FOODIE HEAVEN CALLED MOSCOW

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The general public still believes restaurants in Moscow are at a pitiful level. We can – based on empirical experience – contradict this to the fullest. The offer is diverse. You’ll not only find the Russian cuisine, also the Georgian, Armenian, European, Indian and Asian cuisine are well represented. Diversity and level at its best! The quality of the cuisine is certainly an important point (or thé main point :-)), but also the atmosphere of a restaurant is crucial for the ultimate dining experience. Moscow also offers various possibilities when it comes to that: from modern to baroque. From grand to intimate. With bizarre theme or with magnificent views.

We feature ten restaurants for you. Each and every place filled with character and a top notch kitchen. One tip…book your restaurants in advance. Dining out is booming in Moscow! The restaurants below are very popular and usually fully booked. Reservations are a must.

 
1. VALENOK

The current hotspot of Moscow and therefore extremely busy. Those in for a romantic tête-à-tête, we advise to choose another restaurant. Those in for great food and the company of cool & trendy Muscovites – before throwing themselves on the dance floor – are certainly at the right place. Post dinner, Valenok transforms into a real club. Great food & a good party. The ideal combo!

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Where | Tsvetnoy Blvd, 5,
Tel |  +7 903 505-60-45

 
2. TURANDOT

According to sources, a sloppy 2 million euro was spent on Turandot’s interior. Which turns this place into one of the most luxurious restaurants in Moscow. Amidst the baroque interior, inspired by Puccini’s most famous opera, you’ll feel lost in the 17th century. The proverb ‘The eye also want something’ is for sure tested against reality here. Successfully. The cuisine is Asian fusion…which seems like a serious clash with the decor. But, it works for Turandot. Ever combined delicious sushi and baroque design? Here’s your chance.

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Picture from website Turandot

Where | 26/5 Tverskoi Bulvar,
Tel | +7 (495) 739-0011

 

3. SHINOK

Amazement all over…when guests of Shinok notice live cow, goat, chickens and other farm animals in a corner of the restaurant (behind glass). With a real farmer’s wife at the center of its flock as icing on the cake (though we felt a bit sorry for the poor woman). The goal is to throw you back in time (approximately 400 years back) and to Ukraine. Hence on the menu, you’ll mainly find Ukrainian specialties. Once you’ve recovered from the initial shock and are used to the cow grazing beside you, you’ll enjoy delicious cuisine and fine wines!

Picture from website Shinok

Where | Ulitsa 1905 Goda st., 2
Tel | +7 (495) 255-0204 / 0888

 

4. O2 LOUNGE

The O2 Lounge is located on the 12th floor of the Ritz Carlton, under a glass dome and definitely offers the best view of the Kremlin. Only for the spectacular view, this venue is worth visiting. Another decisive factor for choosing O2 Lounge is the yummie food. However, remember that you are in one of Moscow’s top hotels – 5 stars and counting – and so the prices are accordingly. If you prefer not to spend a fortune on dinner, we advise you to take your aperitif here. The view is really priceless.

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Picture from website Ritz Carlton Moscow

Where | Tversakaya St, 3
Tel | +7 495 225 88 88

 

5. NOBU

One of the most famous Japanese restaurant chains is Nobu. Although initially we’re not that into chains, Nobu is definitely the exception to the rule. Having restaurants in the most fashionable cities in the world, Nobu is really a well-known name. Nobu Moscow opened its doors in 2009. And with great success. Japanese dishes are served at a very high level.

Where | Dmitrovka ulitsa 20, Moscow
Tel | +7 495 645 3191

 

6. CAFÉ PUSHKIN

Fancy the real delicious Russian cuisine? Then Café Pushkin is definitely the place to go. The restaurant is synonymous for quality and service. Once you step through the doors, you step into another world. You won’t find a modern design, but a 19th century building where you can experience a different atmosphere on each floor. For sure also take a look at the beautifully decorated library.

Picture from website Café Pushkin

Where | Tverskoy bul’var 26a
Tel | +7 495 739 0033

 

7. CHIPS

Chips is a great concept: restaurant and nightclub in the center of Moscow. The menu includes French and Italian cuisine, with lots of grill and meat dishes. Wanna get rid of the calories absorbed during dinner, then you can take yourself clubbing a level up. They also have a nice roof terrace, where in winter an ice rink is constructed. So you can even skate on the roof…them Russians! 🙂

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Where | ul. Kuznetskiy Most, 7
Tel | +7 495 628-68-67

 

8. FAHRENHEIT

Just a few steps from Pushkin Café, you’ll find Fahrenheit. Absolutely not comparable. Fahrenheit has a modern design with an extremely beautiful bar, open kitchen and a cozy, trendy interior. At Fahrenheit you start your night out well. Diverse menu and apparently (but not tested by Shots & Bites) the tartars are of exceptional quality. Fahrenheit is definitely highly recommended!

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Where | Tverskoy Boulevard, 26 Bldg 2
Tel | +7 495 651-81-70

 

9. KALINA BAR

For fine dining and an exquisite view on Moscow. Located on the 21st floor of Lotte Plaza you’ll find the Kalina bar. On some sites, Kalina is described as only for the jet set and somewhat over-the-top. We do not fully agree. For us it’s a very cozy, nice restaurant with a delicious cuisine and good service. Would you like a table near the window (if you’re there anyway, you better have the best view as well), book it well in advance.

Picture from website Kalina Bar

Where | Lotte Plaza, Novinskiy Boulevard, 8
Tel |+7 495 229-55-19

 

10. BOLSHOI BY NOVIKOV

Within walking distance of the famous Bolshoi theater; you’ll find the Bolshoi restaurant. Posh and upscale are the words that best describe this restaurant. You’d better dress up for this venue if you don’t want to stand out in the wrong way! Good service and a good quality of food is a given.

Picture from the website Bolshoi Restaurant

Where | Petrovka ul., 3/6, стр. 2
Tel |+7 495 789-86-52

10 REASONS WHY MOSCOW SHOULD BE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST.

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We have to admit…Moscow – or the continent Russia altogether – has always instilled some sense of fear. The image we have of the city, when not having visited, is however, at a far distance from the modern Moscow of today. “All Russians drink gallons of vodka” or “Muscovites are the embodiment of unfriendliness” or “Russia doesn’t have a good food culture” or “The city is not safe.”
Nothing could be further from the truth…Moscow is a dazzling and vibrant city, not comparable to any other metropolis. You can find great food. Yes, they do like their vodka, but not everyone runs around drinking all day. And once you get through the initial reluctance of the Russian people (and passport control :-)), it’s a very nice and friendly crowd.

If you dare distance yourself from these prejudices, you’ll definitely be surprised by this city. More so, you’ll gradually fall in love with the magical city that Moscow is. Shots & Bites collected 10 reasons that will convince you to absolutely travel to this city!

 

1. PARTY LIKE A RUSSIAN

Not only Robbie Williams is a Russian party expert, even the Russians know how party. Moscow – just like that other metropolis New York – is a city that never sleeps. The night life in Moscow is diverse. Restaurants, bars, clubs, parties…you don’t have to get bored at any time at night. From the Icon Club in the Red October district, to Valenok Restaurant that turns into a club after dinner time, to the hidden Mendeljev bar. For everyone’s taste the perfect venue.

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The trendy Valenok restaurant turns into a club after dinner time.

 

2. RICH CULTURE & HISTORY

The Russian capital is a sloppy 860 years old and definitely one of the most rich cities, from a historical standpoint. Russia is the largest country in the world. Moscow is the 5th largest city. With countless attractions and must-sees, this city is a paradise for tourists. St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, the Kremlin, the famous Moscow subway, Fallen Legends Park, St Christ the Savior, … and many more (see number 3, 5, 6).

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St.Basil’s Cathedral – Red Square

 

3. BOLSHOI THEATRE

The Bolshoi is a historic theater in Moscow, listing both ballet and opera performances. The main building – renovated and rebuilt several times – is the pride of Moscow and Russia. It’s both inside and outside a wonderful building. Those who wish to visit the theater, can opt for a tour behind the scenes. It’s not always easy to get in there. Definitely check the possibilities before you travel. Those who had the privilege to do this tour, will definitely recommend it. You will be impressed.

 

4. GOOD FOOD & TRENDY RESTAURANTS

Shots & Bites can easily recommend a dozen restaurants where you can eat extremely well in a trendy, cozy and exceptional setting. Soon we’ll dedicate a new blog post to these restaurants. When in Russia, eat like the Russians. For sure try the Russian traditional dishes like Beef Stroganoff, borsj soup and dumplings. Yummy!

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5. LENIN’S TOMB

Lenin’s mausoleum can be found on the Red Square and – those who wish – can visit Lenin’s embalmed body. According to authorities, it’s indeed the real Lenin, even though he looks more like a polished/waxed doll, caused by chemicals used to keep the body ‘fresh’. Somewhere in Russia, a second corpse in the same conditions is being closely monitored. If changes are observed in the 2nd body’s condition, they know it’s time to also deal with the real Lenin again. Admission is free, although you must regularly face very long queues.

