Monday, September 9, 2019

Budapest in 5 days

You know that feeling when you finally begin to work on those promises you made with your high school/college girlfriends on things you would all check off your list together, before you turned a *ahem certain* age. Let's just say it's 30, for the sake of the discussion and nothing else. Okay who am I kidding, we all turned 30 and we finally made our big, fat European holiday happen and we did a 5 day trip to Budapest. As a result of which, you just got lucky and on a *legit* not the standard 'a lot of you have been asking me...' category of demand, find below my suggestions and recommendations, strictly based on what we actually saw and did, for Budapest. Grab some popcorn and start writing. 
I've divided this article into three bits. My top 5 places to grab meals in Budapest. My top 5 sights to visit in Budapest. Please find a lot of accompanying images of vain 'ol me. If you follow me on instagram, you have probably seen a whole bunch of these already but some shall remain exclusive to this article here. 





MY TOP 5 SUGGESTIONS TO GRAB MEALS AT IN BUDAPEST (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

  • MAGYAR QTR: We found this on google maps (with great reviews) while walking around the chain bridge and absolutely loved it. It has a small but brilliant menu with some classic Hungarian dishes so it was our perfect first meal. Great value for money and the plating was very fine-dining esque. Remember though, there is hardly any vegetarian food on the menu and also in general, Hungarian food is heavy and extensively meaty. 


  • MAZEL TOV: This one makes it to almost all must-do lists on Budapest that exist and justifiably so. It is an urban jungle with dangling fairy light and large hamsas painted on exposed brick which makes it such a picture perfect spot. Their Mediterranean food is all you can dream of and more and made for the perfect cold meal in the 32 degrees of summer in August that we bore through. 




  • MOST BISZTRO: This one is quite large with multiple floors but I have to admit, the best customer service that we go through Budapest. The very diverse continental menu is a perfect palette cleanser between all the local meals you try. It's great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike and I would highly recommend getting a spot on the terrace since that is usually where the crowds hang.

  • NEW YORK CAFE: Their instagram bio describes them as 'Budapest's most beautiful cafe' and while I would normally scoff at something so gloaty, there is no way I could disagree with that sentiment. Built in the Italian Renaissance style complete with a live pianist, this place is a must visit for the experience along with some great cafe style food. 


  • SZIMPLY: It took us two visits in 5 days and an additional 40 minutes of a wait to get a spot here but it was all worth it. The tiniest little brunch spot with the most mind-blowing brunch food ever. PRO TIP: Do the two course tasting menu where I did the avocado toast and the pancakes and I can't begin to fathom how they could knock something so simple, so incredibly out of the park.



MY TOP 5 SIGHTS TO VISIT IN BUDAPEST:

  • THE GREAT MARKET HALL: Dubai has its souks, Spain has its Mercdos or Mercats and Budapest has its Great Market Hall where you can find literally everything from Hungarian spices to souvenirs of any sort. PRO TIP: There is a scope to bargain here, but in our experience that doesn't go too far. Other things to look out for: clothing/accessories with Hungarian thread work, Hungarian porcelain, other little nick nacks. It is also the perfect spot for some great shots with the light filtering in through its high arched windows. Also, Euros and cards work mostly everywhere except a few places that will ask for HUF only. If you pay in Euros, expect your change in HUF too.



  • A HUNGARIAN THERMAL BATH: Apart from the fact that you're going to be experiencing natural (medicinal) hot spring waters in this bath, The Szechenyi Bath (the one we went to) comes with a neo-baroque palace of its own! Between the little whirlpools and the jacuzzi in the centre, we couldn't have picked a better place to spend half our day just lolling around. Of course there is a snacks and drinks bar attached. Also, this is located slightly on the outside of the city centre so if you would prefer to take a taxi, don't forget to download 'Bolt' (the Uber of Budapest, so to speak).


  • SZECHENYI CHAIN BRIDGE: Budapest (Buda and Pest) are linked together by 8 bridges that cross over the Danube and it's safe to say that the Szechenyi Bridge with it's lion headstones and intricate construction takes the cake. We made it a point to walk it at night too when it was completely lit up and looked over the gorgeous Buda Castle, the church et al on the other side (Buda).





