Small town vibes in Malta

I always wanted to be a Gilmore Girl. To speak at a lightning speed, to be even quicker with a comeback and have an endless knowledge about all things pop culture. Most of all I wanted to live in a small town with quirky characters and town hall meetings. I actually still get that small town urge from time to time, often spurred by binge watching Gilmore Girls.

For a few days in July I got to live out my small town dreams in Malta, of all places. I went to Malta chasing the sun, not a small town experience. In fact the first few days in Malta gave me anything but small town vibes, I was surrounded by English families on holiday and hoards of teenagers getting drunk on cheap booze. It was once we moved to the smaller island of Gozo, I was transported to a world of small towns and local charm (quirky characters included).

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We stayed in a lovely old farmhouse, in the small village of Xaghra. Tucked up in the hills above the beach. In just one day we became locales, and it was everything I dreamed.

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We sat along side the old men on Sunday morning, watching the families head to church. We wandered the streets, waving to the bus drivers that had quickly become familiar faces. And we discussed the weather with new friends at the beach, who became accidental dinner companions.

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In fact it was impossible not to become a familiar face in a small town like Xaghra. There are only a handful of restaurants and just one bus an hour.

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It wasn’t just the friendly people and familiar faces, but something about the small winding streets of Malta that contributed to these small town vibes.

Mdina, a walled city back on the main island of Malta, is another tourist hot spot that some how still exuded small town charm. We arrived late in the afternoon, just as the narrow winding streets were emptying.

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We could wander and explore almost uninterrupted as people lounged in their windows, soaking up the sun. We laughed and played peek-a-boo with kids through their living room window.

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Maybe it’s my big city imagination or too many hours of Gilmore Girls, but these quiet dreamy towns of Malta will draw you in and make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a town worthy of Amy Sherman-Palladino. (I think it’s time to turn off the Gilmore Girls)

 

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Brussels

When I travel, I love to plan. I create intricate google maps, marking the best restaurants and all the must see sights that’s what makes my latest trip to Brussels was a departure for me. No plans were made, no maps marked and no google was searched.

A couple friends and I booked a very quick (36 hour) trip to Brussels. With such limited time we focused on enjoying the city, eating waffles and drinking beer rather than how much we could pack in 36 hours.

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Brussels, a lot like Copenhagen, is all about the vibes. The food is amazing and the beer is on another level but there is just something about the feel of the city I connected with. A perfect city to wander and spend your time eating and drinking. Which is pretty much all we did.

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If only I could remember the name of this beer but Brussels did not disappoint, every beer was better than the last. You don’t have to venture very far to find a good beer, but if you are looking for ALL the beer in one place head to Delirium Cafe has over 2,000 different types of beers.

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THIS. THIS is my favorite part of Brussels. Waffles Everywhere! Our walking tour guide claims that best waffles come from the food truck. I wasn’t able to conduct thorough enough research to back up these claims, I stand by my claim that any waffle is the best waffle.

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Brussels you were a dream, I can’t wait to return.

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that hygge feeling

Over the past 2 months I’ve had my first official visitors to Copenhagen. And as a woman with a passion for planning, I was so excited to plan out a perfect itinerary for my guests. But it was hard for me to come up with a ‘must see’ list because to me, Copenhagen isn’t about any particular sight or landmark, it’s all about “hygge”.

Hygge is one of those Danish words that isn’t fully translatable to English. It’s a feeling, like cozy, it’s candles in the winter, low lighting, warm tea, friends and dinner parties, ice cream in the sunshine and picnics in the park. Hygge is Copenhagen.

That’s why when trying to plan a ‘must-see’ list for Copenhagen I could only think of my favorite coffee shops and neighborhoods. So let this list take you on a tour of Copenhagen’s most hygge-ist spots.

Jægersborggade 

Located across from Assistens Cemetery, let Jægersborggade be your starting point for exploring the Nørrebro neighborhood. Jægersborggade is filled with Danish favorites like Meyer’s Bageri, The Coffee Collective, and Grød.  When you’ve eaten your way down the street wander through the cemetery and find the graves of Niels Bohr and Hans Christen Andersen.

Nørrebro (Sankt Hans Torv Area)

A short walk from Assistens Cemetery is Sankt Hans Torv, a small square in the heart of Nørrebro.  The square is a starting point to get you off the busy Nørrebrogade and on to the smaller surrounding streets. There are plenty of shops, bars and picture perfect buildings.  Nearby you’ll find the trifecta of Bæst (pizza to die for), Mirabelle (pasta to die for) and Brus (beer to die for).

