Tag Archives: food

48 Hours in… Grunau

Grunau, Austria; a tiny but incredibly picturesque village hidden away in the Austrian alps, surrounded by mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains. Now that might not be enough to make you want to visit, but perhaps we can persuade you…

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The Accommodation:

IMG_20161029_105423Probably one of the best reasons to visit is the wonderfully Austrian and uniquely Busabout Treehouse. Run by an ex-chef and his family this ramshackle traditional old house really feels like a home. There have many people to the comforts of the bedrooms, the glorious surroundings and the pure sincerity of the welcome they receive from Gerhard and Co.

The dogs run freely through the garden, down to the river and into the neighbouring fields without a worry, and you can too. Those that only stop for lunch (and we’ll come to the food next) often find themselves wandering a little far from house as they follow the river, or meander through the woods.

The Food:

IMG_20161029_112313As mentioned, Gerhard, the owner/manager/dad was a professional chef, so you can imagine the food he cooks up is a little special. But he doesn’t bother with fancy flourishes of parsley or drizzles of balsamic vinegar. He makes good hearty home cooked food, the kind of thing that’ll have you craving mums cooking, then scratch that itch with the first bite. His legendary lasagne is a must-try while everything else on the menu is just a delight. Forget the diet though, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to portions that’s for sure. You’ll end up sitting around the dinner table together, laughing and joking like you’ve all known each other for years.

The Countryside:

IMG_20161029_133730Yes, the mountains, lakes, lakes and mountains of course are a huge part of what makes Grunau so incredible. For your window every morning you’ll have to collect your jaw as you stare out and the awe inspiring Austrian Alps, still snow capped from winter. It’s these behemoths that channel the water down into rapid rivers that and just so instagrammable you’ll be flicking through your photo albums for days. Follow these along though and you’ll get to the epic lakes that are dotted along the valleys. A personal favourite is the Almsee, a nice bike ride along from the Treehouse (yes you can rent them there). This lake spreads out across the valley floor and offers amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, take in the amazing views reflected off the lakes surface, or if you’re the romantic type, woe that special someone in your life. You may fancy a dip, which is highly recommended, it’ll certainly leave you feeling fresh as the water is all glacier-melt (AKA ice!) and not much above freezing temperature. Just take a towel and sunbake yourself dry again. If that doesn’t warm you up, there are numerous hikes, easy and challenging up the sides of the valleys, and for the very adventurous, to the very peaks of some of the nearby mountains.

The Activities:

IMG_20161029_111705If all that wasn’t enough, there’s a few special activities offered by the guys at the Treehouse. After taking the bikes for a spin through the valleys, horse riding is the most popular choice. With treks designed for all abilities, from beginner up to fully competent riders, there’s something for all. Beginners will get a chance to enjoy the natural surroundings from horseback (no need to pedal) while more advanced riders can let loose and feel the wind in their hair as they follow the experienced guides through the various terrains. Finally, if all that isn’t enough to can take a try at archery, heading into a secluded section of the woods to ping some arrows into various targets and trees (please no animals though!)

There’s never been a passenger who stayed in Grunau that didn’t wish they could stay longer, and plenty more who wish they hadn’t skipped it. Don’t make the same mistake and make sure you add Grunau to your Busabout adventure.

Written for the Busabout Blog

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

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Berlin Pt2

Continued from here 

IMG_20151023_134700On my second day in Berlin I had a nice brunch near the hostel then decided to take a wander through the city, I came across the sad and now empty bear pit, where the cities mascot bears had lived until the last one was put down recently. The conditions didn’t seem very nice for them, so perhaps it is better that there is now nothing living in the enclosure. Exploring Berlin on foot lead to quite a few fascinating discoveries, and a chance to get a bit closer to some of the sights I’d seen on the bike tour. It’s a pleasant city to be in, and while touristy in some places, is spacious enough, and getting away from the main attractions mean the streets are quiet and calm.

IMG_20151026_141709Heading back to the hostel I joined the free tour up to the Sunday Flea Market at Mauerpark, the tour was fairly quick, just a quick intro before being left to our own devices to explore, shop and enjoy the goings on. The market is actually very nice, and with only a couple tacky tourist stalls there’s plenty more to find. Lego figures, car parts, furniture and home printed clothing seemed to occur quite often, along with plenty more curious items making the browsing a fascinating experience. The food strip in the centre is also very impressive, and with the wide range of options actually picking something to eat was a real challenge, from vegan and vegetarian through to freshly barbecued meats, and all different styles of world cuisine.

