Category Archives: Travel

My 2016 Travel Highlights

Until today, I was not planning on a 2016 highlights article. But as I was thawing the frozen chunks of meat I plan to cook for Media Noche, a couple of thoughts sprang on me. Sure, this year may not be the best year of my life, but the relationships I have formed and the friends I gained were undeniably treasured. Above all, I’ve gathered enough of myself this year to finally push through launching my blog (hooray!), something I have been procrastinating about for the past years.

Most bloggers I know have already published an annual review and indeed a yearly look back is a beautiful reminder of how the past 365 days have been. All those happy memories, great time spent with the people you love; maybe you broke your heart or you spent a quarter of last year fighting your way out of struggles. All these conjure to this very moment, and most importantly how we are left wiser and stronger by everything life had to offer.

At a glance, my past year was not bad at all, however, it was just lackluster in comparison to the year beforehand. In so many ways, 2015 is still the best year of my life because it allowed me to save up and travel more, achieve professional advancements and on top of that I was reunited with my partner who I am proud to say, has also become a nurse here in the UK. And yet, even with that said, I realized that the friends I found and the travel experiences I went through this year were just as meaningful. And with my blog finally rolled out into reality, how can I not love 2016? I’ve picked out the top moments of my travels this year and I hope they make you smile as much as it warmed my heart reminiscing all the good times I was so blessed to have.

[  5  ]  Foodtripping in Cardiff

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We went for a city break  to Cardiff last March and were pleasantly surprised by its thriving food scene! It was exciting to try all the local flavors and not to mention the desserts that were prepared extraordinarily. Foodtripping in the capital city of Wales made it on my top 5 because aside from all the delicious food everywhere, I realized that a great way to know a place is through one’s taste buds. My personal favorite is a cheese shop called Madame Fromage which serves this addicting Dragon Rarebit – a savory twist to Cardiff’s infamous local dish. Equally impressive and edging on the magical was Science Cream where your sweet cravings are created right before your eyes through the use of liquid nitrogen. Yeah, you read that right.

Also read: EXPOSING CARDIFF’S WELL KEPT SECRET, A FOODIE PARADISE IN THE MAKING

[  4  ] Witnessing the Iconic Tour Eiffel

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I am going to be honest here, I am not very fond of Paris. For something so well-talked about, the city was well below my expectations. Rock bottom low. The only upside was when I got to gawk at the Eiffel Tower in real life – it really is bigger than it looks in pictures by the way. This tower is an icon of the world, and I am simply glad to see what they hype is all about (not very much honestly). On a completely different note, it is also in Paris where I had another travel mishap that taught me a lesson the hard way. My entire bag got swindled away from me on our first day, together with all its contents: flat keys, Pandora bracelet, money and bank cards. I replaced all the lost items sure, but I was traveling that time on an expired travel insurance policy so I could not even make a claim for my loss. Lesson learned: update your travel insurance and make sure you are protected when traveling. And beware of thieves when in Paris.

[  3  ] Ultimate Thermal Bath Experience in Budapest

 

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I welcomed 2016 with a travel escapade which led me to the unforgettable city of Budapest in Hungary. I was captivated by a lot of things in Hungary (Palinka!) but the Szechenyi Thermal Bath reigns closest to my heart. It was a social experience I will never forget and it widened my perspective immensely while enjoying the entire time. I never knew that I had it in me to wear a proper swimsuit at freezing point weather and jump to a hot, steaming pool. Irreplaceable time of my life.

Also read: TOP TEN MOMENTS A TRAVELER MUST HAVE IN BUDAPEST

[  2  ] Brunch while overlooking the beautiful city of Prague

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Sightseeing in Prague during Autumn was great but for some reason, this particular travel  story of mine was made special by the small, random moments we spent in the city. Of course, we saw all the major tourist attractions but what made my heart swell with joy was the tiny moments of peace and admiration that sporadically graced our trip. Here, I was able to indulge in imbibing the city atmosphere as much as I want to because of how relaxed our itinerary turned out. I can vividly remember this warm autumn day like it was yesterday, where we chanced upon this restaurant that overlooked Prague like no other. I happily chomped on my Beef Goulash and proceeded with dessert coffee, breathing in the view like my life depended on it.

