Indian Attractions to Experience In London

Indian Attractions to Experience In London

As I’m super busy with work this week, today we have a guest post from Angela, who is highlighting the best Indian attractions in London. Every time I’m in London I love finding really good Indian restaurants or just ordering Indian takeaway with friends. But the Indian influence in London extends so much further than just food- read on to hear more!

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While making your trip to London, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the hundreds of years of English culture that permeate the city and its architecture. So much so that it can be easy to forget what a huge cultural melting pot the capital really is.

One of the biggest influences you’ll see is that of the Indian subcontinent. Just look at the profound effect on English cuisine. You hear England and you probably think fish and chips, and that’s definitely a big one, but many people would tell you that the national dish of Great Britain is chicken tikka masala. Did you know that the famous savory dish was invented in Glasgow according to the BBC? The UK fell in love with spicy Indian food so much that they put their own spin on it and now you can’t walk down the street without the aroma of turmeric and spice floating past your nose.

Through the people, the art, the food and the culture, the influence is in everything you see so it only makes sense to dive in and experience it for yourself. Here are a few picks to get you started on your Indian adventure.

 

London Indian Film Festival

As noted by BritishAirways, the London Indian Film Festival is the largest Asian film festival in Europe and will showcase the best the sub-continent has to offer in independent films at theaters all across the capital. The festival will be running from July 16-23. The event will also play host to talks and discussions with some of India’s most actors and filmmakers. It’d be tough to find a better opportunity to take in some of the most exciting art and artists from India on the big screen during your stay.

 

Southall’s Little India

Just as you should never visit New York without visiting its world famous Chinatown or Little Italy, the same goes that no trip to London is complete without making a stop by Southall, also known as Little India. Even the street signs are written in English and Punjabi. But there’s much more than just India in Southall. The area is home to a wide diversity of South Asian cultures including Pakistani, Tamil and many others. Get lost wandering the plethora of shops, swing by one of the many markets or visit one of Southall’s amazing mosques of Hindu Mandir temples.

 

Diwali

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights and is celebrated every autumn all across the world. The Independent has a great breakdown of the history of the celebration and how it’s celebrated for those who aren’t familiar with the festival. It’s the biggest festival in India and the celebrations in London are just as huge. Pictures can’t even begin to prepare you for the incredible displays of lights that pop up during the festival.

 

Gymkhana

Of course I have to mention the amazing food at some point and this is the top pick for a restaurant you have to visit. There’s no shortage of incredible curry houses for you to see and there’s plenty of late night fare but for my pick it has to be Gymkhana. The restaurant is modeled after old Indian gymkhana clubs (think like American country clubs, but classier) and serves some of the best food you’ll find in the British Isles. The Telegraph reports that the eatery was awarded National Restaurant of the Year for 2014 so get in while you can still get a table at this very affordable and insanely delicious spot that’s quickly becoming one of the most popular places in England.

 

What is your favorite way to experience Indian culture or food in London?

Life After Travel: My Denver Apartment Tour

Life After Travel: My Denver Apartment Tour

After living in France with a host family and then backpacking the world for a year, I was ready for a place of my own. After all, I hadn’t had my own space in two and a half years! So I’ll admit- I got a bit, um… carried away.

I spent way too much money on my first adult apartment. Moving halfway across the country ain’t cheap- and neither is buying all new furniture, even on a budget.

But despite the money I spent, it’s still so nice to come home to a place I love.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

I splurged on a few things: namely a $400 liquor cabinet and several very over-priced throw pillows. But besides that most everything was from Ikea and Target. I PROMISE.

And yes, I’ll admit my map obsession has reached new and ridiculous heights. Moving on…

 

The Kitchen

I love my kitchen. The backsplash of white subway tile, acacia cabinets, (fake) granite countertops… sigh.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

Plus, my kitchen holds so many mementos my travels– a little mincemeat jar I bought in Dublin from an old man who said my Spanish was beautiful, a gorgeous blue and white fruit bowl from French Catalonia, a Spanish olive wood cheese board, white vintage bistro dishes I bought at a Parisian flea market.

Kitchen details in a Denver apartment

The mincemeat jar I bought in Ireland and a beautiful salad bowl I bought in Jordan. Why yes, I do love blue and white together.

I love to cook so my kitchen is fully outfitted with everything a chef might need, from a hand blender to Santoku knives.

I especially love to cook dishes from all different cuisines, so you’re equally likely to find me wielding a wok as you are battering up buckwheat crêpes. I also have lots of random ingredients like Iranian pomegranate molasses and Chinese black bean paste.

Working full-time? Please get yourself a rice cooker and Crock Pot. These two appliances have made weekday cooking so easy. My strategy is to double or triple a Crock Pot recipe on Sunday and then eat the same dish throughout the week.

Two of my favorite kitchen details are admittedly very Francophile: my mostly French cookbook collection and my French cheese prints, which depict some of my favorite cheeses from my time in France.

Kitchen details

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My AMAZING bialetti which I use to make moka, or stovetop espresso, and my cute tea kettle.

Toast corner

My toast-making corner with three kinds of bread, French butter and blackberry and geranium jam. Toast is my fave.

I’ve been thinking of sharing a full-kitchen post soon- would you guys interested? I love to cook so I’d love to recommend my favorite products and show off all my wacky ethnic cooking utensils.

Where I bought everything: Crock-pot  // Rice cooker // 6-Cup Stovetop Bialetti // Tea Kettle // Chrome Toaster // Cheese Prints

 

The Living Room

I honestly don’t spend a lot of time in my living room- I don’t really watch TV and the couch is stylish but not comfy.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

My roommate is from Cleveland and I’m from Detroit, so we wanted to pay homage to our home cities with maps.

As soon as my map came in the mail all the way from Sweden, from an awesome start-up called Mapiful, my roommate ordered hers right away. The maps are beautiful quality and you can completely customize how zoomed in or zoomed out you are. Plus, you can have any location in the world custom-mapped!

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Cleveland and Detroit have never looked so good together, am I right?

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

So trendy with an Edison bulb lamp- ha.

My most ridiculous home purchase was by far this aforementioned liquor cabinet. But I had to have it because it reminds me of Mad Men and I really want to learn how to mix drinks.

