Peru

22 Jan

I have just returned from my third trip to Peru. This January and last April I mostly only stayed in Lima and went to and from work, with some great restaurants and shopping in between. However, this trip it was also summer, so I got to experience a fabulous beach location called Playa Blanca. While there is no actual white sand to speak of, (the beach has fine black sand) the location was incredibly peaceful and relaxing.

Lima

Hotels: I have stayed in both the JW Marriott and the new Courtyard Marriott, both in Miraflores. The JW is amazing and is right across from Larcomar, a popular shopping and restaurant mall right on a cliff overlooking the water. There is also a Westin in San Isidro which is supposed to be great, but unfortunately it has always been a bit out of my price range. The Courtyard is brand new (2 years old by now) so it’s also nice and more in the central part of Miraflores so there is not really a view, but it’s cheaper ($150 a night compared to $195 at the JW). If you are more the spg type, in addition to the Westin there is also a Sheraton more towards the financial district (San Isidro) which is not really in an ideal location to walking around at night. The JW is also supposed to have a great breakfast, but I had breakfast in the lounge which was also really good.

Restaurants: Similar to other emerging markets you do want to be careful about what and where you eat as well as ice cubes, and salads. I am always willing to spend a little more if it means not getting sick because at the good restaurants and hotels you can typically order anything and be fine, but always bring pepto just in case. Another suggestion is to only eat ceviche (aka raw fish) at lunch unless it’s a place you know is safe. This might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many people order ceviche from a random restaurant after dark.

Noteworthy:

  • Ceviche – El Mercado o Pescados Capitales (lunch time mostly)
  • Peruvian Sushi – Osaka (needs a reservation and its amazing order the truffled scallop sashimi) – Maido (very upscale / refined option) They have a tasting menu oly served before 9pm which is supposedly sold out for months. My favorite was the foie gras sashimi
  • Peruvian Typical Food – Jose Antonio (it’s a classic), Panchita (from the owners of Astrid y Gaston), El Grifo (literally means gas station, and is built in an old restored one, but has amazing food), Restaurant Javier – local place in Barranco known for its anticuchos
  • Peruvian Chinese Fusion (Chifa – it’s a very known Peruvian type of food that happened after all the Chinese immigration) – Madame Tusan (from the owners of Astrid y Gaston)
  • Peruvian Gastro – Lima 27, Cala (on the water in Barranco and a team favorite go-to)
  • Pollo a la brasas – Pardo’s ( amazing rotisserie chicken of peru, very popular similar to Chifa)
  • Peruvian jungle – Amaz, next to the Hilton hotel.
  • La trattoria in larcomar – good Italian Peruvian fusion
  • Upscale Dining – La Gloria, Rafael, Astrid y Gaston, Maido, Osaka – but you need a reservation in advance. All are amazing.
  • More casual but good spots: La plazita, Tanta (especially for lunch), Danica, Cosme, they all are peruvian fusion.
  • Barra 55 – great gin bar in Barranco.
  • WingMan – wing and beer bar in Barranco
  • Nuevo Mundo – Draft beer bar with some bar food
  • La Cuadra de Salvador – Argentinian steak house in barranco for when you need a good steak

Centrale is also one of the worlds best restaurants but I prefer Astrid y Gaston.

Lima Tours

Fortunately my local Peru team members took me to downtown Lima to Plaza San Martin and Plaza de Armas and had me try turron, pisco sour ice cream and have an original pisco sour at  El Bolivarcito, where the pisco sour was born.

I also did a food tour in Lima which was a bit pricey ($125) but I really enjoyed it and would do it again in a heartbeat. We learned how to make pisco sours and ceviche and all about the local fruits. There’s also a $135 evening tour but it was already sold out by the time I booked.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g294316-d2358313-Reviews-The_Lima_Gourmet_Company-Lima_Lima_Region.html

Suggestions:

  1. Go to Larcomar – as mentioned earlier its an open shopping center on a cliff – if you are staying at the JW, its literally right across the street. Nice restaurants and shops. I buy my alpaca clothing there at Kuna since its known as one of the best and has decent prices for real legit alpaca scarves, sweaters, hats etc.
  2. Tourists love going to the “Mercado Indio” – its like an artisanal market.
  3. There’s a “Mirabus” the little red bus that drives you around Lima.
  4. The Mali Museum – if you are into photography, its Mario Testinos private museum.
  5. Walk the Malecon – (the park development on the coast). Its very nice, and you will get lots of nice pictures. Totally safe. You can start in Larcomar and go either way. I recommend going to San Isidro and Barranco.
  6. The red bus company also has a Lima by Night tour that my coworker has done and loved.
  7. Barranco – its nice to go walk around. Its like the area where all the Spanish Colonial houses are, and now its becoming a trendy area, basically the east village or hipster part of Lima. I’ve gone walking around at night here and was fine. It’s right next to the Miraflores area.

In November 2015, on my first trip to Peru, I flew from Lima to Cusco on LAN to meet up with some co-workers. We used Fer tur Travel, which was good and very efficient except that we were all super busy and booked it a bit last minute so we would have changed a couple of things. Included in our tour for $580 was a transfer from Cusco airport to the hotel, tour of Cusco, transporation and guide from Cusco to the sacred valley of the Incas and the train to Aguas Calientes, one night in Aguas and tour guide for 2.5 hrs of Machu Picchu, bus tickets up and down MP, train from MP to Cusco and transfer back to our hotel.

Cusco

Hotels: There are some really cheap hotels but we were all willing to pay a little more to stay in nicer hotels. The Palacio del Inka is the spg hotel in cusco we stayed at ($204). It’s right off the Plaza del Armas. There is a JW Marriott as well, which is also nice. I also suggest the Casa Andina hotels as they are very nice as well. Our hotel in Aguas was not very nice, but fine for one night. We wanted to be on one of the first buses to MP to avoid the crowds and incoming rain as well as catch an earlier train back to Cusco in order to appreciate the scenery.  We took one of the first buses up to MP at around 545am (MP opens at 6am) and quit for lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge at 11am and took the 3:20pm Vistadome train from MP to Cusco (Poroy train station). This was one of the best train rides I’ve ever been on. They give you food, offer liquor and additional snacks for purchase, put on two “shows” and sell Alpaca clothing from Sol Alpaca (another good alpaca clothing store). Also the toilets are shockingly nice and clean. I highly suggest following a similar itinerary depending on the weather outlook for the day.

Restaurants: (all require advance reservations)

Limo – they have a prix fixe dinner menu that’s really good as well as good lunch.

Ciccolina – very good Italian Peruvian fusion and traditional Peruvian (ie lomo saltado). I really liked the squid ink pasta and Carmenere.

Baco – I really liked the alpaca burger.

Senzo

Restaurants in Aguas – I made a reservation at Inkaterra which is also a really nice hotel that I suggest staying at if you can, but we had to cancel our reservations due to altitude exhaustion and poor timing.

