Sunday, 29 November 2015

Prague 2015: Day 1

Prague 2015 has definitely been one of the most mesmerising, memorable, and magical trips for me. I have been reminiscing constantly about the beautiful city, and now I finally have time to sit down and share it all with you.

Our trip began with the usual early start; sleeping on the plane for a couple of hours before landing at Václav Havel Airport. As our trip included personal transport to and from the hotel, we waited in the arrivals hall for our chauffeur. Tired and hungry, my spirits could not help being dampened as we waited over 30 minutes for him to turn up. However, all the misery dissipated once his cheery and apologetic self appeared and hurriedly helped us to the car. "Sorry for my late." 

I really recommend getting personal/shuttle transport for the trip to and from the airport. I loved being able to get a glimpse of Prague all the way to the hotel. Often-times, we miss out on large parts of a country by concentrating only on the tourist hot spots. It's hard to see how people of the country really live unless you get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

For the duration of the trip, we stayed at Jurys Inn: Sokolovská 11, 186 00 Praha, Czech Republic.

The layout heavily reminded me of the UK's hotel chain, Travelodge.

I have a weird habit of making the hotel bathroom the first place to tour - I was so happy to find a modern, clean and brightly lit bathroom!

Definitely redeemed itself from Travelodge status.

After a spot of mid-morning snack in the form of a Boots meal deal from Heathrow, we headed out for our pre-booked tour of the city.

Over the space of about three hours, we covered the streets of Old Town, immersed in Prague legends that have been passed down throughout the generations as we passed several of Prague's most famous landmarks, including the Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Jewish Quarter, Franz Kafka, the National Theatre, Prague State Opera, New Town, Wenceslas Squre, and the Prague Estates Theatre.

We also stopped off at a coffee shop to take a toilet break and grab a hot drink halfway through (and perhaps some cake) to warm up. I highly recommend going on a tour with this company! I learnt so much about Prague, but the important part is that I got to experience it and hear the stories directly from someone who knew all the legends and had a great passion for the country. Our tour guide was called Kieran, and he had such positive energy - he made everything magical! 

One of our stops - The Basilica of St James the Greater - had a truly stunning interior. The story that came along with it was rather gruesome though.

Prague legend has it....
Roughly 400 years ago, a thief crept into the Church at night and attempted to steal from the altar on which the Virgin Mary was sat. As he reached for the goods, Mary reached out and grabbed his arm. As she began to return to her statue-form, he began shouting and screaming from the pain. This woke the monks of the Church, who came running to find the shocking sight. 
"The arm shall have to be cut off", they said. 
The thief nodded profusely.
Unfortunately for the thief, the monks proceeded to amputate his arm in order to separate him from the Virgin Mary, without harming the sacred statue.
As a punishment and a warning to the public, the monks hung the amputated arm near the entrance to the Church. 

The arm can still be seen hanging there today! Yes, that small piece hanging above the black frame is claimed to be the very same arm that was amputated from the thief 400 years ago.

Every street in Prague just looks so magical!!

Shortly after our tour had ended outside the Estates Theatre, we headed back to Old Town for a closer look at some of the places we had visited.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

I was a little gutted that we never got to see the inside of this beauty. It reminded me so much of the castles in Disney movies!

Astronomical Clock

The side of the Astronomical Clock Tower actually displays half of the original building that stood before the War - the other half destroyed during the War - I love the difference it conveys!

As it got dark, we began to wander towards Wenceslas Square to find a restaurant for dinner. We ended up passing a C & A store - I haven't seen one of these for over 10 years, so a photo was very much required...

After leeching some free wifi from one of the hotels on the square, we decided on Casserol, a restaurant back in Old Town which had good reviews.

The brick-walled interior made the restaurant feel rustic and homely, whilst table layout and service gave a good fine dining experience.

The food itself wasn't bad either.

Trout marinated in red wine reduction, served over leek-potato cream and fresh dill dip - 178 CZK

Genuine oxtail broth, with root vegetables and meat dumplings - 68 CZK

The oxtail broth was really good! We recommend trying this dish :)

North Bohemian barley groat risotto, with wild mushrooms  and roasted Brussels sprouts - 246 CZK

Grilled pork tenderloin, with parsnip ragout, whole leaf spinach and spicy garlic glaze - 292 CZK
We found the other dishes to be too salty for us, although we later found it to be a running theme in Prague. So perhaps that is what Czech taste buds are accustomed to!

I always love open kitchens so you get to see what usually happens behind the scenes! 

After dinner, we took our romantic stroll back towards the hotel, and captured Old Town in the moonlight.

That evening, we planned our activities for the next day and slept soundly until our wake up for breakfast!

Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few belonging to myself appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Hong Kong 2014: Where To Eat

There has always been the intention to cover my short trip to Hong Kong, but without the wordiness of my usual posts - so here are a couple of my favourite foodie moments from Hong Kong 2014.

Ahead - food pictures galore... Turn away if you're hungry!!

TeaWood Taiwanese Cafe

Towards the beginning of our time in Hong Kong, we met up with some friends to try a more recently hyped up restaurant - TeaWood. My first impressions of this place was not great... we queued to get a table for around 45 minutes and was not seated until all members of party had arrived. It turned out that our table had been free for the entire 15-20 minutes whilst we waited for everyone to arrive. We didn't understand why they couldn't seat us whilst we waited for our friend - we probably would have ordered drinks whilst waiting (more sales for them), and we would have been out of everybody else's way!

