Trekking in the Bhutanese Himalayas


Exhilarating, strenuous, cold, remote, stunning, and very rewarding. Those are just a few of the words that come to mind when summarizing our recent 7-day trek to the Jhomolhari base camp in the Bhutanese Himalayas.

I was very much looking forward to this adventure and being back in the remote wilderness. I must admit, however, that I tend to romanticize those type of trekking trips, somehow forgetting the unavoidable painful moments. But Christian and I love the challenge. And with that challenge comes appreciation and a sense of accomplishment. And that’s what we feel looking back on our Himalaya adventure.

The incredible thing about an organized trekking tour (you have to book through a travel agency to get a tourist visa to Bhutan) is that you really “just” have to carry yourself up (and down) the mountains. Everything else is taken care of. Tenzin, our tour guide, brought us up to speed with Bhutan’s history and every imaginable story about Buddhism; our horse guide took care of our seven pack horses; and three other guys managed the camp. Yep, that’s right: 5 men and 7 horses supporting just the 2 of us! Sounds like luxury camping. But wasn’t. The whole experience was still an adventure. It was physically challenging (we hiked an average of 15km a day with an average altitude difference of 1500-2000m), it was hard to breathe (our highest pass was 4890m), and it was cold (freezing temperatures at night which made sleeping through pretty much impossible). But it was so worth it. Here is a glimpse of our daily “life in the mountains”:

Day 1: Talking about challenges, we didn’t even make it to our starting point on Day 1. Heavy rain in the days before our hike had caused some landslides, blocking the road. Our driver, determined to navigate through the narrow opening on the street, tried to make it through. That turned out to be a bad idea. The car slid to the left and hit a huge rock. Luckily, the damage wasn’t too bad.

There was no way, however, to drive any further so we packed up our stuff and decided to walk instead, adding 3 extra kilometers to the 22 kilometers planned for that day. And the fun was only about to begin. The rain had turned the rocky trail into an enourmous mud slide. What we expected to be a long but leisurely hike through the sub-tropical forests ended up being an 8-hour balancing and rock-jumping exercise.

Exhausted but proud of our progress, we reached the camp side where hot tea and a glimpse of the stunning Jhomolhari summit, Bhutan’s second tallest peak, awaited us.

Day 2: We woke up to sunny skies and a crystal clear view onto Jhomolhari. Just beautiful.

Energized we set out to conquer the next 17km of the trek, hugging the valley floor and a fast flowing river.

Close to the 4000m altitude mark we came through a small village. Really just an accumulation of a handful of houses. It’s hard to imagine to live in such a harsh climate. The place is snowcovered from November to March and people mainly live off yaks and sheep. Despite being remote, the people were quite inviting. A group of villagers that were catching up (outside in the cold) happily posed for pictures. And some school boys took the opportunity to practice a few English phrases with us.

After one more hour we reached the base camp (4080m) with spectacular views onto the 7314m high Jhomolhari. It got cold pretty quickly so we bridged the time until dinner, snuggling up and reading in our sleeping bags. Besides the actual hike, dinner was the main highlight of the day. We couldn’t wait for our daily dose of hot soup – the best imaginable thing when it’s cold outside. Well, actually, there was something that topped the soup. When we all huddled in the kitchen tent that night, our crew produced a whiskey bottle. Not being a big whiskey fan my enthusiasm was limited. But, hey, try that stuff with some hot water. It’s magic! The perfect way to warm up before jumping back into your sleeping bag.

Day 3: Our acclimatization day. In order to avoid altitude sickness, the itinerary plans in an acclimatization day at the base camp. While we had woken up to clear views, that soon changed.


We set out on a 4-hour hike up to the actual base of Jhomolhari and got caught in a hail storm before it started to snow a bit. Crazy how you can get all types of weather within a couple of hours.

Back at the camp in the afternoon, the sun reemerged. Time for some hooping with the crew! This turned out to be super fun. Our horse guide had the funniest technique and everyone cracked up laughing. Once dusk was upon us, the typical routine kicked-in: reading, dinner, mystical stories in the kitchen tent over our shot of “hot-water whiskey”, some more reading, bedtime 🙂

Day 4: This was a tough day with an ascent of 800m followed by a descent of 1000m. But also very rewarding. We passed yak herders through a stunning scenery with crisp blue alpine lakes and rivers. The weather gods kept challenging us with a hail storm during the last 200m of our ascent. But we made it up to the highest point on our route (4890m), cold and sweaty at the same time!

The amazing outlook was shortlived, however, as we needed to make a 1km vertical descent back down to our camp. Again, the scenery made up for the workout. Our path led us through rocky cliffs, wildfower meadows, various nomadic settlements and provided incredible views onto gigantic waterfalls.

Our camp was tucked away in a beautiful small opening in the wood right next to the river. Optimistic about the sun that broke through the clouds, I took a little “shower” in the river. But, somewhat predictably, the weather turned rainy and cold within minutes so my enthusiasm was shortlived. I jumped back in my usual 5-layer outfit immediately. The attempt to start a cozy bonfire was rained out. But we had gotten a few minutes of warmth.

Back to our usual treat: a bit of hot whiskey and hot water bottles. Yes, our crew prepared hot water bottles for the night for us! This was another nice surprise. Reminded me of my childhood when I was sick and my mum would tuck me into my bed with a hot water bottle. Without our little “heaters” I would have probably woken up even more times during night.

Day 5: Both Christian and I thought we had the hardest day of the trek behind us. Happily we jumped “out of bed”, stretched our stiff bodies and eagerly awaited our hot coffee and breakfast.


Our cook kept surprising us with new items. That day he produced pancakes. Strengthened, we continued the journey. But it was not as easy as expected. The previous four days of intense hiking in altitude must have taken a toll on us. Both Christian and I moved in slow motion, our bodies feeling incredibly tired. Like snails we dragged ourselves up the first 200m past hillsides lush with rhododendrons before gradually climbing above the tree line again. And then we hit the last killer ascent, a steep 550m climb up to our last pass (4520m) on the trek. Mentally, this was the toughest stretch for Christian and me. But I also knew it would be our last big one. And again, stunning views from the top. Only one more hour downhill to our camp for the day!

Arriving at the camp, Tenzin, our guide, surprised us with a Druk 11000. Druk is one of Bhutan’s national beers. The Druk 11000 is an extra strong version with 8%. We were happy 🙂


Day 6: Our last day of hiking. One more last, steep ascent before venturing into a 1.6km vertical, rocky downhill path. The weather gods on our side, we had sunshine for the whole day. After arriving at the camp site around lunch time, we ventured out to meet locals in the nearby village.

While enjoying a beer at a local grocery shop (really just a room with some basic goods), we got a peak at “doma”. Doma is an integral part of Bhutanese culture. It’s made out of betel nut, betel leave and lime (synthetic calcium carbonate). You chew the mixture which makes your mouth go slightly numb and stains your teeth red. It’s spat out after chewing, so you can see doma stains on the ground all over the place in Bhutan. These days the government is trying to reduce the use of it given its addictiveness and negative health implications. But it’s so ingrained in Bhutanese culture that people, especially older ones, won’t give up the habit.

