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Friday, 9 December 2016

The Honeymoon Series [v] - Siena, Florence and Pisa (Tuscany regions), Italy

Having enjoyed the beauty of Rome in The Honeymoon Series Part 4 (review here), we bade it goodbye and left for Siena, Florence and Pisa. In this episode, we discuss the intricate loveliness of the architectural and buildings, as well as more iconic attractions.

We stopped by Siena Square first, the beautiful Tuscan town with stunning ancient walls, gothic buildings, historical churches, monuments and palaces.

II Campo, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
The Piazza del Campo is the principal public square of Siena, Tuscany, and is considered one of Europe's greatest public squares. It is a unique shell-shaped square surrounded by gorgeous red brick Medieval buildings, and preserves centuries of traditions. Twice a year, the square is home to the famous Palio of Siena, a unique event that transforms the entire city back to the Middle Ages, a horse-racing competition that is engaging to both participants and its audiences. This square is also one of the 7 Unesco sites.

8 Piazza Del Duomo, 53100, Siena SI, Italy

Better known simply as just the "Duomo", this is one of Italy's finest gothic cathedrals. It is magnificent on the outside as well as on the inside, housing some of the finest works of Italy's artists during the day.  It is also full of other treasures such as marble pavement, Piccolomini Library frescoes, ornate interiors and a good recommendation for anyone who wants a glimpse of Siena's history.

Piazza del Duomo, 50122, Firenze, Italy
Website: https://www.museumflorence.com/museum

Known as the main church of Italy, this building stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance design. With a clear allusion to the lily, the symbol of Florence City, this was the third and last cathedral of Florence.  Sitting atop of the beautiful cathedral is the famous Brunelleschi's Dome which is 45 metres wide, a masterpiece capable of withstanding lighting, earthquakes and passage of time. Within the cathedral is a beautiful with more than 750 pieces of art with more than 720 years of history; entrance fee is 15 euros.

Piazza del Duomo, 50123, Firenze, Italy

One of the most ancient churches of Florence, this may also be known as the Saint John's Baptistery. It is swathed in medieval mosaics and decorated with famous bronze doors - the pictorial carvings upon the doors tell moving stories, therefore it is not unusual to see visitors staring at the doors for hours on end, depicting the tales carved on them.

Piazza del Duomo, 1, 53100,  Siena SI, Italy
Website: http://www.santamariadellascala.com

This medieval building used to be a civic hospital to the indigent, the sick, the pilgrims, the elderly and the abandoned children. It housed the people as well as took care of them, therefore it was termed a "hospital" more because of its warm hospitality towards them. Today, the entire complex is "a city within a city", hosting several museums and splendid monumental areas, spanning across 3 floors of the building. The entrance fees for this museum is 10 euros.

Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122, Firenze, Italy
Website: http://www.uffizi.com

An art gallery containing some of the most important art collections by the greatest artists during the Middle Ages - such as Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelango etc - this is a museum not to be missed. Ticket pricing start from 9.99 euros, depending on the date / time chosen as well as reservation fees etc, could cost up to to 22 euros per person.

Piazza della Signoria, 50122, Firenze, Italy

The Piazza della Signoria is the town hall in Florence; this main square provides a well-rounded view of the immense political and artistic presence of the Renaissance city. The Palazzo Vecchio overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with its magnificent statue of David; a fortress palace (also known as "Old Palace").

Piazza del Duomo, 56126, Pisa PI, Italy
Website: http://www.towerofpisa.org

The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa needs no introduction whatsoever, being one of the world's most well-known landmarks. Standing at 60 metres tall, it has began to lean 10 degrees during construction; and has since been the crowning glory of the piazza as millions of visitors flock to view this slanted building. It is made of white marble and has 8 floors, and took 200 years to construct (according to historical research). Ticket price is around 15 euros and you are given 30 minutes to climb to the top!

Piazza del Duomo, 56126, Pisa PI, Italy
Website: http://www.leaningtowerofpisa.net/pisa-baptistery.html

Also within the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is this stunning domed Baptistery dedicated to Saint John the Baptist; the entire building is also constructed of white marble. While the exterior is a remarkable sight abundant with columns and arches, the interior is filled with artworks depicting the various stages of Saint John's life.

From Siena to Florence to Pisa, we have eaten at a few diners across the Tuscan regions. I wouldn't say anything was fantastic, sadly - probably because we were trying all the commercialized eateries rather than those small, family run, traditional diners I've heard so much about.