Other key tips worth noting:

  • It does not really rain in Lima, just occasional misting.It does rain in Playa Blanca.
  • It does rain in Cusco and at Machu Picchu…harddd.
  • Bring a poncho or buy one from the street vendors for a $1, same goes for rain boots ($10)
  • Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent. The sun is extremely strong in Peru and you WILL burn in areas that are exposed for more than 5 min. If you have any skin showing (ie ankles, the part of your hair, back of your neck) expect them to be bit by mosquitoes or have sun exposure. Re-apply often.
  • Take altitude pills one to two days before you land in Cusco and once you land if possible. Drink the coca tea in the morning and chamomile in the afternoon/evening. Reminder; the altitude pills are a diuretic so you will need to pee a lot, especially the first day.
  • Review the timing of your itinerary. Also, expect that service will not be rapido. Sit down meals can take 2-2.5 hours.
  • Bring extra toilet paper or wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • We took out soles from the ATMs at the airport, but Peru is dual currency so dollars are also accepted at most locations, as is amex which is the same as mastercard.
  • Take the Green Taxi service from the airport in Lima and Uber around Lima and back to the airport. Uber is regulated for airport pick-up so it can take longer.
  • We checked our large suitcases at the hotel in Cusco while we went to Aguas because we were told that only small bags are allowed on the train and they will charge per kilo for large bags.

I really like Peru and hope to go back again. It’s important to note that Machu Picchu does close for a couple weeks a year, typically in April, for routine maintenance. Also, reservations are required well in advance. Due to erosion, there is a cap on the number of people per day.  The Inca trail – the 4 day hike to MP, books out years in advance.

Advertisements

Finland and Estonia

12 Oct

I arrived in Finland after spending the prior 4 weeks on the road in San Jose Costa Rica, Deerfield IL and Puebla and Mexico City Mexico. When I landed in Amsterdam after my first leg I quickly started rushing towards the gate and the nearest lounge. For some reason I thought I had a quick layover. When I got to the KLM lounge I took a shower first thing which was fantastic! Little did I realize that I still had about 2.5 hours to kill before boarding to Helsinki aka HEL. While there were no beds in lounge I utilized the earplugs from the plane and napped with my phone alarm ready to go. Once on the flight I also quickly fell asleep and had a nice egg roll for breakfast where the stewardess asked me if I was going home! Ha apparently I look Finnish which I took as a huge compliment as all the Finnish people I met are massively attractive and very nice. Once safely in HEL, I headed to Avis to rent my car. Even though I had practiced my manual skills I thought it was probably best to stick to automatic. In the US that would typically mean a nearly powerless Chevy, Ford or Nissan of some sort, but everywhere else that means a BMW or some sort of nice European car with actual horsepower.

It took me a couple of days to get the hang of driving back and forth from downtown HEL to Espoo using the most direct route but I was determined to not have to rely on GPS. The first couple days I used google maps which was actually pretty hilarious because of how it phonetically pronounces every word. The first time I heard it I burst out laughing. “Turn right to exit at juvenmali juvenmalmen nippereri nippert” WHAT?! By the time it finished speaking I’d past the exit. Thankfully I got the hang of it without having to listen to google maps give me a mouthful every time I made a turn. I also had some very interesting experiences at the gym. Women wore make up and heavy perfume, and one even wore slippers on the elliptical machine. People don’t like to sweat and only spend about 3 to 5 minutes doing cardio. A guy next to me on the treadmill ate toast while he walked all of 2 mph and I was going full speed ahead trying not to sound like a beast.

Since I was working Finnish and partial US hours I didn’t get a change to take any organized tours, but every night I tried a new restaurant, mostly in the Kamppi area, all of which were fantastic, Sushibar + Wine (fabulous smoked scallop roll), Lappi (for traditional reindeer filet and whitebait roe), Putte’s Pizza and Bar (gourmet pizzas), and Bistro Kämp in the one and only spg property in Helsinki. On Friday I walked around as much as possible in order to get the “lay of the land” including walking through the Senate square and listening in on a free play, through the esplanade, and along the water.

Saturday morning I checked out of my ghetto Radisson and made my way to the Linda Line to catch the express ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. Apparently many Fins go to Estonia for the cheap alcohol, and nearly everyone started the libations as soon as they got on the ferry. I knew I was in the right place! Beer on the ferry goes for 4.90€ compared to 7€ at restaurants in Helsinki.

I met a nice couple on the ferry from Finland who hadn’t been to Tallinn in over 10 years. As a civil servant the older gentleman gets 6 weeks of vacation a year compared to the 4 weeks industries get. Wow! Once I got off the ferry I headed for the Radisson Blu Olumpia which was worlds better than the Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki, for one there was temperature control! And a fabulous view of Old Town. I then headed straight for Old town which was every bit as adorable as I had imagined. It was already late afternoon at that point and I was starving so I went to Olde Hansa, a “medieval” restaurant serving Elk and Bear and other traditional Estonian foods. I had a complementary schnapps shot, thanks to the hotels coupon, a .5 liter jug of dark honey beer and Elk filet, which was well worth the money. It was incredibly tender and came in a truffle mushroom sauce with juniper berries and spelt. After such a heavy meal I walked  all around to old town square, some souvenir shops and then to the key tourist sites, St. olaf’s church (where I paid 2€ and climbed the very steep narrow staircase to the top) and Aleksander Netsky cathedral through St Catherine’s pass. On my way back to the hotel I bought an A. Le. Coq Estonian beer to try because I couldn’t resist the name. While there was much more to see in Tallinn I decided to go for a good sauna, another thing the baltics, Nordics and Scandinavians are well known for.

Upon my return to Helsinki it was Restaurant Day! Four times a year anyone is welcome to open their own food stand and sell whatever they want. The movement started in Helsinki because of the incredible difficulty in opening a restaurant, but other cities have started to catch on. While I didn’t eat anything from the pop-up food stands, I did have some great rainbow trout during my walk through the esplanade at Kappeli, and a nice pistachio ice cream in the market square. I was tempted to buy an elk or moose rug but resisted the urge. It’s incredibly hard to buy winter items in the middle of summer.

On Tuesday, I treated myself to a three course dinner with wine pairing at Passio. The restaurant has very mixed reviews on trip advisor but that didn’t stop me and it was incredibly close to my hotel in Kampii. The first time I tried to go to this restaurant  the previous week, the kitchen was closed, and the second time they were fully booked. I’ll be damned, but I made a reservation for one on Monday. Come Tuesday, I strolled in there and proudly told the flamboyant maitre ‘d who had turned me down those two times before, “reservation for Sonya” and guess what? he showed me right to my seat without a word. Success! I was in! Except that then I proceeded to wait approximately 10 minutes for any sort of waiter to bring me water or a menu. Ah the joys of traveling as a solo female. The food ended up being fantastic and the three course menu was actually more or less a five course menu. The following day, my final meal in Helsinki was at the recommendation of the hotel, Ravintola Rivoli a French restaurant. I had the escargot and the toast skagen which is a traditional Nordic meal.

