Southern France – itinerary

WHEN – We left Singapore on the last week of June as we wanted to enjoy the summer vibes without jostling with the crowd. The days were really long by then! The sun sets are 9pm and we got back around 10pm every night, which worked well for us. We were really glad we decided on the French Riviera and Provence over the Almafi Coast because it was not as inundated with tourists.

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HOW WE GOT THERE – We flew in via Milan as it is the nearest airport to the French Riviera which is served by SQ – 4 hours drive away. We rented our car from Hertz which was located at the basement of Milano Airport. Hertz was reasonably priced but the wait was quite a bitch… we waited for close to an hour despite getting there before their opening at 7:30am. Charles said he read on some websites that the wait can be as long as 2-3 hours!

Day 1 – Menton

Our first stop was Menton and as usual, we knocked out the moment we got to our airbnb. No sleep during our 13 hours plane ride + 1.5 hours wait for our car at the airport + 4 hours car ride. I was totally disorientated from the jetlag, even after some rest. Since we had no time to waste, we got our lazy bones out of the apt, went around the little town and loved how serene it was!

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Day 2 – Monaco & Eze Village

We make it a point to try a Michelin star meal whenever we travel and we chose to go to Mirazur in Menton. We made a booking for lunch so we headed to Monaco in the morning. It was my second time in Monaco but I felt like a small little kid for the first time in Disneyland!!!

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We headed back to Mirazur Restaurant and had a 3.5 hour lunch consisting of 14 courses.

We ate till our stomachs were bursting and went back on to road to Eze, a mountain top village which dates back to the middle age. Eze is located between Nice and Monaco, and surprisingly, it was really quiet when we got there in the evening.

Day 3 – Nice & Cannes

We left Menton and drove towards Nice, arriving there in time for lunch. While looking for parking in the city, we saw a McDonalds and couldn’t resist checking out the Blue Cheese Burger on the menu. It wasn’t too bad… taste wasn’t very strong. We took a stroll at the beach for a bit before retreating back to the car to escape from the heat!

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On the way from Nice to Cannes, we drove past the Nice Airport and it got to be the airport with the most number of private jets parked there!!! It was one of those days when the heat really got to us so we didn’t do much other than just walked around Cannes, had dinner and continue our drive to our next Airbnb.

Day 4 – Gorges Du Verdon

We took a drive into the countryside to Gorges Du Verdon, a river canyon that is often thought of as Europe’s answer to the Grand Canyon in US. It is about 25 kilometres long and bustling with kayakers in summer. The colour of the water has a vibrant green hue, which made us feel like jumping in but too bad we didn’t bring our swim suits.

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Day 5 – St Tropez

We spent most of our day in Cap 21, a beach club located in the famous Pampelonne beach. We chose to go to Cap 21 instead of the other more “happening” clubs because we wanted some peace and quiet time. What was really interesting is how they have shuttle service to boats. Literally, there are people arriving on yachts! As the yachts can’t come too close to shore (due to depth requirements), there was shuttle service to bring the customers to the beach club. Talk about arriving in style!

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To be fair, the waters in Nice looked much nicer than Pampelonne beach. There was, however, a strange smell in Nice which made us glad we chose to spend our day at the beach here instead.

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The experience didn’t come cheap but thoroughly worth it! We spent around EUR150 for 2 cocktail, 1 beer, a serving of mussels and bread, two beach towels and rental of the beach seats (price differ for beach seats with umbrella or without, we chose with umbrella, of course). The mussels was really gooddd!

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There wasn’t a limit on how long you could occupy the beach seats so you could stay that as long as you wanted. We had a heavy breakfast before arriving there around 11am so we didn’t had much to eat. We didn’t make a booking but I highly recommend you should, especially if you come in the peak of summer and if you arrive later than 11am.

We left around 4pm and drove towards Marseille. We caught the sunset at Cap Canaille before heading to our airbnb in Marseille for the night.

Day 6 – Marseilles

Marseille was the only major city and it largely reminded us of Paris. The roads were challenging as there are inner lanes and outer lanes going in the same direction. We went to the Notre Dame and the Mucem to, but first, we filled our stomachs at La Passarelle (an outdoor garden restaurant with mediterranean food). Traffic in Marseilles was bad and we took almost an hour to get to the city including looking for a parking lot which was like winning a lucky draw.

Notre Dame in Marseille is located on top of a hill. Somehow Charles convinced me that there was no parking at Notre Dame and we took a 20 minutes uphill walk up in the heat. I almost died when I saw empty parking lots right within the premise of Notre Dame when we got there!

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We continued to Mucem which left us in awe of the architecture. There was a really chill area on the top which had a bar and we sat down there for a drink.

