My Top 5 Destinations for 2010

As another year ends, my journey and dream to travel the world continues. But I believe it is only fitting that I look back at the numerous, blessed trips that I was able to take this 2010. Among the old and new places that I have visited this past year, these are my top 5 favorites:

1. Lucerne/Luzern (German), Switzerland

When I was a little girl, I remember sitting on our living room sofa staring at my dad’s wall of travel trinkets (stickers, pins, flags, pictures, plates, etc). I clearly remember looking at one particular banner type of decor that said “Luzern” and seeing one plate with a picture of a wounded lion. This started my love affair with this particular place. Every so often I would look at these souvenirs and wondered where they came from. I even remember playing the game ‘name, place, animal, thing’ with my grade school classmates and getting into arguments because they didn’t believe that there was a place called “Luzern” (and I couldn’t tell them exactly where it was). I would get postcards from Lucerne and kept dreaming that someday I would be able to visit this enchanting city.

And true enough, as I stepped off the train when we got to Lucerne I felt like all my wishes were coming true. I avoid making bucket lists for one particular reason –I get obsessed with having to complete them. But going to Lucerne has always been one of my greatest dreams. I felt silly getting teary eyed when I finally got a chance to walk across the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) and when I finally saw the Lion Monument. But just this once, I let the little girl inside me savor each moment that I had in that wonderful city.

Lion of Lucerne

Lucerne Chapel Bridge Kapellbrücke

Lucerne Chapel Bridge and Water Tower

Reasons to go back: Beautiful landscapes, Charming city, The Swiss Alps, Saturday markets, Chocolates, Shopping

2. Paris, France

Paris, Je T’Aime! Paris is love, love, love. I love the Parisian lifestyle, I love the glitter, I love the quaintness of it all. Being in Paris is a whole new experience in itself. You will never run out of things to do, places to see & shops to conquer. This is one city that I will keep coming back to. Je t’aimerai toujours.

Paris Eiffel Tower La Tour Eiffel

Paris View at night

Reasons to go back: Beautiful city, Fabulous food, Great wine, Experience

3. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

The Bernese Oberland is a magical area in Switzerland. This area comprises of different destinations including Lauterbrunnen which was our base for a number of days. Lauterbrunnen is a small valley with waterfalls and majestic views. We wanted to go up the Alps, specifically  the Jungfrou, so I chose this place since it was somewhat a transportation hub. I didn’t expect that my husband would end up wanting to visit all the surrounding areas, so staying here was really a plus.

Bernese Oberland Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

The Top of Europe Jungfraujoch

Lauterbrunnen

Reasons to go back: You will never really run out of places (specifically mountains and alps) to go to, Weather, Cheese

4. Seam Reap/Angkor, Cambodia

Seam Reap is actually just the gateway to Angkor, where the beautiful and unique ruins of the Khmer Empire lie. Cambodia has always been known for Angkor Wat but unless you’ve actually been there you won’t expect the Angkor area to be that huge and how Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples that you can visit. My personal favorites are Angkor Wat, Bayon and Banteay Srei. Another popular temple is Ta Prohm where “Tomb Raider tree” can be found. But I wouldn’t go back to Kbal Spean – EVER. Another thing that I enjoyed was eating Khmer food – one of the best and least expensive I ever had! I would keep coming back to Cambodia even if only for their food.

Angkor Wat Cambodia

Restaurant in Cambodia

Reason to go back: FOOD!

5. Gold Coast, Australia

Australia is the land of koalas, kangaroos, fish & chips and surfing! Gold Coast has always been my favorite Australian city and is always a highlight of my year when I get to visit. I love walking around Surfer’s Paradise, just relaxing and taking it slow. For the adventurous bunch, there is always surfing and of course the numerous theme parks Gold Coast is known for. I like that whether I’m on my own or with my family or with my spouse, there will always be something for me to do.

