Tag Archives: city
December 31, 2017

The Quirky Traveller Top Travel Tips of the Year

The Quirky Traveller - Quirky Travel Tips of the Year

At the end of the year, it’s become a tradition with travel bloggers to look back over the past 12 months and review our top trips of the year. Here are a few of my Quirky Travel highlights from a year when I made a conscious decision to do less overseas travel and explore more of the magical British Isles. Hopefully they will give you some inspiration and ideas for your own holiday plans.

Quirky Travel Holiday Tips

Take a ride on North Wales Vintage Railways

Ffestiniog steam train in Snowdonia in North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Ffestiniog steam train in Snowdonia

Taking a trip on one of many wonderful North Wales steam trains is to journey back to a time when rail travel was less frenetic and life moved at a more leisurely pace. I spent a few days trying out various options, including the quaint Ffestiniog Railway, Welsh Highland Railway and the Llangollen Railway, enjoying genteel luxury in elegant carriages pulled by a variety of impressive steam engines. I also fulfilled a life-long ambition to get to the top of the highest peak in Wales on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. You can usually get refreshments including meals and afternoon tea. I’d recommend you book in advance to ensure you get the best deal or choose one of the many package deals on offer from specialist railway travel companies. Read about my railway tour of Steam Railways of North Wales here.

Discover Nuremberg, an elegant Bavarian city of historic significance

Nuremberg city centre Germany

Nuremberg city centre

World-renowned artist Albrecht Dürer was born in Nuremberg in Bavaria, one of the most interesting regions of Germany. It’s the largest walled city in Europe and has been lovingly restored after heavy bombing during World War II. Nuremberg Castle, dating back to 1140, overlooks the oldest part of Nuremberg and there are plenty of splendid museums and art galleries, the Opera House and historic buildings to get a feel for its distinguished past. Make sure you try some of the hearty Bavarian food and excellent beer. I can also highly recommend a tour of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds to see how well the Germans are dealing with a challenging aspect of their history. During a press trip to the Germany Travel Mart we were given a glimpse of the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market – read about it here.

Mooch about Ottawa, Canada’s fascinating capital city

River view of Ottawa Canada - photo Zoe Dawes

River view of Ottawa

Often overlooked by visitors to Canada, Ottawa is a compact, friendly capital city with plenty of things to see and do to keep quirky travel visitors very busy for a few days. The excellent Museum of Canada encapsulates the essence of Canada whilst the Rideau Canal demonstrates the engineering capabilities of the early pioneers. I stayed in Byward Market, one of the liveliest areas, with loads of great bars, cafes, shops and restaurants. You can get really excellent food and drink in Ottawa; read about my Funky Food Tour of hipster Ottawa here.

Visit the newest World Heritage site in the UK

Sunset over Windermere in English Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

Sunset over Windermere

In June 2017 the English Lake District finally won UNESCO World Heritage status. After many years of trying, this beautiful part of the world was awarded this prestigious accolade, the first UK National Park to do so. The inscription says:

‘Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area, whose valleys have been modelled by glaciers in the Ice Age and subsequently shaped by an agro-pastoral land-use system characterized by fields enclosed by walls. The combined work of nature and human activity has produced a harmonious landscape in which the mountains are mirrored in the lakes. Grand houses, gardens and parks have been purposely created to enhance the beauty of this landscape. This landscape was greatly appreciated from the 18th century onwards by the Picturesque and later Romantic movements, which celebrated it in paintings, drawings and words.’

If you can, stay for a few days and really explore the area. It’s got so much to offer including stunning scenery, adventure activities, quaint villages, charming towns, loads of great pubs, restaurants and hotels plus a lively arts scene, historic houses and also many ways to get off the beaten track in Cumbria. Read about my weekend break with Good Life Lake District Cottages in the heart of the Lake District World Heritage site here.

See the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

The Quirky Traveller at the Taj Mahal India

I’ve left the best to last … Just about everyone has heard of the Taj Mahal but many have not seen it. I finally got to achieve a life-long dream to see this iconic building on my very first trip to India this year. It did not disappoint. Built by Shah Jehan between 1632 and 1643 in honour of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, it is breathtakingly lovely, much bigger than I expected and quite probably the most beautiful building in the world. India is one of the few places in the world where I’d strongly recommend visiting on a tour; read my article on Top 10 Reasons to Choose an Escorted Tour in India.

PS – Pye Motors Brand Ambassador

The new Ford Fiesta beside Morecambe Bay - The Quirky Travelller

My new Ford Fiesta beside Morecambe Bay

At the end of memorable year of quirky travel I was delighted to be chosen as Brand Ambassador for Pye Motors, a family-run Ford Dealership in North West England. I’m going to be out and about in my new Ford Fiesta, exploring lesser known areas around the Morecambe Bay area as well as across the UK. Watch out for #followpye updates in the coming blog posts.