Also read: TOP 5 PRAGUE EATS

[  1  ] Cavorting in Sanremo

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My top travel highlight for 2016? It can only be my Sanremo adventure! Last August, I decided to go back to the French Riviera (it has become an annual thing) and catch up with a good friend. The Riviera did not disappoint as usual, but when we crossed over to Italy to visit Sanremo – I was blown away! I live for days under the sun, sprawling beside the beach and a for such great views. This place was like an answered prayer to my life. Absolutely stunning views, the sun blaring on our sticky skins and all cocktails somehow taste better when drank by the beach. Catching up with my friend Ricky was a bonus and although he had finished his Masters with flying colors (as expected) and is now back in the Philippines, we still keep in touch. Because real friendship defy distances as vast as the oceans.

Also read: WHY SANREMO SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT ITALIAN DESTINATION

Maybe 2016 was more of a working year for me – at least that is how it felt. But I cannot deny that there were blessings that came along with it and at the end of the day, it made me a better person. I wish anyone reading this a prosperous 2017. And as for me, I am looking forward to next year with a smile – and maybe a new passport holder and a shiny luggage bag. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Copenhagen In Retrospect: First Impressions and Overview of the World’s Happiest City

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My first moment in Copenhagen was met by the utter lack of chaos in Kobenhavn Airport. Everything was operating smoothly in an environment I could only describe as lustrous. I left this country without seeing dust and I had dinner at an underground restaurant at some point. Imagine that. Maybe this was how the rest of the world could look if only people respected personal space on a regular basis and did not impose their lives on other people as much. In Copenhagen there is always ample space to live in – even in trains and escalators I had an arm’s length of distance from everything. Meanwhile in London I don’t even dare walk slower than the human behind me in fear of losing my right to exist in that living space. So far, so good.

The Danish are reserved people but very approachable and especially helpful to us when our map reading skills were failing. Their emphasis on simplicity was something I always felt and it truly is inspirational to an extent. If I had to guess, expectations of public decorum (most definitely) included not being too loud. In fact, I witnessed no boisterous laughter in public at all and it is still a wonder to me how I couldn’t overhear ANY conversation – not even from those talking from a mere foot away.

The general atmosphere was pleasant and navigation was easy with the straightforward public transport. It is a small, walking city that we were able to see most of within our first day. I highly recommend exploring by foot if you have a great appreciation for architecture and beautiful narrow streets. As one of Europe’s oldest cities, this Danish capital is home to intricate buildings from the 17th century and an amusement park dating back to 1843. To me, this is simply remarkable.

Things to see

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Standing centrally in Copenhagen is its City Hall which was constructed in the late 1800s. It is open to the public but it is just as a memorable when viewed from the City Hall Square.2016-24-11-11-39-55

2.Nyhavn
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The colorful facade of houses in Nyhavn

Another must see is Nyhavn, a 17th century canal and entertainment district well known for good food and music alongside that laidback atmosphere. Fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen lived in this area particularly in numbers 18, 20 and 67.

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3.Rundetaar
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City overview

If you are looking for a good viewing point of the city then enter the Round Tower otherwise known as Rundetaar. Its shape make it almost impossible to miss and expect to be rewarded with brilliant panoramic views of upon reaching the top.

4.Little Mermaid
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Little Mermaid Statue

The Little Mermaid Statue is a symbol for this city and is unsurprisingly one of most visited attractions. Fans of the Disney animated film Little Mermaid should definitely put this in their itinerary. Yet even as one of Europe’s prominent landmarks, it is relatively unremarkable from the outside and smaller than one would expect. However, this original statue has stood the test of time and celebrated its 100 years last 2013 after being restored many times due to acts of vandalism and mutilation. It has been put back together time and time again to return to Langelinie Harbour, where she seems to continue longing for to be part of another world. This context alone makes it worth seeing in person because this Danish landmark is definitely a survivor.

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Langelinie
5.Freetown Christiana
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Simple rules of Christiana

Feeling adventurous or ready for something out of the ordinary? Then strut over to Freetown Christiana. It’s a neighborhood in Copenhagen that will leave you feeling like you have gone to a completely different dimension. Before entering, we were met by an arch welcoming everyone into this controversial chunk of Copenhagen. But let’s just say that you do not need signs to know you’ve crossed over somewhere different – oh trust me you will JUST KNOW. Aside from the independent shops and stalls and quite radical taste for art, Christiana is a hot topic due to the trade of things that may or may not be illegal. Inside, there are very specific rules we all had to abide by for everyone’s safety (mostly ours). The place had a certain feel of danger to it but simply follow the laws of Christiana and you’ll make it out alive. Wink wink.

6.Tivoli Gardens
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Magical Tivoli Gardens!

