunning landscapes, sweeping mountains, and remnants of tragedy. Here are 10 things to do in Sarajevo, including taking the new cable car up Trebevic Mountain, walking along the abandoned Olympic bobsled track, trying local food and coffee, and learning about the city’s most harrowing moments under siege.

4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai was Big & Small’s introduction to the Middle East, and it did not disappoint. We spent a whirlwind two days in this luxe desert city, hopping between glamorous malls, a 7-star hotel, faux beaches, and the tallest building in the world. But the best part was getting a taste of the much more modest Old Dubai.

5. The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Discover southern Italy’s Campania region and the jaw-dropping Amalfi Coast! This is the land of colorful, cliffside villages; narrow, nail-biting roads; stunning hidden beaches; and pure luxury living. But this doesn’t mean budget travelers can’t experience all the fun and fabulousness. Here are our tips on doing the Amalfi Coast on a budget.

6. Galle, Sri Lanka

A visit to this pearl of the Indian Ocean was an unexpected surprise. The island of Sri Lanka is a must-see, thanks to the kind and generous people, fresh and vibrant foods, beautiful beaches, calm waters, and the chance to meet sea turtles and a monkey in stylish pants! Our journey to the southern coast town of Galle began with a rickety but scenic train ride and took us to hidden beaches, a sea turtle hatchery, and the locals’ best breakfast spot.

7. Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia, is a mix of grit, decay, hipness, and luxury, and its dynamic energy is like no other European capital we’ve explored. Once the heart of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkans’ grandest city has a fascinating history—plenty of it dark—which can be found in everything from its scenic fortress overlooking the Sava and Danube Rivers to the shocking ruins of the NATO bombings of 1999. But Belgrade is just as much a bustling metropolis for the young at heart, with its great restaurants, sleek cafes, renowned nightclubs, newly renovated waterfront, and one of the coolest museums devoted to Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.

8. Sofia & Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

Looking out over Bulgaria’s pristine Seven Rila Lakes.

The capital city of Bulgaria has a fascinating history interwoven with its diverse mix of influence from the Romans, Ottomans, and Greeks. Throughout the city center, you’ll walk through old Roman ruins; catch a full view of a mosque, Catholic cathedral, orthodox church, and synagogue all at once (the Square of Tolerance); and pass by dilapidated, Communist-era buildings sitting alongside hip new cafes and restaurants. In Sofia, we visited the Museum of Socialist Art, took a free food tour, drank some “miracle” mineral waters, and explored the nearby Vitosha Mountain. But our most memorable moment in Bulgaria was hiking the Seven Rila Lakes trail (part of the highest mountain range in the Balkans), one of the most breathtaking and rewarding hikes we’ve ever done. Stay tuned for a video on that hike, coming soon!

9. Liguria, Italy

If you’ve already battled the crowds of Cinque Terre and are looking for a more tranquil side to the seaside region of Liguria, Italy, we’ve got your itinerary. Big & Small based ourselves in the larger town of La Spezia, and traveled by bus and train to six other nearby coastal villages that rival the five towns of Cinque Terre for their spectacular views, colorful houses, and fresh seafood. Join us as we walk through Porto Venere, Lerici, San Terenzo, Levanto, Bonassola, and Framura. This is our “alternative” Cinque Terre—or more like our “Sei Terre” (Six Lands)!

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Big & Small spent a month in Malaysia’s gleaming, bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur. Our intention here was not only to take in the city’s spicy food and melting-pot culture, but to be true “digital nomads,” i.e. save money and focus on our online work. But we found plenty of time to sit by the pool and explore the city as well. We visited the Petronas Towers and the national mosque, checked out traditional Malay dance, dodged monkeys at the Batu Caves, and caught plenty of whiffs of the world’s stinkiest fruit.

11. Montenegro

Montenegro boasts fewer than 700,000 residents, but welcomes more than 1 million tourists every year. This is because this small Balkan country has quite a lot to offer, from its rugged mountains to its narrow strip of beaches along the Adriatic coastline. Big & Small traveled through the country via bus and train. We walked the boardwalk of Bar, meandered our way through the old towns of Kotor and Budva, enjoyed fresh seafood and pomegranate juice, and visited the largest lake in the Balkans. But we also had a few disappointments along the way…

12. San Francisco, California, USA

This was our home base for several years, so we enjoyed being reintroduced to San Francisco’s many charms (even with its growing ills, too). The City by the Bay is now infamous for its outrageous prices, but it’s still a place full of things to see and do that require nothing but your curiosity.

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:

The Beauty of San Francisco

Big and Small just want to share some photos of various attractions and fun in San Francisco. Click on each individual photo for more info. Please comment and enjoy our photos!

 

Customized Itineraries For Your Next Trip To San Francisco

joyage-instagram-post

Making your way to the City by the Bay? Big & Small Travel has teamed up with Joyage to offer customized itineraries of San Francisco. We can help you Eat & Walk Your Way Through the City to catch both must-see attractions and hidden gems. We can lead you to some of the best spots to eat, walk, and explore, from the Mission’s best burrito to the finest handmade chocolate, from sweeping coastal vistas to the most scenic (and least touristy) summits.