Via del Porrione 65-67, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
Website: http://www.gallonero.it

Located along a brick wall in one of the streets, this charming restaurant has a breath-taking medieval interior with brick and candles, transporting one back in time. We enjoyed a hearty lunch of Chickpea Soup, Roast Chicken with Potatoes, and desserts of Apples - the apples were sweet and had a unique texture between pear and apple, very interesting.

Via del Farine, 4,  50122, Firenze, Italy
Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ristorante-Il-Cavallino/156222467732546

This was recommend by the local Italian tour guide and so we decided to give it a try. We tried the salad and Carbonara of our friends' - quite average and nothing mind-blowing. Our Tiramisu was pretty good, truth be told. However, the service was terrible - kept us waiting for an hour because they forgot about our orders, yet when we checked several times, they always told us "food is coming, food is coming". An hour later, our steak was raw, and when we brought it up, they gave us varying degrees of bad attitude, arguing that we "only placed order 20 minutes ago", and "our restaurant is not a McDonald's" etc.   Hello big dudes, sorry but we have tour group mates who came at the same time and witnessed all this fiasco. Never going  back nor recommending them.

Name of restaurant not captured; apologies.

Good service and brightly-colored pasta as well as pizzas, available for takeout or dining in. Price was reasonable and these homely dishes were comfort food, especially after our terrible experience with above restaurant.

Address: Unfound

Along the entrance to Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) are a row of restaurants and cafes, including fast food joints Burger King etc. This little cafe was more like a Singapore coffee-style setting (casual) and the beverages were terrible even though they cost 2 to 3 euros per cup (good cups of coffee in Rome only cost 1.5 to 2 euros).

Via Europa 8, 50066, Leccio Reggello, FI, Toscana, Italy (Top level, Gucci Building)
Website: https://www.themall.it/en/outlet-italy/the-restaurant-and-cafe.html

An elegant restaurant located within the Gucci Outlet itself, at The Mall Outlet, this is one of the only 2 eateries within the huge, huge shopping compound. Serving a variety of Tuscan and Italian cuisines at different counters - ranging from sandwiches to pasta to desserts etc, the dark-walled settings makes one comfortable at first sight, settling in even if just for a coffee or glass of wine. Mon Beau had a Roast Beef Sandwich and I had an Italian Sushi set (the latter consisting of cured meat instead of raw fish on top of the rice). Not bad, I liked this place immensely.

Besides the many, many shops and boutiques lining Italian streets, there are several outlet malls in Tuscan region itself, so that one could get quality merchandise (albeit dated) or bags at more wallet-friendly prices. We were supposed to visit BARBERINO DESIGNER OUTLET SHOPPING MALL, where they would have up to 70% discount on brands such as Prada, Porsche Designs, D&G, Furla, Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Adidas etc.

Via Europa 8, 50066, Leccio Reggello, FI, Toscana, Italy
Website: https://www.themall.it/en/outlet-italy/homepage.html

We headed to The Mall instead, where there are large buildings featuring brands such as Prada, Bottega Venta, Gucci, Nike, Armani, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Pucci Emilio, etc. The pricing of bags and clothes is indeed very attractive. If you require tax refund, expect to spend about 20 minutes at the boutique counters for them to assist with paperwork and completing your purchase transaction.

Address: Unknown

Unfortunately, this is another restaurant in the Florence region whose name eluded me. You must think it weird that we had Chinese fare in Europe anyway. Food was pretty all right; but they served everything at a go, including the apple meant for dessert. My favorite dishes were the stir-fried squid and seaweed egg soup.

We stayed for a night at Art Museo Hotel before moving on. The next night, we moved to Crowne Plaza Padova. Buffet breakfast are all provided at these Italian hotels; however the spread is pretty much the same - sweet pastries, bread, ham, cereals and some fruits.

Viale della Repubblica, 289, 59100, Prato, PO, Italy
Website: http://www.arthotel-museo.it/en

Known as the "art museum hotel", this unique boutique hotel offers spacious rooms as well as artistically-furnished decor to perk one up easily. The rooms are quite comfortable, and this hotel has outdoor pool as well as fitness centre within its premises - all for a mere 80 euros. However, I am not sure why they mentioned there is free wi-fi, because we weren't able to access at all.

Via Po, 197, 35135, Padova, Italy
Website: http://www.hotelcrowneplazapadova.com/en

A nice, comfortable hotel termed 4-5 stars in local context, the Crowne Plaza Hotel was rather comfortable with polite service. Rooms were quite spacious, with  beds, work table, couches, all at only 90 euros a night. It also houses an elegant restaurant, a hotel lounge / bar for drinks as well as fitness centre for those who require their daily dose of exercise.

