Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer travel part 2: Rest and Relax in Malta

On the island of Gozo to see the famous Azure Window. June 2016

Malta is made up of three islands in the southern part of Europe between Italy and Tunisia in the Mediterranean. The main language is English and Maltese. Malta is a member of the EU and Commonwealth. A great spring/summer destination to get some sunshine and beach time. Sandy and rocky beaches are plenty spread out among the three islands. The main island has quite a lot to see and do. Historic sites in the old town of Mdina and Valletta. Bars and clubs in St. Julians and everything else in between. For more of an overview of Malta check out Destination Travel

I came to Malta to relax and chill by the ocean. After living in land-locked locations for the past year and a half, seeing the ocean is always a nice change of scenery.

Verdala bianco Maltese wine

Dinner in St. Julians on the first night was a bit on the crowded and tourist-y side. But there is a chill vibe in the air and pace of the locals and tourists alike isn't frenetic. The Eurocup football was being broadcast on a large screen right by the boats. The night breeze coming from the ocean inspires one to stroll instead of rushing around. I ordered a half bottle of local white wine to go with my plate of grilled octopus spaghetti. This white had a light smooth taste with a hint of fruit and dryness that works well with the octopus meal and environment.

As the night wears on, the party revelers start to emerge and walking to the heart of St Julians was a tricky web of narrow streets until you reach the main stretch of night clubs, gentlemen's clubs, lounges, and pubs. Crowded, loud, and filled with party promoters handing out drink promotions for their establishments to entice passerbys to enter. A bit on the aggressive street marketing side, I was not convinced to enter any of these bars. Perhaps if one was a bit on the tipsy side, it would be easier to convince. I'm usually turned off by aggressive street promoters or aggressive sales assistants at stores.

The view from the balcony of the hotel. St. Julians. June 2016

Staying right across from the beach (rocky and sandy) was convenient. The balcony made a nice spot for sunbathing and people watching. Isn't summer the time to slow down and relax? I'm usually pretty happy just hanging out and people watching on some days during vacation. 

Strolling by the coast line in Saint Julian's/Sliema area. June 2016

The hot and balmy weather was rather shocking for me as I've been used to cooler temperatures in Switzerland, Brussels, and Amsterdam. I was ill-equipped with my lack of summer clothes. Most of my lighter summer clothes are stored in Singapore as that's the place where I'm constantly sweating. The hot sunny days paired with quite a bit of walking around required a lot of water. I'm a bit skeptical about drinking tap water when I arrive new locations so I tend to play it safe and purchase bottled water. 

Rocky "beach". June 2016

The waters of the mediterranean coast are rather cool and a bit choppy due to the winds. One has to wonder how the refugees who manage to swim to the Greek island of Lesbos in such conditions. 

Taking a ferry to the islands of Gozo and Comino for a day trip was rather a harrowing experience at sea. That morning, I forgot to tell the barista not to put any milk in my coffee as milk makes me feel queasy in the stomach. Paired with a choppy sea, I felt seasick for the first time in my life. The hour long ferry felt like eternity. I was so happy when we arrived and docked. Many passengers were throwing up on the ferry. A girl was so sick she couldn't enjoy the bus trip to see the Azure Window, old historic town, and Church of Victoria. 

Travel tips: Make sure to keep hydrated throughout the day and bring seasick pills. Don't go out drinking the night before. (the people that were hungover were the most sick on the ferry)
Bring some mint or chewing gum. 

Azure window. Malta. June 2016

The Azure window is the most gorgeous natural cliff I have ever seen thus far. It's one of the main attractions of Gozo so be prepared to see loads of tourists trying get the perfect picture and selfie. With the waters so blue and the window just breathtaking, you can see why it is a popular attraction. Tourist attractions are popular because it is usually either breathtaking, unusual, and/or delicious. I consider myself a traveler rather than a tourist most times but it is ok to be a tourist. Just don't be an obnoxious one, ie. blocking others from taking pictures, blocking sidewalks, being rude to locals, and claiming to know a culture just because you've been there once to take pictures. 

