#1922| Barcelona: The Barca Bucket List

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imagesBarcelona, Spain.

Of all the cities I visited in my seven months under the European sun, the only place I could imagine myself living in long term was Barcelona. It was sunny, laid back, vibin hard, and also the only place that I nearly got pickpocketed. The story goes something like this:

INT. NIGHT. THE COUPLE walks down the steps to the underground metro.

Shane (urgently):
Jem, could you check your bag right now?

Jem checks her backpack and all seems to be in order.

Jem:
What’s up?

Shane:
Oh, nothing. The two women behind you were being suspicious and one of them had her hand in your backpack.

Jem:
WELL WHY DIDNT YOU TELL ME SO I COULD CONFRONT HER AND HAVE MY SHAOLIN SHOWDOWN?!?!?

Baby, you know it. That city had character. Grit. Which, on hindsight, might probably just have been sand. But I loved it – I’ve always sworn vehemently that I’d never venture into teaching with my English degree (cliche! cliche!) but I was sorely tempted by the idea of living in Barcelona for a year, giving English classes by day and wandering down the beach in search of the perfect sangria by night. Mmmm. So ridiculous. But aren’t we all?

In any case, Barcelona remains one of my top recommendations for European summer destinations and a general favourite all round anyway, so I thought I’d pen my favourite spots in Barca down for those of you looking to go!

1. Have Seafood at La Paradeta

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Why is the first thing on my list a food item? Because 1. we are gluttons and 2. this is only the best seafood you will ever eat in your life.

La Paradeta is the kind of place I have dreams about. One thing you should know about me is, prior to La Paradeta I was never really a seafood kinda person – i liked fish a lot, but that was about it. La Paradeta was where I was truly initiated to the wonders of seafood, and it was probably the best place in the world for it to happen – everything was freshly caught and prepared to perfection, and incredibly delicious.

How it works: you basically pick whatever you want, decide how you want it done, and they prepare it for you on the spot. It’s so fresh that your food is literally still scuttling around minutes before it’s served up to you on the plate. The food is charged by the kg, so tell them exactly how much you want or they’ll give you the whole kg and charge you for it. Eg. 100g of mussels in tomato sauce, 150g of tuna seared, etc. We had.. so much, I don’t even know. Every kind of seafood imaginable. And the entire spread cost us less than 50 euros in total – I imagine you’d have a much better time of it coming with a whole gang of friends so you could try a greater variety of stuff and split the bill – but I had a pretty damn good time.

I cannot even begin to emphasise how important it is that anyone who goes to Barcelona eats at La Paradeta. Doors open at 8pm for dinner, but the queue starts forming before that as you can see, so go at 7:30/45 to be safe. It’s near the Sagrada Familia, so you can get your culture fix before or after heading over anyway.

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La Paradeta
Address: Carrer Comercial, 7, 08009 Barcelona, Spain
Phone:+34 932 68 19 39
Hours: 1:00–4:00 pm, 8:00–11:30 pm

2. Spend an entire afternoon by the beach

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Honestly, I feel like the one thing I regretted about Barcelona was not staying there longer. If I had my way about it, I would have spent an entire week there and dedicated whole days to just lounging by the beach. I loved the way the city seamlessly blended into the beach – you could be walking along the boardwalk, admiring the palm tree rows, and then the next thing you know you’d be in the middle of the cheeriest scene known to man: the Barceloneta beach.

As with all tourist destinations, you’ll have to pay for a beach umbrella/ chair. I say go ahead and do it – but come early to make the most of it, because they pack up their chairs at about 7-8pm no matter how long you’ve been on it. Bring a book, an iPod, whatever, and just spend the day slipping into a sort of lazy daze. Men wander the beach trying echoing the siren calls of sangria for 5 euros a glass (price negotiable) and duck under your beach chairs the minute a police boat sails past. It’s all part of the experience, and it’s one of the best beach experiences I’ve ever had. Before Barcelona I always thought of myself as a city destination kinda girl – but now I’m thinking twice.

3. Seek out some sick Paella

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When I instagrammed my touchdown in Barcelona, I got a flood of people moaning enthusiastically about paella all over my photographs. I was confused – what is wrong with people, and what is this paella?!

Such is the sound of ignorance. It turns out Paella is the Spaniard’s gift to mankind. A sort of western take on something resembling asian fried rice, it’s a rice dish prepared with olive oil and supplemented with various ingredients, and presented in a specialised shallow cooking pan. It is also the most delicious rice I have ever had… ever. I’ve always been slightly dismissive of western-style rice dishes, probably a result of my fiercely asian upbringing (RICE IS OUR TERRITORY), but this dish blew me away.

