Food tour in Bratislava

Food tour in Bratislava

When visiting different countries, I always check if there is a food tour available. This is a great way to taste many dishes, and get to know the food culture.

Visiting Bratislava was no exception. I signed up for the Traditional Food Tour offered by Taste Bratislava, and set off on what would be a heavy lunch including a little bit of tipsiness…

Meeting by the Opera house, we had a short walk to our first stop; Café Škodovka. The cute cafe is named after the car, and the interior include half of an old Skoda. The furniture’s are vintage style from the 70s, and the guide could remember having the exact same in their living room when growing up, as there very limited choices during the Soviet era.

Retro style at Café Škodovka. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The food also had its offspring from that period, and soon three different dishes stood before us, accompanied with white bread.

Parižsky šalát, reska v majonéze and Oškvarková pomazánka. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Treska v majonéze is a cod fish salad with mayo, made to make fish more attractive so more people would eat it as it was important as nutrition.
Parižsky šalát, or Paris salad, is sausage mixed with mayo, peas and gherkin.
Oškvarková pomazánka is a spread made of crushed crispy bacon with mustard, onion, herbs and spices.

The first one was my favorite, and the latter took a bit of time to get used to.
For drinks we were introduced to the Slovak red wine Dunaj.

The Slovak red wine Dunaj. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.
During the Communist times, farms owned by private persons were also part of the nationalization program introduced by the Communist party. Collectivization of farms meant small, independent farmers were forced to become part of agricultural mass production based on cooperative principles. The cooperative agricultural system was perceived as an aggressive measure which interfered with the traditional way of life of people in rural Slovakia. Quantity was more important than quality, including when it came to wine. After the fall of the Communist Regime, the people had to prove their rights to get back the land that was previously theirs.

Nowadays, many small winemakers make high quality wine, winning international prices. The production is still low though, and as the local consumption is higher than the production, nothing is exported. Yet another reason to visit Slovakia, to get to try the local wines that are not found outside the country. For me, it was unfortunately limited to this one glass, but they also offer more specific wine tasting tours as well, or paired with food.
Some local varieties are the result of crossbreeding popular grape varieties. A nice curiosity is that all new white crossbreeds are named after Slovak castles, while the few new red wines are named after Slovak rivers.

Moving on, we had a quick stop outside the old market hall. In addition to the Saturday market, events and concerts are also held here. This interesting building from 1910 was inspired by the Eiffel tower, and was used as a TV studio during the Communist times.

Our next dishes were served at Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia. I actually had my dinner here the day before, but had absolutely no problem with returning, as it was a great experience. I had already tried the Bryndzové halušky, sheep-cheese dumplings, that is also the national dish, but the Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) was new to me.

Bryndzové halušky, sheep-cheese dumplings with bacon, that is also the Slovak national dish. Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bryndzové halušky, sheep-cheese dumplings with bacon, that is also the Slovak national dish. Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia.

Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) at Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) at Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia.

The soup is a very popular dish, especially in winter and for Christmas and New Years. It is often eaten as a starter on Christmas Eve, before the carp is served as the common main dish. This is where it becomes interesting… Apparently, it is Christmas tradition to buy a live carp, bring it home, and let it swim around in the bathtub for a few days! The kids even name it and play with it! I must admit I found it hard to believe, but I had no reason not to trust what the guide told us. It is however a reason for the tradition; carp is a freshwater fish and a bottom feeder, so it is believed that by swimming around in clean water, the mud will be cleansed out, and it will taste better. I have only tasted carp once in my life, and that had certainly not ended its days swimming in a bathtub… But as I strive to eat whatever food is common where I am travelling, I would be willing to give it another try. Especially if it had gone through the second traditional treatment, being soaked in milk overnight to make it taste even softer.

Enough about the food. For drinks we enjoyed a local lager craft beer, brewed in the micro brewery at the ground floor. While lager still is the most popular beer, more and more micro breweries has popped up, introducing the Slovakian people to other types of beer. And the locals sure love their brew; the average consumption is 75 liter beer per person yearly!
Do you think that sounds a lot? Their neighbours in Czech Republic has the worlds highest yearly consumption of beer, and drink 120 liter per person…

The bar at Meštiansky pivovar, a popular micro brewery. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

The bar at Meštiansky pivovar, a popular micro brewery.

We only had half a liter beer, though, before moving on. This time we were served the non-alcoholic Kofola, the local version of cola. During the communist era, they could not import Coca Cola, so all the former Soviet bloc has made their own variety. The Kofola is made by 20 different herbs and spices, and can be found on tap basically in every bar.

Kofola, the local version of cola. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Kofola, the local version of cola.

Roast duck is a very popular dish, especially in fall when it is the main season. It is traditionally served with red cabbage and potato pancake. In general you will find a lot of potatoes in the Slovak diet, but it was not introduced to the country until the 1700s, and made popular by the Austro-Hungarian Queen Maria Theresia.

