Tuesday, September 16, 2014

[travels] Valencia and Ibiza, Spain

Man oh man, if you plan on going to Valencia or Ibiza, you are in for a real treat.  My travel comrades insisted on going to the beach in every city that was beach eligible... and the verdict is that Valencia wins the prize for the best beach! Really and truly, it wins over Ibiza.  We came from Barcelona to Valencia to attend La Tomatina (a La Tomatina survival guide is soon to follow), and Ibiza has been on my bucket list for some time now.  


Day 10


A beard made out of worms... delightful!



We left our modern Barcelona apartment and took a rather untimely Renfe train to Valencia.  The same exact movie, Detective Dee (martial arts movie, very interesting to watch without sound or captions), was playing on the screens and it gave me a bit of deja vu from the Madrid to Barcelona train ride two days ago since the same movie was playing.  3 hours and some anxiety later, we arrived (late) in Valencia and headed to our apartment.  We were staying in old town and I couldn't have been happier with the location.  There were amazingly quirky art peices all over-- if my neck could rotate 360 degrees, that would have been helpful.



Lucky enough to have this piece below our apartment




We spent the rest of the afternoon in search of La Tomatina gear to wear the next day.  I will be explaining more in my next blog post: La Tomatina Survival Guide.  We scored some sweet knock off Croc shoes at bargain prices and made our merry way exploring through town.  I was intermittenly battling a bad case of the bubblies (my endearing term for indigestion) so I had to rest for a bit while my companions headed to the beach.  When I felt better, I decided to do some exploration and came across a slew of museums within a one mile walking radius.  So many choices! It was difficult to narrow them down....  I wanted to visit the army figure museum (Museo L'Iber), but decided to go with Casa Museo Benlliure-- the family home of an influential Valencian painter.  It was an antique appreciator's dream inside and I really had to refrain myself from touching things. 


A bat and a crown at the Torres de Serranos



Feeling elated after my visit to Casa Museo Benlliure (my yelp review), I made my way back towards the apartment.  A giant tower called Torres de Serranos called out to me, begging to be climbed.  I eyed the stairs leading up into the tower and promptly bought my ticket.  The city of Valencia does a great job branding their many cultural attractions, and you will find city maps all over the place.  What's more, everything is at a marginal price of several euros or less.  Torres de Serranos offers a great view of the city at an adrenaline pumping height due to the low clearance of the walls.  Yes, I probably stood too close and leaned a little too much over the edge... but what's life without a little nervous sweat?  I had such a blast imagining myself living in medieval times and fantasizing what it'd be like to shoot my flaming bow and arrows through the narrow slits in the tower.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 11

La Tomatina -- see the Guide...
Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 12





We boarded our early morning flight on RyanAir to Ibiza.  Here's my two cents on RyanAir in case you are thinking of using them...  read all of the fine print before you book.  Checking in a bag costs an arm and a leg (upward of 30 euros!!!) and you need to check in beforehand otherwise they'll charge you 70 euros to check in at the airport.  What...?!  There are other weird quirks so be sure to read it all through before you pay for anything.


Avoided the gnarly line at Amnesia because we got tickets online



I don't have too many pictures in or of Ibiza... honestly at this point I was a bit sleep deprived, still suffering from a bad case of the bubblies, and to top it off our "charming" apartment had no A.C.   The rest of the day pretty much went -- beach -- nap -- eat -- nap -- makeup -- Cream at Amnesia to see Deadmau5.  We decided to buy VIP tickets (clutch! no wait in line) at Amnesia after reading multiple reviews about how crowded the place gets.  The 20 extra euros bought us a lot of extra breathing room and a nice view of the stage below.  As for Deadmau5's set?  I've seen him a few times, and this was definitely on the mellow side.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 13


