RELAXED NEIGHBOURHOODS AND VEGAN FOOD: A sunny weekend in Berlin

berlin2

We went to Berlin for the weekend with the intention of sampling all the vegan food – and that’s exactly what we did! We found lots of cool places:

  • Markthalle Neun: This is a cool indoor market with lots of independent shops. Stop for organic gelato at Rosa Canina then follow it up with craft beer from Heiden Peters.
  • Brammibal’s Donuts is a popular stop with lots of different donut flavours. Everything is vegan and they have two convenient locations.
  • Backbord: This vegan place serving street food is a great place to try some traditionally meaty German snacks. We had currywurst, schnitzel and sweet potato fries. Yum!
  • Bamerang: This rock bar in Prenzlauer Berg has a simple vegan menu of pub food. Relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.
  • Ataya Cafe: A popular vegan place with a buffet service for brunch. The food is a good mix of Italian and Northern African.
  • Kaschk: A craft beer bar with a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection of beers on tap.
  • Chay Viet: A popular Vietnamese place serving delicious veggie dishes.

berlin3

We also spent some time exploring the city off the beaten track:

  • Mauerpark is an old favourite and a great place to visit on Sundays, when they have lots of stalls selling anything from handmade artwork to local souvenirs. There’s always a crowd and plenty of musicians keeping things lively. Follow that with the nearby Berlin Wall memorial, which is a good place to see the wall far from the tourist crowd.
  • South of the river Spree, Neukolln is a cool neighbourhood full of bars, cafes and independent shops. It’s a great place to explore for a few hours on a sunny day.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: It’s not the usual type of accommodation we choose, but H2 Alexanderplatz had a good deal. Comfortable rooms and great location (close to Prenzlauer Berg which is my preferred area).

berlin1

Advertisements

RELAXED DAYS AND RUINS IN THE SUN: A long weekend in Cyprus

cyprus 10

We don’t usually have beach holidays, but spending a few lazy days in chilled Paphos was a nice little break.

Paphos Archaeological Park and Tombs of the Kings:

There are two main ruin sites in Paphos, and both are worth a visit. The Archaeological Park (tickets 4.50€) has plenty of impressive mosaics, and the Tombs of the Kings (tickets 2.50€) covers a large area full of ruins.

Both are linked by a pedestrian promenade by the sea, so it’s nice to visit them on the same day.

cyprus 08

Coral Bay:

This popular sandy beach 10km north of Paphos is a good place to spend the day. You can lounge about on a deck chair (two and a parasol for hire for 7.50€), go for a swim and have lunch at one of the many restaurants on the main road. To get there, take bus 615 from the city centre.

cyprus 01

Paphos Harbour:

Paphos Harbour is a nice area where tourists lounge in the sun or sip cheap cocktails in the many local bars. There are plenty of places to stop for a meal or an ice cream break.

cyprus 07

Pingouino:

A popular cafe in the city centre serving snacks and drinks. I had a delicious cocktail of mastiha and prosecco called Greek Spritz for 5.50€.

cyprus 09

Flintstones bar:

This themed cocktail bar is a popular stop. It serves good drinks and service is nice and friendly. The place is as kitsch as it sounds. Cocktails for about 5€.

cyprus 06

Namaste:

This Indian street food restaurant serves delicious meals in the city centre. A great find. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 40€.

cyprus 05

Money:

Paphos is very cheap as compared to London. Even in the most expensive places by the harbour, prices are still relatively low. Venture off the main tourist areas and you get a beer or glass of wine for less than 3€ each.

cyprus 04

Food:

We did a lot of self-catering, but local produce was very good and we found loads of yummy fruit and vegetables. Restaurants tend to have a good range of veggie options, such as mezze and salads.

cyprus 03

Stay:

Paphos is full of resorts and holiday apartments. We stayed at Elysia Park, which had huge flats and great service.

cyprus 02

AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

sicily 03

PALERMO

Palermo’s centre is easy to navigate on foot and on a sunny day you can cover many of the main sights on Via Roma and Vittorio Emanuele. Stop by Teatro Massimo to reenact the famous last scene from Godfather 3, or wander around the park by the Norman Palace.

sicily 08

Palatina Chapel: This famous chapel located by the Norman Palace is full of intricate details and beautiful mosaics. Tickets for 10€.