Pečená kačica s lokšami a dusenou červenou kapustou - roast duck served with potato pancakes and steamed red cabbage. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Pečená kačica s lokšami a dusenou červenou kapustou – roast duck served with potato pancakes and steamed red cabbage.

Sviečková na smotane - beef with steamed bread-dumpling and carrot-parsnip sauce. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Sviečková na smotane – beef with steamed bread-dumpling and carrot-parsnip sauce.

I was getting quite stuffed, so after just tasting a bit of the Sviečková na smotane, beef with steamed bread-dumpling and carrot-parsnip sauce, we got going to walk off a little of the food.
Heading to the old town, we went through the north gate of the once fortified city.

By the Michael's gate, the north entrance to the once fortified old town of Bratislava. Slovakia.

By the Michael’s gate, the north entrance to the once fortified old town of Bratislava.

After learning a bit of history along the way, we entered Obchod v múzeu, a combination of a small shop formed as an old general store with a museum in the back with old shop artifacts. Among them was also a bottle of sparkling wine from back in the days when wine was still exported. This particular wine, Palugyay, was actually to be found on the wine list on board Titanic.

We were soon taken back to present time, and the Bratislava rolls (Bratislavské rožky) filled with either poppy seeds or walnut paste was up next. Surprisingly, I found space for them as well, with the walnut flavored being my favorite.

Bratislavské rožky - Bratislava rolls - traditional pastry filled with poppy seeds or wallnuts. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bratislavské rožky – Bratislava rolls – traditional pastry filled with poppy seeds or wallnuts.

With sweets, came also the bitter-sweet black currant wine – Ríbezlové víno. And salty and smoked sheep cheese. By then I had for real reached my limit for solid food, and only had a taste of it. Personally I figured it would match better with beer anyway, so good thing I was planning to continue to a beer festival after the tour, since they would not allow me to leave without the rest of the cheese. The hand made chocolate with sour cherry liqueur also found its way to my purse and was saved for later.

Ovčie nite - sheep cheese. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Ovčie nite – sheep cheese.

Handmade Sour cherry in sour cherry liqueur covered with chocolate. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Handmade sour cherry soaked in in sour cherry liqueur for at least half a year and then dipped in chocolate.

Just a stone’s throw away, we entered a honey shop to taste the products made from their own beehives. I found myself amazed that it was at least 20 different flavours available, and tried a few of them. The combination of honey and ginger would do magic for sore throats!

Different types of flavoured honey. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

They of course also produce honey wine, also known as mead. Good thing a small amount of fluid easily can fit in a stuffed stomach.

Medovina - honey wine (mead). Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Medovina – honey wine (mead).

In a back alley in the old town, we found “The white mouse”, a shop selling wine and liquor, including the local tea-herbal liquor. There are several varieties of the Tatratea, ranging from 72 % down to much lower % with more fruity flavor. We tried the original with 52 % alcohol and I must say, I much prefer that one to the more known equivalent Jägermeister and Fernet Branca.

Tatranský čaj - TatraTea - local tea-herbal liquer 52 %. Food tour in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Tatranský čaj – TatraTea – local tea-herbal liquer 52 %.

Stuffed, happy, and a little bit tipsy, I thanked the guide for her knowledge about the food and the city, and ventured off to explore more on my own.

PS: I only had a light snack for dinner in the evening. And the smoked sheep cheese sticks with the festival beer….

Practical information:
The Traditional Food Tour can be booked through Taste Bratislava. Booking in advance is essential.
Price: 59 € per person
Duration: 3-4 hours
Meeting place: Depends on the group, but in a central location downtown. Please ask when you book.

Food tour in Budapest

Food tour in Budapest

The first Hungarian food that comes to mind is the Goulash, but I knew there was much more to it, so I decided to book a food tour with a local to get the best idea.

I searched online and found the company Taste Hungary, that runs several different food tours. I had a hard time deciding, but eventually ended up with the Buda Food Walk, so I could explore the lesser known areas of Budapest.

The food tour started at 10, and as the description promised I would not be hungry after, I decided to skip breakfast. By experience, I have never left a food tour hungry…

Getting on the tram, crossing the bridge from the Pest- to the Buda-side, I quickly got to the meeting place. When the group was complete, we got a sweet start at Auguszt, a very traditional family run pastry shop. I must admit that sweets in the morning is not my favorite, but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, right?

The display was full of delicious looking pastry, and the guide described them all. I was struggling making up my mind, but ended up with Eszterhazy (taste that word….), with almond meringue, buttercream, and chocolate. It tasted good, but as I said, sweets are not my style in the morning. Luckily, the others in the group were of different caliber.

How is it possible too choose from these. At Auguszt pastry shop. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

How is it possible too choose from these?

Cake for breakfast at Auguszt pastry shop. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Cake for breakfast. A childhood dream?

