Langkawi – Paradise Your Nanna Prayed For

Datai Bay, Langkawi
The Andaman

Langkawi is one of the most blissful and secluded places on Earth. When you want to run away from day-to-day stresses, restore your inner ecosystem and sanity – that is the place to be.

Datai Bay Beach
Datai Bay

Tranquil Datai Bay, dense mesmerizing rainforest with the most unique species glazing through gigantic trees. You won’t find bunches of compadre tourists, queuing for ice-cream and banana rides – this is a different level of relaxation: no noise except singing cicadas and splashing waves.

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The Andaman, Datai Bay Rainforest

There is no rush here: time itself is elastic. The horizon and the Andaman sea have lost that line defining what is what. Datai Bai beach is serene and harmoneous – it seems like it was meant to be just yours.

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Food in Singapore

Do not plan any diets on your trip to Singapore. You might enjoy the weather, tall buildings, and gazillions of Louis Vuitton stores, but your strolling through Chinatown with an empty stomach is as cruel as a visit of a diabetic to the “Cafe Savoy”.

Embrace this heavenly food spot. Savour, dig, eat up and feast on.

No matter where you go, food will be amazing. Nevertheless, here are some brightest dishes I still drool over:

Singapore Black Pepper CrabIMG_0478

This fellow and his cousin Chilli Crab are divine. So spicy and succulent! We had to wash our hands 5 times to get rid of the “black nails effect” – locals were smarter: a pair of plastic gloves did their job. Although, we had more fun! “Jumbo Seafood” restaurants are famous for the best seafood in Singapore. We had ours in Chinatown and enjoyed as much.

Grilled Whole Fish with Dry Chillis and PeanutsIMG_0570

Out tilapia drenched with fragrant spicy sauce, heaped with dried chillis, peanuts and coriander looked  more flammable than  it was in reality. It weighs about 900g-1kg each – great fun to share. Even though it is a relatively mild dish, unprepared troops will have to  calm their palates. This dish is available in almost every restaurant from Riverside to Chinatown.

“Din Tai Fung” Dim SumIMG_0518

I refused the idea of eating in a shopping mall at first. “Authentic? What are you talking about?!” This chain might not be located on one of the streets, where locals gather for a ritual evening coffee, but it is incredibly good. There is just this odd local habit of dining in shopping malls. Thus, the best of them are based there. Service is fast, dim sums are mouth-watering and the lemongrass iced tea is the best one I have ever tried.

Korean BBQIMG_0540

DIY method is the best: there is so much fun, interaction and sense of community. Smartphones stay in your pockets – hands are too busy. The side dishes are infinite. You will choose the meat you would like to grill. Be aware that there is a strict “no food waste” policy: 150$ fine for greedy ones, who can not handle their inconceivably vast order. We had our Korean BBQ experience in “Seoul” restaurant at the Four Seasons, but almost every street in Singapore will have a great Korean restaurant.

Bakkwa or Chinese Beef Jerky

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No, you would not find the same beef jerky in other places. It melts in your mouth. The balance of sweet and salty is sublime. Grab a beer, a kilo of this highly addictive snack and get rid of your jet lag disorder symptoms.

Speaking of beer, it is extremely expensive in Singapore: 6$ – 7$ for a bottle. I guess, you have to learn the art of slow savouring.

 

“Sticky Wings” vs “The Orange Buffalo”

"Sticky wings"
“Sticky wings”

I developed my obsession with chicken wings by going to America’s best joints like “Talde”, “Pok Pok” and local unique BBQ places. London disappointed me with the American-style food before: my favorite Boston cream tasted like sugar and sugar only; proper pancakes were as rare as a “good hair day” for Donald Trump; franchise wings – sprayed thoroughly with vinegar.

Sticky wings” happened to be a friendly, cozy establishment. Waitress was very attentive, beer cold and wings – they were heavenly. “Sticky wings BBQ” & “American buffalo” were my favorite. If you prefer mouth-on-fire-effect, go for “Hot chilli”. All the accessories vital for a chicken wings ritual were there: wet napkins, buckets for bones, condiments.

"The Orange Buffalo"
“The Orange Buffalo”

“The Orange Buffalo” was a one of the most popular truck spots in the hipster part of Shoreditch. The owners were very warm and welcoming, beer…wait, no beer?! Yes, indeed, I ate my wings with sweet soda – it’s very hard to get an alcohol license in Great Britain. Wings were very tasty: double fried crispy deliciousness with a unique sauce.