Two little girls, just back from school, were curiously peaking through the shop window. Happy that I had brought the hoop, we attempted to teach them how to do it. Very timid at first, the girls barely dared to touch it. But with a little encouragement they went for it, and had a lot of fun.

Back at the camp there was one more game we wanted to try. A typical Buthanese stone-throwing game. Sounds pretty simple (i.e., just get the stone as close to the target as possible). Turns out it’s not. Both Christian and I were pretty bad at it. Our trekking crew, unsurprisingly, “rocked” the game.

With a little bit of nostalgia, we enjoyed our last trekking meal that evening. Our cook surprised us again – this time with empanadas and a pizza! What a treat on our last night camping. Satisfied, we stumbled into our tent and, admittedly, were both looking forward to a proper shower and sleeping in a real bed again the next day 🙂



Hula Hoops and Smiles in Mongolia 

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People stare at me and my luggage when I walk through an airport. Their attention is drawn to what looks like a big shiny neon yellow and orange ring that is hanging over the handle of my pink carry on bag. My hula hoop.

Teeba, one of my good friends and a passionate hooper, suggested I try hooping as well. We both love to dance and besides being a great workout, hooping is a form of self expression and, if done to music, a form of dance. Her wedding present for me: a collapsible hoop that I could take with me on our world tour! I love it.

One of my goals on our journey is to get better at hooping (but more on that at a later point as I’m still in the beginner’s stage). However, so far the hoop also had another, unexpected effect on our journey. It helped us connect with people around us, bridging any cultural or language barriers. This shiny toy attracts attention. It sparks curiosity. From little kids to older people, without us prompting, they come over, pick up the hoop and just play. It’s as if the hoop brings out their inner child.

Here are a few impressions from Mongolia. The hula hoop helping us meet new people and creating lots of smiles.


Discovering new kinds of dairy in Mongolia


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Mongolian cuisine is very much defined by the limitations of nomadic living. As a nomad, you can only really eat things that can travel easily with you. Think cows, yaks, sheep, goats and horses. You have a limited ability to grow crops as a nomad, and not a lot of space in your Ger (tent) or on your carriage to be lugging around elaborate spice racks. So what’s left is diet rich in meat and dairy, without a lot of fresh veggies, and generally quite basic flavour profiles. That said, within these limitations the Mongolians have devised a very creative diet, particularly when it comes to dairy. Our guide, Ashley, told us that Mongolians have very white teeth because they eat so much dairy. Although I’m yet to verify this causal relationship, it is true that Mongolians do seem to have white teeth and they definitely love their dairy.

Our closest encounters to traditional Mongolian cuisine, and the omnipresence of dairy, came on the few occasions when Christine and I had a chance to visit nomad families inside their Gers. On arrival, we were met with an almost identical ritual each time: milk tea was poured out of a tall furnace into small ceramic bowls; homemade bread was pulled out of a tin and cut into slices; and from underneath a table came out a very large bowl of whipped butter cream and a basket of curd chips. All of these were gently offered to us, and following Mongolian custom, we accepted each item graciously.

The milk tea seemed to be simply milk infused with a tiny bit of black tea and it tasted quite good. The whipped butter cream, which is meant to go with the homemade bread, tasted like the stuff I’ve made when I accidentally whipped cream for too long and it became butter-like. So in this case, the taste was quite familiar. That said, I was taken aback when I saw how much butter they typically spread on: “You like a bit of bread with your butter?” However, the curd chips tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before. I was told that they are made from skimming the curd off the top of yogurt, and leaving it out to dry out in the sun. The chips come in a range of shapes and sizes. Some are round with a small hole in the middle, kind of like a big button. Some look like big potato chips. Others are small, odd shaped pieces that kind of look like popcorn. Despite the variation in appearances, they all kind of have the same funky, sour taste of “off yogurt”. The first one I was offered, I obligingly ate it all. In the next Ger camp when I was offered it, my stomach could only manage to eat half of it before I quietly placed the remainder in my pocket. The times after that, I politely accepted the chip, pretended to take a bite and then subtlety placed the whole chip in my pocket.

Yet these were the tamer side of our dairy discoveries in Mongolia. On the more exotic side was fermented horse milk (airag), which is popular in Mongolia and believed to have medicinal properties. The thought of drinking the milk of a horse initially sounded off putting, although Christine and I were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t taste too bad.

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However, the prize for our most interesting dairy discovery goes to yogurt vodka. Yes, that’s right. Vodka made from distilling yogurt. Once upon a time I liked tequila until I had a really big night on it when I was 18-years old, and ever since then the smell of it or the tiniest sip will make me squirm. That’s pretty much the immediate reaction I had when I tasted yogurt vodka.

While I won’t be rushing to my local supermarket to seek out any of these new “delights”, I have a huge appreciation and admiration for the Mongolian people in their adaptation of foods to their environment. Mongolians have created a truly unique food culture.

Oh, and on the topic of food in Mongolia, here’s a video of me swallowing a live fish we caught in a river:


For experienced riders only

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I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Was this really a good idea? Or would I regret this later? Or worse, even come out injured? It was a brisk but clear and sunny morning and I was standing next to “our” horses that would carry us across Northern Mongolia over the next seven days. And there were many of them. Ten in total. Six for us to ride on (Christian, myself, our tour guide Ashley, our cook Segi and our two horse guides Jagaa and Galaa) plus four pack horses. The horses looked restless, pacing back and forth in the realm of their ropes. Not very comforting that they were also kicking at each other once in a while! I hadn’t realized what “half wild” meant. Had that even been mentioned in the brochure when we booked the trip? I guess it must have been. My thoughts were interrupted as Jagaa, the main horse guide, called for me. It was time to get up on my horse.

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Several months ago, when Christian and I started to plan our big trip, we both had a few “must dos” on our personal wish lists. One activity on mine was a multi-day horse back trek in Mongolia. I was excited by the thought of traveling through the least densely populated place on earth – on a horse and only with a tent. That sounded like the ultimate sense of freedom and adventure (and something to do before we would have kids). I found a great option. A French tour company, called Randocheval, offered a 20-day Mongolia trip: two horse back treks (one seven days, one five days) in different parts of the country with ger camp stays, hiking and monastery visits in between. The only catch: the description said “for experienced riders only”. I felt a bit unsure. I had some horse back riding experience from three day-long trips I did over the course of the last 10 years. Christian was a bit more experienced than I was. However, the classification “experienced rider” would be a bold exaggeration for both of us. I dropped the tour operator a line and got back good news. As long as we were both healthy, physically fit and had been on horses before we should be fine!

