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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. ~ Neil Gaiman

Weligama, Sri Lanka

December 31 – January 1, 2015

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman's Bay Hotel

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman’s Bay Hotel

In a nutshell, all you need to start your new year off right…good company. Whether that is spending the evening cuddled up with someone you love or a festive night with close friends, either way you can’t go wrong. We were lucky to have both. And even more fortunate to be spending it on a beautiful beach in Sri Lanka.

New Year’s Eve

After leaving Yala, we headed to Weligama where we would meet back up with our friends and begin an evening of celebrations – a birthday and New Year’s Eve. I often find myself with my eye glued to one side of the camera and as much as I like photography, I realize that this little habit can really prevent me from being present in the moment. For this reason, I (for the most part) hid my camera and let the night unfold shutter free.

Yep, for the most part.

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My love…

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My beautiful friends…

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…and a little debauchery.

New Year’s Day

After nursing a bit of a hangover, we headed out to go snorkeling. We rented equipment from a company right around the corner from where we were staying (Fisherman’s Bay Hotel) and then headed directly out past the boats in front. I’m not a fan of going far out from the shore or too far away from a boat so I spent the time following everyone’s flippers rather than looking at the beautiful fish. Regardless of me allowing my fears to take over, I still can say that I saw enough to know there must be better places nearby to snorkel. My highlight was finding a sea cucumber, or did someone toss it at me? Either way, they seem to always give me a good laugh.

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Hydration station on the way to Mirissa Beach

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Coconuts!

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Alex not wasting a single bit of her coconut ūüôā

Want to read more about our trip to Sri Lanka? Check out our itinerary here. Check back soon for my next post about our stay in Mirissa.

 

 

 

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Think of the beauty still left around you and be happy. ~ Anne Frank

Ella, Sri Lanka

December 30, 2014

SLELAP

Feeling on top of the world at Little Adam’s Peak

Captivating. Simply put, no other words will do. Standing atop Little Adam’s Peak I feel a gush of joy and the type of weightlessness that only seems to accompany true happiness. The mountains crest¬†and roll in every direction. I fight the urge to immediately photograph the views and remind myself to experience the moment as is.

The Hike to the Top

Little Adam’s Peak is a relatively easy hike. It’s nearly 3 miles round trip (about 35-40 min hike each way). The first 25 minutes or so uphill are quite easy but the last remaining bit is steep and the stairs in the hillside aren’t easy to navigate. The path leading you up winds through a tea plantation. If you are hiking early, you will see the tea pickers hard at work.

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam's Peak

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam’s Peak

Collected tea leaves in bags

Collected tea leaves in bags

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

The Views

Imagine 360 degrees of pure beauty. Sri Lanka’s landscape in the hill country is like none I’ve ever seen. Much of the mountains are covered in tea trees. This gives the mountain sides a texture unlike anything else. The green is lush and at various times of day, the clouds descend upon the peaks adding a beautiful softness. Without a great camera handy, I never felt like I could truly capture the beauty before me but luckily, the views were so fantastic I will never forget them.

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Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Considering Ella?

If you’re undecided on whether to stay in Ella, I would suggest that you at least make time for the quick hike up to Little Adam’s Peak, especially if you are driving through anyway. What a better way to break up a long drive from one town to the next?! As far as whether to stay nearby, I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a night in the area but if you are looking for a place that’s close and want to escape further into the mountains, check out my previous post on Bandarawela. It’s a very short drive and can be combined with Little Adam’s Peak in your itinerary.

To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, check out this post. Next up, we head to Udawalawe National Park for a safari, check back soon for the newest update!

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Fresh air impoverishes the doctor. ~ Danish Proverb

Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

December 29 – 30, 2014

Breathtaking views from The Hideaway Hotel in  Bandarawela

Breathtaking views from The Hideaway Hotel in Bandarawela

Standing silent against the railing of our balcony, I look across the horizon. Every shade of blue and green is visible in the late afternoon light. I had no idea I would be so lost for words. My mind races with thoughts on how to enjoy the views and the lovely escape into the mountains of Bandarawela but not a word leaves my mouth. I try to think of the best ways to spend the next 24 hours and as the answer hits me, I feel annoyed that I had those thoughts in the first place. It dawns on me as I inhale the fresh air…be present. Do not waste the time finding ways to distract yourself from your surroundings. Envelope yourself in the beautiful present.

The Hideaway Hotel

Tucked into the mountains around Bandarawela, you will find a beautiful hotel, The Hideaway, with eight rooms, all sharing the same view as the one picture above. The hotel itself is hard to find and luckily our driver got us there with few problems. This is an escape where solitude and relaxation are highly valued. The Hideaway is not in a bustling town or easily located next to dining and other experiences.  The purpose seems to be to escape into nature and into oneself.

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Ayurvedic Massage

After basking in the beauty of the mountains and sitting peacefully on our patio, Jonathan and I decided that we should experience our first ayurvedic massage. The hotel offered massages in a basic hut on the hillside. We figured we had time before dinner and we were both in the need of a little rejuvenation. The massage hut only allowed for one person at a time so we both decided I should go first.

This became a bit of an adventure…first I slid down the hillside to get to the hut. After 20 minutes into the massage the power went out. There was only one lamp lighting the hut in the first place so luckily the candles that were lit for ambiance served the purpose of also being our only source of light…not a problem. Who keeps their eyes open during a massage anyway? Towards the end of the session, the masseuse began massaging my face and scalp with additional oils. This felt lovely and I particularly liked the scent. Unfortunately, I had to shampoo my hair twice to get out most of the oil and my clothing definitely was sticky and saturated with excess oil in the short time it took for me to get back to our room.

When Jonathan returned from his massage, we had a good laugh. The experience was interesting yet far from rejuvenating. He too had to shower again after his massage and my hair looked a bit rough for several days. Was it enough to keep me from trying an ayurvedic massage again? No. But next time, it will not be in a hut on a hillside.

The massage hut

The massage hut

Worthy of a Visit?

If you are¬†looking for an escape with views of the Sri Lankan mountains and literally want to feel like you have stopped time, then The Hideaway is a great choice. It’s beautiful and serene. This is a great place to come to if you are traveling through the area and need a good night’s rest with lots of peace and quiet. However, if you are looking for adventures and to fill your time with activities, I suggest finding another location. I didn’t mention above but should mention for those who may be considering this hotel…the food at the hotel (your only choice in the area) was our least favorite of the trip. We had dinner and breakfast here and didn’t finish our plates even though we were very hungry.

After leaving Bandarawela, we headed towards Ella to hike Little Adam’s Peak. To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, click here. For more about our previous stop at a tea plantation, check out my post on Nuwara Eliya.

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You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~ C.S. Lewis

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

December 29, 2014

Woman harvesting tea

Woman harvesting tea

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems as though tea is the heartbeat of Sri Lanka. Mountains and hillsides all around are inundated by tea trees. It’s breathtaking and picturesque. Ceylon tea is known worldwide for being a high quality and desirable tea. But I’m a coffee drinker. Well, it’s more like I’m a coffee addict. However, once we arrived in Sri Lanka I fully embraced tea. In fact, I came to look forward to my morning pot.

Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Center

After spending several days decompressing in Kitugala, we headed west into the highlands towards Nuwara Eliya. Our goal was to visit a tea plantation then head to Bandarawela/Ella for another secluded night at a beautiful resort. Our driver suggested we stop at Mackwoods tea plantation so that we could try the tea and take a tour of the factory. The drive there was the highlight but the factory did not disappoint; although, the tour was brief and not as comprehensive as I would have liked.

Enjoying the grounds and the factory at Mackwoods on a very misty afternoon...

Enjoying the grounds and the factory at Mackwoods on a very misty afternoon…

There are many other plantations and factories to visit in Sri Lanka. We chose Mackwoods above a few others because we knew it was going to be easy to get a tour and it wasn’t far out of our way. One thing I would have wished I had known before going is that you cannot explore the actual tea grounds. Some other notable tips; the souvenir shop is overpriced but you can sit down in the cafe area and get a free pot of tea. If you have to wait for the next tour, grab you free pot there and someone will come and get you when the tour is ready.

Want to know what else we did while exploring Sri Lanka?  You can find out more here. Curious about where we headed next? Follow my blog or check back soon!

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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.  ~ Unknown

 Sri Lanka

December 24 – January 4, 2014

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The first snow fall of the season always fills me with a sense of calm.¬† I can’t help but to stare up into the sky and try to follow a snowflake dancing its way home to¬†a final destination.¬† Something about stopping and taking in the beauty of the first winter snow day entrances me.¬† The chill in the air, the tingling of cheeks and the desire to cozy up to someone you love is a grand feeling.

As blissful as the moment is,¬†it is sadly, only a brief one. When living in a city of over eight million people and nearly 14,000 taxis the once beautiful snowfall quickly turns to grimy piles that seize up¬†the¬†already limited¬†space on the sidewalks.¬† You¬†suddenly realize you’re¬†under dressed¬†and are¬†a long walk from home, the subways are packed and every taxi in sight is taken.¬† This is when the moment of bliss disappears and you begin fantasizing of the warm sun on your face and lazy days at the beach or in the park.

