Guest Wanderer: John ‘Phampants’ Pham and an Eastern European Escapade

I met John almost four years ago through YouTube when I was gearing up for my first solo trip overseas. Having announced in a video that I would be jumping on a plane to Munich in a few short months, a YouTube user by the name ‘Phampants’ contacted me to offer any friendly advice he might give on backpacking Europe. John was both a fellow YouTuber and travel junkie – and this turned out to be the moment my first real YouTube friendship began.

Despite him being a resident Chicagoan, our worldly wanderings have meant that John and I have  had the opportunity to meet in person a couple of times whilst traveling:


John and I having a quiet catch-up on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disneyland – Anaheim, California 

John recently shouldered his backpack for another overseas escape, returning once again to ever-enchanting Europe. I got in touch to chat about his latest adventures:

So, John. You’re a pretty prolific traveler, having set foot on European soil a couple of times already. What inspired this recent adventure?

J: When I first backpacked Europe in 2009, I loved it so much that I knew I wanted to do it again –  but instead of Western Europe, I wanted to do Eastern Europe. So this trip was a balance of visiting friends (Rome, Frankfurt and Krakow) and exploring the Eastern European countries.

Euro Tour 2013 map 1

John’s three-week Europe trip, Nov-Dec 2013

Truthfully, I just travel where my stomach wants to go.  The world is filled with too much delicious food to eat and alcohol to drink. Follow your stomach and you’ll never be disappointed.

Did this trip reveal any special places you hope to return one day?

J: I’ve been to Rome twice before. After studying the classics for so long and having a friend there now, it’s hard not to return. As for new cities, I definitely want to return to Berlin again when it’s warmer. Plus, I had the best ramen outside of Japan and best Korean food outside of Korea. Vienna needs a return visit because 2 days were not enough. Finally, I would return to Krakow in a heartbeat. It was definitely my favourite city on this trip.

House of Parliament in Budapest copyCharles Bridge in Prague copy

Hosue of Parliament, Budapest | Charles Bridge, Prague

The all-important question – what was the food like? Favourite dish? Anything you’re craving, now home?

J: Where do I even start?

Rome: For traditional Roman fare that is Anthony Bourdain approved, go to Roma Sparita in St. Cecilia Piazza in Trastevere. The cacio e pepe is phenomenal. But if you’re craving something different, is a gastropub that’s perfect for beer lovers and foodies. Craft Italian beers meets food designed for your palate. For an aperitivo, go to Chiostro del Bramante. Drinks and snacks in an old monastery with an open courtyard in the middle of Rome.

cacio e pepe copyWienerschnitzel Frankfurt style copy

A Roman cheese and pepper pasta dish, cacio e pepe, at Roma Sparita – Rome | Wiener schnitzel with potatoes and green sauce – Frankfurt

Frankfurt: Wiener schnitzel Frankfurt-style is your typical fare, but with Frankfurt’s green sauce. While in Germany everyone must have a doner. I highly recommend one at Doy Doy’s off Konstablerwache.

Budapest: Szimpla is a ruin bar found in the old Jewish ghetto. I won’t say much lest I spoil the place.

Vienna: Julius Meinl on Kohlmarkt is a great place for coffee and lunch. If you’re here during the Christmas season, go to the Rathausplatz for some Glühwein, wurst and Leberkäse.

Prague: Old Prague Ham. Just have it. It changed my life. Beer lovers must visit Klášterní pivovar Strahov on the hills of Prague. It’s a great craft brewery in an old monastery with a great outdoor dining area.

Old Prague Ham copyKlasterni pivovar Strahov Courtyard copy

Old Prague Ham – Prague | The courtyard at Klášterní pivovar Strahov, a hilltop craft brewery situated in an old monastery – Prague

Berlin: When in Berlin, one must always have currywurst. But for something different, I highly recommend Kimchi Princess near Kottbusser Tor. The bibimbap is fantastic and  the kimchi jjigae fills you up perfectly. If you’re in Hackesher Markt, check out Cocolo Ramen for amazing ramen. Craft beer lovers – go to Hops & Barley on Wühlischstraße. For the adventurous type, go to labyrinth bar Peristal Singum.

Krakow: When in Poland, one must eat pierogies, black pudding & potato pancakes. Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa is a 1950s-themed bar that has a few locations in Krakow. Great place to hang out, have a few beers or shots of vodka.  Speaking of vodka, if you love Nutella or hazelnut, order some hazelnut vodka here.  You’ll thank me.

What would you recommend to anyone travelling to this part of the world?

J: Explore the Jewish history in Eastern Europe. From the free walking tours to Holocaust memorials or a trip Auschwitz, the history of the Jews in  Eastern Europe is something all should experience.

How has overseas travel changed for you over the years?

J: There’s always more to see, learn, eat and drink. The friends you make abroad are real. It’s okay to change plans halfway through your travels. Sometimes it’s worth blitzing an area and sometimes it’s okay stay in one place for awhile. And it’s possible to fall in love with more than one place.

And the question on every traveler’s mind upon returning home – where next?

