Latin America Journey: PERU Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley (Part 2 of 3)

Machu Picchu

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My husband had a good Pisco sour to speed the time up… albeit with a little extra cost but well worth the show and arm strength of the mixer)

From Cusco we boarded the VISTADOME train which we were pleasantly surprised to be very modern with clear glass ceilings looking up to the jungle canopy above and very friendly staff  with excellent english. It was as clean and comfortable as any train.

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On the first day we did a light tour of the Machu Picchu taking a bus up from the town while our luggage was sent ahead to the resort. We met again with our excellent guide Jorge provided by Coltur Peru Agency (partner of A2A)  who was our guide in Cusco.

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Upon reaching Machu Picchu we had a decent buffet lunch which had alpaca beef at the top and proceeded with the tour. It was as breathtaking as we had imagined and the weather while cloudy (which we were told was most of the year – hence the name Cloud forest) was cool and pleasant despite a slight drizzle.

Travel Tip: It rains most of the year due to humidity so wear a light waterproof  jacket and on top of thermal on the cooler months (You can always store it in your backpack after once you start warming up with the climb).

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The tight paths that crisscross the site make for some tight areas so just be patient and follow your guide while they navigate the crowds.

Travel Tip: If you are traveling on your own go earlier so it is not so crowded with the day tours from Cusco

Look out for little picture spots all along the route. It pays to have your own guide so you can go on your own pace.

InkaTerra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

After a light afternoon trek, we checked into our hotel InkaTerra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel located conveniently minutes away from the bus terminal. Ahhh… The simple elegant cottage was lovely to just hang up your feet and stare out the window at the lunch gardens all around. The resort prides itself in being GREEN certified and in harmony with nature.

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Nice breakfast overlooking the train and river

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We elected to dine in the room since we had a lovely living room. My husband loved eating in his pajamas next to the fireplace. The food was amazing! It was so cozy!

Hike up Huayna Picchu

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All for this Final shot! Worth it!

Only 200 people a day are allowed to hike up the mountain overlooking Macchu Pichu plus extra pay for a very challenging uphill climb…. but it is SO WORTH IT!

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Travel tip: Use a walking stick to make the hike easier. Learn to use it properly as well

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Classic train (very bumpy!) – Husband got motion sickness. He stayed in front by the bar and got a drink to pass the time

 

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Elegant interiors of a bygone era

Sacred Valley

Finally after getting off the Bingham train we reached our destination: Sacred Valley

Our lovely hotel was the Sol Y Luna nestled in the valley. It is rated as one of the top resorts and we quickly discovered why. The rooms are very colorful and surrounded by lush vegetation amidst beautiful mountains.

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Pool reflecting the beautiful sky
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Stables housing the well bred horses
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Our horseman guide: PASO is what they are called

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A lovely ride back and forth amidst the beautiful area was so romantic and a must do for couples. Just be sure to stretch if you are rusty at horseback.

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Macchu Pichu was truly amazing place as it may be the few places that was spared from the Spanish influence. You can really see their advances used in empire building with roads like the Inca trail as well as reflecting pools that allowed them to observe the stars and plot the harvest seasons. We can learn a lot by discovering the past and applying their age old lesson to the here and now.

So we end our Peru leg of the trip…. Our last post will cover the even more amazing Chile – Matetic Vineyard and Patagonia!

Latin America Journey Start: PERU, Lima to Cusco (Part 1 of 3)

We started my hubby’s 40th birthday trip in Peru. It was a long way to get to from the Philippines given that we first flew to Los Angeles (16 hrs) then stayed a few days before flying to Peru (10 hours). Since this was our first time going to South America I decided to go through an agency that was more familiar with this continent. So I contacted A2A Safaris who are a specialist in not just South African Safari but also Latin America. My husband said he would set aside his OCD on planning trips and would sit back and enjoy the pisco sours (I will let you see how much he got to do it as we go along).

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Our first tour stop as in most Cities is in the town square: Plaza Mayor which was declared a historic center by UNESCO. My husband who is always enthralled by military history was fascinated to learn how 160 + Spaniards were able to conquer a whole empire. It being perhaps too long to explain here, the one significant turning point was how the last Incan emperor Atahualpa was ambushed by the Spanish and used as a puppet to control the empire. What an amazing stroke of luck indeed that he was away from his main forces and had underestimated how powerful the modern weapons were (artillery and horsemen).

