Tuesday, May 30, 2017

View from our Room: Ben Thanh Night Market in HCMC

In Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam, we booked our hotel in District 1 right beside the Ben Thanh market. We wanted to be centrally located to the important attractions and in an area that is oozing with activity day and night.

Ben Thanh Night Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I took this picture from our room at Avanti Hotel, zoomed in.

By day, the Ben Thanh area is busy with many local shoppers, street vendors roaming around and curious tourists eager to taste a bit the local Vietnamese market life. But by night when the market closes down, the adjacent market streets come to life!

What is sweeter for us is that from our hotel room, which has a floor to ceiling one-way tinted glass wall, we were indulged with a fantastic view of the goings-on of the night market below. This was our view every single evening. There is a feeling of being one with the market for sure. You know, that feeling that despite we were not actually down there below, we felt like we were.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Lost in French Menu Translation in Verdun: Who Wants Pig’s Feet?

The Dutchman and I have a love and hate relationship with France. We liked going to the French Alps for our winter sports holiday and to a few places in the country as well. I know for a fact for myself that there are a number of regions, cities and towns that I would love to explore in the south of France. But I am not rushing, I will get to see and experience them one at a time =)

Last week, we went on a 4-day little trip to Verdun in the Lorraine region to visit the World War I battlefields, the war memorial monuments and the cemeteries.

Lost in French menu translation case: I ordered pork but not pig's feet?

But there are certain things that we do not look forward to when visiting France. In general, French people are not very helpful at all and they will insist on speaking French even if they know damn right that you are a tourist and you do not speak the local language. They will ignore your pleas and people will just continue speaking French even if you said NO FRENCH. I mean, why? Non-parlez-vous Francais! They all fall on deaf ears.

There are of course exemptions to this notorious stereotype rule but we have been coming and going to France, for years already (the Dutchman since childhood days), that this has become a very predictable issue that we have to live with during our visits. Every single time. So our experiences and struggles are definitely not a one-off or a few times cases only.

Do we need to learn French to correct this? Hell, no. But I can learn a few words and phrases which I always do in every country I visit anyway. Just the same for French people visiting the Netherlands, I would not expect them to speak Dutch. Does that make sense at all?

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Postcards from Verdun, France

Retracing the World War I history in Verdun... and (poignant) stories to follow soon...

Dutched Pinay at Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun, France

At the Douaumont Ossuary where the Battle of Verdun happened 100 years ago.

Fort Douaumont - Battle of Verdun, France
Dutched Pinay Fort Douaumont - Battle of Verdun, France

This is at Fort Douaumont, one of the forts used during the Battle of Verdun.

Dutched Pinay in Verdun city centre

Verdun city centre on the Meuse River.

Chausee Port in Verdun, France

Porte Chausee on the La Meuse in Verdun.

Travel Period: May 2017
Destination: Verdun, Lorraine (Grand Est), France

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Netherlands: Artistic Dinner at the Restaurant of ‘The International’ Golf Club

After a whole afternoon of batting balls on the driving range with different types of clubs, a short break of warm chocomel with a splash of whisky and playing a few rounds at the practice tee course, we called it a day and went back to the clubhouse to change and prepare for the evening’s dinner.

Restaurant - The International Golf Club in Badhoevedorp, Netherlands

The day was spent very well except that it was rather cold for a mid-November day. Good thing that I brought my thick shawl with me to protect my neck and face from the chilly wind. In the Netherlands, the wind chill factor is a thing to consider when staying outdoors. A 10C temperature can feel like 5C or lower with the wind. So we are all very glad to be moving inside the clubhouse where it is warm and cosy.

