Beijing (I)

Beijing

It’s been a while since I posted because I’ve been away on holiday to Beijing to visit my aunt who stays there. Having an aunt who is an expatriate there means going to good restaurants and eating good food :)) Everyone has this perception that all food in China is greasy and unhealthy which is true to a certain extent if we are only talking about their local food but China has so much more to offer besides their local food. The food scene in Beijing is an exciting one, with many foreign chefs setting up shop to offer Beijingers all kinds of cuisine.

In the short span that I was there, here were the eateries that left an impression:

1. Temple Restaurant Beijing

600 year old temple

Named as Timeout Beijing’s top Restaurant of the Year 2014, I can see why. Service is impeccable once you sit down but note, only once you sit down. This restaurant has a terrible practice of overbooking which meant that even though we reserved a table for 1.30pm, we still had to wait 15 minutes for a table (even after complaining like a Singaporean). The manager blames the customers who take longer than expected but they should really figure out a way to solve this problem. Asking your customers to wait while handing out free champagne to pacify them is not the solution

Temple

Complaints aside, the ambience was top notched. The restaurant is situated in an old temple, hence its name. Weekend Brunch includes baskets of pastries and bread. You get to choose a 5 course or a 8 course meal, with or without wine pairing. The food was fantastic though the servings were tiny. Special mention goes to the sea bass which was so fresh and smooth and the cream of mussel soup which tasted like the sea, in a good way.

Dessert

嵩祝寺23号, Shatan N St, Dongcheng District
Beijing, China
+86 10 8400 2232

2. Flo Brasserie

Flo

flo

Beef Patty

Flo is Beijing’s oldest French restaurant and it is of no surprise to me that it is the longest surviving. Its set lunches are very reasonably priced, a deal that you cannot find in Singapore for this quality, 125 (S$25) RMB for 2 courses and 155 (S$31) RMB for 3 courses. The freshly baked mixed grain rolls were delicious and so was the rest of the food we ordered.

Crepe Suzette

Their menu offers Crepe Suzette for an extra $10, which my dad did not hesitate to order as its his favourite dessert. We got a flambé show and enjoyed the Grand Marnier soaked crepes. Yum!

18 Xiaoyun Rd, Chaoyang District
Beijing, China
+86 10 6595 5135

3. Duck de Chine

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duckdechine

Duck de Chine serves Peking duck in the modern way, with almost no fats under the skin. The pancake was a tad too thick for my liking but the sauce accompanying the duck was interesting, a mix of Hoison and Sesame sauce, if I’m not mistaken. Although this Peking duck was the most expensive one that I ate, it was also the best. The skin was crispy and the meat was flavourful, delicious enough to be eaten on its own or in a pancake. Other noteworthy dishes are the Wawa vegetable broth (simmered local cabbage) and the stir-fried lamb.

1949 Club
No.98 Jinbao Street, Dongcheng District
Beijing 100027, China (Tian’anmen / Wangfujing)

4. Lost Heaven

Jiaozi

I hope heaven has such delicious Yunnan food because I would die for their jiaozi, filled with pork and lemongrass, a unique combination that appeals to my Southeast Asian palette.

Mian Xian

Their mianxian (noodles) in soup was such a tasty dish that showed how sometimes, simplicity is simply the best. A must try is their grilled pork! Once dipped in their magical sauce, you’d feel in heaven.

No.23 Qian Men Dong Da Jie
Beijing, China

5. Haidilao

Haidilao

Haidilao is the most famous steamboat chain in Beijing, they even have a branch at Clarke Quay in Singapore. I went to the branch at Baijiazhuang and at 3pm, there were still people streaming in to eat this steamboat. There are 3 choices of soup, spicy and non-spicy. We chose the clear soup, called 三鲜汤 (san xian tang) and ordered a whole variety of meat and vegetables. I especially enjoyed the vegetables, prawn balls and beef slices. The beef was not very expensive and of good quality.

The best part of this local restaurant is their warm hospitality, very unusual of a restaurant in China. Trust me, most of the waiters and waitresses in China are grouchy. Haidilao has games and even nail painting services to keep customers busy while waiting for their seat.

Noodle dance

They also have noodle dances where a man dances around while stretching the noodles that you ordered. Eating here is full of fun!

