Sicily: Palermo

Sicily: Palermo

Palermo is a great one - two day stop. Museum lovers might be disappointed while the culture and history enthusiasts and foodie will leave the city with the smile on their faces.

Turkish food: the highlights

Turkish food: the highlights

What's there to see, I mean eat in Turkey? Turns out just about everything! Here's our take on the Turkish highlights.

Slovenia: Piran

Slovenia: Piran

If you can only visit one town on Slovenian coast, then go to Piran. This charming town will steal your heart (and we all know that love goes through the stomach).

Dynamic New York

Dynamic New York

A city that never sleeps. We found that to be pretty much true for New York. Museums, art galleries, smoky corners on busy streets, interesting buildings and, well, any kind of food you desire.

It's easy to give in to this city's seduction and find yourself falling asleep on the subway out of sheer exhaustion. New York will take everything you are willing to give (tasty, yet quite pricy)

View from the rooftop bar at Ink48

When it comes down to essentials, we found these a must see in New York:

Central Park

When in Central Park, have breakfast at the Loeb Boathouse and, if you have time, stop by the conservatory garden, which is especially stunning in spring.

On your way you might stumble upon keen bird-watchers, joggers, picnics and couples, looking for a romantic photo op under the trees.

If you like the Beatles, visit Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon, who was killed  in front of the Dakota building. There are always enough enthusiastic Beatle fans around to provide an ongoing Beatle playlist and worship.

Tribute to John Lennon

Grand Central Terminal is...well breathtaking. Busy, yet so much to experience.

Grand Central Terminal

When choosing between the hipster corners of Williamsburg, trendy Brooklyn and busy Manhattan, I found the Red Hook neighbourhood most pleasant, though also already positively hipster. The slightly empty, red-brick district seems perfect for urban solitude.

Veggie dish at The Good Fork

We ate at The Good Fork and found it delicious. Both veggie and meat versions of New American/Korean food were great, and so was the local bourbon.

Hipster bar in Red Hook with great coffee and super long wifi password

If you love books, you might want to stop by Bluestockings bookshop, always well stocked with progressive literature, be it political, novels or simply fun reads. 

Brooklyn Bridge

When it comes to food, we followed tips of ex-New Yorkers, guides and well, our nose. Culinary must-tries in New York:

  • Shake Shack burgers (they are good but fries not quite Brussels quality)
  • A cookie from Levain bakery (there's always a queue bit well worth it)
  • Doughnuts at the Doughnut Plant
  • Brunch at Williamsburg market

Snacks @ Williamsburg market

What can be said about cookies from Levain bakery is that they're the most delicious cookies I've ever had. You get them still warm, so the chocolate inside will melt at your first bite. It's hard to eat anything else after you've had one - they are a meal in themselves. There have been many attempts at trying to discover the secret recipe and we're for sure on a mission to create our own version. It is the sort of cookie that books are written about.

Walnut chocolate chip cookie from Levain bakery

Crème brûlée or a doughnut? Why choose?

When it comes to views, the Big Apple has many good ones. We checked the ones from the top of hotel Ink48 and the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center). Most of the famous spots will be crowded with other tourists, trying to snap a selfie. We found nice alternative views from the Staten Island Ferry, as well as from the Long Island City waterfront.

Manhattan view from Long Island City waterfront

If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York

-Frank Sinatra

New York was interesting yet pricy. We became masters of calculating tips and found it quite expensive if you want to eat in restaurants. 

A melting pot of culture and class, this city has it all, and while it more often than not displays its glamorous side, there is a side of New York that breathes poverty and despair. It is a city of many faces, depending which one you want and can afford to see.

Lady Liberty from Ellis Island boat

Slovenia: Bled and Bohinj

Slovenia: Bled and Bohinj

Bled and Bohinj are well worth visiting if you're into mountains, lakes, sports or schnaps.  Both Alpine destinations are a sight for sore eyes and a popular weekend escape for townsfolk.

Bled is known for a small lake island (owned by the Church), sports, swans and kitschy vistas. As one of the most touristy Slovenian towns (its health tourism has quite a long history), it's busy for most of the year.

