Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Best Souvlaki for €2 right on the Hydra Waterfront

I've always been a Rick Steves fan. Mainly from the influence of my Auntie Celita, who is the original travel guru, who has been travelling for work and pleasure combined way before it was fashionable, and way before the internet has made everything so much easier.

I remember, she planned our first family trip to Europe 15 years ago and our family road trip around France 5 years after that, by doing research the hard way - reading books, Rick Steves' being one of them. I remember her saying that some of the places she chose for us to stay around France were good value recommendations from is book.

When we were in Hydra, my where to eat bible was basically the list of restaurants my Greek friend gave me. However, I stumbled on Rick Steves' book when I was looking for Baklava in particular, and in his article, he mentioned a Hole in the Wall Souvlaki place which sounded like something I really wanted to try.
Rick Steves' Athens and the Peloponnese Book

I'm not sure if we managed to find the Hole in the Wall Souvlaki he was referring to, but we did find something that's definitely worth raving about.

There is no Souvlaki place on Miaouli, but when we asked they pointed us to
the next street, on the other side of Hotel Sofia. (pictured here).
Hello, €2.5 Souvlaki Meal sign!
Unfortunately, the place is only open for lunch, then they
close in between, and is open again for dinner at 7pm,
but they close very later, catering to the after-party crowd.
When I came back at 7:00pm (before our dinner at 8:00pm),
yes, I have a one-track-mind that way, I met Christina,
the owner and chef.
She made me a Cappuccino Freddo which I drank while
I waited for her to make my Pork Souvlaki.
She even made me a traditional "Greek" sweet called
the "Submarine" while I was waiting. It's basically
sugar combined with Mastika from Chios which makes
it a nice chewy spoonful of concentrated sugar rush.
Every legit blogger is willing to try anything once!
It's pretty good too! I finished the whole spoon...
but I didn't attempt to drink the liquid, which is also done.
My yummy Pork Souvlaki, which is such a steal for €2!
Sorry, I ate it before I actually got a picture of the Pork Souvlaki part,
but believe me when I say that the Pork chunks were tasty, and tender too.
Maybe part of the secret is the Hellmann's Mayo! Proudly made by Unilever!
Photo with the Chef before I left with my Souvlaki

Unfortunately, Jane and Bri didn't get to try the yummy Souvlaki because they don't open for the breakfast crowd. This is just about when they go to sleep. But we found out that they have waterfront seating when we went back later that night so we had coffee instead.
No wonder those pink chairs looked familiar!
They're the only place on the waterfront with pink chairs!
Cheers to our last night in Hydra!

Many thanks Christina for the yummy Souvlaki and the dessert! Glad to have met you. I'm not really sure if this is the same place Rick Steves was raving about, if it isn't, he should go back to Hydra so he can.

You can actually have your souvlaki, and eat it (with a view) too!  just saying.

Hole in the Wall Souvlaki Place in Hydra
also known as Nostimomania (Νοστιμομανία)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Grab the best Coffee (and Cappuccino Freddo) in Athens at Εν Αθηνάς (En Athinas)

If you've read my post on our horrible experience when we arrived in Athens, which you can read here, you'll understand how ecstatic we were the next day when we actually saw stores in town open. We were walking around looking for a place to have some brunch when we stumbled on Εν Αθηνάς (En Athinas), on Athen's main street their display of freshly-baked pies caught my attention, not to mention the heavenly smell of coffee.

Spinach and Feta Pie (if I am not mistaken)
Ham and Cheese Pie (again, if I am not mistaken)
and Feta Pie (again, if I am not mistaken)
Everything was really good anyway, but not all pies are baked on the premises.

When we were there, we met the owner Christos, and he let us smell the coffee beans from the grinder.
It smelled so good, if I close my eyes, I can imagine that's
what heaven smells like. Hahaha.
Thanks Bri for being our fund manager!
En Athinas has a table right on the main street, where you get a nice view
of the small church across the street, and you can just watch people,
which is one of my favorite hobbies when I'm on vacation.
Another bonus is that it's just a few doors down from one of my
favorite leather sandals stores where you can score a nice pair for 10Euros
vs. the 25-35Euros in the more touristy area.
They will ask you how sweet you like your Cappuccino Freddo. Lightly sweet
is perfect for me. Goes really well with the Spinach and Feta Pie too. 
Christos even gave us a big bottle of water as a gift the
first day we visited. We were loyal customers after that.
It's always nice to meet and make new friends.

