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.

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.

 

 

 

#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.

 

Marrakech, Morocco x December 2017: Day One

It is 00:59 as I am typing this and my friends and I are on a midnight coach that is going to take us back home.

For some reason, I could not sleep. I did not get even just a power nap on the three-hour flight earlier from Marrakech Menara Airport to London Luton – which is why I have decided to just start on this travel entry. As promised to a few friends.

Five days ago, my friends and I escaped the harsh British weather (that is just getting meaner by the minute, by the way) and basked under the warmth of the Moroccan sun (man, I just feel so giddy saying that I’ve been to Morocco already!!!).

It was a trip that we had in mind for a couple of months to celebrate two of our birthdays. Also, it was a trip that, for a number of times, we were not too sure if it will push through – there were concerns about Visa requirements, passport expiry, and budget.

For the record, Philippine passport holders do not require Visa to enter Morocco. We had to contact our airline and their consulate to make sure of this.

As soon as that was sorted, we booked our tickets with Ryanair, our BnB, and our coach tickets for a four-hour trip from home to London Luton. As it was the first time for majority of us to be outside the United Kingdom (since we got here), we were also advised to get single travel insurances for the trip – which we did, at Sainsbury’s (£10-ish).

On the day of the trip, we hopped on an early morning coach to give us enough time to check in our luggage for our 1505 flight at London Luton. Thankfully, everything went smoothly – from the security check to boarding.

On the plane, my designated seat was right in the emergency exit lane while the rest of my friends were seated in the front rows. Maybe it was just my anxiety kicking in but, for the duration of the trip, it seemed like too much was going on. The plane engine was too loud and passengers kept on standing and swapping seats.

Four hours later, we arrived at Marrakech Menara Airport! Much to my relief, nothing happened during the flight as opposed to what I kept on imagining (teehee).

I have to say we were at awe at the design of the airport. On our last day, we were told by our hired driver/tour guide that part of this airport is “old”. Honestly, I cannot see what he was talking about as none of it looked old to me.

*Our BnB host arranged for us to be picked up by a local driver. As soon as we got on his van, we tried to find out if he we could hire him for transport for the next few days as we did not know how to go around and we did not want to be ripped off by taxi drivers.

We were brought to our Bnb… which again, much to my relief, did not disappoint. Since our first trip to Belfast, I had gotten used to be the one to take on the task of finding suitable accomodations for us. Trust me, I would rather find us homes than take charge of the budget or the itinerary.

Our Bnb was located inside a compound of some sorts. From the moment we got inside the bab (“gate”), we knew we would not have problems with our safety (+++) as they checked each of our passports and gave us cards which we presumed will be our IDs for the duration of our stay.

Our place was a three-storey house (with a rooftop terrace) with an open ceiling. It was well-kept just like how we saw it in the app and well-lit and very comfortable. There was a tiny problem with the heating system (so we had to make do with sharing one bathroom) and the Wifi was not as fast as how we were used to but the rest of the place made up for that.

Since it was already late when we arrived, we thought it best just to have a quick dinner by one of the cafes located inside the compound. There were stores there as well from where we got our supplies of canned goods, eggs, and water for the next days.

First order of business: pastries from Aldi (lol just kidding). Moroccan patisserie (10dh).

Tip (from an amateur, I might add): it is best to download the offline versions of Google Translate and Google Maps when visiting cities such as this one. The former will do you good especially when looking through the menus of restaurants/cafes. It did us well especially because most of the locals speak very limited (or no) English.

After dinner, we headed back to our Bnb as we had to be picked up by our driver (yep, the same driver who agreed to be our ‘tour guide’ as well) to see the rest of the city at 0900 the next day.

Belfast x March 2017: Day One

If there’s one thing I will always remember about 2017 a few decades from now, it will be the fact that it was when I finally started to see more of the world. It has just been a little more over a quarter of a year but I’ve been to places I only used to imagine being in.

After our short February trip to London, my friends and I have been unstoppable at finding cheap tickets and coming up with lists about where to wander next. One of our first options was Edinburgh, Scotland but we thought it was best to save it for a future date (as fares were getting expensive) and a warmer month. Another one was Bath and Stonehenge – which, according to most people, looked better in summer. Northern Ireland was not anywhere near our list yet until one of our friends (who was also with us during the first trip) moved there for a few weeks which made us decide to pay him a visit.

It took us more than a few weeks to come up with an itinerary, book plane tickets, look for an affordable accommodation, and most importantly, make sure that this was a trip all five of us was game to be part of.  It took a few failed brainstorming sessions over dinner before we decided on a final date and I had to deal with a few additional hassles in my part as I was still supposed to have a shift on the day we were planning to go.