I didn’t even go anywhere special for this. On the long climb up to Park Guell, we ducked into an unassuming little cafe for lunch and ordered the seafood paella with some nachos on the side. It was incredible. Definitely, definitely put Paella on your Barca Bucket List.

4. Local Art

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Barcelona is/ was home to many incredible artists, some obscure, some not so. It would be sacrilegious to visit Barca without popping into at least one of it’s famous museums or parks – and this is coming from someone who had had enough of museums after five months of European history. We visited the Picasso Museum on the way to the Barceloneta, which didn’t allow photography so no pictures there, which was interesting but not the best museum I’d hit. I feel like after the Louvre and Anne Frank’s House it’s a little difficult to find a museum that matches up in terms of character and emotional resonance, even if it does revolve around the sick wonder that is Picasso.

Either way, we also hit Park Güell, one of the major works of Gaudi. The entire place is a strange, strange wonderland reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – all coloured glass and weird sculptures. Still, it was quite a must-do in terms of tourist attractions, so we made our way down to the Park one sunny afternoon in Barca. It’s pretty far out from the rest of the to-dos so you kinda have to dedicate an entire afternoon to getting there and looking around, and if nothing else, it gives you a pretty good view of Barcelona’s cityscape.

It gets quite crowded, so I definitely recommend booking your tickets online the night before. You have to pay first, but at least you guarantee a spot there instead of queuing like the grumpy sunburnt tourists you’ll laugh at on your way in.

Park Güell
Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona, Spain

5. That huge gothic structure that still hasn’t been completed

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There is no visiting Barca without visiting the Sagrada Familia. It arguably put Barcelona on the (tourist) map of the world. I didn’t go in, although most people do, but standing outside it and admiring it’s everlasting facade was good enough for me. The best time to catch the Sagrada is probably at sunset – the golden light bounces off the gothic walls and the entire thing glows. It is quite magical. In summer this is about 730pm – we oohed and aahed at it but didn’t get a proper photo as we were rushing to make La Paradeta (see point one), and only returned after dinner.

At night it is majestic, that’s for sure, but we found ourselves still thinking wistfully of the golden magic we saw a couple of hours before. Still, it was pretty incredible. Standing in front of the Sagrada with the full moon conveniently hanging over – there are few experiences that beat that.

Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain

And then you can also go get a burger after if you haven’t had dinner, because Anauco Gourmet is around the corner and serves splendid burgers.

Anauco Gourmet
Carrer de València, 428, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
+34 936 24 07 97
(Very popular, you might need a reservation.)

6. Ultimate tourist experience: light and water magic show.

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Disneyland has their nightly fireworks show, and Barcelona has.. Font Màgica. To be fair though, despite the cheesy name, it was quite spectacular. The nightly show features lights, water acrobatics, music, and if you’re lucky – fire. It draws a crowd too, so be careful with your belongings – someone tried to pickpocket me here, again, and I missed out on my showdown fantasy again because Shane magicked me away before any real harm was done. Boys.

The Font Màgica is located near the Plaça d’Espanya, which was super near where we stayed (check here for more details), so it was easy to catch the show as we walked back to our apartment nightly. The shows run two or four days a week depending on season, but you should check the magic fountain website for the exact schedule before going down. Quite worth it though, I think. You can always have dinner in the area and then walk around after.

SPRING – SUMMER 2014
From 31 March to 30 October (Both included)
Thursday to Sunday, 9 pm – 11:30 pm. The shows start at 9, 9:30, 10, 10:30 and 11 pm.

AUTUMM – WINTER
From 31 October 2013 to 30 March (Both included)
Fridays and Saturdays, 7 pm – 9 pm. The shows start at 7, 7:30, 8, and 8:30 pm.

Font Màgica
Pl Carles Buigas, 1
08038 Barcelona

And there you have it – my favourite things to do when in Barcelona. You’ll notice that I didn’t include any shopping in there, because I felt that the other experiences outweighed it, but shopping in Barca can be pretty damn attractive, what with it being the home Mango and Zara. I actually got a sweater in Zara for 7 euros. 7 Euros! Unbuhlievable. The main street in Barcelona has quite a few outlets, so you can actually dedicate an afternoon to wandering down it and having lunch in the area – I had tapas at Txapela, which was not bad, but I believe you can’t go wrong with food in Barcelona either way.

A short note on accommodation.
Before I leave off, here’s something I think you might wanna factor in when planning for Barcelona, and Europe in general. I know a lot of you follow my Broke Student’s Guide, being.. well, broke students, like myself, but there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes the cheaper option may not necessarily be the safest. The types of accommodation you can check out are quite extensive for Europe: I wrote on couchsurfing awhile back, and then there are hostels, then airbnb apartments, then hotels.

