Where to Eat in Madrid

Confession: I write this post in an attempt to convince my fellow ISD curlies to meet me in Madrid for a girls’ trip of culinary delight. And, believe me, if there is any way to persuade these gals it is through food! After all, this blog was born through a series of brunches where our ideas seemed to double with each sip of a mimosa or bite of a pancake! And, since January is the month of planning, why not plan about future holidays with your pals?
But this post is also simply about my enthusiasm for all things Spanish – especially food, especially Madrid. I’ve written two blogs about this amazing city already not for lack of inspiration but out of pure love!

So, for travel inspiration and serious food envy, here are my top five suggestions on where and how to eat in the Spanish capital.

 

  1. Albur, Malasaña

Albur is puro madrileño to me. You can’t beat its down to earth local feel and truly authentic menu. They do a decent paella and have quite the rice list, but that’s not what I would suggest. (It is worth noting that Valencianos would laugh at eating paella in Madrid. But I understand that if you’re only in Spain for a short time and can’t make it to the land of arroz, then you take what you can get when you can get it!).

If you like meat (and a lot of it), the chuletón or mega steak is where it’s at here. Spanish steak is some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Florence, your bistecca is amazing but my adoptive Spanish heart remains loyal). And Albur has an unusual take on it: they deliver the sliced steak seared but mostly raw to your table along with a sizzling hotplate, a hearty portion of perfectly roast potatoes, pimientos de padrón and a bowl full of sea salt. You cook the steak the way you like on the hot plate, salt it to your heart’s desire and just die with deliciousness. It’s ah-may-zing. My carnivorous hubby was in heaven – not gonna lie, so was I!

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The tapas menu is also top shelf at Albur as well. I (always) recommend pimientos de padrón and croquetas – not just at Albur but in Spain overall.

What also makes this joint so fun is that despite being in the middle of Madrid’s achingly pijo (posh) hipster neighbourhood, Albur has retained its character 110%. So, it’s not a trendy joint, it is just Albur.

  1. Bazar, Chueca

Speaking of trendy joints, though, my favourite is and always will be Bazar in the buzzing gay village in Madrid, just north of Gran Via. I was introduced to this place early in my first year in Spain and I make sure to have a meal at Bazar every time I’m back in Madrid. Maybe it’s the white décor with fuschia back lighting or the delicious Spanish-Asian fusion thing they’ve got going on, but Bazar always feels like a treat. One blog described it as the spot where you can always find “the well-heeled of Madrid,” which is both true and hilarious, but it is actually not as pretentious as that sounds. It’s just fancy fun!

One thing to note though: without a reservation, you can expect to wait a while or not get a table at all. So, book ahead if you can or scope out bars nearby for a vino while you wait.

  1. Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor

Now this place is totally a tourist trap and you can find tapas that are as good (or better) for half the price at other places. HOWEVER! It is so lively and vibrant that the ambience alone is worth the extra couple of euros. Located just near Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid, this old market has been converted into a collection of tapas bars that serve up all different regional specialties. This is another reason I like it: I can get Basque pinxos and Galician pulpo all in one place. It makes for a great end to a walking tour of central Madrid.

  1. Tapas Crawl in La Latina, La Latina

Now, it goes without saying that tapas is what and how you should eat in Spain. These small sharing plates make for an authentic and delicious way to dine. It also helps that you can get a perfect glass of red and a delicious nibble for 4 euros. La Latina is definitely the barrio to find tapas in Madrid because it’s got such a great vibe and is so madrileño. It is just south of Sol and north of Lavapies – very central.

I recommend doing your research beforehand though and finding an organized tapas crawl or at least noting the recommended bars because there is such a thing as tapas overload and you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, especially in such a touristy zone in Madrid where you can get sub-par food quite easily. DSC_0474

I recommend the following tours:

The Culture Trip

Madrid Food Tour 

 

  1. Chocolateria San Gines, Sol

Another central Madrid fave Chocolateria San Gines is smack dab in the middle of the city and serves up some churro and chocolate goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Again, it is in a touristy zone of Madrid so it is full of Americans asking stupid questions like,  “Why do they serve chocolate in a cup??” but ignore that. You can definitely find more authentic spots, but I’m keeping this list central, presuming that those who will be reading it will be tourists themselves and staying in downtown Madrid.