Sadly, so far every cocktail I’ve concocted tastes like dish soap- my bartending skills are still a work in progress.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

My favorite little corner of the living room is this chair, backed by a 12-piece NYC map. Perfect for reading except not because the chair is totally uncomfortable. Denver_Girls_Apartment_Tour_3

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

Where I bought everything: Overstock Coffee Table // Edison Bulb Lamp // Ikea TV Unit // Gold Urban Outfitters Side Table // American Furniture Warehouse Couch // Crate and Barrel Bourbon Cabinet // Mapiful Map Prints // New York City Map // Cream Ikea Chair

 

Balcony

I’m super lucky- my balcony is huge. When the weather’s nice (which it almost always is, because Denver) we open the doors and enjoy the breeze in the living room.

The chair below is my favorite chair ever- on lazy Sundays I often curl up there with a fluffy blanket and my Kindle. It fully reclines so it’s almost like reading in bed.

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I also adore this little propane grill I snagged on Amazon for $130. So far we’ve only used it for lamb burgers and jerk chicken, but we’re planning on using it tons this spring and summer. Denver_Girls_Apartment_Tour_7

Where I bought everything: Propane Grill // Zero Gravity Chair

 

The Bedroom

My bedroom is super minimalist- it definitely needs more color but I am forbidding myself from buying anything else.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

My bed itself is the most comfortable bed in the entire world. It has two mattress pads- one super soft one and one heated. The heated one has controls on both sides, so if there are two people in bed they can change their own heat controls. How’s that for creature comforts?

Additionally I really love having a white bed- it feels so cozy and clean and reminds me of a hotel.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

I also love these floating shelves, which came with the apartment. They’re decorated very sentimentally with antique perfume bottles (one I bought in Paris, one in Michigan), a jewelry box I bought at a Denver thrift shop, a silver mirror and brush I inherited from my great-grandmother and a small wooden box my best friend bought me in China.

Oh and that adorable rosewood whale you might be eyeing? I impulsively bought that on Etsy for $45 during the height of my online shopping addiction.

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Also sentimental- my eight-piece map of Paris. Love.

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I’m also lucky to have a walk-in closet with shelves. Normally it’s more organized, I swear.

Where I bought everything: Ikea Leirvik Bedframe // Pottery Barn Duvet Cover // Ikea dresser // Ikea nightstand // Heated mattress pad // mattress pad // Paris Map // Yellow honeycomb pillow // Grey honeycomb pillows

 

The bathroom

Frankly there’s not too much to say here- but my bathroom is spacious and has a few cute details.

Twenty-something Girls Apartment in Denver

A monogrammed mug with makeup brushes- God I am so basic…

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And a tray with perfume and jewelry.

So how much do you pay in rent?

I actually only pay $1750, which feels cheap after four years in Chicago. My roommate and I split it down the middle- she gets the bigger bedroom and I get the parking space. In addition to the apartment we also have a huge ski locker and laundry down the hall.

How did you decorate your first adult apartment? Did you go slightly overboard like me or did you hold back and save your money for more important things?

Mapiful provided me the Detroit map for review but everything else was purchased by me or my roommate. All opinions are my own.

Life Out West: Month 6

Life Out West: Month 6

While on my RTW trip I loved posting monthly updates as they’re so much fun to both write and look back on. So I figured why not recap my life out west too? Read about month 1months 2&3 and months 4&5 here. All these photos are from Instagram, @ashleyabroad– find me there for travel inspiration and mountain pics!

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Highs

A week in beautiful, fascinating, delicious Jordan.

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Obviously, Jordan was the highlight of April. In Jordan, I felt like myself again. I had forgotten how happy researching ancient ruins, learning tidbits of other languages and laughing my head off with friends makes me. Needless to say, I had an absolute blast and came back a better person.

I can’t wait to blog about Jordan and am really proud of the writing and photography I produced. More very soon!

 

On the upswing at work.

Sales is quite the fickle mistress, but when it’s good, it’s really good. I’ve been doing well at work since my revenue slump in February and am hoping to continue hitting numbers. Sales is tricky but I’m definitely growing more confident!

 

Feeling refreshed post-Jordan.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was really unhappy before I left for Jordan. The honeymoon phase of settling down had rubbed off, and I was becoming increasingly tense and negative. Worst of all, I couldn’t stop snapping at friends, coworkers and my boyfriend. I was feeling so bogged down by my schedule that I even considered quitting blogging.

I came back from Jordan with a new perspective- I realized that I need to practice gratitude for my life in Colorado. And while I don’t want to live in the states forever, it’s pretty wonderful right now. Also I need to be kinder and more patient with others even if I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

I also realized that I had become far too materialistic. As a frugal minimalist who loses everything, I’ve never cared much for material possessions. But over the winter I’d started buying things to mitigate my discontent, which is never a good path. Now I’m striving to be more conscious of my spending and only buy things I need. (No more trips to Sephora! For real.)

 

A relaxing weekend away with the boyfriend.

Buena Vista

I finally understand what people mean when they say “stay-cation.” Last weekend my boyfriend and I headed to a B&B in Buena Vista, a tiny 2,000 person town surrounded by mountains. I love B&Bs because you get good value for your money, have the opportunity to meet locals and duh- there’s free breakfast.

We spent the weekend hiking trails, drinking IPAs at the town’s only brewery, taking photos of the mountains, reading and just relaxing. It was so lovely.

 

Hitting the gym (and the hiking trails!)

Another thing that’s making me happier? Working out. I’ve been hiking a few times a week with friends and my stress levels have plummeted. Who needs the gym when you have the Rockies?

 

Lows

While April was a very, very good month in which I traveled a lot and mentally turned a corner, there still were a few minor lows.

Raging jetlag.

Dear god. Getting home from an international trip at 10 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m. to go to work was so. rough. It turns out jetlag and office jobs do not mix at all- I was almost falling asleep at my desk for days.

But the worst was playing softball the night after getting home at 9:30 p.m., which for me was 6:30 a.m. I forgot my softball softball, threw a fit and acted a mess. Not my finest hour.

 

Not knowing what to do with my life.

As always, I’m unsure of the direction I want to pursue. Stay in Denver for two years because I work for a great company and have great friends? Move to Shanghai? Hack it all in and travel Central America and work on my blog and new site?

So many ideas for my future are swirling around in my head, and I feel torn. I wish a genie could tell me which decision would make me happiest. Ugh.

 

Missing my family a lot.

I’m really close with my family, so seeing them so infrequently is difficult.

