Not-so-blue in Morocco’s Blue City: Chefchaouen

Morocco is exactly my kind of place: full of energy, breathtaking sceneries, architecturally inspiring, and bursting in colors! It is geographically eclectic: you can be sunbathing at the beach, trekking up in the mountains, or riding a camel at the desert. The vibrant cities are bustling with different aromas tantalizing all your senses. “Sensory overload” is how it is best described. Morocco should easily be on any adventurer’s bucket list of travel spot. It has been on mine for as long as I can remember and at last I finally made my way there! 


For a decade now, I’ve had this inexplicable love affair with Morocco. I thought about going there many times but I never had the courage to make it happen. I could never understand why but whenever I had a chance to travel, I’d choose other destinations instead, yet Morocco had been in my top travel bucket list. Perhaps I was saving it for a special time, just as I did with Italy when I was still single. I went everywhere in Europe but purposely skipped Italy, thinking someday when I get married, I’d honeymoon there. I’m not sure what special occasion I was saving Morocco for but when my son suggested for us to go there, I figured why wait, life is short. There is no reason not to go after what sets your soul on fire.

It may have taken ten long years of dreaming and longing (at times obsessing), but I finally went to Morocco!!!

Minutes before landing in Tangier

When we landed in Tangier airport, I didn’t know how to feel. You know that feeling when you go on a blind date—although you’ve heard good things about that person, yet you’re scared that you may be expecting too much? Okay, I’m hardly an expert on blind dates (I’ve only been on one but that’s another conversation for later ;D). You get the gist. The immigration officer welcomed us with a smile (which was unusual for an immigration officer). He asked my son if I was his wife. Son wasn’t amused. He curtly said, “no, she’s my mother!” Then the officer asked him another question, “She your sister?” Ha! I can tell my son didn’t really like the idea that we can look almost the same age! He then proceeded to ask where in Morocco we were staying and I gave him the riad in Chefchaouen. A riad is a hotel but translated as a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. As soon as we exited the immigration area, I immediately spotted our driver holding up a sign with our names. His name is Said. I wanted to ask him a lot of questions about Morocco but his English isn’t as good as I wished it to be and I’m afraid everything will just get lost in translation.

The drive to Chefchaouen was roughly two hours and I was surprised that it is located up in the mountains. I was also amazed at how green the scenery was, not the Morocco I had in mind. I expected the landscape to be in golden hues, like the desert. But what do I know? Although I bought a guidebook, I left it almost untouched. I’m usually a researcher at heart but subconsciously didn’t want to know everything. I wanted it to be a surprise, to learn and experience Morocco in real-time, and not from a book.

With that said, I knew little about Chefchaouen. My only introduction to the city was looking at those amazing pictures on Instagram. When our driver announced our arrival in Chefchaouen, I saw disarrayed markets, people littered in the streets, and homeless cats everywhere (lots of them). I started to worry. Damn, where are those pretty blue alleys and steps I saw on Instagram? They’re nowhere in sight! How am I going to find them amidst all these chaos! (my shallowness is starting to show)….

Well, all those Insta-worthy places happen to be in the old medina, where our riad is located. But since no cars can go up there, Said left his car in a parking lot and told us to follow him. We walked up towards a hilly and steep cobble lanes. Then I began to feel relief. I can now spot beauty before my eyes! Said asked if we were hungry. He must have read my mind because I was dreaming of chicken tagine and Moroccan mint tea at that moment. He took us to a restaurant, cozily decorated with Moroccan furnishings.

Moroccan breads are thick similar to a pizza dough

My first taste of chicken tagine in Morocco

Our young server spoke fluent English (also heard him speak fluent Spanish). I realized because of the close proximity to Spain, people here are likely to speak Spanish than the people in the south (such as Marrakech or Casablanca where they speak more French), besides of course Arabic and Berber languages. Morocco is not only multicultural but also a multilingual country. I ordered chicken tagine with lemon and olives and of course Moroccan mint tea—the first of many in all my six days in Morocco (I had chicken tagine and Moroccan tea every. single. day and yet I left Morocco with a feeling I didn’t get enough).

Riad Lina and Spa

Said pouring our Moroccan mint tea

Our riad was only a step away from the restaurant. Riad Lina and Spa is probably one of the best riads in Chefchaouen. We were welcomed with a pot of Moroccan tea and cookies upon arrival.

My room was quite large and had my own private balcony. The riad’s rooftop has a spectacular view of the city that took my breath away. I stood there, taking it all in, still in disbelief that I am finally in Morocco! I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming.

Oh my god, I am really here….in Morocco!!!! If this is a dream, don’t wake me up!

I was anxious to start exploring the city but my son was taking his sweet time in his room. I told him I was going for a walk and to call me when he’s ready. Traversing in the old medina, I couldn’t contain my excitement. All I wanted to do was to get lost in the old town’s ridiculously beautiful blue–washed buildings and alleyways.

The alleys were lined with shops of colorful baskets, blankets, rugs, and ceramics. The locals I met were warm and charming. I also noticed that the standard attire for the older people were the traditional Moroccan clothing: kaftans (both men and women), headscarves (for women), and fezzes (for men). A young gentleman stopped me to ask where I came from. He was surprised to hear I live in Texas. Looking at me from head to toe, he mentioned I look more Moroccan than Texan. 😊 We had a great conversation about life in Chefchaouen and his country’s colorful history but I was beginning to get antsy, eager to explore some more. It was perfect timing when my son called to find out where I was. We met up and the adventure of taking cheesy pictures, mimicking all those ridiculously pretty photos on Instagram began.

We saw bus loads of Chinese tourists going to the same places we were, strutting exactly similar poses. It was only a day trip for them, staying for a few hours to take pictures and then move on to another destination. Chefchaouen was once Morocco’s best kept secret but thanks to social media’s exposure, it is now one of the most instagrammable places in the world. This explains the flocks of day–trippers who only come for the perfect–picture backdrops to post on their social accounts. (umm….kinda like I did? Don’t judge, hey at least I spent the night there okay! lol)

After taking a million photos, we felt it was time to go back to the riad. We spent the rest of the evening in the terrace drinking our second pot of Moroccan tea, mesmerized by the stunning aerial view. What a great place to spend our first day in Morocco!

The next morning, I came down to have breakfast (included in all the riads in Morocco). My son was running late so I started without him. The awesome breakfast spread consisted of different breads, jam, honey, feta cheese, omelet, apple slices in syrup, and of course, Moroccan tea.

While eating, I overheard a French lady asking the reception where to find a place she saw on Instagram. The receptionist told her it won’t be open until 11am. A woman (who was traveling solo) sitting at the table across me immediately got up to ask the French lady if she could take a look at the picture. I became curious and also got up to see what the fuss was all about. It turned out this place is a room that’s intentionally decorated for tourists. For a small fee of 5 dirhams, anyone can access it to take their pictures. Aruna, the female solo traveler, told me she’s already been there and showed me her pictures. I was starting to feel a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). How on earth did I miss this one?

While talking to Aruna, I learned she was just in Tunisia and was going to Oman next. I was admiring her energy, thinking I might have just found my ideal travel companion. We seem to have similar views and ideas on how one should travel. I jokingly told her we should travel together, perhaps to Iran someday (another bucket list for me) and surprisingly, she too, had been contemplating of going to Iran. Yay! I found my travel partner!

This is Aruna’s picture inside that made up room for tourists

My first day in Morocco was absolutely unforgettable. From the breathtaking panoramic vistas to the delicious chicken tagine, Chefchaouen has far exceeded my expectations. It was absolutely the perfect place to begin my Moroccan adventure. I was emotionally and visually captivated by its beauty. I wish I had spent more time there but fortunately there are more adventures to be had in Morocco.

My Argentine Experience

This post is the last of my South American adventure and I’m so glad I was able to relive that journey through this blog. If I had to sum it up, Buenos Aires is a mixture of Manhattan and Paris—permeating the energy of New York (BA in fact made New York the city that naps 😊) and the architecture of Paris (hence the nickname, “Paris of South America”). Though my experience was not enough to be fully immersed in the Argentine culture, I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen and feel the vigor of the country’s capital city, that is Buenos Aires.

The “Argentine Experience” Dinner was listed as part of our itinerary in Buenos Aires and the description is as follows:

This evening’s highlight is the Argentine Experience: A unique blend of food, wine and interacting with the locals. Learn how to make traditional empanadas, dine on grilled provolet cheese with sliced chorizo sausage, warm bread and homemade chimichurri. Order steak (reputedly the best in Argentina!) in Spanish and make your own traditional mate. A convivial atmosphere and great food! Your guides throughout the evening will answer questions on Argentine cuisine and culture.

This seemed interesting and I looked forward to it all day. But it didn’t start until 7pm so I had all day to explore and to create my own Argentine experience.

I have read about a fascinating bookstore called El Ateneo Grand Splendid that was just recently named as the world’s most beautiful bookstore by the National Geographic. The building, in 1919, was originally a theater, then it became a cinema, and eventually became a bookstore in 2000. The stage, the balconies, the amazing architectural details, and even the red curtain were all retained from the original.

The bookstore also has a cafe located at the back and it is on a raised platform (as this was originally a theater). I was tempted to eat lunch there but I was still full from our breakfast this morning.

Each of the floor had a balcony where you can look down and take amazing photos. I searched for English books but didn’t find any. I found out later they only sold books written in Spanish. I was disappointed that I couldn’t buy a book from there but I ended up buying a stationary as a souvenir.

From the bookstore, we explored more on foot and found local boutiques (not the usual Zaras and H&Ms you’d find all over the world). I heard that once Argentina was famous for its really high platform shoes but no longer in fashion today (or I would’ve bought one!). By this time, I was ready for some food and Cafe Tortoni came to mind.

