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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!

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Chinese Takeaway Nights Made Better By Wuli Wuli

PhotoGrid_1466931416823After a day’s worth of back-breaking hard work, what could Londoners want more than a tasty hassle – free meal? We all want to be met by a properly cooked meal at the end of the day but for those moments when cooking is simply incomprehensible, there is an easy, obvious solution: Takeaways.

It is no wonder that in a busy city like London, the premium takeaway business has bounced off successfully especially with the working class. (Deliveroo, Hungryhouse, Just Eat – only to name a few.) People are getting busier by the minute and millennials who cannot be bothered to cook somehow value themselves too much to thrive on packets of ramen or baked beans straight from the can. Hence the lovely booming business of takeaways, a perfect complement to the frantic life of the cranky Londoner. In this takeaway series, we’ll explore the options available to the starving city dweller one order at a time. Whether it’s fried chicken or chow mien you’re craving – rest assured that everything is one click away.

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I prefer cooking my own food for practical reasons: it’s cheaper and healthier. But somehow, there will always be that one day in a week where I am simply out of time (and energy). Some of my work weeks involve three twelve-hour shifts in a row and I applaud people who still manage to cook at the end of it all. Me, on the other hand, surrender to the fact that it will simply be one of those days where I’ll need to tap into my urban survival skills. Refusing to succumb to any form of hunger induced madness, I turn to the helping hand of the internet and order my heart’s desire.

Wuli Wuli Chinese Restaurant in Camberwell is fairly near where I live and it is as simple as can be. No extra shenanigans or boisterous attempts to create an ambiance – they just sell Chinese food, have wooden tables and chairs and maybe a Chinese lantern here and there. My first encounter with them involved a decent bowl of Beef Brisket La Mien Noodle Soup and I have kept a mental note of ordering from them in case of emergency cravings. I have since ordered takeaway twice and I have no regrets so far. They season their food well I have to say, and it is not just with tons of salt and MSG. In my experience, they deliver delicious, hot, reasonably priced meals in a matter of thirty minutes or less.

I use the app Just Eat to order online from Wuli Wuli and the process is straightforward and paying is a breeze. You can call them of course, but for that you might need a copy of their takeaway menu. In the app you simply add your items to the basket and in the end you are given the option of paying via debit card or cash.

Since I was not just ordering for myself, I opted for one of the three available set meals. Set B includes an attractive spread of Chicken Sweetcorn Soup, Crispy Aromatic Duck, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Beef with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce, Vegetable Stir Fry and Special Fried Rice. Ordering this set for two comes to a total bill of £27.98, but the portions are very generous and there is always some left to last until next meal time. You can also order for three persons priced at £41.97, something that might be ideal for a family of three to four.

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Set Meal B: Chicken Sweetcorn Soup, Crispy Aromatic Duck, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Beef with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce, Vegetable Stir Fry and Special Fried Rice

I love that the food arrives nice and hot, packed in spill proof microwave safe containers. So far, their estimated delivery time of 30 – 45 minutes is dependable and the rider is always knocking by the door on the half hour mark. They even provide chili upon request at no extra charge – and I am a fan of anything with a decent Scoville score.

The Chicken Sweetcorn Soup came in styrofoam bowls, steaming hot with small chunks of chicken breast and juicy corn kernels that burst when you bite down. Satisfying especially for those cold gloomy days.

My personal favorite and ultimate reason to reorder would be the Crispy Aromatic Duck. Delivered with small flat wraps, freshly sliced vegetables and a portion of hoisin sauce, the crispy duck wrap is a joy for me to assemble. I could tell they cut the vegetables fresh, because they were crisp and light – far from those pre-cut soggy ones usually lurking around supermarkets. The crispy duck skin was delicious, the meat underneath as tender as can be and the fat melting in  your mouth is just pure joy.

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Crispy Aromatic Duck

I like making every bite unique – a bit of vegetable here, bit more of that duck over there. Tucked into the soft flat wrap with a final dunk of hoisin, I pop the entire thing into my mouth.