 

6.THE SEVEN SISTERS AKA STALIN’S SKYSCRAPERS AKA THE WEDDING CAKE BUILDINGS

Throughout the city you’ll find the Seven Sisters. It was Stalin who built these seven buildings just after WW II. At that time, sheer display of power. Classic examples of Stalinist architecture. The largest of the seven buildings is the main building of Moscow State University. We can definitely recommend to start your visit to Moscow at the university on Sparrow Hills. From Sparrow Hills you get a magnificent image of the city and immediately discover the other 6 sisters.

 

7. MOSCOW IN WINTER TIMES
Frankly, winters in Moscow are fierce. Temperatures down to -30 and worse are common. That’s cold, very cold! Those who suppress this extreme cold, are rewarded. Moscow in a winter coat is magical. It looks like and is a true fairy tale. Snowy Moscow shines – thanks to the numerous (Christmas) lighting (Russians are crazy about Christmas!) – adding an extra (magical) dimension to the city. Do not underestimate the cold however. Several layers of warm clothing are recommended. Because no matter how cold it is outside, inside the heating is always on fire. Furthermore, thermal underwear, a warm cover for your head, lip balm, comfortable, waterproof shoes / boots are an absolute must.

 
8. SHOPPING IN MOSCOW
Eliseevskiy, GUM, … at your service

Long queues for virtually empty shops with only a handful of products. That image belongs to the history of Moscow. Eliseevsky, similar to Harrods’ food hall, is well worth a visit. If not for the fine selection of products, certainly for the stunning interior. GUM, which can be found at the Red Square, is the mecca for every shopaholic. It’s the largest shopping mall in Moscow – slightly over-the-top – housed in a beautiful building.

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The largest shopping mall in Moscow, the GUM.

 

 

9. RED OCTOBER DISTRICT

Krasny Oktyabr literally means “Red October”, once one of the most famous Soviet chocolate factories. Chocolate is long out of production. The old buildings now serve as a kind of big hipster gathering. You’ll find young designers, small shops with cute design stuff, art galleries, bars, yoga studios, restaurants and nightclubs. It’s the creative heart of Moscow and offers plenty.

 

10. RUSSIAN BANYA

A busy day in Moscow is best ended in a banya. A banya is the Russian equivalent of a sauna and also immediately one of the most famous traditions. People come here to recover from the flu, to detoxify, strengthen their immune system, to gossip or to discuss business. Tradition in a Russian banya is the use of ‘veniks’, best described as a bundle of birch twigs which they use to hit you all over your body. It looks painful, but it is said this has a healing effect. Try it!

BRUXELLES MA BELLE | BRUSSELS

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You don’t necessarily need a plane to get that instant holiday feeling. Even close to home you can enjoy a few days away from the daily routine and experience a true holiday feeling. Hence why we decide to explore our very own capital, Brussels. Especially now – after the 22nd of March attacks in Zaventem – Brussels should get a boost of confidence and we want to help provide that. The world must know Brussels is more than worth it.

Granted, Brussels is primarily a business city. It doesn’t immediately categorizes itself as ‘major tourist attraction’ as do it’s big brothers (or sisters for that matter) London, Paris and Barcelona. Which doesn’t mean Brussels cannot welcome tourists and treat them to a couple of nice days. The one definitely does not exclude the other.

As real tourists behave, we stay in downtown Brussels, notably in The Dominican. A hotel that satisfies us more than well in terms of location, service and decor. This boutique hotel is just 5 minutes’ walk from the ‘Grote Markt’ (the big market square). The rooms are cozy and offer all required comfort. The slightly stiffer (stately, but very correct) service is compensated by the modern and cozy design of restaurant and bar.

 

The area that we appreciate most in Brussels is the area around the St. Katelijne church. On weekends you’ll find tourists and locals slurping oysters on the corner where the fish market ‘De Noordzee’ is located. With a glass of bubbles, of course. Around the square of the church you’ll find several restaurants. Ideal for lunch or dinner. Don’t forget to pick up delicious ice cream for dessert at Gaston and finish it sitting by the water.

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In Brussels, you have a mandatory stop at the ‘Grote Markt’ (the big market square). Not only are you located at a historical site, but – if you have a preference for gold – you’ll for sure blink a few times at the sight of all that splendor. Since 1998 the square is also listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Still not convinced? The French writer Victor Hugo once proclaimed it the most beautiful square in the world. If Victor says it…

Around the ‘Sint Gorikshallen’- another fav spot of S&B – it buzzes with coziness. Certainly at aperitif time. Numerous cafes and lively bars open their doors (or are already open for a while, but finally getting the guests and the crowded terraces they deserve). The halls are former covered markets in the center of Brussels located at the ‘Sint-Goriksplein’. These days events and temporary exhibitions are organized in the halls.

