Ms Skinny Fat.

Skinny.Fat. Sophisticated.Fun. Adventurous.Grounded. Material.Zen.

I'm a Caffeine Addict

Sipping on my 4th cuppa at Seven Seeds. Melbourne, Australia.

Breakfast Any Time of the Day

Perfectly cooked Sous Vide Eggs Benedict. Skyve Wine Bistro, Singapore.

A weakness for sweet things

My love for cupcakes. It all began at L'uisine. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Itadakimasu

Colours of Autumn: Omakase Hidden Find at Giro Giro Hitoshina. Kyoto, Japan.

Wanderlust

The World is my Oyster. Home is where my heart belongs.

Frozen in Time

Shooting old school muscles on our off-the-beaten-path trip. La Habana, Cuba.

Riding into the Purple Sunset.

Decadent villa getaway complete with black golden sand. Alila Villas Soori, Bali, Indonesia.

Bagism is my religion

Latest addition to my bag family- The Proenza Schouler PS11 Mini Classic in Textured Brown. 2013.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Santa Clara Cuba Travel Guide

Of the cities that i visited in Cuba, Santa Clara was certainly my favorite. Havana was scam heaven, Camagüey a little gritty, Trinidad a recluse's oasis, and Santa Clara the charming City of Che (as i call it).
Getting There
Like i mentioned in my previous Cuba travel post, Viazul provides several buses a day to/from major cities such as Camagüey, Havana, Sancti Spiritus, and Santiago de Cuba. A daily service to Varadero, Cienfuegos and Trinidad is also available.

Flying is also an option, and on hindsight, i should have just flown directly back to Canada from Santa Clara instead of taking the route via Havana. My advice is to get an open jaw ticket if you're headed east. Several Canadian airlines operate connecting flights between Canadian cities and the Abel Santa Maria airport so you have plenty of options. The airport connects some European cities such as Warsaw as well.

SEE
The must visit spot would be the Che complex, 2km west of Parque Vidal (via Rafael Tristá on Av de los Desfiles), near the Víazul bus station. The complex is a mandatory stop for those on a Che pilgrimage and it houses a monument, mausoleum and museum in honor of Ernesto Guevara. The above statue was erected in 1987 to mark the 20th anniversary of Che's murder in Bolivia.
Nearby, the mausoleum contains 38 stone-carved niches dedicated to the guerrillas killed in that failed revolutionary attempt. Che's body was recovered from a secret mass grave in Bolivia in 1997 and reburied here.

The adjacent museum provides an insight to the charismatic Che's life. There you'll see his transformation from a school boy to a revolutionary guerrilla leader.

Make a trek up Loma del Capiro aka Capiro's Hill for a view of the city. Che used this as a hideout and command center to invade the city in a battle known as Battle of Santa Clara during the Cuban Revolution.
A monument commemorating the battle was erected here. It's not easy getting to this spot and we had to ask for directions several times. Several detours through many unmarked roads later, we finally found the hill. The view is pretty amazing as you can see and there were locals and tourists alike chilling out on the breezy summit.

Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado is another place where Che left his mark.
Here marks the spot where Che and his band of revolutionaries derailed an armored train using a borrowed bulldozer and homemade Molotov cocktails on 29 Dec 1958.
There wasn't much to see here but it's kinda on the way back from Capiro's Hill.

DO

We wanted to go for the cigar factory tour to learn a little more about these pricy smokes (not that we even smoke). Guided tours (45mins for 3CUC) were said to be available. However, when we were there, we were informed that the tours have stopped since Oct 2012 even though the factory is still in operation. That said, the tours may be back in operation again with greater relaxation in policies.
A little on the cigar factory. They hire about 300 employees to hand roll the cigars for brands like Romeo y Julieta, Hoyos de Monterrey, Montecristo and Partagas. Even if you can't visit, you can certainly get the cigars in the small shop across the street (add: Calle Maceo #181, e/ Berenguer y Julio Jover).
These quality cigars are super cheap by the way. They were going at 20 sticks for 50 pesos (which is about 2 Euros). I think the local sg price is about $50 or more EACH. When we got back to Toronto, we were chided by the immigration officer for not buying any. :P

Other than the above suggestions, if you're really lazy to walk around, you could just chill out by Parc Leonico Vidal, which is the main city square.
Catching a play isn't a bad idea if you understand the language. The theatre was rather packed.

At night, music and dance dominates the square. There were bands playing at different corners and people spontaneously breaking in dance. We joined in of course!

STAY

I highly recommend Casa stays in Cuba as they are a great way to interact with the locals. Also, they are cheaper than the hotels. That said, casa stays are booked using a trust system so it's the casa owner's words against yours. There can be situations of overbooking and you just gotta pray that they can find you alternatives as good as their casas. Remember to call ahead to reconfirm your reservations at least 2 days before.