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My list could go on and on – I really don’t have enough good things to say about the Spanish capital and its culinary delights. It is worth mentioning, though, that Spanish food is not very veggie-friendly. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you may have to do some extra research to find out where to eat.

Happy planning (or just day-dreaming)! If you have any other questions about visiting Madrid, feel free to send them over.

 

 

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Is this Art?

I slayed as an Artist-in-Residence in Cape Town, South Africa—  and here’s how

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Table Mountain and the Woodstock Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Who am I anyway that I can give you advice?

My name is Kieran Elise O’Brien. The thing you should know about me is that I moved from my hometown of Victoria, BC to Montreal, Quebec in 2011 to get back together with my ex-boyfriend, which was exactly as bad an idea as it seems. When we broke up a year later, I ran away to Japan. In Japan, I fell in love (again) and in fairly short order I moved to Da Nang, Vietnam to chase that love (good news: we lived happily ever after). I want you to know that I have made some impulsive travel decisions (why yes, I am a sagittarius) and as much fun as it is to fly blindly into adventures: I propose that an Artist Residency is the best way to travel.  

Why?

  • Break out of your routine: You perceive time differently on vacation. I think there is nothing more inspiring than traveling. If you feel creatively stifled, If you feel bored by your day-to-day routines, then I am talking to you, dude. You don’t need to plan a trip to another continent. You can look for artist residencies in or near your own town. Look for short-term artist residencies. This one in Banff is only eight days long: https://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/winter-writers-retreat/20170213
  • Make time: You have a great idea for a novel. You used to paint and you’ve always meant to pick it up again. Take your creative work off of the backburner! Enter into an exceptional space where you can prioritize your creative work- and perhaps most importantly, where you can set yourself a deadline.    
  • Get access to resources: The architect behind Side Street Studios, Elad Kirshenbaum, was extraordinarily helpful to me. He was my host, tour guide, patron, collaborator and friend during my time in Cape Town. Through him, I had access to resources and connections that I would never have been able to source on my own.
  • Get to know a place: By setting aside a week (or four) to visit just one city, you are allowing yourself to fall in love with that place. Go for the thrill of something new and stay long enough to become a regular at your local cafe, to learn the street names, to notice all the glorious little differences made by a rainy day.

How it all began…

I had it in my head from the very beginning that I wanted to travel and be a graduate student. I am writing about my mother’s immigration to Canada from South Africa, and I study African Literature, so given my research interests, Cape Town became my desired destination early on in my academic career. I might have applied to a conference there, or applied to be a visiting student, both are good options for graduate students. Instead, I applied to be an Artist-in-Residence on the recommendation of my friend Zola (who writes a naturalist newsletter and is an all-round magnificent human being). She sent me a link to the website resartis, a “worldwide network of Artist Residencies” with a database that you can search by country. Unfortunately, there were only three residencies in South Africa listed on their site and none of them was quite the right fit for me. I decided to broaden my search. I googled “Cape Town Artist Residency” and from there I found Side Street Studios. Yes, that’s the big secret to my success: I literally just googled it.

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The Rooftop Residency at Side Street Studios in Cape Town, South Africa

Warning: Plan your trip well in advance to access travel grants

I contacted Side Street Studios by email and I sent them a project proposal. After that, the trip came together quickly- so quickly that I was not able to apply for the travel grants available through my department and through the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I also missed out on applying for funding through my city, province and country. For example, I might have been eligible for funding through the Ontario Arts Council, which offers a “National and International Residency Projects” grant of up to $10,000. Don’t make the same mistake I did! I suggest you plan your residency a year and a half in advance, keeping funding deadlines in mind, as well as the particulars of your destination. For example, it’s a good idea to plan around weather conditions and national holidays.