I love artistic and well-thought of dinners. They do not have to be aesthetically complicated dinners or have a Michelin star, but when they are presented well, I really appreciate the extra effort. I guess being a visually-inclined person does help enhance the enjoyment journey of the food I eat. Many call it ‘mindfullness eating’. It’s not something one can develop quickly, albeit the appreciation part is easy though. It’s a habit to be developed and it starts with the basic such as being curious and understanding what ingredients were put together into the food.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Netherlands: Lunch & Golf Clinic at The International

The International Golf Club in Badhoevedorp, Netherlands

There is a saying and I don’t know where I got this, but I dropped this statement out of the blue during lunch in the office kitchen, well many years ago actually, in anticipation for the golf clinic outing the company will do the week later.

“The older the man gets, the smaller the balls they play become.”

It took the guys a few seconds to burst out into laughter. I guess they cannot get past the words, ‘balls’ and ‘play’ in one sentence. These words just got stuck; blame the naughty mind of a man. Haha! But more importantly, they did not expect that coming from me. Well yes, that was supposed to be a joke!

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Deep in the Concrete Backstreet Jungle of Xiamen, China

Adventure travel to me does not only mean engaging in active and physical types of activities. I am not very keen anyway on (adrenalin-pumping) adventure sports travel but I do love hiking and the outdoors, and taking the road less travelled, and even roughing it up a bit with nature adventure trips.

But adventure to me can also mean exploring the world of history, art, culture and the food customs of a place, and even a small backstreet alley as well in a busy concrete city such as Xiamen.

Chinese Art Wall Alley in Xiamen, China
View hotel window

Who would not be curious with this alley decorated in Chinese art?

In Xiamen, I was evicted from my 100-year old mansion hotel in Siming district (near the famous Zhongshan Lu pedestrian street) because the hotel did not have the permit to accept foreigners, and so I moved to a standard hotel nearby. Police even escorted and helped me check-in! At this new hotel, my room's window view is looking down to a small alley.

The alley is quite noteworthy because the area surrounding Zhongshan Lu is a bit old and scruffy-looking but in a Chinese positive way, while this narrow pedestrian street’s wall is pimped up professionally with a colourful template of Chinese drawings, calligraphy and relief sculptures. I have not seen anything like this here in Xiamen. It just stood out. I mean, why showcase an art like this in a somewhat hidden alley?

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Queuing Up for the Famous Oyster Omelette in Xiamen, China

This is perhaps the most famous, some even say must-eat street food in Xiamen.

Oyster Omelette in Xiamen, China

My first encounter with this oyster omelette street food phenomenon was on my first day in the city when I came back in the evening to my hotel near Zhongshan Lu pedestrian street and passing on the busy side street called Taiping Lu which is filled with an array of street food vendors doing the live cooking. On this street is where I also had my first (lunch) meal in the city.

As mere human beings, we are a curious, sensitive and social lot. Anything that stands out from the norm, we quickly react to it. We are inquisitive and we can be envious too. So seeing this street food vendor with quite a long queue piqued my interest. I learned that the oyster omelette is a local speciality, and it got stuck in my head that I want to try it too.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Xiamen University and a Helpful Chinese Stranger

The Chinese, you see, get a lot of bad rap these days, poor them. Most of the stories we read on the news reflect a very selfish, chaotic and unmannered group of people. I have witnessed a few events myself so I can understand the universal sentiment. Even the Chinese government are giving courses to its approximately 100 million travelling citizens on travel etiquette.

Read here: China teaches its 100m tourists some travel etiquette

Xiamen University

I visited Xiamen University and was able to have a quick peek into Chinese school life.

But before we even start to join in the laugh, the 2 other world economic powers and its citizens, Japan and USA were also on the same boat before these nations became highly industrialised. Surely, Europe was as well in the same league during the (barbaric) medieval period. It is how it is, a (necessary) part of the evolution of societies and man.

During this Xiamen trip though, I encountered a lot of unexpected revelations and all the negative Chinese stereotypes I know just flew out the window.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Being Greedy in Xiamen, China: Pork Belly Rice & Fried Squid for Dinner

My hotel in Xiamen was located in the district of Siming near Zhongshan Lu pedestrian street, the busiest and most touristy street in Xiamen. This means I am surrounded by many street food vendors and restaurants. I was practically salivating the moment I arrived, so I quickly treated myself to a seafood lunch.

