Romantic Italy

Hello, my friends!

If you have read my blog post on Venice, you would already know that we had travelled to Italy in end March. We were there for 11 days and covered just the 3 big cities – Rome, Venice and Florence.

I have penned down my experiences in Rome and Florence here: http://rheawrites.com/travel/romantic-italy/ 

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Enchanting Venice

I had mentioned in my last post that we had gone to Italy in end March / early April. The blog post on the trip got delayed because I had run out of hard disk space to download all the photos! I finally managed to create space and here’s the first post on Italy – that fabulous country.

It was an 11 day vacation – 3 days each in Venice, Florence and 4 days in Rome. I planned to put all of it in one post with 3-4 photos of each place but we fell in love with Venice and I wanted to put many more photos!

Read my post on Venice here: http://rheawrites.com/travel/enchanting-venice/

 

Charms of Budapest

After the long and eventful train journey from Ljubljana involving some scares (read here) we (me and husband) reached Budapest. I fell in love with the city in the brief taxi ride from the Deli train station to our hotel, crossing such beautiful structures as the Chain Bridge and other beautiful baroque buildings – talk of love at first sight!

This is a little photo blog of the city.

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Pictured above is the St. Stephen’s Basilica – a beautiful building named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary. The interiors are beautifully done and the stained glass artwork looks lovely. The cathedral also holds the (possibly mummified) right hand of St. Stephen which resides inside a glass case.

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Next up was the Hungarian State Opera House.

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The grand interior was so big that my 18mm lens on a 1.6x crop sensor could only get one side of the galleries.

 

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After the tour of the building, we got to watch a mini performance by an opera star. I didn’t understand anything but what a variation of vocal pitch by the lady. She did hold up a wine glass as she was raising the pitch but it didn’t crack!

After the Opera, we visited the House of Terror! It’s not a place handing out cheap thrills but a much more sombre affair which reminds visitors of Hungary’s dark past under fascist and communist rule. This was the very house from which the secret police under the oppressive regimes would operate – victims were arrested and brought here for interrogation and torture and in a lot of cases execution even. It’s a reminder to humanity of its own dark doings.

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We then went on to Heroes’ Square which was a magnificent statue complex.

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Heroes’ Square

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Close-up of one of the statues on top of the arches flanking the central tower

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Statues of Magyar Chieftains in one of the flanking arches

Heroes Square had a metro station which we wanted to check out but for some reason didn’t. Budapest has the oldest underground metro rail system in continental Europe.

We then visited the Dohany Street Synagogue – a beautiful building with such lovely patterns.

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Dohany Street Synagogue – largest in Europe and second largest in the world

After that we crossed the iconic Chain Bridge on foot.

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Crossing the Chain Bridge on foot – that’s not us!

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We got this view while from the Chain Bridge – the Hungarian Parliament standing prominently in the Pest side.

 

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Close-up of the Hungarian Parliament Building

Next stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion – on the Buda side of the city. The previous sights were all in the Pest side which lies to the East of the Danube.

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We then spent the late afternoon and evening on the Buda side exploring some of the cafes and restaurants on the riverfront and taking some more photos.

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I was amused to see someone getting back from office (?) on such a cool ride

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I was trying to take a random photo when this tram came into the frame and I pressed the shutter!

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The Chain Bridge over the Danube

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Walking back after a long day…

Have a great weekend!

xx

Festive Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Last week, at my friend’s place I tasted ‘Tea Sangria’ and since then I have been meaning to recreate it for my family and also for the blog. Finally got some time to do it! So here it is, a Sangria which the kiddos can enjoy too! The ruby red drink is refreshing and packed with so much citrusy flavours!

A quick trip to the supermarket later, I made the three super easy  thirst quenchers, which are not only gorgeous to look at but delicious to the taste buds too!

 

Tea Sangria with strawberries and oranges

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Things I needed:

Few strawberries, crushed and strained

1/3 cup of sugar

1 1/2 cups of water

1 black tea bag

1 cup of cranberry juice

Round slices of lemon and orange

1 cup of fizzy orange drink

Few strawberries cut into small pieces

I had to boil the sugar and water for sometime before adding the tea bag and steeping it for a while. I let the mixture cool slightly, and then added the pureed strawberries.

