Belfast: Stunning Street Art

I can’t recall the first time I fell in love with street art but visiting cities renowned for outstanding murals such as Penang in Malaysia and Brisbane in Australia only grew my fascination for them. And although my primary reason for visiting Belfast recently was for Game of Thrones related interests, the fact that the Northern Ireland capital is also filled with stunning street art certainly made my trip much more memorable.

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Building-high mural located opposite the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast Cathedral Quarter [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Everywhere you turn in Belfast, you are likely to spot a mural or two on a building close to you. There is actually a black taxi tour that brings you (I think) to every notable mural in the city but if you are not that fussy, a thorough walk around the city centre or Cathedral Quarter will offer you a good number of outstanding paintings on the walls.

2018-05-21 19.10.21 (640x640)This lively mural, for instance, is located close to Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street – where you can find “the best Guinness in the city”, according to my Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus guide. There are many other eye-catching murals in this area on and around the popular pub’s outdoor premises too.

2018-05-24 12.37.45 (620x640)Located in an empty parking lot close to the Belfast Cathedral (a.k.a St Anne’s Church) is this amazing larger-than-life caricature of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of my favorites found on this trip. Various murals can also be found on other buildings around  the magnificent church.

2018-05-26 10.32.58 (640x640)There are also tons of colorful murals to be found all along the nearby North Street. Whilst trying to find a reported mural of Game of Thrones‘ King in the North, Jon Snow, I walked all the way to the northern most end of the street, which although also showcased lots of intriguing murals and graffiti, the buildings were also rather isolated and creepy even in broad daylight, so I quickly walked back towards the city centre.  Only after a Google search later did I learnt that the Jon Snow mural has been painted over as the building it was on is undergoing renovation. Sob. Oh well, luckily there were other fun murals to see.

2018-05-25 11.12.07 (640x640)Like this cool Dali-inspired mural I found in a covered alleyway close to another famous pub, Duke of York, reportedly the oldest pub in Belfast. The mural, which features many Belfast landmarks and of cos the famous Guinness, is very long – covering the entire alleyway which was too narrow for me to photograph the whole painting in one shot. Just glad I stumbled onto it while taking a shortcut.

2018-05-22 16.39.09 (640x597)Most of the murals in Belfast are also very political. One of the city’s main attractions is the main Belfast Peace Wall located at Cupar Way and which you can get to easily via a Hop-On, Hop Off Bus (which is also a good way to give you an idea of where the notable murals are across the city).

There are reportedly about 100 “peace walls” throughout the city – majority which are six metres high with barbed wire on top and with colourful artwork painted on the side, most of which do not necessarily contain messages of peace however. The walls are still up – with gates at certain junctions that are locked at night – to divide communities (mainly Catholics and Protestants) that were responsible for a very troubled warring period in Belfast’s history infamously known as “The Troubles” where thousands were killed and many more injured. The walls run for kilometres so if you want to cover it all, best to ask for a detailed map which alas I was unable to find for myself.

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Murals with political overtones are also aplenty along the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Thanks to the city tour bus, I was able to catch most of them ‘cos I don’t think I could or would possibly see them all on foot. (There’s a lot of ground to cover.)

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You need to be extremely flexible, agile and seated on the top of an open-top bus if you want to capture them all on camera cos the guide will rattle like a machine gun with instructions such as “over your left shoulder, and over your right shoulder, and back to your left, and now right!” while the driver sped on as if he’s late for an urgent family matter. Still, a very good (and cheap) way to see and learn about the history and significance of some of the murals in the city.

If you love murals as much as I do, Belfast is a great city for it. Just wished I could have found at least one Game of Thrones mural though…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

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Santiago de Compostela: Hotel San Martin Pinario

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A deluxe room in Hotel San Martin Pinario [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

A New York friend recently embarked on the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago with her family which reminded me fondly of my own camino in 2013 which comprised the last 100km of the French Way (starting from Sarria in Galicia, Northern Spain). What really triggered a happy memory was the fact that one of the hotels they stayed in was the lovely Hotel San Martin Pinario, which I also had the pleasure to stay in albeit just for one night.

