Mala Fabrika

When I travel I always make a point to roam around the city and get lost. But this time, we decided to walk across the city on foot with a purpose. We wanted to visit Mala Fabrika. It’s ranked the number 5 restaurant in Beograd on TripAdvisor. I was surprised to find that the restaurant scene in Beograd to be very sophisticated. The restaurant was quaint, well decorated, and service was excellent. They spoke perfect English and was very courteous in answering all our questions. 

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First course was a procini mushroom soup. It was very flavourful, creamy but not heavy. If you like mushroom, you would be delighted with this soup.

 

 

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We then ordered a traditional Serbian dish. It was a little like jelly with meat inside. Savoury. Reminds me of this Chinese dish from northern China called cold meat (“凍肉”).

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The main course was a bread pork chop with pickled veggie and baked potato. The pork chop was not very catchy, it tasted like any other pork chop. But the potato was delicious. We couldn’t stop eating it. It was very flavourful, and crispy on the outside.

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Though it was getting to a point where we were having too much food, we couldn’t pass up for this opportunity to try a traditional Serbian meatball. It was served in a clay plate, hot and sizzling. Topped with Serbian cheese that was mild and resembled mozzarella.

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Last but not least, and thank goodness we were 2 starving kids from the day before, we managed to find room for dessert. A creamy custard cold soup with meringue on top. It was simply delicious and not too heavy even after such a big meal.

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I also indulged in wine. I had a glass of fume blanc. It had a nutty oaky bouquet. Citrus and grapefuit clung to my nose. There was a strong smell of alcohol. Medium viscosity, most likely due to the alcohol. It was a dry wine with good acid making you salivate.

After a delicious meal, we slowly made our way across town again. We stopped by the fortress for some night photos of the bridge and the river. It was a breath taking view up at the top. I took in as much as I could of the view knowing that tonight was our last night in Beograd. Goodbye Beograd. Until next time.

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Onward to Beograd

I’ve been intending to continue documenting my travels to the Balkans and Turkey, but life has been busy. In my last post we were at Sofia, Bulgaria, and we were heading to Beograd (Belgrade), Serbia. We took an overnight train that was very old. We managed to get a private coach so that we could catch some shut eyes during the night. There were a few things that I had to prepare myself for the ride. I didn’t drink any water, to avoid having to use the bathroom. Bring food, because food is not offered on the train even though it’s a good 7 hour ride. If you are considering taking the train from Sofia to Beograd, you also have to be aware that at the boarders between Bulgaria and Serbia, the train operators change from Bulgarian to Serbians. At which point, they will come knocking on your door to verify your passport. I was very nervous when the Serbian boarder police took my passport and left with it. I wasn’t sure who he was, and why he needed to walk away with my passport. As I began to panic he returned with my passport.

Arriving at Beograd, we found ourselves on an old train platform. It was half past six, and we were exhausted. There was a weak wifi signal at the station (thankfully), and I was able to map out our airbnb location.

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I didn’t realize the walk was going to be very long with our heavy backpacks. We walked well over 45 mins on empty stomachs (because we didn’t eat the night before), barely any liquid, and lack of sleep.

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We made our way as quickly as we could to pick up the keys, and headed over to our apartment. We went through the front gate only to realize that I don’t know which apartment and which floor we are on! I walked up and down the building to no avail. The next best thing to do was try to call the landlady. I didn’t know how to use the pay phones in Serbia, so I walked into a convenient store to borrow a phone. The store owner wanted to charge us $5 USD for the phone call. I shocked that she would take advantage of lost travelers like that, but decided that we should pay her anyways because we were exhausted and there was no other way. The phone number didn’t go through. We were officially homeless.

We sat outside on the streets in front of a hotel, hoping that we could get a wifi connection so we can email the lady and hope that she would email back. We sat there and waited. The city was starting to stir and people were out walking their dogs. For a few people, I’m pretty sure we were their amusement for the day. Two foreign girls looking completely lost, sitting on the street with their backpacks. There were a few moments where I was convinced that we would be homeless for the next few days. Just as I started to panic, she emailed us back. We headed back to the building and finally found our apartment.

The place was a studio room with just a bed, a small kitchenette, a small bathroom with a shower. It was simple, well decorated and clean. We were pleased. At last, a hot shower and some food would be nice. R jumped into the shower and low and behold, the water was freezing. She was soaked in freezing water from head to toe. I emailed the landlady and she said that we had to turn on the heat in the apartment and wait half hour before the water warms up. Unfortunately, it was too late for R. We napped for what seemed like just a little while, and when we woke up it was 1pm already. I was starving. We set out to look for food. Having not eaten for at least 36 hours we were determined to feast. We walked around and realized that we were staying in a very quiet neighborhood, a bit away from city centre. Some nice bakeries and restaurants lined the street.

