Life, Travel

Toledo

June 26, 2015

When staying in Madrid for at least a week, a day trip to Toledo is an absolute must! It’s set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha, only 30 minutes away by train from Atocha station for € 22, return ticket. So I went last Saturday and spent six hours just roaming about and taking photos while basking in the old-world hometown of famous Spanish artist El Greco.

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If I could do it over again, I would definitely have taken a later train, as I was walking about during the peak heat of day (2:30 pm – 8:30 pm). Toledo is quite small, so if you’re okay with skipping museums and tours, spending just one day is more than enough.

Toledo is known for their marzipan (almond meal + sugar or honey), an absolute must-try while you’re there. One of the highest rated mazapan are those of Jacinta & Maria Chocolates along Calle de Santa Fe. I bought four packs: three for my family and one for myself (which I ended up devouring for breakfast the next day)!

There are countless of restaurants and cafes to try. I ended up having late lunch-slash-dinner at El Foro de Toledo on Plaza de Zocodover. I have to admit: it was the huge MAZAPAN sign that lured me in. I’m glad I tried their marzipan cake—it will definitely be one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted for a long, long time as I just love marzipan!

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How to describe with words? Very juicy. Soft marzipan with a crisp to it, like that of crème brulée, on the top of and in-between cake layers. Kinda like caramel pudding or leche flan, with the same juiciness to it. My words don’t do it justice. Do try when in Toledo!

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During my final hour, I was already extremely tired of the heat, and decided to just relax on a terrace bar with the view of Castilla-La Mancha—Terraza del Miradero. Once seated, I regretted not reserving dinner for that place. Being open but covered, fresh air breezed through. Their house white wine was so refreshing and was accompanied by a complimentary dish of pickled mini veggies. Being quite modern, it’s not the ideal setting for a Toledo feel, but a perfect place to wind down after a long day in the heat. And to top it off: an amazing view. ♥

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Life, Madrid

MADRID!

June 21, 2015

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So about a month ago, I spontaneously decided I wanted to spend a month in a city I’d never been to all by myself. For the longest time, I was weighing between Milan and Madrid. To live a month in Italy has been a lifelong dream, but as I did my research and read thoroughly about both cities, my heart started leaning towards Madrid.

Since I was staying a whole month, the apartment I’d stay in played a huge role: It had to be a space where I’d love waking up, a space that would motivate me to work out (mirrors, please!), a place in the city center, and a place where I could cook. In about two weeks’ time, since the idea of finally experiencing living in a new city by myself, I booked my accommodation and one-way ticket to Madrid!

Thanks to Airbnb, it was easy to find an apartment within my budget. Another big part that played into my choosing Madrid was the fact that it is in the center of Spain, as I really wanted to take day- and weekend-trips to other cities.

My Three First Days

I arrived last Tuesday night and spent the three next days exploring different parts of Madrid by foot. I had read about how the city comes alive after sunset, and it was a very unique experience seeing it firsthand!

On my first night out, Wednesday, I decided I’d treat myself with dinner and wine. I ended up choosing a terrace restaurant, Ana La Santa, on Plaza del Angel. I asked the waiter what he recommended and ended up going for a beautiful tapas dish: Tuna sashimi with chipotle mayonnaise and avocado on corn tortillas with a squeeze of lime.

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After dinner, just before 10pm, I decided I’d tick one item off my list: Café Jazz Populart. I walked in fifteen minutes before the live band was going to play, and it was 80% empty. I got a complimentary bowl of candy(!) with my Populart cocktail, and enjoyed watching as the place slowly filled up. The crowd couldn’t have been more diverse: Mid-aged Korean men, local couples (young and old), a group of young adult tourists, single old men, and myself. Albeit the diversity, it was clear everyone shared one thing in common as the old band started playing—Jazz.

Honestly, I had no idea I appreciated jazz until I looked it up on Youtube. One thing I decided before coming to Madrid was that I’d expose myself to new things and learn to appreciate every new experience. And although I don’t love jazz, I can honestly say I appreciate it now. I have yet to tick off a blues bar and a hip bar.

On Thursday evening I walked up Calle Bailén as I decided to watch From the Maddening Crowd at Cines Renoir Princesa. I was astonished at the entirely different vibe of the west area from the city’s main center. I walked past a terrace restaurant that had a peek (and peak) view of Jardines de Sabatini and Catedral de la Almudena.

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I also walked past the Palacio Real de Madrid, and saw the entire Catedral de la Almudena on Plaza de la Armería. Just behind the palace lies the beautifully landscaped Sabatini gardens which I only got a peek of from the terrace restaurant. Bello!

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After the movie, I took photos of the fountains on Plaza de España, which was just to the right of the cinemas. It was around 1opm, and people were out and about chilling as if it was 4pm! It’s located along Calle de la Princesa which merges into Calle Gran Vía, “known as the Spanish Broadway, and is one of the streets with more nightlife in Europe. It is known as the street that never sleeps,” according to Wikipedia.

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I walked along Gran Vía taking short off-course walks up Malasaña, and continued my way down the Spanish broadway while marveling at the vibrancy of the city until I reached Calle de Alcalá when I decided it was time to go home. Basking in all the impressions of Madrid, I didn’t realize I had walked for 1.5 hours!

With all the walking I had done on my first two days in open-toed flats, a part of my left foot started aching so badly. So all of Friday was spent hunting new Nike Runs. I spent about 2 hours checking all three of the El Corte Inglés buildings along Calle Preciados, branched between Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, when I finally decided the best deal I’d get was at Foot Locker. I like exploring all options before I settle as it gives me peace of mind knowing I got the best deal! Anyway.

And all of yesterday was spent in Toledo, a city 30 minutes from Madrid by train. It deserves its very own entry though. It’s been five days since I arrived in Madrid, and what an impression it’s made on me so far! I am astonished by the hustle and bustle of Spain’s capital. All I can say is that so far, I am in love! ♥

Life, Travel

Rome

May 15, 2015

So last weekend was spent with my sister in Rome! ♥

It was quite a drag getting there. The very same day, there was a fire at Fiumicino airport, where we were going to land. So we were kept in the aircraft for over two hours before we finally took off. And three hours later and a bit, we were holding on for our dear lives as the taxi driver zoomed his way into the city. We got glimpses of Rome on our way to the apartment—including the Colosseum, lit-up, streets empty—and we instantly fell in love.

We were lucky to get an Airbnb apartment in the center of it all. We stayed just two minutes away from Campo de Fiori, which is a market during the day and a drinking place during the night. (We had dinner there on our first night and we agreed never to go back.) It was also just a ten-minute walk to the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia and Piazza Navona.

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• Piazza Venezia •

The Pantheon

• The Pantheon •

Piazza Navona

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• Piazza Navona •

The Spanish Steps

• The Spanish Steps •

The next day was spent walking around to see Piazza Venezia, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. And the last day was spent biking around to see the Colosseum and then to the Vatican, where the famous St. Peter’s Basilica is. We didn’t bother going in though, as the church was overcrowded with tourists.

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• The Colosseum •

The Arch of Constantine by the Colosseum

• The Arch of Constantine •

St. Peter's Basilica

• St. Peter’s Basilica •

But biking along Fiume Tevere (The Tiber river) totally did it for me. There’s nothing I love more than experiencing a new city from two wheels. I feel I then get to experience the city more profound than going on sightseeing tours with guides. There’s something about having to find your own way, in a whole new place, with the help of just a map. And stopping by side cafés and gelaterias(!), tasting pasta and pizza and gelato—that was my climax of our Rome trip last weekend.

Fiume Tevere with St. Peter's Basilica's dome peeking behind

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• Fiume Tevere •

Being lovers of the Italian cuisine, we were in heaven! Janka tried all the Pomodoro she could get her hands on. I was keen on trying authentic Margherita pizza, but after two orders, I decided I didn’t like the wet-styled pizzas (juice from fresh tomatoes), so I just resorted to trying all the Gelato we passed by. My absolute favorite was the Peach flavored gelato at Ristorante Tucci, Piazza Navona.

Gelato at Ristorante Tucci, Piazza Navona

• Gelato at Ristorante Tucci •

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• Wine at a side café •

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• Via dei Coronari — a lovely street behind Piazza Navona •

Rome is absolutely stunning. I finally got to visit Italy, and I can’t wait to one day see Venice, Milan and Florence! ♥