Sign up HERE, and let us do the rest!

Happy Travels!
Big & Small

Black Sand Beach in Northern California & More

We visited an overlooked Black Sands Beach in Northern California. Black Sands Beach is in the south end of a long walkable coastline that is over 20 miles long in Shelter Cove along the Lost Coast Trail. Check out our Youtube Page and watch our Videos in Northern California.

 

Why is the sand so dark here? You’ll find black sand beaches in three types of regions: in areas with high wave energy, those next to volcanoes, and places where the source rock is primarily dark-colored and lacking in silica. In this part of California, the black get the color from dark colored sandstone and shale produced by tectonic activity of one continental and two oceanic plates meeting just offshore.

IMG_0142

 

We unearthed and found a video from our long European trek of Lisbon, Portugal. Watch us discuss the trams, graffiti, and culture of Lisbon —- the rawest capital of Western Europe.

We have updated our post San Francisco’s 8 Best Running Trails  Check it out!

IMG_1355

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Exploring San Francisco’s Spectacular Coastline

Already spoiled with panoramic bay views, high hilltop outlooks, and charming natural oases, the downtown dwellers of San Francisco rarely make it all the way to the other side of the city. It’s a bit ridiculous given the 7×7 quaintness of San Francisco, but, hey, it’s quicker to cross the bay into Oakland then to journey all the way to the outer reaches of Fog City—a nickname that only becomes fully realized the more you venture west.

So, Big & I decided to take a day trip out to the coast, to nosh on some fancy toast, explore whimsical windmills, climb up sandy dunes, wander through ruins, hike the coast, and walk what has to be one of the most scenic labyrinths in the world. Here’s a look at our journey, with full details (and a handy walking map!) below—we recommend every part of it.


1. Trouble Coffee Co.: Grab a coffee, coconut, and slice of cinnamon toast

This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.

coconut
No complex menu here: just order the thick slice of cinnamon toast slathered in Grade AA butter and add a cup of joe and a fresh young coconut to wash it all down.

2. Cool Beach Bungalows: Strike a pose 

Feelin’ the colors…
Feelin’ the colors…

3. The South (Murphy) Windmill: See the largest of its kind in the world

The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.
The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.

4. The North (Dutch) Windmill: Frolic through the tulip gardens

The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the whimsical focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.
The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.

5. Sutro Heights Park: Get a bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.

sutroview
The top of Sutro Heights Park offers sweeping views of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.

IMG_1336
Weave your way to the park’s peak and explore the area where Adolph Sutro’s luxurious, cliffside estate once sat above the original Cliff House.

6. Sutro Baths: Explore the abandoned ruins of what was once a world-famous pool

Sutro Baths
Sutro’s other local marvel has also been reduced to ruins, but these ones make for a pretty fun urban spelunking adventure. The Sutro Baths were once contained the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It’s now a spot to gawk at the sea, and get some pretty fantastic engagement photos!

7. Lands End Coastal Trail: Hike the well-trodden path

IMG_1348
At the top of Sutro Baths, take the Coastal Trail leading towards Mile Rock Beach and Eagle’s Point. This trail is fairly touristy—it’s mostly flat and grants nice views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge—but it’s easy enough to catch a moment or two of solitude, especially when you get to the big (hidden) attraction…

Mile Rock Beach Stairs
Follow the signs for Mile Rock Beach and descend the sandy stairs. Halfway down, you’ll see that the stairs continue to your left—this will take you to Mile Rock Beach. Don’t take those steps; instead, keep heading straight up to the small rocky cliff. And look down!

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Time to calm the mind and… handstand

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Go off trail for this manmade seaside wonder
This labyrinth was first created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. After a few jerks destroyed his artwork in 2013, a group of local volunteers rebuilt it in 2015.

Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.

9. The Golden Gate Bridge: The photo opps are endless

Can never get sick of this view...
Can never get sick of this view…

10. Lincoln Park Steps

Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.
Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.

Follow our path…

The entire 4-mile journey.
The entire 4-mile journey.

BONUS: Head into the Sea Cliff neighborhood and weave your way down to China Beach then Baker Beach. From there, you can take the Batteries to Bluffs trail to get even closer to the great Golden Gate. READ MORE HERE about that hike.

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

CQGhWYAXAAA92AZ

 

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:

Exploring North Beach and San Francisco’s Top Trails

Happy 2016 from Big and Small Travel!

J-Crew and Handstand Steph are back from a big European vacation with an update from their home base of San Francisco. First, we take you on a tour through the coastal city’s many scenic and hilly trails that offer both incredible views and butt-kicking workouts. Check out our picks for San Francisco’s Top 8 Running Trails here!

Then, we head over to North Beach with a brand new video showcasing one of our favorite corners of this historic San Francisco hood, where we like to go for good coffee and macarons:

Handstand Steph talks about a legendary place for sandwiches in North Beach:

Stay tuned for more from Big and Small Travel and be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

 

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.

Continue reading “Classic Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco”