Home and away, I love to travel. Posts from trips in the UK and overseas including hotel and restaurant reviews and visits to specialist producers.

 

You can take the girl out of Luton…

Smack in the middle of the eighties – which I still hold to be the best decade, musically and fashion-wise (though I admit to harbouring some bias on this) – I did a German Language Exchange Trip through my secondary school. Luton and Hamburg were an odd pairing; the kids of that rather attractive northern German river port city must surely have been a tad disappointed when they discovered that the attractions of Luton amounted to little more than a biscuit-shaped pincushion in the local museum and a pink flamingos fountain in the Arndale shopping centre.

The (frankly marvellous) pink flamingos have long since gone, which is a huge shame as they were one of Luton’s best (if not only) attractions.

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Worried I might be imagining the biscuit-shaped pincushion (though my little sister remembers it too), I made a call to the museum last week and was delighted to hear back from one of their specialist curators that they do indeed have a biscuit-shaped pincushion in their collection (though it’s not currently on display). It dates from around 1870 and was produced as an advertising product by Huntley, Albert & Palmers. I should add at this point that the museum did, of course, have a great deal more on display than the biscuit-shaped pincushion, including no-doubt-excellent exhibits about the local hat- and lace-making industries for which Luton was, once upon a time, quite famous. It’s just that, as a teenager, little of this captured my attention; I’d probably appreciate it much more today!

And, by the way, did you know that the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ originated in Luton?

Anyway, back to Germany…

I’d actually already dropped German from my curriculum by the time the trip came around. We signed up for the exchange in our second year but travelled in our third by which time, having mastered only ‘ich liebe dich’ and ‘du bist eine dumme ganz’, I decided to focus on French, which I found immeasurably easier. I added one more phrase to my German knowledge some years later, by the way; even today I still like to point at random plants and declare ‘das is kein gummebaum’ (that is not a rubber plant) – a very useful phrase, I’m sure you’ll agree?

Luckily, the majority of people I met in Germany spoke superb English, so I got along just fine.

My host family showed me around Hamburg, of course. It’s an attractive city and the views from the revolving restaurant up in the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm comms tower were beautiful. I also spent a few days visiting German Schleswig – a school trip within a school trip – with my exchange partner’s class.

One of the days I remember most fondly was a family outing to nearby Lübeck, just an hour’s drive away or 45 minutes by train.

Situated on the River Trave, Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, and a major port in the area. For several centuries it was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, a commercial confederation of merchant guilds and market downs that dominated trade in Northern Europe, stretching along the coast from the Baltic to the North Sea. The Old Town, on an island enclosed by the Trave, is famous for its extensive brick gothic architecture and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Images of Lubeck from Shutterstock.com

Niederegger Marzipan

It was not just the beauty of Lübeck that won my heart, oh no! Lübeck is also famous for its marzipan. And I really, really love marzipan!

A local legend suggests that marzipan was first made in the city in response to either a military siege or a local famine. The story goes that the town ran out of all foodstuffs except stored almonds and sugar, and these were combined to make loaves of marzipan “bread”.

In reality, marzipan is believed to have been invented far earlier, most likely in Persia though historians are undecided between a Persian and an Iberian origin.

Niederegger have been making marzipan in Lübeck for over two centuries, and relate the story from the perspective of founder Johann Georg Niederegger.

Our marzipan was invented far away, where almonds and sugar are grown. Rhazes, a Persian doctor who lived from 850 to 923, wrote a book in which he praised the curative qualities of almond and sugar paste. When the crusaders returned from the Orient, they brought with them a host of spices and Oriental secrets. In 13th century Venice, Naples and Sicily, spices and confectionery were generally traded  in tiny boxes. The enchanting word “Mataban” (box) gradually came to be used for the contents of the box:  Mazapane (Italian), Massepain (French) and Marzipan (German). Did you know that even back in the 13th century, the renowned philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas reflected upon the indulgence of eating Marzipan? In his doctrinal teaching, he reassures enquiring and anxious clerics: “Marzipan does not break the fast.” In his stories, the great novelist Boccaccio clearly describes the correlation between passion and marzipan. In those days, marzipan was topped with gold leaf to crown the sweet temptation. Great Hanseatic merchant boats brought spices and other prized ingredients to the North. Initially, however, only apothecaries were allowed to trade sugar and spices. Not until confectionary became a trade in its own right were so-called ‘canditors’ allowed to produce marzipan. The first Europeans to indulge in marzipan were kings and rich people. It has been reported that Queen Elizabeth I of England, who lived from 1533 to 1603, was addicted to all things sweet.  The saying ‘regal enjoyment’ was coined. Later, at the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV’s sumptuous feasts, huge tables laden with marzipan were the order of the day. Marzipan reproductions of all sorts of fruits, poultry and game were created – anything you desired could be made. In the first half of  the general population were now able to sample the almond delicacy to their heart’s content in coffee houses. Now that sugar could be extracted from sugar beet, the costly luxury became slightly more affordable. Marzipan was also particularly popular and prized in Lübeck. I would now like to tell you something about my life: as a young man, I left my home town of Ulm to become apprenticed to a confectioner, Maret, in Lübeck. In 1806 I was able to open up my own shop. I supplied my wares to kings and tsars. From then on, my reputation grew thanks to excellent quality. My recipe for marzipan – as many almonds as possible, as little sugar as necessary – is secret, and has been passed on from generation to generation since my death. That way, Niederegger Marzipan remains what it has always been: a delicious speciality made from the very best almonds. New York, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, a sweetmeat goes on tour … Niederegger stands for “marzipan of world renown”.

The quality of Niederegger marzipan is certainly renowned, as is that of slightly younger Lübeck marzipan manufacturer Carstens (founded in 1845, 39 years after Niederegger).

At its core, marzipan consists of nothing more than ground almonds mixed with either sugar or honey. These days, a wide range of marzipan is available; many commercial versions contain a comparatively low volume of almonds; instead they contain more sugar with the flavour boosted by almond oils and extracts or even cheaper synthetic almond flavourings. They are often sickly sweet.

Niederegger marzipan is the very good stuff. With a high ratio of almonds to sugar, the flavour is subtle and natural and the sweetness is not overwhelming.

Germany grades marzipan according to the following ratios:

  • Marzipanrohmasse (raw marzipan) contains 65% ground almonds and 35% sugar. When you see a label of 100:0 or 100%, it means 100% raw marzipan with no additional sugar added, not that there is no sugar at all.
  • Niederegger Marzipan is raw marzipan, made to the 65:35 almond to sugar ration and labelled as 100:0 (100% raw marzipan).
  • Lübecker Edelmarzipan (Lübeck fine marzipan) is described as 90:10. That means it’s 90% raw marzipan mixed with an extra 10% sugar. Don’t forget, that 90% is not 90% almonds but a mix of almonds and sugar. More sugar is added to that raw marzipan paste. That means the ratio of almond to sugar falls to around 58:42 (58% almonds, 42% sugar).
    Lübeck marzipan has a PDO (protected designation of origin) and the label can only be used for marzipan manufactured in the region to the 90:10 ratio.
  • Gütemarzipan (quality marzipan) must be 80:20. It’s made of 80% raw marzipan and 20% sugar. Almond makes up 62% of the total and sugar the other 28%.
  • Edelmarzipan (fine marzipan) is described as 70:30. It’s made of 70% raw marzipan and 30% sugar. The almond now makes up only 45% of the total and sugar the other 55%.
  • Gewöhnliches marzipan  (ordinary or consumer marzipan) is described as 50:50, so is half raw marzipan and half sugar. That means only a third of the total content is almond and two thirds is sugar.
  • There are also other designations such as Königsberger marzipan, which is no longer associated with place of manufacture but describes a style of marzipan that usually contains almonds, sugar, egg white and lemon juice and has a distinctive golden brown colour.

For anyone looking for high quality marzipan, you can buy Niederegger here in the UK – I’ve seen different products from their range on sale in John Lewis, Waitrose and Tesco and of course, you can buy online (from the same stores plus Chocolatesdirect.co.uk, Ocado and Amazon, to name a few).

Probably the most common Niederegger product  is marzipan coated in dark-chocolate, which is always wrapped in red foil. Blue foil denotes a milk chocolate coating and other colours of foil indicate flavoured marzipans such as apple, caramel, espresso, orange and pistachio – the latter being one of my personal favourites. There is also a liqueur range available.

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GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Niederegger in giving away two hampers worth £25 each to readers of Kavey Eats!

Each hamper contains:-

  • 1 x Milk chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x Dark chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x 125g Marzipan loaf
  • 1 x 200g 16 Piece mini loaves assortment
  • 1 x 100g 8 Piece mini loaves classic
  • 1 x 40g Marzipan stick
  • 6 x Mini Loaves
  • 1 x Gift hamper box
  • Free delivery within the UK

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment sharing a memory of language lessons at school, when you were a kid.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a marzipan hamper from @niederegger_uk and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsMarzipan #KaveyEatsMarzipan
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet and please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

RULES & DETAILS
  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 1st May 2015.
  • The 2 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each prize is a hamper of Niederegger produts, as detailed above and includes delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Niederegger .
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received sample products from Niederegger.

 

Just before Christmas I was invited on a trip to visit Vilnius, Lithuania. As a country I’ve long wanted to visit, and with the added allure of December Christmas markets, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I spent a wonderful few days exploring the city (and nearby Trakai) with incredibly knowledgeable, not to mention helpful, patient and enthusiastic, guide Edvinas Pundys.

Would that I could give you even a tenth of the rich insight into Lithuanian culture, history and modern-day life that Edvinas packed into our time together. Instead I shall share some images and impressions, and encourage you to visit for yourself.

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My favourite place, which we crossed several times during our walks around the city, and which I also visited on my own for a little gift shopping, was Cathedral Square and the small but charming Christmas Market. The cathedral and bell tower are both impressive, the bell tower a standalone structure that was likely once part of the mediaeval city walls; the lower part of it being from that era, the upper part and neo-classical finish added in the late 19th century, during reconstruction work on the cathedral itself. Next door to the cathedral is the newly constructed National Museum, built on the site of the Palace of the Grand Dukes; in the basement you’ll find archaeological ruins from many centuries past.

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Although lots of the food treats looked tempting, I focused on things I could bring home – some amber jewellery (for which Lithuania is well known) and a couple of jars of local honey.

I also stopped in a local supermarket for local cheeses, cured meats and chocolates.

Of course, there was plenty more to see around Vilnius, much of it rich in history and architecturally beautiful to boot. We also popped into the Money Museum, which I had expected to be a little dull but actually really liked, not least because of the clever technology used to provide the display; coins in columns that could be moved up and down by the touch of a button, as could the associated magnifying lens in front and drawers full of international currencies with a wall display about each one that could be called up from a central console.

The local tourist booklet, Vilnius in your pocket, has not only a full list of all the attractions, it also provides a detailed restaurant listing and a surprisingly comprehensive condensed history of Lithuania. Definitely pick this up on arrival, so you can refer to it during your visit. Better still, a Pocket Edvinas is strongly recommended!

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Many of the buildings in the Old Town are worth a visit. We explored just a small part of Vilnius University’s Old Campus (there are other locations around the city too). The campus is formed of many buildings of different styles and ages, arranged around 13 courtyards. To enter the campus as a visitor, you’ll need to buy a ticket, it’s not expensive. I was particularly taken with the mural-painted arched ceilings of Littera, the university bookshop. There’s also a first floor hall featuring murals in red, blue and gold that is quite impressive. This is a modern artwork showing the seasons of the year, as they were once experienced by rural Lithuanians. Via the Grand Courtyard, we also visited St John’s Church. Such visits were made so much richer by Edvinas’ running commentary about the origins of the church, about how it survived the nazi occupation and the long period during which Lithuania was part of the USSR; religious activity being anathema to soviet secularity.

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A short drive out of Vilnius is Trakai, a very popular local holiday destination. Unspoiled, with many attractive lakes, it’s also the home of Trakai Castle, a 14th century castle that was heavily restored in the late 20th century. Trakai was one of the main centres of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and as such, the castle held significant strategic importance.

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Without fail during my visit, we ate well and prices seemed very reasonable. My main regret is that most of the meals organised for us didn’t showcase traditional Lithuanian cuisine as much as I’d hoped; rather the restaurants were selected on providing a tasty meal; the kind of places locals enjoy and recommend.  But I did try a few local dishes that have whetted my appetite for a return trip, so that I can experience more traditional fare.

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Dinner on the first night wasn’t included, so two of us took a walk to The Old Green House, a cosy restaurant a few minutes walk from our hotel. A bar snack starter of baked bread with smoked pigs ears and cheese was far bigger than I expected (for just 3.19 Euros) and one of my favourite dishes of the trip; smokey pork, gooey cheese and crunchy dark rye bread. I also had a main of pork ribs, and the stroganoff my friend chose looked very good too.

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The underground setting of La Boheme was very attractive. My favourite of the dishes we had there was a cheese soup with shrimp; rich and simple. My pork main was a little dry, and not very interesting.

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At Leiciai restaurant, a salad featuring local fresh cheese, apples and walnuts was delicious but I particularly enjoyed the duck served with a baked bacon-wrapped pear stuffed with cheese. The others enjoyed beers brewed by the restaurant’s own microbrewery. As a non-beer-drinker I paused on the way home  to buy a selection of beers from local and regional breweries, at the excellent beer shop also owned by the same business; hopefully Pete will review some of these soon. Dessert, a huge banana on a puddle of sour (unsweetened) kiwi puree was a disappointment.

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My favourite meal, and one which definitely gave us an insight into one of the local cuisines, was at Kybynlar restaurant in Trakai, a popular holiday destination about 30 km from Vilnius. We visited Trakai not only to see the impressive castle and lakes but to try Karaite cooking; Trakai is the home of the Lithuanian Karaite community, an ethnic and religious group derived from Turkic-speaking adherents of Karaism. The religion has much in common with aspects of Judaism, from which historians believe Karaism originated. Certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the Lithuanian history that Edvinas related to us was the tolerance Lithuania afforded to immigrants and their different religions, during times when this was certainly not universal.

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A salad plate included a very Turkish imam bayaldi, packed with flavour. Then a traditional beef kybyn, served with a clear chicken broth, reminded me of a Cornish pasty. The main dish was chicken čanach – chicken and vegetables in cooked and served in a pastry-covered pot, with sour cream. Both of these dishes were very plain – no herbs or spices – but tasty. A simple apple pastry finished the meal. We were also given a shot of a liqueur made of herbs, rhizomes and spices to a traditional recipe – too bitter for me, though!

Throughout our time in Lithuania, I noticed the warmth and friendliness of Lithuanians; indeed on one afternoon when two of us got lost on the way home from a visit to the Christmas market, a kind stranger, unable to give us instructions in a language we understood, walked twenty minutes out of his way to lead us back to our hotel, before continuing his journey home. So kind!

In terms of arranging a visit, Vilnius is a perfect destination for a long weekend, or even a week if you like. There’s plenty more to see than the highlights we took in, and eating out is affordable and tasty.

