#joaninTW2013 Day 2 (Dec 20)

Day 2 in Taipei was quite an eventful one, filled with some good and some bad, but overall, not bad.

@"Formosa Chang's"

@”Formosa Chang’s”

We started off the day pretty leisurely with a buffet style breakfast at our hotel. Then, since it looked miserable outside, we headed back to the room to chill for a couple of hours before looking for lunch. For lunch, we once again returned to 吉林路 (Jilin Road) and located this legit looking place called 鬍鬚張魯肉飯. There, we had 魯肉飯 (minced pork rice), 紅棗人參雞湯 (red date and ginseng chicken soup), 豬腳 (pig’s feet), and some veggies. The 魯肉飯 was so fatty, but so good. It’s not something that I would usually get, but seeing that we were at a place that is known for it, I had to try it, and I was not disappointed! The 豬腳 was also amazing, the soft layers pretty much melted off the bone with the lightest touch, so well done.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel lobby and were met by our tour guide for the afternoon’s tour to Taiwan’s Northeast Coast and 九份 (Jiufen). Our tour group was pleasantly small, and consisted of a couple from Italia, a couple from HK(?), and a dude from Nippon. We all boarded a small van and headed north on the highway along 基隆河 (Keelung River) to start our tour. Our first stop of the tour was 鼻頭角 (Bitou Cape, aka Nose-tip Cape), which is named so as it looks like the tip of the nose of a dog, and is apparently the northern-most tip of Taiwan. From there, we could see 基隆山 (which I will talk about more in my next post). Next, we visited 南雅風化石 (Nanya Rock Formations) a little bit south of Bitou Cape, where we mingled among interestingly shaped sandstone rocks that had been eroded over the years by the sea waves into shapes like a gigantic bamboo shoot. Our next short stop was just on the side of the road by the sea at what is called 陰陽海 (Yin Yang Sea), which is called so because this estuary contains distinctly “gold” tinted water juxtaposed against the clear blue of the sea.

My mother and I with Bitou Cape behind us

My mother and I with Bitou Cape behind us

It is thought that the gold colour from the river is from gold sand that is brought down from the town of 金瓜石, which used to be a prosperous gold and copper mining town.

Our final and longest stop was at the area of 九份 (Jiufen), at 500m above sea level (pretty much the same height as Taipei 101, 508m tall). The name Jiufen came from the fact that there used to be only 9 families who lived there (九份 is translated literally to “nine parts”). This area used to be very populated due to a gold rush, but since after WWII, it was almost forgotten until it became the setting of a movie called A City of Sadness. Since then, it has become a very popular tourist attraction. (I apologize that my history is probably very lacking and may have mistakes as I haven’t had a chance to do a detailed research yet, so I am just regurgitating what the tour guide told us! Please visit the wiki link above for more details). Downtown Jiufen is a very interesting place and is the home of many food stalls, souvenir shops, and random item stores. The setting of this long strip of stores reminded me of touristy street of Macau, and the whole setting of Jiufen (being on a hill and chock full of quirky, old buildings and cobblestone steps) reminded me of the town of Eze, France. I was very happy to have a hot bowl of 芋圓薑汁 (ginger tea with taro pearls) while admiring the nice view of the ocean from Jiufen. Those were the best taro pearls I have ever had. On our way back to meet with the tour group again, we also bought a few boxes of fresh pineapple cake to bring back as souvenirs. After that, it was time to head back to Taipei, and it was so wet and chilly that we looked forward to the warm ride back.