BassJackers at Space



More of the Ibiza life ensued-- eat--pool (snuck into a hotel pool, haha) -- eat -- nap -- eat -- makeup -- Space to see BassJackers and Ferry Corsten.  Clearly, there is a theme here in Ibiza.  If you like dancing, the beach, and disco napping, this is the place for you.  EDM dominates the music scene and I quickly developed a strong affinity for the number one hit this summer, "Prayer in C" by Robin Schulz.  I had such a great time at Space and was pleasantly suprised by how mind-blowing awesome Ferry Corsten's set was.  BassJackers also impressed, but I knew he was going to kill it just because his music is pure energy anyways.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 14

Outside our bedroom window at the Russafa Youth Hostel



It was supposed to be more relaxing, but then I double checked my plane tickets and realized my flight back to Valencia was 2 hours earlier than I had planned.  So we ate quickly in the downtown area, and packed up our things and headed back to Valencia.  This time, we stayed in the modern part of Valencia in a hostel operated by the sweetest person ever.  My fiance and I rode the bus over to the beach so I could experience the magnificent sand for myself.  This beach had the biggest, softest, whitest, stretch of sand that went on and on.  The water (even though it's all been the Mediterranean Sea) was so warm you could walk right in without the slightest shiver.  I die.

Valencia has an enormous amount of restaurants to choose from, and it was not an easy feat to find the "last dinner in Spain" restaurant.  Luckily, we found Casel.la (fancy but affordable!) and rounded out the trip with the perfect meal.


Day 15




I soaked up the last few hours in Spain by walking around town in search of a mailbox that had a slot big enough to fit my mobile hotspot return package.  This was surprisingly difficult to find...  I visited two different mailboxes across town and made my fiance try and jam the package in to no avail.  We took the package with us to the airport and found the mail slots of the airports were huge.  Huh.  I gave Spain, and my favorite city Valencia one last look as the plane took off into the air.



Seven cities and fifteen days later, I was now headed back home.  I reveled at all the great meals, siestas, sights, and how much fun I had on this trip.  It's the perfect place to visit with friends because there really is something for everyone to do-- museums, cultural sites, dancing, eating, beaches, and that hot, hot Spanish Sun that gives you a beautiful glow.  Of course on the plane I'm already scheming my next travel adventure... which may be a little ways away.  For now, stay tuned for many more LIFE adventures up ahead.











Monday, September 8, 2014

[travels] Madrid and Barcelona, Spain

Hopping to a new city every two nights is not for the faint of heart... it takes commitment, good planning, and a lot of caffeine.  Lady Luck was on my side this time, and I had all three.  Plus, my amazing (borrowed) Rimowa carry-on sized suitcase and backpack made the transit experience a lot more enjoyable.  How so?  Lighter = way...WAY better.  And the smooth rolling action of the suitcase on a tiled floor just made me want to melt.  Does anyone else ever feel that way? 


At the Malaga train station
We woke up in the early morning in our 'home base' Marbella, took a taxi to the Marbella bus station and rode a bus over to the Malaga train station.  From there, we took beautiful bullet train to Madrid that we had booked through Rail Europe (Renfe).  As a side note, Renfe generates ticket prices variably... so its pricing is based on demand.  Buy early and save more.




Day 6 (Marbella / Madrid)

The dining room in the Palacio Real

I bought tickets to visit the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) in advance because I wanted to avoid waiting in queues.  Time is precious when you are travelling!  If you know you want to go somewhere, then you should definitely buy tickets beforehand.  I've noticed that major Spanish attraction ticket websites require you to specify a window of time you will be arriving, so plan accordingly.  This palace is definitely drool-worthy, complete with decoration themes in every room, a throne room, and a chapel to top it all off.
Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 7 (Madrid)


Real Jardin Botanico
If you have an interest in art, but only plan on visiting a museum or two in Madrid, then you should probably head over to the Prado Museum.  It houses a mind-boggling amount of European art that dates back centuries.  If you were to look at each piece between 15-45 seconds, you could easily spend 6 hours here... maybe more than that.  Luckily, there is a great cafeteria inside where you can have a meal and rejuvenate over coffee and jamon. After the museum, we basked in the sun at the Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanical Garden).  Spotted two cats and saw wonderful vegetation.
Lodging: Airbnb apartment



