A Day Trip to Paris

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

No matter how many times you have been to Paris, you can never say no to another trip.  You will always find a good reason to go back (for me at least). Honestly, after my last trip to the city, I told myself not to go back there anymore because Paris is Paris, it will always be Paris. But memories do change though. This is what I realised when my sister from another mother told me that she was finally coming to Europe for her birthday. I just couldn't say no. She is one of the most valuable people in my life and I couldn't just be two-hour train journey away and not see her. Besides, it was a good opportunity for me to make new memories,  and another excuse for me and J to get out of London. So without hesitation, I booked two train tickets to Paris. Unfortunately, J couldn't make it in the end because he didn't have his passport. It was at the  embassy and we only realised it the night before we were supposed to leave. I went anyway and of course, J's passport arrived the next day. That's  a typical game of life.

I arrived in Paris  via Eurostar just after 9am. This was the most comfortable trip I've ever had. There was really no fuss. I was a bit anxious though because I really don't speak French. I know a few words but not enough to get by. Luckily, the train station (Paris Gare du Nord) was familiar so I didn't have a hard time finding my way out to the metro. The metro station was a bit complicated I thought. Some areas were under renovation. I felt quite good realising that I was in a foreign place on my own again. My confidence grew as I walked to the platform.

Our meeting place was at the Louvre. I was going to drop by the Notre Dame but changed my mind at the last minute. I realised that I have seen it a few times and convinced myself that nothing has changed since the last time I saw it three years ago. So I went straight to the Louvre. As I arrived earlier than expected, I went around and took photos. God, I must have taken hundreds of photos from this place already. But its beauty never fades, even without the fountains.

I got really excited when I saw Aida from afar. Typical of us, we screamed in the middle of the Louvre as soon as we set eyes on each other. We were definitely back in the old days, being really loud like there were no other people around us.

My friendship with this lady started way back in grade school. Our friendship was so deep that naturally, we treated each other like sisters. I knew from the start that I could count on her. We went to the same school until college. We were roommates for 3 1/2 years. We may have lost touch for a while at one point, but when we reconnected we went back to default - we went back to where we left off. I have so many fond memories of this lady and if I were to write them all here, it would take me days to finish this blog. All I can say is that I am lucky to have known her. She is one of the most sincere and beautiful people I have ever met. With her, there is never a dull moment- literally.

Believe it or not, I have been to Paris a few times but I don't think I have ever seen Arc de Triomphe this close during day time.

This is my favourite view of the Eiffel Tower.
To get this view, we got off Trocadero and walked down the stairs towards the tower.

Another place that I have taken so many photos of (and with) is the Le Consulat restaurant in the heart of Montmartre. All I know about this restaurant is that it's a very old restaurant and it's close to the artist's square which is located in Place du Tertre (the area where famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali used to hang out apparently). A few yards away is the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. 

I really never considered eating at this restaurant before, probably because I thought it was expensive. But since I have heard so many good things about this restaurant, I thought it was about time for me to see what the fuss is all about. So we went there for lunch and we were not disappointed.

Although it was a bit chilly at that time, we chose to eat outside. It was one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. Believe me.

So as soon as I read the menu, I knew what I was going to have. It was not a difficult choice between mussels and duck really. I opted for the duck to be on the safe side as I was traveling back to London in the evening. It was a very good choice indeed. One of the best ducks I have eaten.
Confit de Canard , 19 euros
Saumon Roti, 18.50 euros
Pave de rumsteack, 18.50 euros

Le Consulat
18 Rue Norvins
75018 Paris

We left the restaurant very satisfied and happy. We then made our way to Sacre Coeur Basilica via Place du Tertre.
Artist's Square
Place Du Tertre
Sacre- Coeur Basilica
View from the Basilica

I was going back to London around 7pm that day so we decided to make our way to Terminus Nord where I would meet J's cousins. (Aida and Francis stayed with me until they arrived.) It was a short but sweet meeting indeed. They are very nice people.