Although I was not able to apply for the grants I’ve mentioned above, I did run a successful gofundme campaign. Through my campaign, I was able to raise enough money to cover the residency fee. Some Artist Residencies have fees, some don’t. Even those that don’t will certainly have associated costs like travel to and from the residency. Although some residencies have financial aid or honorariums to help you with your expenses. While you’re considering a particular residency, I recommend making a budget and estimating potential costs before you apply. It will come in handy when you try to access funding.      

40 days in Cape Town

With the help of family and friends, I made it to Cape Town. There in ‘the mother city,’ I met distant family members and I charted out a family tree that goes back six generations. I did as much sight-seeing as I could, and of course, I made art. I published a small zine that included the work of three local writers. I hosted a poetry reading and panel discussion with those same writers- and I designed a neon sign! It was my first foray into visual art. Looking back on my time in Cape Town, I am both proud of the work I did and grateful for the collaborative spirit of the many, many people who encouraged and inspired me to get creative. I hope that I can be one of those people for you. Go and get weird, my friend.

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home is no longer here. 2016. Neon sign. OneK collection. Cape Town.

P.S. Here are a couple of Artist Residencies that have caught my attention:

  • Cafe Tissardmine in Rissani, Morocco: The most important information we need is the reason you feel the desert is the right place for you to be.” 
  • The Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida: Each residency consists of approximately a three month stay in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums.”

Good Luck,

Kieran

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Kieran Elise O’Brien is a poet and a student at the University of Toronto where she is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing. She loves flowers, ice cream sandwiches and the pond in the courtyard at Massey College. She is currently working on a collection of poems about the adventures of her alter-ego Bad Cowgirl. You can find her on tumblr, twitter and instagram.

 

Sweetheart Cities

The enchanting smell of the bakery woke me every morning; the neighbours’ chatter in a delectable foreign tongue easing me from dreams to reality. My mother and grandmother bustled in the courtyard behind the house, their banter in the same language I spoke but sweet to the ear nonetheless. My sisters played on my dad’s lap in the hammock outside while my aunt and uncle chatted at the table beside. Our days in that place started with these warm smells and comforting sounds and were followed by winding excursions to the Mediterranean beach, fresh ice creams awaiting us.

Many evenings during this month, festivities took over the village: little girls my age dressed in polka dot dresses with frills on their sleeves, their mothers and aunts and cousins adorned the same, flocked to the square in colourful packs. Men in vests tuned their guitars while families filled the streets and the balconies above the plaza. I watched, entranced, as the women began to dance, feet stomping to rhythms so fast I could barely keep track, hands snapping castanets in syncopation, their frilled tails twirling behind them. Tired but ecstatic, we would walk back through the narrow streets, uphill all the way to our little house.

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La Plaza del Sol, Madrid, Spain

I was enamoured, totally and completely. Cómpeta, this small village in Andalucía in the south of Spain, was my first sweetheart city. I knew I would come back and I promised the Spanish language would one day become my own. Even at just seven years old, I felt a light inside of me in this place, a comfort and familiarity with these surroundings that was not through experience but sensation alone. That’s what a sweetheart city is: a place not native to you but where you feel both at home and more alive in a way that no other place can make you feel.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time in this Andalucían corner  was that I hadn’t just fallen in love with this one town but the whole country. I made good on my promise to return, traveling back to Spain on family trips and school excursions a few times before finally moving there in my early twenties. I also came to speak Spanish fluently, as I told myself I must do.

During those later trips and the three years I spent living in Spain, I realized I had a sweetheart city in Madrid, too. To this day, my heart skips at the thought of the Spanish capital – I can smell its air, taste its food, find my way through its winding core to my favourite corners.

