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Posts Tagged ‘Wanderlust

Something missing at the airport in Manila

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After a couple months of travel, making stops on three continents, was finally heading home and, given the past few years, was not looking forward to the last stop before the final leg home, Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Consistently ranked as one of the worst airports in the world, it has seen a bit of improvement as of late; however, it is still light years away from the world’s best hubs.

Even though the airports visited on this trip, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and Barcelona–El Prat Airport in the Catalonia region of Spain, aren’t among the top levels based on global surveys, they all still provide amenities superior to Manila’s gateway.

Landed in Terminal 1 and was preparing for the task of waiting for the airport shuttle, standing out in the humidity with luggage in tow. Must say, the shuttle service has improved, but there are still difficulties in trying to determine where exactly the shuttle is headed. On the flight out, took the shuttle in the opposite direction, from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, and that process was more efficient, with a decent waiting area and an attendant to guide travelers.

Getting to Terminal 3, arguably the best of NAIA’s terminals, it had the most proficient check-in process, with rows of self-check-in kiosks for Cebu Pacific Air passengers. Managed to get through it fairly quickly and, after earlier purchasing extra luggage weight online, did not encounter any problems sending the luggage off either.

Went upstairs to the main food area and made a couple rounds without finding anything too enticing. It was also really warm, as if the air conditioning were on really low – if on, at all.

Always get mixed up when trying to remember where that particular terminal kept their other food options. Once again, got it wrong, and went through security thinking there was more to pick from near the departure gate – they have them in the international hall, not the domestic hall. The sad part is, the international hall is visible from the domestic hall – sad.

Walking back and forth in the scant alleyway of food, along with being hassled by a charity worker, stopped at a café and ordered a frosty drink and a sandwich – should hold me over until getting back to Bacolod City. Can’t quite recall the drink specifically – it was a bright pink slushy beverage with a cookie stuck in the middle – while it was very tasty, it was also sugary sweet (although, not necessarily a bad thing for the moment).

Other airports typically offer a decent respite after sitting on a plane, not all of them off-the-wall amazing like Incheon International Airport, which serves Seoul, South Korea; however, have yet to experience a comfortable layover at NAIA, no matter which terminal.

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Written by Paulo Loreto

June 1, 2018 at 6:42 PM

Stopping in Guangzhou before heading home

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After a couple months away, cruising the Mediterranean and reuniting with friends in New York City, it was time to head back to the Philippines. On this trip, flew with China Southern Airlines – a first. On the flight out, had an 11-hour layover and got the opportunity to explore Guangzhou, the airline’s hub. Passengers with a minimum eight-hour layover and eligible to receive an entry visa for the day, along with hotel accommodations; for me, I used the entire time to wander.

The return leg wasn’t as exciting, it was a shorter time period, so it was just wandering the departure hall at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. To be honest, it doesn’t have the amenities of Seoul’s Incheon International Airport or Hong Kong International Airport, especially getting in early in the morning.

After arriving from New York City and getting through security, prepared for a few hours in the departure hall. With most of the places still closed, took the time to explore and see what they would have available once everything opened. There really wasn’t very much, unfortunately. One would need to leave the departure area to see more of what the airport had to offer, noticed a lot more amenities after getting through customs on the flight coming in

There was, however, one restaurant open. Looked over the menu and they served a variety of basic Chinese dishes; went with an old favorite, noodle soup with beef. It’s become an odd tradition at this point, when visiting Shanghai, had noodle soup at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, had noodle soup when leaving Guangzhou for NYC, and now before the flight home.

It was one would expect; delicious, chewy noodles served in a rich broth. The experience was one of those “people watching at the airport” moments, seeing the restaurant fill up and empty out while enjoying the meal; watching people rush back and forth, while, with the security of a couple hours (and eventual delay), having the chance to savor the dish. In addition, the pickles served on the side were exceptional.

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 27, 2018 at 8:40 AM

Macaron ice cream sandwiches at La Boqueria

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There is no visit to Barcelona without a stop at La Boqueria, the vast and crowded market situated along the ever-popular pedestrian street, La Rambla. Before the first visit, it was among the first sights recommended. Just looking around the place is amazing, seeing the variety of food – baked goods, fresh seafood, colorful fruit, etc. – and, of course, sampling.

After the Camp Nou, it might be my favorite place in town; it’s definitely my Dad’s favorite, when in town, he makes sure to stop by at least once a day.

On the last trip (coincidentally, the photos from that vacation are currently popping up on Facebook’s “On this day”), spotted a booth that was not there on the previous visit (which was a few years prior) selling macaron ice cream sandwiches.

Of course, I was stopping for one.

First enjoyed macaron ice cream sandwiches at François Payard Bakery, their location along W. Houston Street in New York City was only a couple blocks from the old office and walked over with a friend to try out their goods (have since found out they closed all of their locations earlier this year). Split a chocolate and strawberry sandwiches (if I remember correctly) and they were both amazing.

The next opportunity came in Seoul, encountered street vendor with a variety of flavors in Myeongdong – another lovely experience.

The selection at La Boqueria, like the market itself, was wide. They were also really colorful, like the many fruit stands throughout the place selling fresh juice. Decided on speculoos. Not entire sure why they went with blue for the macaron – delicious nonetheless. The macaron left a bit of a stickiness on the fingers, not sure if it was a matter of humidity or if it was the market air, but it was still a worthwhile purchase and would definitely go back to sample another flavor.

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 19, 2018 at 8:28 AM

Pintxos along Via Laietana

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With the sun was going down on a relaxing afternoon in Barcelona, it was time to step out for dinner. As with local custom, before sitting down to a formal meal, tapas first, small plates of food to kick off a long night of deliciousness.

