Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hungary I - Budapest (Day 1 of HSP trip)

I have been bugging Josh that I wanted to see Budapest since I moved here. Finally, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland joined the Schengen Visa (Broader control agreement between EU countries) around December 2007 (the airport opened up for the Schengen Visa holders in April 2008). Ever since, I have been planning a trip to the east around Josh's birthday. After telling Beth about my plan, she got excited and talked her husband into joining us because her birthday is just two days after Josh's. (Jun, Beth's husband, is Josh's coworker in Germany. That's how I met Beth. They are from the Philippines.) Brilliant idea - birthday trip for Josh and Beth!

The day finally came -- November 1st. We arrived around noon, got a taxi, and headed to our hotel. After a while, the taxi started going uphill toward some castle looking structure. The four of us were like... are you thinking what I am thinking? "Are we staying there??" My mind was going back to my memory of when I made the reservation for the hotel...I knew the hotel was called the Castle Hotel and in a good location. What I didn't know was... it's a superb location -- castle district and a UNESCO World Heritage site. If we could, we probably would have screamed in the taxi. Our smiles were so big and we couldn't believe what a great deal I found! Later, we checked in and found that our room was a specious loft without a kitchen. Instantly, Josh and I said "'s so cool and we love it!!" What a great start of our trip!!!

After lunched at a very busy yet interesting local cafe/restaurant, we started our first day sight seeing at the castle district since it's close to our hotel. We were instantly drawn by the beauty of the Mátyás (or Matthias) Church. We all took out our cameras and started snapping away and taking pictures of each other. Actually, Jun took most of the pictures. Can you tell how excited we were from the picture on the left? And the pictures on the left were also taken by Jun when we were not aware.

Colors of the clouds were changing by the second. Josh was trying to snap a picture of the stature while Jun was taking a picture of him taking pictures. It's all about catching the moment...we realized that's what Jun likes to do. We enjoyed the sunset however our excitement had gotten us tired. We went back to the hotel and took a little nap before our evening birthday celebration for Josh.

The birthday celebration contained two parts - a symphony concert at a palace and a late dinner on a boat in the Danube river . The concert let's say... just okay until the conductor came out for the curtain call. On the second curtain call, the conductor started conducting and asking for the audience's applause for the encore. He was tricky with the tempos and conducting in a very exaggerated manner with the audience. It was totally unexpected and fun. We were all very happy and laughing so hard for how the concert ended.

The food on the dinner cruise was pretty good. They also had many varieties of dessert. Josh finished his dinner so quick that he started attacking the dessert section before we finished our food. It got me so nervous because I had planed a surprised birthday cake for Josh and Beth. Before I could tell the waiter to bring out the cake, Josh already finish his first round dessert and going for the second. I tried to tell him to slow down and only got "why are you trying to stop me on my birthday?" Finally, I had to get up and talk to the waiter and pretend I was asking for directions to lady's room to get the cake delivered to our table. Surprise!!! Josh was surprised and so was Beth. Josh was very happy now since not only he could he have the second plate of dessert but also the cake!!

Light illuminates from buildings, bridges, boats, and streets created such a beautiful view. The picture on the right was taking on the deck of the cruise after we were super full.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sicily II - Cefalù

We were not sure what to expect when we decided to go to Cefalù. All I knew from the internet research was a beach town with a Norman-Arab-Byzantine cathedral and some old ruins on top of the mountain. We were also highly recommended by the tourist information guide in Palermo that Cefalù is easy and quick to get to by train since there are many trains going east and then north to Rome.

