India Jones and the Temple of Gloom


Coffee Temple
Varkala Cliff
Varkala, Kerala, India
I had heard that this place was “the best” and being #4 of 59 restaurants in Varkala on TripAdvisor I would have thought it was a sure bet, but nothing is for sure except the grim reaper and the taxman.
 
To be fair, I made several visits at various times of the day and I have to say the service was dismal nearly every time. On at least three occasions I sat at my table for 15 minutes or more and was totally ignored (I many times purposely do not make a fuss to see how long it will actually take), having ultimately had to either get up and ask for or retrieve my own menu. On one occasion one of the servers, who I will call “India Jones” because of his long hair, unkempt beard, tattered shirts, and “local” Kerala dress (he wears a sarong as a skirt even though he is obviously a westerner), moped around, conserving energy I assume, and lumbered past me at least ten times, never asking me if I needed a menu or wanted to order. I sometimes believe that I am invisible here because employees constantly walk by without even acknowledging my existence. 
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich – 230 Rupees
The coffee and teas are good, coming in large (10 ounce) mugs, but are a tad overpriced by Indian standards.  The food looked good from what I saw others order, but is also a bit more expensive than most places. I have to admit that the only things I tried were the the toast, three large, thick pieces of brown bread with butter and jam (80 rupees/$1.30 – I had to provide my own peanut butter even though the menu claims they make a crepe with it), a large bowl of fruit muesli (100 rupees/$1.60 and not so large) which was not bad and a fair deal, and their chicken salad sandwich (230 rupees/$3.75 with cheese), a huge disappointment.  The bread, a small baguette (see photo above) with sesame seeds on top was the highlight, but what little chicken salad there was oddly enough was served warm, the chicken mostly dark meat and full of gristle, and the mayonnaise had a rather disgusting sweet taste like Miracle Whip, which I loathe. Disappointingly small and lonely on the plate with no garnish, it was one of the worst meals and values I had at any restaurant in my nearly four months in India.
 
The place has potential with its incredible view and open air feel, but the servers need to do something about their simultaneously apathetic and arrogant attitudes and start acting like customers are important.  As far as the food was concerned, I was not impressed, but the coffee and masala chai were pretty good. The only reason I am giving them 5 bombs and not 4 is because they are about the only place on the cliff that consistently opens early (6:30), so if you are an early riser like me, not always by choice, you can at least get a coffee or breakfast with a sea view no less.
 
CombatCritic Gives Coffee Temple 5 Out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
 
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Title: India Jones and the Temple of Gloom
 
Key Words: Coffee Temple, coffee, temple, Varkala, cliff, beach, Kerala, India, restaurant, cafe, food, menu, tea, sandwich, breakfast, view, sea, CombatCritic, TravelValue, TripAdvisor
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You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value In Goa … Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!


Candolim Beach

Casa Praia

Vaddy, Candolim, 
Bardez, Goa, 403515, India
+91-997-044-4666
Prices: $$$$$

With a dearth of available options over the New Year 2015 holiday in Goa, a last minute cancellation gave us an opportunity to book a room at Casa Praia (4,000 rupees/$64 per night), a relative bargain at a property with an unprecedented 9.9 rating on Booking.com and 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.  I jumped on it and am I glad I did!


4,000 rupees per night will get you a 3 or 4-star hotel in many places in India, but Goa is unlike anywhere else in India thanks to supply and demand, and hotels and taxis are at least triple the price of anywhere else I have been (Dharamsala, Rishikesh, New Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Cochin, Varkala). But this is Goa, Candolim Beach in particular, a beachside party town packed to the gills with Russians and Brits ready to party, and just two budget-minded Americans that I knew of … my wife and I.

Paul (or “Hardip” as he likes to be called) and Sophia, the owners and hosts of Casa Praia, greeted us by email immmediately after our booking and offered to send a taxi to meet us at the airport at the standard government rate of 1,100 rupees ($17.80), so we took them up on it as their property is an hour’s drive from the airport and the hotel/guesthouse is somewhat secluded and not easy to find. Our driver met us outside the terminal as promised with sign in hand and we proceeded to Casa Praia.

