Sun, beach, and pizza in Hvar

There are many small islands that one could visit in Croatia. We chose Hvar initially because of its famed lavender fields, except it was not in season by the time we arrived at end of August (apparently June is the season). Nonetheless, the streets were dotted with stalls selling lavender scented goods of all kinds such as essential oils and dried lavender. Hvar is a small island with a population of just over 4,000 but many luxury boats dock the piers, reminding me of scenes from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. The streets are very pretty and we enjoyed practising our long forgotten photography skills.

Hvar collage

The journey from Dubrovnik to Hvar takes 4 hours and 10 minutes. We bought the tickets on the day but it is probably best to purchase them online beforehand as the ticket office did not open until 30 minutes before our 7am departure.

We started our day at Hvar walking around the beautiful St Stephen’s Square but quickly abandoned our plans as it became too obviously hot to do anything other than swimming. But not without consuming the most gigantic slice of pizza first.

Hvar St Stephen's Cathedral

Our Airbnb host pointed us to Mustaco beach (“the beach where all the locals go to”) which was a convenient 10 minutes’ walk away from our accommodation. The beach was surprisingly clean and water was very clear. Swimming was much needed to cool down. After physically exhausting ourselves, we rewarded ourselves with a massage at Massage Studio Pharos. We were lucky enough to walk up without a reservation.

Hvar Mustaco beach

We had dinner at a family run restaurant called Lungo Mare and then cocktails by the pier. The cocktail was surprisingly strong as after one glass, I felt rather dizzy and heavy. Because Hvar was so relaxing, we opted to cook our own pesto pasta dinner the next day, completed with a glass of wine produced by our host himself. Not without receiving an electric shock from the hob though.

Hvar food collage

To top off our stay at Hvar, we were greeted with a beautiful sunset on our walk back from the Old Town to our accommodation. It was a perfect end to a perfect stay in Hvar.

Hvar sunset

Summer in Dubrovnik

We chose Croatia for our summer holiday because we’ve only heard great things about it – the romantic Old Town, the fresh seafood, the marble floors, the sun and beaches. We spent three full days in Dubrovnik, a city known for its distinctive Old Town. We stayed at an Airbnb studio located about 15 minutes walk from the Old Town, which was a big mistake when we decided to tow our luggage to the studio at 11pm at night. Who knew the city was very hilly with numerous steps? But we loved the lemon trees and grape vines on our studio’s terrace. The lemons made for the freshest lemonades we’ve ever tasted.

Dubrovnik Old Town

Hanging out by the port

Although we aren’t much of a sun and beach holiday type of couple, we ended up swimming a couple times in Dubrovnik simply because the heat was very intense. We trespassed Hotel Bellevue to go to a nearby beach. Initially I had some reservations about rocky beaches but Croatia changed my mind. The water among rocky beaches were so clear that we could see our own hands and feet when they were submerged into the water. My ugly plastic water shoes which cost 50 kuna turned out to be one of the most useful purchases of the trip, along with a straw hat.

Hands down, the best part of Dubrovnik was the sunset sea kayaking tour. It was a 7.5km trip and even though we run every weekend, our fitness level was horrendous when it came to kayaking – out of the entire group, we were struggling at the back and occasionally had the oars the wrong way round. However, that did not destroyed the trip; we kayaked along the calm water, sometimes asynchronously, passing by scenic caves, Lokrum Island, and even a nudist island. The yellow yolk of the sun dipping into the ocean as we kayaked back to the old city walls was one of the best sunsets we’ve seen in a very long time.

Sea kayaking tour Dubrovnik

Some excellent restaurants we tried include:

  • Moskar Konoba – Cuttlefish ink risotto
  • Shizuku – Amazing Japanese food at a fraction of the prices compared to London
  • Azur Dubrovnik – Asian Mediterranean fusion food within the Old City walls
  • Barba street food – Fried fish, great place for a casual lunch
  • Magellan – We came here on the recommendation of our host, excellent Mediterranean food and outdoor dining atmosphere.
  • Cafe Buza – This is a bar wedged into the cliff walls. Good for an alcoholic drink but terrible for coffee or tea because it was not fresh. We came here more for the view – excellent view of the sea.
  • Lady Pi-Pi – You have to climb many staircases to get here but it was well worth it as the restaurant has lots of great seafood at economical prices. In case you were intrigued about the name Lady Pi-Pi – the owners took inspiration from a statue of a woman peeing proudly at the front of the restaurant.

Dubrovnik food collage

Other than the casual lunch or drink places, most of the restaurants above required reservation as the tables were filled on the nights we went.

In hindsight, two full days in Dubrovnik would’ve been sufficient. We would suggest fellow travellers to opt for a day trip to Mostar or Kotor instead of spending three days in Dubrovnik. Also, we found prices in Dubrovnik comparatively more expensive than other cities such as Hvar and Split. The city really does thrive on tourism!

A Scandi city break

July is as good of a time as any to spend a long weekend in Stockholm. Being used to walking everywhere, we were surprised at how wide the roads were and our feet were very tired at the end of each day. We must’ve walked at least a half marathon over the weekend! A desperate foot massage needed.

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Here is Gamla Stan, the Old City where colourful and pastel coloured buildings dot the square. Of course, we spent our fair share of time trying to take the perfect postcard photo too. The colours are even more gorgeous when you go at sunset.

