Singapore has everything you could want in a vacation

I was recently privileged to visit Singapore for the first time. It’s about an eight-hour plane flight from Sydney, Australia, and was so incredibly fun. I stayed in Sentosa, which has basically all the entertainment you could want in one centralized location: an aquarium, a Universal Studios theme park, zip lining, beaches, a giant “merlion” you can walk up, tons of restaurants, a casino and so much more.

Singapore Nicki Escudero

I loved taking the sky tram to get everywhere (plus, the island is great for gaining steps for your Fitbit.) The tram was a wild ride that had me screaming the first time I went up, but I quickly got used to floating in the sky, especially with the amazing view.

Singapore

The first day, I wandered around without a plan, found a sky tram and hopped on. I inadvertently took one that took me away from Sentosa to Mount Faber, but it was delightful because I stumbled upon a gorgeous hike in an area populated by wild monkeys. Sadly, I didn’t see any monkeys, but there were tons of butterflies and beautiful birds.

Singapore

That night was dinner at a Palm Beach Seafood in the city, which is famous for its spicy chili crab. It was so incredibly sad to see live marine life crawling up the sides of tanks trying to escape their fate, but if seafood is your thing, I heard the crab was great. I had the noodles, bread and veggies, which were good.
Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant Singapore

The restaurant was across the street from the Marina Bay Sands, which puts on a stunning laser light show at night, which beats anything you’d see in Vegas.

Marina Bay Sands laser light show Singapore Nicki Escudero

I’m a huge baby when it comes to going into cold water, so I was thrilled the water at Sentosa Beach in March was warm enough to swim in. It was so cool to walk to the southernmost point in Asia from Sentosa, too. The bridge you take to get their wobbles, which adds to the excitement.

Southernmost point in Asia Singapore

Back to that giant Merlion. You’ll find the Merlion symbol all over Singapore, as it represents good luck. You can head to the top of the 10-story creature on Sentosa after you watch a video about the merlion’s history. I accidentally walked all the way up after seeing an open-door instead of taking the lifts. The views are just as great in the sky tram, but it’s a fun activity for kids, for sure.

Merlion Singapore

Exit the Merlion, and you’ll encounter a gorgeous orchid garden. I really loved the inclusion of both city skyscrapers and beautiful nature-filled spots in Singapore. Whatever you’re into, including luxury shopping, the country has it.

Orchid garden Singapore

Going to Little India, Chinatown and the Singapore markets away from Sentosa was really fun. The homemade wares and fashion were so fun to peruse, and they’re great places to score affordable souvenirs.

Chinatown Singapore Little India Singapore

I loved all the water sights, friendly people and fun things to do and see in Singapore. Everywhere you turned, there was something interesting to see. I’d recommend it as an Asian destination, for sure.

Urban Bites in Newtown, Sydney, is a patio destination

One of my favourite parts of town I’ve explored in Sydney is Newtown, a colourful area decorated by street art and proliferated by dozens of drool-inducing restaurants with lots of patio space for enjoying amazing Sydney weather. I recently stumbled upon Urban Bites, a friendly restaurant with a neighbourhood feel that has attentive staff and a menu serving tasty eats in generous portions.

Urban Bites Newtown Sydney patio

The spot serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, and coffee, with a full alcohol bar. The dessert case is absolutely amazing, featuring everything from cakes and tarts, to pastries. Definitely save room for a tasty treat.

Urban Bites Newtown Sydney dessert case

I was there for dinner and opted for a delicious grilled haloumi burger with rocket and olive tapenade on Turkish toast ($17.90 AUD). It was served with thickly cut chips and was so huge, I had to take half of it home. The bread was perfectly crispy, there was a ton of haloumi, and the veggies were plentiful.

Urban Bites Newtown Sydney grilled haloumi

Here’s a look at the equally massive fish and chips burger with sweet potato fries:

Urban Bites Newtown Sydney Fish and Chips

Though all the cheesecake and tiramisu made my mouth water, I gave something I’ve never tried a taste, pavlova. I had no idea the dessert was born in the Australia/New Zealand region, which is awesome, but it just looked so gosh darned pretty, I felt it would be a dream to eat. It’s a meringue-based cake that was topped with cream. I’m not the hugest meringue fan, but it was sweet and light, and the cream was amazing. I’m sure it was a great version of the dessert, and its elegance evokes the beauty of the Russian ballerina the dessert was named after.