I don’t know about couch surfing in Barca, not having done it myself, and I’m generally quite game for budget hostel living. Thirty people mixed dorm? Bring it. Usually, I’d encourage you to choose whichever option suits your budget. However, in a few places I definitely advocate getting an airbnb place over a hostel. Southern Italy is one. Barcelona is another. I’ve heard of too many people being pickpocketed and robbed blind while in hostels, and in certain otherwise lovely cities, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Airbnb apartments afford you a kind of privacy and safety that you don’t get in a mixed dorm – and it might actually work out cheaper if you have a couple of friends sharing the apartment / private room with you. Since it charges by unit, it might even work out cheaper than getting a bed in a hostel, which charges you per pax.

I stayed in a private double room on Plaça d’Espanya for only 34SGD/night total (divide that by two, do your math), and I felt like my belongings were safe at all times even when leaving my laptop and all in the room because 1. It was a private room 2. I had the keys to the room and 3. I had a real conversation and connection with the host, so if anything went wrong, I knew who to deal with. I suggest you do this for cities that are known to be slightly more dangerous in terms of theft – Naples, Rome, Barcelona, whatever. Evaluate your finances, read up on your destinations, and make an informed decision.

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I loved Barcelona, sandy beautiful city that it was, and I would return in a heartbeat. I hope all of you headed over to Europe on grad trips look at it as one of your destinations – but remember, keep your belongings close, and eat your heart out. You’re going to love it.

X
♥jem

#1921| Crouching blogger hidden waterfalls

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Hat c/o Klarra | Top c/o Lovebonito | Striped Midi c/o The F Dept | Necklace c/o By invite only store | Grey mini bag c/o Sandytrove | Shoes from Topshop | Hair by Jean Yip.

imagesShot at: The Grand Hyatt Singapore by Martin Hong.

Sorry- sorry! I know I’ve been shamefully MIA for the past week. Unacceptable, really. The whole premise of writing is to keep doing it and I seem to have been doing everything but. A feeble explanation: I’ve been working on my thesis and juggling shoots here and there, and with all that very little time is left for leisure writing. I did say my explanation was feeble..

In any case, good things have been happening! Ever since getting back from Laos I have really been game on going at the workload and making hardly a dent. I attended weddings and pretended not to cry. Caught up with old friends. Drank a lot of wine. Wrapped up a few campaign shoots. Read a lot. I got news of a scholarship offer I’ve been pining after for awhile now, to validate my decision to pursue my Masters in Creative Writing – because if I’m going to be writing anyway, better do it behind the excuse of academia than under the good name of unemployment, am i right. Celebrated in style by promptly checking in and taking a fantastic break at the Grand Hyatt. Annoyed everyone on instagram.

On a more serious note though, I’ve always felt like a well-timed staycation can do wonders, and have always been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others that allows for this kind of mid-semester luxury. The Hyatt welcomed me in style – straight up elegance, no frilly gimmicks here – and I spent the afternoon shooting on location and being very blown away by the quiet extravagance of the hidden waterfall pictured above. Winding down with a glass of wine in the evening, soaking in the vibes at the grand club lounge. Waking up in a fluff of pillows and padding back over to get some writing done by the sunlit marble top tables in the club lounge. Somehow I am more productive in a foreign setting, wrapped in thread counts higher than my GPA. Stephen King once said one writes best behind closed doors in his or her own home – but I look around the beautiful Hyatt and I think to myself: Not too shabby, Jemma.

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Flowers and calligraphy: Petalsxprose

More recent random things: I’ve been ridiculously, ridiculously addicted to Kristin Chenoweth’s Sleigh Ride / Marshmallow World with John Pizzarelli. Like, belt-in-the-shower kinda addicted. I know, i know, it’s not even the right side of Christmas! I can’t explain it but it makes me giggle way too much. In an attempt to shake this decidedly inappropriate festive snowy mood that has taken a’hold of me, I’m hopping over to the antithesis of winter in a couple of days – the eternally sunny Phuket for a bit of sun and sea. I tell myself it’s a form of self-imposed exile to a foreign land where I can get work done with no distractions in the way, but honestly… we all know what the real story is.

Well, then. Ta for now – but I’ll be back within the week with a Barcelona guide, promise! I’ve been getting all these emails on my backlogged European destinations from increasingly panicky students trying to plan their grad trips. Hold ya horses, guys. I’ll be back. Promise.

Have a great week ahead to you too x

X
♥jem

#1920 | Bangkok: Thong Lor Area Guide

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All photos taken on the Nikon Df on a 35mm lens.

imagesBangkok, Thailand.