IMG_20151025_175951In the park next to the park, we were lucky to catch the very last Bear Pit Karaoke an amazing display of brave tourists and talented locals singing songs from all around the world. I was rather upset with the British entry from a couple of girls singing S-Club 7, especially after a couple of Americans managed to ruin Spice Girls just as badly, but with a much more positive audience reaction. The music ranged from the cliche, to the abstract and the talent ranged even more so. Some stand out numbers were the old local guy crooning ‘My Way’ in German, and the South Americans mumbling the whole way through ‘la Bamba’ A nightcap in one of the many bars near the hostel finished off the night nicely, and meant meeting even more Americans, who would have thought they’d be so many in Germany in November.

IMG_20151026_130152My last day was spent doing yet another free walking tour, this time the ‘alternative’ option. This was probably my favourite tour of the trip, with our amusing local guide coming out with some brilliant quips and really helping us to enjoy the surroundings. We saw pockets of Berlin’s recent history, and proof of the quick development of the city. A little back alley off a normal commercial street is filled with incredible street art of so many different styles, specific commissioned and planned pieces along one wall, while the others are littered with so many little pieces, it’s hard to tell them apart in places. There’s a couple of installations there as well, along with a couple little bars and an excellent book shop of the darker side of Berlin in the last couple of decades.

IMG_20151026_113950Exploring Kreuzburg we are shown famous pieces, and various examples of unusual styles of graffiti, including using a fire extinguisher, filled with paint to spray your name high onto a wall, Not always with the best results. There is a lot of cool little things in Berlin, many very small, but it’s incredible when you notice them, such creativity on almost every street. It’s also got a very positive attitude, with many people seeming happy just to in the city. A great example of this positive attitude is how the city dealt with the annual workers day riots, the solution was to organise a street party instead. Closing down the areas that usually suffered from rioting and introducing stages of various musical styles, allowing people to enjoy the city as they liked, and all for free.

IMG_20151026_151310Finishing in the Caribbean collective beach bar on the river, we tucked into some jerk chicken and other treats, it was a short walk over to the East Side Gallery, the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing and home of many of the iconic street art images that Berlin is known for. The Gallery is actually huge, stretching over 1.3km, with artwork on both sides, there’s a lot to see, and while some isn’t amazing, there’s a lot of pieces that really can make an impact and a statement. It’s a shame that the wall gets such abuse from taggers and tourists, scribbling their names wherever they can. It would seem that the wall is due another overhaul soon, but it’s a shame that anyone would think it’s appropriate to deface these works of art. Certainly if they add new artwork or create something new then that should be encouraged, however when it’s simply another tourist scrawling their name over the art, then something should be done.

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From here it was only a short stroll back to the hostel, and then onto the airport to return home. Berlin certainly left an impression, and it’s a city I would highly recommend visiting, and one that I am looking forward to returning to soon.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Copenhagen Pt:2

Continued from here

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IMG_20150920_134521Day two we woke late and decided to get the tourist bus around the city. It’s a great way to get around, and the snippets of commentary offer a little more insight into what you’re seeing. Riding around past the ‘black diamond‘ and plenty of palaces we hopped of at the eastern end of town to explore the royal docks, and the residence of the royals Amalienborg. On the way back to the Kastellet, we ventured into the design museum and got a good sense of why Scandinavians are so good at making cool looking chairs, the ones on display certainly looked cool, but I don’t think they were all that comfy. Some cool exhibits on display made it a good stop, and worth a quick look, especially with the CPH Card.
IMG_20150920_140808The Kastellet was home to a ‘walkathon’ that day, with a mini festival going on inside, and despite the fascinating shape of the moat and fortifications, there’s not too much to see there. So again we wandered along the waters edge, and through some of the excellent parks that are dotted about the city. Certainly it’s hard to go long without either seeing some water or greenery, which is something I really appreciate in a city. We walked all the way around to the Rosenborg Castle, which is home of the Crown Jewels, but arrived just before closing time, just enough time for a quiet drink and to meet up with a good friend.

