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“Do you guys wanna see my itinerary?”

img_7443I am resurrecting the blog with a five-part post on our recent European vacation. Apparently one of the best ways to combat post-vacation blues is to share your experience. Plus it would be nice to have our memories written down somewhere so why not here? This first post is an introductory one followed by four posts that will cover the four destinations of our trip: Amsterdam with a bit of Limburg sprinkled in, Brussels, Bruges, and finally Paris.

Before diving into our first stop, let me give you the context of our trip. We were attending a wedding in the Netherlands in the middle of August so we decided to make the most of this joyous occasion by visiting a few cities nearby. It would be Keith’s first trip to Europe, his first time setting foot anywhere outside of North America. As I have been to Europe before, specifically Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, I was in charge of the itinerary and did most of the planning. No pressure.

After weeks of researching (i.e. obsessively reading blog posts on all our dream destinations), we had decided that our trip would last 10 days mostly because we had a dog that I didn’t want to leave with the sitter for very long but partly because Europe is expensive and I also had a full-time job I had to get back to. Once we set our day-count limit, it was easy to pick and choose which cities to visit. We were initially going to do the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) plus Cologne and Dusseldorf but cut it down to just Belgium, the Netherlands and added Paris. We’ll save Germany for a separate trip in the future and there’s nothing to see in Luxembourg anyways (just kidding, I’m sure it’s a small but beautiful country worth visiting!).

Then I spent the months leading up to our trip booking our accommodations, buying train and museum tickets in advance and seeking out advice and recommendations from friends. The great thing about being Canadian and living in Toronto is that there’s almost a 100% chance of knowing someone that is a) European, b) has family in Europe, or c) is currently living, has lived or recently visited Europe.

A couple lessons I learned during the planning phase:

  1. Airbnb is your friend but unless you are completely sold on a place, you should maybe abstain from booking it especially when the cancellation policy is strict. I booked a place in Paris that was cheap for a reason then found a much better option so I cancelled the first one but could only get 50 % of my money back.
  2. For my own peace of mind, I needed to combine all the travel information I needed (from our flight numbers to our hotel and Airbnb confirmations and addresses to our train times) in one place. Enter Excel. I found the templates that worked for me thanks to the following link: http://protravelblog.com/free-travel-itinerary-templates/. I used number 9 to have all the references I needed and number 4 for a day by day breakdown.
  3. Even though most everything nowadays has an app and can be accessed electronically through your phone, it is always a good idea to have printouts of your confirmations and tickets.
  4. Scan and bring a printout of the first page of your passport just in case. Luckily we did not need them but one of the guests at the wedding got her passport, credit cards, driver’s licence and health card stolen in Brussels.
  5. No matter how much you plan everything down to the minute, welcome the unexpected.

Our final itinerary looked like this: Two and a half days in Amsterdam, three and half days in Brussels with a day trip to Bruges, back to the Netherlands in Limburg for the wedding for a day, then off to Paris for three and a half days.

The next four posts will pretty much have the same format: First Impressions, Accommodation, Getting Around, Attractions, Food Recommendations, Souvenirs & Final Thoughts.

Next post will be on Amsterdam and Limburg. Hup Holland Hup!

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Travel Thursdays: St. Louis, Missouri

Greetings from the Gateway to the West! That’s St. Louis, Missouri by the way for those of you unfamiliar with the title. On Tuesday, we left Toronto to make our way to “The Show Me State” for a wedding. This is not the first time I’ve visited my boyfriend’s hometown however so I know a thing or two about St. Louis.

First things first, let’s get the negatives out of the way. While it’s true that St. Louis has been on the list of the most dangerous cities for the past few years, it’s really not the city’s fault. I’m not the best person to explain the situation so here’s a video from the people of St. Louis about their city and why you should visit despite the negative perception surrounding its crime rate:

So now that we’ve established St. Louis as no different from any other US city, let me tell you about all the great things you can do there.

Catch a Cardinals Game
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St. Louis is first and foremost a baseball town. When it comes to sports, the whole city and county and even other surrounding areas are part of “Cardinal Nation”. They love and support the St. Louis Cardinals fiercely and come out to every game. As a Toronto resident and Blue Jays fan, I’m used to the Rogers Centre being half-full and people leaving before the end of the game. So I wasn’t prepared for my first Cardinals game. It was an afternoon game and Busch Stadium was packed. And this was near the end of the season when the Cards had almost no chance of going to the playoffs (of course, that was the year they actually made it and won the World Series). That kind of dedication is amazing to behold and fun to be a part of. You can also get St. Louis Blues tickets for cheaper than you can in Canada or watch the St. Louis Rams who just drafted the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Admire the Architecture
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Simply put, St. Louis is one of the most beautiful cities when it comes to architecture. They have it all, French Colonial, German, early American, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, modern…just by simply driving through the city and its surrounding areas, you’ll be able to see gorgeous houses and buildings. Be sure to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and go up the Gateway Arch.

Stroll through the Missouri Botanical Garden
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This place is amazing. It’s the nation’s oldest botanical garden and everything is so pretty. Easily one of the highlights of any trip to St. Louis, you can spend an entire day here just admiring all the different types of gardens and conservatories. My favorite has to be the Japanese Garden. Plus admission is really cheap, it’s $8 for 13yrs+ and free for children.

Visit St. Louis’ Major Attractions for FREE
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Yes, you did read that right. The world-class St. Louis Zoo, the Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the Science Center, the Laumeler Sculpture Park & Museum and more are all free to the public. As someone who lives in a city where you have to pay for everything and where everything’s pretty costly, this is absolutely astounding to me. You seriously just walk right in. No one stops you. No ticket required. Plus the quality of these places is pretty high considering the zero price of admission.

