Tag Archives: Travel

Rome, Italy

“Mi scusi, mi scusi!”

“Grazie!”

“Buonissimo!”  (Italian words are so fun to say!)

My whole life, I had always wanted to visit Italy. From photos I had seen, to stuff on TV, to everything I had heard about Italy – I was fascinated by all of it. Something innate in me made the thought of its pasta, wine, historical & scenic views, and even the language feel comforting.

Then the idea of an Italian grandmother in the kitchen is something of its own. You can’t beat that kind of comfort. Although it might be stereotyping, I have no shame in believing that Italian families have it the best. I would love for my staple food to be pasta and for the weather to flourish vineyards. They also take things slow in Italy, unless you’re driving with them, which is when things can get crazy. Nonetheless, I finally got to experience the culture and visit Italy’s capital, Rome. For the four-day trip, I was accompanied by Bae, Becky, and Dan.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The talk about adapting to local customs. I had no problem doing this there. I ate traditional Roman cuisine, and if it wasn’t for all the walking, I’d weigh 10 kilos more by now (that’s just over 22 pounds for my people back home). Cheeses, breads, meats… the epitome of foods which taste awesome but are terrible for you. That didn’t stop me from having Spaghetti alla Carbonara for 4 days straight.

Traditionally made with Guanciale (a salty, cured Italian meat from pork cheeks), eggs, pepper, and Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.


One of the restaurants we ate at was called Trattoria Vecchia. They had a couple specials on the menu that got flambéd in either a Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese wheel. The cheese is smoothly melted and coats the pasta generously.


FullSizeRender(5)
We prepared breakfast in our Airbnb apartment. A bakery down the street sold these cookies that Italians usually eat with coffee in the morning. These lemon ones were recommended. The center was chewy and it was perfectly sweet & tart.
dsf(2)
Not the best photo but I couldn’t wait to dive into one restaurant’s homemade Tiramisu.

Many resources said to book tours in advance for attractions like the Vatican Museum. Glad we did this and got to pass the extremely long line for buying tickets at the door. I found out that the Vatican City was its own country and was heavily guarded. Made the whole experience feel very sacred.

The Vatican Museum was full of sculptures, paintings, tapestries, history, and biblical-everything. It felt like taking a walk through the bible.

St. Peter’s Cupola, the dome, was a trek. Never-ending stairs led us up to the very top, where we had a panoramic view of the Vatican City. The hallway of steps winding up the dome was extremely narrow. Claustrophobic for some, I imagined how awful it’d be for someone to get too tired and need to get back down. The humidity in some parts of the hallways were almost unbearable and it wasn’t even summer yet. Regardless, totally worth it when you get to the top.

IMG_0481


After 4 hours of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, we had a late lunch of lasagna (Becky’s is pictured because again, I couldn’t wait to dig into mine) and pizza. This place had a slightly thicker pizza crust compared to another one we went to. Both kinds were good, even though I prefer the thicker crust. You know it’s good when you see those wood-fire oven marks.


The Colosseum was another attraction we booked in advance. Admittance to the highest level (the Belvedere) and the underground level was only possible with tour guides. Even though I tried booking about 2 months in advance, all the English tours were sold out so I had to book a tour in Italian. I learned that others have used this trick and it happened to work out.

This is now one of my favorite historical attractions I had ever been to. I envisioned how it would be in the past… walking in to be a part of the audience… to watch a show of gladiators and wild animals – man against beast. It probably would’ve been epic. The arena and the stone structures used to build it were of great magnitude.  It made me feel like a small spectator on the grounds of such a manly and ancient sport. The Colosseum, afterall, was the largest arena built in the world.


The Trevi Fountain was a charming feature. It was crowded (again, wasn’t even summer yet and look at all the people) but we had to partake in the tradition of tossing a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. Some people would make a wish, while other rumors said this tradition guaranteed your return to Rome in the future. I read that at the end of each day, the coins were collected by the city and went to charity. Every single day turned up around €3000 in coins!

IMG_0365IMG_0383


The Spanish Steps. Only named this because of its location near the Spanish Embassy. I didn’t think there was anything special about the steps but it made a nice resting point.

IMG_0387
Pictured here is the bottom of the steps. It gets about 4 times higher, totalling 135 steps.
IMG_0395
View from sitting on the Spanish Steps

Rome is a city that banned all euthanisation of animals. We visited a cat sanctuary that was on an ancient, sacred ground called Torre Argentina. It was actually where Julius Cesar got stabbed by his rival, Brutus.

There were around 150 cats and it was awesome to see that they were so well-cared for that they didn’t care to leave the premises. For 7 days a week, volunteers took care of them and helped put them up for adoption. Interesting that this photo doesn’t show any visible cats, but there were definitely tons of them upon entering the other side, where the adoption office was located. How cool is this site for cats to roam freely?