Located right in the heart of Santiago de Compostela, the magnificent looking hotel is conveniently sited directly across the famous Cathedral of Santiago, which is why it is also extremely popular with camino pilgrims.  A former monastery, the interiors of the building was given a thorough modern contemporary makeover whilst most of the traditional brick and wood structures were restored. Take the dining hall for instance -with its old-time high ceiling and wooden panelings intact, it looks almost like the Great Hall in Hogwarts seen in the Harry Potter movies.

The rooms’ styling is minimalistic yet filled with modern-day amenities bar a TV. As you see in the picture above, it has the look of a well maintained monk’s room of old. My room was small but functional for just one night. The hotel is highly popular because of its history and especially its proximity to the Cathedral, so advanced booking is highly recommended if you’d like to stay more nights here.

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Cathedral de Santiago – Hotel San Martin Pinario is just a stone’s throw away on the right [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

Hopefully, I can embark on the Way of St James again sometime in future. In the meantime, I have tons of lovely memories of my 2013 camino.

If you are interested in information of what the 100km trip from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela comprises, just click here or on the Camino de Santiago header under the masthead of this blog. Hopefully, there will be some facts and tips that would prove useful if you plan to embark on the Camino de Santiago anytime soon. Buen Camino! 🙂

Malacca: Iced Coffee Chendol Shakes

IMG_20180131_113813_298 (640x640)When in Malacca: The beautiful historic Malaysian city lies in the Tropics so yes, the weather is hot and humid at most times of the year. Thankfully, there are cafes and stalls aplenty offering iced cold drinks of all kinds, so do stop at one or two to replenish water loss after a long trek through its fascinating streets.

One cool cafe that me and my travel companion stopped at while walking around the famous Jonker Walk area was Famosa White Coffee. The menu offers many beverages but the signature items are iced shakes that mix different types of coffee with chendol, a sweet dessert that contains coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, red azuki beans, and the unmistakable worm-like green rice flour jelly.

Being a durian lover, I went for the Durian White Coffee Chendol Shake (above left), while my friend opted for the Green Tea Latte Chendol Shake. Both were tasty and refreshing with strong flavors. And we happily drank the drinks within the cosy, air-conditioned cafe which is designed to look like the coffee shops of old complete with wooden chairs and square tables. Can’t remember how long we stayed but it certainly perk us up all the way past dinner time!

 Famosa White Coffee is at 31, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia.

 

Malacca: Chicken Rice Balls

2017-09-15 12.56.20 (640x640)When in Malacca: If you love Hainanese chicken rice, you are in for a treat as the Malaysian world heritage city has some of the best chicken rice in Asia. And the thing which makes their chicken rice unique for a good many decades is the fact that, thanks to one genius of a chicken rice stall owner, the fragrant chicken rice is served in the shape of balls. In the heyday, the balls were bigger – like the size of ice balls. These days they are the size of fishballs and you can tell they went through an assembly line rather than hand-made.

Still, the rice balls are a novelty but it’s the deliciously tender “kampong” chicken meat that marks the quality of a good chicken rice stall here. One of the best – and you can tell by the queues they have almost everyday – is Hoe Kee Chicken Rice, easily found right at the start of Jalan Hang Jebat or, as it’s popularly known, Jonker Walk.

It’s best to go early as the stall closes like by 4pm. When you are in the queue, prepare your orders so that a server can take them, enabling you to get your table faster and the food will arrive as soon as you are seated. The restaurant has a large dining area, with quaint marble tables and wooden chairs, which reminds one of a big hall of a clan association.

But we are here for the food and it didn’t let us down. The steamed chicken was tender and succulent, slightly drenched in a light soy sauce gravy. They were generous with their cucumber and even throw in a free chicken liver for us though we didn’t ask for one (we prefer gizzard). Unlike other places, Hoe Kee only has one choice of vegetables so we went with the cabbage which thankfully was decent. As for the rice, we ordered a plate of loose rice just in case the rice balls weren’t up to standard – it was rather flat and dry at another restaurant we dined at – but Hoe Kee rice balls are flavorful and has the chicken rice taste. Even so, novelty or otherwise, I think chicken meat is best eaten with loose rice (and with dark soy sauce sprinkled on it).