Transferring to a bigger jug, I added rest of the ingredients into the mixture, like the cranberry juice, lemon and orange slices and fresh cut strawberries and chilled it for few hours in the fridge.

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Before serving into glasses, I added the fizzy orange canned drink, to make it perfect for the evening tête-à-tête with Hubby Dearest, once he was back from work.

 

Zesty Ginger Punch

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I can look at that smooth coral colour for hours! But be warned: soothing colours can be deceptive! This drink is a bomb in the mouth – the gingery and citrusy flavours just explode, but leave behind the sweetness of the pineapple as an after-taste. Hmmm… Yummmm!

Things I needed:

1 1/2 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoon Ginger-peeled and chopped

1 cup Pineapple juice

1/2 cup Cranberry juice

1 cup ginger ale

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I brought the water to a boil with the sugar, added the chopped ginger bits. I let it simmer for 10 minutes.

I strained and  let the mixture cool down before pouring into a jug along with the rest of the ingredients.

I chilled the drink before serving.

Yes! It’s thats easy!

 

Cranberry Mojito

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A twist to the classic! Virgin style, of course! It has the sweetness of the cranberries, tartness of the lime and freshness of the mint leaves….. what are we waiting for!

The things I needed:

250 ml Lime juice

250 ml Cranberry Juice

a bunch of mint leaves

Lemon quartered and round slices for garnishing

I used the handy mortar and pestle to pound the mint leaves and lemon pieces to get the juice out. In a jug, put the freshly crushed lemon-mint with the Cranberry and Lime Juice, the mocktail is ready to be savoured. Served best with some crushed ice, but I had used ice cubes instead.

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Weekend is here and the festive season is just round the corner – these drinks will surely be loved by friends and family in your parties. Do give them a try and let me know the reactions in the comments below.

Till then,

Keep hydrated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY-Painted Mugs, Plates, Glasses

I can literally spend hours on Pinterest and wouldn’t even realize it until my arm starts cramping, or eyes start burning after looking at the phone for such a long time! Thanks to Pinterest, I came across this super-easy DIY project, which is not only great for personal use but is an excellent handmade gifting idea for  your loved ones for any occasion or just like that! (hint hint: Christmas gift ideas).

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To start off, I needed the following items:

  1. Plain Mugs, Plates, Glasses (I had few white coloured extras in the house)
  2. Oil Based Markers (Sharpies, Painty or any brand available at the local craft store)
  3. Rubbing Alcohol
  4. Oven

I had to make sure that both my hands and the mug (the item being painted) were not greasy (no snacking in between!) otherwise the markers won’t stain and the colours would come off easily after washing. Little bit of rubbing alcohol can be used to clean the surface, if required.

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Normal permanent markers, Sharpies (water-based) will not work even if the mug has been baked, so as mentioned before, only oil based markers will do the job.

Once I had finished painting the surface of the once-boring-looking mugs, I let it sit for sometime before popping them in the oven.

As researched before-hand, I didn’t pre-heat the oven. I put all the painted beauties inside the oven for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees Celsius and let them sit there till the oven cooled down, to avoid the chances of them cracking due to the sudden temperature difference .

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I have already used the mugs and plates and have hand-washed them quite few times. The colour is still perfect and there hasn’t been any fading till now.

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So extremely happy with the cute little mugs! Sipping morning tea has become exciting – drinking from a personalized mug is always special!

This project is super easy and fun (warning: kind of addictive too). Since this is such a personal project idea there is no  right or wrong way of doing it. So no worries if the mug looks entirely different from the picture you got inspiration from on Pinterest. Let the the creative juices flow and if anything goes wrong, there is always rubbing alcohol to the rescue!

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Did I mention that this is addictive? – once I started on this, for a few days I kept frantically checking my kitchen cabinets with a marker in my hand for more plates, glasses and anything made of glass with a plain looking surface!

I hope you find this DIY idea as interesting as I did. Let me know if you have tried it out or not and did it work for you, in the comment section below.

Till then,

Ciao xx

 

 

 

Fun Family trip to Western Australia

 

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It was the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere in 2015. I was 6 months preggie and was already sweating profusely everytime I stepped out in the sun. We were thinking of a vacation and requirements were: short flight (considering how uncomfortable a mom-to-be can get in those cramped-up flights), cool weather and a place where we can let loose our 1.5 year old monkey do some jumping around and play to his heart’s content!