While it does tend to get a bit lonely eating dinner every night by yourself, my trip to Helsinki and Tallinn was truly enjoyable and I would love to go back at some point to really experience the northern lights and a reindeer farm. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the socialist economics that are rampant throughout Europe today, it’s always nice to see and learn about different cultures and ways of living. Some things I learned:
– maternity leave is paid for roughly one year
– everyone has 4-6 weeks of vacation and most of the country completely shuts down in July
– most people really take 9 to 5 very seriously

– there is not a lot of traffic
– awkward silence is not awkward
– quite a few people do this weird intake of breathe at the end of their sentences
– The cost of living is expensive

-tons of people are blonde. Like REALLY blonde. No bottle blondes (well maybe there are still some! see girl with makeup at the gym).
– everyone seems relatively happy, although when I told my coworkers Finland topped the list of happiest people on earth, they were shocked and couldn’t imagine why!

   
Smoked scallop roll

 
View of Old Town Tallinn from my hotel room

  
Reindeer at Lappi Ravintola 

Italia Adventure 2015

12 Oct

Back in January I went to a destination wedding expo and the very first vendor I saw was from Tuscany. I took this as a sign that a destination wedding in Italy was exactly my cup of tea. It was slightly harder to convince my fiancé and our families and friends that this is a fantastic idea. Fortunately, people are starting to come around, especially considering that we live in Northeastern United States where weddings are on average $50-75,000…ahhh! While hunting for marriage requirements in Italy… and St. John USVI ….and the Maldives (sometimes eloping sounds like a great idea)… I discovered the Italian Wedding Event who plan weddings in Italy and decided to inquire for weddings on the Amalfi Coast. What they sent back was a plethora of information and a whole website of potential wedding locations all over the Amalfi coastline. After many site visits and inquiries to locations in NY, NJ, CT, RI and Long Island, we decided to book a trip to Positano and perform a site inspection with the Italian Wedding event. In addition, they arranged for us to get our engagement photos while we were there.

We landed on a Monday in Rome on the Delta direct from JFK. From there we took the Leonardo Express from the airport to Rome Termini station. Once at Termini we took the fast train to Naples. We almost got on, what looked like, a regional train, but fortunately we got off in time, grabbed a prosciutto e crudo panini and waited for the fast train which was 30 min late. We arrived at Naples where we were greeted by Claude, our driver from Naples to Hotel Conca D’Oro in Positano. Lots of, what I call “creative driving,” is required in Naples and all along the Amalfi coast. The roads are tight plus there are pedestrians and no real sidewalks. There were many times in downtown Positano where a bus went by and we both jumped a little bit. When we first got to the hotel a porter was waiting for us and promptly strung a rope around our bag handles, hoisted them over his shoulder and continued up the stairs to reception. Shortly after being shown to our room a bottle of prosecco arrived which we promptly enjoyed on the balcony. Being beat from the plane and the train journey, we ate a low key dinner at the hotel with fresh fish and spaghetti bolognese.

The next day we met one of our planners, Valentina, on Via Mulino in the downtown area of Positano. Our first stop was the church on the beach followed by Rada restaurant which has a great balcony overlooking the beach as well as a club inside of a cave on the side of the mountain called music on the rocks. Right above Rada is Hotel Marincanto which has gorgeous views and spacious rooms. From there we looked at two villas which both overlooked all of Positano. After seeing these great locals how could we not get married here?!

The following day we met our photographer, Massimo, for our engagement shots. While holding two cameras, my purse and with a cigarette in his mouth, he artfully took our photos all over Positano. While it seemed strange to have everyone stare at us while Massimo clicked away, it got us used to posing and smiling.

With the “work” part of our trip out of the way we booked excursions to Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius, and Capri. The bus to Pompeii picked us up from the hotel at 7am and drove the entire coast line before getting on the highway. Of course among the last people we picked up was an 18 month old! For the rest of the bus ride we listened to crying and the adventures of Peter rabbit. Once in Pompeii we explored the ruins including brothels, a miraculously preserved bath house, amphitheaters, and the main forum. After a quick lunch at a relatively cheap tourist restaurant, Da Andrea, we went on to climb Mt. Vesuvius. We had never climbed a volcano before, let alone the most dangerous volcano in Europe. The thought was a bit daunting. Once we got to the top I half expected to see liquid magma boiling and steam rising all around us, this was definitely not the case. The center of the volcano was surprisingly tame with trees even growing inside. Once we made our way back down the volcano and back onto the bus, and to Positano for dinner. James picked a restaurant with controversial reviews, and was pretty busy, but it was one of the best meals we had. Our waiter at Da Vincenzo was also a great sales person. While it was a bit pricey, we always order the house wine which came out to 7€ for a carafe or something ridiculously reasonable.

The following day we walked down to the main beach in Positano to catch our boat to Capri. Our captain was a one man show named X and he was kind enough to break out the prosseco promptly at 10am. He brought us to the different grottos but unfortunately not the blue grotto due to rough waters / high tide. Apparently it’s only passable once every 4 days. Our next stop was the marina and a taxi ride to ana capri to take the chair lift to the top of the island. On the boat we met a really nice couple from Omaha on their honeymoon. We traveled with them from the porto to Anacapri and took the advise of the captain by buying panini’s at the bottom of the hill (and some adult beverages at the top). We had lunch with a view of Naples and the Amalfi coast and then walked through old town before getting back on the boat to Positano. More prosseco was had by all, James fell asleep starboard and we rolled into port reluctantly. After a failed attempt at souvenir shopping, James surprised me and picked another restaurant winner, da Gabrisa Ristorante & Wine Bar! Instead of walking into town we walked up the hill to a wine bar attached to a hotel with (of course) great wine and a risotto served In a lemon larger than James’ fist. The meal was bittersweet as the next day we had a scheduled fast train back to Rome.

James and I were last in Rome in 2012 after taking a Costa Cruise. Somehow we managed to do most of main attractions in Rome in one day. This time, I booked us advance tickets to the Sistine chapel in order to skip the ticket que. it was well worth it, although I do suggest taking a tour and skipping the audio guide. The last time I was In the Sistine chapel my mom was chastised by the guards for taking a picture and threatened to have her film taken away. Digital photography has made it much more difficult for the guards to catch picture takers if you are stealth. Also remember to whisper. The Sistine chapel is one of the most utilized rooms and while its recently been restored, relatively nothing has fallen from the ceiling in years which means you never know! After James took a few illegal photos we walked on to the square at St. Peter’s before heading back to the hotel. Little did we know that Saturday nights in May really require reservations as many places turned us away. We ended up at a restaurant that’s a favorite of my parents and somewhat hidden, Ristorante La Grotta Amatriciana.