At dinner time, our second tour of the day began. This was quite a small tour group – it was basically my mother, myself, and a Shanghainese lady from New York. The tour guide first took us to dinner at this Mongolian grill, which was actually quite subpar and nothing noteworthy. Next, we went to one of Taipei’s many night markets, 華西街夜市 (Huaxi Street Night Market, aka Snake Alley). It is not the biggest one (Shilin is), but it is the only one with snakes! Other than that, I didn’t find anything too special with the night market – just a lot of food and random cheap things. The highlight of that visit was seeing a poster of Leehom on the window of a shop and then taking a photo with him. 🙂 Our next stop was 龍山寺 (Longshan Temple), which was extremely gorgeously decorated, and filled with devoted Buddhists and the warm aroma of incense. The final stop of the night was to Taipei 101, which was a bit of a disappointment, actually. I had been hoping we could go up to the top of 101 to view the whole city from 508m. Unfortunately, the weather continued to be a bitch, and the tour guide warned us that it probably wouldn’t be worth it because we wouldn’t be able to see anything. Despite this being a bit of a shame, it is definitely an excuse to come back to Taipei again another time to fulfill this wish!

On another note, my dSLR camera was dropped today. But thank goodness, I had put a lens filter on the lens, which served as a protection against water, dust, and trauma, the latter of which I learned today. The filter was to my camera as the Super Star is to Mario, and the way that I dropped the camera caused the acetate piece in the lens filter to shatter, but my actual lens and the camera body was unscathed, save a few scratches. I could not have been more relieved! It would have been most unfortunate if my dSLR became unusable this early in my trip – this was definitely a wake up call to be more careful with it.

#joaninTW2013 Day 1ish (Dec 18-19)

China Airlines' delicious food. Don't be hatin'!

China Airlines’ delicious food. Don’t be hatin’!

And so my vacation begins! My mother and I left Vancouver in the wee hours of December 18, and sat on a 13-hour plane ride to Taipei with China Airlines. The voyage was actually extremely pleasant, complete with 9 hours of sleep, Despicable Me 2, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and 2 delicious airplane meals. At this point, I know some of you are going “Ewwww, airplane food is the worst!” But China Airlines food is amazing. First “dinner” meal I had was a western style beef pasta/noodle, with a side of fruit, tuna tataki (!!!) salad, warm bun, mango mousse cake (!!!!!), and beverage of choice. The second “breakfast” meal was a pork noodle, with side of fruit, seaweed salad (!!), and warm bun. It was so good. So. Good. Anyhow, I was happy that I could sleep through much of the ride as it ended up not feeling that tedious at all; I had woken up after ~6 hours of sleep, intending to do some readings. But instead, I fell back asleep. S’all good!

Breakfast omnoms

Breakfast omnoms

We landed safely in Taipei early morning Dec 19, and when we arrived at our hotel (will update with name after I leave, so people can’t stalk me), it was still too early to check-in. So, after leaving our stuff with the bellboys, we strolled over to 吉林路 (Jilin Road) to have breakfast. We had 小籠湯包 (Xiao long bao), 蘿蔔糕 (fried turnip cake), 蛋餅 (egg pancake), and 2x 豆漿 (soy milk), all for only ~160NTD (equivalent to ~6CAD) and deliciously satisfying. After breakfast, we poked around the neighbourhood, and were pleasantly surprised by how close our hotel is to the local markets. We bought a few oranges from a lady at one of the stalls.

While we still had time to kill before we could check-in to our room, my mother decided that she really wanted to get a massage, so we asked one of the managers at the hotel where he would recommend, and he directed us to this place just a block away. I am overtly against the idea of random people touching me, and I especially hate people touching my feet, so I passed on this fine opportunity. So while my mom was being pampered for 100 minutes, I sat in the vestibule of the place, connected to wifi on my tablet and phone to reconnect myself with my friends and work on some residency stuff.