Perth ticked all our boxes: it’s 4.5 hours away from Singapore, excellent weather in May-June – bright sunshine with cool winds, lots of parks and farms for the kids. So we quickly booked our flights (found some cheap deals on Singapore Airlines) and applied for visas (and lost all that savings on the super-expensive visas).

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We weren’t expecting much from Perth – it didn’t enjoy the same glowing reviews as Sydney and Melbourne from our friends. Our itinerary was 3 nights in Perth, 2 nights in Busselton (didn’t find accommodation in Margaret River) and 3 nights in Freemantle.  

In the end it was one of the best vacations we have had – loads of fun with our kid who loved running about in the open spaces, petting kangaroos, watching slumbering koalas and colourful birds. Read on for details.

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Getting Around

We had rented a car from Avis right from the airport itself. Driving in Australia is a breeze – everyone follows the rules and nobody honks even if you are driving a bit slow which my husband is sometimes prone to do.

The car made moving around, especially between cities and towns, very easy and we could take pit stops every now and then for photo breaks or just to stretch my legs. After an initial struggle and resistance from the kiddo to sit in a car seat, he got used to it and started enjoying having his own special ‘throne’ (as we would call it). I had kept some drawing books, color pencils and videos on the phone handy which kept him busy for the short day trips we made.

Perth Highlights

King’s Park

It is an enormous and beautiful green space on a hill and impossible to cover in a day. The weather was outstanding the day we went! I finished the book I was reading basking in the sun, with a h-u-g-e milkshake (duh! I was 6 month pregnant) and watching my hubby playing football with my son. I had the best burger in my life that (OMG! Wish I could go back right now). That was the time I decided, this has to be one of the best vacations I have taken!

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City Centre

We spent some time around the shopping malls in and around Murray Street and Hay Street with me picking up some cheap maternity stuff from Target. There was a beautiful square at the end of the blocks of malls which seemed to be a venue for street music and arts.

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Caversham Wildlife Park

This animal farm is part of the much larger Whiteman park which also has a motor museum, vintage railway rides and many other attractions. It’s a 35-40 minute drive from Perth city centre. We reached around lunch time and had a hearty meal of burgers and fries before doing anything else (I don’t think I stopped eating in that trip!). We should really have reached there at 8:30am when the park opens but getting a 1.5 year old showered and fed and then getting myself ready and fed takes long in the mornings.

We could only do the wildlife park which was a lot of fun – this must have been the best highlight of our trip.

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Kid’s Food

My son, the pickiest eater in the world, lives on biscuits and milk when on vacations. I try to fret not and let it ruin my holidays, but still, being a mom, it bothers me if he isn’t eating well at all. There though he was more than happy to have those filling milkshakes for snacking and somehow loved the Aussie bananas (he hates bananas in Singapore) and fruits that we picked up from the super-markets. We had booked serviced apartments or self-contained cabins for the trip so I would make French Toast or porridge in the mornings and in the evenings to keep him full. All of the restaurants we went to were child friendly, so a scrumptious bowl of chips or spaghetti, boiled eggs would be available mostly everywhere. Best of all – the waiters and waitresses were so accommodating and friendly to our kid that we always felt welcome.  

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Busselton Highlights

We wanted to stay in Margaret River which is where everyone goes but sadly we could not find accommodation in a single farmhouse because they were all sold out the days we wanted to stay. We found accommodation in Busselton – a small town in the wine region about 220km from Perth. GPS guided us to take the freeway (the Aussie highway) for as long as available but we took a small detour to hit the very scenic Old Coast Road at it’s very beginning.

We stayed at Mandalay Holiday Resort and Tourist Park and we certainly don’t regret it! It’s a kids’ paradise! It has 4 kids outdoor play area including a giant pillow for jumping (I would jumped on it too but for the baby in the tummy), large fields to play in, heated indoor pools, bicycles for renting and the beach is just few yards away! We loved it so much that we extended our stay here by another day and cut down on Freemantle by a night.

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The Busselton Jetty was a 10 minute drive from the resort, so we went there in the late afternoon to catch the setting sun. There was a jetty toy train ride for the kids and an observatory, but unfortunately  they were closed by the time we reached.