We decided on a retro looking restaurant called “Ime Restorana”. The decor felt like we were stepping back into an old Serbian home. There was little debate as to what we wanted to have, because we were so hungry we wanted to have everything.

We started with fresh corn bread. It was warm and tasty. The bread was a little dense and a little savoury. Very different from the typical french bread that we get in Toronto.

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We then had a mushroom with stuffed cheese and some sort of pork ham. It’s almost like bacon, but not as fatty. When we ordered this, we thought that the portions were going to be a lot smaller, and we didn’t realize that it would be served with rice. the mushrooms were essentially baked with the Serbian cheese (which resembles feta cheese in taste and texture). The mushroom was very juicy and the juice was absorbed into the rice. I’m assuming that the mushroom was made on the bed of rice so that the rice would pick up the flavour. The rice was like a balsamic rice. It’s a little harder than what I’m use to which is more along the lines of soft chewy Japanese rice.
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Next we had a Serbian pie. It was layers of pastry cheese. The pastry layers were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy with the cheese on the inside. Could you tell by now that we’ve over ordered?

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Next we had a simple tomato sauce pasta. There was a generous splash of olive oil. The tomato sauce was very light, and as you can see there were no bits of tomatoes in the pasta. It was just the tomato juice and olive oil. Very tasty and comforting after a long day.

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The protein came next. Chicken breast with herbs in a cream sauce. I personally wasn’t a fan of the cream sauce. I though that there was too much sauce on the chicken and the sauce was better served on the side. The cream sauce was savoury with generous amounts of herbs to balance off the creaminess.

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And did you know that Serbia actually grew it’s own grapes? I was delighted to find out that Serbia made it’s own wine. This wine had a dry finish to it. It had a grapefruit and citrus bouquet. It was pale straw in color with a slight green tinge. What you would expect from the cold climates of Serbia. After I got home, I read a bit more about Serbian wine, and learned that Serbia used to produce a lot more grapes. But during the war, people abandoned the vineyards and went to war. (War is bad, wine is good!) Before the war, in the 1970s Serbia had named 7 main wine regions with further sub region classifications. But now the industry is picking up again. You don’t get Serbian wine in Canada because it’s too expensive to ship. But if you ever get a chance to go to Serbia make sure you try out their wine.

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So now your probably wondering what the total damage is? Well it cost $3,240 Serbian dinar which is approximately $40 canadian! Isn’t that amazing? For such a delicious meal. The staff members spoke a bit of English and was extremely friendly. A lot of smiles, and came to check on the food. They did their best to explain what each dish was. Overall, a fabulous dining experience!

Good food, great company!

I always feel so lucky when I go somewhere, and I get to meet up with friends. Lucky for me, Heidi lives in CPH! Her and her boyfriend (TB) are so sweet for showing me around. Here is the super fun couple!

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We went to Dyrehaven for lunch. It’s a cozy restaurant frequented by locals. The place use to be a bar and then it was purchased by someone else and now they serve smorrebrod as their specialty. The place is easy going, relaxing -very Danish.

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It was a smorrebrod feast. My first was a fried fish smorrebrod with dill, this creamy mayo-like sauce, and some pickles. The second one was a potato with this creamy sauce and fried onions. Both extremely tasty and very filling.

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TB ordered a roast beef and a bacon one.

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Heidi went with a goat cheese salad.

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They also had a very good selection of beer on tap. Being extremely satisfied, we went for coffee and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather.

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Thank you Heidi and TB for being such wonderful hosts.

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I have a confession to make.

So I have a confession to make. I went to Nyhavn for the shot that every tourist takes when they visit CPH. (Can you blame me? It’s so pretty)  Nyhavn is a 17th century harbor.  It’s the image that every foreigner thinks of when someone mentions CPH.  I went an hour before sunset.  The clouds were beautiful, the sky was a rich blue, and the sun was out.  Nyhavn was lively with locals and tourists alike enjoying the weather.

It was picture perfect.

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With a photo like that in the bag, I felt like my trip is complete.  But.. I have a confession to make.  When I got there and started my shoot, I was a little shocked.  Houses were beautiful, people were happy, sun was shining.. the water was dirty.  Actually, the water was SO DIRTY, there were cans, plastic bags, flags…etc floating.  It was gross.

