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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Best Kept Secrets of Florence

When i looked up things to do in Florence, i ended up reading lots of warnings about the place. I even found a site of 101 Tourist Traps of Florence. There should be 102, that website is one.

Yes, we ought to use our better sense when travelling, but Florence is misrepresented online.

The Best of Florence in 48 Hours
1. Slow Food
We wandered into an alley, decided to settle for this quaint tiny restaurant in front of us and discovered we hit jackpot with Imangiarino . There was one old lady taking orders and serving, 2 chefs in the kitchen and the tiny place sits about 20.  I was amused with the disclaimer on the placemat 'slow food'.
It was so worth the wait. It's the best meal i ate in Florence. There are only 13 "slow food" restaurants in Florence and we actually accidentally walk into one! I later found out that "slow food" didn't mean the service but it means that the restaurant uses recipes passed down from generations and the best and possibly organic ingredients from the region.
Best to make reservations because shortly after we entered, a queue started snaking!

Address: Via dello Studio, 5/r-50122 Firenze
Tel: 055 216 208
Email: imagiarino@libero.it

2. Aline Hotel
rated badly online. People said it was dirty, a pain to be fighting to use the common bathroom etc. I decided to take a chance with Aline because it was centrally located and cheap. For a one star hotel and costing only 64 euros a night for 2, we hit jackpot again! It was clean, cute and safe. Shower is within the room, tiny as an in-flight toilet, but if you don't mind peeing in the shower, you hardly need to use the common bathroom outside. Even if you do, it is clean, odourless and I didn't have to queue.I had to take a dump.Our room even had a cute little balcony that looked above apartment roofs into the Tuscan hills in the distance.
That's me on the balcony with a 4kg leg of prosciutto ham.

3. The Oldest Infirmary in the World
is not found within a church, like i expected it to be.
Behind me is the Santa Maria Novella, but the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, the oldest still-operating pharmacy in the world (and oldest in Italy) is found somewhere else. It is located in one of those stone buildings, obscure and undetected. Ask the Tourist Information outside and opposite of Firenze train station, that's how we found it. When you reach the street, follow the crowd because that's probably where everyone's going. The over-powering smells of sweet scent like Victoria Secrets will also be an indication. 

Having read online that it was established in 1221, when the Dominican monks grew herbs to make balms and medicines, i was expecting to walk into some sort of tomb looking ancient pharmacy, 

Alas, it looks very modern, fancy and like a New York departmental store.Albeit, the pharmacy itself is housed in the original building, the rooms have vaulted ceilings, marble floors, glass-stained windows with walnut cabinetry and glass-stoppered decanters full of colorful potions.
The superior quality of the monks' products became widely known, and in the 17th century, the pharmacy opened its doors to the public.
Today the pharmacy still uses the traditional preparation methods and carries products using the original recipes of the monks. AtlasObscura highlights the Aceto dei Sette Ladri, or Seven Thieves Vinegar, where these smelling salts got their unusual name from a band of seven men who robbed corpses during a plague. They were said to have doused themselves in the strong vinegar to protect themselves from the plague. However, this was nowhere to be found on the order menu. Instead, there is an extensive list of dietary supplements for the mental and physical health, herbal teas, hydroalcholic extracts, syrups or accessories. Prices are only revealed upon query.  
4. Trattoria ZaZa
is also recommended on Tripadvisor. The interior design is more notable than its food. However, it is a popular favourite for whipping up delicious authentic Italian pastas. I need to get used to the Italian pastas not having much ingredients like the Japanese ramen. The oomph is all in the sauce. 

However, next door is Trattoria Mario, which came highly recommended by a local friend and twice we didn't make it in time or that there was a 2 hour waiting time.
Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale 26r

5. Shopping in Florence
 I did all my shopping in 2 places. One was Central Market, the other was at The Mall.
Because competition is tough at Central Market where the stalls mostly hawk the same ware, the prices are the best around Florence. I found the Indian stall owners easier to negotiate prices, however, they are also probably the ones who sell leather goods that may not be authentic material. Nonetheless, i bought this Prada -inspired bag in a cheery sunshine colour for 35 euros (supposedly calf leather) bargained down from 55. There are tons of leather products to be found, some could be utterly fake, some could be the leftovers of good leather. Only an expert hand can discern the real and the fakes but i say if the price is reasonable and the design is pretty, go for it! I also bought 3 soft leather belts in dirty green, brown and fuchsia (8 euro each) as well as 3 leather cuffs (2 euro each). 
I didn't quite encounter many Asians in Florence but no prizes for guessing where i saw majority of them.

In the queue waiting to go The Mall, factory outlet featuring high-end brands like Ferragamo, Prada, Christian Dior, Gucci and more. 
It feels like i'm in Asia again!
The Sita bus station is to the right of Firenze station and costs 5 euro one way. Buses start at 8.50 am and run every 20 mins to and 30 mins fro. The entire bus ride takes slightly more than an hour. The Mall opens at 10am, and it is a mad house particularly in the Prada store. The only brand that is two-storey with an escalator within, the brand conscious Asians (Chinese and Koreans mainly) start grabbing. Best is to visit The Mall with caution and a shopping list of what you need so you stay focused. DO NOT feel pressured when you see fellow Asians in a shopping frenzy. But who am i to give advice? I went needing a new wallet, a sling satchel and card holder but left with 3 items more that were not in the list. The Devil really wears Prada! The brands offer good discount, starting from 30%. Burberry has an extensive range of winter wear while Christian Dior had a 50% further off factory outlet price. The Mall is the ONLY place in Florence that i see so many Chinese salesgirls and there was even an Italian gent in Dior who spoke fluent Mandarin.

6. Michael Angelo Hill
Florence is small enough to go everywhere on foot. 
 I'm not lying.
It is indeed nice to walk around by foot, working off that pizza then putting it on with a gelato. Through walking, you can take in the bustling city's sights, the tourist spots and discover new areas.
Hanging out with horses.
 Take a sandwich, hike up the Michael Angelo hill for a panoramic view of Florence.
7. Florence at Night
When dusk falls, Florence becomes romantic. 
The most photographed bridge in Florence is Ponte Veccchio, where jewellery shops are built into the bridge.
We sat on the bridge, enjoying the romantic view and listening to the groovy husky voice of an Italian busker.
A local culture of the clubbers at night is to also sniff out the secret bakeries of Florence. These bakeries start baking late at night for the next morning and very often will sell inconspicuously to those who seek at night. A hot bun oozing with Nutella for 1 euro, unfortunately we didn't stay out late enough to go treasure hunting.  If you're gungho enough, here're some addresses you can try.

8. Day trip to Pisa
Because Florence is small enough to finish walking in a day (without too much stopping for Italian coffee which btw, is mugnificant), take a train to Pisa just an hour away!Costing 7 euros one way, the ticket machines at Firenze is simple to use and does not return change in the form of vouchers (as some websites warned).
Most shops are closed on Sundays but otherwise if you had gone on a weekday, Pisa is a lovely town (less crowded than Florence) to spend time in.
Get drunk on Simpson's beer, 
 and start seeing things leaning!
We're not that great photographers so it hardly looks leaning. It's an amazing piece of architecture because it looks leaning but it's actually not!

We thought we were early at 10am but no, almost everyone is early.
 Had to get my 2948 worth of leaning pictures.
Travelling to Pisa is really just for the tower which you can do funny things with.
Florence, my first taste of Italy (ok, maybe Venice was first).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Juice for a Change


I tend to always ask for the same combination: Orange Carrot. Because i don't know better otherwise. 
Juicing is a popular way to detoxify the body and enjoy a change from chomping on solid foods. Drinking fresh vegetable and fruit juices can help flush out the toxins from your body and thereby help you get clear, healthy skin. Here’s a list of fruit juices which you may want to try for a change:

Apple + Cucumber + Kiwi
Improves skin complexion.

Pear + Banana
Regulates sugar content.

Carrot + Apple + Pear + Mango
Clears body heat, counteracts toxicity, decreases blood pressure and fight oxidization.

Honeydew + Grape + Watermelon + Milk
Rich in vitamin C & vitamin B2 that increase cell activity and strengthen body immunity.

Papaya + Pineapple + Milk
Rich in vitamin C, E, Iron. Improve skin complexion and metabolism.

Banana + Pineapple + Milk
Rich in vitamin with nutrients and prevent constipation.

The above is a repost from Porcelain's Face Spa's blog.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Bug's Sex Life.

The Green Porno DVD caught his sight as i was packing my bags. His raised his eyebrow and whispered, "You're taking that with you?"

I gave a wave nonchalantly and said, "It's not what you think."
I had the DVD 3 years back but because of its title, i never had a chance to play it at home, in a living room of 5 with my parents who'll probably frown at mild PDA.

Last night, after 3 years, i played it, in the privacy of my studio apartment, in anticipation.

Thankfully, the DVD still worked. My eyebrows couldn't go any higher as i watched the series of short films. I chuckled silently to myself as Isabella Rossellini delivered comically how insects mate with elaborate cardboard cut-outs and foam-rubber sculptures. It's a grey line whether it's for children viewing, while it's very educational at the incredible variety of mating insects have, Isabella made it very scandalous by putting thought-starters how similar humans are in our mating behaviour.

The information will probably be archived into my Dewy classification 069 Random knowledge.
How Bees Mate
Male bees mate in mid-flight, leaving their cock in the wine bottle so no one else's drinks and die.
                                                           How Praying Mantis Mate
We all know that the female praying mantis eats the male after copulating, but we didn't know that if we're a stickler for accuracy  it happens WHILE mating.

How Earthworm Mate

In 69.

How Snails Mate

Snails are pretty sick and deviant. They like putting their faces in asses and sadomasochism turns them on. 

How Dragonfly Mate

Like a double-standard male chauvinist.


Did you find them educational? Do you see the similarities of human and insect? If human can't practice monogamy or think twice about risking "cock" (divorce, broken families, diseases) just to have sex, we're no different from insect aren't we?
I shared my discovery with my new friends. They found me strange.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tokyo Bust Express GSS Giveaway

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Cool bust-boosting mystery prizes [think- Beach-worthy bustline!]

Go on a shopping spree by winning yourself Watsons Vouchers, H&M Vouchers, Sephora Vouchers, or a Samsung Galaxy S4!

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Good luck!

If you want more information via Mobile: https://apps.facebook.com/tokyo_bust_express/

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What’s in a Black Box?

Advertorial

This month’s Black Box is power packed with stuff. Look, it has two layers!
Beauty/ sample/ surprise boxes have been predominantly catered for the female but Black Box is the first FREE unisex lifestyle-sampling box in Singapore. The Black Box team only sends out tried and tested products to encourage responsible sampling.

Not just products, but there’re also vouchers for dining places, online shops etc. that comes in a translucent pouch that is a different design in every box, making it a collectible! I have two now :P
Dismantling my Black Box, some of the items I particularly liked are the Zappy Baby Wipes that is fragrance and chemical free. If not for Black Box, I would not have got to try out Bioflora Collabee, which is a pineapple flavored honey collagen drink to help maintain well hydrated and luminous skin. Meant to be a bedtime drink to rebuild skin, normalize immune system, improve bone and joint health, hydrate tissues and promote healthy hair and nails! Each bottle would have cost $7.80 and I got it free!


If not for Black Box, I would also not know that Nescafe has Hazelnut Latte. The aroma is fragrant and it actually foams!