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Crispy Duck Wrap

The Sweet and Sour Chicken is one of those Chinese takeaway staples, it’s indeed a familiar item to most of us. Wuli Wuli’s version comes in the usual vibrant tangy red sauce with pineapple pieces and sweet peppers. The Beef in Black Bean Sauce had a thick savory sauce with slivers of beef that are not chewy at all, just tender and almost felt like pillows in the mouth. The Vegetable Stir-fry may be an acquired taste to some due to the strong flavor of the bamboo shoots but is otherwise flavorful. They all go well with the fragrant Special Fried Rice, tinkered with vegetable and meat bits. All in all an above average meal that would satisfy any growling belly!

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For those in search of a convenient, delicious meal I would surely recommend Wuli Wuli. Unlike some Chinese takeaways that are just riddled with too much salt, I actually enjoy the flavors of their cooking and it gives you a good estimate of what proper Chinese Cuisine can be. On my next takeaway night, I would like to try try their famous Sichuan Dishes and order a portion or two of their soupy Siu Loon Bao Dumplings. Until next takeaway series!

Continue reading Chinese Takeaway Nights Made Better By Wuli Wuli

Things About London I Learned to Love

Leaving your home country to pursue greater things comes with the sad fact that you will also leave behind a lot of things you love. From childhood friends to your favourite “kanto” breakfast to the endless support of your family – all of which accessible only via Skype and foodporn Instagram posts. Letting go of one’s comfort zone is terrifying and the separation anxiety may be enough to make someone turn around and take the easy way out. But then I told myself to suck it up and pack my bags because my hardwork was finally paying off and this was an opportunity to change my life. Despite my fears, I know that the blanket of comfort that comes with familiarity creates an illusion that everything is okay and that maybe, things are better off this way – but that is all crap. And of this I am sure because moving to London has widened my horizons so much that I did not even know what I was missing until I began my life here. My Dad would be so proud.

Living in a foreign land is not easy and at one point I found myself hammering a wardrobe together just to have somewhere to put my clothes in, but I slowly settled myself in. After all the culture shock and initial stressors of moving in a new city wore off (i.e. Omg I have no “tabo”, what the hell is an oyster card, where do I buy rice here? Etc.), I found myself thriving in London’s strange ways. There are days when I pause, smile and recall the times when I prayed to be where I am now and there are moments where everything still feels surreal. Today, I can say that as the months roll by and the seasons change before my eyes (too quickly I must say), I have learned to love this place as a second home. I don’t feel like a lost puppy anymore, and London has anchored its way into me in its own bizarre way. So, here are a few things about the city that has definitely worked its way into my Filipino heart:

1. The London Eye and Big Ben.

It may come as cliche to some, but even I find it hard to believe at times. Everytime my bus passes by the River Thames, I always linger to stare at Big Ben and The London Eye. I supress a small smile when they become smaller and smaller as the bus zooms away. These London icons are just divine to look at no matter how long you stare at them.

2. Londoners know how appreciate the beauty of small things.

I have acquired the habit of giving value to small things such as a breeze on a warm day, flowers during spring and even direct sunlight on a really hot weather. The fact that London experiences seasons makes you treasure sunlight when you see it, because you know that come winter all these are gone. You learn to notice how lush the green greens are because when Autumn comes, they all turn yellow and wilt to make way for the cold winter days. Because of this, I find myself appreciating simple things in life more from blossoming flowers to random acts of kindness. Things I would have missed had I chosen to bury my face in my phone.

3. The city is home to cute and well behaved dogs.

Just this morning I saw the cutest pug happily rolling on the grass – today’s reminder of what real happiness is all about. The dogs are so cute that you actually feel bad you don’t own one. Big dogs are around as well but I have never seen them be of any kind of nuisance. On a warm summer day, it is common to see people hanging around the park with their canine friends jumping and running around.