Sawadee, y’all!

Here I am with my Thong Lor area guide, as promised. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go familiarise yourself with my previous literature on the subject here and here. Go on, I’ll wait.

Done? Great. We can properly begin.

Now, I do believe that you guys can figure out where to go and what to do on your own – so don’t see this as an end-all guide, see it as me sharing my personal experience and itinerary from my recent trip to Bangkok. You guys already know that I stayed in the most incredible (and affordable! Will you believe it!) apartment in Bangkok, one we specifically picked because we wanted to be situated in Bangkok’s new trendy area, Thong Lor. Today I’m just going to share a full day’s guide to exploring the area, plus the superbly memorable things we did that you should definitely check out when you’re there!

Ready? Ready!


Mornings in Thong Lor

Begin your day by grabbing breakfast and a coffee at any one of the cafes nearby, featured in my Mocha Monday’s: Bangkok Special post. I personally recommend Pacamara Bangkok – the intensely aromatic hit is basically my idea of the perfect start to a day.

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Everything they serve is good, but I recommend getting a cappuccino. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, feel free to try their Thai coffee – but be warned, it’s sweet.

Pacamara Bangkok
777 Soi Sukhumvit 47 | 2nd floor, RainHill Retail Mall, sukhumvit47

Then, walk down Thong Lor’s main street and visit any flower shop in the area.

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Why so random/ frivolous? Sit down, child, and let me tell you why.

Flowers in Bangkok are out of this world. I’m not saying it in the they have some special breeds you can’t find anywhere else except in Thailand way. I’m saying it in the if you’re a girl who likes flowers, like me, Bangkok is your dream destination kinda way.

How much is a rose in Singapore? Three dollars, minimum? More? In Bangkok, it’s 8 Baht.

Let that sink in for awhile. 8 Baht.

To put things in context, one Singapore Dollar is 23.63 Baht, accurate as of March 2015. That means that a Thai rose is approximately thirty five Singaporean cents. If I could, I’d buy a hundred roses home and litter my entire apartment back in Singapore with glass vases. I went crazy! I got a bouquet of eight roses and some baby’s breath and I don’t believe I spent more than four or five SGD. For people wondering why on earth someone would buy herself flowers abroad, 1. It’s cheap, 2. It looks good in photos, and 3. Flowers just make me really, really happy, okay?

Later on that night, when I was threading my way through the thronging streets of Pratunam looking for a specific street food store I always return to at least once when in Bangkok, a thai man rushed up to me and asked where I got the flowers from – which made me think, maybe florists aren’t as common as I previously assumed. In which case, the one in Thong Lor was perfectly situated for us because it was so near our apartment that we didn’t have to make any detours to pick up some blooms!

Afternoons in Thong Lor

Lunch time! Given the light breakfast you had (coffee + pastry?), it’s time to get a more substantial lunch. Now, a lot of cafes do lunchtime sets, something you’re never going to find in the more touristy areas of Pratunam. How do we know this? Our airbnb host, who stayed right down the hall from us, told us. He would know – he’s been living in Bangkok five years! He recommended his personal favourite place, which turned out to be a great recommendation – the lunch set at Sit and Wonder cafe.

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The lunch sets start at 59Bht, which is very reasonable for restaurant-traditional thai food indeed. It has a very modern, beautiful interior, and seemed a hit with expats and locals alike – maybe because of their free wifi? I don’t know. Anyway, the food itself was great, with decent portions and a relatively good turnover time. We both ordered different variations of their thai basil fried rice and a bowl of Tom Yum to share, and even then it came up to less than a hundred baht per person. Very, very satisfactory, and I could totally see myself going back if we’d spent more time in Bangkok.

Sit and Wonder
58/12 Soi Thong Lor, North Klong Ton,Vadhana
Bangkok 10110, Thailand

After lunch, walk off your meal by strolling down the Thong Lor main street – there are tons of things to see in the form of quirky shopfronts and cute hideaway cafes. If you so fancy, you can get a mid-afternoon massage – and this is where having an airbnb host who knows the area well comes in handy. Jamie told us to walk down the street till we came to a junction, then turn left if we wanted normal massages, and right if we wanted to see what a funny massage was like. He said it with a completely straight face.

We turned left.

Honestly, I feel like the basic standard of massage parlours in Bangkok are pretty decent, and so well priced too. It’s easily 200 BHT for a basic thai or foot massage, both of which I’m huge fans of, and about 3-400 for an oil massage. More if you add on extras like foot scrubs, aromatherapeutic oil, and so on. Many people hit speciality massage parlours like Healthland and my personal favourite, Yunomori Onsen, but if you’re not keen to dedicate time travelling out specifically to one of these speciality parlours, most of the regular ones found everywhere in Bangkok will keep you more than happy.

