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travel & music: austin city limits festival 2013

well… it’s time to let you in on my next fabulous adventure… (okay, i’m technically going to LA next, but that will be a wedding and maybe a little sightseeing for a very fast 4 nights)
my bestie, ms price and i are heading off on a fabulous adventure to austin, texas for the austin city limits music festival!

are we stoked?  YA, WE ARE!
we’re actually bordering on downright giddy about it.

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so, not only is the festival lineup absolutely ridiculously awesome in general, but it basically reads like a who’s who of natalie’s favourite bands; silversun pickups, QOTSA, depeche mode, arctic monkeys, franz ferdinand, muse, the cure, the national… yup.  i’m in fangirl heaven.

see… every time one of these big festivals gets announced i think, gee, that sounds okay, but it’s usually like a handful of bands that really interest me (and i’ve usually seen them all play before, under better circumstances) and a bunch of hipster bands that like 5 people know… and when i really start to think about the logistics of it all (camping, a bazillion dirty hipsters pissing me off, travel costs ect) it starts to be less and less appealing and i just pass on it.  hence why i’ve never actually made it to a sasquatch or coachella or bonaroo despite knowing loads of people that go religiously every year…

but this one?  i get to stay in a hotel. (a NICE hotel, with a rooftop pool, i might add) and the lineup isn’t just a few bands i like, it’s a bunch of bands i LOVE. and, it probably goes without saying that silversun pickups performing will make me spend all of my money to be there to see it.  (obsessed, i am.)

when i add in the fact that cass was down for a bff girl’s getaway, all the stars aligned.  plus austin!  how cool is that?!  i’ve only ever been to dallas, and austin has definitely been on my list of places to visit for a while now.  i mean, its a food truck & bbq mecca.  obviously i must go there and eat all of the things.

luckily for us, the fabulous lana gay has already charted this territory for us and come through like a champion with a 4 page list of all the things to do and see in austin.

first official thing on the schedule?

gospel brunch at the world famous stubb’s bbq.  lana tells me that it books up early… like, months in advance… so, like the good little planner i am, i’ve booked us in for the 11am gospel brunch with the full view of the band.  …another one that i can cross off the life to-do list.

besides that, we’re looking at a city food tour and a few other activities, but much is pending the schedule of the bands.  with SO MANY bands that we want to see, making sure we hit all their sets is top priority.
which is why we made the wise decision to fly in a little early to get a full day to just do austin.  and also to enjoy our swank suite at the omni that is 1086 square feet and has a rooftop pool. (!)

fun times ahead!

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fabulous las vegas: including bon apetit vegas uncorkd 2013

you might not know if from my lack of posts, but the 2013 vegas crew did indeed survive our adventure.
i also answered the question – is 6 nights in vegas too long? with a resounding NO.  i was not ready to come home and could have lounged poolside for another week easily.

and once again, i headed to vegas with a to-do/to-see list that was a mile long and really only got through a handful of things.
but i did have an excellent time.

when we checked in at the cosmopolitan, the lovely lady at the desk asked if it was our first time.  we told her it was my 7th trip to vegas, but our first time staying at the cosmopolitan.  she leaned over the desk and whispered “you’ll never stay anywhere else again”.
and by george,i think she was right.

the cosmopolitan was top notch from start to finish.  excellent service, beautiful rooms with incredible pools and terrific restaurants.  i have zero complaints about our stay there. and yes, i’ll be back.

our room was over 1000 square feet with 2 bathrooms and a giant patio overlooking the bellagio fountains.  i pretty much never wanted to move out.  it was gorgeous.

(here’s our patio view)

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and a shot of the living room when we were about to check out… le sigh…

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anyways, like most things in life, pictures don’t do it justice, but lets suffice to say it was pretty kickass.

but, more than anything, in las vegas, we come to eat and drink.
and the bon apetit vegas uncorkd was a strong lure for us…
we decided to do two events, the grand tasting and the bellagio block party.  both were very cool and very different.  the grand tasting was a totally mind blowing experience.  celebrity chefs everywhere, throngs of people loaded up with pork belly and short rib and fine liquor flowing very freely.

here’s my partners in crime and i on the red carpet on arrival.

