Home » Countries

Category Archives: Countries

Sign Up To Our Very Tasty Newsletter

Loading

More To See

RECIPE: How to Make Umeboshi

A typical Japanese breakfast will comprise of a bowl of rice, some grilled fish and pickles accompanied by a bowl of miso soup. What a lovely way to start the day. And at the Japanese breakfast table you will often come across a bowl of pink, wrinkly fruit, roughly the size of an apricot.

How to make umeboshi

These are umeboshi, incredibly sour and salty ume fruit, which are like small plums or apricots, and are absolutely guaranteed to wake you up. They are also reputed to be a hangover cure, especially good if you are a salaryman who has had a late night out in the city. Or tourists who have had a late night in the city which involved chatting with all sorts of very interesting people in random bars and drinking quite a lot of booze.

Beware the stone, especially if you have a hangover.

Umeboshi are tsukemono, literally “pickled things” which  brined and therefore fermented, so they will last for ages. Some will even last decades. If they turn black, they should be chucked. We always bring some back from our trips to Japan and rationed them so had some in our fridge for about 5 years – they were still pink and wrinkly and utterly delicious. Most Japanese meals have tsukemono as an accompaniment but umeboshi are most often eaten at breakfast. They are also used in onigiri (rice balls) as a flavouring and can be converted into a paste to add plentiful salty/fruity flavour to a variety of dishes.

Some Japanese households make their own umeboshi. If you are lucky enough to be offered these, don’t be polite. Well, do be polite because that would be the right thing to do, but don’t hesitate to take your host up on their offer. Home-made umeboshi are absolutely delicious. The pink colour derives from red shiso – also known as perilla – which is a herb added during the pickling process. Shiso is a very common herb used a lot in Japanese cuisine. Green shiso is often the herb that garnishes a sushi platter.

It is possible to make sort-of-umeboshi in western countries. The ume fruit is not usually available, but you can have a bash using plums and salt.

We treated ourselves to a Japanese pickle press a while ago but it should be possible to make umeboshi using a wide-mouthed jar, just as long as you have something heavy that will fit inside the jar to weigh the plums down and a utensil that can extract them (tongs should be fine) as you will need to take them in and out of the jar after the fermentation.

Japanese pickle press
How to make umeboshi

We use plums from our allotment. They have the delightful name Warwickshire Droopers. The great thing is that we can assess how ripe our plums are and pick them. This year the plum tree has been very generous. If you don’t have a plum tree your local market or greengrocer may well have a variety of plums for you to choose from.

Warwickshire Drooper plums

You want the plums to be ripe but not over-ripe, they need to have a degree of firmness.

How to make umeboshi

How to Make Umeboshi

Ingredients

Plums – enough to fill your container but leaving enough space to add a weight. If using a press, make sure the press can close and provide enough pressure.

Salt – 8% of the weight of the plums. Try not to use table salt, as this contains anti-caking agents. We prefer Himalayan pink salt but any pure salt will be fine.

2 red shiso leaves (optional)


Method

Wash your plums and pat them dry. Weigh the plums.

Measure out your salt – the total should be around 8% of the plum weight. This is a lot of salt but most of it will leach into the juice during the pressing process.

Massage the salt into the plums

salting plums

Place in the press. Add the shiso/perilla leaves if you are using them.

Attach the lid and screw the pressure plate down as far as it will go. If you are using a jar, put a clean weight (you can put a weight inside a plastic bag) that puts pressure on the plums.

How to make umeboshi

This ferment doesn’t use a brine. The pressure of the weight will release juice from the plums.

How to make umeboshi

Leave in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks. Check the plums occasionally. You will start to see juice appearing in the bottom of the press.

(As with all ferments, if you ever see any mould on the fruit you should throw it away as the spores could cause illness if you consume the plums. It is unlikely that mould will develop with an 8% salt mix as that is lot of salt.)

The next step requires a bit of luck with the weather. Ideally you want a warm, sunny day. In fact, you need three warm, sunny days.

On your sunny day, remove all the plums and place them on a mat, or some kitchen paper, in the sunshine to dry. Place them back in the juicy brine at the end of the day.

How to make umeboshi

Repeat for a further two days. They don’t need to be consecutive days but it would be helpful if you can dry the plums over the course of a week.

How to make umeboshi

After the third day, you can place the plums in a jar or a plastic container, or even a plastic bag. They will last for months and months. That’s if you don’t scoff them…or have too many hangovers to cure!

Save the Brine!

We hate food waste so we have devised a way to re-use the salty plum juice brine.

We use it to pickle ginger.

Peel the ginger and cut into matchsticks.

Place them in a jar and cover them with the brine. After a couple of weeks they will be deliciously sour and salty. We use them to add some zing to rice and noodle dishes or as a garnish.

Actually, we have been known to open the jar and sneak a matchstick or two for a quick snack.

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage
Japanese fried chicken – karaage – recipe
Pumpkin Croquettes recipe
Japanese pumpkin croquette recipe
wasabi rhizome
How to prepare fresh wasabi
Recipe How to Make Kimchi
How to make your own kimchi
Osaka restaurants Japan
Japanese okonomiyaki
Chawan Mushi
Japanese chawan mushi – savoury egg custard
More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from Japan

Visit Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The remarkable temples of Angkor Wat are undoubtedly the main draw for visitors to Cambodia. Although there are many other places to visit in this wonderful country and its neighbours in South East Asia, the temples from the Khmer empire, lost to the jungle for centuries, are astonishing in their scale and construction. If you visit Angkor Wat we recommend spending at least three days in the region.

 

The nearest town to the main temple complex is Siem Reap, which is around 5.5 km from Angkor Wat and caters to the tourists that come to visit. There is a variety of accommodation from budget to luxury and there are loads of shops and restaurants, notably on ‘Pub Street’ where you can sample the local food. Our hotel was about 2km from the centre of Siem Reap and, while we walked back and forth most of the time, there were plentiful tuk-tuk drivers to transport us if we needed.

History of Angkor Wat

Angkor means ‘city’ and Wat means ‘temple’ – so Angkor Wat literally means ‘City Temple’. The temple complex is believed to be the world’s largest religious building.

Angkor was the central city for the Khmer kings between the 9th and 13th centuries. The Khmer Empire was vast and one of the most sophisticated kingdoms in South East Asia. Many buildings and temples were constructed by the Khmers over the centuries. At the height of their civilisation, Angkor Wat was the biggest construction, built in the early 12th century at the behest of Suryavaram II as a dedication to the Hindu God Vishnu. The temple complex is said to represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods, with the surrounding walls and moats symbolising mountains and oceans. The walls are covered with bas-reliefs, stretching for almost one kilometre they tell of tales from Hindu mythology and of the glories of the Khmer empire.

Angkor was sacked in 1177 and Jayavarman VII decided to build a new capital a short distance away, at Angkor Thom. This was, again, a religious complex, but this time a Buddhist temple. Angkor was sacked by the Thai people and then abandoned in the 15th Century, becoming a ‘lost’ city, a city of legends, to be ‘rediscovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860. In 1908 restoration of the complex began. It ground to a halt during the 1970s during the political unrest during the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge and when work resumed in the 1980s extensive repairs were required. Angkor Wat became a UNESCO site in 1992 and restoration work has continued to this day.

Visiting Angkor Wat – Practicalities

You need to have a ticket in order to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. While it is possible to visit the main temple and Angkor Thom in a day, as both are located quite close to each other, we chose the 3 day ticket so that we could explore some of the other temples in the region. It is also worth finding a guide and transportation as many of the temples are located several kilometres apart. There are various options for getting a guide. We had one lined up prior to arriving in the nearby town of Siem Reap but you should be able to find a reputable, certified guide via your hotel. There will also be many guides around Siem Reap who will offer their services, which may or may not be reliable. And, of course, you can find online tours, which will usually have reviews, so you can check those out. The best guides will know when to visit the attractions in order to avoid the worst of the crowds, will be able to show you the ideal photo spots and, most importantly, will also have loads of information about the history of the sites.

If you don’t wish to have a guide you will still need transportation especially if you plan to visit some of the temples that are further away. Tuk-tuks are easy to find in Siem Reap and are a great way of getting around. You can negotiate a price with the driver.

You cannot get into Angkor or the surrounding temples without a ticket which you buy at the official ticketing centre. The tickets are non-transferable and will have your photo printed onto them. Click here for the latest info and prices.

You can get 1 day, 3 day or 7 day passes. They don’t have to be used on consecutive days. The 3 day pass can be used over the course of a week and the 7 day pass can be used over a month. We had a 3 day pass which enabled us to visit a number of the temples.

There is also a code of conduct for visitors, which are basically a matter of common courtesy:

Wear appropriate clothing (i.e. be respectful, very short shorts and sleeveless shirts are not suitable).

Do not touch the monuments.

Refrain from talking loudly.

Do not enter prohibited areas. These are clearly marked and are usually there for safety reasons.

No smoking.

Do not buy souvenirs from children – they should be in school.

Do not take photos of monks, unless you ask their permission. Also, do not touch monks. (But, honestly, why would you?)

Angkor Wat – The Main Attraction

Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is an essential activity. Unfortunately this is an essential activity for all visitors so it does get really crowded. There are two tips to make the sunrise visit easier.

The night before your visit, ask your hotel or hostel to prepare a packed breakfast for you or stock up on some food from any of the many stores in Siem Reap. Then set your alarm and get an early night. Try to get to the site as early as possible. The site will be open from 5am. (N.B. Most other sites are open from 7:30am so Angkor Wat is an exception.) If you are with a guide, they will often know the best spots from which to view the sunrise. It’s worth the wait as the darkness fades and anticipation mounts as the sun begins to appear.

Visit Angkor Wat sunrise

Once the sun has risen and the assembled throng have sighed their admiration, most people will go back to their hotels for breakfast. If you have your breakfast with you, you can enjoy it whilst admiring the view before the temple itself opens and then be first – or at least amongst the first – in the queue to explore the complex properly. It made a huge difference to us – exploring the temple with only a few other people around.

As time goes by, it’s a possibility that increasing numbers of visitors will cotton on to this tactic so it’s always worth checking with the guides or your hotel to find out when is the best time to visit. And, having enjoyed a peaceful exploration of Angkor Wat, when we went into Angkor Thom the Bayon was swarming with visitors.

The Angkor Wat complex is surrounded by a large moat.

The temple itself is located on a raised terrace with three galleries, each increasing in height, surrounding a central tower.

Visit Angkor Wat

Each corner of the temple has a tower.

Visit Angkor Wat

The temple façade is covered with beautiful and intricate bas-relief carvings, showing gods and figures from Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, even depicting scenes from the Hindu texts the Mahabarata and the Ramayana. The carvings were created with the intention of viewing them in an anti-clockwise direction.

Visit Angkor Wat bas relief

It is possible to enter the central tower. We were quite surprised to find images of Budhha inside, particularly as Angkor Wat was constructed as a Hindu temple.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was our next stop. Located a couple of kilometres away from Angkor Wat, it was the final capital city of the Khmer Empire. Established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, it covers an area of 9km² and was the most enduring of all the sites. Jayavarman was a Buddhist so the temples at Angkor Thom were dedicated to Buddhism. Indeed, during the king’s reign the Khmer people converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.

Angkor Thom includes sights such as the South Gate, a wonderful way to enter the complex, with its grand – and quite grotesque – guardians of the bridge as you cross the moat.

Angkor Thom south gate

The Bayon is a remarkable structure. It is covered with the stone heads of Bodhisattva Avilokiteshvara, smiling serenely and was the last great temple built at Angkor.

Visit Angkor Wat Angkor Thom bayon

Moving into the Royal Enclosure, …the Terrace of Elephants was originally an extension of the palace of Phimeanakas and was the place from which Jayavarman VII could view his armies as they returned victorious.

Angkor Thom terrace of elephants

The Terrace of the Leper King was built by Jayavarman VII but the name has an unusual derivation.

A sculpture found at the site was believed to have been created in the 15th century, had deteriorated and was covered in moss which gave the appearance of leprosy. There is also a link to the legend of King Yasovarman I who was believed to have suffered from leprosy.

Visiting Angkor Wat – Other Temples to Explore

While Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are the main attractions in the area there are so many other temples and buildings to visit.

Ta Prohm

A particular favourite of ours was Ta Prohm, just down the road from Angkor Thom.

It was another temple constructed at the behest of Jayavarman VII (the creator of Angkor Thom) in the late 12th century and was originally called Rajavcihara. Apparently designed for the king’s mother it was a lavish temple, once covered in pearls, precious stones and gold, and home to over 12,000 people. However it was abandoned after the fall of the Khmer empire and lost to the jungle for centuries.

Visit Angkor Wat Ta Prohm

The design of the temple is typically Khmer, with a concentric design of square or rectangular temples  – the enclosing walls encasing an inner sanctum. But, unlike many of the other temples in the region, this hasn’t been cleared and restored and the trees of the jungle have remained, forming a beautiful symbiosis with the buildings.

visit Angkor Wat Ta Prohm
Visit Angkor Wat Ta Prohm

Banteay Srei

The Khmer Temple of Shiva at Banteay Srei, dating back to the 11th century, is the Citadel of Women. It has some remarkable sandstone decorations, friezes and lintels which are some of the best preserved in the region.

Banteay Srei
visit Angkor Wat
Visit Angkor Wat Banteay Srei

Kbal Spean

Kbal Spean is a Hindu Pilgrimage site set deep in the jungle to the North East of Angkor. It actually pre-dates the Angkor Temples by around 200 years and is the oldest site in the region.

After hiking for around a kilometre through the jungle you reach the River of a Thousand Lingas, amazing sculptures that are actually located in the river bed.

visit Angkor Wat kbal spean
visit Angkor Wat

The Roulos Group

And finally, the other temples we visited were the Roulos group which are older and date from the 9th and 10th centuries. They are located around 15km south-east of Siem Reap in the former city of Hariharalaya. King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer empire in 802 CE. His successor was his nephew, Indravarman I, who initiated the construction of the temples here.

Preah Ko was the first. The name means ‘sacred bull.’

Visit Angkor Wat Roulos Preah Ko
visit Angkor Wat

Bakong was next and is considered to be the first Khmer temple mountain. It is the most impressive of the structures in this group. This was King Indravarman’s official temple. The pyramid has five levels and is surrounded by two towers on each of its sides.

Visit Angkor Wat Roulos Bakong
visit Angkor Wat

The Lolei temples are grouped together. These are of a brick construction and represented King Yasovarman’s  parents and grandparents. The taller towers are for his grandparents and the front towers are for the males in the family.

Après Sightseeing – Siem Reap

After all the sightseeing we would wander into Siem Reap. Pub Street is the place to find restaurants and bars in the evening – perfect for relaxing after a long day’s sightseeing. It is possible to visit markets, enjoy cookery courses and, of course, eat traditional Cambodian cuisine. This platter included spring roll, mango salad, fish amok (a fragrant curry), green curry, cha tu kuong (stir-fried water spinach) and steamed rice.

Other Excursions

Although our primary purpose of the trip was to visit Angkor Wat, there are other activities in the area. Siem Reap is located close to Lake Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. It’s a fascinating lake because it is part of the Mekong river system. The Mekong and surrounding catchment feeds it during the wet season and the lake’s water level will rise to around 11m. But during the dry season the lake feeds the Mekong and water levels can get as low as 1m before the rains arrive. It’s a lake where local people live and work and it’s possible to take a boat trip and visit some of the floating villages.

Tonle Sap lake

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Visit Machu Picchu
Visit Machu Picchu
Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari in India
Petra Jordan Treasury from above
Visit Petra in Jordan
Ethiopia Lalibela St George Church
The rock churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia
Mekong Delta River Cruise
Mekong Delta River Cruise
Mekong Kratie Cambodia
Visiting Kratie in Cambodia
More posts from SouthEast Asia

Visit Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The Plitvice Lakes are probably one of Croatia’s best known national parks. We had long wanted to travel to this area and see these stunningly beautiful lakes and waterfalls and managed to weave it into our recent itinerary to Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia. The route wasn’t really optimal – it was quite a long way out of our way – but we were so keen to visit Plitvice, we felt it was worth the extra driving. Driving through the countryside in the region is straightforward and very beautiful, but not particularly speedy. We did have high expectations for Plitvice… and we weren’t disappointed. The Plitvice National park is located by the Zagreb–Split D1 national highway which runs between Slunj and Korenica. It is also close to the Bosnia Herzegovina border – it’s about a half hour drive to the lake region from the Bosnia-Croatia border. We had driven in from Jacje in Bosnia via Bihac to visit Plitvice Lakes.

Visit Plitvice Lakes

Geography of Plitvice Lakes

The lakes are located across Lika-Senj and Karlovac counties and the area comprises sixteen lakes which are interconnected, cascading into each other via waterfalls within a karst topography, which is mainly limestone or dolomite. The highest lake is Prošćansko (639m above sea level) and the lowest is Novakovića Brod (503m above sea level). The region was designated a National Park and an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1949 and 30 years later became a UNESCO site. The lakes are fed by the Medica river which fills the Proscansko Lake and cascades through the lake system all the way down to the Korana river.

Cross Section Diagram of Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Image from Plitvice-lakes.info

Staying in the Area

The area around Plitvice is largely dedicated to tourism so there are loads of hotels and guesthouses lining the main roads into the area. Some of these feel a little isolated, there aren’t really any significant towns nearby – there are a lot of villages – but there are lots of restaurants and mini-markets. There are also a bunch of companies that offer a number of different activities in the area – you will see the adverts from the roadside.

Plitvice Lakes National Park – Practicalities for the Visitor

You need a ticket to enter the park. It’s possible to buy these in advance and is definitely recommended if you are visiting in the high season in order to avoid the queues. Entrances are timed, you can arrive any time within the hour stated on your ticket.

The official website has all sorts of practical information for a visit to Plitvice Lakes.

There are options for visiting the park depending on how much time you have. Some people explore the area over a couple of days, visiting the lower lakes on one day and the upper lakes on the next. Others might visit the whole site in a day. We were short on time so decided to spend a full day in the park.

Our hotel was located around 4km from the park and we were driving a hire car, so we had a lot of flexibility, but there are busses that come in from all over Croatia, notably the cities – Split, Zagreb, Sibenik and Zadar amongst others. There are bus stops with ticket booths located on the road close to each entrance – they look like log cabins.

We chose to arrive for the 9:00am slot, at entrance number 1. The car parks are well marked from the road and are also ticketed – you pick up a ticket on arrival at the barrier then pay for the hours you use just before you exit. You have around 15 minutes to leave after you have paid. The car parks are located around a five minute walk from the park entrances. There’s a wooden bridge across the road.

Inevitably, as with many popular attractions, trails are crowded at the start of the route – even at 9am and in springtime. In retrospect we should have arrived earlier. Entrance 1 is located closest to the lower lakes and you generally follow the crowds along the paths.

There are a number of routes around the park which are clearly marked, depending on where you start and how energetic you are feeling. We recommend wearing comfortable shoes and making sure you have protection from the sun and possibly wet weather gear if the forecast suggests it might rain. Also, make sure you take water if you are planning on a long walk. There are facilities at both entrances as well as the P3 boat docking point. It’s fine to take a picnic with you but, of course, take all rubbish away with you. We did spot a number of park litter pickers along our walk – the site is absolutely pristine so it’s important to keep it that way.

Finally, you are not allowed to swim in any of the lakes, despite how utterly inviting they look on a warm spring day.

Visit Plitvice Lakes – The Lower Lakes

Entrance 1 follows a path that leads to the four lower lakes. The view from the top offered a taste for the day to come.

Visit Plitvice Lakes

The boardwalk gets a bit congested as there are plentiful visitors and the route isn’t very wide. However, this was the only place we really had to queue, apart from waiting for a boat.

We saw a snake swimming through Kaluđerovo jezero, the second lowest lake.

The lowest lake is Novakovića Brod and at the end of the system you can see the Sastavci waterfall, an 87m drop.

Visit Plitvice Lakes

There’s a little bit of doubling back to reach the upper lower lakes, Gavanovac and then Milanovac.

Visit Plitvice Lakes
Visit Plitvice Lakes cascade
Visit Plitvice Lakes
Gavanovac Lake 
Visit Plitvice Lakes
Milanovac Lake

A Long Walk

Having explored the lower lakes we walked to Jezero Kozjak lake, which is actually the lowest of Upper Lakes and both the largest and deepest of all the lakes in the area. It has an area of 82 hectares and a depth of 47 meters at its deepest point. It also features the little island Stefanijin otok. When we arrived here, where we faced some choices. This is the lake which offers boat rides to the upper lake area. When we arrived there was already a queue forming. At the time it seemed as though there was only one boat every half hour and it looked like a pretty long wait. So we reviewed the trail maps and opted for Route K – to walk the entire perimeter of the park. It’s around 18km in total but, for us, it was the perfect choice.

We started off on the trail and the crowds soon melted away so that we could walk beside these stunningly beautiful lakes, virtually alone, save for a few others who had also decided to take a long walk. The trail skirted the edge of Kozjak lake and then took us into the woods on a climb to the upper lake area. The walking was generally easy, the trails well marked and the upward slopes weren’t challenging. It was also a glorious day.

Visit Plitvice Lakes Jezero Kozjak
Jezero Kozjak

Visit Plitvice Lakes – The Upper Lakes

The walk took us through a quiet, shady forest where we met a slow-worm sunning itself…

..and after an enjoyable walk through the trees we emerged back into the sunlight to get a spectacular view of the upper lakes.

Visit Plitvice Lakes

The is the waterfall flowing into Lake Okrugljak from Lake Ciginovac.

Visit Plitvice Lakes

The upper lakes are just as beautiful as the lower – crystal clear and with a gorgeous turquoise hue.

Just follow the boardwalk…

Visit Plitvice Lakes

The route takes you very close to the waterfalls and cascades…

Veliki Prštavac Waterfall
Veliki Prštavac Waterfall
Galovački Buk
Galovački Buk waterfall

We also spotted some noisy frogs in the reeds.

Plitvice frog

The upper lakes weren’t as crowded as the lower lakes but there were a few bottlenecks at particularly pretty lakes or falls, when people blocked the boardwalk as they tried to take their perfect instagram shot.

An Unexpected Boat Ride

Initially we didn’t realise that, despite our intention for walking the entire circumference of the park, the trails don’t quite follow the perimeter of all the lakes. If following the K route there will be a need for a short – 5 minute – boat trip. Boats shuttle back and forth regularly and are included in the price of the ticket – just queue for the boat (hoping the queue isn’t too long) and hop on. The dock is very close to Entrance 2. (If you are parking at Entrance 2 this would be the perfect place to start/end the walk in the opposite – i.e. clockwise – direction.) We continued our walk along by the waterside of Jezero Kozjak towards our starting point at Entrance 1.

Other Places To Visit – The Caves of Barac

Due to the limestone geology of the area, Croatia has thousands of cave systems. The Caves of Barac, located about 20km drive from Plitvice are also worth visiting. You can have an hour-long guided tour of the upper cave. It’s a show cave which includes some impressive stalactites and stalagmites but also some has some interesting features on display.

Barac Caves

The photo below shows the skeleton of a young bear that fell into a crevice during the Pleistocene era . The bones are the same size as you would expect of an adult bear but bears were enormous back then – an adult would have been 3m long and could have weighed up to 1000kg. They were also vegetarian apparently. This bear would likely have entered the cave to hibernate but sadly never emerged into the sunshine. (The helmet is an artefact from the species greater carelessius touristicus and dates from 2022!)

Similarly artefacts showing evidence of human habitation can be seen.

When inside the cave system our guide turned out the lights and we experienced total blackout. The caves are incredibly dark, even just tens of metres from the entrance, so it is very easy to understand how a bear or human could have wandered in, got lost and ended up falling into a canyon and not finding their way out.

There are around 100 bats living in the cave. We visited in the late afternoon, just as they were waking up. We caught a glimpse of one fluttering sleepily around the cavern before heading our to taste some delicious insects.

The caves are delightfully cool inside, a welcome relief from the heat of the day, but if you are likely to feel the cold, bring a jumper or jacket. The ticket salesman knew we were British the moment he suggested that we wear a coat inside and we thanked him but told him we didn’t need one!

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Places to visit Mostar
Places to visit in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Visit Yakushima miyanoura river
Visit Yakushima Island in Japan
Hiking in El Chalten
Hiking in El Chalten, Patagonia
Perito Moreno Glacier
Visit the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia

RECIPE: Shopska Salad

One of the dishes that was pretty much ubiquitous when we visited Bulgaria, and could be found pretty much every meal we had, was shopska salad. It is Bulgaria’s national salad, apparently created as part of tourism campaign in the 1950s, its colours of red, green and white match those of the Bulgarian flag.

The dish is popular throughout the Balkans – we also enjoyed it in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it made a regular appearance on menus in Croatia as well. There are all sorts of variations. Fruit and vegetables in Eastern Europe are usually more delicious than those we get at home. They make look uglier but they taste so much better. Because the salad uses very finely grated cheese you get a lovely hit of salty cheese with every forkful as opposed to, say, a Greek salad which uses cubes of cheese. It’s a really easy recipe that tastes absolutely great. This version is the one that we ate in Bulgaria.

shopska salad recipe

Shopska is traditionally made using Bulgarian sirene cheese which is difficult to get in the UK. Feta cheese is more easily available and is a really good substitute. Here’s our recipe for shopska salad.

SHOPSKA SALAD INGREDIENTS

shopska salad

1 cucumber

4 tomatoes

1 cup of feta cheese (we like the barrel aged variety as it has a lovely rich, salty flavour)

1 tbs red wine vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar can also be used)

2 tbs sunflower oil (sunflower is more traditional but it is fine to use olive oil if you prefer)

Pinch of salt (go easy) and pepper (as much as you like)

METHOD

Many recipes recommend removing the seeds from the tomatoes and cucumber but we hate food waste so we tend to leave them in.

Wash the cucumber and chop into cubes

Wash the tomatoes, cut out the stem and cut into small cubes.

Make the dressing: combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper – we recommend minimal salt as the cheese is salty; often we omit the salt altogether. Mix together and then pour over the cucumber and tomatoes. Let them marinate for a few hours if you wish.

Finely grate the cheese. If you have an ordinary grater that’s absolutely fine but if you can, use a grater with a really fine setting. Feta is quite soft, so isn’t the easiest cheese to grate but it is worth persevering to get a lovely fine mass of cheese.

Place the marinated vegetables in a bowl. Sprinkle over the grated cheese. Devour.

shopska salad recipe

Variations. It is perfectly fine to add in other vegetables: finely chopped red onion, chopped celery, red or green bell peppers etc. If you want to add some herbs such as parsley or basil, that’s okay too.

More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from Japan

Mekong Delta River Cruise in Vietnam

Fruits of the Dragons

As the mighty Mekong river reaches Vietnam and approaches the South China Sea the main waterway splits into a maze of rivers that form the Mekong Delta. The region is known locally as Cuu Long, or “Nine Dragons”, representing the nine main tributaries. Located just a few hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, enjoying a Mekong Delta river cruise is a lovely excursion when visiting south Vietnam.

The delta region covers an area of around 40,500 square kilometres in south-western Vietnam. It is the mouth of the Mekong, Asia’s third longest river, which has run nearly 5000km from its source in the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and finally into Vietnam.

Mekong Delta River Cruise

River Cruise

Three to four hours’ drive away from the relentlessly loud and energetic Ho Chi Minh City, the hectic urban hubbub slowly transitions to rural rice fields. It is possible to undertake a river cruise along the Mekong Delta from a number of locations in the area; there are plenty of choices with various levels of indulgence. It’s a lovely way to see the country from a very different perspective and at a pace that is much more laid back. We chose a two day journey from Cần Thơ to Cái Bè starting along the Sông Hậu branch of the river and sailing into the Mekong.

Depending on budget there are different boats available. Some are rather splendid – we travelled on a traditional style Bassac boat. These are wooden vessels with private cabins and a decks with seating so that you can enjoy the view.

Mekong Delta river cruise

The cabins are compact, but had all the facilities we needed, including a teeny en-suite shower room.

Mekong Delta River Cruise

A Slow Journey Along the Mekong Delta

Cruising along the Mekong can best be described as ‘leisurely.’ We saw all sorts of vessels, large and small, as we travelled along.

Mekong Delta river cruiseMekong Delta boat
Mekong Delta river cruise

All along the journey we saw water hyacinth floating gently by. This is a fast growing plant that floats freely in the river. It is a bit of a problem in the delta as it can get clogged up in a motor boat’s propellers and is also somewhat invasive, preventing other life thriving on the river. It is apparently edible (not sure we’d want to fish it out of the river and have a munch and, anyway, it needs to be cooked first) but it can also be collected and processed in order to make woven products such as mats, bags and baskets, which local people can sell.

Palm trees on the mekongMekong Delta river cruise

Mekong Delta River Cruise – A Land Excursion

Many of the boat trips offer excursions to various attractions along the way. It is also possible to visit some of the onshore villages in the area and to explore them on foot, visiting local farmers and learning about the food that’s produced there.

The area is extremely fertile and rice is the major crop grown. Due to the climate in South Vietnam it is possible to achieve three crops per year.

There are no cemeteries in Vietnam so families set up graveyards in the fields.

There are also a number of fruit trees that grow in the region. Some are familiar.

Pineapple
Coconut
Banana (with its amazing flower)
Wild lime

Jackfruit has become hugely popular in recent years as a ‘meat substitute’. Its texture and ability to absorb flavours make it incredibly versatile for vegetarians and vegans – mock ‘pulled pork’ is a particular favourite. But actually it is very tasty as a fruit in its own right.

Tapioca is the starch derived from the roots of the cassava trees and often used in puddings (which are far more delicious than school dinners).

Some of the residents are happy to open up their houses and it is possible to do home stays with local families. If you’re just on a day trip, visitors are sometimes offered some of the amazing fruits grown on the island.

This platter was exceptional. There is an sequence to eating the fruit in order to gain maximum enjoyment: Always start with the fruit with sour flavours and finish with the sweet.

One plate that was a particular revelation was the pineapple. Of course, fresh pineapple is utterly scrumptious, especially when it hasn’t travelled half-way around the globe, but it was served by sprinkling a little chilli and salt on each piece and was a taste sensation. It makes sense: like a lot of Vietnamese food it includes sweet and sour flavours (which the pineapple provides) plus an additional salty dimension and a good dose of heat from the chilli.

Banana leaves are not only functional, they can also be decorative – just look at this lovely banana leaf ‘origami’ grasshopper.

It was late afternoon by the time we returned to our boat.

Mekong Delta river cruise

Time for a delicious, decadent seafood dinner…

…followed by after-dinner drinks watching the sun set over the Mekong.

Mekong Delta River Cruise

Journey to Cái Bè

Our boat docked at Tra On for an overnight stay onboard. The following morning we headed towards Cái Bè. The Mekong becomes much more of a working river and we passed by many riverside emporia and floating shops.

Mekong Delta river cruise
Mekong Delta river cruise_11

Cái Bè has a Catholic church – an unusual structure to see in the region. Dating from 1929-1932 apparently it has the tallest bell tower in the province.

Mekong Delta river cruise

The local boats have eyes painted on them which reputedly scares away the crocodiles.

Mekong delta river cruise

On arrival at Cái Bè we disembarked and visited a factory which made rice products – rice paper and rice cakes – as well as candies.

rice paper
Rice paper

In making coconut candy, shredded coconut is used to make coconut milk and cream which is combined with sugar and malt syrup and then heated and mixed together.

Whilst still warm, the mixture is then laid into strips to cool and then they are cut into bite-sized candy pieces.

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Kerala Houseboat
A houseboat cruise on Kerala’s backwaters
Vietnam
How to cross the road in Vietnam
Mekong Kratie Cambodia
Ramblings and boat trips in Kratie, Cambodia
Luang Prabang Lao
Lunching in Luang Prabang, Lao (Please Don’t Rush)
Vietnamese summer roll spring roll
How to make Vietnamese spring rolls
vietnamese pickled garlic
How to make Vietnamese pickled garlic
More posts from SouthEast Asia

Places to Visit in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We have recently returned from a holiday travelling through Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina, two countries that we have long wanted to visit. We decided to take a fly-drive trip, flying in and then hiring a car so that we could have flexibility touring through these two beautiful countries.

Driving in Bosnia and Croatia

We flew into Dubrovnik in Croatia (as that worked best for our flights from the UK) and then hired a car at the airport. It’s always worth pre-booking the hire car. Driving in both countries is pretty easy – the roads are generally good (they are better in Croatia which has a more established tourism infrastructure) and, even better, usually free of traffic. Due to the mountainous nature of region dual carriageways were rare and the drives were leisurely but the scenery throughout each drive was spectacular. We kept to the speed limit – and be aware that there are speed cameras, particularly close to schools in towns – but were overtaken on quite a few occasions.