  • A WALKING TOUR OF BUDA COVERING THE CASTLE, MATTHIAS CHURCH AND THE FISHERMAN'S BASTION: Safe to say that a trip to Budapest would be deemed incomplete without covering the whole of Buda on foot and a little insight into all these major attractions. We booked a walking tour with a very adept guide well in advance and quite enjoyed the whole experience. Also, best to see what combination works for you because there are some that include a funicular ride back into Pest from Buda. 






  • GOZSDU UDVAR AND THE RUIN BARS: A bunch of 30 somethings *gulp* couldn't exactly have gone to Budapest to just catch up and come back, to be honest. We obviously forayed into the ruin bar scene and the passage of Gozsdu to see what the hype was about. Szimpla Kert obviously took the cake with its myriad of themed rooms and a lot of quirky and extremely trippy decor bits across the whole building. It was also the largest bar I had ever been to. A cute albeit creepy discovery would have to be Csendes Vintage Bar which was also a ruin bar replete with everything creepy and amusing to decorate it. Try some 'palinka' (comes in a wide variety of fruit flavours), the Hungarian liquor or play it safe with some brilliant Hungarian wines. Also, there was a very lively salsa scene at the Cat Bar in Gozsdu on a Friday night.


We obviously did a whole bunch of other things too like a spot of shopping at some local boutiques, queue up at Gelato Rosa, visit St. Stephen's Basilica, a few forgettable meals, hunting down roasteries for our morning coffee, Heroes' Square, the adjoining park, Andrássy Avenue to walk down and gawk at some stunning mansions and high end designer boutiques, The Hungarian Parliament, the shoes on the Danube..the works. The point is, make your experience your own and just go with it.




I hope these travel listicles help you form your itinerary for whenever you visit Budapest. Do not forget to comment, share with someone who might be interested and save the page if you like the recommendations. 

x

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

DELFT: A little guide to the city I devised for WhatsThePlanNL

As tourists, we tend to stereotype and classify within boxes, a lot of destinations that have a lot to offer. As someone who lives in Amsterdam and used to live in Den Haag, I have made my fair share of touristic trips to Delft. Always sold as a one-day trip where you can pick the best Delft Blue pottery and visit the church where Vermeer is buried, over time I began to observe that Delft was that and a lot more. Sure, like most Dutch towns a lot of its beauty is concentrated on its beautiful canals and waterways. And sure, the delft blue pottery factory is charming in the most obvious way and really does give you an insight into how it is really made and how it came about to be. (Hint: We can definitely credit China with being our OG inspiration). But when I had to create a map (mind you, I'm seriously directionally challenged) for the July edition of #WhatsThePlanNL (a meet-up and networking initiative I began) for a walking tour of Delft I was organising and my first thought was whether I had bitten off more than I could chew.
I knew from the very onset that the delft blue pottery factory (there are a few) was something I did not want to include in the itinerary for a variety of reasons. 1) The likelihood of some people having checked it out was very high. 2) It is extremely long and time consuming and while that is enchanting mostly, on a full day's worth of sightseeing, it is not the best bet. 3) I wanted the tour to include food and drink pit stops just as much as informative and touristy ones.
So with the assistance of the internet (a few great articles I read and one that was shared with me), combined with my own multiple trips to Delft, here is the exact outline of what I sent across to the attendees to save on their phones before the meet up. I am including our last minute detours, changes and pro-tips along side. (Marked in red are my comments, changes and tips)
If you use this guide, don't forget to tag me and take me along (virtually, at best).



HOP, SKIP AND JUMP THROUGH DELFT WITH WHATSTHEPLANNL
In association with iDeal of Sweden @idealofsweden and @shreyakalra1





Welcome to the walking tour plan that I’ve devised for us to explore this city on foot, have a faboosh time and get to know some new people in the process.
For the bits where I’ve listed options, I would love for us to collectively make this decision in order to make it more inclusive and fun.