So here we were at Lake Kovsghol (in Northern Mongolia very close to the Russian boarder) and I was wondering if my enthusiasm and romanticism of a horse trek had gotten the better of me when booking this trip. Ashley, our tour guide, gave us a few quick instructions. Well, three to be exact. #1: always approach the horses from the left hand side (otherwise they might freak out), #2: say “choo” if you want the horse to go faster (and do so loudly conveying control), #3: never let go of your reigns. Really, that was everything I needed to know? What should I say if I wanted the horse to stop? But there was no more time for questions. Jagaa helped me get up (from the left side) onto my new buddy for the next week. So far so good. My horse seemed to be fairly calm. Then another thought crossed my mind: “Horses can feel if you are nervous”. Isn’t that what people always tell you? Great. My horse was probably already working out a grandiose master plan on how to play me. I kept telling myself “this feels good”, “I can do this”, hoping to convey confidence. Suddenly my horse started moving, following the horse guides and the pack horses up onto our first hill. Off we were on our trip!

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Over the next two days I grew closer with my horse as we were walking and trotting along the lake over open meadows, passing through dense woods and seemingly endless valleys. Christian and I decided that our horses needed names. He named his “Pferdeknoedel” one of the first words he learned in German (the meaning is similar to “horse poo”). I baptized mine “Clumsy”. It kept tripping over stones, roots and there-like. It seems that horses can’t really see very well which is kind of scary to be honest. And Clumsy seemed to have a higher incidence rate of tripping than the rest of the pack which freaked me out at times (it feels like your horse might fall and you with it). Day 3 was a highlight, in more ways than one. In the morning Segi, Ashley, Christian and I took off, leaving the pack horses behind and cantered (kind of like a slow gallop) through a broad valley. It was a beautiful feeling (first time I cantered!) and it felt like I had made a big jump in my horse back riding skills. Just before lunchtime we were crossing a swamp with a small stream of water. I was on guard as our horses seemed easily scared by water (and anything unexpected that might be in it). I was right behind Segi’s horse, trying to make Clumsy cross the stream slowly. And then it happened. Segi’s horse got spooked and jumped back. Seeing this, Clumsy lost it. He made a leap forward, overtaking Segi’s horse. Then kicked both his back legs back before he jumped up in the air with his front legs up. It felt like riding a very aggressive bull. I was scared to death. Everything happened in slow motion (or so I believed, as according to Christian the whole episode probably didn’t take longer than six seconds). And I only had one thought in my head: “Don’t fall of the horse”. I was so afraid that I might break a bone or even have something worse happen to me… My dad got thrown of a horse when he was young and broke his collar bone. Even though he had been an experienced rider he’s never gotten back onto a horse after that. I must have somehow internalized that story. With my right hand I held onto my saddle as strongly as I could. After a few seconds I must have realized that I also still had the reigns in my left hand. In a moment of clarity I pulled back the reigns as strongly as I could and just screamed “brrr” and “stop” (that’s what riders say in Austria to stop a horse; stopping a horse in Mongolian hadn’t been part of the intro for this trip). The horse was still wild. After a couple of seconds it calmed down and stopped. I was in shock. I couldn’t move and was just sitting there until Jagaa arrived and got a hold of the reigns. I stumbled off the horse and realized how much I was trembling. But, I had not fallen off. Somehow my survival instinct had kept me on that horse. Everything was ok. It felt like a miracle.

The afternoon and next morning were interesting. We continued the trek. There would have really not been any other option, plus, getting back up on the horse immediately seemed like the best way to get over this incident. Jagaa and Galaa were impressed that I had managed to stay on the horse and manage to calm it down. So the good news was that I had been able to deal with the situation despite my limited horse back riding skills. The bad news: what if it would happen again? I must admit that I lost trust in Clumsy. What would freak him out next? A fly on a random meadow? So I decided to exert more control. I was alert every single second, held the reigns tight, kept scanning the ground for any stone or hole that might trip him up and steered him around it. It was exhausting and not very much fun. Clumsy didn’t like it much either. Neither did Christian as I turned into a tense and somewhat unhappy companion. So what should I do given we still had three full days ahead of us? The more I thought about it the more I realized that being on guard every second wouldn’t change much. What had happened was serious and I learnt from it but one can’t really foresee such incidences. Plus, I had shown that I at least have a chance of dealing with such a situations. So that made me feel a little bit better. Secondly, the incident had nothing to do with my horse in particular. Mongolian horses are half wild so they are by nature a bit more uncontrollable. So I tried to change my mindset and relax my rules of “controlling” the horse the next morning. It worked. Clumsy was much more calm and I was able again to enjoy the experience and take in the wonderful scenery.

Reflecting on our time in Mongolia, I’m really glad that we chose to do the trip. The incident was dangerous and rattled me. That said, we achieved what we had envisioned when we set out to do this trip. We got our fair dose of adventure. We had a true feeling of freedom. And I also took my horse back riding skills to the next level. In the second leg of our horse riding trip around the Amarbayasgalant Monastery we actually spent most of our time cantering and galloping! That said, I wouldn’t call myself an “experienced” rider quite yet 🙂


Making new friends

IMG_3492 (Small) One of the goals of our year-long trip is to get to know people around the world and hear their stories. Turns out that Cappadocia was a great place in that regard. We had booked a day-long tour to visit some of the main sights in the area (called the “Green Tour” that hits the Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Canyon and the Selime Monstery). Upon boarding our mini-bus outside of our B&B, the Rose Valley Guesthouse, we saw a couple jump in right after us. After only five minutes on the bus, the guy turned around and asked where we are from. Turns out he, Greg, is from Australia, born in the same district of Sydney as Christian, studied opera singing and will get married this December at the same church that Christian’s parents got married at. What are the odds! Only after a few minutes of chatting, I knew we would get well along with the two of them. Hannah, who is originally from the UK but has been living in Australia for the past seven years, works in social media marketing. Greg is a teacher. Both seemed easy going, cracked jokes, shared their own stories about life and were really interested in what we were up to. What I initially expected to be a rather touristy and theory-packed day (in general, I’m not a big fan of group tours) turned out to be really fun and interesting. Not only was the tour much better than I thought (thanks to our upbeat tour guide Dennis who shared many stories about Turkey’s history and culture but also made an effort to introduce the whole group to each other) but sharing this experience with others and making personal connections made a real difference.

