Spain’s La Tomatina Festival!

Have you ever joined a food fight? Or at least, wanted to be in one? Well then, pack up your bags and go to Spain coz this is where the world’s biggest food fight is held annually during their La Tomatina Festival.

Goin' loco over tomato!

Goin’ loco over tomato!

First things first, what is that festival all about you may ask? Held annually every last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia, people throw tomatoes at each other for an hour of crazy fun!

It started the last Wednesday of August in 1945 when some young people spent the time in the town square to attend the Giants and Big-Heads figures parade. The young boys decided to have a place among the retinue of a parade with musician, Giants and Big-Heads figures.

The energy of these young people made that one participant fell off. The participant flew into a fit of rage, started to hit everything in his path. There was a market stall of vegetable that fell victim of the furious crowd: people started to pelt each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended that vegetable battle…

…Since then, the number of participants increased year after year as well as the excitement about La Tomatina Festival. In 2002, La Tomatina of Buñol was declared Festivity of International Tourist Interest by the Secretary Deparment of Tourism due to its success. – La Tomatina

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

It was only in 2013 – the year we attended – that the Spanish government started selling tickets for the festival. Tickets are sold for 10euros each. From Valencia, we rode a bus to take us to Buñol early in the morning. It was a 40minute drive. Still quite sleepy really. Upon arrival, we had to queue for our luggage to be stored. We then exchanged our tickets for bracelets. And then headed over to the entrance of the festivities all the while basking in the high energy of the people around us. There were groups of people wearing colourful wigs. Some girls wore flamenco dresses. Quite a few wore tomato outfits too! Foreign visitors wore their flag on their shirts or dressed in national costumes (ie kimono for the Japanese). It was pretty exciting! We got ourselves some drinks. And we’re ready! :D

The tomato fight begins after someone is able to successfully climb a greased pole to get the ham tied to the top of it. When this happens, water is fired into the air which signals the entrance of the trucks carrying tons of tomatoes and the start of the tomato fight. It is interesting to note that the town is preparing for this festival by covering the front of their houses with tarpaulins to keep it safe from all of those tomato juices!

Buildings are protected by tarps and other covers!

There are a few rules that everyone must follow:
Throwing tomatoes begin after the first water signal.
Tomatoes have to be squished first so as to avoid injuries.
Only tomatoes should be thrown around. No other projectiles allowed.
No tomotoes should be thrown once the signal to stop is given.

Still able to smile and go on with the tomato fight after being hit in the eye!

Some tips:
Wear clothes you wouldn’t mind throwing after as the stain is difficult to remove.
If you’re keen to take pictures, use a waterproof camera.
Wear goggles!!! Jess and I can’t emphasize this one more than enough. We were surrounded by Spanish guys who were taking most of the hit when she got hit in the eye. I looked at her. Told her it looked alright then we got back down to business. hehe Less than 5mins after, I got hit in my right eye! I ended up crouching coz of the pain so she looked at it. There were some bits of tomato that got stuck she said. That’s why she led me to a fountain to wash it off. I was only able to open my right eye after! Phew! I had taken my goggles off a minute before getting hit as it was covered with tomato juice! While I was recovering from my tomato injury, my travel buddy is chatting away to a cute Frenchman (her description not mine) who saw her sorting me out by the fountain. hehe :))

Top of the agenda after the tomato fight finished was to get a wash to be some sort of decent. Fire trucks parked were hosing down people for an impromptu shower. We then joined the massive queue to get our things back. Got on a bus back to Valencia and to our hotel. I was wearing a pair of sunglasses on the ride back. When we got to the hotel, I asked for a cup of ice at the reception. Too lazy tired to explain, I pulled my glasses off. No further explanations needed. They got me my ice. We were supposed to go out after our warm shower but we ended up falling asleep. Tired from a week’s worth of travel. :D

 

Have you been to La Tomatina? Are you wanting to go? It’d be great to hear of your experience too! :D

Bangkok’s Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar

My boyfriend and I love eating out. I am thrilled everytime I get to try a hole-in-the-wall place that serves amazing food at cheap affordable prices. Michael, on the other hand, doesn’t mind spending (a bit more) for a. great place with good food, b. a nice place with great food, or c. an awesome place with equally good food! You get the drift. ;) That’s why with that in mind, I made a dinner reservation for two in Banyan Tree Hotel’s rooftop restaurant – Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar when we went to Bangkok last December. I just know he’ll love it – plus it’s my Christmas and anniversary and birthday gift for him! :D

P1180114 Having just arrived from Siem Reap, we weren’t up to much that day after checking into our hotel. We’re off after getting ready. I was contemplating walking to Banyan Tree Hotel coz it looked pretty close at the map but Google map squashed that idea when it showed that it’d take us 40mins – not happening since the BF is finding it too warm already. -_- I dunno if it’s because of the bf or if we just look like we’d agree to being scammed but cab drivers as well as those in tuktuks keep quoting exorbitant amount to us even if the place we want to go to is just a few minutes drive away. That complaint aside and after some haggling on my part, we settled on a tuktuk. He’s not too keen with haggling. He keeps on converting back to sterling that’s why he finds it cheap. I keep converting to pesos that’s why I was finding it so expensive! We did find the idea of being dropped off in front of a 5star hotel in one, amusing. Anyway, we really wanted to ride on one too so all is well.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0460.

I made online reservation a month before – while I was booking for everything else. We arrived around 6pm to catch the sunset. The restaurant is located on the 61st floor. A lift took us up the 59th floor and we had to walk the rest of the way. There was an ongoing private party in the other half of the restaurant so it was kinda noisy too -a drunken kind of noise that is. The view from up there was pretty nice. I found it pretty windy and had to tie back my hair in a ponytail or else, my hair would keep whipping my face -_-. He found the breeze perfect!

We ordered a set course menu. I wasn’t able to take a picture of all the food though as I tend to get distracted by the food and with the fact that I’m more keen on eating them than taking photos. ;)

For starters, he had Angus beef carpaccio with parmigiano and black truffle. I had butternut pumpkin soup with pumpkin tortellini.

P1180117

P1180123

P1180124

 

Main course for the bf was a flame grilled Wagyu MB5 served with mashed potato, buttered asparagus and wild mushroom jus while I had flame grilled lamb rack.

P1180131

P1180135

Dessert is Vertigo chocolate cake… 5 layers of chocolate sin! :D

IMG_2073

 

During the meal, we had our picture taken by one of the staff there. They later came back to give us a souvenir photograph as well as some sweets in cute tiny packages. After our meal, the guy who was attending to us came back with a drink compliment of the restaurant as it’s a special dinner for us. That was a sweet end to a lovely night! <3

P1180141

Souvenirs include a photograph, sweets, and a rose. :)

Souvenirs included a photograph, sweets, and a rose. :)

IMG_2075

P1180144

Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar
21/ 100 South Sathon Road
Sathon, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Open daily (weather permitting), 6pm – 11pm
Attire: Smart casual
Click to book a reservation here

 

DIY: Visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors

We included a visit to Xi’an for one goal and that is to see the terra cotta warriors! The greatest archeological find of our generation. They were discovered by some farmers who were trying to dig up a well back in the 1960s.

P1220038

The terracotta army in Pit 1

 

The Terracotta Army or the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses” is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. -wikipedia

There are several options on how you go about seeing them. Joining a group tour or hiring your private guide would always be the more convenient way. I find them pricey though and not to my liking. Or you can do it on your own. This one would require some bits of research – which is maybe why you’re on this page; and asking around. I find this more my style as I’ll save some money (though not as much time) and I think it’s the more exciting way to go about doing things.

I’ve read that if one rode the high speed train to get to Xi’an, they’re entitled for a free shuttle ride straight to the site on the same day. But we arrived around 11pm and wanted to visit the next morning. So instead of hoping our tickets were still valid, we decided to just not do it. We then went to Xi’an Railway station the next day. On the eastern side of the square is a bus terminal. We found a very long queue and thought it’s the one leading to the famed warriors and we were right after double checking with those in charge of the line.

P1220016

Take bus 5(306), 7RMB, 1hr travel time, last stop: Museum of Xin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horse

P1220024

I’ll finally get to see the terracotta army! :D

P1220028

Entrance fee is 150RMB

P1220062

Pit 1

The sheer scale of this sculpture army makes it impressive. Also, no two warrior look the same. The museum is divided into 3 pit (excavation): Pit No. 1, No.2, and No.3. Pit 1 was the first to be opened to public visits. It is the largest amongst the 3 and is the most impressive too. This is the pit that you’d I thought to myself  “that’s what I’ve seen in print countless of times before!”