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We stopped by a Zara shop and obviously I got lost in the summer sale and the day ended just like that! We stopped by for dinner before calling it a night.

Day 7 – Provence

We really liked our airbnb so we only left around noon to head to the countryside. According to Google Map, it should have taken us two hours to get to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, but somehow it took us almost four hours to get there including a 20 minutes coffee break along the way. When we got to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque around 4pm, there were hordes of tourist crowding around. We left for our hotel as it was 30 minutes away and we were planning on heading back after dinner.

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After we check-in to Chateau de Mazan, we went out to look for dinner and grabbed a kebab to eat while we head back to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. Surprisingly, when we got there around 8pm, there weren’t that many people there. The sky was still bright, the air was getting cooler and we watched the sky go down on the most iconic view in Provence.

Day 8 – Provence

This was the day we drove 10 hours through Provence! Thankfully, Charles is used to such long hours on the road (ok, more like in the air) because I definitely couldn’t have done it without him! We took some pictures before our check-out at noon, had lunch and made our way toward Antibes.

Again, we got fooled by Google Map. The journey was supposed to be 4 hours and 30 minutes but it became twice of that. Given that we made multiple pit-stops along the way to take pictures of the lavenders and sunflowers, I reckon it should have added another 2 hours to the total time at most!

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We realise that the timing used for Google Map was around 80km/h… whereas in reality, because of the countless bends at every corner during most of the ride, we could only go at 40-60km/h.

Day 9 – En route to Milan

It was our last day at the French Riviera and I really wanted to pop by Nice and Monaco on the way back… and so we did! From Monaco, we took the highway all the way back to Milan which took us around 4 hours 30 minutes (yes, Google Map was accurate this time). We left around 4pm and had dinner in Milan close to 9pm. Totally reminded me of our trip to Milan just 7 months ago when I tagged along during one of Charles work trip.

Day 10 – Depart Milan

We chose a hotel really near the airport because we didn’t want to rush in the morning. The flight was at 1pm and we returned the car two hours later than the time we took it. Hertz did inform us when we took the keys that we would have to to pay for an extra day so that was expected. The airport was a lot more crowded this time compared to December because of the summer holidaymakers. And it sums up our unforgettable summer vacation!

 

7 days Italy itinerary

If there’s only one country I can spend two whole weeks in Europe, it has to be Italy. So I am putting together Part I of my two weeks itinerary…

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3 things you should know before heading to Italy

  1. Be very careful about your valuables. The pickpockets are very skilful and I was a victim once in Rome. You don’t want this to spoil your holiday!
  2. I recommend taking train instead of driving for this itinerary because there is really no need for a car in cities listed here. It will also be difficult to drive in Cinque Terre. You should check for train schedules here
  3. Shoppers, this point is for you – Set your mind on getting specific items to buy so you don’t go wild at the factory outlets!

 

DAY 1 – Arrive in Milan

Of the three main cities in Italy, Milan is my least favourite but an essential pitstop because a trip to the Milan Cathedral is necessary and this is where I would choose to use as a base to go to Venice. It is also the fashion capital of the world, so definitely worth checking out the shopping there! Here’s some pictures from my last trip in Dec 2016.

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I chose this beautiful airbnb because it is so gorgeous and the location is great. Within 20 minutes, you can reach Piazza del Duomo, where the Milan Cathedral is. The area behind it is where you can go wild shopping!

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Photo credits: airbnb

 

DAY 2 – Take a day trip to Venice

Venice, alongside Paris and Florence for me, is one of the most romantic places in Western Europe. A train ride to Venice takes around 2.5 hours (one way) from Milano Central Station. I recommend getting your tickets early so that your seats are guaranteed. Venice is sinking at a rate of 1-2mm per year and when I was there, the place was flooded.

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OPTIONAL – If you have an extra day in Milan and the weather is good, I would suggest you take a day trip to Lake Como. It’s much nearer compared to Venice and I would avoid winter period though we did go during winter. Visibility is not that great as you can see below.

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DAY 3 – Depart Milan for Genoa

I chose to use Genoa as a base to visit Cinque Terre instead of taking a day trip from Milan as I wanted to spend more time in Cinque Terre. Genoa is 1.5 hours away from Cinque Terre whereas Milan is 3 hours away. After two days with the herds of tourist in Milan and Venice, I was happy to escape to Genoa. Genoa is a port city and as it is not usually on travelers radar, you naturally don’t see that much tourist.

I stayed in this airbnb which kind of reminds me of the previous airbnb in Rome. I had a bit of difficulty locating this airbnb so just a heads-up. Once the host found us, it was a breeze.