Hot pot at 妙媽媽's

Hot pot at 妙媽媽’s

By the time my mom’s massage was over, our room was ready, so we headed back to the hotel to check-in. After chilling for a bit, our empty tummies led us back down to the streets in search of food for a late lunch, and we were immediately enticed by a hearty aroma to have hotpot at this place called 妙媽媽香香鍋 (“Miao Mama’s Aromatic Hotpot”), which also appeared very popular among locals. I settled for a 沙茶牛肉鍋 (sha cha beef hotpot), and my mother ordered a 羊肉鍋 (lamb hotpot). They squirted some gooey clear stuff into the centre of a stainless steel pot holder, lit it on fire, and set our pot filled with hearty goodness on top. Armed with a bowl of rice, we proceeded to attack our hotpots, and were delighted to find a wide variety of things inside: vermicelli, clams, 豬血糕 (pig’s blood cake), fish balls, and lots and lots of veggies. Needless to say, we were stuffed, and afterwards we walked by a couple of shops to pick up honey cake and other daily necessities before heading back to our hotel room, comatous.

統一布丁<3

統一布丁<3

One of the things I got was a 統一布丁 (caramel pudding) from a 7-Eleven, which was highly recommended by my good friend, Sqeryl, who recently visited Taiwan. I opened it immediately upon return to the hotel room, and I was not disappointed! The pudding had a lovely caramel flavour that was well-balanced with just the right amount of sweetness and creaminess. I totally wish they had these in Vancouver!

After that, we pretty much called it a day! It was only around 5pm, but we were exhausted from the day’s travels. Initially, I had planned to use the hotel gym’s treadmill to burn some calories, but I actually passed out on the bed for a few hours. When I woke up, I decided against further exhausting myself, took a shower, and here I am now, blogging.

Funny how this pretty much turned into a food blog post – tomorrow we’ll be going on a couple of tours, so I promise my post tomorrow will focus on other interesting things as well. Good night!

DTP: Caffeine Withdrawal (just for funzies, but sort of srs too)

Joan is at risk of experiencing symptoms of caffeine withdrawal (e.g. headache, irritability) secondary to abrupt discontinuation of coffee and caffeine pill intake, and would benefit from counselling on slow tapering.

Goals of Therapy: Improve quality of life, relieve/prevent symptoms of caffeine withdrawal (headache, irritability), prevent adverse effects of caffeine (palpitations, tremors).

Therapeutic Options:

  1. Stop cold turkey.
  2. Decrease gradually by 1/2-1 cup or 1 pill per day every 1-2 days until 0.
  3. Go on vacation and utilize the art of distraction to dampen the withdrawal symptoms.

 

Recommendation: A combination of 2 + 3.

Follow-up: Patient accepted recommendation. She usually drinks 2 coffees a day + 1-2 caffeine pills; yesterday she only drank 1 coffee and 2 caffeine pills, and today she managed with just a single coffee. She is also leaving tonight to go on vacation to Taipei and Hong Kong for a week and a bit, which will most likely be an effective adjunctive therapy.

****

All jokes aside, it is finally vacation time. It is quite surreal how half of residency is now over, and I’m still a living, breathing, laughing, and sane human being! I have completed each of my rotations with progressive improvement in process and knowledge, with positive and constructive feedback from my preceptors, and my progress was just validated yesterday when I passed my oral assessment, which I had been especially preparing for over the last couple of months. Now I can relax for a teensy bit, and finally be able to look forward to my trip to Taipei and Hong Kong – leaving tonight around midnight! This is also an opportune time to go through a bit of caffeine withdrawal – when I return, my caffeine tolerance will have gone down and I will be in a better place to begin caffeination again when my rotations begin.

This past 24 hours has been crazy – I hadn’t been able to fully embrace my excitement for vacation until I learned the results of my oral assessment, so it’s been quite the frenzy with seeing my best friend, packing, running errands, and getting in my last workout before my week of gluttony in Asia. Putting my graduation photo into a nice picture frame to gift to my Grandma in Hong Kong made me realize how excited I am to get to see her and to spend Christmas with her. Needless to say, I am also extremely excited for the food, shopping, and sight-seeing in Taipei and Hong Kong! However, it’s not all play, and no work – in whatever spare time I have during my trip, I will be doing readings and preparing for my Academic Day Seminar, as well as other residency things.