When in Bled, you can visit the historical museum in the castle, rent a boat and row to the island or walk around the lake and swim in it. On abigger budget, you might want to catch a ride with pletna - tourist boats owned and run by the locals.

Lake Bled and the only island in the country

Bled is known for folklore, festivals (e.g. Okarina) and the regional cuisine with mostly meat dishes, sausages and cakes. 

It's hard to leave Bled without trying the famous local cream cake, Kremšnita. While many places claim to have the best or most original one, we found the most convincing specimen in the restaurant by the lake.

Foodie traveler vs. kremšnita

If you're up for a swim, make sure you do so where swimming is allowed (e.g. at the hangar or one of the official beaches). Locals take the lake's flora and fauna quite seriously. And don't be swayed by the swan's charms: come closer and they can turn into angry beasts (for real). Whatever you do, do not try to pet the swans.

Angry beast, a.k.a. swan

Angry beast, a.k.a. swan

Bohinj, on the other hand, is slightly less touristy yet somehow more impressive. Located at the start of Triglav National Park, it's a good stop for mountaineers, backpackers and adrenalin sports lovers, especially if you're headed towards Slovenia's highest mountain, Triglav.

This part of the region is a paradise for those who love camping and sports. Whether you're into kayaking, swimming, rafting, climbing or some new hipster form of sweating, Bohinj is the place to go.

Since we're neither sports nor camping people, we just stopped to cool down in the lake and eat some of the local trout (postrv). Gorenjska and Bohinj are also known to produce good schnaps, and you should be able to get some without any problems. And remember, it's called a home remedy ;)

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj

When it comes to lakes and mountains, it doesn't get much better than Bohinj and Bled. Any other Alpine destinations you'd recommend us to visit?

Slovenia: Ljubljana

Coming back to your native country as a tourist is fun. This year we did it properly for the first time, taking the time to enjoy different places and everything they have to offer.

We'd have thought writing about it would be much easier, though. How do you capture the essentials in just one blog post? The truth is, you can't.

Ljubljana is small and cute, which is quite representative of the rest of the country too.  With a bit more than 270.000 inhabitants, it doesn't take long before you start recognising faces. Slovenians are generally quite friendly and hospitable: food is an important part of it.

The city centre is closed for cars, which makes it fairly easy to get around on foot. If you like cycling, you will love  Ljubljana's city bikes.

In the summer, Ljubljana's Prešeren Square has its own weather zone

City highlights

Metelkova Mesto: former Yugoslav army HQ, squatted by NGOs. Today, it is a fairly commercialised social centre and a site for artists, youth and travellers. Things to do there: party, enjoy concerts, visit festivals, attend workshops/exhibitions, eat fusion street food and drink. However, if you like quiet evenings, it's probably best to avoid Metelkova altogether.

Old town: is our favourite part of the city. Cobbled streets are filled with restaurants, cafés and shops. The riverbank is often packed with stands by local craftspeople or antiquarians. It's a nice place to just take a walk and eat something nice.

Old town riverbank

When in the Old town, stop at Cha tea house,and if you're up for some traditional cuisine, go to Gostilna Sokol. Everything there is delicious and home-made: we especially recommend the mushroom soup served in bread.

For regional cuisine, try Güjžina where you can get genuine food from Prekmurje, including the famous cake, Prekmurska gibanica.

Shops and cafés in the Old town

Ljubljanska Tržnica (City Market): the place to be for foodies. Between March and October you can enjoy Open Kitchen/Odprta Kuhna - a local food market, featuring affordable delicious food prepared by restaurants, pubs and entrepreneurs.

City Market colonnade

During the week the market is full of fruit and veg stands as well as products made by local craftspeople. It's also a beautiful architectural piece, so definitely worth seeing. Nearby is the Dragon Bridge.

The Dragon Bridge

Rights across from the City Market are many local bars and pubs, an essential element of Slovenian leisure activities.

The Tivoli City Park is a must in any season. The beautiful, large park blends into a forest and is convenient for a quick escape from the city, especially for hikers.

Art lovers won't be disappointed either. In the vicinity of the park are several galleries and museums: there are occasional photo exhibitions on the main promenade in the park.

For a coffee & cake break visit Čolnarna, a nice cafe near a pond.

