Thursday, 30 July 2015

Prague in 48 hours: The food

Before I got to the city, food was definitely *not* the first thing I thought of when I imagined visiting Prague.

Of course, it was the city's many sights that initially sprang to mind. The orange rooftops, a castle on the hill, the Astronomical Clock and the many spires - these are the things I daydreamed about.

When I did finally make my trip there, the whole visit was a surprise, as my boyfriend planned it all for my birthday. Thanks to reading plenty of other travel blogs, I had an idea of what I wanted to see while there. Little did I know, though, I would be left as equally (and pleasantly) surprised by the city's food as I was by the attractions.

Prague Christmas market

Over the course of those few days, we encountered traditional Czech dishes - from sweet treats to street food to hearty stews. 

If you're heading over to Prague soon, I've rounded up my favourite dishes and drinks I sampled while in the city. As a bonus, I've picked three superb places for an authentic dining experience.

Read on, but beware - this post may leave you feeling hungry! 

Czech dishes you have to try in Prague

If you've travelled anywhere in Eastern Europe before, some of these dishes may sound/look familiar. To cope with the cold winters, meaty stews and dishes involving potatoes feature strongly on menus and beer is the drink of choice for locals.

But there's so much more than this; whatever your preference, I guarantee that at least one of these dishes will pique your interest.

Eat ALL the dumplings!

I'm a Pole, so I'm very familiar with dumplings, namely pierogi. In Prague, however, dumplings take on a number of different forms.

The most common one doesn't look like a dumpling at all. To me, knedliky resemble slices of white bread with the crusts cut off. This breadlike appearance aside, these dumplings are dense, made up of wheat or potatoes and are perfect for mopping up those meaty stews I mentioned before. 

Goulash at Svejk restaurant
A Czech staple: Goulash and dumplings.

Since our visit was in winter, the goulash-and-dumplings combo became our go-to when hiding out from the cold weather outside.

You can also get stuffed dumplings, which turned out to be my favourite kind. Bacon lardons and sauerkraut inside potato-based dumplings? Heaven.

Delicious dumplings in Prague
And the very best type of dumplings.

Indulge in the street food - Langos

Say it with me: Deep. Fried. Flatbread.

And then just to quadruple the temptation, cover all of this with grated cheese and tomato sauce.

We tried langos for the first time when we spotted a crowd around one stand at the Prague Christmas market. Intrigued, we decided to order whatever they were selling, and we ended up with this.

Langos, street food in Prague

Do not let the langos' humble appearance fool you - this is indulgence at its best. Made up of a simple dough that's then deep-fried, langos can be served in a number of ways. Sometimes there's sour cream, sometimes there's a meat topping and, although we didn't find this, you can also get sweet versions of langos.

If you, like me, find yourself craving snacks of the deep-fried variety from time to time, the salty and cheese-covered langos will be the perfect answer.

Meat, meat, meat

This was another similarity we spotted with other Eastern European countries, as Prague seems to be as focused on having the widest array of cured meats and sausages possible.

Even as we sat in restaurants, waitrons would ask us whether we wanted a side plate of sausages while we waited for our mains. Since Chris is a meat fiend, I think he was rather happy with this arrangement.

Snack, anyone?

Friday, 17 July 2015

Reliving Istanbul memories at #5SensesofTurkey

Looking at this blog, you won't see much about my trip to Turkey last year. For many reasons, I haven't quite been able to put those experiences into words just yet.

Luckily, an event I attended this week has given me new encouragement to do so. Thomas Cook Airlines invited me and a number of other bloggers from all disciplines to immerse ourselves into the #5SensesofTurkey.

One of the sense stations at #5SensesofTurkey. Photo credit: Thomas Cook Airlines.

With the promise of exotic perfumes, delicious food and other activities inspired by Turkey, we were in for a night of being transported to this country - but without having to travel anywhere!

Thomas Cook Airlines flies to four Turkish destinations: Antalya, Izmir, Bodrum and Dalaman. In the course of a single evening, we would get to taste, smell, see, feel and hear fragments of those places.

For the event, Thomas Cook Airlines had set up a number of stations, with each corresponding to one of the senses.

As I wandered from station to station, I couldn't help but be reminded of my own time in Turkey. I've only visited Istanbul but each sense brought me back to an experience I had while in the city.