Just crossing the street for the market, we aimed for the Langos. If you do not know what that is already, you certainly will know after visiting Hungary. I am absolutely convinced that it is impossible to not see any Langos during your stay. They are found many places, except when I was craving it as a last meal before leaving the country…

Langos are often eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch. We joined the club, only we were eating all the meals in a short period of time. According to our guide, the particular place she took us, was the best in town. Their secret is to use cabbage in the dough as well. The traditional way to serve the Langos is with sour cream, garlic and cheese. Heavy and super good! Bear in mind you can easily share one with a friend or two…

Langos in the making at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Langos in the making at the market in Buda.

Yummy Langos at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Walking along the permanent market shops, we were introduced to another specialty – Mangalica meat. It is a Hungarian breed furry pig with a special textured meat with lard. Ok, it may not sound particularly good, but I promise you, the cold cuts we tasted were magical!

Meat shop at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Standing in line for the cold cuts of Mangalica. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Standing in line for the cold cuts of Mangalica.

Delicious cold cuts of Mangalica. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

On the ground floor in the middle, vendors sell local produce from the surrounding area. Others sell cheese or spices. Many ingredients originally came to Hungary with the Turks, with paprika being just one of them, so many of the words for the vegetables are actually more or less the same in Turkish and Hungarian.

Local producers selling everything you need. Including paprika. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Back to the cheese; During communism, all farmers had to send all their produce to the state, so the artisan production was lost for a long time. Some have recently started again making a small production, selling their goods from a little stall in one of the corners.

Local cheese produce sold at the market in Buda. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

It was time to walk off the breakfast and snacks before the real lunch. Strolling the streets and parks of Buda, then heading up Rose Hill. Arriving at the top, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of Budapest.

Beautiful view from Rose Hill. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Beautiful view from Rose Hill.

But it is also a historical place, hosting the memorial of Péter Mansfeld, one of the heroes of the Hungarian Revolution and freedom fight of 1956. Sadly he was arrested and sentenced to death.

Walking down the uneven and charming Gül Baba street, we could clearly see the restoration work in progress of the area around his tomb. By the looks of the project sketches, it will become an even nicer area to visit.

The charming Gül Baba street. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

The charming Gül Baba street.

Behind a pale green wall, we entered a grandma-style restaurant. Old dark wooden furniture’s, off-white lace curtains and wallpaper. And lots of trinkets all around to look at while the elderly woman prepared our food. Lunch is the main meal in Hungary, so we were prepared it would be a lot.

Our restaurant for lunch. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Stepping into our lunch restaurant felt like visiting grandma. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Stepping into our lunch restaurant felt like visiting grandma.

Hot broth soup with a large dumpling came first. Then multiple dishes with paprika and sour cream – one served with cabbage, one with chicken, and one with the local pasta. It would be an understatement to say we were full when we left. We were stuffed!

Broth soup. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary. Cabbage with paprika sauce and sour cream. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary. Local pasta with paprika sauce and sour cream. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Good thing then that at our next (and last) stop, the communist style café Bambi eszpres, we got to taste Unikum. Or maybe I should not say that as a good thing – this black herbal drink tasted even more awful than the German equivalent Underberg, but at least it serves as a digestive, and we sure needed that!

Communist style café Bambi eszpres. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Communist style café Bambi eszpres.

Unikum, a local liquor with 42 different herbs. Taste Hungary food tour. Budapest, Hungary.

Unikum, a local liquor with 42 different herbs.

The guide saw us of with some restaurant tips, and pointed us in the direction of Kira’ly – a small local thermal bath just right around the corner. It is actually the oldest Turkish baths, and the only that is still original. A nice and relaxing activity while digesting both the food and impressions.

Next time I go to Budapest, I will certainly try one of the other food tours they offer, like the culinary walk ending with wine tasting…

Food tour in Paris with a local

Food tour in Paris with a local

France is for many synonymous with food, so what could be more natural than to experience this part of the culture with a local who knows the food scene as her own pocket?

The website WithLocals has gathered residents in several cities all over the world, offering various excursions, meals in private homes, and as I was now about to try; food tours. I previously had good experience from this service, so I was very eager to repeat the success. To be completely honest, this was the first thing I checked after the plane tickets were booked.

I instantly fell for the trip “Paris Favourite Food tour: the 10 Tastings” and thought that it had to be the perfect way to be acquainted with the Parisian food culture.

A few weeks later the time was suddenly there. One of my weaknesses is to underestimate how long it takes to go from one place to another in big cities, but Maria waited patiently outside a bakery right next to Marche d’Aligre. This was also where she bought the classic long French baguette that would accompany us through the streets. The first time was in symphony with lovely tapenade from one of the stalls of the Marche d’Aligre. The variations were many, so we were having a really hard time determining which one to choose before we decided to rely on Maria’s taste buds and went for her favorite; Tapenade with basil. We did not regret, and consumed pieces of baguette dipped in tapenade while Maria knowledgeable told us about this historical place. Marche d’Aligre is dating back to the 1700 ‘s, but since it is a wooden construction, parts of it has burned many times. The market hall is a historic building, and therefore has to be rebuilt the same way as the original.

