Tag Archives: travel

Travelogue: New Shanghai in Photos {Shanghai, China}

Time flies when you’re not regularly updating your blog! I can’t believe I’m nearly hitting my one year mark for when I was in China last fall. There’s been a lot of change in my life this year, but as the mercury starts to dwindle into cool autumn nights and the city gets just a little bit sleepier under heavy covers and thick socks, I’ve been reflective. Call it the end-of-year nostalgia, so to speak. I’ve been clearing some space on my hard-drive, finding photos I haven’t gotten around to sorting through. Here are just a dozen from what I call new Shanghai. Random scenes near The Bund– you know, the riverfront walkway you probably saw in 2012’s “Looper” with Bruce Willis and my pseudo-soul make Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Shanghai’s a beautiful city, rich with culture and filled with ex-pats. Definitely on my list of places to revisit some day…

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Travelogue: Old Shanghai in Photos {Shanghai, China}

The sights and sounds of my trip to China are forever embedded into my memory. It’s been months since I stepped off the plane in Beijing, rushing through the airport to catch my connecting flight into Shanghai, and yet it seems like a part of that experience still lingers. We began our two-week journey in one of the most modern cities in the world, but not without exploring its heritage. Old Shanghai houses beautiful ponds and gardens, architecture of an often forgotten time, and a regard for tradition unsurpassed from the oldest tea house in China to some of the most highly coveted street food in the city.

History aside, it’s in Old Shanghai where I first learned to bargain in Chinese…and quite a learning experience that was! My practice run there though was a great and useful learning tool for the rest of the trip. Just be wary of pick-pockets and never follow someone who claims they can take you to a store that has great deals. Common sense advice for any traveler, I know, but it’s always worth repeating.

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Dining: Flavio al Velavevodetto | Rome, Italy {Testaccio}

th_peruroma 113If there was one place in Rome that I saw recommended often in the “foodie underground,” it was definitely Flavio al Velavevodetto located in the up-and-coming offal- centric neighborhood of Testaccio. This neighborhood is home to some pretty great things such as Il Birrivendolo craft beer bottle shop, the Testaccio Market, and places like Da Bucatino and Da Felice which specialize in true Roman cuisine. I had read about this place a few times from Elizabeth and Eleonara– both ladies whom I trust when it comes to good, honest food, at agreeable prices.

Our experience at Flavio was lovely. It was a glorious meal which included some of the best fresh-pulled mozzarella and prosciutto of our entire trip and the richest carbonara ever. Was it my favorite carbonara dish? Probably not. But believe me, it was damn good. Eggy, cheesey, salty goodness loaded with pancetta. Comforting and filling, I couldn’t finish my plate. It was a stark contrast to the fresh buffla which was clean on the palate and the mild prosciutto di parma which was lean and earthy.  Prices were criminally low, house wine was decent, and the ambiance was cozy. The stacks of ancient clay from Monte Testaccio were prominently featured in the windows of the space providing an extra special treat for history buffs looking for a peak into yesteryear.

Italians took up a majority of the dining room with a packed lunch crowd which is always a good sign. As with every place I’ve written about in Europe so far, if you know you’ll be heading to Rome, be sure to book your table in advance. Italians take lunch seriously and this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at 97 Via de Monte Testaccio, Roma, Italia. 

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Filed under BLD, Comfort Food, Dinner, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, Lunch, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travel Advice, Travelogue, Vacation

Travelogue: Embracing Calm in the Valle de Guadalupe | Baja, Mexico

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Eileen walked into the common room and with the most genuine smile on her face said “Do you guys want to see something completely magnificent?” As we stepped out barefoot onto the stone tiles of the villa, she pointed out in the distance to a gigantic new moon– the biggest we’d ever seen. It was silent, it was dark, and we were awe-struck. This was the Valle de Guadalupe.

While the Valle de Guadalupe wine country has been slowly picking up momentum in recent years, it’s charm remains completely in tact. It’s still quiet here. There is still a “middle of nowhere” feel. It hasn’t been Disneyfied like it’s northern Californian neighbor, Napa. The valley is host to dozens of up and coming (and established) wineries– vineyards tending to actual old vines and keeping their grounds bio-dynamic by farming a plethora of vegetables and other native plant-life. A Baja-med climate akin to Tuscany and a deep valley within minutes of the sea lending a terroir that is not unfamiliar to winemakers in California’s Santa Ynez.