Marinated mince pork, soft boiled egg with rice - HKD$50

Fried sirloin, marinated minced meat with rice - HKD$56

Iced mocha - HKD$32
The menu at TeaWood was rather confusing, since there was a double spread selling Italian pasta dishes - a bit strange to find in a restaurant advertised as a 'Taiwanese Cafe & Restaurant'?! They also sold quirky drinks that I don't really associate with Taiwan... but they were pretty good.

Unfortunately they don't seem to sell this any more...

Fried potato and shrimp rolls - HKD$52
The service was incredibly poor - no one seemed to acknowledge us, and the wait staff seemed to collect orders before sending it to the kitchen. Not sure about the logic behind that. I can only comment on the service at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch - perhaps the other branches are better!

Anyway, I feel the only redeeming factor at this branch (and the main reason for all the hype) is their dessert range.

Chocolate Vanilla Honey Toast $68
We made sure to try one of their signature toasty delights; shared between 4, I might add. I would recommend TeaWood for their desserts and drinks, but not if you're looking for authentic Taiwanese food/Italian food... I actually really enjoyed the iced mocha and the fried potato and shrimp rolls. If you decide to try TeaWood, definitely try these both, as well as one of their Honey Toasts.

TeaWood Taiwanese Restaurant:
2/F, Carnarvon Plaza, 20 Carnarvon Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Bakeries

When in Hong Kong, always, always, always, visit a bakery!! It doesn't matter whether you get an egg tart, a pineapple bun, a cream cake, or a cocktail bun. The cakes and breads are always super fresh, and if you're lucky, you can get bread that's just come straight out of the oven! The cakes below are from Maxim, but other cake shops include St Honore and Arome Bakery. For more traditional Chinese baked goods such as wife cake, try Hang Heung - based in Yuen Long and known as the best for wife cake in Hong Kong! 

One of my favourite bread spots is Yamazaki Bakery. They used to have one in London, at a special Chinese complex that held standalone Chinese restaurants, a food court, an arcade, and a mini Chinese supermarket. My favourite was their melon bun with chocolate chips. I was so sad when they closed down, but luckily I found it popping up in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Shanghai, and my life was complete. They no longer sell the melon bun, but their other breads are still something I dream about when I'm back in the UK. I highly recommend a visit, and always try their puffed breads or meat floss buns!!

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a great spot for Vietnamese food in Central, and when we went at lunch time, the queue was around two shops long but only around a half-hour wait. The interior is quite small, but great for a quick meal, especially since it was recommended in the Michelin Guide in 2014!

Buttered garlic chicken wings - HKD$58

Grilled lemongrass beef skewers - HKD$78

Pan-seared stuffed squid - HKD$86

We also had cold cut pork belly (front of photo) - HKD$86

Grilled prawn rolls - HKD$68

I am aware that the prices listed under each food photo does not match up to our bill - I made sure to use the most recent price from their menu, and it appears they have raised the price on a few of their dishes! Hoping the food quality is still as good to justify it; although I can't imagine anything less.

Nha Trang Vietnamese Restaurant
G/F, 88-90 Wellington Street, Central

Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum Restaurant

This was a great find, thanks to Kin, who found this restaurant during his search of cheap but yummy places to eat in Hong Kong. With dishes for as little as HKD$12, Tim Ho Wan is the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world!

As we arrived around lunch time, there was a small queue forming outside the restaurant. We had a half hour wait before being admitted, so took this chance to research which dishes were a must try! We then completed the form to order our first round of dishes.

Once sat down, the food came at a good pace, and we happily chowed down and filled our bellies.

Lotus Leaf Sticky Rice - HKD$26

Plain Cheung Fun - HKD$19

Pork Liver Cheung Fun - HKD$19

Steamed Egg Cake - HKD$14

Steamed Prawn Dumplings - HKD$26

Pan Fried Turnip Cake - HKD$15

Beancurd Skin Roll with Shrimp - HKD$18

Siu Mai - HKD$26

Baked Bun with BBQ Pork - HKD$19
After all the dishes from our originally marked form had arrived, we were able to order a second (and final) round of dishes. As we still had space for dessert, we decided to try the Osmanthus Jelly.
Osmanthus Jelly - HKD$12

The bill came to a total of $206, split between 4 diners! I highly recommend the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork, Osmanthus Jelly, Lotus Sticky Leaf Rice, and Steamed Egg Cake!

Tim Ho Wan
Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 
18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui 

Lab Made Ice Cream

This claims to be Asia's first liquid nitrogen ice cream laboratory! This is a great stall for some interesting ice cream and a bit of fun! Service is quick, and flavours change regularly.

Salted caramel

Mint chocolate chip

One of the guys at the stall was so funny, and having so much fun! I love watching people enjoy what they create. It makes me so happy, and everything tastes so much better!

Lab Made
Shop 3219 & 3221, 1 Tuen Shun Street, 
Tuen Mun Town Plaza Phase 1, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong

I hope you've enjoyed reading about the places we tried in Hong Kong, as well of the photos of the delicious food we had! Hopefully there's enough information here to get you started on your own foodie trail through Hong Kong :)

Let me know if there are any places you would recommend - I'll make sure to add it to my list for my next trip!

Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few belonging to myself appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

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