·     Beginning with, lets meet at Delft Central Station at 11 am.


·     We begin with walking through the old city where the canals of Delft are. A stroll through Oude Delft. IMPORTANT TO STOP FOR PHOTOS OF COURSE. Stads Koffyhuis is OPTION 1 for sandwiches and coffee (some of the best sandwiches in NL, apparently) 

·     Next we do Oude Kerk (Or Old church) { If some people would like to go in, we can definitely make a stop and meet them at a pit stop for food and coffee}
Notes: We did the canals and we did Stads Koffyhuis for coffee alone. Not only is it absolutely beautiful what with a red floral facade and a blue exterior, but here is the best part. We went without a reservation and despite being pretty full they were not fazed at all with a group of 12 and gave us a prime spot on their tethered boat on the canal! The drinks were brilliant and the service was impeccable  (I really don't say it often!). Must must visit.


·     A cute little old bakery called Stads Bakkerij (or City Bakery) de Diamenten Ring falls on our way to Voldergracht. It’s full of amazing baked goods and local delicacies so I thought it might be nice to make a pit stop and check it out!
Notes: Best best stop over. It's got a beautiful yellow striped awning and has the best selection of baked goods I've seen in this town. Anything you can imagine and more. Everybody picked up a wide selection of different baked goodies cause what's a walking tour without snacks to boot. My recommendation: The pecan bread and their home made jams (I picked one that was cherry and red wine and it is mind blowing!)



·     Head to Voldergracht and stroll down to Kek (a very cute and possibly the best café in Delft with good brunch food and SUPER INSTAGRAMMABLE). (OPTION 2 FOR FOOD)
Notes: We crossed Kek and it definitely looked absolutely adorable and very instagrammable but the queues lined up outside went for way too long for us to give in to the hype. Cannot vouch for the food plus when I messaged them on instagram in advance to figure out whether we could book for 12 people I did not receive a response. A Leonidas lunch room also close by looked quite beautiful too.

·     From Voldergracht through to Hippolytusbuurt and onto Wijnhaven is where the antiques, vintage and bookmarket sprawls across. So lets walk along, do a spot of shopping, take some fun pictures and possibly videos and a whole lot of catching up! 
Notes: This was definitely the highlight of our walking tour. The antiques and vintage market only happens on Saturday so if you do want to check it out, keep that in mind. We saw the market starting right after the Oude Kerk so we walked along there on. From extremely old versions of Delft earthenware, old books, maps, etchings, gold and brass artefacts, lampshades and almost anything you can imagine in the perfect sort of an antique market, you will find here. The objects are not cheap. I am not entirely sure whether you can bargain but I am certain that if you look carefully and painstakingly enough, you will find something to write home about. 



·     Sint Agathasquare  has beautiful porcelain lamp posts in delft blue to check out. Also cute and a great spot for photos along with a souvenir and gift store called ‘Winkeltje Kouwenhoven’.
Notes: Apart from Sint Agathasquare which has the beautiful delft blue lamp posts, we also went to the Markt which was the central square and walked to the big blue Delft blue heart which in my opinion, is the best and the biggest photo opportunity in Delft.

·     Nieuwe Kirk or New church is another 6 minutes walk from Sint Agathasquare so if everybody is still keen, we can definitely drop by and check it out. To wind it up, if we have any takers, we could head to Bier Fabriek, this super cool old brewery in Delft, cause one for the road. 
Notes: The New church is at the Markt or the central square of the town so from there we walked to Beestenmarkt (which is close to where Bier Fabriek is). While Bier Fabriek was still a valid option, since the weather was actually quite pleasant, we decided to sit and grab drinks and some apple pie in the centre of Beesten Markt which has a beautiful outdoor seating with plenty of restaurants and bars.