So when we were looking for somewhere to have a light snack on our second day, it was a no brainer that we went back to the place where they serve the best coffee in Athens.
Cappuccino Freddo with Sausage Rolls this time.
Christos was so nice, he not only helped us look for a place where we could
print our e-visas for Turkey, he gave us more gifts too! Good thing we also
had some dried mangoes from the Philippines to reciprocate.

Now, don't think I'm biased about this being the best coffee in Athens just because he gave us gifts and I made a new friend.
I also tried the Cappuccino Freddo at this coffee shop
right in Monastiraki Square and it really didn't taste
as good, even if they also had the logo of the same
Hausbrandt Coffee. It was really more watery.
In fairness to them, their cheese bread sticks were really good though.
The sell it by the kilo. Yummy!
Just order Fresh Orange Juice to go with it instead.

I want to go back to Athens... if only so I could hoard more coffee (and Pink Salt) to bring home. just saying.

Εν Αθηνάς (En Athinas)
Look for them on Athinas Street
Athens, Greece

Sunday, September 27, 2015

10 Days in Turkey and Greece (Greek Island included) for just a little over €2,000 or Php100,000

If going to Turkey and/or Greece, islands included is on your bucket list, you can start planning your trip already because it is actually more affordable than you think. We actually paid for it over time too, and not in one go, so it's quite friendly on the pocket. You might say, it's not your habit to pay for things on installment, well, no worries, it's not mine too, but because you normally pay for your plane tickets ahead of time, and your accommodation a few months before, when the trip date comes, you just normally need to shell out the pocket money, or half of the budget required.  

Here's a quick budgeting guide, based on my personal experience, when we went in August of this year. 

Just a caveat on assumptions: 
1. Amounts here are based on Euros/Philippine Peso conversion based on the September 2015 average.
2. For this exercise, I assumed full-price Manila-Istanbul-Manila Singapore Airline Round Trip Tickets, but I got mine through mileage redemption which cut down my spend even more.
3. The total spend for the trip, which has been itemized in the graph is roughly at €2,600 or Php140,000, so if you cut out the shopping (20% of my spend), you can bring down the total to just a little over  €2,000 or Php100,000.
4. Accommodation was based on twin-sharing for hotels, quadruple-sharing for Airbnb apartments, and most of our Airport Transfers or Taxis were divided by four people.
5. Lastly, we were travelling during summer, or peak tourist season for Greece. If you choose any other time to travel, you will most likely get lower rates too.

Definition of Terms:
1. Airplane and Ferry Tickets - include MLA-IST-MLA and flights between Istanbul and Athens, as well as the ferry ride from Athens to Hydra.
2. Airport Transfers - include all those airport pick-ups arranged as well as taxis we took to and from the airport or port where we have our luggage
3. Local Transport - includes local taxis, trams, local ferries (and ideally trains and buses - but I don't recall taking any)
4. Touristy Stuff - includes entrance to all the sights, together with the Big Bus Tours, and train to get around the Ruins in Athens
5. Local Sim - If you are addicted to data like I am, this is essential, and so much more cost efficient than International Roaming.

Here are some of my travel-smart tips, though you should note that when I travel for holiday, I normally go to absorb the local culture, eat good food, drink good coffee, see *some sights, and generally take it easy:

Where to Stay
1. Hotel vs Airbnb
Before this trip, I would have said, in places where hotels are expensive, go for Airbnb. Where hotels are affordable, go for the convenience of staying in a hotel. But honestly, after two Airbnb nightmares, which you can read about here, I am re-thinking that principle!!! Even the Airbnb host ratings does not protect you from unscrupulous hosts and nightmare experiences, which is what happened to us. So I guess my revised principle is only book Airbnb if you know someone who has stayed with that landlord before, or if you have back-up options in that place. ie you know someone where you can crash if you end up homeless, or if you have friends who speak the local language and can find you a hotel at short notice.
2. Location, location, location
You will save a lot of time and money if you stay in a good location. If you choose well, from there, you can walk everywhere. 
In Istanbul, we ended up staying at Taksim Premium Hotel off Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping street in Istanbul, everything is so accessible from there, you can actually walk around the whole Beyoglu area. Also connected by tram to the old city.
In Athens, we stayed at the Psyri neighborhood where you have a great view of the ruins, and again, you could walk to it too.