Overall, we enjoyed the Tuscany regions very much. What would've been more perfect might've been some visits into the museums as well as wine tasting tours to the Chianti regions, since we were already in the vicinity.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Lunch at The Botanist Cafe @ Chinatown

74 Neil Road, Singapore 088839
Tel: 9188 9181

Springing up around Chinatown / Tanjong Pagar area, and also jumping on the garden-themed cafes, is The Botanist. With a name like this, one would already envision the decor of the place to be filled with greenery. They are by the same guys who give you Pacamara's roasts (review here) and Alchemist Coffee (review here).

The interior is rustic and minimalistic; we sat at the alfresco area where hanging plants adorned the backgrounds and long benches made for communal dining in a vertical garden setting.

Service was rather attentive and this cafe does not charge service fees or GST. I wanted the Beef Cheeks but it was not available that day, so we decided to go for other items.

Truffle Fries (SGD$8.00) started the 3.00pm late lunch for us -  piping hot shoestring fries infused with aroma of truffle oil. Capping the top is a web-like layer of grated cheese adding flavours to the delicious starters.

The Egg Florentine (SGD$19.00) - a medley of poached eggs, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, wilted spinach, avocadoes, and chive hollandise with toast. A hearty brunch dish laden with healthy ingredients, this was both satisfying and filling.

For coffee, they have 2 choices of roast - Dark Matter (bolder notes of dark chocolate and macademia nuts), and Santa Isabel (lighter notes of jasmine and white grapes).

So one chooses the beans and whether they want dark or white coffee. Finally, there are choices of 3oz, 5oz and 7oz.

*Katherine went for White Coffee (SGD$5.50) with dark roast, 7oz. She enjoyed her coffee which had deeper notes and was pretty smooth; the lovely latte art was still very distinctive even after she has already consumed half the coffee.

I went for White Coffee (SGD$5.00) with white roast; my coffee had a lighter flavour and texture.

Overall, the food and beverages were quite enjoyable. I wouldn't mind returning and trying more items, like maybe the French Toast and Beef Cheeks.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

5 Dos and Don'ts to be Self-Employed without Breaking the Bank

Whether you are looking to start a business because of an interest, because you would like to have another stream of revenue, or because being a stay-at-home-parent is getting meaningless, there are different types and models of businesses that you can consider. Not all businesses require lots of money to start, unless you intend to keep stocks around, or have a retail shopfront.

Besides the registration of company and some marketing costs, which do not cost an arm and a leg, starting a business is pretty easy and enjoyable.  Here's a list of 5 Do's and Don'ts, if you are just thinking of getting started:


1.  Identify a Need
One can enter into many different types of businesses, but do you have any idea of what type you would like to venture into? Is it an innovative, brand new idea that you might need to do a lot of research and market survey on? Is it the sale of products which you personally like to use, or believe that the consumers will buy?  How about offering a service?  Once you identify a need, that's where you start to do your research and source for suppliers and buyers.

2.  Invest
Yes, whether you invest your monetary capital or time, please invest in your business - no pains, no gains. This would mean less me-time, less family time, less social outings or hobbies, but look at the long-term benefits when you are successful and can have all the free time to pursue your interest. Spend your free time investing in knowledge and business know-how by reading or networking. A knowledgeable business person breaks the ice and connects easier with potential customers.

Invest some money and time into grooming yourselves as well. You don't have to look too lavish if you are just starting out (this may intimidate your potential customers as well), but to be neat and polished is a form of showing respect in your potential clients.

3.  Attend Events / Seminars
Attend more networking events and business seminars so as to get to know more like-minded people as well as improve your communication skills. These events are where you may also meet potential partners, clients as well as mentors.

4.  Secure Partners
Partners - whether they are strategic partners  who could help bring awareness to your new business, refer businesses your way, or provide a service that you are unable to. The latter is very important - especially if you don't have the requisites or resources to provide a certain service or product, but see a potential market for it - leverage on a partner company who can do it. They can be your suppliers or you can be the broker / agent for it. That way, these partners receive extra revenue without increasing their sales staff, and you earn from various streams of businesses you can refer to your partners.

5.  Be Prepared to Fail
No venture is perfect, especially if you are a first-time entrepreneur. Most successful business owners have failed ventures behind them, and from there they learn, pick up and try till success is theirs to behold. The most important factor is your mentality - remain positive, reflect on why the venture failed / did not pick up, recharge and restart.