Surfers Paradise

Surfing Lessons in Surfers Paradise

Reasons to go back: Relaxation, Theme parks/activities, Weather

Happy New Year everyone and happy travels in 2011! 🙂

Advertisements

Shanghai Highs (2010)

Part of the thrill of traveling is discovering new places, food and meeting new people – along with getting lost, frustrated and annoyed. I can honestly say that Shanghai will never be one of my favorite cities to visit but it’s culture and heritage inspire me to want to explore other parts of China. Our visit to Shanghai will definitely be memorable because of the following:

1. Yun’s Paradise Waltz Boutique Hotel93 Caobao Road, Xuhui, Shanghai, China

We booked this hotel because of it’s proximity to the Shanghai Everbright Convention & Exhibition Center. We weren’t disappointed because it was located right in front of the Convention Center. For Chinese standards, this hotel was a bit expensive (around 104 usd/night) but it exceeded our expectations. Among all the hotel rooms we’ve stayed at, our top 2 favorites were Coal Harbor’s Westin (Vancouver, Canada) and Tagaytay Country Suites (Tagaytay, Philippines). Yun’s Paradise is now part of our top 3. The rooms were very clean (probably due to the fact that they only opened this year), the bed/comforter/pillows were cozy (king coil beds!) and the bathroom wasn’t cramped into one small space. It was the type of room where you can sleep in all day.

It’s location wasn’t as close as we wanted to the main areas of attraction but it was only a 10 minute walk (3 blocks) from the subway – Caobao Road Station. A bit of trivia: 3 years ago the Shanghai subway only had 3 lines and because of the world expo their subway now has 13 lines + 1 maglev line. By 2020 the Shanghai metro will surpass Japan’s railway system.

The only thing that I didn’t like about this hotel was their slow lifts. Since the hotel is very new, I expected them to be faster and more efficient. Also, like in most places in Shanghai the staff couldn’t understand english (only a few could). But all in all, this was a very good find.

2. Ichido

On our way to the metro from our hotel we found Ichido, a small pastry shop. They sold scrumptious breads and cakes that weren’t too expensive. One thing we noticed about Shanghai was they have well made pastries. It’s not everyday that you find a place where you can just get great pastries anywhere.

3. Lemon Yakult Drink

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the place where I got this. But it was around the Tianzifang area. It may sound weird but it was really good! The sourness of the lemon mixed very well with the yakult flavor. I wonder if I can make one on my own?

4. Spicy WontonDin Tai Fung

I live for Xiao Long Bao. I really do. But for lunch we decided to also try Din Tai Fung’s spicy wonton. For those who live in Manila, you can find good spicy wonton at Miensan Noodle House (New Manila). But the ones from Din Tai Fung had the perfect mix of chili and the sweetness of their soy sauce. It was by far the best spicy wonton I’ve ever tasted.

5. Ice Cream from the World Expo site

They have excellent ice cream and variety at the World Expo – from popsicles, soft served ice cream to packed ice cream on cones and a lot more. There are stalls/carts all over the place but once they run out (they run out towards the end of the day), they have a store at the basement 1 level of the Expo Axis near the China pavillion. The most expensive ones only costs 4 rmb (around 28 pesos).

6. Xintiandi Area

A great place to get a bite to eat and shop! This is where Din Tai Fung is located and many more great restaurants. The area is composed of restored ‘stone gate” houses along narrow alleys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xintiandi) and these houses have been converted into these shops.

7. Tianzifang AreaTaikang Road/Taikang Lu

As mentioned in my post before leaving for Shanghai, my friend described this area as “old houses transformed into an arts area with cafes and restaurants”. True enough this area was beautiful and so alive. The old houses were converted to restaurants and little boutiques that sell various items from souvenirs to paintings to clothes and jewelry, etc. Some stores were on the second floor but from the first floor you’ll be able to see that most of the houses on the 2nd level were still lived in. We went with our friend and had late lunch at Kommune (http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/listings/dining/cafes/has/kommune/). They are famous for their wraps. I had a veggie sandwich that was delicious and my husband had their lamb wrap which was one of their best sellers.  Their smoothies were pretty good but sort of warm. It was a pretty hot day when we went and a bit crowded so that was a bit disappointing. Other than that, I would really recommend that you visit Kommune and Tianzifang.