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it’s kind of hard to see and describe, but all the food is poolside in an outer ring and then the liquor was on the inner ring, hugging the pool.  lovely setting.

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this was the most i saw of gordon ramsay all night… he wasn’t exactly hanging out making conversation…

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no big deal… just bobby flay serving food for mesa grill…

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i don’t even know which restaurant this cookie came from, but it had a syringe of chocolate ganache with it and it was a delight.

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i resisted the urge to take pictures of my food and just experience the event instead.  by now, i know that no photo can replicate being there and tasting it, so i’ll just tell you that we enjoyed to the max and kept the camera in my purse pretty much the whole night.  this was an event, not a photo op. and i stand by that decision.

the next night was the bellagio block party… and it was fun!  much more relaxed than the grand tasting and much smaller, in both size and guests.  the food portions were also bigger, as instead of 200 restaurants, you only had about 30 to try from, so you got a bit more of an appetizer vs an amuse bouche.

here’s my crew (minus my husband who left to get a beer) at the block party.

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and then under the bellagio hidden driveway sign…

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yup.  fun times!

anyways… fill in the blanks with food, sun, pool, drinks and laughing… and that was vegas!  definitely always more fun with wicked people.

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travel: australian adventure

well… I came, I saw and I conquered. for the most part.

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I survived my whirlwind trip to the land down under with relatively few mishaps.
well, except the part where my flight home was cancelled and rebooked for the next day… and the flight it was supposed to connect with in LAX was on a separate ticket and so I had to rebook that… and it’s spring break, so flights are pretty full.
let’s just say, I am SO HAPPY that I had travel insurance.

so for those counting, yes, I am 2 for 2 for Fam trips where I miss my flight home. because I’m amazing like that.

anyways, back to the goods. this was by far the most hectic trip I’ve ever done in my life.
up by 7am every day… jam packed days with pretty much no free time and then fitting in some evening drinking. at every turn I was reminded that this was work, not a vacation. it broke my heart to see so many beautiful beaches and not get to swim in any of them. until our cancelled flight, I had only made it into the water once and that was wearing a jellyfish suit at the Great Barrier Reef.

that being said, what made up for the lack of beach, was that I got to do the most amazing activities that absolutely blew my mind.

in cairns we did the skyrail and the gold class train back to the city.

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then we went up to port douglas to the great barrier reef where besides the amazing boat ride to and from the reef (with beers – hooray!) I flew in a helicopter (my first time) over the reef and marveled at the beauty…

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and then did an hour long guided snorkel of the outer reef with a marine biologist. it was truly one of the greatest days ever. seeing the reef has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. to do it in this way was beyond my wildest dreams.

then we headed off to sydney where we did a city tour and enjoyed a couple beers overlooking bondi beach.

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we ended up going out that night and on a recommendation, found the coolest little bar called shady pints that was like, top secret. it involved going down an alley and asking a guy sitting on a milk crate for entrance through an unmarked door. when they closed, the bartender suggested we head to frankie’s and end the night there. it was a fun time.

the next day we started the day with a harbor cruise, followed by the sydney bridge climb and then headed back to a private yacht for a champagne tour.

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the bridge climb was surreal. I almost had a freak out and bailed, but my group rallied around me and calmed me down and kept me safe. I’m so glad I did it. at $300 a pop, it’s not something everyone does in sydney, but wow, was it ever an amazing experience and a ridiculously amazing view.

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sydney is a gorgeous city and especially for a vancouver girl, I really felt the love for a waterfront urban centre.

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melbourne was the next stop and I loved what I saw of the city. we spent the first day driving up the great ocean road to the twelve apostles and seeing the most incredible coastlines.

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that night we checked out a mexican place called mamacita that our flight attendant had suggested and it was killer. the bartender there directed us to a cocktail lounge called lilly black that also involved venturing down an alley and searching for an unmarked door. they had over 200 bitters and made me (2) exceptional old fashioneds. (although at $19 a pop, they’d better be).

the next day we did a hidden secrets walking tour that took us to the funkiest places. the street art and little cafes and shops in melbourne made me was to stay forever and explore.
it’s a very european feeling city with these little alleys chocked full of cool shops. at times it reminded me of weaving through the streets of venice, there’s so much going on there.

