September 5, 2019

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March 14, 2019

Sicily 101, All Things Sicily

Everything about Sicily, size, population, language, Sicilian people and things to do. "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything." Said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Being the crossroad/biggest island in Mediterranean ocean, it has always held a very important position. Many groups left their influences and culture on the island, the rich history and the perfect weather make Sicily one of the top vacation spots. Let’s learn a thing or two about Sicily.

Here are some quick questions on Sicily:
Where? The southern tip of Italy.
How big? 25,711 km²
(Some references: Taiwan is 36,193 km²; Switzerland is 41,285 km²; Tuvalu is 26 km²)
Capital? Palermo
Language? Sicilian. (More on this below.)
Ruled by? Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Catalans before.
Population? 5 Million

What’s Sicily’s historic background?
For centuries it was a nation unto itself. Sicily was taken over by many different people, and back in the days, many different ancient colonies co-existed as well. Greek ruled during 750 BC-242 BC and left strong marks on Sicily, Roman ruled during 242BC -AD 440. Fast forward to Mordern times, Italian captured Sicily in 1860, and from then on, Sicily became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and now Italian Republic.

What language do Sicilians speak?
Sicilian it is! While it seems like every local speak perfect fluent Italian, some of the elderly might don’t. The Sicilian language and its dialectal derivations extend back beyond ancient Greek times. About 30% of that Sicilian vocabulary originates from the Arabic language. Now, there are approximately 5,000,000 Sicilian speakers in the world.

Best of the best in Sicily
Must-visit in Sicily
* Temple of Concord in Agrigento
Needless to say, it’s such a must-visit because this ancient Greek Doric temple is super well-preserved, built in 440–430 BC(!) and of course it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

* food markets in Palermo
Palermo, the capital of Sicily

* Mount Etna, Sicily’s eastern edge
It’s one of Europe’s highest active volcanoes, and certainly one of the many wonders of Sicily.

* Ortygia
A small island that is kind of attached to Sicily by a narrow channel. It contains many historical landmarks.

Must-eat in Sicily
* cannoli
Originated in Sicily. Outside is a fried wrap, and inside is ricotta cheese.
* Sfincione
That’s pizza made with Sicilian manner!
* Granita
Fresh fruity icy! Granita comes with many flavors, lemon is the most popular. Perfect summer drink it is!
* Caponata
It’s a Sicilian eggplant dish, and the levels of sweet and sour in caponata vary from household to household.

Must-do in Sicily
* Sailing
Start from Taormina or Palermo, see the beautiful island from the sea
Sicilian wineries def worth your visit

Mafia! Mafia! Mafia!
It sure is the one thing that pops in your head when Sicily is mentioned, thanks to the legendary “Godfather.” The word “mafia” literally means “swagger” or “boldness”. They had been active since the 19th century, the roots can be traced back to the Middle Ages, they still exist; drug dealing, loan-sharking, strip clubs running and protection rackets are still there, but the story is a lot different now. Mafia is hereditary, a family thing, and will forever add more drama, mysteriousness to Sicilian culture.

Best time to go visit Sicily
The best time to visit Sicily is from May to June or September to October.
July and August are the hottest, the average temperature is 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) The inviting climate in Sicily attracts lots of visitors from all over the world.

Mommy’s boy in Sicily
Italian mothers serve the family way too well, laundry, house chores, cooking, cleaning and all. It’s common for Italian men to live at home, has a close relationship with his mom and mom still does the laundry even the man has moved out. In Italian, these men are called “Mammoni”, they don’t mind being labeled as such though, just cultural difference.

The mystifying symbol, Trinacria
Curiosity sure rises when seeing the flag of Sicily. This three-legs-one-head symbol can be seen everywhere in Sicily. So, what is this symbol, what does it mean? The mythology goes: three nymphs danced around the world and threw all the best fruits and goodies into the sea and made Sicily. The triangle shape of the island’s three sides is one of each nymphs’ one leg. Beautiful, huh? The formal use of the symbol of the Trinacria can go way back in the 13th century.  

The tip of the toe of Italy has so much to offer, mountains, beaches, wine-sipping, FOOD, historic sights. Make sure you bring a WiFi router with you to ensure smooth instagramming about your fabulous Sicilian trip.

