Monday, February 27, 2017

An Evening in Cologne: Grievances and Dinner at the Glashaus Restaurant & Bar | Hyatt Regency

My love for food is real that each year my girth is growing arrogantly. How spectacular is that? Not.

Perhaps too blunt for an introduction of a blog entry about a dinner in a classy hotel restaurant. But it’s a current personal topic that I am trying to address. When you are 46 going 47 and genes stand in the way, I guess one should take it seriously.

Dinner at Glashaus Restaurant & Bar
Cologne skyline

The Cologne skyline. This is the view from Hyatt Regency Cologne Hotel where the Glashaus Restaurant & Bar is located.

But what I really struggle, even when I eat just a little, is that I already feel so full. I seriously envy those women who can eat and laugh their way from a starter to the main course and a dessert. When I eat out or go to gatherings where food is served, I always check the plates of others and compare it to my mine. And it only leaves me with unanswered questions – Why am I already full with ½ or ¾ of what they ate? I always end up standing for the rest of the evening because my stomach is up to my throat already!

Before people start to lecture me about healthy eating here’s the gist: I eat healthily. When you open my fridge, all you see are vegetables. And I eat 4 to 5 different kinds of fruits every week.

Anyway, I am digressing so let me get back to the original topic.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Random Street Photography in Cologne, Germany

These pictures were taken last year on the 1st of September.

Altermarkt
Kranhaus

A new month just kicks in, bringing autumn closer, but on this 1st day of September, the weather was warm as a summer's day in Cologne. My plan after work was to visit this food market a reader told me about. I love it when readers of my blog give me suggestions of new places, events and even food to try. Keep it coming please! =)

So after work, I searched for this food market which is only open on Thursdays, starting in the afternoon until the evening. However, for some reason, I could not find it. I was a bit disappointed and thought that perhaps, for some important reason, they have cancelled the market for this particular week. But a few days later I realised that I went to the wrong square. The market should be on Rudolfplatz and not Neumarkt! Had I walked 3 more blocks I would have seen it. Well, next time then.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cologne, Germany: WDR ‘Funkhaus’ – Chic Café near the Train Station

The city of Cologne is not the prettiest in the country, I must admit. It is also not the city with many trendy and stylish cafes that you can easily find on the streets. You better go to Berlin for this.

Brote & Kase mit Schwarzwälder Schinken und Gewürzgurken

My direct train from Cologne (Germany) to Utrecht (Netherlands) is going after 19:14 and I have an hour and a half to kill time. So the day before this trip, I searched online and found the Funkhaus Bar Café Restaurant on Wallrafplatz which is very near the train station (Koln Hauptbahnhof) and the Cologne Cathedral. It is basically just a stone’s throw away; a quick 4-minute walk to the train station passing via the cathedral.

Because I did not want to miss my train, I settled to eat here. But more importantly, the ambience and design looked pretty much up my alley. I love visiting cafes, bars and restaurants with beautiful and cosy interior design. The more stylish, unique and catchy they are, the better.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Netherlands: Beautiful Photos of Utrecht Last Summer 2016

These pictures of Utrecht were taken last summer…

I never tire taking pictures. Sometimes I wish I get tired of this hobby, but it seems that the more I do it, the more I hanker for more. It goes the same way with taking pictures of Utrecht, my adopted hometown.

Singel
Bagels n Beans

The city is currently going through a significant facelift. It is a massive upgrade that the whole landscape of the city will change, and for the better. The old city centre will stay the same, though, as this is, of course, the historical and protected core of Utrecht but the central station and Jaarbeurs area will become a state-of-the-art cosmopolitan belt. The Singel canal will also be brought back which will bridge the old and new part of Utrecht Centrum. The project is implemented in phases and is slated to be completed in 2020.

To learn more about this ongoing city project, please go here: Utrecht CU2030 (good news: there is an English version of the website)

The CU2030 does not mean – See you in 2030 and that the project will be finished by then. It is a bit misleading. In fact, the major projects will be finished 3 years from now (2020)! CU2030 means to see you in the future and to ‘See you too 030.’ The numbers 030 is the region/area code of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The locals here have a tendency to call their city and region by their area code. Amsterdam, for example, is 020, while Rotterdam is 010, and The Hague, 070.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pictures of Westerpark Neighbourhood in Amsterdam

I will be missing this area of Amsterdam...

Boating in Amsterdam
Kostverlorenvaart

The pictures in this blog post gallery were taken last year late summer and early autumn during an afternoon stroll in the borough of Westerpark.