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There are many other chicken rice balls stalls in the city but Hoe Kee seem to be the top favorite (and they been around since 1962). Some like the Famosa chain has a few outlets and most remain open till the evening. Their chicken is not half bad and they have a wider variety in terms of roast meats and vegetables. Their chicken rice chili, for one, is really good – spicy hot with dashes of garlic and lime, as well as their char siew (Honeyed BBQ pork).

So if you are into Hainanese chicken rice, do check it out if you happened to be in the historic Malaysian city of Malacca. You won’t regret it.

Hoe Kee Chicken Rice is at 4, 6 & 8 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca, Malaysia.
Famosa Chicken Rice is at 21,  Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca, Malaysia.

 

Malacca: Jonker Walk Night Market

 

2017-09-15 19.25.36 (640x640)When in Malacca, Malaysia: A visit to the Jonker Walk Night Market is a must, especially if you love Asian hawker food and knick-knack street stalls of all kinds. The night street market only take place on Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm till late, so do plan your trip well to coincide with it.

2017-09-15 18.51.23 (640x640)Seriously, the amazing varieties of food and snacks you can find along the 500m-long Jonker Walk (a.k.a Jalan Hang Jebat) is the key highlight here. From durian puffs, to savory buns filled with meat, to Korean iced desserts, there’s sure to be something that will tickle your taste buds.

2017-09-15 20.49.46 (640x640)Just like Singapore, Malacca’s weather is usually super hot and humid. Thankfully, there are drink stalls aplenty too – from frozen smoothies, to bubble tea, to fresh fruit juices such as these super cool coconut water drinks with housed in a coconut meat ball which you can eat too.

2017-09-15 20.47.17 (640x640)Not sure if it’s just me but I do think that the best food stalls are along Jalan Tekong, just off before the end of Jonker Walk (if you are walking down from the side of the iconic Christ Church). Here you will find many stalls selling grilled meat skewers and stir-fry dishes, as well as specialty stalls such as Japanese sushi and Vietnamese pho.

2017-09-15 19.26.20 (640x640)There’s seafood galore too, from crabs to fish to all kinds of funny looking shells. You can have them stir-fry, barbecued or steamed. Oh, and there’s fresh oysters too. So much choices, didn’t know what to choose!

2017-09-15 19.48.11 (640x640)In the end, my friend and I settled for black soy sauce carrot cake, sambal stingray and garlic lala clams, washed down with refreshing pineapple smoothies. All in the comfort of tables well placed alongside the street and where a hard-working cleaner uncle will clear plates and leftovers as soon as diners leave.

Truly a must-visit attraction in Malacca especially if you are a food lover. Don’t say I didn’t say…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s authorisation.

Chef Andre Chiang shares His Favorite Flavours of Taipei

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Fun Taipei Salon with Chef Andre Chiang (third from right)

Ask everyone who’s been to Taiwan what’s the top attraction there and most will say it’s the food. That’s why for this year’s NATAS Travel Fair, which runs till Aug 13, the Taipei City Government has launched a special tour package with the Singapore foodie in mind. And helping them to promote Taipei’s distinct flavours was native son Chef Andre Chiang who shared his favourite Taipei culinary delights at the Fun Taipei Salon event held yesterday at the InterContinental.

Prior to owning the Michelin 2-star Restaurant Andre in Singapore and Restaurant RAW in Taipei – both of which are ranked in The 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – Chef Chiang was head chef of the 3-starred Michelin restaurant, Le Jardin de Sens- Montpellier, in France.

“My memories of food growing up in Taipei is that the many different flavours the city offers are not tied to just the ingredients or the condiments used in the dish,” says Chiang in a statement. “Rather, these flavours are almost always a collage of physical ingredients and the feelings that come from soaking in the beautiful nature around us, the festivals we celebrate and the constant desire to explore Taiwan to fuel our need for new cultural experiences and memories.”