Then there is Uncle Toby which is a healthier quick fix for the munchies! I sometimes use it as a meal replacement if I’m busy. 
Loreal’s Revitalift serum and cream is meant to reduce wrinkles and even skin tone. I’m so glad  there is Black Box because it allows me to try out these skin care before committing to full sized products! 
Belief is a new brand to me, so the samplers are really helpful! Can’t quite give a verdict yet because I haven’t used them for a week yet. I think 21 days would be enough to determine a product’s effectiveness? Afterall, a bad habit takes 21 days to break! BUT the Vanish stain remover, which is also one of the products in Black Box this month, shows results instanteously! It has to. It’s a stain remover!
Subscribe at www.blackbox.sg and key in “christine” in the referrer code column and stand a chance to receive your own FREE Black Box with at least 4 deluxe samples in the next edition! You do not need to subscribe again if you have already done so.

Also, “like” Black Box on Facebook because they have giveaways and the latest promotions. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

A taste of Budapest in 48 Hours

If you haven't been to Europe because of cost, i strongly recommend Budapest. It uses a local currency (HUF), not the Euro, and it is the cheaper side of Europe. We bought a ticket to Budapest only a night before. With no plans and 2 sets of clothes, we took off. It was so spontaneous, it blew my mind.
                           
By His grace, we got the LAST room in Leo Panzio which we randomly walked into. It is right in the city center next to Ferenciek Tere metro station, affordable, clean and in such a quaint old building! A real gem, it won a Tripadvisor award in 2011 too.

simple breakfast of toast, ham and juice provided for free
 In 48 hours, there was enough time to take pictures with Budapest's many sculptures.
whipping cream
This is a first i've seen. Braille for the blind to "see" the scenery too.

The hop on and off city bus tour (we bargained for a 1 day pass instead of 2 days for 13 Euro) was a good idea because it takes you to the main city sights, including up Citadel for the vantage point of Budapest.
This walking cane has a horn, an alcohol flask and a first-aid kit.
Talk about growing old with swag!
Budapest is a tale of two cities. Buda on the left is the rich and aristocratic hilly side and Pest is the flatter financial center. Both cities are linked by many chain bridges but the most significant is this one with the lion head.


Most of the tourist spots are found on the Pest side.
Happening!


They all happen around metro station Hosok Tere.
Everyone claims credit to have influenced Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disney.
Disney
                           
Vajdahunyad Castle
Although the Vajdahunyad Castle is a copy of the original in Romania.                            
Then there is Heroes Square, where King of Pop Michael Jackson shot a video at.
I love this perfume shop. This picture doesn't do it justice but the feeling you get the moment you step in is surreal. The interior designer did a fantastic job in making me feel like i stepped back in time. 
Smoking Incense holder
Budapest is small enough to walk everywhere, or at lest Pest is. We also found time to do some shopping at the Great Market Hall (1093 Budapest  Vámház körút 1-3) where she bought canned duck's liver (2 euro) and i a leather haversack (60 euro) and a silk scarf (16 euro).
These pickles ain't sour about being canned.
On the Buda side, we got an authentic experience of a Hungarian bath (1027 Budapest, Fő St 84), walking distance from Battyany metro
                    
Bring a bikini, slippers and towel to Király Baths. There aren't really proper showering facilities but there are unisex showers available. Built in the second half of the 16th century, this thermal bath is a far cry from the onsens i've been to in Japan or Taiwan. 

One of Budapest's traditional Turkish baths, it has an octagonal roof. Dark, wet, stone and clay, the interior kinda resembles a torture chamber.
                              
                      
Not knowing what to expect, i was pretty excited. Feeling lost, we were instructed to go into these cubicles to change. Then our items were locked within these "changing rooms", quite different from the kind of lockers we get at swimming pools or theme parks! These "lockers" were huge.
                             
For 2400 HUF, you can spend the whole day taking a dip in the thermal baths. At the thermal baths, it wasn't as obvious as the Japanese onsens to scrub yourself clean before entering. They don't provide pre-bath facilities as well as the Japanese do. Here, they trust your "ethics" and personal responsibility in participating in a communal bath. However, at the Japanese onsens, because of language, they never did explain to you why you needed to scrub yourself clean before entering either. I spot a notice on a board that explained why. A pre-bath is necessary because bacteria will affect the quality of the thermal bath thus affecting its healing properties which will indirectly impact you.
                             
A recommended strategy around a thermal bath is to start with something more room temperature like 32 degrees. Once you've adjusted to the heat, you then slowly dip yourself in the maximum and then cooling off 26 degrees. You'll be surprised how icy cold 26 degrees will feel after 40 degrees. Your nipples instantly turn rock hard. Rinse and repeat.
                           
My picture don't do justice to this authentic bath. Here's one from the web.
That's me in the main bath, it's like an ancient swimming pool. To my right is a small pool (40 degrees) that only fit 5 and to my left is another small pool (26 degrees) to fit another 5. There are also a sauna, a steam bath and a jacuzzi.
Kiraly is found in a local neighbourhood so it is less touristy although it's well reviewed online and marked on tourist maps. We also checked in for a massage (4000 HUF, 30 mins). I was very amused to see the massage waiting area like a HOSPITAL!
Here i could lie on these plastic beds to wait.
I'm not too sure if i want a manicure in that little corner there.
The doorway leads me to my nurse masseuse.
                           
Here i lay for my 30 minute massage which was only enough time for my back and legs. The strokes she used was rather different from the Chinese and Thai massages i frequent. It was good.

It also had an outdoor garden where fallen leaves and mud puddles were seen. The fountain was dried out, and we were even more amused that there were people nonchalant about the dire state and sunbathing there.
We joked about how old-school everything is, but the mode of exit was VERY HIGH TECH! We had to drop this watch vertically into the machine and voila, the gate opens.

After getting a very unusual experience at Kiraly, we walked past Budapest's most popular city thermal bath, the Széchenyi thermal bath.

It was posh, shiny and overridden with tourists. Prices were also double with extra charges (for lockers).
                               
We were definitely glad we went to Kiraly.

On the Buda side, i was also pleased to do a mini hike to check out the cave church, something i haven't encountered. It is still functional and mass is still conducted weekly. On my way there, i almost fell prey to one of those cheats. There was a man who set up a "gambling stall" where you've to guess which cup covers the ball. I was trying to ask him for directions but he smoothly engaged me in playing a game without money involvement. I managed to guess the first few games right, but i noticed he was letting me win on purpose. There were 2 other men playing but i wasn't sure if they were accompliance. One even thanked me for helping him win. As i was about to leave, the stall owner stretched out 50 euro and said it's mine for guessing right. I ALMOST took it, i kept asking "really?" despite knowing how could it be because i didn't invest in the first place. Better judgement got hold of me, i rejected the "free money" and i walked away.
Budapest, rich in its history, has a memorial remembering the Jews who were shot off the banks. These shoes serves as a reminder.
The Hungarian Food to try
Other than goulash and cabbage roll, there is the kurtoskalanch or could be known as a chimney roll. It is essentially dough baked on the spot then sprinkled with flavour of your choice.



They also have a crepe called the palacsinta that is quite unlike any other crepe i've had. It has a nutty paste inside.
Cold fruit soups are also a must try. Abit strange to have creamy soup cold, but its absolutely refreshing! Feels like dessert though.
Peach!
Hungarikum Bistro (13. Steindl Imre Street) is very popular. Tripadvisor ranks it #9 and its probably worth going because of the lovely ambience.
in-house musician
I thought the food was just so-so but it was a good sampler of a Hungarian meal. Best to make reservations because they have a steady flow of tourists and locals. 

We had the Hungarian set meal which was of generous portion and at a decent price.
appertif
Goulash
Duck leg as main course
Apple pie as desert

We also by chance came across the flower power gelato ranked #1 on Tripadvisor. Did you know that every photo you take with the iPhone is marked on a map? Incidentally i took a photo of the gelato at the shop so we managed to relocate it again for a second scoop! That iPhone feature is fantastic, it tracked the photo right down to the exact street. Gelatorosa is next to Szent István Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica). It is about 200 HUF more than the usual gelato but no one seems to mind! The cinnamon-lemon basil is a heavenly combination.


Only one way to see Budapest.
48 hours....

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