Zagreb

Answering Your FAQs about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport

18th April 2018

The old airport in Zagreb holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first destination I flew to and the first time I returned to my home country Bosnia after having fled 6 years earlier. I know that sometimes old can be charming, but the terminal was in need of a make-over. Thankfully my prayers were answered and a brand new terminal had appeared in 2017 and last week I got to dip my toes in for the first time.

My flight was delayed so I was lucky enough to spend my Saturday at the Gate 16 – 26 area from about 12.45 til 15.00 and while admiring the shiny steel and concrete architecture I thought I’d answer some Frequently Asked Questions about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport – not that you asked.

What’s the most important thing to know? The airport is still relatively new, with lots of stores ‘coming soon’, so you won’t be able to kill much time window shopping.

Now for an easy one … How much for a bottle of water? At Caffe Nero a bottle of water costs 21 kuna (that’s around £2.40 / €2.80 / $3.50) which is nothing unusual for an airport. Are you trying to save the environment by carrying a refill bottle? Well, bad luck for you as there are no fountains to be found. You technically can do it in the rest rooms, but the water is lukewarm.

And can I get my Big Mac or a grande triple chocolate soya mocha at the airport? Caffe Nero is the only chain to be seen at both arrival and departure. The best thing about this Caffe Nero? They serve pita/burek for only 12 kuna (that’s around £1.40 / €1.60 / $2) ! So if you haven’t stuffed your face with enough already in Croatie (or the Balkans) this is your last chance. There’s also a pub and a buffet-style restaurant with the usual soups, pastas and burgers as well as cevape (but without the bread sadly!). Prices start at 60 kuna (that’s around £7 / €8 / $10).

Whatever. What about the real essentials? Is there Wi-Fi? Yes! And since there isn’t much to do to kill time you and Wi-Fi will be besties. Like at most airports all you do is sign in and you are online! There wasn’t a time limit and it was really quick – so you can blame them for all the posts I’m spewing at you at the moment.

I know enough. Can I charge my phone, tablet and laptop while waiting? Throughout the departure hall there are several poles with a number of USB and charging plugs, the downside is that you have to stand around the poles while waiting. Who knew poles could be so exciting … and for free.

Are the chairs comfortable at all? Could I nap comfortably when I have long stopover? There are no armrests between the seats, but don’t get too excited as you can see they are not the most comfortable to lie on, so you’ll obviously need someone to lie on top of …

What about the toilets? There were enough around the gates, they were super clean and I can’t complain much, except that the coat/bag hangers in the toilet stalls I went to seemed to be broken. Why or how do you break a toilet coat hanger????

Anything cool you saw? I still can’t get over the fact that well known Italian coffee chain sells pita/burek. #nospon. In case you are wondering … Pita/burek is the Balkans’ very own comfort food – a filo dough filled with meat, potatoes, vegetables or cheese.

Anything else I need to know? Not something I can guarantee, but literally every staff member I encountered was superfriendly and smiled, which I was extra surprised about as us Balkan people are masters of the resting bitch face and most of our names rhyme with bitch for a reason. Everyone either seemed to be having a good day or they were keeping their laughs in when I spoke to them in my backwards farmer way.

Have you visited the airport? What was your experience and what did I miss out on at gates 1 – 15?

Kotor - Montenegro

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor

15th April 2018

When you are planning a trip to Kotor there are a few things you’ll definitely end up doing – walking the Old Town, going on a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor and huffing and puffing as you trek up the City Walls. For those with a bit more time, wanting to avoid the crowds and looking for a little more adventure might consider hiking the Ladder of Kotor.

It’s a curvy and scenic hiking trail with 70+ u-turns leading you into the mountains above the Kotor for the best postcard views of the area. The trail is also known as the Ladder of Cattaro and used to be part of a historical route that connected the bay of Kotor with the smaller surrounding villages, my heart goes out to all those horses and donkeys that had to take the carts and people through the mountains.


The trail starts outside of the Old Town. To get there, walk down of Old Town’s North Gate. The road is lined with old buildings, take the path along the river and you should be able to make out the u-turns clearly.