Sight - The colours of Sultanahmet

Even the venue of #5SensesofTurkey looked the part. With turquoise walls and Turkish-inspired decor, Paradise by Way of Kensal Green immediately reminded me of the sights I saw in my favourite part of Istanbul - Sultanahmet. The colours of the room mimicked those of the Blue Mosque and the intricate ceiling within.

Bloggers hard at work, with the backdrop of Paradise by Way of Kensal Green acting as a perfect complement. Photo credit: Thomas Cook Airlines.
And similar colours seen at Istanbul's Blue Mosque.

In one corner of our venue was a dress-up station. Bloggers could get kitted out in traditional gear and fine fabrics, similar to those found in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. This proved to be one of the busiest stations at the event. And, since almost everyone was armed with a camera, it seems like a no-brainer that sight would be the sense most of us bloggers would gravitate towards! 

Jessi has a go at the dress-up station (and looks rather fabulous in the process).

Smell - The spice stalls of the Grand Bazaar

Set on a small table, the delicate bottles contained aromas that took me straight back to a stroll I took through the Grand Bazaar. In the heart of Istanbul's Sultanahmet area, this is one of the oldest - and largest - markets in the world. Millions of people visit the Grand Bazaar and its 3000 shops every year.

The 'scent' station at #5SensesofTurkey.

Mini mountains of spices at the Grand Bazaar.

Last year, I was one of them. Although the sweet shops definitely got my attention, I couldn't help but always be drawn to the spice stalls. With mound upon mound of multicoloured spices, these emitted the most exotic fragrances.

At the #5SensesofTurkey event, a gentleman guided us through the most iconic Turkish spices and aromas. These can be found in Turkish cuisine and perfumes. Sandalwood, rosewater, cinnamon and expensive myrrh - these all immediately transported me to my day at the Grand Bazaar.

My boyfriend and partner-in-travel-shenanigans Chris tries to guess the aroma.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Gothic eccentricity at Strawberry Hill House

The narrow pathway lined with tall plants leading from the parking lot gives absolutely no hint at the grandeur that lies ahead.

And when it comes to all things grand, Strawberry Hill House has covered all of its bases.

I had read about this special property on a number of travel blogs but, when I saw Jacintha's post about it, I just had to go ahead and book a visit.

So, on a cloudy Sunday, Chris and I made our way over to Twickenham in south west London. Even though I had seen photos of Strawberry Hill House, nothing can truly prepare you for the sight of this building standing before you.

Strawberry Hill House
The first sighting of Strawberry Hill House.

Strawberry Hill House, with its white walls, turrets and stained glass windows, truly looks like something out of a fairytale. This impression is only accentuated by the contrast between this palace and the residential area in which it is located.

But how did such a dramatic structure come to London? Believe it or not, but Strawberry Hill House was built all the way back in 1749. What may look like a modern millionaire's playhouse was actually thought up hundreds of years ago by a man named Horace Walpole.

In the 1700s, it was considered fashionable for the wealthy to build a family castle. As the son of the first Prime Minister, Horace Walpole felt pressure to follow this trend. He purchased the land, which was called 'Chopp'd Straw Hill' and was home to a number of small cottages. Swiftly renaming the property as Strawberry Hill, Walpole went about creating a palace that suited his very particular tastes.

What followed was a building that took inspiration from the Gothic style - specifically, Gothic cathedrals. In the design of the house and its grounds, Walpole was assisted by architect John Chute and designer Richard Bentley.

The result was something unusual, eccentric and beautiful. Even while Walpole was living there, Strawberry Hill House was an attraction. Public visits were allowed and there was so much interest that Walpole eventually penned a book about the property called A Description of the Villa.

After taking in the exterior of this grand home, with its rather unusual modern art installations (including one that scared us a fair bit), it was time for our self-guided tour of Strawberry Hill House.

Art outside Strawberry Hill House
Strawberry Hill House, with some cats in the foreground.

Laura Ford art at Strawberry Hill House
A close up of the human-size cats. Created by artist Laura Ford.

And the statue that terrified us completely.

Standing outside the front door, we heard a key turn from within and we entered the house. The entrance hall is the perfect introduction to what awaited us in the other rooms.