Curly french fries
Curly french fries

There were a number of available gradations on the hotness scale, but we chose the “Original”. Shortage of napkins – only two paper ones for a couple people with messy hands – was a bit inconvenient as well.

"The Orange Buffalo"
“The Orange Buffalo” wings

Well, choosing between two of them was not very hard. Both places have delicious chicken wings, but only one has got great customer service and a quality product. “Sticky wings” is our victor and the place to satisfy occasional cravings.

 

 

Georgian Food In London

– Let’s eat Georgian tonight!

– Well, I am not a big fan of American cuisine.

Georgia is carved into many brains as one of the U.S states – not a beautiful country between Eastern Europe and West Asia. Yet its culture, people and food are well worth to be on travellers’ radars.

It was my grandmother who introduced me to this wonderful food culture – the Russians were always attracted to those aromatic-spicy, dewy dishes. I got nostalgic and started my search of descent Georgian food in London.

There are a couple of places here – all of them with relatively good reviews. We chose the one in our area: when your belly is full of delicious food, try to minimise walking (not a health coach advice).Khachapuri

“Tamada” has it all: incredible homely atmosphere, genuine Georgian food, clean menu (not “The 200 Club” never – ending list), warm southern hospitality and great wine selection.

We conditionally divided the menu into two affordable dinners, where all dishes could be assessed. Here are the favourite items: “Adjaruli Khachapuri” – cheese-filled baked bread topped with eggs, “Lobio “- red beans with coriander & garlic, “Badrijani” – stuffed aubergines with onions, Georgian spices, garlic & walnuts. Try to order some traditional flat bread alone with you dishes and enjoy the culinary art of spreading and spooning them over.

There are a couple of things you should bear in mind if Georgian cuisine is terra incognita for you: walnuts – crashed, chopped, grounded, fried – and pomegranate are the key ingredients in almost every dish. Like other Transcaucasian cultures, the Georgians use open fire and spit for meat and vegetable preparation. Thus the smoky taste is present. There is no espresso or americano served – only Georgian sediment coffee (with grounds for fortune tellers).Georg. food

If you are hesitating between Turkish, Russian or Greek cuisine, try Georgian – it combines many of the Eastern European and Mediterranean flavours, and you will get an interesting gastronomic adventure.

-Let’s eat Georgian tonight!

– Khachapuri it is then.

 

“Tamada” restaurant: 122 Boundary Road, London, NW8 0RH.
Tel: 020 7372 2882

 

Travelling With Pets To The UK

Gaspar the traveller
Gaspar the traveller

Moving your pet to another country can be challenging and heartbreaking, but the idea of leaving your friend behind is way more terrifying.

We had to make a move to London, UK from Lisbon, Portugal. There were no doubts – our cat was going with us, no matter what. We thought it would be a financially reasonable and a relatively smooth trip. If you want to make God laugh… We learnt on our mistakes and happy to share a recipe to an easier travelling to the UK with your pet.

As we figured later on, England is the most expensive and the strictest (let’s call it that way to avoid the word problematic) country to bring your friend in. Only Australia can compete with it.

Start getting ready at least three months in advance. Make an appointment with your vet and make sure your animal is microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and treated against parasites. It’s very important you do it beforehand, because animal would have to wait around 21 days for the vaccine to settle.

Pet travelling passport
Pet travelling passport

Since January 2015 a new passport version was introduced. It should have nine digits, an additional page for vaccine serial number protection and personal details of your vet. Most likely an animal courier company would require a new passport.

Next step is finding a courier. All the airline companies, except British Airways, have got embargo on animal transportation to the UK. Truly speaking, it’s a disgusting monopoly, but rules are rules. British Airways works with a couple of trusted animal couriers who take care of all the paperwork. You’ll be surprised when you hear the price. We paid 879 euros. Don’t blame it on couriers – they go through so much trouble to receive less than 100 euros. The biggest piece of pie goes to the Animal Scheme in the UK. They will inform you about all the procedures, updates and rules. Do not forget to contact them as soon as possible, at least 1-2 months in advance.

Carrier
Carrier

Your courier company screens the necessary paperwork, gives advices and receives permission from Boarder Police to travel with your pet. It takes time. We would advice you not to buy an animal carrier by yourself. It should be very specific, and the UK side is very picky about it. Your courier will provide you with the most appropriate one for the same price you’d buy it in a store. It is very well equipped, spacious and safe for your friend to travel. Leave this trouble to professionals.

Our courier was absolutely fantastic. Here are the contacts if you are travelling from Portugal: Adriano Malveiro adriano.malveiro@intercourier.pt

Intercourier Lda.
Rua Professor Henrique de Barros, Lote 2 Armazém 7
2685-338 Prior Velho
Portugal
www.intercourier.pt
Ph: +351 219 498 190
Fax: +351 219 498 199
Cell: +351 966 222 245

Make a new passport, get your pet vaccinated, microchipped and treated against parasites; scan the passport with all the details in it and send it over to your courier company together with your ID. When everything is cleared, settle a date of travelling and make sure you take the same flight as your pet, even though he’ll go in a separate cargo department. The best way is to fly with BA – at least you’ll arrive to the UK with your pet at the same time. You should schedule an appointment with your vet two days before the flight to check if the microchip is functioning and to eliminate parasites once more.

Do not feed your pet before the flight – last food intake should be the night before (latest possible). You can grab its favourite toys, blanket and Feliway wet towels to sooth his travelling. No matter what sources you use to inform yourself, do not give any tranquillisers or sleeping pills to your pet – they may harm it. Our cat is one of the most stressed kinds, but he was able to pass through the travelling without medication. Your courier company will supply the carrier with water.   As soon as you are at the airport in London, drink a cup of coffee, relax and move towards Terminal 4 – this is where the Animal Centre is located. You’ll probably have to wait for a couple of hours before you reunite with your friend.

I have to say, this is not the most pleasant experience for neither the pets nor the owners. Stress level is huge. It is not cheap. Recuperation may take up to one week. Our boy had his nose all bleeding and scratched up, while trying to escape the cage from airplane pressure. He was hiding under the bed for a couple of days. But it is all behind: wounds are healed, trust in people is recuperated, curiosity is resurrected and appetite is back. There is nothing compared to the feeling that you did not leave your friend behind and he purrs every morning next to your ear and happily climbs the stairs of a new home.

Portugal Is On The Way To San Jose

California is a gastronomic Shangri-La. It has an enormous variety of tastes, aromas, shapes, traditions and great places to satisfy your cravings. This year one particularly special place will fill in the missing gap. A place, which has authenticity in culinary science DNA – a Portuguese restaurant “Adega”.

Anyhow, it is not the restaurant that matters the most, but who is going to create the dishes. And those people are the two chefs who belong to the Portuguese cuisine elite representatives; people whom the best professionals taught, and who know how to create every traditional dish from scratch – Jessica and David.

Jessica & David
David & Jessica

I am a bit jealous that Portugal will lose four capable swift hands and two insanely creative heads. I adore good food. If I love a dish, I am capable of travelling miles to savour it again. I could not care less for a variety of items on a menu, witty names, sophisticated ambiences. All I care for is an honest taste of what I consume. Those two were the first people to introduce Portuguese cuisine to me in its raw, pure and classic state.

I met David when he was part of the team of the Michelin star restaurant “Eleven” here in Lisbon. What he does with meat, fish and poultry is a Da Vinci level. I bit my cheek, trying to fill my mouth with what he put on my plate. I felt like a starving raccoon afraid to share its food with anybody. He is the muscle of any kitchen, no doubt.

Jessica was a surprising discovery for me. My husband used to work with her in the restaurant business. Once he told me that “Assinatura” – one of the traditional Portuguese signature houses – had finally found a talented pastry chef. After he showed me the pictures of her dishes – I cleared my Friday afternoon agenda to visit the place. I can’t describe myself as a sweet tooth, or, better to say, could not before. The final part of my lunch was the most delicious and creative. She managed to use some of the most elaborated techniques to bring the best in the traditional desserts. I asked my husband to talk to her after lunch to learn where she gained the artistry. Well, paradoxically, in the Le Cordon Bleu – the American famous culinary arts Alma Mater.

I love to follow my favourite chefs’ careers; to visit their new restaurants, to taste their new dishes. I feel like growing with them, and they educate me. Imagine my surprise when I realised that the two talents I admire had created a gastronomic duet. They decided to work together and open a restaurant in San Jose, CA. After that I felt frustrated, because I will have to pay 800 euros to repeat my experience with them. And I will.