Every step has a spectacular view that only gets better the higher you go, with colourful pomegranate trees lining the paths. Since it’s literally zig-zagging up the hill the trail is very easy to follow – but just in case there are red and white markings painted on the rocks to guide your trail. The trail is rocky and uneven – so unless you have feet of steel, ditch your flip-flops/sandals for proper shoes/trainers.
About 1/3 up you will find another trail going to the right to a small church and the Kotor Fortress – you’ll have to climb through a window-shaped arch in the wall to get there. So you can end your hike here and go down via the castle walls on the tourist route. Those who sweat all of the way to the top (940 meters) will be rewarded by phenomenal views of the Bay of Kotor and beyond and get to brag about it.
Halfway up you will hear a barking dog and then see a little stone house, don’t worry the dog won’t bite, his paws won’t let him use a mobile so he is one of the few that just gets excited to see people come by. His owners, the old couple that live there sell homemade cheese, pomegranate juice and other refreshments. On your way back you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the view and listen to the guy’s stories on how it’s to live in one of the most idyllic places in the world. The cows and mules you might run into are also theirs.
To return to Kotor you can take the trail towards the Fortress so you can hike down via the walls of Kotor, which will lead you directly in the Old Town. Alternatively, to avoid the swarms of tourists, prepare for sore glutes and follow the path back the way you came.

London

Exploring Hampton Court Palace

8th April 2018

If you are not a local you probably know of Windsor or Buckingham Palace, but there is a little place called Hampton Court Palace. While the queen doesn’t keep her toothbrush there this doesn’t mean you should skip it.

Though the level of freedom to explore wasn’t as good as at Dover Castle, there is a lot to see and do. I’ll spare you the history (there’s lots to read and a audio tour), but let’s just say a lot of stuff happened in the last 500 years, even more that you saw in Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors.

Follow me today and explore the best spots to explore at Hampton Court Palace.
Henry VIII’s Palace
Loved seeing where Henry VIII and his wives hung out. The Great Hall was a spectacle and I enjoyed the table setting with the history of the dishes, but it didn’t beat the one in Oxford (Potter for life). The Chapel Royal was a peaceful hideaway … but for me it was the ‘entertainment’ room with lounge pillows all over the place, board games and a stained glass window that hit the spot.
Willem III Apartments
My Dutch homeboy and his wife Mary hung out here for a bit in the 1690s and asked the guy who designed St. Paul’s to pimp up the place and dazzle them with new ceiling paintings. The group of French school kids I saw were definitely impressed, but I really loved the fact that one of them was geeking out on history but trying to play it cool.
Kitchens
I had heard so many stories about the kitchens but they were sadly closed for refurbishment. The kitchen gift shop it still open though. The wine cellar was #goals and would the centrepiece on my vision board if I had one.
The Gardens and Grounds
The Privy Garden was where I imagine Henry would impress his visitors, courtiers and mistresses and now obviously commoners like us. I loved seeing the adults walking around in awe while the younger kids were having much more fun playing with pebbles. The most entertaining bit was spotting a swan trying to follow his friend through a fence in the canal and not quite managing it. It seemed really embarrassed about this … it seems even the most elegant of us all can fail at something sometimes.
 
Public Park and Maze (!!!)
For somewhere that you can enter for free the public park section (the Wilderness and surroundings) is very pretty and well kept. But most importantly let’s talk MAAAZE!
The amount of times I’ve rushed to a garden ‘maze’ to be confronted by child- friendly bushes only a metre tall is sadly far too many than I’d like to admit. But Hampton Court Palace’s maze stands a mighty 3 meters, so not cheating for you! I got lost and loved it, plus it’s a great secret photo spot too.

You can get to Hampton Court Palace on the train from Waterloo station. The journey takes around 35 minutes and the train station is a short walk to the palace. If you want to take it to the next level, arrive at the palace by riverboat to channel your inner Henry or Anne. Just remember the boat takes around 3 hours from Westminster pier.

 

Paris

Bonjour From Paris: Paris In Polaroids

5th April 2018

I recently stopped off in Paris, where I really put the ‘mini’ in ‘mini-break’ – giving myself just 30 hours to savour the city of lights and love.

Despite having visited 8 times, it’s never quite lived up to the ‘Passport to Paris’ adventure that my young teen self yearned for…no fancy apartment from Grandpa to stay in, no French models giving me a personal tour, or worst of all, no moped rides! But this time I had more realistic goal – visit as many museums and sights as I could.

I wanted to stay walking distance from the museums on my checklist and found a relatively afforable room at Hotel Therese – it had a bit of an identity crisis, but if you strip everything down: the location was central, the bed was perfect, the water pressure couldn’t be better and the Wi-Fi passed the test too. After dropping off my bag I headed on foot to the the first museum, passing the Royal Palais Garden and the Louvre on my way.

As I left the museum, the Eiffel Tower seemed so close so I decided why not go for a walk! Some 45 minutes and three wrong turns later I made it. I did spend 15 minutes people watching on Pont Alexander III, the best bit was the 4 wedding/engagement/love photo shoots all happening at once – I can still picture them all fighting for the perfect spot!