The Lakes

Just south of Sankt Hans Torv and down Nørrebrogade are the “the lakes”. In summer time you’ll find the main bridge (Dronning Louises Bro) littered with people drinking beer in the sunshine. Pick up a to-go bottle of wine from nearby Vinhanen and find a spot on the bridge to people watch. Even in the winter there is something magical and romantic about the lakes, you may just want to trade the wine for some hot coco.

Torvehallerne

*Voted place most likely to find me*

Once a vegetable market, Torvehallerne keeps close to its roots as a modern food hall and farmers market. You can’t go wrong with anything you choose from Torvehallerne, the smorrebrod are pieces of art and the cardamom buns are addictive. But if I had to recommend one place it would be Hija de Sanchez, how can you go wrong with tacos from a former Noma chef? Find a picnic table to enjoy your finds or wander across the street through Israel Plads and ørstedsparken.

Cycling

The most hygge way to see the city is of course by bike. Copenhagen takes on a whole new feel when you experience it like a true local. Cycling will allow you to explore and find your own hygge spots in Copenhagen.

For new bikers, avoid rush hour in the morning and late afternoon, it’ll make exploring the city more relaxing. It’s easy to find bike shops that rent all over the city but recently rented recently from Donkey Bikes. They’ve got bikes all over the city and it’s easy to lock and unlock the bike straight from an app on your phone.

Find all of my hygge places on this Google Map.

 

hey, hey where are the monkeys?

If Tinder has taught me anything (actually it’s taught me a lot) it’s that people love the chance to hang out with exotic animals. The only problem is that picture with a tiger comes with as much moral confusion as a Tinder hook-up.

If you’re going to spend the time researching flights, spend the time researching how to ethically hang out with your favorite animal. I did some research on the spots listed below so, if you’re looking for an encounter with some wildlife but don’t want to sacrifice you’re animal loving morals stick to these recommendations.

Monkey Island

Can Gio, Vietnam

Monkey Island is in the mangrove forest about 2 hours south of Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll need a motorbike for this adventure, but the drive is pretty easy once you make it out of the city traffic. The hardest part of the drive might be negotiating yourself on and off the ferry boat.  You can see the route below, it’s a pretty straight forward, just Google Map the directions before you take off. (Goo

It’s an easy peaceful drive if you need a break from city life. You’ll find quite a few stops along the way for gas or snacks, but make sure to bring your own sunscreen, 2 hours on a motorbike and you’ll end up lobster red pretty quick.

monkey in the road

You’ll have to pay an entrance and a parking fee, it’ll be a grand total of about $3 USD. So maybe that $3 is a little steep when all you do is walk around the mangroves and watch monkey’s go at it but the whole day makes for a great day trip from the city.

The morality factor is pretty low here, the monkey’s seem to run wild and free. They are also very smart and have become accustomed to humans. I’ve seen hats stolen off peoples heads, and most commonly plastic bags ripped from peoples hands. I highly suggest not taking in any food and swapping the plastic bag for a sturdy backpack.

If you’re looking for motorbike rentals in HCMC check out Chi’s Cafe. Chi is Queen of Bui Vien lunch, motorbikes or visas, Chi does it all.

Monkey Forest

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Monkey Forest is just a short walk from the heart of Ubud and has more to explore than just monkeys, it’s also home to 3 Hindu temples. Entrance fee will also set you back $3 USD.

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If you’re feeling up to it, you can also buy bananas at the entrance, but beware that you will be swarmed by monkeys.

You can also pay people in the park to tempt the monkeys with food so they will sit on your shoulder. Or if you’re me, a monkey will climb on up unabated and start cleaning your hair.

monkey forest

The morality factor is pretty low here. The monkeys are well fed, probably too well fed, and run the show here. You may see park rangers with slingshots, used in case a monkey decides to take on a human. I think this is the reality if you want to interact with wild animals, there has to be precautions in place in case something goes wrong.

Uluwatu Temple

Bali, Indonesia

While the previous 2 locations offered an opportunity to interact with monkeys, Uluwatu is all about observing and pretending to be a NatGeo photog. I add it to the list because you can’t get a more picture perfect location to catch some monkey action. I think this picture does all the talking for me.