Day 8 (Madrid / Barcelona)

Ciutadella Park


I woke up early the morning we needed to leave for Barcelona, thinking that I could poke around Madrid, catch some breakfast, and maybe even see the Telefonica museum at it's headquarters.  It wasn't long before I realized that 9 am was just way too early on Spanish time.  It was actually exceedingly difficult to find anywhere to eat that wasn't a franchise (I try to avoid franchises that are prevelant in the U.S. when traveling).  I finally found a nice spot that doubled as an art gallery, and ate my muffin as I waited for Madrid to wake up.  We hopped back on the train and headed to Barcelona.



Our airbnb in Barcelona was situated within 15 minutes walk of La Sagrada Familia, and quite close to the Torre Agbar (Agbar Tower)-- an odd futuristic structure resembling a shiny fountain pen. We took a leisurely stroll towards the beach, stopping for a few moments at the Ciutadella Park to soak up Spanish Sunday Funday in all it's glory.  There are tons of things you can do there, ranging from paddle boating to zoos.  Impressive.



Sala Razzmatazz
That night upon my sister's recommendation, we headed to the nightclub Sala Razzmatazz.  I validated it's quality by checking yelp, and was satisfied to find it ranked at a solid 4 stars with 50 reviews or so.  The only thing I can say is, we must have come on the wrong night. The go-go dancer was smirking maniacally in a striped overall outfit with a chainsaw...

Lodging: Airbnb apartment


Day 9 (Barcelona)


La Sagrada Familia

A few hours of sleep later, I woke up to head out to La Sagrada Familia.  It is an amazing structure designed by the visionary Antoni Gaudi.  In fact, it is still being built and aims for completion within the next 20 years.  If you only went to one attraction in Barcelona, this is it.  An astounding cathedral with intricate details and design precision.  Every sight, sound, and sense has been optimized for beauty, and Gaudi's vision has been painstakingly executed down to the monochromatic glass panes.  Buy tickets in advance online, and it'll save you an hour or more wait in the queue.  Also, opt in to buy tower tickets and wind your way up the La Sagrada towers for an extra special view.  

Casa Batllo


We gave ourselves an hour and a half from La Sagrada to get over to Parc Guell, the site of Casa Museu Gaudi (Gaudi's residence in his later years) and also a public park filled with his designs.  Take a taxi unless you really need to burn off the bread and cheese you've been eating.  Prepare for an uphill battle.  I spent the rest of the day on a Gaudi scavenger hunt around Barcelona to check out his other works, including Casa Batllo.  We rounded out the evening at a steak house, and went to bed completely wiped out.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment


---Next Destination: Valencia for La Tomatina Festival---











Tuesday, September 2, 2014

[travels] Malaga and Marbella, Spain

Our first few minutes in Spain were spent in an anxiety-ridden adrenaline rush from the prospect of losing our luggage.  Alas, whoever worked at the luggage desk was taking their siesta for an undetermined amount of time... luckily our luggage turned up in a separate room-- crisis averted.

 The taxi dropped us off near a canal and we walked 10 minutes or so into the heart of the city. Talk about Sunday Funday! People were teeming the streets drinking Malaga's signature Cartojal wine, dancing, and cheering loudly. We managed to squeeze past with our suitcases and knew that this trip was going to be great. 


Day 1 (Malaga)



The beautiful Malaga cathedral was just a few minutes away and the image of the sun setting on this construction was breath taking. 


Gelato options here are mind boggling.... Including a Facebook flavored gelato.  I wonder what that would taste like...?


Ah yes, the evening rounded out with tapas and a cerveza (beer) for dinner.  Andthenmyfiancewentoutgotlostforseveralhoursandiwasworriedsickandeventuallyhadthehostelreceptiondeskcalllocalhospitalstoseeifhisbodywasturnedinthere.  But let's not talk about that.

