Part 3: Koh Rong

After eventually finding our way to “the drop off” which is where the Sok San Beach Resort, where we were staying, we were on a boat ($20 per person, per way) to the island of Koh Rong.

The Sok San Beach Resort is quite a place; super pretty and quite laid back. The beach area has plenty of sun loungers and after that it is a wide stretch of totally empty white sand if you don’t mind to sit on a towel or similar.

The rooms were quite basic. There was air con and a fan and a decently comfortable bed. No tv. There is also free wifi, shower and a toilet, of course. Note that we lived in the “cheapest” standard rooms, which I think was a garden villa. Unfortunately I got a little bit sick day 2, so spent more time than I had hoped for in our tiny room.

Service wise it was pretty much all good. The staff spoke decent English (a few very good) and were all friendly. One weird thing to was that they refused to help us book a table at a restaurant in the nearby village “as they had their own restaurant”. That is a first for me, I mean it’s just weird to try to force guests to eat in your own restaurant by making it harder for them to reserve a table somewhere else. Of course we still went and ate there, and all the hotel got was some “bad will”.

Speaking of the hotel restaurant, there are actually three places where you can eat, or two, depending on how you count. In the lobby and main bar area you eat breakfast, and there two restaurants (or more menus) to choose from; a Western and an Asian.

Breakfast at the Sok San Beach Resort.

Food is on the expensive side, but not terribly. A main is around $10, a beer during happy hour (5-7) was half price meaning $1,25. Rice was usually an extra $2, but included in a few dishes. Food was reasonably good, but nothing spectacular.

Kampot crab rice.

Kuy Teav, rice noodle soup with prawns.

Okra with minced pork and oyster sauce. Probably my favourite dish in the restaurant.

In the nearby Sok San village, which is walkable from the hotel in maybe 5 minutes, you’ll find a couple of small restaurants, bars and shops.

We had dinner at Moon restaurant, situated on the beach, which served up quite delicious Thai and local food for approximately $5 per dish. Rice was included. 🙂

We also had dinner at Italian owned and managed “Eat, Pray, Love” where we had a really good gnocchi with ragĂą sauce, and an okay pizza. Quite expensive(from around $8 for a main), but nice setting in a tilted house, and friendly service. We managed to book through their Facebook page, they did not respond to email.

Part 2: Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

To get us from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in the south, from where the ferries to Koh Rong depart, we had booked tickets with Giant Ibis. I’ve done a bit of reading and they seemed to be the recommended company for bus travel in Cambodia. Although Raffles was just a short walk from their bus station (we did not know this when booking) they came and picked us up in a mini bus for I think $1 extra. The tickets where approximately $25 for the both of us for the entire trip Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville.

Onboard the bus was free wifi (worked so-so), we also got free water and some kind of pastry along the way. The bus wasn’t super clean, but not that bad either. The driving style on the two lane road between the two cities is quite death defying at some points, but the drivers (they had two taking turns) were good and drove well. There was also an English speaking host onboard that could help you get shuttle transport to and then tickets to the Koh Rong ferry.

We arrived Sihanoukville approximately 6,5 hours after departure (we had a ~30 minute lunch break along the way) and were not dropped of at a bus station which we had thought, but pretty much just roadside. We had emailed our hotel to come and pick us up (which they had confirmed) but no one was there, so we took an expensive tuk-tuk (waiting where the bus stop was) to where our hotel boat would leave.

Good to know is that Grab does not work in Sihanoukville as of writing (February 2020).

Part 1: Phnom Penh

The first four days of our trip was spent in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The three days after arrival we stayed at the semi-swanky but quite affordable Plantation Hotel. Their breakfast by the pool was really nice, and in general it was the pool area that made the hotel great. Rooms were only so-so.

In quite close proximity to The Plantation was both the Royal Palace (which require an entrance fee), the river, as well as Romdeng restaurant.

At Romdeng restaurant, which is run by Tree Alliance, an organisation that emply and train former street children and other marginalized young people in the hospitality industry, you can have Cambodian classics such as fish Amok, tarantula (yes the spider), or beef with red tree ants. Food is pretty good – a little bit pricey, but not terribly – and you’re contributing to a good cause.