There is only one answer to the question what is the best thing to see in Copenhagen. It’s Tivoli Gardens! What makes it one of a kind is not the fact that it’s the world’s second oldest amusement park, but because Walt Disney and Hans Christian Andersen actually spent time here. The place is not just dreamy, it’s where makers of fairy tales as we know it went for fun. Now if that is not amazing then I don’t know what is.2016-24-11-14-09-42

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The Garden’s magic continues at night
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White Christmas

Christmas in Tivoli is unmissable and it was indeed one of my main reasons for flying to Denmark. My friends and I wanted to imbibe on a yuletide vibe that can be quite elusive in London despite the grand display of lights along Regent Street. The Garden was themed with Christmas in every corner and the experience was truly unforgettable. To top this all off, we found Father Christmas! And he took a picture with us to remember this by.

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Merriest Christmas!

Copenhagen is a destination better explored when a traveler has a deep sense of context about the capital. This city is remarkable in itself but even more so because of the talent that nested and thrived within its humble walls. It’s where people who created magic sought inspiration and ideas and where testaments from centuries ago managed to defy time.

It is a place I see myself coming back to, even if I have to do it alone. There is no special reason underneath, it’s just a place I feel comfortable in with its sophisticated airport and hushed citizens. There was a certain level of ease brought about by the unpolluted air and general mood of the locals. I guess they did not dub this place Happiest City on Earth for nothing. Theirs was a different kind of happy because if you ask me… Copenhagen was full of peace and quiet. It is quite hard to imagine Hans Christian Andersen’s talents flourishing anywhere else.

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Until we return, Copenhagen!
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Autumn Travels: Discover the Magic of Prague

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Their history is studded with events of random defenestration and for that reason, (among others) Prague had my full attention. Once upon a time, the leaders of their society had such a bad day that they decided to take an obvious solution: throw their enemies out the window. I know this was cruel, and too bad for you if you were the one being thrown out, but if this was made legal nowadays, life would be so much simpler. Because today, idiots just seem to be everywhere – but so are windows. Problem. Solved.

On a serious note though, Prague is a beautiful city with a history that is just as colorful. So colorful indeed that some of the truth got mixed with a couple of myths and the interesting part is – it could still be hard to tell which is which. When travelling, I have always considered a day trip into the itinerary but this time I was too smitten to go away even for a day. I ended up staying there all week, day by day walking along Old Town and ravishing random street food I could find. Smiling at random strangers and finding delight in the talent of the street performers. The beautiful architecture, abundantly consumed beer and the meat-based diet made it hard for me to leave – so hard indeed that I never looked back to say goodbye as my plane flew back to London. But if there is any truth about the plate of St. John of Nepomuk in Charles Bridge, then farewells were not yet in order anyway.

With the -ber months here once again marking the start of a new season, the warm air has dissipated and there is finally relief from heat wave season. In so many ways, Autumn is a great time to travel, not only because of the pleasantly cool weather but also because of the beautiful landscapes and views undergoing seasonal transformation. This may as well be the best time of year to travel around Europe. And if you’ve never been to Prague, then why not make it your destination this fall? Here are a few things I adored about the city that come highly recommended!

1.Old Town Square

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Dreamy scenario captured in Old Town Prague

Almost constantly buzzing with tourists is Prague’s Old Town Square, a place that resounds of places we thought only existed in fairy tales. There is never enough space between the tourists and the random street performers trying to earn a buck or two. But there is a reason for all that chaos. Surrounded by structures rich with stunning composition and historical affiliations, Old Town is simply magnetic.

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Some of the buildings surrounding Old Town Prague
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Old Town Hall

2.Astronomical Clock

2016-30-10-11-11-51Among Europe’s iconic landmarks is Prague’s Astronomical Clock – a clock that has a rather whimsical and medieval appearance. But being the world’s oldest working clock is enough excuse for this.  It stirs into life every hour with its much awaited mechanical show of the Apostles and figurines. This makes it a tourist hotspot every time the hour hits its last few minutes. The mechanical show itself may fall below the expectations of gawking tourists, but the clock’s design, together with its history and context, still makes it worthwhile for curious travelers like me.

3.Prague Castle / St. Vitus Cathedral

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Prague Castle as seen from Charles Bridge

Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world that is still in operation. It is undeniably an important symbol to those who live in Prague and remains relevant even in today’s times by being the Official Residence of the President. It is best described as a castle complex, comprising of various grandiose buildings and palaces. I found this a truly beautiful destination, with stunning architecture and such lush gardens that offer unparalleled views across Prague.

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Overlooking view of the city
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Clockwise from left uppermost image: Castle Courtyard, St. Vitus Cathedral, Statue of St. John of Nepomuk and rear view of St Vitus Cathedral.

