Food You Must Try on a Trip to America

After travelling for three weeks in America this year if there’s one thing I learnt that sets that country apart is its food. American food is on a whole other level. On every corner there’s something delicious to try that it’s practically impossible not to put weight. I mean, some of the food is just unimaginable anywhere else. Take for example, the ‘pie shake‘. Literally a HUGE slice of  sweet pie (like cheesecake but bigger) which is then blended with 2 scoops ice cream and milk. Sounds tempting right? Regardless of its nutritional value, food is an essential part of the ‘American experience’.  Here’s a look at just some of the ‘typical’ American foods (and surprisingly, all vegetarian) I tried and would recommend tasting while visiting the U.S. I’m sure there’s many more though… what others would you add to the list?

  1. Bagels

img_4852.jpg

Mmm… the humble bagel. I put away a few while in America, there are just so many varieties to choose from! You can be a bit of a sell-out and grab one from Starbucks (I admit it, I did) but there are stores completely dedicated to the things like Noah’s New York Bagel (choc chip with peanut butter pictured above – delish). If you want to go for the ‘healthy’ option, you can also get them at Wholefoods.

2. Doughnuts

6176655568_IMG_3516

So with a boyfriend that has a penchant for anything sweet but who also doesn’t eat eggs, we were on the hunt for the best vegan doughnuts around. My favourite were some tasty ones from Doughnut Plant in New York (I got for the ‘cake’ over ‘yeast’ option any day) but I think he may have liked the selection from Voodoo Doughnut more and as the photo above shows, one, or two, weren’t even enough. We got our voodoo fix from the shop in Eugene but they are originally from Portland, where they are practically famous. We saw the queue as we passed through town and it was legit out the door.

3 & 4. Grits & Biscuit

img_4596-1.jpg

So this bowl of mush is actually a Southern speciality called grits, that I can only best describe as a porridge of maize. Fun fact – it is loved by many Americans but not me unfortunately. Recommended by a friend for brunch, this plate of ‘white’ foods also features an omelette and what’s called a biscuit, which is quite similar to what Australians or Brits know as scones. We got this at Brendas Meat and Three, which is quite a popular brunch spot in San Francisco but as you could probably tell by the name, not really intended for vegetarians.

5. New York Slice Pizza

img_3905.jpg

So you’ve done the rooftop bar thing in New York, downed a few cocktails while watching the sun go down over the Manhattan skyline… now what’s left to do? Grab your group of friends and find the closest pizza shop that’s what. But if you’re like me and your pals are made up of strict veggos plus the random lactose intolerant friend, do not despair. I can tell you a damn good vegan pizza place. It’s only a hole in the wall but speaking from personal experience, Screamer’s pizzeria is the stuff of dreams. And if you think your life just couldn’t get any better, it is right next door to the BEST vegan ice creamery, Van Leeuwen. It’s a match made in meat-free/dairy-free heaven.

6. Burgers

img_5138.jpg

Being vegetarian doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on eating a burger, like a true ‘merican. Though if I’m honest I don’t even really like burgers and only eat them on special occasions like if I’m hungover, but I did and it was delicious. The mouth-watering specimen above is straight from Haigh & Ashy’s VeganBurg that boasts to be the world’s first 100% plant-based burger joint. They also do some mean “chicken” tenders with ranch sauce.

7. Mexican

img_4579.jpgBurritos, enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas…. the list goes on. I held out to eat Mexican until I made it to to San Francisco because of its reputation for quality Mexican food and it didn’t disappoint. Actually, once I started it was hard to stop and all of a sudden it seem like everyday I was eating some form of Mexican food! If you’re ever in San Fran they say the best Mexican food can be found in the mission district. Just to compare, I also tried Taco Bell for the first time – fitting right in with the locals after a night out on the town.

Top 10 reasons to love Madrid

There are so many reasons to love Madrid and my most recent trip there for a long weekend reminded me why it’s such a great city to visit. I first went to Madrid in 2011 but it was two years later when I moved there to work in a bilingual school as an ‘Auxiliar de Conversación’, otherwise known as an English language assistant, where I really got to know the city. It was such an incredible experience that I wish I could have stayed for longer than six months. Madrid is such a liveable city and the lifestyle is one of the best I have ever experienced.

Have you ever been to Madrid? What are your favourite things to do? Would you move there? 

Here’s my top 10 reasons why I love Madrid and you should to!