As a TCK, I like to travel and I like to observe how locals live. Slow travel is more my style and returning to the same locations even if it takes a few years to come back is also ok. I never feel satisfied visiting a place once. I like exploration. Reading other travel blogs, yelp reviews, tripadvisor reviews, watching travel shows with animated hosts such as Anthony Bourdain or Samantha Brown (two very different hosts), and reading travel magazines inspire me to make some decisions on what to see,do, eat but I also rely on instinct as well as local residents' recommendations. 

Blue Lagoon. Malta. June 2016

I rarely swim in the ocean. In fact, I can recall the number of times I've swam in the ocean and submerged my body in the water. I like chilling by the ocean but have a slight fear of swimming in lakes and oceans. Perhaps it's due to the sheer amount of shark movies and horror movies involving getting eaten alive or attacked by unknown entities in natural bodies of water. I like to be able to see the bottom. Upon hearing that Malta has crystal clear blue waters and swimming in the ocean where I can see the bottom has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl, I was excited to be able to experience swimming in clear blue ocean waters and tick it off my list. 

The blue lagoon in the small island of Comino was incredible! Warm shallow waters with little to mild waves. It makes for a perfect swimming spot. This little island has not much on it except for this swimming area. A slice of peaceful heaven! The waters felt warm and I remember giggling like a school girl because it felt amazing and surreal at the same time. Being able to see the bottom and wade through the cool shallow waters of the blue lagoon felt glorious. 

Can't get enough of this beautiful coastal view. 
The hotel location was technically across from an amazing Italian restaurant called Fresco's and right by another really good authentic Italian restaurant called Vecchia Napoli. 
Pasta, pizza, wine, and amazing views. What more could you want? 

Beautiful sunset at Fresco's restaurant. But what comes next also blew my taste buds away...

Smoked duck breast with cherry tomatoes and fried duck skin tagliatelle pasta. This was seriously my favorite dish of the summer. The creamy pasta with the flavor and saltiness of the duck breast was a match made in heaven. 

Argotti Botanical Gardens. June 2016

I joined one of those hop on hop off buses to explore what Malta has to offer. There's historic sights near downtown Valetta, gardens, and museums. Part of the filigree silver jewelry trade comes from Malta. 

Argotti Botanical Gardens. June 2016

The Argotti Botanical Gardens was a tranquil escape from the crowded tourist areas with beautiful flowers, fountains, ducks, peacocks, cats, birds roaming the grounds. At the end of the gardens sits a very beautiful majestic house that is used for special events. A quick quiet stroll through this park from the hop-on hop-off tourist bus is a nice change of pace. 

Its so easy to get dehydrated or get sunburnt in Malta so a bottle of water and sunscreen is a must in your daypack before you go out for the day. I'm constantly reapplying sunscreen and drinking while seated on the tour bus. 

A nice refreshing drink by the Golden Sands beach. June 2016

It is ok to be a tourist. Sometimes as a seasoned traveler we shun all aspects of tourism. Tourist attractions became popular because it is a wonder and something to experience. Duomo in Milan, Matterhorn in Zermatt, Azure window in Malta, Niagara Falls in Niagara/Ontario, Gold temple in Kyoto, Empire State Building in New York, Orchid Garden in Singapore, Grand Place in Brussels, Berliner Dom in Berlin, Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, etc. you get the idea. I believe that if you were so inclined to travel to a destination there should be no shame in wanting to see the main sights but to also explore beyond the tourist areas. (within the parameters of safety of course!)

Travel is an experience. Enjoy the journey!

Friday, August 5, 2016

#foodporn shirts are awesome


I've designed some tops on Teespring featuring my #foodporn pictures from this summer of travel. There are t-shirts, tank tops, hoodie jacket (see above) and stickers. 