I hope this article has given you some inspiration for a few new places to visit in the coming year. Do share your own suggestions in the Comment Box below. May all your quirky travel dreams come true …

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The Quirky Traveller Travel Tips of the Year

 

November 6, 2017

A funky Food Tour of hipsterish Hintonburg in Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu - Hintonburg Food Tour - Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu

The smell of freshly baked bread mingled seductively with caramelized onions, thai curry, toasted cheese and clam chowder. A buzz of chatter hummed round the industrial-chic cafe as customers tucked into wholesome, tasty food in one of the most popular and off-the-beaten trail cafes in Ottawa. I was at Art is In Bakery with guide Stefanie Siska of C’est Bon Cooking at the start of a unique food tour in Hintonburg, known as the ‘Burg’. It’s a hip neighbourhood of the city that’s up and come, reinvented itself from a hard-core working class district to THE place to go for eating out, independent shops, creative businesses and quirky coffee houses.

Art is in lunch - food tour Hintonburg Ottawa - collage Zoe Dawes

Art is In lunch

I was given a behind-the-scenes peek round Art is In cafe. From a whirl of very busy chefs, plate after plate of delicious food emerged; light-as-air croissants, door-stop sandwiches and scrumptious pancakes. In the bakery next door, crisp baguettes, hearty wholemeal loaves and many more tasty bakes were being loaded up for delivery around the city. It was a wrench to leave this foodie heaven and emerge into the unprepossessing surroundings of City Centre Avenue industrial estate.

Hintonburg Ottawa

City Centre Avenue – Hintonburg

However, our next stop on the food tour, punnishly named ‘Beyond the Pale Brewery, was only a couple of units away. This brewery is most definitely on the funky scale with beers called Pink Fuzz (grapefruit), The Darkness (oatmeal stout), Saison Tropicale (pineapple) and their classic Pale Ale Project. Brewer Shane Clarke told the story of two mates setting up one of Ottawa’s most popular and distinctly quirky breweries. “We want people to have fun with our beer. Whether it’s tasting with us at the brewery, drinking at home with friends and family, enjoying a pint at one of our great licensees, or joining us at a festival to spin the Wheel of Cask.”

Beyond the Pale beer

Beyond the Pale beer

We then headed off to the Happy Goat Coffee Company, hidden away down a side road you’d never come across by accident. But the cafe was heaving, with chatty people trading gossip whilst a guy played the piano. “At Happy Goat Coffee we promote the niche coffee market by encouraging neighbourhood-based small batch coffee roasting.” My cappuccino was definitely a cut above the Costa brigade – and who wouldn’t love a place that provides bone-shaped dog treats for its canine customers?

Happy Goat coffee - Food tour Ottawa Canada

Happy Goat coffee

With coffee you’ve got to have cake, haven’t you? At Suzy Q Doughnut Store, you get the best BEST doughnuts in Ottawa, judging by the queue out of the door onto the street. Flavours include Raspberry Cassis, Salty Caramel, London Fog, Sugar Munnki, Bloop and the Canadian star, Maple Bacon. Lording it over the store is a large moose head garlanded with flowers.

Suzy Q Maple Bacon Doughnuts - Ottawa Food Tour

Walking the streets of Hintonburg is a bit like walking on a film set. You can imagine a Canadian version of ‘Friends’ being set here. Stefanie said it was one of her favourite suburbs of Ottawa as it has its own distinctive brand of ‘cool’, being both friendly and interesting. She pointed out the decorated water hydrants, part of city art that is prevalent throughout the country. We called into Maker House, a furniture and craft store on Wellington Street. They also have a branch in downtown Byward Market. Here you can find a huge variety of top quality artisan wares. I fell in love with a silky-smooth wooden platter featuring the Maple Leaf commemorating Canada 150 birthday celebrations but it was heavy (and expensive) so I had to content myself with a couple of delicate Birch Bark bookmarks.

Birch Bark bookmarks Ottawa

Birch Bark bookmarks

After all the rich food and drink it was a relief to stop by Simply Raw Express, a ‘vegan, gluten-free, plant-based, organic restaurant, specializing in cold-pressed juices and clean eating.’ Stefanie explained it was set up in 2006 by Natasha, best-selling author and raw vegan of 23 years. Regular readers will know I’m more of a steak and chips woman, but I must admit the Collard Wrap filled with hummus, cabbage and a side of spiralized carrots with a Peaceful Warrior smoothie – bananas, kale, hemp & flax seeds and Sun Warrior protein (phew!) – was very enjoyable.

Simply Raw organic vegan food - Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Simply Raw wrap

By now I was starting to feel extremely full, which was a shame as the next place on our C’est Bon Food Tour was a funky little Mexican restaurant, La Cocina. Stefanie suggested we had a drink first and a refreshing margerita quickly materialised. I’m ashamed to say I could barely do justice to the spicy tacos (made with ‘in-house hand pressed corn tortilla) but I can most definitely recommend them.

La Cocina Margarita Mexican restaurant Ottawa

La Cocina Margarita

Finishing off our drinks, it was time for the last stop – Stella Luna Gelato Cafe. Oh yes, superb Italian gelato in the suburbs of Ottawa. The last time I had such smoothly divine ice-cream was on a weekend in Rome; this was just as good. The multi-award winning gelateria is the genuine article. Master Gelato Chef Tammy Giuliani ‘combines old-world techniques and recipes with a passion for finely prepared food.

Stella Luna gelateria - Hintonburg Ottawa Food Tour

Stella Luna gelato

I met both Italian Tammy and his Canadian wife, whose love story is behind the success of their ice-cream, cakes, tarts, pies, crepes and coffee. It was only polite to have a tub of their Chocolate Sundae (rich chocolate, maple, bourbon, candied pecans with a fudge ripple) with a dash of Strawberry … A truly scrumptious end to a really excellent food tour.

Many thanks to Stefanie Siska of  C’est Bon Cooking for a fascinating and very tasty glimpse into the food and drink on offer in Hintonburg. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Hintonburger - Food Tour Ottawa Canada

Hintonburger

Check out Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

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Ottawa Food Tour Canada - image Zoe Dawes

July 1, 2017

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the lively capital city

Ottawa Canada 150 - photo zoe dawes

Ottawa celebrates Canada 150

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Canada

Happy Birthday to you!

Maple Leaf platter Canada 150

Beautiful wooden Maple Leaf Platter seen in Ottawa Craft Store

On 1st July, 1867 Confederation united the country’s first three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada (including Ontario and Quebec) into a federation known as the Dominion of Canada. Now, a hundred and fifty years later, the country is celebrating that date with a year long party of events and commemorative memorabilia. I recently spent a week in the capital, Ottawa, where the whole city was en fete and getting ready for Canada 150 in colourful style.

Aberdeen Pavilion Lansdowne Park Ottawa Canada 150

Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

I will be writing about my trip in more detail later, but in the meantime, here are a few images from Ottawa that sum up the beauty, diversity and history of Canada.

Images of Canada 150

Queen Victoria

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament Canada 150

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament

This glorious portrait of Queen Victoria hangs in Canada’s Parliament Building, reminder of the country’s strong ties to Great Britain and its historic past.  The portrait has survived numerous disasters including fire so it’s clearly a survivor. Take a tour round the building; our guide told us it was her favourite painting there and that no-one knows who painted it.

Canadian Parliament

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower Ottawa Canada 150

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower

Parliament Hill is the focus of the main Canada 150 party held on July 1st, as well as the annual Canada Day celebrations. Wander round the grounds and spot the many statues and artworks that celebrate its fascinating past. When I visited, there was a great deal of work being done in preparation for the big day, as well as a lot of renovation work. It’s a meeting point for locals and visitors who enjoy walking round Parliament Hill as well as relaxing on the lawn. NB. From 2018 the main Parliament Building will be closed for at least 10 years for total refurbishment, so get there soon if you want to have a look round!

Aninshinabe Scout

Statue of 'Anishinabe Scout' by Hamilton MacCarthy overlooking Parliament Hill Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Statue of ‘Anishinabe Scout’ by Hamilton MacCarthy

Find the ‘Anishinabe Scout’ made by Hamilton MacCarthy in 1918. It stands opposite Parliament Hill overlooking the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River. It represents the First Nations people who helped in the development of Canada. All round the city there are many excellent sculptures, some dating back to the 19th century and others very contemporary.

The Canadian Museum of History

Canadian Museum of History Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

This is the stunning Main Hall in Canada Museum of History. The museum is actually in the city of Gatineau, over the river from Ottawa, but feels very much a part of the capital. The lower floor has a large collection of First Nations totems and many artefacts telling the story of the people who lived in this country well before the first travellers arrived. Unfortunately, the renowned Canadian History Hall was closed in preparation for the Canada 150 opening on July 1st but I am sure it is fascinating.

National Gallery of Canada

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada

A ginormous spider lurks in front of the National Gallery of Canada, quirky monument to the country’s artistic spirit. Towering 30feet above the street, Maman, was made by Louise Bourgois from steel and marble. Inside the beautiful glass museum is a comprehensive collection of Canadian artworks. ‘The National Gallery of Canada strives to provide Canadians with a sense of identity and pride in Canada’s rich visual arts heritage and to make art accessible to all.’ I especially enjoyed the Indigenous Art Galleries, where intricate antler carvings are beautifully displayed next to simple images of wildlife and people.

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market Ottawa - Canada 150

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market

One of the most famous products of Canada is maple syrup. The Maple Leaf features on the Canadian Flag and the trees can be found all over Ottawa as well as in many other parts of the country. I learnt all about maple syryp production at Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush, a couple of hours’ drive from the capital. (More on that trip in another article.) There are shops selling this luscioous syrup all over the city and at Lansdowne Park Market I found a stall not only selling it but also explaining the changes in labelling that have recently been brought in.

Obama Cookies

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence

So what has Barack Obama got to do with Canada 150? Well, when he was USA President he visited Ottawa and called into the Moulin de Provence bakery in downtown Byward Market. He bought one of their iced maple leaf cookies. The bakery was very savvy in its marketing them as ‘Obama Cookies’ and now every visitor to city has to try one of these iconic biscuits. Of course, I bought one in a commemorative tin to bring home.

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

One of the greatest Canadian engineering feats of the 19th century, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, flows through Ontario, finally cascading out into the Ottawa River. Constructed to aid British military operations against a possible American invasion, it was opened in 1832 and is 22km long. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America and the name comes from the French for ‘curtain’ due to its appearance in the lock system in front of the Chateau Laurier. This famous hotel opened in the early 20th century and was another of the railway hotels that spread across Canada as the trains brought the modern world to this enormous country. I can highly recommend the cocktails in Zoe’s Bar!