I will also attempt to write a travel blog every day to document all the memorable things that I will have seen and done! My experience with travel blogging is that I am usually not compliant, but given that this time, I will have my tablet and a keyboard, it should be easier for me to keep it rolling. 🙂

Blood, sweat, and more sweat.

Approximately this time last year, I had just completed 2 months of community pharmacy rotation with some of my favourite people in Victoria, and they had not only taught me many things in terms of pharmaceutical care in the community, but also that leading a balanced lifestyle should always be a priority in staying healthy and whole. Funnily enough, I didn’t do much exercise except play badminton once a week while I was in Victoria, but after I returned home, my friends got me some Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels DVDs for my birthday, and I began to make conscious changes in my lifestyle.

My first attempt at the Bob Harper: Ultimate Cardio Body one-hour workout (which is now my go-to workout) was quite discouraging. I had to stop after only 20 minutes of the workout because I was already exhausted and ready to pass out. But I thought to myself, “This is just the beginning, and I will have to keep working at it to see improvement.”

Then I started running again in January. Previously, I had gone out for short jogs on and off, but never fully committed to the activity, nor did I really make an effort to fit it into my routine. However, I had always liked the idea of running, and how the only competitor out there is yourself, nobody else. At first, I was also disappointed in my performance. But I kept at it, gradually made an effort to run at least 2-3 times per week, and by April I was able to run 5k without breaks. I discovered that I really enjoyed running, and it only kept getting better from there; by August I had run my fastest 5k in just under 28 minutes. Before I knew it, running became a big part of my life, so much so that if I didn’t go out for more than 4-5 days, my legs would start getting restless and pester me to go do some sort of physical activity.

More recently, residency has been taking up more time, and the seasons have been taking away sunlight and warmth, but I have found other activities to engage in at least one a week even if I don’t have time to run: badminton, ultimate frisbee, and/or volleyball. I pulled my right ankle posterior lateral ligament playing ultimate, and I only realized how much running and these sports meant to me when I was devastated by my doctors advice to avoid weight-bearing sports for one month. I felt so uneasy and restless that I even went to the community pool for a swim after a week of not doing anything (and I hadn’t swam in years). Thankfully, it healed quickly, and as the horrible patient that I am, I started exercising against medical advice after 2 weeks.

Today, I did my favourite Bob Harper one-hour workout again, and it was the first time that I felt in control and was able to follow all the exercises *almost* completely (except for the mountain climbers). I knew that my fitness level had improved since the beginning of the year as I saw my run times and distances improve, but it was not until today that I was able to see such a measurable improvement. I went from feeling like shit even after just 20 minutes approximately one year ago, to feeling awesome after one hour of the work-out today.

Looking back, I think the most difficult part was figuring out a way to fit exercise in my weekly routines, and re-prioritizing it in my mind as a necessity, not just a choice. I now feel stronger, healthier, and more confident in my body. It has definitely taken some blood (namely from harsh new cleats), sweat, and copious more amounts of sweat to get here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Neglected Department

My joints are aching, nose is stuffed, and brain is fuzzy as the dust balls underneath my dresser. Yet another ruthless virus snuck up on me so stealthily that all I felt yesterday was general malaise, attention deficit, and the constant nagging thought that I should have gone out for a run. But I should have known; I slept before midnight (which is virtually unheard of in my habits), and this morning the virus said hello. “Well, hello right back at you,” I said. “Even though I can’t get rid of you this minute, I’m taking some acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and pseudoephedrine to foil your plans. Oh, and a couple of caffeine too.” I managed to get through the day gracefully, but by the end of the day, I was starting to feel like death again. The joys of working in a hospital.

Maybe it’s my sickness, or maybe it’s almost that time of month again, but in the midst of my brain fuzz growth and general “je ne suis pas dans mon assiette” disposition, I’ve been thinking a lot (too much) about me in the serious relationship department, and some things are surfacing clearer than ever (and has seemingly put me in a creative writing mode, as you shall see below).