Café Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Argentina and was originally owned by a French immigrant named Touan. It was named Tortoni after the Parisian cafe in Boulevard des Italiens in Paris (thanks Wikipedia). The coffee shop has been visited by high profile names such as Albert Einstein, the King of Spain, and Hillary Clinton to name a few.

I wanted empanadas but they ran out so I ordered hot cocoa and churros only because everyone on TripAdvisor was also raving about the cafe’s hot chocolate drink. I’m not sure about those people but the hot cocoa was not great at all. I was picturing thick hot chocolate like the one at Angelina’s in Paris. The churros was cold and a bit chewy. I don’t really eat churros so I’m not sure if that was the right texture.

After a long day of walking and shopping, we were ready for tonight’s activity. The Argentine Experience dinner was in an unassuming building that looked more residential than commercial. We walked to the second floor and went into a room where two long wooden tables were set up. We introduced ourselves to a British couple who were sitting across us. The husband is a professor who is currently on sabbatical and brought his family to live in Argentina for a few months. They both seem to speak quite a bit of Spanish so l suppose living there paid off. Other tourists started arriving and when both tables were filled, the staff began the Argentine Experience presentation. First, we had wine and cocktails then tapas kept coming that I seriously can no longer remember the order they came. All I could think of was this was the kind of experience I’ve been looking for— anything to do with food and alcohol lol!

They showed us how to wrap an empanada and told us there’s going to be a competition on who gets to present the most artistically prepared empanada. I’m not very artistic and I knew I won’t win but I was fine as long as I get to eat good tonight. I made a heart empanada (see above photo) with an arrow across it but it really didn’t look that pretty so don’t judge me! My friend thought the arrow looked more like a man’s private part hahaha!

We made more empanadas, choosing between meat and veggies or both. I stuffed mine with both and gave them to the staff to bake. More food came and each one was super delish. Then came the main entree, the most famous food from Argentina—beef! Based on last night’s dinner from the tango show, I was very disappointed with the steak I had so I was hoping tonight’s steak is going to be way better.

The steak was juicy and tender. This is the quality of beef I expected from Argentina. I really have not had a mind blowing experience yet when it came to food while in Buenos Aires. I had researched where to get the best steaks in the city but my friend wasn’t interested in going so I didn’t go. Looking back, I should’ve just gone on my own.

They showed us the country’s national drink called mate (pronounced mah-tay). It’s similar to tea but more complex and contains more caffeine. The desserts were amazing as well. Towards the end of the evening, they announced the winner for the empanada contest and surprise…..I didn’t win haha!

I’m so thankful for this experience. It was absolutely the best way to end, not only the evening, but my South American trip! There are definitely things I would change (in this trip) to make it much more enjoyable but overall, I had the best time.

On the day of our departure, we had the morning free to explore before heading to the airport. We didn’t go far from our hotel (Palermo area) but we were able to do last minute shopping at the flea market. But the highlight of the day was this mural I saw of Donald Trump portrayed as the joker. It’s too good not to share.

**I’m so glad I finally posted all of my blogs on my South American vacation. It’s been a struggle to write lately, with all my life’s ups and downs. I also had distractions this past year but I’m thankful for everything that’s happened in my life. It’s definitely the only way to grow, learn more about myself and really know what I want out of life!

I’m ready for my next adventure!!!!!!

Totally crushing on Santiago (but why I didn’t madly fall in love)

Santiago is sophisticated and polished but can also be handsomely rugged. He has an exquisite taste for fine wines and gourmet foods. He can be mysterious, who shares most of my progressive ideals, yet ironically devoutly Catholic. I am totally and absolutely crushing on him but surprisingly didn’t fall head over heels.

Oh by the way, Santiago is not a boy. He is actually a city in South America. Chile to be exact. You’re probably wondering why I did not totally fall in love with Santiago, a city that is an absolute dream boat. Well then you better read up!

Have you ever been to a place you liked so much and with everything that it has to offer, you wonder why you didn’t fall in love? That’s exactly what I felt about Santiago, Chile. While writing this blog post, I pondered on the reasons why I couldn’t offer my love wholeheartedly.

But, still, there were so many things I loved about this city (or Chile in general). I love how socially progressive it is. Although its population is (predominantly) Catholic, they have managed to legalize marijuana, prostitution, allowed abortion (in limited circumstances), gave couples the right to divorce, and hey our tour guide believes that in no time marriage equality is going to happen as well! Catholic countries are mostly socially conservative countries but Chile managed to defy the church and leans more liberal. It’s blowing my mind really. I love Pope Francis but I think the church needs to become more attuned with the modern times. And with the “me too” movement that’s happening in the United States, our guide has voiced his concern that Chilean men are now afraid to talk to women in fear of being accused of sexual harassment (perhaps a bit of exaggeration on his part).