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oh my beer

There are a lot of different Asian beers and lets be real a good chunk of them are interchangeable (literally, Angkor and Anchor???) but these, these are the standouts…

BeerLao (Laos)

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Is BeerLao the best beer I’ve ever tasted? No, but it’s crisp and refreshing with a nice and mild flavor. What makes it my favorite beer is the nostalgia, it fueled my first trip to SE Asia and it’s tied to so many memories, some clearer than others. BeerLao is owned by Carlsberg (Denmark knows what’s up) and brewed by Lao Brewery. They use rice from Laos and import hops and barley from Europe. I honestly don’t know what any of this means besides the fact that it makes for one of Asia’s best beers. BeerLao is the most popular beer in Laos and has slowly become available worldwide. They’ve built on their popularity by also releasing a dark and gold variety.

Tiger (Singapore)

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Tiger, a Singaporean beer, is probably the most famous SE Asian beer. It’s easily found all over the world, I just had one here in Denmark the other week  and at $5 dollars it really made me miss Asia. Maybe Heineken is trying to make back the $4.1 billion it spent acquiring Tiger. But Tiger is much more than a beer, it’s become a cultural icon, cultivated by travelers. There is good reason Tiger is so popular, it’s a good beer, a really good beer and the perfect chaser for a spicy curry.

Bia Saigon (Vietnam)

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It tastes like most other Asian beers, light and easy to drink in the heat and humidity. Bia Saigon comes in two varieties: red and green. I usually ordered the red. Why? I have no idea, I was never actually able to tell the difference between red and green. But if you want to step up the class there is also a Saigon Special, the green bottle and taste remind me of Heineken, not surprising considering how popular Heineken is in Vietnam.

I was not that surprised when I found out that Vietnam was the 3rd biggest beer market in Asia, after China and Japan. What I did find interesting is that Bia Saigon isn’t owned by a big beer conglomerate, a quaint idea until I realized it’s owned by a state controlled company.

Pasteur Street Brewing Company

I’ve written about this brewery before but I think they deserve the repeat. I’m going to make a bold statement here but the beers from Pasteur Street are my absolute favorite.  Pasteur is an American craft brewery in Ho Chi Minh City. They use imported ingredients alongside locally grown ingredients which has resulted in some truly unique beers including a durian beer. If durian doesn’t entice you, they’ve also got a passion fruit wheat ale and jasmine IPA that are just beautiful.

 

istanbul, not constantinople

Istanbul is my favorite kind of city, a little bit of big city class with lots of chaos. You can eat street food for breakfast and end the day with fancy rooftop cocktails. And in between, explore all the historic sights…

Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque

The 2 “must see” spots in Istanbul. They are worth the time to see but they ended up not being the highlights of my trip. An upside of traveling to Istanbul in the off season is there weren’t very long lines, the downside was half the Hagia Sofia was covered in scaffolding.

P1030517_editedSuleymaniye Mosque.

Less famous than the Blue Mosque but more beautiful if you ask me. It sits atop a hill, with breathtaking views of the city and equally breathtaking details inside. After exploring the mosque find a cafe nearby where you can sit and take in the views.

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 Basilica Cistern

Go back in time when you descend the stairs into this former Roman water source. They’ve tried hard to commercialize it with a cafe and a photo booth, but none of it is needed. The architecture and atmosphere are impressive and surreal enough.

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Cihangir Area.

 This is the neighborhood that sold me on Istanbul as more than a tourist city. Get lost in the streets filled with antique shops, cafes and bakeries, that is after you have brunch at Van Kahvalti.

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Traditional Turkish Bath

I saved the best for last. The Turkish bath was one of my all time favorite travel experiences. Just a warning, while the end result is relaxation and smooth skin, it is not a gentle or delicate process, at least 5 layers of skin will be scrubbed off you. There are many Hamamis to choose from around the city, we opted for Kilic Ali Pasa, a little more upscale  but you get what you pay for and the service and atmosphere were worth the extra lira.

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Some need to knows for Istanbul:

  • Mosques are free but closed to visitors during prayer. Usually around lunch
  • Mosques provide head coverings and skirts for ladies
  • Turkey has a tipping culture!
  • Visit The Outspoken Travel Guidebook for Istanbul for more information and recommendations

street food: istanbul

Street Food, the reason I have to unbutton my pants when I sit down.

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In my most natural state: eating

I wasn’t expecting to find so much street food in Istanbul. I’d read all about Turkish Delights (delightful btw) and Turkish breakfast (I love a place with breakfast culture). But I hadn’t read much about the street food and I’m here to fix that problem. There were some disappoints but most of it was a must eat.