Hope you enjoyed this little day's worth of itinerary for Delft. If you would love to be a part of WhatsThePlanNL in the form of an attendee or sponsor, do not forget to drop me a message on instagram or an email. 
Till the next time, 
x
  

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ten pointers for living in The Hague



The title of the blog post is intentionally a little cut and dry. While I take immense pride in my extremely emotional self, I wouldn't exactly know where to begin if I had to pen down a sentimental post about leaving this city. Plus it cannot hurt to actually sit down and assimilate all that living here in Den Haag for the last one year has taught me.
So if you live outside the Netherlands and are moving here soon, or already have, then this might be what you are looking for. I wouldn't lie, this might not be entirely applicable in another city but the general advice might still do you good. 


  • GET OUT. EXPLORE THE HAGUE. AND EVERYTHING ELSE NEARBY: I had no intention of screaming this one out but a year and a little more here and I still feel like I have missed out on so many bits of this city and tiny villages and towns close by. The Hague is a melting pot of cultures and yet so deeply rooted in Dutch history. You could be eating an authentic Indonesian meal at one moment and walking across the Dutch royalties' residence the next. The weather plays a dampener on many days and it makes a lot of us expats extremely lazy but honestly, every little park with its own set of flora, every beach close to the shore, every little local snacks pop up across the town will add to your Dutch experience.
  • GET A BIKE. OR LEARN TO USE THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT LIKE A PRO:  This isn't intended to sound hypocritical. I didn't get a bicycle but I wish I had and I hope I do, at least in Amsterdam. Come rain, hail or sun, the Dutch always find it in themselves to get on to their bikes and bicycle through pretty much any weather. It helps that you have some really cute (with basket full of flowers a la Phoebe from FRIENDS) option. The other option is to ace you public transport skills. It took me a bit but I can quite comfortably map my way around any part of the Netherlands thanks to my OV Chipkart
PRO TIP: There's always Google maps to find the best train, tram and bus routes but if you    move to the Dutch app store on moving here, then 9292 is your best bet on the app to download for this purpose. It works around the Netherlands, not just the Hague.

  • PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE TO MAKE FRIENDS: We don't talk about this enough but forming meaningful friendships in adulthood is not the easiest job. Add to that, relocating to a new country at 28 and going from a huge social circle to a relatively cut off freelancer life. The freelancer life taught me to  socialise beyond my husband's friends and find my own. There is this facebook group called Expat Ladies The Hague that I highly recommend. And finally I started my own initiative of #WhatsThePlanNL that brings together women from all across the Netherlands at a monthly meet up event. Look up the hashtag on instagram and also find more on my instagram profile.

  •  LEARN TO COOK: I never thought I would ever propagate learning a life skill that I could barely get around to before I moved here. This is my personal opinion that the Dutch cuisine is not exactly the most diverse and as a result of which eating like the locals could get boring after a while. Regardless of where you come from, you will obviously miss your comfort food. While Den Haag offers a large variety of international cuisines both home delivery and eat out, a little experimenting in the kitchen will go a long way in making you miss your homeland a little lesser and making you less reliant on eating out. 
PRO TIPThuisbezorgd is your best bet for home delivering food in the Netherlands with a whole bunch of cuisine options.


  • INTEGRATING THROUGH DUTCH CELEBRATIONS: If there's one thing you can't fault the Dutch with, it's their zeal to celebrate their festivals. It is almost nigh impossible to not want to jump right in, into the swarms of orange clad crowds on King's Day (and King's Night). The King's birthday sends the whole country into a tizzy of mad day long celebrations but that's just one instance. You will have plenty of opportunities to integrate into the fabric of the fun Dutch culture so make sure you get right into it from your first year. 
PRO TIP: For any kind of costumes or props for Carnivale, King's Day, St. Patty's Day or any other, hit 'So Low' in the Centre on Spuistraat.


  • LEARN TO DRESS FOR THE DUTCH WEATHER: This one has been a struggle for me even after having lived in The Hague for more than a year. I come from India where the summer and winter is quite clearly demarcated and it's fairly easy to maintain two wardrobes. However, the weather in The Netherlands has a mind of its own. I will go as far as to say that I freeze my butt off in this country almost throughout the year. It's windy even during the summer and while global warming has drastically changed the face of the Dutch Summer (it went as high as the 30s last year!), there will almost always be a chilly wind to accompany the sun too. The snow is not too bad but the rain is pretty frequent too. So prepare for four distinct seasons with an overarching theme of a  very cool air (if you feel as cold as I do! ). Also, if you're equipped for the moody weather, you're definitely more likely to enjoy the seasons in this absolutely knockout of a country.
PRO TIP: If you've never had an umbrella in your life, now is a good time to purchase one.