Day 1: City Tour of Santiago

When my friend and I landed in Santiago, I was surprised to see how organized the airport was. I expected it to be chaotic and perhaps disorderly but it was nothing of the sort, it was in fact pleasantly efficient. It was also amusing to watch the customs dogs sniff on each passenger’s bag and when they smelled something, they would scratch the bag to let the customs officer know.

Our guide, Jorge, picked us up at the airport and took us straight to our hotel, a swanky boutique hotel in the trendy neighborhood Barrio Lastarria. We dropped off our bags and proceeded to tour the city, mostly on foot. I noticed the incredible amount of graffiti everywhere. But for one ghastly wall filled with graffiti, a beautiful mural would also be visible (sometimes side by side).

**It seemed that the whole city was covered in graffiti, which is the first reason why I didn’t madly fall in love with Santiago.

Our city tour started around our hotel’s location—Barrio Lastarria. Lastarria is this hip and happening neighborhood, the center for most cultural activities with rows of restaurants, cafes, and bars.

(Lucky for us, we were there on a Friday night where they had market stalls set up. There were also lively performances (dancing and singing) on the street. We noticed a lot of the vendors sold marijuana pipes and bongs. I really had no idea that Santiago was this progressive).

We then drove to Santa Lucia hill, a lone steep rock that is adorned with wonderful facades, fountains, stairways and where the city was founded in 1541. A beautiful bird’s eye view of the city from the top but the smog obstructed the view of the beautiful Andes mountain. Jorge said Santiago is nestled between mountains and thus the pollution couldn’t escape the city.

**Pollution is the second reason I didn’t fall head over heels with Santiago.

We resumed our tour on foot once again. There were so many stray dogs around and it was really bothering me to see them without anyone tending to them. Jorge asked us if we’ve noticed how fat the dogs were. That’s because people fed them even if they were stray dogs. I did notice they weren’t the typical skinny dogs you’d find in third world countries. But I still felt sorry for them being homeless.

**The stray dogs were the thirds reason why Santiago didn’t steal my heart completely.

Jorge took us to the Paris/Londres/ New York area. There are many pockets of Santiago that are named after international cities (we noticed a lot of the bars are also named after cities like Venezia or Ohio which we found a bit funny). Barrio Paris-Londres is a cobblestoned street reminiscent of the Latin Quarter in Paris (sort of). It has many shops, hotels, and hostels as well as renovated mansions.

While walking, I asked Jorge if I can go to Starbucks. He laughed profusely as if I had said the funniest thing he’s ever heard in his life. He recounted the story of 30 tourists from Hongkong he once guided and they all wanted to go to Starbucks just to buy a “Chile” mug. “Crazy Asians!” he exclaimed. Umm…excuse me, Jorge, but the mugs are precisely why I wanted to go to Starbucks 🙄. I told him I’ve been collecting mugs from Starbucks all over the world. He said we will find Starbucks in “New York” (the area close to Paris/Londres). We walked further and he began pointing at different stores. First was a Belgian Chocolate shop. “That’s where I go to buy my chocolates,” he said. Then he again pointed to a men’s suit store. “That’s where I go to buy my suit. Do you know where I DON’T go that YOU go?” he asked me. I looked at him wearily. At that point, I was already starting to get tired and sleepy. Seriously, I thought, I don’t really care where you purchase your stuff. Then he pointed to Starbucks. “That’s where you go and I don’t!” The sight of Starbucks suddenly gave me a rush and a strange feeling of excitement filled me. I was so happy I almost hugged the guy! I can now own a Chile Starbucks mug. Haha!

After buying my mug, we took a little break at the park. Jorge made it a point to show us that Santiago is a melting pot, with immigrants coming from mostly South American countries. He pointed to the Brazilian group in one corner, Venezuelans in another, and Colombians, Dominicans, Haitians, etc. in all the other corners in the park (one group of nationality congregated together separately from the other). He said most of them come to Chile to work.

By now we have walked for a couple of hours hitting all the major tourist sites. I was thirsty and hungry but no one was talking about eating. Jorge mentioned a stop at a coffeeshop was part of the tour but he didn’t expect we were both women. He can clearly see the confused look on our faces and so he explained further. “I thought you were a couple (man and woman) but because you’re both women, I can’t take you to the coffeeshop. The tour includes cafe con piernas, translated as coffee with legs.” Okay, we were even more confused. Apparently, cafe con piernas are coffeeshops uniquely Chilean, mainly found in Santiago, that serve coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks but with an erotic ambience. They are cafes with blacked out windows and inside the waitresses are in bikinis. “It’s not similar to Hooters,” he said. “Unlike Hooters, they don’t serve alcoholic drinks and the servers wear much skimpier clothing!” As we passed by one of the many cafe con piernas, the door opened and I was able to peek in (just for a few seconds) and saw one of the waitresses wearing a bikini. They surely make Hooters waitresses look as if they are dressed for church.

Unable to enter a cafe con piernas, we settled for juice at the many juice stands sold in the square. I was also hungry and so Jorge took us to El Rapido, an empanada fast food place. It was unlike any empanada I’ve tried before. It was a bit larger and flatter than all those I’ve eaten. They also eat it with a pico de gallo like condiment.