Celebrate Canada 150

I travelled to Canada with Air Transat courtesy of Destination Canada with a group of 13 other fab UK travel bloggers visiting 14 cities in celebration of Canada 150. I stayed at the very cool Andaz Ottawa in Byward Market. Many thanks to everyone at Ottawa Tourism and the lovely Canadians for making me so welcome.

If you enjoyed this celebration of Canada’s birthday do share it with others and leave a comment at the end of the post. If you have any tips or stories about Canada, please share those too!

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May 29, 2017

An illuminating bus tour of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, Germany

Nazi Party Rally Grounds video Nuremberg

I very nearly didn’t go. There were a number of tours on offer that day and I was torn between culinary (and beer) highlights of Nuremberg, a walking tour of this historic city in Bavaria or the Train Museum. The idea of visiting the Nazi Party Rally Grounds was not so appealing, mainly because of the very negative connotations of the name, a part of history many of us want to forget. However, a number of people had already done the tour and said it was excellent. I am so glad I listened to them. Here’s why …

The Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour

Nazi Party Rally Grounds bus tour Nuremberg

Lest we forget; that’s the resonant message from World War I, yet we do forget and we shouldn’t. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds Video Bus Tour is run by Geschichte Für Alle (History for Everyone) and outlines ‘the use of architecture as a theatrical backdrop to the various events, explains the function of the rallies themselves and the way in which Nuremberg has dealt with its National Socialist legacy.’ I was on a shortened version of the full day tour; we had three hours to get an idea of what Hitler envisaged and what remains today.

Map of Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg 1940 - image Lencer

Map of Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg 1940 – image Lencer

Our guide, Werner Fiederer, welcomed us aboard the coach and told us we’d be seeing some video footage from A Triumph of Will. This 1935 propaganda film of Hitler and the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, was was directed, produced, edited, and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl. Werner then gave some background history to the ‘success’ of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s megalomaniac plans for Germany and the world. He explained why they resonated with a populace exhausted from one world war and broken by the privations of the Weimar Republic.

'A Triumph of Will' by Leni Riefenstahl. Nazi Rally Gournds BusTour Nuremberg Germany - photo zoe dawes

‘The Triumph of Will’ by Leni Riefenstahl.

Our first stop on the Nazi Party Rally Grounds tour was the Congress Hall (Kongresshalle). It was intended to seat 50,000 with a self-supporting roof. It was started in 1935 but was unfinished. Left derelict for many years, in 2001, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds) was opened with the permanent exhibition Faszination und Gewalt (Fascination and Terror), located in the northern wing. In the southern building, the Serenadenhof, the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra have their home.

Nuremberg_Aerial_Kongresshalle Aerial photo of Congress Hall - photo Nicohofmann

Aerial photo of Nazi Party Congress Hall – photo Nicohofmann

As we drove into the Congress Hall arena, the sheer size of the edifice took my breath away. It represents the audacity of Hitler’s terrifying vision. A few months’ before, I’d seen the Colosseum in Rome for the first time; this massive monument to Imperial Rome is genuinely awe-inspiring. The Congress Hall in Nuremberg, which was inspired by the Colosseum, is simply chilling. We got out of the coach and had time to wander around and get a feel for what it might have been like in Hitler’s day. Incongruously, the wooden stalls for the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market (Kristkindlesmarkt), are stored on the ground floor.

Zoe Dawes at Congress Hall Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg Germany

Inside the Congress Hall arena

From here we drove past a tranquil park. Through the coach window, I glimpsed yachts drifting round the lake, rowing boats skimming across the water, runners jogging round the perimeter, children playing beside the shore and a colourful mural celebrating Nuremberg’s Volksfest. Behind this tranquil scene loomed the Congress Hall …

Park by Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg

Next stop was the Zeppelin Field, so-named because in 1909 Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin landed with one of his airships in this location. Werner told us it was one of architect Albert Speer‘s first works for the Nazi Party and was based upon the Pergamon Altar, a monumental Greek structure built in 2nd century BC, now reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. It was here that Hitler laid on his biggest shows, with seating for up to 200,000 to witness his messianic speeches from the ‘Führer’s Grandstand‘. There used to be a huge gilded swastika towering over the stadium. It was blown up by occupying American soldiers  on April 25, 1945. This clip (uploaded onto YouTube by themadchopper) was edited from the original filmed by L.B. Fenberg.

Werner explained, “Speer designed the stadium to become a “cathedral of light”, created by 130 high-power anti-aircraft searchlights ringing the field at intervals of 40 feet (12m) casting brilliant beams of light high into the sky. For an audience with very little to entertain them, this would have been a stunning spectacle, equivalent to a huge firework display today.” The podiums for the searchlights can still be seen.

Zeppelin Field Grandstand Nuremberg Germany Nazi Party Rally Grounds - photo zoedawes

Zeppelin Field Grandstand

Today it all looks rather shabby. A car with L plates waited for us to cross over to the grandstand. The area is now used for learner drivers,  various sports and races, concerts and festivals. The grandstand is gradually crumbling away, as the German authorities decide what to do with it. ‘Albert Speer … claimed that he had used special building materials to ensure that the complex would be like the remains of the Roman Empire and “last for a thousand years”. He could hardly have been more wrong.’ (The Independent article.)

