Sevilla, Spain

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My journey to south Spain, the Andalucian area began with a nice high speed train ride from Madrid to Sevilla. Southern Spain was ruled by the Moors for the longest period and you still find their influence lingering here. Sevilla is also known as the most Spanish of Spain, all the images that are evoked when you think of Spain, they all started here (or so they claim) flamenco guitar and dancing, bull fighting, tapas, etc. It doesn’t get dark until after 10 pm and is close to a 1,000 degrees up until then, so now I understand why the Spanish don’t start eating until about 10:30 at night! And oh those tapas…

The Old town of Sevilla is a charming space filled with Gothic churches, winding narrow streets and the Alcazar, a beautiful former Moor’s palace that became the palace of the Christian kings after they defeated the Moors.

Arches, tiles, carvings…

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Amazing Mosiac and tiles…

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Artsy shots

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Tapestry
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Doors and tiles

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Wall coverings

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One room

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Another artsy shot, this would have been the view as visitors drove their carriage up

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Side garden

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The colors…

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Another artsy shot

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It’s huge, one view of the Alcazar, a side entrance

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Arches

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Last artsy shot

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The Sevilla Cathedral is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world, it was built on the site of a former mosque, with the minaret incorporated into the Giralda, the tower.

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Entrance door

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Large alter

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Gorgeous at night

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The Giralda, fantastic views from the top, was quite a hike to the top…

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View from the Giralda tower, the orange grove, the only other thing left from the days of the mosque

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From the Giralda, view of the Cathedral

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View of Sevilla, from the Giralda

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Christopher Columbus’ actual tomb (yeah the guy who sailed the ocean blue in 1492), inside the cathedral.

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Some lovely tapas and red wine

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Plaza España was another beautiful area, but this was built recently for the world expo. They did a nice job making it fit with the old world style, but it’s funny how the ancient buildings craftsmanship still reigns superior over the new structures, as the Plaza is less than 20 years old and already needs a restoration, but the 1,000 year old buildings seem to wear down less

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Plaza España tribute to Spain’s cities

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Hmm, all these horse riders

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As I was heading out of Plaza Espana, there were several women dressed up in Flamenco type dresses, as well as the horse riders, interesting I thought. I had heard it was the Feria days, so I decided to go check it out.

These ladies were all too ready to accommodate my request for a picture and if I looked that great in those type of dresses I would jump at a photo too!

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Every year they have a new lighted structure built for the Feria and each year is to be unique.

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More beautiful Flamenco dresses at the Feria

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There were private tents set up, where different organizations sponsored them, and members came and enjoyed and danced Flamenco

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Lisbon, Portugal

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I think Portugal is an excellent starter vacation for those making their first trip overseas. Though they do speak Portuguese, (which I liken to taking Spanish, French and Italian and mixing it all up into one language, with some other flourishes), generally, in most touristy areas they will speak English as a second language and most things are in English as well as Portuguese. Plus, even with the exchange rate, it is still a relatively good deal for Americans and definitely for other Europeans.

The main plaza at night

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Main plaza by the sea, so nice to have these large squares where people gather, meet up, done, walk, etc ….

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Main plaza entrance during the day

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Monument dedicated to the time when Portugal was a seafaring power

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A castle/look out on the harbor

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Looked like HR Puff and Stuff 😉 but it’s a statue

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Even the side walks have pretty designs

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A nice view of a typical street in Lisbon, sidewalk cafe, pretty design on the sidewalk and bloody stairs!

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Yummiest egg tart -Nata

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A cool shot of the metro entrance

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The Alfama at the top, with the city climbing up the hill to the Alfama. If you remember back about Valparaiso, another city built on hills that the artists built everything without any assistance by architects or engineers? Well Portugal, the architects and engineers led the way, with the accountants behind them, and the artists snuck in and put their flourishes on everything. It all works and is generally more orderly than you’d expect for such a hilly place.

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Really cool and free museum! Had Roman ruins, which were situated on top of Moorish ruins, on which the city was built. The bank planned a little remodel on their building, but found these ruins, so they decided to open a free museum.

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Cool mural you could only make out from the tower above. It depicted all of Portugal’s conquests when it was a sea power back in the 16th century. It’s quite interesting when you think that Spain and Portugal were the superpowers back then.

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Really truth be told my kind of museum, one dedicated to booze

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Different architecture

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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So pretty, Old Town Dubrovnik, the walls surrounding the town are massive and in tact. I’ve been to many fortified towns in Europe, but these walls were the most complete ( entirely complete) and just massive, while there has been some rebuilding of the walls over the years, the footprint has basically been the same. The town itself is filled with steps, my calves were crying! I’ve wanted to go to Croatia and the Dalmation coast for a long, long time, even pre-dating it as a filming location for Game if Thrones. I still have visions of sailing the ocean blue around Croatia and the Mediterranean coast, thanks to Marijana and E-Lin, hope Michael is working on those sailing skills ;). Though Dubrovnik was a part of the former Yugoslavia, it seems a somewhat ill fit, it seems to share more with it’s neighbors across the Adriatic Sea, (well other than a really difficult language of Croatian). And indeed, as tiny as it was, it was always it’s own city/state since it’s founding in the 7th century, as it was a very wealthy sea trading town, with strong defensive walls to protect it and wealthy enough to pay tribute if that worked better. It repelled the city/state of Venice through its history. It was only after a huge earthquake in 1666 that devastated the town, causing the gradual decline in power and strength as well as influence, and when it inadvertently surrendered to Napoleon, it finally lost its independence(He said he just wanted passage through, when they lowered the gate, well… In their defense, they were masters at diplomacy and negotiation, it just didn’t work this time.) Sometime after, during/after the Austro/Hungarian rule it was joined with the newly put together Yugoslavia, as they shared a common language and some ancestry with the Croatians and Serbs.

Sadly the city was besieged during the Croatian/Serbian war that broke out in the early 90’s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fallout in the region, namely Yugoslavia breaking apart into (eventually) five separate countries. However, as it is a Unesco world heritage site, they did assist in the rebuilding and at this time the city has been restored for the most part to its former beauty.

This is Old Town Dubrovnik, looking back at it from Fort Lawrence, yes that water really is that clear and blue

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Wider shot of the whole town, so gorgeous!

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So, so blue

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The whole of Old town, shot from above at the cable car station

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Fort Lawrence, the next hill over, a sort of forward observation hill

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For scale, look at the size of those walls!

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So pretty at night, this was the view from my balcony by the way. I picked the best guesthouse ever. Sweet family, plus only 5 minutes from the entrance at the Ploce gate, and even better, the stairs to get to the guesthouse were not bad, in comparison to other places, not bad at all!

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Clock tower lit up

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The Stradun or Main Street

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A bit of sunset action in the harbor

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Buca bar, off the side of the wall, looking out to the Adriatic

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Lemon beer, refreshing

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And sunset

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The walls at night

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Stairs!! I think I’d be in quite good shape leg wise if I lived at the top of the stairs…

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Stairs stairs!!

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Stairs to church, sense a theme here…

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The Wall

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View through one of the look outs on the wall to the city below

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The Minceta tower, any Game of Thrones fans recognize this?

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Dubrovnik is a magical town and I hated to leave it. That being said, I don’t think a visit during the height of summer would be very pleasurable, everyone else has found it as well. It suggest early fall, it’s still warm and the tourist flocks will have died down. Late spring was nice as well, just a bit rainy, but even with the rain, during the day it generally cleared up by the afternoon, I didn’t have days that were total washouts. Just gorgeous! And around Dubrovnik are wonderful islands, plus some lovely vineyards with some very nice Dalmation Coast wines. There is one grape that grows near the shore that receives extra sun-via regular sun, sun reflected off the rocks and sun reflected off the water, so the wine making process doesn’t need any added sugar, that wine was very tasty 😉