An ordinary driving licence was fine for driving in Croatia but we needed to obtain an International Driving Permit (1968 version, available from Post Offices in the UK for £5.50) in order to drive in Bosnia Herzegovina. It was also important to ensure that the car hire company provided the car’s registration and insurance paperwork as we could have been asked to show it to police or customs officials at any time, particularly in Bosnia.

Border crossings were generally easy – we just needed to join the queue for cars and simply hand over our passports at the first check-in booth and then answer any questions as the next one, the customs booth. In Bosnia Herzegovina proof of Covid vaccination was needed (at the time of travelling). We had printed our Covid passes out so they were easily to hand but a mobile phone app would have been just as good. Our itinerary took us in and out of both countries. After an overnight stay in Mali Ston we headed into Bosnia Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s History

Bosnia Herzegovina has a long and complex history. Its location in the Balkans is often described as the crossroads between south and south-east Europe. Populated by south Slavic people it was annexed into the Ottoman Empire, who brought Islam to the area, in the middle of the 15th century. Hence the population comprises Serb (Orthodox Christians), Croat (Catholic) and Bosniak (Muslim) peoples. This is reflected in the multitude of churches and mosques that can be seen throughout the region.

Mostar is the main (in fact, the only) city in Herzegovina. (The northern region of the country is Bosnia, with Sarajevo as its capital, and Herzegovina is the south.) Mostar is located on the Neretva river, surely one of the world’s most beautiful rivers, with its crystal clear turquoise water. The city is most famous for the Stari Most bridge that crosses the river. It was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 and completed somewhere between 1566 and 1567.

It was the widest constructed arch in the world at the time at 30 metres long and 4 metres wide. The drop to the water is around 20 metres depending on the river level. The Ottomans were clever in that this was the only bridge spanning the river for several centuries – the word Mostar derives from ‘mostari’ – bridge keepers – so that the authorities could impose tolls on the traders who needed to cross as they moved their goods through the region. The bridge is flanked by two impressive towers.

Place to visit Mostar

Following the decline of the Ottoman Empire and then the annexation of Bosnia Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1909, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was established in 1929 after World War 1. This became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under the rule of Josip Broz Tito, following World War 2. The region remained stable until the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Following Slovenia and Croatia’s respective secessions from Yugoslavia, Bosnia Herzegovina held an independence referendum in February 1992. The outcome was in favour but, while most Bosnian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks had voted, the referendum had been boycotted most of the Bosnian Serbs, a significant proportion of the population. A series of events following this led to war breaking out between the different groups. It lasted until December 1995.

It is incredibly difficult to summarise – let alone truly understand – the complexities of the war but what is undeniable is how horrific it was. This was a war that happened during our lifetime – we remember from seeing news reports on the television at the time. We spoke to a number of local people – from all ethnicities – during our time in Bosnia Herzegovina and they told us about their experiences living through the war, notably the Siege of Sarajevo. Following the peace declaration, the government structure in Bosnia Herzegovina has become incredibly complex with representatives from each ethnic group holding positions of power. For example, the country has three presidents: a Bosniak, a Serb, and a Croat.

One of the consequences of the war for Mostar was the destruction of the Stari Most bridge in December 1993. It was not only considered to be a strategic bridge (the other bridges crossing the river in Mostar were also destroyed) but also a cultural icon. The bridge was rebuilt after the war using funding from a variety of sources and many different countries contributed to the fund. The aim was to reconstruct the bridge in identical style and using similar materials (some salvaged from the original bridge where possible). It was reopened in 2004.

Places to Visit in Mostar – A Walking Tour

When visiting a new city, particularly when we are touring and short on time, we enjoy taking a walking tour. There are usually lots of options available but we especially like the ‘free tours’ which are run by local guides (who will expect a tip at the end of the tour and absolutely deserve one) who can show you the main places to visit in Mostar, explain the history of the area and give some personal insight into the country. They are also the perfect people to recommend local food and restaurants.

We started at the Spanish Gymnasium, which is the first public school in Mostar (the word derives from the European term for high school rather than being an exercise centre). It’s about a 20 minute walk from the centre of the city and is a good meeting point as its orange colour is very easy to spot. It is a working school so entering the building isn’t possible.

The gymnasium is located next to the Zrinjevac City Park, which is a pretty park that has a rather unusual statue. We really weren’t expecting to see a life-sized (well, apparently it’s 4cm short of life-sized) statue of Bruce Lee. Apparently he was chosen as a symbol of diversity and couldn’t be perceived to have an affiliation with any of the local ethnicities, but rather represented “loyalty, skill, friendship and justice.”

places to visit Mostar

When walking around Mostar the scars of the war remain. We walked through the former financial district – many of the buildings are still shells. Our guide explained that while reconstruction work had taken place following the war, the capital Sarajevo had received more money to rebuild. There was still a lot of work that needed to be undertaken throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Walking across the Most Musula bridge we could see good views to the hills above. Although walking up to the summit would ensure a magnificent panorama of the city, the area sadly still contains land-mines.

We then headed towards the older part of the city. The Karadoz Bey Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the region and dates from the same year as the Stari Most bridge.

Karadoz Bey Mosque mostar

It is possible to visit the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. It is located on a side street just away from the main street.

Outside is a fountain traditionally used for washing before entering the mosque to pray.

For visitors it costs 4 Euros to enter the mosque and a further 4 Euros to climb the minaret. Photos were allowed and, although we asked if they would like us to remove our shoes and cover our heads, we were told that it wasn’t necessary.

The interior of the mosque itself is quite compact and the climb to the top of the minaret was fairly claustrophobic.

However the view across the river to the bridge was spectacular. The balcony of the minaret was pretty narrow so we were lucky that there was only one other visitor there. You can also enter the small garden adjacent to the mosque for more river views.

Places to visit Mostar

Wandering through the old town, there are lots of shops and restaurants. It is very touristy and can get crowded during the day. There are also a couple of museums in this area, The Museum of War and Genocide Victims 1992-1995 and also the Bridge Museum, which we were keen to visit, but sadly it was closed. There were reminders of the war as we walked through the streets.

Approaching Stari Most again we crossed the river over the old bridge. The steps can be quite slippery.

Places to visit Mostar

One thing that is very popular is watching locals who dive from the bridge into the crystal clear water below. You’ll see them hanging around at the top of the bridge, sitting on the top railing, and they will usually dive once they have raised enough money – normally in the region of 50 Euros – from tourists. You will be able to tell when they are ready to dive when either one of them dons a wetsuit or they start splashing themselves with cold water because the temperature of the river is extremely cold, especially in spring and early summer. We were some distance from the bridge, upriver, when we saw a diver preparing to go. Despite the camera being focussed and on full zoom, we only managed to capture the splash! There are diving competitions held in Mostar each year.

Places to visit Mostar

It’s worth noting that the bridge is a focal point for tourists and, because the city is only a couple of hours’ drive away from Croatia, it gets very busy during the late morning and afternoon as day trippers arrive in their coachloads. The surrounding streets and bazaars will be teeming with people. So staying overnight to explore the area and view the bridge when it’s less busy is definitely recommended.

Our walking tour concluded by another stone bridge – the Crooked Bridge – just a five minute walk away from Stari Most. It dates from 1558. It was strategically important because it allowed traffic to be controlled from the towers of the old bridge. This, too, is a reconstruction – sadly the original was destroyed during floods in 1999, but it was rebuilt in 2002.

Places to visit Mostar

Dining Out in Mostar

There are loads of eateries offering tasty food in Mostar. The restaurants closest to the bridge, or those with a good view of it, are likely to be more expensive than those in the surrounding streets. Mostar was our first introduction to Bosnian cuisine. The national dish is considered to be cevapi – little meaty sausages/kebabs served inside a bread called somun which is a flatbread like pitta but has a really nice focaccia-like spongey texture. It’s served with chopped raw onions, which are quite sweet in flavour rather than being too pungent. You usually get a choice of a small portion (5 little sausages) or larger portion (10 little sausages). Many of the dishes we tried in both Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia were accompanied by ajvar, a condiment made from red peppers (it isn’t spicy).