8. The Pearl Tower

I should have learned a long time ago that I shouldn’t judge places by what people say about them. When I went to Paris, I wasn’t too excited because people told me that it was overrated but as soon as I stepped foot in the city of love, I really fell deeply in love. Even though I didn’t fall for Shanghai, I fell in love with the Pearl Tower. The buildings around the financial/business area surrounding the Pearl Tower were beautiful and properly spaced out. So this structure pretty much stood out. It looked like a pretty cool spaceship to me. Now I know why Shanghai is know for that.

9. Shanghai World Financial Center

I will discuss the SWFC in another post since this was pretty spectacular yet a bit of an odd experience. It’s not everyday that you get to stand in the world’s highest observation deck 🙂

Australia Highs (2010)

My family and I spent 2 weeks in Australia early this month. It was pretty tiring but still amazing since I was able to spend time with my son 🙂 In addition to that I discovered a couple of things that totally made the trip worthwhile…

Favorite Hotel/Apartment

Towers of Chevron Renaissance, Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I was pretty set on choosing a beachfront apartment but luckily I was vetoed by my husband and sisters in law. We loved this place! It was close to everything and the our apartment had a spectacular view of the river and docks. http://www.chevronrenaissance.com.au/ — a reminder: check out time in Australia is at 10 am not 12 noon).

Best Dish/Food/Meal

Ribs from Hurricane’s Grill, Darling Harbour, Sydney (http://www.hurricanesgrill.com.au/about-hurricanes/hurricanes-darling-harbour;  Big, TASTY ribs and chips/fries…need I say more? But I need to share my worst/least favorite dish from Sydney – Meat Pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au. A lot of people will disagree for sure since this is a staple dish but I cannot stress this enough —- I HATE MASHED PEAS!!!!! I actually wanted to throw up right after my first bite but this is just my personal opinion. We were 8 in our group and I was the only one who didn’t appreciate mashed peas).

Favorite Dessert

Deep Fried Mars Bars from Bondi Beach, Sydney (Heaven help me if we had this here in Manila. THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST DESSERTS EVER. http://www.bondisurfseafood.com.au/mars/mars_fr.htm)

Deep-fried Mars Bar Picture from http://grabyourfork.blogspot.com/2009/11/food-bloggers-birthday-and-mountain-of.html


Favorite Snack

Tim Tam Chewy Caramel (I love all Tim Tam snacks but this is my favorite! http://www.arnotts.com.au/our-products/products/arnotts-tim-tam.aspx)

Best Non-alcoholic Drink

Guylian Shake – Prailine and vanilla shake with guylian chocolate syrup from Sydney’s Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe (I’m addicted to sweets and milkshakes. I’ve tried numerous shakes all over and this tops my list – nothing comes close! http://www.guyliancafe.com.au/)

Best Alcoholic Drink

Jack Daniel’s Cola from Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I’m a Jack Daniel’s girl. I don’t drink beer but can have Jack Daniel’s for breakfast. So while we were shopping for drinks – my husband always tries different beers from different countries/cities – I found bottles of Jack Daniels Cola. MIXED! SOOOOOOO GOOD!!!!!! Expensive (around 17 aud for 4 bottles) but REALLY GOOD. On that note, I also found Johnny Walker Red Label Cola which sucked and Jim Beam Cola which was surprisingly good as well. One of my favorite discoveries = Jack Cola + Tim Tam Chewy Caramel!!! YUM!!!!)

Favorite Park/Zoo

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast (Staying true to it’s slogan you really “get closer” to the animals 😛  http://www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au/ )

Favorite Tourist Spot

Sydney Opera House, Sydney (I always remember being a kid and seeing the Opera House for the first time. This was my 3rd time in Australia and my 3rd time to visit this and it always feels like the first time. As an added bonus we were also able to experience vivid sydney – http://vividsydney.com)

Favorite City

Gold Coast (I’m a bit biased but I’m really in love with Gold Coast – specifically Surfer’s Paradise. If I could I would live there!)

Favorite Australian Animal

Koalas (Most people would probably say the same too, I know my husband would – he’s obsessed with Koalas. My son on the other hand adores kangaroos. Even though he’s smaller than them he would go near them and try to pet them and play with them. Totally scary from a mother’s point of view but I’m sure it was fun for him.)

Australia will always be one of my favorite countries to visit. The cities we visited, I have been to 2x before so hopefully the next time around we get to see more of this beautiful country 🙂