This relationship department of mine is rather unkempt. From past code reds, break-ins, and more rewarding markets in the friendship, academic, and career departments, I’ve had this part of me shut down and locked up for several years. The key to this door’s lock is stored somewhere only I can locate. There is an inch-thick layer of dust that covers the shelves, spider webs that decorate every wall’s corners, and rusty spots that adorn the door handles and lighting fixtures. Deep within, located in a secret room with a hidden password-controlled door, secured within a bullet proof box, is my heart.

Recently, my friendship department has been flourishing alongside my career department.  I have been getting a lot of traffic and successful transactions in these areas, and the effect of that has trickled up to central headquarters, and I have been very busy and happy. One day, I found a couple of handsomely wrapped gift boxes sitting in my mailbox while I was getting some work done in the office of my friendship department. Surprised, I opened them both up quickly, only to find that they were empty. Although I felt a pang of disappointment at first, I was suddenly washed over and overwhelmed by a feeling of hope that I last experienced many years ago. At first, I closed both boxes, and set them aside.

But then, I couldn’t stop coming back to these magical boxes. There’s just a warm and inviting aura that radiates from within, and it makes me feel giddy and forget my worries every time I open them up. In the beginning, I kept opening them both at the same time, peering with interest into each one’s empty interior, wondering what I could fill them with, and I became accustomed to the comfortable feeling of having both boxes’ mysterious effects on me. The more time I got exposed to these boxes, the more I kept thinking about my neglected relationship department, and whether I should open its doors again and clean it up for operation once more.

Later, I became interested in seeing what it felt like to open each box individually. Both boxes emitted very similar auras that I could not differentiate them at first, but soon I came to tell the difference between them. I started to prefer the first box over the second box primarily because it caught my eye first, despite the fact that I was more accustomed to the second box as it fits easier in my hand.

One day, when I opened the boxes one-by-one again, I noticed something inside the second box that was not there before. It was a small, carefully wrapped rectangle package, with clear tape around all the edges and openings so that it was completely sealed. With some difficulty, I got it to open, and I found a key inside that looked very familiar, along with an invitation letter to re-open the relationship department for business. This invitation was not  only without addressee, it also did not have a deadline for response. The key must be the one for my relationship department’s lock, which I thought that I had so securely hidden, but was somehow found without my knowing. I carried this second box, opened, with the key lying inside, walked to the locked door of my relationship department, and paced outside. I debated with myself whether or not I should use the key, and I became confused as to why I suddenly felt an affinity to this second box, but I decided to replace the key within and leave it for now.

These days, every time I open these two boxes, I am curious and reflective of the contents within; one remains empty, while one contains the key and an invitation letter that does not even have my name on it. I have come to notice and appreciate all the nuances of the second box more. I continue to consider opening my relationship department, but I cannot yet bring myself to do so. To put it simply, I am scared. I cannot go in there alone. There is a lot of work to do to clean up, repair, and make presentable again. I have not worked there for so long, there are many things I would have to brush up on and learn. There are many rooms that I have never actually ventured in to, and I am afraid of what they might contain. Most importantly, I am worried that as business grows in this department again, I will become more eager to open my secret room, and thus breach the security around my heart. I don’t want it to get hurt again, and that is what is so clear to me now.

The only way I might be swayed to open this department again would be if a further motivating item appears in either of these boxes. I still open them daily to bathe in their auras, and I now more often experience longing for business to be up and running again, but I still await the day for something new will appear inside these boxes. Anyway, my academic and career departments are still booming, and they should remain my main priority until a proposal with good opportunity for return and reward comes up for my most neglected department.

Residency Life: Espresso Connoisseuring

Coffee: a beautiful, rich, and aromatic brewed beverage to enjoy alone or in good company.

Caffeine: a convenient native compound present in coffee beans to give us an extra kick during the day.

