Thursday, 4 August 2016

vancouver schmoozer

Schmoozer is definitely a word; you know exactly what it means. To be a schmoozer, to be schmoozed or to participate in the act of schmoozing, whatever it is, schmooze your way through the bustling little city of Vancouver with this killer list.

Whether it's exploring the cocktail and food scene, local craft breweries, immersing yourself in nature or just wandering around, the city has got a lot going on but it’s nice to know the good spots to make the best of your time there.  

When I worked at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar I used to handwrite a tailored list for customers visiting the city. Yes, I’m that nice.  So here are some of my favourite things to do and see in the city that stole my heart.
Downtown & Yaletwon:
§  Café Medina $$ – a Vancouver favourite with the best brunch in town, be prepared to wait for a table (it’s worth it!), amazing coffee, waffles and Mediterranean inspired dishes. They’ve also branched out into brunch cocktails! Try their signature lavender latte and Harrisa Plain Plait Burger. 
§  UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar $$ - classy but casual downtown cocktail lounge open ‘til 2am every night, happy hour 2-6pm including the famous $1 oysters, plus live jazz every Saturday night. Perfect for wine flights and cheese/meat boards.

§  Cibo Trattoria $$ - the sister restaurant of UVA, specializing in authentic Italian; seasonal, local and organic.
§  Johnnie Fox’s Irish Snug $ - cute little Irish hole in the wall on Granville street
§  The Granville Room $ - dimly lit hideaway on Granville Street, open ‘til 3am every night
§  Ramen Jinya $ - one of the best ramen spots this side of town, but there are so many others to check out too.
§   Homer St. Café $$$ - classic comfort food, adventurous wine and cocktail list in a beautiful historic space
§  The Parlour $ stylish, laid-back atmosphere with amazing Gluten Free pizzas

§  Start your day with a coffee at some of the best cafes in the area: Revolver, Prado and Timber Train
§  L’Abattoir $$$ – Pacific Northwest food with a French touch in an industrial-chic setting. Great cocktails, try their famous Avocado Gimlet.
§  The Diamond $$ - bustling casual craft cocktail lounge with a stunning view of Gastown and a hidden back bar. A late-night industry favourite
§  Gringo Taco Bar $ – late night Mexican dive bar in Blood Alley. Upbeat and unfussy, cheap booze and super tasty food.
§  Salt Tasting Room $$– If you want to get your wine and cheese on this is place specializes in pairing regional wines with cured meats, cheeses and condiments. Right next to Gringo in Blood Alley
§  Tacofino $– seriously good tacos and cheap cocktails.  Open for lunch and dinner
§  Six Acres $$ - quaint little two story nook with large selection of bottled top-shelf local and imported beer. Warm, cozy and candlelit.
§  Pourhouse $$ - beautiful old colonial American style bar, great lunch daily deals and live jazz on Sundays. Get a bit googley eyed at the sleek and shiny 38ft bar.
§  Portside Pub $ - an industry favourite, nautically themed unpretentious basement pub. Open late (3am) on Friday and Saturday nights
§  Guilt & Co. $ - another downstairs basement pub with live entertainment every night of the week and giant Jenga. Enough said.
§  Blacktail Restaurant $$$ - local, seasonal Canadian cuisine and craft cocktails. The food is incredible here and a great place for a date night 
§  The Irish Heather $ - modern Irish pub, $5 Guinness at happy hour  and good grub
§  Sheebeen $$ - back bar to The Irish Heather, boasts the largest whiskey list in the city
§  Meat & Bread $ - Try the best sandwich in town, several locations
§  Calabash $– Caribbean  “reggae-centric” bistro, amazing authentic food and the best Dark n’ Stormy's in town! They have a great live music schedule and feature local art too so go online and check it out
§  Wildebeest $$$Meat-centric farmhouse fare with creative craft cocktails in a warm cozy setting. “The staff are well-mannered and well-dressed, with a clear fondness for good, vintage fashion” - BarChick
§  The Alibi Room $ - modern tavern featuring 50 taps of local and imported beer, sustainable food in a casual dining space
§  The Urban Winery $$ - boutique winery with warm, casual space, live music (The Set List ) and wine tastings on Sundays
§  Cuchillo $$ - Latin American small plates, tequila flights and creative agave based cocktails. Plus the best Baja Fish Taco I’ve ever had!
§  Ask for Luigi $ - refined Italian designed for sharing
§  The Mackenzie Room $$ - Locally sourced New American eats, craft cocktails & a daily punch 

§  The Keefer Bar $$ – Chinese Apothocary cocktail lounge. Entertainment most nights. Every Tuesday live music with Alex Maher and Soul Sessions with DJ Mykro Douglas
§  Bao Bei $$ – Chinese/French fusion with amazing cocktails and an energetic vibe. They don't take bookings so pop over to the Keefer Bar while you wait for a table 
§  Mamie Taylor's $$ - authentic heritage American with lots of fried chicken, rye whiskey and seriously good-looking bartenders and taxidermy. Weekend Brunch 11am-3pm
§  Phnom Penh $ - insanely good traditional Vietnamese/Cambodian food
§  The Union $ - step into an Asian market place and enjoy Pan-Asian eats with creative Asian-inspired cocktails. Seriously good food at a great price. Weekend brunch 10am-3pm
§  Upstairs at Campagnolo $$ - Solera aged Negroni’s and lots of wine.
§  Pizza Farina $ - bustling, minimalist pizza joint with tradition Italian style thin-crust pizzas. Open until the dough runs out.
§  Matchstick Coffee $ - hand-crafted preparation of single-origin coffees in casual designer space
§  Bestie $ - friendly little German sausage and beer parlour with a late night take out window on Friday and Saturday nights until 3am
§  Chambar $$$ -  “Experience fine dining in a warm and inviting atmosphere” in this Belgium restaurant with three-star Michelin trained chef. Choose from an immense selection of beer, wine and cocktails, and marvel in one of the most stunning designer spaces you'll see in the city. Date night material

Mount Pleasant, Main Street and Kitsilano:
§  Shameful Tiki Room $$ - Exactly what its sound like, filled to the brim with beachcomber and tiki kitsch this hidden vintage-style Polynesian bar. They seriously respect traditional tiki cocktails here so have a go at a Zombie and be prepared to fall the floor after a few. Lots of fun always had, good vibes. Go-Go dancers on Sundays
§  Burdock and Co. $$ - local, organic small plates and Naturalist wines. Communal and cozy.
§  The Fox Cabaret- Sunday Service comedy show at 9pm, get in early to snag a seat)
§  The Narrow Lounge $ – hidden dive bar with an intimate setting. No signage, just look for the little red light
§  Cascade Room $ - lively eatery with West Coast comfort food, craft beers and classic cocktails. $6 cocktails for Happy Hour Sunday-Thursday 5-7pm, say whaaaat?!
§  Portland Craft $ - locally sourced offerings inspired by the Portland food scene with a large selection of North-west craft beers
§  The Acorn $$ - Stunning local, seasonal and organic vegetarian food and creative cocktails often featuring vegetable juices. “Visually alluring and more important, delicious” –NY Times, “#2 Best Vegetarian in the world!” – Daily Meal
§  Lucy’s Eastside Diner $ – Get your late night munchies on at this 24-hour retro diner whipping up Canadian and classic comfort food 
§  Pho Extreme Xe Lua $ – best 24-hour Pho in town!
§  Super Marine $$- quickly becoming a hip Kitsilano hang-out, Super Marine specializea in sustainable and seasonal seafood and craft cocktails. Octopus chips people!
§  The Corduroy $ – Hip eatery & bar with wood panelling serving Canadian fare. Monday nights Rock Paper Scissors are a blast as well as Tuesdays Open Mic night
§  Vij’s $$ – celebrated Indian restaurant offering inventive cuisine in a lively atmosphere. Spices and cooking techniques remain Indian while the produce is locally sourced, driving seasonal menu changes. 

