Travel Blog: Vienna, Austria

It’s January. Kevin is in the middle of his deployment in Kosovo and I’m missing him lots, especially after the lonely holidays. He has a little over a week’s worth of PTO so to make the most of his time, I’m flying to Europe to see him.

We decided on Vienna, Austria for our vacation because it’s a couple of hours away from Kosovo and we heard winter is a beautiful time to visit the country. I wanted to see history and art. Kevin wanted adventure and schnitzel. Vienna seemed like the place to do it all in a limited amount of time and my airfare? $500 rt.

Seeing Kevin after a few months of deployment made my heart leap. He arrived first and greeted me in the baggage claim area of the airport. After hugging for minutes, we scurried off to grab my luggage and grabbed a fresh orange juice and snack before we made the trip to our Airbnb.

I underestimated the temps in Vienna during January. I’ve never been so cold! We caught the train to the Airbnb and I almost cried walking three blocks to our door. I stopped complaining when we walked into our warm and quaint loft. It was beautiful and cozy. Just enough for the both of us. I loved the design and the cleanliness of it all. Glad we chose this one. It was just a few minutes from the city center with clean streets, Weinerschnitzel stands and horse carriages!

Once we settled in, got our weinerschnitzel and chicken schnitzel with lemon, we set off to tour the sights. Here are the Vienna musts we could fit in a few days:

  • Schönbrunn Palace
  • Palmenhaus – the palace greenhouse
  • National Library – a bit small, but very beautiful
  • Albertina Museum Wein – super fancy and beautiful
  • Naschmarkt – literally the “the eating market,” an open air market with eateries and small food shops.
  • Cafe Sacher – best known for their sacher tort cake, wasn’t a fan in the end

Palmenhaus was gorgeous and made us feel a bit at home. The humid climate they maintain in there brought back memories of home for Kevin. He missed the islands so much. The Albertina Museum was outstanding, there’s a cafe inside with a wonderful menu and we loved the gift shop with Klimt notebooks and merchandise. The architecture of the museum alone was stunning. Inside was warm and toasty and we enjoyed exploring each exhibit.

For us Hawaii folk, we’re all about the food when we travel. We quickly grew tired of the schnitzels and started searching for Asian food, any place with rice or spice. Google led us to Ivy’s Pho, just a minute from our place.

The pho was piping hot, noodles were thin like I like them and the basil was fresh. This was a great break in between fresh breads and pastries. Vienna is all about the pastries and apfelstrudels, which can get a bit bland for those who fancy salty and savory flavors.

The second great place we ate at was Bao Bar. Pork belly baos and kimchee fries gave me that savory, spicy kick I was missing (yes, even just in a few days, I need something spicy).

The last place I must mention for drinks is Miranda Bar. This place was a few blocks from our Airbnb and the bartender spoke English and was very kind to us. She modified their drinks to my liking. Kevin, on the other hand, wanted to try the entire menu. This was the cutest bar I’ve ever been to! All the drinks on the menu were illustrated and the vibe was very girly and chill.

We loved these places in Vienna and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Kevin and I found the city very easy to get around. We took Uber to places we couldn’t walk or when the weather got too cold. Even the grocery stores had such wonderful snacks and food to take back to the Airbnb.

We took a two-day trip to another city…to be continued in an upcoming post…

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Dim Sum Sundays

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This year, I’ve made it a point to reserve Sundays for mass and a little downtime with Kev. We’ve become that subtly annoying couple that snicker when the choir hits an off note, or when the priest dozes off during the first reading. It has become some sort of entertainment for us, yet we enjoy taking an hour of our day to thank God for what we have and ask him to inspire the other to treat the next meal. Thankfully my requests to be treated to brunch or lunch at a restaurant of my choice are always answered…which is why I choose dim sum most Sundays. I suppose it’s the variety of dumplings, char siu bao, puffs, and dipping sauces that convince me it’s the more exciting, yet affordable type of meal we can get on a lazy Sunday. Plus, the wait is never out the door at Chinese restaurants.

We usually hit up the dim sum at Happy Days along Waialae Avenue because it’s consistent and affordable. We don’t feel guilty ordering more than our fair share of shrimp dumplings or taro puffs. This is our go-to in town because it’s close to the gelato shoppe, you know, just in case we’re craving a sweet treat after our crispy, hot jin dui.

When we feel like splurging, we head towards the dim sum restaurant near my house, Harbor Village Cuisine. The dim sum is nicely presented on a menu. No loud, sizzling or steamy carts around here. I fancy the spinach and shrimp dumplings and the mochi rice here because it feels like they put a little more love into making it.

It’s rare that we wake up early enough to hit up the early mass. But when we do, we end early and crave some of the “local” dim sum at Char Hung Sut in Downtown Honolulu. My extended family owns the take-out dim sum shop. They learned the recipes from my great grandmother and are best known for their manapua, mai tai tsu, and half moon. I can’t stress how tasty they make these dishes. If I had to choose a meal that described my childhood, it’d be this type of dim sum because it was like a treat to have each summer. It’s a comforting type of meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, in my family, dim sum can be eaten around the clock.