Even without making concrete plans to meet up again (that said, the four of us were living in the same B&B), life had another encounter planned for us! The same day after dinner in the village, Christian and I were passing a little restaurant (well, one could say it was more of a cave/barn) I saw someone waving in the corner of my eye. I almost ignored it, thinking some local wanted to lure us in for dinner or to sell us some other goods. Fortunately I did take a closer look, as it was Greg sitting there with Hannah! What was intended as a quick hello, turned into a true Turkish cultural experience. Ali, the owner of the place called “The World of Kebab” couldn’t speak much English. But turns out he had spent 30 years of his life in Germany so we were able to communicate in German (plus, Greg, who’s really into languages, speaks German as well). Ali had returned to Cavusin (the little town we stayed in next to Goreme) about five years ago. While he was ready to move back to Turkey and be closer to his family after three decades in Germany, it sounded like he was still trying to re-integrate in his little village. Having grown up in a small town myself, I can see how hard it must be to come back to a place with a well-knit community where everyone has grown up with each other. That said, Ali seemed to focus on the positive side of things. He proudly showed us how he had built a baglama (also called saz), a Turkish guitar. And a few minutes later there we were: listening to his guitar play and singing, passing around a drum so that all of us could showcase our musical talents. Curious to learn what Ali had planned with his restaurant, he showed us two adjacent cave rooms that he was renovating (formerly used as stables for animals). Not only was he going to redo both rooms by himself, he also decorated them with his own wall paintings and sculptures. It struck me that Ali was (and probably needed to be) completely self-sufficient to make his dream come true. Very inspiring to see him with such energy and enthusiasm as he was building out his small business! At the end of this special evening, we took our “running into each other” destiny in our own hands and Greg, Hannah and we decided to meet up again for a sunset dinner picnic the next day (yay, I love picnics!)

The next day we met Greg and Hannah at 6pm and assembled the last delicatessen for our picnic feast. Turns out we came up with a good spread of nuts and dried fruit, local cheese, some bread, savory pancakes (think ‘wrap’), a chicken sandwich and, of course, some local red wine. A short, steep ascent later, we were on top of the “old city” of Cavusin (ancient caves that were built into the stone walls of the hill). It was a beautiful and fun evening, enjoying a great conversation over local food while watching the sunset. We learned that Greg and Hannah just got engaged (one week after our wedding!) and are about to move to Hong Kong to “try something new” (where we may try to meet up again when we visit our friend Shilpa in September). Lots of our conversation centered on learning languages. It’s really fascinating. The topic of language learning and how to best go about it keeps coming up on our journey. So does Duolingo, an online language learning app, which seems to already have gained widespread use around the globe. If you are interested in learning a new language, stay tuned. Christian will soon write a blog post on his insights while learning German.

Cappadocia, thanks for introducing us to Greg, Hannah and Ali. I felt like I got to know the more personal side of the little village of Cavusin and made friends that we’ll hopefully meet again on our journey around the world.


Surviving my first Hamam (Turkish Bath)


OK, I’ll admit it. I was kind of freaked out about going to a Hamam (Turkish Bath). After hearing from several friends that it was a somewhat horrific experience, I initially had decided that I didn’t want to do it. Christine, however, was very keen for us to try it because she figured it would be good to experience a unique, traditional practice. After some back and forth, I reluctantly agreed to go through with it. Having now come out the other side and lived to tell the tale, I can say that it wasn’t all that bad, and I might go as far to say it was a good experience. Wouldn’t rush back to do it again, but I’m glad I did it.

The quick run down on Hamams are that they are bath houses that have been around in Turkey for centuries. Back in the day people didn’t have their own bathroom in their home so they went to a bath house to get bathed. In Turkey, the Ottoman’s were apparently very fond of their bathhouses so you have hundreds of them all around Istanbul, of which around 60 are still active. The side of bathhouses that some people find a little “stressful” today is how you actually get bathed. What was described to me was having a massive old Turkish guy scrubbing me down so that my skin is raw and then manhandling me with all his weight… as I said, I wasn’t really up for it at first.

Looking through Tripadvisor for the best Hamam to go to, it was clear that there isn’t really a Hamam that everyone likes. For all the Hamams there were people who were quite traumatized from their experience (not accounting for high-end Hamams that give you a luxurious yet less authentic spa experience). The one Hamam that seemed to fare slightly better than the others on Tripadvisor was Cemberlitas Hamam so we settled on that. Cemberlitas was originally built back in 1584, making it one of the oldest Hamams still in operation. Upon arrival, Christine and I were given our tokens and wash cloths and then we were quickly separated into the men’s and women’s Hamams (no couples treatments in Hamams!). I was told to strip down and cover myself with a towel, then come back to the entrance of the men’s Hamam room. After doing so, I was greeted at the entrance by a slight, smiling, older Turkish guy who took my token and grabbed my hand. Now, there really wasn’t any turning back.

When we walked through the Hamam door we came into this outside area littered with running taps and releasing water into marble sinks. I was then guided from here into the central Hamam chamber. I quickly recognized this place as what you see in the photos when people talk about Hamams. The room was warm and steamy. Overhead was this beautiful domed ceiling with many large round holes that allowed the sunlight to pierce through. Under the dome was a large roundish flat marble stone, probably about 6 metres in diameter.

Other than me and my attendant, there was only one other guy in the room, who looked like a customer, lying down on the marble stone. I was then told to also lie on the marble (to be clear, my guy didn’t speak all that much English so it was a mixture grunts, pointing and a few broken words). Shortly after lying down a bucket of warm water was dumped on me. And then the attendant left. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at this point, but figured I would just lie there and see where things went. I felt quite relaxed in the Hamam. Great temperature and soothing with all the steam. And the beauty of the old structure added to the ambience. To think that for hundreds of years that men have been coming here to bathe, it felt very cool to be going through this experience (which to Christine’s credit is exactly what she had intended). The silence in the room was broken when a big burly Turkish guy entered the room. My heart sank. My first thought was that this guy is going to destroy me. I then breathed a sigh of relief when he approached the other guy in the room. A few minutes later, the smaller guy who had originally brought me into the room reappeared. “Ah I get it, this guy is my bather.”

He started off by grabbing my wash cloth and using it to scrub me down. This was kind of like an exfoliating process. Fortunately, it didn’t feel as rough as other people had described. Kind of soothing actually. He also mixed in a bit of a massage here and there. After a few minutes, he had pretty much exfoliated my whole body. He then rinsed me again and moved onto the soaping phase. At this point he put soapy water into the washcloth and somehow this created a ton of foam which he lathered all over me. The whole part of this washing process probably went for about 8 minutes. All in all, it wasn’t as rough as I had expected. There were a few times when I felt like he was a being a little “too thorough” with his cleaning coverage of my body parts, and I certainly wouldn’t describe him as gentle, but really not all that bad.

After being rinsed down again, I was then led back to the outer room I had seen when I first entered. Here I was given a short massage, rinsed down by slightly cooler water and that was it. My guy then took me back into the main Hamam room where he told me (again through grunts and broken English) that I could stay here and relax and that I should tip him on the way out.

So that was it, my first Hamam experience. As I said, I’m glad I did it. I know that other people have had pretty horrendous experiences so it sounds like it can be quite variable, probably also depending on the bather you get.

Finally, a big thank you my beautiful wife for convincing me to go through with it. You always know best :).


Experiences in Istanbul

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Christian and I spent about four days in Istanbul. Enough time to hit the main sights and get a glimpse of some of the neighborhoods. But by no means enough to explore the nuances of this vast city where 11 million people are spread across 39 districts. Here are a few of our impressions and experiences.

  • What we learned on Istanbul’s history: Istanbul came to prominence when the Roman Emperor Constantine established it as one of the capitals of the Roman Empire under the name Constantinople in 330 AD. Since Constantine had converted to Christianity, Constantinople became one of the most important Christian cities, outside of Rome. Soon after, when the Roman Empire split in two (east and west), Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire. For the next several hundred years, Constantinople was the biggest metropolis of the Western Hemisphere. Islamic influence in the region increased and by 1453 the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest Islamic empires in history, spanning through until the early 1900’s. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire emerged the modern day Turkish Republic in 1923 and the capital was moved to Ankara. Initially the population of Istanbul was decimated in half but structural changes and the modernization of the city together with an influx of people looking for work steadily increased the population. Today Istanbul is a unique combination of old and modern, East and West, and Islam and Christianity (and other religions).
  • “Must sees” in Sultanahmet: The main sights (most of them are in the Sultanahmet district) are definitely worth a visit, even though they are very touristy.
      • The Hagia Sofia specifically reflects the influence of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It’s an Orthodox Church, turned mosque, turned museum. So as you can imagine it is a pretty unique combination of Christian and Islamic architecture, art and symbols in one building.
      • The Blue Mosque is also a grand building with beautiful interior tile work (most of it with blue tiles, hence the name). It is an active mosque, therefore only a small part is roped off for visitors to go through and admire the interior. I’ve read in a blog post that it’s worth visiting some of the other big mosques in town that are equally impressive in order to avoid the crowds.
      • The Topkapi Palace. Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit this grand palace that was the primary residence of Ottoman Sultans. But I had the chance to visit it a few years ago. Back then I was impressed by the imperial harem (i.e., the Sultans private apartments with more than 400 rooms).
      • The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar: You can truly get lost in the Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 streets! Lots of good souvenirs to buy there. But be ready to bargain. It’s part of the game. We took our time to stroll through and explore and after getting lost (as expected) we found ourselves in the book bazaar. That said, we behaved and didn’t buy anything as our carry-on only luggage is already close to its limits :). Also worth making a stop at the spice bazaar with its incredible number of spices, sweets and many other goodies.
      • Get lost walking around town: Satisfied to have seen the main attractions, Christian and I spent most of our time exploring the different neighborhoods. Our guesthouse (Hotel Nomade) was located in the main tourist area Sultanahmet. While incredibly convenient (and a nice place to stay at, especially with its amazing rooftop terrace and direct view on the Blue Mosque) we would probably pick a different neighborhood next time. We loved to walk around Karakoy or Galata (the broader Beyoglu district), getting lost amidst the cobble stone streets and observing what locals were up to. Istanbul is a city of contrasts. You walk down a street that seems to fall apart, then turn around a corner to find an art gallery next to a hip coffee shop where locals hang out. Taking the ferry over from the European to the Asian side was a great call as well. Not only did we get great views onto the Topkapi Palace but we mingled with locals on their daily commute. Over on the Asian side we explored Kadikoy, more of a student-like, alternative area with lots of bars and cafes, where locals were enjoying their Sunday afternoon teas or beers. A small but true taste of the local culture!
      • Enjoy the Rooftops: Istanbul has amazing rooftop restaurants and bars. Once you are up there you have a totally different impression of the city. Some of the hipper restaurants are hidden, so worth doing some research beforehand to find them. We enjoyed a romantic dinner at Leb-i-Derya. Modern Turkish food with incredible sunset views!
      • Cats are everywhere: You can’t spend a day in Istanbul without noticing cats. They are everywhere. On the roof deck of our B&B. In train stations. In every single neighborhood you’ll go to. Even in some restaurants. I must say I’m more of a dog person. Therefore, I was very surprised not only about the sheer number of cats “living” in this city (these cats are not owned by a single person but rather roam around freely) but also that the Turkish people love to pet and feed them. Most cats looked well taken care of and didn’t really bother anyone. And the more days we spent in Istanbul, the more the cats seemed to be an integral part of the city.
      • Eating traditional Turkish food at Ciya Sofrasi: We ate well in Turkey but this place stood out. Thank you to my friend Matthew Rascoff for the recommendation! The owner’s, Musa Dagdeviren’s, vision is to preserve traditional Turkish recipes. There are actually three restaurants in the same street. Two of them offer kebab, grilled meats and fish. The other one “Ciya Sofrasi” prepares what was typically the “home cooked” food with an incredible spread of mezzes (spreads and other appetizers), lentil and yogurt soups, meat balls in cherry sauce, lamb sausages, eggplant stews and many other tasty dishes. Here is a link to a 2010 New Yorker article that gives you the whole story!
      • Cooking traditional Turkish food at “Cooking Alaturka: Christian and I love new experiences. Plus, we both love good food and cooking. So what would be a better birthday present for Christian than to do a cooking class in Istanbul? Making our way through a thunderstorm and pouring rain we arrived at Cooking Alaturka, Istanbul’s first cooking school. We spent the first three hours in the kitchen cutting, stirring, sweating and laughing with Feyzi, the chef, and Mara, the host and sous-chef. Preparing Turkish food is really labor intensive, especially all the cutting of vegetables that need to go into the soup, spreads and sauces! Our work paid off. We had prepared a 5-course meal: Red lentil and bulgur soup, green runner beans cooked in an olive oil base, zucchini patties with herbs and cheese, lamb stew in tomato sauce and smoky eggplant puree, and walnut-stuffed figs in syrup. Not only did we get to enjoy these great dishes, but what we cooked was also served to the other guests at the restaurant that evening! What a great way to end our Turkey experience. Highly recommended!






Tomorrowland: Boom, Belgium, 2014

untitled%2520%25281%2520of%25201%2529-375 (Small)I can only recall a handful of times in my life where I’ve experienced a kind of sensory overload that has made me feel like I’ve been transported to another world (previous occasions would probably be my trip to Kolkata in 2006 and Burning Man in 2011). But that is what I felt at the Tomorrowland music festival in Belgium last week. It was another world.

In normal circumstances, Christine and I probably wouldn’t have signed up to fly to a 3-day long music festival in Belgium. Generally we prefer to spend our precious few vacation days doing romantic trips together more akin to our Sardinian honeymoon. But now that we’ve embarked on a one-year long around the world trip, when our close friends Teeba and Basel suggested we join them for Tomorrowland this year, we found ourselves saying “why not?!”

Quick background on Tomorrowland for the non-initiated (which included me as of a few months ago) is that it is one of the world’s largest (if not “the largest”) electronic dance music festivals, with 180,000 attendees. Established in 2005 by a couple of Belgian party dudes, it quickly grew from 10,000 people coming to a one day event to 180,000 people coming to a festival that spanned 3-days. Each year they sell out within a couple of hours (or sometimes only minutes) of making the tickets available. Part of the attraction is the ability for the event to attract the entire lineup of the world’s most well-known DJs (think Above and Beyond, Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto, Moby etc.). However, I’d be selling Tomorrowland short to say it is all about the lineup, because it really is much more than that. The setup of the stages, the art installations and chill-out areas are beyond anything I’ve ever seen at a music festival before. The best way I can think of describing it is to say is that it felt like Disneyland for adults (with apologies to my friend Jaime who I know would cry out “Disneyland is for adults” if he were to read this…). There’s a YouTube clip of the 2012 Tomorrowland festival that captures the spirit well that has had over 115 million views! Worth checking out.

