Saturday, December 06, 2014

Budapest



Budapest is a beautiful city which reminds me in some ways of Paris, Rome and Porto, cities I've loved from previous trips.The Danube river divides Budapest into two parts and most tourists stay on the right hand side of the river then walk or take a cable car up to the Royal Palace for amazing city views. In general, things in Budapest are not as expensive compared to other big European cities.



We did a free city tour and it was pretty good with an very active young Hungarian girl. We walked around the city for about 3 hours and learned heaps about the culture and a little bit about food. Hungary's national dish is called Goulash, which can be served with chicken, pork or beef but I think, the beef option is the most popular and in most menus of the restaurants around. This dish is similar to stewed beef with potatoes, carrots and red wine in Vietnam which is also my favorite - something I eat for breakfast in my hometown.


We went to the Jewish quarter for a wander to see some of the 'ruin' bars and restaurants. Food wasn't the best but nice enough, probably not my type of food or I made the wrong choice. On the way back to the hotel, I happened to see a phở restaurant which was owned by a Vietnamese woman from the south. She sounded like she didn't want to sell her noodles and the way she spoke was a bit rude so I walked out - I was pretty full anyway. I bet she wouldn't have been so rude if she knew I could speak Vietnamese! I thought it would have been interesting to see how they were doing phở in Budapest



On our last day, we went to the Great Market Hall which is the main market of Budapest. This is a great market! Everything looked fantastic, very nicely organised, clean and friendly atmosphere. I enjoyed my coffee from a tiny shop where an old lady serves her coffee in very small paper cups with a tiny plastic stirrer. This market sells many types of sausages, cakes, fresh fruits, and of course the greatest variety of paprika you can imagine - in jars, tubes, powders and fresh, too. Our clients recommended that we eat at 'Fatal' restaurant as I wanted to find the best Goulash in Budapest. We had a great experience though the portions were the biggest portions we saw anywhere in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. We couldnt move when we rolled out of there. And of course we had beer, too!


We kept walking around the city for a couple of hours then we went to Raday Street which was lined with about 40 different restaurants to have a drink and dinner. We went to Paris, Texas Cafe for a drink. They served very nice wine and because it was happy hour prices, we decided to stay there. We ordered a rocket pizza and watched the US Open on TV. The pizza was great and we had a good time with thestaff and the lady owner. During our time in Budapest, we tried so many types of Hungarian wines and most all of them are really really good but we couldn't work out why they are not well known in the world. They are very cheap, starting from €3. Need to come back here again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prague, Czech Republic



What a beautiful city Prague is! However, I don't think I've ever seen a place with so many tourists. And with that, quite a few local businesses in the central/tourist area seem to rip tourists off or cheat tourists all the time.



As I'd already been through Munich, Vienna and Budapest earlier, I thought Prague was a bit similar to those cities in terms of such great architecture and churches. Prague has a great cheap transport system and most tourist attractions are within walking distance of metro or tram stops. And, to me it seemed pretty safe. I wondered how many people actually pay to use these public transports because most people seemed to just jump on and off without their tickets. Probably, it's free!



I did another great free walking tour around the city to kick off my 4 nights and our guide was a Russian American was great with loads of information about the culture, the city and food. I'm so glad that I did the tour at the beginning of my stay. After the tour, we decided to change some money and we got so upset with the money changer (professional shop) as they charged us €10 to change €50. We didn't know the language and after signing the receipt, we found out and they refused to give the money back. This is very sad and apparently so common in Prague. We were disappointed but we put it behind us. I can't complain as this is probably my fault because I wasn't careful enough.


After that, we walked up to the Prague Castle for fabulous views of the city. After working up a hunger, we found a small restaurant full of people and we hoped it would be a great place. Waitresses were friendly and the food was acceptable, but we got ripped off big time again! We had to pay €78 for a simple meal for 2 with 1 beer, 1 glass of wine, a pork schnitzel and a Greek salad plus we have to pay 15% for VAT and a bread basket which we didn't eat. Some Prague people must think tourists can draw money out of the blue!!!! We had a totally bad day!!!!



Anyway, a great thing came up the next day as we found one of the best coffee shops in town (for me) where we noticed the owners and staff have passion about coffee, where they test their coffee, chat to their clients about the differences between their coffee. Surprisingly, no Vietnamese coffee in the shop, very disappointed (just kidding). We went back to this coffee shop two more times before leaving Prague. With recommendations from one of our clients who lived in Prague for two years, we went to a great Prague pub, Pivoparsky Dum, for dinner where we could taste different beers, including nettle, coffee and banana beer and an amazing meal. We were the only tourists in the pub and it was a huge place but filled up by 8pm. The best meal in Prague for me and I'm so glad we went there.



So, in general, I have mixed feelings about Prague. Not sure if I'd go back.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bangkok



Recently, I spent four nights in Bangkok and it was so much fun. I wouldn't say that would be enough to discover such a big active, fun city. But, for me, four nights was probably enough to satisfy my interests, which are mostly food and market related, including my first visit to the city's Chattuchat market.


Both long and short vacations are relaxing for me as I work 7 days a week and don't have weekends, but I do take lots of breaks. That's just how it works out. My friends wonder why I take so many short holidays. I mean of course it's to relax and relieve any stress and luckily, from Vietnam, there are lots of places close by and sometimes there are cheap airfares.



Bangkok is not my favorite city in Asia but I don't mind going back for a short vacation as I love Thai food very much and also Thai people are very friendly. I'm not sure how many dishes I tried and their names but it was very tasty though occasionally too spicy for my tastes. At times, I felt like I was crying and smoke was coming out of my ears while I was trying to finish the food. It was so much fun eating like a local and it's also a way for me to learn the culture of the place I'm visiting. That's the most important thing for me.


Besides the fantastic weekend market at Chatuchak, I loved Klong Toey produce market as well. I love the way Thai people present their vegetables and meat and, similarly to Vietnam, kill some animals in the market to ensure freshness. The Klong Toey market sellers were so friendly, showing me how to kill fish, frogsand smiling when I asked to take photos. I smell their meat and I saw fish jumping up and down. Like in Vietnam, the local markets are the best places to do food shopping.


Bangkok night life was a bit much for me especially Pat Pong where it's all related to sex and nudity but that's what Bangkok's famous for. There was way too many people asking me the same question, sex DVD? sex show? boy or girl? It was a bit confronting at the beginning but I felt annoyed at the end. Anyhow, it's something they you only can see in Bangkok and I experienced it.


One of the highlight of the holiday was the Sofitel Sukhumvit Hotel. It was great with super refreshing cocktails and bubbles from 4-7pm and a beautiful swimming pool during the afternoons after long walks discovering the city. I'd love to come back to Bangkok again and definitely will stay there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vienna, Austria



A city with so many beautiful old buildings and stories and opera houses. I don't think four nights was enough but we tried really hard to see most of the special places and eat the best food that Vienna offers.



We walked around the city and visited many churches, museums and walked into small lanes with incredibly beautiful shops. One of the meals that we loved the most, for the atmosphere, the professional service and especially the food was Plachutta restaurant. We had walked past the restaurant many times and wondered why they were always super busy and we decided to check it out on our second night. We had their world famous dish Tafelspitz a beef broth with tender rump steak served with root vegetables, crispy potatoes, creamed spinach, horseradish and apple sauce and sour cream and bread; and it was fabulous!



According to our friend's recommendation, we went to eat sandwiches for lunch at Trzesniewski. Their sandwiches were amazing with many different toppings and eaten with a tiny glass of beer, called a Pfiff, such a great combination. We continued wandering around the city and tried coffee with beautiful, tasty cakes at Demel, a place that I'd highly recommend for cake and coffee.



On our last day, we went to the Leopold Museum to see Gustave Klimt paintings and those of other famous artists. What a museum with so many beautiful old and new paintings. We spent about 2 hours there and it was worth every minute of it. In the evening, we went to one of the must-do things that everyone does in Vienna, yes, we went to classical music performance. Because the opera season was in summer break we had to see a rather touristy Mozart and Strauss show, which involved both ballet and opera singing. The lady had an amazing voice and we all loved her performance so much. I'm glad I did it.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Secret Garden Restaurant, Saigon



I like this restaurant pretty much for its location on the top floor of an old building right in District 1. Secret Garden has a very simple design for both inside and outside on the terrace but I prefer sitting outside where I can enjoy the breeze even though it was in a very hot day in Saigon when I visited in May. The open space idea is great with wooden tables and chairs and some colourful flowers around that made me feel like I was in the small garden.