Being early evening on New Year’s Eve, Hardip, Sophia, and some other British guests (Brits) were sitting around the pool enjoying a beverage and chatting, and after showing us to our room we were invited to join in the celebration. We enjoyed a wonderful night of conversation and commaraderie with our new friends and former rivals, the Brits plus one Swede (Sophia).
Our room was large, well appointed, and very tastefully decorated with three sets of French doors, one opening onto the garden with the pool not far away. The stone tile floors were immaculate, the queen size bed had fresh sheets, plenty of pillows, and a mosquito net tasefully draped near the headboard and there was plenty of storage space for our clothes and personal belongings. A decent size flat screen TV with cable was provided, along with air conditioner and ceiling fans (2), a small refrigerator, sink, cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, and plenty of filtered water throughout our stay thanks to Raja, a friendly, attentive young Goan that works on the property. The bathroom large, it had all the necessities, including toilet paper (a rarity in Indian hotels), and plenty of hot water thanks to the solar panels on the roof. I have to say that although somewhat expensive by Indian standards, it was the nicest $64 room I have ever stayed in.


Breakfast is included and Sophia and her cook, Jessica, cheerfully greeted us each morning with a choice of yogurt (curd) with granola and fruit (bananas and pomegranite were in season while we were there), oatmeal (porridge to the Brits) with accompaniments, or eggs (any style – I liked the cheese and onion omelete with green chilies), along with fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee or tea, and toast with butter and jam (get some peanut butter for the Americans Hardip – Delphino’s has a nice locally made butter for 250 rupees per jar). Seriuosly, the breakfasts were marvelous, the food fresh and hot, and we never walked away hungry like some places we have stayed.

The property has four buildings, two large two-story structures with four guest rooms each, a small kitchen building, and the Hardip residence where Paul, Sophia, and their two beautiful (and very well behaved) children, along with Feni their sweet cat, live. The grounds are lush and well maintained with a medium size pool (relatively new), plenty of stone tile deck space, lounges, tables, umbrellas, and chairs and is surrounded by a six-foot concrete wall with locked gates for added privacy and security.

Casa Praia sits midway between Candolim Beach (250 meters) and the main beach road (150 meters) in Candolim (not sure if the road has another name), so you can exit one gate and walk to the beach for a day of sun, the Arabian sea and lounge chairs, umbrellas, drinks, and food at one of the countless beach “shacks” along the coast (the place we went to had a 400 rupee/$6.40 minimum, but all the comforts were included if you spent that much, a relative bargain) or through the other gate for a stroll into town.


There are an overwhelming number of restaurants, bars, and shopping options within a stones throw of Casa Praia, so you do not have to venture far unless you are so inspired. We ate at Floyd’s our first day and were unimpressed, The Mango Grove our second and were equally unenthused, but on our third and fourth days we found The Bistro, which was a continental delight, and Tuscany Gardens, an Italian restaurant with nice, relatively authentic food. Please click on the links above to read my full reviews.

And if you staying over a Saturday night, you must go the the Saturday Market, a 20-minute ride (350 rupees for a Tuk-Tuk/500 rupees for a taxi) away where you will find an international food court with numerous options and a maze of countless stalls selling everything from Kashmiri scarves and hand painted boxes to local and name-label clothing, jewlery, and everything in between.

Old Goa is also worth a visit, so hire Garesh, one of the few “Goan” taxi drivers in town, and a very honest and warm person (his English is very good too, another rarity in India where one of the National languages is English BTW) to take you there with a stop by the two local forts on the way back. Old Goa has some nice, old Portuguese (Catholic) churches, one being the Basilica of Bom Jesus where Saint Francis di Xavier (their patron saint whom is encased in a glass casket and brought out for his festival which is only held every ten years – we were there during the festival, but opted not to atttend because of the reported massive crowds and traffic jams), Se’ Cathedral (a large, but unispiring church), Saint Augustine (a Portuguese Catholic church in ruins, but well worth a visit), and Saint Francis Church (adjacent to Se’ Cathedral, smaller, but much more ornate) which has an archeological museum attached (closed on Fridays, the day we were there of course).  Fort Aguada and its lighthouse are also worth a visit, but are not overly impressive, and Reis Magos Fort, a smaller, more attractive option (50 rupees entry, includes van ride to the top) with beautiful views of the river, the Arabian sea, and the cliffs below.  We paid 1,200 rupees/$19 for the six-hour tour (taxi), a bargain by Goa standards, so just ask Hardip to contact Garesh or contact him directly at +91-901-194-8499 if you need a lift anywhere.

Saturday Night Market

On a final note, I was ill during our stay and realizing I had become dehydrated and needing medical attention, Sophia and Hardip jumped to attention and without hesitation rushed me to the local hospital, a large clinic with beds actually, where I was given IV fluids and kept overnight. Hardip returned later that night to drive to five pharmacies to find the potasium I needed (the hospital did not have any), and again the next morning (twice) to pick my wife and I up (she had spent the night in the bed next to me) and deliver us back to the hotel where I spent the next few days recovering. We also needed to extend our stay by three days, and good thing we did because of the unforeseen emergency, so Hardip shifted some bookings (we basically displaced Sophia’s older daughter, who was visiting from Scotland, we found out later … you’re a gem Sophia!) so we could remain the in the same room even though they were “fully booked”. All I can say to Paul and Sophia is “thank you for your unparalleled compassion, extreme kindness, and oustanding hospitality”.


