New Forest

picked up the rented car. and drove ourselves at The Crown Manor House Hotel in Lyndhurst. too many roadworks, that it took us almost 4 hours to get there. Hotel was lovely. they have this old lift where 2 of us with luggages barely fit. nice areas to lounge and have tea (or cocktails and wine if only I could). good food and great service. they gave us a room at the 3rd floor with views of the roof 😦 but never mind, we had a comfortable stay.

saturday. stayed in for the rest of the day.

sunday. funny that the first thing we have to do these days is to check out the nearest hospital (I’m not allowed to fly and need to be near a big hospital). walked for a bit in the deer park – where we saw wild horses and no deers. lunch in brockenhurst.

monday. went to Beaulieu. didn’t realise it was a theme park sort of place as I only wanted to see the palace and walk over to the michelin starred restaurant nearby. we ended up staying longer than expected, taking in the classic cars, the gardens and the palace. drove up to the Montagu Arms and lunch was already over. We were directed to Royal Oak, a pub up the hill. good place for lunch.

spring has just started and the forest are not as lush as they should be in the summer. lots of wild horses and goats roam these areas, and we took in plenty of scenery driving through the inner roads. good, short break, but i think we belong near the seaside if we wanted to really relax.

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Another non-Christmas

24-28 December 2015

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A few nights staying in at a hotel near Colchester. Early check in and a non-impressive lunch, we asked to move rooms as the first room had a great view of the gas tanks, refuse bins, and delivery lorries.

We moved to The Village, detached from the main building of the hotel, but had good views of the greens. Slightly more dated rooms and colder, but we have a mild weather the next few days.

We continued to be underwhelmed by the hotel food and just spent the days reading and watching telly. Christmas day, we stayed in and had pizza via room service. Neighbours were a big family, occupying 3 or so rooms nearby. They kept us awake everytime they come in at midnight with the noise in the hallway and for more than a few hours on boxing day when they had a family meltdown complete with the police being called.

 

Croatia and Montenegro

1-5 July 2015

google map: recommended restaurants and other facilities in Dubrovnik.

Wednesday. 6:30am flight meant we leave home past 3am to catch the shuttle :0 Left Dubrovnik airport around 11am after getting bus tickets from the Atlas counter. The Atlas shuttle goes past the Dubrovnik old town, but we got off at Gruz port. It was my first time to see gigantic cruise ships in person (no wonder Dubrovnik gets flooded with tourists as several of these docks every day).

Took a taxi to the apartment we rented thru airbnb. And we were met warmly by our host. He gave us a tour around the place and let us settle down. He walked us to the Old town to show us the routes and left us at the fish restuarant, Lokanda Peskarija. Lunch was a potful of fish, mussels, prawns and octopus. Most of it was good, but the mussels were overly salted and the prawns not very fresh.

Old TownWe’ve walked around the old town for a bit, but it was really hot and humid and we were already quite sleepy as we started quite early. Walked back up to the apartment, stopped at the bikers cafe to rest and to get some groceries next door, walked up the stairs some more and 30mins later, we’re back at the apartment feeling quite exhausted (200 steps uphill). Napped and changed clothes. I booked us at Prora Beach restaurant as I was quite disappointed with lunch. Prora Beach Restaurant is part of Hotel Excelsior. At 7:30pm, it was still quite empty. but they only had a few tables to fill by the sea. Some customers dress up. I asked beforehand and there is no dress code, so we came in shorts and flipflops. View was amazing, food and wine were good, service was excellent. Mosquitoes were hovering just above us but they disappeared every now and then. Plenty of scented candles to keep them at bay. A cellist started playing which added to the atmosphere (not all good songs, but we enjoyed them nonetheless). An expensive place – we paid roughly what we would have paid for a 3 course meal in London (minus the view). Walked back up, and enjoyed the view from the apartment. Old town at night

Thursday. Apples, instant coffee and cakes for breakfast at the apartment and we walked down to Hilton Hotel to be picked up for our Montenegro tour. I’ve booked thru viator – a recent discovery from a friend. Normally, we’d be looking for a local travel agent if I don’t feel comfortable booking online.

We were picked up via shuttle from Dubrovnik Old Town and boarded the bus. Bus wasn’t full and tour was done in French and English. Most of the morning was spent picking up other passengers and going thru the borders – exiting Dubrovnik (passports were inspected) and entering Montenegro. The guide says there had been times that the border police had collected all passports and scanned them one by one, so we were quite lucky.

First pit stop was at a cafe, just 15 mins off the border. The staff at the empty cafe were a bit overwhelmed serving some 20 people at the same time.

We drove thru Herceg Novi around Kotor Bay and into the lovely village of Perast. Boarded a ferry here to go to the man-made island housing Our Lady of the Rocks. Story has it that the island sprouted because fishermen had been throwing rocks at the same spot for centuries after a young man was miraculously healed of an illness. It’s a beautiful spot.

We were then taken to Kotor where a local tour guide took us around the city, a city said to be one of the best-preserved medieval walled dwellings on the Adriatic. Lunch was at Dekaderon, just off the Katedrala Svetog Tripuna. We had a huge grilled sea bream and it was deboned on our table (the waiter was so focused on getting all the bones out, I was worried the sweat on his brows would fall off into our fish). We’ve spent free time walking around Kotor egging each other that we should walk up the church at the top – it is said walking up there will bring you good health (as all the unhealthy ones would die before getting there!). a side note: the women here are extremely fit and are clad in designer clothes and handbags. i wonder if they get fit by going up the steps all the time?

Kotor Video

From Kotor, the bus crossed the bay by ferry and headed back to Croatia.

Dinner was the well-recommended ice cream near Pile Gate. Walked thru the old town and back up to the apartment.

Friday. Our host says there was going to be 1 cruise ship in port today, so it would be a good time to go up the walls. Check cruise ship schedules here.

But first, breakfast at one of the cafes by the main street.

Old TownWe had smoothies at the south side of the wall before heading down. And then back up again to Srd Hill via the cable car. We went for drinks at the panorama restaurant and signed up for the off-road buggy safari. The circuit takes you down the other side of Srd Hill with views of the ‘real’ Dubronik (where most of the locals lived) and the remnants of war. The fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the horrors of the siege is still very fresh in people’s minds.

We had lunch at the Panorama Restaurant and made our way down via the cable car.

Dinner was at the Horizont Restaurant by the steps near Ploce Gate. After dinner, we wandered around looking for the famous Buza bar – part of the fun was trying to find it as the place is never advertised and they have no signage. There are 2 Buza bars – the one we found was the one serving drinks in real glass (the other place only uses plastic cups). So how to get there? We came in from the east side of the wall and walked south past the main street and the rectory and the harbour. Keep going past the Konoba Amoret restaurant and up the steps from there. Walk following the wall until you see an opening with grafitti saying ‘No Nudists’. Music was loud, drinks were a bit expensive. The view was great and the moon was just rising on the left side. A few steps down, people can swim during the day, but nobody will stop you if you want to take a dip in the evening. And I heard that in the other Buza bar, people jump from the cliffs down into the water – we didn’t see any of that even when we were peering from up the walls earlier.

entrance to Buza Bar

moon rising over Buza Bar

Saturday. A filling breakfast first at Lajk Restaurant in the northern part of the Old town that we haven’t been to before. Ulica prijeko runs parallel to the main street, just up the steps – plenty of restaurant choices here.

Walked around for a bit to settle our stomachs and we went to the Old Town harbour to book a panorama boat tour that will take us around Dubrovnik and Lokrum. Lokrum is quite pretty with plenty of swimming spots. The other side of Lokrum is a naturist spot.