We didn’t do many standard touristy things but one of our highlights was cycling to the island of Djurgården, home to the Vasa Museum and Skansen, both of which we didn’t actually go into. Instead, we cycled around the island and went into the beautiful Rosendals Gardens where you can sit at the outdoors garden cafe and enjoy fresh food made from ingredients grown in the garden. We had the fish salad and sandwich with hummus and red cabbage. Very tasty indeed.

For those of you who are interested, renting a cycle for 3 hours cost SEK250.

Another highlight was the Fotografiska museum which is a must for any photography fans. We were excited that Nick Brandt’s latest exhibition ‘Inherit the Dust’ was showing at the time we went. In short, the exhibition shows photos of life sized safari animals like elephants and lions in the places where they used to roam.. which is of course now destroyed by civilisation. It is a powerful visual exploration of the impact of development not only on animals but also on humans.

If you are at Fotografiska, don’t forget to go up to the rooftop cafe which is the perfect place to take a break. Other than its cool interiors, the cafe gives you an excellent view of Gamla Stam and Djurgården.

We also tried one of the free walking tours in Södermalm district which took us to places with great viewpoints, like Monteliusvägen pictured below. We saw a couple who cycled up to the viewpoint and enjoyed their lunch from one of the benches here. What a magnificent view. Walking tours are great to learn about snippets of history.

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Lastly, no trip is complete without trying various local restaurants. This time, we’ve had our fair share of cinnamon buns, herring, swedish meatballs, and shrimp. We especially loved the alfresco dining at this time of the year. Places we would recommend include Fabrique, Slingerbulten, and the deceptive looks of the food truck outside Slussen station, which sold some seriously tasty herring wraps.

One thing which took us by surprise was the number of shops that accepted card only. This meant that we were charged 2.75% for every transaction we made. This was the case for small shops (like Fabrique) and museums alike (like Fotografiska). Only later did we find out that cash transactions in Sweden made up barely 2% of the value of all payments. Future tourists, beware!

Everyone needs to come here..right now!

Some of the fondest memories I’ve had have been out camping in the open. Far away from civilisation, we would venture out, get ridiculously wet and muddy and return to an air-chilled sleeping bag.. This, I thought was what made camping fun..until I realised that you could do the adventurous parts and still return to a warm shower, a fireplace and a sofa. From that point I had found a new way of loving the outdoors. Glamping is ..awesome!

Tucked away on ledge beside a hill lay a charming wooden yurt. Inside was beautifully decorated and looked far more cosy than my own home!

Looking out across the landscape gave us a magnificent view of the countryside. Not a single car engine, nor aeroplane. Just the rustling of leaves and chirps of birds. We were particularly lucky to arrive on this day, because the weather was clear and meant we had an incredible night sky full of stars (casseoipeia, ursa minor, corona borealis to name a few). I don’t think we had seen this many stars before. Truly magical.

     
On the following morning, we took the opportunity to take the short hike (but surprisingly difficult as I reluctantly concluded) across the fields to Sandford, where we rewarded ourselves with a very fulfilling Sunday roast. Afterwards we found ourselves slumped on the sofa, having fallen asleep in exhaustion and a full tummy.

In the evenings, we played scrabble to our hearts content (possibly using made-up words) and cooked up hearty meals, which were very satisfying. And of course..s’mores. Guess which plate is Sharon’s.

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At £150 a night, it is certainly not the cheap camping holiday option, but we found the experience  a great getaway and one to help unwind. Credits to the owners Alison for the amazing vision in building this retreat.

Easter weekend in Rye, Sussex

While it was pouring rain in London, we escaped to Rye, a small medieval town about an hour from London. It was a small town with a cobbled stone main street, known as the Mermaid Street. It’s beautiful, if you capture it at the right time, right season, right lighting and with professional photography. Of course, our photography skills were limited:

Rye Sussex Mermaid Street

and stumbling upon the Purdie Gallery, which showcased some impressive landscape photography to prove us that much!

No English village break is complete without some cycling. We rented a bike from Rye Hire and despite the maps given to us, we managed to detour onto a grass route along the canal. If you’ve never cycled on grass, know that every turn is a work out for your quad muscles. I had to get off and push my bike many times. Imagine my relief we when we finally reached paved road and cycled all the way around the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. It was pretty easygoing then – smooth tarmac, blue skies, wind blowing in our faces.

Cycling Rye Harbour

We replenished our energy with a cream tea at The Cobbles Tea Room, based out of a cute cottage built in 1826. All cakes and tea served on beautiful crockery.

The Cobbles Tea Room Rye Sussex

The best thing about Rye was all the antique shops that lined the streets. It is definitely one of the places with the most antique shops per square mile. You will find everything from antique jewellery to silver cutlery to upcycled furniture. Being the indecisive shopper that I am, we spent ages examining and debating about whether to purchase this or that. I finally left town with some silver plated cutlery, a Scandi style rug, and no jewellery. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about antique jewellery, it is certainly one of a kind and you would be hard pressed to find the exact same piece which fits you.

Our stay was completed by a great dinner at The Ambrette, a restaurant which serves British Indian fusion cuisine. Think dishes like quinoa and mushroom biriyani and desserts like profiteroles with cardamom scented chocolate sauce. After a very filling dinner, a good night’s sleep was much needed. We stayed at Kings Head Inn, a cottage where you can park your car right outside your room’s door. It reminded me of the motels dotted along an American highway, except this time the decor was much more British with its champagne coloured pillows and brass painted wardrobes.