4.Charles Bridge

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Charles Bridge

Next to churches, I have always admired bridges across Europe. Among my personal favorites are Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Szechenyi Chain Bridge of Budapest and of course London’s Tower Bridge. In my country, I equated bridges with being dilapidated, low – cost or unnecessarily blundered with a politician’s name from end to end in all caps. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that in this part of the world, they have become one of the things I look forward to, enchanted by the charm it adds to a city’s ambiance. I find that it lends over a dreamy factor because it usually crosses a body of water. Prague’s Charles Bridge is no exemption indeed, rich with detailed architecture that is truly one of a kind. Guarding it bilaterally are Baroque statues that usually represent something significant from history, one of which is St. John of Nepomuk. Touching his plate supposedly garners good luck and ensures your return to the city of Praha.

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Charles Bridge as seen from the banks of Vltava River. The plate of St. John of Nepomuk is one of the highlights of the bridge, attracting tourists from all over. Notice how the color has changed in the middle due to the number of tourists rubbing the famous landmark. It is said that touching this ensures a traveler’s return to Prague in the future.

5.Czech Cuisine

Prague’s food scene is brilliant and even more so if you are a fan of a highly carnivorous diet. I am talking about delicious slabs of meat, succulent, juicy and not necessarily in healthy portions. I especially adored the Roasted Pork Knuckle and the traditional Medovnik Cake. More details about my favorite Czechia Food here.

6.Lesser Town

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Streets of Lesser Town

If you are looking for a little freedom from the hoards of tourists trooping around then Lesser Town Prague just might do the trick. Sure, you’d still find a tourist here and there but not in volumes that they are in Old Town Square. Walking around Lesser Town is a great way to get a closer look at Prague and appreciate its streets, hidden corners and medieval charm. Be sure to find and drop by St. Nicholas Church.

Viajera Travel Tip: Food is cheaper in Lesser Town so be sure to feast upon some delicious Czechia food!

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St. Nicholas Church

7.Vltava River

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The calm currents of Vltava

Overflowing with a sense of tranquil, the Vltava is one of the highlights of my journey in Prague. It is almost romantic, how this river cascades so placidly, evoking thoughts about how in the end, things always fall in the right places. Because destiny. Because no matter how chaos we generate in this world, the unseen forces of the universe somehow always win.
Walking along Charles Bridge, one can already admire panoramic views of the river but it is best appreciated aboard one of the boat tours. There is the option of booking a lunch or dinner cruise, but as an alternative an hour long cruise without food is also available. Discovering Prague from this vantage point gives you a chance to see the city from a different angle and could prove to be a great opportunity for taking truly unique photographs. Be sure not to miss this!2016-30-10-13-28-02


2016-30-10-13-58-16Autumn is undeniably a great time for travel. The trees are painted with various shades of yellow and brown, the landscapes panning out in glorious fiery colors. Personally, I love traveling during fall because the views are just outstanding. This season doesn’t just prepare the world for winter – it acts as a constant reminder of how some truly elegant things emerge from change. Wherever life takes us, the beauty of it is in how we can always look forward to the good things that are yet to come. Ultimately, this makes it the most important journey each and every one of us if ever going to make. And for as long as we are unsure as to whether there are future lifetimes ahead for us to live, then make the one you are in right now count. Because I still believe that if we live this one right, this one – way ticket is all we are ever going to need. 

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Where are you headed off this Autumn? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Stunning Sceneries From Scotland to Fuel Your Wanderlust

The movie Braveheart may come to mind when Scotland is mentioned – alongside bagpipes or men in checkered skirts. Their past of conflict and bravery is both enthralling and tragic with story lines that easily remind me of Game of Thrones – only with real tempers lost and unbelievable amount of bloodshed. And although that era of violence is now just another page in their rich history, much of it is still remembered as they are still deeply rooted in the unparalleled landscapes found here. From Ben Nevis to the scenic Glencoe – Scotland is truly a one of a kind destination.

Here are a few snapshots of Scotland that just might give you the extra nudge to finally book that ticket for your next adventure. These photos were taken during summer, but I was told that Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands are just as stunning on winter time. I love looking back at these pictures and recall how truly one of a kind Scotland’s landscapes are. I hope you find a little bit of travel inspiration in these photos and I wish you many happy travels ahead.  Go ahead and fuel you wanderlust!

The city of Edinburgh is a walking city and a tourist can easily navigate around and hunt for picturesque corners. You will never run out of things to point that camera to when in Scotland’s flourishing  capital.