The Hits: 

Simit: A Turkish bagel that’s easy to find all over the city. Covered in sesame seeds it’s got an amazing flavor, who knew seasme seeds were so flavorful? Simit stalls are easy to find all over the city, especially on Istikal Street. Get your simit with cheese spread, olive spread or nutella, and all for 2 lira.

Juice: I play fast and loose with the phrase “street food”. It’s easy to spot a juice stall from the vibrant colors of the pomegrantes and oranges. Round off your morning simit with a freshly squeezed glass for only 3 lira.

Doughnuts: Possibly one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. Super light, fresh and dripping in some sort of sugary coating. These were easy to spot on Princes Island where they came in ball form, while in Istanbul the only place to find them was near the fish sandwich stalls by the walking bridge. Don’t be confused with the other forms of fried sticks and circles, they just don’t compare. You’ll break the bank when you buy these for 5 lira. 

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Turkish Shortbread Cookies: I fell in love with these little cookies. And why not, they’re small, cheap and come in so many flavors. To me the reflect what I love about Turkish food culture, small portions so you can try everything. The bakeries are a little harder to find in the tourist areas but keep a look out and you’ll run across one. A small bag will only cost a few lira.

The Misses:

IMG_9173Street Corn: Every where I went there seemed to be a guy selling corn alongside chestnuts. The smell of roasting corn finally wore me down. I think I was expecting something along the line of sweet corn and that it was not. I can’t express the disappointment at that first bite of chewy bland corn.  My corn on the cob met the bottom of a trash can soon after. All was not lost though as the corn vendor asked me out on a dateIMG_9236Street Meat: To be fair I only tried one street meat stall (gyro meat) but the sandwich was as appealing as this out of focus picture. The ratio of bread to meat was way off, too much bread, which only worsened the dry meat situation. I believe there is better street meat out there so go forth and find great street meat.

Istanbul

“We are not afraid, we are here and we won’t get used to it”

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These are the simple but powerful phrases that adorned Iskital Street, where a suicide bomber killed 4 people and injured many more in Istanbul last Saturday.

I happened to be in Istanbul last week when the attack occurred. There are far too many things I could talk about (lack of media coverage for one) but I think the most important one is what is written on those posters:

“We are not afraid, we are here and we won’t get used to it” 

Talking to my friend over brunch today we finally confessed to each other how the bombing affected us. We refused to fuel each others fear while in Istanbul but today we admitted that we were put on edge by the large crowds and random sirens. While this may seem like the worst sales pitch for traveling to Istanbul; I’m also not going to pretend that there weren’t moments where I was nervous and uncomfortably alert. But these were just fleeting moments, gone by the time I finished a Turkish delight.

I found it puzzling at first when in the aftermath of the bombing life went on as normal. The only noticeable difference was the abundance of flags that appeared by Monday in a sign of solidarity and respect, but I saw no one cowering in fear. I’m taking my cue from the Turkish people, I refuse to let a terrorist dictate how I live. Things get scary sometimes but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear. Let alone let fear rule our lives. I say, keep on traveling friends.

Look forward to more posts about beautiful Istanbul. Until then here are a few photos…

 

 

travel inspiration: waterfalls

I don’t go chasing waterfalls, but I somehow always manage to end up at one during my adventures. (I hope you caught that crazy, sexy, cool 90’s reference)

I’m always this happy around waterfalls

To get you over the end of the weekend blues here is a short list of some of my favorite waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Hopefully they will inspire your next holiday or at least your next daydream…

Kawasan Falls, Cebu Island, Philippines

#nofilter

I saw a picture on Instagram of Kawasan and I knew I had to go there. I booked my entire trip to the Philippines based off of that one picture and it did not disappoint. Words and pictures can’t do this place justice, there is just something magical about that blue water.

Hop on the raft and float through the falls

I’m sure you can hire a car to take you there but why do that when you could jump off cliffs and swim through a canyon to get there? We chose the latter and booked a tour through Cyan Adventures, highly recommended, it turned the whole experience into one epic adventure.

Tad Sae & Kuang Si, Luang Prabang, Laos

I visited Tad Sae in 2011 and being the adventurous newbie I chose to ride a mountain bike out to the waterfalls, all 16 kilometers. Learn from my mistake and hop in a tuk-tuk. Most street corners will have drivers offering to take you to both waterfalls.

The many pools of Tad Sae

Tad Sae is a place you could spend all day with a big ‘pool’ to swim in. I recommend packing a lunch and camping out for the day. It can get a bit noisy and crowded with local kids but watching them dive off rocks was all part of the fun.