Walpole was insistent that the house should present a level of Gothic 'gloomth'. In his mind, this was a gloominess or darkness that suggested warmth and comfort. The stairway, illuminated only by a lantern and some skylights above, embodied this ideal perfectly.

An introduction to Gothic 'gloomth'.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Market day at Marsaxlokk

As you walk along any main street or promenade in Malta, you'll see countless travel agencies offering day trips to a place called Marsaxlokk.

Apart from the slightly difficult task of knowing how to pronounce the name, we couldn't help but be drawn to a place that seemed so popular. So why do people go to Marsaxlokk?

For its market, of course.

Marsaxlokk market
Sailboats and, beyond, the Marsaxlokk Sunday market in full swing.

Located on the southern coast of Malta, this otherwise sleepy fishing village comes to life on Sundays. On this day, the entire village is overtaken by a busy market.

While there may be plenty of tours to Marsaxlokk, you can easily get to the village all on your own.

We didn't have a car, so we relied on public transport for the duration of our Malta trip. To get to Marsaxlokk via Malta's extensive and efficient bus network, you can catch bus 81 or 85 from the main bus station at Valletta. Be warned, though; this route gets very busy during the summer months!

We were lucky enough to get an express service to Marsaxlokk, which got us to the village in around 30 minutes.

The bus arrived and, from there, it was a quick walk down towards the harbour. The first thing we noticed was the lack of multi-storey hotels and apartments that can normally be found at most other coastal spots in Malta. Instead, there are low buildings, where locals peered down at us from the sole upper-level balconies.

Marsaxlokk opens up into a small public square, with the church dominating the skyline. Beyond lies the colourful fishing boats bobbing in the harbour and the reliably busy market stalls.

Walking down to the market.

Marsaxlokk market
Marsaxlokk's main square.

The number of stalls is mind boggling. These face each other and create a single lane that stretches along the entirety of the harbour promenade.

Since Marsaxlokk is home to about 70% of the island's fishing fleet, it seems natural that Malta's biggest fish market would happen here. But this Sunday market is not just about the fish.

Marsaxlokk market
So many market stalls to choose from!

Fish at Marsaxlokk market
The fish stalls are popular with the locals, who do their week's grocery shopping at Marsaxlokk.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Essentials for a Franschhoek road trip

Summer has well and truly arrived in the UK (or so my furiously red sunburned shoulders tell me). 

All of this wonderful weather reminds me of the best moments of summers past. Some of my favourite sunshine-filled memories have to be of the road trips I used to take when I was living in South Africa

After all, when the sun's out, what could be better than grabbing a road map, jumping in the car and spending a day exploring?

On my last visit to Cape Town, when my sister got married, I took the time to make the drive out to Franschhoek, one of my favourite destinations for a day trip out of the city.

Just an hour's drive from central Cape Town, I always urge my travelling friends to pay a visit to this unique - and historic - part of the Western Cape. 

Just one of the many picturesque landscapes you'll come across in Franschhoek.

And now I get to convince you too, readers. 

From some of the best gardens in South Africa to a stunning monument to a goat tower (no typo involved), Franschhoek has much to offer road trippers. 

Without further ado, here are your essentials for an excellent Franschhoek road trip.

Find (coerce) your road tripping companion

All of the exploring, and the inevitable result of getting lost frequently, wouldn't be as much fun without a travel companion.

Us at Babylonstoren
Me and my partner in road tripping shenanigans, Lance.

For my most recent road trip to Franschhoek, I managed to convince my good friend, Lance, to join me. And it took some convincing, as Lance happens to be terrified of my driving skills (without [good] reason).

An early morning pickup later and some appropriate music playing through the car's speakers, we set off to discover the best of Franschhoek.

Make spontaneous stops

I love all types of travel, but having your own car, for me, offers the most freedom. Unlike train, plane or bus journeys, driving allows you to stop off at any place that piques your curiosity.

I had heard about a spot that was en route to Franschhoek, so when we spotted a sign for Babylonstoren, we turned off our planned path immediately. 

I've written an entire post dedicated to what you can find at Babylonstoren, but, essentially, this property's centrepiece has to be its gardens. These are designed to look like Cape Town's very first formal gardens, which were located on the site of the modern-day Company's Garden.

Would you stop too? The rather grand drive up to Babylonstoren.

The gardens of Babylonstoren
The gardens at Babylonstoren.

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