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Calton Hill
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National Monument of Scotland
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Scott Monument
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Streets of Edinburgh
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City Center
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Statue of Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch

The Scottish Highlands is a paradise of rolling mountains, pristine lochs, meadows and endless stretches of foliage and trees. It’s a great destination for those longing for a break from the suffocation of concrete jungles and busy urban crowds. The vastness of The Highlands alone is enough to make you take deep breaths and forget city life for a while.

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That Scottish Highland landscape
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Loch Lubnaig
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The Highlands
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Enveloped between the tall trees of the Highlands
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Sunset
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Edinburgh Skyline

The world is full of unseen places, waiting to be discovered by curious minds and hearts awaiting to be captivated. For me, the best destinations are those we did not intend to see, those we ran into by accident or some form of destiny. In these places, sometimes we meet new people who stay in our lives as friends and then there are those lucky few who finally meet themselves for the first time. Happy travels dear reader, and sooner rather than later, I hope you find what you are looking for. Continue reading Stunning Sceneries From Scotland to Fuel Your Wanderlust

Top 5 Prague Eats

2016-05-10-13-22-45If you love your meat like me, then a trip to Prague is best accomplished with a gastronomic adventure. A word of warning: traditional Bohemian plates may dawn as a nightmare of sorts to your average vegan, as Czechia cuisine is a carnivore’s dream.

With Czechia heavily relying on succulent slabs of pork, rabbit, duck, chicken and beef, it is no wonder they consume that much alcohol. I honestly cannot think of a better pairing for flavorful Czechia beer other than tender pieces of properly seasoned meat, usually slathered with a savory sauce. Meat consumption is so serious a business here that when I ordered a side of roasted vegetables (out of guilt from my three – day carnivorous spree), they actually served it on a separate plate. When I took a bite I think they basted it with meat drippings. Not that I am complaining. Vegetarians just might die of hunger here.

Aside from an obvious adoration for protein, Czechia food is usually served with some bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky) which I liked very much because I used them to shamelessly wipe the sauce off my plate. Horse radish, cabbage and potatoes are among the staple side dishes I found quite nice. Those with a sweet tooth shall not leave disappointed as Prague is also home to some cakes and treats that can be nominated as building blocks of comfort food.

Now, food from this part of the world is known to be filling and not exactly a prime example of a balanced diet. But who comes to Prague for a salad anyway? If after a meal you find yourself feeling like you are carrying a brick in your stomach, then rest assured you’ve had the proper Czechia food experience. It’s nothing a good walk around the town square cannot solve! Ultimately, you shall never walk away hungry from a meal while you’re here and you’ll always get your money’s worth. Good food, a cold beer and a post card view? Oh yes please. Here’s what made it to my top five Prague eats in ascending order of goodness!

Top 5: Medovnik / Honey Cake

2016-05-10-13-31-02To say that Medovnik falls under the most unique cakes I have devoured is an understatement. I think by far it is the most creative in terms of preparation and its element of deception makes me love it just a little bit more. Upon inspection I actually thought it was going to feel dry and crumbly in my mouth but I could not have been more wrong. However, this is not exactly a moist cake and is rather best described as somewhere in between. It is very light and has a characteristic sweetness that of course, comes from honey. Cafe Lippert’s rendition came with a dollop of cream but it was scrumptious enough on its own. You have to try this for yourself in order to understand why despite the simple exterior, Medovnik proves to be one of Prague’s most famous cakes.

Top 4: Trdelnik / Funnel Cake

2016-05-10-13-43-49It may be the Czechia people’s love for anything being roasted over an open fire that inspired the creation of Trdelnik. I don’t really know, this is merely an honest observation. But I must admit, it’s a stroke of genius and the Trdelnik – making process is mesmerizing as it is. Imagine cake on a stick, but instead of baking in an oven they have a rotisserie of golden brown pastries; twirling around until it is ready for your mouth. The real challenge though, is eating it without getting chocolate or crumbs all over your face.

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Top 3: Sausage / Grilovane Klobasy

2016-05-10-13-48-02Standing out from the things I have tried out in Prague were their Grilled Sausages. These lovely bolsters of tubed ground meat may be familiar to most but the Czechs have somehow made it their own. It has that distinct smokey flavour but not so much as to ruin the dish, with grill marks sealing in the juicy goodness. As a main course, it can be ordered with sides, of which the local waiter suggested I go for the Frites. All in all a very good meal!

Grilovane Klobasy is also a popular street food choice, packed with enough calories to set you afoot for an entire afternoon. A portion from one of the numerous stands will get you one giant Czech sausage and a piece of bread, condiments are usually on the side as usual to mix and match as you please.

