Friday, January 31, 2014

Takumi - Ramen Restaurant

Immermannstr. 28
40210 Düsseldorf

I like this place. I call this a Ramen restaurant because they predominant serve Ramen - A Japanese soup noodle dish. You get some other stuff like gyoza or some teriyaki dish. You can check out their website for the menu:  

The Ramen is pretty decent and it has rather authentic feel to it, the small cramped interiors, the Japanese staff, plus load of Asian faces easting there. Unless you go off 'normal eating hours'. We were there at 3pm the other day, the restaurant can be kinna full.. and I think they don't take reservations.
Lunch has good deals (if you are hungry) to get 2 dishes for what is usually the price of one plus maybe 20%-ish.  But overall, you can eat below EUR 10 and have free flow of tea. Otherwise you can always order Japanese beer to quench your thirst.  

How do I find this place as compared to what I have tried in Japan? I find it a bit saltier.. but could be in my mind... and a more liberal use of mayonnaise.. I had it in my teriyaki chicken with rice.. taste good but I think this is kinna unusual.

Otherwise, if you are looking for a casual place to go for a nice Japanese bowl of ramen at a warm, friendly atmosphere. Do try this one.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ridiculous things you never knew you needed #2

Now.. don't you hate it when you are cooking spaghetti and it just sticks our of you pot.. You then kinna have to wait for the bottom part which is soak in water to be soft and the push the rest of it into the water. or maybe you have another technique. But most of the time, the pot is just never big enough..

Seems that it bothered someone enough and enough people agree that we needed a solution to this. Presenting the 'spaghetti pot'. 

Actually I don't know what it is called, I saw this in a Japanese 'Vogue'-like magazine while waiting for my friend at a Japanese hair dresser. 

I think I will rank this with the egg cracker... (yes, they exist, if I see it again - I will take a photo) as seriously one of those products that if you have in your home.. you most likely have more money that you can spend... which in that case, I don't mind a bit of donation coming my way.. or you are a perfectionist that is bordering on OCD. It is not that they are not helpful.. I wouldn't mine having one, but these products usually cost a fortune and you can achieve the same result free or with a small fraction of the cost... ahhh.. marketing.... they let you know about the things you never knew you needed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ridiculous things you never knew you needed #1

Recently I accidentally picked up a roll of scented rubbish bag! Yes, rubbish bags. Those plastic bags that you line your trash can with. 

As I was in a hurry, I grabbed a roll and went. I was surprised by the lemon scent when I opened it and took a piece out. The smell was fresh and covers the smell of the food leftovers that went into the bin. So, not bad. My first roll is gone.. and I just bought another roll from another brand to try.. who knew... it turn out to be a really unnecessary 'nice to have' and becoming something I need. =D

Monday, January 13, 2014

Europe on a shoestring - How to travel on budget around Europe

Many people always tell me how expensive it is to travel Europe. There are many ways to cut cost, but it will require some advance planning.

Also, Europe is a continent, please do not try to visit 'Europe' in one or two weeks. When you do this, you are essentially spending most of your time on the plane/train and this is expensive as well as taking time away from the real sightseeing. Focus on what you want to see. If you do feel that this is a trip of a lifetime and you must visit multiple countries cramped into a short period of time- a lot more planning is required or you will need a holiday after your holiday due to sheer exhaustion...

As a rule of thumb, Eastern Europe is usually cheaper (Prague in Czech Republic is especially popular recently but countries such as Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Russia seems to be gathering momentum etc), Southern Europe is reasonable but tourist areas are suicide during peak seasons (Italy,Spain, Portugal, Greece etc), Western Europe is what most people know and do (London/UK, Paris/France, Berlin/Germany etc) and the most co$tly is Northern Europe (Iceland, Sweden, Norway etc).

Try to avoid travelling during summer holidays (end Jul- August) because everyone is travelling and it will be crowded and costly. If you can afford it, avoid winter too, Nov- Jan especially as day light hours is very short. When it starts to get dark and cold.. you can't do some sights, it is hard to take nice pictures and you might be bored etc etc.. but things especially accommodation is the cheapest in winter. when the hotels are empty, the prices go down. And the que to see famous sites are shorter too.. a good balance I find is to visit in spring and autumn. Not too cold, not too many people, not the cheapest.. but not the costliest.

While every country is different, but some important tips remain the same. So here's mine for your budget travel to Europe.