You usually can’t tell the regular and sleazy ones apart based purely on the shopfront, which is why it’s just good to know a local who knows these things. Ours was our airbnb host – but you know, make friends! Get to know more people. Say hi to a local. Keep in touch. Isn’t that what travel is all about anyway?

Late Afternoons in Thong Lor

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Catch the sunset from what I believe is the best place in Bangkok to do so – Octave, rooftop bar at the Mariott. It was, once again, recommended by Jamie, our airbnb host – and once again, a stellar recommendation. Octave is situated on the 49th floor of the illustrious Marriott Sukhumvit and spans three floors.

The best part? It has a happy hour deal that will make anyone not in Bangkok green with envy. From 5-7pm, drinks are one for one – and with that view? It’s a perfect excuse to settle down in a bar at 5pm and watch the sun slowly dip over the incredible Bangkok skyline. And isn’t that the perfect word to describe it? Incredible.

Drinks are extremely reasonably priced as well, with beers starting 170BHT and cocktails ranging in the 300s. My favourite was a cocktail called “Bloom Over the Roof” (320BHT) – vodka, elderflower, and mint. Yum. The entire evening’s shenanigans came up to less than 50SGD, and when the waitress brought us the bill, I had her repeat it several times.

“Am I not pronouncing it right?” / “No, I just like to hear the prices.”

Best. Evening. Ever.

Octave
49th Floor at Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit
2 Sukhumvit Soi 57
BTS Thong Lo

Nights in Thong Lor

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Dinnertime! Have I mentioned yet that one basically eats his/her way through Bangkok? This is why I recommend you diet a week or more before coming – because you’ll hate yourself otherwise for not trying all the amazing things Bangkok has to offer. Thong Lor’s street food basically refers to the street right outside Thong Lor BTS, and it’s quickly making a name for itself for housing a few of the best street food stalls in Bangkok. My other favourite is the line of street food stalls opposite the Big C Supermarket at Central World, but this one is good too.

The normal looking street starts unfolding for business at about 6pm, and most stalls run till quite late, but not really past midnight. Avoid going on a Monday, as less stalls are open – it’s a national street cleaning day or something. I have this theory that Thai food just tastes better on rickety foldable tables and chairs – don’t get all chi chi and stick to restaurants, some of the best food can be found on the streets!

Thong Lor’s street food stretch offers most of the basic options you get elsewhere – salted tilapia fish, tom yam, beef noodles, and so on – most of which are not bad, though not particularly mind-blowing. However, the Mango Sticky Rice is apparently the best Mango Sticky Rice (Khao neow mamuang) you can have in Bangkok, so I’d make a trip down just for that. It quite literally draws flocks of people, and I backed up Jamie’s recommendation with a quick google search, which turned up praises overflowing about this place.

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You’ll know which it is – just follow your nose and the hoards of people. Lex and I aren’t huge fans of Mango Sticky Rice, but even we had to admit that this was really good. It strikes just the right note between sweet and salty, and the mangoes are unreasonably fresh. Goes down so well with a cold beer, which you can get from any of the stalls in the vicinity.

Another dish we had in Thong Lor which impressed us – wonton mee! It’s so funny, because wonton mee isn’t a traditional thai dish, and you wouldn’t expect it to be particularly mind-blowing. But it was. The night we landed in Bangkok, it was roughly 2am by the time we’d deposited our bags, but we were starving so we ventured out to look for food. Most of the stalls were closed, but this one wonton mee stall at the end of the street was open, so we ordered it without much expectation.

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It was really, really good.

I don’t think I’m just saying it because we were hungry. It was legitimately good – we both took a bite of our respective servings and raised an eyebrow simultaneously. It was just the right amount of savoury and tangy without getting all soggy, and we were just very pleasantly surprised, because who knew, eh? Bangkok and wonton mee?

After the meal, you can opt to go for either another massage (foot, I recommend a foot massage after a meal), or take a slow, leisurely walk back to your apartment. Either way, you’ll be satisfied in the knowledge that you’ve spent a really great day exploring Bangkok’s newest hip area – and if nothing else, the bragging rights are more than enough for me.

If you’re keen on starting your day the way I started mine, check out the listing I stayed in at airbnb.com/jemma. I would stay in Thong Lor again in a heartbeat, and I loved every bit of this trip we made! What a great getaway – there’s a reason why we keep returning to Bangkok again, and again, and then again.

X
♥jem

#1919 | Wanderlust: Cinque Terre – Vernazza and Monterosso

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imagesCinque Terre, Italy.

