Perfect Portugal

By Shereen Shabnam

When I look back at my time in Portugal, what comes to mind is the medieval castles, palaces, hilltop castles, picturesque cobblestone villages, bustling towns and great food.

My favourite time was sitting in the open-air cafes, watching the locals while enjoying freshly baked bread, delicious fried sardines served with sauces of your choice, olives, a wide variety of cheeses and the best potato dishes that I have never been able to emulate in my kitchen. If you like desserts as much as I do, indulge in an egg custard tart from the many cafes around the city.

As a foodie, I found the Mercado da Ribeira a haven, in particular the local produce in the food hall with a wide variety of cuisine to suit different tastes.

Portugal is idyllic and has a bountiful coastline, fertile countryside, scenic vineyards and some of the best markets to wander through. I was lucky enough to venture outside the city in search of ceramics one year and loved the true beauty of Portugal.

The country has biking and hiking trails with pristine scenery, olive trees, all the beautiful colours of nature, historic villages, riverside cafes, beaches with calm blue seas, boating, surfing and kayaking areas along the meandering Rio Guadiana, country fairs and music fests all along the coast.

In Lisbon, I recommend taking the vintage retro streetcars to explore the city’s narrow streets and normally unseen streets. Take the historic Alfama tour which takes you through Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood.  There are walking tours, rail tours and private day trips offered by local agents who know the city best.

The museums and Aquarium tours and the Tagus River sunset cruise leaves you with a really great feeling afterwards and the cruise is one of the most relaxing activities you can do in Portugal.

I flew to Lisbon with Emirates and stayed in the town square which was a perfect place to wander around in the evenings.

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Pearl of the Orient: Penang Malaysia

By Shereen Shabnam

During my nine years in Malaysia, Penang was the most popular local exotic holiday destination we used to head to for a dose of cultural sights and natural scenery.

Known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is famous for its many soft sandy beaches and viewed as the food capital of Malaysia. As students, we used to spend most of our time trying street food in hawker stalls and exploring night markets with local delicacies which on the weekends was popular among residents of Penang and visitors to the Island.

Penang is also popular because of the palm fringed sandy beaches of Tanjung Bungah, fishing villages, the Snake Temple, the vibrant Georgetown area with heritage houses, small shop houses, old British colonial buildings and the Tropical Spice Garden.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, many of the old derelict buildings are being restored to their former grandeur, offering even more places to visit on the island.

We love staying on the Batu Ferringhi Beach when we visit Penang as it offers a long stretch of shoreline ideal for swimming and the hotels are in abundance to suit every budget. Tanjung Bungah is another popular option for tourists.

Penang is an island that leaves you wanting to stay longer because of the historical sites, sandy beaches, night markets and so much more.

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Indulgent Escape: Gramado

By Shereen Shabnam

One of the most memorable trips I have taken as a motoring enthusiast was to Gramado, a tiny mountain resort that has the Hollywood Car Museum and a place for super car driving experiences. The town is like a Swiss mountain village with boutiques selling avant-garde glasswork, gourmet chocolate and has some of the best local clothes and shoe designers.

Cuisine

For food lovers, Gramado is a town that arouses all of your senses. The smell of chocolate and fondue is all around and the gastronomic experiences at cafes with restaurants along the streets that specialize in fondue. The city’s strong European influence can be seen in several traditional local dishes, but delicious Brazilian-inspired favorites can also be found throughout this destination. 

Italian and German recipes, brought to the city by its European colonists and founders, are the most popular of the city’s diverse options. I had my best Italian meal in Gramado.

Architecture

Most of the architecture comes from Bavarian inspiration with a lot of timber-framing and hotels are decked out like Swiss chalets with an Alpine vibe. The city is a delight to explore with building designs that are head turners.

Lago Negro

One of my favourite stops was the manmade lake Negro with pine trees grown from seedlings from Germany’s Black Forest. A great place to walk and explore nature and visitors can enjoy the paddle boats as well. The walk around the lake is memorable and a must if you are in the area.

Hollywood Dream Cars Museum

One of my first stops in Gramado was the Hollywood Dream Cars Museum with a collection of some very interesting vintage and rare cars, memorabilia from the past with period music andan eclectic atmosphere. Visitors can step back in time as this collection explores the golden age of both the automobile and the movie industry.  

The museum showcases cars dating from the 1920s to 1960s that have been restored and polished to perfection. I enjoyed adding some retro props to my attire for some nostalgic pictures during my tour. It is the most fun I have had in a car related journey I took in an exotic location.

Gramado is definitely a place I would love to go back to try more super car experiences, have more fun at the car museum and for a dose of chocolate treats along the way.

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The Lion City: Singapore

By Shereen Shabnam

Singapore was my favorite cosmopolitan city for weekend visits during my nine years in Kuala Lumpur.  As students took the overnight train and ventured the streets for culinary experiences trying hawker food, Indian food, seafood, scrumptious Chinese cuisine and strolled through the lovely hiking trails or enjoy the beaches in the South.

As a working adult, not much has changed when I visit Singapore except that the city now has more world class exhibitions and even more attractions than ever before. With a strong Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Arab and Western cultures merged into one society, there is plenty of activities to suit every taste.

The strength of the city lies in the melting pot of cultures and the most efficient and widespread public transport systems that makes it easier to explore. I particularly enjoy staying on the Sentosa Island and then use it as a base to go on walking trails, Botanic Gardens and for retail therapy.

My Singaporean friends love Orchard Rd so we generally walk down the street but later head to local neighbourhoods for independent designers, quirky art galleries, Chinatown, vibrant night markets and of course no visit is complete without a visit to the museums and the science centre.

The MacRitchie Reservoir Park is a lush city park with an eight-kilometer treetop hike, bridges suspended high above the forest floor and has flying lemurs, monkeys, squirrels, monitor lizards and owls.

Top of my list is the Singaporean Zoo, the Tiger Balm and the Botanic Gardens, the Marina Bay Sands area, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Pulau Ubin Island, Little India and of course Chinatown to get a sense of Chinese culture within the city and enjoy the craft shops, restaurants and other bargains. If you like architecture, visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple. Enjoy music outdoors as well as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra hosts various free concerts at different venues around the country.

I flew to Singapore directly with Emirates Airlines. It is a great Asian city to visit and you need at least five days to a week to be able to explore all the attractions.