IMG_5817
That door right there guys… my old flat!
  1. ‘Las Terrazas’

I don’t know about you but where I’m from people don’t generally sit out on terraces in the streets until after midnight on a weekday. But in Madrid, and many parts of Spain, it happens. Madrid is a very sociable city, especially in the summer. When it’s hot, most apartments are steamy AF (air conditioning isn’t so common) and the sun doesn’t go down until about 9.30pm. One of the best ways to escape the heat is to sit on a terrace in the shade sipping a cool drink while eating tapas with your amigos. This leads me to my next point…

  1. Cheap Food & Drinks

Two euros for una cerveza (a beer)? Si por favor! There is an abundance of typical Spanish food and drinks to try yet what is even more amazing is that it’s affordable, even in the country’s capital. The most popular drinks in Madrid would have to be: una clara con limón (a beer with lemon soda), tinto de verano (red wine with a sweetened soda called gaseosa) and cerveza (Mahou is Madrid’s local beer), although it looks like gin and tonic is also pretty popular right now. And why wouldn’t it be really – spirits are free poured here! Proper tapas are not complimentary like they are in Southern Spain but generally you’ll still get a small bowl of potato chips or nuts with a drink to nibble on and entice you to order a more substantial portion (una ración).

IMG_5001
Three vinos blancos in Plaza Mayor
  1. Weather

When I visited this August, many Madrileños had shut up shop to escape to the mountains because it can get VERY hot – 38 degrees once the sun is down – but give me Spanish weather over London’s any day! Sun is practically a guarantee. Take advantage of the long days and the balmy weather, it’s perfect to spend lazy afternoons and makes you understand why a siesta is actually a necessity. The weather just makes everything seem less rushed and relaxed. The one downfall is that being geographically in the centre of the country, it’s a little far to go to a beach. If really warm weather isn’t your thing, perhaps avoid August. If not, you can always make use of the public pools and a day trip to the mountains does see the temperature drop quite a bit.

IMG_5912
Too hot for more posing!
  1. Buen Retiro Park

Where’s the best place in Madrid for a run, relaxing walk, sunbake or picnic with friends? Definitely Retiro Park. It’s a beautiful escape in the centre of the city and locals spend a lot of time here. A walk around the park will reveal its secrets, like the stunning ‘Palacio de Cristal’, one of the most peaceful places in the whole of the city. For a romantic date, you can hire a rowing boat on the lake, a spot that also offers some of the most iconic photo opportunities in the city. Plus the added fact that you can buy ice cream or beer at little kiosks, making it the perfect place to just chill or people watch.

IMG_5545
‘El Palacio de Cristal’ – one of the most peaceful places in Madrid
IMG_5518
Romantic date alert here!
  1. Nightlife

When I think of Madrid at night one of the first things that comes to mind are the bars and clubs. I have spent many nights out in Madrid, where la fiesta does not stop until sunrise so don’t be surprised if you don’t even leave to go out until 2am! Madrid has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife, with different areas of the city having their own personality. For example, if you want chilled out vibes in the evening I’d suggest the multicultural area of Lavapiés for tapas, which also has some of the best Indian restaurants. La Latina is great for Sunday afternoon drinks while Malasaña is the place to be for a proper night out with an electric mix of old and new bars and discotecas.

  1. Location

The location of Madrid, deliberately chosen to be smack bang in the centre of the country, is unrivalled if you want to travel to other cities in Spain. In general, the transport system connecting Spanish cities is great and you can easily visit nearby towns or faraway cities via the coach system (ALSA) or by train (Renfe). Madrid’s main stations are Atocha and Pio Principe. Day trips are a must if you have time while in Madrid with the postcard perfect towns of Toledo and Segovia definitely worth a visit.

IMG_2516 (1)
Stunning Segovia
IMG_2288
Day trip to Toledo in 2013
  1. Accessible city  

Madrid may be the biggest city in Spain however compared to other capitals and cities in the world, it’s actually quite accessible. Spend a bit of time here and you’ll quite easily get to know it and familiarise yourself with very little hassle. The metro system is straightforward to understand and quite cheap too, linking all the main sites within walking distance from the stations. If you are staying in Madrid for a while, I’d recommend getting an ‘abono‘ or transport pass.

IMG_5858
The metro system in Madrid: easy and quite affordable
  1. Typical Spain

Madrid is the place to experience all the typical sites and sounds of Spain. Want to see a bullfight or watch a football game? It’s all in Madrid. There’s also a royal palace, great shopping, theatre shows, concerts and plenty of nice places to eat. And don’t forget the museums, which are a must, particularly those that make up Madrid’s “Art Triangle”: Museo del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and La Reina Sofia.

