Friday, August 19, 2011

c o r n w a l l

As part of my travels in Europe, I had always wanted to visit the English country side. Part of that infatuation had been because I had always wanted to see the rolling green hills, the sheep – basically the natural surroundings that would be so untouched in comparison to the city. One of the places that I had been told about many times was Cornwall. Off to the west coast of the island of the United Kingdom, Cornwall was known as the beach town in this region. It was far away however as the easiest way to get there is probably by car and I didn’t have one while I was here. The reason why I say it would be the easiest is because without one, you just don’t get wander around like you would want to. But this weekend, myself and my friend Bhawi drove there (she drove from Manchester!) so that we could explore the area.

The drive did take a little while but it was worth it. The first town we went into was Newquay. There was a surfing and music festival while we were there so the town was buzzing with people but it was a nice vibe. The beaches were all full of sand and the views were brilliant. There were plenty of waves, of varying sizes, so you could see why people liked to bring their boards here.

After we spent some time in Newquay, we continued to drive up the coast towards the town of Padstow. This is where we stayed the night in a fairly budget looking hotel in the Cross Hotel. It wasn’t cheap though! I don’t think Cornwall is meant to be but anyway, there were plenty of more expensive places available, we just chose this one since we just needed a place to put our heads down. 

The next day, we went down to Saint Ives which we really enjoyed. A beautiful coastal town, it was easily the most developed of the towns we stepped foot on in Cornwall. There were even palm trees that made us think twice about where we actually were (were we even in the UK?). In addition to that though, the waters were so transparent and turquoise in color. It was beautiful and it was hard to find a reason to complain, we had some good food there and enjoyed some very welcome sunshine as we walked along the harbor and the beach side. 

The weather wasn’t great while we were here but this is the British Summer. So long as it didn’t rain, I thought we were in good shape. We were able to venture out and see some random cliffs and coast lines. It was still very much worth while.


For dinner, we went to a restaurant called the Cornish Arms. It was located very near Padstow but it had some quality food. Essentially a pub/restaurant, the food produced out of this place were very tasty. They even allowed dogs in as well which most families took advantage of. I love this about the country side – people have the decency to only bring in pups and dogs that are well mannered enough. The other thing is too that the people there are so friendly. Do this in the city and you will have a completely different mix of people…

Anyway, I had a ribeye with peppercorn steak while Bhawi had the whole fresh seabass with fennel mayonnaise and new potatoes. It was delicious and a good way to prepare ourselves for the “sunset” shot.

When in Cornwall, I was told by people that you had to have some of the Cornish food. This included the Cornish ice cream which I did end up trying in Newquay. It was slightly yellow/orange in color but it was distinctively very sweet and refreshing. Oh and I also had the Cornish Original Pasty. This is a pasty which was stuffed with onion, potato and beef. SO GOOD, SO CRISPY, SO HOT. Lol. It was good, if you couldn’t tell. 


I would love to come back here when the weather is nice so that I can take more pictures and actually take in on some surfing. Cornwall is beautiful and a lot bigger than I actually thought! Definitely worth going to and worth staying for at least 4 days – we only had 2 but it was a nice taster of what would be if we stayed for the holidays. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

c r o a t i a p t II { s p l i t }

After spending  3 nights in the old town of Dubrovnik, I headed off for the second half of my trip to Split. This town is due north of where I was staying so it required some travel but there were quite a few options. Whether you choose to travel by plane, ferry, car, or bus, it really is up to your own preference and budget. If you chose to drive up to Split, the benefit is that you would get to stop wherever you would like and take photos from a number of look out points. As you drive through the highways, you really take in the mountainous terrain and the blue ocean – the views were gorgeous.

I chose to travel by bus since it was the most economical way of traveling and it wasn’t too long – only 4.5 hours. It was air conditioned so it wasn’t too bad. Buses run every hour on the hour from 5am to 10pm so you don’t have to worry if you miss one. After traveling 4.5 hours though, you get pretty tired and restless. When I arrived in Split, I couldn’t wait to just stretch and walk along the beach.