Some pictures of Pit 1:

P1220067

P1220071

 

P1220083

P1220098

 

Pit 2 is said to be the most spectacular owing to more complex combat formation. Also, the units here are said to be more complete as compared to those in the other pits. That may be the case but unfortunately, I got sidetracked by a display in the corner where you can have pictures taken with the terracotta army. If you don’t want to shell out for those souvenir photos, you can opt to pay a minimal fee to be able to use your own camera instead. The bf laughingly remarked that I seemed to have been more excited with the photo-op session over seeing the terracotta army in the pits! hehe

P1220126

Pit 2

P1220112

Pit 3 though the tiniest is said to be the headquarter/ command centre of the army in the other pits. Unfortunately, most of the warriors here are endless which could be attributed to vandalism but it’s still a guess.

P1220142

Pit 3

P1220139

Pit 3

There’s also a museum there. From which we learned that the terracotta warriors were originally meant to be colourful! It’s just that time and natural elements eroded most of the colours away.

P1220166

The terracotta warriors were originally full of colours.

I would recommend for history buffs to see the terracotta warriors. However, I wish we had a full day and night to explore Xi’an too! Guess it’s another reason to go back then? :)

DIY: Daytrip to Fuji Shibazakura Festival

I only had one goal for the Tokyo-leg of our Japan trip – to see the pink moss in full bloom with Mt. Fuji in the background!
Disclaimer: probably because the bf made sure we get to watch a sumo match and a baseball game, and visit a robot restaurant amongst others hehehe

P1230509

Shibazakura is a flower that grows thickly, covering the ground like a lawn. The shape of its pretty flower petals looks like that of sakura (cherry blossoms) and it comes in a variety of colors including different shades of pink, white, and light purple, with some petals having striped patterns. –Japan MWM

There are few but vital things to consider when going to Kawaguchiko for a daytrip: How do you go there? Do you take a bus or take the train? What’s the weather gonna be like? Will you be able to see Mt. Fuji? Will the flowers be in bloom?

I was originally planning for us to go to Kawaguchiko from Kyoto as a stop over enroute to Tokyo to avoid backtracking. But on the intended day of travel, the weather was bad wasn’t so good.  It was continuously raining in Kyoto and according to the weather report, it’d be raining in Tokyo too. Turns out there was a typhoon that passed by the country while we were there. Since we weren’t too keen on getting soaked with our luggage in tow, we decided to just head straight to Tokyo. We’d save a trip to Mt. Fuji for another day.

I was checking out the weather report on a daily basis after that. Plus, there’s also a website that would show you a live feed from the Shibazakura festival. Pretty handy! The Fuji Shibazakura Festival is an annual event that is held when the flowers are in bloom – mid April until late May.

When I was checking out the route to get there via hyperdia it hit me that there are other alternative public transport to get there. We didn’t get a JR pass and I wasn’t too keen on shelling out 18,000 yen for transport alone. We opted to take the bus because it’s a direct trip – no need to transfer. PLUS, it’s way cheaper (7,000 yen/ return/ 2pax)! The only catch is you have to make (an online) reservation to make sure you’ll have a seat on the day and time that you want to travel. We decided to wing it one clear day and arrived at the bus station around 11am to find out that the next available seats are for the 3pm trip. Oh no! I easily booked a reservation when we got back to the hotel that evening.

P1230446

Boarding on time at Shinjuku

Two days after, we were back in Shinjuku. Following the West Exit (or expressway buses) sign we arrived just in time for our scheduled departure. When we got to Kawaguchiko station, there was a booth outside that’s selling ticket for the festival along with discounted return bus trip, it’s another 30-40 minute bus ride away.

We were still 30mins away when we first got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We’re just happy that we could see it inspite of a cloudy forecast. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day with a clear view of the beautiful volcano.

Here are some pictures from our daytrip. :)

P1230452

Woot! First glimpse of the beautiful Fujisan!

P1230462

Looking for an ATM that accepts non-Japanese issued cards – the only one we found was at the post office!

P1230481

Taking a picture of the bf taking a selfie! :D

P1230530

So colourful and beautiful!

P1230533

The full bloom of the flowers had just finished a few days before – still looked amazing!

P1230549

Seems like a good choice for nuptial photos too!