The train ride was very pleasant -- train was on schedule (OMG...can't believe it) and the Sicily coast line was just so beautiful that we couldn't take our eyes off the window. We were also thinking... what a beautiful and warm day to spend in a beach town! We walked toward to the town center and stopped by the tourist office to get a map and some tips for what and where to see. The lady in the office quickly recommended us to check out the mountain ruins. Then she specifically looked at our shoes and said "hm... I think you are okay to go up." We were like "What is she talking about? Well, whatever... at least she said it's okay." So, we headed to the hills. At the beginning, there were some well placed rocky steps so we didn't understand why the lady checked our shoes. About 15 minutes later, we could see the roof top of the houses, ocean, a lot of cactus, and the outer ring of the old ruins -- rocky walls and some old structure (couldn't tell what it was). After the fist part of the ruins, there was a guide with a note pad asking people where they were from. Then, we noticed that there were no longer nice steps for us to use climbing. It was more like small rocky and dirt path (see the picture on left which was not the worse part yet). After five minutes, the path was completely gone. It was a very steep hill and all we could do was to follow previous people's footprints. I was so afraid to look down, so I kept my head up. Then I saw an Italian couple maybe in their mid 50s hiking up the hill like us. The husband was fully in outdoor hiking outfit and the wife was wearing a dress with a 2" high heel shoes. I was thinking... does Italian hiking shoes requires 2" heel or is it an Italian woman should always be stylish even when hiking? I also thought that they must have not been to the local tourist information office; I wondered what the tourist office lady would say about her shoes.

It was so hot by midday... probably 90 degrees! Remember it was 40 degrees two weeks ago in Helsinki. What a difference!!

The view from the top of ruins was magnificent. No wonder people coming down from the hill said it was worth the hike. We walked all around the top... did not want to miss any pretty angles. Also, we wanted to enjoy this gorgeous view a little longer since it was a lot of hard hiking to get up there.

Down hill was so much easier but still scary. At the bottom of the hill (not where we started- was the other side) we saw a sign saying "BE CAREFUL - You must use tracking or sport shoes."

It was great to be back to sea level. We walked around the town center and checked out the cathedral. Out side of the cathedral, we even ran into the people we met on the bus from the day before. We told them about the hike and they were glad that they did not try because they could not take the heat even at the sea level with very minimum activity. They were smart though because they brought their swimming suites and they were ready to go the ocean. We wish that we had brought ours too. We were so hot.

Food... oh my... never once have we had bad food in Italy. This time, we even found a restaurant with a "Michelin" plaque on the wall. I don't remember how many stars there were but I remember it was goooooood!!!

Surprisingly, Cefalù has very nice walking path alone the coast line (just not on the hill. Interesting.) We walked along the seashore and enjoyed the ocean breeze. It was so nice. At the same time, Josh was trying to find some broken roof tiles falling from the old house at the edge of the cliff. It's funny that I got him into my roof tile collection.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sicily I - Palermo and Monreale Abbey

When I thought about Sicily, I thought of the mafia. Especially, when we started walking towards to our B&B, we got super paranoid and scared. The street was dark (we arrived 9pm), stores were closed, doors and walls were covered with graffiti, and only questionable people wondered around, and a few junk cars and some mopeds drove by. The only thought we had was "MAFIA! MAFIA!! MAFIA!!!" and we might be "ROBBED". About half way down the street, Josh decided to turn around and get a taxi. Better be safe than sorry!! Negotiation always comes first before you jump into a taxi in Italy. 15 euro for less than 5 minute taxi ride...those taxi drivers were tough negotiators--- What I can say! It at least prevented us from being lost and robbed and the hassle of dragging our suitcases.

Around the corner of B&B, we found ourselves in the busiest street in Palermo at such a late hour. There were many bars, pizzerias, and food stands. Tables and chairs were on both side of the street. People were relaxing and chatting away with their friends. It was a great place with a wonderful atmosphere. We found a table, got a couple beers, and started people watching. Besides the regular looking people ranging from teenagers to some older adults, there were definitely some mafia looking guys covered with tattoos and huge gold accessories around their necks and wrists. We also noticed some tourists walking by... not sitting with the locals... only Josh and me. It was such a fun place that we went back the next two nights after our dinners. It reminded me so much of the Taiwanese night market less the shopping.

There is so much to see in Sicily... even just around Palermo. From my research, we only picked a couple of places that were easy to get to and also interesting to see. So... after our first night of excitement and a good rest, we headed to Monreale Abbey. It's about a 30 minute bus (#389) ride from the Palazzo Reale to Monreale. Again, waiting for a bus is always longer than riding it. It's Italy... they don't usually run on schedule.