Viajera Travel Tip: As a general rule, do not eat anywhere around Old Town Square as the prices are 3-4x more. If you are paying for more than 45 Czech Korunas for a beer, then rest assured that you are being ripped off. Lesser Town Prague is a better location to go for food trips, you’re welcome.

Top 2: Beef Goulash with Dumplings

2016-05-10-14-03-04A classic offering among Prague restaurants is Beef Goulash, although the books might tell you that the dish is more of Hungarian in origin. It comprises of tender chunks of beef braised in a mildly spicy sauce, served with a few dumplings of bread. Villa Richter’s version is traditional and appealing with portions that leave just enough room for cake and coffee.

Viajera Travel Tip: After taking the Prague Castle Tour, head over to Villa Richter Restaurant for lunch or afternoon coffee / tea. Located just outside the castle, be sure to book a table by the balcony and enjoy overlooking views of Prague with authentic local food.

Top 1: Czech Pork Knuckle

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Aaaand we’ve got a winner! Undeniably among Prague’s gastronomic pride is their rendition of Roasted Pork Knuckle. One can always spot this dish under the “house specials” and indeed rightfully so. This is not by any means a humble portion of pig knuckles cooked in an attempt to make use of an animal’s part that otherwise would have been thrown away. It is a more than generous serving of pork meat sliding off the bone marinated and seasoned with a sweet savoury sauce reminiscent of Pata Tim. It could have easily fed four people, but I almost finished it, apart from two more bites. Sweet, salty, sticky and oozing with fatty juices cascading down with every slice. You have to eat this before you die.

2016-05-10-13-56-06Viajera Travel Tip: We stumbled upon Restaurant U Malvaze along Karlova Street, a place that surprises its customers with spacious rustic interiors that come unexpected from its seemingly meek facade. The food items are priced reasonably and I found the staff to be very friendly. I ordered their version of Roasted Pork Knuckle and it sent me straight to pig heaven. Some things are not worthy of words – unutterable pleasures in life are simply too hard to describe.

Needless to say, hunger was a feeling that never came to me when I was in Prague. The food was delicious and almost every meal was heavy, even the snacks. The meat lover in me rejoiced in whimsy with the fact they considered a Pork Knuckle the size of a fat tissue roll “single serving”. But this is one aspect of travel I have always mused about. Perspective about spice or portion may vary from one place to another but the love for good food will almost always unite us. As for me, I’ll eat and enjoy every foreign morsel with as much gusto I have in my body. And I cannot wait to see what I’ll sink my teeth into next. Continue reading Top 5 Prague Eats

Distractions

13Horacio Cruz would be beaming with pride if he were here to see all of this. His daughter – once but a small – time overachieving girl in a third world public school, now an independent woman discovering the splendors of Europe. I bet even those rich, corpulent sponsors I had at Lions Club couldn’t have come up with this. Me and my friends are heading off to Cap d’Ail to complete our gallivanting across the French Riviera. The weather is perfect as expected, with the sun glimmering over cyan waters and the Riviera’s trademark coastline necklaced by stunning beaches.12From Nice, Cap d’Ail is approximately a 30 minute journey if you aboard Bus 100. Its surrounding large glass windows provide a great yet brief view of the fantastic scenery. Like that binocular toy I had as a child, only every slide in the reel was nice and I didn’t have to aim it towards anything bright. I personally enjoyed the short ride while of course taking occasional pictures of cliffside ocean views whenever the bus stopped on a red light. The sun kept flooding over me on and off as we veered through ribbons of concrete – and it felt good beyond words. Needless to say, staying in Europe has given me a newfound love and appreciation for direct exposure to sunlight. This 25 degree weather is a warm welcome compared to London’s gloomy skies and cold drafts.

We arrived on schedule and the first thing I notice is the small roadside tourist office. This commune in South France is far from flashy but I could tell it was a great secret escape compared to the usual French Riviera destinations overrun by yapping tourists. Quiet and verdant with copious amounts of fresh air with hints of ocean – I needed this. I looked back at my high school friend Ricky who was just coming out from the tiny office as he waved for us to come along. I flashed a smile and half ran towards him.2016-03-9--01-00-32

During my last visit here, I did not have the time to see Cap d’Ail. Last year, I merely thrived on sightseeing because arriving in February made it too cold for a dip. But not this time. August was perfect swimming weather and the sun loomed over all things with such fury I could almost imagine it making sizzling sounds.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the correct pronunciation was Kap Dai– quite easy on the tongue and rather fun to say out loud. The two known beaches in the area are both open to public: Marquet and Mala Plage; the latter unanimously known to locals as better than the former. However, our limited stay meant having only time for the best, so we headed straight for Mala Plage with a silent pledge to see Marquet Beach the following year.