IMG_0407


IMG_0454
View from top of Castel Sant’Angelo
IMG_0477
Rome was way greener than I expected!
IMG_0509
Arc di Constantino and peak of the Palatine Hill as seen from top of the Colosseum
IMG_0358
The Pantheon, a former Roman temple, is now a church

In conclusion, early May was an ideal time to visit. Less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and good weather (it rained hard for about an hour but was great otherwise – and the rain only called for another “Wine o’clock” as Becky would say). Speaking of wine, I never documented the different wines we tried, but I can safely say all the house wines were fantastic. You can’t expect less in Rome. The locals were so nice and I couldn’t get tired of hearing the language.

On our last day, we finally got to try some gelato. Creamy, rich, decadent. Great way to end the trip. Until next time, addio Roma!

FullSizeRender(8)

Paris, France

Bonjour, Paris (“pah-rhee”)

Land of romance, fashion, and culinary cuisine. Well, for me, only the last part mattered. I never understood the hype about the Eiffel Tower and how standing in view of it would be romantic. It’s just a tall, pointy structure.. In fact, back when the tower was first built, the residents nearby hated it and thought it was ugly. As for the fashion part, I normally wouldn’t refer to myself as a fashionable person. Well, none of this stopped me from visiting the city with my friend, Tamara.

I usually have a small list of sites or restaurants to check out in any new area I visit. For Paris, my list quickly grew into what consisted of 15 food items to try. Here’s that list, in no particular order. These all made it on the list because they were either traditional French foods that should definitely be tried when in one of the world’s culinary capitals, or for other reasons which I would explain. Continue reading to see additional remarks about the food and more about our trip.

Foie Gras  

IMG_9973
I like pâté and I heard that foie gras is the luxury version.

It lived up to this expectation. It was buttery and melted in your mouth. Salty and savory. Can easily be my new addiction.          

Croque Monsieur

IMG_9972
Such a fancy name for a ham and cheese sandwich. I’ll take it.

Actually, Tamara ordered it and I tried some of hers. Seems like such a simple dish, but the quality ingredients made it exceptional. 

Baguette (not pictured)

Ain’t no bread like the French baguette. It’s used in Vietnamese sandwiches because of France’s influence during the Vietnam War. I’d say it’s my favorite bread next to sourdough. I spotted people walking around with a whole baguette in-hand as if they were prepared to snack at any moment, and I spotted this a bunch of times. Even though the ends were just sticking out of their paper bags, it looked like the largest snack anyone would carry around so nonchalantly.

Duck Confit

IMG_0087
I love duck, another French/Vietnamese specialty. And the definition of this dish means the duck was “slowly cooked submerged in its own rendered fat”…I’ll take all of it.

The skin was perfectly crunchy and crispy. Then the meat was tender and juicy. Sometimes in between the meat and the skin, there were little pieces of fat that melted and coated the bite in flavor. Heaven.

Jambon-beurre

Supposed to be the most simple French staple – ham and butter sandwich. Didn’t end up trying this specifically, but had similar ham sandwiches. Besides, I don’t think anyone ever left Paris broken-hearted that they didn’t get to try this …no offense to the Jambon-beurre.

Croissant

IMG_0102
Probably the first French word I ever said in my life.

Ladies and gents, I am here to tell you that I did not think a croissant would taste much different in Paris. I was proven terribly wrong in the best way. It was flakey, buttery, soft and warm on the inside, and confirmed to be my favorite pastry.  

Macaron

IMG_0151
Fancy bag for fancy macarons.
IMG_0155
Flavors from top to bottom: Orange Blossom, Raspberry, Coffee, Chocolate, Pistachio, Salted Caramel (my favorite), Rose, and Vanilla.

The flavors and the texturrre! We were recommended to go to this macaron boutique called Ladurée that was located on Champs Élysées, a well-known street for shopping. These words, Champs Élysées, was so fun to say once you learn how the locals pronounce it. You can find variations of its phonetic pronunciations online, but this is mine: “shawwnce-ah-lee-zayy”.

Crêpe

IMG_0171
Egg, Potatoes, Onion, Raclette, Bacon, & Crème fraîche
IMG_0173
Bolognese, Mozzarella, Minced Meat, Merguez, Mushrooms, Onions, & Peppers.
IMG_0175
Banana & Nutella

A good option for breakfast OR dessert. This pastry sways both ways. Naturally, Tamara and I tried a sweet crêpe and a couple savory ones. All were really good. The restaurant was called Brother´s Crêpes & Café. It reminded me of an American fast food chain on the inside, but their crêpes were fresh and delicious. 

Éclair

IMG_0058

Had this as dessert after my meal of escargot and 7-hour Braised Lamb with Beans (“Agneau de 7 heures, haricots au jus”) at the restaurant Bouillon Pigalle. Tamara had the coffee éclair, which was sweeter than my chocolate éclair, but mine was better. Dark chocolate frosting on top of the light & crispy-soft pastry, filled with cold creamy chocolate similar to ice cream. Yum.

Steak frites

It’s steak, it’s fries, how is that a bad idea? Plus, one of my favorite TV chefs, Katie Lee, got this classic dish in Paris right before my trip and it looked like a must. In the end, this was one of the missed items on my list because I just couldn’t bother to find time for it. It would’ve been expensive and probably not the best steak I’ve ever had. I had recently cooked a steak at home that I swear was the best steak of my life. That, however, is for another blog post.