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In my element

Sometimes I think I became myself in that place, I found who I wanted to be – or perhaps who I always was. This is a key element of what makes a sweetheart city, I think. It isn’t just the delicacies and the architecture, but what the locale makes you feel about yourself when you are there. I am exceptionally fortunate to have traveled to so many wonderful places in my lifetime and I have loved many. However, none made me feel like the same way. Madrid – Spain, really –has me enganchada (hooked) for life.

 

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A hidden bay in Vela Luka, Croatia

This past summer, I was thrilled to visit this sweetheart city of mine again and discover that of my best friend Sonja for her wedding.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sonja spent her summers in her father’s hometown of Vela Luka, Croatia. When she and her (now) husband decided to get married, they chose the small island town of Vela Luka to host just 30 of their nearest and dearest. While I had visited the Croatian island on vacation before (at Sonja’s recommendation, of course), I had never been back with her.

When I arrived and saw her in this new terrain, I recognized immediately the joy and contentment on my bestie’s face. In Vela Luka, she became her true mermaid self, in and out of the turquoise Adriatic every hour, munching on fresh figs she picked from a tree on the road, always barefoot. Sonja and I met in middle school in Toronto at 12 years old. Since then, we have been best friends and watched each other grow through so many moments of life. Despite knowing each other so well for so long, never before had I seen her like this, in her element. I realized I never could have known this part of her because it could only fully come alive in this special place.

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Sunset besties

After the beautiful wedding in Vela Luka, I flew to Spain to celebrate the nuptials of another dear friend. Returning to Madrid felt like coming home. The last time I visited the city was in 2011. In between then and now, I had recrafted roots as an adult in my hometown of Toronto and lived in India for the better part of a year. I didn’t know how I’d feel – if that sweetheart feeling might have changed for me because I had changed so much in that time.

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A classic Croatian breakfast spread

But no. Spain still felt as familiar and enchanting as it always had. And despite the great life changes that had occurred in between my visits, I experienced those same glorious sensations: the contentment in my middle, the skip in my step. It felt so good.

It’s truly something else to have a sweetheart city.

I would delight in hearing tales about your favourite places. Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell me what corner of the world makes you come alive again.

 

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The Secret to finding the Best Croissant in Paris

Un café au lait et un croissant aux amandes s’il vous plait…

A French almond croissant from my favourite Parisian bakery is parfait. I love the contrast of textures between fresh pastry and creamy almond centres.…yum.  (I am that person who makes mmm noises when I eat.) But when I eat an almond croissant at a French bakery in Toronto, I experience fleeting nostalgia; it’s just not the same.

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Paris is Special.

Why is an almond croissant in Paris so much better than anywhere else?

Taste has something to do with it, but there’s something else too.

Paris is special.

A sunny day in Paris has a certain charm – anything is possible. The city parks come alive with impromptu picnics, small groups of people with an array of finger foods, cheese of course, a bottle of wine and joie de vivre.

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…the cobblestone streets seem to have no end…

 

Being in Paris is like stepping into a storybook—the historic buildings house secrets, the cobblestone streets seem to have no end, the river Seine carries my dreams in its rapids, and I can’t stop imagining what my story will be.

When I’m in Paris, the city-of-lights, I indulge daily.

No, I’m not kidding! And let me tell you, I’m picky about which almond croissant I’ll eat (even in Paris).

Just like any other place in the world, you and I both know, some shops are just for tourists—locals won’t set foot in them. From baguettes to pastries, a boulangerie is an essential part of the Parisian lifestyle. To get in with a local, you need to be where the locals are. A bakery or cafe is a good place to start.

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French Deliciousness & The Occasional Glass of Wine

 

Here’s my first little secret, shhh don’t tell anyone. I spent 8-weeks in Paris this year and never visited a single museum. Instead, I mastered how to find the best local bakeries in Paris. And I spent many an afternoon and night in long conversation over a spread of French deliciousness and the occasional glass of wine.

I wouldn’t change a thing; and that’s why I love Paris!