Urban Bites Newtown Sydney pavlova

From start to finish, the meal at Urban Bites was fantastic. I loved that my meal was enough to take half of it home, the servers were courteous, and the whole atmosphere is fun and laid-back. For more information on Urban Bites, head here.

 

Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia, lives up to its name

I recently headed to the absolutely gorgeous Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast, Queensland. About an hour-and-a-half plane flight north of Sydney, Surfers Paradise is, not surprisingly, known for its vast abundance of beaches that are so clean and pristine.

Surfers Paradise Gold Coast

On a Monday, they’re relatively empty, too, in this place popular with tourists who come for weekend trips.

Surfers Paradise Gold Coast Queensland Australia

I was only there a couple days but was thrilled to dine at Glass, a stunning waterfront restaurant with a classily cool interior.

Glass Surfers Paradise Gold Coast

The meal was magnificent, one of my favorite pasta dishes I’ve had. The sun-dried tomato arancini starter ($13.9 AUD) with mozzarella and gremolata was tasty — perfectly fried little balls of risotto heaven ideal to share for two.

Glass Surfers Paradise Gold Coast

All the tapas sounded fantastic, from the wild mushroom and truffle croquettes and tempura zucchini flowers, to the panko crumbed eggplant wedges. If I were to go again, I would probably split several tapas dishes.

For my main, I got a veggie rigatoni ($28.9) drenched in a tasty tomato sauce, with zucchini, onions, cherry tomatoes and heaping hunks of feta cheese. Every bite was amazing, and the portion was impressively huge for a fine dining restaurant.

Glass Surfers Paradise Gold Coast

The squid ink seafood risotto ($31.9) was another generous portion and came with calamari, shrimp, fish, lobster and scallop. It was a seafood lover’s heaven and smelled marvelous.

Glass Surfers Paradise Gold Coast

Service was impeccable, from host to server to food runner. I loved the Alkoomi reisling ($9.5), which was a sweetly wonderful pairing for the pasta and arancini. I went to Glass because of a recommendation from my cab driver, and now I’m recommending it to you.

I’d love to come back to Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast for more water activities and fine dining. It’s got an upscale San Diego vibe, which I enjoyed. Learn more here.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant in Surry Hills, Sydney, gives amazing Middle Eastern dining experience

I love restaurants that really transport you to another place with their style and décor, which is why I was thrilled to have a Lebanese feast recently at Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant in Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney

The Middle Eastern spot has two pillow-filled party rooms perfect for large gatherings, while the main dining room offers a cozy dining experience decorated with rugs from the area, pillows and comfy cushioned seating, artwork, decorated plates and hanging adornments.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney

The spot is BYO, a feature I’m always excited about in Australia because it helps you save money and sip on exactly what you want.

The vegetarian meal consisting of nearly a dozen tapas courses kicked off with hoummos ($9 AUD) and baba ganouj ($11) and a massive mound of khobz, or Lebanese bread, whose pockets allowed you to create sandwiches to your heart’s content.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney khobz

I’ve never been a huge fan of baba ganouj because of the runny versions I’ve encountered, but this one was thick, creamy, garlic-packed and delicious.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Baba Ganouj

The hoummos was top-notch, too, with a great thick consistency. Next up was tabouli ($13), in a heaping bowl, again, not overly-watery and chopped so that it was easy to scoop up and combine with the other elements. It was vibrantly green and a great khobz addition.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney hoummos and tabouli

Falafel ($7) came next, generous donut-shaped bites of the fried chickpeas. They were fried well, not overly hard or soft, and I enjoyed the sauce drizzled over the falafel.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Falafel

Sliced eggplant ($12) came out next. Again, I’m not the biggest eggplant fan, but these were heaven. Their charred skins gave off a crunchy texture and welcome smoky flavor, while the eggplant was covered in an ideal amount of oil that enhanced their taste without making them soggy.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Fried Eggplant

One of the best parts of the spread, all which came out in about 15 minutes total for a massive meal that lent itself to mixing flavors, was the spinach pie ($12). The fried feta cheese- and spinach-filled slice was pure bliss in every bite. It was a decadent vegetarian course that added new flavors to the meal.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Spinach Pie

The fried cauliflower ($12) was another filling portion, topped with tahini dressing. The meaty cruciferous vegetable quickly makes bellies full.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Fried Cauliflower

Vine leaves are one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes, and Hannibal’s ($13) didn’t disappoint. The large leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and parsley were again meaty and filling and packed a ton of flavors.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Vine Leaves

For dessert, there was baklava ($2.50), probably the best I’ve ever had. The portion offered a few bites and had the perfect ratio of dough-to-pistachio filling, baked in Middle Eastern honey syrup so that it melted in your mouth.