Staying in the Barri Gòtic, right by the Barcelona Cathedral, started with drinks at a nearby bar and then proceeded to Tapa Fina, a tapas bar that was literally steps from the previous spot.

Having stayed in the area a few times prior, for whatever reason, had never walked into the place. Visited the next door coffee shop several times for a morning brew (and an afternoon pick-me-up), also stopped into the FC Barcelona shop located on the other side, but have always bypassed the tapas bar in between.

On this first visit, got a glimpse of a small and packed place – it was lovely. Bottles of wine lined the walls and heaps of pintxos, traditional Basque bar snacks, beautifully littered the display case.

Browsed the menu and spotted it; on a visit a tapas bar the night before, made a request for txakoli, a light Basque white wine that I had been introduced to at a New York City tapas bar, but they didn’t have it available. Tapa Fina had it right on their menu and it was the perfect accompaniment for what was just the beginning of the night.

Next came the difficult task of choosing what to order. Walked up to the display case and, pretty sure, I paced back and forth a bit in indecision. So many delicious-looking selections, but had to order just enough that it wouldn’t be filling, along with making sure it was something that would keep the appetite motivated throughout the night.

Both options were served on a lovely slice of crusty bread, one was topped with jamón, potato and red pepper; while the other comprised of salmon and cream cheese – wonderful. Tapas are a beautiful thing, both physically and to the taste buds.

A beautiful pair of pintxos. One topped with jamón, potato and red pepper (left) and the other with salmon and cream cheese (right).

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 6, 2018 at 8:46 AM

Indulgent patatas bravas steps away from La Sagrada Família

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On a recent trip to a local mall in Bacolod City, ordered, what the restaurant purported to be, patatas bravas. When the dish arrived, it was, essentially, potatoes served in a tiny cast-iron skillet topped with spaghetti sauce and cheese. While it was tasty, it shouldn’t be called “patatas bravas.”

During last year’s Mediterranean cruise and subsequent stay in Barcelona, not sure why but, at nearly every meal, an order of patatas bravas was included; although, it did offer sampling of the different ways the iconic tapas dish is prepared (none of which includes spaghetti sauce and cheese).

One such occasion followed a long walk through the city, starting at Park Güell, which began the morning with a relaxing walk and a chocolate croissant, meandered downtown towards La Sagrada Família (it was a very Antoni Gaudí-themed day). Getting closer and closer to the destination, the spires of the iconic cathedral became markers, indicating we were heading in the right direction.

Arriving near the structure, there was still a while before our assigned entry time and stopped for some snacks. A tall glass of Estrella Damm, a delicious plate of pa amb tomàquet, and patatas bravas provided some delicious sustenance after the long walk.

The place, TapasYcia, which, according to recent internet posts, has reportedly closed up shop, offered a generous portion of patatas bravas, with the salsa brava and garlic aioli poured separately across the long plate of hot potatoes. While the taste of authentic patatas bravas will always be a pleasant one to think back to, the sheer sight of the TapasYcia version is definitely a unique memory; and if they, in fact, have closed for good, glad to have captured the beauty on camera.

Stopping for a café con leche along the Passeig de Gràcia

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One morning in Barcelona, walked up the Passeig de Gràcia, a street lined with restaurants and shops, and was looking for a breakfast spot. Along that street, have enjoyed breakfast at Navarra Restaurant on previous visits, a Basque bar that offers “American breakfast,” which came with really good bacon; they also have one of those fresh orange juice machines that cracks out some of the most flavorful juice.

Not in the mood for something heavy, was looking to sit down to something, shall we call it, European? Happened across a familiar spot, Farrgi, which has traditionally (for me) been a place for ice cream and gelato; however, I do recall stopping at a different location and having a really tasty sandwich.

Walked in and saw there was a line, which offered ample time to check out the offerings for the morning and it was a pretty easy selection. A croissant and a café con leche were exactly what was needed to start the day.

Oddly enough, have had similar breakfasts when working in New York City, but, for whatever reason, it just feels different in Barcelona.

The croissant, as expected, light and flaky; but the café con leche was spot-on. Even during the preceding cruise, throughout Italy, it was espressos and cappuccinos, but once crossing into the Spanish and Catalan territories, it was café con leches every morning – and this was no different.

It sounds a bit overdramatic but, thinking about the numerous times enjoying a hot café con leche, whether it be a morning at a nearby bar or a quiet café, it always offers a moment to sit back and enjoy the memories.

Selecting croquetas at Mercat Santa Caterina

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The last trip to Barcelona, the fourth time in the Catalan capital, opened with a spot never visited on previous holidays; ironically have always seen it from afar but never made the effort to really take a good look.

Arriving in the city following a Mediterranean cruise with close friends, immediately got to wandering around the hotel’s neighborhood, the Barri Gòtic, and strolled towards the Mercat Santa Caterina.

Located along a wide clearing, a couple blocks from the Barcelona Cathedral, it’s not as vast as the famous La Boqueria along La Rambla, but it still offers a wide variety of goods; from fresh meats to ready-made meals. Renovated in 2005, the structure features a colorful ceramic roof, fitting for the city Antoni Gaudí called home.

After taking in the sights of the market was drawn to a display case filled with all kinds of croquetas.

Croquetas are delicious fried goodies covered in breadcrumbs and filled with a mix of mashed potatoes and some kind of meat. Anything with jamón was the easy choice, but with the array of options available, it was hard to choose – plus, was still planning a full meal afterwards, but was not going to be satisfied picking just one.

Given it was a few days in Barcelona, and it was close to the hotel, should have made it a daily stop and picked up a different flavor each day (something to think about for the fifth visit).

Written by Paulo Loreto

April 13, 2018 at 8:19 PM