My first thoughts of Split were that it is definitely much bigger than the old town of Dubrovnik. There was also a stretch along the pier that is much more modern than most of the areas I’ve seen in Croatia – palm trees and lots of restaurants allowing customers to dine al fresco. The area had a nice summer holiday feel to it. It was the perfect excuse to sit down and down a beer before heading over to find my hostel (which luckily for me, was only 5 minutes away from the beach).

I got really lucky with my hostel actually – staying in a double apartment on my own with air conditioning and a fancy shower, I couldn’t complain. The bigger benefit was that it was a heck of a lot cheaper than any hotel in the area! I stayed with CroParadise Green Hostel when I was there.

The first day I arrived, I really just roamed along the pier area and the palace in the middle of Split. A large portion of the city center is a Unesco site and therefore much of the architecture and surrounding areas are preserved. You could tell too – the buildings were very old but full of character. You could still see some Roman ruins within the city as well. Everywhere you look, you could see that the buildings were worn down but they were so colorful. I could stare at the buildings for a good while but the Mediterranean sun that was beating down on me told me to do otherwise. 

Vis – Komiza – Bisevo
On the second day, I took a ferry to the island of Vis. This is one of the islands that is further away from Split so it took a good 2 hours each way but you go to Vis if you want to see the Blue Grotto in Bisevo. A bit of a natural phenomenon, the sun hits the water in a way that makes the entire cave glow blue – this includes the water and the walls. So with something as enticing as that luring me, I couldn’t resist. The ferry will only take you to Vis but on the other side of the island is where you need to be. Hop on the bus that is right in front of the ferry exit and that will take you right into Komiza (this is the departure point for all boats taking you into the cave). It only takes another 20 minutes or so thankfully – after a 2 hour ferry ride, I was ready to take a bit of a break from sitting haha. 

Once in Komiza, I noticed right away how laid back this place was. All the restaurants had dining areas outside by the harbor and were covered – important as the mid day sun is pretty brutal. It was already 12 but before I could even have lunch, I was told that a boat to the Bisevo Island where the cave was located was leaving at 12:30. I had been told that there are some days where boats can’t even make it to the cave due to the weather / waves. If they were leaving today, I couldn’t take the chance on tomorrow – I would go now. We took a speed boat to the island and I gotta tell yah, cool sea breeze on a speed boat… not much more relaxing than that :) Anyway, when we arrived at the cave, I was amazed at how small it was. You had to duck down to prevent yourself from being hit by the ceiling. Once we were inside though, I quickly forgot about how small the place was or how hot it had been outside. The entire cave was glowing in this cool blue. The water was so transparent, it was as if you could see all the way to the bottom. The light reflected off the water giving the cave walls a blue tint as well – didn’t think I would see anything like it – it is moments like these that remind me of why I enjoy traveling so much. Anyhow, for those of you that plan on seeing this cave in the future, you do not need to stay overnight in Komiza or Vis. You can definitely base yourself out of Split and make it a day trip – so long as the weather works in your favor and the boats can get in and out of the cave. There are lots of agencies that will take you there so there are plenty of options. 


On the last full day that I had in Croatia, I met up with Angela and we went to Hvar. The ferry took us to Stari Grad which is on the Hvar Island but at the end of the day, I wanted to go to Hvar if we had the time. The most random thing happened on the ferry ride though: About ¾ of the way through our ferry ride, we decided it was too hot on the deck and went downstairs so that we could take in some of the air conditioning. That’s where we started talking Josip.

The conversation went from “hi” to “where are you headed?”, to which I replied, “Stari Grad”. He quickly said that Hvar is where you wanted to go, hands down. Hearing that from a local, it quickly set my mind on going to Hvar – the problem was, we would need to catch another bus ride from the ferry terminal to the other side. That is when Josip just asked if we wanted a ride! I was in a little disbelief and to be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to think of it at first but we obliged – we were short on time and it seemed like he was nice enough.

