Salut! from Dordogne Valley

26th July 2016

dordogne valley

Along three other bloggers, I’ve been out and about in South West France and exploring the Dordogne Valley across its many charming towns and villages.

It was a little bit of a trip down memory lane as I had been there on a school trip many moons ago and I was curious how 2016 Tea compares the trip with 2002 Tea.

dordogne valleyAfter flying in to Berignac Aiport with Hannah from Adventure Han and Tun from T S Chang we were met by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and the lovely folks who organised the trip. From here, we headed to Monbazillac Chateux that’s known for its sweet white wines.

dordogne valleyThat went well with the foie gras, magret de canard, French style duck pate and onion relish we had as well as Casse Croûte, which is from what I understood what the French call an afternoon snack – everything does sound better in French.

dordogne valleyThe Chauteau itself is a museum where you can sneak a peak of how the owners throughout the centuries lived as well as a history of the wine and how it’s made. My favourite bit was the cellar where you can see how the original kitchens looked – a different world, and one that I bet would have loved a microwave.

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Next stop was the town of Bergerac, which is known for its cobblestone streets and half timber stone houses.

dordogne valleyYou may have heard of the historical hero of the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, though he has nothing to do with the city, they have adopted the fictional hero as their own.

dordogne valleyThen we had a wonderful time exploring the streets of Sarlat, another of those real life fairytale villages where you imagine characters from a Charles Perrault fairy tale would be wandering around, casting spells, curses, and all that jazz.

dordogne valleyWe got treated to duck – which is, along with everything walnut related the local speciality – with a balcony table at Le Presidial.

dordogne valleyThe next day we took inspiration from the duck and floated down the Dordogne River on a canoe. It was a great way to see the area from the riverside. Growing up I canoed a lot and forgot how much fun it is to paddle to nowhere (figuratively speaking), and get lost in the simplicity of focusing on making sure you don’t fall in or capsize.

dordogne valleyAfter that it was time to wander around in the Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, a huge garden on top of a cliff with amazing views over the beautiful Dordogne River Valley. You can easily spend hours taking in the lush alleys, exploring the quirky little places and getting lost in a labyrinth.

dordogne valleyIf managed to keep your eyes off Johnny Depp in the 2000 film Chocolat then you might recognise a few locations from that film gem, as it was actually filmed in the city of Beynac.

dordogne valleyBrassee 24 is new craft brewer focusing on authentic style beers. We got a tour, saw where all the magic happens and tried their tipples. I sadly can’t pass for a connoisseur, but I can say that as soon as I hear they sell it in London I will be first in the queue!

dordogne valleyNext was a tasting at Distillerie Louis Roque, this one at more traditional distillery where we got to taste plum, walnut and chestnut aperitifs. Seeing as plum rakija is the self proclaimed national drink of my home country it was a favourite. There is also a room that’s a little museum where you can see the old stills, presses and pots. A similar wagon was used in my hometown and went from house to house during rakija season bringing its plummy goodness to all – we would even coat our socks in rakija before bed in Bosnia to stave off sickness.

dordogne valleySouillac’s streets are picture postcard and I’d recommend taking some time to relax and explore every nook and cranny as it’ll transport you back to the past.

dordogne valleyLook at the beaut! Rocamadour is a medieval town built into the side of a cliff. Around 900 years ago it was the place to be for worshipping and pilgrimaging – mainly due to the special relics it housed, and people travelled from all across Europe to get up close with those holy objects. Today, pilgrims have been swapped for tourists, who want to soak up the history and snap that ‘perfect French castle town’ shot to make everyone’s eyeballs jealous back home.

Do you have any top tips or suggestions for visiting the Dordogne area?

Plitvice Lakes: the highlights and lowlights

14th July 2016

plitvice lakes

Saw: Crystal clear waters and waterfalls so beautiful UNESCO wanted to join the party. I saw lakes so clear that you can perfectly see schools of fish better than in aaaany aquarium, walking paths that run through the park and over water amid large, beautiful cascading waterfalls and Disneyland like queues – but without an attraction at the end.

Loved: The two minutes I didn’t run into anyone on the paths.

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Hated: The fuckers who left a huge pile of rubbish on the paths. Seriously, why would anyone do that? I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for people who litter natural wonders. People who blocked the path with selfie sticks for five minutes. And people who didn’t put the dogs on a leash or were not in control of them.

Ate: Sweet cheese pancakes, coleslaw salad and chips at one of the hotels. And ice cream once I reached the end point. The place I was staying at did an amazing dinner with mixed meat, salad with pumpkin oil and delicious home made bread.

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Would I do it again: Oh yes, in fact, this was my 12th visit, but I would pick a different time and season as it was very very busy. The images were taken during the few moments not a lot of people were in sight and don’t represent how packed the place was. I’ll give you the low-down on when’s best to go and some of the routes in a follow-up post.