I must not forget to mention that although Terminus Nord is right in front of Gare du Nord (the train station), it was not very touristy. I would love to go back there and have a meal one day.
Terminus Nord
23 Rue du Dunkerque
75010 Paris

Ha, who would have thought that after reuniting in San Diego and Philippines we would actually see each other in Europe? Although I only spent a day with these two, I felt like I was with them longer than that. The stories and the laughters never ended. There was so much to talk about with so little time. Sad to say, we are now back on viber until we see each other again.

I can only be thankful for the opportunity to make new memories in Paris with the people I love.

tintin x

Celebrating My 39th in Rome

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Although I have  been to  Rome twice before, I can't say that I have actually seen it. The first time I went to Rome was in 2006. It was a day trip from Venice and the only place we went to was the Vatican City. We took some photos and that was it really. More than six hours round trip to and from Rome didn't give us enough time to properly see the city. The second time, I was on a cruise. People who have been on a cruise would know how it's like to get out of the  boat and "explore" a city in one day. From my experience, it was trying to step out of the boat before everybody else so we could beat the other tourists and see as many attractions as possible. I remember running in my 3-inch wedges in the middle of St Peter's square and jumping the massive queue to enter the Vatican museum, much to the annoyance of the Spanish people behind us. Luckily, none of this happened in July, when I went back to Rome for the third time for my 39th birthday. It may not have been the ideal time to go to Rome as it was really hot but still, I had one of the best times of my life.

This trip to Rome was entirely different from my first two trips. Probably because this time, I spent 4 days there with J. This was our first trip together. It felt really different in a very good way. 

Let's start with early morning walks in Rome. Everyday for at least four days, we walked this route. We were lucky to find an apartment in Vitolo del Malpasso near Piazza Navona. The apartment is called Giulia Charme and we booked it via booking.com. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the apartment but I can guarantee you that it's one of the best places I have stayed in my travels. On our first night we stayed in  Peter's nest near St Peter's Basilica, which was equally good. The hosts Silvia and Ilaria were great. 

There was something in the morning sunshine and the silence in the streets of Rome that made me realise how blessed I was to be there at that time. All of a sudden, I felt contented with what I had although I knew that I wanted more in life. I don't know, perhaps I just felt happy that I was finally making new memories with special people in my life who are likely to stay and not leave me. Ah, how I wish I am more poetic than this. These are times when I wish I was a better writer. You know like those who can easily describe how the wind tastes like without even trying. But anyway.

One good thing about this trip is that we didn't have to rush. Also, the 25 minute walk to the Vatican City led us to some of the most beautiful parts of Rome. Our apartment was few minutes walk to Piazza Navona. The square was lively even in the mornings. We passed by open-air cafes and restaurants which added beauty to the square. If you have seen the film Angels and Demons, you will recognise Piazza Navona.
Piazza Navona

Campo de' Fiori is also located around the area. During the day, the square is a busy market and at night, it turns into a buzzing nightlife. We actually had a drink at the square on our last night in Rome and I really had fun. And our choice of drink? Aperol Spritz.
Campo de' Fiori Market
Statue of the Philosopher Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori
(According to history, he was burnt alive in the square in 1600)

Our morning walks over Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II was one of my favourite things. I could see myself doing this everyday if I was living in Rome. The view from the bridge is pretty amazing. The bridge takes you directly to Via dela Conciliazione- the road that leads to St Peter's Square.
Ponte Principe Amedeo
Castel Sant'Angelo from Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II
Via dela Conciliazione

I felt so blessed that I was able to hear mass inside St Peter's Basilica this time. The last two trips were really touristy. I basically just went inside the church, took a photo of the Pieta and that was it. 