Our recent stay at La Villa del Valle immersed us in this terrain. Verdant and bare simultaneously at the height of January’s winter. Beautiful greens and browns that felt like a mix between the Italian countryside and the Arizona desert. While the lawn and flowers were beautifully tended to– trees and herbs were allowed to become unruly; allowed to flourish and be lush. The clear blue skies were striking as a frigidly cold breeze slowly rocked the post that usually holds up the villas hammocks in the warmer months. January is probably the season’s least visited seasons, but that didn’t stop us from making the trek across the US border in search of delicious food, relaxation, and surprisingly impressive wines.

For those looking to really get some R&R, La Villa del Valle cannot come more highly recommended. Located right off the Hwy 3 on the historic Ruta del Vino, this 6-room villa has five-star amenities including luxurious common areas,a wine and botana reception in the evenings, and even a beautiful (heated) pool area. The surroundings are gorgeous– as characteristic as an artist would have portrayed the area decades ago. Old boats abandoned on the far reaches of the property help mark where you are when you’re navigating in the pitch black darkness over the dirt roads leading to the main house.  A pack of dogs scamper about the grounds greeting guests; eager to say hello to a new face.

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While the bedrooms are comfortable, a nap meant to recharge you for an hour could easily turn into an all-afternoon slumber. This is, however,  the sort of place where you want to enjoy outside your room–out in the common area where a library of (actually good) books are available at your fingertips, a spacious living room surrounded by windows complete with couches, a wood-burning fireplace, and an acoustic guitar; on the veranda of your room, or the many seating areas around the villa that become host to your sunset viewings.

I’m not always one for silence and leisure. I was raised on the go and most of my travel involves drowning myself in experiences, sights, sounds…But while there is a unique experience to be had here in the Guadalupe Valley, you’re also thrown into something very unexciting. A slower pace, less noise, a feeling of solitude. This is exactly the kind of unexciting atmosphere one needs from time to time, and after having spent some time with owners Phil and Eileen Gregory, I can’t blame them for leaving Los Angeles when they did. (Interestingly enough, the couple spent many years living just a few blocks from where I live right now– it was great to chat with them about what Franklin Village was and still is…)

I cannot wait to return.

Still not convinced? Check out my photo gallery and take note: the food and wine at Corazon de Tierra (located on the property) is worth visiting alone– we dined there four times in three days and never had the same meal twice, but I’ll dive into the restaurant in another post. The wines that owner Phil creates are expressive and worth a try, and the “little things” such as Eileen’s line of lavender toiletries (which uses the lavender grown on site), the impeccable 5-star service, and the complimentary fresh breakfasts at the restaurant make for the best getaway close to home.

 

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Filed under Lodging, Mexican, Mexico, organic, Travel, Travel Advice, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Travelogue: Perugia’s World of Chocolate

th_peruroma 018After being warmly greeted into Umbria during our day-time detour to Lake Trasimeno, we arrived into Perugia late in the evening when most of the residents of the historic core had already retired for the night. There was no traffic,no people walking around like we had seen in Florence and Venice. The streets were quiet and the roads, much more difficult to maneuver. We had rented a very small compact car,  and yet one wrong turn got us stuck between two buildings with no way out. How do these Perugians get around in cars? And more importantly, how the hell did that truck in front of squeeze its way through??

Only a local can truly answer these questions–and if anything, “years of practice” would have to suffice. Amid our frustrated cursing, we were subjected to the kindness of a stranger. An old man just happened to walk by and despite the language barrier, was able to help us out. We eventually checked into our hotel and called it a night. Walking to the hotel, we noticed that the shops were closed and many of the roads were blocked off. It turned out,we had not only chosen the wrong time to get into historic Perugia, but also the wrong day. EuroChocolate, one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe would be taking place that weekend.