IMG_5013
The start of a bullfight in Madrid
IMG_2460
Watching a Real Madrid game
  1. Learn Spanish

My first experience of Spain was in Andalusia, having moved there to study in Granada, and after two years of studying Spanish I arrived and did not understand a thing! If you’ve ever heard the Andalusian accent, where they literally miss out letters in words and sound like they may have a lisp, you’ll understand why. The Madrid accent is much easier to understand, and if you ever decide to work as an auxiliar or an au pair, of which there are many in Madrid, you will hopefully get the opportunity to develop your Spanish skills with work colleagues and host family. Even just visiting the city it’s possible to pick up some words but you have to put the effort in!

IMG_3238 (1)
Teaching English playing games..
  1. Mix of the old with the new

Madrid is a charming mix of history and the present. Since I lived there four years ago, it appears that not much has changed besides some new restaurants and shops popping up. My Spanish friends assure me this is true and that it may reflect the fact that they also tell me that the economic situation is improving in Spain, which is great news.  Walk down the streets of Madrid and you will see typical family-owned bars that have been around for decades alongside new restaurants with modern decors. It is still no London or New York but would you want it to be? The tradition is the best part, although it’s always nice to have some modern options to try every now and then!

First World Problems Volunteering in Indonesia

 

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

“FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS”

This now everyday and overused saying never had so much significance until I went to Yogyakarta, Indonesia on a university summer program called DREaM (an abbreviation of Disaster, Research, Community Empowerment, and Microeconomics). The topic was ‘alternative education’ and alongside other students from over 30 different countries (all from Asia except for a handful of Australian and Dutch students) we went to the local university Universitas Gadja Madah, the oldest and largest state university in Indonesia, to sit in on lectures about different ways of learning before devised our own projects to apply in rural alternative education schools. We also had the opportunity to go on a number of cultural excursions to the amazing Borobudur and Prambanan temples before ending the internship by staying with a local family in their rural village for four days. The experience was one of the most memorable I have had so far while travelling.

Borobodur Temple Indonesia
Exploring the wonder of Borobudur Temple

Continue reading “First World Problems Volunteering in Indonesia”

Six Months in London

From freezing days and 3pm sunsets to now blue skies and 10pm daylight, a lot has changed over the last six months since I moved to London. Looking back at one of my earlier posts that marked the first month of living in Notting Hill, I realise so much has happened since then, not just with my travels but work (yes I do have a job!) and personal life as well. So I thought it was time to turn my reminiscing into words and put together a bit of a recap for you all.

TRAVEL LIFE

One of the biggest appeals of moving to London was the temptation and ease of travel compared to living in Sydney. Living on Europe’s doorstep and so close to Africa is something that I’ve definitely taken advantage of over the past six months. I’ve listed some of the destinations I have visited below, a few of which I have already written about and others that are still in the works. To be honest, time has gone so quickly and converting my travel journal notes and photos into enjoyable blog posts for you guys can be a bit of a juggling act! The closeness of destinations also means that I’m always thinking about a next trip or keeping an eye on free weekends and flight prices. My next adventure (leaving this weekend!) will be one of my biggest trips yet, taking me transatlantic for a two-week trip to the United States. Starting with a week in NYC and ending with a wedding on the West Coast, can’t wait to share it with you, stay tuned!

Places I have visited:

WORK LIFE

Besides what some people may think, I do work for a living! It just so happens that by a stroke of luck, this role has allowed me to go on two trips to Egypt to plan and host an international conference. While in London, I’ve been based in Mayfair (yes the Mayfair from Monopoly, just as flashy and corporate as you’d imagine) but also spent some time working from home in Notting Hill. I’ve delved into the world of start-ups and its community through friends and colleagues, and also been able to met other Londoners, locals and migrants, all on their own career path that involves facing the crazy peak hour commutes on the tube each day. London seems to be full of work opportunities but you also have to be savvy – and a bit lucky – to find the good ones. Generally, it does not pay as well as Australia either so you need to keep that in mind. Job roles are a lot more specialised here and having UK work experience under your belt really helps with career progression. One of the best things about working in London has been the friends I have made, who I would not have met otherwise working in Sydney. At my current job, our team is very international and in between working on issues related to Africa, my Portuguese colleague has also made sure we find time to search for the best Portuguese tarts in London!