It actually felt so good to be in this place early on a Sunday morning. So quiet and the air smelt quite fresh. And also, there was no queue to go inside the Basilica.
Piazza San Pietro
Basilica di San Pietro
San Pietro's Colonnade by Bernini
St Peter Square's view  from the church
 Pieta by Michelangelo
St. Peter's Baldachin

I loved the fact that I finally inhaled the Vatican City and Rome at night. It is one of the most amazing experiences I've had in my travels. How can I possibly forget those random walks at night and that one round of Aperol Spritz in Campo de Fiori with J and my adoptive siblings? Those late night cravings for gelato and that random (almost midnight) dinner at that little restaurant in front of our apartment. And yes, that night when we got lost and unexpectedly bumped into Altare della Patria (Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II). That was sort of romantic. We basically sat on a bench in a park across the monument for a few minutes talking about random things. 
The Colonnade at night
The Basilica and the square 
Castel Sant' Angelo

Of course I was in Rome so couldn't be there without seeing the rest of the tourists spots again- for the third time. Our trip was well planned so we were able to see all the places that we wanted to see and managed to enjoy them to our hearts' content.
The Pantheon
The  Pantheon oculus

Both J and I have been to Rome separately in the past but we both have not seen the Roman Forum. So we took the opportunity to see it while the rest of the family went to Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs). The weather was too hot for us though so we didn't really spend much time there. 
The Roman Forum

Now, the Trevi Fountain was unfortunately under refurbishment at that time (as part of "Fendi for Fountains" project apparently). It reopened early this month.

We also went to the Spanish steps but I don't have a decent photo of it as it was quite busy at that time.

Of course we ate at a few good restaurants in Rome.  I'm normally quite good at taking photos of almost all the foods that I eat, but because all I wanted was to really enjoy the food and the experience with my family (for a change), I didn't bother at all. Besides, I'm no food blogger, so please don't expect any reviews of the food or the restaurant on this blog.

Here are some of the places where we ate at:

1. Osteria delle Commari - via Santamaura, 23
- I actually couldn't remember having a proper meal in Rome the last time I went there so I didn't have any idea where to eat. As it was my birthday, I wanted to give my family a good food experience in Rome. Thanks to Trip Advisor, I found this beautiful restaurant only a few blocks away from the Vatican Museum. So we had dinner there on my birthday and had a fantastic time. Food was delicious and affordable and the service was great. The Saltimbocca "Roman Style" and beef  steak are a must.

2. Il Mozzicone - Borgo Pio, 180
- We ate here on our first night in Rome. It was a bit late and we were quite tired and hungry, so we really didn't have much time and energy to look around. Luckily we bumped into this nice little restaurant near the Vatican. Our food was served quite quick considering how busy the restaurant was at that time. J had the "cacio e pepe" and I had the fish platter. Both were satisfying.

3. Osteria 140 - Via dei Banchi  Vecchi, 140
- The first time we went to this restaurant we just had a drink outside which was really nice. Then one night, J and I were looking for something to do and thought of having dinner. I suppose we were both tired so we didn't want to go that far. We ended up at Osteria 140 once again at almost midnight. The restaurant was closing at that time so they were really not serving food anymore. But they were so accommodating they let us in anyway.  The lady had to ask her boss if we could eat, and we could so she went through the list of food they had available. Unfortunately, I can't remember what we ate. Haha.

4. Borgo 36- Borgo Pio, 36
- We had breakfast here one morning. I remember they were just opening but we were quite desperate for breakfast. We were greeted by a Nonno who didn't speak English, but was very nice and friendly. He had this huge smile on his face as he handed out the menu. Nonno I think was lost in translation because our food got mixed up, but it was all worth the confusion in the end. The food was really good. I particularly enjoyed the omelette.

5. Old Bridge Gelateria - Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo, 5
- I have been to different cities in Italy before and have had gelati in gelaterias claiming to have the best ice creams in the world but believe me, I found my "best ice cream in the world" at Old Bridge. Too bad I was not able to take photos. But imagine freshly (home) made soft, creamy, nutty, tasty, perfectly sweet ice cream very generously scooped for you to enjoy. All I mean is, it's delicious, massive and most importantly, cheap. I have not actually seen sisters (nuns) queueing for ice cream before, but I saw it here. The queue has always been long since it opened 25 years ago apparently, but I tell you, it's worth the queue.

6. CamBio Vita - via del Governo Vecchio, 54-55 (near Piazza Navona)
- We had our first (breakfast) gelato here. The ice cream was good too and I would definitely go back there for some more. 