For British travellers, there are low cost flights from the UK via multiple budget airlines; I flew on Wizz Air; the usual no frills service – fine for a short flight.

We were hosted by the Artis Centrum Hotel; it boasts a very handy location in the Old Town and attractive, large and comfortable rooms, but I did experience a few problems: a bedroom door that didn’t shut properly, such that I returned to my room one afternoon to find it wide open and was told “the doors do that sometimes”, leading me to feel somewhat insecure thereafter; plus some minor issues related to in-room safes, higher-than-acceptable charges for bottled water and some confusion over charges for coffee at breakfast. A decent hotel but with some niggles to be addressed.

On January 1 2015, just 12 days after I returned home, Lithuania gave up their national currency, the Lita, and joined the Euro. Sad for those of us who have a soft spot for using unfamiliar currencies, but hopefully it will be a positive move for the country, from an economic perspective. Perhaps it will also result in an increase in tourism; certainly this gorgeous capital is deserving of more visitors.

Kavey Eats travelled to Vilnius as a guest of the Lithuanian State Department of Tourism.

 

There’s something very indulgent about taking a mini city break in your own city of residence.

Holidays at home (or staycations, in the American vernacular) usually involve heading out of town; a shorter journey than heading abroad, perhaps, but further afield than the place you live. On the rare occasions we allocate leisure time to our local area, we tend to day trip, returning home to our own beds overnight. But booking a night in a hotel in your own city transforms a couple of day trips into what feels more like a proper holiday. It’s so much fun! Added bonuses: the travel is easy, and you don’t need to take much luggage.

Pete and I recently spent a night in the Citizen M Bankside hotel, within easy reach of Borough Market and Maltby Street Market, as well as other local attractions.

Read on for my personal guide to the area, plus a review of the hotel.

Borough Market

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Borough Market needs little introduction from me; a food market much loved by locals and tourists alike.

I love to come and shop here; browsing through the huge array of fresh produce – meat, fish, fruit, vegetables – and a vast selection of other food items; bread, cakes, biscuits and doughnuts, charcuterie, cheese (oh my, such wonderful cheese), honey, truffles, coffee and tea, fresh filled pasta, beers and wines…

Borough Market Collage 2

Some of my favourite stops include:

  • Neal’s Yard Dairy is an Aladdin’s cave of cheese – all kinds and all in perfect condition – served by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff who are happy to guide you and give a few tasters as you make your choices; I always buy some delicious Coolea plus an oozer and a goats cheese as well and often a piece of Stichelton.

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Neal’s Yard Dairy

  • Jumi is the outlet of a small and young cheese producer from Switzerland, I recommend their marvellously pungent Murgu (blue) and the creamy soft La Bouse – don’t be put off by the cowdung translation!
  • Cheese lovers will also love The French Comte stall, selling not only the cheese but other items from La Franche-Comté. And there are many more cheese vendors besides these.
  • Utobeer has a fantastic selection of bottled beers, making it a great place to buy gifts for beer lovers.
  • Turnips is one of the larger stalls at Borough, almost a mini-section of the market on its own and has a fabulous range of produce. I often find the fruit and vegetables a little pricy but I do make a beeline for their mushroom stall; there’s a fabulous selection, in very good condition and fairly priced. I can recommend the king oyster mushrooms in particular, but have bought many different mushrooms over the years.
  • Visit The Tomato Stall for full-of-flavour tomatoes and juices from Arreton Valley, on the Isle of Wight.
  • Bread Ahead Bakery has created quite a stir, most notably for their doughnuts, the creation of baker Justin Gellatly. I’ve been unlucky the previous two visits to their stall, once I was too late and the doughnuts had run out and the next visit was over Easter, and they had replaced them with hot cross buns. When I finally got to try them on this visit, I loved them so much I went back for more the very next morning! Of course, do try their other baked products as well.
  • I first discovered Caroline’s Free From Bakehouse after I met her through blogging and social media. She’s won many awards for her gluten-free range and also offers some dairy free and sugar free items in her range.
  • Tartufaia Truffles sell fresh truffles as well as truffle-infused products, including a very tasty truffle honey.
  • If you love charcuterie, you’ll be spoiled by Borough Market, as there are many stalls and shops to choose from, offering British and European charcuterie of different types. I don’t have a single favourite, but have enjoyed items from several stalls over the years.
  • Although you can sometimes now find Chegworth Valley fruit juices in supermarkets and farm shops, you’ll find an impressively wide range here, plus fruit from their farm too.
  • For fish lovers, there are several fresh fish mongers (Furness and Shellseekers are two from whom I’ve bought good quality seafood), I’d suggest checking all of them to see what appeals on the day. You’ll also often find high quality smoked fish and eel on sale; House of Sverre and Muirenn Smokehouse are two such vendors.
  • Meat is readily available too. I’ve loved the game birds and venison I’ve bought from Furness, and the bacon, sausages and various cuts of met from the Ginger Pig. There are also several butchers selling meat directly from the farm, including Rhug Farm, Sillfield Farm, Northfield Farm, Hillhead Farm Wild Beef, Wyndham House Poultry and many others. For those looking for camel, ostrich, zebra, crocodile and various antelope, try The Exotic Meat Company.
  • There are a number of stalls selling products from France, so do explore. I tend to head to Le Marché du Quartier as my first port of call.
  • Indeed, it’s not just France that’s represented at Borough Market; there are stalls selling produce from Argentina, Croatia, Grenada, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey… a lovely way to travel the world without leaving London!
  • I’ve only recently discovered Spice Mountain, but want to explore further, as based on my brief initial visit, they offer a really wide range of spices, including a selection of spice blends.

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There are also an ever-increasing number of street food vendors, selling hot and cold food to eat there and then. I’m not a huge fan of eating on the hoof, so I’ve not paid much attention to these, but there are plenty to choose from.

For more information on traders and opening times, visit the Borough Market website.

 

Cheers!

I’ve already mentioned Utobeer within the market (and there are a number of wine vendors too).

Take a very short detour out of the market proper to Laithwaite’s Wine, at the north end of Stoney Street. It’s a great shop in its own right, with a wide range of wine and helpful staff. But in the Favelle household, it’s better known as the easiest way to reach The Whisky Exchange (the other way in being through Vinopolis); a small shop space housing a truly impressive selection of whiskies from around the world.

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The Whisky Exchange

Back to beer lovers, there are several breweries to visit in the area around Borough, Maltby Street and Bermondsey Street. Look up Anspach & Hobday, Brew by Numbers, Bullfinch, Four Pure, Hiver, Kernel, Southwark Brewing Company, Partizan

Local pubs include The Rake, a favourite with lovers of real ale but frustratingly tiny inside, so best visited during warmer months or very quiet times of the day.

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Umbrella art installation just outside; Brew Wharf

Another great place to stop for a pint or two is Brew Wharf, within the larger Vinopolis complex, which offers a range of beers from London, the rest of the UK and international breweries. They also brew on site in their own microbrewery.

Wine Wharf, just in front, is the wine lovers option; another lovely space in which to enjoy a drink is Bedales Wine Bar and Shop, within the market area.

 

A Warming Pit Stop

I love to stop regularly for coffee or hot chocolate, especially during the colder months, but let’s be honest, I find excuses in the summer too.

The Rabot 1745 cafe sells a tasty selection of hot chocolates; their salted caramel is my current favourite.

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Monmouth Coffee is the best known caffeine option, but I’ve only once been able to find an inside space to sit in all the many visits I’ve made to Borough Market over the years; I’m not one for drinking on the go, nor do the benches outside appeal. The coffee is, of course, super.