For our last day in Rome, we took it easy and went to a restaurant recommended to us by the Omaha newlyweds we met in Capri, La Prosciutteria. The place is small, but we were there at about 11am so we had no trouble finding a seat. Not only was this place reasonable, but it had great music and ambiance. We went with a mixed wood platter and a couple different types of bruschetta. We then walked to the Trevi Fountain (which was under construction!), the Pantheon, and on to the Spanish steps. For our last evening in Rome we went to the roof of the hotel across the way for one last look at Rome. We walked down the street to Caffeteria Ristorante Diadema. It was one of the few restaurants that was open on Sunday and the waiter/owner was so nice, (after all we were the youngest people in the place) he brought us the bottle of lemoncello after dinner.

Every trip to Italy seems more magical than the one before. Next year we can’t wait to return to Italy for our wedding!

Positano Engagement Photo

   
 
The Pantheon

   
La prosciutteria

 
St. Peter’s 

   
Lemon risotto

 
View from Anacapri

   
Anacapri

 
The boat to Capri 

   
Capri

 
Mt. Vesuvius

   
Pompeii

 
Marina grande

  
Hiking up to the hotel with our luggage

From Cali to Turkey

3 Jan

Prior to arriving in Izmir I was a bit flustered to say the least. I was coming off a friends three day wedding extravaganza, a trip to Ontario California (also for work), two nights on a plane and two hours spent in my apartment re-packing, showering and picking up my passport. #consultinglife at its best. For the first time I flew Turkish Air which I was skeptical about at first, but it’s an amazing airline. While I didn’t fully appreciate being given fresh fruit juices instead of the usual champagne on delta, (a girls gotta get some sleep yo!) it was tastefully refreshing, and the man in the chef’s uniform that made it for me was adorable. Note to self: buy boyfriend chefs uniform. Now since our flight left JFK and hour late, we were roughly an hour late to Istanbul, which meant sprinting through the airport to our connection. This completely derailed our plans of actually showering and changing in the famed Turkish lounge in the international terminal. Bummer. Instead we ran to the domestic terminal and still missed the connection, but no worries the guy told us, “I put you on next flight in one hour,” ok well don’t we need a new boarding pass then? “No” . Yea ok guy, like I’m going to believe that when you walk away I will automatically have my same seat on the next flight an hour from now. I don’t think so. After changing and taking a face wipe to my body and pretending to be fit for work, we got in line to board the next flight, where sure enough, we had to wait because we needed a new boarding pass. Shocker. Once we arrived we were greeted by our coworker who was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the client site.
Somehow we stumbled through the day and checked into the Renaissance Izmir, which is only about a year old and gorgeous! I would stay there again in a heartbeat. The breakfast was lavish and the hostess greeted us by name. The room was huge with an illy instant espresso maker, and the location was close to the harbor, the bazaar, (Kizlaragasi Han) and our firms office. The first day we decided to explore the city. We started by walking toward the bizarre and ended up instead by the clock tower. We continued to wander while also looking for a cafe when we happened upon people selling mini doughnuts under a tent on the street. We went over and got some but couldn’t figure out who to pay and there was no price posted and no one else seemed to be paying so we started backing away slowly and then walked away. Yay free doughnuts, I love this country already! Around the corner we found a nice cafe and went in for Turkish coffee and some “real food”, which ended up being a waffle covered in fruit and chocolate.
Our next stop was Konak pier which was designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel and was the former customs house. (Yes that Eiffel) Now, of course, it’s been completely redesigned with shops and restaurants. On the recommendation of a NY times travel article we went to the 100% Rest Cafe for some wine and mezze, (appetizers), and then bought olive oil at Taris Zeytin, one of Turkey’s oldest producers. We made a second attempt at finding the bazaar and went on a search for postcards and other souvenirs. While we were looking at magnets, a man, who we thought owned the store, asked us if we were looking for leather. We politely declined, said we were looking for postcards, and asked the price of the magnets. He turned to the real store owner and negotiated a good price for us, and said he had postcards. Thinking that he was going to lead us to his stall, we followed, and he led us to a leather store. Son of a…sure enough there was a rack of postcards! The owner of the store invited us to sit and offered us a drink. This is a sign of hospitality and as the guests it is rude to refuse, so we sat down and had tea. My coworker proceeded to suck down the whole cup, but I was a little wary of these shop owners. I was thinking, “Are they going to drug us and force us to buy leather?” “Would they kidnap us for ransom?” And now my 6′ 3″ coworker / bodyguard will be down for the count! I can’t carry him! Anyway, turns out one of the owners has a house in Patterson, NJ and ships rugs and leather to sell in the US. Go figure! I had mentioned to my coworker that I wanted to buy a rug while we were in Turkey. Of course, just then he had to then mention to our “would be captors” that I wanted a rug…great…just great. They led us out the back of the store… Mmm a little sketchy… And out around the bazaar, up to a second floor rug store which had thousands of rugs. It was game time now. What size did I want? colors? Design? Wool on wool or silk on wool? budget? After a bit of deliberation I chose a wool on wool design (cheaper than silk), I would carry it on instead of shipping, and I negotiated him down $500 from his asking price (thank you Asian markets and taxis). We drank more tea, and went straight back to the hotel for a beer and to book our trip to Ephes (or Ephasus to us Anglophiles) for the next day. Our adventure to dinner was even more sketchy as my coworker led me back to the bazaar, now closed, to find a restaurant on trip advisor, also now closed. (Sidenote: we would later go here for lunch during republic day and it was worth the wait.) For plan B we headed to the touristy but delightful waterfront to a restaurant our Turkish coworker had recommended. We had fish, mezze, and the local Raki, which is a local Turkish liquor similar to ouzo and sambuca. It’s prepared by adding water and sometimes ice. We somehow closed the restaurant down by 11pm on a Saturday and headed back to get a good nights sleep for Ephes.

Zürich München Lisboa

3 Jul

Two weeks ago for work I was asked to go to Zurich to assist on a very interesting project. The trip was booked fairly last minute, but I couldn’t wait to get back on the road since I’ve mostly been driving from Manhattan to NJ on a daily basis. (Awful!!!) Also, the opportunity to work on such a cool and different project was very exciting. My friend, formerly from the NY office, now in Houston, has been living part time in Amsterdam for work. We decided it’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other which was the perfect excuse to meet up and see a new city on my return to the US.