P1230555

P1230556

P1230558

P1230562

The queue for the coach back to the train/ bus station

 

Kaiseki at Nishiki

Michael and I love Japanese food! Our first date was in a Japanese restaurant where he treated me out for my birthday dinner. From sushi to ramen to everything in between, what’s not to love about it? I kinda planned the Kyoto leg of our trip around food – I didn’t tell Mike but I’m certain he had an inkling of what was coming.  :D

Inside Tenryū-ji's garden in Arashiyama

Inside Tenryū-ji’s garden in Arashiyama

A must for me for our trip is to have a traditional Japanese meal. Having kaiseki is a great way of going about it! Kaiseki is a multicourse traditional Japanese meal. The menu changes with the season as the meal is a reflection of nature’s bounty. For the Japanese, presentation is very important. Each course that was served to us was beautifully arranged and garnished. It is quite pricey though but since we flew more than 18hrs to get there, we might as well splurge a bit – though not that much (still budget conscious hehe). We had one for lunch and one for dinner.

We had a kaiseki lunch in Nishiki on a daytrip to Arashiyama. The feedback from them were all very positive. Plus, it’s relatively more affordable. We paid 4,800yen per person for an 8-course meal which took almost 2 hours.They have a website but I can’t find any English translation. I wrote a letter to the ryokan we were going to stay at to make a reservation for us which they easily did after I answered their questions: when and what time, how many course, for how many people.

Nishiki restaurant is located very close to Arashiyama Station (Hankyu line). Upon arriving there, we were warmly welcomed and ushered into our own private room. The lady who served us was really, really nice which we happily realised is the norm in the country but she hardly spoke English. It was all good since all we had to do was seat and wait for our food to arrive one by one. We could hardly wait!

That magical tray that will hold beautiful food for the next hour and a half.

That magical tray that will hold beautiful food for the next hour and a half.

First course is a small appetizer. We were served deep-fried tofu with Japanese mustard inside. Accompanied by Japanese wild ginger and soy sauce. This dish is simple but we love it! The mustard gave us a kick. I had to stop everything and hold my nose from the heat. It was gone as soon as it came. The sensation was pretty cool and unexpected! haha

P1220704

 

Second course was sashimi, porgy sashimi and cooked burdock. They were adorned with (from left to right) spirally-cut angelica (celery-like stalk), cucumber made into an image of water drop, seaweed, wasabi and pickled garlic. I’m really not a fan of sashimi and though I was able to finish this plate, it wasn’t in my favourites. Mike thinks otherwise. :)

P1220710

P1220711

Third course, is herring soup with tea-Soba (tea-taste buckwheat noodles) in mild shoyu (soy sauce) soup. It’s garnished with leek and grated radish. Since the radish was made into a round shape, at first glance we thought it was egg yolk.  I really enjoyed the fish! The dish has a rich flavour that try as I might not to, I finished it so fast – Mike wasn’t even halfway with his!

P1220712

Fourth course is oshukuzen – assorted dishes in a tiered food box. This has got to be the prettiest course we’ve had for this meal. I just had to ask her to take our pic with this beauty! <3

P1220718

Upper tier: trevally sushi inside the Japanese ark, dried halfbeak inside the gabion box. Side dishes (from left to right) include special boiled small fish, pickled carrot in ume-blossom vinegar, eel roll with burdock, leaf bud of Japanese pepper, boiled beans and kashiwamochi (rice cake wrapped with an oak leaf).

Bottom tier included taros boiled in soy sauce and sugar, fried free-range chicken and vegetable.

Somehow, it felt like a crime to tuck into this and “destroy” such a wonderfully prepared dish. But we were hungry and can’t wait to taste it as everything had been really good so far!

P1220721

P1220722

P1220723

Sixth course, a medium plate. A fried eggplant that served as a pot for miso soup and ginger. We weren’t sure how to go about eating this. Mike’s solution? Just dive into it!

P1220734

P1220729

Seventh course, cereals. Porridge of rice with green beans and pickled vegetables as well as Enoki mushroom. The Japanese serve rice towards the end of the meal. With this in mind, I was a bit sad to be given this dish because it meant that our meal was coming to an end. At the same time, we were already quite stuffed so I was able to accept it more readily. hehe Mike doesn’t understand Asian soup(s). He remarked that they just seem to be water boiled with something in it unlike the Western counterpart were everything is pureed together. This dish wasn’t in his top three. I really like it though – it reminds me of a dish my mom would cook for me. I’m not certain if one can describe a taste as simple and fresh -that’s how I’ll describe this dish. He gave me his soup and I would have finished it if I can but I just can’t – I was close to bursting!