1. Tour Bus vs Tour it Yourself
If you're going to a new place, for a short time, you should marry how big the place is, where you want to go, and read reviews if you need to pay for a tour, or if you can do it yourself.
In Istanbul, we took the Big Bus 24 Hour Hop on Hop off Ticket for 100TL
(less than €30) It's a great way to see all the sights in Europe and Asia. 
In Athens, it's easy to tour it yourself. Just buy a ticket to
the Ancient sites. €12 allows you entry into five different
sites of your choice. Yes, it was very windy!

At one of the other ruins. Since they all looked the same
to me, I just took photos from under the olive tree.
One thing you shouldn't scrimp on, is the Hop on Hop off train to take you
around the ruins in Athens, a steal for €5, but they only allow one round.

2. Living like a local
A lot of the best things in life are free, and this pertains to enjoying the local life, and going to the local markets... well, once you start shopping, that's a different story.

I loved the Kadikoy Market, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Things were much cheaper too than shopping in the European Side.
If there was one thing on my bucket list, it was the experience that is
The Grand Bazaar. 
Even in Athens, my favorite buy came from the local
market. Hello Pink Salt! If only I could bring home 1 sack.
Travel like a local. In Istanbul, a ride on the electric tram is just TL4!
The ferry ride to get from Asia to Europe also costs the same.
It thrills me that to cross continents for TL4!!! Yes, that's just a bit over a Euro.
3. When in doubt, ask a local
We really wanted to go to a Greek Island, but Santorini was just too expensive for a day or two, and I've been there and I wasn't really THAT blown-away to want to come back. So I asked my Greek friend Thodoris, who introduced me to his friend Sonia, and together they both gave us the best advice.
They recommended Hydra (Island), an hour away from Athens, for just €28 one-way! Such a steal vs flying to Santorini. It's such a small island too, so boat or donkey is the only way around.
This was the view from the port. It was even more beautiful once you get
to explore it. More on a separate post. 

On Food
1. Do your research before leaving and make reservations where required.
If there is one thing I don't scrimp on when I am travelling, it's food. But I also believe in mixing both good places to eat, together with more affordable places. So in my mind, it all evens out in the end, with my tummy happy.
2. Eat where the locals eat
While I normally have a detailed to eat list, I also have room to be flexible. Long lines and busy places filled with locals, are places I definitely want to try!
One of the best meals we had in Athens, was from this street side
food stall, right around the corner from our flat. I don't even know it's name.

On Shopping
1. Shop where the locals shop
The further you are from touristy places, the cheaper things are. Yes. Even things that are exactly the same.
Leather sandals sold around the Agora or in Monastiraki Square cost €25-35!
That's more than double than the €10 it costs on the stores in Athinas Street,
or on the stores in Ermou Street (Main Shopping Street).
2. Jewelry make the best souvenirs. Seriously.
I love buying jewelry from the places I visit. I feel like you bring home a
memories that you can wear on a daily basis.
It helps if you make friends with the store owners. They give you the best prices, and some times even free gifts too. My everyday jewelry now are my gold stackable rings (evil eye rings from The Grand Bazaar and infinity ring from Hydra) and a gold charm bracelet with the pendants I bought and the evil eye charm that was a gift from Mr. Lakis in Hydra.

3. Sucker for a freebie
When abroad, I love looking at the magazine stands for the freebies. Yes, even if I don't understand the language. The pictures are nice to look at anyway. Plus, you can bring it home to wrap small gifts.

In Greece, magazines with free gifts is a whole industry.
We even discovered that the gift is not totally free because they can have the same magazine issue, with different gifts, selling for different prices! Just make sure you pick a gift that you think is worth more than the prize of the magazine!

On exploring
Go with the flow, and don't be afraid of discovering places, even if it's away from the crowds! Just make sure you're street smart and don't unnecessarily put yourself in danger. 

We found this totally isolated private beach, a cove away from the crowds!
Off San Nikolas beach on Hydra
We went for a photo, and stayed for a day! The magazine freebies came in
handy too, saved us from renting €3 lounge chairs on the busy public beach.
I honestly believe travel enriches your soul, even if it's costly for the pocket, but if you travel like I do (minus the shopping), it doesn't even have to be costly at all. just saying.