I could go on and on about Dubrovnik and post more and more pics……

In fact check back later, I’ll probably add more to this post 😉

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Madrid, Spain

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I’ve always wanted to visit Spain, mainly for culinary reasons, as it is known as a gastronomic delight, but it is also one of those countries you learn about in history class. I think I’ve figure out why its so hard to teach history in the US, and especially in CA, we are such a young country, there just isn’t as much history you can go out and touch. In Spain and Portugal, the field trips can be to the Roman wall which was built 2000 years ago, or to the square where Christopher Columbus met the king and queen before he set off in 1492 to sail the ocean blue…

Plaza Mayor

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Plaza Mayor, used to be the most important plaza, still has governmental buildings but Plaza del Sol is the real happening spot. But lots of tourists and lots of “performance art” happening here, think Venice/ Hollywood Blvd but more annoying! Your requisite statue men, guitarists, singers, but some new ones for me, a guy dressed as a baby in a crib that makes a very ear piercing cry and these guys that make a high pitched “clicking in tongues type noise” to sell a whistle. Ok, please make it stop, this buzzing, clicking, bird being tortured sound these guys make in Plaza Mayor doesn’t make me want to buy their stupid whistle,on the contrary, they make me want to run away!

It’s sweet, they still do weddings there, and the new couple is presented to the square and everyone claps for them.

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Madrid is home to many, many museums. The Prado museum has a wonderful collection of paintings and sculptures, this painting from the 1504 by Hieronymus Bosch “El Jardín de las Delicias (The Garden of Earthly Delights” regarding the creation of man, the pleasures of the world and hell, it’s so surreal during a period where the paintings were so classical.

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A different kind of museum (It kind of goes with my Lisbon Beer museum) 😉

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I found this place called the Museo de Jamon, or Ham Museum. It is not really a museum but it is a temple to ham, or more correctly, Spanish cured pork, because it is far beyond “just ham”. The curing process preserves it so well that it does not need refrigeration. It has an amazing flavor and is usually quite simply prepared, usually just the meat and maybe some bread or breadstick to wrap it around or if you want to get fancy, wound around some melon- all very tasty! And making me contemplate how much of a pain it would be to carry a package around for another couple of weeks and would US customs allow it in…,

But getting back to the Museo de Jamon, it’s really a bar with an awesome deal. At the stand up counter, you walk up, the waiters/servers exclaim “digame” (literally tell me) and my response is “copa de cerveza.” Then a whirl of motion happens and a cup of cerveza and some bits of salami type pork is set in front of you. And if you choose to leave, it’s €0.70 and you’ve had a beer and food for about a $1, but you ask for another and you get another cup of beer and a different type of tapa, this time it’s a little ham sandwich. ut the place is just packed all day long

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Or you can order a full size sandwich or a plate of the cured pork yumminess if you so desire. B

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I love the many plaza’s and squares just made for gathering

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And Churros and chocolate…

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And their version of the Arc de Triumph

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Fountains in the main gardens

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Statue of satan, one of the only statues of such in Europe

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Gorgeous garden view

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Typical street

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Beautiful main train station

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File this under you just never know what you’ll hear and see any day when you are looking. At the train station and I witnessed a more interesting arrival, about 30 African men in traditional dress came up singing for an arriving older gentlemen, who had to be a church elder, the most beautiful harmony, kind of Lion King sounding, was quite cool

Zagreb, Croatia

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Getting to Europe via Asia is a long haul, I had a late flight from Kuala Lumpur to Doha, Qatar about 8 hours, 6 hr overnight layover in the Doha airport, no sleep, not very comfortable, then early morning flight to Budapest, Hungry, about 6 hrs, 1 hr wait on the plane and then another hour to Zagreb. Killer! Landed mid afternoon and headed out to check out Zagreb. Yes, I’m crazy sometimes.