Pizza Frida: I was looking for recommendations of good pizza places in Palermo (of course there are plenty) when I came across Pizza Frida. This place is popular so it’s best to book in advance. They have lots of different options and they’re all AMAZING. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 90€. Highly recommended.

sicily 09

Villa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti: a great local restaurant where large families taste the local fare. Meal with drink and tip for 15€ per person.

L’Antica Focacceria San Francesco: This popular place serves yummy street food, like arancini and aubergine caponata. Portions are huge. Dinner with drinks and tip for 15€ per person.

sicily 06

Haiku: The only vegan place in Palermo is located in a nice area to the north of the city centre. The menu is varied and includes a mix of Italian and international dishes. The gnocchi had the best tomato sauce, and their famous pistachio tiramisu was definitely worth trying. Lunch for two including drinks, dessert and tip for 55€.

Stay: This Airbnb is great for a family trip. Each of the four rooms has its own bathroom and Giovanni, the host, is super helpful.

sicily 07

sicily 05

sicily 04

ERICE

This little medieval town over the hills is a great place for a day trip. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the little alleys and stop around for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

Follow that with a stop for dessert at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which serves yummy boozy pastries.

sicily 29

CATANIA

From Palermo to Catania by car it takes about three hours through the countryside. You get amazing views of Mount Etna with its snowed peak along the way.

Catania’s centre is a combination of mismatched grandiose buildings and areas that have seen better days. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the fancy Corso Italia with lots of high end shops, or explore the Old Town, with its busy street markets and lively piazzas.

sicily 27

Savia: This is a great stop for lunch. They are famous for serving the best arancini, for just 2.50€. Portions are huge and everything is delicious.

Nievski: This cool bar and restaurant with a revolution theme is a good place for a relaxed meal in an area where there are lots of nice restaurants. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 88€.

sicily 28

sicily 26

MOUNT ETNA

About one hour off Catania, Mount Etna provides the impressive backdrop for the city. You can take a cable car up the mountain, then get on a 4X4 bus and finally walk around a couple of the highest craters.

The trip costs 64€ per person and can be booked directly at the cable car entrance. Go early before it gets busy.

sicily 10

sicily 17

sicily 16

sicily 15

sicily 14

sicily 13

sicily 12

sicily 11

TAORMINA:

A good stop after visiting Mount Etna, Taormina is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily. The small centre provides scenic views over the sea and there are lots of cute restaurants around serving delicious pizza and Aperol.

The main local attraction is the Ancient Theatre (tickets for 10€) with beautiful ruins and panoramic views of the sea and mountains.

sicily 25

sicily 24

sicily 23

sicily 22

sicily 21

sicily 20

sicily 19

sicily 18

AGRIGENTO:

Located on the south of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, an impressive collection of ancient temples and ruins overlooking the Sicilian countryside and the Mediterranean sea.

You can spend a couple of hours exploring the site before driving on to Catania or Palermo. Tickets for 10€.

sicily 38

sicily 37

sicily 35

sicily 34

sicily 33

sicily 31

sicily 30

ITINERARY PLANNING:

There’s plenty to do in Sicily, and you can spend lots of time exploring the coast, the countryside and historical sites.

The best way to travel around is to rent a car. Navigating is relatively easy with Google Maps but traffic can be a bit crazy, especially around big cities.