Shrimps, oysters and chicken stomachs feast
Shrimps, oysters and chicken stomachs feast

The last time I saw them, they were getting ready to go to the North of Portugal to learn how to make the old-fashioned sausages in the remote villages of the country – to make sure they can call theirs truly original. Like archeologists or fairy tales collectors.

Good for you, San Jose! Soon you will be able to try some of the best chorizos, cod fish dishes and nana’s sweet rice.

I will be following their success story in the USA, as I have no doubts they will win over the San Josenians hearts, minds and stomachs.

Looking forward to your triumph this summer!

Restaurant Adega will be located at 1614 Alum Rock Ave. San José, CA 95116 (between 33rd and 34th Street). http://www.adegarest.com

 

 

Ocean Is Magical

Praia do Guincho

Ocean is magical. I am drawn to it. I recall the days when work and pressure used to suck me dry. Ocean would restore me better than a day spent in meditation, a Monty Python skits or a box of pills to increase serotonin.

When I look at it – it seems cosmic; I feel like hypnotised plankton. My problems shrink and appear irrelevant. Its powerful winds blow out all the negative residues. I feel so small. It performs its scary dance in front of me like a Chimbu Skeleton dancer.

I believe that four million years ago it was our natural habitat. We still carry a bit of ocean inside us: our blood, sweat, tears are salty; our mothers carry us in salty water; our taste buds need salt to recognize food flavour.

You need to see it once to miss it the whole life. Ocean is mystical.

The Science Of Choice

Do you remember this scene from the “House of Cards”: Donald Blythe, a well-grounded republican, refuses to make a pact with Frank (the biggest manipulator of all), shooting bulletproof arguments why his decision makes sense? In fact, it does. What does Frank do to get what he wants? – Uses the most powerful weapon in decision-making process – emotions! He shows “sincerest “ concerns about his wife’s health, gives a couple of sympathetic pats on the shoulder – the deal is sealed.

My husband is a Frank in the way he uses my emotions to reach what he wants. He always smashes my logic, like a rotten tomato; kills my gnostic mind and pulls out my Christian heart. A couple of years ago I decided to extend our family by purchasing a cat. He, on the other hand, wanted to adopt. Anyhow, a logical me wanted to have a Chartreux pedigree kittens. I brainwashed him with endless “101 Pets” videos in YouTube, reasoning that one day we might build a Chartreux Empire, raising fluffy cute cheetahs.

When he finally gave in, we started our search: sent loads of emails to proud owners of blue-blooded animals, zombied the brains with “aw, so sweet” pictures. Somehow we managed to trap into an animal traffic scheme. A guy with an authentic Portuguese name Miguel and incredibly bad writing skills sent us heart-melting pictures (he obviously mastered the science of mind control games). He said that the animal would be transferred from Switzerland as soon as we pay the fee for its move…through Western Union… his office was in Cameroon! I felt so disappointed and the whole purpose seemed meaningless.

That’s when my emotional stimulator stepped in: shoved the sites of shelters, dared my moral values. “Don’t you want to give home to a poor abandoned child?!” – he said. “ They also need our care and love, poor souls!” – he repeated. I lost my shields, and the emotional me made a decision: “We will adopt!” The next week we had Gaspar.

Gaspar - the product of our emotional choice
Gaspar – the product of our emotional choice

He was wrapped in yellow dirty covers and he was full of snot. Three years later we are happy to be the parents of a smart, loving and grateful street cat. We give him love, care, food and house. He gives us way more: gentle morning head bumps, endless loyalty and the essence of home.

Most of my best shots in life involved an emotional platform. My husband, places we lived in, my jobs – all those were the signals from the subconscious that told me a lot about what I really choose.

Sometimes we create a perfectly tailored argument. We are proud with its shape and possible outcome. And how many times those ideal solutions crumble before a begging homeless, a crying Mom or a toothless smile of a child?! Does it make us more vulnerable and open to manipulations? – Maybe so, but we enjoy an emotional choice way more than logical, even if we sour it with regrets. There is always a moment of a triumph, which we would never experience using a logical path. We feel like burglars breaking the rules.

Fear of dating outside the norms, refusal to hire tattooed manpower, standardisation of lives, choosing society approved professions or excluding a mongrel from pretentious competitions – those are the limits we create by false logical norms, which lead to wrong choices. The term “logical” is quite vast and antithetical. The meaning of the term has been manipulated ever since its creation. I guess the most lucid thing of all is to follow you gut and embrace emotional choices.

