Pancakes & Waffles in Amsterdam

When people ask me what is the best place I have been to so far, my automatic answer would always be Barcelona, Spain. After spending four days and three nights in Amsterdam earlier this week, I think I might just have had a slight change of heart.

I think it is safe to say that Amsterdam, out of all the cities I have visited, is easily the most tourist-friendly. The locals are obviously used to their city buzzing with people from all over the globe revelling in their breathtaking views of the canal and the gingerbread houses (as one blog I’ve previously read has cleverly put it), their generous offer of healthy brunch options, the very entertaining Red Light District, among others.

What I liked the most was the fact that all of the locals (okay, I might be overgeneralising) speak English. Every tram driver, receptionist, or vendor we came across conversed with us in a language we actually all understood. This, for me, is quite impressive as not every other tourist hot spot that we had been to did the same and it sort of became a struggle to communicate.

Anyway, I have yet again compiled a list of five personal favorite things I did in Amsterdam. Surprise, surprise.

1 Purchasing an I Amsterdam city card as soon as we got out of Schiphol’s border control was easily the best decision we made on our first day. For 74 euros, the red card was inclusive of access to many museums, a canal cruise, and public transport around the city for 48 hours.

I cannot really say these are perks or that they came for free (cos we had to pay for a fee to get a card) but it clearly cut our costs and saved us from that dreadful feeling of literally taking cash out of our wallets every now and then and feeling as if we were splurging.

IMG_3138.jpegThe pack came with a magazine (which I have yet to read) and a map which came in really handy in double checking our itinerary before heading out of our hotel room.

Probably the only downside to this was that one of my friends lost her card a few hours after activating it on our second day. We tried to see if they can provide a replacement for lost cards but unfortunately, if you lose it, you lose it.

2 Museums were our main agenda for our second day (which was also technically our first full day). Out of all the museums we visited, the Van Gogh Museum would have to be what impressed me the most. From what I have learned, not only was Van Gogh a master of self portrait, he had also led quite an interesting life from the moment he discovered art up to the days leading to his death.

My favorite part of the museum would probably have to be Van Gogh Dreams where we got to see his emotional journey as he moved to southern France and had regular mental breakdowns until they became no longer just that. This was apparently another eye opener for me about how serious mental health should be taken and how everyone suffering from any related issues is clearly a victim desperate for an escape.

On a lighter note, Van Gogh also painted sunflowers! Not exactly the brightest-looking bunch of my favorite flowers but it will do.

3 If there is one other thing I learned that has stuck to me, it is this: the Dutch love their (or serving) brunch! It is insane how there are so many cafes and restaurants with all-day brunch choices on their menus. I have quit brunch a long time ago and decided to stick to lunch but staying in this beautiful city, the former seemed like an imperative thing to do.

Before going on this trip, I researched some of the best places to have breakfast and/or brunch around the city. Most travel blogs suggested Pancakes! Amsterdam and The Breakfast Club. We tried out the former on the first day and passed by the latter (but did not have the chance to eat in it unfortunately) on our third.

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Most of the places that serve pancakes offer a selection of either traditional, sweet, or savory. We had mushrooms, paprika, cheese, & bacon for the savory one and ham & cheese for the traditional. They look really flat on photos but are actually quite filling!

Of course, on this number, I just have to throw in few other random food photos from the entire trip.

(first photo was yet again another big breakfast and second photo is a bowl of nachitos and guacamole dip from Fento, one of the recommended food stalls located inside Foodhallen)

4 The canal and the view of gabled houses along it were breathtaking. One of the things that convinced us to get city cards was actually the canal tour. Fascinating fact: canal houses are installed with hoists and most of the narrow canal houses have really interesting background stories to tell.

5 When we were making our itinerary, two of the suggestions we came across were the Albert Cuyp Market and the Bloemenmarkt which were basically a street market and a flower market respectively.

In the middle of the long stretch of Albert Cuyp Market, we found a little stall selling their must-try stroopwafels which was a perfect treat for a sweet tooth like myself.

For 1.50 euros, you get a piece of heaven disguised in two thin waffles with a spread of caramel syrup in the middle. Plus, it comes with a chocolate topping too.

Bloemenmarkt, on the other hand, was home to a number of flower stalls and it was crazy how many tulips, among other flowers, they sell in the area. Not all flower vendors were willing to have their products photographed but we managed to find some stalls whose owners were not bothered by tourists (like ourselves) getting too excited at the sight of tulips in different colors.