J: South America is calling my name. Buenos Aires is on the top of my list. Cape Town, South Africa and Thailand are climbing up the list quickly. But Puerto Rico will happen this spring. ;)

Pham in Zakopane copy

Zakopane, Poland

The Uncharted Adventure of 2014

A happy 2014 from Little Wanderings!

I’ll admit, my feelings toward this year consist of equal parts terrified and excited. After almost two years, I wrapped up at my place of employment at the end of 2013. Without any plans as to how I would subsequently proceed to, you know, actually make a living, it was all a rather daunting decision. And yet it was without a doubt the right one. I’ve hidden behind the excuse of “not knowing what I want to do with my life” for a long time. I’m still no clearer on that since, but leaving a job and industry I could never be proud or passionate about was an important step in making room to actively find out.

And so, as friends and family have returned to work over the past week, I’m faced with the pursuit of something new. I foresee the coming weeks as a flurry of resumés and cover letters – and hopefully, interviews! Amongst all this is somewhat of a resolution to make a determined effort to write, explore and create more. For, perhaps, I think I’m beginning to anticipate (in an unmistakable “well duh” fashion) that doing more things I enjoy may just answer that pesky question of establishing exactly what I want to do with my life.

2014 is very much feeling like stepping into the great unknown right now. If I shake off that tired old craving for ultimate certainty, that’s a pretty thrilling place to be! I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty yesterday and haven’t been able to stop playing the soundtrack this morning. It’s a beautiful film and aside from making me want to jump on a plane (Mat and I have flights booked to Europe for July, which is luckily enough to sate that lust for now!), it’s a wonderful inspiration to seize opportunities and make an adventure of life. And I’m pretty excited to do just that.

The Brûlée Cart and Coburg Night Market

Despite being a regular traveller on the number nineteen tram, to memory I’ve only ever made it beyond Brunswick once before. The second time, as it goes, would happen just this past Friday evening. This would also be the evening on which the holy Food Truck Gods (closely related to the Brunch Gods) would look down upon me, and deem to send a torched-up treat my way. It was divine intervention. There’s really no other explanation.

I was on a sudden, determined mission to get an outdoor dining setting before summer hit. After work I beelined across the city toward Bunnings Coburg, resolute that by December 1st (a mere two days away) I’d be sitting comfortably on the outdoor terrace sipping a cool glass of wine. Or a cup of tea. Or whichever beverage happened to take my fancy at that particular moment. As I edged ever closer, browsing my Twitter feed to fill in time – it happened:

The Brûlée Cart was in Coburg. I was in Coburg. The stars had aligned and as soon as I’d signed off for the delivery of my three-piece timber bench and table set, I was rattling back down the number nineteen line on another mission.

Initially funded through a Pozible campaign earlier this year, The Brûlée Cart is helmed by brothers Bart and Jack White. The food truck industry is certainly thriving in Melbourne at the moment, and there is some seriously delicious, gourmet food on offer – but I have to say that a crème brûlée truck is one after my own heart. I’d previously tracked the Cart down once at Trailer Park (Salted Caramel), and another time in the streets of Brunswick (Dark Chocolate and Peppermint). It seemed Friday night would see me a third time lucky.

The Brulee Cart 10The Brulee Cart 11

It was a short journey before jumping off the tram and heading to Bridges Reserve, nearest to the corner of Sydney Road and Bell Street. The Coburg Night Market was alive and busy with people, but not so big that it didn’t feel like an genuine, local market. I noticed especially that there were a lot of kids and families about, and market-goers spread out across table, chair and lawn to eat and drink and listen to live music. There were plenty of tasty-looking places to eat, including stalls from Phat Brats, Wingman Chicken Wings, Meatball Company, Mr. Calamaro, Running Sangria, Trailer Made and Bianco Latte Gelato. It was a wonderful atmosphere and I’d definitely recommend swinging by one warm Friday night before it finishes up on the 20th December.

The Brulee Cart 8

It was, however, a familiar wash of blue that beckoned me across the market – and before I knew it I was cracking the top of my very own Lavender & Honey crème brûlée. Also on offer that night was French Vanilla & Raspberry and Salted Caramel. I’ll maintain that Salted Caramel is my all-out favourite, but the Lavender & Honey was delicate and delightful in flavour. The brûlées are $8 each, and the perfect size to sate a sweet craving (although I think I could definitely eat at least three of the Salted Caramel one after another!).

The Brulee Cart 5-1The Brulee Cart 3-1

It’s true – I am over the moon with my new outdoor dining setting (on this balmy December 1st evening, I am indeed sitting comfortably on the outdoor terrace sipping on what turned out to be a glass of room-temperature water.). But I had another calling that night, and I am proud to claim that I rose to meet the almighty challenge. Most importantly – I must bestow upon you the urgency to claim such victory for yourself! Whether on a definitive mission or simply on your travels, The Brûlée Cart is so, so worth your visit.

The Brûlée Cart | Follow on Twitter or Facebook for locations
The Brûlée Cart on Urbanspoon

Coburg Night Market | Bridges Reserve, Coburg
Open | 15th November – 20th December 2013, Fri : 5.30pm – 10.00pm

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