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Chef Andre Chiang with Taipei City Government’s Information & Tourism Commissioner, Ms Chien Yu-Yen

Here are Chef Andre Chiang’s 5 Most Memorable Taipei Flavours:

1. Shilin Night Market
Located in the Shilin District, Chiang has fond memories of this market which is regarded as the largest and most famous night market in Taipei. After school, he would alight one bus stop before home and walk through the market stalls, trying out various snacks and delicacies.

2. Danshui Old Street
When young, Chiang also lived in the Danshui district for six years. Danshui Old Street is renowned for its many shops and street stalls that sell a variety of snacks – from Iron Eggs to Fish Crackers. What he loves most, though, are the different types of handmade drinks, ranging from freshly made fruit juices to sweet honey and ginger tea.

3. Beef Noodle Soup
Tender braised beef with egg noodles served in a flavourful broth – you can’t mention Taiwanese food without mentioning beef noodle soup. Each time the chef returns to Taipei, this dish is a must-eat for him. And though there are many stalls all over Taipei, Chiang’s favourite stall is Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodle in Zhongshan District.

4. Taiwanese Hot Pot
Another traditional foodfare that Chiang enjoys is hot pot or steamboat where various meats, seafood, vegetables are cooked in a rich broth. And just like beef noodle stalls, there are many hot pot restaurants one can find in Taiwan’s capital city.

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Chef Chiang’s version of the Pineapple Tart at RAW

5. Authentic Snacks Re-styled at RAW
For his fifth pick, Chef Chiang couldn’t resist giving a shout-out to his restaurant RAW where he create dishes by blending Taiwanese ingredients with modern international influences, and where reservations are usually booked up to 3 months ahead. Whenever he could, Chiang would take an authentic Taiwanese delicacy and churn out a new “look” for it using new ingredients and techniques. One example is the traditional Taiwanese pineapple cake. Unlike our local Chinese New Year types which look like tarts, the Taiwanese ones are more blocky, with a crumbly crust and pineapple bits either in a jam form or fruit slices. The RAW version (pictured above) is like a cube with a soft and buttery crust and layers of juicy pineapple slices within. Certainly unlike the pineapple tarts I’m used to but nonetheless an unique variation of it.

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Various Gifts-To-Go ideas from Fun Taipei

Taipei’s 5 Distinct Flavours
Back to the foodie package offered by the Taipei City Government. The 3D2N free-and-easy package which costs from $545 per person (tax included) offers foodies to go on a hunt to discover Taipei’s “Five Distinct Flavours” which comprise:

1. Classic Taiwan Tastes: The likes of xiao long bao, beef noodles, bubble tea, mango ice, and so forth.

2. Everyday Aromas: Taiwanese stir-fry that usually features seafood, Chinese herbs and local fruits as ingredients. Popular dishes include chicken steak, egg omelette and soy-based pork.

3. Hotpot Hotspots: From mala (“numbingly spicy”) twin-sided hot pot to Taiwanese-styled shabu shabu, having a hot pot in Taipei is a must.

4. Refreshing Sweet Treats: Handmade drinks from classic bubble tea to shaved-ice treats with seasonal fruits can be found everywhere in the city.

5. Gifts To-Go: From pineapple cakes to nougat candies, Taipei has a wide selection of tasty tid-bits for visitors to present as gifts to family, friends and co-workers.

Fun Taipei’s 3D2N free-and-easy package “foodie” package will be available from the Taipei booth at the NATAS Travel Fair at Suntec City till August 13. There will be extra perks for the first 100 sign-ups each day. For more information on Fun Taipei, visit http://www.travel.taipei.

All Photos by Marguerita Tan.

 

Sunshine Coast – Sun, Sand & Sea @ Noosa Heads


When in Brisbane: Take a day trip up north to Noosa Heads in the Sunshine Coast to take in some of the most beautiful sights of sun, sand, sea and sky you will ever see. This is Laguna Bay where you can folick in the waters, build sandcastles, or stretch your leg mucles on the boardwalk that takes you all the way to the top of Noosa National Park where a lookout offers breathtaking views of the entire area. Actually, considering the long drive – 3 hrs each way – best to stay a night or two cos you still need time to check out all the shops and cafes along the main street, Hastings Lane. Hmm, should I go again?… 

Photo by Marguerita Tan