Lodging: Feel Hostels City Center, Malaga

Day 2 (Malaga / Marbella)


Exploring Malaga is so easy. There are just so many tiny alley ways to go down, tapas eateries to pique your interest, and giant flowers in the hair of beautiful people! Best of all? A ton of historic sites and a juxtaposition of old and new everywhere you go. 


I stumbled upon a lovely farmers market and stopped in to marvel at the assortment of meat, fresh seafood, vibrant vegetables. This beautiful painted glass mural took up the entire top portion of the building.  

We met up with our travel mate and proceeded to tapas (where we were first introduced to patatas bravas), gelato at the harbour, and visited Acazaba.  It was then time to meet up with our rideshare service, arranged through Blablacar.com .  This was my first time using it, and we had a wonderful experience with a friendly driver.  We had a blast using google translate to carry the conversation and we were able to piece together some mutual understanding.  For 6 euros per person, we got a ride from Malaga to Nueva Andalucia in Marbella... cheap!!!  By the way, Blablacar.com operates throughout Europe, so consider using it to hitch a ride if you are on a budget.



We checked into the timeshare in Marbella, went to the grocery store to load up on snacks (ham, cheese, and bread) and then we went out to dinner.  We all had a good laugh over getting served long island iced teas that tasted like diet coke.  The waiter told us maybe they used "light alcohol" to make the drink.   Intriguing concept...

Day 3 (Marbella)

We eagerly awaited the arrival of two other travel mates to join us that day.  Once they arrived, we went about the usual routine of beach/pool time.  Marbella is a wonderful place to enjoy the Mediterranean Sea and has plenty of amenities to make your experience luxurious.  It's definitely a place where the rich and famous come to play.

Day 4 (Marbella)



We decided to explore "old town" on this day and had a bit of trouble navigating the bus system to get over there.  The white flags went up and we hopped on taxis to get to the destination.  Old town Marbella is simple adorable!  There are restaurants galore and the streets are narrow, winding, with inclines and dips to give you a workout.  Historical sites are abundant and you could really spend a half day to full day exploring.  I highly recommend taking the Sky Blue ferry back to Puerto (port) Banus so you can soak in the amazing view of the mountains.

That evening a few of us decided to go see DJ Benny Benassi at the nightclub, Olivia Valare for a spendy 70 euros.  A painful cost, but a priceless night of fun.  Olivia Valare is a glammed up club, complete with canopy beds, abundant lounge seating, and queue-free bathrooms.  

We managed to snag a picture with DJ Benny Benassi


Day 5 (Marbella) 

Another day on the beach / pool circuit.  We decided to go back to old town for dinner and had a lovely (and pricey) meal at Il Cantuccio.  The restaurant is actually owned by a German woman named Brigitta, who took great care in explaining where she sourced her ingredients from.  With our bellies full and pockets a little lighter, we slept soundly that night.

--- Next destination: Madrid and Barcelona ---















Friday, August 15, 2014

[travels] Spain Summer Travel 2014 -- Female Packing List

14 Days during August in Spain: Malaga, Marbella, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Ibiza



 I'm banking on warm weather between 73-85 degrees throughout the duration of our trip.  This makes things a lot easier because summer clothing takes up less room, which means I can pack more.  Everything packed into a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.... I'm getting good at this, aren't I?  I also made sure I had a lock on my suitcase and my backpack to deter anyone who might want to peek at my belongings.

