We always like going to Berlin. It’s one of the cities that keeps inventing itself, be a world in its own. People usually have very different opinions of Berlin based on their experiences or which part of the city they live in. Like most metropole, it has its flaws and a few darker sides but once you’ve managed to look pass them, you’d keep coming back for more, like we do.
I lived here for 3 months when I first arrived in Germany and I had the best of time. When we first started dating, J kind of had half a job in the city so I accompanied him pretty often when he came here for business. At some stage it became such a rituals for us to come here before Christmas, we don’t really know why. However we never took much fotos just like you never do of your own home, because it’s so familiar that you don’t have the need to capture it in pictures.
Fortunately for us this time, our friend Nicolas (who’s a half Berliner himself) has introduced us to such a cool place, the Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg which is most famous for its street food Thursday event. Needless to say, we needed to check it out.
After arriving in Saigon, we spent a couple of days with the family to say hi to everyone before hitting the road. Our flight to Dalat was unfortunately at 6.25 in the morning on our fourth day there, which made our efforts in getting over jetlag become wasted. With red-shot eyes we arrived at the airport only to find outselves in front of a long waiting queue at about our boarding time. Long story short, we could have made it easily on the plane if it weren’t for the jackfuits in our hand luggages, which I persistently did not want to give up* (I’ve waited the whole year to be able to get a hold of some fresh, nicely peeled ones and you want me to throw them in the trash?! Are you serious?!) (Well, you get the picture…). Trying to save the day, J took them to the luggage counter trying to check them in, but it was too late and they were already closed. The clock was ticking and just when I thought we were going to miss our flight, J came back just in time for us to jump on our plane.
The moral of the story is, no jackfruits or durian in hand luggages because many passengers can’t stand their odours (I will never understand this but it’s not my rule to make). But the best part that left J really satisfied was the Vietnam airlines’ customer services. He simply explained to one of the staffs what the problem was. She then went with him to the check-in counter and eventually help him cut the line to come back and pass security just in time, saving us all the troubles of waiting for the next flight. I told him he had the “foreigner benefit” but he wouldn’t believe me ;-).
Dalat – Vietnam highlands
Dalat probably has the best climate in Southern Vietnam due to its high attitude, about 1500m above the sea level. The weather is cool all year-round, very refreshing especially in the summer months when it’s hot and humid everywhere else. Therefore, it used to be a popular vacation destination among the French during the colonial times. Many of the city’s villas, boulevards, gold course, parks and buildings are dated back to this time. The City is also the country’s biggest supplier for temperate agricultural products like vegetables, fruits and cut-flowers while the highlands around Dalat is famous for its coffee and tee production.
Knowing its magnificent scenery, we had great plans for Dalat but got caught of guard by the very rainy weather, typical for the highlands at year-end. It rained everyday we were there (except for the last day of course, just our luck). We tried our best but didn’t manage to see much, not even one of its many waterfalls or flower gardesns. What’s the point by the cold rain, right? We ended up leaving our hotel only for foods, massages and coffee, which, when you think of it, isn’t so bad of an idea for vacation. The foods in Dalat are possible the third best in Vietnam, after Saigon and Hoi An. You can never go wrong. If you see something tasty, you should try it and chances are, it’s the best you’ve had in months. The night market is fun, but only offers average foods at best, though it’s the best place to buy dried fruits to take home. What we usually do wherever we go is asking around for some local favorites. You can of course google it, but you’d most probably find only tourists’ favorite places. So we asked around, and checked every place out ;-).
One of the (many) things that connects us is definitely our passion for good foods (and our struggle to stay in shape 😉 ). We love a (very) good glas of wine, fresh fruits of the season, local products at farmers’ markets, aged cheese, iberico jamon, a good piece of steak, and lots of seafoods. Anything that satifies our tongues will win its way straight to our hearts. A good meal is one of the most simple pleasures in life that you can really afford every single day, so why not?!