There are plenty of sweet dishes on offer as well. Baklava is a familiar dessert, a sweet, filo-based pastry, filled with layers of nuts and a sweet syrup, popular across the region and the Middle East. We particularly enjoyed hurmasica, a pastry doused in lemon-flavoured sugar syrup. It comes in an oblong shape and is very sweet but really delicious with a nice gooey cake-like texture.

hurmasica dessert

And a meal wouldn’t be complete without a cup of incredibly strong, rich, sweet coffee. Coffee culture is very important in this part of the world.

Places to visit Mostar

There was also a very good craft beer emporium in Mostar,on Gojka Vukovica, close to the Crooked Bridge. It had a wide variety of local beers on offer, brewed in both Mostar and Sarajevo. We particularly enjoyed Marakuja, an American Pale Ale, Onano Maze, a rich porter, Darkness, a dry Irish Stout and Kukambera, a cucumber-infused lager which was really refreshing on a hot spring day.

And if you’re after something stronger, rakija is the local brandy made from fermented fruit. Its alcohol content can range from around 40% to 60%. It’s not uncommon for local people to make their own rakija. One of the guides we met told us that it was the cure for all ailments! What’s nice about it is that, even though the alcohol content is strong, you don’t just get a blast of booze, the flavours of the base fruit really do come through – it’s a pleasant tipple.

After dinner, when the day trippers have melted away, it’s lovely to wander through the city at night. The bridge and local buildings are lit up beautifully and Mostar becomes a much more peaceful place.

Places to visit Mostar
Places to visit Mostar

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

A walking tour of Prague
kutna hora cathedral
Kutna Hora and the bone church, Czechia
St.Stephen’s Basilica Budapest
Walking tour and ruin bars in Budapest
Dracula Castle Tour
Dracula castle tour in Transylvania

RECIPE: Salmorejo

Andalusian Cold Tomato Soup

In Spain, cold soups are perfect for a hot summer’s day. Gazpacho is probably the most well known – a blend of fresh tomatoes and other vegetables, such as cucumber, peppers and garlic. Salmorejo is another cold soup, which also originated in Andalusia. We first tried it in a tapas restaurant when we visit Seville and absolutely loved it. It is a blend of tomatoes but has the addition of bread which thickens the soup. It’s a great soup that also helps to avoid food waste as it works really well if the bread is slightly stale.

In the UK tomatoes aren’t that great. Supermarkets often sell perfectly round, perfectly red tomatoes that basically taste of water. We go to our local market for our toms or grow our own. (And home grown always taste better.) What is great about Salmorejo is that even if the tomatoes are a bit insipid, the flavourings ensure that the dish will be delicious.

Our recipe for salmorejo is really easy to make but you will need a blender. This will serve four if part of a wider tapas meal/starter or two hungry people. Also, it’s the sort of soup that you can make first thing in the morning and let the flavours infuse during the day. It even tastes great after being in the fridge overnight.

INGREDIENTS

About 10 ripe tomatoes

3 slices of stale white bread

Clove of garlic (or another if you like garlic but we prefer subtle garlic here)

Good slosh of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 boiled egg per 2 servings

Couple of slices of ham

METHOD

First of all the tomatoes need to be skinned. The easiest way to do this is to cut a cross at the end of the tomato (the opposite end to the stalk). It doesn’t need to be precise and it doesn’t matter if you cut into the tomato’s flesh -it’s all going to be blended anyway.

salmorejo recipe tomatoes

Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes. Then transfer them to a bowl of cold water.

tomatoes

Grab a corner where the slice was made and the skins should just peel away. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all the skin off.

peeled tomato

Put the tomatoes in the blender and give them a quick whiz.

Then tear the bread slices and add those, along with the garlic, oil, salt and pepper.

ingredients in blender

Blend again until you have a smooth, thick soup.

recipe for salmorejo

Pour into a jug then put into the fridge and let the flavours infuse.

Serve into individual bowls and garnish with chopped boiled egg and/or chopped ham.

recipe for salmorejo
More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from Japan

The Leh to Manali Highway

No Bridge Over Troubled Water

See the sublime splendour of the Indian Himalayas, the majestic snow-capped peaks, the stark and ethereal beauty of the world’s highest and most romantic mountain range! The magnificence of nature revealed in all its craggy, towering glory, waiting just for us. After a wonderful few days exploring Ladakh, we were to travel the long and winding Leh to Manali highway to take us from lofty Ladakh to the lush valleys of Himachal Pradesh.

Indus and Zanskar

It’s just that the holiday sales pitch promotes the magisterial tranquillity of the experience without fully explaining the other, less expected, ‘joys’ that await the hapless tourist on their journey of a lifetime. It’s the laws of physics applied in a wider context, as every action has an equal and opposite reaction so every experience of aesthetic perfection must necessarily be tempered with some form of discomfort or inconvenience.

Travelling the Leh to Manali highway is a remarkable journey that takes three days. Our mode of transport for this illustrious road trip was a coach. If you are travelling in a coach on a long and winding road be aware that it could be bumpy. Don’t, whatever you do, sit in the back seats – you may want to relive those school trips where the cool kids all sat at the back of the bus, but the suspension and the road will have you bouncing around all over the place.  

Leh to Sarchu

Soon after we left Leh we crossed the Taglang La – the second highest road in the world (at the time) at 5328m. When the road marker stated, ‘Unbelievable is not it?’ we couldn’t help but agree.

Taglang La pass

Then we wound our way through the Gata loops, a series of 21 hair-pin bends, which required the coach to engage in some mildly terrifying 3-point turns in order get around each curve, with the driver’s assistant getting out at each bend to take the vehicle’s wheels to the very edge of the road with its precipice below. Indeed much of the journey involved travelling along single track roads which skirted long drops to the valley below.

Leh Manali highway edge of the road

It is a lonely, desolate road, but also a strangely beautiful road.

Leh Manali highway

But it can be a dangerous road. All along the highway we saw evidence of vehicles that had not stayed on the highway and had plummeted several hundred metres into the valley below and were gently rusting in the river.

Leh Manali highway crashed lorry

Along the route are camps where it’s possible to get a break and a cup of tea or a snack. We would see many workers whose job it was to maintain the road each year.

Leh to Manali rest stop

We were headed for Sarchu where we camped at 4200m.

Camping at Sarchu

Considering the remoteness of the location the accommodation was good – our tent even had an en-suite toilet, basically a long drop loo with a seat. There was no shower but no need even to think about showering, or even getting undressed, as the temperature was very cold indeed. This was the highest altitude we have ever spent the night and, although we both had slight headaches, were generally fine.

Sarchu to Jispa

The following day would involve the long and winding road climbing to 4891m at the top of the Baralacha La Pass and then descending to Jispa which was a pretty place to stop for the night. It was possible to have a walk around the area – much needed after sitting on a coach for hours on end.

Jispa stupa
Jispa

Jispa to Manali

The next day would offer something altogether unexpected. The Leh to Manali highway is a beautiful one and a treacherous one, but it is also the only one. Maintained for the short window of the year that it is actually traversable, the long and winding road is a marvel of man against nature. Except nature always, always wins. A case in point: scattered along the expansive road are a number of bridges crossing unfeasibly deep gorges through which the mighty Indus flows, plunging hundreds of feet into foaming rivers of kinetic danger. These bridges, as innumerable signs tell you, can only take one – that is one – vehicle at a time at a maximum speed of 5mph. So naturally a mini-convoy of four articulated trucks decided to play Indy 5000 across a particularly vulnerable bridge with inevitable girder-crashing results.

Leh Manali highway damaged bridge

The result? One non-bridge slap-bang in the middle of the one of the world’s most inhospitable roads with ‘no-go’ season rapidly approaching and little opportunity to retrace our steps.

We had already travelled for two days. There wasn’t really any going back. It started raining. The ravine approached, with its considerable drop to rocks and fast flowing river, strewn with debris in busted and rusted decay. When we finally arrived at the crossing, the bridge was being slowly reassembled to make it safe to travel across the fissure of fear. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be ready in time for us to cross. But cross we must. Fortunately there was a solution.

Crossing the Indus

A petrifying solution that made rickety wobbling across a rusty bridge inside a heavy coach utter bliss compared to what was on offer: A cage. An open metal cage. A cage that needed to be accessed from the edge of a slippery jetty over a rocky fall. And then it was hoisted across the raging river on a rope, with the claustrophobic couple of passengers squished in together, along with their possessions, suddenly wishing they had packed less and not eaten so much. Horrifying consequences consolidated in the imagination as we were compacted in the cage of doom and pulled across the ravine in abject terror.