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Iglesia de San Francisco

Restaurant LA MER

Nothing captures the imagination of Peru than a Cebiche (Yes they use a b in the middle) and Pisco Sour. Located amidst the posh Miraflores district is La Mer a seafood restaurant and bar which we had a delightful lunch.

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We got the sampler of Cebiche – From right to left: Nikei (tuna in a sweet soy sauce – 9/10!), Mixto (Tuna and Octopus 6/10) and Traditional (Catch of the day 10/10 –  just lime)
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Lobster in a Lemon butter sauce – sooo amazing and great presentation!
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Picarones! Let’s bring this over to the Philippines! 

 

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PISCO SOUR – Iconic drink of Peru and totally worth the hype!
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Grab a night cap (or a day cap it’s alright we won’t judge…. much) at the Hotel B bar in its classic style

HOTEL B

Rarely do we say that the highlight of a certain place is the hotel we stay in but in Lima we must say our Hotel B blew us away. It is a boutique hotel that is exquisitely redeveloped from an old house. The owners in  keeping the old facade but renovating all the interiors to fit in rooms left the character of the building intact and provided for a cozy boutique feel that made us forget about your typical 5 star large modern hotel.

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My husband’s favorite reading corner looking over the street with natural light drifting in to fill the comfy space with warm feelings

 

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Art and decor adorn the walls of Hotel B which also serves as a museum as well

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I loved how they always had a fresh amount of avocados served everyday.

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Enter Breakfast is served! An amazing spread awaited us every morning with real care in getting the freshest produce. It put most hotel breakfasts to shame!a caption

 

Not to be outdone… Dinner was just as amazing! We had delightfully fresh baked scallops to open with and my husband enjoyed his duck which was soft (not chewy finally!) and had a light sweet orange sauce with a squash mash with pomegranate seeds as a perfect balance. The potato confit squares were a tad bit too crunchy. Our server was also named Carlos provided excellent service and great conversation so look for him if you ever stop by.

CUSCO

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Flanked by the two cathedrals of Cusco: Basilica Cathedral Iglesia (left) and De Compana (right)  

A hours and a half flight and we landed at Cusco, the first thing you will notice is the shortness of breath. That happens when you go up to 3,000 M instantly…. even armed with Coca pills we still found it hard to breathe and had to take it easy

Travel Tip: Fly into Cusco then take a bus immediately to Sacred Valley or Macchu Pichu so you can acclimatize first at lower elevation 2,000 M or so THEN go to Cusco on your way OUT and it will be much easier (Or take the 21 hour bus ride up — ouch!)

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Hotel Monestario

We arrived late at night and it was super cold but lo and behold a beautiful garden awaited us. A restored Monastary connected to a church, this hotel was enchanting yet a little unnerving with all the religous paintings on the walls (Jesus was literally looking over our bed…. luckily we are married!)

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Best Breakfast view ever!

Breakfast was delightful as well with a wide range and excellent service. We always woke up at crack of dawn due to the high pressure made it hard to sleep but luckily coca tea was always there to help a bit.

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Fortress Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo Tour

 

PISAC

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Pottery with Inca Design
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A disapearing art… very few next generation artisans are taking up the craft

We honestly have not heard much about Lima other than it is by the sea and is the capital which we had to fly into. Therefore we did not expect much but was pleasantly surprised how warm and clean the city was given all the warnings we got before coming over.

It is amazing to discover such a good hotel matched with great food set against such beautiful Spanish architecture (Sorry if you are looking for Incan then you have to wait for the next part of the blog – Cusco).

Lima while a bit traffic and messy reminded us of Manila and how it could have been if Old Manila had been preserved better. It is a great stop after a long trip and has much to discover now that it has come out of the shadows of it’s turbulent past.

Cusco with its high altitude took a bit of getting used to but it’s historical center was amazing!

My birthday boy was really impressed how amazingly organized things were (actually it was A2A don’t tell him!) and how similar the cultural heritage was to the Philippines. Our shared family values and warm smiles mixed with the rich Spanish heritage created an atmosphere that felt like home yet not quite the same.

We could not wait to see what came next… (Part 2 to be uploaded end of October so stay tuned!)