When I was traveling my mom always said she wanted me to move home so we could be closer. But funny enough, I saw my family so much more when I traveled full-time- on average 2-3 months a year! It makes me sad that I can only see them a few times a year but I really can’t think of a solution.

 

Dreaming of Blogging.

Jordan reenergized me so much blogging-wise that I would kill for a solid week to blog 12 hours a day. Alas, the weekends will have to do.

 

Most Liked Instagram photo:

Camel

This adorable camel portrait with 150+ likes!

Something to Ponder

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” – Bob Goff

Tieks by Gavrieli: My Favorite Travel Flats

Tieks by Gavrieli: My Favorite Travel Flats

On most of my backpacking trips, I packed only two pairs of shoes: flip flops and running shoes.

Which of course meant I had nothing to wear in dressier situations. In Asia I was even turned down at several clubs for not having proper footwear. (Like at the Skybar in Saigon. Ugh.)

So on my most recent trip I decided to pack a pair of black Tieks (that I won in a travel blog giveaway, funny enough) to accompany my flip flops and trainers.

And I was so glad I did.

For one, having a pair of stylish, comfortable shoes in Europe is a must (please never wear tennis or hiking shoes in public in Europe, mkay?). And secondly, they take up almost no space in your backpack.

So this year I ordered another pair of Tieks in burgundy- perfect for a wine lover, non?

Tieks

Tieks

Why Tieks are perfect for travel:

a. They’re stylish, and look good anywhere from European cobblestones to Southeast Asian clubs.

b. They’re comfortable, thanks to the padded sole.

c. They’re well-made, with soft but durable Italian leather. And they last- they don’t wear out quickly like most ballet flats.

d. They’re extra portable because they fold up into themselves! (See first image).

And okay fine, I love the box they come in. And the myriad colors. (I not-so-secretly would love the leopard. Next pair.)

Tieks

But Tieks aren’t just good for travel, they’re also great for everyday life– I wear both my burgundy and black pairs to the office all the time.

Tieks_Venice Tieks also make great gifts for those you love very, very much- hey, they ain’t cheap! My best friend pictured above in the ballerina pink Tieks I gave her for Christmas. Photo taken on our trip to Venice last year.

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Which color Tieks would you choose? Comment below!

A note of caution- Tieks are made of real leather so don’t get them wet. They definitely can handle some moisture but won’t do well in two feet of snow! Also order down if you’re a half size- I’m an 8.5 and I wear an 8 in Tieks.

How to Balance Blogging with a Full-time Job: Advice From the Pros

How to Balance Blogging with a Full-time Job: Advice From the Pros

For the first two years of my blogging career, I churned out 2-3 posts a week rather easily. But once I moved to Denver and started a full-time job, I floundered. How on earth do people have the time or energy to do this after work? I wondered, with barely enough energy to watch Scandal.

While I’ve since figured out a blogging strategy (schedule posts on Sundays, draft posts during lunch at work) I still struggle to get posts out as consistently as I once did. Which is why I wanted to start this series on “Balancing Blogging”, and hear from bloggers who balance their blogs with full-time jobs, teaching abroad, au pairing or school.

Today we’re hearing from bloggers like me, who balance blogging while working full-time. I’m so excited to share with you all of their wise advice so take it away ladies!

How to balance blogging with a full-time job

Image Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Welcome, Whitney! So have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked. Or blogged and studied (back when I was a student).

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

I wish I had some sage advice but if truth be told… it is a challenge. The difficulty lies in balancing work responsibilities, blogging, AND having a social life. Not to mention finding the time to create NEW content. I’m not going to have a lot to blog about if I’m always stuck behind a computer screen… that’s for sure!

I think the secret is utilizing the time that you already have. I don’t want to sacrifice all of my evenings or my sacred weekends but I do have time. My employer gives me an hour-long lunch break. During the winter when I tend to hide indoors a bit more, I can easily squeeze 30 minutes of writing on my break.

I also try my hand at multi-tasking. For example, in between loads of laundry I usually end up editing photos or adding the finishing touches to a post. It’s all about time management and finding the “lost time” that we can reclaim. Some of my best ideas come to me during my morning commute. Since I have the luxury of riding transit this means I’m free to jot notes on my smart phone that I can fine-tune later.

It’s not going to look the same for everyone but I guarantee that you have time hiding somewhere. You just have to look for it!

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked, but it was much easier to do when I lived in Paris and my job involved me being offline and outside, often running around the city. Back then, it was enjoyable to come home and spend six hours on the computer crafting blog posts, after being out all day for work.

These days, when I have a job that already requires working on a laptop 8+ hours during the day, it’s difficult to come home and spend even more time staring at my computer screen. I want to see friends, read a book, just turn my mind off — and that really makes blog productivity go down.

 

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Small steps. I used to get all my blog posts done in one fell swoop — choosing photos, editing them, writing and rewriting — and most posts took around 6-8 hours (because I take a lot photos and am a perfectionist, an exhausting combination).

Now I try to do a little bit each night after work — so I’ll take a few days to organize and cull photos, a couple more to edit them, and a day to write the post. My output may be smaller, but this way I make sure I don’t burn out while still making progress on the blog.

 

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

When I first launched Let Us Wanderlust in September 2013, I’d left behind my career in Australia to pursue a life of travel on the road. I spent six months travelling full-time all across Canada and around the US and would blog about my adventures 3-4 times a week, using my 7 inch tablet to write posts, edit pictures and engage on social media.

With constant lack of wifi and no computer, it was a real challenge at times, but the memories I managed to capture over those six months were well worth the struggle!  Since returning home to Australia 9 months ago, I have settled back into the 9-5 work routine and I blog three times a week.

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Balance is something I am in constant pursuit of in all areas of my life, including the amount of time and energy I invest in my blog, so I don’t purport to have all the answers here! In fact, my word for 2015 is balance, as it’s something that seems so hard to strike but is so worthwhile striving for.

My best advice is to be as organised as you can when it comes to blogging. I carry a notebook/phone with my at all times (even when at work!) so I can jot down post ideas as they come to me, I write posts in advance (not every one, but I try my hardest to strive towards that!) one weekend a month or on a day off from work, and I use a planner to help me plan out my post schedule.