Finally – my last post on Cinque Terre, the third and final one wrapping up the hot and colourful tourist trap that had us so besotted. Take a minute to read part one and two if you haven’t, but otherwise, here we go: Vernazza and Monterosso, Cinque Terre!

First up, Vernazza. Vernazza is the fourth town in the quintet along the Cinque Terre Train Line, and the only one with a natural harbour. Boats are tied to the sidewalk, bobbing along the water in a cheerful Venetian style, and the town melts straight into the sea. All of Cinque Terre’s towns thread the same theme – colourful, vibrant houses, bustling italian life, and a strange slash deliberate aversion to motorised vehicles, lending it a quaint sort of vibe. They all incorporate the sea in some way or other – it seems to me that Europeans, Italians in particular, are drawn to water. You’d think that these shared qualities make the towns indistinguishable from one another, but that’s not the case: I found myself liking Manarola the best, followed by our star of the day, Vernazza.

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The Italian way of life can really drive you crazy if you’re the Type A sort who needs everything in order and accordance to a plan. But even though I’m mildly compulsive-obsessive at the best of times, I found myself unwinding slowly in Italy, and learning to go with the flow. We alighted in Vernazza with a throng of tourists and pushed our way to the main road, where the human traffic eased a little. One thing you realise in Cinque Terre – you tend to just make your way from wherever you are to the water, and when you reach the sea you feel something click into place: here we are.

We naively planned our day in the way that would land us in Vernazza around lunchtime, thinking that we’d just scope the place and flounce into any restaurant that looked nice. Once there, I ran a check on foursquare (again) and found that the top restaurant in Vernazza then was a clifftop restaurant called Belforte, right by the water. Perfection! We walked in and requested a table. They stared at us, possibly holding in their laughter.

Turns out it was pre-booked a month in advance – you need reservations if you want to get in on the best of everything in Italy. The boyfriend and I exchanged a glance: we had no reservations, and we were leaving Cinque Terre… tomorrow. Some of it must have shown on our faces, because the laughing chefs told us to speak to the owner, a woman with folded arms and ferocious hair, stationed by the entrance of the restaurant.

“The restaurant opens at one for lunch,” she said as we approached her, probably assuming we had a reservation and like the annoying tourists we were, wanted to eat now.

“No, we don’t have a reservation.. but we heard this was the best place in Vernazza and we leave tomorrow and it’s our first time in Cinque Terre and..”

She walked away from us, evidently having heard enough of our wheedling. We shrugged: at least we tried.

“Anchovy basket?” I asked, thinking of the cheap fast food we’d seen on the streets of Riomaggore.

But before he could reply, the owner walked back out.

“In,” she said, “they’ll show you to a table. But you have to finish eating by one, when our restaurant opens. Si?”

Si.

Thus began our second most impressive meal in Cinque Terre, the first being Billy’s back in Manarola.

Have you ever had an entire restaurant cordoned off for your good self to dine in private? Neither have I. The chefs, still amused by the naive tourists who tried wandering in without a reservation, sauntered out to read us the menu and to show us basically what we would be eating… live.

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It felt like they’d decided to spontaneously accept us as one of them – the entire meal, they were jokey, casual, intimate, and I couldnt shake the feeling of fondness that emanated from them, smiling at two lovebirds dining alone, speechless at the entire situation. We couldnt understand much from them beyond the English-translated menu, but I felt connected to them. Does that make sense? No? That’s okay..

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Thanks to the amazing foursquare (I know it sounds like it, but I swear I’m not affiliated to foursquare, I just use it a lot lol), we had their recommended dish, the Lobster Risotto. I still dream about it till this day. Sometimes, when we’re just bored and doing nothing, I ask the boyfriend – Remember that Risotto we had in Vernazza? And we both sigh happily, content to let it occupy our minds.

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And the setting! If only we had natural rock formations you could carve restaurants out of back home, hanging over the sea to allow alfresco dining to the drifting sounds of waves crashing. I feel like behind every great meal is the careful curation of setting, the implicit understanding that a meal is very much an experience over just an exercise in swallowing. It’s a lot easier to get right in the romantic city of Cinque Terre, but still, Belforte had it hands down.

We ate leisurely enough and left at one as promised: it’s easy to finish your meal fast when you’re the only table the kitchen is cooking for. As we left, we located the owner again and started thanking her profusely, but she waved us away and smiled indulgently. Enjoy Italy, she shrugged, by now a familiar chorus to us. It seems that’s all the Italians wanted us to do: enjoy Italy. Generously.