Wide selection of tapenade at Marche d'Aligre. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Wide selection of tapenade at Marche d’Aligre.

Marche d’Aligre is the local market in District 12. All districts have their own market, but this is the only one in Paris being open throughout the week. Here you will find all kinds of fresh produce from the countryside, depending on the season.

We went for a walk around and looked at all the delights while working up the appetite. Fortunately, next stop was not far away.

Right across the street from the market, we sat down at Charolais, a popular bar among the people working at the market. It is the only place in Paris open for breakfast as early as 06.00. We were way passed that hour now though, and oysters were next on the menu. According to Maria, are these the best oysters in Paris, and are delivered from the market. I have to admit that oysters are not a part of my everyday food, but we enjoyed a few pieces each with a little bit of lemon squeezed on top. Super fresh and delicious!

Delicious fresh oysters at Charolais. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Delicious fresh oysters at Charolais.

From salty and bitter, we were now heading for sweet. As we walked through the streets, Maria told us about the area. For the small community it is important to maintain the offers available, so if a bakery had to close down, people who want to start up a new bakery has priority. Thanks to this, it had been a bakery at the premises of our next stop for 150 years.

Paris-Brest is a cake that is inspired by the bicycle race that runs between the two cities. Originally, it was formed like a bicycle wheel with a hole in the middle, but is now available in various shapes. With cream of hazelnut and chestnut, and pastry with almonds, this is not something for nut allergic. For us on the other hand, it was lovely.

Paris-Brest cake. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Paris-Brest cake.

French wine was next runner up, pared with cheeses and cured meats. The location was a combined wine shop, bar and gallery, a quiet and comfortable place. They only offer organic wine, so Maria could assure that our teeth would still be white, and we would not get a headache. If consumption was moderate, that is….

Ici Meme, a great place for wine! Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Ici Meme, a great place for organic wine!

Wine, charcutterie and cheese planche. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Wine, charcutterie and cheese planche.

The wine was so good that we stayed for a bit longer than planned. Moving on, we continued through narrow passages and around historic sites, and the trendy design- and party area in the 11th District, before we reached a delicate cheese store. It was too much to choose from, so again we relied on Maria’s recommendation; a sharp blue cheese. The baguette that had accompanied us throughout the evening again came to use.

So much nice cheese to choose from! Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

So much nice cheese to choose from!

From flavorful cheese it was time for sweet dessert again. The selection of macrons at Maison Georges Larnicol were many, but we were able to coordinate by taking two different flavors each and taste from each other. Heavenly!

The large collection of macrons at Georges Larnicol. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

The large collection of macrons at Georges Larnicol.

The winners at Georges Larnicol. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

The winners at Georges Larnicol.

Georges Larnicol is originally from the region of Brittany, and followed in his father’s footsteps and became the pastry chef and opened his first pastry shop in the 80’s. He quickly made success and opened more stores in the region. In 2010, he started his first one in Paris, but despite his success, he is one of the few pastry chefs and chocolatiers that keep the prices affordable. He believes that quality should be available to all. A nice philosophy.

The original tour would have continued on to sample some Galette au fromage (a savory crepe made of buckwheat) but we completely fell for the charm of the restaurants in the archways around the Place des Vosges when we passed by earlier, so we decided to go back there instead. The square was built between 1605 and 1612, and is the oldest in Paris. Originally it was named Place Royale, and was an important meeting place for the nobility. After the revolution, the square was renamed to take the name of the first region in France that did not pay the royal tax.

We found a spot by the heating lamps outside Ma Bourgogne. The warm toned lighting under the archways created a unique ambiance while we enjoyed even more French specialties; snails and beef tartar. And a little more French wine, of course.

Warm atmosphere outside Ma Bourgogne. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Warm atmosphere sitting outside Ma Bourgogne.

Traditional snails at Ma Bourgogne. Food tour Paris, France. Withlocals

Traditional snails at Ma Bourgogne.

Maria was the perfect guide, combining the experience of eating our way through Paris with educational facts. Even if Maria is the one designing the tour, she has taught the route to several others who can give you good experiences in this wonderful food universe if she is not available.

Were you tempted by this wonderful dining experience in Paris? The trip “Paris Favourite Food tour: the 10 Tastings” can also be customized, as we ended up doing. Since we chose a more expensive option, we paid the extra at the last restaurant. You can also plan your own version with the guide in advance.

In addition to the food tour, you can also see other experiences in Paris offered by With Locals.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a popular connecting hub for plenty other destinations. I can think of quite a few other large cities I like better though, but it is nice as a stopover for a couple days on your way.

As I have been to KL two times before, I felt I had done the “must see” things. And as I was quite tired from the flight, I decided to just go for the “hop on/hop off” tour. Usually this option is quite all right, but to be honest, this route was rather dull! There were long streaks of driving, and the information given was not too interesting. It did of course stop at the major sites KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers and a few other attractions, but as I had already visited earlier, I decided to stay on board for the full three hour loop.

Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Twin Towers

View of Kuala Lumpur seen from Petronas twin Towers, Malaysia

View of Kuala Lumpur seen from Petronas Twin Towers

View of Kuala Lumpur seen from Petronas twin Towers. Malaysia

KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

KL Tower.

View of Kuala Lumpur seen for KL Tower, Malaysia

View of Kuala Lumpur seen from KL Tower. Photo taken in 2005, so the view is probably quite different now!

Kuala Lumpur Skyline with Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower. Malaysia

View from the Market Street Bridge in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

View from the Market Street Bridge.

The Old Market Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Old Market Square.

Street in Little India in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Street in Little India.

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque.

The National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The National Palace.

As I love trying the local food while travelling, I signed up for the food tour offered for the guests at Back Home Hostel. A great way to combine eating with seeing other sides of the city that I probably would not have visited on my own. Simply because I did not know about them. Eating your way through Chinatown and Little India is also good if you have more time.
Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Butcher at Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

If it is your first time in KL and you want to do the “mandatory” things, I would recommend to stay somewhere downtown. I stayed my first night at The Traders Hotel, right next to the Petronas Twin Towers (the world’s highest twin towers). If you book well in advance you can get quite reasonable prices, also for the suites that include entrance to the lounge, offering free snacks and drinks. And of course a magnificent view of the towers and the park in front. If you are more on a budget, Back Home hostel is a good option. It is however one of the more expensive hostels, but also the one with the best ranking. It has a nice reception area and also its own movie room if you want that. If you fancy a party hostel, the Reggae Mansion right down the street would probably fit. I went for one drink at their rooftop bar, and for me that was more than enough.

The last nights a group of friends came, so I joined them at The Nomade Residence in Bangsar. It is a nice area with a local “village” with shops, bars and restaurants. If you have been to the city before and don’t want to hang around downtown it is ok to stay there. But it is about 15 min taxi ride from the Petronas towers.
The blue taxies have better standard and are a bit more expensive than the red ones. However, they fit up to 6 persons without luggage.

Batu Cave
I had not been to Batu Cave before, so I teamed up with a few others from the hostel and shared a taxi. The first thing that caught my eye was the massive golden statue and the wide staircase leading up to the cave entrance. Then I noticed the people, swarming like ants…

Appropriately covered up, we started the hot climb, trying to avoid bumping into the other people and watching out for the light-fingered monkeys while taking a break and a sip of water. Entering the huge limestone cave, Hindu symbols were scattered around along the walls, along with a few temples. The inner part of the cave is naturally lit up by the open air hole, while the largest part has ugly streetlight poles, and to be honest, it looked more like a construction site. I was not very impressed…

With that said; one of the other Batu Caves – The Dark Cave – has a rich animal life, including almost 200.000 bats! So if you are interested in that, it might be worth your trip anyway.

The Batu Cave outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Batu Caves.

Decorations outside the Batu Cave outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Inside one of the Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia The nicely decorated roof of one of the Hindu temples inside the Batu Cave outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Batu Caves, with view of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

New Years Eve in KL
Since it was New Years Eve, we decided to go downtown to watch the fireworks by KLCC. Arriving at 23 (we of course should have been there earlier) it was crowded! We tried to get to the front of the towers, but the closer we got, the more packed like sardines it got, so we decided to abort mission. It was simply too many people, and quite a few of the men around literally grabbed the opportunity to place their hands on places they should not….. No wonder they have separate carriages in the trains for women only…

We decided to try to get around on the other side and enter the park in front instead. Arriving at the back of the towers however, we actually could find space to stand and breath, without standing body-to-body with others, so we decided to just stay there. We figured we would be able to see the fireworks between the towers anyway. That was partly right. We did see some of the fireworks, but quite a lot of it was on the sides in the front and did not get high enough for us to see. So, my tip is to get there early and try to find a place by the lake in the park. As we never got there I have no idea how crowded it was there, but it is a big park, so I am guessing it was not too bad. Correct me if I am wrong… And if I am, there is always the option to go where we were. See for yourself.
Happy New Year! The fireworks seen from the backside of Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
An other option is of course to make a booking at one of the rooftop bars (note that they are all inside) and watch it from above.

Rooftop bar at The Traders Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rooftop bar at The Traders Hotel.

After the fireworks we planned to take the LRT back to Bangsar to celebrate in the bars there, but again it was so overcrowded that we decided to have a drink downtown instead. It took forever to get it (no idea why, the place was far from full), so by the time we got out of there, it was already 2am and the subway closed before our eyes. The impossible hunt for a vacant taxi started, yet another reason to stay somewhere central so you are able to walk home. Eventually we went to the Mandarin hotel and got one from there. We all agreed next New Years Eve should be spent on a beach somewhere…

Transport from Kuala Lumpur airport to city center:
When arriving at KL you have different options to get into town. There are “luxury” taxis, metered taxis, the KL express or buses. For the taxis, you should go to the counters and get the coupon to ensure the right price. It was a long line at the luxury taxi stand, and the budget taxi counter was closed, so I decided to go for the option with the KL express to KL central, and a taxi from there. On my way down to the train however, I found another taxi stand for the budget taxis. Since I had already bought the ticket for the train, I just asked for the price. It would have been between 70-80 MYR.

