Plitvice Lakes: the highlights and lowlights

14th July 2016

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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?

Wanderlist: England’s Very Own Wonderlands

16th June 2016

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You don’t have to go abroad for adventure, right here in England we have our very own natural wonderlands that are just waiting to be explored. To celebrate the release of Disney’s Alice through the Looking Glass, in cinemas now, Visit England put together a list of our very own weird and wonderful wonderlands to explore this summer and you never know you might even meet the Mad Hatter along the way!

Take in the wonder-land of Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight
Explore the route from Shanklin Old Village to the sandy beach and esplanade far below, and see The Isle of Wight’s oldest attraction Shanklin Chine carved over the course of 10,000 years. After the arrival of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert the popularity of the Chine grew, and was frequented by European Royalty, becoming a ‘must’ on every Victorian’s itinerary. Perhaps Underland’s very own White Queen has paid the Chine a visit? For a truly magical experience see Chine Lumiere at night across the summer where hundreds of lights will illuminate the narrow paths, streams and waterfalls of the gorge making a spectacular for all those who visit.

The dramatic quarry at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Northumberland
The beautiful Belsay Hall holds hidden secrets in its dramatic quarry garden, complete with ravines, pinnacles and exotic plants. Belsay Hall has been in the same family since the 13th century – owned by gardening enthusiast, Sir Charles Monck and his grandson Sir Arthur Middleton. The grade I registered heritage garden in Belsay Hall’s extensive grounds has been restored with a real attention to detail. Seasonal trees, shrubs, and flowers ensure brilliant colour throughout the year.

Discover the magic of Puzzle Wood in the enchanting Forest of Dean
Get lost in the unique and enchanting 14 acre ancient wonderland of Puzzle Wood in the Forest of Dean; a maze of meandering pathways, gulleys of mossy rocks, twisted roots of yew trees and fantastic rock formations. Reputed to have inspired JRR Tolkien’s fabled forests of Middle Earth and used as a location for Dr Who, Merlin and Atlantis, it’s a wood unlike any other.

A garden delight, Acorn Bank, Cumbria
Best known for its incredible herb garden with over 250 varieties of herbs, vegetable patches and traditional fruit orchards, Acorn Bank would make the perfect setting for a Mad Hatters Tea Party. The 17th-century walls of this tranquil haven shelter the National Trust’s largest collection of medicinal and culinary plants in our fascinating herb garden; the traditional orchards are carpeted with wildflowers and surrounded by herbaceous borders. A series of small linked gardens celebrates continuous development and adaption over at least 350 years with the first brick-lined walls date from around 1650.Wander along the Crowdundle Beck to the partially restored watermill, enjoying wildlife in the woods on the way, and discover more about the history of gypsum mining on the estate. Enjoy the views across the Eden Valley to the Lake District from the magnificent backdrop of the sandstone house.

‘Lost’ Village of Wiltshire, Salisbury Plain
Located in the heart of Wiltshire in the Salisbury Plains is the ‘lost’ village of ‘Imber’. Once a rural village, the small community was evacuated during WW2 and taken over as a military base. These days the ‘lost’ village is perfect for idyllic walks, spotting wildlife and seeing the almost forgotten buildings, such as St Giles Church.

A Tropical garden paradise, The Isles of Scilly – Tresco Abbey Gardens
Located on the island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, the gardens were established by the nineteenth-century proprietor of the islands, Augustus Smith. One of England’s most outstanding sights and one of the world’s most remarkable sub-tropical gardens, Tresco Abbey Gardens contains a unique collection of plants, many of which are too tender for outdoor cultivation on the British mainland. The plants are mainly from the southern hemisphere and flourish in the warm Gulf Stream climate and are regarded by botanists as one of the most interesting and varied botanical experiments in the world.

Immerse yourselves in Myths and Legends, Tintagel, Cornwall
The civil parish and village of Tintagel sits on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall and is said to be the birthplace of Britain’s legendary leader, King Arthur. He was supposedly born in Tintagel castle, whilst magical wizard, Merlin, lived in a cave below the fortress. The stunning coastline and dramatic castle has fired the imaginations of writers and artists for centuries. Whilst exploring the castle ruins, you can imagine a time of chivalrous knights or the Red Queens’ playing card armies and heroic battles upon the windswept Cornish cliff.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
Once an aristocratic estate, the grounds were abandoned after the Second World War and fell into a state of decay. But after one of the largest garden restoration programmes in Europe, there are now more than 200 acres of luscious land to explore. Marvel at the mini jungle, with its banana plantations, towering bamboo and giant rhubarbs and meander across the ancient woodland and lost valley. Come spring, you’ll be surrounded by a carpet of bluebells. Watch out for those pesky rabbit holes or you might end up on an unexpected trip to Underland.

Explore the winding passages of The Shell Grotto, Margate
Discovered in 1835, Margate’s Shell Grotto is an astonishing find – its winding passages are decorated with 4.6 million shells and the unique walls are covered with images of gods and goddesses, trees of life and patterns of whelks, mussels and oysters. Local legend says Margate’s Shell Grotto was discovered by chance 180 years ago, when in 1835 Mr James Newlove lowered his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. Joshua emerged describing tunnels covered with shells. Its origins remain unexplained today. In this remarkable subterranean enclave, winding tunnels snake beside 2000 sq ft of magnificent symbol mosaics, made out of cockle, whelk, mussel and oyster shells. Nobody can explain who built this amazing place, or why, but since its accidental discovery visitors from all over the world have been intrigued by the beautiful mosaic and the unsolved mystery.

A natural amphitheatre, Malham Cove, Yorkshire Dales
The white-walled limestone amphitheatre of Malham Cove rises 300ft above its surroundings in the Southern part of the Yorkshire Dales. The spectacular views from the top look across the famous limestone pavement, an expanse of clints (slabs) and grykes (clefts) created by water seeping through weaker lines in the limestone rock. The Cove was formed at the end of the last ice age, when temperatures warmed the ice melted and a large river and waterfall began to flow over the cove. Once dried up, the combination of erosion, limestone rock and acid rain formed chunks of rock, known as slabs or “clints,” and deep cracks between them known as “grykes.” This feature of the cove is very rare in the UK, which makes Malham a magnet for both geologists and tourists alike. Malham village is home to barely a couple of hundred people who inhabit the huddled stone houses on either side of a bubbling river.

Mythical Glastonbury, more than a festival
On the southern edge of the Mendips, Glastonbury is built around the evocative set of ruins belonging to its former abbey. Famed for the world-renowned music festival, the town of Glastonbury lies at the heart of the so-called Isle of Avalon, a region rich with mystical associations, and for centuries it has been one of the main Arthurian sites of the West Country. Glastonbury Tor rises dramatically from the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels and is topped by the tower of St Michaels, a ruined 15th-century church. History, myth and legend surround the Tor – Dark Age and Saxon remains excavated here suggested that it was once a Saxon fortress, or perhaps an early Christian hermitage. Alternative conjecture has suggested that the Tor is associated with ‘ley lines’ and various earth energies; it is claimed to be the home of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld, and others consider it to be at the centre of a Zodiac pattern formed by surrounding field boundaries.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is in cinemas now.