FIT LIFE

One of the biggest challenges while living here has been trying to fill the void left by leaving my beloved fitness routine of F45 in the morning before work. Fitness classes can be pricey in London and finding something you like that fits your schedule and budget can be a little tricky. I have joined my local gym which I try to go to a few times a week (I do mainly pump and cycle classes) and I also play netball with an awesome mixed team on Tuesday evenings (I normally run or cycle to the games which is actually quicker than public transport!). While it’s always difficult to settle into a consistent routine, I did enjoy a trial week at F45 Tottenham Court Road and I’m planning to try Classpass with some of my friends who love it here to get back into it post America (and post all the bagels)!

Other than that, I’m enjoying the chance to try different things and found a new activity that is challenging, both physically and mentally, called bouldering. It’s basically rock climbing without a harness. I did it for the first time when visiting a friend in Norwich a few weeks ago and it was a lot of fun, not to mention your entire body gets a solid workout (you will feel it the next day!). It seems to be rapidly growing in the UK too so there are quite a few bouldering places or similar around London that I’m keen to check out.

FOOD LIFE

So still vegetarian and loving it but after spending much time during my first few months in London eating out and trying new restaurants, I’ve had to tame it back a bit after taking one too many bites out of my bank account! One of the best vegan/vegetarian spots I have discovered though has to be Bonnington Café. Located just a short walk from Vauxhall station, it’s a community café that has been around since the 80s and began as a venue for squatters. While the menu is simple, the homemade food is delicious and well-priced. It’s also BYO with no corkage charge.

Closer to home in Notting Hill, brunch is still one of my favourite things to do but every now and then I turn on the Masterchef mode and head to the Portobello Markets on Saturdays to buy some fresh produce from the local stalls and bread from Fabrique Bakery to create my own brunch. There are many cafés and restaurants in the area but having tried many of them, the best coffee I found is actually in a little café called Sweet Things just off Portobello Road. If you go during the week there’s normally an Australian girl there who manages the place and makes great coffee. The wifi is good with also power plugs on the tables, so I’ve spent a few days working there recently and rewarding myself with their carrot cake.

10 Things Not To Do at Glastonbury Festival

Like the other odd 200,000 revellers at Glastonbury 2017 I have got some serious glasto withdrawals, otherwise known as the #glastoblues. Being my second time at Glasto – the first when I was 19 and now 8 years later – I can honestly say that having the best time of my life was not a one hit wonder. I absolutely LOVE it. Going to Glastonbury is like going to another world where the rules, or lack thereof, are equalled with the individual spirit and love of life of everyone around you. It’s the music, it’s the people, it’s the abundance of food, it’s the colours, it’s the strange and the bizarre, it’s the hard yards of getting there and the grit of it all that truly makes the 6 days camping experience in a farm with no showers absolutely worth it and a one of a kind experience that, if you are lucky enough, you will get tickets to. So while I sit here reminiscing and dreaming of going in another 2 years time, I will leave you with my best tips of what NOT to do to prepare in advance, sharing the things I have learned that made my experience something I won’t forget.IMG_2825.JPG