What better way to get a quick caffeine fix after a long day at work, and enjoy the deliciousness of coffee over good conversation than to have an espresso at a nearby coffee shop!

That was the philosophy that my friend Harrison and I had for this past few weeks. We were lucky to both have rotations at SPH this month, and we quickly discovered that coffee after work was important to keep us doing things that residents needed to do when we got home. Since we were in the downtown area, and we both loved coffee, our visits to various nearby coffee shops slowly developed into a ritual and something that I looked forward to. For us to better assess the quality of coffee at different coffee shops, our stand-by drink was always the espresso con panna (2 shots of espresso + whipped cream +/- caramel or chocolate drizzle). It helps that Harrison used to work at a coffee shop, so he has some knowledge about how espressos should be made. After trying out 5 different places’ espressos, we feel that we have a better idea of what a good espresso should taste like, and hopefully we are on our way to being espresso connoisseurs.

The places we have been to are Betty by Blenz (Burrard), Cafe de France (Hornby & Nelson), Beyond Coffee (lobby of the Century-Plaza hotel), Caffe Artigiano (Robson), and Baguette & Co. (Davie).

1) Betty by Blenz

Betty by Blenz was the first coffee shop we went to, as it is one of the closest to the hospital. On the first day we went, I didn’t even have an espresso, only Harrison did. We went a total of 3 times, and the service was quite pleasant although inconsistent. As you can tell in the pictures, different baristas used different sized cups – we wished that the large cup had been used all 3 times to minimize spillage of melted whipped cream espresso-y goodness. The espresso itself was not bad but not particularly memorable (although since it was the first place we went to, we didn’t really know how to compare). Every sip seemed to be a friendly but firm slap in the face to “wake up!”, but it had quite an acidic flavour that bordered on unpleasant near the end.

Espresso Con Panna #1 @ Betty by Blenz (Jul 31, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna #1 @ Betty by Blenz (Jul 31, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna #2 @ Betty by Blenz (Aug 1, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna #2 @ Betty by Blenz (Aug 1, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna @ Betty by Blenz (Aug 6, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna #3 @ Betty by Blenz (Aug 6, 2013)

Our rating of the espresso itself (out of 5) is 3.

Our rating of the overall experience (including service and ambiance) is 3.

***

2) Cafe de France

Espresso Con Panna @ Cafe de France (Aug 9, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna @ Cafe de France (Aug 9, 2013)

One day, we decided to be especially adventurous and seek a new coffee spot. This led us to Cafe de France on the corner of Hornby and Nelson, a small place run by some friendly Japanese ladies. The ambiance of the place was kind of surprising; by the name, I expected to walk into a Parisian-esque cafe, but it was slightly uncomfortably humid inside, and the menu was almost childishly hand-written on a couple of boards hanging from the ceiling. Regardless, we decided to try their espresso, and after a bit of difficulty communicating with the girl, we were able to request whipped cream and some white chocolate drizzle on top (since they didn’t have caramel drizzle). We ended up sitting outside by the street for better ventilation, and although we were quite close to the noise of cars rushing by, we were still able to enjoy our espresso. We decided almost immediately that this was better than the ones we had at Betty. FIrst of all, no spillage occurred because she used big cups! Secondly, the taste was much more pleasant. Although it still packed a punch, it was much less acidic. Ex-barista Harrison believes that it’s because this Japanese lady added the whipped cream immediately after the espresso finished dripping, and did not wait for it to sit, which he has been told in the past that it is important to minimize how acidic a coffee becomes.