February 22, 2019

All things Toulouse, France

Toulouse is in the southwest of France, France’s fourth largest city, after Paris, Marseille and Lyon. It’s also calledLa Ville Rose”, which means the pink city for its unique architectural style, lots of red-pink clay bricks and tiles.
You can expect great food, art, historic architecture, and it is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, so pretty good weather, too. The beautiful Garonne River runs through the heart of Toulouse city, and there are lots of cultural activities revolve around the bank. Let’s get to know the city:

The most exciting, the best known for Toulouse
Food! Yes, J.R.R Tolkien once said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Toulouse is for sure the home of a lot of French cuisines. Cassoulet and its sausages particular. They go hand in hand, cassoulet usually has a Toulouse sausage in it.

Saucisse de Toulouse
It is made from pork (75% lean, 15% belly), salt and pepper, and usually various additives has a natural casing of about 3cm in diameter and is usually sold in a coil (like Cumberland Sausage).

People keep moving to Toulouse & its super economic growth
It’s not hard to imagine that Paris got lots of push factors, half of the new population in Toulouse is from Paris. The population growth in Toulouse is insane. 200,000 people had moved to Toulouse in the past ten years; the GDP of Toulouse increased by 30% in ten years. You can find 3 key fields of excellence in Toulouse: space, digital, and life science. Lots of students come to Toulouse to study, the start-up scene is heated, and there are lots of new job opportunities available as well. Toulouse is a true superstar for investors!

Lifestyle in Toulouse, what is it like living there?
Toulouse people are not only blessed with the visually-appealing city sights, it’s easy and cheap to get around in the city with metro, tram, and bus network, also there are lots of activities they can do: weekend ski trips in the Pyrenees (mountain at the border between Spain and France), top museums like Musée des Augustins (fine art collection from middle ages to early 20th century), flower festival in spring, international-scale summer music festival, art shows and theatre.

Day trips from Toulouse
Toulouse is in a perfect location, not too far from many places. Local people often travel to places a couple hours away on the weekend, if your trip to Toulouse has enough days, make a point to arrange for a day trip to a nearby country, city or town.

Andorra la Vella
The capital of Andorra! Yes, there’s a hidden small country between Spain and France in the Pyrenees. The touristy scene is very vibrant because of the duty-free shopping and ski resorts. It’s a three-hour drive from Toulouse.

A gem on the banks of the Tarn river! There are a lot of Mediaeval buildings made the list of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Albi is an hour drive from Toulouse. Pretty cool to stay in some historic accommodations for the night.

Near the Mediterranean coast and the border with Spain. It is a lot warmer compare to Toulouse. Fancy a beach day? You can get to Perpignan from Toulouse in 2 hours by car.

The best time to visit Toulouse
March is the least crowded and August is the sunniest, yet the most crowded. The best time to visit is almost identical to other Northern Hemisphere destinations, summer is nice but can be packed and the rate hence goes up; May is rainy; June is recommended, as the weather starts to get warm and people are not storming in yet. Christmas in Toulouse is very dreamy, and there is a popular music festival called Les Siestes Electroniques in late June. Mark your calendar!

Architecture and pinkness
Toulouse, the pink city, you’ll understand why when you see the pink marble and brick walls lit up by the southern sunshine. Talking about having a soulful trip, you can take an architecture walking tour by yourself and listen to an audio guide along with it. Beautiful buildings make even more sense when you understand a bit more about them.
Don’t miss out the real old Basilica of Saint Sernin (this church was built between 1080 and 1120!) and if you’re into modern stuff, Toulouse has some cool ones as well!

Roses are red, violets are blue
Sugar is sweet, and so are you. Toulouse celebrates violets every spring and hosts violet festival in February. There are so many violets food and products on the market, from candy, pastry to perfume. Violets bloom for seven to eight months, from October to March. They are Toulouse’s emblematic flower, popular since the 19th century a soldier first brought back from Parma, Italy.
In the language of flowers, the violet embodies modesty and simplicity, because of its small corolla that hardly peaks above its leaves. The festival holds local people together, celebrates the pride and joy living in Toulouse!

Most instagrammable
Jardin Japonais
Churches and castles all look the same after a while? This garden is all the sudden refreshing! 

Capitole de Toulouse
This is a must-visit for sure. The historic heart of the city. Snap a photo to prove you’re in Toulouse.