The Escape

I’m not quite sure what led us to Sri Lanka other than the fact that our friends, David and Alexandra,¬†threw it out as a suggestion.¬†¬†My first thought…it is warm.¬† My second thought…I’ve never been.¬† My third thought…I’m all in!¬† Goodbye dirty snow piles.¬† Goodbye oversized down coat.¬†¬†Hello breathtaking mountains!¬† Hello sun-kissed island!¬† Hello hiking boots and bikini!
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Itinerary Overview

Colombo:  Eating & Exploring the city

Kitugala: Relaxing and White water rafting

Nuwara Eliya:  Tea Plantation & Factory

Bandarawela:  Ayurvedic Massage & Scenic Overviews

Ella:¬† Hiking Little Adam’s Peak

Udawalawe National Park:  Safari

Yala:  Safari

Weligama:¬† New Year’s Eve on the beach and snorkeling

Marissa: Whale watching and lazy beach days

Galle:  Ananda Spice Garden and lunch

Colombo:  Eat, Drink, and Relax

Interested in what we did in each city?  Follow my blog or check back soon for posts on each of the above destinations.  Also, look forward to tips on where to stay and how to find the best driver to take you everywhere your heart desires!

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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. – Unknown

HANOI & HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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A few years ago I came across a friend’s photograph on Facebook.¬† I typically take a quick look at photos in the news feed,¬†sometimes I¬†comment,¬†but mostly I just¬†move on down the feed.¬† This particular photo entranced me.¬† It awakened my desire to see and explore more than any other¬†photo¬†that I can remember.¬† It was magical.¬† It was breathtaking.¬† It simply blew my mind.¬† The photo was a scenic view of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.¬† I knew from that moment I would have to¬†travel there one day.

A majestic view from above Sung S√īt (Surprise Grotto)

A majestic view from above Sung S√īt (Surprise Grotto)

Day Four

  • Leave Hanoi by van to Ha Long Bay
  • Over night Paradise Luxury Cruise with stops at Sung S√īt and ńźŠļ£o Ti TŠĽĎp

From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

By staying at the Hanoi Elegance Ruby, we were able to easily book our trip to Ha Long Bay.  The hotel arranged our pick-up, held our bags overnight, discounted our stay since we were not staying one night out of our planned stay with them, and booked us a new (and even nicer) room for the evening when we returned.  Amazing service.

After looking at several options, we choose to book our overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay through Paradise Cruises.¬† This company was one of the few that had spacious rooms with balconies as an option.¬† We booked and were very happy with our room.¬† The energy on the boat was quite low from most passengers.¬† This did put a bit of a damper on our stay since we like to eat, drink and be merry.¬† We still did…just by ourselves!¬† Towards midnight, we heard a boat that appeared to be having way more fun – great music, cheering and excitement echoed from their boat.¬† Ours was quiet and dim by that time.¬† So warning – if you are looking for a party boat or want to socialize¬†and meet new¬†people, then you should try a different boat.

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

 

Enjoying everything there is to offer...

Enjoying everything there is to offer…

 

FYI, there's no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat...  We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below.  We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase.  These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more.  We turned them away as we didn't expect we would need anything.  A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room.  What are my chances?  Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale.  Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us?  Then, how I am going to pay her?  My thinking didn't last long...she had a net to make exchanges.  Awesome!  What's not so awesome...hot wine that has spoiled.  Oh well!  It was a fun purchase.

FYI, there’s no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat… We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below. We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase. These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more. We turned them away as we didn’t expect we would need anything. A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room. What are my chances? Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale. Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us? Then, how I am going to pay her? My thinking didn’t last long…she had a net to make exchanges. Awesome! What’s not so awesome…hot wine that has spoiled. Oh well! It was a fun purchase.

 

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave.  Here we are at Dao Ti Top.  We were able to climb to the highest for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax.  It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave. Here we are at Dao Ti Top. We were able to climb to the highest point for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax. It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

 

Ha Long Bay - Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Ha Long Bay – Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Day Five

  • Return to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay
  • Dong Xuan Market
  • Dinner at Pho 10

After a wonderful night of dining, gazing at the stars, playing games on our balcony, we slept like babies.¬† The next morning our boat headed back to the port where our van was waiting to take us back to Hanoi.¬† My last thoughts on Ha Long Bay…simply majestic!