Just to give you an idea, Amsterdam is divided into several boroughs. Most tourists prefer to stay and go around in the Centrum only (and a part of Oud-Zuid which is where the Museumplein is located), never really venturing out to other neighbourhoods in the city. Sometimes I do see a few tourists in Westerpark, looking very helpless and lost, as they poured over a map of Amsterdam trying to figure out where they were.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Museum Village of Orvelte in Drenthe, Netherlands

Apart from the famous museum village ‘Zaanse Schans’ near Amsterdam – which is the most popular day trip destination (including Volendam) for all tourists visiting the city with an extra day to spend – did you know as well that there is another museum village in the Netherlands?

I learned about Orvelte a while back but I can’t remember how I found the village. I have been wanting to visit for years but just didn’t really had the chance. The Dutchman has an aversion to visiting villages and cultural related activities, well due to a childhood overdoses, so I have to do this all by myself, or I have to go with friends.

Horse tram carriage Orvelte

The opportune time came last March when I schemed up a long weekend road trip in Drenthe. I quickly made an agenda on what to do and see in the province. I stayed in the charismatic village of Westerbork and visited Assen, the capital of the province, Meppel, the Westerbork Memorial Camp and Museum and for my last item on the list, Orvelte.

I will be meeting with girlfriend Bru who lives not too far away for lunch here. It’s going to be like hitting 2 birds with 1 stone, having a catch-up lunch with Bru, and finally visiting the historical museum village.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Netherlands: Haunts of the Past at the Westerbork Camp

Last year around March I did a road trip in the province of Drenthe in the northeastern part of the Netherlands. It was the last province in the country that I have not visited. The Dutchman was on a business trip, so it was the perfect time for me to take a long weekend jaunt for myself. This kind of local and cultural trips are his nightmare, so I am grabbing the chance.

I stayed at the Abdij de Westerburcht Hotel, a former abbey of the Stefanos Church in Westerbork. The building looked very low profile compared to the other abbeys I have seen, but in the hallways and rooms, I could see some of the old world charms of the interior architecture and the stained glass art on the ceiling.

Westerbork Concentration Camp

The railway tracks that brought Holocaust victims to Westerbork enroute to Nazi concentration camps in Germany , Czech Republic and Poland.

Westerbork Concentration Camp

There were 97 trains carrying mostly Dutch Jews (107,000) and  Sinti and Roma (245) that departed from Westerbork to the Nazi concentration camps in Bergen-Belsen, Theresianstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor.

One of the places I wanted to see in this long weekend trip was the Westerbork ex-Nazi Concentration Camp located in Hooghalen, not too far away (approximately 6 kilometres) from the village of Westerbork where I was staying. The place functioned as a transit camp during the World War II, bringing many Dutch Jews to concentration and extermination camps in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. It is now a monument and a museum called Herriningscentrum Kamp Westerbork (Westerbork Memorial Camp).

When I visited, I also learned about the post-war history of the camp, which was something I did not know about previously.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

On Taipei’s Streets: Pork Dumpling & Sticky Rice + Glass Noodles + Pickled Cabbage

Taiwan is famous for its street food and people swear that they come here just to eat.

I have eaten a few street foods in Taipei and so far these are the 2 random street food items I found in Wanhua District that I really liked a lot. Not to mention, both were amazingly dirt cheap! Long live Taipei street food =)

Pork Dumpling by the Dumpling Factory
Location: Baoqing Road near Ximen Station Exit 3
Amazing Street Food Price: NT$20 each = €0.60 (cheaper if you buy more)

Pork Dumpling

There are so many dumpling stands and restaurants in Taiwan! I have eaten soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) in a restaurant in Daán but I am reserving this for another post. Dumplings come in many varieties and they seem to be the most popular food of Taiwan. One can surely not miss this when visiting the country.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

The World Can Learn From Taiwan On Proper Metro Etiquette

The world indeed would be a much better place if people just try to give a little back to society in the form of social etiquette. Like as simple as queueing up properly and waiting for other passengers to get out of the metro, the train or the bus before stepping in. Should not be difficult right?

Taipei Metro
Taipei Metro

In Taiwan, they have this metro etiquette in place. This is perhaps the first that I have seen a city implementing such metro etiquette accompanied with very visible signs such as ‘waiting line’ and lane markings laid out efficiently to prevent commuter clutter. People really line up and wait for their turn. During rush hours, the lines are obviously much longer but orderly.

Other Asian cities with subways such as Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore do have lane markings as well but no glaring ‘waiting line’ sign such as in Taipei. What Taipei does is spoon-feeding metro etiquette to its commuters.

In Japan where public etiquette is seen as your business card to the outside world, they, however, do not have this system in place. But I guess the Japanese have no need for this. They do not feel obligated to be reminded to queue up properly because showing correct manners in public is already written in stone in their culture. It’s an automatic thing, like a reflex. If you have been to Japan, I am sure you will agree.

I guess every one of us would need a little bit of help then? Like a friendly reminder, just like what they do in Taipei.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Taipei, Taiwan: Visiting the Longshan Temple in Wanhua District

Wanhua is the oldest district in Taipei. This is the ‘Old Taipei’ of the city and this also means that the oldest buildings and temples are located here. Perhaps one of the good reasons to use Wanhua District as a base during a visit to Taipei.

Longshan

Longshan Temple is the oldest temple in Taiwan, but it is also the most famous, and visited by hundreds of devout worshippers and tourists every single day. The temple was built in 1738 during the Qing Dynasty by pioneer immigrants from the Fujian province of China. They built this temple patterned after the original one in their hometown, and blessing it as well with the same name.

For the art enthusiasts, one can peruse the many lovely detailed artworks on the walls and ceilings here, and the stunning wooden and cast iron sculptures on the pillars of the temple halls are surely a delight to see. This ancient building is a great representation of traditional Chinese architecture in Taipei. The temple has been lovingly restored many times and the latest one was after the second world war. I have read that Chinese poems and verses are written on the walls. It is too bad that I do not speak and write Chinese to appreciate these. Here in Taipei, they speak Chinese Mandarin.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Taipei: A Quirky ‘Toilet Dinner’ at Modern Toilet Restaurant in Ximending

Most people would have probably read about the famous Modern Toilet Restaurants online or have seen it one way or another whilst visiting Taiwan, however, I came across Modern Toilet on a different venue, on Google Maps. Although I believe I have read an article circulating about them a few years ago but I never really took note that they were based in Taipei. It did not ring a bell, but Google Maps did find it for me nonetheless.

Toilet Dinner

My very toilet inspired dinner. Hungry now?

Modern Toilet

The Modern Toilet Restaurant in Ximending is beside 7-11 and above Rainbow Pixy.

I was on Google Maps checking the exact location of my hotel in Ximending when I saw Modern Toilet listed just a block away. The name is catchy of course. So I clicked on the link, visited their website and saw their concept. Then I remembered that I have read about them a few years back. I was so entertained at the thought of having some perverse toilet humour during a meal, so I promised to drop by.

Tip: Business owners, make sure your business is listed on Google Maps. When I plan my trips, I always inspect the places I am visiting on Google Maps ( the hotel I am staying, the restaurants, places to sightsee, etcetera), and I can stay glued on to it for hours until my eyes glaze over the screen. Guess what? I am no different than your next customer who is perhaps more internet savvier than me.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Hotel in Taipei (Tango Inn Taipei Ximen) and Hotel Room Prices are Never the Same

Hotel rooms are very similar to commodity goods and capital stocks. They start with a baseline price or a rack rate as they call it in the hotel industry, but depending on the supply and demand in the market (e.g. events in the city, weekend, public holidays, a specific month, etcetera), their prices can fluctuate. Ergo, the special deals and discounted promotional room offer we receive in our junk mail folder. But they can also skyrocket to 3x or more its baseline price. Seriously.

Tango Inn

I know it sounds ridiculous but this happened to me recently when I was in Cologne for business. I paid a 3-star €80 hotel room for the exorbitant price of *gasp* €260! Why? Because there was an important event happening in town, well 2 events actually, and all hotels in the city centre have joined the bandwagon and have doubled and tripled their asking price. This is the supply and demand dance which is not regulated at all in this industry. This is usually the case with cities that host a large number of famous trade fairs and conferences throughout the year. Normal tourists who are shelling out money from their own pockets are most often the victims.

Tip: Always research ahead of time. If worse comes to worst, there is always Airbnb and other B&B sites as a fallback. Or book in the suburbs, you will be surprised.

In Taipei, I paid about €106 a night at Tango Inn Taipei Ximen Hotel, but when I checked the rates today, they were going at €94 (after discounts). The difference is not huge but it shows that no same price is ever given to a room. I normally book my hotels at Booking dot com for the reason that it is the most user-friendly hotel booking website I have ever encountered. I have a Genius account there, which means I get insider discounts and privileges, but I am far from being a loyal customer though. I book directly with the hotels if they give me a better price or concession, such as with the case of our recent stay at the Avanti Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and Makati Diamond Residences in Manila.

So what’s the lesson here?

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Taipei, Taiwan: Ximending Pedestrian Zone is a Must Visit!

My base during my stay in Taipei was Ximending. The hotel was not located in the pedestrian zone though but nearby, literally around the corner on the next block. I chose this area for a few important reasons. Firstly, the hotel I found looked very nice, clean and modern. It was relatively new. Secondly, the location was not too far away from the Ximen metro station, which is just perfect. Thirdly, as a woman travelling alone, I feel safe staying near a large crowd gathering area such as the Ximending phenomenon.

Which brings me to my post for today, the Ximending Pedestrian Zone in Wanhua district is indeed a must for every first-time Taipei visitor. You cannot just miss this.

Ximending

The name Ximending is derived from Hsimenting, named after the administrative division of this place, Seimon-cho during the Japanese rule.