Round the corner, Gelateria 3Bis offers coffee, ice cream and hot chocolate and has the advantage that there’s usually a couple of spaces free at the tables and staff are friendly.

For those who don’t mind drinking and walking, there are also a number of takeway coffee vendors within the market.

 

Maltby Street Market

About twenty minutes walk from Borough Market is the much smaller but altogether funkier Maltby Street Ropewalk Market. You might think it’s not worth the walk, since Borough is so much bigger, but you’d be missing out. The small selection of stalls, tucked under the arches or along the narrow alley are charming, and most are not duplicated over at Borough. I don’t think the vendors list on the website is up to date, but there is always a good range of high quality produce, some to buy and take home and some to enjoy on site.

My picks include African Volcano for the best peri peri sauce and delicious hot food made with the same (the sauce itself is a must-buy ingredient but save space to order Grant’s pulled pork in a bun, peri peri prawns or peri peri burger are), Monty’s Deli for pastrami and salt beef sandwiches, Hansen & Lydersen for smoked salmon, St John’s Bakery for doughnuts. There are usually also a range of beer, wine and cocktails on sale from various of the stalls and arches such as Bar Tozino, which also sells fantastic jamón and other tasty Spanish snacks. Next time I visit, I’m keen to try Gosnell’s London Mead.

Open on weekends only, and do check dates as can vary during winter.

If you enjoy rooting through architectural salvage, a rummage in LASSCO is in order, at 41 Maltby Street.

 

Bermondsey Street

Bermondsey Street is the trendy hub of a local community that clearly values good food, a relaxed vibe and quirkiness. Where once it might be have been described as up and coming, it’s now firmly “upped and comed”; gentrified but still rather hip. Deserving of a post in its own right, I’ll simply point you towards Pizzaro (and older sibling Jose) and Zucca and suggest you explore this neighbourhood on your own. Do share your favourite finds with me, though!

 

Tourist Attractions

Southwark Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral, dating mainly from 1220 and 1420, although the nave is a late 19th-century reconstruction. All are welcome to attend services. Visitors may also enter to admire the cathedral, unless it is closed for an event. Do be mindful not to disturb those at worship.

HMS Belfast is a floating naval museum within a warship permanently moored alongside Tower Bridge. Adult entry is £15.50.

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I can’t believe I’ve not yet been inside The Shard, though I’d love to enjoy the views from the higher floors and I’m keen to try Hutong and Lang for high end Chinese and afternoon tea, respectively. You can buy tickets to access the Viewing Gallery online, though be warned, it’s £24.95 for an adult ticket.
 

Eating Out

If I offered a list of every good restaurant within the area, this would soon turn into a book!

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Breakfast at Rabot 1745

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Elliot’s Cafe

Favourites in 2014 include two meals at Rabot 1745 (which offers a great breakfast menu, as well as their regular lunch and dinner offerings), some delicious dishes at Elliot’s Cafe (I did feel a few dishes were much pricier than justified; then again they’re always full!), a simple, tasty and reasonably priced menu at Hixter Bankside (but we had some frustrating issues with service which were eventually resolved by managers but not reflected in the bill), and I’ve always enjoyed Brindisa for a snack or light meal.

 

Hotel Citizen M Bankside

My first encounter with a Citizen M hotel was up in Glasgow; it was the perfect option for an overnight stop en route to Islay and had vastly more positive online reviews than other budget chains I considered. The Bankside property offers much the same and is less than a 10 minute walk from Borough Market.

The immediate vicinity is the focus of a lot of recent development, with several new restaurant and cafe openings along the short stretch between the Blue Fin Building and Citizen M.

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Exterior and internal garden area, images courtesy of CitizenM

Check in is meant to be self-service, with a bank of check in computers provided just by the entrance. It’s very straightforward, so we find it a little disconcerting that there are always at least two members of staff to assist, and they tend to step forward immediately, rather than allow guests to self-service first. It’s friendly, but somewhat negates the point of self-service over a traditional check in desk.

Lifts to residential floors can only be operated by those with a room key card, which is good as the open-plan ground-floor lobby is enormously busy throughout the day and evening.

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Rooms are small but have been very cleverly designed to maximise space, and a lot of thought has been given to convenience and comfort; these are too often overlooked in favour of funky design. Beds are huge and very comfortable (though rather high off the ground, and it’s a bit of a clamber for whoever gets the window side). Storage is minimal but sufficient for a one or two night stay. Keeping the sink outside of the bathroom cubicle makes both seem more generous; the shower is much larger than the cruise-ship-style pods often used by budget chains. Much appreciated touches include a large TV with a good selection of films available on demand (and without extra charge), power sockets that cater for various international plugs, a USB charging point and a funky lighting system that allows you to set mood with coloured lighting; I particularly appreciated the ability to keep an unobtrusive red light on in the bathroom pod overnight. Despite the small size, I find the Citizen M rooms more comfortable and appealing than many poorly designed larger rooms I’ve stayed in over the years.

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Another thing I enjoy about Citizen M hotels is the very bright, colourful and quirky design. The public spaces are a sensory overload of funky lighting and Vitra furniture, and all kinds of artwork and random objects to add interest. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it, and very much enjoyed wandering around peering at all the things.

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Ground floor spaces

The lobby is cleverly divided into areas for lounging around reading or chatting, for working (power sockets provided), for eating breakfast, for relaxing. The only slight issue is that, as it’s open to non-residents too, it can be hard to find space during busier times.

You may decide not to eat at the hotel, surrounded as you are by so many fantastic food options, but the hotel does provide breakfast and dinner. The former is in the form of a breakfast buffet; you can either include it when you book or pay on the day, as you prefer. The quality is better than I’ve experienced at far more expensive hotels, the pain au chocolat was superb, and the sausages and bacon good quality. For dinner there are just a handful of choices, but again, what I tried was tasty and decent value too. You are also permitted to bring food in from outside, so go ahead and buy yourself a picnic from Borough Market or order a takeaway from a local restaurant.

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Top row, breakfast; bottom row, dinner

In another nice change from other budget chains I’ve stayed in (and indeed, higher end places in the UK too), service is friendly and helpful to everyone, something we noticed at the Glasgow property as well.

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View into the internal atrium area from the corridor to our room

I’ve also now signed up for the free-to-join Citizen M club which gives me 15% off the best available rate when booking future rooms at any of the Citizen M hotels.

 

Kavey Eats were guests of Citizen M Bankside hotel.

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Almeria and Murcia, two neighbouring regions in Southern Spain, to learn more about their agricultural practices and produce.

1 Agrobio – Biological Pollination & Pest Control

We started with a fascinating visit to Agrobio, a company that produces and sells bumblebees for pollination and a wide range of insects for biological pest control. Before a tour of the bee production facilities, we learned more about the use of bees for pollination from researchers Isabel Mendizábal and David Morales.

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Isabel and David at Agrobio

Tomato crops were used as an example; tomato flowers are not naturally very attractive to pollinating insects, so farmers need to intervene. In the past, farmers have employed a variety of techniques to pollinate their tomatoes; the use of hormones (which cheat the flower into thinking they are pollinated but result in poor quality seeds, poor setting of fruit and also need human intervention every few days to spray) or the use of blowers and vibrators (intended to release pollen by blowing or shaking it loose from the flowers, but expensive and not very effective).

But bees have proved to be more effective and cheaper and they result in perfect fruit setting.