IMG_20150921_142518Dinner that night was on the other side of town at Copenhagen Street Food, the imaginatively titled home of pop up stalls and authentic street food vendors. Similar to efforts in other cities the venue offers a huge range of cuisines and all of it looking fantastic, between us we had mexican, texan and asian, all of which was excellent. The location on the south side of the main river gives some excellent views and opportunity to enjoy the last of the evening sun. Before dark came in though, we headed back into Christiania to get a bit more of a feel for the area after our fleeting visit. Actually sitting and having a drink there lead to some interesting experiences, and the chance to see some of the locals in the home. Definitely not somewhere to take your Nan.

IMG_20150921_140839Our last stop for the night was the Meat Packing District, which over the weekend offers some excellent restaurants, and then morphs into a massive party area, with bars and clubs spilling out into the open central area. We were there on a quiet Sunday night, so just a few bar snacks and a couple more drinks before bed. I would like to come back again, just to experience this area properly, it came across so cool, even when mostly shut down.

The last day was spent doing a little more of the bus tour, mostly because we were too lazy to walk to the start of the boat tour. The trip around the canals was excellent, and as a tourist activity one of the best, giving a new view of many of the sights we’d seen walking through town. The tour guide was excellent, and the whole experience very pleasant, although I wouldn’t to do it in the rain. After hopping back onto the bus we headed back around the Kastellet to see the Little Mermaid that we’d missed the day before. Actually a lot bigger than I had expected, as so many people had told us how small it was.

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IMG_20150920_151448Then back to Rosenborg castle to actually see the Crown Jewels. This is a must see, while the ‘castle’ is more or a small manor, the building is beautiful inside and out, with some much history and artwork lined on every wall. The upper levels were preserved in traditional style while the cellar contained the truly valuable possessions of the royal family including the truly exquisite crown jewels. When compared to the UK, these are as impressive physically, but with the low cost of entry (free for us) and the tranquil, un-crowded setting make them a much more enjoyable experience.

IMG_20150920_132530A stroll around the trendy Norrebro was next on the list, checking out the independent stores that are the backbone of CPHs hippest neighbourhood. A coffee was in order here, and with highly rated coffee house dotted along the main strip it wasn’t hard to find. A trip through Assistens cemetery lead us back into the city for a little retail therapy before we headed home, happy and tired.

The city was not as expensive as we had worried, although it depends somewhat on how much drinking you want to do, and where. Food was good value, and with the Card we got a lot of good deals on the attractions we did. The bus tour is a great option, valid for 72 hours which makes it useful free transport around the city centre. I spent around £100 in total for the three nights there, plus another £100 for flights and hotel, making it a very cheap getaway. There’s no issues with language as Danes learn English from a young age, and it’s used as a common language for all tourists, the quality of English spoken there is better than most of London. I haven’t visited a lot of European cities yet, but it might be tricky to top CPH.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt2 – Can Tho

So stop number two was the relatively small city of Can Tho. This was a place I really enjoyed, with enough interesting things to see and do, while still feeling unspoilt by tourism, or tainted by the commercialism of larger cities.

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At the transit centre in Can Do, we met a couple of Norwegian girls who we joined teams with for a few days, making us a group of four for a short time. We found a very nice guesthouse to stay in, newly built with very comfy beds and showers tall enough even for Dutchman Nico.

TempleOur first day there was spent exploring the town, with a few spots we wanted to see, we wandered through the city trying to find them all, which meant finding a few more on route. The highlights were a buddhist temple, in which we were welcomed and guided around, and the monk explained the differences between the Vietnamese buddhists and others you may find in other parts of SE Asia. He himself was Cambodian, and very informative, taking us to the top floor and pointing out a few landmarks.

RocketMy favourite stop of the day (excluding Baskin Robbins, I have an ice cream problem) was the war museum. We’d arrived during lunch hour, which stretched from about 11am through to 2.30pm, but we had a look around at the vehicles outside, including a Mercedes Benz with bullet holes, and few planes, both intact and not, and plenty of artillery and tanks. With the lack of supervision, we cheekily jumped the fence and got some snaps inside these moving monstrosities.TankOnce the doors opened we wandered about inside, although it wasn’t as impressive as the bits outside. The badly translated English captions didn’t help to explain the military manoeuvres displayed. We managed to find some unlocked doors that lead up to the roof, so checked out the city from above again.