West End:
§  The Score on Davie $ –This fun casual, neighborhood hangout serves up Canadian pub fare, has weekend brunch and is perfect watching hockey matches. By far the best Caesar’s in town. Oh how I miss Caesar’s….
§  Espana $$ – low-lit intimate Spanish tapas with a impressive selection of wine and sherry
§  Exhile Bistro $$$ - small, healthy artisan restaurant featuring local, wild, seasonal cuisine. The lentil and nut pate is to die for, and would pop in often just for this and a delicious cocktail with nutritional ingredients such as blue-green algae, turmeric or aloe vera.
§  Sushi Maumi $$ – owned and run by a lovely Japanese couple, Maumi is open for dinner only and with a capacity of only ten or so people, this place packs out pretty quickly. They specialize in purely authentic  mouth-watering Nigiri and Sashimi, all the way from Japan to your plate.
§  Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina $– snug little tequila bar with tiki cocktails and gourmet Mexican food. Happy Hour 11pm – late weeknights.

Commerical drive:
§  La Mezcaleria $$ - bringing you the beauty of Mezcal and Tequila (either in cocktials or by itself), along with delicious familia style Mexican cuisine in a stylish, busting atmosphere. The Aztec volcanic rockpots are a must, especially the orgasmic Queso Fundido (famous molten cheese fondue).
§  Libra Room $ - Funky hangout and live music every night of the week
§  Biercraft $ -  A spot for craft beer enthusiasts offering over 20 brews on tap 
§  Falconettie’s $ -  Laid back rock n’ Roll with live music most nights
§  Prado Café $ - great local coffee spot, good for people watching and’working’

Scenic activities and the great outdoors:
§  Hiking – there are so many possibilities and lots of options depending on your skill level and time frame. Check out Vancouver Trails for more info
§  Stanley Park – a wonderful green oasis right next to the city. Ride, run or rollerblade around or through the park. Be sure to hire bikes from a shop along Denman Street as it’s cheaper
§  The Seawall – walk, run or ride along the 28km seaside greenway (the worlds longest). Visit the lovely parks and enjoy the stunning views along the way, you can ride all the way to Wreck Beach if you’re feeling up to it!
§  Wreck Beach – a Vancouver must, nudist beach right next to the university, need I say more?

§  Granville Island Market - one if the most touristy spots in town, but it's definitely worth a look. Take a small water taxi over from one of the many locations. There are boutique shops, breweries/distilleries as well as street performers to keep you entertained. It's absolutely packed during the summer and almost a ghost town in the winter. Buy some fresh produce and have a picnic in a park close by (if it's not raining that is)
§  Craft Brewery Tour by bicycle – join a tour group or customize your own. Some of my favourites are Big Rock Brewery and 33 Acres
§  Watch the sunset at Sunset Beach – a popular way to unwind from the day, many people come down just to watch the sunset and relax with friends in the summer
§  The Grouse Grind- a.k.a. Natures Stairmaster. Climb this 2.9km beast of a trail and prepare yourself for an epic view. An extremely good cardio workout but not for the faint hearted. It is only one-way though, so you get to enjoy the Gondola on the way down!
§  Vancouver Lookout Tower – located on West Hastings Street in Gastown, this little gem is one of the best ‘touristy’ things to do. 360 degree views of the city, it’s neighborhoods and its surrounding mountains. Full interpretive display describing history and facts about the city. Your $16 admission fee is valid throughout the whole day, so be sure to come back for sunset or a nighttime view of the cityscape. 
§  Tuesday drum circle at Third Beach enjoy the afternoon sitting on the beach, looking across the ocean, watching the sunset over the mountains. Hundreds of people gather to play and dance to the beat of the drums
§  Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge – Take the bus over to Lynn valley for an easy hike, free suspension bridge and a nice escape from the hustle and bustle. Snap that typical Canadian landscape photo at Rice Lake
§  Vancouver Island and Victoria - If you have time catch the ferry over to Vancouver Island and visit the quaint little town of Victoria. There are plenty of thing to do and see including lots of cools bars and breweries