Our return trip took a few hours.¬† Along the way we planned out how we wanted to spend our last night in Vietnam.¬† There was one¬†restaurant we had yet to try…but we had one very important stop to make before dinner.¬† After learning how to make traditional northern-style pho, we knew we would want to recreate it at home.¬† That meant we needed the secret ingredient since we were told it would be quite difficult to find it in the states…back to the market we went!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth...all natural umami!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth…all natural umami!

Dinner at Pho 10

A wonderful friend bought me the book, Where Chef’s Eat – A Guide to Chefs’ Favorite Restaurants.¬† I made a point to look up if there were any chef recommendations before heading to Hanoi.¬† Sure enough, I found one!¬† Pho 10 was recommended by¬†Chef¬†Neal Fraser as being a restaurant worthy of traveling out of your way to enjoy.¬† He was right on point!

A must try in Hanoi!  Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service.  Don't expect to hang out...this is an in and out stop.  The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

A must try in Hanoi! Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service. Don’t expect to hang out…this is an in and out stop. The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

Day six (really day seven but the first day was cut short) was spent eating a quick breakfast and heading to the airport.¬† We were sad to leave as we could have used a little extra time to travel to other cities in Vietnam but we had other plans… off to Taiwan for a road trip with friends!

Verdict ~ Visit Vietnam!¬† If you are in Hanoi, stay in the Old Quarter, be careful crossing the road, drink Vietnamese coffee like an addict, and take in the all the pleasures the city has to offer…great people, even better food, history, markets, street food, and more.¬† Whether you are in Hanoi or another city in Vietnam – make it a point to travel to Ha Long Bay and be prepared to revel in the beauty our planet has to offer.¬†

For more on this journey – check out Part One and Part Two

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 Little by little, one travels far. Р J.R.R. Tolkien

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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Day Three

  • Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien
  • Dinner at Nha¬†Hang Ngon
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Chef Tien

 

Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is through their cuisine.  On our third day, we signed up to take a traditional northern Vietnamese cooking class at Orchid Restaurant (25 Hang Bac Str, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam) with owner, chef, and local food expert, Chef Tien.

The class begins with a basic introduction into traditional foods and a quick review of the menu you will be preparing.  After that, Chef Tien takes you on an adventure to the local food market to shop for main ingredients.  Next you are back in the kitchen to learn, cook, taste, share, and experience great food from start to finish.

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Orchid Restaurant & Cooking School

 

At Dong Xuan market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class.  Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut and encouraged us to try it.  Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience...

At Dong Xuan¬†market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class. Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut¬†(duck embryo) and encouraged us to try it. Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience…

 

Trying out chŠļ£ quŠļŅ; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anis and other spices.

Trying out chŠļ£¬†quŠļŅ; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anise and other spices.

 

Pho Bo: basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven...this particular bowl was the best I've tried and yep, I helped make it!  Secret ingredient...sea worms.  Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that's why we smuggled into the US...shhhhh).

Making phŠĽü¬†t√°i; basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven…this particular bowl (with cooked beef and then topped with rare beef) was the best I’ve tried and yep, I helped make it! Secret ingredient…sea worms. Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that’s why we smuggled some into the US…shhhhh).

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Hanoi style Vietnamese spring roll and a seafood salad

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist...rapped up with romaine and rice paper..

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist…rapped up with romaine and rice paper.

I highly recommend this class.¬† Just the trip to the market with a local chef was worth the experience; learning to make all these wonderful dishes…was the cherry on top.¬† No, wait, eating them was the best part!¬† So what do you do after about 8 hours of cooking and eating.¬† Nap.¬† Guess what happened after that…¬† Yes, I was hungry again.

Dinner at Nha Hang Ngon

I don’t know how we actually do it.¬† Jonathan and I don’t eat like ravenous animals at every meal when we are at home but somehow we easily fit in enough food for a family of four at almost every meal when we travel.¬† I would be ashamed or embarrassed but I’m not…because we eat it all (or nearly so) every time.¬† There’s always this looming feeling that if we don’t try ‘it’ now we may never have the chance to…so we order and we order and we order.¬† Needless to say, I was not hungry the next morning.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing...and if you're indecisive, just order it.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing…and if you’re indecisive, just order it.

What a day!¬† We learned so much and enjoyed every waking moment.¬†¬†Vietnam¬†has so much to offer and if you aren’t convinced yet…stay tuned for part three, coming soon!¬† A little teaser… on day four we head off on an overnight trip¬†to Ha Long Bay.