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Photo credits: airbnb

Take a short day trip to Portofino if you have the time. Portofino is about an hour away (one-way) from Genoa by train. It is a small fishermen village, appreciated by the artists, always attended by celebrities from the world of entertainment, culture and finance.

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DAY 4 – Take a day trip to Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre used to be off the beaten path but has fast gained popularity over the last few years. I went there in October 4 years ago and was glad that the place was not inundated with tourists then. There are 5 towns in Cinque Terre and each of them has a train station.

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I hiked from Vernazza to Corniglia and it was beeauuutiful!!!

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DAY 5 – Depart Genoa for Florence / Pitstop in Pisa

If you have set your mind on taking pictures with the leaning tower of Pisa, I would recommend a pitstop on the way from Genoa to Florence. There is really nothing to do in Pisa except photographing yourself with the tower so I think an hour in Pisa is sufficient. Place your luggage in the locker or lug it around with you. Everyone is a tourist here anyways. From the train station, I recommend you can take a bus to the Leaning Tower then take a slow walk back to the station. There are some shops along the way so you can check them out.

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Start your day early and you will have the rest of your afternoon in Florence. The good thing about Florence is every thing is within 20 minutes walking distance so wear a pair of comfortable shoes. If you get lazy, just hop onto a bus. I recommend doing the following in this order starting around 2-3 hours before sunset: Florence Cathedral (shown below), Florence Baptistery (just next to Florence Cathedral), and Ponte Vecchio (the iconic bridge). From here, talk a stroll up to Piazzale Michelangelo to witness a gorgeous sunset. More pictures here

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We stayed in this airbnb last December which is one stop away from the the main station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella. The first two times I was there, I stayed nearer to the Duomo. Frankly speaking, I didn’t feel much difference in terms of walking distance as Florence is just too small! Just a word of advise – if you live nearer to the Duomo, you would probably have to drag your luggage along the cobblestone path from the main station. Quite painful with your heavy luggage and especially if it is crowded. At least we got proper pavements and this apt is around 300m away from the train station.

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Day 6 – Outlet Shopping!

Enough said. I have been to both the Space and to The Mall (which also has a Prada outlet) and think both are awesome. If you are focus on getting Prada and Miu Miu items, the Space outlet should satisfy you. However, if you are looking to get other brands as well, head to The Mall. Transport information to The Mall is here and to Space is slightly more complicated. First, you have to take a 30 mins train ride to Montevarchi-Terranuova station. When you are there, hop on to a taxi by paying 3 Euros to share the cab with others. It is 5-10 minutes ride. If you have a party of 4, pay 12 Euros and you have the whole taxi to yourself.

 

DAY 7 – Depart Florence for Rome

If you are a big Ferragamo fan, I did check out the Ferragamo Museum 😀 And you might think you like to squeeze it in. But the truth is, there wasn’t really much to see unless you are a huge Ferragamo history buff. I would skip this unless you have been to Florence for the third time and just want to check out something new.

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There was this really huge nice toilet and a giant bottle of perfume… I just couldn’t resist not taking a picture! I have a thing for big, clean, nice smelling toilets and this toilet just nailed it.

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So if you are planning to give this a miss, you are on to Rome! Till the next post 🙂

xxx

Hong Kong in 48 hours

It was one of those weekends that Charles would be in Hong Kong for work and I was able to step away from work 🙂

0 – 24 hours

First order of business – Ichiran Ramen. Not as awesome as the ones we had in Japan but hey who’s complaining? I felt that the texture of the noodles, the broth and the cha siew was not on par with the ramen served in Tokyo but it was a close match given all that none of the ramen in Singapore comes close. We went around 9am to the branch at Causeway Bay and there was no queue at all.

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Our next meal at the one Michelin starred restaurant, Kam’s Goose. We have not tried the branch in Singapore so I can’t give my verdict on that. We ordered 1/4 goose leg (so good!), a roast pork rice (yummy!), some signature noodles (skip this please!) and the bill came up to about S$60. Despite hoping to beat the crowd when we went at 3:30pm, we still had to queue for 40 minutes! Worth the wait, especially if you are a goose lover. Best to go there in a group so you won’t end up feeling like a sinner who ate too much goose fats like we did! I am not a goose eater so when I saw the amount of fats on the goose I almost choked, but it was really good. We also noticed quite a number of tables ordering the soup so that’s next up on our list in future.

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After our hearty lunch, we went up to Nam Long Shan for a walk to burn those calories. We meant to go to Dragon’s Back but the weather forecast was rainy so we decided to go for a “shorter hike”. We took a taxi all the way up to the stairs that led us up to the top. After what seems like 300 steps, we were rewarded with the bird eyes’ view of Aberdeen. As Ocean Park was right next door, we could hear the screaming from the heart-throbbing rides. 