4. Hot Dads.

It’s hard not to notice how good looking some dads are in this busy city. And I am talking about responsible men too. A guy once walked past me in his business suit, case in one hand and a baby in the other arm; it must have been bring your baby to work day. They say husband material men are hard to find nowadays, but they are quite abundant in this part of the world. I’ve seen dads pushing baby buggies around the grocery store shopping for dinner, changing diapers and dads bringing their kids to parks (Even without the mom!) I don’t know if I’m the only person impressed with this but a man that can babysit and do groceries is what a happy wife’s dreams are made of.

5. Couples grow old together. (I think)

I am basing this on the fact that it is not unusual to see old couples walk together hand in hand while strolling around. I always try my hardest not to stare but it is a challenge when they are just sweet and makes you go aaaaw. Coming home from my trip to Scotland we sat across another couple in their 70’s and it is a privilege to witness how love still prevails in a generation where marriage seems meaningless.

6. It is a foodie’s paradise.

You can order anything you can imagine online or via telephone or collection. Needless to say, nothing is too weird in London and all sorts of pubs and restaurants can be found. From the zingy dishes of India to Spanish tapas to a fresh steaming bowl of Pho. London is a melting pot of race and culture and it would not be a surprise to find a Ristorante boasting of family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Search Zomato or Just Eat.

Even the grocery store seems to surprise me each time. I was on the pudding section one day when I saw a pot labeled “Spotted Dick”.

7. People are apparently health conscious although the NHS might disagree with me.

It can be as cold as 6 degrees but someone will be outside for a jog or an intense run. Whenever I am headed somewhere, 80% of the time I will come across someone out for a quick run – even around Central London. A horde of Asians could be taking a selfie with Big Ben and I bet you somewhere in the crowd would be a local in the middle of a sprint. The most unbelievable level of determination I have seen was a man in very short shorts jogging outside when it was 3 degrees.

8. People don’t care.

You can wear whatever the hell you want and chances are, nobody will mind. Londoners are a bit of a snob (In a good way if you ask me), and they don’t really care much for small talk. The general populace is not aggressively rude but as a rule of thumb: they don’t want to hear about it. Just stay out of their way and keep in mind that people in London walk on the left. If you dare stand on the left side of the escalator you will be hurled into the vortex of doom.

9. The Tube.

Now the Tube is something I love and hate at the same time. Everyone owns a certain degree of hatred for the tube because of their incessant habit of going on strike. However, I truly believe that the filthy alleyways of the Underground are a source of nostalgia for most locals. People hate it, it is always a little bit filthy, crowded, too hot, smells weird etc. but they love that they hate it. Personally, I think it’s a great place to people – watch aside from the obvious that it makes manoeuvring around the city fast and easier.

10. Reading is a culture and the television is something half the population can’t care less about.

I see it on the streets, on the train, on the bus, everywhere! England is a great reading nation and I have happily picked the habit. They make you realize how much time you waste in front of the telly and how much of your brain has died as a direct result of watching too much of it. It’s a shame really, all those years I spent not reading this much.

11. Tea Breaks.

I cannot call most Londoners laidback, however, proper rest and work life balance is quite important here. At work, aside from efficiency, tea breaks are important too and employees have resources to turn to such as a “stress pack.” (I am not kidding I have the leaflets and booklets with a helpline and all.) Some days my work is busy as hell, and I cannot afford a tea break but on quiet days, it’s nice to know that I can look forward to a few minutes of tea time. The variations of how this tea can be prepared is quite interesting and would merit a discussion on its own.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”. And in ways I cannot even begin to explain, that is so true. If you’ve never been to London, then I strongly advise you visit for a while and see for yourself; and you will believe me when I say that it is not so hard to fall in love with the sweet chaos this city so beautifully thrives in. My list is not in any way exhaustive and I may have forgotten a nugget or two, but it’s a list that’s bound to grow anyway. All I know is if my life were a book right now, this would surely be one of my favourite chapters.