In Phnom Penh we also took a food tour with Lost Plate that was pretty cool. Food and “unlimited beer” (or soft drinks) was included and they took you around town in tuk-tuks in which you were constantly handed new beers. It’s not a party tour per se, but there’s quite a bit of (voluntary) drinking involved. Food was not that spectacular, but the first stop where we tried Num Ban Chouk in a streetside restaurant was really nice. It was a fun tour but my hopes for the food part was a little bit higher.

Cambodian ‘bird nest’ prawns.

The last night in PP we splurged a bit and stayed for a night at Raffles Le Royal. It was a beautiful hotel, but we actually enjoyed the Plantation better, especially since it was a third of the price.

What was really nice though was the Elephant Bar were you could enjoy a Tamarind Sour, or a Femme Fatale, the latter crafted for Jaqueline Onassis, former Kennedy, during a visit in the 1960s. Both cocktails were great and they have a happy hour stretching until quite late which means half price cocktails.

Next stop: Koh Rong!

Christmas dinner at Operaterrassen with Julbordsmäklarna

This is a paid article in collaboration with Julbordsmäklarna.

I recently visited Operaterrassen, a sort of fancier julbord– julbord being Swedish for a Christmas buffet – the literal translation being ‘Christmas table’, that you eat during the Christmas period, which roughly stretches from the 1st of December until Christmas Eve on the 24th.

Booking Operaterrassen using Julbordsmäklarna.se
I found and booked my table at Operaterrassen with Julbordsmäklarna, an easy and convenient online service that allows you to browse through and find your prefered pick among around 300 different julbord around Stockholm – and also nationwide in Sweden from 2020. Also, Julbordsmäklarna does not add any extra charge on top of the regular price.

Operaterrassen
Operaterrassen (or the Opera terrace) is located in the Stockholm Opera, built in 1773. It is pretty much in the very heart of Stockholm, and being up two stairs from street level, feature stunning views over Blasieholmen and the Grand Hotel, Stockholm’s old town and the surrounding water.

Vegetarian options
While Operaterrassens julbord is heavy on meat and seafood, there are a few vegetarian options. This is probably not your first pick for a julbord as a vegetarian and even less so if you’re a vegan. There are a couple of different salads, cheeses, breads, omelettes, cabbage and sauces, and of course the desserts, that lack meat or fish (to my knowledge).

Old school but very friendly service
We had our personal waiter, an older gentleman that possibly was the genuinely nicest waiter I’ve ever run into. Super relaxed and friendly in a very much non-posh way – as you may fear a little in places like Operaterrassen that has been around for a long time.

Seven rounds of Swedish Christmas food
Our waiter suggested that to fully appreciate the dinner experience, he recommended that we took “seven turns”. I’ve never done that, but hey, when in a super old restaurant – stick to tradition!

Round one: herring and condiments

Herrings; fish roe (much tastier than it might sound) with sour cream and finely chopped red onion; prawns in mayonnaise, and a carraway crispbread I rebeliously nabbed from the cheese table (that’s round 5!).

Round two: Mixed seafood

Two kinds of salmon: gravlax and smoked salmon. The gravlax was amazing and came with a very nice hovmästarsås, a mustardy sauce we put on salmon in Sweden. There were also eggs with shrimps and a bunch of pretty little potatoes that were separately brought to the table.

Round three: coldcut meats and condiments

Waldorf salad; smoked reindeer; pork roll; Christmas ham with coarse mustard; pickled veggies; kale & orange salad, and beetroot salad. There was plenty more in the buffet, but this was what I tried.

Round four: warm items

Prince (pork) sausage; meatballs; Jansson’s temptation with potatoes, cream & anchovies; mushroom and kale omelette (so good!); red cabbage, and finally pork ribs with the best ever apple sauce. Super traditional flavours, but really well made and delicious.

Round five: Cheese

I’m sorry dear reader, but I failed both our friendly waiter, myself and possibly you at this point: I did not really have room for cheese. The cheese table looked good though, although quite small.

Round six: Dessert

This was the highlight of the evening. It wasn’t hugely assorted, but everything I tried was really good. The ostkaka, Swedish baked cheesecake was great with cloudberry jam and whipped cream. The ris á la malta, a creamy cold rice dessert was super smooth and surprisingly light. The cake, a quite clever version of Swedish Princess cake with the usual plain cream replaced with licquorice cream, and more traditional raspberries. Nice combo, and I’m not really that keen on licquorice usually.