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Hive bees won’t pollinate tomatoes as there is no nectar in the flowers; once the first few bees from a hive visit the field, they’ll pass on information to the rest of their hive that there’s no nectar in that location. But bumblebees don’t communicate in this way, so each bee will merrily visit any tomato flower it encounters. Additionally, bumblebees don’t store food, so they will leave the colony box to find flowers every day.

Once farmers switch to using bees for pollination, they usually switch to biological pest control too; chemical pesticides often cause bees to die, not to mention the residues of chemicals that remain in the produce. To make matters worse, pests develop resistance to widely used chemicals over time, meaning that farmers must use ever increasing amounts to protect their crops from the same pests.

Indeed, Almeria’s farming community suffered a catastrophic blow in 2006, when Greenpeace published a report about its discovery (in German supermarkets) of unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues in produce from the region, including pesticides not permitted to be used in the EU. The supermarkets in question quickly switched to non-Spanish producers, but the scandal grew as more European vendors tested for and detected the same residues and stopped buying from Almeria. Brussels placed the offending chemical on its blacklist and with that, Almeria could no longer sell affected produce within the EU. The blow to the economy was severe and resulted in unusually rapid and wholesale changes to the industry; in 2005 just 300 hectares in the region used biological pest control, now 27,000 hectares in the region do so.  The use of chemicals dropped drastically; indeed Almeria has become a global showcase for farming with minimal use of chemicals. The regional public administration also support the change, keen to ensure the problem does not arise again; they provide subsidies, training and other resources to support the agricultural community.

Said Isabel of the change; “We passed from an example of what you must not do in agriculture to an example of what you must do.

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The process of growing bees is utterly fascinating. Agrobio selectively breed different species of bumblebees for different regions around the world. For example, the UK bumblebee is a different subspecies to the ones found elsewhere in Europe. If Agrobio were to sell UK farmers the European subspecies, it would breed with our native bumblebees and our unique subspecies would be lost. For this reason, Agrobio produce a number of difference species and subspecies of bumblebees for their various farmers around the world.

By clever use of a series of temperature and light controlled rooms, Agrobio are able to mimic the various lifecycle stages of the bumblebee and produce the bees all year round. We explore the various rooms, blinking in bright lights as huge bumblebees buzz around us, a row of workers gently picking individuals and placing them into boxes; we squint in dark red lit rooms in which bees are in a state of hibernation, and even see a tray of dozing ones transferred from one very cold room to another. In the last room, boxes of bees are carefully packaged, along with a feeder of nectar, ready for transport to the customer.

Agrobio provide bumblebee colonies in two types of boxes suitable for use in a greenhouse or outdoors; the indoor boxes have more ventilation to allow the heat to dissipate; outdoor boxes are better protected against the weather.

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As with the bees, breeding insects for biological pest control isn’t straightforward; agrobio perform extensive research to determine which insects are the best natural predators for the various pests that plague farmers, with the choice depending on crop varieties, climate and geographical location. They then produce and sell the relevant insects in large quantities. Although they do a lot of research to improve the efficacy of their biological pest control species, they are keen to point out that there is no genetic manipulation involved, just careful use of selective breeding to favour natural characteristics. With some insects, it’s a case of breeding them in large numbers, packing them in suitable bottles, tubes and boxes and shipping them to farmers for release. With some insects, particularly parasitoids, the pregnant females don’t travel well so instead they will allow the parasitoids to impregnate some of the pest species, send those out to the farmers, and once released into the greenhouses, the parasitoids hatch and breed, and lay their next generation of eggs within the pests of the greenhouse.

 

2 Clisol – The Future of Farming

Lola Gómez Ferrón is a fruit and vegetable grower who embraced biological, sustainable farming long before the rest of the region were forced to follow suit. It’s a family business which she inherited from her parents, and she and her husband now employ just 6 staff to help them look after 2.2 hectares of land. The average figure, she explains, is around 3 people per hectare, but of course it depends on what you’re growing and how you are growing it. Tomatoes, for example, need much more effort than melons!

The first thing that most visitors to the region notice, even before they land, is that the vast majority of agricultural land is covered in greenhouses. Looking down, as your flight comes in or takes off, you cannot fail to notice the extensive coverage of green and white plastic tunnels across the landscape.

Lola explains the history of local greenhouses:

The Almeria region has a unique semi-desert climate which is warm enough for many fruit and vegetables to be grown outdoors. However, the region suffers from blasting winds, often 100 days of the year or more, which destroy crops and made farming very difficult. Around 50 years ago, farmers in the region began to put up traditional greenhouses – the regular structures used elsewhere, with plastic coverings. These succeeded in protecting crops from the wind but also conferred an additional benefit – Almerian farmers discovered they could now grow produce throughout the winter, when the rest of Europe could not. Year round produce became central to the economic success of the region’s agriculture.

The original greenhouses were flat, but rainwater collected on top and often caused the structure to collapse; that lead to a change in the shape of the greenhouses, most of which now have a 10-12% gradient roof angle to allow for water to run off without weighing down or damaging them.

The extra heat provided by the plastic coverings was a boon in winter, but in summer, the heat was too intense. Rather than remove the plastic coverings from such vast areas of land, local farmers developed a system of whitewashing the plastic during the summer to reflect away much of the heat, and then washing the plastic back to green for the winter. Many of the greenhouses are quite low in height, which makes it easier for the farmers to clamber on top to paint or clean.

Other changes include improved ventilation; earlier greenhouses required manual opening and closing of vents but the newest models are fully automated and computer controls open and close vents on different sides of the structure according to sensors monitoring temperatures within the greenhouse and wind direction outside. (Plants being such efficient producers of oxygen, need ventilation to blow out excess oxygen and bring in fresh carbon dioxide).

Greenhouse coverings now make use of photo-selective plastics which reflect light in such a way that some pests such as aphids and whitefly are less likely to enter.

We also learn why Lola has moved away from traditional soil-based agriculture to hydroponics:

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Lola has one greenhouse still using the traditional system, which allows her to show visitors the differences between this and her newer hydroponic systems.

The soil in this region is poor. Traditionally, farmers used to add a 50 cm layer of fertile soil imported from elsewhere, on top of the local orange soil. Then they would add 2-3 cm of manure and then 12-15 cm of protective sand above that. To plant the crops, the sand was moved aside, the seedling planted into the soil below, and the sand moved back into place. But after 5 or 6 years, all the goodness in that imported soil was depleted and the farmers faced the enormous task of removing the top layer of sand and replacing the soil once again. It was an arduous and expensive cycle.

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Lola grows both tomatoes and peppers using her closed-system hydroponics techniques

Lola has instigated closed-water system hydroponics in several of her newer greenhouses. She uses coconut husk purchased from India, where it’s a discarded by product of coconut farming. All the nutrients required are added to the water, which circulates within the closed system. Nothing leaches into the soil; nothing enters the water table. Again, specialist sensors detect when plants need more water, and allow controlling computers to direct the flow as required. When the plants are young, they are fed by clean fresh water. That water is recycled through the closed system repeatedly. By the time the plants are older, the water has been recycled numerous times, but the older plants are able to handle that. Lola is convinced that in the future, most if not all farming will use closed-water hydroponics systems – no contamination of the land or water table and very efficient use of water – an increasingly limited resource.

Lola uses biological pollination and pest control, and is pleased that the price has dropped as more and more farmers adopt the approach, and companies like Agrobio (she uses a competitor) are able to increase volumes and reduce prices. Things are constantly evolving as more research leads to greater understanding; where once the sticky insect traps – placed on greenhouse walls to attract and trap pests – were bright blue, they are now a much paler blue. Why? Because recent spectrum research has discovered that the brighter blue attracts both pests and pest control insects but the paler blue attracts only the unwanted pests.

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Lola smiles as she tells us that she loves her plants as she loves her children; “a plant lives, grows, thinks, moves – it’s the same, not less, than people”.

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After teaching us so much about the history, current practices and future of farming in the region, Lola also shares some of her personal tips for tomato growing, several of which could readily be implemented by a home grower. I’ll be sharing those with you next year, as I’m eager to give them a try myself. Lastly, we enjoy a fine feast of farm fresh produce served with local olive oil and honey.

You may enjoy this short BBC Video filmed in Almeria last year, which features Lola and showcases her hydroponic tomato greenhouses.

 

3 Agromark – Traceability of Produce

Agromark in Murcia is a successful fruit and vegetable farming business owned and run by three brothers. One of the brothers, Carlos Doménech Llopis, gives us a tour of one of their broccoli farms, telling us that an impressive 80% of the broccoli consumed in Europe during late autumn and winter is grown right here in Murcia.

Like Almeria, Murcia boasts a microclimate that allows them to grow crops throughout the winter. Unlike Almeria, it doesn’t have ferocious winds to deal with, indeed Carlos tells us a little more wind would be very welcome when it comes to ventilating their greenhouses!

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Before visiting the greenhouses, we learn how seeds are processed by the rather grand Urbinati potting machine; I find it utterly mesmerising. Soil is imported from Estonia (and on occasion from Scotland) and fed into the machine which breaks it up, fills it into the seed trays and pushes a small hole into each pot. Today, Agromark are using seeds purchased from Malaysia; a variety called Calabrese Broccoli F1 Hybrid Parthenon. The bright blue coating protects the seeds and also makes it easy to identify the source; each seed company uses a different colour coating for their seeds. A vacuum system sucks individual seeds onto a rotating cylinder and releases them into the seed trays below. These are then covered with vermiculite, a mineral-rich rock that expands when heated, providing a superlight covering for the seeds that locks in moisture and leaches beneficial minerals.

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After potting, the seed trays are transferred into a climate-controlled room for 48 hours, during which time they germinate. Once germinated, the seedlings spend 35-55 days in the greenhouses before being transplanted to the fields outside. The consistency of temperatures in the germination room and greenhouses ensures a 99% success rate for germination; much higher than can be achieved outside.

In the greenhouse, we are shown seedlings at various stages. Each seedbed is meticulously labelled to show the variety, the date they were sown, any feeds or chemicals applied and so on. This commitment to traceability fulfils stringent requirements from customers including Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK and other supermarkets and distributors across Europe.

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When it comes to the other end of the process, Agromark are keen to pick, package and distribute the produce as quickly as possible. To this end they’ve developed a process whereby workers walk through the field, cutting only the heads of broccoli that are fully grown and in good condition; these are dropped onto a conveyor belt that carries them into a mobile packing shed where they are cut, wrapped, labelled and packed into crates within minutes.

 

Coming soon, a round up of traditional food in the two regions.

Kavey Eats travelled to Almeria and Murcia on behalf of the We Care You Enjoy campaign, funded by Hortyfruta and ProExport.

 

I visited Colombia about thirty years ago on a family holiday that also took us to Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Though I still have memories of Bogotá – I remember the statue of Simon Bolivar in Plaza de Bolivar, the flamboyant Iglesia del Carmen and being driven around the old town areas – there’s a gap when it comes to remembering the food.

Luckily, Proexport Colombia recently invited me to attend a Colombian Cooking Masterclass in the Ambassador’s beautiful residence in Chester Square.

We spent a happy hour in the small basement kitchen, where renowned Colombian chefs Juanita Umaña and Diana García talked to us about ingredients and demonstrated several dishes, inviting us to touch, smell, taste and to get involved. We ate Colombian specialities straight out of the fryer and scribbled down tips and tricks before taking our seats in the ambassador’s dining room for a multi-course feast.

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The snacks we made with Juanita and Diana both featured yuca (manioc) flour. Pasteles de yuca croquettes stuffed with a spicy beef and egg mixture. Arepas (corn cakes) were double-fried – dough was rolled out, cut into discs, fried for a few minutes, then a slit carefully so that an egg could be dropped inside before being fried again. Arepas are most commonly made quite large, but Juanita and Diana made individual ones using quails eggs before creating a larger one with a hen egg.

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For lunch we were served a variety of dishes, all traditional favourites in Colombia. My fellow diners were particularly taken with the Ajiaco Santafereño (chicken and potato soup) but my favourites were the mixed seafood en leche de coco (in coconut milk), the Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena braised beef), the dulce de leche crème brûlée and the sandwich of Oblea wafers and dulce de leche.

Recipe: Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena Braised Beef)

Serves 6

Ingredients
Posta

1 tail of rump or rump tip of 3lb with its fat
1.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon vinegar or 2 tablespoons bitter orange juice
Braising Liquid
3 tablespoons oil
4 sweet chili peppers, seeded and chopped
3 white onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste

Method

  • Place the meat in a bowl or pan and marinate with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar or bitter orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the refrigerator. Heat the oil in a pot over high heat and brown the meat on all sides, starting with the fat, until obtaining a dark caramel colour all over.
  • Add sweet chili peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and pour in enough hot water to cover a third of the meat.
  • Braise for 45 minutes over medium heat to medium doneness. If you want it done more, place in a 350° F (180 °C) oven for 40 minutes more, or depending on your preference.
  • Remove the meat from the pot and let sit for some minutes.
  • Cut it in thin slices.
  • Adjust seasoning. If the sauce formed in the pot has dried out, add some hot water and reduce a bit, for all the flavours to integrate and obtain a nice gravy.
  • Serve the meat with its gravy, fried coconut rice and salad on the side.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of Proexport Colombia. The recipe for Cartagena Braised Beef, published with permission, is from Colombia Cocina de Regiones, edited and published by MNR Comunicaciones y Ediciones, an authoritative book on the recipes of Colombia, with contributions from Juanita Umaña and Diana García.

 

Do you like sightseeing excursions by boat? Yep, I do.

Do you like bird watching? Yep, I do.

Do you fancy eating raw scallops and sea urchins only seconds after they’re pulled out of the sea? OH MY GOD YES, WHERE DO I SIGN UP?

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Seatours run what they call Viking Sushi excursions out of Stykkisholmur harbour in North West Iceland throughout the summer months. The standard and short versions are much the same; a difference of an extra half an hour out on the water; both take you out to the same local islands to view birdlife and unusual geological formations (with fascinating local mythology to explain them) before treating you to the “sushi” experience.

Our itinerary meant we could only make the shorter one, which turned out to be perfect. Any longer, and the cold winds out on the sea might have become more of an endurance test; as it was the sights followed by the sushi kept our minds off the chill factor.

Although the sun was shining, the air was cold. As we gathered speed, a scurry for gloves and scarves was accompanied by muttered regrets about not wearing warmer clothing. Chatting to other guests, we huddled on benches around the open front deck, admiring the coastal landscape as we headed out to sea.

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The first island we approached was a nesting site for black-legged kittiwakes – adults have yellow beaks and black only at the end of their tail feathers; juveniles have black beaks and additional black markings around their eyes, on the back of their necks and along their wings as well as the tail tips. They made their nests in the natural hollows and on the ledges around the cliff edges. Moving around the island, a geological fascination of sweeping upright striations in the rock drew our attention.

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The next island was the focus of a local myth. Lodged into a natural crack in the island was an immense boulder, said to have been hurled by an angry mountain troll in protest at being disturbed by local church bells. The clincher to the tale, so our guide insisted, was that the boulder has since been tested and is not of the same rock as the rest of the island.