Next thing you knew, we were flying down the highway in his Jeep Grand Cherokee towards Hvar! Turns out Josip was raised in New Zealand but his family is from Croatia. He had recently come back to live in Zagreb which is in the northern part of the country. Then… more randomness, midway through the drive, he says, “do you have time for a drink or do you want to grab a bite to eat? I’ll show you a place that you wouldn’t know unless you were a local.” A sharp turn, an extremely secluded, narrow path and severe drops later, we arrived at this little beach bar which had the most incredible location. It was situated on a small, quiet beach where customers were swimming in the crystal clear waters or having a beer and a bite to eat. When we got out of the car, I was just stunned that we would find this spot of all places to sit down, relax, and have a few glasses of local white wine. We walked up to the bar and saw that there was a VIP Reserved sign for this table he wanted – he promptly proceeded to take off the sign and walk right up. The view from here was incredible. I just can’t even describe the feeling of sitting there, on the highest point of the bar, with a view of the Mediterranean, the cool sea breeze blowing against our faces, and all with a glass of wine at the ready. We would NEVER have found this place had it not been for Josip. You could tell he was a local as he spoke with everyone like they’d known each other for a long time.

After drinking our bottle of wine, he drove us into town – but not before he took us off-roading in the mountains with his car lol. Seriously, Josip had to be the most laid back 45 year old we had ever met! We had to get a picture before we left. 

The rest of the evening, we walked around Hvar and thoroughly enjoyed it. We didn’t see any sandy beaches but the waters, the sun, the beautiful people, how could you say no? The whole town had this vibe to it that drew you right in. In retrospect, I wish I spent at least a night here but I suppose that is something I could do next time I am here ;) 


The food in Split is no different than in Dubrovnik as one can imagine. Definitely recommended that you eat out doors as that is the only way you can enjoy the view and the sea breeze – in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone dining inside. In Komiza I had a delicious spaghetti with truffles and prosciutto. It also came with a fish pâté which worked nicely with the bread provided. There a bunch of restaurants by the water that will serve the same thing - you couldn't go wrong.

Myself and Angela had dinner one night with people that we’d met during this trip in Split. The restaurant was called Fife (Trumbiceva obala 11, Split 21000, Croatia) – it was highly recommended by at least 3 locals so we thought it had to be good. It definitely did not disappoint. The portion sizes were great, the food smelled and tasted like a properly done, home cooked meal. All at the fraction of the prices you would find on the main tourist strips in Split or Dubrovnik. I ordered the Pork Ribs in Mushroom Sauce and the Seafood Risotto. I would highly recommend anyone who is in Split to give this place a try – you couldn’t beat it if you consider the prices you are paying.

Left to Right: Me, Angela, Annette, Katrina, Maggie

In Hvar, myself and Ange wandered into this alley way where we found a hostel restaurant called, Marinero Bistro (Banket bb, 21450). It is somewhat secluded but it is along the port area, and if you look closely, you will see a sign pointing you up towards the restaurant. It started off kind of quiet but it filled up quickly and before you knew it, there were long queues. The food was very modestly priced - you could get a full dinner for about 5 EUROs. I personally had the tuna spaghetti and Ange had the calamari.


So that does it for my trip in Croatia. Seven days, a nice brown skin tone, enough vitamin D to last the rest of the summer, and a bit of a beer belly later I am now back in London. It was a great trip and it was a great way to get away from the fast paced London atmosphere. I’ve said this before but being born in Vancouver, I have always loved being by the ocean and being amongst the mountains and the natural surroundings – I don’t think I could ever stay away from this kind of environment. Croatia had all of that in a summer holidays type of setting. So if you enjoy the great summer sun, sun tanning or walking along a beach, warm and clean (enough) turquoise / clear water, beautiful people (:p) and friendly people, Croatia is a great place to be. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

c r o a t i a p t I { d u b r o v n i k }

In search of a relaxing vacation, I asked my friends in Europe about places that they've been. Between 5 places that I listed, I asked them to tell me which 3 would be "can't miss" locations - Croatia happened to be one of them. I didn't know what to expect from Croatia prior to this but let's just say that having been here for this trip, I now know what the hype is about.