“Our next stop is Mercado Central, the fish market,” said Jorge. While researching for this trip, I expected Mercado Central to be exciting and a lively seafood marketplace (and restaurants) but unfortunately it was nothing short of just a tourist trap. We didn’t stay long and by this time we were so exhausted we were ready to crash especially we didn’t have time to rest after coming from a red eye flight and then going straight to the tour. But before we left the mercado, I did notice the humongous king crab displayed in a case. The owner of the restaurant (where the king crab was served as the specialty) gave us a deal: a large crab for the price of a medium.We told him we might come back tomorrow.

In the evening, I made a reservation to have dinner at Bocanariz, one of the best and most highly recommended restaurants (even by locals) located just walking distance from our hotel. This restaurant has an unrivaled selection of Chilean wines, over 300 bottles from different regions in the country!

This is THE place to come and experience the very best in Chilean wine. We ordered the flights of wine (three samples) themed by region or style. Since we ordered a plate of seafood, I selected the ‘White Wines from Chile’. Next we ordered one of their specialties, the slow cooked short ribs with sweet potato purée and fried onions (after years of not eating beef, it was the first time I had a taste of it again). And because I had white wines previously, it was an excuse to get another flight of red wines. They say when in Rome…heck, I say when you’re in a wine country….

My friend and I ended our first day in Chile by having a pisco sour at our hotel’s roof top bar. Jorge was an informative guy and told us that pisco sour is a national drink in Chile but it is also the national drink in Peru. And both countries almost went to war because of it. “I wouldn’t want my country to go to war with another country just for a drink. Because, seriously, this drink is not even that great,” I wrote on my Facebook status. My Peruvian friend immediately replied and wrote, “that’s because you had your first drink of pisco sour in Chile!” Now I may have started a war among my Chilean and Peruvian friends!

And this concludes my very first day in South America (and I still can’t believe I’ve never been to this part of the world before this trip)!

Kong: A taste of Sex and the City in Paris

I can’t speak for all the women out there but I’m sure many of us wish we could get a little taste of the Sex and the City lifestyle. Carrie Bradshaw and her friends turned many establishments into major hotspots. An American Girl in Paris Part Une and Deux were the final two episodes filmed in Paris. In the Part Deux episode, it started with the scene at a restaurant. It was at Kong, a chic, luxurious, and uber trendy restaurant within walking distance from the Louvre. Visiting the restaurant gave me a little taste of a Sex and the City lifestyle in Paris!

If Carrie Bradshaw was a real person, it’s sad to think that someone like her wouldn’t probably be friends with someone like me. As much as I adore her, our lifestyles do not match. First of all, I don’t have a shoe collection worth $40,000! While she’s rocking her $400 five-inch Manolos in Manhattan, I’m in my Uggs, driving an SUV in the suburbs. It’d be a miracle if I met up with all my close friends once a month for lunch, she goes to brunch with hers on a weekly basis. On Friday nights, she’s most likely drinking cosmopolitans at a posh bar, while I’m in my pajamas sipping a hot chamomile tea watching Netflix.


I can’t speak for all the women out there but I’m sure many of us wish we could get a little taste of the Sex and the City lifestyle. Carrie Bradshaw and her friends turned many New York City establishments into major hotspots. Tour companies capitalized the show’s huge success and ran tours visiting some of its iconic locations. I’ve actually been to several locations such as The Boathouse in Central Park where Carrie and Big met for lunch and unintentionally swim. And in one of my trips to NYC with my older son, I took him to Buddakan, a trendy and upscale Chinese restaurant in the Meatpacking district. It was the venue for Carrie and Big’s rehearsal dinner in the series’ first movie. (By the way, my son hated this place. He described it as pretentious and mediocre food.) 😊

An American Girl in Paris Part Une and Deux were the final two episodes filmed in Paris. In the Part Deux episode, it started with the scene at a restaurant where Carrie met  Juliette (her Russian lover’s ex-wife) for lunch. It was at Kong, a chic, luxurious, and uber trendy restaurant within walking distance from the Louvre. Carrie praised the restaurant but Juliette  called it (especially the chairs) hideous!

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After spending a couple of hours on top of the Arc de Triomphe, staring at the Eiffel Tower, and saying my heartfelt goodbyes, I wanted to have a memorable lunch in Paris on my last day there. Kong was in my list for must-visit restaurants but I was having second thoughts. What if the place is too chic for me? Will the people intimidate me? Ah, what the heck, I’m going anyway! 

From Champs-Élysées, it was only a few metro stops to Pont Neuf. It didn’t take long to find the building address for 1 Rue du Pont Neuf. From the entrance, I took the elevator to the 5th floor where I was greeted by the hostess.

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I told the hostess I didn’t have a reservation but it didn’t seem to be a problem. She asked me to follow her upstairs and we both walked up to the green stairs to the restaurant.

