My favourite dish to make when I’m away from home – Nicole’s vege-tomato pot of heaven

I learned this recipe from My Green Roots back in university and it has brought me nothing but comfort and envious glances from other backpackers – a great way to make new friends, really.

The recipe uses tomatoes that keeps the broth light, while adding turmeric, ginger and cayenne pepper which gives it a slightly spicy kick and a warmth that’s perfect on cold summer nights.

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From Russia with Love: #2 Eating Moscow with a side of Nicole

I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time to share about my solo travel experience there. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. So here goes post #2: Feed me Russia!

After arriving in Vagabond Hostel (probably the cosiest hostel I’ve stayed at with the best showers), I decided to take a walk to the Red Square before finding some food to devour. The air was cool and as it was a Friday evening, the streets were filled with beautiful and tall Russians. Like, very tall. I’ve never felt so aware of my stunted growth before this.

Moscow’s bright lights made night look similar to day. Nothing about the night felt scary or dangerous, contrary to popular belief. The walk was lovely. I explored the grounds outside the Red Square and got a glimpse of St Basil lit up at night. I also walked through Alexander’s Garden and strolled past the Memorial for Unknown Soldiers. The night was beautiful and I had to stop myself from crying because it all seemed so surreal yet undoubtedly real. “I am actually here!!!”, I kept saying to myself with my inside voice, yet smiling like a goon on the outside.

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Mari Vanna

I headed to Mari Vanna for dinner, which, according to Trip Advisor, served really good home-cooked Russian cuisine. The entrance to the restaurant was rather obscure and the door didn’t seem to budge when I tried to open it. It was abruptly opened from the other side and there stood an angry looking young woman and a grumpy looking old man. I mumbled something about a table for 1 and she led me through another door into the cosy restaurant. “Here”, she said and I sat down obediently as she walked away without a trace of friendliness. “Maybe I did make a mistake”, I thought to myself.

I sat there for a while, with no menu at hand, noticing all the stylish people sitting around me. It was as though I was surrounded by models from the latest European Vogue, with just the most beautiful, chic and elegant people. (Damn my tired and acne ridden face, crappy hoodie and worn out sport shoes.) Then another waiter came over with an English menu with translations that were worded a little strange but mostly understandable. What I found interesting were the similarities between Central European and Russian cuisines. They both love meat and dumplings and drink a ton of kompot, which is a fruity drink that’s super tasty.

When the waiter came around (this time a cheerful guy, not the scary young woman) I asked him about certain items on the menu that didn’t have translations. He tried his best to explain things to me, bringing out stuff from the kitchen to show me and whipping out his phone to Wiki some items. It was an interesting interaction. I ended up ordering a salmon dish with a glass of kompot and cake to finish. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and really happy.

My-My

The next day, I made a little effort to put some makeup on and dress a little better before I heading out for a free walking tour. For lunch, I went to MyMy (pronounced Moo Moo) as recommended by the guide. I didn’t know that it was a self-service chain restaurant so ordering was a little difficult. I ended up asking the girls in the queue behind me for help and they were nothing short of kind and tried to be as helpful as they could.

I settled for soup, cake and a drink called kvas, something the girls referred to as a non-alcoholic Russian beer (it tasted like sparkling honey water to me). As I was paying, the cashier noticed that I had not taken croutons for my soup. She quickly rectified this by producing a small saucer with croutons out of thin air and set it on my tray. “This, good in soup”, she said without the of a smile. “Speciba”, I replied with a giant grin.

Cafe Receptor

On my last day in Moscow, I wandered the streets with no plans and found myself in Cafe Receptor. I was greeted by super friendly staff and led to a table surrounded by hipster artwork and wooden panelled walls. The menu was filled with asian food like Korean soups and bimbimbap, Indian curries, Japanese sushi and a whole selection of teas to pick from.

While eating, I decided to learn a few phrases in Russian from a site I found and spent the next half an hour learning how to ask for the bill. “MOzhno chek, poZHAlusta?”, I repeated in my head a million times so that when I was done, I beamed at the waiter and said “Chek?” He, of course, looked at me like I was out of my mind. After repeating myself a few times, another waitress came over and now, even the lady at the next table was looking at me. “Bill please” I finally said, feeling well embarrassed at this point.

After paying, I went up to the waitress to ask her how it was pronounced. “Shot”, she replied. HOW ON EARTH IS “CHEK” PRONOUNCED AS “SHOT”?

I decided that the author of “Learn Useful Russian Phrases” was useless and walked out into the breezy afternoon.