 

 

Here are my secrets on how to find the best boulangerie:

  1. Long lines don’t say anything about the quality of the pastry.
  1. Notice if there are Parisians in line, or tourists. Parisians always know the best places to go. How do you distinguish a Parisian from a tourist, you ask? The classic Parisian wears clothes that look effortless, a trench if cold, minimal makeup, hair tousled naturally and moves with an air of assurance in her walk.
  1. Check the time. The best bakeries sell-out by mid-afternoon. They are busiest in the morning and early afternoon, and then quiet, with vacant shelves by late afternoon.
  1. What kind of pastry is on display? The mom-and-pop local bakeries will only make pastries with seasonal fruits. If a bakery has an array of fruit pastries and only apples are in season, the bakery isn’t up to par. (You must eat a strawberry tart in June to July!)
  1. A pastry should look like a work of art and always be baked fresh daily. A fresh French baguette tastes different and everything else, everywhere else, is just bread.
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A pastry should look like a work of art.
  1. Be choosy! Remember, your holiday will come to an end and you deserve the best even in Paris.

One last note, on your first trip to France, don’t judge French food based on past experiences.

Taste it all.

xo,

 Lola

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Lola is a dietitian who doesn’t believe in dieting. Her favourite food motto  is Everything in Moderation. Needless to say, Lola loves food, (to cook and eat it) and is lucky to have a job that involves food. Lola’s second passion in life is dance and she spends most nights dancing Kizomba, which originates in Angola. Lola Teelucksingh is currently a Registered Dietitian, at the Centre for Addiction Mental Health (CAMH), in Toronto, Canada.

Build Your Wealth & Freedom

Let’s talk money.

Most of us bought into the “baby boomer” dream:

  1. study hard
  2. get a good degree from a good school to get a good job
  3. work your way up the ladder over many years (don’t get fired)
  4. buy a home
  5. retire at 65
  6. travel and enjoy your pension

Millennials are between the stages of 1-4 right now and we’ve realized that for the most part, this dream is a lie. Getting into a good school doesn’t guarantee a job. Highly qualified and experienced millennials find it difficult to secure employment. Even when we are employed, most people don’t like what they’re doing from day-to-day. Permanent jobs have turned into contract work and saving enough for a down payment seems to be more and more difficult when the cost of living and price of houses continues to go up.

So, what do we do?

Seek a new dream.

Mine looks like this:

  1. Earn as much money as possible providing value to others even if that means working several jobs
  2. Save the money I earn (and eliminate debt as early as possible)
  3. Invest that money
  4. Refrain from buying a house for the next few years and use a small portion of earnings and dividends to travel and enjoy life

Personal finance wasn’t taught in school and it’s a shame. Universities and banks benefit from our ignorance. Since university/college tuition is at a price few students can pay upfront, students are forced to borrow from OSAP and banks. Universities benefit from new customers students. Banks benefit from the interest paid on loans and the longer it takes a student to pay off his/her loan, the more interest a student pays.

To make money I run my own law practice and tutor for the Ontario bar exam and I am looking to take on one or two more jobs. I want to work and earn more because my fiancé and I sat down with a few very successful entrepreneurs in the last few weeks and listened to their life stories. Each of them had worked several jobs or 16-hour-days, five to seven days a week in their 20s and 30s. Now, in their 50s, one entrepreneur lives in a big house on Rosedale, owns two restaurants and travels 6 months of the year. Another entrepreneur has five beautiful kids, two luxury cars and owns the building his business operates from.

Their successes inspire me. Everyone has a different perspective on money. To me, money is freedom. It’s a reward for providing value to others. It’s the ability to travel when you want, to control your time, provide for your dependents with ease and contribute to society at a higher level by investing in start-ups, donating to charities, etc.

Everyone has a different perspective on money. To me, money is freedom. It’s a reward for providing value to others. It’s the ability to travel when you want, to control your time, provide for your dependents with ease and contribute to society at a higher level by investing in start-ups, donating to charities, etc.