But my thoughts of once again splaying under the sun was interrupted by a not so pleasant surprise: the beach access involved a descent of literally a hundred steps. It was not impossible for us but if you have heart failure you just might die halfway or on your way back up. But you know – silver linings. The place itself was nothing short of magnificent, as Mala Plage was tucked in a bay at the foot of rocky slopes. Every downwards turn led to a promising view which excited the traveler in me thirsty for some sand and sea. The leg pain was worth it.2016-03-9--00-56-15Armed with a white and pink striped beach towel and a lotion that promised ultimate sun protection, I embraced the ambiance and scouted for a square foot of sand nobody wanted. The sun was still baking everything it can reach and I felt its vengeance as I sat on the sand. The cool ocean breeze was a welcome relief and it was so soothing I had to close my eyes for a moment. When I did open them I noticed I was facing towards the rocky slopes that looked very much like the limestone formations in Palawan. Not as beautiful but just as good to the eyes.2016-30-8--19-10-55Ocean waves playfully crashed on the mountain side, making calm swishing sounds. Nearby, children were trying to make sand castles while some women were perfecting their tan by going topless. Freedom to all bosoms, budding and pendulous alike. It’s funny how the same thing considered a norm in this part of the world elicits condemnation where I come from. Everything is relative – even normal changes from place to place.

The water felt great as I went in for a few laps and the waves were gentle, rolling one after the other. I like how the water wraps around my head while I swim. For those brief moments, the outside world is out of earshot and it’s as if the water is lulling me away. At least for as long as I can hold my breath.2016-03-9--00-58-11Floating over the waters of Cap d’Ail, I imagine my stress stir away with every stroke from my arms, wishing I could let go of my tragedies just as easily. The seawater was making trickling sounds against my ears and as I gaze upon the blue sky I was blessed with today, one thing was on my mind. If heaven is real I hope you are seeing this right now Pa, because at least I can find comfort in the fact that in a way, you are with me. Perfection has been out of my reach since you’ve left and all I know is that these damn pictures would look so much better if I had them with you.

I stirred into motion and shot myself upright for a mouthful of air. Distant chatter once again, merry laughter and happy squeals nearby. To my right a train was making noise as it passed over by Mala Plage. The spell is broken and reality has unwillingly restored itself. I wave towards my friends who are already back ashore, gathering around for another round of Monopoly. I muster another smile and make my way back. Already feeling ready for more.

Continue reading Distractions

Why Sanremo Should Be Your Next Italian Destination

2016-15-8--16-55-47It is almost unfair how Italy contains a great number of breathtaking cities to explore and discover. Indeed, it is a region of the world known for leading travelers back due to its extensive list of beautiful places unlike some travel destinations where only the big cities are worth raving about. From a traveler’s point of view, Italy has so much beauty to offer not only in its capital but even up to the smallest and most remote regions. In a sense this is what makes it such a pleasurable destination especially for those who really want to get a whiff of authentic local vibe.

In my previous travels to Italy, I have seen and explored the eternal city of Rome, scenic Firenze and enjoyed the relaxed vibe of Pisa. Standing before the Colosseum and the majestic Trevi Fountain was nothing short of surreal. The cobbled streets, ancient landmarks, art and architecture of these cities made my visit special and meaningful.

This year, I was fortunate enough to visit another face of Italy through the lovely town of Sanremo. Far from the rustic and ancient ambiance of Rome and Tuscany, Sanremo had a fresh, easy holiday ambiance with its small-town charm mixed with the lashings of sandy beaches and villas.2016-15-8--17-20-23Nestled in the province of Liguria between Genoa and the French border, this Italian Riviera offers more than casinos and manicured lawns. Whether Sanremo is your main destination, a day trip from your travel itinerary or you’re merely looking for your next Italian city to conquer, here are reasons to bump it on top of your list of places to see.

1. Lazy Afternoons with Italian Coffee

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Classic Cappuccino

In a country where coffee is basically a culture, it might be borderline evil not to get a caffeine fix. Italian Coffee is world renowned and a must try whenever in Italy, whether it’s to kickstart your day or to complete a relaxing afternoon in the plaza. Locals take pride in the quality of their signature blend of coffee that no Starbucks can be found in this part of the world. So go ahead and indulge in a cup or two of what could be the finest cup of coffee you ever will find.