The abbey shows a varieties of cultures. It's a cathedral with Arabic structures and walls covered by mosaics with Norman art style. Even some parts of the floor we directly walked on are covered with mosaics. Surprisingly, they weren't covered with clear plastic floor mats to protect them. The abbey is gorgeous and we were fascinated by the art, court yard and the view from the roof top. There are 228 columns (in pair except the ones in the corner) in the court yard and each one of them has a distinct design from the other. Here are some close ups.

After visiting the abbey, we walked around and stopped by some souvenir stores. We did not find any roof tiles this time but we got a ceiling lamp (you can see the picture from the picture slide show.) I can't wait to have it installed above the dinning table.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Cheese Crackers (top left); Coffee Cake (top right); Rugalach Bars (bottom left); Helping Beth making a Apple and Pear Crumbles (her husband's favorite). Click the names for recipes.

Wondering what I do when I am not sleeping, watching TV, working on the blog, cooking, or traveling? Baking. Baking. Baking. I probably bake once or twice a week. Above are just some pictures I took. There were more like various kinds of chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, raspberry oatmeal bars, scones, and chocolate cake that I didn't remember to take pictures. You know most people grow wisdom tooth, we grow sweet tooth and it doesn't seem like we can remove them at all.

I sometimes share fresh baked goodies to my upstairs neighbor (a family of 3). The husband works from home and has been telling me how good my cooking smells. So...I feel bad if I don't share some or invite them over for dinner sometime. Once, ALL of them said that they wouldn't let me leave unless I surrendered the chocolate chip cookies recipe. The wife even made an appointment with me to show her how to make it. Although we could barely communicate with each other (she doesn't speak English), it was fun. It was a good opportunity for me to practice my broken German.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Helsinki and Tallinn

It's almost two months since our last trip to Copenhagen. We were very excited because it's two new countries for us (21st and 22nd countries visited for me and 40 something for Josh).

It was COLD (about 40s F) considering it's still August. Helsinki is quite modern with some old buildings here and there not centralized in one area. The Helsinki church is the most impressive building which dominated the city skyline. There were a lot of people gathering on the steps holding posters and yelling some slogans we had no idea what it was. Anyway, we cursed around the city, had lunch at the market square by harbor, and took ferry to Suomenlinna Island Fortress. On the ferry boat besides the tourists there were tons of well dressed and handsome people going to a wedding on the island church. The island is quiet, peaceful, and beautiful. There were museum, coffee shops, restaurants, and residence houses. We strolled around and took a break in a junk boat yard/coffee shop. At night, we went to see Cirque Plume (like a cirque du soleil show). The show was mostly in Finnish and French. Although we had a language barrer, we enjoyed the show very much. It was great and hilarious.

Next day, we took a very large ferry boat across the Baltic sea to Tallinn Estonia. Tallinn is such a cute, clean, and touristy old town. We felt in love with the city right away. We had some traditional food, in which one of the particular interesting dishes was the stew pork with the fresh baked bread on top (like a chicken pot pie). When the waiter served it to me, he took out a knife unexpectedly and raised it high. He poked the knife into the bread and sawed a holed in the bread like killing a pig in the bowl. He withdrew the knife with the piece of bread he cut out and poked the knife again to the edge of bowl. The whole time, my eyes were wide open and scared. Not only because of the knife but also because the waiter looked like a formal KGB agent... cold, unfriendly, and ready to kill. So...that was my first impression of eastern European for you.