Though there are disputes as to which place has the best ice cream in town, my vote goes to Cacao, an ice cream/cake place just around the corner from Prešeren Square. Their "Peru" ice cream cup is hard to describe and even harder to replicate. Heaven for chocolate fans.

Cacao's ice cream stand

There is for sure much more to discover about Ljubljana, however, a day in this charming city is more than enough to get a first taste.

France: Lyon

If this is true for any city, Lyon is definitely a city of good food, and you'll get a delicious three-course menu for € 20 - 30. People say all the great chefs have once worked in Lyon. The influence and work of Paul Bocuse, the world's most famous chef, is visible everywhere.

Scallop risotto with mushrooms @ Le Nord

It's fairly easy to blind-pick a restaurant and be positively surprised about the quality of the food. Lyon is also known for Rosette, a famous local sausage made of cured pork (half of your foodie team is very excited about it), tasteful lighting (check out their annual lights festival) and silk production.

Sausage collection at Les Halles de Lyon

But Lyon has much more to offer. From culture to history and fun - if you leave the city disappointed, it's probably not because of what it has to offer. Here are some of the things to see:

  • Les Halles de Lyon: a food and drink market associated with Paul Bocuse. Get local cheese, wine and sweets and eat in one of the market restaurants. A heaven for foodies.
  • Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon (MAC Lyon) hosts a nice collection of contemporary art and is positioned next to a huge and beautiful park, Parc de la Tête d'Or (think everything from small lakes to jogging and a zoo)
  • Musée Gadagne will give you a nice overview of Lyon's history - the adjacent puppet theatre museum is a plus.

The sweet side of Les Halles de Lyon

Place des Jacobins, Lyon

From the garden of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière you can get a nice panoramic view of the city.

View of the city from the top

For some of that hipster cool feeling, you can take a walk around Croix-Rousse, with its many trendy bars, excellent restaurants and little hipster shops.

The trendy part of Lyon

But most of all, there is good food. We were very happy eating everywhere, but especially in these restaurants (you'll need to book in advance to get a table):

  • Le Nord: one of Paul Bocuse's restaurants
  • Balthaz'art, an excellent restaurant with many Michelin guide stickers
  • Le Petit Carron is cute and small and invests a lot of creativity in their dishes (pineapple carpaccio ftw!)

Salmon steak with sesame, ratatouille and vegetable flan @ Le Petit Carron

You leave Lyon with spoiled taste buds and with a handful of nice experiences. One thing is sure - our list of places to live just got a bit longer.

Did Lyon make it to your top five too?

Japanese food: our favourites

More than a year after visiting Japan, I still think about all the great food we had there. Japanese food was one of the best foodie experiences ever. The fresh ingredients, warm breakfasts and ever so creative bento boxes have inspired many of our own culinary attempts.

Here are few of our favourites.

1 Bento boxes

An amazing range of packed lunches of all sorts, whether sushi, tempura, or a mix of salads. After my initial fascination (followed by a shopping spree for all sorts of bento utensils), I am still a big fan of the bento concept. It's more than just a lunch box - it's a little box of pleasure you treat yourself with, whether you make one or buy it.

A bento makes for a nicer train ride

Home take on bento

2. Onigiri

Onigiri is a little rice triangle with different fillings (think tuna, salmon, sour plum and weird stuff), wrapped in a crispy nori (seaweed) sheet. The secret for the nori to stay crispy is a little plastic wrap between it and the rice: remove the wrap before sinking your teeth into your 10 minutes of pleasure. 

Onigiri is becoming a popular snack also in Europe: we've recently tried the ones in Berlin, but they weren't that good. 

To choose your onigiri, follow the colour coding: usually blue for tuna, pink for salmon, and different shades of brown for the weird stuff (sea urchins, plums, other - the colour codes can be different in different onigiri brands, making for the occasional surprise).

Onigiri

3. Sushi & Sashimi

It's hard to get enough of it, and you don't have to. Sushi-like dishes in Japan are not only tasty but also very affordable. You will find the best sushi restaurants in train stations and shopping malls. The dishes are freshly made (and upon request if you have your favourite). The best sushi ever was in the basement of Kyoto train station.