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I was this close to bringing home tulip bulbs but the thought of colder months incoming and the fact that I do not really have a green thumb prevailed. Plus, luggage issues.

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Another thing we spent quite some time doing in the flower market was finding the  perfect cheese to take home. Clearly, I love cheese. You can take one of my friends (who was with me on the trip) to the coffee shops, you can take me to the cheese shops. We went inside Henri Willig Cheese Farm Store (which was only one of the many stores selling cheese, by the way) and I swear had the best moments in cheese heaven – what with all the free taste!

Eventually, I thought truffle cheese (although gouda came a really close second) suited my palate best and bought with me a set that came with smoked goat cheese, a honey mustard spread, and a cheese board! I cannot wait for wine and cheese night with my friends from college tomorrow.

So there you go, my top five list for Amsterdam. The Red Light District and the brownies did not make it to the cut but those were definitely unforgettable experiences worth recommending as well! And maybe, just maybe, I might write about them in a separate post later on.

Clean Slate: A List

If there’s one thing people need to know about me, I am a sucker for lists. I’m not OC but I just feel a certain sense of satisfaction every time I make lists. It can be anything – to do lists, lists of things I need to pay or buy, blog lists. And yes, this post will contain one of those lists (of rambles or rants) that I regularly do.

1 I have recently moved to a new home… again. This is, by far, my third move in a span of two years. I find it very convenient how this place is just right across where I work and I can wake up twenty minutes before my shift… and still manage to be late, of course. Lol. I especially like my room because it is made of wooden floors, has the right thermostat, and has almost everything screaming IKEA.

I am still way too far from getting a mortgage but I will definitely have a room looking like this one when I get to have my own home one day.

2 At 26, I am still figuring everything out. I like how everyday is a day of learning for me even at this age. I like how I am learning life and not just concepts out of a textbook. I have recently learned how to correctly open a can (hey, don’t judge) with a can opener, found out the right setting for tumble-drying my clothes without compromising their quality, appreciated the beauty of wearing heels and dressing up once in a while, and figured out that I can actually talk (and not just small talk) to people.

3 Every time people from this part of the globe outright appreciate my accent and grammar, I cannot help but be kilig and grateful for my academic upbringing. I will forever be proud to have grown up in and studied for 13 years at an institution that actually taught me to speak and write correct English. I might not have been gifted with Math skills but I know for sure I can use English to save my life.

4 At 26, I often get remarks like ‘Why are you still single?’ – mostly coming in a non-obnoxious way from genuinely concerned people at least. The answer is… well honestly, I cannot pinpoint the exact reason. But people must also note that, at 26, I enjoy being single. I have recently rediscovered what they call dating (or something close to it). Lol, a bit late I know. I am still single but I’ve been dating. I will leave this here for now. Plus, I have the most fabulous girl friends to fill the void with shopping!

5 If I were asked to make a list of things that excite me, will it be weird if it consists of: fresh laundry, Pinterest ideas for homemaking, cheese platters, IKEA (yes, I am now a solid believer), cooking meals?

 

In Transit

I have recently discovered one more thing about myself and that is how much I appreciate solitary train rides. It gives me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and allows me to enjoy down time – which I truly need every once in a while to keep my sanity in check.

I actually started writing a blog post on the train en route to home this morning but sleep got the better of me. Now that I feel much more recharged (at one in the morning), allow me to recollect my thoughts and put them in (tada, what else) a list.

1 I realised I am not afraid of dying. How I die, probably. But not dying. I am not sure how morbid this might make me sound but it’s a truth I just woke up to and acknowledged one morning. I believe there is a heaven and that all the people I love but already passed are there. That is where I want to go. That is the reason why I am trying my best to become, at least, a good person while I am here. And I cannot wait to bicker with my brother.

2 Not all losses are equally painful but they all elicit pain anyway. I guess it is safe to say I have my fair share of losses, especially in the past few years. Sometimes, I surprise myself with how I handle them.

Thinking about it now, I talk a lot but I never really often open up to people. When Wency (hi, To. I just have to talk about you now) left us, I had to be strong for our parents cos it was what was needed. I cannot recall the number of times I had to cry on my own because crying in front of them would only lead to an even bigger cry fest. I easily make my family and friends laugh but do not find it as easy to tell them about the personal conflicts I go through cos a) I hate bothering people b) I have always believed these conflicts will pass anyway.