Visit www.haidilao.com for locations of their branches

6. Central Perk Cafe

Central Perk

For everything that China imitates, this is the best replica ever. This cafe is modelled after the Central Perk Cafe in Friends. The furniture and the decor may not be the exact replica but they are similar enough to create that atmosphere which all fans of Friends always wanted to indulge in. The cafe even has a cat (because Rachel gave Gunther her cat in one episode)!

Central Perk

Central Perk

If you are a die hard fan of friends, spend your afternoon in this cafe watching reruns of Friends while sipping on a Cappuccino (they serve good coffee).

616, Bldg A, Chaowai SOHO | CBD, Chaoyang Distrtict
Beijing, China

7. Beijing International Youth Hostel Cafe

Beijing International Youth Hostel

Flowers

This cafe is easily the prettiest cafe I have ever been to in my entire life. That sounds like I am exaggerating but trust me, I am not. The doorway of the cafe is filled with pots of roses and hanging yellow flowers. The inside of the cafe is not lacking in flowers either, with a pot of flowers on each table. It’s a great place to chill and smell the flowers.

No.113-2 Nanluogu Alley, Dongcheng District
Beijing 100006, China (Tian’anmen / Wangfujing)

8. Rooftop drinking at Sanlitun

Nali Patio

Sanlitun is the hippest place in Beijing and you can’t get any hipper than drinking on a rooftop, perhaps Nali Patio?

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Spain

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My family hates going on tours because it goes against everything a holiday should be. A holiday should be relaxing, full of good food and getting lost. Tours have the most hectic schedule, I remember sleeping at 12am and waking up at 2am in Cairo to catch a domestic flight when I went on an Egypt tour, and provide shitty chinese food when there’s amazing Italian food next door. After our bad experiences with tours, my family has sworn off tour groups and always goes free and easy on every single trip.

Free and easy in Spain was a bit of a challenge for us because my father had never driven on the right hand side before and we had to plan for all 15 days. So we took the easy way out. We copied the Chan Brother’s itinerary hahahahaha and tweaked it a bit.

Here’s how we traveled: Barcelona –> Alicante –> Granada –> Cordoba –> Sevilla –> Segovia –> Madrid –> Barcelona We drove in the end which was really fun because you get to see the different sides to Spain, like how some parts are near the ocean while other parts are dry and very Mediterranean like. A road trip is always fun. So here are the highlights of my trip and places you definitely should go to if you are visiting Spain!

Top 10 highlights

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia Exterior

Sagrada Familia Interior

1. Sagrada Familia {Barcelona}

Carrer de Mallorca, 401,
08013 Barcelona, Spain
+34 935 13 20 60
Nearest Metro: Sagrada Familia

When you visit Barcelona, you definitely have to visit this gothic church. When you see the construction scaffoldings, don’t freak out. The church is not undergoing renovations, it’s being built. This unfinished church was designed by Gaudi, an extremely talented Spanish architect, in the 1800s and everything is so intricately designed. If you think the exterior is stunning, wait till you see the interior.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

2. Parks {Barcelona & Madrid}

Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona
Nearest Metro: Arc de Triomf

The Retiro Park in Madrid
Nearest Metro: Retiro

Maybe it’s because I come from Singapore where we do not have large parks to laze around in but I love European parks and always make it a point to visit them. They are fascinating, especially on Sundays when the locals gather for some fun under the sun.

Alhambra

Alhambra scenery

Alhambra

3. Alhambra {Granada}

Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n,
18009 Granada, Spain
+34 958 02 79 71

The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site which has a limited number of tickets everyday, so it’s best if you could either reserve online or buy the tickets as early as possible. There’s a specific timing each person is allowed to enter the Nasrid Palaces so be sure to take note of yours. The grounds contain a mix of Muslim and Catholic influenced architecture, reflective of Spain’s past. All the intricate geometric designs representative of Muslim art and carved onto walls and ceilings were mind-blowing. The craftsmanship and splendour of the palaces kept me constantly intrigued the entire time I was there even though I was tired from all that walking.

Mezquita

Mezquita

Mezquita

Mezquita

Mezquita

4. Mezquita {Cordoba}

Calle del Cardenal Herrero, 1,
14003 Córdoba, Spain
+34 957 47 05 12
10:00 am – 6:00 pm

This is another place which captures Spain’s history. What is so special about this place is that a cathedral is built inside the mosque. Forgive me but it gets a tad boring seeing cathedral after cathedral so the Mezquita fascinated me.

5.  Attending mass in Sevilla Cathedral & Cordoba Cathedral

We didn’t have time to see both the Alhambra in Sevilla and the Cathedral so we did not have the chance to see the cathedral during normal opening hours. After dinner, we saw a bunch of people standing outside the cathedral holding candles and became curious of what they were doing. Turns out there was a mass for youth being held and haha we decided to join in the fun because we could also see the insides of the cathedral (for free). We sightsee in unconventional ways haha.

We were in Cordoba on a Sunday and being Roman Catholics, we can attend mass anywhere which meant that we could attend mass in the cathedral. The mass was held in a small chapel with only 10 people and we were the only tourists. You have to try attending mass in a foreign country because the feeling is totally different from mass here in Singapore, perhaps because of the murals. It really is an experience.

Aqueduct

6. Aqueduct {Segovia}
The massive scale and splendour of the aqueduct just blew my mind away. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is well preserved. It transports water from the mountains 17km away into the city and there are signs carved onto the ground for you to follow the route of the water.

7. Museo del Prado {Madrid}

Paseo del Prado, s/n,
28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 30 28 00
10:00 am – 8:00 pm

If you appreciate art, then Museo del Prada is your place. If you don’t appreciate art, you still have to visit the Museo del Prado simply because it boasts one of the finest collection of European art and is considered one of the greatest museums in the world. I spent hours wandering the galleries of del Prado and especially enjoyed the royal paintings of Velaquez; I can’t imagine the number of layers he painted for the skin to look so life-like.

8. Museu Picasso {Barcelona}

Carrer de Montcada, 15-23,
08003 Barcelona, Spain
+34 932 56 30 00
10:00 am – 8:00 pm

I’m being biased because Picasso is one of my favourite artists. This small museum, located along the alleys, houses collections that provide great insight into the beginnings of Picasso as an artist. There were sketches and oil paintings Picasso did as a student and also clay work which we seldom associate Picasso to. The collections document the various phases Picasso went through, such as the Blue period where all his paintings were blue. A really fascinating museum for all Picasso lovers.

Casa Batllo

Mosaics

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9. Casa Batllo  {Barcelona}

Passeig de Gràcia, 43,
08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 932 16 03 06

It stands out from the regular buildings in Barcelona in a funky way. One of the most renowned masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi, it was designed to reflect nature, as seen from the roof arch resembling a dinosaur’s back. The audio guide was comprehensive and explained every feature of this unique piece of art.

10. La Ramblas {Barcelona}
Shopping!!! ZARA, Stradivarius, Bershka.  Need I say more?

Top 7 food highlights

Salad

Bamboo Clams

Grilled Cod

Collage

1. Tapas at Cerveceria Catalana {Barcelona}

Cerveceria Catalana
C/ Mallorca, 236,
08008 Barcelona, Spain

In my opinion, the best tapas in Barcelona. It was so good, we went there thrice. After trying other tapas restaurants along La Ramblas, we felt that Catalonia was the most value-for-money. This place is constantly crowded which means a high turnover rate and freshly prepared food. Most of the dishes were cooked on the spot and had just the right amount of seasoning, not too salty but not too bland. My favourite dishes were the grilled cod, the bamboo clams and the grilled cuttlefish. Just keep ordering their grilled seafood because it is reasonably priced and fresh. The cuttlefish was so tender and juicy.

Appetizers Main Course

2. La Catedral {Madrid}

Carrera de San Jerónimo, 16,
28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 915 23 35 56
www.la-catedral.es

Admittedly, the decor of this restaurant put my mother and I off. One look at the wooden furnishing and we branded this restaurant as ‘traditional’. That, to us, meant that it was probably a dirty place which should be shunned. But the menu drew us in. It charged 13 Euros for a 3 course set meal, inclusive of wine, a deal unheard of and the place was brimming with people (mostly locals), indicating its popularity. Each course was delicious and came in large portions, another plus point. Try their mixed fish platter and the seafood pasta! Also, choose their yogurt for dessert because it tasted so amazing that I wished they gave me a tub.

Yog & Bluffin
3.  Froyo {Alicante}

Yog & Bluffin
Calle San Ildefonso, 11
03001 Alicante, Spain
https://www.facebook.com/YogBluffin

This frozen yogurt may not be part of a chain but it has the right amount of creaminess and sourness that I love. It’s not icy at all. The best part is that it’s about S$2 for a small cup of yogurt, just enough for one person, with a free topping 🙂 How awesome is that!!! Cheap and good froyo makes me very happy.

Los Diamentes

4. Free tapas in Granada

Los Diamentes
Calle Navas, 26
Granada, Spain

Getting free tapas with drinks somehow only happens in Granada. You order a drink and you get a free plate of tapas. It’s that awesome. Los Diamentes is famous for its seafood and the place is always packed. Although you can’t choose what free tapas you get, everything’s probably delicious. It’s strange to be served red wine in a cup but fine dining isn’t what you’re looking for in Los Diamentes. It’s the experience that you’re going for when you come to this place- squeezing together with the locals just to drink and eat. Pray hard that you get the simmered clams in white wine, they were delicious.

Sardines

Grilled Squid

Grilled Sole

5. Seafood in Alicante

Miramar
Calle Juan Bautista Lafora, 9
03002 Alicante, Spain

The sardines here were so delicious that we ordered them twice. Spanish squid is amazingly tender when grilled. Top it up with that smoky smell, it’s one of the best and simplest seafood dish Spain offers. Once again, just keep ordering their seafood! If you want to enjoy the sea breeze and sunshine and people watch, you’ll love sitting outside.

Recommended Hotels 

1. Hotel Jazz {Barcelona}

Carrer de Pelai, 3,
08001 Barcelona, Spain
+34 935 52 96 96
www.hoteljazz.com/‎

It has a great location being situated in La Ramblas and being near the train station. The beds are comfortable and the rooms are clean. It’s a new modern hotel worth staying in for the few nights you spend in Barcelona.

2. Alhambra Palace {Granada}

Plaza Arquitecto García de Paredes, 1,
18009 Granada, Spain
+34 958 22 14 68
www.h-alhambrapalace.es

Alhambra Palace is within walking distance of the Alhambra, which is to your advantage if you would like to visit the Alhambra multiple times (day and night) or you would like to be early in the queue for tickets that are quickly snapped up, especially during Summer. The best part of staying in Alhambra Palace was definitely the view. It is situated on the hill and overlooks the entire town. It was really relaxing sitting at the cafe, waiting for the sun to set and for darkness to blanket the entire town.

3. AC Hotel Cordoba by Marriot {Cordoba}

Av de la Libertad, 24,
14006 Córdoba, Spain
+34 957 76 83 80
www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/odbco-ac-hotel-córdoba

I love how its just opposite the Jewish quarters which means free time is spent wandering around the Jewish quarters. Once past the Jewish quarters, you will arrive at the Cordoba Cathedral, another tourist attraction. The breakfast in Marriot was one of the best throughout my holiday, as expected of a 5 star hotel.

If you wish to maximise the money you paid for your airplane ticket, you could also travel to surrounding countries like Portugal and Morocco, a little something we learnt from other travellers. There’s still so much more to explore in Spain, especially Northern Spain. But I have enough of cathedrals for now (never enough of tapas though), so another holiday to Spain would probably happen later.

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Singapore: Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network Cycling Trail (I)

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I just bought a new foldable bicycle, the Tern Link C7, and am on a quest to conquer all the Park Connectors in Singapore. There are only three, the Northern, Western and Eastern one but NParks is building more 🙂

For those who do not have their own bicycles, do not fret because there are 6 PCN Pit stops along the Eastern PCN that rent bicycles out. You can rent a bicycle from any pit stop and return the bicycle at another pit stop which means you do not have to back track.

I started at Pasir Ris Park because we (my friend Bridget and I) didn’t know that there were PCN Pit stops so we thought that Bridget had to rent her bicycle from the bicycle shop in Pasir Ris Park. From Pasir Ris Park, you have to cross the wooden bridge that leads to the mangroves. You can dismount and take a stroll through the mangrove boardwalk. There are clear signs indicating the direction of the park connector. You can either choose to head to Bedok Reservoir or Changi Beach. We headed to Changi Beach and it’s a 7km ride from Pasir Ris Park.

Changi Beach

Along the way, there are bumpy pavements that make your ass hurt but there are long stretches that are downhill which is just plain awesome. It takes about half an hour to cycle from Pasir Ris to Changi Beach and you will be rewarded with the sea breeze and shady coconut trees.

Coconut Trees

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