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Moving on again, we found a colony of shags on a series of rocks jutting out of the water.

Finally, it was time to lower the net plough to the ocean bed. A few moments later, the crew winched it back up, opened it and let the contents spill out onto the metal counters below.

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There were about 20 of us on the excursion and we crowded around as two crew members quickly started opening the scallop shells and offering plump raw scallops on the half shell. A little wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger were provided, though they quickly ran out. Most of the other tourists politely tried a scallop or two, but seemed nonplussed by the raw seafood and wandered away again. Only a few were willing to try the sea urchin roe, though I did persuade a few more to give it a go, and they enjoyed it.

I was in absolute heaven and said to the younger female crew member that I’d happily carry on eating both as long as she carried on opening them and she seemed very happy to do so. I must have eaten at least 20 enormous plump scallops, so deliciously sweet and fresher than I’ve ever had before. I probably had the roe of five little sea urchins too!

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Click to enlarge

Oh, I did miss a sighting of a white-tailed eagle that Pete (not a fan of scallop or sea urchin roe) enjoyed while I was gorging on the sashimi feast. I was far too happy to feel any regret!

Our Viking Sushi Short tour cost us 5,025 kr per person (about £25) and was one of my highlights of the trip.

 

Pete and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in Iceland this summer. Our visit was almost scuppered by Bárðarbunga, an Icelandic volcano that chose the time of our visit to get a little fractious. Luckily, no flights were cancelled, and although Bárðarbunga did let loose its lava during our holiday, its tantrum had very little impact on our tour.

Late summer in Iceland means long, long days most of which were light and sunny, but Reykjavik was drizzly for most of our time there.

Reykjavik still holds on to a reputation as party central, but as far as we could tell, that seems to have calmed down a great deal since the 1990s heyday. What we enjoyed was a relaxed but funky city with just enough to keep us occupied for a couple of days, provided we liberally interrupted our sightseeing with coffee and cake breaks. We loved being within the centre, which was a pleasure to meander around. The colourful houses in the Mioborg area are home to a surprisingly high number of trendy coffee shops and restaurants. I particularly loved coming across the vibrant and artistic graffiti we spotted around town.

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We found the Harpa Concert Hall as captivating as most visitors and whiled away a few rainy hours taking photographs inside.

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Hallgrímskirkja, a modern Lutheran church designed in 1937 and constructed between 1945 and 1986, is also impressive, though we paid a shorter visit. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson is thought to have been inspired by the basalt lava formations found across Iceland, and once we’d seen some of these for ourselves, that inspiration fell into place.

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We stayed two nights in Center Hotel Þingholt (written in English as Thingholt – that’s a Þ not a P!) The hotel sits along the walking route between Hallgrímskirkja and Harpa – an excellent location in Mioborg, Reykjavik – and we really appreciated our very modern room, though the concrete, leather and glass design won’t suit everyone. The hotel had a trendy bar area and restaurant, though we only ate breakfast there, a perfectly decent buffet offering.

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Thanks to recommendations from Mondomulia and Iheartreykjavik, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Grillmarkadurinn. It’s name translates to Grill Market and owners Hrefna Rósa Sætran and Guðlaugur P. Frímannsson have forged strong relationships with farmers and producers, to showcase the best that Iceland can offer. The tasting menu (9,400 kr per person) is a great way to try a range of dishes.

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We enjoyed another great albeit much simpler meal in charmingly homely Jorundur restaurant, located just in front of Grillmarkadurinn. I chose one of the fiski pönnur (fish pan) dishes, a complete meal presented in a frying pan , though clearly not the one it was cooked in; my fried plaice and shrimps in a white wine sauce was both generous and delicious, served with creamy mash beneath and that sweet sour onion pickle. Pete had a tasty hamburger and a local ale. Here, our bill was around 6,000 kr between us.

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We made a few almost obligatory stops, and are certainly not sorry we did…

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is touted as the source of Iceland’s best hot dogs; I can’t say I found them noticeably better than the many others I enjoyed across the rest of Iceland, but our pylsa með öllu were a great first meal of the trip. Certainly, the hot dogs of Iceland inspired some kitchen experimentation, when we returned home.

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Sægreifinn (Sea Baron) is a pitstop recommended on virtually every food guide to Reykjavik. Located inside a rough-and-ready fish shack by the harbour, it was named for its owner, retired fisherman and coastguard Kjartan Halldorsson. Customers select and pay for their food on entering – skewers of fish are displayed in a fridge by the counter – and grab a seat at one of the communal tables. Most order a skewer or two of fish alongside the famous “lobster” soup; in Iceland langoustines are referred to as lobsters, and that’s the species used in this dish. The soup is a rustic bowl of flavourful broth, a few remnants of celery, pepper and tomato and some slightly mushy chunks of lobster meat – certainly not the best lobster soup I had in Iceland but hearty and budget-friendly.

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Coffee shops and bars are plentiful.

We liked Sandholt Bakarí (bakery) for its wide selection of cakes and doughnuts, and a lively space with plenty of seating. The lunch menu looked good too, though we didn’t have time to try it. Thanks to the girl who ate everything for the suggestion. Stofan Cafe, which we were drawn to by the historical building itself, was another lovely place to hide from the rain; it had the homely feel of a domestic living room.

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Sandholt Bakari; Stofan Cafe

Another popular and oft-recommended spot is The Laundromat Cafe, first launched in Copenhagen. Upstairs is all about the cafe, with plenty of seating around a central serving station. I really like the cafe’s eclectic styling with funky red lamps, huge maps glued to the walls and row upon row of framed photographs of laundrettes (as we call them in the UK) from around the world. Downstairs there is indeed a working laundrette, should you need it.

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Micro Bar is a small bar run by Icelandic brewery, Gæðingur Öl. It’s right on Austurstræti but we kept missing it as the website doesn’t mention that the entrance is inside a hotel lobby!

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Here are a last few images of Reykjavik!

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And remember, Single Gloves Speed Dating never dies!

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I hope you enjoyed my little photo diary of Reykjavik! I’ll be sharing more from our trip around Iceland soon.

 

I’m conscious that nearly a year has passed since our last trip to Japan and I still have so much about the trip that I haven’t shared yet.

One of my favourite mornings was a visit to Kyoto’s Toji Temple for the monthly Kōbō-san flea market that’s held in the grounds on the 21st of each month. It was surprisingly busy, with a food-to-eat-now and produce market alongside the stalls selling both second hand goods and new products. I loved it! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Click on any image to view a larger version.

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Approaching the entrance; entering; within the temple grounds

 

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An area of prayer by a statue of Kōbō Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and the head priest of the temple about 30 years after its establishment

 

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Random market wares

 

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Food vendors, to eat on site and to takeaway; I was surprised to recognise the man in the yellow apron and headgear from our trip the previous year, I remembered him being at Takayama Miyagawa morning market!

 

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There were peaceful corners even amid the bustle of flea market day

Find more of my Japan content, here.

 

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Icelanders love their hot dogs! Who knew?

Well, anyone who’s spent any time in Iceland, that’s who; recommendations to seek out Icelandic pylsa abound and I’m adding one more to the pile!

An Icelandic pylsa is much like a hot dog anywhere in the world… with a few little touches that make it a little different. Firstly, if you order your hot dog með öllu (with everything) you’ll get crispy fried onions – usually the kind you can buy ready made from the supermarket – and finely diced crunchy raw onions, both spread along the roll underneath the frankfurter. You can skip the raw onions if you must by ordering með öllu nema hráum (with everything except raw) but why would you? On top you’ll get ketchup and mustard, as you might expect, plus another condiment you might not; remúlaði. Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce most commonly served with fish but in Iceland (and Denmark too) it’s become a key hot dog condiment as well.