Belforte
Via Guidoni, 42, Vernazza, Italy

After lunch, we floated around Vernazza for awhile longer, popping by the little stores and smiling at the newly arrived lunch crowds, sated. I think this will always be Vernazza to me: a lazy, beautiful town that winked at us when no one was looking.

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Wit that, we headed to Monterosso. Of the five towns, Monterosso is probably the least like Cinque Terre – I felt like we were playing a game of spot the odd one out. The colour clusters in Monterosso came mainly from its beach umbrellas: it’s a town dedicated to the beach, the entire thing running parallel to a giant stretch of umbrella-ed sand.

It was a hit with many of the tourists – you can tell by the sheer number of occupied beach umbrellas – but it wasn’t for me. It was too crowded, too obviously geared towards the commercial, and I’d come to Cinque Terre to see other things anyway. If I’d wanted the beach I’d have returned to Barcelona. Such is the contrary nature of man – to begrudge a place if it’s not tourist-friendly enough, yet to develop aversion to it if it too obviously is. Well.

We left after the hour was up – the train arrived to take us back to our favourite town, Manarola, and we spent the rest of the day splashing around in the natural rock pools, screaming in half-fear as children flung themselves off cliffs into the water. After that, you already know how it goes – unwinding with a glass of red, lying on our backs on the rocks trying to dry off, watching the sun make it’s slow orange descent. Waiting for the stars to reemerge, then making the slow jaunt back to the apartment.

Cinque Terre in my heart is second only to Ponza, but nevertheless I adored it in the way you know you must when stepping off the train onto the colourful streets. Would I go back? Probably – to the three favourites, Manarola, Vernazza, Riomaggore. It’s funny how a place I couldnt even pronounce properly etched itself so deeply into my heart, but it did.

So, to wrap things up. Is Cinque Terre, proudly declared tourist trap of the world, spirit animal of instagrammers everywhere, and bucket list destination worth all the hype?

Yes. Yes it is. Unapologetically so.

Thank you for being so beautiful, Cinque Terre. I look forward to my next strawberry daiquiri over your breakwaters one day, hopefully sooner than later x

X
♥jem

#1918| Mocha Mondays: Bangkok Special

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All photos taken on the Nikon Df on a 35mm lens.

imagesBangkok, Thailand.

Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

I don’t know why I’ve never seen Bangkok for what it is – a true cafe-lover’s scene. This trip I really set out to discover a different side of Bangkok, and I feel like most of it was made possible honestly with the conscious decision to stay out of the standard tourist areas like pratunam. You guys have already read my love letter re: the dream airbnb apartment, and it being smack in the middle of the up and coming trendy district Thong Lor situated us perfectly for cafe hopping!

So here we go – for today’s Mocha Monday feature – a list of the cafes we went to (the more memorable ones) to add to your own bangkok bucket list. Most of them are walking distance from our apartment, with the exception of the odd husky cafe that was pretty far out, but either way they’re all quite worth paying a visit to!

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imagesFull Stop Cafe, Bangkok.

We were walking from our apartment to J Avenue Thong Lor for dessert when we passed this cafe. It was already on my mind from the previous day’s perusal of foursquare recommendations and we barely exchanged a glance before deciding to slip in, out of the relentless Thai sun.

The cafe itself is a double storied Japanese style cafe, with cute-ish decorations and doodles all over the interior. Free wifi, too. We were the only people there that lazy afternoon, which was perfect because all we wanted to do was sip on an iced coffee and never leave the airconditioned safety of the cafe. The coffee itself was unremarkable, but the great location (it’s literally right by the main road, no confusing twists and turns for this one) made popping in a no-brainer.

Full Stop
64 Sukhumvit 55 (Thong Lo), Vadhana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

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imagesPacamara, Bangkok.

We started off one of our days at Pacamara, a short walk from our apartment in the Thong Lor district. Seriously, Thong Lor is the best. So many great hidden gems! Pacamara was situated within this eco-concept retail mall called Rain Hill, which sported water features and walls of creeping ivy. It was like walking into a spa, except .. it was a mall. Okay, never mind. Bad analogy. Either way, Pacamara was a deliberate decision – this was no accidental find – because I saw it on foursquare (seriously, if you haven’t, go read the top five free travel apps post) and it was rated as having the best coffee in bangkok.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s no coincidence. Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters originated in Bangkok and opened up cafes elsewhere in the Southeast Asian region, and most of you might have heard of the Singaporean version. Either way, both outlets serve great coffee, the Singaporean one having slightly less of a kick, if anything. Bangkok’s Pacamara served up an intense cuppa, which you could smell from all the way across the room. It was divine, it was incredible, it sure woke me right up.