EuroChocolate! I had completely forgotten about this. In my quest to hunt down the season’s first white truffles,I had neglected the very thing that has put Perugia on an international map: chocolate! I’m sure you’ve perused the candy aisle of your major grocery store and have seen Perugina Baci’s. Similar to the golden-wrapped Ferrero Rochers, these little guys are hazelnut praline kisses adorned in silver and blue tin foil. Perugina, established in 1907 is one of the most recognizable Italian brands in the world, and is the major sponsor of EuroChocolate; bringing hundreds of vendors into the region once a year.

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To compensate for not being able to attend EuroChocolate this year, we decided to shoot for the next best thing.Thanks to a few recommendations,we made our way to Cioccolateria Augusta. Established in 2000,this small
chocolate shoppe is the ultimate spot for chocolate gelato and truffles.After having worked for Perugina for 25 years, Giordano surely knows a thing or two about high-quality chocolate. Located off the main stretch of retail
shops, nearly directly behind Perugina’s factory and shop, Augusta is a must try. We indulged in the best chocolate-flavored gelatos of our trip and took home some hot cocoa mix at reasonable prices.

For a sweet pick-me up in the afternoon or in lieu of a morning cappuccino,  dive into a thick European-style hot chocolate at Sandri. This pasticceria has been serving Perugia continuously since 1860…1860!! We started our mornings at this historic spot on the chic Corso Vannucci and walked right up to the counter. Their hot chocolate is dense so don’t forget to ask for some pana (whipped cream). You order first, indulge at the counter, then pay the nice lady at the antique cash register. Inexpensive, but no less luxurious.

Lastly, if you *must* visit Perugina, you may do so just a few steps away from Sandri. Load up on some gifts for friends and if you’re in the mood, tour their factory. For me though, a stroll through town with gelato from Augusta or a coffee break at Sandri was all I needed.

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Filed under Chocolate, Comfort Food, Desserts, Italian, Italy, Travel

Travelogue: An Umbrian Detour to Lake Trasimeno

th_UmbriaWednesdayCanon 009We had every intention of waking up early and soaking in a little bit more of Florence before driving into the next part of our vacation in Umbria. But you know how it goes…you eat a heavy meal, get drunk off of too many glasses of red wine, grappa, and some sort of military spirit you’ve never even heard of…and then all of a sudden, your 7am wake up call became more like 10am and your plans of making it into Orvieto for lunch on your way to Assisi disappear out of thin air.

Not to be the sort that gets down on a shift in the plan, we leisurely ate our breakfast, took one more look at the river, and even did some light shopping by the Ponte Vecchio before hopping in the car to leave Tuscany. The game plan had turned into an “eat lunch wherever we see something good,” sort of thing and we decided that our ambitious Umbrian day-trip would have to do without one piece of the puzzle. As we drove on the autostrada blasting an Italian Top 40s cover of the international Korean hit “Gangnam Style,” we noticed a beautiful body of water in the distance.

It was Lake Trasimeno and we had entered Umbria. I had read about Lake Trasimeno while doing research for our trip, so I was familiar with the ancient town of Castiglione del Lago close by. As we hesitated and drove past it, we instead pulled off to get a view of the water and instead stumbled upon Passignano sul Trasimeno;  a dainty lakeside town that was quiet but had an assortment of restaurants and small hotels. The vibe here was casual– almost like a lazy beach town. And so we parked the car, surveyed our dining options, and popped into this cute little place called Ristorante Luciano.

I won’t lie. The reason why this place won over the others was that the building itself was just so endearing. The decor was vintage-looking and there was a charm about it that drew us in. Luckily, they were still seating late lunch (around 2pm) and were able to accommodate us. Making the most of this impromptu lake trip, we ordered a bottle of sparkling white wine and sat next to a big open window over-looking the water. Continue reading

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Filed under Italian, Italy, local eateries, Lunch, Pasta, seafood, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

Dining: Ristorante del Fagioli | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 022We recently dined at Ristorante del Fagioli based on the recommendation of several Florentine blogger friends who praised their rustic Tuscan cuisine and great prices. There was a heavy down-pour on our first night in Florence, so after considering our options, we found it best to try this place which was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel overlooking the Arno. Modestly tucked between small local shops away from the main stretch of high-end boutiques and restaurants, del Fagioli is the type of place you go to when you’re in need of a warm atmosphere and comforting home-style food.