But this entry is not about lunch, it is about dinner =)

Deep fried breaded squid in Xiamen

Just to give you an idea how massive this deep fried breaded squid is. It is the size of my face. I know I am being greedy.

Xiamen food

Can you understand my predicament? So difficult to choose from the wide array of choices. Which would you pick? Seafood is popular in Xiamen cuisine. 

As I walk the streets of Siming District, I kept telling myself – I need to try this one, and oh, that one too and that one over there as well. Goodness gracious, my taste buds were cackling like chickens in mating. I was already scheduling all the food in my head for the next 3 days which is going to be a challenge as I only have one stomach, and sadly, a stomach that easily gets full.

It is no secret that I love food. Helaas, very much. My travels are most of the times planned around the food I will be eating and their locations, working my way through the city and tasting whatever I can find from the local cuisine’s scene. Xiamen I noticed has a focus on seafood which I very much welcome as I love all sorts of fishes and crustaceans.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Lefkada, Greece: Charming Agios Nikitas Village

We spent a day here at Agios Nikitas, a charming traditional Greek village that has its own beautiful beach. It is one of the popular and must-visit villages when visiting the island of Lefkada.

Agios Nikitas Village in Lefkada Island, Greece
Agios Nikitas Village in Lefkada Island, Greece

The village is small and closed to vehicular traffic. From the main road, visitors are led into the village through a pedestrianised cobbled stone streets adorned with shops, cafes and tavernas on the sidelines. It’s a lovely and cosy oasis one can expect of a tiny unchanged Greek village transformed into a beach holiday spot.

Dutchman and I always say that the thing the Greeks really did good is the islands. They managed to keep it traditional and unchanged. Well done!

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nidri, Lefkada (Greece): We Stayed at Armonia Boutique Hotel

In Lefkada, we originally booked a different accommodation, a stand-alone mini-bungalow in a lush estate surrounded by trees and gardens of flowers located on the Geni peninsula, just 10 minutes from Nidri. However, a few days before our scheduled flight to the Greek Islands, we received bad news that the property could not house us. There seems to be a mistake in the booking, so to correct the mistake we were given other accommodation choices, and this is how we ended up staying at Armonia Boutique Hotel in Nydri.

Our Balcony at Armonia Boutique Hotel in Nidri, Lefkada, Greece
Our view from our balcony at Armonia Boutique Hotel in Nidri, Lefkada, Greece

Summer holidays are about lunching outdoors =)

When we are in the Greek Islands, Dutchman and I prefer to stay in a self-catered accommodation, such as an apartment (or bungalow). In the islands, there are many of these apartment complexes that has a swimming pool and sometimes a café or restaurant. I like the idea that I am not rushing to dress up in the morning and that I can make our breakfasts on my own. In addition to this, hanging out in a less busy pool gives us more privacy. You don’t get this kind of luxury when you stay at a big (and chain) hotel or resort.

Luckily, Armonia Boutique Hotel is small and is in fact, an aparthotel. We booked their family apartment accommodation since we needed 2 rooms. The one thing we really loved about this apartment was the big balcony. Ah, we spent a lot of time on this balcony having lunch, that is if we are not out and about, and which by the way I made myself. In the early mornings I usually sit here reading a book and in the afternoons, we just hang out here talking and enjoying the view to the pool and the bay. This balcony is the epitome of relaxation =)

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rachi Taverna: Best View & Ambience Restaurant in Lefkada, Greece

It’s been almost a year now since we were in Lefkada Island. This coming summer holiday we will be again in the Greek Islands, albeit on a different and new island. We haven’t booked yet, but we already know which island we will be going to. We are excited!