 

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A soup like this is not the work of one man.  It is the result of a constantly refined tradition.  There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.  РWilla Cather

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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Thank Goodness for Smart Phones & A Little Faith

Jonathan and I have¬†found ourselves in¬†some funny, albeit stressful, traveling situations.¬† For example, showing up very late¬†to the wrong airport to board a flight to Singapore was about the worst prior to our most recent trip. So what takes the cake?¬† Trying to get your boarding pass two hours before your flight without a visa to the country you are flying to.¬† Yes, that’s us, standing at the United check-in line looking dumbfounded when the receptionist told us we weren’t able to get on our flight without our visa documents.

Going back to the city and waiting a few days to head to the¬†embassy¬†in order to apply¬†was not an option.¬†¬†All it took¬†was a few reassuring looks between the two of us, a quick Google search…and poof!¬† We were ready to outsmart the system.¬† For about $40 dollars a person you can apply online for an express Visa.¬† In one day, you can receive a PDF document allowing you into the country.¬† It took some convincing, but we were able to get United to send us to Thailand (our last¬†layover city before Hanoi) with the hopes that by the time we arrive, our visa documents would be ready.¬† United cancelled our flight from Bangkok to Hanoi and made it clear that if we were unable to get into Vietnam or happened to be stuck in Thailand it was all on us.¬† We didn’t flinch.¬† We boarded our flight¬†with good faith that our online application would go through before landing.

For anyone who travels, not quite fully prepared (like us), then it may be¬†good to know that Vietnam does require a Visa for entry.¬† Also good to note, the Bangkok airport has a printing station and passport photo booth to complete any Visa requirements.¬†¬† Thailand saved us…as if¬†we needed another reason to love that country!

19 Hours…

Our plan for Vietnam was to indulge in great food and overcome serious jet lag before heading to Taiwan.  Although the beginning of our trip was not going as planned, we finally landed in Vietnam and were back on track.

It took everything out of me to¬†not¬†check in the hotel and go right to sleep.¬†¬†It was roughly 6pm and I¬†knew that if I wanted to get over the¬†eleven hour time difference I would have to keep myself awake until an appropriate time to sleep…and then I remembered¬†how amazing Vietnamese coffee is.¬† What better way to keep myself up than a cup of cool, sweet addicting goodness!

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Vietnamese coffee at the ever relaxing and air conditioned, Align 3D Café.

There simply wasn’t enough caffeine in the whole caf√© to supply me with enough energy for the evening but I only had one choice.¬† Power through it.¬† Next up, dinner.¬† Anything would do after two days of in-flight meals but we were lucky to find ourselves near the famous Bat Dan Street.¬† It is rumored that Hanoi’s best pho can be found here on this street.¬† After strolling along for several blocks we settled down for dinner at the only place with a line of families and couples waiting for a seat.¬† Score.¬† When in doubt, look to the locals for clues on where to find the best food. Finally, a decent hour to catch some sleep.¬† We headed back to the hotel (Hanoi Elegance Ruby) and collapsed…¬† The next thing I know, Jonathan is waking me up from a lovely, deep sleep.¬† Whatever he wanted I imagined would go away if I just ignored his calling my name but suddenly it hit me like an¬†amplifying echo…wake up, wake up – it’s 4:30 in the afternoon….wake up, wake up, it’s….¬† WHAT?¬† I was baffled; where was I?¬† And how on earth did I just sleep – wait let me count…19 HOURS!¬† That, my friend, is what they call jet lag.¬† Avoid at all costs.

Pho on Bat Dan Street.  More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Pho on Bat Dan Street. More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Day One

  • Sleep until an ungodly hour
  • Dinner at Highway 4
  • Night Market
  • Drinks

Sleeping 19 hours straight only leads to one thing…a ravenous belly.¬† No, two things…a ravenous belly and severe grogginess.¬† It was dinner time¬†when¬†we finally left¬†the hotel and entered the world of the living.

Highway 4:  Get the catfish rolls!

Bo Tieu Den:  Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Bo Tieu Den: Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Nem Ca Xa:  Catfish spring rolls

Nem Ca Xa: Catfish spring rolls

Feast for two!

Feast for two!

An Evening Out:  Night Market and Drinks

The local night market is a great place to roam and purchase souvenirs.  The market basically had the same items found in the shops around town during the day but the draw to this market is not what it has to offer you but the energy it encompasses.  We were only a few among the tourists.  This market seemed to draw the locals out to pick up essentials, mingle with friends and to grab a bite to eat.  For a city that has little to offer for night life, I thought this market was an enjoyable way to walk off dinner and spend the evening.

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat...

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat…

...sweet and savory treats.

…sweet and savory treats.

Late night beers...