P1220739

Eight and last course, fresh strawberries to end a beautiful meal and a warm cup of oolong tea to wash it all down with.

P1220741

So happily full!

P1220747

Happy 2015!!!

Every year has its ups and downs. Learn from the mistakes made previously. Let those newfound realizations and wisdom guide you in the year ahead. Face every day with a smile on your face, joy in your hearts and be optimistic! Make your dreams a reality! Fret not on how to go about it – trust that the universe will indeed conspire to make your heart’s deepest desires a reality. :D

Let’s bid 2014 goodbye and welcome 2015 with open arms!

All smile as I got to celebrate New Year's Eve with my family again! :D

All smile as I got to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my family again! :D

 

 

Must See Places in Istanbul (Part 1)

Istanbul is a city that fascinated me since I was young. It’s the only country that straddles two continent – Europe and Asia. It’s been made capital of 4 empires:  Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It’s richness in culture and history easily rivals that of Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy!

Just last week, I can happily say that I’ve visited this beautiful city! I was there for 4 days but I would love to come back for more – more of the architecture, of the food, of the history!

Here’s a short list of things you shouldn’t miss if you decide to visit Istanbul:

1. Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Originally built as a Greek Orthodox Church. It was later converted into a mosque. It is now being used as a museum. It used to be the main mosque of Istanbul until the Blue Mosque was built.

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Entrance fee: 30 TL
Operating hours:
Summer schedule: Apr 15- Oct 1 07:00 – 19:00
Winter schedule:  Oct 1- Apr 15  07:00 – 17:00
***The museum is closed every Tuesday.
Do not miss: the mosaics, the dome, the calligraphy panes, and the tiles amongst others
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

2. Blue Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque after it’s blue tiled interior. Built during the early 1600s, it is still used as a mosque to this day.

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

There is no fee to enter the mosque. However, visitors have to abide by the dresscode since it is a place of worship. Women must wear scarves to cover their hair – or if one’s jacket has a hoodie, that would suffice too. Also, women must be dressed modestly – no exposure of shoulders nor knee. Same goes for the gents, no shorts for them. Everyone is expected to take off their shoes as people who goes in there for worship would kneel on the carpet. You can leave your socks on though. Plastic bags are provided for so that visitors can carry their footwear with them at all times. During times of prayer, no visitors (tourists) allowed inside unless if you’re there to join the prayer.

How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

3. Basilica Cistern  aka Sunken Palace (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern was built during the reign of the Byzantinian emperor, Justinian 1 during the 16th century. It’s primary purpose is to contain and supply water to the Byzantine Palace. It’s the largest and best preserved ancient cistern that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. This was the place that easily intrigued me most as I happened to read Dan Brown’s Inferno (which was set in Florence, Venice AND Istanbul) which gave information about the popular spots of the city – as well as the meaning of the symbols behind them (yes, I am recommending that book if you happen to plan to visit any of the 3 aforementioned city). ;) With the place bathed in a warm orange glow, cool and damp place with water trickling down from the ceiling and with classical music in the background (not to forget the head of Medusa to boot), I was just entranced with this place!

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn't get a nice sho down there - too dark!

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn’t get a nice shot down there – too dark!

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the column. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon - turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the columns. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon – turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

Entrance fee: 10 TL
Operating hours: 09:00 – 18:30
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

4. Spice Bazaar aka Egyptian Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı)

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

Named as the Egyptian Bazaar since the money used to built this came from the revenue of the Ottoman eyalet (state) of Egypt. The bazaar is centre of spice trade in Istanbul. Also, according to our local guide, it’s cheaper to buy things from here than the Grand Bazaar. This is the second largest covered bazaar in Istanbul.

P1160941

I couldn't get enough of their scarves - all so beautiful!

I couldn’t get enough of their scarves – all so beautiful!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Operating hours: 08:00-19:00, closed every Sunday
How to get here: Eminonu is the nearest tram stop. Alternatively, you can get here via Marmaray, at Sirkeci stop.
Here’s a great read on what to buy when in the Spice Market of Istanbul.

5. Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydani)

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is considered to be the centre of modern Istanbul – a transportation hub and a favourite location for social events/ gatherings. Pictured above is the Monument of the Republic. It was built in 1923 by Pietro Canonica to commemorate the 5th year anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Istanbul’s most popular pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, leads to here.

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

How to get here: Nearest metro stop is Taksim

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 352 other followers