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our (official) last stop was adelaide and kicked things off in style with a wine tour of the barossa valley. I’ve done a lot of wine tours, but at penfolds we did something very unique that I’d never heard of before. it was “make your own blend” where we got to play taste tester slash mad scientist and put together a bottle to your tastes. it was so neat and so fun. we laughed the whole way through and had an absolute blast. highly recommended.

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the we headed to an amazing little vineyard called langmeil that has vines that are as old as 170 years and they really specialized in the art of growing and making wine, it is not at all for mass production and it was incredible. I bought the most expensive bottle I’ve ever purchased at $100 AUD and plan on cellaring it for at least 5 years. it is very small production because its made purely with the 170 year old vine grapes and they don’t yield many grapes. it was honestly one of the best, if not the best wine I’ve ever had.
we made a lunch stop and then headed to jacob’s creek to cap off the day. we had a good laugh using the breathalyzer to check where we were at.

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our last (official) day was spent at kangaroo island. again, incredible scenery and coastlines and so many animals! we saw kangaroos, wallabies, koala bears, tons of seals and more!

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then we packed up and headed home… sort of. we made it to sydney for our connection and found out there was a mechanical issue with the plane and they had to scrap the flight. and I definitely want to give huge kudos for qantas for handling the situation so well. it was pretty much seamless and entirely professional the whole way through.
so we were shuttled to a hotel and given a bonus day in sydney!

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had been absolutely dying to get into the ocean and swim. so it was suits on and we taxi’d to bondi beach and finally I got to have my swim. we had some beach beers and then an amazing thai meal and that was it. up early and to the airport and we were on our way to LAX finally.

travel insurance took care of the cost of rebooking my flight from LAX to YVR and I also had some spending money for taxis, beer and food. and thankfully we know travel agents and they took care of all the nitty gritty for us, so we could concentrate on the beach.

and so, after 11 nights out of the country, I’m back.
I was very impressed with australia and to be honest, I didn’t expect to love the cities or to have such a good time, but I was more than happy to prove myself wrong. I’m not sure ill make it back, but I’m sure glad I saw it… and who knows… stranger things have happened…

travel: next adventure

so sometimes the universe just sends you a curve ball.
today i got mine.
today i won something VERY COOL.
i won an all-in trip to australia from my work.

yup.
thats right.
i’m actually going here.

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this is blowing my mind.
first off, i am obviously incredibly blessed to work for such an amazing company that gives away trips like this… but also i’m just damn lucky.
they took the 15 top sellers of australia product for last month and drew 3 winners and i was one of them.

australia, admittedly is a place that was not high on my priority list to visit.
in fact, i don’t even think it was on the list.
mostly based on this.

australia kills you

i definitely have a legitimate fear that i will die in australia, lol.
spiders and snakes are not my friends.
but i’m sure i’ll get over my fears and have an amazing time.

so among other awesomeness, my trip includes:

  • roundtrip airfare
  • accommodations & some meals
  • wine tour of south australia’s barossa valley
  • RV’ing victoria’s great ocean road
  • great barrier reef experience
  • queensland rail sunlander
  • sydney bridge climb
  • private yacht tour of sydney harbour
  • kangaroo island adventure

it’s going to be a whirlwind trip of about 10 days and then there will be an option to extend out for an extra 3 days to see uluru (ayers rock), which i’ll probably do because lets face it, i have to assume this is a once in a lifetime trip.

i’m really just gobsmacked that this happened.
its one of the biggest (and worth the most) agent trips that one could possibly win and i can not believe i’ve actually won it.
wowsa.
i should buy myself a lotto ticket because this guy is clearly lucky today.
happy early birthday to me.

travel and drink: waikiki edition

ah hawaii… truly one of the few places on earth where a manly man can be seen with a drink garnished with flowers and umbrellas and not be mocked by his mates.
in fact, to not order such a drink is really just cheating yourself.

and the king of all drinks in hawaii is the mai tai.

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and honestly, it just takes it to a new level when its served in a fun glass like this.
this is how it comes at dukes and hula grill.  and good on them for keeping it extra real.

but at the end of the day, its really whats inside the glass that counts.  so what you’re looking for is premium spirits… and fresh squeezed juices.
and of course, a pretty garnish helps.

the supposed “best” in waikiki is hotly debated.  many many places claim it, but one place i kinda believe is the moana surfrider.  first of all, its a fancy pants hotel.  and they charge like $14 for it, so it had better be good… and it looks like this:

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its gorgeous AND comes with a beachfront ocean view.  so it wins.

and while every place does put a spin on the classic mai tai… this is basically the recipe.

  • 1 oz. Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 1 oz Orange Curacao
  • 2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice
  • Dash Orgeat
  • Dash Simple syrup

and then you have the blue hawaii…
this is definitely one of those garbage pants sickly sweet cocktails that you’ll suck back in record time and then pay for in hangovers the next day.
…buuuuuut its a classic.  so you gotta have at least one.

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original blue hawaii

  • 3/4 oz light rum
  • 3/4 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
  • 3 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz sweet and sour mix

something that i really enjoy is this little fella.  they call it the lava flow in hawaii.  but in las vegas they call it a miami vice.  but same same.
its half pina colada and half strawberry daiquiri kinda layered together… and in vegas you get a strawberry garnish, in hawaii everything comes with a pineapple.

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one thing about hawaii, is that at one point in your trip you really must have a ridiculous drink.  like something giant or in a fishbowl or on fire… or all 3 if possible.

we went with this bad boy from LBLE  (thats Lobby Bar Libations Extraordinaire – clever name, huh?)

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it was a giant concoction filled with fresh juices and rum, rum and more rum.  and then they lit some 151 on fire inside a lime on top.  yup.  it was awesome.

its a tough act to follow… but i followed it up with a straberry, basil & vodka drink topped with a floater of champagne.  it didn’t steer me wrong.

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from LBLE we were forced by the bartender to go to her favourite bar after. and i mean literally FORCED.  she refused to serve us another drink and called us a taxi and sent us there.

its a place called the Pint & Jigger and it was really everything she promised it would be.
they served me the best manhattan of my life.  the glass was smoked, the booze premium, the ice cube singular and giant and the garnish was a homemade maraschino cherry.

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last but certainly not least… hawaii makes some good beers.
most prevalent is the kona brewing company, and they’re damn fine, but don’t stop there.  head over to Yardhouse for a great selection of local brews.  or dukes also has a beer sampler that will scratch your itch for local.

my personal favourite, which i don’t have a picture of is the Hawaii Nui Mehana Volcano Red Ale. but then again, i love me a red ale.

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travel: the delights of waikiki

aloha!
once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food & travel: eastern europe

well hello!  now that my jet-lag has subsided and things are back to normal… here it is… my long-awaited food of eastern europe blog post!
it seemed a natural choice that my wrap up of this trip would be all about the food… but what i didn’t realize was exactly how many pictures of food i took… and sorting through them was a bit of a task.
and trust, i did take pictures of every single thing i ate… but this is the greatest hits, so to speak.

we started our fine culinary journey in prague.
our very first night was spent at a traditional czech restaurant that featured the classics of their culture… this was part of the included meals with contiki and really a lot of fun and delicious!
we started with some appetizers:

 

stuffed tomato, asparagus in ham… lettuce.  a nice light start given the meat extravaganza that would follow soon…
and the soup. it was a really tasty potato soup. light and well seasoned. and while part of me was a tad disappointed it wasn’t goulash, i realized when the main came that it was for the best.

we feasted on duck, sausage, ham and roast pork. and two kinds of dumplings (bread & potato) and it perched on two kinds of cabbage (red & white).
ridiculous amounts of meat & carbs. not a green vegetable in sight. welcome to eastern europe.

we finished off with crepes & coffee.

and enjoyed the entertainment…

day two in prague brought us more delights…
and i finally got my goulash and dumplings.
and we also had table pretzels (do not be fooled, they are not free) and maybe my favourite thing of the afternoon – svařák – a czech hot mulled wine that worked wonders for fighting the chill in the air.

 

i really must unravel the secrets of svařák for this winter… i see recipes online and i think its worth experimenting with because it is a delight.  after this meal, i grabbed a cup to go from a vendor and wandered through the fog across charles bridge.  this is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

but all good things must… change scenery?  sure!  off to vienna!
one of my favourite meals of the trip was our first night in vienna.  it wasn’t fancy or rich or anything crazy, it was just very well cooked and featured fine ingredients.

our starter was a delicate leek & potato soup and our main was a braised beef with mashed potatoes and carrots.
dessert was a decadent chocolate lava cake.
wins all around!

   

but my most favourite culinary moment on this trip was definitely the schnitzel.

i was so excited to eat schnitzel in vienna… and so when i asked my contiki tour director for her suggestion, she sent me without hesitation to figlmuller for what is considered to be the best in city.  (man, i LOVE having an expert to ask these things!)

and behold… the mother of all schnitzels.
with a side of the most unique potato salad i’ve ever had, topped with lamb’s lettuce.  amazing.

see… look how happy this made me…

the most amazing thing about this meal?
i actually somehow managed to eat the entire schnitzel.  i have no idea how, but i can only take it down to sheer willpower and the fact that my new tour friends were cheering me on.
and also because it was so delicious and the thought of wasting it made me unbearably sad.
the potato salad was sacrificed.  while delicious, something had to give.

after a brief wander around gorgeous vienna, my companions and i had one more vienna specialty to take down.
so again, on the advice of our awesome tour director, we headed to cafe leopold hawelka for an apple streusel and an espresso.

oh wow.  this was an amazing experience on its own.
i’m not the biggest apple lover, but this was a pretty special little treat.  wonderfully balanced, not sweet and not full of mushy fruit.  when you taste it, you know why they say the best in world comes from austria.

and of course, i couldn’t leave vienna without one last specialty product… the world famous sacher torte.
i’ll be honest.  at this point i wasn’t sure i’d ever be able to cram anything else into my body…
so i bought 2 sacher tortes and packed them lovingly for home.  gave one to my mom and my husband and i devoured the other.  it did not disappoint.  its hard to describe… so just think of the best chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten and then times that by 10.  and add a layer of apricot jam.  and you have the magic that is sacher torte.
plus it comes in a fancy wooden box.

last, but most certainly not least… our final stop was when the contiki bus rolled into the gorgeous city of budapest.
where i once again was on the trail of goulash.

our first night we spent on a dinner cruise down the danube and there’s just no words for how stunning this evening was.  the food was an excellent buffet of local eats and the scenery was indescribable.

my last full day in budapest was spent wandering the city after a tour of the parliament buildings… and naturally i was powerless to resist a mid-morning snack in the form of pastry stuffed with cottage cheese.
seriously, budapest knows the power of the cottage cheese.  it’s in a lot of food. and i approve.

after snacks, we moved on to check out the food markets… i could do a whole post on the wonders of the market, but since this is a pretty picture heavy post already, i’m going to give you my two favourites.
a streusel stuffed with cottage cheese and apricots warm from the oven… and kremes.

  

kremes are an emotional throwback for me.  i used to work in a slovakian bakery when i was about 19 years old and we served up all sorts of proper eastern europe treats that i’ve never seen since.  until this trip.
kremes used to be my favourite dessert we made and i sold them by the sheet pan for $2 a square for about 2 years of my life.  and i’ve never seen them since.  so this was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat so to speak.

anyways, after a trip to the famous szechenyi baths for a few hours of sweet sweet relaxation, we had worked up a bit of an appetite.
what could possibly be left to try that you can’t find at home?  langos!

basically you’re looking at a giant piece of deep fried dough (think a savory beaver tail for the canadians) and its then topped with sour cream, TONS of raw chopped garlic and a mountain of cold cheese.

the result is nothing short of magic….
this was something i had never heard of until this trip. so thank you jen, our contiki tour manager extraordinaire!  because its not easy to show me a food i’ve never heard of before.  especially one thats so clearly up my alley. (hello deep-fried + bread + cheese)

all in all, the food of eastern europe wowed me.  it was at times, what i expected, and at other times it caught me off guard.
i’m so excited and grateful for all the authentic cuisine that i had access to and truly commend contiki on their great work with sourcing great restaurants and being at the ready to point us towards unique specialty items.
as far as culinary world travels go, this was unforgettable and just so unique.
when i first saw the schnitzel come out of the kitchen in vienna… or my first taste of the hungarian paprika in the goulash… and the delight of seeing kremes in the market…

i loved this trip.  and i’d return in a heartbeat if given the possibility.
now… to the gym to work off all those langos, lol!

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