Tofino - is another must n Vancouver Island but requires a little more time, although VanCityBuzz featured an article describing 72 Hours in Tofino
SSnowboarding/Skiing - There are three local Mountains, Cypress, Grouse and Seymour plus a short day trip to either Whistler or Mt Barker (in the US). Snow sports sorted.

Fortune sound club - dance club with awesome sound system and shows
Celebrities -  after-dark dance hub


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

the best of budapest

First, let’s get one thing straight. It’s pronounced Budapessshhhtt! Get this one right and you'll 
pretty much be considered a local.  

I wrote these suggestions for a fellow traveller I met on the road, who only had five hours in Budapest. I would obviously suggest staying longer, but this is still a fantastic list.

Get yourself a map - If you can find the map for the free walking tour get it, as it's got everything you need including transport, attractions and all the pubs.

Free Walking Tour - If you have time, the free walking tour is one of the best I’ve been on and is pitched at young travellers. The meeting point is at Vörösmarty square (tér) daily at 10:30am and 2:30pm

For your morning coffee hit, try My Little Melbourne Coffee at Madách Imre út 3. (Madách square). It has amazing Australian artisan style coffee, the best I had in Europe!

Sample some of the not-so-healthy Hungarian cuisine - There are plenty of great places to eat, try along Király utca (street). You should be able to get a starter, main and drink for about €10!

Get a souvenir at the Great Market Hall – a little touristy but those little paprika shovels are too cute

Take a bath; it’s probably been a while! - Visit the collection of thermal baths that the city is so famous for (

Get your arse up Gellért Hill! - There, you’ll find a magnificent sunset! The sun goes down around 8.30-9pm (in summer) but go a little earlier because the light is just perfect for photos. Do what other travelers do and enjoy the view with a beer or two. The view from the Hill is just as spectacular by night; you can get a photo of all the bridges across the Danube.

Get your church on at St. Stephen’s Basilica; the largest church in Budapest

Take a stroll through the Castle District - is packed with historic sights and attractions, museums, great views and charming little streets

Wine me – visit one of the many wine bars and do some wine tasting.  If you didn’t already know Hungarian wine is top notch stuff! Seriously. Plus its cheap as chips at roughly 2 euro a glass!

Take a tram - Trams No. 2, 4 or 6 will take you to most of the places of interest

Marvel at the wonders of Hungary's Parliament Building - Good by day but unbelievable at night. If you want that perfect photo, look at it from the other side of the river. From the hill, walk down and left along the river until you reach it 

Walk along the Danube Promenade - Whatever you do, the views from the Danube Promenade at night are great.

Check out the famous Ruin Pubs - where old derelict factory buildings were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, bringing a retro feeling into the area and reigniting the night-life of budapest. Szimpla Kert is the largest and and consdiered best of them all but there are lots of other great pubs in this area too so just wander around the streets

Visit the best club in Europe - If you’re feeling up to it, head to A38; the famous reincarnation of a Ukranian stone-carrier ship floating on the Danube in front of Gallert Hill. A38 has been voted the best club in Europe and hosts many cultural events

For more info

Monday, 24 June 2013

sailing the adriatic

When I told my well-travelled friends that I was going to Europe for summer, they all raved about the sailing trips in Croatia. And why the hell not?! Travelling is exhausting (yes, I said it!) and to spend a week on the water sailing through some of the most beautiful islands in the world with your whole itinerary planned for you is just a brilliant break from the "train-hostel-cathedral-pubcrawl" scene.