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant Surry Hills Sydney Baklava

As a fan of tapas-style serving where you can try lots of small plates in one sitting, Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant is one I’d return to over and over. The spot features belly dancing for parties and on Saturday’s (call ahead to confirm times), and the beautiful atmosphere enhances the elegance of every plate.

Find more information on Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant in Surry Hills, which has another location in Glebe, here.

La Pesa Trattoria a cozy Italian spot in Darlinghurst, Sydney

La Pesa Trattoria is a lovely Italian restaurant in Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia, with a diverse menu of tapas and mains, perfect for lingering over while sipping a bottle of wine.

La Pesa Trattoria Sydney Darlinghurst

The space is simple and relaxed, with a small main bar anchoring the front room and a larger dining room on the other side. Great for romantic dates for couples or for larger party celebrations, the restaurant offers a cozy, neighborhood feel with stellar attentive service.

La Pesa Trattoria Sydney Darlinghurst

La Pesa Trattoria Sydney Darlinghurst La Pesa Trattoria Sydney Darlinghurst

I had a tapas feast there recently, noshing on mostly cheese-filled plates that made me happy. La Pesa Trattoria’s tapas selections include Italian Salumi ($13 AUD), Hot Speck and Mozzarella Bites ($12) and Pork Hock Terrine ($15), with items like Focaccia Barese ($10) and Olives with homemade Grissini ($11) to satisfy vegetarian palates. Mains include pastas, veal and salads, all traditional Milanese recipes with an updated twist.

My meal started with the Gnocco Fritto Bowl ($8), fried bits of Italian bread paired with a cheese fondue. The cheese was flavorful and had a perfectly melty consistency, and the bread reminded me of a sopapilla-turned-savory. I loved the dish.

La Pesa Trattoria Gnocco Fritto

The Burrata Mousse ($15), a creamy mozzarella mousse with basil, croutons, confit cherry tomato and grated bottarga, was unlike anything I’d ever had. A creation of the restaurant’s chef, it was ultra-creamy and a tasty take on traditional burrata caprese.

La Pesa Trattoria Burrata mousse

Taking a break from the tasty cheeses, next up was the Rustic Wedges ($9), hand-cut potatoes with burned parmesan and truffle essence. The potatoes were ultra-filing, and I could definitely taste the truffle, which elevated their flavor.

La Pesa Trattoria Rustic WedgesThe Tomino Cheese and Figs ($15), which came with walnuts, balsamic glaze and crostini, was another gooey cheese creation that I loved for its sweet and savory melding. The walnuts were a great touch that added crunch and another flavor layer, and every element in the dish worked perfectly.

La Pesa Trattoria Tomino cheese and figs

The Cheese Board ($14) to finish the meal was a perfect ending because it had more sweet components. The gorgonzola, pecorino and taleggio cheeses were all high-quality, and paired with a spicy plum jam, crostini, olive oil and more walnuts, it would be both a great appetizer option or dessert.

La Pesa Trattoria Cheese board

If you head to La Pesa Trattoria, I’d definitely recommend going the tapas route and trying lots of the delectable bites the restaurant has to offer. You won’t go wrong with any of the cheese dishes, and the Burrata Mousse was an enjoyably innovative stand-out.

For more informationon La Pesa Trattoria, head here.

Terrarium building workshop at The Space in Sydney creates beautiful plant environments

Terarriums are beautiful small plant environments where everything from succulents to emerald ferns can thrive. I learned how to build terrariums at a workshop this weekend at The Space artist co-working space in Alexandria, Sydney, run by installation artist Melissa Carey and florist Nicole Hong from Flower Lane & Co.

Melissa Carey Nicole Flower Lane and Co. terrariums The Space Sydney

Each of the about 20 participants was treated to tea and tasty cakes and muffins during the workshop, which made building that much more fun.