Sushi lunch @ the Tsukiji fish market 

4. Soy

Unlike most soy products you can find in European stores and restaurants, the Japanese ones taste (and look) way better than fried washing sponge or slimy tasteless blob.

In fact, soy in Japan (and Asia) tastes so good, you feel you could eat it every day. Soy skin is widely used, whether as a main dish or as part of yummy sushi. We were especially impressed with Yuba, rolled soy skin, in Nikko, a local speciality you shouldn't miss. When there check out the suicide waterfalls.

Yuba in Nikko

5. Whisky

To quote one of our friends:

I don't like Japanese whisky. Must they really be better in everything?

There is nothing bad to say about Japanese whisky. That's probably also the reason it gets golden awards year after year. We visited the Yamazaki distillery and were pleasantly surprised. People there were extremely friendly, the museum has a substantial whisky library (yes, you read that right), the tour is very educational and includes whisky tasting.

Yamazaki 10, Hakushu, Hibiki. Whether you like your whisky smoky or soft, you will fall in love.

All I can say is, Japan, you taste so good.

Culinary Alsace

We found ourselves spending a weekend in Alsace, in a small town called Niederbronn-les-Bains. Why go there? For three reasons: a travel voucher (thank you family & Bongo), the region's reputation for great food and wine and, well, the spa (what do you mean, this doesn't count as sports).

The upside: idyllic country landscape that is especially beautiful in autumn (the trees, the fields, the sheep). The downside: you pretty much see all the town has to offer in about half an hour (so we visited a few villages nearby). A cute mini farmers' market (every first Saturday of the month), the small shops with local food and wine, the cute empty little streets with flowers (French villages are into flower competitions) and the great restaurants. Yes, we visited plenty of those.

Climbach, Alsace

Alsace cuisine is a distinctive mixture of French and German influences. If you're thinking baguette and sausage, think again. We've had our share of tasting and here are the highlights.

Zuem Buerestuebel: a great local restaurant with excellent food and wine. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch there, everything from starters to desserts. Apart from serving great food, their staff was very friendly. 

Though Foursquare suggested L'Alexain as the best restaurant in town, we tried both and can honestly say that Zuem Buerestuebel wins by far in all categories.

Starters @ Zuem Buerestuebel

Lunch @ Zuem Buerestuebel

Alsace is known for white wines, like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, usually served in unusually-shaped wine glasses.

Desserts - we found a great cake place in Wissembourg: chocolatier Rebert. Apart from great cakes (savoury and sweet), you will find a decent selection of teas and coffee. Spoiler alert: frequent switching between German and French seems to be quite common.

Dessert heaven in Wissembourg

In Wissembourg we also found a nice farmers' market with a good selection of local products. But the highlight of our Alsace trip was Restaurant De L'Ange. It has been recommended by the Michelin guide four times and with good reason. Friendly atmosphere and people, amazing food and free appetisers & dessert were definitely enough to convince us.

If you need to choose one place to eat, then go there.

Starter: Salmon & Cream cheese bread

We had the local speciality salmon trout and a fish stew. Both were really amazing.

Schneidespaettel with salmon trout (yes, it's a thing!)

Cheese plate (some consider this a dessert).

Next time in Alsace: more food, wine and cities. Any suggestions where to go?

 

The Netherlands: Kinderdijk

Ever wondered how the Dutch handle all the water in their lowlands without getting flooded? Me netiher. But I love those Dutch windmills. If you like them too, then you might want to visit Kinderdijk, the location of a set of historic windmills, that are protected as UNESCO World Heritage. There are 16 of them to be exact, built in the 18th century and kept in the original state.

Kinderdijk, Netherlands

While the area around it isn't the most exciting one (and water management admittedly doesn't sound too sexy either), the windmill park is well worth a day trip. You will only need tickets if you want to visit the windmill museum: walking or cycling around the park is free.

While there are quite a few eating places around, we went for a quick snack around the corner. We found an uitsmijter (fried egg on bread with ham & cheese) quite tasty and sufficient as a snack. For more culinary experiences, you might want to drive to Belgium ;)

Foodie travellers after failing at selfie (too windy!)