The whole world stops for a second. You open your logical clenched fist; suddenly everything becomes clear: there are no spectrums of good and bad, no “either… or” constructions, no judgments, no superstitions. The puzzle is solved.

Chasing The Flying Dutchman

Amsterdam canals
Amsterdam canals

Without them the world would not see orange carrots, ice skates, yachts, Spinoza and liberalism. We would never be able to find Ursa Major and Orion if those brilliant minds had not invented a telescope. They are the gifted, straightforward and friendly European Gullivers, also known as the Dutch.

We had been savoring the idea of our trip to the Netherlands for a year, carefully planning the cities to visit, boats to ride, herrings to swallow and stories to discover.

Despite rain (it was October), cranky mornings and bunches of tourists everywhere, we managed to take a glimpse at so called “still Dutch phenomena” with its bikes, windows life, canals, pancakes, Van Gogh and creativity.

Time was the resource we didn’t have – that’s why our expedition to Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht was compressed to 5 days. Seemed impossible at first, but great transportation, short distances between those places and dedication to lose a couple of pounds helped a lot.

Amsterdam - Netherlands
Amsterdam – Netherlands

Amsterdam certainly had that special something – an indescribable quality somewhere between quaint and exhilarating. Lights, canals, reflections, bicycles – everything was blended into a charming postcard image. In two days we were able to take a canal cruise, enjoy ingenious architecture, visit Van Gogh Museum and eat the most delicious pancakes at “Pancakes! Amsterdam” as well as famous herring at “Stubbe’s Haring”.

Our first dining experience reinforced the stereotype about bad service. The waiter forced us to order rapidly, and left us to dry over empty pints of beer. The amount of Argentinian restaurants made a strong impression as well. Seemed like a “tio Juan” escaped the outskirts of Buenos Aires, opened a restaurant in Amsterdam, helped 1\4 of his compatriots with working visas – then developed the biggest franchise of “Gringo Steak House”. Anyhow, the ribs are are amazing there. Craving for traditional Dutch food? – Well, those crispy “Vleminckx” fries with peanut butter sauce on the corner of Voetboogstraat, 31, herring with chopped onions, incredible pancakes and various fried dough sweets would be your choice.

Amsterdam lifestyle
Amsterdam lifestyle

If you need to buy something – better hurry up! Stores and fast food places are open until 5 p.m., unless you manage to find a Chinese place. Those tough guys would feed and supply you if you are late.

Amsterdam was definitely one of the most romantic, charismatic and atmospheric places we’ve ever been to.

The Hague was the most controversial city of all: justice and criminals, perspectives and stagnation are blended together in one smoothie where ingredients are hard to recognize. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a legendary Binnenhof and had fun pretending to be Godzillas in Madurodam.

The Hague - Madurodam
The Hague – Madurodam

Rotterdam welcomed us with one of the most horrifying storms: the umbrella was destroyed in a blink of an eye; my hair was a ready-to-live eagle nest. Despite all those moments we managed to have a quick run to make amazing shots of that altar to creativity with its famous Kijk Kubus – a Dutch anthem to imagination and freedom of ideas implementation; the iconic Erasmus Bridge – an important connection between the Northern and Southern parts of Rotterdam. (the project can be a perfect example of a “budget-time-purpose” symphony).

The Erasmus Bridge - Rotterdam
The Erasmus Bridge – Rotterdam

Our cozy CitizenM Hotel gave us a perfect introduction into Rotterdam’s futuristic way – the best place for young people to stay. The rest of the day we spent in Markthal gazing at vast variety of cheeses and other delights.

Utrecht
Utrecht

Utrecht was very special to me: a traditional breakfast at atmospheric canal place – “De Bakkeerswinkel”, fairy tale houses, charming canals, breathtaking Domtower view (by the way, the climbing process will help to rediscover well-forgotten claustrophobia, acrophobia and every possible phobia).

When your hotel provides you with jumbo playing cards, a window sit to watch the canal, a hand-made rabbit toy and shelves full of books to recreate Alice in Wonderland scenes – it’s worth staying. MaryK Hotel was adorable!

I am riding a memory train watching the most nostalgic memories passing by. What do I see? – Romance, charm, bikes, creativity, canals, soft salmiak candies, boats and mystery. It is a place to come back – no doubts!