Time Out in Thailand

This trip suddenly came up with my having to attend a Rotary Anniversary for my husband (who is working hard to finish his construction project) so I didn’t have much time to go around. Nevertheless I was able to review my hotel stays so here we go!

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I checked into the St Regis Bangkok and immediately had their afternoon high tea while waiting for my room to be made ready. It was served in the lovely Drawing Room and I was seated with a view of the scenic Country club. I ordered the St Regis Afternoon Tea for two (menu HERE) and  loved the savory selection of sandwiches, especially the presentation of the Vegetarian lady bug (middle of picture). I was however disappointed with the sweets especially the Early Grey Tea sabayon which was a sloppy mess. The scones were the only decent part of the dessert at least. The experience definitely needs updating especially for such a prestigious brand as St Regis it was very disappointing.

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My room was the grand deluxe room which had a personal butler that was there to help unpack for you and help you with whatever you need as typical of St Regis.

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My bathroom was quite spacious and it had a tub and shower available. I often do not mention prices of rooms but I must say that the prices were quite reasonable even when compared to Manila.

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One of the tours that the Rotary Club of Bangkok took us on was The Grand Palace. I was surprised to know that this historical Palace is the 3rd most visited site in the world. We went on a Friday so I tried prepare for the big crowds nevertheless I was barely able to take a shot being without my hubby and the oppressive heat amidst the throng of people bombarding me from all sides. It is a must see when you do visit Bangkok but if I were on my own I would have gone at my classic sunrise time.

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I loved all the intricate details on all the columns and statues which would have been amazing in the early light of sunrise. Oh well I will just chalk this up to experience and make it a trial run for next time.

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Each temple was built with perfect symmetry with each other providing a stunning back drop for pictures.

Travel tip: They told us to wear closed shoes and pants but in reality all you need to do is cover knees and shoulders. I suggest long dresses so you stay cool and sandals that are easy to take off when you go into the temples.

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For lunch they took us to the Navy restaurant near the tourist area. I so enjoyed the seafood Tom Yum Soup. We asked for the cook to make it less spicy but it was still spicy (I guess that is really Thai food for you).

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On my last 2 days I stayed in the Mandarin Oriental. While I did pay for my stay, as a disclaimer I was upgraded to the Garden room that had the garden and river views. It had a beautiful colonial inspired design and came with my own private butler as well.

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The finishing was much more refined and elegant than the St Regis even considering this is an older hotel.

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The king size bed was not available but I couldn’t complain as everything from the bed from the pillows to the blankets were so comfortable. I can’t wait to come back with my hubby next time.

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The Authors lounge lies behind the quaint little garden as it peaking behind a door to welcome you in. It is not surprising that this is a popular spot for wedding.

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The Grand staircase is simple yet the floral arrangements make it stand out and transports you to another time.

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I love lounge chairs and lights colored walls which makes for such a relaxing lazy afternoon. The next time we will wear all white and beige colors for photos with the kids in their Sunday dress.

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Of course I had to try their High tea! I ordered the Western Afternoon tea set which had delectable finger sandwiches which were light and good for a snack in between meals (which seems to be how people use afternoon tea for these days). Unfortunately the scones were not as good as the St Regis as they were rather dry and flat which meant they did not spend enough time to rise in the oven.

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An ornately designed boat shuttle service is available from the hotel to the island where the Thai restaurant and oriental spa fitness center taking about 3 mins only it starts from 6:00am to the Spa and fitness and Thai restaurant. But if you need to go to the train station it starts from 7:00am but I never took it myself but seems very convenient indeed.

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I enjoyed a nice afternoon in the Oriental spa to pamper myself after all the touring and Rotary events. I love the little courtyard that instantly sets the mood and promotes peace and tranquility away from the bustling Bangkok noise outside.

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I was in need of a massage to release the tension in my back and neck so I tried the Oriental Signature spa where I had my own treatment room with a private shower and steam facility. I actually preferred the traditional style floor mattress more than the massage table as it was very comfortable for the face (I do not like those holes where you feel suffocated even with that sad little flower which a hundred people before you have been breathing on to).

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For my appetizer I had the Yaam Som-O ( Exotic Thai pomel salad with chiken threads, shrimp, crisp fried shallots and fragrant herbs ) it was delightfully refreshing and light.