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Margaret River Region

It’s the wine region in South Western Australia and very pretty.

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We drove to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in Dunsborough some 30km away – a lovely ride passing through tiny towns. Considering my health, we didn’t climb up the lighthouse but I am sure the view would have been spectacular (something for the next trip!).

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On the way back we made a stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory! It was such a fun place even for adults, as we could see people making chocolates and there was an array of selection of chocolates to sample and buy. The coffee and food too were delectable. It had a patch of green area at the back for the kids to play while the parents can munch on some goodies. My son joined other kids moving the stumps of logs chopped from the forest and kept in the clearing.

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We followed signs to the wineries to see what they looked like – there were so many names on the signs so we picked one named Rivendell (both me and my husband are Hobbit and LOTR fans). It was unfortunately closed by the time we reached which was past 3pm. A person there told us to try the winery just opposite –  The Aravina Estate.

It was a lovely place with rows and rows of short grape trees – the foliage was a bit yellow because of the season. There was a small building with a restaurant overlooking the estate and a car museum (!). We splurged a bit in the restaurant and it was totally worth it. The out of the world french dishes and the terrace dining made the experience memorable. Later, we spent a good half hour playing with bubbles in their perfectly manicured lawns and showing the vintage cars to our very excitable kid.

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Some more things to do in the region…

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Yallingup Maze – we couldn’t finish it!

Country Life Farm – there are some ponies, llamas and kangaroos to feed, an indoor kid’s playground, a pond to paddle boat in and a small cafe.

 

Freemantle Highlights

Since we changed the dates last minute, we changed our serviced apartment and it was a bad choice of acco. The apartment looked quite old in everything it had and worst of all there was a water leak from somewhere in the bathroom – not good especially with the cold. The reception office was closed over the weekend so there was no way to get it repaired.

What was a low point on the acco, was more than made up by the lively atmosphere of this beautiful town. We had a lovely sumptuous dinner in a Mexican restaurant. All of the shops were open until 9pm unlike in Perth where everything seemed to be closing down by 6pm!

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A highlight was the Freemantle Markets – I loved the shops selling at a variety of knick-knacks and the vibe here. There was a public piano where a very kind lady pulled up my kid and played a kid’s tune with him!

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This was one of the best trips I have had (possibly because of the food! and my happy hormones) with my family. We missed doing a lot of things – and that’s as well because it gives us an excuse to go back.

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If you have any suggestions of Things to Do in Western Australia it will be most welcome and would help with making the itinerary of the next trip.

XX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gift Idea: Affordable and Stylish Seiko Automatic Watch

How difficult it is to buy gifts for men?  Oh!

It can be rather exasperating if one does not really know what exactly the man wants or needs! I have been there and God! it’s never a pleasant experience.

On his birthday last year, I gifted the Husband a Seiko watch and till date he cannot stop raving about it. I guess that’s a good enough reason for me to share a tiny review of the watch, in case any of you wonderful people are fishing for gift ideas for your loved ones during the holiday season.

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That’s me flaunting the watch!

The product in question goes by the technical name: SNK807 Seiko 5 Automatic – not the most imaginative like Aviator or Bumblebee! It’s an automatic mechanical watch and after some online reading I found that it’s one of the brand’s popular items.

The watch has a classic face with blue nylon canvas straps which lends a cool and stylish feel to it. Other colour options are also available for the straps – like black, dark green. The dial is 36mm in diameter which is the standard size, not the huge (42mm) ones which are very popular these days. It’s got a day and date display which makes it rather convenient (even in this smartphone age!). And best of all – this stylish watch is unbeatable on price too!

 

 

The back cover is transparent showing the internal movements – should be a treat for those who like machines.

All in all, it’s a brilliant watch which is affordable, trendy and kind of perfect for those casual outings! My husband doesn’t think twice before wearing it to office as well. There has been many times, yes I confess, that I have worn it and felt very comfortable and kinda cool 😎

Let the shopping for the holidays begin! Or have you started already? And that reminds me: my husband’s birthday is around the corner and I have to buy a gift – oh my God! what to get him this time! Your ideas will be most helpful – really!

Till then, much love

XX

Online Shopping Link here.