Isn't that a cute hat? And no, we didn't get it. I wasn't sure if I dare to wear it out daily. Tallinn surprisingly is a great city to shop. We got some special old style drinking glasses. You know what it was not my idea...Josh loves them.
Tallinn is also known for a good party town because of its location and price advantage comparing with Scandinavian countries. Although we wanted to party, we found ourselves too tired to party...we are getting old. Anyway, we had a great time and loved the city.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cream Puff

I love cream puff and never thought that I could make it myself. It all started when I was watching a Japanese TV show series called Absolute Boyfriend which got me to search the recipe. I found this recipe from one of the regular website (Eupho Cafe... it doesn't have this recipe in English...only in Chinese.)I go to. They were easy to make and delicious in the mouth. It only took us two minutes to finish my one hour work. Here is another one I made with black berry.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stuffed Bell Paper by chef Josh

If you had ever heard me talking about Josh's cooking. You must know when Josh volunteers to cook for me, I get all nervous and stressed... because I have to eat it. It's not the food tasted bad. It just tasted a little different. Josh is a very creative cook and likes to substitute ingredients. He usually doesn't need recipe too. This time, Josh came up all the ingredients for stuffed bell paper himself. I was also not permitted in the kitchen. I could only snap a few shots of the big chief. Look how serious Josh is.

Here is Josh's Stuffed Bell Paper recipe...
100g beacon
1 glove dice garlic
1 small yellow onion
200g German mushroom
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup blue cheese
2 red bell paper
Secret spices

Preheat oven 350F.
Brown beacon then add garlic and onion cook until onion is soft. Mixe in mushroom for 5 minutes then add rice. Remove from the pan and add blue cheese. Cut top 1/4 bell paper off and remove the seeds. Scope the stuffing into paper and pop into the oven bake for 10-15 minutes.

Valaa... here is the final result... As you can see, it looks beautiful. So, I'll tell you that it smelled very good and was delicious. I'll give a 5 start rating to Josh.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Creme Brulee

My newest kitchen gadgets - tools you must have for making creme brulee - a fire torch and dishes. I have been wanting a set like this for a long time since Creme Brulee is one of my favorite desserts. Finally I saw this on sale for half price. Jackpot!

So... I got home and wasted no time looking up creme Brulee recipes from I even asked my five star restaurant chef friend Marco what heavy cream is in German. The milk product section in the supermarket is kind of confusing. It turns out they don't have heavy cream just regular cream (sahne in German). I bought one and doubted if it would work. From all the recipes, I picked a simple one from Alton Brown. It was easier than I thought and it turned out beautifully. Most importantly, it tasted really good. We loved it and gave a five star rating to the recipe.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Got Sun Kissed in Copenhagen and Malmö

No BBQ, no camping, and no partying on the 4th of July weekend for us. Instead we headed to Copenhagen Denmark and Malmö Sweden - two countries in one weekend trip. Very exciting! Not a bad idea at all!!

We got into Copenhagen around 9 a.m. and got an early start to explore the downtown area. We passed the longest pedestrian shopping street. My favorite was the Royal Copenhagen porcelain store and it's museum on the top floors. When we saw an employee hand painting a couple of dishes, we then understood why they cost so much.
We had a little to eat at the Kongens Nytorv (New Royal Market) and hopped on a boat at the Nyhavn (New Harbor). We got our first view of the Amalienborg (Amalia's Castle), Borsen (old stock exchange), National Museum, Christiansborg Palace, little Mermaid, and Christiania (the famous Free Town) from the water. It was a very beautiful and hot boat tour. The weather was hot and we were glad to be in shorts, however the people from the Free Town were even bolder and just lounged naked on the decks. We spent the rest of the day walking around most of the city which we could not see from the water. We got so much sun and were tired from all the walking so we took a little nap before our big night out. We went to the number one tourist spot in Copenhagen - Tivoli Gardens for dinner and a Jazz concert afterwards. What a special 4th of July!

Josh had been missing riding his bike especially after seeing a "Biking with Mike" ad. Thus, we got up early, rented two bikes, and biked with Mike. Fortunately, Saturday morning was usually considered a slow day for bike rental and the bike tour, so there were only two of us riding with Mike... we had a private tour guide. The tour took us to some parts of town that no usual tourists would have gone. It was really nice. Not only was riding the bikes easy in the city but we also obtained a lot of information and history. We learned the famous Little Mermaid whose head had been cut off twice. The first time was many years ago. The people and the city council were so shocking that they replaced the head in three days. However, the head was never found until decades later. A famous controversial dying artist called the media saying that he had something to say before he stopped breathing. When the reporters arrived at the artist's bed side, the artist slowly pulled out the Little Mermaid's head from underneath his bed. The news was so shocking that it went world wide. The second time happened a few years ago. Three drunken kids sawed off the head but got caught right away. What a poor life that the Little Mermaid has.