I have played around with various online editorial calendars but nothing works better for me than a planner and post-it notes – I can move posts around without my planner looking like a hot mess! Being organised and having a plan really helps me find balance between blogging, my full-time job and all the other things I’m doing in my life. It also allows me to take a step back from the online world as much as possible so I can just enjoy my life with the people I care about. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me.

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog? 

I had more time to write when I was still a grad student, but I ever since launching my blog back in 2012, I’ve put quality over quantity.

I know some of the long-established bloggers advise newbie bloggers to write at least four articles per week, but even as a student I didn’t have that much time to spare. Still, in my first year of blogging, I tried to stick to a writing schedule that had a photo essay planned for Mondays, and a longer piece of travel advice, stories, or other musings due on Thursdays.

When I started working as a medievalist in the fall of 2013, I had to cut back the number of weekly posts. However this also resulted in me feeling less pressured into my strict schedule corset. Today, I rarely ever post twice a week, but I only share meaningful pieces created out of real inspiration unsuppressed by the need to “just get something out there.”

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Honestly, I still haven’t figured this out entirely, but since my hours at work are quite flexible, I’ve often found myself writing for my blog in the mornings while having breakfast — morning coffee and creativity just go so well together!

This is probably the best balancing advice I can give: Find a day, or a time of the day, that fits into your work schedule, but that also leaves you with enough time to think and be creative. Also: Try to get away from the computer screen every once in a while, especially if both of your obligations involve working on a PC. Sometimes I feel like all the technology is sucking the life out of me, and I can’t think of anything to write while staring at a blinking cursor on an empty page any longer — but I don’t stress myself out, or force myself to write.

Instead I just read random fiction, go for a walk, or just people-watch in a café. Clearing your head and giving your eyes a computer screen break really does wonders for creativity sometimes and it will absolutely pay off for your day job and your blog!

 

Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

I’ve always blogged and worked. I had a different blog before Pies + Travel that I basically never updated. Once I started traveling more consistently with my partner, I knew I had to get serious about blogging so I created Pies + Travel for my ongoing travels, but also to highlight a few pie recipes I had from my 50-pie challenge and bits that I love about Atlanta. It’s been fun so far and I really love connecting with people all over the internet and the world.
I like the posting frequency I have right now since it’s perfect for my work schedule. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to blogs, just be yourself and do what you love.

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Blog // Twitter // Instagram

 

Have you always blogged and worked, or at one point did you have more time for your blog?

In some capacity I’ve always blogged and worked, it was just much less than I blog currently. I guess the crazy profession of a marketing copywriter demands an alternative creative outlet more often now, which is something my blog provides. Or, it could be I have less free time and therefore the pressure to get it done wins. Nothing like good ol’ time constraints to light a fire under my bum.

What’s your advice on balancing blogging and a full-time job?

Weekends are obviously key for getting an arsenal of posts on deck for the upcoming weeks that you can schedule. During the regular work week, I maintain social media accounts for my site and often find myself typing away on new posts during The Real Housewives at night (this is a judgment-free zone). The hubster and I have a minor obsession with traveling, so I’ve tried to utilize the down time at airports or on planes to whip through some words. Sometimes the people watching and Bloody Mary’s distract me. I can’t help it!

Blogging and working full-time isn’t a perfect science. I try not to be too hard on myself when work gets busy and I can’t muster up creating what I think is a worthwhile post. I just do what I can, when I can.

Helpful tip: I’m running my 2nd half-marathon this month insert < AHHHHH!!! here> and find that during training runs, I often think of great topics to write about. So I have an ongoing “Post Ideas” document on my Google Drive where all of my crazy ideas are housed. It’s been great in a pinch when I know I need to write something and I’m not feeling inspired.

 

Thank you to all the ladies who contributed to this post! There were so many contributors that a part two is coming soon. Also needed- bloggers who balance blogging with au pairing, school OR teaching English abroad!

. . . . . . . . . . .

What about you? Do you have any sage advice on how to balance blogging with full-time job?

How to Become an Au Pair in France

How to Become an Au Pair in France

One of the biggest reasons people visit my blog is to find out how to become an au pair in France. So today we are hearing from Marianne, an American au pair who is currently working in Brittany, France.

Here she walks us through every single step of the au pair application and tells us about her living situation in Brittany.

As many of you may know, I was an au pair in Paris, France back in 2012-13, so this is a post I’m super excited to share with you. Take it away, Marianne!

How to Become an Au Pair in France

When I started researching how to become an au pair I found that there were few resources on the internet, other than a couple blogs (some good posts I found were on Ashley Abroad, iminparisgonoles and relokate) that had really helpful pages on how to become an au pair in France.

So now that I’ve actually successfully completed the process, I thought I’d explain the process for those who’d like to do it as well. In this post I will address exactly what was needed from me, as an American, to become an au pair in France.

Just so we’re all clear, an au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s childcare and housework in exchange for free room and board as well as a small amount of spending money.

1. Set up an account on an au pair website

First, set up an account on an au pair website – there are many of these sites that pair au pairs with families but the most popular is Au Pair World. It’s kind of like a free OkCupid for au pairs and families.

You can go with an agency where they’ll do all the work for you and match you up with a family themselves, but this is rather expensive.

I decided to make an account on Au Pair World. You can add photos, description, specifications, age, etc. Fill this out thoroughly because the more information you put, the better.

You can also search through families’ photos and bios as well as contact them directly. My family contacted me directly but this will vary case to case.

2. Find a family

My advice as far as picking a family: get to know them. Send emails back and forth, Skype with them, seriously think whether you could live with this family for a whole year.

How well do you feel like you can talk to them? Are they in a location that you like? This is your time to be picky because you don’t want to get there and find out that you’re unhappy in the situation.

In my case I almost agreed to be an au pair to one family merely because they were the first family to express interest in me. But when I skyped for the first time with my current family, I knew they were the ones. Even though we spoke to each other through garbled English and broken French, we could relate to each other and we found a way to communicate.

How to Become an Au Pair in France

3. Figure Out Which Visa You Need Based on your Nationality

If you are a citizen of the EU/EFTA (this link will tell you whether or not you are one) then follow these instructions. However if you’re not a citizen of the EU (like myself, if you’re from the United States) then continue with my steps.

4. Apply for Your Passport

This is kind of a given, but make sure you have a passport otherwise you won’t get very far. You can get the form online and apply for the passport in most post offices. They’ll even take your picture there!