  1. Do not get there too early. Gates opened at 8am on Wednesday morning and this year the heatwave was lethal for those who were keen to get there but unluckily were met with lengthy lines. It’s really the luck of the draw to get the best spot but taking a coach instead of driving seemed to be much quicker (by about 4 hours) to get in this time around.
  2. Do not get there too late – pitching a tent in the dark when there is hardly any space to even sit between some tents is really not ideal. If you are arriving later than you hoped see if you can find a friend to set your tent up for you. Make sure they also bring a recognisable flag to help guide you to your new ‘home’ over the coming days.IMG_2775img_2478.jpg
  3. Do not camp right near a stage. If you do camp too close to a stage you can expect to be in the midst of hordes of crowds. The final night after Ed Sheeran was absolute madness when everyone decided to head towards Jamie xx. THOUSANDS were literally inching their way around tents to get by, I saw many get either trodden on or collapse. Likewise, camping downhill near the toilets is also a bad idea for that matter… however this could be a consequence of arriving late and it being the only available space so be warned.
  4. Do not bring a million things. Stick to a packing list and check in with your friends so you don’t double up when it isn’t necessary. A lot of the food you think you will eat, you won’t. There is so much choice (plus vegetarian/vegan options!) that it would be just not be right to try it. Breakfast plus some snacks to accompany drinking at your campsite is really the only food needed.
  5. Do not bring just ‘normal clothes’ – costumes are the way to go and also way more fun. This year the group I was with coordinated to wear different costumes on different days and it made each day both memorable and hilarious.img_2546.jpgIMG_3324IMG_3140
  6. Do not leave your tent without toilet paper. You will need it, trust me. Although, there are usually people in line that will sympathise with you and give you a few squares. The hand sanitiser there will also surely run out so bring that too.
  7. Do not expect to sleep. Much. There is so much to do until the early hours that the stages could shut down completely, even in the late night spots of Arcadia and the Shangri La, and you may still find a sunrise rave with a boombox going on (true story).IMG_3296
  8. Do not just see the acts your group of friends want to see. Venture out and go in pairs or fly solo if need be. You do not want to miss seeing artist you like then risk hearing everyone rave about how it was the best performance of their career afterwards. You will have serious regret.
  9. Do not expect to get home afterwards in a hurry – around 3 hours is generally the norm to just exit the carpark if you don’t leave before sunrise on the last day. Also, make sure you actually know where you have parked your car. This can add a considerable amount of time to your journey and when you have to split up to search for it amongst the numerous paddocks while hungover and hungry, you will be wishing you had taken a photo of the surrounding signs (or anything) to help you…
  10. Do not think normal life will ever be the same. Going back to reality just doesn’t compare after a Glasto experience. Glasto blues is real and the music pounding in your head for days is too.Katy Perry setIMG_2852IMG_3338

That time I rode a camel at The Great Pyramids of Giza

Visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza is something I think must be on everyone’s bucket list. It was definitely on mine. So when I got the opportunity while working in Cairo to spend a day at pyramids I literally jumped at the chance. You may be surprised (like I was) to find out that the pyramids are so close to the city centre that in some locations you can actually sit down for a meal and see the vague shadow of a triangle in the far distance. It is quite amazing really. Getting there then isn’t far at all by car as my colleague and I were lucky enough to find out when we got a lift with some local friends we made on one of our first nights in Cairo.IMG_0994After a quick purchase of tickets you walk through a security check and it’s hard to contain your excitement when see the oldest standing seventh wonder of the ancient world right there in front of you. As soon as you get there you can practically jump on a camel and in a whirlwind hear the history of the pyramids rattled off from its handler, who like many of the workers there, had been in the same job for over 10 years. Needless to say he had done this mannnny times before and we were encouraged to take ALL the cheesy touristy photos.IMG_0922IMG_1014IMG_0939Following a long photo shoot spent on a pretty angry camel by the end of it we entered the tomb of the architect of the pyramids, which was a man named Hemiunu. We were told we were lucky to take photos there and that it was forbidden to put them on social media (I doubt this is true but I have a million other photos to share from that day). Nevertheless, I saw my first ever hieroglyphs before then being taken around to each of the three pyramids by horse and cart. This was definitely a perk of having Egyptian friends who could negotiate an actual “Egyptian price”, a term which you will hear COUNTLESS times in Egypt as if the Egyptian sellers truly think you will believe this as a tourist with blonde hair! Meanwhile we saw other non-Arabic speaking tourists (the few other tourists that were there) walking painfully in the heat. The downfall of this deal though was that we didn’t enter any of the pyramids with the guide dismissing it as the “tunnels being too narrow and dark to see anything” – something I wasn’t so impressed with but a reason to come back one day right?

IMG_0551IMG_0547IMG_0628

Another perk of being with Egyptians was that we got chauffeured to the nearby perfume and papyrus stores where we were shown the true scents of Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Chanel (yes before it goes to Paris guys!) before purchasing original papyrus prints – see definitely not a tourist trap… To cap off the day we returned at night to see a light show that was spectacular, not because it was anything fancy or super high tech as truthfully it was probably barely surviving in contrast to the tourist hot spot it once used to be. However, the mere fact that we were sitting front row (with probably only 10 others in the crowd max) while watching lights flicker across such an imagined place in the world is truly an experience. The pyramids may not be as ‘exotic’ you would expect through the imagined films from Hollywood but just sitting in front of such remarkable structures whose sheer size and magnificence took over 20 years to build that have lasted over 4000 years to this day is something I will not forget. Having stood the test of time, they really do achieve the vision of immortalising the Pharaohs forever.IMG_0634IMG_0661IMG_0677IMG_1167.jpg