Mind you CPH is a fairly clean city.  No where in CPH have I seen a neighourhood this dirty. (Maybe I didn’t look hard enough)  I consider Nyhavn a city landmark.  It breaks my heart.  I know what it is.  It’s the number of tourists that come here every year, and don’t respect the place.  Leaving trash and junk behind.  But, let’s not blame it all on the tourists.  Locals spend time there as well.

So, I confess that I Photoshopped all the garbage out (above noted photo).  I’m a perfectionist and I just can’t have so much garbage floating around in my photo.

So here you go, for those that love spoilers.  The unedited photo.

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Hi, would you mind taking a photo for me please?

One of the woes of traveling alone, is getting a photo for yourself. Normally it’s fine, I prefer to be behind the camera. But, there are moments where I wish someone would hold the camera for me. Today was one of those days. I visited Kronborg Slot today. Having studied Hamlet so intensely in school, it was one of those moments where I really wanted a GOOD photo of me with the castle.

So, I had to pull a touristy: “Hi, would you mind taking a photo for me please?”

I normally don’t like to give my camera to someone else. Handing over my most valued possession to a complete stranger just doesn’t sit well with me. But if I have to, there are 2 broad groups of people I target.

1. Couples
I normally target couples because there would be 2 of them. If they are tourists themselves, than the likelihood of them running away with my camera is lowered.

2. Fellow Camera User (Nikon users preferred)
Then there are those fellow camera users. I usually check what camera they are using. If they are using a half frame, then I normally set it to AP for them. If they are using a full frame, I normally set it on Manual mode with all the settings I already had -assuming that most full frame user uses manual mode. I assume that because they own their own camera and probably wouldn’t need to steal mine.

I also never hand my camera to someone that looks flimsy, high maintenance people who look like they can’t lift and hold steady my 10lb gear.

Anyways, I side tracked a bit, but for a good reason. Today I wanted a photo with Kornborg Slot. The first time, I asked these 2 nice looking middle aged ladies to help me take a photo. She doesn’t look like she’s ever held a DSLR before, but that’s fine. I switched it on live view, and changed all the settings to automatic for her. So I get into the shot, and she’s fiddling with the camera. Then she looked up from the camera and asked me how to adjust the zoom. I had my wide on for her, so she should be able to get the whole castle and me in it. But she wanted to adjust the zoom, so I showed her. And this was the result:

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This is the picture I took of the castle standing at the same spot as her. I set EVERYTHING up for her, so she can get the WHOLE CASTLE, and not just half of it. Argh. Thanks anyways nice lady.

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So, disappointed, but not defeated, I walked into the castle and it looked really cool. I was standing around, trying to take selfies. Then I saw target #2. Fellow DSLR user (NIKON = BONUS). He was using at D300s, super high end pro full frame. His wife was there too. I had high hopes. I set the settings properly into manual. I got into the shot. He came forward to frame, got down onto 1 knee for a better shot. All I could think of was: “Wow, fantastic!”. He’s framing, he’s getting it from a lower angle, the towers are going to be in frame too!

And here’s the shot:

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He framed it, but heck! WHY IS THE TOILET SIGN THERE! IT COVERED THE TOWER!! I was so upset. I didn’t want to ask him to do it again because I felt bad. And this was the shot he could have taken…

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Anyways, I gave up and did a selfie.

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Rain on my holiday. It’s fine with me.

Needless to describe how rainy the weather is in CPH. The wind was gusting up to 28km/hr. I road a bike I borrowed from Heidi for the first time, and boy was is scary. The wind was so strong, especially when it was blowing from sideways. I thought I was going to fall over on my bike. Either way, despite the rainy weather, I got up fairly early and left the apartment at 10am. I made my way to Torvehallerne again for breakfast.

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I decided to start with fresh juice. This time, I tried the carrot and ginger one. It was tasty, but I think tomorrow I will have the avocado one again. 🙂 I ordered a large this time, and it cost 60DKK (that’s a bit more than $10 CAD)

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I walked pass the smorrebord place again, and decided to pass for now because I will be having some with Heidi & Co. this weekend.

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I headed over to the other building for some fresh pastry. I ordered a croissant to see how it was compared to the ones in Paris.

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And the verdict was… very tasty. Comparable to the ones in Paris. The croissant was very crispy on the outside, and soft and slightly chewy on the inside. I can taste the butter flavour more in this croissant than the other ones. But I wouldn’t say that it’s more oily or anything a regular croissant.