7. Angry Pig - via Tunisi, 38
- I am gutted I missed the opportunity to eat at Angry Pig. We tried to go on a Sunday, but unfortunately they were closed. The rest of the family were able to go before they left Rome though. Phil and Trish actually described it as "the best sandwich ever". So this shouldn't be missed when you're in Rome.

8. Nova Caffe- Via Della Conciliazione
- AVOID AT ALL COST. No matter how hungry you are, DO NOT eat at this restaurant. One of the biggest mistakes I've ever done in my life. I absolutely ruined my birthday lunch. It was a simple choice between a cafe that only had three people in and a full-packed restaurant. I basically fell into the trap of believing that if a restaurant is full, it must be good. Not in this case at all. If anything, this restaurant is awful. It's a complete rip off. The service was very poor. They won't even give you a chance to think let alone talk. Everything was done in a rush. Like, they asked us if we wanted a small or a large drink. Thinking that a small is a small glass and a large is a normal large glass, the six of us ordered one large drink each without even looking at the drinks menu. When the drink finally came, it was a jug and it cost 12 euros each. J ordered a simple salad. The salad came as if it has been prepared the day before. The salad leaves were so dry. And worst of all, Trish spotted a small caterpillar crawling on one of the salad leaves. When we told the waiter about it, they just took the salad away without even apologising. By this time we were all quite fed up and  not hungry anymore. Poor J, he almost even didn't want to even share with my food. Oh and I must not forget that their toilet is one of the most disgusting toilets I have ever used.


Apart from the bad experience at the above restaurant, the whole trip was wonderful. I won't have it any other way. This trip to Rome made me realize how blessed I (truly) am. While I have always thought that the more you have, the happier you become, I realised on this trip that this is all I need:  people who can love me for who and what I am, those who can be loyal to me  no matter how much I go through (alone or together), those ones who can shower me with so much love but never expect anything in return and those who can make me genuinely happy by simply being there. Reflecting on the people I was with in Rome, my friends in London (and all over the world) and my family, I can now confidently say that I have everything I need and that I am truly happy. I just wish that I am able to keep these people that I have travelled with this time around.

tintin x

40 Before 40: Go Karting

Monday, 2 November 2015

My first driving lesson when I was about 20 years old was an utter failure. I deemed myself unsafe to drive for the main reason that I closed my eyes whenever I saw a bigger vehicle coming. Not to mention that I hit a pole on my very first day of driving. I have not attempted to drive since then because I am quite scared. I think I have guts in most things but not in driving (or swimming).

Somehow I had go karting in mind when I was making my 40 before 40 list knowing that I don't drive. But because I have tried bump cars before, I assumed that they are quite the same (although obviously not). So I gave it a go anyway.

Apologies for the quality of the photos, they were taken using my iphone 4s (yes, I know) and the place was a bit dark.

Anyway, I liked the racing outfit although it was a bit too big for me. I looked like I knew what I was doing. :)

I must admit I was a bit nervous when I got on the kart. I normally do not pay much attention to briefings, but this time I made sure that my attention was with the instructor 100%. Although I was familiar with the parts of the kart, I was still unsure whether or not I could use them properly. But perhaps I underestimated myself because as soon as the lady said we could go, I drove off almost like a pro (I wish). 

I don't think I have been on a race track before actually.  Although I knew that it might be full of twists and turns, I was not expecting inclines. It was really tricky as there were sharp turns on the incline, so I was pretty scared. I must have uttered "oh my God" and "shucks" more than a hundred times. I almost lost control a few times especially going down. I'm not sure if it was allowed but I screamed a lot. I don't think they could hear anyway because of the noise from the engines. 

To be honest I am not a competitive person. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but when I went on the track I was not expecting to win at all. I just didn't want to crash and hurt myself.
I came last but it didn't matter. I had fun and I was with a good company. That's all that matters.