Sushi for two in Krakow

Krakow was also my first destination alone, thus beginning my solo adventure for the next three months. I also have to admit that I was looking forward to being alone after spending almost every waking moment (apart from the times I needed to shower or pee or brush my teeth, I don’t poop, I’m a lady) with someone else for almost two weeks.

I took the night train from Prague to Krakow, which was an interesting experience in itself. I booked myself into a 3 berth carriage and was accompanied by two other women (I thanked God for not being dumped with a couple, they’re the worst). I quickly befriended another girl who turned out to be a free walking tour guide in Krakow. I proceeded to tell her how much I just love free walking tours and we ended up chatting for a bit.

Upon arriving in Krakow at around 7am, she guided me out of station and gave me directions to Rynek Glowny, the main old town square where my hostel was supposed to be. We also agreed to meet up for dinner. The plan was to go for sushi as I was seriously craving some asian food by this point. (Travelling has definitely brought out all my cravings for asian food that’s so accessible and cheap in Malaysia but no where else.)

The wind was crisp and I enjoyed the walk to the hostel. It was nice to stretch my legs and explore a new town, even with a ginormous backpack. I loved watching sleepy Krakow wake up. 

After arriving at the hostel, I grabbed some free breakfast (score!) and caffeinated myself with fresh coffee from real coffee grounds, not that Nescafe 3-in-1 crap I’ve been having for the past few days (double score!). Guess what I did next? That’s right, I joined the free walking tour around the old town at 10am. I met more people in that one tour than I had in the past few weeks. One girl from Malaysia who was touring Europe for a month, another from Columbia who was in Poland for business and a very cute guy who was travelling before starting his Phd in Applied Maths (he said something about physics somewhere, who knows, I was distracted by his face).

For those hoping to visit Krakow, I highly recommend this walking tour not only because the guides are incredibly experienced and have a good sense of humour, but also because they give out kickass maps at the end of tour. It had a ton of recommendations for good places to eat, cheap places to eat, museums, ideas for gifts and Polish pickup lines.

That night, Joanna and I met up for dinner. We went for sushi in Genji which has a beautiful interior and very friendly staff. I have never wished to have been able to speak Polish anymore than my short stay in Poland. Everyone I met was friendly and nothing short of proud of their country. Even the guy who drove me to the airport at an exorbitant rate was friendly and loved showing off his hometown to me.

Proof that I was with another human being and a sushi boat.
Proof that I was with another human being and a sushi boat.

Too much sushi + great company = great diner with Joanna. We talked about our ambitions and what we wanted to do when we grow up. We chatted about family and friends. We chatted about the refugee crisis in Europe. We chatted about our countries. It was great and I added her on Facebook. That’s how close we are. BFFs. Best Facebook Friends.

Czeching out Czech – Prague, Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora

Forgive the pun, I came up with so many when I was there. I couldn’t help myself, it was like word vomit that couldn’t be stopped. Czech please! Spell Czech. Czech this czech out!

Apart from the sad puns, I WENT ON THE BEST WALKING TOUR OF MY LIFE!!! We went on one by Sandeman’s and Michael was probably the most hilarious and enthusiastic tour guide I’ve had thus far. Other than showing us around Prague, he also highlighted a few quirks about post-communist countries that I guess most people write off as being rude. For example, it’s usual for waiters to leave you to your meal instead of asking you “Is everything okay?” as they often do midway through a spaghetti slurp in the UK. Michael explained that this is because those who were once under the communist rule preferred to mind their own business because back then, that’s what people did. He blamed the secret police. If one in every three persons was an informant, I think I’d keep my trap shut and eyes to the ground to avoid suspicion too.

I bought a ticket to Krabat, the ballet! 

People were dressed to the nines in suits and gowns, I was dressed in.. clothes.

Cesky Krumlov

It’s a UNESCO heritage site because it was not blasted to smithereens in the second world war. It’s a really beautiful place, three hours away from Prague. We went on a free walking tour that ended in the castle.

For anyone planning to go there, consider going to the open air theatre that is really one of a kind. The garden transforms into a theatre and the seating area, which is on a circular platform, rotates as the actors run from one end of the garden to the other. Shows start at night so you might need to spend a night there.

Kutna Hora and the Bone Chapel

Back in the day, this town was really successful due to the amount of silver that was mined here. The town became the main producer of the silver coins used in some empire.. I was a little distracted by all the bones around me.

The Bone Chapel was decorated by 40,000 human bones. Most of them died from the many wars that occurred here. Others were victims of the plague that also killed John the Blind.
The Bone Chapel was decorated by 40,000 human bones. Most of them died from the many wars that occurred here. Others were victims of the plague that also killed John the Blind.

My stay was short and sweet, barely long enough to even scratch the surface of such a beautiful place with great beer. Till next time Czechs!

