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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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

 

 

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!

Portugal Through Foreign Glasses

 

Lisboa - Portugal
Lisbon rooftops – Lisbon, Portugal

I have to admit that 4 years ago I didn’t expect Portugal to make a tremendous impact on me. If my religiously Portuguese husband had not dragged me to Lisbon to “live for a couple of weeks”, I would not have discovered an enigmatic Portuguese soul. After being a restless, independent metropolitan I turned into a member of a strong, relatively provincial community. I was among people who knew how to relax and not feel guilty for that.

A foreign me had plenty of questions in the beginning of my partial assimilation: “Why everything works so slow?”, “How comes you showed up at 6 p.m. , when we had agreed to meet at 5 p.m.?”, “Why all the sweets are loaded with eggs, have the same taste, but different shapes and names?”, “Does it make sense to even bother to dry cod fish if you would have to soak it to reach its original texture again?”. Not only I found the answers for those questions, but realized the importance of all the mentioned rules and habits.

Rua Augusta - Portugal
Rua Augusta – Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal is a slow – cooked delicious tomato sauce. To receive a spoon of fabulous high quality substance, you need to reduce its amount and generously spice it up – that’s what the Portuguese did: let all of the colonies follow their own path, but embraced the Brazilian “caipirinha”, the Goan curry, the Angolan kizomba, the Mozambican “tipo tinto” and the Macanese rice noodles.

Portuguese history is glorious, no doubts, but who they are today is far more important. They preserved their essence and managed to errase Old Europe’s mistakes: chauvinism, racism and delusion of grandeur. So many nations, traditions and habits fit in this tiny land, like a puzzle completing the picture and making Portugal so diverse, rich and colorful. Every tourist finds himself at home here: unbelievable friendliness and fluency in many languages make them perfect hosts.

After a couple of years I learned how the locals act, what they eat, where they prefer to go out. If I had to organize a perfect trip, I’d begin with Lisbon: would start my morning with a glass of “galão” and a “tosta mista”, catch a famous tram 28 to scratch a surface of the most important districts, observe the city from the 360 ° panoramic spot – “São Jorge” castle. Then I’d go for the best seafood place – “Ramiro”; ramble around some of the most charismatic European streets in the districts of Bairro Alto and Baixa Chiado.

Quinta da Regaleira - Portugal
Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra, Portugal

The next day would be solemnly dedicated to the famous Belém, where I’d get my teeth into heavenly delicious “Pastel de Belém”, and the most romantic place – Sintra. Well, evenings should be spent with a glass of red “Adelaide” or white “Primus 2008”. Add savory chunks of “Queijo de Azeitão”, “Queijo Serra da Estrela” or “Queijo Rabaçal”- a gastronomic orgasm is guaranteed.

Summer offers the entire coast of divine beaches – Porto Covo, Troia, Lagos, Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Adraga – the list goes on endlessly. Green wine, fresh grilled fish or crispy “Sagres” with gastropod snails are the best garnish for a sunny day out.

Porto will offer you mouth-watering “francesinha” and some of the best wine tastings; Algarve area– the best Mediterranean dishes and sweet brandy “medronho”; Alentejo – paradisiac bread and olive oil, and the Northern districts – best “chouriços”. Anyhow, it’s very relative, because Portuguese cuisine is a vast chapter and can’t be squeezed  even in a “Zettels Traum” kind of volume.

Each region is well – defined by its specific landscape, cuisine, dialect, the way they cook codfish and football club fans. If you have an intention to find friends

Praia da Adraga - Portugal
Praia da Adraga – Adraga, Portugal

among the Portuguese – either avoid favoring   a specific football club or divide them into logical groups: praise “Sporting” with green fans, sing “Benfica, oh glorious!” with a red scarf on, and proudly wear a blue dragons’ T-shirt in Porto. Football is more actual than politics. Belonging to a club is a matter of national pride; it runs in DNA, infects generations.

It seems that Portugal has immunity against globalisation. Even though “Starbucks”, “Burger King”, “Zara” made their way to this land, people religiously drink their “cafezihno” at traditional houses like “Nicola”. They learned how to appreciate sushi not so long ago, but also don’t skip on a traditional “bifana”. Trend is trend – habits are the nation’s core.

Torre de Belem - Portugal
Torre de Belem – Belem, Portugal

Religion is strongly rooted. They are still blissfully looking forward to marry at churches, have the first communion and visit the catholic Mecca – Fatima. Grandmas have gigantic statues of Jesus and Mary in the relatively small houses. My first lunch at a traditional house I spent with a jumbo monument to the Son of God silently judging me by the table. I washed my sins with a sip of his finest “blood” and felt relieved.

Praça do Comércio - Portugal
Praça do Comércio – Lisbon, Portugal

There are 3 words that pretty much define Portuguese essential features: “amanhã”, “talvez” and “saudades”. “Amanhã” (tr: tomorrow) shows the country’s productivity. If  by any chance you hear that word, don’t rush for the results the next day – the time range is elastic: tomorrow could possibly mean “in a couple of weeks or months”. “Talvez” (tr: maybe) reflects how polite the Portuguese are. They are not capable of cutting you off by a sharp “no”, therefore leaving you with hope. There is a huge probability to never go out with people you invite, if they genuinely smile and say: “Talvez!”. Finally, “saudade” (tr: hard to define), which has no analogues or closest translations in any language, explains us the Portuguese soul – loving, nostalgic, childishly pure. It could describe anything between missing somebody or something, a will to repeat or return to keeping sweet memories and savoring them.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos - Portugal
Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Belem, Portugal

My almost 4 year transformation from a foreigner to a local was one of the most fascinating experiences. I figured I can’t live anymore without sun, ambrosial wines, aromatic coffee, ocean, seafood, shabby buildings, paved streets. I will conserve the memories of grilled sardines on the St. Anthony Feast, the earthy smell of roasted chestnuts, permanent blue colour of the sky, chicken house in the neighborhood, powerful energy of the Atlantic, joyful days with our friends, the authentic happy faces. My experience brought me to a conclusion that people – happy, slow, able to enjoy life, full of southern charm and rumours – are  Portugal’s most powerful resource. Well, the sort of people you fall in love with and always feel “saudades”.