Fortunately these concerns proved to be unfounded as the cage glided across the turbulent torrent and deposited both human cargo and their luggage at the destination. Safe at last and on terra firma, rather than experiencing terror further. Soaked to the skin but with our lives and luggage intact, we dripped with joy. It’s a shame the coach didn’t make it (there was no cage and rope for the vehicle) but a back-up had been made available on the other side.

Leh Manali highway

The experience had left us in much need of recovery sustenance. Fortunately for the ravenous rescuees there was a roadside café that offered a vat of dal and a plethora of freshly made chapatis that beckoned consumption. After such an ordeal any food may have been welcome, but this was the best tasting dal experience ever, the spice a delight, the texture a perfect consistency, with the forever welcome taste of fresh chapati allowing for distribution of the soupy lentil joy to instigate itself on the palette and in the stomach. Survival dal! A memorable meal.

Then it was simply a drive over the Rohtang pass (3977m)…

Rohtang pass

…and into the lush valleys of Himachal Pradesh towards Manali.

Leh Manali highway

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Golden Temple Amritsar
Visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar
Munnar landscape
Places to visit in Munnar, Kerala
Kerala Houseboat
Spending time on a houseboat in Kerala’s backwaters
South India Thali
Southern Indian Thali
Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari at the Southern tip of India
Mekong Delta River trip
Mekong Delta river trip in Vietnam
Etosha National Park Namibia
Self-drive safari in Namibia
Visit the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands road trip
A link to all posts about India

Osaka Restaurants Japan – Kuidaore on Dotonbori

We visited Osaka (pronounced O-saka rather than o-SAR-ka) on our very first trip to Japan many years ago. We had already spent time exploring Tokyo, Hakone and Kamakura and it was following an afternoon and evening in Osaka, exploring the neon arcades and playing video games, taking silly photos in the print club booths, riding the Hep 5 big wheel and singing our socks off in a karaoke bar (where you get a private booth rather than have to sing in front of complete strangers), that we realised that we had fallen in love with Japan. The following day we visited the Dotonbori area in the Namba district and discovered Osaka’s restaurants. We decided that Osaka was our favourite place in the world.

Osaka restaurants Japan

We’ve returned to Osaka many times over the years and we always make a beeline for Dotonbori. We’ve often stayed in business hotels close by. It’s a short walk away from the JR Namba Station Exit 14 (Yamatoji line), which is especially useful if you are using your JR Pass. Be aware that Namba is a big station. If you are arriving on the shinkansen (bullet train) you can get there from Shin-Osaka using the subway Midosuji line to Shinsaibashi Exit 4-B. (N.B. you can’t use your JR Pass on the subway.)

Osaka is known for being one of Japan’s centres of commerce, indeed there’s a phrase that many salarymen use as a greeting: ‘mokari makka’ which means ‘are you making money?’ The residents of Osaka speak Kansai Ben, the dialect of the region. It’s quite different to the Japanese we’ve learned in classes. For example, Osaka residents will say, ‘okini’ as thanks instead of ‘arigato’; although arigato will absolutely be understood you may well receive a big smile if you use ‘okini.’

Dotonbori History

Dotonbori means ‘Doton Canal’ and the history of the area goes back several hundred years to 1612 when Yasui Doton, a local merchant, started constructing a canal system in the area to link the Kizugawa river to the Umezu river. However, he was killed in 1615 during the Siege of Osaka and his cousins completed the canal project, naming it after Doton. Following completion, the area thrived, trade increased due to the better transportation along the canal and Dotonburi became an entertainment district, with theatres, teahouses and restaurants. It’s a fantastic place to visit, especially for foodies!

Osaka restaurant japan

The district is defined by street between the Dotonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge. Probably the most iconic image of the area is that of the Glico running man – and it’s essential to see him at night, brightly lit in neon. Glico is a sweet manufacturer established in 1922 and famous across Japan. They are probably best know for those delicious Pocky coated biscuit sticks.

Osaka restaurants Japan Dotonburi

Dotonbori is one street, but actually the surrounding streets are also full of excellent bars and restaurants. We’ve had some of our best nights out in Osaka by wandering into random bars in the area. Locals and tourists alike are very friendly and we’ve often just started chatting with people. There was one particularly memorable night when a pair of airline pilots decided to buy Jagermeister bombs (a Jagermeister shot inside a glass of Red Bull) for the denizens of the entire bar which resulted in a highly caffeinated boozy evening and us sleeping in so late that we missed much of a planned excursion to Kobe the following day!

Osaka Restaurants Japan

The word ‘kuidaore’ means to go bankrupt by extravagant spending on food and Dotonbori would be a place where you could have a really good attempt at achieving this as it is chock full of excellent restaurants.

Osaka restaurant japan
Takoyaki
Osaka restaurants Japan
Osaka restaurants Japan
Osaka restaurants Japan

One thing to remember when visiting cities in Japan is to look up! In the UK most shops and restaurants are located at ground level but Japan is a country with high rise buildings. Very often shops and restaurants will be located on multiple levels within the same building. You will often see boards outside the building advertising various emporia: F1, F2 etc to go up, B1, B2 etc to go down. (N.B. floor levels in Japan match the American model where the ground floor is called the first floor, unlike in the UK where the ‘ground floor’ is at street level and the next floor up is the ‘first floor’.)

Essential Osaka Restaurants Japan

Takoyaki – The Best Street Food

Takoyaki is quintessential Osaka street food. It comprises spherical octopus pieces in a batter which are cooked en masse in a griddle.

Takoyaki

The takoyaki maker expertly and deftly turns each octopus ball by hand so that they are cooked evenly.

Cooking takoyaki

Served with mayonnaise, takoyaki sauce (which is similar to brown sauce) and bonito flakes (skipjack tuna flakes shaved to wafer thin slices – which are rich in umami and are often used to make Japanese dashi stock), which undulate gently in the heat of the takoyaki. You just have to wait a little while before scoffing because they will be extremely hot as soon as they come out of the griddle.

Osaka restaurants Japan

Okonomiyaki – As You Like It

Okonomiyaki, which translates as ‘as you like it’, is often described as a cross between a pancake and a pizza. It’s a cabbage based batter (but don’t let that put you off – it’s really delicious) with multiple fillings and toppings. Some establishments have a chef prepare the okonomiyaki, others will let you sit at the griddle and you can cook it yourself.

Osaka restaurants Japan

The basic batter mixture is prepared and cooked on the griddle.

okonomiyaki

Then you have a choice of toppings – meat and prawns are popular choices and veggie options, such as kimchi are also available.

cooking okonomiyaki

The okonomiyaki will be garnished with a variety of yummy things, including mayo, okonomiyaki sauce (similar to takoyaki sauce/brown sauce), flakes of nori seaweed and those delightful undulating bonito flakes. Chilli sauce may also be available. The chef will embellish your okonomiyaki in the most delightful way. And of course, when the chef asks you what garnish you would like, the correct answer is EVERYTHING!

Osaka restaurants Japan
Osaka restaurants Japan

Fugu – Dare You Try Puffer Fish?

Fugu is the fish that has a formidable reputation – it’s the puffer fish, parts of which are deadly poison particularly the liver, the ovaries, eyes, and skin. The toxin basically paralyses you and you asphyxiate while still conscious. Not very nice at all.

But fugu is also a prized delicacy. The non-poisonous bits are fine to eat but absolutely can only be prepared by a licenced chef who has trained for several years. You can eat fugu all over Japan but it was at Zubora-ya, with its highly distinctive sign comprising a giant pufferfish lantern outside the restaurant, that we first tasted this fearsome fish.

Osaka restaurants Japan

We thoroughly enjoyed a set menu at Zubora-ya – sushi and sashimi is the conventional way to enjoy fugu. It has a mild flavour and a firm texture that is something like a cross between squid and monkfish. It was delicious. And we survived!

Osaka restaurants Japan

Sadly, Zubora-ya had to close during the pandemic and has not reopened.

Kani – Crab Heaven

Kani Doraku is another distinctive restaurant which has a model of a giant crab waving its pincers on the outside wall, beckoning you inside (well, that’s our interpretation!).