Every other loss that came after 2015 seemed less significant. But I still considered them losses. And yes, they hurt as well.

3 We keep meeting people. And I now honestly believe in the cliche that people come in our lives not to stay but to teach us a lesson or two. I don’t keep a checklist of everyone I ever encountered but I do know that not everyone I used to be  very close to a few years back has stayed until this day.

I guess that is just how it is. If anything, I am not upset.  In fact, I am glad to meet the people I did.

4 I have found my person/s. And while I am not certain I could find a partner who will put up with me and my very sudden mood swings, there is comfort in knowing I have my person/s to harass with my long dramatic messages at unholy hours and decode my one-word responses the next day.

My person/s is one I don’t regularly talk to or see but who understands me the most even if I don’t say anything. It is anyone who can tell me off for making stupid decisions but end our conversation by saying things that uplift me. If you feel like you are that person/s, then you most certainly are.

5 There is so much to life I need to discover. I will take my time to do that.

 

 

Paella & Sangria in Barcelona

After a rainy five-day trip in Paris, we flew to the largest city of Catalonia where we mostly danced around, drank Sangria, walked in the streets of Las Ramblas, and felt the summer breeze. Barcelona, I guess it is safe to say I have fallen in love with you.

Maybe it was the weather that greeted us the moment we stepped out of the airport that did it. Or the tourists from everywhere really. Maybe we got too soaked in the Parisian rain that being someplace warm felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe it reminded us of home though not quite.

Whatever did it, it sure did the job well. I was charmed and I would not hesitate to go back if I could.

If you are like me who does not mind being all touristy (cos um hello, I was one) in a too-touristy city, below are five things I enjoyed the most about our recent trip to Barcelona that I would not mind suggesting (to anyone who comes across this blog by accident really lol).

1 One of the first things we did after a power nap was to visit Barcelona Cathedral. There was a queue and we were one of the last ones that were allowed to get inside. It was Holy Week when we had this trip so naturally, my mom (being my mom) reminded me countless times to pray and fast – the sort of things we normally used to do back home together during this time of the year. Honestly though, even without prompting, I would still have visited this cathedral (and all the other chapels, basilica, and cathedrals we went to both in Paris and Barcelona) to pray.

I was not surprised to see that the cathedral’s architecture is mainly Gothic – after all, it is located in the city’s Gothic district. After taking in the intricacy of its interior and offering our prayers, we proceeded to the rooftop.

People who know me well would know how much of a sucker I am for rooftops views. If you are like me, please go ahead and do not hesitate to step in on the lift that takes you to the view that overlooks the bell towers, the spires, and the breathtaking city that is Barcelona.

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Again, we were one of the last ones allowed to go up the rooftop and also called to go down (lol) because they were almost closing.

2 I am about to state the obvious but: one’s food experience has a lot to say about one’s overall experience in a place. This is just me saying but a trip can never be complete without going on a gastronomic adventure.

I remember for a few weeks leading to this holiday, we were on treadmills and yoga mats at the gym most nights (lol) – the reason behind this now is as clear to me as the summer skies: I needed some more space to get everything in my tummy.

For someone who has a hefty appetite, transitioning from morning croissants and bowls of hearty French onion soup to massive servings of paella and assorted tapas was not a feat at all. I do not think I am in a position to compare French and Spanish flavors so let me just put it in layman’s terms: you better not miss on all the good ol’ churros & hot chocolate dip, quezo & chorizo, paellas & tapas the esquinitas of Barcelona has to offer. Por favor.

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3 Of course, I could have just easily put food and drinks together in one number in this list but no. My daily affair with sangria while in Spain began as love at first sip and I would recommend you to do the same. Basically, this drink is a mix of red wine and chopped fruits.

After a worst Bacardi encounter last summer and a few post Captain Morgan blackout episodes since the second half of last year, I swore to myself to (try to) mellow down on the alcohol. Sangria might just be the answer I have been searching for.

Our first glass was one we bought while on queue to be served at a tapas bar. The next one was next day’s dinner drink of choice to go with the paella. The third was sangria in plastic cups by the beach. And after we got home from the trip, we have been trying to recreate the recipe in various ways. Hopefully, we get it right in time for summer.