 Teamsport London
Tower Bridge Business Complex
 100 Clements Rd
 London SE16 4DG

+44 844 998 0000

tintin x

40 Before 40: Five Main Courses from Five Countries

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I gave myself the challenge to learn how to cook 5 main courses from 5 different countries. I didn't know how to cook at that point and the kitchen has never been my favourite place in the house. But when I started experimenting on brunch and breakfast meals, I kind of realised that perhaps I have the kitchen potential after all. And so I took on the challenge and voila!

1. Pad Thai (Shrimp and Chicken)
- Quite tricky to begin with. I wanted to be as authentic as possible so I made my own pad thai sauce the first time (bottom photo). It was good (I think) but it looked really pale. I just used  fish sauce, a little bit of soy sauce and some garlic. I later found out that I needed to use tamarind paste and brown sugar. The second time around, I cheated. I actually used pad thai sauce from Waitrose. But still, I cooked it. :)

2. Risotto
- I was actually thinking of cooking the easy spaghetti. But I wanted to cook something that I haven't cooked before, so I opted for risotto instead. I must say, I didn't enjoy the constant stirring but it was all worth it in the end.

3.  Bun Thit Nuong (Vietnamese rice noodles with grilled pork)
-I found love for Vietnamese food way back in Bristol. My former flatmate used to cook a lot of pho. Since then,  Vietnamese food has become one of my favourite comfort foods. 

I know it's meant to be about main meals but let me talk about the Vietnamese shrimp summer roll first. Summer roll is one of my favourite starters. Not only that it's healthy,  it's also very easy to make. The first time I made summer rolls, I used vermicelli noodles, prawns, chives, coriander and mint. But I only used coriander and mint on the photo below. For the wrapper I used rice paper. 

And then there's the Bun Thit Nuong. I used to order pho all the time whenever I went to a Vietnamese restaurant. Thank God I tried this thit nuong last time. Inspired by Huy, I tried cooking it and apparently it was a success. 

4. The Greek Salad
- Light and simple. Unfortunately I can't eat salad alone. I have to have meat with it, hence the grilled paprika chicken.

5. Beef Curry
- Who would have thought that one day I will be able too cook curry? 
It was not as difficult as I thought. I basically just fried the beef in garlic and onion, added some tomato sauce and mixed the spices (curry powder, cumin, paprika and turmeric). 

Although I know that my first  attempt at cooking main meals was kind of a success (based on my standard of course), I also failed in some.

Like the paella. Trust me, it was meant to be paella but it turned out to be some kind of risotto. I didn't use any vegetables because I didn't have any at that time. Now it's obvious that I really didn't prepare for it, hence the failure to cook paella for the first time.

I don't think my Greek chicken tarhana stew was a failure as such. I may have just put too much tomatoes. Otherwise, it was yummy. Perfect food for the cold weather.

Of course, there were also some other success cooking stories in Tintin's kitchen. 

1. Grilled Seabass and Roasted Vegetables
- Perhaps the most successful roasted vegetables I have ever cooked. And when it comes to grilled seabass, I never doubted myself because I know that it's one thing that I can cook really well. Now that's confidence, darling! :)
Fish cake from Waitrose

2. Beef and broccoli (with shiitake mushrooms)
- I was never sure how to cook beef. But one time I experimented on beef and broccoli and surprisingly the beef was cooked just right. Saying this, I haven't cooked beef since.

3. Kare-kare
- My favourite Filipino dish. It took me a long time to master this recipe. When I was a child, I only got to eat kare-kare at my Auntie Eding's restaurant. How I wish I can cook this as well as she did. Maybe one day.

4. Adobo
- It's meant to be the easiest Filipino dish to cook, but believe it or not, I didn't know how to cook it. I have tried a few times before but it didn't taste quite the same. I almost gave up on it but thought I'd give it another chance. I'm glad I did because apparently it was good according to my "food tasters". 

I'm not one for recipes. I mean I don't really follow them (that's probably why my first banana cake was a disaster). I just look at the ingredients normally and then work it out myself. I am impatient when it comes to the kitchen. But I guess it's time to take cooking seriously especially because I am about to embark on another journey.

If you think you can't cook, just give it a try because if I can, anyone can.

tintin x

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