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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in Mostar, Dining Out
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blend again until you have a smooth, thick soup.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
It is a lonely, desolate road, but also a strangely beautiful road.
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.
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.
We were headed for Sarchu where we camped at 4200m.
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 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.
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.
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.
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)…
…and into the lush valleys of Himachal Pradesh towards Manali.
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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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
The takoyaki maker expertly and deftly turns each octopus ball by hand so that they are cooked evenly.
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.
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.
The basic batter mixture is prepared and cooked on the griddle.
Then you have a choice of toppings – meat and prawns are popular choices and veggie options, such as kimchi are also available.
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!
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
La cote du Moulin Huet.
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.
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.’
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.
We were particularly taken with the dinner plates on the ceiling!
It is also possible to stroll around the garden of Hauteville House.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Fried chicken is one of life’s great pleasures. And Japanese fried chicken karaage is no exception. In Japan, it is a tradition to eat fried chicken from KFC on Christmas Day before the traditional new year celebrations commence. However, we feel that JFC offers far superior fried chicken.
Always use chicken thigh meat. It has so much more flavour than breast meat and is guaranteed to be juicier and more succulent.
Making karaage isn’t difficult but it also isn’t a quick process. However the results are definitely worth taking the time to make the dish. The chicken absolutely needs to be marinated – this adds so much flavour. The word karaage refers to the cooking technique, that is frying the food in oil. You don’t need equipment such as a deep fat fryer – a frying pan will be just fine.
Recipe for Japanese fried chicken karaage:
800g boneless chicken thigh (skin-on is fine), each thigh cut into 4 pieces
For the marinade
4 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs mirin (if you can’t get this, add a little more sake/wine and a tsp of sugar)
1 tbs cooking sake (or white wine if you can’t get that)
1 inch of ginger (finely grated)
1-2 cloves of garlic (finely grated) depending on how garlicky you like your food
For the coating
Potato starch. If you can’t get this, fine rice flour or even cornflour will be fine. (Icing sugar would not!) We didn’t have quite enough potato starch so mixed in a little rice flour. About a cup’s worth (275ml) – as much as you need to coat all the chicken.
For the cooking
Vegetable oil (enough to get about 1 cm depth of oil in your pan)
Place the chicken thigh pieces in a bowl and add the soy sauce, mirin, sake, ginger and garlic. Mix well and leave to marinate for at least an hour.
Pour the oil into a frying pan until it’s about 1 cm deep. Heat up. The oil will be hot enough when you put a little flour into it and it sizzles.
When the chicken has had a chance to acquire those lovely flavours pour the potato starch into a bowl.
Take each piece of chicken, dip both sides in the flour, shake any excess off, and then carefully place in the oil.
Repeat for further pieces of chicken. Do not overfill the pan – this is a process whereby the chicken should be cooked in batches. We tend to use a clock method – put a piece of chicken at the top, then go round the pan putting further pieces in in a clockwise direction so we know which piece was put in first. Cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally, until the pieces are golden brown.
Then remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil. You can transfer the chicken from the first batches into a heatproof bowl in the oven set on a low heat to keep them warm.
Start the next batch and repeat until all the chicken has been cooked.
Serve with Japanese mayo. It’s not at all healthy but it’s oh, so decadent and delicious! If you’re feeling more health conscious, shredded cabbage is a popular accompaniment.
Karaage chicken is also yummy cold the following day. It often features in bento boxes.
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Uganda is known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and is a fantastic place to visit to see wildlife. The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is located in Nakasongola around 170km from Uganda’s capital Kampala and it takes around 3.5 hours to reach it on the Gulu highway. It’s possible to stop to admire the Nile en route (the source of the Nile is in Jinja, around 70km from Kampala) and meet a few baboons by the roadside – carefully and from a distance.
We visited Ziwa on our way to the Murchison Falls National Park. The park itself is the largest in Uganda and four of the so-called Big Five game animals can be found there. All except rhinoceros.
The southern white rhino population of Uganda used to be vast but they were poached virtually to extinction, the rhino horn sadly being considered to be a rare and valuable medicine in other countries. Six rhinos were reintroduced to Ziwa between 2001 and 2006 and they have managed to breed in the intervening time so that there are now over 30 rhinos.
There are a number of differences between black rhinos and white rhinos. The most obvious is in the shape of their mouths. There isn’t really any difference in their colourings or markings, all rhinos are grey, but it is thought that the name ‘white’ might have derived from the Afrikaans term ‘weidt’, which means ‘wide’, a reference to the rhino’s mouth, which is flat and broad in shape, compared with the black rhino, which has a hooked lip. White rhino also have a longer front horn. White rhino tend to feed on grass whereas their black counterparts eat bushes and leaves. And white rhino are generally thought to be less aggressive and inquisitive than black, which was good to know as we those were the ones we would be tracking.
When visiting Ziwa you wouldn’t know you are in a sanctuary – at 70 square kilometres the area of the land that the rhinos can roam through is vast. It is nothing like a zoo or even a safari park, it feels like savannah wilderness.
What was very lovely was being able to do a walking safari. In Queen Elizabeth National Park we weren’t even allowed to walk from our bedroom tent to the main lodge at the camp, without being accompanied by a gun-bearing ranger just in case any of the local lions were feeling peckish.
We travelled out to where the rhinos were located and were given a safety briefing. We were to walk together in small groups and stay downwind from the rhino. Rhinos have a great sense of smell but appalling eyesight. They can move very quickly if they want to. If they charge, you are advised to run away in a zig-zag pattern and try to climb a tree if possible. This was consistent with the briefing when on a walking safari in Chitwan, Nepal (although we weren’t lucky in seeing any rhino on that trip). Looking around the area, there didn’t seem to be too many trees that would be robust enough to support us in the event of us encountering a grumpy rhino, so we made sure we followed our guide’s instructions at all times.
Safari At The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Walking through the bush we spotted signs of other creatures living in the area.
We found a discarded snake skin in the grass, although the snake itself was nowhere to be found. Most snakes in Uganda slither off when they feel the vibration of visitors’ footsteps, the exception being the lazy puff adder, which often suns itself on footpaths and can be quite aggressive. It is responsible for most snake bites in the region. For this reason when we went walking we wore sturdy walking boots and long trousers.
We also came across some Uganda Kob who were frolicking in the grassland. We would see these lovely creatures, a type of antelope, bouncing through the grassland throughout our Uganda trip.
As continued our walk we noticed our guide signalling to a ranger a few hundred metres away. The ranger beckoned us over. We carefully circled a small copse and to our delight saw a mother and her child, quietly grazing together. We managed to get within a few metres of these marvellous – and enormous – creatures.
The rangers keep watch on the rhinos 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are constantly in touch with each other via mobile phone and radio links and they monitor the rhinos in order to protect them from poachers. There used to be a system whereby the rhinos were given radio tracking collars so that they could be monitored remotely, but sadly poachers managed to hack into them with devastating consequences. For this reason, humans are assigned to watch them, which provides much needed protection.
We continued the walk through the grassland and came across another rhino, a male, snoozing in the shade of a tree. He was totally unperturbed by us.
It is possible to stay overnight at Ziwa and enjoy other activities such as a canoe safari or night-time walks but we had to leave in order to reach Murchison Falls before nightfall.
Even though our visit was just a couple of hours, the trip to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, walking through the savannah to get so close to these magnificent endangered creatures, was absolutely excellent and an ideal stopping point on the way to Murchison Falls.
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One of the most striking things about the state of Kerala in Southern India is how very green it is. A popular place to visit, it has spectacular scenery, interesting wildlife, fascinating culture and fantastic food. It’s no wonder that the locals call it ‘God’s Own Country.’ We toured the area for a week, visiting Athirappilly, Thekkady and Kumarakom, where we spent a very pleasant afternoon on a houseboat in the backwaters. The hill station near Munnar has the perfect climate and landscape for growing tea. At an elevation of 1500m the temperature is much more comfortable than the searing temperatures closer to sea level. There are lots of places to visit in Munnar and the surrounding area.
Places to visit in Munnar – Eravikulam National Park
The Eravikulam National Park is one of five national parks in Kerala and is home to a lots of wildlife, including the Nilgiri Thar, a type of goat which is seriously endangered and can only be found in any significant numbers in this area. There also are deer, monkeys, wild dogs, otters, mongooses, martens and porcupine as well as many species of bird and butterflies.
The park used to be a British game reserve during colonial times and was known for its rich hunting grounds. Later, the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company managed the lands which were handed to the Kerala Government in the early 1970s. The Nilgiri Tahr had become almost extinct by 1972 and was placed on the endangered list so the park became a conservation area and achieved national park status in 1978.
The park is located around 15km away from central Munnar and you can either get a cab or hire a car/driver to reach it. Buses are available but less convenient. You can’t walk or drive around the area, private cars are not allowed inside the park and you have to catch a bus from the entrance car park. Just buy your tickets at the kiosk and join the queue. Beware that the queue may be long as it’s a popular place to visit. The bus ride is very scenic as it climbs the hill via a number of hairpin bends.