Melissa Carey Nicole terrariums The Space Sydney

Everyone wore aprons to stay clean, and we had plenty of space on our workbenches to build the medium glass bowl terrarium and small hanging terrarium.

Melissa Carey Nicole terrariums The Space Sydney

Building a terrarium is simple but so much fun because there are endless ways to customize them. Take a glass bowl, and fill it about an inch high with smooth, clean stones or pebbles for drainage. Then, top those with at least another inch of soil, so the plant has something to form roots in, which it will do naturally once it’s planted. Use a stick to put a little indentation in the soil before sticking it in the dirt and patting its base to surround it with soil.

Melissa Carey Nicole terrariums The Space Sydney

Melissa Carey Nicole terrariums The Space Sydney

Then, decorate your terrarium to your heart’s content. Use colored sand, seashells or jewels to liven it up. Moss is a great addition, because it adds moisture to the environment while also making it look amazing.

Nicki Escudero terrarium The Space Sydney

The space we created the terrariums in was full of light, had cool music in the background, and was peaceful and relaxing.

Melissa Carey Nicole terrariums The Space Sydney

Carey puts on a variety of amazing-sounding crafty workshops, all of which you can find here. Her next terrarium workshop is Saturday, March 13, at The Space. To attend, head here.

The Art of Cadencia brings flamenco and tango to The Basement in Sydney

Last night, The Art of Cadencia put on a beautiful show featuring live music, including lyrics sung in Spanish, and flamenco and tango dancing in an intimate setting. The Basement in Sydney, Australia, last night delightfully felt just like Madrid.

Art of Cadencia The Basement Sydney

The show featured singer Angela Rosero, multi-instrumentalist Byron Mark, talent from Dance Tango and much, much more.

My favorite part was the flamenco. The passion was amazing and reminded me of what you’d see in Spain.

The show was about two hours long with an intermission, and everything from the musical flair to the dedication of the dancers was impressive. I’m absolutely wowed by the fact this is only The Art of Cadencia’s first show in 2016, after a successful debut at the Sydney Sacred Music Festival last year. Founder Anna Griffiths says the company is looking to do more productions in the future, and I sincerely hope The Art of Cadencia continues to bring high-quality flamenco and tango to music lovers across Sydney.

‘The Reef (Revisited)’ melds surf, film and orchestra music

Last night, I took in The Reef (Revisited) at City Recital Hall, a presentation blending classical and contemporary orchestra music by Australian Chamber Orchestra, film footage of surfing and wildlife, and the singing of everything from music by Alice in Chains to island-inspired tunes. The production that debuted in 2012 had some new additions in its 2016 edition, which was performed for one night only in Sydney and that is heading on a North American tour.

The Reef Revisited Sydney City Recital Hall 2

The show started with the short film Surfing Underground, about 30 minutes, by filmmaker Tim Bonython. The movie captured surfing escapades in some of the world’s most gorgeous waters, including Tasmania. The waves the surfers were navigating were majestic and breathtaking, and it was so neat to see footage of them so up close underneath mammoth bodies of water. The tricks and skill of the surfers were impressive, but watching the wipeouts was just as awe-inspiring.

The Reef Revisited Sydney City Recital Hall

I love the idea of enhancing orchestra music with additional visual stimulation such as video. It’s something I’ve seen executed successfully time after time by Arizona Pro Arte, and it was so cool to see it on such a grand scale here in Sydney in a beautiful theater holding 1,200 people.

Sydney City Recital Hall

If you have a chance to see it, The Reef (Revisited)‘s film’s mysterious storyline is definitely unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and it’s a neat opportunity to witness some of the world’s best surfers battling the world’s biggest waves.

For more information on The Reef (Revisited), head here.

Old Growler in Kings Cross, Sydney, a tasty underground dive

The punkiest burger bar I’ve encountered in Sydney so far is the Old Growler in Kings Cross.

Old Growler exterior

The underground bar (literally, you take steps to go down), instantly makes you feel cool in the dark and divey exclusive atmosphere.

Old Growler Sydney stairs

The bar has a large selection of draft beer, and I really enjoyed the refreshing and perfectly sweet Young Henrys Cloudy Cider, made here in Australia, $10 AUD for a pint. Order and pay for food at the bar, and a server will bring out your eats.