That evening we tried the food tour, which is run by local students to help raise money for educational causes in the region. It was good fun, and we got some great examples of local delicacies, many of which would be almost impossible to get as a tourist without a guide. Pork dumplings, baked prawn pancake parcels were the delicious starters for the stranger bits we tried, featuring mouse and snake. Mouse was surprisingly tasty, if a little fulfilling, it was crunchy with bones as the animal is cooked whole, but nice. The snake on the other hand was not. We tried both grilled and fried and both, while not bad tasting were a tough as old leather. Most of it seemed to be bones and skin, leaving a very unsatisfying mouthful that tasted more of cooking oil than anything else. I’ll stick to the mouse next time, sorry Mikey.

marketWe woke up early the next day, as the girls had arranged a floating market tour for us. We floated up past boats with thousands of pineapples, boats with hundreds of melons, all dishing them out to the various traders picking up their supplies for the day. Amazing to see that you could pick up about ten melons for the price it would normally cost a tourist for a few slices in the market.canalThe boat tour then took us off through some of the gorgeous little streams and canals that wind through the outskirts of the city out to where the farms start. Some lovely sights seen along the ways, including some kids waving from the bank and delightful temple bridges spanning the water.
Later that day we jumped on the bus to head to Ho Chi Minh City to see the sights there, and catch up with a few friends we’d met in Laos.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Ho Chi Minh

The Best Burger in the World

This might be a bit of a stretch, I certainly haven’t eaten everywhere, not even in every country. I’ve not tried the best burger bars in London, but I have had a lot of burgers in my time.

From McDonalds and Burger King, up through the ranks to some of the highest rated burgers in the World, I’ve tried more than my fair share I’m sure. So here we go:

  • Ferg Burger, Queenstown, New Zealand

This is one of the most hyped up burgers places in the world. From Auckland to Christchurch, no matter how you travel through NZ, people will always talk about how good Ferg Burgers are. It’s an amazing store, with a queue up to an hour long at times, stretching out the door and far down the street. In fact, the shop is so small it’s rare that the queue isn’t out the door. The buns are excellent, cooked next door in their bakery, and the burgers are pumped out damn fast by the slick team of pros behind the counter. A good selection and excellent meat, a little tricky to customise though.

  • Bunsen Burger, Dublin, Ireland

These guys keep it simple, just four options: Burger, cheese burger, double burger or double cheese burger. I think most people chose the last option. It comes with the basic salad inside and it’s a very tasty burger. Simple and well put together, just the right amount of sloppiness while holding together enough to get it into your mouth. It’s juicy and very meaty, riding on the strength of the patty which does it proud.

  • Devil Burger, Queenstown, New Zealand

The second Queenstown entry, and the underdog to the powerhouse that is Ferg Burger, Devil don’t have the same quality of bun and their patties are a little smaller, but what they lack there, they more than make up for in well thought out topping combinations and extras. Burger customisation is much more acceptable here, which means you can have the burger you really want, and not the closest option on the menu. My favourite was the Yankee Devil with extra pineapple and egg. A large patty in a small bun also makes the ratio even better.

  • The Oyster Catcher, Polzeath, UK

Perhaps listing the bar I work in is not the done thing, but the burgers here are really something to make a thing of (I’m trying to get them to pump their reputation) The burgers are handmade on site (sometimes by me) and it’s pure, high quality local beef. The toppings are freshly prepared each day and the buns are… adequate. They’ve got some great menu options, but the fun really comes when you get creative. It’s not cheap to add extras here, but if you’re willing to do so, you can craft some incredible burgers. One bad point – No pineapple.

  • Counter Burger, Dublin, Ireland

By now you’ll have noticed I’m a big fan of customisation, and Counter burger caters for me perfectly. Instead of a list of pre-designed burgers you are given a selection sheet of meats, cheeses, toppings and sauces and a pencil. This is a dream come true for me, as this means I can create those ridiculous and wonderful burgers I’ve dreamt at night. It’s important to think of your theme before you pick any options so each works, otherwise you could end up with mild aioli and jalapeños, which just aren’t going to work together. This restaurant changed is the current home of my favourite burger, having swayed me from my American style, beef, mustard/ketchup based burger. It’s now all about grilled chicken with chilli and pineapple.

I think it’s important to let people have their burgers the way they want them. There’s plenty of trendy new places popping up that offer really nice sounding burgers with cool new toppings and fancy ingredients. But when actually put together lead to a rather naff burger. I’m all for hummous and avocado on a bit of crusty bread or in a wrap, but on top of a slab of minced beef and grilled it just seems wasted. Keep it simple, and let the punters have what they want!