The wildlife wasn’t co-operating when we visited but the trip nevertheless offered a lovely walk with spectacular views.
Visit the Rose garden
The Floriculture Centre, more commonly known as the Rose Garden, is worth a short visit if flowers and plants are your thing. You can wander through the terraces and have a look at the local flowers and plants.
After lunch (you can read about thali here) we headed out through the countryside to visit the Mattupetty Dam and Kundala Dams. On the way to the Kundala Lake, we spotted a bunch of people gathering at the roadside with cameras and phones out and most definitely pointing in a particular direction. It’s always worth stopping to see what the crowds are looking at. And we were rewarded with the sight of a couple of wild elephants sauntering through the fields.
It’s possible to walk in the forests surrounding the lakes and across the dams.
Tea and Spices
Tea plantations adorn the surrounding hills in all directions, each individual tea plant creating a pattern that dominates the landscape.
Tea plants like receiving lots of water but don’t like sitting in water, hence the plentiful rainfall in Kerala provides plenty of hydration and the hilly landscape is ideal for perfect drainage.
The tea is picked by hand. Only the top three leaves, which are the most tender, are used. There are a number of processing plants around Munnar. We didn’t have time to visit a tea plantation but did bring back some Munnar tea as a souvenir.
Kerala is also famous for its spices. Keralan cuisine is amazingly good – all the dishes we tried were beautifully flavoured. Many of the spices grown can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. We visited a spice plantation, in the pouring rain (thankfully they loaned us umbrellas) and saw a number of plants that are used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of the tree. Peel it off and it curls up into those familiar scrolls.
Allspice is a very apt name. If you smell and taste: think of nutmeg. Yes! Think of cinnamon. Yes! Think of cloves. Yes! It really has a flavour that can emulate many different spices and is a great all-rounder.
Cardamon is an amazingly aromatic spice. It actually grows at the base of the plant in little pods.
Nutmeg and mace. Mace is the outer ‘skin’ of the nutmeg – you get a milder nutmeg taste with a more citrusy flavour.
Cloves add a real fragrance to savoury dishes. They also have a numbing effect and are a traditional remedy for toothache.
Peppercorns are native to Kerala and have been used in Indian cooking since at least 2000 BCE. Once the most valuable spice in the world, pepper can be eaten in its many different forms (albeit the same fruit of the tree): green peppercorns are the unripe fruit of the pepper tree. When they turn red they are ripe. Black and white peppercorns are, likewise, both the same fruit of the pepper plant, but are processed differently. Black peppercorns are picked when the fruit is almost ripe and then they are sun-dried, and this turns the outer layer black. White pepper is the peppercorn without the skin. It’s the black skin that has the distinctly peppery flavour elements. If you want heat but not the flavour, white peppercorns are the one to use.
We purchased some of the spices, particularly those that are expensive to buy at home. They make ideal souvenirs as they easily slip into any spaces your backpack and ours have been used extensively since our return home.
Places to Visit in Munnar – Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performance
We made our way to the Punarjani traditional village to see a Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performance in the early evening.
Kathakali is a form of classical Indian dance which tells a story, often based on traditional legends, Hindu mythology and Indian epic stories. There is a narrative but no dialogue – dance, mime and song are the means by which the story is told. Artists spend several years training at specialist schools in order to develop their skills. The expressive performance is emphasised by the spectacular costumes and make-up, which can take around 3-5 hours to apply.
It is worth arriving early for the performance because you are often allowed backstage to watch the performers apply their remarkable make-up.
You have a choice of seating and if you sit in the stalls there’s a possibility that you may be called up on stage to take part in the performance. It’s largely mime-based so no need to worry about any language skills.
The Kathakali lasts around an hour and, if you wish, you can then watch a Kalaripayattu performance in an adjoining theatre. This is a form of Indian martial art, indeed it is one of the world’s oldest martial arts, and is spectacular to watch. It is highly acrobatic and uses a number of weapons. The demonstration is lively, exciting and occasionally scary!
Eating in Kerala
All the meals we ate in Kerala were completely brilliant. Because of the diversity of the region both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, featuring fish, poultry and red meat, are readily available. The fish dishes are particularly good, using locally caught fish from the rivers and the sea. The food is delicately flavoured with local spices – all the spices we encountered at the plantation featured heavily, notably black pepper, clove, cardamon, cinnamon and ginger. Here are some of the dishes we tried.