Again, Bordeaux or Toulouse?
People often compare Bordeaux to Toulouse because they both stand out so much and people just seem to love them! Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France by population while Bordeaux being the ninth. They both make you feel like you get that bustling city feel with great night life and lots of great restaurants, but in the same time, they have that cute village feel. Toulouse has higher immigrant rates than Bordeaux and the city appears more cosmopolitan in terms of a mix of people. Give both of them a go to join the debate, which one is better, Bordeaux or Toulouse?

February 13, 2019

First time traveling to Italy? Let’s start with Rome

So, Rome was founded by twin sons raised by a she-wolf in 753 BC. How cool is that? This tale alone gave us all the reasons to check Rome out.

All roads lead to Rome
It means many different methods will produce the same result. Also, a comedy movie name, yes. This saying is based on the excellent radiated road system that starts in the center of Rome, and it can be traced back to the Roman Empire time. It shows Rome got the rich history (28 centuries!), and you can feel it in every corner of this Eternal city.

Get lost in the centro storico
Centro Storico, literally “old town”. This relatively small area has a high concentration of historical heritage and you can cover the whole area by foot. Make sure you toss a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain to ensure coming back to Rome again.
For those who care less about the history, pick one or two must-see, like Colosseum and Roman Forum. Skip buying the ticket to go in, get some cute Instagram pictures done outside. Immerse yourself in this precious area and get coffee and ice cream all day long.

Book a walking tour
For those who care more about history, book a free walking tour and soak in the late medieval time. It’s amazing these tours can be free, but some tips are well appreciated of course. Night time is beautiful as well, you get to see monuments illuminated, also, night time is less hot in summer days!
Below are some classic must-sees from centro storico:
Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus. (info from Wikipedia)
Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome, Italy, designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others. Standing 26.3 metres high and 49.15 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. (info from Wikipedia)
Roman Forum
The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum, is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. (info from Wikipedia)

Precious Italian People
Italy is so well loved. It’s always been top of the travel list for everyone. They are taught the values of God, family, and traditions, and are so proud of being Italian. Food, people, scenery are the keys to a perfect getaway, and of course, Italy has them all. There are tons of jokes told on other groups and races, yet Italians got the best humor to joke on themselves.
They say Jesus is an Italian, why? A) Only an Italian son would live with his mama till he was 30. B) Only an Italian son could think his mama was still a virgin. 

Ultimate love for pasta, Museum of Pasta!
Don’t go keto when you’re in Italy, it just doesn’t make sense. Let’s all admit carbs are satisfying af. Italy has a broad variety, from north to south, 20 different regions all have their own characters and their own pasta. In Rome, they even have Museo Nazionale della Paste Alimentari (the National Museum of Pasta). If you ask an Italian where to find the best pasta, he would probably say his mom makes the best pasta. It also shows a lot about their value of tight family connection.

They know how to live! Aperitivo and Riposo
Italians know how to live a good life for sure. And they take rest and fun seriously.
Aperitivo, the Italian happy hour is a huge social event in the center of Rome.
Riposo, Italy's midday nap time. Restaurants and shops shut down one and a half hour to two between 1 pm to 4 pm. Also be aware that they shut down the shop anytime they want, sometimes even for a whole month (usually August).

Best time to Visit and where to stay
Spring is the best. From April to May, it’s breezy and less crowded. Summertime can be pricier and you need to line up for hours before getting into one thing. Mid-September to October is also great if your schedule allows.
From cheaper hostels to five-star hotels, no matter your wallet size, there’s always something for you. There are lots of options in the central historical district, Airbnb is also not banned in Rome. If you love a nice shopping spree, we recommend staying in Monti district. 

Get around in the city by bus
The most convenient and economic way of getting around Rome is the Public Transit Bus service. Expats in Rome will tell you the traffic here isn’t so great. Buses run till mid night and cover the entire city. Fare is €1.50, and one day pass for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome is €7.00.

Hopefully they have good WiFi?
You would think Italy is a developed country, and the Internet situation won’t let you down. But nah... it's actually the worst in Europe, accessible WiFi in Italy is seriously lacking. Once again, Italians know how to live their best lives without the Internet. Even though the goverment launched a wi-fi app in 2017, hope to make internet more accessible for locals and travelers... so far we haven't heard good reviews on the free wi-fi. So, take our router there, share your moments anytime and get connected always! 

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