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4 Not only does Barcelona offer a feast for the tummy but one for the eyes as well. Basically, when in this beautiful city, it is a must to immerse in the greatness that is Gaudi’s. 

It is impossible to leave Barcelona without being struck with awe at Gaudi’s works which are widespread. Antoni Gaudi (or as my friend jokingly likes to call ‘Gandi’ lol) was a Spanish architect known to be the artist that brought famous tourist spots such as Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Placa Real to the way it is wonderfully designed today.

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Personally, I was most amazed with his brilliant use of mosaic – e.g seating area at Park Guell and the stained glass windows of Sagrada Familia. If anything, we ended the trip with me having newfound respect for this guy. #GandangGaudi all the way!

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5 One of the other things I enjoyed doing the most was exploring the streets of Barcelona. In particular, I had fun walking the long stretch of La Rambla which was buzzing with different activities establishments – definitely very touristy but worth it.

On our last full day, we had a late seafood and tapas lunch inside the famous market located within the heart of La Rambla which came to be know as La Boqueria. It was lined with food stalls offering everything you would wish to put on your plate – hamon & queso, fruit juices, fresh seafood (and even a small Dunkin Donut shop just right outside lol).

I am pretty sure we have something like this back home – only this one is more packed with tourists and certainly a must-visit. Plus, some stalls accept card payment. A word of advice though: it is still best to carry some spare coins and cash just in case you feel tempted to buy a second cup of their fruit juice.

Another word of advice: As La Rambla is known to be one of the tourist hot spots, it is best to be extra vigilant at all times. It is difficult not to have your eyes caught by the beautifully designed buildings, the lady waving at your from the window of Erotica Museum, the different merchandise sold in the middle of the boulevard, and even the eye candy tourists (hehe just had to mention that one) but just be careful.

In fact, we have to be careful anywhere we go really – in Barcelona or out.

 

 

 

Quarter-Year Resolutions

I’ve stopped making New Year’s Resolutions. The more I try, the more I feel like a hypocrite. I might have succeeded at keeping some of them (e.g. save, eat healthy) but, oftentimes, I fail to keep the more important ones.

Three months into this year, I have already failed to commit to my biggest and most valuable resolution.

I am still effing attached to the past.

Most resolutions that are tangible (e.g. losing weight) are easier to stick to than the intangible ones (e.g. forget insecurities, move on). This is exactly the reason why it doesn’t surprise me to find myself being dragged into the same circle of self-disappointment and frustation I was in almost a year ago.

I am still effing attached to the past and it is so difficult for me to let go.

I have tried a lot of times to better myself this year. By doing that, I knew I needed to burn bridges with toxic people and keep being a model of strength – for nobody, really, but myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I cut my ties. However, the Universe (yes, I am blaming the Universe once again) has a cunning way of putting back things together – no matter how dysfunctional. One day, you just wake up realizing the progress you have made is all gone and has been replaced by old, familiar feelings. Trust me when I say nostalgia is a force to be reckoned with.

So I cut my ties only to come back again. Again. And again. And again. It’s a viscious cycle and, more often than not, I blame myself for being part of it. If I weren’t probably as weak as I am now, I would have successfully stopped this insanity permanently a long time ago.

I used to be a head-over-heart kind of person but I must have changed quite a lot of times since then. I am not proud to say this but I have made dumb decisions more frequently now than five years ago ( when I was straight out of university and lost as to where to start my career path). In fact, this year’s decisions might be the dumbest I have ever made.

I am still attached to the effing past and I cannot wait for the day I no longer am.

The day I am talking about might be the very same day I will get my heart broken all over again. The more I think about it though, I’d rather have my heart hammered again than to keep getting involved in this mess of uncertainty, lies and deceit, and feelings that were more presumed than expressed. I think can weather through heartaches more than I can do with feelings of guilt and conscience.

I am still attached to the effing past but I will choose to hurt myself than an innocent person.

It is not self-destructing, I swear. In fact, the very reason I am willing to do so is because I want to love myself more than I did in the past. I want to spend time with my loved ones and travel with my friends. I want to feel fulfilled with the things I do knowing I do them right and without stepping on anybody.

I am going away for the Easter holiday. I am hopeful that as I do so, I discover a few more important things about myself then ultimately, find the self-love I think I have lost somewhere along adoring people who turned out to be unworthy of loving.