Friday, September 25, 2015

One hectic week in Taipei, Manila and Jakarta! When Work Meets Play - Part 2!!!

Life has been quite hectic for me recently, so sorry for the less frequent posts. In fact, I'm a bit astounded at how I've been managing to survive especially when my pre-planned (one year ahead) vacation trips collide with the trips I need to do for my current work.

A few things I've realized is:
1. Yes, you can, or I can, get away with a minimum of sleep. Adrenalin will help you! Hahaha.
2. I can sleep anywhere! A 15 minute power nap in the car from one mtg to another does wonders! Put me on any flight and I can sleep from take off to touch down. I can sleep on a bus as well. Bed? What's that? 
3. The one thing I've lost, together with sleep and time, is patience, and I've never had a lot of it to start with. Seriously. So if you're annoying, just stay away from me, or I will put you on the "I'm not talking to you" list, and I swear, that list is getting longer and longer.

So here's my epic week (oh my, I am using epic in my blog! must be the influence of all the millenials I work with!) from weekending with the family in Taipei, catching meetings in Manila, and flying to Indonesia for work.  
Sof and I caught the Friday night flight to Taipei after school/work.
Thank you Sky Lounge for the yummy dinner.
I didn't even mind the flight delay... much.
The flight was so delayed, we arrived in Taipei at the same time Ady did, who caught the later flight. Bright side, we got to share a cab, and cabs to the city are pretty expensive at 1,100NT.
We stayed at our favorite City Inn Plus Xi Men Ding Hotel.
They have so much company tie-ups you get so many free samples.
You can read my post on that hotel here.

Taipei has become one of the favorite destinations of our family because it's quite near (only a 2 hour flight), and food is yummy and very affordable. Since we've been several times before, we don't even bother doing any touristy stuff anymore. We just come to eat.

Personally, I go to Taipei for my Isaw Misua fix
Best Rice Flour Noodles with Pork Intestines Ever!

Ironically, despite several past visits, we never took a photo at the LOVE Taipei structure. So this time we did. The first two were our attempt at using a makeshift tripod, ie the cone on the road.

Then a gay couple took pity on us and offered to take our photo.
I think they wanted to take a photo too and we were just taking too long.

The LOVE structure is just right outside Taipei 101 - standing 508 meters tall and awarded as the tallest building in the world in 2004, until it was overtaken in height by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Taipei 101 is family staple because it has Din Tai Fung!
One of Sofia's favorite restaurant. That face on Sof is because we always go
for a late lunch so you can beat the crowds.
Even our order is so predictable. Loads of Xiao Long Bao,
some Pork Chop with Egg Fried Rice, extra Pork Chops and Veggies.
Sofia's favorite restaurant in Taipei is Modern Toilet.
You can read about that here.
Sof is now big enough to take our orders (Self-Service),
then you pay (cash only), then they serve it.
Sof and her lolo get along so well when it comes to toilet humor. 
Modern Toilet also has toilet related merchandise, so of course, Sof used
her allowance to buy overpriced toilet erasers. Just like mom.
Lolo said - Let's all do poopy face... but no one followed!

Going for the weekend is just right for Taipei if all you're going to do is eat (and shop for stationery products) like we do. Taiwanese Street Food is the best! You can find them along the streets of Xi Men Ding, as long as you arrive before the policemen do their rounds.
Taiwanese Sausage with Sticky Rice (that looks like Bratwurst).
Note to self, Sof also likes this so next time I should buy more.
This is the perfect snack to bring to the airport for the midnight flight back.
Quail Eggs on a stick!
Roti-like pancake with different filling.
Our favorite is the Egg, Bacon and Cheese. Don't forget the cheese!
Hot Star remains to be a favorite, even if they have already opened branches
in the Philippines, but we no longer go to Shilin Night Market for it.
You can read my post on Shilin Night Market here.
I am really intrigued by the shaved peanut candy and Ice Cream Popiah
(wrapped in spring roll wrapper) but I didn't have enough stomach space.
Ironically, despite being famous for street food, these vendors still have no
legal permits, so once the police do their rounds, they all run away.
Beware of hot carts... but after a while, they all come back, business as usual.
Another great thing about our hotel is they have an eating area and pantry
in the basement where you can eat your food.
Just help yourself to the drinks are provided.
The best Street Food lunch ever!!! yes, that's the sticky rice on a stick!
For shopping, I highly recommend Kinokuniya in Breeze Mall.
It is so much better than 9ta, which I wrote about here, because they are
under new management. You can still find stuff, just have lower expectations.
I was so stressed and tired, I totally forgot we reserved our hotel room till
the following day because the flight was at midnight. We actually checked
out of our room already. Good thing the hotel was nice enough to tell us.
 Everyone was busy napping in the Disco room before the late flight.