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We walked our way down and took a bus to Central for my much anticipated Kau Kee Beef Noodles. Charles didn’t quite fancy the beef noodles here but I absolutely love it! I love their version of curry beef noodles. I love the texture of the beef noodles – just chewy enough for me! And I love how I don’t have to spend more than 10 bucks to get a bowl full of generous beef (tendon) serving. If there is one place I make a point to go on every visit to HK, this is the place! Just take my advise to close a blind eye to the attitude of the owner and servers here.

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The night ended with drinks with a close friend at the rooftop bar of Park Lane Hotel where the crew stayed. This place opened in Sep 2016 – good music, great view and nice crowd. This was a view taken during the day. We had really bad weather this trip as you can see from below picture.

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24 – 48 hours

The first 12 hours was spent catching up on sleep as Charles recover from jet lag and I… had a long week at work! As it was raining, we went to a nearby wanton noodles stall recommended by one of Charles’s colleague and had a simple lunch.

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We checked out Times Square and La Foret (like Far East Plaza type of shopping),  before returning back to Sogo to get the famous wife biscuits for our relatives. I seriously don’t get the hype about the wife biscuits but did it anyways. We also dropped by the 24 hours supermarket a stone throw from our hotel to buy some wine. Wine in Hong Kong is quite cheap so please maximise your wine limit if can!

Soon it was dinner time and we walked to Fu Xing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant for “the best roast meat in Hong Kong”. We meant to go there for dim sum but since we couldn’t wake up early / made reservations, and my stomach was growling by the time we got up, we gave this place a miss in the afternoon. We were a little skeptical at first but when the char siew came, it was so good. It reminded me of the roast meat we ate at a restaurant in Singapore called Char, but probably better. Their beef cooked with garlic was also top notch. 

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Dinner was came up to $90 for the two of us and we thought that was pretty expensive. To be fair, Fu Xing is meant to be a dim sum place and not dinner place so it was our bad choosing it for dinner.

We called it an early night as we had an early flight to catch on the next day. Our tummies definitely suffered the most over the weekend and it was back to work on Monday!

xxx

P.S. If you are there longer than a weekend, you can check out these places too!

NYC – Le Bernardin

Charles and I picked La Bernardin as the restaurant to splurge on while we were in NYC last April. The restaurant is famous for being one of the best destination for seafood lovers in New York and I couldn’t say no to that! La Bernardin is awarded three-star michelin and is number 24 on the World’s Top 50 Restaurant.

We decided to go for their 3 course lunch set and arrived around noon. Service was impeccable and delicious has to be an understatement for this coveted restaurant. To give you an idea on what a set lunch at La Bernardin looks like…

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So that was the complimentary appetizer (lobster), the first course (umi sashimi), second course (cod fish) and third course (mango sorbet). The damage is US$89++ per pax. We loved every aspect of the meal and agreed that this had to be the best meal we have ever had in our lives! Worth every penny we spent. After the amazing lunch, we walked over to the Museum of Modern Art which was pretty nearby and suffered from food coma while we were there. Hahaha.

Remember to book your table early if you like to go. We emailed them instead of going through their booking system (opentable) around 3 weeks before the actual weekday. Highly recommend!

DINING HOURS
Lunch:    Monday – Friday, 12 pm – 2:30 pm
Dinner:    Monday – Thursday, 5:15 pm – 10:30 pm
Friday – Saturday, 5:15 pm – 11 pm

Le Bernardin is closed on Sundays.

Address: 155 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019, USA

Phone: +1 212-554-1515

Christchurch – 4 day itinerary

Charles got scheduled to fly back on a Monday morning and since I could afford to take two days off work the week before, we booked my ticket on Wednesday and flew off on Thursday! We took the 7:50pm flight from SG and arrive around 10am in Christchurch. 

Day 1

First order of business, we got our SIM card from Spark NZ at the airport. There’s Vodafone as well but we wanted a data only plan and it made more sense to get it from Spark NZ since it was cheaper. We called Omega Car Rentals to pick us up from the airport and set off to Countdown (Supermarket) to stock up on water. We hit the road down to Farlie where we checked in to our first airbnb. If you read my other posts, you would realise by now then we are some die-hard airbnb fans. 

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We knocked out for two hours nap before heading out in the evening to Lake Tekapo. We went around the famous Church of the Good Shepherd but it was way too crowded for our liking. Sneaked in a picture with no tourist and left it for dinner!