Nazi Party Rally at the Zeppelin Field Nuremberg Germany

Nazi Party Rally at the Zeppelin Field

Back on the bus, we watched more video clips of Nazi Rallies and Hitler’s speeches to the masses as well as a short clip from Charlie Chaplin‘s 1940 movie ‘The Great Dictator‘. In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he could not have made the film if he had known about the true extent of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at the time.

The Great Dictator- Charlie Chaplin - Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour - Nuremberg - photo zoe dawes

The Great Dictator- Charlie Chaplin

Our final stop was the Great Road (Große Straße), almost 2km long and heading directly towards Nuremberg Castle, which we could see in the distance. It was originally intended as a parade road for the Wehrmacht, the united armed forces of Nazi Germany. We saw the original grey and black granite paving slabs, apparently made to be the exact length of a Nazi goose-step. As we drove back into the city, I glimpsed the remains of stone ‘seats’ where the crowds would sit to watch the troops march past. A chilling reminder of what might have been …

The Great Road - Nazi Rally Grounds Tour - Nuremberg Germany

The Great Road 2017

Returning to the centre of Nuremberg, I wondered what differences there would be in the world today if Hitler had won the war. Impossible to know, but as a couple of friendly locals directed me back to my hotel, I was grateful that he had not achieved his insane vision, and appreciative of a chance to see how modern day Germany is dealing with this sinister legacy.

For more details of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Video Bus Tour, which includes a visit to the Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials were held, go to Geschichte Für Alle. Many thanks to Werner Fiederer for his informative and balanced insight into this challenging era and to German National Tourist Board for inviting me to visit historic Nuremberg.

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Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour Nuremberg - image zoe dawes

February 10, 2017

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia

Snowmobile on frozen lake in Finland Scandinavia

Snowmobile in Finland

You may not automatically think of Scandinavia when you the consider things to do around Valentine’s Day. A proposal on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a romantic dinner in Rome, a luxurious hotel in the Lake District or maybe a gentle stroll along a beach in Spain? However, there are many lovely experiences to be had in the Nordic countries of Europe, especially in winter; here are 5 of my favourites

Scandinavia – Norway

Take ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage’ to the Arctic Circle

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour Norway Scandinavia

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour

The famous Hurtigruten Ferry may not be the most luxurious of cruise ships but what she lacks in grandeur she more than makes up for in romantic adventurousness. Still running as a postal service, ferries sail daily from Bergen via deep Norwegian fjords up to Tromsø and Kirkenes in the Arctic Circle. You pass some of the world’s most stunning scenery and in winter the snow-clad landscapes are truly breathtaking. Stops include Havoysund and Honningsvag from where you can get off to visit the North Cape. It’s an unforgettable voyage.

Melt the ice in a Snow Hotel

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel - Norway

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel

On the outskirts of Kirkenes, 250 miles into the Arctic Circle, you will find a very special place to stay. Snuggle up together in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel and you’ll feel on top of the world – literally. Every year tons of ice are used to create a unique hotel which positively encourages togetherness. When I was there, two couples were on their honeymoon and there’d been an engagement party the night before. Each ‘bedroom’ has a different theme with beautifully lit ice-sculptures throughout. The temperature is a regular -4 degrees Celsius and there are lots of activities including husky and reindeer rides. Scandinavia accommodation doesn’t get ‘cooler’ than this …

Sweden

Get away from it all with Greta Garbo

 Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs Sweden Scandinavia

Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs

To be precise, stay in the hotel where Greta Garbo, the reclusive Swedish actress, went to get away from it all in her homeland. The Ystad Saltjöbsad Hotel in the Skåne region of south Sweden has everything you want from a luxury break in Scandinavia. Gorgeous beach setting, gourmet dining, classic Swedish design and the indulgent spa are all highly conducive to romance. Enjoy a bottle of champagne in a double bath or relax together in one of the outdoor hot tubs – perfect any time of year.

Have fika – anytime, anywhere

Fika in Malmo Sweden

Fika in Malmo

Share a big piece of chocolate cake or light-as-a-feather lemon sponge in a cosy cafe with the one you adore. The Swedes love their coffee and cake; you can get great bakes all over Scandinavia but in Sweden they make a big deal of Fika. It’s basically ‘coffee and cake with friends’ (or lovers!) and in most workplaces throughout the country they stop for fika everyday. I had the most divine brownies in a greenhouse at Malmo Castle – simple pleasures in Sweden.

Finland

Cuddle up on a husky ride through the frozen north

Husky sleigh in Finland

Husky sleigh in Finland

Wrapped up in reindeer furs, dashing through the snow on the husky sleigh in the north of Finland – magic. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to visit Finland as it’s covered in snow and there are lots of wonderful outdoor experiences for you to try. You could try reindeer racing or maybe a snowmobile safari across a frozen lake. In the evening sample local delicacies like Finnish meatballs, moose casserole, sauteed reindeer or Rönttönen, a pastry filled with lingonberries.