Late night beers

Just as we were beginning to relax and take it all in with a few beers we were ran off by the police.¬† After living in NYC for a few years, it is quite normal for us to eat dinner at 9pm and then head out for a drink.¬† Not quite possible in Hanoi.¬† The police rolled up in a truck and banged their long clubs on the bar’s awning.¬† We were quite surprised but quickly realized we were expected to leave and the bar owner needed to close down quickly for the curfew.¬† Plan according if you are used to late nights!

Day Two

  • Morning run around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • BŠļ£o T√†ng D√Ęn TŠĽôc HŠĽćc ViŠĽát Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)
  • Don’s T√Ęy HŠĽď (A Chef’s Bistro)
  • HŠĽŹa L√≤ (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)
  • Dinner at Essence Caf√© and Restaurant
Jog around the lake...

Jog around the lake…

Our epic night of sleep apparently didn’t do us any good – jet lag still had it’s hold on us.¬† So…after lying wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, Jonathan and I decided to go for a run.¬† Since we were staying in the old quarter we decided to head out towards Hoan Kiem Lake.¬† We may have been the only ones up due to jet lag but definitely not the only ones who happened to be¬†out exercising.¬† In the early hazy hours of the morning, you will find crowds of people at the lake.¬† Some doing yoga, some Tai Chi, and others jogging along beside us.

Vietnamese coffee post run.  Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference...and well, it's simply addicting.

Vietnamese coffee post run. Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference…and well, it’s simply addicting.

BŠļ£o T√†ng D√Ęn TŠĽôc HŠĽćc ViŠĽát Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)

The great thing about being on vacation means that you don’t have to follow a schedule.¬† The downfall is without proper planning and scheduling you just might miss some things.¬† We had planned to start out our day at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.¬† Despite our early morning run, we took our time getting ready and enjoying breakfast.¬† By the time we arrived, the line was epic and it was raining.¬† We didn’t come all this way to spend an afternoon soaked and waiting in line…so we improvised.

We hopped in a cab and headed to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.  Glad we did!  The museum, although small, had much to offer in the way of learning about the culture and makeup of the Vietnamese people.  The museum highlights the tremendous amount of ethnic groups the are the backbone of the country.  I learned so much and it was a great way to escape the nonstop drizzle.

Don’s T√Ęy HŠĽď (A Chef’s Bistro)

Oyster bar¬†and views of the lake.¬† Yes please.¬† For lunch, we headed away from old quarter and towards West Lake.¬† Here you will find a less populated and more relaxing area to unwind.¬† Don’s Tay Ho has an eclectic mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese food as well as¬†some¬†international dishes¬†that draw in¬†an array¬†of locals and tourists alike.¬†¬†We¬†sat down and devoured a lunch that would have probably fed a group of four.

Lunch overlooking West Lake

Lunch overlooking West Lake

 

HŠĽŹa L√≤ (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)

I was intrigued by this place…any prison that has Hilton in it’s nickname seems worthy of a visit.¬†¬†Maybe that’s just me; I do love sarcasm.¬† This prison was a bit creepy¬†but didn’t leave you with the skin-crawling¬†sensation you can get from such sites (I happen to like that). However, it was interesting to learn about the history of the museum and the people that were once imprisoned there.¬† As we walked through and I was taking it all in,¬†it became very clear¬†that¬†much of¬†the information presented to the visitors appeared biased.¬† Bothersome but still worthwhile.¬† I was quite excited to see the guillotine room.¬† I can’t really explain why this was appealing but it was…I also found the artifacts and¬†media¬†covering John McCain’s imprisonment¬†interesting¬†(he was¬†held as a¬†POW at HŠĽŹa L√≤ Prison in 1967).

HŠĽŹa L√≤ Prison

HŠĽŹa L√≤ Prison

 

Dinner at Essence Café and Restaurant

Surprisingly enough, we were able to muster up more energy to shower and head out to dinner.¬† Glad we did too because we had a fantastic dinner.¬† Essence Restaurant is ranked number two on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Hanoi.¬† You can expect great service and authentic Vietnamese food…¬†and a long wait time if you don’t make a reservation.

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Want to read more about this trip, check out Part Two

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Cooking done with passion is an act of love. – Tammy Mollai

TROGIR, CROATIA

July 2012

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Last year, during our honeymoon in Eastern Europe, Jonathan and I got the pleasure of spending a day of shopping, cooking, and dining with the passionate chef, Tatjana Ciciliani. Of all of our adventures on this trip, this is the one that we will cherish and remember forever. For more details on how we found Tatjana check out my post, The Secret to Traveling in Croatia.

The Kitchen. The heart and soul of a home.

Deep within the walls of a 13 century palace, lies a kitchen. Not just any ordinary kitchen but one that is so full of love and passion that this incredible warmth spills out into the streets and entrances passersby. This kitchen, unlike any kitchen I have ever had the pleasure of entering, has its own pulse. It beats with energy yet is soothing and slows time which can easily make you forget that hours have passed and you’ve created enough food to feed a village. This kitchen belongs to Tatjana Ciciliani. A brilliant chef, a culinary artist, a mother, a wife, a friend to everyone. A passionate, loving, and joyful woman whom has changed the way I will forever view cooking and whose influence I will never be able to fully capture in words.

Tatjana is the type of person you meet for the first time and you immediately wish you had known forever. Her kindness and joy of life is simply contagious. After spending a day with her, you will not only be incredibly inspired but you will also feel as if you just traveled deep into the core of Croatia. I learned more about the Croatian culture in this single experience than I could have ever imagined.

Lessons Learned. More than a recipe.

Rather than write the specifics of our trip to the markets, what we bought and what we cooked, I feel drawn to share our experience through the lessons I learned while cooking with Tatjana.

  • Make use of all your senses. Taste is only one aspect of selecting ingredients to cook. Investigate everything, pick things up, feel them, smell them, listen and talk to the vendors. Buying quality, in-season and local ingredients will not only yield a better dish but will also bring you closer to your land and your community.
  • Waste nothing. Unless it’s an old cucumber…it goes in the stock! Or somewhere else equally important like infusing salt! I can’t remember how many times I almost discarded what seemed like a useless peel or the top of an onion and was caught by Tatjana. It was like she had eyes in the back of her head! I had no idea how easy it was to make use of every single bit. Why have I been so wasteful? I was astonished by how many items seemed disposable moments before suddenly transformed into something totally new and delicious. Fish bones, onion tops, stems of herbs, soggy old vegetables, extra flour from bread making…
  • Don’t rush. Be patient. Slow down and enjoy the process. I don’t remember one timer being set. We cooked for hours, yet somehow the morning and afternoon blended into one magnificent experience. We had pots and pots of items boiling away, bread rising, fish waiting to be descaled while out in the blazing sun…and not once did we ever rush or worry about time. I’ve never felt so nourished physically and mentally after a meal.
  • Buy wholesome food to feed the people you love. Not one item we used was from a can or a box. Every item was traceable to the earth or the sea…not a factory.
  • Make what you love and love what you make. Everything tastes better when you’ve created it from your heart.

The Gallery. From market to belly.

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for an appetizer

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for us to try

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

The final cheese plate

You know you want a bite, don’t you!?

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

Loving the denim apron!

Loving the denim apron!

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan...haha!

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan…haha!

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Happily chopping along...

Happily chopping along…

Teamwork in the kitchen!

Teamwork in the kitchen!

We got all this going on and more...risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

We got all this going on and more…risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

My turn!

My turn!

Working with the cuttlefish...

Working with the cuttlefish…

Ready to fry!

Ready to fry!

Frying sardines

Frying sardines

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

My favorite dish - cuttlefish risotto!  And not just because I got to watch Jonathan burst all the ink sacs...

My favorite dish – cuttlefish risotto! And not just because I got to watch Jonathan cut all the ink sacs…

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Setting the table...notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away...they found a home in the water pitcher

Setting the table…notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away…they found a home in the water pitcher

Packages!  Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Packages! Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Dessert!  I wish I could remember what was in this - Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was an delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with an very talented and charming woman!

Dessert! I wish I could remember what was in this – Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was a delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with a very talented and charming woman!

Jonathan and I learned so much in such a short amount of time. We have a better understanding of Croatian cuisine and of the wonderful people we met along the way. I no longer waste so much food and have jars upon jars of herb-infused salts for cooking, my freezer is full of homemade veggie and chicken stock, and my enthusiasm in the kitchen grows with every meal I prepare with Jonathan. We are forever grateful for this one-of-a-kind experience.

Much love to Tatjana and her family for welcoming us into their home.

xoxo, Miranda

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I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Beautiful and quaint street in Vis (Vis Island, Croatia)

The Secret

I love Rilke’s quote above. But really, who doesn’t want to be with someone who knows all the secrets? For example, if you happen to live in NYC you may remember the all too recent Speakeasy craze. Location and means of getting through the door was the secret to share with everyone you knew. Almost like a right of passage… I mean, some things are just meant to be shared and I am grateful for those who do! When it comes to travel, the person with all the secrets becomes a saint in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than hearing how you missed an opportunity to participate in something abroad just after you’ve returned from your journey.

And for that reason alone…I will share my little secret for those who plan to travel to Croatia.