The last time I was in Zurich was for a brief 2.5 days and was in the beginning of January, so going back in summer was guaranteed to be better. Sure enough, the weather was much warmer and the longer experience was welcomed. We initially stayed at the Renaissance closest to the client site where I had stayed previously. However, the rooms are dated, the breakfast is bare and there are limited food options in the area. Apparently they’re also closing the hotel. The very next day we had planned to wrap up our meetings at noon and hop in a rental car to Munich for a meeting and client dinner. Even though Munich is fairly close, a 3-4 hour drive, the flights were $1100-1200 and the direct train was sold out but the local train was still $400 and would take about 5-6 hours. But the best laid plans don’t always go as smoothly and this was an example of how that was very true. The car we rented was a two door, which meant yours truly was sitting in the back with the extra luggage. Also, Google maps anticipated the drive would take us a little over 3 hours, however, it didn’t account for getting out of the parking garage, stopping to grab lunch, or the road construction along the way. Needless to say we got to the client site an hour and a half late! Also due to the last minute plans many hotels were sold out, so we ended up staying at two different Hilton’s. For dinner I made reservations for Restaurant Broeding which was ranked number 1 on trip advisor. The food did not disappoint! It was five courses, which change daily, with an optional 6th cheese, but who says no to the cheese?! The dinner was longer than anticipated but well worth it. Afterwards, our client offered to take us through Marienplatz even though it was 11:30pm. I hadn’t been to Germany since the summer after I graduated college, but it’s always a different experience going with new people.

Driving back to Zurich the following day was painful. It was an early morning in order to ensure we made our next meeting on time. The senior manager and myself fell asleep in the car and when we woke up, we were in line for a car ferry! Besides the fact that the car ferry didn’t take credit and we had limited euros / francs, the ride was nice and refreshing and we were able to make our meeting on time. Few! That night we went to an authentic Swiss restaurant with the client and walked around the old town area before dinner. What a difference it makes walking around in January versus June. The streets had tables, it stayed light out after 9pm and there were lots of people out and about. While I do enjoy a good fondue I think I can only go for it about once a year… in winter. Also, for those of you who haven’t been to a true fondue restaurant outside of the melting pot, the smell of cheese in the restaurant is incredibly pungent. After our traditional restaurant experience we checked into the Renaissance in downtown Zurich. What a difference! There was a real concierge lounge, champagne upon check-in and a modern shower. The concierge lounge had a nice conference room style table from which my coworker and I could work. Also, the attendant working the concierge lounge was so nice as to provide us with wine even after the technical closing time. I personally think that the lounge should never close and that the US shovel lounges shouldn’t charge you a fee for “honor bar”. There have been many times where my coworkers and I have been kicked out because the lounge closes at 10 or 11 pm. I will definitely choose to stay at this hotel again. During my last night in Zurich we ate with my coworkers friends who live south west of the center of Zurich. They took us to a nice Italian restaurant close to their apartment where we ate with them and their 3 year old son. Although he doesn’t speak much English, he can interchange French and German. I can barely manage English yet this 3 year old is already a linguist!

After work the following day I flew to Lisboa on TAP Portugal air. Even though it was under a three hour flight, I received a sandwich and a glass of wine. It was my first time to Portugal and six months since I had seen my friend and ex-NY, now Houston, coworker. While she globe trots the world for her Houston client, she’s always willing to travel for a meet up. We settled on Lisbon since neither of us had been. The Sheraton Lisboa was nice but a little secluded in the financial district. Also the fishbowl of a bathroom was a little strange. Being our GenX selves we Yelped, Trip Advisored and FourSquared restaurants in the area before finally settling on Sabores com Fusao, along with booking a wine bar downtown for the following evening in Barrio Alto. The following day my friend had booked us on Yellow Cab TT tours first thing in the morning. Thank god she had done all the planning and research because I certainly didn’t have the time to look at anything. After a detour to a random cafe, we met our guide Fabio! (Of course his name was Fabio!) and off we went in our bright yellow range rover. There were two girls from Munich in our group along with an older hip couple from Madrid who didn’t speak English but we communicated just fine with anyway. They even showed us their bachata dance video on their cell phone. We spent the day seeing all their was to see in Sintra, Colares, and Cascais. We went to the Palacio de Pena, bought almond liquor, cheese, port spread, almond pastry, and egg custards. We went to the western most of part of Europe and looked out over the Atlantic toward the US at Cabo da Roca, and we even went to the beach in hell at Mar do inferno. We made it back to our hotel after 12 hours in time to pack our goodies and take the metro to BA Wine bar. After a vino filled evening with a glass of white, a glass of red, and a port, we closed the place down and were about to head back to the hotel when the waitress told us to go to Pensão Amor, a club and lounge down the street. When in Rome…. As we headed to the bar we realized a couple things, 1) we looked like some of the oldest people on the street, 2) everyone had a drink in their hands, 3) we had no idea how to actually get into the bar. Do we enter from the street we were on? Or down below? After a bit of debate and going up to one street and down to another, we were in! Each room and floor had a different theme and motif. The crowd was also less pretentious than in NY. People were dressed up and down. We even made friends with an Irishman who had his phone pinched during a bachelor party. I never would have guessed that Lisbon would be a popular bachelor party destination, but apparently the Prague scene is way over done and Lisbon is a new up and coming locál.

Unfortunately my flight back to the US left at 11:30am via Amsterdam and therefore I really only had one full day in Lisbon and with my friend. I wished I could have stayed longer, but on the first leg of my flight I sat next to a member of the Portuguese parliament! What are the odds? She was very nice and we even exchanged information. So now I must go back! Portugal 2015 anyone?

Mexico and Scandanavia…yes you read that correctly

17 Feb

Sometimes my job requires me drop everything and go somewhere, fairly quickly. Yes, this can be very cool. It can also be very annoying and challenging when you’ve made plans and don’t want to cancel on the same friend for the fifth time. But in January, it was way cool. (I probably could have made it cooler, but then the whole “being a douche to friends” thing would have come into play).

The first place I was asked to drop everything and go (back) to was Monterrey Mexico. In December when I first went out there, the people I worked with were not part of my regular team, and it was awesome! I got really nervous when they emailed the client to book our hotel and the response came back that the Quinta had my reservation. I know this sounds a bit snobby and their commercials are catchy, but the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Great, we’re staying in a La Quinta in a Mexican city fairly close to the boarder.’ What I didn’t know is that there’s a five star chain of hotels in Mexico called Quinta Real. Ahhh ha! That’s more like it. So when I was asked to go back in January, there was no hesitation. While it’s not the most interesting city, the team is great, the people are nice, the food is good and the hotel is relaxing. What more can I ask for on a work trip? Two of the great restaurants we went to were Amalia Gusto & Grill, and Gallo 71.

The very next day, I was asked if I could teach a training in Oslo because one of the trainers had dropped out last minute and they couldn’t find a replacement. Fortunately, one of the other trainers was my career counselor at work who had planned a mini Scandinavian getaway around the training. I had a moment of pause where I hesitated before I snapped out of it and said to myself, ‘Duh, of course you’re going to go, when else will you ever get a paid trip to Scandinavia?!’ At that time it hadn’t quite hit me that I would be going from Mexico to the snowy darkness that is Scandinavia in winter, but oh well! Booking this trip was a bit of a nightmare as I originally planned to go from Mexico to NY, switch suitcases, and then head to the Nordics. That proved to be a really dumb idea, and the chances of missing a connection were very high. I had also packed my carry on luggage (yes it carried on) to include sweaters. So the night before leaving Monterrey, Amex was able to change my flight from Mexico to Stockholm via Atlanta and Paris, which also gave me a lay flat seat in business class. For anyone whose had to go to work the day after 20+ hours of plane travel, you know how clutch the lay flat seat is.