It’s one of those places that feels out of a movie; Chianti bottles hanging from the walls in their signature straw baskets, a dining room mixed with actual Italians harmoniously dining among curious travelers. A no-fuss handwritten menu featuring some of the region’s most popular dishes (yes, including bistecca alla Florentina) at a fraction of the cost of most other neighboring joints.

There was a charm about the place. It was like we’d been there before. Weary from a long day out and about in the rain, we mistakenly (perhaps fortunately) let our stomachs order instead of our brains. And while we both agreed that we ordered entirely too much food, everything was delicious and was expediently brought to our table without much lag in their uber-friendly service.

We started off with a crostini appetizer topped with none other than silky melt-in-your-mouth fatty lardo and rosemary; local bread grilled just enough to give the lardo a bit of warmth. We followed it up with two pasta dishes: rigatoni in a rich veal ragu for him and the most amazing and simple tortelli, freshly made and stuffed with ricotta and lemon in a bright tomato sauce. Every bite of my dish was perfect; the cheese’s richness cut with a nice balance of acidity. At this point in the meal and halfway through our bottle of wine, I was just about ready to roll over and go to bed. But then the entrees came. Involtini for him and a plate of Bollito Misto (mixed boiled meats) with a side of fagioli (white Tuscan beans, their namesake). As we tried to eat as much of these dishes as we could, we had over-estimated our hunger. His dish was dense, rich,and comforting; mine being a complete protein on protein fest. The meat was tender and savory; the beans, petite and plump– delicately flavored with local olive oil and a simple dusting of salt and pepper.

This is the meal you want after a long day. When it’s a little chilly and you want to feel warm from the inside out. If in Florence and looking for a good hearty meal at low prices, del Fagioli’s got what you need. Reservations are highly recommended. Ristorante del Fagioli, Corso Tintori 47R, Florence, Italy. 

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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

Guide: Getting into and around Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy; 2012

When flying into Venice’s Marco Polo Airport to begin your Italian vacation, there are a few things I recommend in order to start off your trip right. The first (and in my opinion, the most crucial), is to consider shelling out the extra dough for a private water taxi transfer from the airport to your hotel. When booking your hotel, check to see if they have a private water entrance; or check to see how close they are to a canal– this way, if you’ve got luggage and are coming in from a particularly difficult long-haul flight, then you can get as close to door-to-door service as possible.

If you’re not a seasoned veteran of long (or overnight) flights, this is a great option to help you get your internal clock in check. A private water taxi can be easily found at the main water taxi stand right outside of the arrivals terminal. Just walk up to the counter, state your destination, and grab a ticket that will tell you which dock to walk to. Follow the short path from the airport to the water and you should be all set. The important thing to remember when taking a water taxi is to confirm the price before getting into the boat AND be sure to book at an official taxi stand instead of booking in advance before you arrive into the country. Many travel sites and agents charge commission or a mark up, so it’s best to book direct without any fees. In fact, a good travel agent will tell you to book when you arrive to get you the best rate.

Luckily, there are fixed rates to zones around Venice from the airport to help protect you from sketchy cabbies who “run the meter” or attempt to charge for extra baggage. Considering a private water taxi can accommodate groups up to 2-8 people), there’s no reason to be charged for bags if there are only a small group of you traveling. Aside from the convenience of not having to find a spot on a crowded water bus and the possibility of a direct hotel drop off, another good reason to opt for a private ride is the amazing view of the lagoon and the canals…what better way to welcome you into one of the most romantic places in the world, right? Check out this slideshow for a few photos I snapped while half-awake on our water taxi ride:

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Once settled, stave off that jet-lag and get out on foot. Get lost and go over bridges, find that sense of wanderlust and adventure and get the lay of the land. Use landmarks like St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge as a guide, since Venice can be an incredibly confusing place. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated! With some helpful Italian phrases, use of landmarks, and a simple city map, you can navigate without much fuss. Half the fun of being in Venice is the adventure.

After you’ve explore enough on foot to comfortable get yourself to and from your hotel, make use of their vaporetto (water bus) system to branch out into the outer lagoon islands. Good city maps of Venice often have small vaporetto maps ( I recommend this one which is detailed and has major landmarks and spotlights on the outer lagoon islands). While Murano is a popular destination, be sure to make a trip to Burano, which is my number 1 recommendation for an outer lagoon day-trip. Lastly, for a quick tour of the Grand Canal, hop on vaporetto #1 which takes you through the main thoroughfare, find a good seat, and cozy-up to take it all in.