Have you been to the Plitvice Lakes or is it on your must go list?

Bok from Zagreb

3rd July 2016

Zagreb

For me Zagreb is kind of like that old friend that isn’t on Facebook and where I don’t catch up as often as I like, but when we reconnect it feels like yesterday. This week I caught up with Zag again and here’s what happened when we hit the town…

zagrebYou know you are sometimes a bit scared you’ll get scammed via AirBnB. I had this for a split second when I saw when I got to the place I booked…

zagrebBut inside I had nothing to fear. The place used to be an art gallery and there are little artworks, paintings and posters to remind you of this throughout. It’s on a busy street with lots of cafes and restaurants with locals sitting, sipping on their coffee and gossiping about everything you can think of.

IMG_3127Food, you know that thing we eat to live, but which is more recently branded as the coolest thing to do? Well, it’s hit Zagreb in a big way. You have the well known yellow/red chain, local food and hip hotspots. Otto & Frank is one of those places, great for breakfast and lunch. It was so good I went back two times and am drooling on the keyboard as I remember it right now, mmm.

IMG_3266Just a 30 minute ride from the city is Medvinica mountain rising out of the ground, complete with forts, caves and amazing views. I was mostly interested in the abandoned sanatorium. It’s apparently haunted, but more on that later.

IMG_3399There are a number of hiking trails leading back down from the mountain park, which you can see my attempting here in my best hiking gear. From Mihaljevic can take tram 14 and 8 back to Zagreb.

IMG_20160702_47421Sadly, Amelie isn’t named after that famous film. But the cakes it serves up can easily give you that sweet sincere happy feeling that film can muster up. The taste gets even better as you realise how light they are, without any excess cream or sugar. Just perfect. Also a WiFi Hotspot – so you can tell everyone about the deliciousness course on all platforms to your heart’s content.

IMG_20160702_37472I’m now going to mention a church. Yes, we’ve probably seen hundreds of types of religious buildings with spires, statues and all that god-related stuff. But Zagrebs’ St Mark’s Church is actually worth a look – it’s got what seems to be a lego-style rooftop mural which I hope they didn’t send kids up to build. Ok ok it’s not really lego, but colourful rooftiles laid out with coats of arms of the city and country.

IMG_3131South of the river is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Eqipped with the best air conditioning in the city – perfect for a typically hot Zagreb day!  Nice selection of modern art by mainly Croatian and ex Yugoslavian artists- including a few cool (temporary) exhibits. But screw the culture – it’s all about the two metal slides that curve around the outside of the building, plus the mirrored table tennis. Plus, if it’s not your cup of tea, you can head to the shopping mall across the street.

Have I missed any places? And, is anyone heading to Zagreb soon?

Eurotrip 101: Berlin for Beginners

28th June 2016

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Heading to Berlin but a bit unsure where to start? Let’s take a look at the essentials. Next to all the street art, foodmarkets and coffee shops, here’s the low-down on the major players in B-town.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
This giant gate is more a bunch of giant pillars, and is the city’s best known landmark. Because it was situated in the no man’s land just behind the wall, it also became a symbol of the division of the city (history!). After the fall of the Wall, the Gate was reopened in 1989. Now it’s the place you’ll likely to see as a backdrop for the news, a place to watch fireworks and let’s just say for selfies, this place isTor-rific!berlin tip eurotrip

Berliner Dom
That’s Berlin Cathedral and not the Berlin Dome (I seriously heard someone scream this when I walked past it). This big sandstone monolith was built at the end of the 19th century to show Protestants could outdo those silly Catholics with their St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was probably more of a religious mid-life crisis thing but they didn’t have ferraris or sports cars to buy then. Like many buildings, the cathedral suffered a lot of damage during the Second World War and reconstruction took place from 1975–93. The Christening and Marriage Chapel contains the altar painting “Miracle of the Pentecost” by K. Begas the Elder (who doesn’t know him?”).

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Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
No this isn’t the tower from the Frasier intro, this is Berlin’s own 1960s sky piercer which goes up and up to about 368 metres. The main round tower viewing section looks like a funky disco ball, but sadly at night it doesn’t play ABBA and glitter. But once you’re inside the viewing area, it offers a damn good 360 degrees spot to snoop on the capital, so all is not lost!

Alexanderplatz
But you can call it “Alex” – the most famous square in Berlin. It was almost completely destroyed in the World War II so it still owes much to its the rebuild from East Germany times. The ridiculously tall TV Tower spirals out the ground here and looks down on everyone, including the Fountain of International Friendship and the World Time Clock – though I’m sure the world time app is a bit easier to use.

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Reichstag
Though the building is classic in style (pillars, greek/roman influence) as it’s originally from 1884–94, the main attraction was added in the late 1990s. No, it wasn’t a rollercoaster, but a giant transparent dome, which you can actually walk up inside. Once a year I propose they fill the dome with water and use it as a giant water-slide, but sadly no one got back to me. You need to register in advance to visit the glass dome and terrace as individual entry is limited to a daily maximum.