The top floor is a stunning indoor rooftop glass terrace and the Philippe Starck decor is inspired by the ultramodern Franco-Japanese designs. The chairs were designed with three faces representative of the Kong spirit–a geisha (which is also on the ceiling), one that resembles Audrey Hepburn, and a more modern anime-like face.

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img_1037The restaurant has magnificent views of the Seine River and Pont Neuf Bridge (if you are lucky enough to get a good seat near the window) and the abundance of natural light makes the restaurant even more spectacular. And by the way, I disagree with Juliette, this place is far from hideous!

 The two servers were both very attractive. The waiter who first served me wore a black suit and the waitress who later came to give me my tea and check wore a mini skirt and a cross body bag (I was actually surprised that she was the server and initially assumed she  was a customer).

 I ordered the dim sum platter and a glass of red wine. I didn’t specify which wine assuming he’d give me the house wine but later was shocked to learn that he gave me a very expensive glass (it cost me €18!). But I have no complaints because the wine was excellent!

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There were only a few people in the restaurant when I arrived and patrons who came later were mostly Asians. Sex and the City must have been popular in Asia too! They were well dressed, just as you would expect. But their selfie taking was irritating the two gentlemen seated near the window, rolling their eyes at every selfie pose.

They were actually entertaining to watch and gave me something to laugh about. It was like a scene in a comedy show. Towards the end of my meal, I noticed that the restaurant hadn’t been crowded the entire time I was there. I suspected that since it was Sex and the City that made it famous, perhaps it is now in its decline? I looked at my watch and didn’t realize it was already 3pm (which explains the almost empty restaurant).

When I left Kong, I was glad to have had the opportunity to follow one of Carrie’s footsteps in Paris. Walking along the Pont Neuf bridge, I realized my time in Paris rates as one of my most favorite travel experiences. I was afraid that in my solitude I would get lonely or bored, but it turns out I loved every minute of my time alone, and more importantly, my own company.

Exploring Provence: Medieval Avignon

Michel asked me what I wanted to do today. I told him I want to explore Avignon by myself, something that I wasn’t able to do the last time I was here.

That’s because the last time I was here with my cousin, she insisted on going to Nice and Monaco while we were in the south of France, to try to see as many cities within the very short time we were there.

I can explore Avignon in the morning, he told me, but I should come back to his house for lunch (his house is only a ten-minute walk from the city center). I suddenly had a flashback of that time we were together in Nice.

While we were driving around Nice looking for a place to eat, my cousin and I got really excited to see a McDonald’s. So we told Michel and (his partner then) Alain, that we wanted to try eating at a McDonald’s in France. I remember seeing the horror in their faces but reluctantly ate there anyway.

Imagine that! We were in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world and we freaking ate at McDonald’s! What could possibly be going though our heads?? I really hate sharing this story because it’s so embarrassing and I cringe every time I remember it!

I told him I didn’t need to come back to his house for lunch. I’ll just find a place to eat somewhere in town and promised him I won’t go to McDonald’s! He burst into laughter. Perhaps that’s the reason he asked me to come back for lunch to his house, he was afraid I’d eat at McDonald’s again! I told him that my cousin and I  were young and naive then and that we are much more sophisticated now! LOLOL! 😂😂😂
The medieval city of Avignon is entirely enclosed by a wall. Most of Avignon’s principal attractions are located within this wall, except for the Avignon Bridge. Michel told me as long as I don’t go outside the walls then it would be difficult for me to get lost.

I started my exploration inside the Palais des Papes, or the Pope’s Palace. The palace is actually bare and none of the artifacts from the 14th century were retained. However, they usually have special exhibitions by contemporary artists.

Philip IV of France was the force behind Clement V’s election, a Frenchman, to the papacy in 1305, an unpopular outcome in Rome. The result made Clement’s life as pope stressful. To escape the oppressive atmosphere in Rome, in 1309 Clement chose to move the papal capital to Avignon. There were seven “Avignonese Popes” who resided here until the papacy found it necessary to return to Rome.

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now primarily a tourist site. It is also used for cultural  events and concert venues. Make sure to buy the entrance ticket for both the palace and the bridge.

The garden next to the palace has breathtaking views that overlooks the Pont d’Avignon and the Rhône River. People go there to read, eat lunch, or have picnic with friends.

It took me a a few hours exploring the area surrounding the palace, finding alleyways or stairs that led to interesting places.

I was looking forward to crossing the Pont Saint-Bénézet, best known as Pont d’Avignon. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a famous medieval bridge in Avignon and the inspiration for the song, Sur le Pont d’Avignon. The bridge is not long and you can easily walk all of it in ten minutes (one way). This year one of my goals and challenges was to cross bridges which I did in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and in New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. Pont d’Avignon is hands down the shortest and the easiest bridge.

After crossing the bridge, I went to the square to look for a place to eat lunch. I remembered the McDonald’s fiasco again and reminded myself to be a much better traveler (the crazy thing is I don’t even eat at McDonald’s or fast food places in America). I wanted to prove to Michel I really am much more sophisticated now.