We land on one of the terraces with a decent Gin and Tonic menu and do one of the things we like the most on vacation. With a drink and some sun on our face, watch the locals pass by. An activity that’s just about possible anywhere, doesn’t cost a cent and ensures conversation. Your subjects just pass you by.

For dinner, we let ourselves be led by our travel guide. After deliberation, we end up at Toukoul in the Kastanjeboomstraat, a stone’s throw from Sint-Katelijne square (strategically chosen for the frosty dessert afterwards). Toukoul has an Ethiopian cuisine that was a first for both of us. The interior is trendy with lots of woodwork. Service is top notch – our waitress made it a point of honor to speak Dutch, despite her obvious French accent. We appreciated that a lot. And the food…finger licking good! Literally as Ethiopian food is actually eaten by hand…Figuratively too, btw! We had a really delicious dinner in a very nice setting!

 

10 THINGS TO DO WHEN IN SPLIT | CROATIA

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Four stolen days in May. Four days to recharge on a portion of very needed Vitamin D. Four days in a newly discovered gem. Four days in Split, Croatia! Below our top 10 things to do in and around Split!

1. Visit the famous and UNESCO protected Diocletian’s palace.
The Palace was built in the early fourth century by the Roman emperor Diocletian and developed itself throughout centuries as the heart of Split. Since 1979, it finds itself on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Today, the palace is still the center of the city, surrounded by shops, markets and restaurants. Besides the Cathedral of St. Domnius, the bell tower also belongs to the palace. A bell tower you can climb…and when reaching the top, rewards you with a beautiful view of the city for courage and self-sacrifice. We’re not entirely sure the climb is 100% safe… and people with a serious form of vertigo better think twice. 🙂

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2. From Split, visit the beautiful town of Sibenik.
img_2211Sibenik is the oldest town in Croatia and founded by the Croats themselves. The jewel in the city, the beautiful St. Jacob’s Cathedral, is also UNESCO listed. The Cathedral of white stone is unique. It was built without one single nail, wood, or other fixtures. We were particularly charmed by Sibenik and found one of the best places of our Croatian adventure: a nice spot in the lovely evening sun at the edge of the village, Makari club, overlooking a small marina. A second place that pleased us a lot in this village was restaurant Pelegrini…we chose the restaurant purely on appearances and nice tables outside in the sun. But were overwhelmed by the service and quality of food. Want to have lunch (or dinner), please take your time. This is definitely not a place for a quick bite. We also recommend to make a reservation, unless you can demonstrate the necessary charm to convince them you earn a spot on the terrace (as we did).
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3. Climb Marjan Hill!
Marjan is a hill at the tip of the peninsula on which the Croatian city of Split is situated. The hill is covered by a dense forest of Mediterranean pine trees and is completely surrounded by the city and the Adriatic Sea. Atop the hill is a gazebo, where you have a spectacular view of the town of Split, including Diocletian’s Palace, the harbors and the sea with a number of Dalmatian islands. Remember to bring water, especially in hot temperatures! At the top, apart from the amazing sight, nothing is for sale.

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4. Eat at restaurant Fife.
Climbing Marjan Hill has another advantage: following all the exercise, reward yourself with a nice lunch or dinner at Fife. We were food and drink starving after the Marjan performance…and without making too many demands and jumping on the first restaurant opportunity at the bottom of the hill, we seated ourselves on the terrace of Fife. How spoiled we got by great, honest, traditional Dalmatian food and large portions! Fife also appears to be a very popular place…where you find local writers and actors and also a large number of tourists because the restaurant is hailed in many blogs! It’s deserved, and thus also recommended to make a reservation!

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5. Try some pašticada.
A beef stew dish cooked in special sauce that originated in Dalmatia. It requires a long and patient preparation. First, the meat is pierced and filled with garlic, cloves, carrots and bacon. It’s then salted and allowed to marinate overnight in vinegar. The marinated meat is then roasted and cooked with bacon, onions, parsley root, plums, tomato paste, nutmeg and water for five hours. Afterwards, the vegetables are mixed into a sauce. Pašticada is usually served with gnocchi. Very yummie indeed.

6. Search, find and chill on Bene Beach.
Finding Bene Beach proved to be a real adventure. GPS receivers that showed us all sides of Split, except Bene Beach. But the one who perseveres, wins…and wins big! Just in time for a beautiful sunset and a well-deserved glass of wine. Bene Beach may be reasonably ‘hidden’ (at least for us, we’re confident easier ways lead to it ;-)), but that’s probably what makes it the right place to be. Trust us: this really is a super spot in Split worth your effort to get there!

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7. Visit Krka waterfalls.
Certainly one of the most popular attractions on the Dalmatian coast and also one of the most beautiful natural attractions in Croatia. Almost everyone who visits the park, initially visits for the waterfalls surrounding Skradinski buk. The Skradinski buk waterfall is the largest and most beautiful of all Krka waterfalls. Mapped across wooden ramps and walkways with various viewpoints, you can complete a walk that ends at the falls themselves – suddenly trading nature for a mega touristic corner including all sorts of stalls – where you can also bathe in the water! Definitely worth a visit.

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8. Eat ice cream!
Croatians are obsessed with ice cream and – it must be said – they also produce delicious ice cream. In Trogir – a historic town located about 25 km outside Split – we rewarded ourselves with this delicacy. It was much appreciated! We – Shots and Bites bloggers – have our own method for rating ice cream. We rely on the taste of the vanilla ice cream. Does the vanilla flavor pass the test, you can usually be pretty sure that the other flavors are worth your consumption!

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9. Take a boat and visit one of the islands of Split.
We ended up not taking a boat – partially because of laziness to sort out the boat timings (yep, it was vacation after all), partially because we wholeheartedly stand behind our own motto “you always need a reason to come back” – but in our opinion well worth it. Islands like Hvar, Brac, Vis, Solta are definitely must-do’s! We will for sure return and report on this one in the near future! 🙂

10. Book a hotel outside of Split.
Visiting a city is always great. Sleeping in that same city, not a must. First, you can usually find less busy, nicer, more unique hotels outside of the bustling centre. Second, it more or less forces you to think outside the box as well as hire a car. Third, it motivates you to visit great spots elsewhere also. That’s exactly what we did and allowed us to go “off the beaten track”. We booked ‘Hotel Split’, a more or less new, architectural nice, not too big, family owned hotel located on Podstrana Beach overlooking the bay and Split. Great choice! We got a bay view room, breakfast was very nice, parking for our car, a local village to also discover next to Split, a roof terrace with pool. Very recommended indeed! 

THE CULTURAL CAPITAL OF POLAND | KRAKOW

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Our 24 hours in Warsaw are finished. We trade Poland’s largest city with the 2nd largest one: Krakow! The differences are noticeable…where Warsaw is the political (and current real) capital, Krakow is certainly the cultural capital of Poland. While Warsaw was rebuilt depicting the former Warsaw, Krakow has retained its royal identity throughout centuries. This city was spared from bombings and came out of WWII intact.

We fly from Warsaw to Krakow, however, the distance can also easily be covered by train. And that has some advantages. You leave from downtown Warsaw and end in downtown Krakow.

We arrive at lunchtime in Krakow so the right moment to feed our inner souls. This time however, we have to work for our food and drinks during a Pierogi workshop. Pierogi are traditional Polish dumplings made with various fillings. You could compare them with ravioli, though they are slightly larger. Pierogi are boiled in water for a few minutes and – in our case – served with oil and fried chopped onion and no additional gravy. Krakow has a yearly Pierogi festival during which over 30,000 pieces are consumed daily. Impressive! A Pierogi meal is anything but light. But they are delicious…even the dessert we’re offered is Pierogi inspired with a sweet and fruity variant.

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Stomachs (more than) filled, time to explore the city. One of the main attractions is the Wawel Royal Castle on Wawel Hill, including the Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislais ans Wenceslaus as one of the highlights. Wawel Cathedral for friends. It seems that the architect was struggling with an identity crisis, not sure what style to maintain. But history teaches us the truth. This cathedral was destroyed up to 2 times and rebuilt 3 times. Hence the potpourri of styles: Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Renaissance.

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Strolling through the streets of Krakow, we discover the old town within city walls and we end up at the Main Market Square with covered halls. With 40,000m², this is one of the largest medieval market squares in Europe. The Cloth Hall – the Sikiennice or covered halls – divides the square in two. It’s a beautiful building, definitely worth walking through. Pity it only contains very touristy stalls, all selling the same tourist ‘crap’. This building deserves a better destiny than that.

In a corner of the Main Market Square, you find St Mary’s Cathedral. Built in Gothic style in the 14th century. It is certainly not a mastodon, but what makes the church (more) interesting is the “Hejnał Mariacki”. In other words, the trumpet player who plays every hour from every corner of the tower. The lament breaks rather abruptly halfway. This to commemorate history, in which the trumpet player, who warned citizens of a Mongol attack, was murdered while playing.

Those visiting Krakow, also often take the opportunity to visit the nearby former concentration camp Auschwitz. The largest destruction camp of the Second World War. Impressive, but also very emotional and confrontational. We didn’t visit the camp on this trip, however one day I’d like to visit for sure. Might be my reason for returning one day.

Perhaps a mead tasting after visiting Auschwitz could be ideal. The best means to wash away the painful and terrible history. Though I fear a lot of mead will have to pass…we kept it modest and sampled four mead versions. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey and water also known as honey wine. It’s a favorite drink in Poland, not entirely my cup of tea though.

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Another, less depressing than Auschwitz, but very impressive excursion are the salt mines of Wieliczka – an underground complex of salt mines, equipped with artistic decorations and a real underground (and impressive) church. Weddings and other liturgies are still held here. Definitely worth a visit! The salt mines are slightly outside Krakow, a good 15 km.

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Dining we did in Morskie Oko restaurant. A restaurant that could just as well be located in the mountains. Sheep skins, lots of woodwork, waitresses in traditional dress and so on. Seems like you arrive after a day of skiing instead of sightseeing in Krakow. The food is very tasty. The kitchen serves Polish dishes. We also try żurek (Sour Bread soup). Served in bread, giving it an exotic touch instantly. Not bad, not bad at all!

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Stary Hotel hosts our bed for the night. A hotel to my liking. Modern and old combined, but in a stylish and successful manner. Very centrally located, near the Grote Markt. The hotel also houses a very good restaurant (hearsay). Unfortunately there is not enough time to test it.

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Find out more about our 24h in Warsaw? Read all about Little Berlin aka Warsaw!

 

 

 

 

FLASHY VISIT TO WARSAW & KRAKOW | LITTLE BERLIN AKA WARSAW

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Few people, like us, think of Warsaw as a city trip destination. Therefore we’re very pleased one of us has a chance to discover this city. Albeit discovery time was limited and it turned out to be a race against time. Enough time to get a good picture of the so called Little Berlin? Yes indeed! Read and find out!

Compared to Krakow – Part 2 of the trip – Warsaw is a much larger city and labeled very often as “business city”. Warsaw – razed to the ground (literally) by the Nazis during WWII – was completely reconstructed after the war. Based on existing paintings and photographs of the Warsaw pré ‘Hitler and consorts’ era, the city was build up again brick by brick. The result is a very “clean” city, with a modern touch on the one side and a historical touch on the other side. Old and new go hand in hand.

We start our exploration with a Cold War tour through the city. And appropriately…in a retro communist Nysa 522. A funny way to discover the not so funny history of Warsaw. First stop: an old Jewish street, which used to be part of the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. The ghetto was closed off by a 3 meter high wired wall. Built to prevent any movement between the ghetto and the rest of Warsaw. The wall is – fortunately – no more. It’s a bit weird to walk through the – still reasonably intact – street, the terrible history in mind.

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Also here we find a first view of the Palace of Culture and Science, a “gift” of “Uncle” Stalin. With its 188 meters height, it’s the third highest building in Poland. Once it even carried Joseph Stalin’s name. Later his name was – evidently – removed. Still, the building is an eyesore for Warsaw inhabitants. It’s thè symbol of Soviet domination of their country and many have not forgotten.

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Today, the Palace houses a post office, swimming pool, museums, numerous conference rooms, a library, theaters,…but the biggest tourist attraction is the ‘Trzydziestka’, a large terrace on the 30th floor of the Palace. It offers you a spectacular 360 degree view of the city. Well worth it. Here and there inviting beach chairs welcome you to enjoy the first spring sunshine. According to ‘Warszawiaks’, it gives you the best view of Warsaw. Totally agreed! Although their opinion is mainly based on the fact that from the terrace, you can never see the Palace itself. Remember: that thorn in their eye.

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Our Nysa 522 briefly crosses through Soho Factory. Thè place for hipsters, creatives and foodies. Soho Factory is located in the Praga area, on the right bank. Old factory buildings and warehouses serve as designer shops, art galleries, museums, restaurants, food and fashion markets and lofts. It exudes SOHO NY. Exactly as intended by the people behind the concept. Sadly our time here is very limited…no time to get lost in the boutiques, let alone bring out our credit cards. Or test local tips. The Neon Museum (Warsaw is known for its beautiful neon lights and brought together under one roof here), Warsaw Cut (a real barber) and resto Warszawa Wschodnia (open 24/7, housed in an old restored train station with a motto we support 100%: ‘Cooking connects People’). All absolute must-do’s!

Time for lunch! Located in an impressive mansion, Endorfina Foksal is top. High ceilings and wide corridors make the restaurant quite special. Our lunch is served in a – best described – small library. A nice beautiful separate room. The food is a combination of European and Polish cuisine served in a contemporary modern way. Yummy!

Two things make a city worthwhile. At least in my humble opinion. One: the presence of water (as in river or sea) and two: an authentic old center. Knowing that Warsaw was given a complete makeover, I’m not too sure of that. One should hope for no faint decoction or ridiculous caricature. Not in any way. True, you can certainly see that the buildings are not original. Yet the old town remains charming and interesting. Cobblestone streets, a very colorful market square, narrow alleys,…nice scene to walk around in. In the marketplace we pass Fukiera, the oldest restaurant in Warsaw. It is owned by Magdalena Gessler, the Polish Jamie Oliver / Gordon Ramsay. The authentic interior and traditional Polish cuisine have brought world stars like Naomi Campbell, Roman Polanski, the Queen of Spain,…as guests.

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Our dinner is simmering elsewhere though. In the impressive Bristol Hotel. The oldest and most elegant hotel in Warsaw. It’s one of the few buildings that wasn’t bombed in WWII. The fact that Nazis stayed here during World War II, probably has something to do with it. 5* luxury and service go hand in hand in this place. Meanwhile, pretty starved after an intense day, we enjoy a delicious dinner at the Marconi restaurant. Compliments to the chef!

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We also visited Krakow! Read all  about the cultural capital of Poland on Shots & Bites.

 

 

 

12 DAYS OF CALIFORNIA | THE HIGHLIGHTS PART II

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Traveling through California, soaking up so many impressions… we gathered them all in The Highlights Part I & this Part II here below! Enjoy!

Goleta, Santa Barbara

Goleta is a suburb of Santa Barbara. Goleta Slough, where the Santa Barbara Airport now sits, was a deepwater port used by Whalers in the 1800s. The name Goleta comes from the Spanish word for schooner.

Best Western South Coast Inn Goleta: I admit. This will never become my all-time favourite hotel destination…however, it did give us great value for money, a huge room, a very nice looking garden with pool and a super spot to start daytrips from around the Santa Barbara area. The breakfast was disappointing. The highway noise also…especially after our little piece of heaven in Mill Valley. Apart from the highway noise, I think I would have preferred the place next doors: The Goodland by Kimpton which totally looks like a cool surfer’s dude, all new, hip, trendy hotel. However, 3 times the price/night and of course still not without the highway noise so…Best Western it was!

Kyle’s Kitchen: for cheese burgers and salads with a cause. A special needs student at Mountain View school, Kyle, was the inspiration behind this new restaurant concept. Every time you eat at Kyle’s Kitchen you’re helping people with special needs reach their potential. That’s because each month Kyle’s Kitchen teams up with a great special needs organization in the community. In addition to donating a portion of their proceeds to the cause, Kyle’s Kitchen tries to be a place that spreads the word and helps us all connect better to those with special needs. So, a unique restaurant where you get to eat great food & help great people.

Santa Barbara 17 miles scenic drive: on your first day in Santa Barbara a good idea is to take the 17 miles scenic drive which gives you a good feel of what Santa Barbara has to offer. Stop at Mission Santa Barbara, Palm Drive, Stearns Wharf, Shoreline Park and Arroyo Burro Beach (or Hendry’s Beach) – which ended up to become our favourite beach by the way.

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Chuck’s Waterfront Grill: one of the nicest spots in Santa Barbara to have lunch is at Stearns Wharf where you can overlook the entire Santa Barbara harbor and bay. Very nice view. And great food is definitely to be found at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. We had the best burrito’s ever while soaking up the sun and a fresh fruit juice. Ahhhhh, life is good.

 

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Outback Steakhouse: the positive side of staying at a rather large road is that it offers plenty of venues for coffee, juice, supermarkets and real American food. Like big juicy yummie steaks at Outback Steakhouse. And boy do they take their business serious: their steaks are all grain fed, USDA inspected, optimally aged and hand trimmed to deliver a steak that’s the star of their kitchen. And I have to say, it was delicious and if I could I would travel back right now to have one.

Goleta Beach Park: this park offers it all: beach, palm trees, Baywatch kinda rescue huts and rescuers, grass, BBQ spots, a great restaurant and a very long pier – 457,2 meters long to be exact. Nice spot to walk, lounge, sunbathe and eat so worth the trip for sure. Great (sea)food can be had at Beachside Bar Café. Also here the food pictures on the website speak for themselves. And we confirm, it was delicious and great to have such food with ocean and beach view.