5. Translate Your Diplomas

You’ll need to get copies of your diplomas (a good idea is to include both high school and college if you went to both) translated into French. I used OneHourTranslation because it was the cheapest translation service I could find ($.072 c. per word!) and they have it translated in under an hour.

Other services are much more expensive. I’ve heard that some people have just plugged the diplomas into Google Translate and they were fine, but this wasn’t something I wanted to bet on so I went with onehourtranslation. I ended up spending something like $10 to translate both my High School and College Diplomas.

[Editor’s note- I used Google Translate and it was totally fine. But of course I understand if you’d rather use a more reliable service.]

6. Make an Appointment With A Doctor

You will need to get a signed medical certificate that states that you are in good health. You can get a copy of the health certificate on the AuPairWorld website here.

Call your doctor and ask for a general physical, then bring the certificate you downloaded and printed out and have them sign it. If you don’t have a doctor – you can get a physical at most Planned Parenthood centers.

The only thing is this is a bit tricky – you can’t have the signed date be any more than three months away from the date you’ll be arriving in France.

How to Become an Au Pair in France

7. Ask Host Family To Register You In A French Language Course

To receive an au pair visa in France means the visa you will apply for will be a long-stay student visa. In order to receive a student visa you must be enrolled in a French language course. These are fairly easy courses of all levels, designed for people who are learning French as a foreign language.

Make sure that your family signs you up for a class otherwise you won’t be able to get your visa. 

8. Sign the Au Pair Contract and Send the Documents

Once you have found a family, they will send you over the au pair contract to sign. Scanning and emailing will work just fine, no need to actually post documents overseas.

Make sure you are very detailed in the description of your duties in the au pair contract. You want to make sure that you won’t end up being a maid for the family, or doing things that you may not have agreed to.

Be very clear and ask your questions now. Then when you’re done, scan and email the documents back to the family. Make sure you include all the following documents:

  • Au pair contract, signed by both parties
  • A copy of your diplomas, translated into French
  • A health certificate signed by a doctor, saying that you are in good health.
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Motivation letter written in French (one page, totally okay to write in English then translate with Google Translate).

9. Host Family Takes Documents to be Approved

The host family will take the necessary documents to be approved. Once approved see #9. This can be a pain as the DIRRECTE may ask for additional documents to be sent.

For me, I ended up also needing to send a copy of my current resume and proof that I took French language classes. I used screenshots from the online portal at the university I had attended, but a transcript could work as well.

10. Have Host Family Mail Approved Contract and Certificate of Enrollment

You’ll need to have your host family mail you the approved au pair contract as well as the certificate of enrollment in a French language course as you will need the originals when you apply for your visa.

My family sent it by mail and it took about two weeks to arrive. I’m not sure if you can just take a scanned, approved contract to get your visa, but it was not something I wanted to test out.

[Editor’s note- as far as I understand your family has to send over a paper copy of the approved contract and certificate of enrollment, which of course is a total nuisance and should be done by scanning/emailing- oh, France. At least that was my situation as well.]

11. Make an Appointment to Apply For Your Visa at the Nearest French Consulate

To apply for your visa, you need to make an appointment. Depending on the French consulate you go to you may not be able to make an appointment that is any less than three weeks out. I made my appointment for the French consulate in San Francisco in late June and the earliest appointment I could make was July 25th! Something to be aware of.

In order to make an appointment go to this page (this one links to the consulate in San Francisco – you’ll want to find the equivalent at the consulate that is closest to you – just Google “French consulate” and then the state you live in) and find the link to make an appointment.

12. Book Your Flight

Depending on the time of year flights will be cheaper. I primarily used skyscanner to find the cheapest tickets, obsessively checking it each day. It has a unique feature that allows you to browse by date to find the cheapest day to fly.

You can also look for flights through Student Universe. They provide discounts for people under the age of 26, or if you’re a student.

I found that the sweet spot for cheapest flights is to purchase your ticket about 6 weeks before you wish to fly. I ended up purchasing my tickets about 6 weeks before I was set to leave and was able to get the cheapest ticket through Student Universe.

Keep in mind that flights will be the most expensive during the summer travel months and much cheaper in the fall or winter months. 

[Editor’s note- always request that your family pay for your flight. While not all will, some do so it’s worth asking. For reference, my family paid for my ticket.]

13. Apply For Your Student Visa

In order to work as an au pair you will apply for a student visa, or long séjour mention étudiant. Allow for at least three weeks before you leave for the visa to arrive. Find the nearest French consulate near you and search through their information. I needed to visit the consulate in San Francisco, and on their website it’s categorized as “long stay visa for au pair.” They had details on how to make an appointment, how much the visa will cost, everything you’ll need to bring, etc.

If you’re going to the French consulate, here’s what you’ll need:

1. Passport valid for at least three months after your return to the US + 1 photocopy of the identity pages. Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visas pages left.

2. Processing fees ($68) – may vary for different consulates. (This changed – their website said $68 when I checked, I ended up being charged $138)

3. One application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant. This can be found on the consulate web page.

4. One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form

5. “Au Pair” Contract approved by the French Ministry of Labour. This contract is obtained by the host family in France at the “Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle -D.D.T.E.F.P.”

6. Proof of your previous studies (your most recent diplomas) – I’d take copies of both the English and French versions that you had translated.

7. Proof of registration or letter of enrollment in a language school specifying exact dates of attendance.

8. If you are not a U.S. citizen: a valid U.S. permanent residence card (“green card”) or a valid U.S. visa with valid I-94 or valid I-20, or an Advance Parole document.

9. One residence form duly filled out (upper part only) – you’ll find this on the consulate website.

10. E-ticket or reservation confirmation showing the departure date for Europe.

11. A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY – NO FEDEX / UPS / AIRBORNE EXPRESS accepted.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to make the appointment for a weekday, you’ll need all of your paperwork, and you’ll expect to wait three weeks before you’ll receive the visa. My appointment was at 9:30am, so I stayed with a friend in San Francisco.

Upon arriving at the French consulate, it took maybe 15 minutes to get everything done. They will make sure you have all of the correct paperwork, plus copies of everything. They’ll keep the copies after confirming the originals. Then I was fingerprinted and they took my photo.

I was told I would receive the visa in the mail in 2-3 weeks and I received it just over a week later. It was incredibly easy, but I hear it does not go easily for everyone.