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 We had dinner at Reflections Cafe which offered an excellent view of Lake Tekapo. There’s a stretch of restaurants along the area if Reflection Cafe is not your kinda thing, so don’t worry about not having options. My pasta was so-so and Charles’s steak was not too bad.

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After eating, we walked towards Lake Tekapo, and sat there and watched the sun went down. (This is on the other side of the lake from Church of the Good Shepherd and there were hardly any one around the spot.)

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DRIVE
Airport to Lake Tekapo area - 2h 44mins

Day 2

We had breakfast the next morning at Farlie Bakehouse, well-known for their pies. We did a take-away of their famous beef pie and continued our road trip to Lake Wanaka. The road to Lake Wakana took us through Lindis Pass, which was easily one of the most gorgeous drive during our trip.

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We arrived at our airbnb around 1pm and got greeted by the biggest, cutest dogs ever. We settled in and made our way to Patagonia Chocolate to satisfy our sweet tooth cravings. After a proper cone of chocolate ice-cream, we drove on to Rippon Winery for some wine tasting. We were impressed by the view that greeted us!

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We wanted to have dinner at Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen  but was told that it was fully booked by the time we got there. The place looks legit and I made a mental note to be back someday. We ended up at Relishes Cafe for dinner before catching the sunset at Lake Wanaka.

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DRIVE
Lake Tekapo to Lake Wanaka - 2h 19mins

Day 3

We got up early as we had a long drive ahead of us, essentially covering Mt Cook on the way back to Christchurch from Lake Wanaka. We had breakfast at 8:30am and was greeted by this view. We could see quite a number of people parasailing from our seats and it was an entertaining breakfast – we met another couple and they were sharing how they got a culture shock when they were in Malaysia.

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We stopped by High Country Salmon on our way to Mt Cook for lunch as recommended by our airbnb host. The salmon was surprisingly fresh… somehow didn’t associate New Zealand with fresh salmon so that was a pleasant surprise!

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After a quick bite, we drove on to Peter’s Lookout and was blown away by the beauty of Mt Cook from afar. We continued our way to Mt Cook Village to catch more of the majestic beauty.

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DRIVE
Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook - 1h 30mins
Mt Cook to Christchurch - 3h 54mins

DAY 4 

12:30 – Arrive at airport 😦  It was time for Charles to fly back to SG and we bid Christchurch goodbye! The ride back was extremely bumpy towards the second half of the flight and I were cursing the weather until I saw this just before landing… took my breath away! The most gorgeous sunset at eye level.

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Very thankful for the beautiful weather while we were there. The forecast for the next few days after we left was rainy and we were glad to be back home.

xxx

 

NYC – The Essential Food List

Charles and I went to NYC in April 2016 and spend most of our time looking for good food and shopping! We were told by a good friend to download Yelp (the app) and it sure did come in very handy during our trip. Here’s some of our tried and tested recommendations:

This burger joint needs no introduction. We had it during our (shopping) day trip to Woodbury. It was literally a whole day of shopping, and Charles had a good loot at the end of the day.

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Various locations in NYC – please check out their website for details.

No trip to NYC is complete without having a bagel for breakfast. We were glad we went to H&H which has been serving one of NYC’s best bagels for the last 40 years!

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Address: 1551 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
Open daily: 5:30am to 9pm

Great place for lobster lovers – Luke’s Lobster pride itself on serving seafood “straight from the source, prepared pure and simple, without the filler”. I had the seasonal salad as I had too many lobster rolls during the first few days of the trip. This set came with clam chowder, lobster (duh), baby kale, quinoa, chickpeas, and roasted pumpkin seeds.

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Various locations in NYC – please check out their website for details.

Guess what happens when two Asians had too much burgers and lobster rolls? We start to crave for Asian food, of course. This place came recommended by a fellow foodie and we found the familiar taste of Korean food so comforting! Excuse the half eaten fish and broccoli, we were starving and couldn’t wait!

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Address: 5W. 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001
Open daily: 24 hours (good for late night supper cravings!)

NYC – airbnb

Charles and I stayed for a week in this airbnb and were sad to be leave when the time came! The location is great for traveling into Manhattan – as described in the listing, you will be in the heart of Manhattan in 20mins by subway.

 

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Picture courtesy of airbnb listing

The area is really safe, we had no problem returning home at 9 to 10pm every night. The studio itself is self-contained; we had everything we needed and it felt very cosy. We love how Shawn and Christine add their personal touch to the place like having a map of the subway as a shower curtain and great photos of New York landmarks around the studio! We had a late flight on our last day and we were told we could check-out at 6pm which allow us to shower before heading for a 20 hours flight.