  • LEARN TO UTILISE YOUR SPACE EFFECTIVELY: Not proud of it but I was somewhat of a hoarder in India. Dutch houses (some don't come with storage space either), make you quash your hoarder tendencies and become wiser of what you buy and bring into your house. Use pieces to maximises your space (mirrors for instance), check for a storage space with your apartment and in general adopt a more judicious practice of buying things for your house that require a lot of space. Having said that, the layouts and the facades of the Dutch houses are so chic, for a lack of a better word. There is so much you can do with the large windows, cute balconies, cosy Scandinavian inspired interiors. So leave all your baggage behind, no pun intended.
PRO TIP: A good place to look for a space to rent or buy is Funda.


  • LEARN THE BASICS OF THE DUTCH LANGUAGE: This has been my most controversial takeaway from having lived in The Hague for the last one year. I know a lot of people (myself included) have made it work without a working knowledge of the language. But the gap is undeniable. Everything, literally (no, not metaphorically I'm quite sure yes) everything in this city is communicated (print, oral, otherwise) in Dutch and even if you specify that you do not speak the language, the likelihood of it being a seamless conversation is not a 100%. More tourist riddled spots have English menu options but again, that is not the case anywhere. So in my opinion, a basic understanding of the language (enough to not open Google Translate every time you have to order food) goes a long way in feeling more comfortable and at home in the lovely city of Den Haag. P.S: All your communication from your banks, the government etc comes in through paper mail and is entirely in Dutch.
    P.P.S: A good free service to start with the language might be 
    the Duo Lingo app and then you could proceed to take classes
    by personal tutors or at Universities to get to the next level.
    I'm hoping to start (get back to?) with the app myself on moving 
    to Amsterdam.


  • BE PATIENT AND BE KIND: It's not an exaggeration to say that kindness can wade you through the toughest waters. A new country is hardly a match. My experience with the people I've encountered in this city is 90% good and 10% bad, if I can even call it that. The Dutch are straightforward and no bullshit and that is a trait a lot of us could also do with. At the same time, everybody is not the same and at a lot of times, being an expat and not speaking the language can put you in situations of a little strife. There is nothing you cannot get through if you are patient, kind and smile when you convey what you have to. That kind of disposition will always win you friends and also ease you into the process of learning simple protocols that you are supposed to know. For instance, always enter a bus from the front door (the door next to the driver). 


  • STOP TO SMELL THE ROSES: Last but the most important is to remember to stop to smell the roses (tulips?). The Netherlands is one of the most stunning countries I have ever had the fortune of visiting and living here has been a dream (albeit not always the easiest of course). Metaphorically and literally, appreciate the art, visit the large number of museums (Dutch artists are phenomenally talented!), talk to the local people, meet as many new people as you can (expats, non-expats, it should hardly be an issue) and enjoy the insane number of flowers and flowering variety of plants and trees in the Netherlands. On the literal front, a few seasons to look out for include the tulip season (DUH), magnolias and cherry blossoms in spring, wisteria at the onset of summer and the large number of unidentified flowers all over the Netherlands (that are just as picturesque for your Instagram!). 