Some things you can do to get started on building your own financial security are:

  1. Try your best to pay off your debt as quickly as possible – live frugally and take advantage of bursaries, loan forgiveness programs, etc.
  2. Learn how to invest money – WealthSimple seems to be a great up-and-coming resource and I have a promo code that allows you to invest your first $10 000 for free. Comment below if you’re interested!
  3. Seek ways to monetize your skills to benefit others – offer your services at a market rate, support your friends businesses, etc.
  4. Contribute to your savings accounts

While managing money is important, I always keep quality of life in mind. My fiancé and I make sure to travel at least twice a year (going to Paris next month!!) and I will splurge on the occasional date/girls night. My friends and I help each other save by hosting dinners/hanging out at each other’s places, taking advantage of Groupon deals, etc. I’m excited about building towards my wealth potential and I hope you are too!

Building wealth is a topic that affects all of us. How are you doing it? Do you have any tips to share? Feel free to comment below.

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My First Punjabi Wedding (in photos)

 

Living in India, I saw a lot of sights (and smelled a lot of smells) that will stay with me forever. Now back in Canada, I’m often asked, “So, how was India?” I can only shake my head in retrospective awe. India is impossible to summarize. I believe this is why there are so many travel memoirs written about the country; you need at least 300 pages to even begin to explain. But when people ask if anything stands out, I immediately have an answer: my first Punjabi wedding.

Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos

You’ve probably heard about the colour and pop of Indian weddings. In contrast to the white dresses and formality of western nuptials, Indian weddings are generally explosions of glitter and pink and ladoos. Punjabi weddings certainly hold true to this form and, some may say, go even further. My fiancé Jaimal being half Punjabi himself, I have had to study these traditions in preparation for our own wedding celebration!

In February, Jaimal and I were invited to a wedding in rural Punjab by a new friend of ours Jassi. Her bud Baldev was getting married in the village where he grew up and, in true Indian fashion, everybody was invited. The photo essay above details the three days of the 10 day event (!) that we attended in the small village of Sukkar Chak, 12 km from the border of Pakistan. While each hour of our visit produced a story unique and worth telling, these photos summarize the wondrous experience. Click on the images for snippets of what we were part of that weekend.

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Sri Lanka: An Adventure of a Lifetime

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If you like curry and adventure, you’ll love Sri Lanka. I had no idea what to expect when I hopped on a plane with my spicy man in November 2014. We touched down in a damp Colombo, popped in our new SIM cards and rolled our suitcases outside into the island air. After bargaining rates with the cabbies we settled into our ride and started our drive through the city.

I rolled down my window and the humid air rushed through my curls – it was 9:00am and people were opening up their storefronts, heading to work in their blouses and dress pants, music was playing and the horn-honking drivers were kicking up dust from the roads as they weaved around pedestrians.

After settling into our BnB, we crossed the street in the pouring rain into a small local restaurant called Green Cabin where we ordered hoppers (like miniature crepes in the shape of a bowl with either egg or milk in the middle), chicken curry, mutton rolls and lime soda. With our bellies full we planned out the next two weeks of our trip and here are some of the things I recommend you do when you go to this beautiful island:

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Colombo
Colombo is a bustling city with a lot going on. You can wake up at around 5:00AM, take a tuk tuk to the Galle Face beach and walk along the boardwalk as the sun rises. You can walk across the street from the beach to the Taj Samudra where you can dine like a queen on a breakfast feast of coconut-milk-rice, fish curry, spicy omelets, hoppers, coconut sambol (freshly shredded and spiced coconut) and exotic fruits like starfruit, papaya and mango followed by the most famous tea in the world, “Ceylon tea”.

FullSizeRender-11The tea is so fresh and fragrant that you need no milk or sugar to enjoy it. You can drive seven miles from Colombo to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, one of the most revered Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka where you can remove your sandals and take in your own moment of peace and gratitude. You can pop back into the city and visit the variety of artsy cafes and shops including, my favourite, Hansa Coffee, to eat some bombtastic brownies and iced mochas. Finally, for the foodie in you, treat yourself to an authentic lumprais from the Dutch Burgher Union, which may be one of the few times you eat deliciousness out of a banana leaf.