Electronics



Shoes

  • Tan and white wedged sandals
  • Flip flops
  • Grey platform wedges
  • White loafers


Bottoms

  • 4 Shorts (black, tan, white, white lace)
  • 2 Skinny jeans (blue and grey) **could have done with one pair only**
  • Maxi skirt (poppy red)
  • Capris (white)
  • 3 Pajama bottoms


Tops
  • 3 Dresses (2 clubbing and 1 purple daytime)
  • 2 Sleeping shirts
  • 3 Light sweaters **could have done with 1 sweater only**
  • 7 Blouses / Button Ups
  • 3 Camisoles
  • 5 Tank tops
  • 1 black blazer **did not end up using at all**


Accessories
  • Cross body purse (brown)
  • Wristlet
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 4 necklaces (2 silver, 2 gold)
  • 1 watch
  • Mixed metal bracelets


Usual Suspects
  • Makeup
  • Medicine **forgot my tums and immodium and sorely regretted it.  Used dayquil and nyquil**
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Shampoo
  • Undergarments
  • Sunblock **blazed through tons of sunblock since we reapplied multiple times per day**



It feels good to be packed and ready to go.... and it feels even better to be crossing off another adventure on my bucket list!  Here we come Malaga, Marbella, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Ibiza!


Heading to Japan this winter?  See my packing list and itinerary.









Tuesday, August 12, 2014

[diy] Cake Topper Bunting Flags


Baby Zoe's baby shower is a month away, and I have decided on a theme... "Flora and Fauna", with hints of gold of course!  The color scheme will be soft greens and pastels. The texture scheme will be natural woods with some glitter glam. This cake topper bunting incorporates mint green, polka dot pastel yellow, brown glitter, and natural twine.    The best part?  I had all the supplies on hand!  

Supplies
  • Letter Stickers
  • Scrapbook Paper
  • Skewers
  • Twine
  • Hot Glue Gun




1.  Eyeball a triangle size that will work with your sticker letter.  Cut one triangle out and let it be your template.  You will need two triangles per flag.

2.  Stick the letters on the flag and match up the corresponding sides.  I chose to use matching paper on both sides of the flag, but it could have been cute to switch it around too.




3.    Position the twine in the upper portion of the flag, leaving enough room for glue or tape to seal along the top.  Use double-sided tape (that's what I did) or glue the flag pieces along the middle of the twine.

4.  Adhere the back sides of the flag with your corresponding triangle piece.  Good!  Now the flags are evenly spaced and won't be prone to flipping.

5.  Dab small dots of glue onto the skewer and wrap the twine around it.  After wrapping the twine to my desired length, I sealed it with another dab of glue, and then tied a knot.  Cut off remaining string... or leave it!  I've seen people tie little bows too.



Not only will Zoe's cake be delicious...it will also be adorable.  I'm thinking about making a few other small flags for the other desserts.  What other kind of cake toppers are you thinking of making?









Friday, August 8, 2014

[travels] Travel App Must-Haves

This week I've been solidifying travel plans and prepping for our big trip to Spain!  With only 7 days left before departure, it is always a good idea to review your electronic device plan... what are you bringing...how you are going to use it...and what apps are you going to need? Here is my personal round up of free iphone applications that I have used or will be using during my travels abroad. 


Communication

  • What'sapp - For texting and sending videos.  Widely used by most people all over the world, group text capability, reliable
  • Facebook Messenger - For texting and making friends.  Helpful for people that don't use Whatsapp, need to download separate messaging application
  • Viber - For making live voice calls, they have a texting option too, but I don't use it.
  • Google Hangout - For video chat and texting people in your Google circle.





Reference

  • Google Translate - Translates text in most languages.  Oh thank goodness...I know zero Spanish.
  • Trover - an amazing resource of real photos uploaded by real people.  Can 'favorite' or 'list' destination spots and source their locations as you travel. Make your travel dreams a reality!
  • Wikipedia - Self guide your vacation by skimming through wikipedia and wikitravel pages.  It can be a lot easier than sifting through many different webpages.
  • Yelp - To figure out what to eat!  Yelp's still spreading it's yelpiness all over the world, so it may or may not be relevant in your travel area.  It is usually more comprehensive in major cities.
  • Google Maps - The only map system (besides Waze for traffic solutions) I will ever use.  Apple maps is not synonymous with Google maps, and is not up to date.  Trust me, I got lost in Japan in the neighborhoods of Osaka for over an hour to prove this point. 
  • TripAdvisor - This is a great way to see user-rated destination picks ranked from best to worst.  Such a valuable trove of information if you are short on time and need to be picky!





Other

  • Blogger - So you can post your blog updates while you travel, of course!
  • Uber - Car service available in  major cities all over the world.  Avoid awkward situations and questionable charges by accepting and paying for your fare upfront.  I've already checked and it's available in Barcelona, so we may be using it!
  • Google Drive - I use Google Drive religiously to make lists, itineraries, notes, and to access my travel docket completing with all booking and reservation information.  It's nice to know you get it when you need to, right on your phone.
  • HostelWorld.com - Extremely helpful to make bookings on the fly if you really want to tap into your wanderlust spirit... I made a booking for an amazing hostel in the Gion District in Kyoto 2 days before I arrived.  This is great if you are travelling alone or with one other person.  Staying in a hostel is much cheaper and is also a great way to meet other travelers!
  • AirBnb - Helpful to reference booking information and contact the people you are renting from.  Haven't made a mobile booking yet, but will update this if I do.  Airbnb is a site that facilitates private lodging accommodations at great prices.  We've booked several airbnb apartments for our Spain trip and it's saved us tons of money. 





Let's talk about Mobile HotSpots...
This is my travel-must.  Without wi-fi I am bogged down by sheer confusion, travel books, or my terrible sense of direction.  With wi-fi, I can travel confidently because I have a communication safety net and can figure out "what's next" while I'm out adventuring!




Most countries offer several reputable mobile hotspot rental companies (I cross check their validity by reading other blogs or TripAdvisor).  These days, coverage is decent with 3G-- which may not be as fast as you are used to, but still agile enough to give you what you need.  Most hotspots are also tether-friendly for other devices (keep in mind the more devices means the slower the speed), will deliver the device to your hotel / hostel / apartment, and will also have an option to mail back the device with a prepaid envelope.  How easy is that?

For my Japan trip in 2013, I rented my hotspot from Japan-wireless.
For this 2014 Spain trip, I'm renting from WifiVox

If you plan on using your phone often, make sure you pack a charge stick so you don't run out of juice :)  What are your must-have apps for travel?









Thursday, August 7, 2014

[eats] Best Soups in Palo Alto to Get You Over Your Cold



I've been sick for the past few days, so my apologies on not getting a post out sooner!!  Since we are on the subject...  I thought it'd be great to talk about my go-to comfort foods located right in Palo Alto.


Every time, and I swear, EVERY TIME I was ever sick as a child, my dad would bring me chowder and sourdough bread from the Fish Market.  The fish market makes one amazing white chowder filled to the brim with potatoes and seafood.  The best part is, you can walk right up and order chowder and bread to-go and it'll be ready in minutes!  I love breaking up my sourdough bread in the chowder and eating the sopped bits by the spoonful.  Nothing beats the feeling of a warm belly.



A little bit of spice never hurt anyone, right? I can never turn down a bowl of seafood tofu soup or ramen soup from the So Dong Gong Tofu House.  The seafood tofu soup comes with shrimp, clam, and a healthy helping of oysters made to perfection at your request of spice level.  I suppose I'd only stay away from seafood if I were struggling through the stomach flu...but for any other kind of sickness, I'm all in!!  Not feeling so adventurous today?  I'd go with the ramen noodle tofu soup or even the dumpling tofu soup.  One taste of their zippy broth and you'll be back in good health.




For anyone with soup indecision, Fambini's Terrace Cafe is the way to go.  They are only open Monday - Friday and cater strictly to the lunch crowd.  So actually, this is perfect if you stay home with a cold!  They make a variety of soups, sandwiches, and other delectable eats to set you back on your feet.  My go-to sick order would be a slice of their homemade lasagna and a cup of their daily soup.




As for me?  I'm feeling much better these days with my dose of soup and bread.  Whether you are sick or not, these soups are absolutely amazing.  What's your favorite Palo Alto soup spot?