Shipping to the US, Canada, International. 

There's a limited time to order these so hurry and place the orders soon. :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer part 1 in Brussels and Amsterdam

Atomium, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016

In June, I packed up my small apartment in the Swiss mountains and shipped off some boxes halfway around the world to my parents' place and packed three suitcases. I felt sad to leave such a peaceful and beautiful place that became a safe haven for me. I was heading back to finish up my internship in Brussels, I was happy to see my colleagues again. The past few months was hectic and yet I grew comfortable with working from home. There's something to be said about working from a computer during normal working hours from anywhere with a wifi connection. I think the digital nomad is the future of working. I accomplished tasks and tackled problems more efficiently plus learned a lot of time management skills as well as flexibility when I was able to work remotely. Skype and email were my lifeline and the constant communication between my managers and director helped. At times, we were all working from different parts of Europe which I thought was super cool. Why don't more companies do this?  

Full length mirror selfies is a tradition for me, Brussels, Belgium

So with bruised arms from carrying my luggages and carry-on backpack and purse, I flew into Amsterdam and stayed at the airport hotel for a couple days and left a couple suitcases with a friend and took the train into Brussels. The train ride is pretty peaceful because of the lack of free wifi. How come we don't already have wifi on trains? I've come across some trains that do have wifi but these are short distance trains. I arrived at the office a bit before lunch and managed to get some work done. It was weird to see colleagues and sit at my desk. My computer wasn't working properly on the dock because they changed the system so I had to get that fixed. Quite a bit of changes. I felt for a brief period of time that things were back to normal. After experiencing chaos, one can't help to just want everything to be normal. 

Halles Saint Gery, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016

I hadn't seen much of Brussels so I explored the Avenue Louise, Bourse, Sablon, and Atomium that weekend. Cartoons like Adventures of Tin Tin came from Belgium and after the terror attacks in March. Belgian cartoonists turned to their art and put up Belgian pride cartoons at the Halles Saint Gery. Some were funny, some were sad, and some were political. The Halles Saint Gery was a former marketplace that has been transformed to house a cafe, beer garden, and art gallery. A very cool building to venture into when the weather in Brussels becomes unpredictable. 

Halles Saint Gery, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016.

Speaking of the weather in Brussels... When I arrived, the first two days was gorgeous sunny weather. I was happy to be walking outside after work. Once the weekend arrived, the clouds and rain started coming which is what always seems to happen in Brussels. 
If you are heading to Belgium, be sure to always carry an umbrella with you at all times and bring an extra jacket or sweater. The weather can flip like a switch and you have to be prepared.

Atomium museum, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016

Le pain quotidian is Belgium's contribution to the global cafe culture. I started going to Le pain quotidian when they opened in Westwood village in Los Angeles. I would go there to have coffee/tea with a book or study materials in the middle of the afternoon between classes or a light lunch on weekends. The concept of communal tables became trendy by this brand. They have the best hazelnut chocolate spread (Nutella has nothing on Le Pain quotidian's blonde spread). I vowed that when I returned to Brussels that I would come to the very first Le Pain Quotidian near Bourse area in Brussels. The cold snap and rainy weather had me escaping the depressing weather on the weekend and I was happy to stop in for a Belgian Fika. Coffee is served in a bowl and I ordered the apple cake because it seemed sweet but not too heavy like chocolate. 

Very first Le Pain Quotidian, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016

The cold rain crept in over the weekend and it became quite depressing very quickly. I was determined to get my negroni and researched where to get the best negroni in Brussels since Belgium is mostly a beer drinking country. I trudged through the rain with my trusty umbrella and found a bar in a basement of a building that was designed to look like a grotto cave. 