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, dating back to Roman times, but the name Zagreb first appeared in 1094. Zagreb is an interesting mix, there is the central old town, with buildings from mainly the 1700-1800’s, and the “New town” built primarily after WWI. The Old Town is primarily Austro-Hungarian style architecture, grand & old world, very classic and quite pretty, whereas much of the New Town is socialist era box construction and kind of drab and ugly. It’s quite a point of amusement for the locals. Wish I’d taken a picture to illustrate the stark differences.

The main square in Old Town, filled with coffee shops and not a one is a Starbucks (yay!)

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Ban Jelinik

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Coffee shop level view of the main square

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Specialty here Burek- a dough baked around meat or other filling, not bad. But usually cheap 😉

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Another style in the Old town

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Oh the sun came out

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This is the only remaining part of a medieval wooden gate, according to legend, the rest was destroyed by a fire in 1731, except for this painting of the Virgin and Child, so it’s now a shrine

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From one of the streets, looking at the church towers

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Zagreb is chock full of museum’s the quirkiest being the Museum or Broken Relationships. People donate mementos, and the story behind them, that remain after a relationship ends. Including a can of love incense to an iron once used to press a wedding suit. Quite interesting!

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Was the birthplace of Nikola Tesla, thanks very much for the developments in the managing of electricity and advancing the idea of wireless communication, Mr Tesla I’m writing this on my cell phone right now 😉

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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I have to admit after the awesomeness that was Penang, and my first taste of my so so KL breakfast after an overnight bus ride, I didn’t have high expectations for KL. However, a trip around on its easy monorail, a viewing of the Petronas towers, (their Twin towers and former tallest building in the world), and a nice curry soup dinner, that notion was dispelled. Where Penang is old town/old time charm, KL is futuristic/spaceship ready to blast off- modern city. I can appreciate both ;).

The space ship ready for takeoff or the Petronas towers at night. One of them used to be the tallest building in the world, but Taipei 191 took that crown for now.

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They still look alien in the daylight

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Side view

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The KL Tower or Menera Tower, had a nice view from here, including of the Petronas towers

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View from KL tower of the Petronas and other shimmery buildings in KL

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KL tower looks like a pineapple from the ground upward

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Multi faith worship- a beautiful Indian temple

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The malls in KL are incredible! There are at least 5 that would rival South Coast Plaza, and they’re just blocks from each other. They were also air conditioned and had awesome food courts, win- win for me.

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KL is a big construction site, lots of cranes everywhere, reminds me of being in Shanghai 10 years ago, but KL wants you to be safe 😉

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Islamic art has a lot of geometric patterns

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Interesting to see it reflected on a high rise

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Although I did find a good street market in KL, I do have to say Penang’s food was better and certainly cheaper! Though these ladies and their tarts at the Inni Market were awesome!

Baked Cha siu ba type bun and egg tart

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Food in Malaysia

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Another place I was excited to visit for its gastronomical note worthiness is Malaysia, with Penang, Malaysia being known as one of the gastronomical capitals of the world. And it did not disappoint. It is a foodie town, aka my kind of town!! Many people visit Penang just on a foodie vacation. Because it is such a foodie town, there are numerous guides and official maps that lay out the best spots for various dishes and I did try to hit up as many of the best dishes as I could :). While I enjoyed the food in Kuala Lumpur, I’d say Penang is even better and generally less expensive.

Malaysian cuisine reflects the multiculturalism of its people and results in amazing flavor combinations. It quite possibly might be my favorite type of food. And it’s available 24/7, be it in the numerous street food stalls, “old time coffee shops–kopitiam” (which are actually these interesting hybrids of many different street stalls operating out of a single “coffee shop”), hawker centers, food courts or even proper restaurants. I don’t understand how the people are so thin given how much they like to snack throughout the day and evening! But the fact the portions are generally nice and small helps, I’m sure. I was happy that they were small so I could justify having two or three things at each meal 😉

I’d recommend any true foodie add Malaysia and specifically Penang to your list of places to visit, and you must have the street food. Street food is very safe in Malaysia, because of this constant scrutiny and because of the high turn over of food. You and your tummy will be quite satisfied.