The KL express was fast and convenient, 28 minutes non stop to KL central. The price is 35 for one way. However, the price changed to 55 MYR from 1st January 2016!
There is a taxi stand at the central station as well. Again, one luxury and one budget. I went for the budget version. Depending on what zone you are going to, you pay the fixed price in advance and get to coupon to give to the taxi driver. Smooth and convenient. They accept cash only though.

Local SIM card:
I have found it very useful to have a local SIM card while travelling, to be able to navigate from place to place, book accommodation along the way, search whatever I need online, and of course communicate and share the moments with the ones back home. Many of the operators had stands inside the airport (before collecting the luggage), so there is a good chance you will find one that fits your needs.

Ski. Hike. Eat. In Zakopane

Zakopane is known for skiing and hiking. And cheese. Before I came, I thought the first would play the most important role. It turned out to be a combination of the three. And maybe mostly the cheese…

Arriving winter wonderland in the early afternoon, I dumped my bag at Helios Hotel, and headed for the funicular to Gubalowka. On the way we passed through a local market, selling traditional handcraft, clothes, slippers and food. This was my first (but certainly not the last, as you might have already guessed) meeting with the local cheese. The small oval shaped pieces of patterned sheep cheese were quickly grilled, and served hot with cranberry jam. Mmmm, delicious! I had barely finished the first when I spotted a second stall, and we decided to have one more. I was officially addicted.
Traditional sheep milk cheese in Zakopane, Poland
The Gubalowka Funicular ran through an alley of evergreens, taking us up to 1120 masl for magnificent views of Zakopane and the Tetra mountains.
The funicular to Gubalowka. Zakopane, Poland The view from Gubalowka. Zakopane, Poland View from Gubalowka. Zakopane, Poland
There are several restaurants on top for some food and drinks to accompany the view. Since I love to try the local food when I travel, we went for traditional Kwaśnica soup with meat and potato and potato cake with mushroom, cheese and bacon. For drinks we had warm beer(!) with ginger. Well, I had never tried that, so of course I had to! To be honest, it was not my favorite, but still.

For dinner later in the evening, we went along the walking street looking for a restaurant. Just after the end, we found a place that looked cozy, and even brewed their own beer. Watra looked very small from the outside, but when we entered we found an enormous hall in the next room, with massive wooden benches and tables, a dance floor, and a live band! We decided to go all in and joined the locals. A thing to keep in mind, food portions are HUGE. The five of us shared mixed meat for three persons and a cheese plate as starter, and it was still lots of food left when we were more than stuffed!

It was time to get moving and check out the nightlife. The nightclub at Aries Hotel, Le Scandale Cocktail Room & Music Loft, is supposed to be the best in town, so we decided to give it a try. It sure was stylish and the bathroom amazing, but personally I am more a bar kind of girl.

Waking up to rain, we decided to go to Polana Szymoszkowa, just a few minutes away by bus. There were several places to rent skies, but we went for the first we saw, offering 4 hours for 20 zł. Perfect that we did not have to rent for a full day!

Choosing what type of lift card on the other hand, can be a challenge. Unlike the ski rental, it was no lift card by the hour, only full day, half-day and point card. As we were not sure about the conditions and the weather was not so good, we decided to go for the point card. We could always refill it if we wanted more. It turned out to be a great decision. The top of the slope was slushy. To put it mildly. It turned out to be more a workout turning in the heavy wet snow, than being fun. The last part of the run was better condition wise, but for me it was a little too flat.

Skiing in Polana Szymoszkowa. Zakopane, Poland
Seeking shelter from the rain, we went for a break with something hot to drink. As the rain only picked up, it turned into lunch. Including grilled cheese… And as the waiter so correctly put it; this weather is most suitable for sitting in a bar. We agreed, and ordered a hot beer with honey, cinnamon and cloves.

The last few runs felt a little bit easier, but it was probably just because there were almost no other people, so we did not need to worry about navigating between them and could concentrate on looking more professional when turning…

Luckily, the workout worked up an appetite again (Even though I swore I would never be hungry again after the dinner the night before…), and the mixed dish to share at Kolibecka restaurant looked tempting. Let’s just say we could not finish this time either…

It seemed that there are hardly any bars in Zakopane, just lots of restaurants, but finally we found Cafe Piano. Yes, they do have a piano, but it does not look like it is used often. It is a small cozy bar with wooden interior, giving a nice and welcoming feeling!

Overnight, winter wonderland turned to spring (In fairness, with a rather rainy day in between), so we decided to go for a hike. Taking the bus for about 10 min to Dolina Koscieliska, we paid the 5 zł ticket for Tatry National Park, and got going. We soon realized that the rain the day before had made the road quite icy and slippery, but we figured we could handle it. That was not the case for the woman planning to do the hike in high-heeled shoes… Quite frankly it was an easy hike, so it would be possible during the summer, but still… We did not see them again.
Hiking scenery from Dolina Koscieliska in Tatry National Park 2. Zakopane, Poland Hiking scenery from Dolina Koscieliska in Tatry National Park 1. Zakopane, Poland Hiking scenery from Dolina Koscieliska in Tatry National Park. Zakopane, Poland
Hiking along the gravel road, a couple of horses with carriages carrying local tourists passed us. I must admit I wished I was in one of them a few times while sliding on the ice like Bambi. However, the road between the evergreens and steep mountains steadily lead us to Hala Ornak following along the lively river. Our reward; sitting outside in the heating sun, looking up towards the snowcapped Błyszcz mountain with an ice cold beer in our hand. And nibbling grilled highland cheese with cranberries. For dessert, we enjoyed the local apple cake, with the same view and beer. Apparently, there is a competition between the chalets in the mountains to have the best apple cake. As I have only tasted one of them, this took first place. Judging by the taste of the grilled cheese (that I have tried a lot of!), I would say it was medium+.
Hiking scenery from Dolina Koscieliska in Tatry National Park 3. Zakopane, Poland Hiking scenery from Dolina Koscieliska in Tatry National Park 4. Zakopane, Poland
On the way back, an incredible amount of snow and ice had already melted, so it will probably only be a few days until the track is bare.

Back in town I was keen on some winter again, so we went straight to the Kasprowy wierch cable car to go to the top. Sadly we had not done our homework and did not realize that the cable car had its last run to the top at 15.00. To my defense, the ski slopes at the other places were to my surprise open until 20.00, so I did not even think this would close early. Anyway we learned our lesson, and pre-booked the ticket for the next day…

Due to the popularity of the Kasprowy wierch cable car, you have to choose the exact time when to go up, and return two hours after. At the top there are a few slopes with chair lifts on both sides. As I was craving to do some more skiing, I rented equipment at the top (2 hours for 20 zł) and got going. Bear in mind that the selection at the top is very limited, so I would advise to rent the skies downtown. That way you don’t waste the short time you have for skiing either. Also, there is a special ticket combining the cable car and the chair lifts. Buying them separate will cost you 20 zł per run with the chair lift. You do the math…
Skiing at Kasprowy wierch 3. Zakopane, Poland Skiing at Kasprowy wierch 1. Zakopane, Poland Skiing at Kasprowy wierch 2. Zakopane, Poland Skiing at Kasprowy wierch 4. Zakopane, Poland View from the Kasprowy wierch cable car. Zakopane, Poland
In general, I was quite surprised of the structure of the skiing in Zakopane. They did not have one big ski resort, but many smaller ones, most of them with just one lift and one slope. I also learned that many of the small private hotels had put up their own small lifts as well. For me this was a very strange, being used to larger areas with several ski lifts and many slopes to choose from at the same place. There are luckily a few larger areas a bit out of town. Or, you can easily do a day trip to Slovakia.

Getting to Zakopane:
Flying in to Krakow, I got on the train to the main train station, right next to the bus station. It was cheap and convenient, taking only 15 minutes. There are several bus companies going to Zakopane, but I found Polskibus very convenient, and booking the ticket online in advance was nice and easy.

Experienced in February.

 

Food tour in Kuala Lumpur

I hope you are hungry, Fadly asked. I was, but suspected I would not be for very much longer. I was completely right.

As a service to their guests, Back Home hostel offer different activities. What caught my attention the most was the food tour. I love to try the local food as I travel and having an expert showing me what to try and where, is my favorite. I instantly signed up!

Walking along the busy streets, crossing the roads “the Malaysian way” (holding your hand out in front of the car like the police stopping the car when running after the bad guys in an action movie. Just no running or guns in our version though…) we reaching our first stop, and what Fadly refered to as our pre-dinner snack. Most Malaysians eat 6-7 times a day, so most are snack meals. We were about to do all in just a few hours…

The street by the first stop used to be full of food stalls, but due to construction, sadly most of them had to move. Our first snack was sup Urat or sup lidah lembu at Gerai Mak Teh Aloya (No 1, Lorong Doraisamy). Or soup with cow and quail (small bird) if you, as I, needed translation… The base of the slow cooked broth was the same, so we mixed them both together. Here we also tasted Rojak mixed with peanut butter.

Rojak. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rojak

Continuing on, we went to the old area where mainly Malaysian live and very few tourists find their way. The old houses in front of the new makes an interesting contrast. Earlier the “poor” houses were made from timber and the richer in brick. Now it is the other way around, as timber has become very expensive.

Old vs. modern in KL, Malaysia

Old vs. modern in KL.

Next up was the Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang. They open at 17 and keep open until the morning. Strolling around, Fadly told us about the different traditional vegetables, seafood, meat and other produce used for cooking. This included a quick walk through the meat market, where butchers were chopping the meat, including chicken with eggs inside. The video is not for the faint hearted…

Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Fresh food at Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Local meat is most popular and almost double price than the imported. Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Local meat is most popular and almost double price than the imported.

Ok, I lied. We did have a snack at the farmers market. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ok, I lied. We did have a snack at the farmers market!

Fadly telling about the Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Butcher at Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

An egg anyone... Farmers market in Jalan Raja Alang, KL, Malaysia. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

An egg anyone?….

It was about time for us to eat again (the farmers market was hands off, only looking. And smelling), so at Nasi Lemak City Garden we got to choose several dishes (Beef Rendang, tempe (fermented soybean) with peanut & anchovy, deep fried mashed potato with minced beef (begedil) & calamansi/kumquat lime drink)  to mix with our rice packed in banana leaf. Mmmm!

A lot of different delicious dishes to choose from. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A lot of different delicious dishes to choose from.

It may not look so good, but the taste was amazing! Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It may not look so good, but the taste was amazing!

Rice in palm leaf. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Since we had such a “long” break from eating, we went straight to the next place for dessert; Pancake with sweet corn and peanuts, and one with banana and chocolate. And a lot of margarine!!! Just close your eyes and eat, your taste buds will thank you!
Pancakes in the making! Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Pancake! Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Like burgers? Ever tasted one wrapped with egg? I did not think so. But do not despair, before the end of the tour, you have. The RamIY burger special with egg wrapped around is apparently very popular, so the inventor had to open several branches to meet the demand. I like both burgers and eggs, so I somehow found space for it in my fast filling stomach.

RamIY burger special with egg wrapped around. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

RamIY burger special with egg wrapped around.

A short walk away, just long enough to let the gastric content contract to make room for a little bit more, chicken satay and octopus was served. I had already stopped thinking this MUST be our last stop, so I sat down, had a small piece of each, and drank a sip of the large bottle of water Fadly gave us when we started. The message was clear; all of you have to finish the 1,5 liter before the end of the tour. I still had a little left, so I concluded we were not done yet.

Chicken satay. Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chicken satay coming up!

Time to try a traditional breakfast dish. Was it a trick to make us forget about all the other things we ate?… It was hard to forget, but at least we all found room to try the blue colored rice from the east coast with lemongrass, Vietnam basil, long bean, cabbage, daun selom, chili, anchovy sauce, fish floss and grated roast coconut, all mixed well together. The type of breakfast depends what region you are from. Some eat rice, others more sweet. I am not up for very sweet things in the morning, but this rice I could easily do.
A typical breakfast . Food tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
From breakfast back to dessert. Our second one, that is. At this point we were all more than full, so Fadly suggested that we took it to go, and brought it Back Home(!). Needless to say, we all voted for! Happy, and certainly not hungry, we got on the train back to the hostel for an ice cold beer. And our take-away sticky rice with mango…

 

Epidavros

Epidavros is a very popular harbor, so in order to get a spot there, we had to be there around 14.00. From Vathi it should take approximately 2,5 hours to get there. We had a slow morning, and stopped in a nice bay close by Epidavros for a swim to cool down from the heat. The remains of an old house was supposed to be seen under the surface, but we could not find them. But at least all of us got a nice and long swim.
Epidavros harbor
Arriving in the harbor of Epidavros, we got one of the few available spots. As we were at shore at lunchtime, we decided to make it easy and just buy some gyros.

One of the great attractions nearby is the old Epidaurus Theater. It is about 30 min drive from the port, and it usually cost 40€ to have a taxi drive you and pick you up again. It is recommended to spend at least 1,5 hours there. It would have been great to see this enormous ancient theater, but the heat set us back, so we relaxed partly in the shadow at the beach, or out in the cooling water instead.

In the evening we had dinner at a great restaurant called To Perivoli, meaning under the oranges. It was a few minutes walk away from the harbor, situated in a beautiful back yard with orange trees (surprise, surprise…!) We could go to the kitchen and point out what we wanted to order, and chose some mixed grilled meat and seafood, and some chicken in lemon sauce. For starters we had Cheese Zaganaki (fried cheese) with honey and sesame seeds, and also some fried small fish. Everything was really tasty, and we certainly did not go to bed feeling hungry.
To Perivoli restaurant
The next morning we woke up to a magnificent sunrise, accompanied by the calming sound of the small fishing boats going out for today’s catch.
Sunrise
A few of us went for a walk, leading us to an old amphitheater (not to be mistaken for the big one) and further to the Church of Virgin Mary on the top of a hill.
Amphitheater
Overall Epidavros is a very pictorial harbor, with charming streets and squares, and some nice sights. I regret that we did not go to Epidaurus Theater, but if I am ever nearby again, I will definitely do that!
Overview of Epidavros