TRAVEL BLOG: Budapest in Two Days (Winter)

Photo taken at the Museum of Sweets and Selfies, a pop-up museum, similar to the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco.

This is the second part of my Europe trip recap. Budapest was our second destination! We decided to go to Budapest just a couple of days before I left for Vienna. It was simple to plan. We bought our tickets on OBB and booked our Airbnb in the heart of the city, near Gozsdu, a lively area with eateries and bars.

360 Bar has heated igloos that you can reserve. We were too late to reserve one, but we arrived early and were able to enjoy it on the rooftop before their dinner rush.
360 Bar has one of the best cheese fondue sets I’ve had. I wanted to eat it all myself! Kevin and I fought over the pickles and bread. The cheese was delish.

We didn’t get to do much research on Budapest, but we made a list of the places we wanted to visit:

  • Gozsdu Udvar
  • Miniversum Budapest
  • New York Cafe
  • 360 Bar
  • Museum of Sweets and Selfies
  • Szcheyeni Thermal Bath

Obviously we couldn’t make it to all of them because of our limited time there. We didn’t realize distance from the train station to our Airbnb was going to be so far, so we narrowed down our choices to just a few that were nearby.

Gozsdu was great. At night, it’s full of life. There were so many eateries to choose from: Italian, Hungarian, Mexican, Thai, American, etc. We ate at a Hungarian restaurant and ordered their goulash. It was so tasty! We also grabbed a few drinks at one of the bars and enjoyed the atmosphere.

This is a typical Hungarian breakfast, says the server at one of the Gozsdu eateries (I can’t remember the name of the place). I had no idea the sausage under neat the toast was made of horse meat. Cheers to new experiences!
Goulash at the New York Cafe.

We passed up the thermal bath because the weather was horrendously cold for us islanders. I couldn’t take walking on the street for longer than 10 minutes. I was a popsicle! One of our last stops was at the New York Cafe, a “cafe” that many claim is the most beautiful cafe in the world. The ceilings were painted in the similar style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting. I ordered the goulash and Kevin ordered some cakes. We loved the goulash above all. I have dreams to stay at the New York Hotel one day and spending more time learning more about the history behind Budapest. A two-day trip just wasn’t enough!

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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…

Top 10 Places to Eat on Guam

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While I was vacationing in Guam last month, a Hawaii friend stationed on the Navy base had asked if I could provide a list of my fave places to eat on the island. I couldn’t possibly list all my go-to’s, so I’ve compiled a list of my top places. You’ll find good food anywhere on the island, really. But I tried to list all the places that locals frequent because of the food quality, excellent dishes or authenticity.

CROWN BAKERY – Located in Mangilao. I usually don’t eat donuts, but I LOVE their plain glazed donuts! They’re better than Krispy Kreme. I promise. Go early in the morning after the kids go to school or in the afternoon. They make a fresh batch around 5 a.m. and at 4 p.m. daily. You won’t regret it.

MESKLA – a bit pricey (for Guam), but it’s authentic Chamorro cooking with a nice dining atmosphere. Order the tinala katne (it’s just like pipikaula) with red rice and chicken kelaguen (like ceviche). Don’t be afraid to order the “fiesta platter” because it comes with a lot of authentic Chamorro dishes (fried parrotfish, chicken kelaguen, bbq ribs and tinala katne). Explore the menu when you can. Don’t waste your time on the desserts unless the staff recommends a special dessert. $$

IZAKAYA KATSU / GREEN DOOR (locally known as Green Door – because, well, the entrance is a green door) – this is one of my fave hole in the wall restaurants on the island. Mostly locals go there because it’s hidden on the third floor of a parking garage in the Central Plaza building next to the Tumon Police Station. It’s a Japanese restaurant known for their tofu steak (you wouldn’t believe how tasty it is, it’s such a unique dish), chicken katsu, grilled saba and curry. $$

PROA – this is a friendlier, more American approach to island food. I like all the dishes on the menu. I can’t pick just one. You’ll find this in Tumon. $$