I landed in Stockholm around noon on Saturday and took the Arlanda Express, which is a 20 minute train ride from the airport to Stockholm central station. I checked into the Sheraton two blocks away from the station, had a shower and was ready to hit the town by 2pm. Fortunately, I had done about 30 minutes of research on the plane along with emailing my childhood friend who lives in Sweden. I met up with my work counselor, and we headed to Gamla Stan, the old town, to see the royal palace, along with an exhibit on the king. I’m not very familiar with the Swedish royal family, but they seem like a laid back bunch. We exited the palace around 4pm and it was already dark. During my 10 minutes of plane research I had booked us a 430pm reservation at Restaurant Frantzen. It had rave reviews on yelp and an article I had read mentioned they always make a stop there when they can. However, we knew we might be in over our heads when the concierge at the hotel told us this restaurant had the most famous chef in Sweden, and when we turned the corner to the restaurant and the maître D / doorman standing outside, asked if I was Sonya. *gulp* As the article suggested the place was small and homie, and after taking 10 minutes to disrobe, we were seated at a cozy two top next to the window. A piece of paper looking like a prix-fixe menu was set down and both of us gasped. The paper said 2200 SEK aka $340 USD. Oh crap what I have done! After brief discussion, we decided it would look worse to just get up and leave and we were starving, and when else would we be in Stockholm and at a two Michelin star restaurant? We went through a similar thought process when they asked about the wine pairing. All in all we had the most expensive meal of our lives with 15 courses in over 3 hours. It’s been one month since that meal and we still can’t get over how amazing yet costly the meal was. The following morning we took the downtown trolley to the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a 17th century warship which sank after a few minutes after leaving the port on its maiden voyage. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and now sits in an incredible museum explaining its history, including how it was built, insights into the 30-50 people who died when the ship sank, the inquest that followed, and how she was raised. Afterwards, we attempted to head to Zum Franziskaner, which is supposedly the oldest restaurant since 1421. Unfortunately it’s closed on Sundays, so we made our way back to the hotel, and back to the airport via the Arlanda Express for our flight to Oslo.

In the airport we realized how inefficient transportation is compared to the US. Sweden and Norway have bullet trains directly connecting their airport to the center of the city. When checking in at the airport, people knew what to do and weren’t pushing each other in lines. I was able to print my own bag tag at the self check in kiosk and then scan it onto the belt without waiting for some miserable airline attendant to take my bag from a scale to a convey belt. Lastly, they know how to make an awesome mojito.

In Oslo, we stayed at the Park Inn directly next to the airport which was also attached to a conference facility. The only complaint I have about this hotel is the fact there were zero amenities in the bathroom. When a hotel is next to an airport, you expect them to have at least a bar of soap, let alone shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. No sir! The hotel clerk at the front desk proceeded to hand me a bottle the size of a fingernail labeled “hair and body”. My hair turned to straw just looking at it. Needless to say a trip to the airport to purchase some real shampoo was in order. Other than that, the hotel was decent, everyone from the training was a delight, and the food was great. On the last day, training ended early and my coworker and I went downtown via the Flytoget train from the airport. After marveling at the architecture in the Opera house, we went in search of some shopping and food. Since the boots I wanted cost about $500, I settled with a pair of thick wool leg warmers. We then went to dinner at an Indian restaurant and proceeded to once again, pay a lot of money for a meal. In Scandinavia, a roughly 25-50% tax is levied on everything. We paid $140 for two three course Indian dinners with no booze, but 50% of that was tax. After dinner we went in search of a good bar, and found it at Dr. Jekyll’s Pub, not far from the Royal palace in Oslo. Here I learned that the two most expensive things you can do in Oslo is drink a beer and take a taxi. Somehow my beer came out to roughly $20, and I thought NY prices were high! We didn’t dare take a taxi to test out the theory, but we came awful close during our run for the last train back to the airport around 1130pm. I couldn’t believe my time in Scandinavia had come and gone so quickly! I even tried to change my flight again at the last minute so I could travel with my coworker on to Helsinki and Copenhagen, but that’ll have to be another trip.

20140217-180304.jpg

20140217-180326.jpg

20140217-180353.jpg

20140217-180417.jpg

20140217-180446.jpg

20140217-180514.jpg

20140217-180547.jpg

20140217-180609.jpg

20140217-180635.jpg

20140217-180654.jpg

20140217-180717.jpg

20140217-180804.jpg

Tokyo

14 Oct

(This post is way overdue..but here goes)

Konnichiwa! Leaving Manila was pretty upsetting and sad. I made great friends and had a fabulous time exploring the culture and living like an expat. My mom even made the journey, and I had very little time to show her around metro Manila and no time to travel to some of the other Philippine islands. I scheduled us to take the same flights back to the US and therefore we would be flying back to JFK via Narita, Japan. Neither of us had been to Japan before, and the Yen is such that its no longer as outrageously expensive as its been in the past, so we opted for a three day stopover in Tokyo. Fortunately, I have amassed a large number of Marriott points which allowed me to book us into the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. De-planing in Narita was easy, but traveling from Narita to downtown Tokyo was almost a 2 hour bus ride on the “friendly” Airport express. The whole bus experience was extremely efficient. They tagged all of our checked luggage and gave us the ticket stubs. They dropped us off at the hotel entrance and matched the stubs to the bag tags. The Ritz reception is located on the 45th floor and our room was on floor 51. The one luxurious / slightly unsettling thing about hotel check-in in Asia, is they typically show you to your room and explain all the amenities. I say unsettling because the entire time I can’t stop thinking, “there’s a stranger in a my hotel room…if you touch me… I kill you”. Its a brilliant idea, especially if something is broken or is not to your satisfaction, but it still makes me a little nervous. In Tokyo, I Lee, escorted us and she had a degree from the Boston University, go figure! I Lee explained that on Saturday nights in the summer we can see fireworks from the giant picture window in our room. This hotel could seriously not get any better, and we were very excited. After showering and professing our love for the heated Japanese toilet with all its fancy buttons, we went to the lounge on the 53rd floor for a delicious spread and a happy hour cocktail. Attached to our hotel was the midtown tower, with shopping, restaurants and a park. Our first restaurant experience was at a small sushi bar with the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted. The waitress could barely understand us, but somehow we got everything we ordered, from an electronic pin-pad.