Can you imagine that in 1889 this was the tallest building in the world? And it was supposed to be scrapped right after the Universal Exposition was over? The view from Trocadero is the spot to get that postcard shot that will secure you the most likes. But as the sun had already set and the fountains were off, it did look a tad dark and depressing. My cue to exit was a street artist who was choking out a really bad cover song.
I don’t mind eating alone, but it sure is more fun to have someone to talk to and it was great to catch-up with this Brazilian girl I met in a hostel in Dublin years and years ago. She recommended a small bistro, where we chowed down on a Steak Tartare followed by a creme brulee and talked successful adulting (and the long road we still have to go).
The next day The Musée d’Orsay was my first stop. It focuses on Impressionist Western art (your Monet, Renoir and van Gogh) from the 1800s-1900s. The museum is located in a former train station (and after years of vacancy, it was decided in 1986 that it should become a museum) so you can imagine how grand it is so you don’t just want to see the art, but also several corners of the museum, such as its stunning clocktower.

I also don’t mind looking at art by myself, but there is no one to talk to while queueing, get annoyed about people cutting queues, or give random theories about masterpieces. Thank God for Europe Roaming. Plus side was that I could stop anywhere I wanted for a quick snap without feeling too guilty.

Centre Pompidou was so much love, it starts off with the building itself: built inside to create an optimal exhibition space and the exposed glass and steel designed to reveal the beauty of the building techniques. If that wasn’t enough, it has a library, restaurant, rooftop viewing point and a modern art museum with the biggest collection of modern art in Europe.

I love modern art and as I can’t even draw a stick man I am easily impressed by anything, but if it isn’t for you get the €5 Paris view tickets where you get to see both Sacre Ceueur and Eiffel Tower.

My 30 hours in Paris ended too soon, and though it’ll never be Olsen level, departing with my baguette and snoozing on a smooth-as-hell train journey I felt I could easily be a straight-to-video star (or maybe save my story for the sequel)…

Uncategorised

January – March: Things I’ve Been Doing While Abandoning This Blog

2nd April 2018

I have to admit that the first quarter wasn’t super exciting travel-wise. But between London and Netherlands trips I got up to some other cool things.

Been There

UK: Cotswolds – Oxford
France: Paris
Done That

I escaped to the Cotswolds and I saw sheep, cute houses and lots of mud.

Oxford was a happy accident, but it was lovley following the footsteps of Harry and Alice.

In Paris, I hit 3 museums in the 30 hours I was there and got lost 5 times while trying to reach the Eiffel Tower.
In London I
– Gave V&A another chance – and still didn’t like it too much
– Went to the ABBA exhibition – I enjoyed it despite the price I paid for it
– Spent a long evening getting dazzled by the lights of Lumiere London – well most of them
– Watched lots of movies – Isle of Dogs, Downsizing, the Florida Project and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri being my favourites
– Checked out the T-Shirt exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum – it’s still on on, so head down if you are up for some T-Fun
– Saw lots of posters and packages at the Made in North Korea exhibtion – I liked the idea, but it turned out to be more like an article on Bored Panda

– Walked around the Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs pop-up like a kid in a candyshop

Bucketlist Moments?
Going to the Cotswolds is literally on my 2018 bucketlist, so go me! But the joy of randomly coming across the Isle of Dogs pop-up is burned in my heart forever.

Lowlights
I got a text from my bank asking if I’d used my card in Florida. Sadly, I wasn’t living it up at Disneyland (I was sitting in my pyjamas watching Netflix in London), so had to deal with the fraud helpline. Thankfully the card was blocked before they could get their prize! I think my card got skimmed in Mexico as it was the last place I used an ATM. All ended well, but it could have been very different, so please learn from my mistake and be weary when you take cash out abroad.

One of the most exciting moments when flying from London to Amsterdam is getting fries drowned in satay sauce at this one place at Schiphol Airport. My tradition was: race through passport control, get a train ticket, buy the fries and rush to the train platform. Sadly this tradition died when this fries palace was replaced by a poor pretender, just one step above McD’s. R.I.P.

Lessons Learned
In London, I’ve queued more often outside foodplaces than tourist attractions, so having to queue was a bit of shock. And there I was thinking those the skip the line tickets were a fad … Turns out visitors to Paris are really into queueing and when you only have 30 hours it’s a shame to waste a big chunk of it waiting in line.

Have you learned any lessons you’d like to pass on?