Round seven: Christmas candy

Since I did not take any good shot of the finishing Christmas candy, I’ll leave you with this menu from Operakällaren downstairs from 1898. I can report, however, that the candy was very nice. I had marmalade candy, ‘mint kisses’, knäck (chewy, nutty toffee), chocolates and even a candy cane. Then I couldn’t fit anymore food in, and had to give up.

I really liked my visit to Operaterrassen and would happily go back. If you’d like to read more about julbord in Stockholm – have a look at Julbordsmäklarna’s list below of Stockholm’s top 20 julbord.

Merry Christmas!

More:

Julbordsmäklarnas top 20 Stockholm julbord (In English)

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Stockholm to Italy and Malta by train, in summary


This Summer I wanted to try something new, and since my passion for train travel has grown in the last couple of years, I wanted to try to go further than before. We were pretty much decided for Italy, but since we wanted to go somewhere new as well, we were considering what to add to make it a little bit more exciting. After some research I realized that Malta was doable with ferry from Sicily, and since it was such a short ferry, it was basically almost possible to go all the way to Malta by train.

I’ve written more extensively about each part, but in this post I will summarize the trip with prices and how I booked the tickets.

Click on the link to each longer trip segment or just scroll down if you want to read more about the different experiences.

Part 1: Stockholm-Copenhagen
Train: SJ X2000
Booked through: Sj.se
Price: €30 per person
Class: 2nd class

Part 2: Copenhagen-Berlin
Train(s): Togbussen train replacement bus from Copenhagen main railway station (Københavns Hovedbanegård) to Rødby; train ferry from Rødby to Puttgarden in Germany, train from Puttgarden to Hamburg; German I.C.E. from Hamburg Hauptbanhof to Berlin Hauptbanhof.
Booked through: Deutsche Bahns English website
Price: €120 per person
Class: 1st class

Part 3: Berlin-ZĂĽrich
Train: Ă–BB Austrian Nightjet in a deluxe sleeper (including private bathroom and shower).
Booked through: Ă–BB Austria’s English website
Price: €299 for entire compartment
Class: technically 2nd class, although no 1st class on train.

Part 4: ZĂĽrich-Como San Giovanni (Lake Como)
Train: SBB Swiss Rail’s high speed train
Booked through: Trenitalia.com

Price: €20 per person
Class: 2nd class

Part 5: Como San Giovanni-Salerno (via Milan)
Trains: SBB from Como San Giovanni to Milano Centrale; Italo from Milano Centrale to Salerno.
Booked trough: Trenitalia.com (Como-Milano) and Italotreno.it (Milan-Salerno)
Price: €99 per person
Class: Club (also known as Club Executive)

Part 6: Salerno-Catania (Sicily)
Train: Trenitalia Intercity
Booked through: Trenitalia.com
Price: €30 per person
Class: First class (also known as 1 classe)

Part 7: Catania-Pozzalo-Valletta (Malta)
Train(s): Well  sorry, but this was by bus from Catania to Pozzallo and then ferry from Pozzallo to Valletta.
Booked through: Virtuferries.com
Price: €101 per person
Class: Club Class (first class)

Stockholm-Malta by train part 7: Sicily (Catania) to Malta

After pretty much exactly 24 hour hours in the Sicilian city of Catania, it was time to hit the road again. This was the last major part of the trip, and while the headline says train, this final leg of the Stockholm-Malta by train trip was actually done by bus and ferry.