Hortense bar is the kind of place to chill, drink good cocktails and have a quiet night catching up with friends. I couldn't find anyone to join me because of the rain. I was determined to get my negroni and not waste my last weekend in Brussels due to bad weather. The weather was the very reason why I hadn't seen much of Brussels while I was living there. I forced myself to trudge through the rain. I ordered two drinks: my negroni and corpse reviver tasted delicious and well worth the rain trek. Mixed well, smooth, and potent. The bartenders here knew what they are doing!

Hortense bar, Brussels, Belgium. June 2016
Corpse Reviver

Finishing out my internship was bittersweet because I didn't really have a plan what to do next and since completing my Postgraduate program and internship, everyone had been asking what was next for me. I'm still working on it. Currently, I want to inspire my dear readers to travel and live authentically without a timetable to rush to reach "life's milestones" that are set forth by society through heavy marketing, political agenda, and pressure from people around that are living a life that is deemed "normal". Why buy into the rat race if that is not what you desire? I would like to live a life that is authentic to me. Sharing my stories, eating good food & drink, sharing my passions for travel, dance, art, hosting fun events, and culinary delights.

Its always a bit tough to say good-byes so I always tell people see you later in life. The world is a small place and the more people we meet the smaller it becomes.

Onto my journey...

Indonesian food at Bojo's in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. June 2016

There are a few places I return to if I've been to a place more than once. I like to use Amsterdam as a base when I'm flying in and out of Europe because its pretty centralized in terms of the geography and the airport has direct flights. A nice city that offers a lot of things that I love. Art musuems, easy public transportation and very walkable, lots of cafes, decent shopping, wide open green spaces and parks, cute architecture, friendly people, yummy food that reminds me of my childhood.

A TCK (acronym for Third Culture Kids) friend recommended Bojo's Indonesian restaurant in Leidseplein area of Amsterdam a couple years ago and since then it has always been a pitstop for me. I always manage to get a meal at Bojo's every time I stop over in Amsterdam. The food is delicious and I try something different almost every time I come in. The restaurant ambiance is cozy and service is efficient. I don't think I've ever had a bad meal there. Amsterdam has a plethora of Indonesian restaurants and when people ask me where to eat in Amsterdam, I always tell them to come to Bojo's and have Indonesian food because its a very Amsterdam thing to do. 

I grew up eating Dutch food and Indonesian food with Dutch influences or Chinese-Indonesian food.. I still haven't figured it out why Dutch food tastes like my childhood especially with bitterballen and all the fried foods available at the various automat fast food joints littered throughout the city. Perhaps, its because I couldn't really eat all the spicy curries or eat weird animal parts. Perhaps, I'm always a hybrid type of person even down to my taste buds. A TCK eater!

Stedilijk museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. June 2016

I love modern art and going to museums. The Stedilijk museum has been on my visit list since I've already been to the Van Gogh museum, Rijksmuseum that are near the area. This modern art and design museum has temporary and permanent exhibits. There are interactive exhibits and static exhibits. The most striking piece is done inside a railroad car. All figure heads were given clocks as heads to signify the rat race and how miserable their lives are chasing and racing against the clock. There was one figure that had a face and it was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt to signify that he was taking his time. It was definitely a cool exhibit where one is encouraged to step inside the railroad car and look at the art closely. I like art that makes one think about society and the human existence. 

Travel creates a myriad of wonderful experiences and invigorates a sense of wander, curiosity, adventure. Perhaps, there are those among us who think that a life of following vicious cycle of the rat race to reach life's milestones set forth by society is all there is to life. I'm not goiing to tell you how one should live because that would be exactly what society does.

Sometimes one needs to think outside the box a little and create a life that is meant to be lived the way that you want. If a job doesn't exist or you can't find the career that utilizes all your strengths and passions, create that job for yourself or find many little jobs that would fulfill it. I don't know the answers to my life, but I know for now, I will just exist and not settle for mediocrity. I trust that some day, I'll figure it out one puzzle piece at a time. I thought that I would jump into the rat race when I made a leap of faith to change careers, but it seems to me that it wasn't meant to be through many series of unfortunate events and scenarios.