The most famous hot dog vendor in Iceland is probably Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, sold out of two mobile vans in Reykjavik. Their sausages are made by Sláturfélag Suðurlands, a food-producing cooperative owned by farmers from southern and western regions of Iceland. I’m curious as to why these are named vinarpylsa, which I think translates to ’friend sausages’. Anyone?

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I liked my Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog a lot but personally I was just as happy with the hot dogs I ate elsewhere in Iceland at tourist sites and in petrol station restaurants. My favourite was the bacon-wrapped example from an Olis petrol station’s Grill 66 fast food restaurant.

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The remoulade served with hot dogs in Iceland is pale yellow but my recipe (below) is green as I’ve upped the quantity of parsley. I’ve also skipped the mustard since mustard is one of the other condiments to be squirted on anyway. By all means, adjust your remoulade recipe to better match the Icelandic style.

Icelandic Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog

Ingredients per hot dog
1 frankfurter sausage
1 rasher of streaky bacon, smoked or unsmoked
1 hot dog bun
(Optional) 1-2 tablespoons finely diced raw white onion
1-2 tablespoons crispy fried onions
Squirt of ketchup
Squirt of sweet mustard
Squirt of remoulade sauce (see below)

  • Wrap a rasher of streaky bacon around each frankfurter. Fry gently in a pan until the bacon is cooked and has taken on a little colour.
  • Slice the hotdog bun from the top, without cutting all the way through.
  • Open the bun and add a layer of raw onion (if using) and a layer of crispy onion.
  • Top with the bacon-wrapped frankfurter.
  • Add ketchup, sweet mustard and remoulade over the top and serve immediately.
    Tip: I spooned some remoulade into a freezer bag and snipped off a tiny corner, in an attempt to make it easier to pipe, but I still made quite a mess. If you have an empty nozzled squeezy bottle, that would be perfect.

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Icelandic Remoulade Sauce

Makes a small jar, can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Ingredients
120 ml mayo
2-3 tablespoons flat parsley leaves
2 medium spring onions
2 medium pickled gherkins
1 tablespoon pickled gherkin brine or cider vinegar
Optional: 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
Optional: 1 teaspoon mustard

  • Place all the ingredients in a food processor or a grinder that can handle wet ingredients.
  • Blend until smooth.

Of course, there’s more to Icelandic cuisine than hot dogs. I’ll be sharing more from our trip soon!

 

My baby sister got married in Croatia a couple of months ago. I can honestly say it was the joint happiest day of my life so far. (The other, for avoidance of doubt, was my wedding to Pete, exactly 20 years ago today). It made my heart so happy to see my sister and her fine fiancé tie the knot, surrounded by friends and family – utterly magical.

I thought I’d cry during my speech but breeze through my reading. In the end, my emotions (and voice) caught during the reading, which was part way through the ceremony and caused my sister to cry as well, oops sorry about that! But I managed the speech without sobbing, though it caused a few (good) tears amongst some of the wedding party, I think!

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The setting for the ceremony was breath-taking, in the truest sense of the word – a hotel’s outdoor terrace overlooking the old town harbour, city walls and red tiled roofs – a view that made us gasp. The weather was searingly hot and we sat (or stood in the case of the bridesmaids, best man and groom) wilting in the heat, but still all of us grinned at her beauty when we saw her arriving on my dad’s arm. The ceremony was lovely and soon they were married. Such an adorable couple.

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After the ceremony, the entire wedding party walked down to the harbour for a champagne reception on an old-style sightseeing boat. As the group walked through the old town, local buskers spontaneously switched to playing Here Comes The Bride, and fellow tourists stopped to watch and applaud. Boat trip around the city walls and nearby Lokrum island over, we walked back to the hotel where tables had been set up on the terrace for the evening meal, speeches and dancing.

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The entire day was glorious!

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Pete and I travelled to Dubrovnik a few days before the wedding and also booked to stay on another 4 days afterwards. We spent the first few days in a beautiful villa with pool with my sister and brother-in-law-to-be and the bridesmaids, best man and partners. For our last few days, we were very pleased with our choice of the Hilton Dubrovnik, with an enviable location right by Pile Gate and a very enjoyable breakfast buffet to boot.

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We had plans to do lots of sightseeing locally in Dubrovnik and take day trips to nearby islands.

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In the end, the weather in late June/ early July was so hot and humid that I was zapped of what little energy I can ever summon within minutes of stepping outside. I’ve certainly endured hotter but Dubrovnik’s summer heat was astonishingly oppressive. We hoped that early starts in the morning might allow us to evade the heat but discovered that it was already hotter than Hades by 8 o’clock in the morning!

All of which is why we did little more than eat out and walk the city walls for the entire week of our visit!

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… and we only managed to get half way around the city walls walk before my abject terror of heights (and the resultant need to scale most of the stairs sideways like a crab, clinging to the railings for dear life) combined with the excessive heat (even though we started the circuit the moment the gates opened at 8 a.m.) saw us admit defeat after an hour. Presciently, we began with the half that afforded us views of Dubrovnik old town with a backdrop of indigo blue sea and the island of Lokrum behind.

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But we did fall for the beautiful old town and quickly came to understand why my sister and brother-in-law chose this pretty place in which to tie the knot.

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We had many delicious lunches and dinners but here are my top picks; all three are located in the old town, inside or just outside the city walls.

Pizzeria Tabasco (Cavtatska ulica 11)

The company from whom we rented the villa gave us some excellent restaurant recommendations, including this lovely pizzeria located just outside the city walls, near the lower entrance to the cable car.

Enormous, wood-fire oven-baked pizzas with really delicious toppings, these were not only top quality but incredibly good value too. One of the toppings on mine was a local fresh cheese which quickly melted into puddles a minute or so after it was served to the table. One of the best Italian-style pizzas I’ve had, anywhere.

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Restoran Dubrovnik (Marojice Kaboge 5)

In the maze of narrow streets within the old town walls, this elegant restaurant is a little out of the way of the busiest thoroughfares and feels a little more peaceful as a result. The tables are on an open rooftop, with sliding roofing panels available to provide protection should the weather require. We loved this outdoor seating with its surround view of the beautiful stone buildings of the old town.

The menu is modern European with a focus on local ingredients and we enjoyed our first meal so much we booked to go back on our last evening.

Pricier than the other two, but (from our Londoner perspective) still reasonable for the quality – and much less expensive than other high end restaurants in town.

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Taj Mahal (Ulica Nikole Gučetića 2,

In spite of the Indian name, this is actually a Bosnian restaurant and the tables are tucked along one edge of a narrow old town alley.

By far the most popular dish amongst customers was cevapi – little grilled minced meat kebabs. They were simply served inside soft warm bread with raw red onions and the most amazing butter and fresh cheese condiment that I devoured (and then asked for more of).

They also do some delicious local meat and cheese platters and a range of other Bosnian dishes. Various others in the wedding party visited during the week and enjoyed the Taj Mahal as much as we did.

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As for ice cream (or gelato, as it’s mostly in the Italian style), there are many excellent ice cream vendors to choose from and I suggest you go for the nearest when the mood for ice cream strikes!

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Our plan is to head back to Dubrovnik (and the rest of Croatia too) in the next year or two for a spring or autumn break, when the weather is a little more conducive to more active exploration.

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Message on a bottle – words from Croatian natural water brand

 

P.s. Happy 20th wedding anniversary, Pete. I love you!

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