When Mai and I were living in London we went to the London TNT Travel Show to snag some deals, and boy did we get lucky! We bought a 2 for 1 sail Croatia trip that is usually about 800 quid for 399 each. Plus we also bought a 3 day La Tomatina festival pass with festivals all round for 150. We were all set for some good times! If you’re in London, go to the travel show (held in March) and get yourself a bargain!

After sleeping in Belgrade airport, we arrived in Dubrovnik and hopped on a bus to Split where our boat was departing from the next day.  Early Saturday morning we packed our bags and headed to the port where there must have been at least 200 vessels of all sizes waiting to set sail. It was all a bit crazy but we ended up finding our vessel in the end, Rojac.

The best thing about little Rojac was that it was way smaller than the rest of the boats, with only 16 people compared to the usual 30-40. Our new sailing family included two Swedish girls, an Australian couple, an Aussie girl and her English boyfriend, two English guys, two Colombian girls and two Croatian couples (plus Mai and I). It was a nice mix and surprisingly, there were only 4 Aussies! Awesome! I was afraid Sail Croatia would be a massive Aussie Fest.

I love living on boat. It's so simple. Eat, swim, lie in the sun, eat, drink beer, repeat. During the day, we sailed from one island to the next, with swim stops, snorkeling and chillaxing under the sun. In the evenings we explored the town, went out for dinner and hit the famous Croatian bars and clubs. I would totally recommend the company, Katarina Lines. We did the ‘Young and Fun Southern Island Hopping’ and the whole trip was very well organised.

The itinerary from Split included:

  • Makarska -  there was an optional river rafting experience on the Cetina River, we stopped for our first dip in the deep blue sea, the town itself was absolutely stunning with backdrop mountains but unfortunately the famous outdoor cave club, ‘Deep’ was closed (we ended up finding some great places anyway!)

  • Mljet - with the beautiful lake National Park, a group of us had a picnic dinner over sunset and we met some people who were trying to convince us to swim out to their big boat for a party. Not likely.

  • Dubrovnik – we went walking around the old town exploring the hidden gems, I went for a run in the afternoon and we had a free walking tour which was really interesting, covering the history of the town, at night we had a random last minute dinner with our table set up in the street and went to a massive MASSIVE club in a castle

  • Trstenik - my favourite stop, a beautiful tiny Island covered in vinyards, I went for a run up a hill in the heat, we did a wine tasting tour and played a game of football with a French football player

  • Korčula - believed to be the birth place of Marco Polo, I did a backflip off the top of the boat and flipped too many times. The back slap was painful as f*ck!
  • Hvar: I’ve heard so many things about the nightlife in Hvar, but it was pretty damn expensive to get into a club. We played a few drinking games on the boat and some of the others went out. Definitely a place I’d like to come back to with more time!
  • Split: The last night on our cruise, it was one of the Swedish girls’ birthday so we all went out in style (that is, drinking 1L beer out of plastic bottles in the park and going clubbing). I ended up playing guitar with a small group of people until 4am! We had people leaving the club join us in sing-a-longs. It was a brilliant end to a brilliant trip!

I promised everyone I’d write a song to sing on the last day and I did. Although it was a cover, I wrote the lyrics which included everyone one the boat and some of the hilarious things that happened over the trip. 

Some of the highlights of the trip were: the food (the most delicious boat food I’ve had and probably the healthiest we’d eaten in a while!), The Mine game (a rule of the boat where if someone said ‘mine’ they had to do 10 pushups anywhere, anytime – including shops, restaurants, bars etc., it was comedy!), the endless amount of card games we played on deck, the sing-alongs (the two Colombian girls had amazing voices and we sung together a few times) and of course, the friends we made (it was such as small group that we got to know each other well and had a lot of fun).

I would totally recommend a Croatia Sailing trip if you want to have a nice balance of relaxing and partying and it’s definitely the best way to see the stunning Croatian Islands. You’re only challenge is to the dodge the Aussies!