Ximending

Many of us probably don’t know about the history of Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of Taiwan (ROC), except perhaps, which had been in the news lately, that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and a few countries do not acknowledge its legal status as a country. For all I care about political innuendos and drama, which oftentimes does not really translate for the welfare of the people, Taiwan is a country that has its own functioning legal government. That easy; end of story =)

But did you know that Taiwan was once under Japanese occupation for 50 years between 1895-1945?

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Taiwan: The Districts and Map of Taipei and Where to Stay

My trip to Taiwan was a rather short one. It was a 4-day/3-night jaunt before going back to the Netherlands. I have been to Taipei a long time ago but never really had the opportunity to see the city, which is the argument that egged me to add Taiwan to my Asian travel itinerary.

My supposedly last leg of my Asian holiday (China – Philippines – Vietnam) was Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where I have a holiday trip with my direct family. However, there are no direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Amsterdam. There is, however, a flight with KLM from Manila to Amsterdam with a quick layover in Taipei. I prefer to fly with KLM for the Flying Blue points so I was leaning towards taking this option. But then I thought – Why don’t I take the flight from Taipei instead? I can fly from Manila to Taipei, and discover and enjoy the city for a few days. The more I thought about the idea, the more my fingers were itching to add Taiwan to the itinerary and book the trip. And so I did!

CKS Hall

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Park.


I saw a lot and did a lot in my few days stay in Taipei. I even managed to go to the north, to Shifen and Jiufen for a day. I can’t wait to write about my travel experiences and post all my pictures on here.

For starters, Taipei is where most visitors go to, especially for first timers and for city trip visitors. Since the metropolis is massive (12 districts!), it can be very overwhelming and be intimidating as well, to decipher it in detail, not to mention that each district has its own special sights and attraction to offer. More importantly, the nagging question a visitor is often saddled is – Where to stay in Taipei? Where to set base that is easy and convenient to go around?

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Manila, Philippines: Underpass Art in Makati City

Makati City, the central business district of the Philippines has been my work territory for almost a decade between 1993 and 2002. I also lived half of my time in Manila in Makati near Pasong Tamo (San Antonio area) now Chino Roces Avenue. My last residence, however, was in Wack Wack, Greenhills in Mandaluyong City which is just beside Makati City.

Underpass art

This is the Legaspi underpass.

So Makati has always a very special place in my heart. I always felt like coming home whenever I visit, but not last December though. Read here: Manila Musings from the Taxi

On New Year's Eve, sister and I went to the Ayala Triangle because I know for sure there is a Christmas lights show there. I will post my video and pictures another time as it takes so much time to upload videos. In order to get there, one has to go through the underpass crossing Ayala Avenue. There are 2 underpasses in this area of Ayala Avenue and these are the Legazpi underpass and the Makati Avenue (corner Ayala Avenue) underpass.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Manila: Lunch at Mesa Filipino Moderne in Greenbelt, Makati City

Because we were staying at the Makati Diamond Residences, Greenbelt across it was obviously the best place to eat for lunch. Greenbelt is the oldest commercial centre in this area of Makati. I have literally witnessed the transformation of this place, having worked and lived nearby for years. From a previously humble outdated shopping complex with a huge parking lot in front of it into a vast premier shopping, entertainment and lifestyle mall with 5 complexes. It is unrecognisable.

For some reason, I found Greenbelt a bit dark and cramped. The garden area is brimming with plants and trees, which is a good thing by the way, but the low hanging pergolas make the whole place dark and stuffy. I much prefer a spacious and bright garden like 7 years ago.

Mesa

The hanging cylinder lamps at Mesa were gorgeous. If in Europe we have olive oil and balsamic vinegar as staple condiments on the table, in Asia we have soy sauce and vinegar plus a lot more.

I can’t remember why we chose Mesa Filipino Moderne, a restaurant with a contemporary take on Filipino cuisine, but it was one of the restaurants that spoke to us that day. I have eaten here many years ago and would have preferred to pick some place else that I haven’t been to yet. I even managed to create a short list of restaurants, but I quickly realised this is going to be an uphill battle for my mobility-challenged mother. Helaas, practical reasons prevailed. Perhaps it was the proximity of the restaurant as it was located beside the gates and around the corner from a row of restaurants. It was too warm outside so I was, as usual, unanimously outvoted. We took our seats inside the restaurant instead.

When I am in Asia, I tend to follow the Asian routine and habit of eating 3 warm meals a day. It’s too much for my system to adopt really but I have a lame excuse. I am on holiday. It is also quite difficult to say no when family around you eat 3 warm meals a day. My mum will nag the heck out of me if I do not eat 3 times because, to her, I am still a helpless little girl who needs her correct dosage of vitamins and minerals.

There is a saying that goes, ‘If you can’t beat em, join em’. Such profound wisdom.

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