Old Growler Sydney bar

The Veggie Burger ($15) was a fried patty topped with field mushroom, chèvre and seeded mustard mayonnaise on a brioche bun, with a side of beer battered chips.

Old Growler Sydney veggie burger and chips

Every bite of the burger was enjoyable, and I quickly gobbled it up. The portion of thick-cut fries was a little smaller than I’m used to, but the meal left me satisfied and not stuffed, perfect for a bar night out. Other meal options include Australian classics like chicken schnitzel, plus poutine, fish, steak and cheese boards.

The crowd was super-friendly, and there was lots of comfortable seating.

Old Growler Sydney

I loved the fun touch of the bear designs on the food placeholders.

Old Growner Sydney interiorPlus, there was a delightfully smutty gender-neutral bathroom, decorated with sexy pictures, which added to the dive atmosphere.

Yelp Sydney recently named the Old Growler one of the city’s top burger destinations, and I can see why. The lively atmosphere, quick food service and large libation selection that includes wine, champagne and mixed cocktails makes it a Kings Cross hot spot.

Learn more about the Old Growler here.

Casa Asturiana offers flamenco and Spanish food in Sydney

Put two of my favorite countries together, Australia and Spain, and you’ve got me hooked. Thanks, Casa Asturiana, in central Sydney, for offering this Spanish gal a vast variety of Spanish tapas and dishes to keep stomachs muy alegre.

Casa Asturiana Sydney menu

The bi-level restaurant is located in a Spanish quarter featuring several other dining establishments with comida de España, near the Town Hall train and down the street from the Metro Theatre. I had some delicious tapas at the fun outdoor Spanish-style street seating there recently, a spot I was delighted to learn features flamenco dancing Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.

I loved seeing the juxtaposition of the Spanish and Australian flags both on the menu and inside — it just made my heart happy.

Casa Asturiana Sydney interior 2

Indoors is classy dining, with Spanish-style decorations and artwork surrounding dining tables and the bar.

Casa Asturiana Sydney interior

Outdoors is much more casual, but I always love taking advantage of gorgeous Sydney summer weather.

Casa Asturiana Sydney Nicki Escudero

The sangria is a must-have. I drank a half-litre (about four 4-ounce glasses) myself, and it was chock full of fresh fruit pieces and had the perfect balance of fruity flavors.

Casa Asturiana Sydney sangria

Casa Asturiana offers full paella and seafood entrees, but I’d go for tapas, perfectly-sized dishes to share for a party of two or more.

Here’s a look at the Pulpo al Ajo Arriero, or braised octopus in olive oil, garlic, paprika and vinegar, which was a hearty portion for two that I heard was delicious and not overly chewy like octopus can be.

Casa Asturiana Sydney octopus

I was hoping for some Spanish manchego cheese, but this eatery with northern Spanish cuisine didn’t have it on the menu. The server accommodatingly brought out a dish full of tasty feta bites,which I really enjoyed.

Casa Asturiana Sydney feta cheese

Definitely get the Champiñones a la Plancha, which are barbecued whole button mushrooms with white wine garlic and parsley. Spanish mushrooms are my favorite mushrooms because they’re juicy and perfect to pop in your mouth.

Casa Asturiana Sydney mushrooms

The Patatas Alioli, lightly fried potatoes covered in a warm garlicky mayonnaise sauce, were also plentiful and delicious. I know it might be a little weird to eat mayo with potatoes, but it’s big in Spain — and here in Sydney, mayo is also popular.

Casa Asturiana Sydney patatas alioli

The order of Spanish bread was a little different than the crusty pan con olive oil I was expecting. It came covered with tomato sauce and herbs, and the two giant pieces were, again, great to share.

Casa Asturiana Sydney Spanish breadFor all this food and sangria, plus a beer, it was only $75 AUD, what I’d consider a great value for such a feast. I loved that my server, who was from Colombia, greeted me in Spanish. It was refreshing to experience such a Spanish-friendly atmosphere in Sydney, where I haven’t seen many Spanish restaurants. I’d love to go back and check out the flamenco, one of the most beautiful dance art forms in the world, plus to get some of their delicious-sounding desserts, including tiramisu and churros.

For more information on Casa Asturiana Spanish restaurant, head here.