The next day we went to the Meiji shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Of course in advance of this visit we researched Japanese temple and shrine etiquette. But once we got to the main shrine there was a fellow tourist instructing her husband in exactly what to do. “Now wash your hands, no dip the scoop into the water and pour over your hands, now bow, now clap.” We felt bad for the poor guy and her sons, yet we couldn’t help following them to listen to her explicit directions. We were also able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony, which we hoped might happen. The poor wedding party in their traditional outfits and long suits in almost 32 C / 100 F degree weather! And like crazy people, we walked directly from the shrine in Shibuya to the Shibuya crossing and then to a beer garden, which was closed on Sunday. We were drenched, but getting that first glass of champagne at the Ritz lounge was definitely well earned. Going off the Tokyo blog, we made our way to Ebisu. There were three to four restaurants on the street we thought was mentioned in the blog, but neither of them had a name in English on the sign. We opted for the one mom chose, which turned out be an exclusively chicken restaurant, Momotaro. All of our food came out on skewers and was extremely tasty. I also tried the Shochu ( pronounced show-j-ewe)

On Monday we had booked an afternoon tour. After getting lost a couple times, and arguing over directions, we made it to the Intercontinental hotel for the pick up. Why they made us walk to the Intercontinental, when nobody actually staying at the hotel was taking the tour was annoying. It only got better from there…sarcastic tone included. We had one guy wearing a hat with a fish head coming out the front and an Angel’s baseball t-shirt, two very nice looking Indian families, two American guys (I thought it was a father and son but my mom seems to think otherwise), and another American family of six. The adults in the American family consisted of an older looking, hefty husband and wife, their daughter, and her husband who looked like he was probably in the military. Half way through our walk of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens, I realize the daughter is smothering a roughly 4 week old infant in between her breasts and a toddler. Why on earth you would tote an infant in record heat, I mean people were dying, around Japan is beyond me. I’m not a mother, but I’m pretty sure there is no way in hell I would take a one month old on a 4 hour day tour. And not only did the mother ask if the park in the middle of downtown Tokyo was affected by the tsunami (I mean seriously?!) but then on our river boat ride the daughter changes the infant on the dining tables and then proceeds to breast feed. Not to mention that fish hat guy was late to the bus after the first stop and did not shut up the entire time about how all the Japanese women love it when he tells them they’re beautiful. I really couldn’t make this up if I tried. We really did see some great sites, Sensoji Temple that we wouldn’t have seen unless we were on the tour, but do not see them on the Grey Line tour.

As soon as we broke away from the crazies we began the frustrating adventure of trying to find the Shinjuku Washington Hotel and the restaurant Zauo. After more arguing over directions we finally found it. Why all that trouble for a restaurant? This wasn’t just any old Japanese restaurant where everyone just orders off the menu….boringgg. This restaurant gave us the option to catch our own fish and then select how we wanted it prepared. Half grilled/half sushied, all grilled, the choices were endless. We stood by the water with our poles waiting for any type of fish to bite. My mom thought it would be a good idea to swish the line back and forth in the water so the fish don’t realize the bait on the hook is dead. But nothing seemed to work until our waiter came by and gave us magical bait, which looked like steak. Mom caught a fish and our night was complete.

Going back to the airport was difficult. There was still so much to do and see and eat. The Delta Lounge in the Narita airport made life a little more bearable, Especially the amazing beer dispenser. After stocking up on green tea and cherry blossom kit kats, getting on that plane meant that my red hot south east Asian summer was officially over. All I can hope is that I’ll be back soon.

Hong Kong…the return journey

18 Aug

Since my departure to Southeast Asia was somewhat abrupt, and its summer time, it’s hard for people to make plans to visit me in Manila or meet me somewhere in Asia. My first trip to to Asia was also to Hong Kong in 2009 to visit a friend who was teaching English, so I am vaguely familiar with the city. It just so happened that my very first friend in the world was making her way to Asia for the first time to Hong Kong / Dauggon, China. It only made sense that I would go there for the weekend to meet up with her.

Landing in Hong Kong and traveling to the city is one of the easiest things to do. There is an Airport Express train which goes directly to the heart of the city, the IFC building, in 24 minutes, for less than $30usd round trip. Why there is nothing as efficient in NY or the US for that matter, is beyond me. The MTR in Hong Kong is equally as easy to use and just as quick and clean as the MRT’s in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile in Tsim Sha Tsui on Nathan road which is one of the tourist centers in the Kowloon area. It also resembles Canal street in that strangers approach you asking if you want bags, watches, and suits. For our first day we decided to get our shopping out of the way and were in the market for suits as well. I had a suit made in 2009 but I had left the receipt with the address somewhere in my parents house in CT. My dad had shirts made in 2011 and my mom had the information handy, so I emailed the tailor asking for an appointment. He never responded but my friend and I decided to go there in person and check it out. Turns out their office is now vacant and apparently they closed 7 months ago, but there was another tailor on the same floor, Vogue Tailors. We caught them on their way back from the US to take orders, always a good sign. We sifted through hundreds of samples, were measured from neck to toe, and told to come back at 6pm. From there we set off for Mongkok station and the Ladies Market. They have everything from Chinese amulets, phone cases, and paintings, to t-shirts, belts, and scarves. I really wish we had these kinds of markets in the US. We also journeyed over to the Temple Street night market which really starts opening in the late afternoon. Between negotiations we stopped to buy buko juice/coconuts and mangosteens which are abundant in Asia and very hard to find in the US. After our fitting we stopped to watch the “Symphony of lights” show at the star ferry harbor. The light show is every evening at 8pm and most of the buildings along Hong Kong harbour participate by arranging the lights on their buildings to music.

Another one of my favorite places in Hong Kong is Lan Kwai Fong and the Soho area. My friend used to live in soho right off the mid-levels escalator and frequented a restaurant called Wagyu, which I dragged my friend to for brunch one morning. Even since 2009 the area seems built up with more trendy restaurants and bars. One notable stop was the Hong Kong brew house with an extensive beer selection, live music, and reasonable prices.

Our last adventure was Victoria peak and the tram. In November 2009 there was virtually no one in que for the tram and we went right up. Now we were fighting Chinese and Korean tourists left and right. And by fighting I mean we pushed our way through adults and small children onto the tram car in order to grab a seat. Somehow we even beat a group of Germans who looked a bit nervous and were forced to stand for the ride up. The sky was crystal clear and we were able to see the entire city. Our feet were tired from all the walking so we went back to soho for a foot massage to end the day. I was sad to leave Hong Kong, I wish we had one more day. There is so much to do and so many good restaurants, it’s hard to get it all done in a weekend. I’m looking forward to getting the suit and dress I had made as a reminder of my second trip to HK.