Beddegamma & Yala National Park

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a tree? Me neither – but #bae wanted to go so we went. On the way to Beddegamma from the city we stopped at almost every fruit stall to drink out of orange coconuts and eat mangosteens (tip: do not eat the wood apples – they taste like socks – not wood or apples).

FullSizeRender-8 copy 2Our treehouse had a full queen-sized bed, a toilet, a sink, and a giant tree trunk that ran through the middle of it. At night I counted the stars and fell asleep feeling a cool breeze and listening to wild birds. I woke up at 5:00am the next morning, took a cold shower, crept down the stairs and we made our way back to the camp site where a jeep picked us up and drove us into Yala for a safari. It was a phenomenal experience! We drove through mud roads into the park where we saw families of spotted deer, monkeys, a group of grazing elephants, exotic birds, peacocks and more.

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Nuwara Eliya
If you like tea, high altitudes, rolling hills, waterfalls and lots of nature you will love Nuwara Eliya. I am a tea fanatic so when we arrived at the Tea Factory Hotel, I was overjoyed. The hotel is on a tea plantation and you can wake up to see the sun rise over the hilltops. Eating a breakfast of string hoppers rolled over a mixture of honey and shredded coconut was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

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Kandy
Kandy is another bustling city with a lot to offer. The markets were busy with smells of fresh spices and exotic fruits. The curry tasted just like my aunt’s. Oddly, they didn’t serve rice and curry and night – instead, the variety of restaurants offered Chinese food. While we love Chinese food, we were determined to find some good kothu roti. We found a greasy spoon only frequented by locals where nobody spoke English and we had the BEST chicken kothu roti in the city – it was intensely flavourful and the owner was so happy we came by that we all took a group photo before we left. After dinner we walked to a dessert shop for wattalapam (a very sweet dessert made up of jaggery, coconut milk, eggs and spices) and finished off the night with watermelon juice.

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Kandalama
If you can only stay in one area of Sri Lanka and you are in need of some good R&R then you must go to Heritance Kandalama. The hotel is an architectural masterpiece by Geoffrey Bawa who integrated the jungle and caves into the hotel. When you walk out on the balcony attached to your room you walk right into the jungle and can hang out with the little monkeys who try to con you for bananas. Your room is stacked with a box of fresh fruits and the bathroom has a glass wall so you can hang out in the tub and watch baby monkeys swing along the trees. The food in the dining areas is second to none. You can take a cooking class and learn how to make fish curry or relax in the infinity pool or organize a trip to Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress you can climb and take in the view of the jungle.

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Sri Lanka is by far one of my favourite places to travel to and has (along with Italy) the best food in the world. If you have the time and can save up the money, it’s definitely worth a visit!

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Coconut Oil Saved My Curls

Moving to India brought about a lot of changes to my daily routine. I commuted to work in a rickshaw. I bought my groceries in a bustling market where I haggled for my bananas and papaya. Cows regularly cut me off on the road. I ate some form of lentil pretty much every day. I knew these kinds of shifts would happen before the move, but I didn’t predict the changes to the one thing that probably impacts my day the most: my curls.

I can’t pin down exactly what made the greatest difference  – the heat, the humidity, the dust in the air, the hard water – but my curls exploded in India. I spent the first 5 months looking like a poodle in the Amazon. And not only was it frizzy and massive, my hair was more knotted than it’s ever. Within a day or two of washing it, my curls seemed to fuse together and I would curse throughout my shower.

So in order to tame it, I went through my tried-and-tested curly products from home like wildfire. I arrived in India in November 2015 and by the end of the year, my tubs and tubes were empty. To be frank, even those didn’t help me much. And I couldn’t buy any more Deva Curl or Kinky Custard or Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner anywhere there. So I searched beauty salons and pharmacies looking for an answer. Nothing worked.