Seriously if you’re looking for a fun and affordable vacation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to visit than St. Louis. Maybe I’m biased but decide for yourself. I’ll be posting about the food in St. Louis next week. Happy Thursday! Now go see X-Men Days of Future Past.

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Tasty Tuesday: Culinary Adventures in the Philippines Part 1

A huge part of my 5-week vacation in the Philippines was definitely indulging in some amazing food. For those of you unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine, it’s basically a mix of Spanish, American and Asian cooking that has evolved over the years to be something uniquely our own. Most important thing to know is the fact that we consume a ton of rice, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Luckily for me, my stepmom is a wonderful cook and she made all of my favorite Filipino dishes while I was there. During my first week there, she made this heart-shaped egg muffin:
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Aside from all the home-cooked meals, my family also took me out a lot and introduced me to great restaurants that had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. This is part one of the top must-try dishes in case you ever visit the Philippines. And even if you’re not going anytime soon, think of this post as inspiration for your next meal.

If you want something healthy: Pho from Bawai’s Vietnamese Kitchen
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The restaurant is just plain gorgeous and I’ve avoided pho for the longest time but this place made me a convert.

If you need to cool off: Caramel Beer from Rue Bourbon
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I’m not the biggest beer fan but when it tastes like caramel…yes, please! This is the perfect drink for a hot summer’s night which is pretty much every night in Manila.

If you’re feeling adventurous: Squid Ink Pasta from Chelsea Market & Cafe
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I have always wanted to try squid ink pasta and I could not have picked a better restaurant for my first time. It’s just such a dramatic dish when you first see it, then it hits all the right notes when you taste it.

If you’re craving something sweet: Lemon Squares from Purple Oven
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These squares are heaven. Seriously, there are no words that can do justice to how delicious they taste. I won’t even try. You’ll just have to fly across the world and see for yourself.

Well, that’s enough torture for now. I’ll post part two next week. Meanwhile, may I suggest either hunting down these dishes wherever you live or starting to save up for a trip to the Philippines? Happy Tuesday!

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Not-So-Mundane Monday: Vacation Must-Haves

Not only does March mark the beginning of Spring but it’s also my birthday month! And this year will be extra special because I get to spend it with my family in the Philippines. That’s right, this coming Sunday I’m leaving on a five-week vacation to get away from the winter weather but mostly so I can see my dad and the rest of my family back in the Philippines. It’s been a couple years since I last saw them…actually the last time was when I had just been accepted into university and now that I’ve finished my degree, it’s time to go back. This would mean that my blog posts are going to be less frequent and understandably, I may not get to post everyday like I have been the past few months. Hopefully you all bear with me but obviously, I’m going to try and write as much as possible.

For now, here are some of my tropical getaway must-haves:
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1. I get very paranoid about protecting myself from the sun so I make sure the SPF is high enough.
2. Kate Spade’s new collection is amazing and this sandal just screams sun.
3. I can’t believe I don’t have a bikini in my favorite color. This must be rectified ASAP.
4. I hate how frizzy my hair can get in humid weather so I need help in achieving the perfect surf girl look.
5. This ring from the aforementioned Kate Spade collection reminds me of diving and snorkelling, two of my favorite activities. Plus it makes me feel like a mermaid!
6. I’m the kind of person who likes to match her beach tote with her bikini.

If you’re not going on vacation anytime soon, fret not because after spring comes summer! Hang in there.

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Traveling by Train: From Couture to Casual in Literature

Today I am currently aboard a train from Montreal to Toronto and it’s my favorite way to travel. I like the idea of a) being on solid ground, b) not being too cramped and c) not having to worry about gas or directions. But what I especially love about train travel is the literature it inspired. Some of my favorite novels are set on trains or include some train travel. A lot can happen when you’re in a confined space for a long period of time. Oh and I can’t forget about the fashion! People used to dress up when train travel was all the rage. The cars used to be lavishly decorated and comfortable. The food had to be better too. For me, traveling by train makes me think of gorgeous clothes, romantic encounters, mysterious circumstances, murder and even magic!

Here are my top favorite stories featuring a train and what I would wear should I suddenly find myself transported aboard:

Anna Karenina: I don’t need to underline the importance of trains in this novel. For such a tragic romantic story, I would need a gown that’s high drama like this velvet one from Oscar de la Renta. The color is dark and the embroidery is rich. The fabric is plush enough to withstand the cold Russian air. And the split is just high enough to entice a count.

Anna Karenina

Murder on the Orient Express: This is one of my favorite mystery novels of all time and a train as the location of a crime is simply brilliant. To be able to get away with murder, one would need a show-stopping dress and this creation from Gucci might just do the trick. This is something the young and fashionable Countess would wear. I think the ostrich feathers and sequins make this dress the spiritual sister of the novel’s scarlet kimono with dragons.

Murder

The Harry Potter Series: Who wouldn’t want to get a letter saying you’re a wizard, go on Platform 9 and 3/4 and board the Hogwarts Express?! I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t dreamt of that moment many times and even planned the perfect first day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry outfit. Obviously, I’d be sorted into Gryffindor so I’d fit right in with this red striped Isabel Marant sweater and gold Isabel Marant for H&M scarf.

Gryffindor

The Polar Express: This story is a Christmas classic and should I find myself en route to the North Pole, I’d want to be wearing my comfiest yet still stylish pyjamas. This set from DKNY comes to mind. Maybe I’ll put it on my wish list this year and cross my fingers for Santa to take the hint!

Polar Express

Train travel may have lost most of its glitz and glamour nowadays but hopefully this post makes one nostalgic for the sense of style and spirit of adventure it once represented. I’d be interested to know about any other great train stories and the fashion that can be inspired from them.

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