Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Notes from Granada & Barcelona, Spain

This is my first time in Spain and I’m happy to say I’ve visited Granada and Barcelona all in one. Some quick notes:

  • This is an EU nation, yet you’ll have to fill in some kind of landing form if you’re not an EU national. They don’t ask you to retain the departure card, preferring instead to keep the whole sheet. It proved no issue leaving the country either.
  • Churros are meant to be eaten with thick hot chocolate. No wonder people gave me funny looks when I just ate it as is.
  • The Spanish are friendly. A fairly good looking person just sat across me on my table at breakfast one morning. Upon looking up only did she realize she should have asked first.
  • The cuisine is awesome. Lots of little dishes. Olives stuffed with anchovies in brine. Fried green peppers. Paella served with an obligatory sangria. The list goes on and on. Sometimes though I found some of the tapas a little too salty for my liking.
  • Getting an English-language newspaper is a challenge in Granada, on Spanair, in the Barcelona airport lounges. In Barcelona though, international hotels and the Ramblas area will serve up some English magazines as well as the Financial Times.
  • Siesta is something I cannot fathom/get used to. Yes, it is a significantly lengthy lunch hour, but I guess its something cultural.
  • Speaking English is a challenge. Hotel staff too find it difficult to understand sometimes. And outside of Barcelona/Madrid, it’s going to be hard to find an international chain, so be prepared to speak slowly and explain yourself clearly.
  • Pretty much everything (retail) is closed on Sunday in Barcelona. Save for shopping malls. Gasp!
  • There are over fifteen Michelin-star rated restaurants in Barcelona. Make sure you get bookings in up to two weeks in advance. Many finer restaurants also have tasting menus (which really are set menus, IMHO).
  • Beware the Ramblas area. Plenty of places tell you, you can get three tapas and a drink for a certain sum of money, but the tapas is always limited to what they choose, and the drink tends to be really small. In Barcelona you pay for your tapas, it doesn’t come for free when you order your drink. Don’t be fooled by paella on the streets either — ask what you’re getting (chicken paella is quite a common set menu dish). I found it a nice street to walk on, but eating I picked elsewhere.
  • On a Saturday night, within a 10km radius of the Ramblas area, the most popular destination checked-in on Foursquare had 14 people. Not a huge number by any means. Recommendations are mostly in Spanish on the service, so it proved to be hard to decipher for me.
  • Finding WiFi is not really common. Of course around the touristic areas many places offer up wifi with a drink.
  • Cava is common. Its like Spanish champagne/bubbly. It is also cheap. Don’t hesitate to ask for a glass before lunch/dinner.
  • Cafe Zurich at the end of Ramblas is a very nice place to sit and people watch. In fact people sit in a Parisian fashion looking towards the street.
  • There’s a market in the middle of the Ramblas area. Reminds me of Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. They even give you a map. Very colourful, nice to take pictures of, and clearly its a destination in itself.
  • Television here is all pretty much Spanish-based. English shows dubbed in Spanish. There usually is some variant of CNN or BBC though for an English-language fix.

Notes from Sao Paulo, Brazil

This is my first time in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In fact, it is my first time in Brazil. Why not throw in the fact that it is my first time on the continent of South America? Some quick notes/observations:

  • The people are toothsome. I’m told that lots of Miss Universe/World’s come from Brazil, and its possibly quite true. You’re also told to explore areas like bars/clubs and drop in “where the beautiful people are”.
  • Sao Paulo is very multi-cultural. Its very easy to blend in, till someone speaks to you in Brazilian-Portuguese.
  • In this market, you need Brazilian-Portuguese. The bookstores are filled with titles. Going to large malls and speaking to wait staff is a challenge if you only speak English. Taxi drivers speak no English, so be prepared ahead of time.
  • The language is important, so there are always simultaneous translators when you give presentations.
  • Traffic jams are redefined here. Sitting in a car for two hours, when the journey really should take fourty-five minutes is quite common. Helicopters are generally available (as are helipads), and there are plenty of options for getting armored cars are.
  • There’s plenty of Brazilian fashion brands that we never see overseas.
  • I had a meal at Bob’s. It reminded me of a local McDonalds. Their website points to Twitter, Facebook and Orkut. Yes, Orkut is still a fairly used social network in Brazil. Only in Brazil (previously also in India, but I think Facebook has killed it there).
  • Nokia’s are big in Sao Paulo. Followed by Android-based devices. There are plenty of accessories for iOS devices (iPhones/iPads) in higher end malls (I noticed 2 push carts in one mall, for example), but they don’t seem as prevalent in terms of usage. There are Apple Premium Resellers as well.
  • K-POP videos are being used to sell TVs here in Sao Paulo.
  • There are really good concert acts happening in Sao Paulo (via Time Out Sao Paulo). Cities like Kuala Lumpur/Singapore can learn a lot from them.
  • HSBC is really here.
  • The Interlagos F1 Grand Prix happens here too. It is a pity I’m here a week earlier and won’t get to catch the F1.
  • Sao Paulo will be one of the host cities for the World Cup 2012 while Rio gets the Olympics in 2016 (save for some soccer matches which will also be in Sao Paulo). Infrastructure and language is going to be interesting for this.
  • People are very civic conscious and clean up after themselves (in fast food joints, after their dog poos, etc.).
  • Jardines area is definitely very pet friendly — see plenty of dogs walking around. It is also human friendly, less cars on the street. However it is hilly, so if you have a pram, it is not impossible but you have to be careful with negotiating the sidewalks.
  • Cycle friendly Sao Paulo is.

Food in Brussels

Barbar at Delirium in Brussels. Thousands of beers in-store! It was my first time to Brussels, Belgium. I found some amazing food that I’d go back to on a regular basis on future trips to Brussels. Most of everything is in the Grand Place area.

Scheletema has been around since 1972. They serve high quality food. Try their steak (filet mignon). Try their tuna. They have awesome scallops for a starter. Their menus can also be relatively good value for money.

Brussels is famous for “moules et frites” (mussels & fries). Visit Chez Leon. Its always crowded, has been around since 1893, and they have excellent mussels. Their Leon beer isn’t too bad either.

Want beer? Check out Delirium Cafe. Its in the Guinness Book of Records for holding over 2,000 beers in stock. Their tap beers are awesome too. I’ve quite enjoyed Barbar.

Waffles are available everywhere. For tradition, visit Le Funambule Waffles, which is near to Manneken Pis. They’ve been around since 18xx.

Fries are also everywhere, be sure to try out many of the sauces.

La Fourchette du Printemps

Beautiful quaint little restaurant at Rue du Printemps, nearby the Wagram metro station. It has one Michelin star. Lunch tasting menu is 45 euros a pop (February 2012) – starter, main course, desert. They also give you a pre-starter (free) plus a pre-desert (free). They close for lunch at 2pm, but entertained us right till 3.30pm – brilliant service. Chocolate desert for presentation was absolutely amazing – worth taking a video snapshot in-memory. Main course was out of this world. Definitely worth paying a visit; all credit cards (visa/master/amex) accepted.

Pierre Hermé Paris at Selfridges for macaroons

Pierre Hermé Paris recently opened at Selfridges in London (400 Oxford St – get out at Bond Street tube stop). The shop is rigid – you can either pick a few, and if you want packs, they recommend it to be pre-packed. Heritage from about the 1970s, with each macaroon setting you back about £2 or so.

Unless you get one with white truffles (pic). These are rare, and when they exist, they fly off the shelves. You don’t get them in pre-packaged gift boxes because it would overwhelm the other macaroons. They really taste good, heavenly even. I never figured truffles would go well in sweets, but its clear that this pâtissier has figured it out.

The Guardian wonders if they are the world’s best macaroons? For me, they definitely are.

Berthillon ice-cream

One of the best ice creams in the world is by Berthillon. Get it exclusively in Paris, France. Get a few scoops if you happen to be there. The ice creams are truly luxurious (never bothered with the sorbets). Many shops on the “island” sell it, and its got heritage — started in 1954. Google Maps link.