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. I am celebrating Easter for this reason as it is a beginning. Along with this is the changing of seasons – from winter to spring. I hope and pray it is a beginning for me as well.

I might have not stuck to my New Year’s Resolutions but I will try to better myself on a daily basis – baby steps, one at a time.

See you after the trip!

#YOLO2017

There is no denying that 2017 was my YOLO year.

It was not something I planned when the year started. When I think about it now though, I think it was the very thing my soul needed – a year off taking life seriously .

I guess it’s safe to say that, all my life, I’ve been pressured (perhaps a little too much by my own self) to achieve things year after year. I was expected to be on top of the class all those years from primary to high school. I was expected to strive to at least maintain my school paper scholarship in college. I was expected to land a stable nursing job after graduation to avoid being a bum at home. I was expected to pass tests after tests to be able to secure myself a job abroad. I was expected to pass the final hurdle (that was the OSCE) before I can get to say my future is ‘secured’. Year after year, I had so much expectations I had to meet.

This year was different. I was able to take a step back and appreciate life as it is. And though 2017 was filled with so many plot twists (most of which were not that pleasant), I remain grateful for this year for it has taught me so much about life, my life.

Before the year started, I already got my pin (in other words, I already qualified as a UK registered nurse). January was spent encouraging and giving pep talks to my friends who were set to retake the qualifying test. It was spent planning where to go and what to do with my newfound freedom of no longer being imprisoned to the possibility of flunking the test and being sent home.

February was my first time in London. It was another surreal moment added to my list since I stepped in the United Kingdom. It was a month of confronting reality, embracing my alone time, and learning how to adult – I think I might have tried to cook to save my life a few times that month. It was also a month of adjusting to a new workplace as an actual member of the workforce.

March was when my friends and I travelled to Northern Ireland. It was my first time outside England (that was not home, of course). By this time, I was getting the hang of how things are done in my ward, gaining a few friends in my colleagues, and starting to appreciate travelling. It was a month of confusion. It was a month of hoping and praying that my brother’s series of tests and application process turn out smoothly.

April was another month of confusion. By this time, I was being convinced to move in with my friends. I travelled locally. It was a month of trying to forget and to brush off feelings. For this whole month, I tried to be strong not only for myself but for everyone who believed in me.

May was when I started hanging out with some of the friends who I eventually can’t part with. Summer was starting at that time and our afternoons were spent wearing shades and shorts, cooking barbecue in the backyard, and laughing/telling jokes over beer. For a certain amount of time, Despacito was our anthem.

June was when I moved in to my friends’ home – on the first day of this month to be exact. I had my reasons but one of the main ones was that I was living alone in a flat with a few other strangers. I actually liked my room and was not scared to go to the kitchen in shorts. I decorated my room the way I wanted it. It was still summer – more barbecue, more beer.

July was when I got hurt. Let’s leave it there. By this time, my heart has gotten so used to being broken but that Monday felt like the day it hurt the most.

August went by in a blur. I knew my brother was flying from home anytime soon. I was trying to forget things. I still went around the UK. I was learning to be okay.

September, my friends and I went to Scotland. I was still hurt but I knew I was getting better. I had a few days off and travelling was my way to distract myself from drowning in my own thoughts. My brother finally arrived! I felt like an adult grocery shopping for him.

October was once again confusing. As strong as I was making my mind to be, apparently, some parts of me were still weak. I’ve gotten closer to the friends I’ve made over the summer and have started having actual conversations with them. I found I can trust them.

November was starting to become really cold. Some days I spent overspending, some days I spent chilling at home with a glass of wine. It marked my first year of being in the UK. By this time, I have stopped deluding myself that planking and the treadmill would get me back to my previous figure. Rice was life (still is).

December was started with us flying to North Africa – Morocco!!! It was my first birthday spent travelling. It was a bold decision to get out of the country. I attended a few Christmas parties and joined parlor games (in hopes of winning). I started to blog again. I was still confused. I bought a ticket home.

I can say this year has given me less pressure than all the previous years I had spent growing up. I was actually living. I was having adulting problems but these were problems I didn’t mind thinking about cos these were my own personal worries.

2017 was not my best year – but it was when I learned so much of life’s lessons.

Indeed, I only live once. Thank you, 2017. You are unforgettable.