For our stay in Santa Clara, we booked our lodging via BBInnVinales.com for 2 nights at Casa Hostal Autentica Pergola - Street Luis Estevez #61, Independencia (Boulevard) Y Marti, Santa Clara +53 42 208686/ +53 53427936. It was slightly more expensive than our other casa stays and costs about 30/35 CUC per night depending on the season. The casa comes highly recommended on several sites and i was really glad that i managed to book 2 nights here (it's a pretty place). However, they screwed up our reservation and we could only stay for a night. BAH!
Here's our room on the ground floor. It looks kinda dated but was sufficiently comfortable. There's no airconditioning but it was breezy enough and there's a fan in the room. You can expect a hot shower though the water pressure is nothing like your regular hotels.
The interior of the casa is well maintained. It looked like a museum actually. Rocking chairs are available outside our room and there is a nice garden with a fountain in courtyard just beyond.
There's even a nice rooftop garden/dining area where you can enjoy your breakfast. We met other guests and they said the breakfast was decent enough. 

Well, the not so friendly owners arranged for another casa for our remaining stay in Santa Clara and it was 10 CUC cheaper. At this point i was just grateful for a place to stay and it was just around the corner as well. It's called Hostal Amalia and it sits in a conservation house. For 25 CUC, we got ourselves a big room with hot showers.
The owners were super friendly and they helped us with booking a 'taxi' to send us to the station on the day of our check out. 
I liked the nice rooftop terrace where we could chill out with our books. 
The owners accommodated our early breakfast on our check out and i loved the fresh fruits, bread and omelette that they prepared for us.
We did try to look around for another casa while Pergola was trying to sort the overbooking problem. I'll certainly recommend Hotel Florida Center! It's not as as glitzy as Casa Hostal Autentica Pergola but it sure felt very homey. Plus it was only 25 CUC per night!!! Sadly they were fully booked.
EAT
We love to check out the 'supermarkets' (though they are nothing like our super and hyper marts). Santa Clara's supermarkets are very well stocked with snacks, fresh meat and alcohol (very cheap rum too).

Street vendors hawk their fares around Parc Vidal so you can dig into some porchetta sandwiches while people watching. The buns are freshly made from the bakery just off Boulevard street.

It's also interesting to see where our meals come from and I sneaked a few shots at the local market.

We had our best peso meal at Restaurante El Alba and even stood in line with the locals to get a table at this popular establishment. Another tip, remember to get your CUC changed into Pesos because you'll get access to these really cheap and good meals!
I had a Cordon Bleu for only 45 pesos (2 CUC/Euros) and it came with a huge serving of salad, black rice and chips. It was really tasty. 

The grilled fish was only 70 Pesos and it was delicious as well.

If you're not ready to rough it out at the peso restaurants (honestly the food was great), your best bet for a good but not overly overpriced meal (price is relative) would be from a casa. We did not eat at Hostal Pergola Autentica as it is a bit more pricy and we were put off by the mix up.
Even if you don't stay at Hotel Florida Center, you should head there for a meal because their food is AHMAZING. We paid 12 CUC for shrimps and lobster and that sauce was reminiscent of my best meal in Split!!! The boiled beef in olives and onion was light and sourish. I was expecting a rich beef stew but well.. In short, go for the seafood!
As for dessert, there's the super cheap Coppelia. I believe there is at least 1 in every major city.

BUT BUT BUT, we found a better quality ice cream parlor in Santa Clara!
 
I'm practically the statue of liberty with her towering ice cream cone! Head to El Batazo, a hole in the wall ice cream parlour just off Boulevard street. It's on some dark street and it was the only lit spot but look at that queue of Cubans. It's pricier than Coppelia (6cuc for 2 scoops) but it tastes so much better! Oh and they open from 9am-11pm! Yes that is how crazy Cubans are for their ice cream.
Super long post here but Santa Clara is certainly a must visit if you're headed to Cuba. I'll try to update on the other cities soon (fingers crossed).

XOXO
Travelerintransit

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Carvers & Co. Brunch

I'm an Eastie and i'm absolutely loving how there is a growing cafe scene in the east, alongside my local favorites. Carvers & Co is one such addition along East Coast Road. This bistro-carvery opened by the people behind One Man Coffee focuses on communal feasting over hearty roasts and comfort food. While roasts are the highlight, let's save that for another time because the time wasn't right and i wanted brunch. 
Upon stepping into the shophouse unit, we were greeted by a strong truffle scent. 
First up, my daily dose of coffee. Flat White ($5) with a dry crema. Nutty dark roast with a light sweetness at the end.

Pretty art to boot as well.

A lean brunch menu, with a little more variety than One Man Coffee, is offered. The Paprika Candied Bacon Chips ($6) sounded interesting enough and reviews of it have been good. I do remember liking the toad in the hole at OMC pretty much and the Truffled Eggs Toast sounded like a good upgrade with the bacon chips as well so obviously i had to. 

Sadly, S doesn't indulge in breakfast food as i do, else an order of the Earl Grey Custard infused French Toast ($15) would also be on the table.

An arty shot while waiting for the food. The space is pretty tight and we sat at the elevated communal table.
Truffled Eggs Toast ($15) comes with bacon jam, cheddar, sous vide eggs, bacon chips and truffle oil. On hindsight, i think they forgot the bacon chips. I didn't check back with the servers because i thought the chips could be the little bits of bacon that were sprinkled. Disappointing.