14. Once You Arrive in France, Register With The URSSAF

Ask your host family to register you with the URSSAF. Your family may give you this ahead of time but it’s not required before you leave. You’ll just need to get it done within the first eight days of being in France. This will cover your social security and health insurance while you’re in France and your host family should take care of this for you.

15. Register with the OFII

Within three months of arrival you’ll need to register with the OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration). This will make you officially a resident of France during your stay. In my case this just involved sending the confirmed OFII paperwork via the mail to the necessary administrations. The paperwork is complete when the visa office sends it back (with the visa/passport) to you. This is something very important to remember when packing, otherwise you’ll need to have a family member send it over.

I suggest bringing the paper and then handing it over to your host parents once you get to France, they will know what to do with it.

. . . . . . . . . . .

There you have it! Lots of steps and a lot of work, but with good time management and the drive to have such a unique experience, it can be accomplished. The whole process was fairly easy, considering how many things needed to be done.

 

What to Expect When You Arrive:

Expect to not be able to understand the language. Even if you’ve had French education, the actual spoken French will be very different from what you studied.

I thought that I had an alright comprehension of French and when I got to France, I found it to be very difficult to speak and understand conversations. It helped that all of the family friends that I met were very welcoming and happy to help me learn. Every family will be different so you may not have a situation that is anything like my own.

Bretagne Red Door, au pair

My situation: I live with my host family and their two children and I work about 30 hours a week, which is the max that you’re allowed to work. My host family pays for my French language classes, my cell phone, my gas for the car that they provide for me (because I drive the children to and from school), and they give me 85 euro/week. I paid for my own airline tickets.

I live with the family but I have my own living quarters. I also am welcome at all of their meals and they will purchase any food I may want. I am free to do whatever I want in my free time. On holidays that the children have from school, I have time off and I can travel freely.

My Schedule: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri: 7:30 – 9:00am and 4:30 – 6:30/7pm, Wednesday: 7:30am – 6:30/7pm. These are average times, sometimes they vary greatly. Weekends I am free.

Other examples:

Friend #1: Works 30 hours at 80 euro/week. Two very young children. Language classes and cell phone provided by the parents.

Friend #2: Works 30 hours at 100 euro/week for three boys. School is not paid for by the parents but cell phone is provided. During school holidays Friend #2 is sometimes required to travel and work with the family.

Would you like to be an au pair in France?

Marianne_au_pair Originally from California, Marianne lives in western France where she currently is working as an au pair and struggling daily with the French language. A lover of dogs, bicycling, bread, and chocolate, she does freelance marketing and web design, and writes at www.californienne.com. She can be reached by email at californienneblog@gmail.com.

I’m Off to the Middle East… Wait What?

I’m Off to the Middle East… Wait What?

As you may have readI’m off to Jordan TONIGHT with three friends and fellow travel bloggers: Amanda, Jessica and Julika!

The four of us met in Madrid last year, insta-bonded and have been plotting our next adventure ever since. I’m ridiculously excited to explore Jordan with them. And of course, to lay eyes on the Middle East for the first time ever, something I’ve dreamed of for years.

#GirlsGoneJordan

Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase

As a native of Detroit, Michigan, I’m no stranger to Middle Eastern food or culture– after all, Detroit is home to the largest population of Arab Americans in the country. I even consider Middle Eastern to be my comfort food- my coming-home meal is always hummus with pickled beets, lamb tips and sesame pita. (True story- I always make my brother bring it to the airport when he picks me up. I’m terrible.)

But back to the trip. The four of us aren’t just visiting Jordan as tourists. The purpose of our campaign, #GirlsGoneJordan is to strip away stereotypes about Jordan and encourage women to travel to the Middle East.

As a history nerd I can’t wait to explore such an ancient part of the world. But as a feminist and strong supporter of female travel this trip is about more than just visiting Jordan- it’s also a way to support women-based causes that I’m very passionate about.

Petra Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The four of us will be posting on social media all next week so if you want to know what we’re up to check out the links below. And of course, expect a deluge of Jordan blog posts once I’m back in the states.

Facebook: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika

Twitter: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika | #GirlsGoneJordan

Instagram: Amanda | Ashley | Jessica | Julika | #GirlsGoneJordan

 

Have you ever visited Jordan or the Middle East? Would you? And what should I most definitely eat when I’m there?

Life Out West: Months 4 and 5

Life Out West: Months 4 and 5

You guys know how serious I am about money management, especially when abroad. So check out Nutmeg, a fully managed investment portfolio that you can access online. With Nutmeg you can set financial goals and receive assistance to help you reach them, with everything from ISAs to pensions. It has been featured on The Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times so definitely check it out if you’re looking to invest!

. . . . . . . . . . .

While on my RTW trip I loved posting monthly updates as they’re so much fun to both write and look back on. So I figured why not recap my new life out west too? Read about month 1 and months 2 & 3 here. All these photos are from Instagram, @ashleyabroad– find me there for slices of daily life!

Well guys, I’ve been busy- hence the lack of posts up on the blog! And while I’ve adored skiing almost every weekend, I’m almost relieved ski season is over- it will be nice to have my weekends back.

There were lots of highlights of February and March: I was featured in the Detroit Free Press, won $300 and a hackathon at work and even flew back home to Michigan for a quick 36-hour visit.

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One highlight of February- beautiful chocolates from my boyfriend on Valentine’s Day! Chocolates > Flowers.

Highs

Going on my first business trip!

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I was so excited to be chosen to Salt Lake City to represent sovrn at The Blogger Network’s Build Your Blog Conference. I learned a few things- tons of mommy bloggers are Mormon, and expensing things is awesome.

While there were no travel bloggers present (mainly mommy, DIY and food), it gave me a taste of what blogging conferences are like, and reminded me that this year I finally have to attend TBEX.

Being featured in the Detroit Free Press

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Blogging has been a crazy journey, but nothing has been crazier than being featured in a two-page color spread in my hometown newspaper! The journalist perfectly understood my life and I was so honored to be featured.

Winning the company hackathon (and buying a 24mm lens!) 

Hackathon – an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designersand project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Wikipedia

In March sovrn threw a company-wide hackathon in which we formed teams of 4-5 people to brainstorm ideas that would benefit the company. Crazy enough, my team not only won, but took home three out of the four prizes, including CEO’s pick! We were gifted $300 each and I purchased a Canon 24mm pancake lens to replace my kit lens. So far I love it- it’s featherlight and compact, and takes great photos.