We spent seven days in Sicily, staying in Palermo and Catania and exploring from there.

sicily 02

sicily 01

ELEPHANT PORTRAITS AND COLOURFUL SUNSETS: South Africa’s Garden Route

south africa 20

Following east from Cape Town, the Garden Route covers a few hundred kilometres through all sorts of beautiful landscape – sandy beaches, deep forests and open fields. You can also spot the odd elephant and baboon.

It’s a great road trip as there are lots of nice restaurants to stop by along the way, and there are plenty of reserves and national parks in the area.

south africa 15

Tsitsikamma National Park:

This is a beautiful area full of activities. We stayed at Storms River Mouth, where you can rent fully equipped cabins with amazing views, including both sunset and sunrise over the sea.

Deer and dassies lounge about, and dolphins swim in the distance. There are plenty of activities around, so we went zip-lining over waterfalls. You can also explore on foot following the many walking paths.

south africa 08

south africa 13

south africa 12

south africa 11

south africa 10

south africa 09

Knysna Elephant Park:

This is a great place to see elephants and zebras up close. You can visit during the day or stay in their lodge to take full advantage of spending time with their rescued elephants, day and night.

south africa 16

You can take part in different activities with the elephants, including feeding and walking with them. The guides are very knowledgeable and know the back story of every elephant. We stayed two nights and had plenty of time to get to know a few of the elephants.

south africa 38

south africa 37

south africa 36

south africa 35

south africa 34

south africa 33

south africa 32

south africa 31

south africa 30

south africa 29

south africa 28

south africa 27

south africa 26

south africa 25

south africa 24

south africa 23

south africa 22

south africa 21

south africa 19

south africa 18

south africa 17

SCENIC VIEWS AND LOTS OF PENGUINS: Highlights of Cape Town

south africa 54

We went to South Africa for a wedding and spent some time exploring Cape Town. These were our highlights:

Boulders beach: A beach and walkway where you can spot hundreds of penguins with a scenic view.

south africa 02

south africa 06

south africa 05

south africa 04

south africa 03

south africa 07

Table Mountain: On a clear day, people rush to get the cable car up to Table Mountain. It is the backdrop of Cape Town, and from the top you get amazing views of the city and the sea. You can spend a few hours exploring and taking photos. Most people don’t go very far, so follow the path to Maclear’s Beacon and you will get most of the place to yourself.

south africa 50

south africa 58

south africa 57

south africa 56

south africa 55

south africa 53

south africa 52

south africa 51

Robben Island: Visiting the prison where Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid is one of the most popular activities in Cape Town. You take the ferry from the V&A Waterfront, then go through a guided visit of the island and prison. The ferry journey takes one hour and the boat is followed by playful seals.

The highlight of the island tour is visiting the prison: most of the guides were political prisoners there, so it’s a unique opportunity to learn about the place from someone who experienced it first-hand. It’s best to book in advance and visit early on the day.

south africa 39

south africa 40

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: These gardens are a beautiful place to spend a few hours. There are lots of native flora and you can also spot birds on the trees. A walkway gives you a great view onto Table Mountain from above the trees. We had lunch at their Tea Room which had lots of options for veggies with big and yummy salads.

south africa 46

south africa 45

south africa 44

south africa 43

south africa 42

south africa 41

Chapman’s Peak drive: Following this scenic route along a coastal road, you get amazing views over the sea and nearby mountains – there are plenty of lookout spots along the way. Breathtaking!

south africa 49

south africa 48

south africa 47

Kalk Bay: A cool area by the beach with plenty of independent shops and restaurants, including:

  • Satori: A popular Italian restaurant serving yummy pizzas and pasta.
  • Salt: A cool restaurant serving a selection of yummy pasta and mains, including vegan options.
  • Chartfield Guest House: A cool and chilled hotel in Kalk Bay with amazing views of the sea.