How to fall in love with Budapest without breaking the bank

I think it must be it’s tortured dark soul masked by it’s beautiful facades. Maybe I’m one of those delusional girls who are attracted to those with a broken past but have managed to rise up from the ashes (like a phoenix). We only spent 2 days there but I’ve fallen in love. Who knows why I love this place, but I do. That’s a lie, I like this place for its beautiful buildings and great sunny weather.

Before listing down all everything awesome about this place, it’s useful to know that Budapest is made up of two parts, Buda and Pest. They are separated by the Danube river that flows all the way to Bratislava. Right, so here are a few things we discovered in Budapest, and loved.

To do:

Visit the pretty buildings – This includes the Hungarian House of Parliament, St Stephen’s BasilicaSt Matthias’ Church (probably the most mind-blowing one I’ve seen thus far) and the Fisherman’s Bastion (next to the church) with great views of Pest (the hipster-er and cheaper part of the city).

Visit the pretty buildings at night – I think the night time really highlights the beauty of Budapest. We even strolled along the river (Pest side of course) at night when it was cooler and breezier, and found quite a few bars sprinkled along the river. Obviously, the one thing you simply cannot miss at night is the Chain Bridge. The view of the bridge itself is amazing but stand at the midpoint of the bridge and your heart will skip a beat – the views of both Buda and Pest are stunning.

St Stephen’s Basilica

Gellert Hill, Liberty Statue and the Citadel – We walked up from 11.30am, in the unforgiving heat. It took about an hour of walking and half an hour of complaining to reach the top. Was it worth it? I think so but I would have preferred to go up either really early in the morning to catch the sunrise or in the evening to catch the sunset.

Elizabeth Square – The only place where you can legally drink outdoors. I would get a beer in the supermarket around the corner (with some snacks, or just skip the beer and get ice cream :D) and head over to the square. There’s usually some sort of street performance that provides just the right amount of background music, creating a lovely atmosphere.

Picture taken by Sue Huey
Picture taken by Sue Huey

Instant (pronounced as Inshhhhtant) – An “enchanted forest with horny animals” themed club in an old ruined building, it’s supposed to be the best of it’s kind. Ruin pubs are a growing scene in Budapest and they seem pretty dope y’all. I’m sooooooo down with the kids these days.

To eat:

Frici Papa – Cheap, awesome and authentic. Great food with WiFi. What more can I say? OH, try their Goulash, it’s nothing short of awesome. Wash it down with some local beer (ask the waiter what that might be because I can’t remember) and embrace that feeling of pure bliss.

Kis Parázs 2.0 – A Thai place just a few doors away from Frici Papa. I was craving asian food and this place hit the spot for me. Their Tom Yam was spicy and sour enough and thinking about it now makes me want to have more. Oh my goodness I can taste it in my mouth, holy cow. Be warned it’s definitely more expensive than regular Hungarian food, for obvious reasons.

Gozsdu Udvar – A long stretch of restaurants, pubs and cafes. This place is buzzing with people and music and good food. We walked along this street twice but never got anything to eat because it seemed a little pricey. Definitely a good place to splurge if you’re up for that.

However, do avoid buying food from the city’s central market. Most of the prices were jacked up, despite what it said on the signs. Do not be fooled by the good smells and the juicy looking chicken, it’s not what it seems, really.

Till next time you beautiful son of a gun.
Till next time you beautiful son of a gun.

Split – The Market, The Beach and My Bloody Birthday

After the palace, we wandered out beyond the very sturdy walls guarded by Roman soldiers (or really fit men in roman soldier uniforms, who knows really) and found ourselves in the market. I love local markets as it gives me an authentic snapshot into the life of a local.

We bought enough fruits to make any girl happy before heading off for lunch in Fife. We decided to splurge a little for our meals today to celebrate me turning 23! Back to Fife, they have probably the fastest Wifi connection I’ve had the pleasure of using. And awesome food, of course. We had a simple meal of grilled fish and vegetables and my mind has never been so blown. The waitstaff were hilarious and the prices here were much more affordable compared to those by the harbour.

LUNCH
LUNCH

After lunch, we took a long stroll to the beach. We decided to go to Ježinac (pronounced Yezhinyek), far away from town as it was quieter and had nice lookout points. It was also well-known for being a swim-y beach compared to the shallow, more populated ones at the other end of town.

After lazing around for a while, I decided to stop being a baby and put my feet into the cold waters. I took my first step into the sea and found that it was rocky and uneven. I took my second step only to land on something pretty sharp. Before I could take my third, the waves crashed on my tiny human body and I found myself having to find my footing on anything stable. This was the dilemma – the waters weren’t deep enough to swim in, but the seabed was too uneven to walk out on. I decided to swim out because I’m light enough, or so I thought.