Hawaiʻi Island

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I flew to Kona this past weekend to meet my boyfriend’s parents for the first time. I was about six-years-old the last time I went there. My grams brought me one summer to visit her brother in Hilo and he took us around the island. I remember the drive to Kona was so green and lush, we didn’t see any buildings or manicured residential areas anywhere. Hawai’i Island residents used to be spread out, mom and pop stores were the norm and fresh Hawaiian food was the best you’ve ever tasted. Those were the days!

Back to this weekend…we went hunting for the best açaí bowls on the island. The bf’s niece suggested that we head over to Big Island Juice Co. in Hilo. We took the new Saddle Road and passed chilly Mauna Kea to get there. Upon arriving at our destination, we found it was next to a hookah shop and other local businesses. We walked into Big Island Juice Co. and they suggested their signature Dragonfruit Bowl, which they served in a real pineapple bowl, topped with granola, honey, kiwi, and pineapple. It was glorious and oh so melty. The dragonfruit was a bit tart, but the honey and toppings made it the perfect light meal. It was a humid day in Hilo and we needed the refreshment.

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Look at how big it was! Served on top of their branded cutting board. It was actually so melty that my hands were stained pink the rest of the day.

While in Hilo, we also hit up one of my favorite places…Two Ladies Kitchen! I died. They had so many varieties of mochi. I’m usually very picky about mochi, my preference is either traditional plain mochi or with azuki beans. Two Ladies is so good…they stuff full strawberries, grapes, poha berries, and other seasonal fruits into their mochi and it’s even more delicious. I tried to be good and eat only one of each. My bestie in Honolulu requested some so I planned to eat the rest with her…only to realize I left it back in Kona on our way back. #epicfailure

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Here’s a better picture of the mochi that we bought but left back in Kona. I get sad every time I think of it. The box on the left is the strawberry mochi. The plastic container on the right had a variety of manju, blueberry mochi, ube manju, shiso mochi, chi chi dango, and peanut butter mochi.

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Who goes to Kona and doesn’t order Kona coffee? We drank AND ate it later that day. Kona coffee ice cream was so refreshing in the Kona heat. I can’t forget how yummy it was.

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One of the other things on my list was to visit the farmer’s market in Kona. We picked up a fresh Maui gold pineapple, which is super sweet and less acidic than most, a fan for the humidity and lack of decent air conditioning in our car, and I needed a hat (from Cookies Clothing) to hide the messy hair from the long drive.

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I’d like to go back soon and hike down Waipiʻo Valley. We drove through Waimea and Honokaʻa to get there, only to see that you have to hike to get down to the black sand beach below. Shucks. I should have done more research. Oh well, next time!

The sunset from Leo Palace in Guam.

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If you have anything good to say about Guam, it would either be their food or sunset. I’ve watched the sunset from many areas of the world and there’s nothing like seeing it from Guam or Saipan. The colors, cloud textures, and calm ocean fill me with such comfort and peace. The sunset from Tumon is very different from this one. Tumon’s sunset is pink, purple, lavender, and gold. Sinajana’s sunset…well up the mountain and from Leo Palace, is royal blue, gold, and gray. Mangilao’s sunset, seen from my parents’ house, is red, orange, and gold.

Omiyage from Arizona

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We made our way back to Phoenix with some beautiful healing crystals, cactus candies, bundled sage, prickly pear tea and jelly from my friend Nox, a magnet for mom, teal and lavender turquoise pendants and flat arrowheads.

Whenever I travel, I always bring my family some tasty treats and trinkets from the city. My colleagues picked up some goodies from Trader Joe’s and snacks that we don’t get to enjoy in Hawaii.

Sedona, Arizona

Photo by Kris Alcordo

My team at work had been planning our trip to Phoenix, Arizona for some time. We were scheduled to attend two internal conferences that would help us network, share ideas and strengthen morale within the fundraising divisions across the nation.  In the midst of our usual lively banter at lunch hour, one of my colleagues, Tatsu, suggested we (Kris, MJ and I) should visit Sedona if we had time. He described the location as spiritual and majestic, something not to be missed if one should ever find him or herself in Arizona.

Kris, MJ and I quickly looked up photos of Sedona on Instagram and Pinterest. After seeing that it was only a couple of hours away from Phoenix, we looked at flights and managed to cram a day trip into our itinerary.

We had no plan. We Googled lots of things on the way over to Sedona. Sometimes not having a plan presents the best experiences when traveling. Kris and MJ were the perfect adventure buddies, we’re all so laid back and silly, it made the experience even more enjoyable!

Here is a list of what we did and a few helpful suggestions…

Take a tinkle break at Red Rock State Park.

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A bathroom break is necessary if you’re driving for hours, so be sure to stop at Red Rock State Park for a clean experience. You’ll understand why the rocks and mountains are red, how there’s running water below the terrain, and gather some tips on how to access these famous rocks.

Visit the open market in Oak Creek

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I’m a frugal gal who will look for the best deals. Let me tell you how I held back on buying geodes and turquoise by the satchel before realizing the vendors are actually reasonable compared to the extremely marked up goods in Sedona. MJ and I found that the shops in the heart of Sedona were really expensive. Good thing the market was on our way out and open until 5 p.m., I went back and purchased a few more pretty crystals, Native American textiles, and cactus candies.

Walk around the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

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I’d hate to admit it, but this is a tourist trap worth visiting. Just don’t buy anything there. We walked around peeking into all of the shops, taking silly photos and frolicking around the outdoor wind chime gallery. Then we saw that there were Jeep tours that would take us to the top of the mountains, overlooking Sedona and other mountain ranges. We had researched that most tours cost $100+/person but this Jeep Tour service only charged us $50/person. Our instincts told us to book a tour there. Totally rad find.

Book a two-hour jeep tour and have the ride of your life.

Top of the mountain
Photo by Kris Alcordo

I’m kind of a closeted adrenaline junkie. I was stoked that the tour along Schnebly Hill Road was only $50/person, most places that I researched online were $100+/person. Sedona Jeep Tours really gave us a good deal and were able to accommodate us that day.

We greeted our guide and boarded our dusty, open Jeep. Kris took ownership of the DSLR and started snapping away. The tour was bumpy, entertaining, and amazing. We learned so much about the plants, the history behind some locations that were used for filming various movies, and some deep thoughts about how certain rocks resembled a toilet, shit, and Snoopy.

Photo by Kris Alcordo

The view at the top of the mountain range was majestic. It was chilly, quiet, and overlooked Sedona and other mountains. Being at the top makes you feel empowered…gives you that “Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom,” type of feel. Oh yes I went there.

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There are tons of tours you can book in Sedona, from hot air balloon rides to spiritual vortex type of tours. But save your money, they can get pretty expensive.

When in a hurry, eat at the Secret Garden Café

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Yelp proved to be our best friend in Sedona and Phoenix. We needed a quick bite to eat before we took off on the jeep tour. Seeing that the Secret Garden Café was open and empty, we told them we have 30 minutes before we had to board the jeep. The staff quickly sat us, suggested the three top popular and quick dishes. We all ordered the BLAT, which was mind-blowingly good. I know, how can you mess up a BLAT? Well they took it to another level with sourdough and pine nut bread and jam-packed that avo like it was the main protein. I loved it and I would go back if there weren’t other good places to eat in Sedona.

Save lots of money!

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We realized its best to set some priorities when you go to Sedona. An afterthought was that we should have saved a little more money (I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride, but it was $220/person).

 

Palermo, Sicily

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La Vucciria

We arrived in Palermo on a Sunday. We worried that most locals and shop-owners would be at home kicking it with the family, but we were determined to find out where the locals hang out and shop on their day off.

Walking through the streets of Palermo wasn’t as clean as we thought it’d be. The tourist areas such as the duomos, or cathedrals, and the marketplaces were clean. But when you walked through the narrow streets, you notice the linens and laundry hanging above you between apartment buildings, delicates strewn from balconies, and the scene is just a tad bit darker and dirtier than what I had imagined.

I noticed on certain streets, there were little shrines for the streets named after saints, some even carve a figure of the saints out of the building.

We were given a map when we disembarked off the ship. The city is easy to navigate and explore on foot. Our first stop was at La Vucciria. Of course, being a Sunday, everything was closed except for a gelato shop on the left.

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One of the cathedrals we passed on our way towards the marketplace.

I read that Mercato Ballaró, an open market on Via Ballaró, was open on Sundays, so we walked towards it and passed a few intricate cathedrals, one of which we said a prayer for my Uncle who had recently passed that week.

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Olives, spices, and fresh vegetable stalls were the most fragrant at Mercato Ballaró.

We lost our way a bit through the narrow streets and saw locals with green, plastic bags. They pointed us towards the mercato and we found long streets full of blue and orange tents and lots of locals doing their grocery shopping.

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Fresh seafood salad

My Aunt, Uncle, and mom had so much fun looking at the fresh produce. We watched trucks drive in and deliver fresh seafood from the port. Vendors quickly collected their share and prepared the mussels, squid, octopus, prawns, and fish.

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Aunty Reen bites into a fresh focaccia pizza bread.
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Trinkets and clothing can be bought further down Via Ballaró.

Palermo is full of colorful buildings and things to see. Even on a Sunday, we found ourselves stumbling upon great places to explore, such as the Piazza Pretoria, which boasts the precious Fontana Pretoria, an elaborate fountain with scantily-clad statues.

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Shakas from Palermo!
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The absolute BEST calamari in the whole world!

Right outside of the Piazza Pretoria is a yummy restaurant named Pizzeria Bellini. A must if you’re in Palermo! You have the option of dining on their beautiful yellow tables outside or cozy up to a hot, fresh pizza inside.

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When in Palermo, you must dine outdoors at Pizzeria Bellini.

I really enjoyed Palermo. While my family didn’t care for the dirty streets, they enjoyed the food, sights, and how the city embodied everything we thought Europe would be like. The fresh seafood they serve at the mercato and the restaurants is so fresh and rich tasting, you can’t help but order a few dishes to accompany your tasty bellini or vino rosso.