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Skiing with my family

This month my family came all the way from Michigan and Chicago to see me! We headed to my favorite ski town, Breckenridge, to hit the slopes. My whole family skies very well so I loved tearing up the slopes with them.

Breckenridge

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A sweet note in Breckenridge- a salted caramel and chocolate chip cookie after skiing!

Decorating my apartment

Okay, okay- I’ve gone a little overboard with decorating. I’m ashamed to say my savings account is around the same as it was when I moved to Colorado- blame Etsy, Ikea and Target.

But after years of nomadic life it’s so nice to have my own place. And I’ve been growing an interest in design itself- I recently subscribed to Dwell magazine and I devour Style by Emily Henderson on the daily. I can’t wait to post an apartment tour when everything’s finally finished!

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My eight-piece map of Paris in my bedroom.

Apartment

A twelve-piece map of Manhattan in my living room. Yes, I’ve gone a bit map crazy.

Cooking at home

Another joy of settled life? Cooking at home. I’ve churned out some delicious dishes recently, including bibimbap, roast chicken with oranges and black olives, curried sweet potato bowls and baked ziti (perfect for après-ski).

Also I’ve been reading a lot about food (shocker). I particularly adored Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, and now have a dream of exploring rural China and delving into different regional Chinese cuisines. #foodnerd

Also I recently added two new cookbooks to my collection, French Comfort Food and Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (also by Fuschia Dunlop). So far I love both- as you guys may have noticed, I’m kind of obsessed with home cooking from around the world. (Saveur can you please just hire me already?)

My other recently project has been mixology, but sadly all of my cocktails come out tasting like dish soap. A work in progress.

Brunch

A simple breakfast of pain de campagne with salty Irish butter, soft-boiled eggs with bright orange yolks and a Bialetti filled with piping hot moka. My absolute favorite.

Growing Become an Au Pair

Become an au pair

I’ve been loving working on my new website, Become an Au Pair. While it’s still a fledgling site, it’s already receiving almost two thousand page views a month- not bad for nine posts!

(As always, current and former au pairs- please let me know if you want to contribute. I’d love to have you!)

Lows

Sales stresses

Working in sales can be stressful. In February I bombed my quota, only reaching about 30% of what I should have earned. Fortunately in March I bounced back, but sales truly is a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of culture.

So little time.

I’m an idea person, and I always have about 10,000 projects and cuisines and books and languages and countries I want to throw myself into. In the last six months of working a 7:30-4 with a commute I’ve learned a lot about both my priorities and time management, but I still have a long ways to go. This year I’ve learned you really can’t do it all.

Up next:

Announcement soon! But it’s very exciting, I promise.

What to Eat in Malaysia: The Best Dishes I Tried (And The Worst!)

What to Eat in Malaysia: The Best Dishes I Tried (And The Worst!)

I’m partnering with Flights.com to share all about what to eat in Malaysia. If you love experiencing new food when you travel, like me, check out this article on the 7 Best Restaurants in the World

Malaysian food, guys. We need to talk about it.

First off, it’s amazing. Malaysian food is a blend of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian influences, so uh, how could it not be good?

Secondly it’s surprising. I’ve honestly never been so surprised and delighted by a national cuisine. There were gummy textures, ingredients I’d never seen and myriad flavors and culinary influences.

So in this post I want to share with you my Malay food diary- the greatest hits, and a few dishes that didn’t quite live up to the hype.

You might be thinking, “Wow, you ate all of this in two weeks?” Yes, yes I did. And if anything I wish I had eaten more- but hey, I can always go back right?

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LOVED.

Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur

I would give my firstborn child if I could just have curry laksa one more time. (Okay fine, that’s hyperbole. But I would drive at least an hour.)

Curry laksa is my favorite iteration of laksa- a bowl of a curried coconut broth, thin yellow egg noodles, fried tofu and cuttlefish. This dish is also called curry mee. Whatever you call it, I freaking love it.

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Satay celup // Melaka

An assortment of veggies, eggs and meats, all cooked in peanut sauce? Delicious. Essentially satay celup is like Malaysian-style fondue but with meat on a stick and peanut sauce. Truly a new favorite.

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Chicken rice // Everywhere

My daily staple in Malaysia was without doubt chicken rice. In Malaysia I became quite the chicken rice connoisseur.

After lots of trial and error, I decided my favorite chicken rice is saucy, savory chicken accompanied by chicken rice balls, iced tea and chicken foot soup. Yum.

Penang

I especially love chicken rice accompanied by a big plate of greens (pictured below) because it makes me feel healthy, even if I’ve eaten six meals that day.

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Kuih // Melaka

One sweltering afternoon in Melaka I tried kuih, bite-sized tea snacks that are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and several regions of China.

As a prolific snacker, I loved eating such a wide assortment of treats at one meal. I tasted nasi lemak, sambal and rice, curry puff and fried shrimp ball.

On the sweeter side I tried pulut kueh, coconut sticky rice with palm sugar, and kuih ketayap, a little green burrito dyed with pandan leaf and stuffed with palm sugar.

kueh kueh

Chai and roti prata // Melaka

While in Melaka I joined a group of Malaysian girls for an Indian-style brunch.

For only a couple of dollars we had an Indian feast- flaky, buttery roti prata dipped in a light and spicy dahl, with sweet and spicy chai to accompany.

Considering I had just spent six weeks in India eating exclusively Indian food, I wasn’t about to grab seconds, but I still loved chai and roti prata as a one-off breakfast.

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Putu Mayam // Georgetown, Penang

Putu mayam was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had- freshly steamed pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and fresh-grated coconut.

I discovered it at a market in Penang, and fell in love with the soft, gummy noodles and the flavor explosion (forgive me) of pandan, palm sugar and coconut. It was truly like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.

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Banana and peanut fritter // Georgetown, Penang

I also discovered this banana and peanut fritter at a food market in Penang. Such a tasty snack, and cooked banana with crunchy peanuts brought me back to the beloved grilled PB&Js of my childhood.

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Nasi Ulam Nyonya // Georgetown, Penang

Nasi Ulam Nyonya, also known as Nyonya herbal rice, is a Peranakan dish of fragrant and herb-strewn rice. As far as I could tell, it was simply steamed rice with herbs, lime, shallots and belacan (shrimp paste). YUM.