Sapur, my host in Penang, a lovely lady who took me to wonderful restaurants and was an amazing cook as well. This was some of the tastiest Indian food.

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Caramelized banana French toast made by Sapur, it was better than any restaurants. Plus it really reflected the multi-culti of Malaysia, a western type dish of French toast, with the Malay caramelized bananas, and the almonds with Indian topped spices, so good!

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Sapur also took us to have Nasi Lemak, a coconut rice, with various toppings, plus a spicy chili sambal sauce, yum!

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And also to Roti canai-a grilled flaky Indian flatbread you dip in a curry sauce

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Cendol

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Penang Laksa, a fish based broth. A funky mix for sure, I loved it!

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Ice Kechang or AIS Kechang

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Pork and lamb satay with peanut sauce

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Street stall heaven on Mccallister Road in Penang

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Had never seen a sardine/tuna samosa before

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Inside of the samosa, pretty good

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Curry Me (Curry noodle soup) and spicy squid Nasi Goreng (fried noodles)

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Flower tea, I became very acquainted with coffee and tea shops in Asia, as they were great places to find A/C to beat the 100+ and 90% humidity days. Also free WiFi to boot.

However this stop was not one, the A/C was more like fans and I ordered a hot tea. But it was pretty and tasty

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AIS Krim Goreng or Ice Cream fried-aka deep fried Ice Cream!

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And it was taro flavored, how could I resist! Had to have the basil seed sour plum drink to go with it 🙂 this was a more pleasant AC rest stop

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Indian fried sweet

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The best Portuguese egg tart! And a barbecued pork baked bun- so tasty!

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Malls in Asia have the best food courts, fresh tasty cooked foods, they must be so disappointed when they come to malls in the US, and it’s over processed fast food, Panda Express and Sbarro’s eww…

This food court was amazing, the owner of the mall was a foodie, so he convinced all his favorite street stalls to open a branch in his food court

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One of the more famous street stalls that sells beef two ways, in a soup and as noodles, with a minced beef type gravy, so good!

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My beef ball soup and covered beef noodles

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My kind of do it yourself, you pick the meat, noodles, tofu, and veggies, plus a soup base, they cook it for you. Mine was a curry base with fish balls, stuffed chili peppers, deep fried tofu, but I forgot veggies… Good thing they add bean sprouts 😉

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Penang, Malaysia

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Other than Vietnam and a quick 3 day business trip to Singapore, I hadn’t really explored Southeast Asia, so I decided to rectify that this trip. I started in Cambodia, hit 4 cities in Thailand and capped it with stops in Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. My introduction to Malaysia started with my Aussie friend Patsy taking me to an amazing Malaysian restaurant in Melbourne, Aus, continued with Else introducing me to the Malaysian Belacan Grill in Redondo Beach and hit a high point when I met my Malaysian friend E-Lin. Through its food, I learned what a fascinating mix of cultures Malaysia had come to be. I’ve longed to experience that cultural and gastronomic mix first hand!

Malaysia is a mix of three distinct ethnic groups, well four if you count the numerous ex-pats, there is the Malay group, which is the largest, then there are Chinese and Indian groups. The Indians came during the British colonial rule as did some of the Chinese. But as in many other countries, many of the Chinese came to partake in trade, be it the silk, spice or other types of trading back in the day. It is also a mix of religions, with the majority of the country Muslim, (and that is across all ethnic lines), but you’ll also find Buddhists, Christians, Hindu’s etc throughout the country and across ethnic groups. This was my first visit to a non-Arab Muslim country and it was quite interesting. There was one section of town that had something like 10 different houses of worship in a two block area, from grand Mosques to Methodist and Baptist churches, to Buddists, Taoist and Hindu temples. All are accepted. Both Penang and Kuala Lumpur seem to be quite tolerant societies in terms of openness of faith.