For dinner I was supposed to go out and try their Thai Restaurant but unfortunately it rained so hard I ended up ordering room service instead (Feels just like home indeed!). I was not disappointed at all since I used the lovely table in the room which was set up so elegantly by two waiters that I felt like a princess in a palace.

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For my main I had the Pad Thai, it was composed of Thai style wok-fried rice noodles with prawns, dried shrimp, Chinese chives and bean curd complimented with banana blossom and bean sprouts. If you like it sweet then just add a dab of sugar.

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For dessert I had the Mango and Sticky rice which was succulent yet not too sweet.

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Before checking out, I had breakfast at the The Verandah overlooking the Chao Phraya river. A good selection of both western and asian is represented in the buffet.

Travel tip: Order the waffles as they are freshly made served with a generous side of condiments (chocolate chips and syrup.. my kids would have loved it!)

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I felt sad to leave this lovely hotel and bid farewell to the very attentive staff. One little gesture I will never forget was when I was just clearing my throat, the waiter already offered me warm water with lemon or orange juice. Now that is attention to detail and going out of your way! It is something that cannot be trained but has to be part of the soul of the person to really sincerely care for your guests.

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Looking back this was a nice quiet time to myself but next time we will come back for a family vacation now that I know where to stay and what to do. I think the most important take away for me was the excellent service of the Thais which match smile for smile, bow for bow any of my fellow Filipinos great hospitality and warmth. We really need to up our game at home to compete with Thailand and bring the same amount of tourists they have as well! Let’s do it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Charming Quebec City, Canada

I was a bit nervous travelling to Quebec as I was travelling alone without my husband and children. I was uneasy about how I would get around and where to go. Little did I know that all those trips watching my husband plan each step had rubbed off on me.  My wanderlust carried me out the door and unto a new adventure into a magical place!

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A grueling 3 connecting flights to get to Quebec City started with a 15 hour flight from Manila to Vancouver. I then realized I had booked a 10 hour lay over from Vancouver to Montreal! Luckily I had lounge access with Canada Air so it was not so terrible as it seemed.

The final leg was Montreal to Quebec. I finally made it! Not an easy city to get to but worth it. Luckily I was welcomed by the Fairy tale looking Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.

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Behind the Chateau is a long boardwalk overlooking Saint Lawrence River where I enjoyed a lovely stroll. I really enjoyed the moment of solitude to just reflect on life and get away from all my mundane worries of managing a household and a family 24/7.

I had the junior suite on the 17th floor and the view was spectacular with excellent service. From clean bed sheets and towels I couldn’t complain. I had access to the Club Lounge so that’s where I enjoyed my early morning breakfast and got to enjoy a view over looking the city of the Saint Lawrence River.

I had room service 3 times and my favorites were the Lobster Roll with sweet potato fries. Lightly toasted Brioche bun and a generous amount of freshly made lobster mixed with light dressing. When you love french fries as much as I do you try to opt for the healthier option so glad they paired it with Sweet Potato fries. For dessert I tried Pouding Chomeur ( Poor mans Pudding ). Reminded me of a very light chiffon butter cake.

I love the mansard roof with a vibrant red color vibe on the Pubs and Restaurants around the town. You can try authentic french cuisine here or just enjoy happy hour.

When in a new city try not to skip the food tours. If you are a foodie like me its worth sampling into their cuisines. One thing about Canada they all have their own version of the traditional savory dish called Poutine. Since they were under the french rule they do of course love cheese. So I was able to taste their delicious grilled cheese and ham sandwich. The secret creamy spread inside was the surprise in very bite.

Another tour I highly recommend is the Art and Architecture tour. If you love admiring different Styles and Designs the Le Petit Seminaire de Quebec and Ursulines of Quebec these are perfect examples of typical Quebec architecture.

Place Royale is a charming square with beautiful picturesque shops and restaurants. You can get here from Fairmont Chateau Frontenac by taking the funicular straight down to the old town square if you don’t feel like taking a walk. But if you want to explore the whole town then just walk along the cobbled streets to build up an appetite.

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Every time I see a Christmas shop I make sure to buy special ornaments to bring home and put up in my Christmas tree. I didn’t even know that this particular shop was one of the filming locations for of a famous Korean T.V series called Guardian: The Lonely and Great God or also known as Goblin.