We checked out from our hotel in Catania and walked down to the harbour, which took about 20 or so minutes. We errounously entered from a side street and spent some time trying to find the Virtu Ferries office in the Complesso Vecchia Dogana complex, where you check in for the bus that takes you to Pozzallo Port from where the actual ferry leaves. We asked in another ferry company’s office and they pointed us in the right direction. Our mistake was that we did not enter the building from the main entrance, but instead followed Google Maps directions to the Vecchia Dogana building, it looked much easier to enter from the main entrace, we realised too late. 🙂

Bus from Catania to Pozzallo
Check in time was 1 hour before the bus’ departure and was quite easy. We showed our passports and a print out of our booking confirmation to the staff members in the tiny Virtu Ferries office. They handed us boarding cards and told us that the bus would arrive 1 hour before departure and that we could leave our bags at that time and then could board the bus 30 minutes before departure. The bus left from just outside the building and arrived promptly one hour before departure. The driver just left though, probably to take a break or similar, so no leaving bags in the bus. He returned with one of the check in girls who seemed to tell him off 30 minutes before departure, and we finally got in our seats. The bus ride went smoothly, and we arrived Pozzallo about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

 

Pozzallo, Sicily to Valletta, Malta in Virtu Ferries Club Class
After jumping off the bus, we took our bags and just followed signs and after a short walk reached a security check. We had paid extra for Club Class, which entitled us to priority boarding. We were first in line, and were let on immediately after clearing security. Club Class means that you have access to the onboard lounge with its own bar/cafe up a set of stairs. The boat which we were on, The Saint John Paul II, felt super new and modern, and both the common areas as well as the Club Class lounge looked great. There were nice leather lounge chairs and plenty of seating. Flat screen tvs showed information and destination information. Upon arriving we were also handed a complimentary glass of orange juice, and there were small nibbles such as olives, chips and nuts that you could have for free.

We had not have any dinner so we bought some food and drinks, note that credit card only works as long as internet signal works (which is not that long). We had a quite small amount of cash, and we barely could pay for a second round of drinks an hour or so into the trip.

We had a pizza, which came fresh from a bakery it seemed, it looked quite nice, and was sold per slice. I can’t remember exact price, but it was probably around €4-5, wine was priced similarly. It wasn’t many people that took the evening ferry, so it was a lot of space in the club lounge. The lounge also has its own sun deck which probably is really nice during the day time crossings. We also took a walk on the 2nd class deck and had a look into the shop which had a small “duty free” kind of assortment of snacks, sun glasses and I think there was wine as well.

Just 1 hour and 35 minutes after leaving Sicily we got reception back on our phones and shortly we entered Valletta’s harbour. The city is beautiful and it was especially cool arriving at night. I have arrived Malta once before with a cruise ship during daytime which also is a fantastic experience.

We had priority departure and was off the ship a few minutes after arriving. We had booked a transfer through our hotel in Valletta, and those who had prior arrangements could leave straight to the pick up zone, without even entering the ferry terminal. Super convenient.

All in all I was surprised how smooth everything worked out, and especially the state of the ferry. It was really comfortable for the 1,45 hour trip, and the extra €20 or so felt definitely worth the perks priority boarding and disembarkation; and the relaxing lounge area onboard.

Stockholm-Malta by train part 6: Salerno to Sicily (Catania)


After spending three days in fantastic (but super expensive) Positano, we were back in Salerno for a last night at the Hotel Plaza. After breakfast we went to a nearby sandwich shop to stock up on some provisions for our next leg on our way to Malta; Salerno-Catania on a Trenitalia intercity train.

Salerno-Catania in Trenitalia Intercity First Class
As the grafitti covered train rolled into Salerno Centrale station we realized that we might not be as happy with this trip as our latest onboard the amazing Italo. We had paid roughly €30 per person for “1 classe” which was about the double from 2nd class, but still a worthwile upgrade for the nearly 7 hour ride. The carriage felt quite modern, and there were electrical sockets so we could charge your phones which is always appreciated.

Unfortunately we sat on the wrong side of the train, going backwards, and in a seat where we were facing our co-passengers. Great if you want to chat with other people for a while, but not fantastic if you want privacy and to mainly relax for a 7 hour trip. To add to this the grumpy guy that sat on the “right” side of the train shut his window blind meaning all the pretty sea views were gone. The lady that sat facing us tried to convince him to open it up, but no success unfortunately. After about three hours with constant stops (meaning the air con was turned off) we arrived Villa San Giovanni from where we was to take our second train ferry of the trip, the one crossing the Messina straight over to the city of Messina and thus Sicily.

The ferry ride was a quite nice break from the train, and we went up on the deck to get some air and eat our sandwiches we bought in the morning. I did not check the ferry interior, so not sure if there are any restaurant or similar onboard (there isn’t any on the train). We were free to stay in the train, and some of the other passengers did. The views from the ferry is quite nice though, so in my mind it is definitely worth it to get up on deck. We left our bags while away, but as mentioned the train is open (unlocked) if you have valuables with you.

A few minutes before arrival in Messina we were told via loudspeakers to head back to the train, and shortly after we rolled off the ship and into Messina Centrale. Here we had to stop for about 30 minutes for an unknown reason, and many in our carriage got off getting some air. Since we did not understand the announcement that was made in Italian (and too lazy to ask someone) we remained onboard. After 30 minutes we took off again, only to stop every 10 or so minutes for about the same time. This time though, we sat on the right side of the train and could view the beautiful Sicilian coastline while slowly progressing. A word of warning here, the train stops shortly at the smaller stations, and a couple of older tourists missed their stop, just because they were too slow disembarking. So they had to go to the next station and get off there instead, which probably was a good 20 minutes later. Eventually and finally we reached Catania, where we stayed at Hotel Villa Romeo, which as most of the other places we stayed was basically next to the railway station.

This was probably my least favorite train of the trip, but if we’d have had our own seat pair I think it would’ve been an entirely different story. The carriage was quite nice and modern, but it got super hot since the regular stops meant that the air con was off and did not fully cool the train until it was time to stop again. But this might have been extraordinary and not something that always happens.

Ristorante I Moschettieri
We arrived quite late and through Google Maps we found a restaurant next door that had good reviews and decided to head there. While not maybe a 4,6 as the current rating states, we were quite happy with the food and the price. The food was rustic and tasty, and we had Sicilian starters, a huge plate of spaghetti alla norma (eggplant tomato sauce) covered in ricotta salata, and a mixed grill platter with sweet Sicilian onion & tomato salad. All this was washed down with house wine, and I believe the total bill was around €40. Staff spoke good English and were very friendly. A classic cozy family restaurant, that felt super Italian.

Stockholm-Malta by train part 5: Como-Salerno


After two days of pasta eating it was time to put on our backpacks and get on the road again. First step was to jump back on the SBB train we arrived with two days earlier to take it to its end station, Milano Centrale. We only had  40 minutes in Milan where we were to jump on a train that was on another ticket, meaning if we missed it we probably had to buy new tickets. Since that train was next most expensive (after the Nightjet) we were a little anxious. To stress us a little, the SBB train both arrived late and then made several stops during the 45 minute ride. Fortunately we still had 20 minutes when we arrived and found our new train quite easily. A lot of other passengers seemed to have missed their connections though.

Milano-Salerno in Italo Executive Club
The Italo has been called the Ferrari of trains, which I guess is due to its futuristic, sleek design, and for being red. We had splurged and booked the Executive Club class, which out of the four classes onboard is the “highest” for the almost six hour ride to Salerno. Since the price was about €60 in economy, and only €40 more for executive, totaling at around €100 per person, we decided it would be worth it since it was a quite long leg.

Having an italo Executive Club ticket we were entitled to use the lounge in Milan, but since we were late and noticed there was an airport style security check to get back in to the train departure area from where the lounge was we decided to skip it.

A few minutes before departure the screens announced our train was arriving, and in the distance we could see the red arrow arriving. We showed our tickets to the friendly train attendant and entered the carriage. Wow is all I can say; sleek comfortable leather seats, lots of space, personal tv-screens, free wifi, a screen showing speed (max 300 kmph during our trip) and the next station. Fortunately we got a private seat pair (we could not choose when booking on Italo’s website). In some of the other seats you had to face your fellow passengers, and those looked a little bit more cramped.

Before getting onboard we had not really understood whether or not food and drinks was included. But shortly after departing service started and we were offered a free espresso. Service then continued with complimentary alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, snacks (chips, nuts, cookies and so on you could choose from a box). After every second station or so they made a new “service round” and we probably had four minis of Prosecco each as well as sparkling water and soft drinks. About half way into the trip we had a small meal which consisted of a ham and cheese pastry as well as a sweet pastry that seemingly came straight from the bakery. Very nice.