A day before the trip, I was still on a long day shift while the rest of them were on their annual leave already. I was doing my evening drug rounds but my mind was wandering. I couldn’t contain my excitement when it was finally time to leave the ward and I felt like a giddy little girl skipping all the way home. Seriously, I had to leap home as I was only halfway through packing.

On the day of the trip, we woke up extremely early to get ready. However, contrary to what we agreed on the night before, we didn’t leave the house until we literally had no extra minutes to spare and the taxi driver had to delay us for a few more (because he didn’t see I booked a taxi for five and we had to arrange to pay additional fare so he can drive us off).

As expected, we missed our train to Birmingham (where we were bound to ride the plane that would take us to Belfast). After a few heated exchange and calculations (not in my part though cos I know very well how much I suck at Math), we bought new tickets and started a marathon of some sorts all around Birmingham International as soon as we got there. I wasn’t in my best running shoes nor were we warned that the security and boarding gates were far from each other (not that we needed to be warned because it was our fault we had to rush anyway). To add to the panic, two of us were stopped at the security x-ray and had to present our bags for a further search. To keep the long story short, we boarded the plane at the last minute and spent the first few minutes up in the air catching our breaths. Talk about morning rush.

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More or less an hour and some attempts at recording 4K videos later, we landed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We rode the bus which took us to the city centre which was about more than half an hour from the airport. From there, we had to hail a taxi to take us to the BnB we’ve booked.

The house was located in the middle of a peaceful neighbourhood and we were warmly welcomed by our host with milk and cookies. We fell in love with it right away – it was small but newly renovated and very cozy. It was my first time to use AirBnB and I had a few doubts in mind days before we arrived at Belfast because the reviews seemed too good to be true. What if it turned out otherwise? I was the one who found and booked it so imagine the pressure I was feeling.

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Thankfully, the BnB did not disappoint. It was probably one of the most hassle-free accommodations I’ve ever arranged – from the booking down to actually spending three days and four nights there.

After dumping our bags, we were ready to see Belfast! We decided it would be best to avail the Daysaver on the bus as we had a lot of places listed on the itinerary. Since navigating is one more thing I’m not good at (aside from Math), I let my friends lead the way while I busied myself dropping my jaw at how clean the city is and how genuinely polite the Irish seem to be. Our first stop, of course, was lunch.

We had nothing particular in mind for lunch when we got there so it was a good thing our host left us a list of must-try restaurants located nearby.  Our empty stomachs eventually led us to Mourne Seafood Bar which turned out to be a tiny yet promising food gem in the heart of the city. For £15, we were able to enjoy their savory Seafood Platter which included smoked mackerel, hake, crab claws, langoustine, and mussels (which were my absolute favorite). The best part was the fact it was good for sharing. And oh, their chowder is to die for as well.

17475013_120300002733814043_276449497_o After lunch, we toured around the city. For some reason, Belfast seemed to offer a more laid-back lifestyle than England. The people walking along its streets were walking, not rushing; most of them looked very calm and poised, not haggard and storming off somewhere. They seemed to be the kind of people who will most likely be up for a short chat in the middle of the street anytime of the day.  In short, it was my kind of city. It reminded me of my hometown.  How did I notice these things? Well, funnily enough, we seemed to be the only tourists in the place and almost everything I saw I took in with awe and fascination.

Our feet led us to Belfast City Hall which was strategically standing in all its glory in the middle of the city so nobody would ever have to miss it. We also had the chance to see the Albert Memorial Clock which, according to the tour guide we had the next day, is Belfast’s very own Leaning Tower of Pisa. We went inside Victoria Square – a shopping center which had a lift that took us on the top floor where you can oversee the city. And just an hour before it closes, we visited the Ulster Museum which did not disappoint at storytelling Northern Ireland’s history – if only we had a few more hours to spare. Our last stop for the day was the Botanic Garden which was a short walk away from Ulster Museum. The only bummer, aside from the fact that I brought a camera we couldn’t use cos it wasn’t charged (hehe sorry about this, guys), was that we weren’t able to get in the Palm House as it was already closed.

The day ended with grocery shopping at Tesco. Since our BnB had a fully equipped kitchen, we agreed to make home-cooked meals for our dinners to cut on the costs. Plus, it was one of our friend’s birthday so we just had to celebrate it with cake… and adobo!

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The cake which he didn’t get to blow because we forgot to buy match sticks or lighter.