Iceland

Get hot and steamy with an old geysir

Geysir Hot Springs at Haukadalur

Hot Springs at Haukadalur

For a romantic break with a real difference, visit Iceland. This is definitely the quirkiest of the Nordic countries and can be very romantic. Stroll round the little streets of historic Reyjavik with its wooden houses, quaint museums and trendy bars. Take a tour of the Golden Circle to see the steamy geysirs and thundering Gulfoss Waterfall or go for a dip in the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.

And finally …

Kallbadhus Malmo 03 photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism Sweden Scandinavia

Kallbadhus Malmo – photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism

There are plenty more romantic things to do and places to see in Scandinavia. You might see the Northern Lights at any time in winter, or maybe discover Norse heritage in Greenland – more info here www.best-served.co.uk/destinations/greenland – or get even more off the beaten track in the Faroe Islands. Without doubt, Scandinavia has something for all lovers of romantic travel.

This article is in collaboration with Best Served Scandinavia, specialists in tailor-made holidays.

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Romantic Scandinavia Experiences by Zoe Dawes

January 21, 2017

Top 10 Tips for Food and Drink in Rome

La Renella Bakery in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

La Renella Bakery in Trastevere

Food and Italy; they go together like cheese and wine. With a culinary heritage going back centuries, Italians pride themselves on their knowledge and love of good food and drink. Rome’s historic sights attract visitors from around the world but the way to its heart is through its food and drink. Here are my top tips for making the most of Rome’s foodie scene.

Eating out in Rome

1.  Ask a Roman

Rome Restaurant L'Arcano

Ristorante L’Arcano

Rule Number One is always ‘Ask a Local’. Of course, you can use websites, blog posts, guide books and people who have visited but to discover the best places to eat and drink in Rome ask a Roman. It may be the hotel receptionist, someone you meet in a cafe or a friend of a friend. I got excellent tips from Citalia Rome Concierge Dany, who loves his city with a passion and was able to give me some very useful insider foodie tips. They included suggestions places for quick snacks, traditional meals, fine dining, good wines and local markets.

2. Try street food including ‘pizza al taglio’

Pizzarium Bonci Rome - photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizzarium Bonci – photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizza is Italy’s most famous export and Rome is renowned for the quality of its wood-fired pizzas. Search out the ‘hole in the wall’ pizzerias to try ‘pizza al taglio (a slice of pizza)  You can find these pizzerias all over the city. Da Remo (Piazza Santa Maria), Pizzarium Bonci (Via della Meloria) and La Boccacia in Trastevere come highly recommended. Eat on the hoof or sitting beside one of the historic sights.

Pepy's Bar Pizzeria Rome

Pepy’s Bar

I got a tasty artichoke and mushroom pizza to take-away from Pepy’s Bar on the Piazza Berberini. Their sandwiches are works of art. Other street food includes delicious pastries and pies; check out La Renella, one of Rome’s oldest bakeries, founded in 1848 (see photo above.)

3. Explore Trastevere by night

Papa Re Restaurant, Trastevere

Papa Re Restaurant

The narrow streets of Trastevere (across the Tiber) are crammed with excellent bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s difficult to get a bad meal here but rule of thumb says the more Italians there are and less tourists, the better the restaurant will be. Down a tiny lane away from the main area, I saw about 20 people (looking Italian) waiting patiently for a simple restaurant called da Enzo to open.. That’s a good sign. Wandering about in the early eve, I found a tiny bar buzzing with lively chat, serving a good selection of anti-pasti and simple main courses.

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere Bar, Rome

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere

I sat outside with an aperitif, Aperol Spritz (prosecco and Aperol), a dish a VERY fresh pistachios and watched the world go by. I can’t remember its name, but it was just round the corner from Le Mani in Pasta which is on Via dei Genovese (see Tip 4).

Rome at Night

4. Eat like a Roman

Artichokes in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

Artichokes

Seems obvious but so many people go abroad and then look for food they have back home. Search out Rome specialities like carciofi (artichokes) cooked in various ways, saltimbocca (veal escalope), gnocchi (potato dumplings), bucatini all’amatriciana (tomato-based sauce with pancetta, chilli and cheese) and suppli (fried rice balls coated in breadcrumbs with cheese or other filling) similar to arancini found in other parts of Italy. Freshly baked Italian bread such as focaccia with goat’s cheese is a simple treat.

Italian food in Rome - collage zoe dawes

Italian Food

5. Understand the Italian menu

Le Mani in Pasta menu Rome

Le Mani in Pasta menu (English translation)

The majority of restaurants in Rome will have menus in English but it is worth understanding the different courses. Antipasti (starter) may include cured meats, cheese, bruschetta (toasted bread with toppings), olives. Primi (first course) is usually a pasta dish or soup. Be warned, this may fill you up so much you won’t have space for Secondi (second course). This consists of either fish, meat, chicken and more commonly nowadays, a vegetarian option.

Fontana di Venere dinner Rome

Fontana di Venere dinner

Contorni are vegetable or salad dishes. Dolci is dessert, which could be tiramisu (coffee and cream), gelato or maybe panne cotta (cooked cream). Finally you may have a Caffè (coffee) or Digestivi (liquor such as grappa or limoncello) or both. Lunch is from around 12 noon – 2.30pm and dinner from 8pm – 11pm. (Adapted from Walks of Italy How to Read an Italian Menu.)

6. Eat well in in a Trattoria

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at 'Le Mani in Pasta' Trastevere Rome

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at ‘Le Mani in Pasta’

If you want simple food, served with (usually) friendly service, look for a trattoria, or osteria. These traditional restaurants, usually family-run, can be found all over Rome, but especially in Trastevere. They often have tables outside and offer a decent range of ‘home-made’ dishes and wines. The Menu de Dia, is good value, with a basic choice of starter, main and often dessert, plus a drink included in the price. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at Le Mani in Pasta a stylish osteria in Trastevere. (See menu above.) The starter was sublime: bresaola (cured beef) with soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella and grapefruit slices. The sharpness of the fruit cut through the cheese and, despite it being such a large plate, I ate every divine mouthful.

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit - Le main in pasta restaurant, Rome - photo zoe dawes

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit

The waiter recommended house speciality spaghetti carbonara; I watched the chef cooking it through the kitchen window. It was glossily rich and went very well with Le Rubie, the house red from Lazio region. (See photo of spaghetti carbonara dish here) For dessert I had a refreshing lemon sorbet and finished off with an espresso.

7. Visit one of Rome’s markets

Cheese counter at Farmers Market Rome

Cheese counter at Farmers Market

One of the best ways to get a flavour of Rome is to wander round one if its markets. Here you will see the Romans doing one of their favourite things; debating which is the best meats, cheese, vegetables, fruit, flowers, wine, pasta, pulses, olive oil and flowers to take enjoy at home. Campo de’ Fiori is the best known, but for a quieter experience, try Circo Massimo Mercato di Campagna Amica (Circus Maximus Farmer’s Market.)

8. When in Rome – eat gelato

Pistachio Gelato in Rome Italy The Quirky Traveller

Enjoying my pistachio gelato in Rome

Italy has the best ice-cream in the world. Well, to be accurate, gelato is not ice-cream. It has a lower fat content but more sugar with fruit or nut flavourings . So when in Rome, eat gelato. Virtually every street in the main tourist areas of the city have a gelateria (ice-cream parlour) and it’s difficult to get a bad one. The best-known is Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario), a 19th c café near the Pantheon. One of my favourite flavours is pistachio; go for the sludgy green, not bright green, as it will be natural not artificially coloured.

9. Avoid the worst pizza in Rome

Rome's worst pizza at L'Ottagona

Rome’s worst pizza at L’Ottagona

A tip from Dany, the Citalia concierge; avoid cafes, bars, restaurants and shops right next to the famous sights like the Colosseum, the Parthenon and the Forum. Common sense, yes, but let this be a warning to you. I was joining a Grey Line tour of the Vatican City and we met beside cafe bar L’Ottagono, in Piazza del Risorgimento. I’d not eaten so for speed, even though Dany had told me to avoid it, I ordered a pizza. Don’t. It was as bad as it looks here; overcooked, flabby, salty ham and stringy cheese …

10. Shop for food and drink souvenirs

Panetteria Romana in Rome Italy

Panetteria Romana

Take home a flavour of Rome (import regulations permitting!) from one of the many foodie shops, delicatessens or wineries in Rome. Olive oil, fresh herbs, cheese, olives and pasta are all easy to pack and will remind you of Rome. Lazio region wines include some very good whites, including Orvieto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and reds from such as SangioveseMontepulciano and Merlot grapes. I brought back a rope of garlic bulbs and some fragrant rose-flavoured biscuits from the market and crunchy almond biscotti from Paneterria Romana in Trastevere. Delicious flavours from a tasty weekend in Rome …

Italian delicatessen Rome

Italian delicatessen Rome

Many thanks to Citalia, leading specialist in Italian holidays, who organised 48 hours in Rome weekend. They earned the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula for six consecutive years. The Citalia team are friendly, expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Rome page. This trip was a Travelator Media world-wide campaign. Find out more about Travelator Media here.

I do hope you have enjoyed this taste of Rome – leave a comment here and if you have any tips for where else to eat in Rome I’d love to know.

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Top 10 Food and Drink Tips - Rome Italy

January 9, 2017

Top food and drink in Fremantle, Western Australia

Sail and Anchor beers Fremantle

Sail and Anchor beers

For a small city, Fremantle, on the coast of Western Australia, punches well above its weight in terms of great places to eat, drink and have fun. Not only does it have a great many excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, there are a number of micro-breweries, bakeries, delicatessens and quirky foodie outlets to suit all tastes. Many of them are housed in heritage buildings, for Fremantle is one of Australia’s oldest cities with a busy working port and a vibrant, creative heart.

Attic Cafe – Bannister Street

Attic Cafe Fremantle Western Australia

Attic Cafe

One of the best cafes in town, the Attic Cafe, opposite the Hougoumont Hotel in Bannister Street is a great place for breakfast, coffee or take-away. They have a tasty selection of freshly made pies, fritters wraps, salads and rolls, including honey roast pumpkin and salt beef. For breakfast you could choose baked oats with berry compote, smashed avocado with lime, feta and quinoa or more exotic Shakshouka; eggs poached in a Tunisian style sauce with white cheese. I had perfectly cooked scrambled eggs with olive oil, greens and sourdough bread. Their cakes are to die for …

Attic Cafe food Fremantle Western Australia

Attic Cafe food

A night out in Fremantle

Pakenham Street Fremantle at night

Pakenham Street

I stayed in Fremantle for two nights and loved its attractive architecture, lively vibe and youthful outlook. Rusty Creighton, Two Feet and a Heartbeat Tours, font of local knowledge, not just on food and drink, but just about every aspect of Fremantle culture, history and people, took a group of us on a historical night tour. We started off at our hotel, the Hougoumont, named after a 19th c ship which was the last vessel to transport convicts to Australia. Their names and crimes are listed on the hotel wall.