Without a doubt, Casa Praia is “THE BOMB” and deserving of my highest rating, rarely bestowed on a hotel or restaurant …
CombatCritic Gives Casa Praia The Maximum … 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



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Title: You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value In Goa … Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!

Key Words: Casa Praia, casa, Praia, hotel, guesthouse, guest, house, Candolim, beach, Goa, Bardez, India, Arabain Sea, sea, ocean, CombatCritic, review, TravelValue, travel, value

Waterfront Cantina (Naguabo): Mexican Fare, Fresh Fish, Cheap Drinks … What More Can You Ask For?


Waterfront Cantina
Playa Naguabo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$


Waterfront Cantina is a small indoor and outdoor restaurant and bar across the street from the beach in Playa Naguabo with a reasonable Mexican and fish menu and drinks from $2.50-$6.00. 

Starters run from $5.95 to $13.95, dinners are $8.49 to $14.95, and drinks are $2.50 to $6.50. Cold beer, affordable prices, and friendly service make Waterfront Cantina a great place for a cool drink or a hot meal.


We stopped in several times during our week in Punta Santiago for drinks and on our final night for the nightly SPECIAL … Two entrees (one fish/one meat), two glasses of Sangria, and dessert for two, all for just $25. 

We ordered the beef fajitas for two, about 8 ounces of marinated skirt steak each with plenty of guacamole, shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and tortillas for three decent size tacos. Everything was fresh and delicious although the garlic was a little excessive even for my taste. The sangria was good and dessert well done with a slice of cheesecake drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with four small, crispy mini-churros.

With a sea view, flat-screen TV (football on Sunday), and an owner who speaks English, it is a very tourist friendly option in an area where most locals have limited English speaking skills.


CombatCritic Gives Waterfront Cantina 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!


Menu

Key Words: Waterfront Cantina, waterfront, cantina, Naguabo, Puerto Rico, Mexican, food, eat, lunch, dinner, TV, English, fajitas, beach, sea, view, indoor, outdoor, patio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Seven Seas: An Outstanding Beach on PUERTO RICO’S Northwest Coast


Parque Nacional Balneario Seven Seas
Fajardo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$



Seven Seas is a very nice public beach and national park about 30 miles West of San Juan and is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets, life guards, and access to a nearby snack bar (pastilillos).


Parking is $5.35, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot. There is street parking, but we were told that the police ticket cars, so pay the price or park in Casa de Los Patilillos parking lot. The beach is adjacent to both parking lots.

You can avoid paying the $5.35 parking fee by visiting on Monday or Tuesday when the national park is closed and park your car at Casa de Los Patilillos. Tito, the owner, is very friendly and speaks excellent English. He has a full bar, soft drinks, pastalillos (homemade deep-fried dough pastries with a variety of savory and sweet fillings), and entrees. We tried the ham and cheese (jamon con queso), ham and pineapple (jamon con piña) and beef and cheese (carne con queso), and all three were hot, fresh, and delicious!

The very fine sand on the beach is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off to about three feet then quickly drops off. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature was probably in the high 70’s, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.


Mostly families and couples, Seven Seas is highly recommended while in the Northwest part of the island.

CombatCritic Gives Seven Seas 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE Bueno!

Key Words: beach, CombatCritic, Seven Seas, snorkeling, fish, ocean, public, restroom, sand, sea, toilet, snack, bar, Fajardo, Puerto Rico, San Juan, CombatCritic, TravelValue

El Escambron (San Juan, Puerto Rico): Awesome Public Beach Near Old San Juan


Balneario El Escambrón (Public Beach)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$$$$$


San Juan, Puerto Rico: El Escambron is a very nice public beach just West of Old San Juan. it is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets (closed on Christmas Day unfortunately), a life guard, and snack bar.


Parking is $5, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot, accompanied by a police cruiser and several police officers the day we were there. The beach is adjacent to the parking lot.

The very fine sand is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off quickly to about three feet and remains fairly shallow all the way out to the rocks. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature on Christmas day was probably in the high 70’s, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.

Mostly families and couples, El Escambron is highly recommended while in the San Juan area.

CombatCritic Gives El Escambron 8 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!