At least in the cities I visited, major cities to be sure, Malaysians embrace their multiculturalism, yet they amazingly have retained their own unique ethnic identities as well. As someone from the US, a cultural melting pot isn’t something new, however, the tendency is for assimilation after a certain number of generations, though your grandparents or great grandparents may have been from Italy or Germany or Poland, the chance of you speaking the language and knowing, let alone adhering to your grandparents customs are slim to none. Yet in Malaysia, most Malaysians speak at least three languages, Bhasa Malaysian, English and either Chinese or Tamil/Hindi/other Indian dialect, even though they are third to fourth generation at this point.

All ads are multi-culti 😉

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Hawker stalls at the night market

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Yummy Satay

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Satay and Lorbak -a tofu wrapped sprimp/fish pastes, deep fried.

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The guardian protector

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Burmese Buddhist temple

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Buddhas in the Burmese Buddhist temple, really interesting the differing representation of Buddha’s

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A Hindu temple on top of Penang Hill

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View from Penang Hill, it was about 10 degrees cooler, a nice respite from the heat of Penang! But not a respite from the damn mosquitos!

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Monkey just hang out on Penang Hill, but they aren’t very nice

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Ice Kechang, also known as AIS Kechang, which took me a while to figure out they are the same thing 😉

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Penang Laksa, a fish based broth

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Cendol, named for the green wheat noodley thing

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Street Art- wire structures

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The restored Blue Mansion

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This is a fancy, pretty bed, but I bet it has to be the most uncomfortable nights sleep ever!

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Street art

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Street art

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Dragons

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Little India

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Shophouse styles- these date back to the 1800’s

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One street that has been completely renovated

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I love how they’ve fixed up these historic shophouses instead of tearing them down. By the way, 7-11′s in Asia rock, the one US brand I don’t mind seeing wherever I go 🙂 unlike McDonalds, Starbucks and KFC…

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Wat Arun, (Temple of Dawn) a tribute to Indian Buddhists

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Hmm, I’m I really climbing that?

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So steep

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The way light fell on this site was one of the reasons for its selection

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Animals attack?

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Sunset time….

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Wat Phra Kaew

The famous temple of the Emerald Buddha, housed on the grounds of the Royal Palace, highly revered, said to be the most important Buddhist site in Thailand. I’d read it was a giant Emerald Buddha, and after seeing Buddha statues that were fifty feet tall, I think my expectations were off. The Emerald Buddha was maybe three feet tall and perched high above a giant alter. You were not allowed to take pictures inside. It was quite moving how revered and important the Buddha was to those worshiping.

The entire compound, from the scary animal demon guard statues, to the gold chedi’s, to the fabulous outer temples, to the murals depicted on the walls, all are amazing artwork, intricately carved, formed, or painted.

The pictures cannot in anyway capture the amazingness!

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I hope the five headed dragon doesn’t bite

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Oops, the selfie gave me horns..

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The murals on the wall depicting a war during King Ramayama’s time

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Also, there are smaller offering Buddhas on the grounds for the people to light candles and also to pour a fragrant oil over in a purification type ceremony, a sort of cleansing of sins for the new year.

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Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

A huge reclining Buddha!

Head to torso

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Legs

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Festive grounds

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Full length view

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Buddha has big feet 😉

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They had a curious offering ceremony, you bought a bag of coins and walked along the whole length of the backside of the Buddha and dropped one coin in the change wells lined up the whole length on Buddha.

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Rollin’, Rollin’, rollin, on the River….

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Bangkok is such a fusion of the old and new, modern skyscrapers and the old longboats sailing past

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Another reclining Buddha, this one right along the river, we were going pretty fast so it’s a little blurry

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These little cakes were awesome, coconut, kind of crispy on the outside, pudding like inside

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Yummy noodles with a little duck on top

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Mango Sticky Rice gelato bar, different, but tasty

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