The flight back was slightly delayed so all of us napped at the airport gate again! Yes, we are there so often, we know where the reclined chairs are.
I arrived in Manila at 4am, with just enough sleep to present *credibly* I
hope to at least a hundred people. 

Next day, it's another late night flight to... Indonesia!!! Food was so bad on PAL (soggy fried fish) that I preferred to sleep rather than eat, so room service at midnight it is!
Deconstructed Onion Soup (passable) and Chicken Satay (quite good).

Work started early the next day because of we went to do trade visits around rural areas.
No rest for the weary.
Even the long bus ride is alignment time.
Good thing we take my favorite Premium Bus. The size of a regular bus,
but seats only 12 (I think), complete with plugs, WiFi, lazy boy seats and our
own air-conditioned toilet. Truly a mobile office, as long as you don't get dizzy!
One of my favorite trade visit discoveries is this Fried Tofu stall across one
of the stores we visited. They served Fried Chicken flavored fried tofu!!!
Super yummy... especially with chili powder! 3 for 1,000Rups (1Php/pc)

These trips also include activities that keep us physically active.
Hello rafting crew! Good thing there were only 2 people per boat, with a guide
that does all the work. Hahaha. Most relaxing rafting trip ever!
Then there's early morning hiking! Yes... 700 steps to see the Megalithic Site
in Gunung Padang because I took the "Auntie" less steep way up.
Like my outfit, check out AVA Athletica here, BTW,
stepping on the vertical stones are not allowed! Which I only found out after!!!
The reward for the exercise is always worth it because after we sweat it out,
it's Indomie time! Both the dry and soup versions are really yummy.
I think the secret is in the Sambal (fresh chili sauce).

Another bright side is we get to see different parts of Indonesia, if only for the night.
Indian Ocean
Inna Samudra Beach Resort in Sukabumi
Novus Giri Resort in Puncak

I got to eat some of my favorite food too!
Nasi Liwet (coconut milk rice) and Sambal. I love love love Sambal.
A new breakfast favorite is Bubur Ayam (Rice Porridge) which you top with
Chicken, so I put hard boiled egg and fried garlic in mine too!
Plus I couldn't resist trying the meat ball soup because it was served so nicely
in a coconut shell.
This trip shopping finds (yes, from the trade visit) include
a new flavor of Oishi Sponge - Mochaccino, which is also
not available in the Philippines, cupcake gummies, and
Shaun the Sheep gummy vitamins. 
Unfortunately, our 1am flight back to the Philippines was delayed, so
I was truly a walking zombie at the airport. Good thing retail therapy helps,
yes, I bought another new adult coloring book + erasable crayons too!
I've never been so happy to see Manila.
6am on a Saturday.

Let me be very clear. I am NOT complaining. I am having the time of my life. Seriously. Just don't annoy me. Just saying.

No. 63, Baoqing Rd, 
Zhongzheng District, 
台北市 Taiwan 100

No.8-1, Er Mei St., 
Wanhua District, 
Ximending, Taipei

Xinyi District, 
Taipei City, Taiwan 110

Taipei 101, Xinyi District,
City Hall Rd, 45號台北101購物中心

108, Taiwan, Taipei City, 
Wanhua District, 
Lane 50, Xining S Rd, 7號2樓

Xi Men Ding Main St.
Taipei, Ximen District

5th Floor Breeze Center, 
No.39, Sec.1, Fusing S.Rd., 
Songshan District, Taipei  


Jl. Raya Cisolok Km. 7, 
Pelabuhan Ratu, Sukabumi, 
Jawa Barat 43365, Indonesia

 JL Raya Cipanas, 
No. 180, Kec. Cianjur, 
11530, Indonesia