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Staying in a fairy tale Chateau and going exploring a totally new part of the world on my own was so terrifying at first but by the end it was exhilarating once I got more confident in myself.

Travel tip: You need to travel alone just once in your life and do what you always wanted to do (Even if no one else may be interested in it as well). Live for yourself once in awhile and ironically you will likely discover how important others are in your life even more.

Prague: A Quaint Little European City

My first trip with my sister to Europe for 1 week just the two of us. It was her very first time to see Europe so it was a great bonding experience we haven’t had since we were children.

Old Town Square

A typical european town square at the epicenter of Prague is the start for any trip where people gather to eat traditional Czech cuisine.

Top right: Charles bridge crosses the Vitava River which connects the old town and the Prague castle (which is unremarkable compared to other cities and closes at 5pm on a Sunday)

Bottom right: Just off the main square is a Parisian shopping street called Parizka which has high end stores selling every luxury brand (prices were slightly lower than western Europe but not worth traveling just for shopping)

Kafka Statue

A tribute to the famous writer from Prague is the rotating sculpture of Franz Kafka’s head. I thought Prague would be a typical old eastern European city but was surprised to see pockets of modern architecture like the Dancing House nicknamed Fred and Ginger as it resembles a pair of dancers (picture on right) which houses a restaurant and gallery.

Cafe Savoy

This was recommended by a friend, it reminded me of Angelina’s of Paris being a classic cafe but food was quite different. I had the The Savoy Plate. It had a bit of everything. Confit of Duck Leg, Roast Rabbit, Prague Ham, Fried Ham, Fried Pork knuckle, Potato gratin. Meat lovers would love this! I actually only enjoyed the Duck and Pork Knuckle. The Rabbit was too dry so not a favourite of mine. I did enjoy the ambiance with my sister so that more than made up for it.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is situated within the Prague Castle complex. It is an example of beautiful Gothic architecture.

Please do not miss going to the Strahov Library which is part of a Monastery. My husband loves history and reading so had to go see this for him as there were many old books like “Illuminations of the Evangelist” from the end of the 10th Century which is the oldest book in the library. My sister and I were lucky to be toured by a priest who lived in the Monastery. We just happened to see him walking in after having mass in one of the churches in the town near by. He went out of his way to tour us in the private areas where tourists are not normally allowed. I enjoyed going through the whole place and hearing first hand from a priest who knew all the history by heart since he was also a local himself.

On our last day in Prague, I made sure I booked our stay in Aria Hotel Prague by Library Hotel Collection. The service was amazing from checking in and the wonderful Coda Restaurant. For lunch I chose the traditional Czech Cuisine called Crispy Oven Roasted Duck which came with Sauerkraut, Steamed Red Cabbage, South Bohemian Row Potato Dumplings and fried onion.  The duck had so much flavour without being too salty as many ducks often taste and not too oily being baked perfectly. The meat was succulently tender on the inside. The chef definitely cooked with all his heart for all the courses we tried were amazing. This was the best restaurant of the trip and I would highly recommend it.

The day we had to leave I chose again from the Lunch Menu of Coda Restaurant “Symphony ” Chicken Supreme which came with Mush Potato, Sauteed Carrots, Leeks. It was probably the best chicken dish I have ever had. Of course I saved room for dessert and tried the Chocolate Pudding which had coconut Tapioca, Raspberries, Cinnamon Biscuit. A dark chocolate indulgence that was worth the calories!

Prague unlike other Eastern European cities seems to be progressing faster than it’s neighbouring cities (except for Budapest perhaps). They have shrugged off the dark clouds of their communist past and are embracing the new world of tourism and showcasing their long history with a friendlier attitude and more open thinking. It is the model which other cities like I mentioned in my other article  Eastern Danube Odyssey Budapest to Bucharest

We will remember the many adventures we had from getting lost and lugging our luggage around in between the long train rides. I will definitely come back since I wasn’t able to see the Astronomical clock ( sadly it was under renovation since it was a Unesco Heritage site ).

Travel tip: Travel once with just one sibling or best friend to somewhere both of you have never been before. Get lost… Drink up the wanderlust… Have fun…. Bucket list done!