Mugg & Bean: a chain of coffee shops selling yummy refreshing drinks – the turmeric gingerade was a hit!

south africa 01

Stellenbosch: About one hour from Cape Town, the famous wine region has impressive scenery and amazing views. We visited:

  • Wild Clover Cottages: we spent one night in this nice property. Rooms overlook a game reserve where gemsbok and zebras laze about in the distance.
  • Babylonstoren: A garden and winery with lots of outdoor space, restaurants serving locally grown vegetables and more. A nice place to spend a couple of hours al fresco.

south africa 59

THE RIGHT TIME TO VISIT: Reflections and how to plan a trip to Myanmar

bagan 041

I’m so happy I’ve visited Myanmar. It’s a beautiful country and a great place to explore.

People are friendly, helpful and keen to make a good impression. There’s always someone smiling and waving at you or asking for a photo. And there’s no hassle, so you can happily engage with locals as they’re really just being nice.

bagan 050

I was surprised at how easy it was to travel and get around different places. There’s a good level of infrastructure and things work very well. Hotels were good, planes reliable and WiFi fast in most places.

bagan 054

Things are changing fast, so this was a good time to visit. You can see that places like Bagan and Inle Lake will soon be too touristy. On the other hand, some things get easier, as there are ATMs easily available and credit cards are accepted. Even online information can’t keep up with the speed of change, so some things were different from what I had read.

I think this was a good time to visit Myanmar – I’m keen to see how the country changes (and what happens politically), but I’m happy to have got a glimpse of its old ways.

bagan 030

bagan 013

HOW TO DO IT:

Itinerary planning:

I went to the most popular places, but spent a good amount of time in each. I spent:

  • 4 days in Yangon (at the beginning and end of the trip)
  • 2 days in Mandalay
  • 4 days in Bagan
  • 4 days in Inle Lake

That was a good range of places and a good amount of time. I wasn’t very lucky with the weather in Mandalay so I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

bagan 029

Travelling solo:

I knew Myanmar was a good place to travel alone, but it was better than I imagined. It’s really safe and there’s not really any hassle. But what made the biggest different was how easy it was to explore, either independently or in tours. Places are easy to navigate, people are helpful and things work well, so it’s an ideal place to discover by yourself.

bagan 038

Food:

Food in Myanmar is really delicious – you can get great curries and a wide range of dishes made with local ingredients. Especially the salads are really unique and yummy. It’s very easy to find veggie dishes as every restaurant has a good selection and there are lots of great local vegetables.

bagan 018

Getting around:

I chose to fly around as distances in Myanmar are huge, and I wasn’t really keen on spending ages on buses or trains. I found flying a good option, the service always worked well and tickets are not very expensive. I flew with Golden Myanmar and AirKBZ.

In cities you can get around by taxi, or in smaller towns by bike or e-bike. Everywhere I went it was easy to navigate and you can actually do a lot on foot too. I downloaded maps of all the places I visited onto Google Maps which was really useful.

bagan 023

yangon 010

Money:

People say Myanmar is more expensive than most places in Southeast Asia, but in comparison to the UK it’s still really cheap. A good hotel room will cost £15 (always including breakfast), a meal £3-4.

bagan 039

bagan 034

Tipping is not a part of Burmese culture but it’s always appreciated. ATMs have only been around for a few years, but are already easily found in all tourist destinations, which is a better option than carrying all your money in US$ everywhere.

There are lots of exchange places and most hotels can change money too. Nowadays you can pay everything in Kyat, so dollars aren’t really needed anymore.

bagan 002

bagan 003

bagan 014

bagan 028

bagan 027

bagan 036

bagan 051

mt popa 02

BALANCING FISHERMEN AND LOCAL WINE: Exploring chilled Inle Lake

inle 020

I really enjoyed Inle Lake, there’s lots to do and you can choose different activities. The lake is beautiful and huge, and it’s good to see it at different times with different light. I also really liked getting a bike and cycling around the lake – this is a bit more DIY and you can skip all the tourist stuff if you want.

inle 021

Nyaungshwe (the town where most people stay) is quite small and easy to navigate on foot. There are a few streets where all the restaurants are, and also plenty of places organising tours and renting bikes.