Escargot

IMG_0051
They were drowned in an aromatic, garlic basil pesto sauce. This sauce, mostly oil, was so good that we had to get every drop soaked up with our table bread.

IMG_0052

Also pretty common in Vietnam. I’ve only tried small ones and I knew the ones in Paris were a little bigger. Plus, SNAILS. If you’ve never tried them before, I guess they can appear squeamish. But they taste great! The texture is not bad either – rather a soft-chewy. We had them twice and they were good both times.

Steak tartare

IMG_0055IMG_0203IMG_9995

Because eating raw meat has a carnivorous and primal feel. And it feels forbidden and scandalous. Most Americans would cringe at the idea of eating raw meat. We’ve been conditioned to be scared of Salmonella, E. coli, and a list of other food borne diseases. So why is it safe to eat in Europe? I have no idea. If you know, comment below! Getting back to steak tartare in Paris: it was so good, we had to have it FOUR different times! Since there were variations of how this dish is made, we thought it would be good to try it at different restaurants to see how they measured up. All were very good. You could tell the quality of meat was good because it melted in your mouth. Taste was fresh in a way that is hard to explain. Even though served cool, the taste was still savory. Sometimes dressed in onions, capers, pepper, Worcestershire, or a tiny bit of mustard, I liked all variations.

Crème brûlée

IMG_9996IMG_9998

We got to enjoy this dessert after a meal of steak tartare at the restaurant Café des 2 Moulins, which was featured in the movie Amélie. The sugar crust made a cracking sound when broken into with a spoon – a sound that never disappoints. Then the creamy sweet custard below was rich of vanilla and also did not disappoint.

Quick Burger (Dark Vader Burger)

Okay, this one is the most misplaced. It’s only on my list because: I read that it existed in Paris, the buns were as black as the villain, and my boyfriend is a Star Wars fan. Turned out, the burger was for a limited time and no longer there, but I got to try a different one.

IMG_0164

This cheeseburger was a generous size and tasted great, especially for being around 5 Euros. We enjoyed our burgers on the terrace of the restaurant Quick Burger, which is actually a Belgian chain. Located on the Champs Élysées strip of shopping malls and restaurants, the terrace was brightly under the sun and facing the lovely street of shoppers. Great spot to enjoy a burger.

…and Frog Legs

WSUV9452
A rather ancient French dish, but authentic nonetheless.

Had it before and it actually tastes like chicken. Tamara had never tried it until Paris and we concluded that it tasted like chicken and clam combined, an unsuspectingly good combo.

The whole trip was actually better than expected. Paris wasn’t as big as I thought and it was easy to walk everywhere. Mid-April is prone to rainy days and we had just missed a lot of that. Our days were sunny, with little moments of clouds and less moments of sprinkling, and the last day was hot enough for me to complain a bit on our walking tour. The sites were beautiful and full of history. The people were pleasant. But most of all, the food was epic.

IMG_0193
Mini toy boats and gorgeous view at the park.
IMG_0197
Paris’s famous Berthillon ice cream. Smooth like velvet. Coffee & Chocolate flavors.
IMG_0195
Delicious blue cheese. Did you know that Paris has one kind of cheese for every day of the year? 365 different kinds!

IMG_0198

IMG_9986
Café des 2 Moulins, restaurant featured in the movie Amélie
IMG_9988
Bar inside Café des 2 Moulins
IMG_0109
Small artists’ square in the neighborhood of Montmartre, hidden away next to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
IMG_0110
Artist at work.
IMG_0120
What would a Paris blog post be without the Eiffel Tower?
IMG_0183
Salmon Quiche. Had a generous amount of salmon. Was so good I couldn’t wait to take a picture.
IMG_0187
View from the popular shopping mall, Printemps.
IMG_0101
Eggplant and Goat Cheese Quiche. So good!
IMG_0081
Beignet and Espresso
IMG_0090
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris.
IMG_0066
The Notre-Dame Cathedral. Smaller than I expected.
IMG_0071
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of my favorite movies for a long time. Oh, the feels.
IMG_0073
Entry inside was free.
IMG_0054
7-Hour Braised Lamb and Beans
IMG_0044
The Louvre Museum kept some of Napoléon III’s apartments in tact. Here’s his dining room.

IMG_0041IMG_0040

IMG_0034 (1)
“50 Shades of Julius Caesar?” –Tamara
IMG_0146.jpg
A bittersweet discovery of a memorial. We didn’t know that Princess Diana had died in Paris, at the tunnel entrance of a highway near the Eiffel Tower.
IMG_0017
Here is the only reason why I wanted to go to the Louvre Museum. Mona Lisa herself. The most famous painting in the world. This was the first time I was so prepared to be disappointed because of how small I heard the painting was. Turned out a little bigger than I thought and even more colorful than expected. She’s a beauty.
IMG_0016
She was encased in glass far from guests.
IMG_0010
Artsy entrance to the subway station.
IMG_0003
And of course, the Moulin Rouge.

So there you have it. You stay classy, Paris. Until next time, au revoir.