1. Don't Jump into any Products or Schemes Immediately
If you are unsure about your product and its potential in the market, conduct research and gather some feedback, so that you can fine tune, before committing all time and resources to this one product. If you need to keep stocks, order a small number to test out first - so you know whether this is the right supplier to work with on a long term basis, and if your products are sellable.

2. Don't Quit Your Job Yet
Unless you have financial support / assistance, investors or a lot of savings, don't quit your job completely and dive headfirst into your business. You may think that this splits your focus,  but if you don't have the means to do marketing and feed yourself before your new venture starting generating profits, then your business is doomed to fail due to inactivity and lack of clients. No shyt - I know someone who had to rely on friends for lodging, meals and hands-me-downs because she was always dreaming of those widely-advertised "get rich quick" schemes, and eventually had to return to full time employment.

3. Don't Be Too Nice
Ok, don't get the title wrong, I am not advocating that you be nasty to your customers or fellow colleagues. This section simply means, don't allow anyone to take advantage of you. Even if you are working with relatives or close friends, document every single transaction and ensure all terms & conditions are drafted into an Agreement where all parties are bound to.

4. Don't Lie On The Job
It does not matter what business you choose to do - e-commerce, sale of products, insurance, property or even MLM business.  Never be dishonest or insincere in your proposals, for everything would come to light eventually, and then the shyt would hit the fan. If you are intending to introduce your product or service to your warm contacts or friends, just be honest with them about it. A true friend will not shun you just because you were trying to introduce them a product or service, even if they reject your product / service.

Don't lie, also, in the sense that you don't "eat snake" i.e. slack on the job. No one built up their empire by sleeping the hours away, or playing games or staring into space with their huge dreams of success. Hard work and efforts are often injected, even if they are in the form of brain cells being racked (in lieu of real physical efforts).

5. Don't Stop
Every successful business needs to keep growing, and whilst it is start a business, maintajning it is not easy. Ensure that you constantly keep yourself updated with news and changes, especially those related to your industry vertical. Tweak your business strategies as and when the need arises, so as to remain competent.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lunch at Birds of a Feather Cafe @ Tanjong Pagar

115 Amoy Street, Singapore 069935
Tel: 6221 7449

After seeing gorgeous photos of this new Birds of a Feather Cafe, as well as interesting East-meets-West dishes, I decided to come here for lunch with *Chantal.

The cafe is specious, spanning across units at the Amoy Street shophouses; there is a bar counter for drinks, as well as communal dining tables within. What we loved most were the dimly-lit settings and floating cloud-like "fluffs" hanging from the ceiling.

Service was rather personable but we felt the girls were clearing the tables a little too eagerly (i.e. the moment we finished, they cleared plates, glasses etc).

After browsing the menus and pondering over the many tempting items, we decided to start with Roast Chicken and Avocado Salad (SGD$18.00) seasoned with Szechuan peppers. The presentation was pretty and organized - shreds of roast chicken in / on halved avocadoes, sitting on a bed of salad and pomegranate. Light, natural flavours of chicken and buttery avocado were sizzled up by the mildly spicy Szechuan peppers and lemon dressing, giving the dish a zesty-tangy kick, causing it to be appetite-whetting.

Oriental Bolognaise (SGD$20.00) consisted of angel hair pasta, pork ragout, onsen tamago (poached egg), wilted kale and sakura ebi (small shrimps). If one wishes for spicy, simply top up SGD$2.00 for that fiery touch.

Pasta was fine, smooth and springy; dish was flavorful but not overwhelming, even after we mixed the runny egg into it. Minced pork pieces and crispy small shrimps added bites to the pasta dish, rendering it palatable from start to finish.

Caramel Chocolate Ice Cubes Latte (SGD$7.50) came in a DIY-concept, tall glass jar of milk, jar of ice-cubes and shot of caramel syrup. We poured the caramel and milk into the cold milk and adjusted accordingly. The end result was a luscious iced coffee beverage aromatic with caramel's distinctive flavor.

Finally, the signature Feather's Coffee (SGD$7.50) with its frothy-looking 'feathery' cap made of meringue. Coffee was bittersweet, silky smooth and texturized by the crunchy meringue coating. Loved the coffee absolutely.

Overall, we were glad with the dining experience at Birds of a Feather Cafe, finding the food and drinks immensely enjoyable.