We thought the bike tour was only one hour long but... after 3.5 hours biking, we were beat. We decided to hang out in the free town - Christiania which is probably the cheapest place to hang out in all the Scandinavia countries. I have to explain here why Christiania is called free town. The Christiania was a military base. After the military left, the alternative lifestyle hippies moved in and 'camped' never paying for rent. One thing I asked Mike was what exactly is their alternative lifestyle? You know... beside living there for free and the people don't need much and don't want much (obvious from what we could see from their houses). Mike answered that it's the 'share system' and no ownership outside of his/her own house. Interesting... Well, back to out trip. We picked a bar, found a shaded area and rested. Soon, we noticed some interesting and somewhat illegal activities going on - marijuana selling, buying, and of course smoking. We sat there watching the people come and go. Soon, we were surrounded by people and the smoke of joints. We received an informal education over our drinks on the art of smoking, which was demonstrated several different ways around us.

Sunday our last day of the trip, we decided to go to Malmö in Sweden since it was just a short train ride. We even got a great deal on the train tickets. Perfect, now I can say I have been to Sweden. There was not much to see in Malmö. After a boat tour, we had pretty much seen it all. A couple of things worthwhile to mention here are the second tallest building in Europe and the longest bridge in the world between Copenhagen and Malmö.

Euro 2008 (European Champinship)

What a exciting three weeks for Germany!! It's like the World Cup all over again expect the games were in Switzerland and Austria. Since the games started, we could hear people cheering from the nearby bars from our flat. No matter which team won, there would be honking on the streets at the end. It sounded like German people finally awoke from the winter.

We didn't watch every game except for some very important ones, even when we were in Berlin. We finished our day early just to make sure we would see Turkey vs. Czech Republic because whichever team won would play with Germany. Since there is a large Turkish population in Germany, we thought that it would be crazy on the game day.

The semifinal, Germany vs. Turkey was on a week night - Wednesday. Downtown Stuttgart was filled with people by the time we got there around 6p.m. Everyone wanted to be at the Schloss Platz for the public viewing (each major European city has its own public viewing area which has more capacity than the stadiums.) We waited in line and finally got in around 6:30. Katja and Kathrin joined us later while some couldn't make it (stopped letting people in after 7) As you can see from the picture on the left, it's like 'sea of flags and people!'

It was a great game, there were many scores, and tied until 2 minutes before the game. Finally, Germany kicked another goal to finish on top of Turkey. Everyone was crazy afterwards. The streets were entirely blocked and downtown was shut down for a celebration parade. It was such an exciting experience.

We went to downtown again for the final. This time, the public view area was already pack and closed before 6p.m. The game started at 8:45 p.m. Can you believe that? And it was a super hot day too. On one hand, I can't image standing in the sun baking for so many hours waiting for the game. On the other hand, it would have been great. Well, we didn't have the option so we found a bar, sat down, and still enjoyed the game with friends and other nervous German fans. It was a superb game. Every minute of it was making me so nervous even though I am not a soccer fan. Too bad Germany didn't win at the end but I have learned so much about soccer from these three weeks.


After a year of life together in Germany, we finally made a trip together to the capital - Berlin. My first impression was... good food. We were starving after we checked into the hotel. We found an Indian restaurant 100 meter from our hotel. The food was great and the price was reasonable...nan a bit different and spice just right.

A good dinner plus a good night sleep, and we got an early start for our visit. Our first stop the Berliner Dom, is a big protestant church with a huge dome you can climb all the way to the top of. I could barely walk by the time we made it to the top of the Dome, but after seeing the view from the top, the sweat was well worth it. Our stomachs soon started protesting after the workout. We walked for a while until we found an restaurant ; Berin is a very diverse city with a great range of cuisine. Lucky us, we found one and had a good brunch. Afterwards, we spent the rest of afternoon on museum island. There are five museums - Bode Museum, Pergamonmuseum (it is one word not two. Here is an example of the language for you) Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, and Altes Museum on the museum island. We got an museum day pass and visited three of them. Our favorite one was Pergamonmuseum which has many famous examples of Greek ancient architecture - Pergamon Alter and sculptures. Only one disappointment was that part of museum was closed for some reason. The other two we visited were Bode Museum (sculpture collection museum) and Altes Museum where we saw some ancient Egyptian arts.