Lunch was at Lady Pipi, i think so named because of the statue of a peeing lady that adorns the front of the restaurant. Food was ok, but we had to queue for a while to get a seat.

We’ve had a look at the War Photo museum to know a bit more on the story behind the fall of Yugoslavia.

Pizza in the late afternoon and took the rest home for dinner.

Sunday. packed and a quick breakfast and we’re off for the airport.

…we’ll be back again. I just wished Lake Plitvice is not so far away

The Maras Moray tour

Took a tour with Llama Path. US$20 for transport and guide. 08:50 meeting time to finish around 14:30.
First stop was at Centro Textil Urpi in Chinchero. The place was run by a family, they process and weave alpaca wool and run a demo on how they process. It’s amazing to know they use only natural materials – grated roots for detergent, cactus aphids for the red colour, various leaves and flowers for yellows and greens and blues, lemon to dilute and alum to set the colour.

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Bought a gorgeous alpaca blanket here (in muted gray and white). It was a good salestalk, i didn’t even haggle.

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Off to Moray, a laboratory of sorts used for growing various crops. Each level in the terrace is a different temperature. I don’t think it’s in use, no plants i could see. Parts have eroded so we’re unable to access. Reminded me of the rice terraces in the Philippines.

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The roads around here are not paved, it’s dusty and narrow, with only space for 1 vehicle, and sheer cliffs on the other side.
Maras is a terraced salt bed carved on the cliffs. Still in use by several communities to get salt from the salty volcanic water. And i thought you can only get salt from the ocean. They produce the highly prized pink salts here.

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Entrance fee was 7 soles, not included in the boleto turistico ticket. Guide didn’t even bother giving us our change. Wondered if he thinks it was his tip.

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And lunch/dinner was a mixed peruvian grill consisting of cuy(guinea pig), kidneys, beef heart, steak, trout and potatoes. And a ‘normal’ pork chop just in case we find the grill inedible. The heart was actually not bad, still with a slight jelly texture on the outside, but still tastes a bit like normal meat. The cuy was mostly skin and bones, chewy skin and smoky meat with a little of that off taste you get in lamb.

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Sacsayhuaman, Cusco

Woke up without a headache, and what better way to test if we have acclimatised than by climbing a mountain. The way up to sacsayhuaman was through paved roads or steep stairs. It’s a weird feeling when your legs don’t seem to mind the steep climb, but my lungs just kept asking for more air. I needed to stop every five minutes. We were rewarded with panoramic views of Cusco and the neighbouring mountains every now and then and it was quick to forget how hard the climb up is. Women in their costumes and pet llamas were plentiful, some selling wares, others take tips for having their photos taken.

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It was more than 1 hour to go up. 130 soles for the boleto turistico ticket that gives you access to most of the sites in the region. 50 soles for a guide, should you need one.

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‘El puma’ (the puma), an Indian shaman, was our guide (recommended because he gives a different perspective and is full of information). He guided us through the Inca symbols and wisdoms hidden in the stones around this temple. History believed this site was a fortress with it’s three levels of zigzagged stone walls. The locals know it as a temple. The original name of the site meant satisfaction of the head – meaning it’s a repository of wisdom for their people. The new name meant satisfaction of the falcons because on this site, the spanish conquerors left many incas dead, and the survivors forbidden to bury them, and falcons feasted on the dead bodies.

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‘El puma’ says he was a tour guide not for the money, he wanted to teach people the wisdom hidden on the Inca sites and tell people of the evils the Spanish conquerors have done to his people. Theirs was a proud and rich civilization, not able to read or write, but their history is on their buildings and their sculptures. They were not savages even though there are tribes who eat humans. They know steel, and their treasures are food and knowledge.
This site is only 15% of the original site. Much of the site was destroyed to get building materials for the churches and lavish homes of the conquerors.
Our guide tried to make us feel the cosmic forces by channeling energy on to our palms – unfortunately, these unbelievers failed to feel anything. He gave us Indian medicine to soothe our tummies and relieve us of altitude sickness. I think it contains chicha, alcohol made from corn, and mint. It warms the throat and stomach, but almost made me puke. It was great in inhale and does clear your head, helping you breath better.
He left us to explore the rest of the site after an hour of teaching us the symbols in the stones.