In case that clip made no sense to you, let me explain what we got up to. Having finished our honeymoon in Sardinia, Christine and I flew to Lisbon to meet our friends Teeba, Basel, Shilpa and Jessica, along with our new friend, Rahul, who Shilpa had brought along from Singapore. While it may have been a more direct flight to go straight from Sardinia to Brussels (near where Tomorrowland is located) the reason we went to Lisbon was so that we could take the special Tomorroland chartered flight out of Lisbon (they set up several of these out of many cities from Europe. Lisbon was the only one we could tickets to).

The party plane lived up to it’s expectations. Shortly after take-off, the window shades were lowered, the cabin lights turned off, beer trolleys came out and dance music was turned on. What ensued was a dance rave at 30,000 feet. When we landed in Brussels 2.5 hours later, we all were not sure where the time went.

From Brussels we were transferred to the aptly named town of Boom where Tomorrowland is located. We commented to each other that we expected that the residents of this small town must hate having their home invaded every year by so many people. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see locals coming out of their homes as our buses passed by to smile and wave to us, many also waving the distinctive Tomorrowland flags. Later in the festival I had the chance to meet a local and asked her what people really thought. While she said not everyone was thrilled with the event, that many people did embrace it and that the organizers invested a lot in winning over the locals, including giving them free day passes to come to the event.

After the short 30 minute bus ride, we arrived at the location on Thursday evening. While the majority of attendees stay at a location outside of Boom (e.g. in a hotel in Brussels), about a third of people stay onsite at Tomorrowland in the camp grounds called Dreamville. In our case, we opted for an upgrade and stayed in the Dreamlodges in Dreamville. They were described as pre-built tents, but in the end way exceeded our expectations. Having been diverted away from the masses that went to set up their own tents at the camp grounds, we arrived at the check-in counter of what felt like a tropical island resort. We were then guided to our cute canvas tiki tents where two flowers awaited us laid upon the mattress of our comfortable beds. Having expected to be somewhat roughing it in tents, I was very pleased to know I’d have a bed I could look forward to return to each day! (TOMORROWLAND TIP: splurge a bit and do the Dreamlodges. They’re worth every penny).

Later that evening they had a welcome event for everyone staying at Dreamville (which in itself was a bigger concert than many I’ve been to before), however we decided to not go too big this night knowing that we had some big days ahead. Also, the performance of the DJs was not as good this evening. Too much unnecessary chatter coming from the DJs which kind of interrupted the flow. Fortunately the performances at the actual festival were all much better!

After a refreshing nights sleep, we awoke to the hum of dance beat sounds in the distance. Tomorrowland was officially beginning. We continued to feel convinced that we had made the right call to do the Dreamlodges when we saw the breakfast buffet (once again more akin to what you’d see at a luxury resort than at a dance festival) and this feeling was yet again reaffirmed when our tickets allowed us to skip the lines at the entrance to the festival.

Once inside Tommorrowland, we were all taken aback as to the sheer enormity of the place and the attention to detail of the organizers in creating an environment that truly felt out of this world. I will try to describe it here but no doubt will not do it justice. The festival is inside a park that covers about a 1 squared km space. Scattered throughout the park are 13 stages, each with its own theme. Between the stages are lakes, paths, bridges, food stands, chill out areas, rides and some of the most incredible installations you’ll ever see. Much of it felt like it was shaped around an Alice in Wonderland theme with big brightly colored toadstools, big mirrors and even a couple of DJs who looked liked Mad Hatters (more on these guys later). There were hedge mazes, installations of scores of Barbie dolls attached to long-stemmed flowers, bridges with hundreds of thousands of messages inscribed on the wooden slats (attendees were asked to send their messages prior to the event), light shows beaming across water installations, a massive ferris wheel that looked in proportion to the London Eye… Added to these sights, you had the sounds of the world’s best DJs coming at you from all angles along with the incredible energy of the 180,000 strong crowd. What was also amazing about the crowd was the incredible international representation. I read that more nationalities were represented at Tomorrowland than the 2012 Olympics. And it felt that way with the sheer number of flags people had brought it. And I was proud to see that, as usual, Australia was well represented (in fact, other than Belgium, I think I saw more Australian flags than any other nationality. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!).

Over the course of the 3 days, the group of us (Basel, Teeba, Shilpa, Rahul, Ardy, Jacques, Jessica, Pato, Eyal, Tamara, Rawan, Rasha, Christine and I) wandered from stage to stage, danced, smiled, laughed and generally soaked up the experience. Too many highlights for me to mention in a single blog post, but if I were to choose one, it would be what occurred on Saturday evening mid way through the festival. After spending several hours in a dark tent dancing to trance music, the group emerged for a wander around the grounds and stumbled across the Grand Theater stage, which we were to later christen as “Happy Land.” The stage was one of the smaller ones at the festival, situated on a platform in the middle of the lake. The DJs playing were called Bart & Baker. None of us had ever heard of these guys and they looked a couple of decades older than any of the other DJs playing at the festival. But they were fun. Really fun. And as I alluded to before, these were the guys kind of dressed up like Mad Hatters. The tunes they played were kind of like a mix of Loony Tunes cartoons, upbeat jazz and electronic dance music. Across from the stage was a small chillout area (also on a platform on the lake). A few of the group peeled off to this area to dance. What then ensued was somewhat of a dance off (or perhaps a better way to describe it was “follow the other side”) where people would dance funny moves from one platform and the people from the other platform would copy. So much fun. It kept us entertained for hours :).untitled%2520%25281%2520of%25201%2529-368 (Small)

Some other notable highlights from the 3-days to mention were being introduced to Nervo, two DJ sisters from Australia (I’ve clearly been away from home too long), participating in the 8-hour marathon trance session with Markus Schulz followed by Paul Van Dyk, and getting to see my favorite DJs right now, Above and Beyond, on main stage (although the downside of mainstage was that they probably didn’t take as many risks as they would have had they been on a smaller stage).

Fast forwarding to the end of day 3, on Sunday evening at 11:30pm (30 minutes before the official close of the event) Christine and I sneaked away from Tomorrowland and made our way back to the bar at our Dreamlodge. We arrived minutes before the beginning of July 28th, my birthday. Since everyone else was celebrating the final few moments of Tomorrowland, we had the bar to ourselves which gave Christine the opportunity to collect 34 candles from all of the other bar tables to make me a mini birthday celebration for me. That along with a nice drop of red wine was how my 34th year began :).


The next day, we stumbled out of bed early at 7am to make our flight to from Brussels to Lisbon. For the first time in days we had some heavy rain (we heard they use sound canons at Tomorrowland to keep the storms away…) which appropriately matched the mood we felt as we dragged our heavy legs to the bus and bid farewell to the little town of Boom. We imagined the residents must have let out a sigh of relief to have their town back. Similarly, we felt relief to be returning to “normal” life in the real world. Tomorrowland exceeded my wildest expectations. A friend asked me at the event if I’d do it again. While I couldn’t imagine mustering up the energy to do it again next week (or even next month), in a year’s time (or in several years) I can definitely imagine coming back.


SPECIAL THANKS to Jessica Postiglione for providing most of the photos for this post!


Sardinia – Our Honeymoon

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Christian and I spent one week in Sardinia. Our honeymoon. It was magical! Well, one could say every honeymoon is probably magical but Sardinia surprised us from many different sides. Sardinia has a unique and beautiful landscape that offers a lot to explore and many culinary delicacies influenced by various cultures over the last centuries.

From Vienna we flew into Olbia in the North of Sardinia, picked up our rental car and made our way straight from the airport to our first dinner. Well, actually, it wasn’t quite as straight forward as that. Let me explain. On the flight over, Christian and I made a pact that during our honeymoon we would attempt to be almost entirely offline. No answering emails. No checking Facebook. Turns out that Sardinia made this rather easy since internet across the island was generally somewhere between spotty to non-existent. Anyway, this situation made our rental car pickup more “adventurous” than we would have liked. Because I hadn’t really prepared for being offline (and because there isn’t free internet access at Olbia airport) we realized we didn’t know who we were actually renting the car from! I won’t bore you with details but we finally worked it out, so about 45 minutes behind schedule we finally left Olbia airport on our way to our first dinner in Sardinia.

As on most of our travels, picking the right restaurants (and sometimes even planning whole trips around food) was a top priority for the two of us. Christian had already researched and booked some great restaurants (leaving some nights for exploration as we love unplanned adventures as well). But back to Olbia and the little restaurant called Dolceacqua. This is where we were introduced to our first Sardinian pasta. And yes, we did eat a lot of pasta on our trip – we are in Italy after all! But we discovered new varieties like the “Culurgiones”, a type of ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and herbs (it can also come with a potato and mint filling). It reminded me a lot about the “Kaerntner Nudeln” (Corinthian dumplings) that my grandmother in Southern Austria used to make. Then there is a small round shaped semolina pasta called “Sa Fregula” which tastes almost couscous like, gratitude to the middle Eastern and north African influence of Sardinia over the centuries. As wine lovers we wanted to pair our meal with some red wine, gravitating to Northern Italian grapes given our closer familiarity with that region. The waiter gave us a surprising look – why don’t you order a Sardinian wine? So we went with his recommendation of a regional wine. It tasted great!

Happy about our first Sardinian meal, our next highlight awaited us: our accommodation for the first three nights: the Villa del Golfo Relais & Spa in Cannigione. If you ever need a place for a honeymoon, book the Luxury Suite with sea view and private pool. It was heaven! Christian described it as easily the best hotel he’s ever stayed at. Not only were we welcomed with sparkling wine and fresh fruit in our room (which we immediately enjoyed next to our private pool!) but also two hearts made out of flower pedals on our bed (which I always dreamed of when I was little).

We woke up to stunning scenery, the sunrise over the Costa Smeralda. The region is well known for the beautiful La Maddalena archipelago. The archipelago is a collection of islands that showcases the beauty of Sardinia with its rough sandstone-like landscape and its diverse vegetation in various shades of green (think olive trees meet cactus plants meet eucalyptus and palm trees), rising against the blue turquoise sea and stunning sand beaches.

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The first activity on our list: rent a Vespa! I felt like a real Italian. Although it was probably pretty obvious that we weren’t, driving at half the speed of locals (and sticking to road rules which true locals don’t really do) and stuttering along while getting used to the gears. But we made our way safely to our destination: Porto Cervo, also sometimes called the “Cote d’Azur of Sardinia”. It’s a beautiful little seaside village with an upscale feel. We did see various yachts but unfortunately no celebrity sightings.

For dinner that day we chose to try something traditional Sardinian, an Agriturismo called La Colti outside of Cannigione.  An agriturismo is an active farm that serves a pre-set dinner with farm-raised and produced food and local wine. Most agriturismos also rent out a few rooms (which looked like a special place to stay and will be on our list for future travel plans!). The one dish that is a must try in Sardinia is “Su Porcheddu”, roasted suckling pig. The dinner was delicious. The suckling pig was cooked according to its original preparation method on a spit over an open fire (the perfect crackling!) and served on a bed of myrtle leaves on a cork plate. Myrtle is one of the national herbs here. It appears in the Sardinian cuisine as spice, in sauces, and desserts all the way to the myrtle liquor (which tastes a bit like the French Chartreuse). After the four set courses including antipasti, soup, pasta, suckling pig and dessert, we made our way home, happy and very, very full.

The next day might have been our favorite one of the whole Sardinia experience. A full-day boat trip around the La Maddalena Archipelago. No cloud in the sky and a nice breeze to cool us down, we steered our boat around the archipelago, exploring small beaches and bays. We felt a real sense of freedom. Following the recommendation of the boat rental guy we navigated our little boat to his favorite beach on the Isla Spargi. A great decision. It was simply beautiful with a small sand beach and spectacular turquoise water!


We anchored our boat a little way out from the shore so as to not damage the propellers on the rocks and then swam our picnic over to the beach (funnily enough, despite our best efforts we still managed somehow to ding the propellers and had to pay a small fee to cover it). Swimming over with our belongings was a good workout before enjoying our picnic of prosciutto, cheese, tomatoes, grapes, and the traditional pane sardo or pane carasau (a paper-thin, crisp Sardinian flatbread that is served everywhere) and some white wine.

Back home at 7pm we quickly freshened up with a quick dip in our pool and headed out for dinner to La Gritta in Palau, a place that I’d highly recommend for its stunning views and sunsets over the Archipelago. Again we were pointed to a local Sardinian wine, this time called Rosso Rubio, and might have found a new favorite red. Sardinian wines, we are convinced! New culinary discoveries that night included wild-boar ragout pasta, local lamb and more cheese variations. Cheese seems to find its way into all meals of the day, including the “Seadas” that we tried for dessert. It’s a deep-fried filo pastry filled with pecorino cheese made of sheep’s milk and served with honey. Talking about sheep, did you know that Sardinia has the highest density of sheep in the world? It apparently ranks before the UK and New Zealand!

After three days in the archipelago we drove to the mid-Eastern part of Sardinia, the Nuoro region at the Golfo di Orosei. This area with its high mountain ranges and small canyons and rivers provides an interesting contrast to the somewhat flatter northern and southern parts of the island. We stayed at Hotel Su Gologne close to Dorgali which turned out to be an Alice in Wonderland- type experience, as every hour we spent there we discovered new and wonderful things. The place started out as a restaurant about 40 years ago. Bit by bit, the owners added individual rooms across the property. Therefore, each one of today’s 70 rooms has its unique layout, furniture and decoration. On the topic of the uniqueness of the rooms, we were actually a little disappointed with the first room we were shown. The view was looking into the parking lot and the overall room was quite dark. So I gathered up the courage to ask if they had another room with a better view. I’m glad I did. The next room we got was just fantastic.