Munnar has so many things to offer the visitor – nature, wildlife, culture and, of course, the most delicious food.
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BRAND: Nissin Instant Noodle
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soupbase and Flavour Powder
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
Strange. The packaging leads one to believe that this is Nissin Holland, complete with Noodleboy® and his Steaming Box®, but it’s a subtle ploy, a sleight of hand, for this is Nissin Hong Kong and what a Herculean task they have set themselves. First take the soup of a nation, pack it with a serious portion of noodles and expect it to work. There’s more. Instead of providing a miso paste, surely the logical thing to do, instead they offer a double powder combination. Madness surely? Well, yes and no.
The noodles are as good as ever, and they do not swamp the flavour, a real surprise. The flavour itself is definitely miso with a reasonable touch of a mildly fermented feel, but something is not quite right. There is a meaty undercurrent that feels incongruous and a vague scent of roast sesame that seems to have come from a different packet. Closer examination of the package reveals pork, chicken and beef, so not one for vegans as you may have initially thought. Top class tasty product that far exceeded expectations but irritatingly fell at the last fence. Write to your MP and demand a veggie version.
*Retro noodle packet
Spring is a fantastic time of year for walking in the English countryside. The weather is often warmer and the blossom on the trees provides a wonderful backdrop. We even get a bit of sunshine sometimes! It’s also a great time for foraging for the spring greens that start growing – there’s nothing like picking free food whilst on a walk. At the moment, nettles, ground elder, three cornered leek, garlic mustard (aka Jack-by-the-hedge) are all flourishing and they can all be used to create and add flavour to delicious dishes. Wild garlic is our favourite and we have a fabulous recipe for wild garlic pesto.
There are some basic rules to foraging in the UK. You are allowed to pick flowers, fruit and leaves but you are not allowed to dig up roots (e.g. horseradish) unless you have the landowner’s permission. We never take more food than we need.
Wild garlic is an invasive plant and when it grows it spreads wildly, which is fantastic for a forager. It’s usually easy to recognise and has a very definite garlicky smell.
A few weeks after the leaves show through, delicate little white flowers will appear. These are edible too and have a very mild garlic flavour – they make a fantastic edible garnish. The buds can also be pickled and can be used as substitute for garlicky capers.
If you are foraging it is really important that you are 100% sure of what you are picking. Never eat anything if you are not certain about what it is. Many plants are poisonous and some can look very similar to edible species. Beware: there is a plant which looks very similar to wild garlic when it’s young and just peeping through the soil. Arum maculatum, also known as Lords and Ladies, is very toxic. Apparently even putting the leaves into your mouth will result in an immediate burning sensation. It sometimes grows worryingly close to the wild garlic. When it’s more mature it develops shiny arrow-head shaped leaves but when young, looks very similar to wild garlic.
Bluebells, or their white-flowered counterparts, which can also easily be confused with wild garlic’s white flowers, can also grow nearby. Bluebells are extremely pretty but also poisonous.
Whenever we gather wild garlic we go through a process of washing it thoroughly and checking each leaf when we get home.
Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto
This is a recipe that is not at all accurate – it’s one where you can fling the ingredients together and end up with something delicious. Our wild garlic recipe uses cashew nuts instead of pine nuts. They are a lot cheaper and add a lovely creaminess to the pesto.
Bunch of wild garlic leaves
Handful of cashew nuts
Chunk of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
Slosh of extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon
Pinch of salt
Roughly chop the wild garlic leaves and place into a blender. Throw in the nuts. Roughly chop the cheese into chunks and add these. We recommend adding the leaves first – to the bottom of the blender – so that the weight of the nuts and cheese ensures they get chopped up more finely.
If you are planning to eat the pesto right away, add the oil, lemon juice and salt. The pesto freezes really well but if we are planning to freeze it we don’t add the oil or seasoning; instead we stir it in once it has defrosted.
Blend together until you get the texture you like – smooth or nutty – both work well.
If you are planning to freeze the pesto, decant into containers and pop into the freezer. We recycle plastic takeaway containers as they provide the perfect portion for two people.
We’ve tried variations using pistachio nuts and nutritional yeast, which can replace the cheese in order to develop a vegan version. Pistachio are more nutty in texture and their flavour is more pronounced in the finished pesto.
The great thing about this recipe is that is so easily adaptable – mix and match ingredients. It’s the underlying gentle garlicky flavour that the wild garlic leaves produce that make this such a brilliant pesto. We’ll be foraging and freezing for as long as the season lasts.