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His teachings made me realise how similar most religions are no matter where in the world they started from. Our search for a god gave us different interpretations but mostly the same conclusions.
He points to the women in their costumes, their ancestors built this temple, and they are not even allowed in the site. He says the money we pay for our entrance fees to the site do not reach these people. That is why I think it’s important too, that as tourists, we get to do our part – choose to stay in hotels owned by the locals, choose tours that are run by people who do not just exploit the people who work for them.
We climbed to the top of the temple and the turtle structure. Almost panicked as i got to the top of the stairs and struggled to get enough air at 3600m.
Crossed over to the other side where the Christ statue is located. Not much stairs here, just a steep trail up. You’ll be rewarded with more panoramic views and local music from a quechan musician on his banduria (give tips or buy his cd)
Lunch/dinner was at 4 on a wayside restaurant back to town. Chicken noodle soup and fluffy alpaca meat. Alpaca meat was a bit like overcooked chicken, with a slight liver taste. It was different. Peru libre for cocktails and chicha juice. A glass of argentinian malbec to wash down the cooties.

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Walked/climbed 8km. Ascended 259m.

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Cusco region, Peru

Day 1.
Plane had to disembark an ill passenger costing us 2 hours of delay. Long queues in immigration and no help from any staff meant we’ll be even more late in Miami. Going on the next flight meant we will be no-show at our hotel in Lima.
Airport staff in Miami were surly. Air staff from BA told us to find ground staff to help with our connections. But AA ground staff were non existent. Express lines in immigration were not moving fast at all. Announcements blared that federal budget cuts caused this chaos. Pathetic.
Expected to spend 8 hours layover in a comfortable hotel in Lima, but we got 7 hours of queuing and bad food and hard chairs in Miami.
Flight to Lima was annoying and amusing -flight was full and everyone had the maximum luggage allowance that it was some sort of miracle the staff found space for it all and managed to leave on time.

Day 2.
The dominoes keep tumbling down. In Lima, we have 1h 45min to get to the next connection – but retrieving luggage + going to customs + actual check in (online check in was not available) meant we missed that connection too. Got lucky that there were still seats on the next flight. We were in Cusco 1 hour later than planned. And dead tired after 26 hours changing flights.
But the Lan Peru flight to Cusco was so much better than that AA to Lima flight.
Hotel staff who picked us up were not really from the hotel but travel agents hoping to sell us tours. Good thing they weren’t hard selling.
Tambo del Arriero hotel is really lovely – a restored mansion, lovely courtyards. Wi-fi (pronounced wee fee) does not seem to work and staff don’t know why.
Altitude sickness. Noticed that I was catching my breath just by going up the stairs to 1st floor.
Slept most of the afternoon and only went out for dinner at the main plaza. Peruvian cuisine is really good.

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Tambo del Arriero hotel
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Coca tea (leaves from the coca plant where coccaine is derived from)
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Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Day 3.
Woke up with a headache. And it didn’t go away for the rest of the day. We were told to take it easy with no big meals at night.
Went to the inka museum, a short walk from the main plaza, but a steep climb up. I feel like an 80 year old catching my breath after every few steps. The inka museum is the very definition of a tourist trap. 10 soles to get in, a few rooms with potteries and ancient tools, they didn’t even bother with translations on the rooms on the 1st floor. Musicians greet you and ask for donations, the weavers were selling bags and scarves. Intricate carvings on gourd and various trinkets were for sale on the 1st floor. It was half craft market, half museum, and i went away not learning anything.

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Weavers at inka museum

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On the wayto way to inka museum