After six hours of pure delight; a mix of the free prosecco, the super comfy seats and the great views, we arrived Salerno on the Amalfi coast. Absolutely one of the best train journeys I’ve experienced and probably somewhere in between premium economy and business class on a long haul plane. If you’re very hungry, there was some kind of onboard vending machine which I think had sandwiches, but we did not check it out. Next time I’d bring a deli sandwich or something like that to fill up on.

Where to eat in Salerno
We stayed super close to the train station at the Hotel Plaza (you see it when exiting the station). The hotel was nice, clean and while not luxurious, quite good (extra marks for good breakfast with free cappuccinos). It is both very close to the train station in Salerno as well as close to where the ferries to Positano and Amalfi depart (where we were going next). So we stayed for two nights, in total one night before going to Positano, and one night before leaving again.

Since Salerno is very close to Naples, we felt that pizza was mandatory, and we had pizza both of our stays there.

Pizzeria Sorbillo
Great pizzeria very close to Hotel Plaza. Only indoors seating, but reeeally nice pizzas, and good wine and beer. They had an English menu and the staff spoke English too. Pizza and a beer where somewhere around €10, so quite affordable. And the pizza was probably on my top five ever.

Pizzaportafoglio & Fessarie
Our second stay in Salerno, we ventured a bit further, about 1 kilometer from Hotel Plaza (just follow the busy street towards old town). The pizzas here were also amazing and also on the top five of my life. For two pizzas and two Cokes (we had a 24 hour alcohol detox after totally screwing our livers for three days in Positano) we paid €18, which sadly, or maybe hilariously, I don’t really know which, was what we paid for a shared mozzarella salad the night before in Positano a 1 hour ferry ride away.

Stockholm-Malta by train part 4: ZĂĽrich-Como

After arriving ZĂĽrich by the Nightjet train we left the Zurich HBF for a quick walk around town. I’ve been to Zurich before and because of that we kind of knew our way around. Since it was Sunday and early, not that many shops were open, and not that many people were out either. But the town is pretty and we had no problem killing a few hours walking around checking buildings, views and the few shops that were open. At the station however most venues were open.

ZĂĽrich-Como San Giovanni
This time it was time for second class, and we had paid approximately 30 euros each for our seats for the three hour journey from Switzerland to Italy. The tickets were booked through the Trenitalia website, but were carried out by Swiss train operator SBB. The train looked very modern and sleek, and the interior was pretty modern and nice too. We had a seat pair in the end of the carriage, and space was decent and there were electrical sockets we could use to charge our phones.

The trip itself went quickly, we had a loud but happy group of tourists onboard the train, and when they finally got off, the trip was very relaxing. The cool thing with the trip is that although quite short, you very much notice how the landscape changes from a Northern Europe landscape to the more Southern warm kind of climate as you get closer to Italy. Some of the views over Lake Lugano from the train was spectacular, and you see everything from snowy mountains, small alp cottages and turqouise lakes.

When we neared the border to Italy, the train staff announced that police would enter the train and that we should have our documents ready. No police came onboard though, not in our carriage anyway, and a few minutes later we were in Italy and our station, Como San Giovanni, a few hundred meters from Lake Como, where we were to make our first proper stop of the trip.

Two days in Como
Situated next to the super scenic Lago di Como, Como is a quite luxurious little town. Prices weren’t that horrible though (at least not compared to Positano where we were going next), and we ate very well there, possibly the best during the trip. We also took the funicular up to a surrounding mountain and then walked up to the Faro di Voltiano lighthouse where you could walk up a semi-claustrophobic staircase to a crazy (and vertigo bringing) view of the area.

Our favourites in Como


Ristorante Rino

A Tuscan restaurant that focuses on truffle and steak. We had no reservation, so we went when they opened at 7 pm to see if they had a table. they had one at 9 pm, so we went to nearby Posta Bistrot and had a few drinks were each round gave us a free platter of charcuterie and other small nibbles.

Rino itself was great and we had a divine truffle taglioni as well as a super tasty platter of steak with shaved fennel salad.

Locanda Barbarossa
Another great place. Prices were very affordable and we had a caprese mozzarella salad, spaghetti vongole and a pizza which were all amazingly good.

Gelateria Al Bottegone
Super tasty gelato ice cream and friendly staff in the middle of Como.