As soon as I had gulped down enough sea water to make me gag, I decided to call it a day and got out of the sea. As I walked back to our spot, my feet felt funny. I looked down and found a pool of blood and about three cuts per foot.

I braved the situation by freaking out, on the inside. It definitely looked worse than it felt but I was shocked at how much blood multiple small cuts and one gash could make. We decided to head back not too long after that.

For dinner, we went to Atlantidia and it was great. A specialty here is cuttlefish risotto, which we shared along with shell fish in wine sauce. Dinner was nothing short of awesome.

That night, we headed back nice and early to catch up on some 30 Rock and a good night’s rest.

A Lost Student’s Guide To Exeter

So I’ve left Exeter for good. I’m probably never going back, unless I somehow inherit a ton of money and decide to fly across the world. Before leaving, I spent my last few days wandering around alone, trying to take in as much as I can, forcing my neurons to retain all the sights, sounds and smells. So as a final tribute to this wonderful place I called home for three years, I decided to put together a list of places to eat and visit for people to truly enjoy Exeter.

To do:

Quay – Canal – Double Locks – I love going for a run/jog/walk/cycle by the Quay. If you follow the Exeter Canal (not the main river), you’ll came across the famous Double Locks. Keep going and you’ll find yourself halfway to Topsham. It’s meant to be a route for cyclists and you can actually make your way to Dawlish in a few hours, or take a ferry to Topsham. Why go? Because it’s stunning. Even under a cloudy sky, it’s just beautiful. 

The Exeter Phoenix – For days when I feel like checking out some pretty interesting art exhibits. I never understand what’s up on the walls but it’s a great place to discover someone’s interpretation of life. They’ve also got live performances and bands and stuff. I signed on to their mailing list and often got invites to talks the by the artists who’s work was being showcased (there’s probably a proper term for this, let me know if there is!).

The Bike Shed Theatre – For budget plays and a relaxed place to catch live performances. Loads of acting companies use the space to test out their “works in progress” that end up in interesting debates and discussions. I rarely contribute but it’s always great to hear what other people got from watching the same thing I did.

We also have a museum, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and the always stunning Exeter Cathedral. I once attended an Evensong and was pleasantly surprised to see the head of Flexible Combined Honours (my “school”) singing in the choir.

To eat:

The Glorious Art House – The prettiest place out of the lot, this places serves pretty good food and coffee. I usually get a soup or a stew or curry when I’m there. I love the paper straws they use too. Go up to the 2nd floor and there’s a really pretty clock. Carry on to the 3rd floor and you’ll find a small gallery showcasing work from local artists. It’s a really unique place. AND they have Wifi!

Devon Coffee – A cosy and tiny place squashed between some watch shop and Cafe Nero on Queen Street. I loved revising for exams in there. There was no wifi so it forced me to focus on my work, whilst enjoying their awesome playlist and the smell of coffee in the air.

The Exploding Bakery – They make amazing pour overs (I am appalled at my level of coffee snobbery) and quesadillas. I usually slap on some mustard or Sirarcha and it’s perfection. Another thing to try is their brownies. It’s absolutely moist (I hate that word) and doesn’t feel too heavy (or jelak for Malaysians), the way brownies can tend to morph into after the first few bites.

Boston Tea Party – For more substantial food, or just really yummy pancakes, I usually go to The Boston Tea Party, which is where I’m wrote the first draft of this post (fun fact for you there!). I love their high ceiling and giant windows. Equipped with Wifi, this place is usually swarmed with very hipster looking people in the middle of hipster meetings or typing away on their Macs. I try my best to blend in. #noshame

Coffee #1 – For a place with more couches and no Wifi, ideal for reading or eavesdropping on conversations, I go to Coffee #1 just behind Princesshay. The baristas there are incredibly friendly. It’s the perfect place for a 3pm coffee break, which I’ve been taking quite often these days.

The Old Firehouse – An oldie but a goodie. They serve awesome drinks and giant pizzas (even-a-6ft-rugby-player-would-struggle-to-finish-this, sort of ginormous) after 8pm every night at ridiculously cheap prices. I love their Pulled Pork Pizza, it’s a great mix of pork and jalapeños and barbecue sauce. Head over on Sunday evenings to catch live gigs by uni students. 

I hope this is helps anyone visiting or heading over this September to start a new term. I’m going to miss this place so much, and no I am not sorry for going on and on about it.

Till my next post, ta!

Horseman
This guy gets a new outfit every weekend.