The picture on the left was taken on the top of the Reichstag which was built to house the German Parliament. We waited in line for an hour just to get to the top. Can you see how interesting it is that people walk around the glass dome.

Can you tell this is Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall)? We didn't notice until I saw the sign which I learned from German class (good thing I was paying attention in the class.) Can you see the guy in uniform on the very right. He would stamp your passport with the East German entry stamp with one Euro.

Berlin is very large and spread out and in the end we only saw a small portion of it. I'm sure we'll visit again if we are staying in Germany longer.

Dinner on the Table

Here is our new dinner table. I got some table linings to give the room some color. It has being great to entertain friends at the table. We no long stand in the kitchen eating food anymore. I have been making Josh sit at the table every night- (he prefers eating on the couch.) It is wonderful that we can finally sit and eat in a relaxing and proper manner.

Today we had Bruschetta with Sauteed Sweet Peppers and Creamy Gorgonzola, green salad, grill salmon, and german sausage and a glass of white wine. It's my first time making Bruschetta with sauteed peppers. It was yummy... I'll make it again when friends are over.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Schloss of Bavarian King Ludwig II

We stayed in a small town by Bodensee the night before and didn't realize that Neuschwanstein was two hours away. So...we got up early with our brunch packed by our hotel and headed to the castle. It's such a breath taking drive...thanks to Josh's great driving...he kept his eyes on the passengers and the side of the road instead of the center of the road (well...not most time... I'm just teasing Josh here.) Actually, the scenery was so beautiful that my hand was out with my camera half of the time.

Schloss Neuschwanstein (Swan Castle) is so magnificent even from a distance. No wonder that Disney would copy the design for its magic kingdom. The view from Neuschwanstein was incredible. We could see Hohenswangau (yellow color castle at the bottom right) and the lake. We also visited the Hohenswangau since it was just situated about 30 minute walk from Neuschwanstein. At the waiting line, I noticed one guy wore an orange shirt with 'Go Bronco'. I read said Boise State and Fiesta Bowl. I was so surprised that I sneaked a shot of him.

Having brunch while we walking...very efficient! Time is money!!

By the time we walked back to our car, it started pouring rain. Since it was still early, we decide to visit one more castle nearby - Linderhof.

Three castles in one day and they were all owned by the Bavarian King Ludwig II who built the first two I mentioned above. Therefore, we heard the King Ludwig II story three times, especially the part about how he was mentally ill and mysteriously died with his doctor in the lake. Enough of the Ludwig, each castle has its beauty and its style. I was amazed and impressed by each one. Although it was a lot of castles to see in one day, it was still a wonderful road trip.


We were so happy to have Maytal coming to visit us. We decided to take Maytal to the most beautiful lake, Bodensee and the most popular castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein in Germany. Our friend Katja also joined us. We picked up Maytal at the airport early in the morning and left for the Bodensee around noon. A road trip is always fun, especially when we have more than just the two of us.

Lindau is at the north side of the Bodensee and it's only few km from the Austria boarder. We actually drove into Austria by Josh's mistake - a wrong turn. This picture was taken from the harbor of Lindau over looking the lake all the way to Switzerland. It's absolutely heavenly.

Wasserburg, about 5 km west from Lindau is also a picturesque town. The onion shape dome church is one of the most frequently photographed sights in this region. We rented a paddling boat and enjoyed the views from the water. We had so much fun with the boat... First, we almost got run over by a big ferry because we were in its departure path. We got a few loud horns and many stares... Then, the stairwheel stopped functioning... I bet the boat rental shop never thought that they need to sell boat rental insurance.

Then, we got bored...