My trip to Croatia was the first 7 day holiday that I'd taken so far this year (all my previous trips were 4 days or less) so it goes to show you how much you can do in a few days but coming into this one, I was almost at a loss at what I could do. I arrived in Dubrovnik on another 6am flight (I really despise these but you can't argue with the ticket prices) on the 30th of July. It was definitely hotter than in London - 30 degrees versus 16-18. But it was pleasant since you were right by the Mediterranean Sea as it brought this cool sea breeze every once in a while.  Anyway, the landscape was incredibly gorgeous. As you can imagine, being by the ocean, with a mountain filled landscape, it always gave you something to look at.

I stayed in Dubrovnik Old Town which is basically where you want to stay when you are here. At the very least, you might spend the most of your time here when you are in Dubrovnik. It really is small enough to walk around in 1 day, it's almost impossible to get lost here but I love how it is built. Small little alley ways with cobble stone - mostly clean. The thing about Europe is that even if you call it an alley way, there are little cafe's and restaurants strewn all over with chairs outside for you to sit in. That is very much the case in Croatia as well.

Probably the best thing to do here is to walk along the town walls. Dubrovnik is surrounded by a wall that encloses the entire area but you can walk along the wall and see the views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding area. It really is gorgeous and it will only take you about an hour and 10 euros to get through. Remember though, that the gates to the walls close early - about 7:30pm. During the peak of summer, this will likely prevent you from catching any shots during the sunset but if you time if perfectly and are good at persuasion, you might just get it ;)

On my second day here, I decided to go and try something that I've been wanting to do for ages... scuba diving. What better place to do it than in the Mediterranean? Alright, I know there are probably loads of locations that have amazing dive locations but this wasn't half bad :) The beginners course took place in the Hotel Palace which is a 5 star resort just outside of the old town - you have to take bus #4 there and it is the last stop on the line which makes it nearly impossible for you to get lost. Anyway, the experience was awesome! The water was so transparent and clean looking and it had the Mediterranean turquoise color to it as well. Definitely a must do for anyone who is in the area.

There are no real beaches in the old town so you will have to go out of the town a little ways to find one. Maybe a bit of a hassle but considering how small the town is, it is worthwhile to do day trips anyway. On my third day, I went on a day trip to the Elaphite Islands (three were visited including Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud) and spent the day lounging on the sandy beaches and enjoying the weather and scenery. Even got to meet two very nice Aussies who live in London - Katrina and Maggie. Wandering around with them during the day and catching up again for dinner was loads of fun and it was great meeting you two! 


In terms of food, Croatian cuisine is centered around seafood. With that in mind, any time I sat down at a restaurant, I tried to order the fish of the day. The restaurants that I did go to for dinner were not in the main road, Placa. Instead, they were right next to my apartment on the strip called Prijeko - there are lots of restaurants along this stretch and they weren't crowded with as many tourists as those by the harbor. Anyway, back to the food - I sat down at Ragusa 2 the first night and had fresh grilled sea bass with boiled potatoes. It was certainly fresh but maybe a bit over done - still, it wasn't unsatisfying :)

The second night I stopped at Moby Dicks and had the monk fish. These are quite easily the ugliest fish I have ever seen - like something from another planet who was beaten with an ugly stick but slice it up into small steaks and grill it and you have something there. Simply grilled and topped with high quality olive oil, this was a very pleasant surprise!

Another thing I ate with great frequency was ice cream. When you are in the midst of 30+ degree weather, you yearn for certain things - ice cream was definitely amongst those things. Maybe not as good as in Italy but pretty close. So here's an obligatory ice cream shot.


Dubrovnik is a beautiful little town. Definitely small but lots of life here - although much of that life is due to the tourists really. You won't see too many locals living in the Old Town but you won't feel lost either since you are surrounded by loads of people in the same boat as you. I highly recommend anyone going to Croatia to visit Dubrovnik but I would honestly say, 2-3 days max. If you stay any longer, you'll run out of things to do - so supplement that time with day trips to the islands like Korcula or Mljet. Anyway, on a side note: TONS of beautiful people here haha. On to Split now, will be there for the remainder of my trip. I'll be sure to update you when I get back from there!