Rachi Restaurant Taverna in Exanthia, Lefkada Island - Greece
Rachi Restaurant Taverna in Exanthia, Lefkada Island - Greece

The Greek Isles are for the Dutchman and moi, the perfect summer holiday (yearly) destination. I can enumerate hundreds of reasons as to why we keep coming back but I will spare you the details and instead show you one example, such as this taverna sitting on top of the mountains of Exanthia and overlooking the village of Kalamitsi and the western coast of Lefkada on the Ionian Sea.

Would you believe that there are hundreds of tavernas like this in the islands? Of course, they all vary in terms of stunningness. And this, my friends, is just one of the myriad of reasons why we have fallen in love with the Greek Islands.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Frank Impressions about Tuzla

If you were to ask me before this trip if I have heard of Tuzla or know just a little bit about it, I will probably say – No, not a clue. The only thing I know about Tuzla, which is also a region and the third largest city in the country, is that it is the only city in Bosnia & Herzegovina that has a direct flight to the Netherlands (through WizzAir). I have no clue as well as to why there is no commercial flight between Sarajevo and Amsterdam. KLM?

Dutched Pinay at Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla
Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla

At the fountain of Trg Zrtava Genocida u  Srebrenici, a memorial on the massacre in Srebrenica, this area openly connects to Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla old town.


To be completely honest, I do not know a lot as well about Bosnia & Herzegovina, well, except of course for the genocide that happened during the Balkan Wars in the 1990’s which many of us know about. But other than that, I barely knew this part of Europe, which perhaps is the reason why it is interesting and exotic to me even if it’s just a 2-hour flight within the continent. Check out our travel itinerary here: Balkan epic road trip itinerary

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is located in The Hague, Netherlands and during the trial on the recent Balkan Wars and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, we get a lot of updates about it in the media. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia was a popular mainstay on the evening’s eight o’clock news. Every time they show a fragment of him on the court tribunal, he flashes this very disinterested, arrogant and devil-may-care look on his pudgy flushed face. The war took place between 1991 and 1999 which was during the time when I graduated from university and began working in Manila, Philippines. I was starting my life and career as an adult while across the continent a war was going on in Eastern Europe. Life is ironic, huh.

After the World War II Holocaust, the universal sentiment across Europe was – THIS SHALL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. Well sadly, it did happen again. 50 years later, just in a different backyard in Europe, after the iron curtain fell and when Yugoslavia disintegrated.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Accommodation Situation in Tuzla (BiH): Stayed at Heartland City B&B

When we were looking for places to stay in Tuzla, it right away hit me that the accommodation scene is not that developed yet. There is only 1 luxurious/business (4-star) hotel and this is not even located in the core old city centre. The rest of the accommodations are a good mixture of apartments, motels, guest houses and B&B-types of places.

Tuzla, as I can see during our visit, is still recovering, infrastructure-wise and economically from the Balkan war in the 1990’s. I will post more information about the city’s history and my impressions in the next upcoming entries but I found this excellent summary of the last Balkan war made by the BBC really helpful – Balkans war: a brief guide. This will give some background about what happened in this part of Europe 20+ years ago.

Our rooms at the Heartland City B&B hotel in Tuzla, Bosnia Herzegovina

Our room at Heartland City B&B in Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

So a very important decision-making factor for our stay in Tuzla is that the place should be in Stari Grad, which when translated to English is Old Town or core old city centre. Secondly, it should look clean, presentable and comfortable. This is how we ended up choosing for Heartland City B&B.

We are only staying here 1 night and the next day we will be leaving for the capital, Sarajevo. You might want to check out our full road trip itinerary here – Epic Balkan Road Trip: 13 Days, 4 Countries, 8 Hotel Stays, 1,302 Kilometres, 7 Border Crossings and 14 Security Checks

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

First Meal of Balkan Stews in Tuzla (BiH) – Dagarica and Muckalica

Before embarking on this Balkan trip, I have already resigned to the fact that, at least, for the beginning of the journey, which will be in Bosnia & Herzegovina, our holiday eats will be far from gourmet-esque.... unless of course if we will be going to first class restaurants, which we did by the way in Sarajevo. On hindsight, I am quite happy we did this in the capital.

Balkan Stew Dinner at Restoran Carsijska Cesma in Tuzla

Bosnia & Herzegovina is a meat-eating country, and I guess that sums up the whole of central and eastern Europe as well. The national dish is Cevapi which are rolled minced meat eaten with pita bread. I have read about the must-eat places for Cevapi in Sarajevo so I suggested to Bubbles, my travel companion in this Balkan road trip, to eat this when we get there the next day. She agreed.

So for dinner on our first night in the country, in the city of Tuzla, is going to be some other local fare.

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Sunday, May 07, 2017

Epic Balkan Road Trip: 13 Days, 4 Countries, 8 Hotel Stays, 1,302 Kilometres, 7 Border Crossings, 14 Security Checks

For starters, the Balkans are countries in the southeastern part of Europe, particularly covering the nations from the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia) and Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and the European part of Turkey.

Because we only have roughly 2 weeks for the trip, this Balkan road trip is therefore only focused on 3 countries, namely, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. We didn’t plan Serbia in (I have been to Serbia last year as well) but towards the end of the road trip, we had no choice but to go through a piece of Serbia going back to Tuzla in Bosnia because the mountain roads were blocked due to an earlier deluge of snow.

This photo of moi taken after leaving Tuzla on the way to Sarajevo.

When road tripping, having a well-drafted itinerary is extremely important, for the reason that this will act as the doctrine and compass for the whole journey. Employing spontaneity is very much encouraged as well but I am the type of person who prefers to know what I am going to do and where I am going to beforehand. In fact, I tend to create detailed, step-by-step plans, but keeping flexibility in mind, because after all, we do not know how a road trip will eventually pan out. The stakes are high for surprises!

Thus, it can be very helpful indeed when one can easily adjust accordingly, to whatever circumstances one is in during the actual travelling on the road. That, my dear friends, is the rule of thumb when road tripping.

So I will be blogging the cities, towns and villages separately, as well as the places where we stayed at, the food we ate, what we did, what we learned, so on and so forth. These will all come later in the blog, and this particular post will act as an overview of the actual road trip.

[To read the rest of the post and see more pictures, click the READ MORE link below]

By the way, this is a very long post.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Glimpse of Enchanting ‘Kotor’ in Montenegro

Have you heard of the fortified old little city called ‘Kotor’ in Montenegro? Well, it’s about time.

Kotor Montenegro
Dutched Pinay Kotor Montenegro

Goodness, I am looking very tired here. twas the end of the day.

Kotor is another one of my favourite places I have visited in this Balkan road trip. I have to admit, I have managed to collect a few faves, and there is nothing wrong with that, I am sure. I have heard about lovely Kotor before so it was not a surprise for me that I have learned to like this place. It was, kind of, expected.

Similar to Dubrovnik, it is an old city inside a fortress, a (triangular in shape) coastal town and a popular stop for cruise ships. Well, at least it does not have the continuous flow of crowds that Dubrovnik has but it can get very busy when a ship is docked.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Postcards from Perast, Montenegro

So I am back in the Netherlands after a 2-week whirlwind epic road trip in the Balkans.

I have just started to organise my thousands of pictures, albeit slowly and one at a time, so it is going to take me days, weeks and months to blog everything. The blog backlog has again increased but I do not mind because I love going through my photos, reminiscing and reliving the trips and writing down my experiences in detail for the blog.

For now, I just want to share with you one of my favourite places I have visited in Montenegro -- the village of Perast.

Perast, Montenegro
Dutched Pinay Perast, Montenegro

Perast on the beautiful Bay of Kotor.

We stayed in the postcard-perfect village of Perast for the coastal part of our road trip in Montenegro. This part of Kotor Bay is very scenic and tranquil. Bubbles and I have only great experiences to tell about this little town and its lovely islets. We definitely have many interesting stories to share! Soon =)

If one is visiting Montenegro, I highly suggest to include Perast in the agenda.

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