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Wheel Fun Rentals: obviously when in Santa Barbara you want to rent a cruising bike and ride alongside the coast. We did just that! Rented at Wheel Fun Rentals and drove up and down the boulevard. Bike Santa Barbara offers 8 Do It Yourself bike rides. Nice day trip!

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La Paloma Goleta: not a restaurant you would normally find and pick as in front of it is a huge parking lot…however, if you crave for authentic Mexican cuisine and a tequila bar, this is the spot! I had Taquitos de Papa, yum – yum – yum.

Cachuma Lake Park: nice to visit and have a picknick is Cachuma Lake Park. The day we went it was bloody hot, 38 degrees. The park was pretty deserted, windy and dusty so we ended up staying only a short while. It’s used a lot for camping, family BBQ’s and it even has a couple of lodges that you can rent. The park surrounds Cachuma Lake, an artificial lake located in the Santa Ynez Valley, created by the construction of Bradbury Dam. Because of the long drought, the lake was only at 21% capacity when we were there. “Cachuma” comes from a Chumash village that the Spanish spelled “Aquitsumu”, from the Barbareno Chumash word aqitsu’m, meaning “sign”.

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Santa Ynez: the cutest village ever. You basically feel like time stood still here as it has the look of a real western ghost cowboy village. We really only drove up and down main street and had coffee at Valley Grind coffeebar which offers coffee, gifts and more. I even scored a souvenir in this tiny little place. If you want to feel like time stood still and want to experience America at its purest, be sure to visit Santa Ynez and the Santa Ynez Valley as it for sure has a lot to offer. We also visited the small town of Solvang, a nice, calm, very Danish looking village. With windmills and all.

 

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Pascucci: State Street is the shopping street and place to be in Santa Barbara. Plenty of restaurants, shops, coffee shops, theatres, cinemas, juice bars for everyone’s liking. If you don’t feel like having to choose, you can safely go and have Italian at Pascucci restaurant. Good Italian food. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yoghurtland: if you want to ‘make a bad day good’, don’t hesitate to stop at Yoghurtland. Boy oh boy, frozen yoghurt heaven. You find them everywhere, they are the MacDonalds of frozen yoghurt however, there is one big difference: real ingredients make the difference. They only use creamy, fresh, pure California milk without antibiotics or added hormones. Then they add the world’s finest ingredients to bring pure deliciousness to your cup for flavors that taste like the real thing. There are more flavors and toppings than you can wish for.

From Santa Barbara to Santa Monica passing Malibu: without a doubt this route is worth a day trip out of your schedule when in California. This speaks to your imagination and throws you back to the first days of American series like 90210 and Melrose Place. You pass Malibu very fast but the idea of having past it is already great. The beaches you pass with dozens of surfer dudes. The colonies of dolphins you see when early enough or lucky enough. Amazing. Ending up at Santa Monica Pier, not my all-time favourite because too many tourists, circus and neon lights but even so, you need to stop for a short while and soak it up.

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Perry’s Cafe: Wanna have lunch with sand between your toes of Santa Monica Beach and with a view on Santa Monica Pier? Then check out Perry’s Café and Rentals represents “California Beach Lifestyle.”  An icon on the Santa Monica beach scene for 39 years,  Perry’s at the Beach serves delicious and healthy café food crafted from our chef’s own recipes and offers a myriad of  rentals  for the active beach-goer to include bikes, surf equipment, chairs, umbrellas, and  more. Perry’s is a Fun Day at the Beach.

Arigato: Had the most amazing sushi at this place and also the non-sushi people can eat very well. The teriyaki chicken also looked to die for. Very nice restaurant with open kitchen where you can also enjoy some kitchen action if you’re lucky enough to have a seat at the bar. No reservations so first come, first serve. A recommendation indeed located in a more quite part of State Street, Santa Barbara.

Arroyo Burro Beach: So happy we took some extra effort to find this beach as it immediately became my favourite beach of Santa Barbara. Also known as Hendry’s Beach. Not too big, not too small, nice bay, a mix of different people, families, singles, couples, laid back and the beach that granted us dolphins right in front of our noses. Gorgeous sunsets and a perfect ending with dinner at the Boathouse, right there. Had a very nice dinner there although be warned of the commercial friendly waiter who stops being friendly if you just order a glass of wine and not a bottle and a main course instead of three courses. Don’t let that one ruin the amazing part of the world you’re at on that very moment.

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Solvang: Miss Europe a bit while in California? Hard to imagine however, of you want to get back in touch with European lifestyle, then for sure visit the city of Solvang – called the Danish capital of America. Really, feels like Denmark all over. A bit weird of course and very touristy but gives you a nice trip to the Valley of Santa Ynez.

Read all about the first highlights of California here!