Osaka restaurants Japan Kani

We have eaten here several times and always had a hugely enjoyable meal. Again, it’s a multi-storey building and, depending on how busy it is you may eat within the restaurant or be taken to a private room with tatami mat flooring and a telephone. The telephone was a bit daunting first time around but we picked up the phone and said, ‘kite kudasai,’ (please come here) and someone came along to take our order – which largely involved pointing at a picture menu. Even though it’s a large restaurant it’s very popular these days so it’s worth booking. There are actually multiple restaurants of this chain along Dotonbori, so check out the others if the first one you try is full. (The most popular is closest to the Glico Man.) The set menus aren’t cheap but they are good value and the food is utterly delicious.

crab gratin
crab gratin
crab sushi
crab legs
crab tempura
Osaka restaurants Japan
Osaka restaurants Japan

We’ve enjoyed crab sushi and sashimi, crab chawan mushi (steamed egg custard), crab tempura and crab gratin with a clear soup and matcha ice cream for dessert. Utterly delicious.

Osaka Restaurants Japan – Other Dotonbori Establishments

There are loads of other restaurants along Dotonbori and the surrounding area. Kuidaore was an enormous eight storey restaurant founded in 1949. It was recognisable by its iconic Kuidaore Taro Clown, a vaguely creepy mechanical drumming puppet at the entrance. Sadly it closed some years ago but the building was populated by different shops and restaurants in what’s now known as the Nakaza Cui-daore Building.

If you like ramen noodles (and who doesn’t?) there are three Kinryu restaurants along the street. Kinryu translates as ‘golden dragon’ and the restaurants can easily be found by their distinctive dragons on the hoardings above the shopfront.

Osaka restaurant japan
Osaka restaurant japan Kinryu

And even the standard restaurants on Dotonbori, those without the amazing neon signs, are worth checking out. One of the great things about dining in Osaka – and indeed throughout Japan – is that you don’t need to speak or read Japanese. Many restaurants will have an English, Chinese or Korean menu and those that don’t will often have a picture menu or, better, realistic models of the food in the window, usually with prices. You can take a photo of your desired dish or even take your food server outside and point to the dish you want.

Osaka restaurants Japan

The models of the food are surprisingly realistic and many are made in Osaka. We managed to find a shop that sold them but they are hideously expensive, so we treated ourselves to a couple of sushi fridge magnets as a souvenir.

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

Okonomiyaki Osaka
Okonomiyaki in Japan
Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage
How to make Japanese fried chicken – karaage
Chawan Mushi
Chawan mush- savoury egg custard
wasabi rhizome
Fresh wasabi
Japanese New Year Tradition
Japanese new year traditions
japanese dashi stock recipe
How to make Japanese dashi stock
Japanese business hotels
A guide to staying in Japanese business hotels
Miyajima torii
The three best views in Japan
More posts from Japan

Visit Guernsey – Art and Literature Activities

The channel island of Guernsey is the second largest in the tiny archipelago in the English Channel and the largest in the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which also includes the islands of Alderney, Sark, Herm and Jethou). It’s a fabulous place to visit, is easily accessible from the UK and has a fascinating history. If you visit Guernsey there are loads of things to do, especially if you like outdoor activities. There are lots of beautiful walks along spectacular cliff paths, and the island is perfect for spending traditional seaside time on pristine beaches.

Visit Guernsey

There are a bunch of museums and forts to visit and it’s definitely worth investigating day trips or short breaks to the other stunningly beautiful islands.

Guernsey also has a lot to offer if you’re interested in art and literature, and some of these activities are perfect if the weather isn’t on your side for a day at the beach.

Visit Guernsey – The Renoir Walk

The impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Guernsey in 1883 and created some fifteen paintings during his stay. They were all based around the charming Moulin Huet. You can take a walk along Moulin Huet to view its beautiful bay where Art for Guernsey have cleverly set up some picture frames at five locations so that you can see the precise spot where he worked on his pictures. Each site also have a display showing a picture of the original painting so that you see how the landscape has changed over the years. Most of the frames are located close to the beach but there is one that is slightly further out and it’s a climb along the path to the cliff-top to capture the view across the bay.

There’s a small car park at the end of a narrow road and just along the path from there is a map showing where each of the frames is located.

Visit Guernsey

La cote du Moulin Huet.

Visit Guernsey Renoir Walk

Our version of Enfants au bord de la mer à Guernsey should have been entitled Chien au bord de la mer à Guernsey as our shot was photobombed by a very friendly dog.

The foliage had changed over the years since Baie du Moulin Huet a travers les arbres was painted.

It’s a short climb and walk along the cliffs to see Vue de Guernsey.

Visit Guernsey Renoir Walk

Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House

The French author Victor Hugo spent some 15 years on Guernsey from 1855 to 1870, when he decided to live in exile from his home country following Napoleon III’s coup d’etat in 1851 (Hugo lived in Belgium and Jersey before moving to Guernsey). He wrote extensively while on the island and many believe that his time there was his most productive period, indeed Les Miserables was published during his time on the island. He dedicated Les Travailleurs de la Mer to ‘the rock of hospitality and freedom.’

Visit Guernsey

If you visit Guernsey you can tour his former residence, Hauteville House, in St Peter Port

Hauteville House offers a fascinating glimpse into his lifestyle because Hugo decorated the home himself.

Visit Guernsey
Hauteville House
Hauteville House
Hauteville House

We were particularly taken with the dinner plates on the ceiling!

Hauteville House

It is also possible to stroll around the garden of Hauteville House.

Hauteville House gardens

Guernsey Sculpture Park

Another artistic activity when you visit Guernsey is to walk around the sculpture park in the grounds of Sausmarez Manor. It’s located on Sausmarez Road in St Martin, a short bus ride away from St Peter Port.

Visit Guernsey

You can follow the ArtParks trail through a lovely woodland and view a couple of hundred sculptures from artists all over the world. You can even buy some of the sculptures if any take your fancy.

Sausmarez Manor sculpture park
Sausmarez Manor sculpture park
Sausmarez Manor sculpture park
Sausmarez Manor sculpture park

Visit Guernsey – The Candie Art Gallery

The Candie Art Gallery is small but perfectly formed. It has a statue of a striding Victor Hugo in the gardens.

Visit Guernsey

The gallery is part of a wider arts and museum complex, which also includes exhibitions on the island’s history and a highly interactive folklore exhibit which features a recreation of an early 19th century Guernsey cottage (complete with appropriately creepy mannequins) and stories of local legends. Some of the stories are fascinating.

There is also a permanent exhibition art space.

The teeny gallery presents a number of paintings depicting the Bailiwick in chronological order as you circle the exhibition space.

It also hosts some temporary exhibits and there were a couple of very famous names on display when we visited in 2018 – including a Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama.

Saumarez Park has a fascinating National Trust Folk & Costume Museum which features a number of exhibits from Guernsey’s history. And there are a number of art galleries on the island, including the Coach House Gallery in St Pierre du Bois as well as Iris And Dora in Ruettes Brayes, St Peter Port. St James The Less, a 200 year-old former church in College Street, St Peter Port, also has a variety of cultural events on offer, including visual art exhibitions and musical performances.

Potato Peel? In a Pie? Literary Guernsey

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a 2008 bestselling novel that was adapted into a film directed by Mike Newell in 2018. It is a historic drama set during the occupation of the Channel Islands in World War 2. It is possible to go on a tour to see some of the locations mentioned in the book. And if you are interested in the history of the occupation there is the German Occupation Museum which is located close to the island’s airport.

Guernsey also has a Literary Festival, this year running from 11th May to 26th June. It offers plenty of events running throughout the duration of the festival, with lots of guest authors visiting the island to give talks, as well as a writing competition for students in the Bailiwick.

Visit Guernsey – The Art of Dining

Guernsey also has a fantastic food scene. While there are great restaurants all over the island, the pretty capital St Peter Port has a plethora of excellent eateries.

Visit Guernsey

Every October the island has a Tennerfest whereby restaurants, hotels, pubs and cafés will put on a special fixed priced menu and offer people the chance to eat out for a much cheaper price than normal. Make sure you to get a reservation, though, the event is really popular and the best emporia will be fully booked. Being an island, the seafood is superb.

Visit
Lobster macaroni cheese
Visit
Scallops and bacon
Tian of crab
Visit Guernsey
Lobster and chips!

RELATED POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY

A Walk Around Alderney
A walk around Alderney
The Isle of Skye
Visit the Isle of Skye
Visit Yakushima Shiratani Unsuikyo
Visit Yakushima island in Japan
Visit the Faroe Islands
Visit the Faroe Islands