Show off

I visited Kuang Si more recently and worked equally as hard to get there, we drove the 30kms on a motorbike. (Correction, I drove the 30kms with a 6 foot something Aussie on the back of the moto.) I wouldn’t recommend driving there, it’s quiet boring and you can probably get there for cheaper in a shared tuk-tuk.

The pools at Kuang Si

Kuang Si is a beautiful trail of small waterfalls. You can pick and choose one to swim in, although the water can be quiet chilly. While Kuang Si is stunning to look at and is well maintained I found it my least favorite place to go swimming. The photo at the beginning of this post is of the main falls at Kuang Si, no swimming in that bad boy *sigh*

Mo Paeng, Pai, Thailand

A friend and I rented a motorbike to drive out to the falls and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable motorbike drives I’ve had in all of SE Asia. Just hills of green everywhere you look and not another motorbike in sight.

Also, driving on the wrong side of the road

It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the falls, where you have to do some mild rock climbing to get to the main swimming pool.

 

View from the top of the waterfall

Some of the rocks are covered with water and algae making them quiet slippery. I happened to slip and fall not once but twice. I tried to ease my pain by sitting in the pool at the top of the falls and taking in the view of the valley below. The icy cold water was actually refreshing, but my arm was in some serious pain so we headed to the hospital. I didn’t get the chance to explore the waterfall as much as I wanted to but it’s a big must if you’re spending a few days in Pai.

Thai hospital, check!

Good news, it wasn’t broken but I got a sweet sling to wear and some nice pain meds.

London, Baby

‘ello London!

If you’re looking for a post about the hidden gems of London this is not it. I packed all the touristy bits into a 2 day London extravaganza. Maybe you’ve seen that episode of Friends, the one where they all go to London (minus Phoebe), well, I was Joey.

Or ‘the tube’ as the cool kids say

While London is  massive city seeing all the tourist sights within 2 days was a breeze. Here’s a run down of how I saw (almost) all the sights in 2 days.

Day 1
Following too many cups of coffee, we took the tube from Hampstead to Green Park. At this point I was skipping through the park as I got my first glimpse of Buckingham Palace.

I’d like to stop here and thank the London Police for being the friendliest bunch of police officers. We got to Buckingham Palace shortly before the changing of the guards meaning it was getting VERY crowded. A police officer reminded me to keep my bag in front of me as pickpockets are common. But even more fantastic were the two police officers that took epic pictures with me. It was a general win for the city of London that day.

Once at Buckingham Palace we were walking distance to everything. We took a path from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square then onto Westminster Abbey. We opted not to go into Westminster Abbey as it was a little too expensive. *Pro tip: you can get in free when you attend Mass*

From Westminster Abbey you can walk to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Big Ben was the big attraction for me and we got there just in time to hear the bell ring at noon. The view from Westminster Bridge is everything. The Thames, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and the city of London it’s all there. And if you don’t mind making a fool of yourself you can find the perfect angle on the bridge to take pictures with Big Ben. I went with the “somebody to lean on” pose.

Gangsta Lean on Big Ben

At this point in my London Tour Extravaganza we needed lunch. We slowly worked our way to Chinatown by way of Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square. Post lunch coma we headed to Piccadilly Circus and did a little browsing in the nearby shops. After a glass of bubbly at a shop that shall remain nameless, I was ready to take on the rest of London. We made our way back to the Thames and crossed over the Millennium Bridge, taking us by the Tate Modern, the Globe Theater and the London Bridge.

Those London Views

For our mid afternoon snack we stopped by the Borough Market, located in a rebuilt part of South London. The market has literally everything from apple juice to zebra meat. We stuck to brownies and pretzels.

Isn’t she lovely?

We were almost finished with our marathon loop of London as we marched on to Tower Bridge. We crossed Tower Bridge just before sunset so we marveled at the Tower of London while we waited for the sun to set. I highly recommend getting a glimpse of Tower Bridge at night, it really is magnificent.

Day 2
We brunched and we brunched hard. There’s really not too much you can or want to do after a booze filled brunch but we did manage to wander around Soho and Shoreditch. Shoreditch is definitely on my list for my next visit to London.

Street Art in Shoreditch

After a rest and change of shoes we continued on to Abbey Road and Oxford Street. Even though I love shopping and the Beatles, Abbey Road and Oxford Street were so overrun with people that they were difficult to enjoy.

Cheerio for now

I was pleasantly surprised by how much of London I could see in just two days. If you’ve only got a couple days seeing don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the city it is a manageable and quite friendly city. Cheers x