Thank you for being a lovely first home in the Netherlands, The Hague. You will always be special. Firsts always are ;)





Wearing: Dress by ASOS, Earrings: And Other Stories

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

MY TOP 5 CAFE DISCOVERIES (FEB-MARCH, 2019), SINGAPORE

'Concrete jungle where dreams are made of..', I know this isn't New York I'm talking about but it just seems to ring true for Singapore as much. Maybe replace concrete jungle with man made tropical jungle? I love Singapore and if you're an old reader, you have probably read my listicle on what to do in Singapore here and a little shoot that I did at The National Art Gallery of Singapore here. (If you're new, now is a good time as any to check out the above hyperlinks.) 
For a compulsory eater and instagrammer like me, a country that thrives on people's urges to eat out and drink out is ideal. I could go to Singapore every month and still not run out of new cafes and restaurants to try. Whether the shelf life of these cafes is even as much as the attention span of the viewers who find them on instagram, is a question for another day. For now, I'm quite set to take you through my top five cafe recommendations from Singapore (ranked and rated on a scale of 10 on the parameters of the food/drinks of course and very importantly, the 'grammability)

  • BEARDED BELLA: Find it here. Somewhere between my love for pastels and a need for good coffee is the perfect cafe that is pretty, pink and whips up the finest freaking french toast. (10 points to Gryffindor for that alliteration). At an address that sounds as chic as the cafe, this place finds itself at the top of the list of cafes I discovered last month in Singapore and would 10/10 go back to for cute interiors (and exteriors), brilliant brunch food and a mean piccolo (in the CUTEST take away paper cup). 
          Food/drinks: 9/10
          Insta factor 10/10



  • MERCI MARCEL: Find it here. If you are already judging me (and my brunch partner extraordinaire, my sister) for our french toast and avocado toast circa 2019 millennial-ish food choices, then wait till you get to the end of the list. It simply cannot be helped. The taste buds want what the taste buds want. This beautiful french cafe located in the hipster locale of Tiong Bahru faired surprisingly well on my list thanks to its al fresco dining option with the perfect amount of greenery and wooden patio furniture. The french toast had a nice crunch to it thanks to the addition of the almond flakes and the avocado toast and poached eggs were pretty yum (especially the bread) too.
          Food/drinks: 8/10
          Insta factor: 9/10


  • COFFEE ACADEMICS: Find it here. Sometimes it's the flukes that land you in the cutest places (complete with neon signage et al). Scott's Square, one of the hippest shopping spots in Singapore is also home to this chill yet very cute in its details cafe. I also discovered that it's a chain that originated in HongKong. If the name wasn't a dead giveaway, they take their coffee seriously and my sister and I found ourselves (very conveniently, if I might add) seated right under the neon signage with the floral centre piece et al. I had this latte with agave pepper and it was particularly yum and our millennial (only in sensibility, not in age) selves also found ourselves ordering the passion fruit 'cruffin' (Croissant+Muffin, YEP it's a thing.) which was a pretty darn good combination of both its mama and papa.
          Food/drinks: 8/10
          Insta factor: 8/10
  • SYMMETRY: Find it here. Symmetry comes with an automatic debit of cool brownie points thanks to its Australian sensibility. Again, the al fresco dining option automatically won my heart (hello, beautiful Singaporean architecture that involves colourful windows). We went quite crazy and ordered ourselves (beat it!) an avocado toast with truffled mushrooms (YAAAAAAS) (also, note the sarcasm) and a stack of pancakes (that I wouldn't reminisce much about, to be honest). The addition of the banana ice cream was cool but the pancake itself was forgettable. Our fresh juices came in cute Tiki style glasses (don't quite know how that fits in the vibe but we loved it none the less). 
          Food/drinks: 7/10
          Insta factor: 8/10




  • PS. CAFE: Find it here. Some good things in life need refresher courses. If you read my first article about things to do in Singapore, you would have found my deep founded love for the PS. Cafe chains somewhere (all over) in there. So it seemed sort of unfair to let this one sit out this piece since the food quality and the general vibe of the cafe seems to be steadily consistent over the years. We went to the one on Harding Road and the larger than life floral centre pieces (and literally nothing else for decor) seemed to still hold its charm over me. It also helps that the menu is extremely elaborate and you can almost go wrong with nothing.
          Food/drinks: 9/10
          Insta factor: 7/10


Share the love with that one friend who is clueless about where to eat and is heading to Singapore. Or even if he/she knows, I promise I know better. My questionable brand of humour aside, I hope you enjoyed the piece. Don't forget to comment below if you have other suggestions and with your thoughts of course.

x

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