Hougoumont Hotel Fremantle

Hougoumont Hotel

After crisp-baked pizza and a drink we set off along the main street, lined with beautiful buildings dating back to the 19th century, very old by Australian standards.

The National Hotel – High Street

The Boxing Kangaroo - Swan Lager - National Hotel - Fremantle - photo zoe dawes

The Boxing Kangaroo

Rusty pointed out a mural of a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, holding a can of Swan Lager. “The Swan Brewery has closed but the Boxing Kangaroo became the symbol of America’s Cup win in 1983, as it was used on a team flag. The original flag is now in the Western Australia Museum in Freo.” It’s on the side of the National Hotel, another famous Fremantle institution. It’s been a hotel since 1886 and has intricate wrought iron balconies.

The National Hotel in Fremantle

The National Hotel

There’s a lively bar and popular restaurant, serving decent pub grub, including good value steak and chips. We’d eaten there the night before, in the upstairs dining room. Downstairs there was a group playing covers of popular songs with impromptu dancing round the tables. A door decorated with orange and red stained glass flames commemorates a serious fire in 1975.

Bread in Common – Pakenham Street

Bread in Common Fremantle

Bread in Common display

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted all around as we entered the bakery. But this was not just any bakery, this was Bread in Common, a bakery with restaurant, bar, delicatessen counter and vegetable garden attached. Actually the vegetable garden is a couple of raised beds in the street in front of the 1898 Listed Building, growing a very healthy display of lettuces, herbs and other fresh produce. From Hansel and Gretel, the two massive wood-fired ovens, come a wide variety of breads, made using the freshest ingredients including different flours, sourdough, fruits and spices.

Bread in Common Bakery and Restaurant Fremantle

Bread in Common

We watched as the bustling open kitchen prepared meals and admired the excellent wines displayed above the bar. House specialties include roasted pork belly with fermented kohlrabi, pear, radish and mustard, and salmon with baby peppers, kale and pineapple vinegar.

Fremantle Markets – South Terrace & Henderson Street

Fremantle Market

Fremantle Market

Within a purpose-built market hall, erected in 1897, are a collection of markets, including fresh fruit and veg, clothes, cooked food and household goods. You can buy enormous Indian samosas, admire beautifully carved melons, papayas and apples, buy a big, knobbly custard apple or try a guaranteed hangover cure. A ‘Stunned Emu‘ advertises quirky magnets and other souvenirs. I can highly recommend Small Batch flavoured chocolate bars.

Fremantle Market goods

Downtown Fremantle

From the market we headed off down-town, along South Terrace towards the sea. We passed cosy wine bars, noisy pubs, cool cafes and cosmopolitan restaurants serving food from around the globe. People were queuing good-naturedly to get inside Metropolis nightclub and nearby Salt and Anchor was heaving with beer-lovers quaffing over 20 Aussie and international craft beers on tap and many more bottled beers. On the pavement a street artist played jazz and Latin tunes on his electric organ and a couple we’re doing a salsa. We crossed the Esplanade and passed the skate park; my son would be very impressed with its contemporary design. At Fishing Boat Harbour is one of Fremantle’s most famous eateries, Little Creatures.

Little Creatures Brewery – Fishing Boat Harbour

Little Creatures Brewery bicycle Fremantle Western Australia

Little Creatures Bar

Entering the brewery, housed in a converted boathouse, the noise and delicious smell of food hit us full on. We made our way past the enormous metal cyclinders of brewing beers and rows of trestle tables and found a table at the back of the restaurant area. Upstairs more tables line a narrow corridor which has an eclectic collection of local modern art. It’s a fascinating place, attracting a mix of all ages who come for the excellent beer (their Pale Ale and seasonal beers are most popular), wood-fired pizzas, sharing platters and hearty mains such as slow-cooked brisket.

Little Creatures Brewery Fremantle Western Australia

We ordered a whole load of plates including pumpkin and mushroom pizzas, kangaroo and tomato chutney, marinated octopus, veggie nachos, sticky lamb ribs and sea-salty fresh oysters. It was a real feast of colourful, well-cooked food, great flavours and generous portions. We drank vast quantities of their beer and excellent wines whilst Rusty regaled us with fascinating stories ending the evening feeling very merry and full of Freo joie de vivre …

Cheers from Little Creatures in Fremantle Western Australia

Cheers from ‘Little Creatures’ in Fremantle

That morning we’d got the ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island and spent the day there. Read about my search for the quirky quokka of Rottnest Island here.

Rottnest Island Bus - Western Australia

Rottnest Island Bus

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA. I’d like to thank everyone, including my fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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Fremantle Food & Drink