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Back to Reality: Returning from Italy

Burano, Venezia, Italy; 2012

Months of planning, saving, and anticipation culminated in a whirlwind Italian getaway that rekindled my love of the Boot, its people, and of course, their impeccable cuisine. While this was not my first love affair with Italia, it is with fresh “grown up” eyes that I was able to experience it all in a new light.

What made this trip all the more significant than any other visit was that it was the boyfriend’s first time– and after all our exploring, it’s been firmly decided that it would be far from out last. Our roughly 12-day agenda took us on a criss-cross journey to some of the country’s “greatest hits including:Venice-Florence-Perugia-Rome with interludes in the Tuscan countryside and the hill-top towns of Umbria. My love for Piemonte and our dreams of the Amalfi Coast would just have to wait until next time…

When planning this trip, I enlisted the help of friends I have made over the years in order to create an itinerary that would suit both of our travel needs; major sites a first-timer should see and local culture and hip (and delicious) neighborhoods to counter-balance the touristy-ness. It comes as no surprise that asking a local where to go is the best travel resource you can get, but bloggers and expats are also great, reliable sources. Many find comfort in guidebooks, but there is no better guide than a local.

Naturally, there is bound to be overlap between local recs and popular guidebooks. Rick Steves’ actually does know a thing or two about where great cicchetti in Venice is, and virtually every guidebook has recommended the coffee powerhouses of Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio in Rome. And with the rise of Travel Channel shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, even the hilltop towns like Orvieto and Panzano in Chianti are no longer safe from the hordes of tourist that flock to every tv-documented locale. But it’s a balance between all of these options that should be carefully considered when planning a vacation. My best piece of advice? Take the time for some research, pace yourself, and don’t be afraid to throw all those plans out the window. If you will it, the possibilities of the perfect trip are endless.

In the coming posts, I will be recounting our journey; from pointers on restaurants we particularly enjoyed to ways to get more bang for your buck and keep your sanity among the crowds. I hope to inspire you to go on a trip of your very own, and please, if there is a place you think I *must* try next time around, feel free to let me know!

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Classic: Mallorcas at La Bombonera | Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

To call La Bombonera an institution would be a gross understatement. As the third oldest restaurant on the entire island of Puerto Rico, La Bombonera has continuously been one of the most solid breakfast establishments around.

They are best known for their mallorcas, which is a popular food item in Puerto Rico brought over from Spain from the island of Majorca. Historically, there is a close tie between the ensaymada bread that I grew up with from Filipino bakeries and the mallorcas of Puerto Rico. Both originate from Majorca and evolved into their own delicacy during Spanish colonialism. This sweet and fluffy egg bread topped with powdered sugar is transformed into one of the greatest breakfast sandwiches when ham, egg, and cheese are added to the mix. At under $5, this is a delicious and inexpensive way to start your day.

There are several places in San Juan where you can find some version of the mallorca. However, La Bombonera’s reputation stands true. Sure, this place has been featured in magazines and travel shows left and right; but rightfully so. Unfortunately, those looking to get a taste of this treat may stumble upon a grim reality. As reported in Vocero last week (while we were on vacation in San Juan), there has been a lease dispute between the owners of La Bombonera and the landlord of the building that houses the restaurant’s offices, kitchen, and restrooms. They have announced that they will be closed for an indefinite amount of time starting Monday,April 30, 2012. Whether they will renovate, re-open, or close for good is still up in the air. Browsing a couple of travel forums, there is rumor that La Bombonera will re-open as a to-go only bakery. I really hope this is true.

La Bombonera opened its doors for the first time nearly 110 years ago. 110! The atmosphere is incredibly laid back and despite being a popular spot for visitors, it’s remains a hub for generations upon generations of locals.  If you get the chance to pay them a visit, I highly recommend it.

La Bombonera is located at 259 Calle de San Francisco, Old San Juan, PR.

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Filed under Bakeries, BLD, Breakfast, Caribbean, Comfort Food, local eateries, sandwiches, Travel, Vacation