So this is what I had for lunch…

Oh boy! Whatever happened to “I’m much more sophisticated now”? But, hey, at least I had a rosé with my lunch (that is sophistication in my book).

By the way, that pizza was so darn good!!!

Books, chicken wings, and ice cream: Portland, Day 2

I waited for the rain to subside, but it just kept pouring. I hate wasting time while on vacation so I abruptly woke up my son and told him to get ready. “But it’s still raining!” he said. “Yeah, so? I have the perfect place in mind!” I told him.

The disastrous start of our first day in Portland had worn us out that as soon as we got back to our hotel, we crawled into our beds and immediately fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up to (what I assumed) the sound of rain.  I peered outside and was disheartened to see it was really raining! Because we lucked out with  yesterday’s weather, I was hoping it’ll be the same today (yeah, wishful thinking). This time, you are raining on my parade, Portland! I was now posed with the challenge: what to do in Portland when it’s raining?

Texas is two hours ahead of Oregon. Much to my son’s annoyance, I was wide awake by 6am local time. This morning (and everyday for four days), I had breakfast in our hotel alone. One of the disadvantages of traveling with college-aged kids is they  would rather sleep in than have breakfast.

I waited for the rain to subside, but it just kept pouring. I hate wasting time while on vacation so I abruptly woke up my son and told him to get ready. “But it’s still raining!” he said. “Yeah, so? I have the perfect place in mind!” I told him.


Those who know me well know that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Sushi, tea, and books are among the things I really enjoy. And if given a choice–going to a mall or browsing books at a bookstore–I would always pick the latter. When my older son was still in high school (before he drove on his own), I would stay for hours at the bookstore before picking him up at school. But sadly, there’s been a decline for bricks-and-mortar bookstores and are now slowly being replaced by digital technology.

two of the items I bought at Powell’s

 


The flagship, Powell’s City of Books is listed as one of the must-visit places in Portland. It is claimed to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world! A map is provided to find your way around the bookstore! Cruising the aisles, I found the books I normally wouldn’t find in a regular bookstore. I told my son I’d move to Portland just to be near Powell’s. It’s that good!

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After a few hours of browsing, the stimulation from the books must have made us really hungry. Famous for their Southeast Asian specialties, Pok Pok, one of the most famous places to eat  in Portland, was what I had in mind.

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The food is out of this world and if you’re expecting normal dishes you’ usually find in Asian restaurants, you will be disappointed.

Deep fried wings marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings is their most ordered dish in the menu. If you’re thinking what’s so special about chicken wings, trust me, you haven’t had these chicken wings. After eating one of the most satisfying restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time, I couldn’t help but wonder why the restaurant was named Pok Pok. The server explained that it had something to do with chopping something on a wooden block (in Thai).  I shared with him what pokpok meant in my language (it’s slang for slut).. LOL!

The combination of spicy and salty got us craving for something sweet after. We were in luck because Salt and Straws was just down the street.


One of my son’s friends in college (who’s from Portland) told him this ice cream shop is a must-visit! The sea salt and caramel ice cream topped with caramel sauce and hazelnuts was absolutely divine, I went back to get more the next day!

Day 2 in Portland was a success! Spending hours at Powell’s was my idea of  heaven on earth!  Browsing through the aisles, finding books I wouldn’t normally find in other bookstores surely gave me bookgasm, a feeling I can’t fully describe or express in words whenever my hands touch a book! All I can say is it’s butterflies in my stomach. Did I already mention that I just experienced heaven on earth?
 

Don’t rain on my parade: Portland, Day 1

I’m one of those crazy people who absolutely adore the rain! The soft pitter patter of the rain is the most peaceful sound in the world. Watching each raindrop is genuinely one of my favorite entertainments. But when the rain stops, and the sun begins to show up, I always have this strange feeling of disorientated chaos, as if the sun had obliterated my zen. However, when you’re on vacation, it’s a totally different story. The rain becomes your nemesis, especially in a city where most of the activities are done outdoors

When it’s cloudy and rainy outside, everyone is usually complaining about how yucky the weather is. Not me. Because I’m one of those crazy people who absolutely adore the rain! To me, the soft pitter patter of the rain is the most peaceful sound in the world. And watching each raindrop is genuinely one of my favorite entertainments. It’s also the most perfect opportunity to curl up and read a book. (Or Netflix binge lol). But when the rain stops, and the sun begins to show up, I always have this strange feeling of disorientated chaos, as if the sun had obliterated my zen.

However, when you’re on vacation, it’s a totally different story. The rain becomes your nemesis, especially in a city where most of the activities are done outdoors. Perhaps Spring isn’t the best time to visit Portland, but I was thinking of the trees, the hiking, the mountains, the food, but not the weather.

Day 1

When my plane landed, I was relieved to see it wasn’t raining and that the sun was partially out. I was also excited to meet my older son at the airport. It’s been three months since I last saw him. But thanks to technology— FaceTime and text messaging—it made communication easier and less lonely without his presence at home.