Espresso experience: 3.5

Overall experience: 3.5

***

3) Caffe Artigiano

Espresso Con Panna @ Caffe Artigiano (Aug 15, 2013) --with special coffee bean from Brazil

Espresso Con Panna @ Caffe Artigiano (Aug 15, 2013) with special bean from Brazil

The evening after work before our Academic Day Seminar, we decided to pay Caffe Artigiano on Robson a visit for a quality study session to do our pre-readings on CAP and HAP. I had decided not to get an espresso that day, but Harrison tried the espresso they had on promotion, which was the Brazil Santa Lucia Single Origin Espresso. I tried a small sip of it, and it made me totally regret not getting on myself. It was truly the best espresso we have had so far: super nutty, silk smooth, without acidity, and full of depth in flavour that words cannot describe. The barista was also very friendly and helpful, and even gave Harrison the whipped cream for free after he so sneakily asked for it after he paid. My one complaint was their baked goods…I ordered a lemon ricotta muffin to go with my drip coffee, but it tasted like the muffin was not fresh, so it wasn’t that great. If you get baked goods there, make sure to ask how long it’s been out.

Espresso experience: 4.5

Overall experience: 3.5

***

4) Beyond Coffee

Espresso Con Panna @ Beyond Coffee (Aug 19, 2013)

Espresso Con Panna @ Beyond Coffee (Aug 19, 2013)

I’ll preface this review by saying that it definitely was not the best experience. First of all, the barista who took our orders looked like she was having an extremely bad day, and did not spare any efforts in hiding it. Very poor in terms of customer service, but I must say that it was the first time I experienced this – usually the baristas there are super personable and friendly. In any case, the espressos we ordered seemed to reflect the barista’s sentiments of the day. It was, quite honestly, the worst tasting espresso that we had ever tried. It was extremely unpleasantly bitter, so much so that we wanted to gag after every sip. It was also not so great that the spillage was quite enormous (as you can tell by the photos). Conclusion: W will never get their espresso again.

Espresso experience: 1

Overall experience: 2

***

5) Baguette & Co.

Espresso Machiatto (with treats!) @ Baguette & Co. (Aug 20, 2013)

Espresso Machiatto (with treats!) @ Baguette & Co. (Aug 20, 2013)

Seeking yet another place, we decided to visit Baguette & Co. I had been there previously and enjoyed their lunch special very much (delicious panini + pastry + coffee/tea for a great price), and we were not disappointed by the espresso and pastries we ordered. Unfortunately they did not have whipped cream to make espresso con panna, so we ended up ordering an espresso machiatto each. The first few sips were quite delightful. The espresso was very smooth and had a timid, mellow flavour that was still full of body. However, as we let it sit for longer and continued to sip at it, it became progressively more acidic, although never to a point that it became unpleasant. I must also say, that lemon tart was amazing (just the right amount of tartness), and the berry mousse cake and napoleon were quite good as well. Having that piece of chocolate at the end was quite a treat too (even though I’m quite sure it’s from Costco). A definite plus was that the cups were filled to the brim, but no spillage! Also, the cups themselves were pretty cool with their square base – apparently “Cordon Bleu”, made in China, though. But still cool.

Espresso experience: 3.5

Overall experience: 4

Eurotripe: Day 5 – 12 (Aug 18-25) Spain, France, Monaco, Italy

Stops: Liberty of the Seas, Toulon, Marseille, Villefranche, Monaco, Livorno, Florence (Firenze), Pisa, Civitavecchia, Roma, Naples, Pompei, Sorrento

Day 5 (Aug 18) – Barcelona – Liberty of the Seas
*Olympic stadium quite well preserved. Saw the diving pool where the divers would look like they were flying over the city of Barcelona. So cool!
*no free wifi on cruise, so posts will be less on-time as I attempt to hunt down free wifi spots at our ports of call.
*the ship is so big, there are so many things to do…rock climbing, gym, swimming, ice rink, shows…don’t know where to begin!