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Being satisfied for now, I headed for the Stork Fountain. It’s an old street that’s pedestrian only, filled with all your brand name shops.

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I went right to Illums Bolighus. It is one of the largest design shop for home and furnishings, carrying works from major danish designers. Here are a few snaps of goodies I found.

Beautiful 3 piece mirror. I’ll take the sofa too.

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And what do you think of this Carl Hansen & Son piece called the Shell Chair.  Only 5k CAD. They deliver worldwide by the way!

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As for me, I would not be able to afford anything in this shop. Maybe these miniature ones.

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It was raining pretty hard and the wind was gusting like crazy when I was ready to leave. So I went inside another shopping mall, and browsed around. This one looked like the one in Paris.

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When the rain died down, I headed for nyhavn, got lost and ended up in Christianshavn.

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Coffee break from the cold weather. I have to say, good coffee is hard to come by in CPH. I’ve only had good coffee at The Coffee Collective. I’ve tried 3 different shops, and I’ve been disappointed 3 times. My latte taste worst than the ones from McDonald’s back home. It’s so watery, can’t taste the coffee, and the milk taste like water too.

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Anyways, I walked along the canal, to check out these new buildings. They were once old industrial building. Efforts were made to turn them into new office buildings. So here it goes, my first shot at architecture photography.

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So Danish

After much tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep last night at 3am.  When I woke up it was already 12 noon.  I must have been super exhausted.  Realizing that I already lost the morning, I headed out for Torvehallerne.  It’s one of the biggest markets in Copenhagen featuring the best meat cuts, fresh fish, and small food stalls for people to eat in at the bars or take out.  The market looks very posh and so Danish.  The whole building is class to allow for ample amount of sunlight in and allows those outside to see all the happenings inside the market.

 

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There’s definitely something for everyone.  Cheese shop…

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Bottled juice goodness…

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Danish baked goodies filled the air, tempting all by-passers.

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An abundance of fresh vegetables. Perfectly arranged, grown in a nice shape. The Danes approve.

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Here, I also had my first Mikkeller beer. And let me tell you, it’s so good!! SO GOOD! They were recently featured in the NY Times.  I’m not a big beer drinker, but boy did the beer go down easily with a smoked salmon asparagus smorrebord.  I’m going to make sure I have a few more pints of Mikkeller before I go home.

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And if only I had more room in my tummy..

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I also tried an avocado, citrus, ginger juice from the juice bar. Their tag line? Look good naked! (So Danish) Great message, hits home, sticks with you. Bravo once again to the Danes.

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..and as for my juice? Delicious!! You can barely taste the avocado, but the consistency is there. You can taste the ginger, and citrus.

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And as always, there is a focus on relaxing, comfort and enjoying life. Like these girls..

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And this couple, stealing a kiss behind the lemon tree.

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La Vinia

On Saturday night I was sweped away by an elaborate plan orchestrated by Ru and made possible by R.  I was taken to a surprise birthday dinner with a promise that the food will wow me.

We arrived at a small homey restaurant called La Vinia.  The waiters and waitresses were pleasant.  They were very helpful with the menu and gave some really good recommendations too.  Everything looked so delicious, I’m pretty sure we ended up ordering half the menu.

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Gambas al Ajillo: Sautéed Shrimp with Garlic and Olive Oil.  The shrimp was very fresh. It came out in a cast iron pan that was still sizzling hot.  The shrimp was perfectly done.  I would imagine it would be slight under cooked before it was served, and as the food is being served it continues to cook so that when it arrives on my plate, it was perfect.  Very tasty and fresh.  The garlic does not over power the fresh shrimp flavour.

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Sweetbread:  Sweetbreads or ris are  the thymus  (also called throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) of the calf or lamb.  This was slightly gamey. The sauce was heaven.  It was creamy, with lots of spices, and a bit of carrots.  Perfect for dipping fresh bread with.

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Pimientos del Piquill: Piquilo Peppers Stuffed with a Seafood Mouse and an Anisete cream.  The pepper was cooked until it was soft and tender. The seafood mousse was a light cream, with a bit of a salty seafood taste to it.  There was pieces of crab meat in it as well.  This was added to another personal favourite.

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Calamares a la Plancha:  Grilled Calamari with Chilli oil.  The calamari had a slightly charred flavour to it.  It has that crispy savory taste to it.  It was served with a generous drizzle of chili oil which gave the squid a very aromatic flavour.  It was grilled perfectly, not to raw so that it was slimy  but not too cooked either to make it take like rubber.