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The Nutellino – Italians are generally not fans of mucking around with the taste of coffee, but this little gem is decadent indeed! It’s an espresso with a teaspoon of Nutella, topped with frothy milk and finished off with cocoa powder. This is your next dessert coffee goal!
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Caffe Gelato – I have never heard of this coffee version before and apparently, neither had the lady serving us that day. But with some clarifications she was able to serve us this unique drink: Italian coffee with a tiny scoop of vaniglia gelato happily sitting in the middle. The flavors were amazing and the contrast in temperature made it surprisingly better. I am tempted to make this one at home but I know it just would not taste the same.

Viajera Travel Tip: In Italy, the default coffee is actually an espresso. If you would rather have a long coffee, you can either order an americano or a caffe latte. Cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink but Italians consume coffee in small steady amounts all day long. Frappuccinos simply do not exist and messing up a coffee’s flavor by mixing it with flavors like mint is frowned upon. (Take that, Starbucks)

2. Your Dose of Sun and Sand – Italian Riviera Style

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Sanremo Beach

One of the good things about Sanremo is the fact that you can get that French Riviera vibe without leaving Italian territory. One can gaze upon absorbing views of the coast or hang out by the beach to achieve that golden summer glow while keeping easy access to tasty Italian cooking. The beaches here are mostly lined with creamy sand, unlike des plages in Nice where you are likely to find smooth stone. There are also restaurants conveniently located on the beach facade and bars overlooking fantastic scenery.

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This roof deck bar was perfect!
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Cheers to beach life!

3. Go on an Italian Food Trip

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Italian Food lovin’! Clockwise from top left: Trofie Pasta and Courgette with Simple Olive Oil based Sauce, Seafood Pizza, Spaghetti Vongole and Fettuccine with Porcini Mushrooms. Everything was divine!

I am a self-confessed fan of good quality Italian food, and as evidenced by the domination of restaurants specializing in the cuisine – so is the rest of the world. So when in Sanremo, embark on a foodie adventure, fill up on genuine Italian cooking and trust me on this one -you WILL taste the difference. There is more to al dente pasta and savoury sauces to this type of gourmet, because based on my experience the core of hearty Italian cooking roots from the use of locally grown fresh ingredients. Their cheese comes in barrels and chunks, not in cardboard boxes as seen in supermarkets; their tomatoes come in endless varieties, plump from the nourishment of Italian soil. This is mainly why their food tastes like nowhere else on Earth no matter how many restaurants offer you “authentic” pasta.

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Pasta Fresca – fresh pasta that is cooked within a minute or two. Best consumed within the day of purchase.
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Truffles! Have you ever seen such a big bunch of these?

Let’s face it, a trip to Italy is not complete without a gelato binge! Get them on cups or cones, the goodness is just the same in all forms. Remember you have the option of having two to three flavors in one order so go ahead and choose wisely. So many flavors, so little time!

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I love all flavors but my favorite is still Pistachio. Weirdest flavor I’ve tried so far: Cactus.

4. Pause and smell the flowers (No kidding)

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All shapes and sizes to set you in a joyous mood for travel.

Sanremo is also called Riviera dei Fiori or region of flowers due to its marvelous floral display and cultivation. Setting afoot in the town center, one can easily notice the cascade of flowers in different colors and sizes, adding a sort of festive ambiance. Likewise, the Sanremo Flowers Parade is held every end of January to showcase their dedication to the art of floral display.

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Afternoon walks made better by these florals in Sanremo.

5. Test your Luck with a Little Game of Chance

I did not try this out myself but should you find yourself in the mood for a game of chance then read on. Within the realms of Sanremo is a casino to put out a few of those hard earned Euros for a chance to hit it big. No need to go to nearby Monaco for a little gambling thrill! If you are like me and would rather spend money on booze and gelato than play a game of risks, you can still check out the casino’s lush visage and quite impressive architecture. The grand looming facade and red carpet of Casino di Sanremo is impossible to ignore for those on the lookout for a picture perfect moment.

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Casino Municipale

If you have not heard of Sanremo before then now is the time to mark your calendars and prepare for it on your next getaway. I assure you, the laid back atmosphere is exactly what every city dweller needs to start anew. It may be the Riviera – like beach that sparked your wanderlust, the promised impeccable food or the idea of cocktails by the sea. I don’t know about you but I was sold with the fact that they drank coffee all day long.  Haha. Either way, from one traveler to another, have a happy summer wherever you are. Saluti!

Continue reading Why Sanremo Should Be Your Next Italian Destination