When I moved to Bombay in February (I started out in Delhi for the first three months), my friend here recommended something I hadn’t yet tried: coconut oil. Indian women have sworn by hair oils for ages, especially coconut and olive oil. Almost all hair salons in India offer an oil treatment and judging by the shiny, thick locks I was surrounded by, I thought I’d give one a try.

I quickly learned that an oil treatment is more like a head and scalp massage with moisturizing oils. Not a bad start! I arrived at the salon and Surendra ushered me to my seat. He had brought with him a small bowl of coconut oil the size of my palm with one inch of depth. I looked at it and chuckled to myself. He has no idea what he’s dealing with.

My hair was tied up at that point. I decided I had better let him see what he’s in store for. Upon letting my curls loose, the poor Surendra squealed out a yelp. Oh dear, I thought. He looked at the little bowl of oil and then at my head again. We were speaking in one or two words of Hinglish (Hindi and English), so I didn’t know exactly what he was thinking. But he seemed to decide we’d start with the small bowl. Optimistic, I thought.

An oil massage begins with the application of oil to dry hair, starting at the scalp and roots. Surendra struggled (and then eventually ripped) my hair into parts and began to apply the coconut oil from the small bowl, bit by bit.

He hadn’t even finished the left corner of my head and the bowl was empty. Even funnier, the oil had disappeared on my head. You couldn’t tell that my curls had seen anything applied. It looked dry and normal. Now Surendra saw what I knew was coming. He stepped away for a second and came back with pretty much the whole tub of coconut oil. Ok, I thought, now we’re talking.

Surendra continued to apply the oil until my scalp was covered and began massaging my head and neck. Hair benefits aside, the treatment is worth it just for this.  Sooo good. After an hour of the massage, he pulled my hair back into a slick ponytail and suggested I keep it in for a few more hours then wash thoroughly. Now totally relaxed and smelling tropical, I headed out the door. Even with a massive amount of oil in my hair, I still didn’t look like a had a massive amount of oil in my hair. I was surprised he didn’t apply it to the rest of my strands as well, but I figured this was the way they do it, so I’ll try it this way. He told me to come back in 3-4 weeks for my next treatment.

After washing and air drying, I noticed an immediate difference to the texture: my curls were softer and less frizzy. My hair still wasn’t as tamed as I hoped, but I was very pleased nonetheless.

However, after a day or two, my frizz returned and so did the knots. I only went back to see him a few weeks later, taking his advice a bit literally. The second time was just as relaxing and the results were still great, but the effect was still not quite enough.

So I decided to start applying oil on my own in the shower. Sometimes I’d use it as a leave-in and sometimes as a mask that I’d leave in for hours and then wash out. I would use it every day or every other day depending on my hair’s condition and where I would be travelling to. I also used it on my roots and my ends, which I needed desperately. Now with consistent use, I could see a remarkable difference. No frizz, soft and light, shiny, no knots. Finally!

I’ve been using coconut oil regularly for a few months now and I’m officially a convert. Many curlies have been recommending it and using coconut oil for ages all over the world, but I didn’t give it a go until India. I can fully appreciate why so many people swear by it, especially after five months of fighting with my hair without any tools.

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Immediately post-oil treatment – shiny and fresh!

I used the Nutriva Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – the same one you can use for cooking, teeth pulling, on your skin etc. Nothing special about it (some oils say they’re made especially for hair but I don’t think this really makes a difference). I also have a little spritz bottle of coconut oil that I use when travelling or to touch up in between washes to tame frizz and give a nice shine (I am tempted to bring this little bottle in my purse even because it is SO useful, but I don’t because I’m afraid of spills).

I’ve heard great things about avocado oil and olive oil but have yet to try them out. Personally, I love the smell and consistency of coconut oil and its multipurpose personality (body moisturizer, lip balm, etc.), so I think I’ve found my match. And I’m never letting go!

What other oils have you used? Any other natural curly hair products you recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

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