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Pulpo a la Gallega: Poached Octopus Marinated in Olive Oil and Pimentón. The octopus was so soft, and so flavourful.  We had to ask the waiter how it was prepared. The waiter said that the octopus was tenderized before being cooked by beating.  Then it was poached for in broth.  I’ve never tasted octopus so soft before.  The chewy elastic texture is completely gone.

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Jamón Ibérico: Spanish Ibérico Ham.  I could seriously eat this all day.  Ibérico is the Spanish’s version of prosciutto.  It was slightly salty, the a similar texture as prosciutto.  Excellent with wine and fresh bread. Writing about this post makes me want to go back from some more ibérico.

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Seafood: We also had this seafood dish which had scallop, mussles, shrimp served with a light tomato based sauce. The flavour was light, not over powering the seafood.  This dish compared to all the other ones was good, but not as outstanding.

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Fideuá: Spanish Catalonia Style Spaghetti Pasta with Shrimp, Calamari, Scallops, Monkfish.  This is a pasta version of paellas.  We ordered it because we though the concept was very unique.  The flavouring used such as safforn, and other spice is like the traditional paella, except it is made with pasta and not rice.  The pasta was thick, perfectly al dante to my taste.  First bite, and this reminded me of chinese noodles. Haha.. I know it sounds weird, but it’s good noodle, with a nice broth and seafood.  Very tasty, and I’m glad we tried it.

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Paella de Marisco: Spanish Saffron Rice with Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, Scallops, Monkfish and Clams.  Paella, the chef’s pride.  The paella was traditionally made with fine safforn spice, infused with flavours of the seafood.  The rice was soft, but not overly cooked.  The flavour was fantastic, with lots of seafood flavour from the shrimp, mussels and calamari. This has got to be the best paella I’ve had since Barcelona. A+++

An assortment of desserts to finish off the night.

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Mango cheese cake

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Lemon Sorbet

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Raspberry Sorbet

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Chocolate Tartufo

Where: La Vinia
Location: Toronto, Ontario
What: Almost half the menu. Too many dishes to list. See above.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Would definitely go back.
La Vinia on Urbanspoon

Pretending I’m Still There

This winter has been more harsh than usual in Toronto.  With Polar Vortex and temperatures dropping below 30 degrees it’s hard not to look back at all the warm places I’ve been and pretend that I was still there.

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Photo: Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

Last year summer, I went to Hawaii with J.  It was literally a random throw a dart on the map and that’s where we are going kind of trip.  I never knew what the big deal with Hawaii was.  Beaches, sunshine, ocean.. no big deal I thought.  We stayed stayed on Waikiki Beach which was nice but still nothing too special.  It’s almost like Miami.

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Photo: Cliff, Hawaii

We chilled on Waikiki beach for a few days and decided to rent a car to drive around the island.  It was then that I realized, how beautiful Ohau was.  Cliffs and the smaller beaches was just so breath taking.  Visiting the pineapple plantation and learning that pineapples don’t grow on trees.  Then going to Hanamana Bay to snorkel and look for sea turtles with hopes of catching a glimpse of Nemo.

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Photo: Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

Standing Tall

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Photo: Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

I’ve always considered myself to be very lucky.  Through traveling and various lucky encounters I had the opportunity to meet a lot of really amazing people in my life.

Today, for whatever reason I thought about my encounters with Spencer West.  I was really lucky to have met him through Alex, a friend from SGI.  The first time I met him was through SGI meetings, then I saw him again when I volunteered for We Day.  I also have a few friends that work for Free the Children so I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Spencer’s book, ” Standing Tall: My Journey”.  In the book he wrote, “Stand tall Stella”. It was so encouraging and inspiring.

Spencer’s story is amazing if you have not heard of him yet. Reading his story made me realize that the a lot of the limitations in our lives are the ones we place ourselves. We must overcome our own weakness and fears if we want to take on the bigger challenge of helping others become happy.

Along the same lines, when I took this picture I marveled at all tall and straight the trees are. It made me think of this quote from Nichiren Daishonin:

A blue fly, if it clings to the tail of a thoroughbred horse, can travel ten thousand miles, and the green ivy that twines around the tall pine can grow to a thousand feet.

This quote talks about the importance of having a correct life philosophy.  Something that will withstand the test of time, and a philosophy that is for the people.  I find this is true if you have true friends in life.  Friends and mentors that can become your tree, people that can help you surpass your limit.

Friends that can help you stand tall.
So that you can stand tall for others.