Sardinian artists play a major role in Su Gologne’s identity. You can find Sardinian paintings, ceramics, sculptures and woven carpets from famous local artists throughout the property (plus there are lots of hidden terraces and rooftops to relax as we discovered during our stay). It’s like living in an active workshop and museum at the same time. One of our favorite meals there was an artisanal dinner. Two local women were baking fresh focaccia bread with different cheese, meat and vegetable toppings. Very tasty and the whole experience was special.

As for the area itself, Cala Gonone is the main highlight. It’s a small beach town where steep mountain walls meet the blue water of the Golfo. Unfortunately it was a bit windy and overcast the day we visited so we decided against another boat trip (although we would have been excited about exploring the caves only accessible via the ocean). Instead we opted for a kayaking trip along Lago del Centrino all the way to the Sorgente su Cologone (the source of the river and lake), a good 3-hour roundtrip.

After another three nights in Su Gologne we ended our journey with some sightseeing in the capital city of Cagliari. One the way down south we made a brief stop near Oristano to see the little beach town San Giovanni di Sinis at the Golfo di Oristano on the West coast. A very different feel than what we had seen in the other parts of Sardinia – flatter land, less vegetation and a rougher sea (almost like the Atlantic Coast in the South of France).

Once in Cagliari, we checked into our small B&B “The Place Cagliari”, tucked away in one of those typical narrow Italian streets in the middle of town. We used the remainder of the afternoon to see the main sights in the city, mainly the old part of town, the Castello neighborhood, and the surrounding districts. A very charming city.

As a final culinary highlight of our honeymoon we treated ourselves to a 7-course dinner with a wine pairing at Dal Corsaro. Sardinian traditional food meets culinary modern art. A nice touch were the plates, each course came on a unique plate – ranging from cork and ceramic to sandstone-type plates. What a wonderful way to end our journey in Sardinia!

But who could leave Sardinia without one last dip in the blue sea. The next morning we hit the beach at Cala Mosca (right next to Cagliari’s main beach of Poetto). Ready to continue the journey! And off we are to Lisbon where we are meeting our friends to catch a flight to Tomorrowland in Belgium, one of the biggest EDM festivals! Stay tuned for more adventures from Schnitzel and Vegemite!


“These are a few of my favourite things…” (to do in Vienna)

IMG_1173The other day I found myself at a bit of a loose end after Christine had left me home alone in Vienna to go to her Hen’s (bachelorette) weekend. So rather than just mull around the apartment I decided to make a day of it and hit up all of my favorite places in Vienna. Hopefully you’ll find this list useful if you ever find yourself in beautiful Vienna :).

Museum’s Quartier
I can still remember my first impression of the Museum’s Quartier from my first visit to Vienna back in 2009. It was a mid-summer’s Thursday evening, and the space was packed with young people meeting and drinking together, with cool tunes emanating from a small DJ booth in the corner of the square. In many ways, it epitomizes for me what Vienna is as a city: old world art and culture mixed with youth and vibrancy. Admittedly the place was a little quieter on the overcast morning this time I visited, but regardless the MQ definitely makes the list for me for top places to visit in Vienna. Best seen in the evening on summer’s day, you can chill out on one of the many cool public benches that decorate the square, grab a coffee or drink at the ueber cool cafes or bars, or even visit a museum or art gallery if you’re so inclined (it is the Museum’s quartier after all!). Interesting fact: the MQ used to be the stalls for the army’s horses back in the day. If you take a close look, you’ll notice that the buildings in the quartier have horse figures and horses heads embellished all over.

Glacis Beisel

At the back of the Museum’s Quartier you’ll find one of my favorite Beisels in Vienna, Glacis Beisel. A Beisel is essentially a typical Austrian small restaurant. Menu is usually limited to a short list of Austrian favorites (e.g. Wiener Schnitzel). The reason I love Glacis Beisel is because it puts a modern touch on the traditional Beisel, with cool decor (see pic above of some of the street art painted on the entrance to the Beisel). Previously I had only frequented Glacis during winter when you only have the option of indoor  seating, but today I noticed how charming their outdoor patio looks. I’ll have to go back to experience the summer side of Glacis!



Next I headed into the 1st district which is really the heart of Vienna. First stop here was the Hofburg, which was the former winter residency of the emperor until the turn of the twentieth century, and today is the official residence of the President of Austria. In my opinion, the Hofburg is the grandest of all the beautiful buildings in Vienna. It is also home to my favorite museum in Vienna – the Sissi Museum and Kaiser Apartments, where you get to hear about the fascinating (and tragic) story of Austria’s last emperor and emperess.

Stephansdom (St Stephan’s Cathedral)

The tall spire of this iconic Vienna landmark can be seen from many places in the city. I’ve been told that the bell in the tower is the biggest in Europe. Other than that, I don’t know a lot about this place. But suffice to say it’s iconic and worth passing by :).


By now I’d built up a bit of a hunger walking around, so time to stop by Christine’s favorite Viennese sandwich shop, Trzesniewski’s. This place is a bit of an institution in Vienna, established over a 100 years ago. What makes it special is that everything is bite size. Each open-faced sandwich is barely bigger than a bit so you end up getting to taste 3 or 4 different flavours. And the beers (Pfiffs) are tiny too!


Satiated, I then ventured to the Stadtpark on the border of the 1st district. While there are many pretty (or even prettier) parks in Vienna, the reason I like Stadtpark is because of the beautiful golden Strauss statue that you’ll find here. Johann Strauss II was a prolific Austrian composer, particularly known for his waltzes. When Christine and I were choosing a waltz for our wedding first dance, it wasn’t really a question of which waltz, but rather which waltz by Strauss!


Admittedly, Praterstern park is lower on my list of the must see places in Vienna, but it’s worth a mention if only because the big Ferris wheel is an iconic part of the Vienna skyline (even made it onto our wedding invites!). And if you’re a runner, like Christine, you’ll probably enjoy jogging through this park. The park is well loved by children with the many rides on offer, and on the day I was visiting there seemed to be some sort of children’s festival going on.


There was really no better way to end my day than with a trip to Schoenbrunn. I think Schoenbrunn is my favorite place in all of Vienna (note that Schloss Laxenburg, the venue for our wedding, doesn’t count because it is technically outside of Vienna. If it were in Vienna, then this would of course be my favourite place!). Schoenbrunn is one of the old main summer residences of the emperor. In addition to the main palace that greets you at the entrance of the park, Schoenbrunn also has some of the most beautiful gardens and at the backside of the grounds, atop a small hill, lies the Gloriette. Together, these sights make Schoenbrunn one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see. And if that’s not enough reason for coming here, there is also a zoo (Tiergarten) inside the grounds which is the oldest zoo in the world!