Day 6 (Aug 19) – Toulon – Marseille
*Nothing much happened…we had a pos tour guide so it was lame. But the view of Marseille from Notre Dame de la garde was pretty.
*soap (72% pure olive oil)

Day 7 (Aug 20) – Villefranche – Monte Carlo – Monaco – Eze – Nice
*Visited Monte Carlo and walked past a hairpin turn of a road that is part of Formula 1 Racing tournaments
*Strolled the streets of Monaco’s old town after my brother got slightly tipsy from a giant tumbler of beer at lunch!
*Visited the gorgeous Monaco Cathedral, where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier are buried.
*Fragonard perfumery – got enticed into purchasing a small bottle of pure perfume 😛
*Hiked up to the medieval village of Eze

Day 8 (Aug 21) – Livorno – Florence- Pisa
*Sexy Italian tour guide number 1. I swear he has ADD but he was awesome. Taught us a bit of Italian. Buon giorno. Quanto costa? Ciao! Mamma mia! And a whole bunch of hand signs too. 😀
*Italian drivers are crazy…if you want to cross the street, just go and keep walking at a constant pace…the car will stop…eventually.
*Street sign designers in Florence are trolls. One ‘no entry’ sign depicted a guy driving a car viewed from the front, another ‘no entry’ sign depicted a guy lifting the white bar, and a ‘T intersection’ sign depicted a crucified Jesus. All stick figures. XD
*The base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is made slanted too…so if you were to stand at the base, the tour would appear straight, but the rest of the world would appear slanted.

Day 9 (Aug 22) – Civitavecchia – Rome
*Sexy Italian tour guide number 2.

Day 10 (Aug 23) – Naples – Pompei – Sorrento
*Pompei was amazing! So mindblowing to walk through the ancient city that was once buried in volcanic ash. Most exciting part was walking through the brothel lol. Boy, those people were short – the beds are so small.
*Real cameos are carved from seashells.
*Sorrento was the prettiest place we’ve been to. Stunning cliffside villas, awesome beaches that I wanted to go to, and good cheap authentic shopping.
*Limoncello is like soju but with a bit of lemon flavour. bleh.
*Shoes can be so cheap! Bought a pair of genuine leather shoes made in Italy for 20 Euros.

Day 11 (Aug 24) – @ Sea
*nothing special…except that we got to sleep in, and enjoy our last day of amazing cruiseship amenities!

Eurotripe: Day 4 (Aug 17) – Paris to ORY to BCN to Barcelo Sants

*I’ve concluded: milk in France is something different. Even whole milk doesn’t taste like milk.
*the traffic around L’Arc de Triomphe amazes me. No lane lines, cars just…go right in. And everyone seems to know what they are doing.
*Barcelo Sants’ orbital rooms are amazing…modern and minimalistic. Even an ipod station!
*people in Barcelona seem to like to sit on the floor against the wall…in public. Or at least at the train station they do.
*watching Fantastic Four in Spanish is almost as good as in English.
*being in Spain, where I know not how to speak their language, helped me to realize how helpful even my broken French in Paris was. Thank goodness for AP French which helped me retain enough…even after no use for 5 years.

Eurotripe: Day 3 (Aug 16) – Paris Encore

Musee de Louvre, Tours de Notre Dame, Musee D’Orsay, Opera, Galleries Lafayette, Laduree

*You need to go to the Louvre with only one other person who appreciates art as much as you do. I felt like I was in a perpetual tug-of-war.

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*Tours de Notre-Dame has super high arching ceilings..and the stained glass windows really are gorgeous.

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*Galleries Lafayette is a mega department store…and no lame brands like ‘Jessica’. Couture, name brands. Every girl’s shopping paradise (if you have the bucks).

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*Laduree is so good. It has inspired me to move onto another aspect of macaron making – the actual filling. Laduree makes each one so delicious and so fresh. Lemon-basil was my fav.

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*I know now…my non-parisian ‘oui’ gives me away.
*Escargots taste like…any mollusk.
*Soup a l’onion in Paris really is like no other. So rich in flavour…nothing like the thin salty stuff you get when you order it in Vancouver.
*French people like their dinner bread basket baguettes to be tough and chewy. I vaguely recall Mme Dejong mentioning this.