The brioche was bouncy and soaked up the egg yolk. I preferred the sunny side up at OMC instead of the sous vide eggs here as they were kinda underdone. The whites were still transparent and i don't think that was how it was supposed to be presented. As usual, loved the sweet bacon jam with a hint of spice. It tasted a bit like hae bee hiam! Truffle oil was well, just truffle oil. 

Next trip, i'll be back for the roasts which change every week. Portions are limited and specials written on the board. Do call ahead to book a roast in the event of them running out. Seats are limited as well (40 pax max).

Carvers and Co.
43 East Coast Road Singapore 428764 
Tel: +65 6348 0448
Weekdays: 11am - 10pm
Weekends: 8.30am - 10pm (Brunch till 5pm)
Dinner service from 6.30pm
Closed Tues

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge, Istanbul Ataturk Airport

If I have to pick my favorite business class lounge, it will have to be the Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul at the Ataturk Airport (for now)! Sorry Changi Airport and Singapore Airlines, TK wins hands down! Why? Read on!
Traveling in business class on any Star Alliance flights allows you to fast track through an otherwise insane immigration queue. Access to the sprawling 5900sqm Turkish Airlines Istanbul Lounge (THY CIP) is made available to Turkish Airlines business passengers, Elite and Elite Plus members TK's Miles and Smiles frequent flyer program. Star Alliance Gold members departing on a Star Alliance flight are also entitled to using the lounge. 
The lounge is situated at the far end of the departure hall so make sure you have allocated sufficient time for transit. Simply follow the sign to the THY CIP Lounge. Upon your entry, store your bulky items/carry-on in the see-through lockers with electronic locking system, then head off to play!

Entertainment
There's plenty to do in the lounge, regardless of the duration of your transit. 
If you're a baller (pun intended), you could have a go at some balls in the Billard Room.
Challenge your golfing skills at the golf simulator. Turkish Airlines is big on golfing that way. 

If you prefer a more sedentary and relaxing form of entertainment, sit back and chill with fresh popcorns and a movie in the Cinema
Or head downstairs to the quieter sections of the lounge (I'd highly recommend doing that as it can get pretty busy on the entrance level). Enjoy the melodious tunes by the self playing piano while you kick back with some baklava and Turkish tea. THY CIP also engages  musicians for your listening pleasure. But first, I usually make myself comfortable with a warm shower preflight to freshen up, especially if I had spent a good half of the day exploring the city.

Amenities
The shower facilities at THY CIP lounge are luxurious with the considerable amount of thought going into the space, bath amenities and decor. There are 8 showers available, not many, considering they serve up to 1000 passengers at any one time. Exchange your boarding pass for a pager and it'll alert you when your stall is ready. I don't see many bathrobes available in lounges but this one has them!

If you have a particularly long layover, do take advantage the private rooms! Nap on the single bed, or get some work done in the quiet enclave. There are 8 of these available and they come with television, desk, and telephone.

Another great way to relax pre-flight is to get a massage! There are masseurs going around, offering back rubs from the comfort of your seat. Automatic massage beds are also available.
The craziness on the entrance level. If you're one of those who definitely must logged on and working, you'll be happy with the business facilities e.g. free Wi-Fi, desktops and printers, meeting and conference rooms, and media wall etc. You could also charge your devices in the lockers while you grab a bite. 

Food
I have saved the best for the last! The food selection is the best I've experienced in any lounge! Self serve buffet spreads are alongside chef stations where dishes are cooked a la minute!

Cold and hot mezzes are available, along with yummy Turkish food which you should not miss. Specialties from the different regions are made available here and I tasted some dishes that I didn't even encounter during my trip! 
Can't say no to kebabs, especially when they're grilled on the spot.
Turkish pides (think of it as a thin crust pizza) have become my favorite snack during my travel and there are at least 4 variety being served in the lounge. 
I had “Mantı” for the first time here at the lounge. These are turkish dumplings/meat ravioli. They typically consists of a spiced meat mixture, usually lamb or ground beef. These are boiled and then served with yogurt and warm paprika butter dressing.
Very hearty and yummy i must say. You can also get gözleme, a traditional Turkish wrap that is like a quesadilla. Wash it down with ayran, a salty yogurt drink. 
Tea plays an integral role in the daily lives of the Turkish people and THY CIP now has a lovely little tea garden which provides freshly brewed Turkish tea and simit, a traditional Turkish sesame seed bagel.
Of course, a wide selection of booze. 

Save space for desserts! The cakes and pastries are inspired by the famous Viennese pastry shop, Demel.
Their cakes are absolutely lovely!
I swear i had the best tasting baklava right in the lounge. No kidding. Plus i did eat quite a fair bit of this sweet dessert all around Turkey.
It was quite a mad rush at the Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul as i only had less than 2 hours. One could easily spend a couple more chilling out over here. Well well, next time i guess, hopefully soon.

XOXO,
Travelerintransit