The Discovery

While planning our honeymoon, Jonathan and I became a bit uneasy about our last destination. We had planned three days in Prague, four in Budapest and then had seven to plan for in Croatia. After overloading our brains on what we wanted to do, should do and couldn’t miss out on…we felt lost and back to square one in the planning stage. We had so much we wanted to experience in Croatia and much of it were things not easily done by purchasing a ticket or making a reservation.

We were hesitant. Really, on the break of throwing in the towel and extending our stay elsewhere. Until I just happened to discover the man who could make it all happen…and on any budget. This discovery is my secret to share!

While enjoying a glass of wine and doing some fun food googling one weekend evening, I came across a website that made me all too excited to get back to planning our trip to Croatia. I happened to come across a site, Culinary Croatia. After some playing around it all dawned on me…we could actually have it all – on our top to-dos in Croatia was a cooking class and to experience wine, either through a special wine tasting experience or visiting vineyards. I dug a little deeper and discovered that we could do everything we wanted with a little help from someone with all the secrets. That website led me to Secret Dalmatia, the ‘end all’ to our reluctance and frustration with planning this trip.

Secret Dalmatia

We aren’t the typical travelers that make use of travel agents or other sources before heading abroad. We usually have a plan we’ve made ourselves and somehow make it happen on our own. But Secret Dalmatia had so much to offer and could plan everything that we wanted…by insiders with our best interests at heart.

I wrote down a list of all we wanted to accomplish and contacted Secret Dalmatia. After a quick rundown of our budget and a list of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. The agent immediately reviewed my responses and summarized what we wanted overall…he totally got us. I got off the phone feeling completely reassured that he would, no doubt, find us the perfect places to stay and the right balance of personalized experiences and down time to relax and explore on our own.

My list looked something like this:

  • boutique/locally owned hotels within our budget that were more about sharing their culture rather than accommodating to ours
  • cities/locations that were vibrant/lively that offered lots of opportunities to mix with locals – less touristy destinations but with much to occupy our time
  • a cooking class – preferably private (just so you know, we were blown away by the experience we got!…post coming soon)
  • a wine tasting or a private trip to a vineyard
  • a beach destination that is more relaxing than anything else – no extreme nightlife required
  • destinations where food mattered – staying someplace where we could experience fine dining as well as great street food was a must
  • time to do nothing or plan our own excursions

The Experience

Within a week, we got a draft of our trip. Everything met or exceeded our expectations and was still within our budget! We were not expecting private transportation to all our destinations and the best rooms in the hotels we stayed but that’s what we got! It was immediately evident that once we checked in we were in good hands due to the fact that we had booked through Secret Dalmatia. It is apparent that the owner and founder of Secret Dalmatia, Alan Mandic, is well-respected in the tourism community. We were treated with so much respect without it being overbearing.

To top off the experience, we were given many recommendations for great restaurants in the areas we were staying. I have to say, as a true ‘Yelp’er, I rely heavily on recommendations and reviews when deciding on a place to eat. Every personal recommendation was beyond amazing. We were able to enjoy authentic Croatian food like the locals without having to do any research on our own.

The Gallery

The photographs below are only a small bit of our trip to Croatia. For more details on our experience or to see what we did and everywhere we stayed check out the links below the gallery.

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private wine tasting experience at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private tour of Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Private tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Best tour guide ever!  If you aren't a history buff before the tour you will be at the end - she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive!  To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals.  If I ever return to Split and she is there...I will find her!

Best tour guide ever! If you aren’t a history buff before the tour you will be at the end – she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive! To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals. If I ever return to Split I will find her!

Private day of cooking with Tatjana in Trogir at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping the fish...Best experience of the trip!

Private day of cooking with chef Tatjana Ciciliani, in Trogir, at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping fish…Best experience of the trip!

View of the town of Vis. (Vis Island, Croatia)

View of the town of Vis from the hillside (Vis Island, Croatia)

Our view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio (Vis Island, Croatia)

A great view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio; with unexpected champagne and fruit as a honeymoon welcome gift (Vis Island, Croatia)

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Croatia – Part One

  • Split

Croatia – Part Two

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Three

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Four

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Five

  • Zagreb

The Verdict ~ Book your trip to Croatia for a romantic or adventurous getaway, full of history and culture, great food, relaxation, and lovely people. If you want to experience Croatia like a local then book your trip through Secret Dalmatia where Alan Mandic and his team will customize your experience exactly as you want. For all of you skeptics, this is not a paid advertisement…I love to share my experiences and only hope that the next person has as great of an experience as we did. Please comment if you have any travel questions!

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