The atmosphere is quite chilled and there are plenty of places for a break and a drink. You don’t need long to explore it but it’s nice to walk around in the evenings finding a place for dinner.

inle 017

There’s a central market which is interesting to visit, selling all sorts of stuff mostly to locals.

The most popular activity to do in Inle is to get a boat tour around the lake (15,000MMK). You get to see lots of villages on stilts with people going about their lives. There are also some nice monasteries, lots of bird life and even floating vegetable gardens.

inle 019

inle 018

inle 014

The famous balancing fishermen are few and far in between now, but you still get to see some of them. You also stop at many local workshops where you can buy all sorts of handicraft – this is a bit touristy but can also be interesting. I bought a scarf made by Kayan women (known for their elongated necks).

Overall the boat trip is definitely a highlight, but it’s obvious that every tourist does it, so with more tourists coming to Myanmar things will probably become a bit fake. The trip takes about 6h, and it can get really cold in the lake, so you need to bring a good jumper but also wear lots of sunscreen.

inle 002

inle 003

inle 012

inle 013

I rented a bike for the day (2,000MMK) and set off exploring. I followed this useful itinerary and did the Inle Lake loop, which took about 5h. It’s good to start early when you get cooler temperatures.

My first stop was Shwe Yan Pyay, a wooden pagoda with a unique design. I then cycled southwest past the hot spring. You can get a boat to take you to Maung Thauk, at the other side of the lake, and that’s the best part of this bike ride. You get to see Inle Lake, which is great, but also you end up at a little village with a long wooden walkway which is very picturesque.

inle 001

inle 007

inle 008

inle 009

inle 010

I then followed the road on the east side up to Red Mountain Winery. This is a popular place with tourists and definitely worth a visit. You can taste 4 types of wine for 5,000MMK enjoying the view. There’s also a restaurant on site where you can have a meal with a glass of local wine.

inle 011

A great place to visit is Htet Eian Cave, a huge cave filled with thousands of Buddha statues. It’s not too far from Nyaungshwe, but it’s mostly uphill on a bike (in my case pushing the bike up the hill) so it’s best to go early when it’s not too hot.

The site itself is really interesting, the cave is really huge and there are Buddha statues wherever they can fit. Further inside the cave it gets really muddy, hot and slippery (you need to leave your shoes at the entrance).

inle 028

inle 027

inle 026

inle 025

I followed this with a visit to Lavender Spa II, which had great foot reflexology (19,000MMK for 1 hour – expensive for Myanmar, but absolutely worth it). Then a little trip to Red Mountain Winery for a glass of wine and snacks with a view. You can do all of this on a half-day trip.

From there it was back a Nyaungshwe at 1h30pm when it was really hot.

This whole trip is a fun thing to do as you get to see lots of villages on the way, farmers in the fields and kids playing around.

inle 023

I went to Aung Puppet Theatre (tickets 5,000) one evening. It’s a marionette theatre that carries on a dying tradition of puppet theatres in Myanmar. It’s a cute show and an interesting thing to do for something different.

inle 024

Food:

  • I went for dinner at Live Dim Sum, which served the most delicious food (a big dinner for one including drinks, dessert and tip for 11,000MMK).
  • Pub Asiatico: this is a cool bar clearly set up for foreigners, but serving cheap cocktails (2,000MMK at happy hour) and with good atmosphere.

inle 004

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: There are plenty of options, but I stayed at Aquarius Inn, which was simple but nice and had a great breakfast.
  • Getting around: Staying in Nyaungshwe is the best option, as there are good places for food and it’s easy to explore independently. Every hotel as well as lots of shops around the town can arrange boat trips, trekking, rent bikes and plan other activities, so it’s all really easy to do. My preferred option was exploring by bike, as you can see lots of things off the beaten track.

inle 005

inle 006

inle 016

inle 015

inle 022