The restaurant has short menus for both food and drink which is great as I don't like too many choices. I love the simple way they cook the food but without compromising on flavour and authentic Vietnamese style. My favourite dishes the day I visited were the stir fried beef with càng cua vegetables and the crab broth served with pickled baby eggplants. Another rustic idea was the serving of drinks in small bottles with lemon grass, a slice of lemon and ice.... a very refreshing look!




I'd love to come back to the Secret Garden again on my next visit to discover more of their delicious food and drinks menu.

The Secret Garden 
158 bis Pasteur, 
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Salzburg, Austria

We spent two nights in Salzburg, where Mozart was born and raised. I had such a fantastic experience there walking around the old town, checking out lots of historic buildings and the view from the top of the mountain, where the Salzburg Castle is situated.



I love the old town and the river which reminded me a bit of Florence, Italy or Paris a bit. The old
town has so many beautiful gift shops and restaurants. We stopped at Cafe Tomaselli for coffee and cakes, which is a bit of an institution in the city.  We had the traditional coffee with whipped cream called melange which was fantastic and their cakes just blew my mind away, Delicious!!!!

               

We walked a bit more then took a cable car up to the top of the Salzburg Castle for the city view. It's very crowded as it should be, full of tourists like me. I took so many shots and stood there at first for about 10 minutes to appreciate the view and the green city and several different bridges connecting both sides of the city. Then we climbed up and walked inside to reach the top of the castle. The night before we left, because it was raining, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant and it was great food as well. The waitress was very helpful, recommending that we have calamari for starter then we had dumplings with bacon and crackling on top of sauerkraut. The second dish is very traditional for this part of Europe.



We also had the most famous Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel, a flattened crumbed piece of pork pan-fried, served with boiled potatoes and cranberry sauce. On our last afternoon in the city, we just sat down in the square with a cold Steigl beer and enjoyed the last sunshine of the day. It was a fantastic 3 days in Salzburg!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Munich, Germany 8,2014

 

We spent three nights in Munich and it was so much fun. We took the free three-hour walking tour with Sandemans New Europe from Marienplatz around the city. Our guide was great and very informative and yes, her name is Virginia. There are several options for this company including paid tours but I think this free tour is good enough for the first day to learn a bit about the old part of Munich and it's culture.




After the tour, we walked down to the English garden, a huge park in central Munich, which has a beer garden near the Chinese Tower which can host about 7000 people at the same time. It was fantastic, full of people and with loads of food available. The most common dishes that people ordered were roasted pork or chicken with lots of chips and each person had one serve with at least one beer. We ordered a grilled mackerel, half a roasted chicken, a roasted pork knuckle and a pretzel and two huge steins of beer. It was a fabulous meal and it took us about an hour to finish before we took the underground back to the hotel.



The next day, we came back to Marienplatz to walk up the Alter Peter (Old Peter) Tower for a fantastic 360 degrees city view. It took us a little while to go up but it was totally worth it for only €2. After all that effort, we needed some beer refreshments. Of course there is no shortage, even in the mornings, in Munich. We made it to Hofbrauhaus, one of the oldest beer houses in the world, established in 1589. This is a great place with lots of old regular characters who come with their own jugs and dressed in traditional costumes, the lederhosen. The ceiling of the restaurant has some great murals painted on it, too. The beer (served in one litre steins!) and food was great, not to mention the band playing traditional music which provided a great atmosphere. Even though I was a bit tipsy, I did manage to finish my beer.


We went back to the hotel and took a nap then headed out for dinner. We went to a kebab shop close by the hotel as we needed to take a train to Salzburg the next day. Stir fried freshly handmade noodles with potatoes and chilli was surprisingly great even though it was way too spicy for me. That's my fault because the lady warned me when I ordered but I thought probably spicy by European standards. It turned our even hotter than Thai green papaya salad or Korean noodles. But I did enjoy it.