Here’s a recipe if you’d like to make it yourself!

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LIKED.

Penang Char Kuey Teow // Georgetown, Penang

Char Kuey Teow (Chinese : 炒粿條,炒河粉, thanks Wikipedia) is a Chinese dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese chives and both light and dark soy sauce.

I scarfed down lots of Char Kuey Teow while in Penang, though I must say- it’s a pretty heavy dish for such a hot and humid city! Afterwards I always felt like napping.

It reminded me of a lot of the Thai stir-fried noodle dish phat si io, as its flavor savory, heavy and soy-saucey.

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Popiah // Georgetown, Penang

Popiah is a Chinese wheat crêpe stuffed with Chinese sausage, prawns, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, caramelized onion and cooked carrot and turnip. In Singapore I literally had it daily- I loveee me some popiah.

While I didn’t like the popiah in Penang quite as much as the one I had in Singapore, it was still tasty.

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Fish head bihun // Kuala Lumpur

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I’m too adventurous of an eater for my own good. Grilled lamb hearts in Istanbul? Yes, please. Civet poo coffee in Bali? Small intestine sausage in France? Yes, please. Actually, I loved all those dishes dearly.

But sometimes my white-girl, Midwest-born and bred stomach has trouble keeping up with my food-obsessed mouth. Let’s just say fish head bihun and I didn’t work out.

Fish head bihun is essentially a rice vermicelli noodle soup with chunks of fried fish-head. While I somewhat liked the dish, after a few bites I knew I would be sick.

Soon after taking this picture I experienced the worst food poisoning I had since a fruit farm tour in the Mekong Delta. Fun.

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Pineapple cookies // Melaka

Pineapple cookies are famous in Melaka. But once I finally got my hands on one (they’re hard to buy individually) I wasn’t terribly impressed. As always, I have to admit I prefer American cookies to any other.

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DIDN’T LOVE.

Cendol // Melaka

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cendol was downright the most bizarre dessert I’ve ever encountered. Imagine a bowl of green jelly noodles that taste like worms, topped with red beans, shaved ice and palm sugar. With a little receptacle of more green jelly noodles in case you didn’t get enough.

Frankly I’m not sure how any of these ingredients go together, much less in a dessert. But to each their own.

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Peranakan laksa // Kuala Lumpur

On my final night in Malaysia I had Peranakan laksa.

Laksa was one of those dishes I wanted so badly to love. I tried Peranakan laksa, asam laksa (okay, at a mall) and laksa in Singapore. I sadly always found it a little… bland. The only one I liked was curry laksa- but hey, you can’t win ’em all.

 Have you ever tried Malaysian food? What did you think?

Eating Penang: A Private Culinary Tour of Georgetown, Malaysia

Eating Penang: A Private Culinary Tour of Georgetown, Malaysia

You guys didn’t think I was done writing about Penang, did you? Because I seriously loved that city too much to pen just a one-off post.

My last day in Penang wasn’t the typical travel day- it was a private culinary tour, which trust me, is not the norm in my travels. But considering how much I love food tours- see here and here– I couldn’t resist experiencing one in a private car.

Here are the highlights of my very special last day in Penang.

Having Breakfast at a Wet Market

Our Penang-born guide, C. K. Low, picked Dylan and me up in an old-school burgundy Benz at 9 a.m. sharp. As soon as I felt the air-conditioning I couldn’t help but look forward to the day ahead of me.

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C. K. Low and Dylan enjoying iced coffees and banana fritters.

Under C.K. Low’s expert guidance we sampled everything from banana peanut fritters to char kway teow, Penang’s signature noodle dish.

I won’t go into too much detail as a Malaysian food post is coming very soon to an inbox near you. But seriously guys- yum.

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Clockwise from upper left- char kway teow, putu mayam, putu mayam being steamed, the banana and peanut fritter.

Visiting a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram

Next we headed to Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram (Thai: วัดไชยมังคลาราม). While the Buddha was not quite as quite as splendrous as the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the temple was certainly beautiful, peaceful and nearly void of visitors.

I also loved hearing about C. K. Low’s Thai ancestry while at the temple, as he explained the strong Thai influence in Penang.

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Visiting a Traditional Soy Sauce Factory

I’m not sure if this is normal, but I absolutely love soy sauce. So I was excited to see a soy sauce factory up close- and how beautiful are these pots?

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We also got to taste the soy sauce, which naturally, was delicious- thick and syrupy and bubbling with that addictive umami flavor. It was a far cry from La Choy, a.k.a. liquid salt.

Trying Nyonya Food at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant

Our next stop? Nyonya appetizers at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant.

From the moment I walked into the building (which dates back to 1880!) I was in love: tall airy ceilings, a red and green tile floor, a British Colonial meets Straits-Chinese feel.

While Dylan and I were much too full from breakfast for an entire meal, we ordered Peranakan top hats, or Koay Pai Tee.

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Honestly though I wasn’t over the moon about the top hats- they kind of remind me of wedding hors d’oeuvres. But on my next visit to Penang I fully intend to return to Pinang Peranakan Restaurant for a full Peranakan meal.

Spotting the Ocean

Yeah. No explanation necessary here. Can you imagine waking up to this view everyday?

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Finding Tons of Colonial Mansions

As I’ve mentioned in other posts (Penang, Macau, Singapore), I’m fascinated by colonial history and architecture in Asia.

So at the end of our tour, I asked C. K. Low if we could see Penang’s colonial mansions. And I was not disappointed. While some were a bit shabby, others were in immaculate condition. But shabby or not, I still relished the chance to see such unique and historical architecture.

Sigh. Aren’t they just dreamy?

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As we were driving Dylan, who hails from England, said, “Look, there’s a cricket pavilion!” which I never would have known. One of the benefits of traveling with a Brit is definitely their ability to identify relics of a British colonial past. (That and I’ve met some who travel with teabags, which is genius.)

All in all the tour reminded me of why I loved Penang so much- you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a colonial mansion or a really, really good meal.

Have you ever gone on a private culinary tour?

 A big thanks to Rasa Malaysia Penang Private Tour for hosting me and showing me what I should be eating in Penang.

Also after reading TripAdvisor reviews, I would definitely recommend requesting C. K. Low. He was very personable and professional, and lots of people on TripAdvisor experienced no-shows with other drivers.