20130819-120750.jpg

20130819-120806.jpg

20130819-120824.jpg

20130819-120853.jpg

Singapore

9 Aug

Similar to KL, I was told Singapore is a giant mall and there’s nothing to do except expensive shopping and drinking…. I’m sorry, how is this boring? Anyway, this time I decided to take Singapore Air to avoid random flight schedule changes, and unwarranted flight delays. It also doesn’t hurt that the three hour flight included and adult beverages. I’m also getting the hang of living in a third world country… random chaos mixed with surprising efficiency. En route to the airport the cab driver in Manila turned off the meter….Oh no he di’int! The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Sir why did you turn off the meter, you can’t do that.”
Taxi: “Excuse me Ms. its a flat rate of $400 to the airport from Makati.”
Me:”No it’s not, turn the meter back on your not allowed to just turn it off.”
Taxi:”How much you pay before?”
Me:”I paid 120php last weekend, I’m not paying anymore than $140″
Taxi:”Fine, ok, sorry Ms.”
Me:”You can’t just turn the meter off, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know you’re not allowed to do that.”
Taxi:”Sorry Ms.”
After that I received a surprising amount of respect from the man who just tried to con me out of an additional…$7USD. Hey every bit counts right?

Fortunately the flight to Singapore and the taxi ride to the Sheraton Towers hotel was smooth sailing. The taxi even tried to give me change back! Wow. One of my awesome coworkers in Manila let me use her EZ link card for the SMRT, which was so easy to use and very clean and efficient. The EZ link card even works in the taxis and at some convenience stores. From my hotel it was an easy walk to Orchard road, the Michigan ave and Fifth avenue of Singapore. There I met a friend of a friend who was kind enough to meet me for coffee and take me downtown to the city hall area. From there I went to the infamous Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. Even though it was late, taking the MRT at night and walking back to my hotel was very safe. Not once did I feel uncomfortable.

The following day we went to brunch at a great place called P.S. Cafe on Dempsey hill. The garden area outside was adorable and the food was every bit traditional Sunday brunch, which is something I hadn’t had in say…three months or so. Plus they had shoestring truffle fries which are a personal favorite. Outside of the restaurant there was, what looked like a koi pond, with some the largest fish I’ve every seen.

We continued our Sunday fun day to the Singapore botanical gardens, which is also easily accessible from the MRT. Apparently it was modeled after Central Park in the sense that admission is free and they encourage picnicking and outdoor activities. However, Singapore is brutally hot, so I would not suggest spending too much time exposed to the sun. The gardens are massive, we could have walked around all day. There’s also a Ginger garden and Orchid garden.

On a daily basis, the infamous Marina Bay Sands puts on a water show complete with lights, fire, bubbles, and sound effects. In the evening we made our way down to the staging area, which also has a full view of the central business district and the Merlion fountain. The show was pretty impressive, as is the Marina Bay Sands building, complete with a casino, shopping, theater, restaurants, a hotel, and supposedly the worlds craziest infinity pool. I was more obsessed with taking pictures of the actual building than paying to go all the way to the top, but we did ogle at the high end shops and enjoy some nice ice cream at Au Chocolat.

I wish I had more time to explore and experience the culinary delights, especially in La Passat and Little India, but I have a feeling I’ll be back.

20130809-183414.jpg

20130809-183442.jpg

20130809-183524.jpg

20130809-183510.jpg

20130809-183547.jpg

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

27 Jul

As I mentioned in my previous post, Zest airways is not not very reliable. I made sure to get to the airport well ahead of my 645am departure, even though my updated booking said the flight was 10 minutes later. I was a little nervous for this trip as well because it was my first time traveling alone to an Asian city, let alone a primarily Muslim city. Not that it means anything bad, but I always try to make sure I’m respectful and following the rules of other cultures. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but nothing booked in advance. However, I was fortunate enough to book the Renaissance hotel, which would give me all my Marriott perks, including a hotel concierge that could help me call local businesses.

The Kuala Lumpur LCCT, low cost carrier terminal, does not connect to the commuter train which runs straight to the KL Sentral train station, so a taxi was pretty much the easiest option. Right outside the baggage claim I paid 75r for a one way to the hotel, which took about an hour. After freshening up, I bee lined to the concierge in order to plan my stay. While the Petronas towers are great to look at, I didn’t feel the need to queue up at 6:30am to get one of the 1,200 tickets that are available everyday but Monday. Although I now know that tickets are available online, or for a small fee the hotel will buy the tickets for you. I had a laundry list of other options, such as, the Batu Caves, Melaka, Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary, and the Malaysia Heritage walking tour. I decided to head to the Batu caves via public transport. The MRT subway was comparable to Hong Kong, cheap and clean. The KTM komuter has train cars reserved specifically for women. I rode in these cars to and from the Batu Caves.

Many people on trip advisor say the caves are unimpressive. As you can see from my pictures, I tend to disagree. I’m also guessing many of those people don’t understand how important the caves are to the Hindu culture.

On my way back from the caves, two men, and when I say men I mean man-babies, were in the women’s car on the way back to Sentral. One of them gathered the courage to come over and ask me if I knew where Sentral was, I said “no”, then he asked what my name was and I turned away. He obviously didn’t get the hint, because he asked “Hello?” to which I informed him that he was in the women’s car and not allowed to be here. Clearly non-understanding, he asked if I wanted some nuts, to which I responded, “no, there’s no eating or drinking allowed on the train.” Thus the term man-baby, because he may be a grown ass man, but he certainly can’t think or act like one.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the Central Market. This is also where my Eat, Pray, Love walking tour with Be Tourist left from the following day. It’s touted as the oldest market in KL, but according to my tour it was actually relocated from its original spot a block or so away. However, buyer beware, the prices are not very cheap and not all the vendors are willing to negotiate. Now I’m obsessed with negotiating, so I really took my time to troll the area. The first night I met a great couple from Australia. They were truly genuine people and, as always, great travelers. I say great travelers because Aussies have the passion to travel and include everyone around in conversation. Hopefully their next trip will be to NY.

The Malaysian Heritage walking tour ended up being way more than I ever expected. Not only did we eat South Indian food with our hands in honor of the first money lenders in KL, but we also had local fruits, two kinds of roti and coconut pancakes, stingray and clay pot chicken with rice. We walked just as much as we ate, which was perfect because I wasn’t too full, but I also could not digest another food particle. Our guide also took us to three of the oldest and therefore important places of worship in KL culture, Masjid Jamek, a Hindu temple, Sri Mahamariamman, and the oldest Taoist temple Sin Sze Si Ya Temple. Since its still Ramadan, and therefore prayer is now 7 times a day, we did not enter Masjid Jamek, but the two temples we did enter both had fabulous history and very unique teachings. To cap off the evening, we went to a local pub to get to know each other better as a group. It was great. Together we represented, USA, Canada, Turkey, UK, Norway, Germany, and China. What a great environment to meet new friends. Before I went to KL it was represented to me as a boring city, but I beg to differ. I definitely hope to return and spend more time in Malaysia.

20130727-225903.jpg

20130727-225928.jpg

20130727-225946.jpg

20130727-230000.jpg

20130727-230013.jpg

20130727-230023.jpg

20130727-230040.jpg

20130727-230055.jpg

20130727-230119.jpg