The place is small, so don’t expect to sit there all day. If you wanna get work done, you can take a cue from the expats littering the area outside the cafe – there are tables, chairs, and powerpoints there. If you’re just in the area for good coffee, you’re in luck. Pacamara served the best coffee I had in Bangkok, hands down.

Pacamara Bangkok
777 Soi Sukhumvit 47 | 2nd floor, RainHill Retail Mall, sukhumvit47

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images24 Owls by Sometimes, Bangkok.

So punny! I love. We took a motorcycle taxi to 24 Owls on the recommendation of Jamie, our airbnb host. The minute he heard we liked cafes, he texted a bunch of his thai girl-friends and asked for their top five favourite cafes, then forwarded it to me. See what I mean about airbnb being amazing that way?

24 Owls is, obviously, a 24 hour cafe in Bangkok’s Ekkamai district. Thong Lor – Ekkamai is kind of one big trendy district, so I think it still counts as being relatively in our area. The entire place is designed to be instagrammable, as you can see, and who can resist a cafe that has the tagline Being human is exhausting, be an owl, really? We each had a cuppa (Lex had thai coffee, I had the safer iced latte and a lobster bisque), and while the food was serviceable, the place was just exuding chill vibes. We sat down and the next time we got up, it was two hours later…

24 Owls by Sometimes
39/9 Sol Ekkamai12 Sukhumvit 63 Rd
Klongtannuagh Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

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Insta-ception going a bit too far…

imagesAfter You Dessert Cafe, J Avenue, Bangkok.

After you is one of those places you just gotta hit if you’ve got a sweet tooth. I went to the one in Siam Paragon the last time I was in Bangkok and was sufficiently mind blown, but its central (read: touristy) location ensured that the queue stretched all the way into next week. This time, lex and I took the slow leisurely walk down Thong Lor’s main street to J Avenue, popping into random cafes and flower shops on the way. And what a great decision! This After You outlet was just the right amount of crowded (not deserted, you can actually sit down, but enough people around to reassure you – isn’t it super dodgy when you head to a ‘must-go’ location and its completely empty?). The desserts were, once again, mind-blowing.

It was Lex’s first time having After You and I swear she got teary. That shibuya honey toast with strawberries and ice cream? The marriage of sweet and savoury? The baby chocolate lava cake? It’s every girl’s guilty pleasure.

After You Dessert Cafe
J Avenue, Thonglor, Bangkok

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imagesTrue Love Cafe / Neverland Siberian Husky Cafe, Bangkok.

This one was pretty much the only cafe we couldnt walk to from our perfectly located apartment, but that’s only because it’s deliberately located out of the city centre to give the huskies enough space to run around. We made a phone booking the day before (hit and miss, because some of my friends just turned up and couldnt get in), and took a half an hour cab ride out to Neverland Siberian Husky Cafe.

I’ve always been a cat person, but from young I’ve wanted a husky, a big handsome dog I can hug. Unfortunately they’re mad expensive and the Singaporean weather can be quite unkind to them, so we never got one – but that doesn’t change the fact that I get unreasonably excited whenever I see a husky! Can you image me! In a husky cafe! It was wondrous.

The cafe goes both by True Love Cafe and Neverland Siberians, for the eating and husky aspect of the place respectively, but it’s no issue – you can get there by getting the address to either. The huskies have dedicated ‘play times’ and otherwise are kept in airconditioned areas. Just speak to any of the staff there – even though there’s a slight language barrier, the fact that they love their huskies so much transcends all that. It’s shining out of them. This was a great trip out of the city centre I think, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The food was actually decent, although we were expecting it to be really bad because c’mon, you’re not really going all the way there for the food, are you?

Overall, very enjoyable way to spend a morning. Definitely recommend!

True Love Cafe / Neverland Siberians
153 Soi Ari Samphan 2, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai,
Bangkok 10400, Thailand

So there you go, the top five cafes we hit while in Bangkok. I loved every single one for different reasons, and if you guys head to any, I would love to know how you felt about it! I don’t think we would have managed to visit so many cafes or have such a unique (read: not exclusively shopping) Bangkok experience if not for the fact that we deliberately stayed in Thong Lor – so yes, definitely, when planning your next Bangkok trip, look to stay in places you wouldn’t normally stay in and you’ll have so many more memories to take away. I hope I convinced you guys to list Thong Lor as your next Bangkok must-visit area, but if not, no worries – I’m penning a Thong Lor area guide as we speak. That’ll convince you.

Thank you so much Airbnb Singapore for having us – if any of you are interested in staying where I stayed, remember to read my completely breathless rave of our apartment (our dream apartment, really), and check out airbnb.com/jemma for all the airbnb listings I’ve stayed in before.

Till next time x

X
♥jem