(Remaining Section) Berlin Wall
A good example of the intact Wall is east of the city centre along the River Spree in Mühlenstraße. Now known as the East Side Gallery, it is a section of the wall that is preserved as ann outdoor gallery. It has the famous graffiti murals you’ll have likely seen as memes or in adverts, plus politically motivated and other miscellaneous artworks. Other smaller sections can be found in Potsdamer Platz and in the corner between Ebertstraße and Bellevuestraße).

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This site is a huge abstract artwork covering an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate, including an underground museum with extensive details on the Holocaust. Walking through concrete alleyways creates a feeling of disorientation, of being trapped and cut off from the world. The blocks start out at ground level on the outer edges of the memorial and as you go towards the middle the memorial, and as the stones begin growing taller the sun/light disappears and is replaced by chills.

Museumsinsel (Museum’s Island)
Did you know that Berlin has more than 140 Museums? Want to hit as many stones in a go without wasting too much travel time? Then go to Museum’s Island, that crams in five museum buildings on the River Spree.
• Alte Museum, built in 1830. Its interior, particularly the domed rotunda, creates a wonderful atmosphere for the sculpture exhibited and the collection of ancient artworks.
• Neue Museum, built to relieve the Alte Museum (told you they were inventive!). The go-to place if you are interested in the history of humankind.
• Alte Nationalgalerie, has large external staircase and bronze statue of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. on horseback so if you like staircases and guys on horses this is the place for you.
• Bodemuseum, known for its impressive dome and grand entrance hall, the building seems to traverse the Spree like a ship. The interior contains several rooms created in a style appropriate to the epoch exhibited there.
• Pergamonmuseum, holds the Roman gate from Milet, the Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, and the Gate of Ishtar from Babylon.
If you are all about museums and would like to see more than these five alone, I recommend buying the 3-day Museumpass. With it you can visit 70 of the 140 museums (!) on three consecutive opening days.

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Checkpoint Charlie
From 1961 to 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was the only border crossing point for the Allies, foreigners, employees of the Permanent Representation, and officials of the GDR. And it was the place where Soviet and American tanks stood face to face. We’re talking some serious staring contests. Today, the checkpoint is commemorated by a border sign, a soldier’s post and the place where for €5/6 you get a souvenir passport stamp or have your photo taken with an East or West guard.

Want to know more about places to eat and drink? Check my Awesome Things I’ve Seen & Done in Berlin That You Should Do Too series.

Are there any essential Berlin spots that I’ve missed?

Wanderlist: Island hopping in Indonesia

23rd June 2016

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So you wanna go island hopping in Asia and the Pacific? Well, Malaysia may seem an obvious choice, or possibly French Polynesia if you can afford it, but Indonesia is really where it’s at – mainly because I know they do mean bami and nasi.

Bali is ridiculously popular, but I would love to see the dozens of hidden islands around it. Who knew an hour-long plane flight could transport you to a whole different world? Heading there and booking on the fly is the adventurous route, but it’s smarter to at least book ahead some hotels and flights, check Traveloka for flights between the different islands.

Now – time for my Indonesia island hopping wanderlist…

Experience the closest thing that comes to Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones at The Komodo National Park, which is home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. This dragon breathes no fire, but is 4 meters long and only found in wild in this very spot. They look way better than the computer generated dragons on TV too, though I’m not sure they’d be happy letting you ride them around a la Khaleesi. It’s apparently also an excellent diving spot, which could be a possible escape route if the dragons get a bit too hungry…

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Bali is obviously for sun, sea, surfing and trying to find yourself. But I would love to be there around Galungan, which is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of good over evil which marks the time when the ancestral spirits head down for their version of spring break on Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they return. The festival occurs every 210 days and lasts for 10 days. During the festival, people of Bali decorate a tall bamboo pole outside their houses and evil spirits are driven off by spells and fire crackers. It’s something that seems so Bosnian I want to see it up close.

After Bali, Yogyakarta is other big popular international tourist destination in Indonesia. And you know what? This is the place to be to get your ‘Tomb Raider’ on, so don some sunglasses, adventure gear and head in for your own historical adventures. First stop should be the world’s largest Bhudist temple, then the royal palace and finishing off with Unesco world heritage site temple.

Head to Mount Kelimutu in Kelimutu National Park and see its unique natural phenomenon – aka a super Instagram worthy spot. We’re talking volcanoes. Now this one is called Kelimutu and has three crater lakes with each a different colour: dark green, teal and grey. What’s maybe even more special the fact that the lakes have changed colour several times over the years. It is said that these changes are caused by the neglected ancestral souls, but scientifically the colours are caused by high-concentration of volcanic gases mixing with the minerals in the lakes. I know which story I prefer.

Have you been to Indonesia? Do you have any spots I’ve missed?