CHAMORRO VILLAGE – Best time to go is around 5:30 p.m. when the Wednesday Night Market begins. There are all sorts of food vendors (thai, Vietnamese, Chamorro, filipino, etc.). They’re all great, but I prefer to dine in at the little Chamorro restaurant with A/C. They have the best bbq ribs and chicken. Spacing is tight so try to get there early. $

LEMAI CAFE RESTAURANTI just found out this place has closed! I’ll still include it since it deserves some recognition for being one of my fave places to eat on the island. Lemai Cafe is a mom and pop restaurant located on a breadfruit farm. I order their fried porkchops (I just realized this list has a lot of heavy, comfort dishes, but that’s really, the best part of Guam – comfort food!). I felt most at home in this restaurant. Only locals really go here, so enjoy the good, authentic food. It’s in between Barrigada and Tiyan. $

SAKURA KITCHEN – This is the cheapest place to get good Japanese food. They have so many yummy dishes. I love their fried garlic appetizer served with lemon and miso, miso salmon, shrimp tempura, sushi, udon, curry, chicken or pork katsu, and sashimi). Located in Tamuning. $

BAN THAI– Best thai food on the island. Best to go for lunch, since it’s only $13 per person all you can eat thai buffet. I love their tom yum soup, pad thai, fried chicken and fried banana lumpia (call ahead for banana lumpia – they only make it on certain days). Located in Tumon. $

PIKA’S CAFÉ – This café/restaurant is perfect if you’re craving something lighter but still maintaining a local flair. They have typical deli style sandwiches and salads but you can order some great unique and affordable local-ish dishes. Definitely one of my fave lunch spots. Located in Tamuning. $

PALM CAFÉ – Located in Tumon at the Outrigger Hotel. This is a higher-end place to go for Sunday brunch. Locals compete with tourists for a table on Sundays because the food is worth your money. My family comes here for special occasions. $$$

MICHELLE’S COFFEE SHOP – This is where I took my boyfriend for a local breakfast the first day he arrived in Guam. You’ll only see locals around here. It’s near a high school and just down the road from the university. It’s also in the heart of Guam, so residents stop by to read the paper while they chomp away at their Chamorro sausage scramble with garlic fried rice. It’s far from fancy, yet so comforting. $

I’m pretty sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the great things Guam has to offer. But definitely pay attention to the events listing in the local paper or online. They have great events like the Mango Festival in Agat and other local festivals with various food vendors and activities for families.

Is there a good Guam restaurant or eatery I’ve missed? Feel free to share it in the comments.

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 “Non-Vegas” Person’s Guide to Las Vegas

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I hate how so many people love Vegas. It’s a superficial oasis. Nothing natural about it. Going to there was never on my list until earlier this year…my two cousins, Maria & Belle, suggested that we all see Mariah Carey’s concert at Caesar’s Palace in August. I’ve only been there as a kid and I didn’t think much of it.

Oh whale. Why knot. It’s another opportunity to hang out with them and that was worth the alcohol I’d have to consume to feel part of the group.

I booked my ticket and the boyfriend and his roomie joined us. Fast forward to two weekends ago, I was nervous about going and being a party pooper. I secretly strategized my getaway plan for when we go to a bar and shots magically show up in front of me, eyes staring me down to tank my drink and down the shot. Ugh. I’m too old for this, I told myself.

We arrived at the Bellagio and the first thing I smelled was smoke. Cigarette smoke. Ugh. Disgusting. I couldn’t handle how strong it was (I’m probably spoiled by Hawaii’s no-smoking within 50 feet of a building law). I’m so sensitive to smell, guys. I can’t stand it and it makes me feel nauseous. I’d say it’s the number one reason why I would never stay at the Strip again. Aside from going out with my cousins, boyfriend, and his roommate, I avoided Las Vegas Boulevard at all costs. I didn’t care how glamorous people dressed or how grandiose the hotel displays were…I wanted to get out of there. The whole experience was a bit impersonal, to be honest, which is why I forced my cousins and bf to join me in my search for real experiences.

I’ve compiled a list of places and eateries that I did enjoy. This list is for anyone who dares venture off the infamous Strip. Thanks to Yelp for saving me money and my sanity.

Chinatown, Las Vegas

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Chinatown in Las Vegas? Yeah, I never heard of it before. But it’s like brand spanking new. This is the first clean and oddly spaced out Chinatown I’ve ever been to. It looks like everything was built a couple of years ago. Most of the shops and eateries are located on Spring Mountain Road, a convenient three minute ride from the swanky Strip.

We walked around and ate at Magal BBQ, which was obviously not Chinese, but they had great Korean bbq and our server so happened to be from Saipan. Score! He treated us to a bottle of soju, which he happily drank with us. We walked our full bellies off across the street to J’s Karaoke Bar, a Korean (there’s a pattern here, we go to Chinatown for Korean food and soju, obviously) hiphop themed bar. My cousins and boyfriend had a great time singing and taking shots in the dimly lit room we reserved for ourselves.

On another night, we went to Sushi Kaya, where you can eat unlimited sushi for $28. Let’s just say they lost money with us. I never order sushi inland, but this place obviously flew in their fish and uni. I was peer pressured to try uni for the first time here and it wasn’t bad.

I promised myself I’d try a good Chinese restaurant, the Pho Kim Long pho restaurant, and the tea shops next time I visit.

Seven Magic Mountains

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Prior to arriving in Vegas, I noticed at least four people that have been here in the last few months. I read up on it here. You can see the colorful rocks from the freeway and it’s only fifteen minutes away from the Strip (without traffic). It’s really in the middle of nowhere and that’s the beautiful part. The art installation will be up for the next two years. I highly suggest visiting this if you need a break from the casino.

The bf rented a car specifically to drive me out here because it’d be ridiculous to Uber it and have our driver wait until we were done taking photos. We spent about 45 minutes here taking photos, touching the rocks and talking to a few locals.

Downtown Las Vegas – Arts District

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I learned that Downtown Las Vegas was the “old Vegas.” The bf took me through Fremont Street, which was a tackier-but-cheaper version of Vegas. It still wasn’t for me. We then rolled through the arts district and saw lots of murals and hipster-esque eateries with no lines (yay! no waiting!) and free parking. This is where the locals are. I was sold. This is my kinda place.

Viva Las Arepas

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Venezuelan food was not on my list when planning our weekend getaway to Vegas. By the third day, I was over the endless lines at eateries on the Strip and I wanted food that was authentic and an atmosphere that was less chaotic. I quickly Yelped “best cheap lunch” and came across Viva Las Arepas, a Venezuelan eatery that had five star reviews and it was just a five minute Uber ride away from the Bellagio.

Can I just say arepas top burgers any day?! I loved it. Everything was cheap too. We saved a lot of money on this trip and still ate to our hearts content. We ordered the roasted pork butt, reina pepiada, and the wood fire beef arepas with an empanada. I can’t even describe how satisfying it was after a night of peer pressured drinking and debauchery. It definitely beat long lines and mass-cooked dishes.

Neon Boneyard Museum

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I know this section merits more than what I’ve experienced, which was just a side tour of the museum, but it’s really worth checking out if you’re exploring Downtown. We pulled up to the half empty parking lot at the Neon Museum and walked into the main lobby. The girl at the counter told us that they are booked for tours for the day (really….the parking lot was barely filled). Apparently, they try to take care of the old neon signs by limiting the amount of visitors. The only section that was open was a small section of their property that had the old Golden Nugget sign and a bunch of others that were neat to see (touching is prohibited).

That’s my list of non-traditional Vegas things to see and eat. If I was given a ticket to Vegas, I’d definitely stay at a smaller hotel and eat at Chinatown and Downtown daily. I’m sure there’s lots more Vegas can offer to those weary of large crowds and glam lifestyle.

Note: All photos taken with my iPhone 6+. Not bad, Apple. Not bad at all. 

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.

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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.