It was his idea to go to the Pacific Northwest on his spring break. I suggested we’d visit Portland (instead of Seattle). I’ve only been on short overnight layovers in Portland when I was still a flight attendant thus I wasn’t able to explore much of the city.

From the airport, we took the Max (light rail service) to the city center and transferred to the Portland streetcar, which luckily had a stop in front of our hotel. We immediately went out after checking in, worried that the rain will show up soon. We had lunch at Bamboo Sushi, popular for their sustainable fish. Sadly, the hype was bigger than the food.


After lunch, we asked the hostess if there was a Max stop nearby that goes to Washington Park. People go to Washington Park to visit the zoo or the International Rose Garden, but I was more interested in the Japanese Garden. The hostess told us she’s never been to Washington Park. I was surprised to hear she’s never been, assuming all Portlanders were the outdoorsy type 😉

When we arrived at the park, we searched for the shuttle bus but didn’t see any. We decided to walk following the signs to the Japanese Garden. But after walking for 20 minutes (the road was not very pedestrian friendly), we had a feeling we were heading the wrong way. We turned around, back to where we started.



We went to the information desk and the person there told us that the free park shuttles were not in service until May!

Whaaat???

Epic travel fail #1: not doing your research! Oh wait, I did my research! But I didn’t read that the shuttles were not in service in early Spring! In fact, no mention at all about this on their website. (Wanna hear something awful? A few days later, we found out that the Japanese Garden had been closed for renovation and won’t reopen until a week after we leave Portland—another thing they conveniently failed to mention in the website? Gosh, even the man at the info center didn’t know it was closed or perhaps didn’t bother to inform us. Wow!).

I felt a complete failure and it was only our first day.

My son told me he was really exhausted. And that could only mean one thing: go back to the hotel. We haven’t even done anything yet. All we did was eat mediocre sushi! We hopped on the Max back to the city center and another mishap occurred—we got on the wrong train! We only realized our mistake when it took us to the end of the line.

Ughhhhhhhhhh…..

Epic travel fail #2: not paying attention to where you’re going! This time I was guilty. How on earth was I making so many mistakes! I’m a seasoned traveler goddammit—or so I thought! Determined not to give up so easily, I persuaded my son we should go to the Chinese garden. He wasn’t too thrilled (probably assuming it can’t be that good if it’s located right in Chinatown).


“It’s one of the top 10 things to do in Portland according to Time,” I said to convince him. He reluctantly agreed and we got off the Max at Chinatown. As we were walking looking for the garden’s location, it lead us to a row of beautiful cherry blossom trees along the Willamette river.


It reminded me of the time when we lived in Japan. For just a few weeks every Spring, Japan celebrates hanami by gathering and sitting under the trees, bringing food and drinks with them. Cherry blossoms symbolize spring and the hanami was for welcoming the new season.

“Imagine yourself in the 16th century China, standing in the courtyard of the home and garden of a wealthy family. The peaceful and soothing garden is their spiritual utopia, designed to escape the problems of everyday life,” according to the brochure’s description of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.


I can see why this garden is a spiritual utopia for anybody. If I had a garden this beautiful, I would be inspired to meditate daily.


From the earlier fiasco, I needed to de-stress and sought solace from the garden’s tranquility.


In spite of the location, with all the buzzing noise from cars and people, Lan Su Chinese Garden is a perfect place to get away yet you’re still within the city limits.

At this point, I would’ve been fine if we went back to the hotel after visiting the garden. The row of cherry blossoms trees and Lan Su Chinese Garden were the redemption I needed from a terrible start. But my son, looking at the map on his phone, told me Voodoo Doughnut was nearby.

The famous Voodoo Doughnut is located in a seedy area, but nothing to worry about, with the crowd and long lines, you’ll hardly feel unsafe. It’s crazy to be waiting in line just to get donuts. And heck, for that matter, I don’t even like donuts! But if it’s a must-thing to do in Portland, I needed to suck it up so we waited in line for at least 45 minutes. However, there’s plenty of entertainment while waiting. We were serenaded by a man playing the violin, a very animated homeless guy talking to himself, a midget asking for spare change, a homeless gal with a cat for attraction, and listening to conversations among tourists. Before you know it, you’re in the shop.


Known for their quirky donuts, we chose the Voodoo doll, which is by the way the shop’s icon. My son also wanted to try two other flavors (Tang and Bacon Maple).

I posted the picture above on my Facebook with the caption, “voodoo doll,” and my friend asked who I had in mind. I replied by saying she should know who. “Trump, I hope,” she said. No comment. 😊


So you’re probably wondering—was it good? Was it worth waiting in line for? It’s one of those things you can check off your list in your itinerary and if it wasn’t one of the must-things to see, do, or eat in Portland, I wouldn’t wait 45 minutes for it.

We dodged the rain all day, but tomorrow was going to be a different story.