After Saigon, Madrid is probably our second most favorite city for foods simply because you can find great foods everywhere, in every corner of the city. Our absolute highlight of this trip must be our 9-course dinner at LUA. Even though it’s granted 1 Michelin Star, it’s surprisingly affordable (€60 for the menu and €28 for wines pairing), they even put our water and espressos on the house (which most Michelin-starred restaurants normally take advantage of and charge people a lot for) so the whole experience was very pleasant. We enjoyed every course and generally had a very good time.
But you don’t need to visit a famous restaurant to have a good meal in Madrid. In fact, our most favorite place to eat would be in the local Mercados (markets in Spanish), of which there is one in every neighborhood. In Mercado de San Fernando, we had 3 different kinds of tapas from a Spanish lady, 2 dishes of sushi from a Japanese couple, plus wines & beers for a total of €20. What not to love, right?!
We read about La Carmencita being a really popular spot for brunch of the locals so we immediately wanted to check it out. We actually went here the day after our 9-course dinner at LUA, never thought we would feel hungry for foods again but we did ;-).
But the most fun place to eat is definitely the infamous Mercado de San Miguel. It is touristy yes, it is a bit pricey yes, but you also get what you pay for, and have fun eating it side-by-side with hundred hungry others fighting for one of the chairs at the few tables they had there. If you’ve never been there, imagine a giant food hall with stands after stands selling small portions of dishes (called tapas in Spanish) running from local to international for between€2 and €5 each. So firstly you grab a (big) glas of wine at one stand (red wine for him, sangria for me), then go around from one stall to the next (while sipping eagerly on your wines) trying one tapa to the next and before you know it, you’re full and tipsy and beyond happy ;-). It’s really fun. And the foods are very eye-catching as you can see in the pictures followed. We came here twice and loved every second of it.
Less famous is the Mercado de la Cebada, but with much better seafoods choices. Here, you buy seafoods by the kg, have it prepared (simply boiled then springled with sea-salts and olive oil on top) by the vendor, grab the complimentary beer or wine (yes, complimentary because the vendors don’t have the license to sell alcoholic beverages) and eat them right there. It was a long walk for us to get here, but we’re glad we did.
And the cherry on top of our whole culinary experience was this little restaurant right here where we had the most delicious plate of Paella we’ve ever had, anywhere! On Sunday morning, we fought the rain to visit some local center for foods, crafts, and arts we read about. We should have known better (but we obviously didn’t), due to the heavy rain, all food vendors were closed for the day. Having had nothing for breakfast, we were desperately walking around the suburban neighborhood trying to find just anything to satisfy our hungry bellies when we came across this tiny diner. It was a small family-run business, the husband was the barman/ waiter/ everything-doer while his wife running back and fort from the kitchen to bring out new pans with yet another new dishes; the locals coming in and out watching football on the screen, obviously knowing each other by name. This was a very happy ending of our very rainy Madrid story.
This is our second (unsuccesful) effort this year, after Mallorca, to try to escape the bad German weather. Magically, mother winter has managed to follow us to Madrid, leaving Munich very warm and sunny over this long weekend so we ended up baring the cold and the rain the entire time we’re here… (In case you wonder.. No, we didn’t have any luck coming back home because, of course, the bad weather followed us home!).
Upon booking our flights, I started imagining us sitting outside everyday drinking one sangria after another and taking long walks in t-shirt and sandals. But none of that happened, to our (mostly my) despair! Anyway, after swearing like a hundred times (me) and trying to make plan B (him), we think we managed to make the best out of it (we even went to the Museum Reina Sofia though we’re not museum people at all, but what else should we do?!). We spent lots of time in bed ;-), managed to see a bit of the vibrant city (enough to like it), and ate a whole lot. You can really say the foods has saved this trip. Madrid is definitely one of the best city for culinary experience in Europe that we will for sure come back for more.