1. Getting there

Find cheap flights. The best is to book during promotions but perhaps you are never really in the know and often miss them. Use a flight comparator. I use mostly and these sites do is trawl other websites offering flight tickets and compare them, this way they can very quickly show you what is the current best deal. However, this only works if they partner with this site.. so use both to compare. If you have a bit of flexibility, use the options to see the flights +/- a few days ahead or after your chosen travel dates, also other alternative airports close-by. 
Generally flights that require transits are cheaper and airline from countries (I am being kinna mean here, it is not completely true) that not that many people want to visit in the first place but wants to develop a market as a regional air-hub will be the cheapest. Look out also for deals with the airline/airport of the transit point - usually they organize some short tours which they will bring you out of the airport, tour the city and return for very little money and you get to see something extra.

A bit of additional advice, if you take route that requires you to change flights - don't do it yourself unless you are saving a substantial amount of money. The reason being- if you first leg of flight is late and you miss your connecting flight, you will be in a foreign country and with lots of trouble. Even if you have insurance, the hassle of getting the next available flight, the lost time, the aggravation, trying to claim you insurance afterwards.. is not worth it. If you bought it as a package (on the same airline or their coach share partners), any delay will have the airline try to get you on the next flight out, in the event the next flight is longer than a certain hours they will give you food vouchers or one night hotel etc.. it is still a big hassle but someone else is taking care of it for you until you cab leave. Hmm, also try not to transit in French airports.. employees go on strike and tada.. you are stuck.. It is not that often, but France is a great end destination but a horrible transit point.

2. Getting Around

Now that you are there, you would have notice that local transportation is costly. But more frequently than not there are many tourist passes or transport passes that you can use. The best way to get this information is to visit the website of the train/bus service provider of the country/city that you want to visit.

There are plenty of offers. For example in Germany, you can buy a daily ticket so you pay a flat rate and hop on and off as much as you want. There are other offers for people travelling in groups, students, etc etc.. In the UK for example, you have off-peak/super off-peak/advance tickets etc which offer a lot of saving. Each city will also have their own 'scheme' for example London have their Travelcards and Oyster. There are also plenty of discounts for students/young people, you need proof age or a internationally recognised student card..

For example, do you know that there is a German Rail pass that lets you hop-on all trains (also their high speed train), buses and such for EUR 269 for 7 days. With this you can easily cover 3-5 cities. Which can be a steal if you want to do Berlin- Hamburg- Munich (some day trips in between) and then perhaps go to Austria.. But if you are just doing just one city in that particular country.. hmmpphh.. you'd be better off with other offers. So research and find what fits you best.

Actually, if you are travelling within one region/country only and there is 2 of you at least, I find that it is often cheaper to book a car. A small car is cheap and gives you the freedom to stop in places in between. But you need to plan it in such a case that you pick-up and leave the car from the same spot.. or there will be hefty charges. Also, automatic cars are more expensive than those with manual gear box. :(

City deals are best found on the tourism website of the city you want to visit. Sometimes it comes as a pass for the city that is bundle with offers for other attractions for the city like The Cologne Welcome Card or one which is for transportation only. It can also get quite complex but research online and you shall find! For example here is a break down of the various options that you can find in Paris alone. Life is more complicated in countries where different companies run different services, different trains, distance trains vs metro/subways etc and passes might not always be interchangeable - so do check. But google with key words like 'one day pass NAMEOFCITY'/ 'tourist pass NAMEOFCITY' it would usually give you something to read.

Of course, one can also always walk. 

3. Crossing Borders

If you need to fly, I suggest again checking with or Skyscanner trawls a number of budget airlines in Europe.

Same applies to trains. Here's a summary of what's out there from one reseller. 

You will notice that the trend is early booking, cheaper prices but it usually means no change, no refunds etc.. so if your plans change you are pretty done for. Last minute deals aren't that good in Europe but you could look them up.. most of the time advance booking is what gives you the best rate.

If you need to travel last minute and don't want to pay too much, there is a new scheme these days where travellers/drivers heading a certain direction and for little money, they let you go along. Quite a few people found this to be cheap and convenient and they love the company. But personally I'd rather not take the chance to be stuck with someone in a car for hours whom which I may not like... mm... also most of these sites are in the country's native language... so if you can't speak it.. your stuck.This arrangement can also be useful for inter city travels as well as cross border travels - and I know many people that liked it.. Here's an example: