5 days in Amazing Palau

A Month ago we got back from a trip to Asia, that included a visit to the aaaamazing country of Palau.

Palau is located in the Western Pacific, a couple of hours flight time from The Philippines, South Korea or Taiwan, for instance.

We flew there with China Airlines from Taipei in a small Boeing 737-800, and left in a slightly larger Asiana Airlines A321 bound for Seoul.

We had read about having to pay both arrival tax and departure tax in cash, but did not pay any of them, possibly due to them being charged to airline tickets from the beginning of 2018 as we read somewhere as being planned.

We stayed our three first nights at the islands most famoust hotel, Palau Pacific Resort. While the hotel was way too expensive for what they offer, it was still really nice – and i comes with a huge bonus: its own beach, as can be seen from above. Our room was large and comfy, but dark and felt a little old.

Our first days we did not do much actually, we mainly lazed on the beach, did a little bit of snorkeling and read books.

The food at PPR, as it is locally refered to, was nice and of a relatively high standard. I like a club sandwich every now and then when I travel, and above had at PPR’s beach bar was really nice and came with a view over a passing cyclone out at sea, and a cold local Red Rooster beer.

Breakfast at the PPR was expensive ($25++) but nice.

Elilai Restaurant

A nice feature with many restaurants in and around Koror is that they offer complimentary transport if you eat at their restaurant. We used this with fancy restaurant Elilai, situated a few kilometers from The PPR. We sampled quite a few of their dishes, and whilst like much in Palau quite expensive (~$120 for two with wine) – it was also very tasty and came with a great view from Elilai’s hilltop location.

Mangrove clam risotto was delicious.

Taro leaf and mangrove crab sampler soups.

Fresh crusted tuna with wasabi.

Local crab cake, best crab cake I’ve ever had.

Koror

After a few days of desert island luxury at the PPR, we downgraded and moved to a location more in line with our usual budget.

As we were to spend a whole day exploring the famous Palauan Rock Islands, we felt paying $400 a night was a little steep, and hence the Cove Resort was our new home for the final two nights.

The Cove is located close to a few of the main diving and excursion companies; for instance Sam’s and Neco Marine (we used the latter), and hence you can just walk over there if you have a tour coming up instead of needed to rely on car transfers. There is also a supermarket with decent prices and a decent selection nearby, same goes for a couple of bars and restaurants.

The Hungry Marlin at Cove Resort Palau

The first night we were lazy and ate at our hotel restaurant; The Hungry Marlin.

They have happy hour between (I think) 5 and 7 pm, with an American-ish bar menu and a good selection of drinks. We had their fish tacos, which (a little bit surprisingly to be honest) were the best I’ve had. Their Japanese fried chicken – kaarage – was also delicious. This was washed down with Hawaiian Kona beer, happy hour-priced at $4 a bottle. Not bad at all! After this it was bed time, since we had a big day coming up.

Rock Island Tour with Neco Marine

Palau is occasionally called the ‘underwater Serengeti’ due to its rich marine life. The country also works hard with conservation and to counter pollution and other things affecting the sensitive eco systems both below and above the surface. When you arrive at the airport, they stamp a “Palau pledge” in your passport that you need to sign to acknowledge that you will do your best to help keep Palau what it is.

Neither of us is a diver, and we usually do not even snorkel. But being the marine sanctuary that Palau is, we had to do some underwater stuff.

Our trip was a combo though, we paddled through the Rock Islands in kayaks, as well as explored them under the surface in three different locations where we snorkeled with our guide.

Delicious bento box lunch on the beach of a small island.

Rock Island scenery. The weather was quite bad in the beginning of the tour, but shaped up nicely towards the end. It really was an amazing day.

The famous Jellyfish Lake was open again, after being closed after being devastated by a cyclone in I think 2016. The tour company could not guarantee any jellyfish though, as they to a large extent sadly dissappeared after said cyclone. As there was a $50 per person extra permit just to visit the lake, we decided to skip it from our tour.

We paid ~$200 per person for the tour, with $50 being a Rock Island Permit that all visitors to the area need to pay.

Drop off Bar & Grill

Being our last day in Palau, and with our flight leaving for Seoul at 5 a.m. (😩), we just had a few hours after the tour concluded at around 4 p.m. before it was bed-time.

The Tour Company that we used, Neco Marine, have a restaurant and bar, aptly named Drop off Bar & Grill. We had read some good things about the place, so we decided to have our final meal of the trip there.

Another “my best ever” was this spicy freshly-caught tuna poke bowl. Chunks of tuna; spicy sesame-y mayonnaise; scallions; sliced nori, and rice. Washed down with a delicious Kona beer while watching the sun go down over Palau a final time. Not. Too. Bad. Except for the fact that we were to board a plane a few hours later, that is.

Our trip to Palau was one of the best I have ever done, and I really hope that we will return one day.

Taking the Arctic Circle Train to see the Northern lights in Abisko, Sweden

(Sorry about the blurry picture, Northern lights were much harder to photograph than I had anticipated. But what an experience!)

Anyways, last weekend we took the SJ Nattåg 94, also known as the Arctic Circle Train, from Stockholm’s Central Station to Abisko in the far north of Sweden to hopefully see some Northern lights (or Aurora Borealis).

We had booked a private 2nd class compartment onboard the train for the 17 hour trip from Stockholm to Abisko turiststation, a mountain station hotel located pretty much in the Lapland wilderness – that has its own train station. Very convenient.

The compartment onboard the train was quite tiny and a bit worn, but sufficient, private (key card access doors), clean and once settled in actually quite cozy.

While the compartment is small in length, you have a fair bit of height to use as can be seen on the top bunk shot above. The standard setting is three passengers per cabin/compartment, but for roughly 400 SEK (~50 usd) you can pay for the compartment to be totally private, which we did.

Since they do not have a restaurant onboard, we opted to buy our own stuff to eat onboard. They do have a bistro carriage though with sandwiches, beer, wine, snacks and so on however.

But we instead went to Urban Deli, a fancy Stockholm supermarket/deli/bar/restaurant and bought take-away stuff from there. Particularly compartment-made sourdough baguette canapées with Urban Deli’s Skagen shrimp salad was deeelicious. We also had steak tartare, truffle chips, charcuterie and cheese, to be on the safe side. And we might, or might not have brought a bottle of wine onboard.

STF Abisko Turiststation mountain station

Our main reason to visit Abisko was to see Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. According to my research and themselves, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to watch it. We checked into one of the hotel rooms in Abisko turiststation (they have dorm style accomodation too) which was small, clean and quite nice. There was no TV, but the wifi worked relatively well if you by some reason get tired of watching mountains.

Public spaces are very nice, with for instance several fire places where you can relax after hiking/walking around the stunning surroundings. They also have a small convenience store and the lobby sell beer and wine. Views are great and everywhere.

Restaurang Kungsleden

We also had a delicious dinner at the famous on premise-restaurant Restaurang Kungsleden that has been awarded by Swedish food guide The White Guide. I won’t dive into details but we had their 440 sek three course dinner: Västerbottens cheese pie, wild boar steak with root veggies and juniper gravy as well as soft gingerbread cake with vanilla ice cream and blueberries. Menu changes each night. The food was nice, not spectacular, but given the location definitely above average. Also good wines and friendly service.

We also had breakfast in the same place which was included in our visit and very good quality. Home baked breads, butter, cheese, salami, vegetables, local stuff like cloudberry butter milk, eggs, bacon and stuff like that. Not a huge assortment, but well made.

Aurora Sky Station (we thought)

As mentioned, our plan was to spot Northern lights. To be extra sure since we only stayed for one night, we booked the Aurora Sky Station mountain top viewing point which at 700 sek a head is indeed pricey. We knew it was a calculated risk as it may close due to unforeseen events, but their website stated it was open 90% of all nights. Unfortunately we were there on a 10% night and the station was closed due to winds. Instead of a refund they made a “plan B-programme” with a guide taking us on a short walk, then giving us a 1980s presentation (the material – the guide was good and tried his best) and finally we sat in a house next to the hotel around a fire and had some coffee and local delicacies. Not remotely close to being worth 1400 sek for two.

However, fortunately, the Northern lights decided to show up and we got a magnificent show of pretty much the entire sky being filled with dancing, moving Northern lights for a good hour (best pic at the start of this post). So all ended well.

Arctic Circle Train Abisko-Narvik (in Norway)

24 hours after getting off the Arctic Circle Train, we jumped back on for the last leg, from Abisko to the Norwegian city of Narvik. The reason for taking the final hours of this trip was that it was supposed to be one of the prettiest train trips in the world, and that we cheated and flew home from Narvik as we had to work the next day.

The train trip was really spectacular, especially after crossing the border to Norway, with views over fiords, snow-clad mountains, tiny villages with red and white cottages and snowy valleys. After about two hours ride from Abisko, we arrived Narvik, where the city was pretty much closed down, being Sunday. We strolled around for a bit before catching the Flybussen airport bus for a 1,5 hour trip to Evenäs Airport from where we flew home.

Hadn’t I spent all my annual leave earlier this year, I would’ve liked to stick around for a few more days, possibly to go on some whale watching, another ‘bucket list’ thing I haven’t been able to tick off the list.

Next time!

Singapore Airlines 777-300ER First Class from Copenhagen to Singapore

I recently returned back to the cold after a fantastic trip to Asia which started off with a trip with Singapore Airlines in First Class, thanks to burning a couple of years worth of Eurobonus points (airline miles).

As a perk for Scandinavian passengers, the usually-with-Eurobonus-points-off-limits First Class cabin is since a while back now available to book on the Copenhagen-Singapore route, giving less rich travellers like myself the opportunity to try among the best of the best in the skies.

After a relatively non-exciting SAS Plus flight from Stockholm, we arrived Copenhagen Airport. We weren’t sure which lounge to use, since we are not gold card holders and Star Alliance has two lounges in Copenhagen; SAS Gold lounge and SAS Business lounge.

SAS Gold Lounge Copenhagen

When we arrived the lounge reception area we showed our first class tickets and were immediately pointed towards the Gold lounge; Yay!

While not incredibly exciting, it had a decent buffet, a good enough selection of alcoholic beverages (but no bubbly), and best of all: a Barista manned coffee bar. While it closed the second we arrived due to staff shortage, our initial dissapointment was turned into the opposite when they opened an hour later, producing a nice latte, even with some latte art vaguely resembling a heart.

But, really, who cares about the lounge when you are about to try Singapore Airlines’ First.

Boarding SQ351

When arriving the gate area of our flight, we saw our names on a screen with a message to approach. Apparently we had to show our visas to China, which we did not have due to planning to use the 144 hour transit visa. After some (very friendly) discussion we were registered and handed new first class boarding passes and asked where we would wait so they could keep an eye on us as we would be boarding the plane First (sorry).

Just a few moments later a man with a first class sign appeared, we discreetely waved and he came and walked us to a check in counter. It was time for the experience to begin!

Upon entering the cabin, a technician was working on my seats reading light, something the staff clearly was displeased with. I did not mind at all, as the guy was just finishing work when we arrived, but it made me wait a whole minute or so before being able to sit down (which I used to take pictures). Nevertheless, the staff apologized immensily on several occassions and after a while they told me they’d decided to hand me a couple of hundred SGD worth of inflight shopping vouchers as compensation. While I was already totlly happy with the free-flowing Dom Perignon and Krug champagne, this was quite impressive in terms of service and their ambition to create a perfect experience.

Food and drink onboard

Shortly after take-off the meal service (lunch) started. Unfortunately Singapore Airlines’ book the cook service is unavailable on the Copenhagen-Singapore route, but a few days before leaving we could log in and see what meals that were available on our particular flight.

To drink there was plenty of good stuff, while mainly focusing on Krug and Dom Perignon champagne, we tried some of the onboard red and whites as well as whiskey (Blue Label and something Scottish).

The food was given our location extraordinarily delicious even though it was of course in the end still airplane food.

First up was chilled Malossol caviar with Melba toast and condiments (chives, lemon, egg, raw onion).

It was either caviar or lobster for starter. I asked to have both, but they were short on supply. Luckily I traveled with my partner so I convinced her to take the lobster salad so that we could try both. The caviar won.

“Care for some more Dom Perignon, sir?” –– Well, if you insist!

Main course: sirloin Rossini with decently tasty steak, fried foie gras, marsala wine sauce, Pommes Anna (potato cake), spinach and mesclun salad. Decadent and tasty, but a notch under “wow”.

Cheese board.

Some kind of delicious ice cream cake finished of the meal. At this point I was beyond full.

The seat and First Class cabin

The First Class cabin onboard Singapore Airlines’ 777-300ER is quite tiny, since it only consists of one row of seats, meaning there are only, maximum, four first class passengers onboard.

While very roomy and comfortable, especially in terms of width, it is not a ‘suite’ per se, with for instance an actual “door” you can slide shut, as some airlines offer.

But you wont suffer, the seats were as mentioned very comfortable for pur 12 hour flight. We actually managed to share one seat, sitting next to each other watching a movie, eating chips and drinking champagne. Incredibly nice. Especially since we usually fly economy, and all too well know the pain of sleeping leaned against, at best, a window, that 200 or so less fortunate passengers were doing at that same time.

When it was time to sleep, our seats were turned into comfy beds with matresses and duvets, and I got a short 3 hour sleep before it was time for breakfast. That breakfast by the way wasn’t too exciting, on the other hand probably due to me being way too tired.

Next time I’ll try to throw in some more sleep, but it’s very hard when you literally are up in the clouds with fantastic service, comfort, drinks and food.

Conclusion

I’m definitely no premium cabin flyer, even if I try to when possible. If I pay myself (this trip we used miles) I almost always fly economy class. So I guess what I am trying to say is that I really appreciate how good and special an experience this was.

Having said that, I’ve before tried Asiana First Class as well as Thai Airways’ First Class, and while both have slightly “better” seats than Singapore Airlines’ 777-300ER First, I still think that my trip with Singapore has been the best so far. The attention to detail, the amazing service from the friendly crew, the wines, the food made this an extraordinary experience I will definitely forget – and hope to sometime experience again.

36 hours of food in Athens, Greece

Before leaving for Santorini, when visiting Greece recently, we spent 36 hours in the Greek capital Athens. We mostly walked, drank beer and ate bread and meat based food, which is one of the best ways to spend time according to me.

Pork gyros at Bairaktaris. Very tasty and about €3 at a sit down restaurant.

All the spread at Bairaktaris. So good.

Athens street art.

A pita bread wrapped bifteki as well as chicken souvlaki with chips and tzatziki at O Thanasis.

Views from the Blue Star Delos which we caught from Athens to Santorini for a pleasant 7-hour trip.

7 really nice restaurants to eat at while in Santorini (and one GREAT bar)

Visited the amazingly pretty Greek island of Santorini a couple of weeks ago. While I’ve had plenty of Greek food in Sweden, there’s nothing like having a proper Greek salad with sun-ripe tomatoes, a juicy grilled souvlaki or a fluffy delicious gyros pita while soaking up the views of the deep blue Med, white chalk stone houses and steep cliffs.

For once, we did not have that much of an agenda on Santorini; the plan was pretty much to laze by the pool, read books, watch the view, and of course, eat a lot of tasty Greek food. Below you can find my favourites (in no particular order).

Argo (Caldera view)

Price for 2: ~ €70

Website

Argo is a sort of fancy restaurant that faces the Caldera in Fira (although the view at some tables is limited. We stopped by our first night without any reservation, but were given a table right away. The food was quite good, especially the tomato keftedes, or fritters made from battered battered local tomatoes. The fava bean dip was nice too with a nice splash of olive oil and warm, fluffy pita breads.

For mains we had a seafood spaghetti and a veal stifado, served with either fries or linguine. We opted for the latter, and hence both had pasta our first night on the island. Sorry Greek food. Oh well, both dishes were good but by no means fantastic. The seafood was well cooked and served in a sweetish “Santorini style” tomato sauce. It was nothing wrong with it, but at €19, I expected to be slightly more wowed. The stifado was quite nice, tender and well-seasoned but could’ve been served with something more inspiring than chips or spaghetti.

All in all though, service was nice, food good and the view nice. But probably stick to the Greekier dishes if you’re a pasta snob like me.

Salt and pepper, Fira (no view)

Salt & Pepper is a nice little restaurant, run by a husband and wife, where the husband works in the kitchen, and the wife service the tables. Service is not very polished, but quite friendly and the food is tasty. I tried their keftedes, Greek meatballs, and they were yum, so was the Greek salad. Save some space for dessert which was complementary.

Price for 2: ~ €45

Website

Lucky’s Souvlaki

Of all the places we visited in Santorini, the downright most tasty food was at Lucky’s Souvlaki, a small, quite unimpressive looking venue on the tourist street close to Fira’s bus station. What they do is souvlaki; meaning kebab-style meat skewers; gyros, which is shaved, döner kebab resembling pork or chicken shaved vertically from a rotating spit, and a few other foods, served fast food style, meaning mainly wrapped in fluffy pita bread, slathered in tzatziki and then washed down with a cold mug of Alfa beer. Or two.

Another great benefit was that it was not only the tastiest, but also the most affordable of all the places we visited during our week. A nice little lunch kit with two gyros (pronounced yeeros), fries and a drink was €9,5.

Website

Anemoloos

Situated a bit of a drive from central Fira, with stunning views of the non-caldera side of the island, Anemoloos served up some of the best dishes we had during our visit to the island. The restaurant served local dishes, meze style, meaning loads of small platters of extremely delicious food that we shared among the table.

Favourites were the Santorini style Greek salad with capers, grilled pork belly and the grilled sausage. Also deep-fried potatoes with shaved butter was (as you can tell) very delicious.

Price: Since we were part of a tour during our visit, prices were never displayed, but I’m guessing prices were affordable.

Website

Parea Taverna

In the touristy part of Fira, but lacking a caldera view. Food is tasty, without being spectacular. We had a very tasty moussaka, and nice, soft and crunchy-from-the-batter calamaris.

Price for 2: €45 with wine.

Website

PK Cocktail Bar

Towards the end of our visit, we found the not-so-hidden gem PK (Palia Kameni) Cocktail Bar. The place offers incredible views, incredible sunsets and incredible cocktails. The prices are relatively expensive, but not crazy expensive. To score a nice seat, you can pre-book spots for a €10 (online) or €20 (walk-in) deposit that is then removed from the bill. Cocktails starts at ~€9 and goes up to ~€20. We tried a couple and they were all great.

Website

Aktaion

Aktaion was probably my favourite restaurant in terms of food in Santorini. Unfortunately we showed up without a reservation and only got an hour to eat (totally our fault), they did their very best to accommodate us.

We had their fresh sea bream with baked vegetables and lime sauce; falling-if-the-bone tender slow-baked lamb shank with roasted mizithra cheese, and Ouzo-spiked mussels.

As mentioned the food was great. For once I felt like also trying a dessert, but no time unfortunately.

More than in any other place we visited in Santorini (except for Anemoolos which was similarly great in quality), you could really feel the love in the food at Aktaion. The quality was a notch up compared to the competition.

Very recommended, but make a reservation in advance. And then walk along the edge back to Fíra (there is a footpath all the way), amazing views.

Price was ~€50 for two with house wine.

Website

To Ouzeri

Our last meal was enjoyed at To Ouzeri, very close to the caldera view, but without the view. Food is wholesome and tasty, but not fantastic. We had a spicy feta dip, warm pita breads, Greek salad and soft meatballs in a slightly spicy cumin-scented tomato sauce.

Price was around €40 for two including wine, starters and two mains.

Website

Quick to make Italian style prawn spaghetti

After the thrilling Sweden-Switzerland game during the FIFA world cup in Russia, we needed some carbs to soak up the beer we’d had while watching.

This is probably a more American-Italian style spaghetti then genuinly Italian. It’s a bit resembling to an “angry” arrabiata sauce though, but without oregano. I also had some parmesan cheese on, which is a no-no when it comes to seafood in Italy.

This was a really nice, and easy to make, seafood or prawn (or shrimp) spaghetti. I made it quite spicy with a load of toasted chilli flakes, but just skip most of them if you want a less spicy version.

We had garlic bread on the side (might also have something to do with the game beers we had), a bit unneccessary but also delicious.

What you need (for 2-3 servings)

12-15 peeled prawns

About 300 grams of fresh good quality tomatoes (or use canned)

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

About 250 grams of spaghetti

Fresh, finely chopped parsley

Dried chilli flakes

Olive oil

1. Chop the fresh tomatoes relatively finely. Use a sharp knife or this will be frustrating.

2. Heat olive oil in a pan. When the oil is quite hot, add the chilli flakes and give them a nice toast for 30 seconds or so. Then add the garlic and fry for a short while until soft, but not burnt. A little bit of colour is okay though.

3. Add the prawns to the oil, cook a shirt while on each side until cooked through but before they get rubbery. This does not take long, so watch them. Remove shrimos from oil and set aside (they will go back into the sauce later).

3. Add the tomatoes to garlic-chilli oil. Let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Add some water if it reduces to quickly.

4. Cook spaghetti until properly al dente (with a bite – slightly undercooked). Save a half deciliter/ quarter cup of cooking drained pasta water.

5. Add the spaghetti and reserved cooking liquid to tomatoes in pan. Combine together for a minute or two on low eat until the sauce and pasta is properly mixed. At the last 20-30 seconds, add prawns and fresh parsley, and toss.

6. Serve immediately! I also used parmesan, because I am a sinner, and it was really good too.

Easy peasy lobster roll recipe

It might be the tastiest food there is; succulent lobster meat, toasted brioche, mayo, a sprinkle of chives. Maybe a couple of crunchy chips. Maybe a glass of pink champagne too?

Well the best part is that while it’s not inexpensive, it is not that much of an effort to throw together if you use store bought mayo, a pre-cooked lobster and ready made brioche. You could of course do it all from scratch. But then again, sometimes it’s okay to take the easier route.

What you need (for two rolls)

One big, or two smaller lobsters

About 2 tablespoons of mayo, make your own or buy a nice one such as Hellmans

2 Brioche buns (I use Swedish brand Garants brioche hotdog buns)

Chopped chives for decoration

How to make the lobster roll

1. Cut the lobster in half lengthwise, remove all shell and hard stuff and save the lobster tail, claws and meat in a bowl.

2. Add mayo to the lobster meat, toss.

3. Heat up a pan and toast the brioche buns until slightly charred on the outside.

4. Fill buns with the lobster mayo mix and top with a sprinkle of chives.

5. Serve with chips, a glass of pink champagne, normal champagne or just a cold beer. Enjoy!

Three days in Baku (with lots of food)

Since I learned about the new Azeri “Asan Visa”, an e-visa, replacing the former tedious process of applying for a visa at an Azerbaijani embassy, I’ve been really keen to go. Who can’t remember the promotions for the country during the 2012 Eurovision in Baku (Yay, Sweden won!); Azerbaijan – Land of Fire; Azerbaijan – Land of Horses, and so on, clearly I needed to go.

Last Winter I scored tickets to Baku during the Swedish public holiday of Kristi himmelsfärd this May, and hence, our visit turned into a short Thursday till Saturday night-affair.

Stockholm-Istanbul-Baku with Turkish Airlines

We flew with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and the entire trip, including a three hour stopover took about 9 hours. I should add that Turkish is surprisingly good with entertainment screens at every seat and free food and drinks. On our return leg from Istanbul to Stockholm we flew in a widebody jet with even better standard and space.

When landed in Baku, we were struck of how nice the airport was. Clean, modern and with fast free wifi. The line to immigration wasn’t as great though and took about 40 minutes. I visited neighbouring Armenia last year, so they asked me about the stamp and where in Armenia I’d been before letting me in.

We had a pre-booked airport pick-up by our hotel, the surprisingly excellent Holiday Inn Baku. Since we landed at 5 in the morning, it was very nice to just jump into a pre-arranged car and be on our way, despite triple the price of an Uber which we later realised (it was still only about €20 though).

Arriving our hotel, our room wasn’t ready despite a confirmed early check in. To compensate, they offered us free breakfast, and of we went to our first taste of the Azeri cuisine.

Azeri (and international) breakfast at Holiday Inn Baku’s Marina restaurant

I’d read beforehand about Azeri breakfasts and was keen to try flatbreads with local Motar cheese and honey. Fortunately all were available so together with some other stuff like tasty vegetables, made-to-order omelettes and hummus we got to tick them off the list accompanied with a cup of tea before we went to pass out.

Turkish breakfast at The House Cafe Baku

The House Cafe Baku is located in the swanky Port Baku Mall, just across from our hotel, the Holiday Inn Baku. It might not be the most genuine of restaurants or breakfast places; but oh my good was this place good. We ordered a “big breakfast platter” that in reality meant that they covered our entire table with little platters and bowls of delicious stuff. There were feta cheese pastries, honey, local cheese, fresh veggies, bread, toast, clotted cream, nutella, olives, fried eggs, fried halloumi; coming to think of it – much like an ‘oriental’ afternoon tea. Oh yes, tea was included too, in fact two glasses each, encouraging watching the view and other people during a prolonged breakfast. Loved the place.

Firuze restaurant, Fountain Square Baku

Close to Baku’s beautiful old town is the Fountain Square, surrounded by Western chains such as Mcdonalds and KFC, as well as a few tourist traps according to rumour, and also a couple of really nice Azeri restaurants. By some reason they all (Narqiz, Firuze, Dolma) were located in cellars below ground. We tried two of them, the first being Firuze.

Lyulya kebab (minced lamb) with sliced raw onion on a lavash flatbread. In the background: choban salad with finely sliced cucumber, tomatoes, onion, parsley, dill, olive oil and lemon juice.

A Central Asian staple is the plov. As I understand it, originally from Uzbekistan, this rice pilaf is eaten all over the region. The Azeri version was served with the rice and the meat/stew separately (in other countries everything is mixed like, say, an Indian biryani. The above plov featured falling-off-the-bone tender lamb, apricots, raisins, plums, quince juice and chestnuts, on top of fluffy, buttery rice.

We also tried their mangal salad (top left), which consists of coal baked vegetables that are roughly chopped and mixed with olive oil and lemon into a sort of a salad.

Our last dish at Firuze was qutab (top right): flatbreads stuffed with spinach, cheese or pumpkin and then fried. A bit like a quesadilla I guess. Very delicious too.

Price

All, washed down with one glass of local beer and one glass of local red wine each came out at roughly €25 in total.

Website (tripadvisor)

Dolma Restaurant, Fountain Square Baku

Dolma is, like Firuze, located in a basement without windows and hence the pictures aren’t that exciting – but luckily, we had our best meal of the trip here. Chicken Sadj (cooked on coals at the table), Turkish spicy Adana kebab, plov Sabriz with lamb, greens, tart plums and of course buttery rice. Also another round of my Azeri favourite; mangal with flatbreads. Hillside Prestige red wine to drink.

Price

Prices were again very affordable; we paid 45 Manat (~25€) for two persons with three drinks and four shared dishes.

Website

Sumakh Restaurant Baku

Doing research for the trip, Sumakh reappeared several times as one of the fanciest places in town if you wanted to eat local Azeri food. Owned by the Beat Group that has a couple of venues around town, it is definitely at least in part aimed at foreigners with an English website, with menu and all. The restaurant is quite nice, with a local feeling to it. Although fancier than the places mentioned above, it did not feel overly luxurious and prices were quite humane except for the beluga caviar starter below.

A short story: last year we went to Georgia, and upon returning to Sweden we had a spare €100 in Georgian Lari with us that we forgot to change. In Sweden they told us the bills were worthless due to an upcoming switch of bills in Georgia. We then took them to Frankfurt Airport on another trip, Moscow on another. We finally brought them to Baku, a year later, and said that if we’d be able to change them we’d have beluga caviar during our visit. And guess what…

Said and done, we ordered the Caspian Sea Beluga Black Caviar (~€60) and two shots of vodka. It felt very oligarchy, and extra cool being just a few blocks from the actual Caspian Sea. Dissapointingly though, I did not find it that spectacular taste wise. It was salty, fishy and had some extra bite to it compared to “regular” roe or caviar, but in my mind not warranting the price. It was served with local black bread, shaved butter and lemon which I did not really get either.

Fortunately, despite the slightly dissapointing caviar, the rest we had was great. The lyulya kebab above was incredibly crunchy on the crust, probably due to being wrapped in lamb fat before frying, and then yet very soft in the center. Totally delicious.

Mangal salad with coal baked tomatoes, flatbread and local red wine.

More delicious Azerbaijani plov pilaf.

Dolmas, tiny parcels with meat wrapped in vine leaves. Mmmm mmm. These dolmas were the best I’ve ever had.

Dushbere: small dumplings in a clear broth.

Fancy, but not posh. Sumakh offered a great dinner with tasty food, efficient service and relatively affordable experience. Not counting the €60 Beluga Caviar, our tab would’ve landed at €40 with vodka, wine and loooads of food. Now, in total, it came out at roughly €100.

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Southern Caribbean Cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas

In March I made my fifth cruise, a trip onboard the old but gold Adventure of the Seas, taking us from San Juan, Puerto Rico and around the South-Eastern Caribbean, including; St. Maarten (airport beach); St. Kitts (cocktails in a 1920s train); Antigua (crazy pretty beach); St. Lucia (pitons and beautiful scenery), and Barbados (soca, rum punch and also crazy beautiful beach[es]. I’ve sorted it under each day, including food and drinks onboard.

Day 1: Boarding in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Boarding

We were e-mailed a day in advance where we were advised that we should board at 2 pm. But since we had to leave our AirBnB rental apartment at 11 am, we took an Uber straight to the port. At the port we left our bags, went through security, took the dedicated gold line (since we have cruised once before with Royal Caribbean), and swoosh, we were onboard.

The ship

The Adventure of the Seas, which was our ride around the Caribbean for the next seven days, is a beautiful if slightly old ship. It was built in 1998, but you really couldn’t tell since she recently was renovated, at least not in the public areas. The cabins felt a little worn, but not too bad either.

Cabin aka stateroom

We stayed in an interior stateroom, as the cabins are called. Since there is no window, it gets really dark when you close the lights for the night. If you feel claustrophobic, maybe leave the bathroom lights on. In the cabin is also an interactive flatscreen tv with a couple of tv channels, access to eg your onboard account and the ship’s own different channels. The ship’s Wi-fi signal reached our cabin (maybe all) on level six too, so we could use internet while in bed. Speaking of the bed, we had s comfy double and slept like babies (could perhaps have something to do with our all-inclusive drinking packages as well).

Deluxe drinking package

We opted for the deluxe drinking package which covers all drinks by the glass, alcoholic and non-alcoholic up to $12. This covered most drinks onboard, and not only the cheapest stuff. There were plenty of wines by the glass to choose from in the main dining room; all beers and cocktails despite the really fancy ones, and sparkling wine in some, but not all restaurants and bars. Also be aware that some drinks are priced differently around the ship. Eg. A certain glass of wine can be priced above $12 in the main dining room, and below in a bar, and vice-verca. Generally though, we drank what we felt like without feeling limited, while still staying below the $12 cap. Top tip though: Bolero Bar has a glass of delicious Vilarnau cava for $12 (and awesome mojitos and caiprinhas).

We definitely felt we got value for money, using our package benefits for sparkling water for dinner, specialty coffee and fresh squeezed juice for breakfast and soft drinks – in addition to alcoholic drinks. Although I am not so sure it was great for my liver. 😅

Dinner in main dining room

We had opted for “My Time Dining” when booking our cruise, meaning we could choose our own time to eat instead of the traditional scheduled ‘seatings’. We talked to the maître d, which told us that either 6.15 or 7.30 pm were the best times, as it would be calmer and more available tables. We consequently booked 7.30 for all our nights onboard right away, which resulted in us having the same table (and waiting staff) for the entire cruise, which was good.

Our first dinner consisted of this perhaps not spectacularly photogenique aged prime rib of beef. It was delicious though, served with crunchy vegetables, pan gravy and baked potatoes. In my mind the food onboard Royal Caribbean is surprisingly good, better than I remember it from cruising with them in 2010. And I’d like to think that my taste has improved since.

I got a little mocked on Instagram for this Caesar salad that my followers apparently did not fully approve of. It was too much lettuce, as can be seen. But despite the rustic serving it was quite delicious.

Day 2: Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

The first port of call during our cruise was the Dutch and French island of St. Maarten. The ship is docked at the quay, and hence there was no need to tender. Actually we walked ashore on all stops which was convenient.

Maho Beach and Princess Juliana Airport

We had opted to visit St. Maarten’s possibly most famous site; Maho beach, situated at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). We picked the convenient option and joined the ship’s own tour providing transport there. The beach is quite small, chairs and umbrella were $20 (we actually heard staff discuss among themselves that cruise passengers should pay an extra $5 over the listed price in the bar), and while we were there the waves quite high, but those facts weren’t that important given how cool it was to be right in the path of the incoming jets. For each dot appearing on the horizon, growing as it approached, anticipation among the beach crowd grew: “is it a big one?”. While we visited, both Delta and Jetblue touched down and it is really a special feeling standing just a couple of meters below a landing jet.

Read and obey the signs though as someone that left the beach standing on the road even closer to the runway recently died after falling due to the wind.

Dinner in the main dining room

A really, surprisingly, delicious seafood pasta featuring perfectly cooked linguini with bay scallops (so sweet and tasty), mussels and shrimps in a Chardonnay reduction. Great seafood, nice silky tomato sauce and pasta cooked al dente. I wasn’t expecting such a nice pasta onboard a cruise ship. I’d be happy to pay for this in any restaurant.

Beef carpaccio with parmesan, rucola, garlic chips and mayo was very good as well.

Day 3: Basseterre, Saint Kitts

Our third day on the ship we arrived St. Kitts in the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (pronounced ‘knee-vis’ we learned, I always thought ‘nevvis’).

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

After reading about it, I couldn’t resist to take the old school, 1910s-constructed railway, built for the transportation of sugarcane. In these times though it is used to transport another bunch of sugar-loaded commodities – us.

During the approximately two hour ride we were taken around the island, soaking up some beautiful views of the landscape, villages, mountains and sea, while being served complimentary drinks such as piña coladas, strawberry daiquiris (what I had) as well as water and soft drinks. There was also a choir onboard that went from carriage to carriage, singing local tunes. A very nice and comfortable trip, if pricey, in an old school train.

Harbour lunch in Basseterre

Before heading back to the ship, we took a short stroll around the cobble streets of Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis’ small capital. In the harbour, there was a small foodcourt, which included a small place selling local dishes called Island Thyme. We were hungry as well as had raided the Adventure of the Seas’ lunch buffet for two days straight, and, were keen to try some local food. It should be added though that they ‘forgot’ to return our $2 change on a twenty bill, which I always find annoying. If I’d like to tip I decide so for myself (and this is not a table service place).

Hot, crunchy and spicy ‘calypso wings’.

Delicious, juicy roasted chicken with peas and rice (with peas meaning beans) and plantain (green banana fritters). All washed down with an ice-cold Carib beer.

Dinner in the main dining room

Italian night onboard, and I went for the not so mature, but oh so good, option of spaghetti bolognese with San Marzano tomatoes and pecorino cheese. Really beefy and again surprisingly tasty for being on a ship. The starter burrata were one of the most creamy and delicious burratas I’ve ever had.

Adventure of the Seas’ bolognese wasn’t on the menu all nights, but nearly.

Reaaally good burrata cheese with bacon, rucola, tomatoes and pesto dressing.

Day 4: Saint John’s, Antigua and Barbuda

Our fourth stop was in St. Johns, the capital city located on the island of Antigua, in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Finally it was time to hit the beach properly (even though Maho Beach was a beach I was mainly there to take cool shots of planes).

Ffryes Beach, Antigua

We had booked Beach Extravaganza or something like that, which included transport, a sun lounger (but not an umbrella – that would’ve been a bit too much extravaganza, hey?), a surprisingly delicious lunch and two drinks (or more if you’d take your cousins’ drink vouchers as well as our nearly passing out-drunk fellow cruiser did). Anyway, after a quick trip through St Johns, we arrived the stunning Ffryes Beach (yes, with two “f”). Having visited Vanuatu in the South Pacific just a few months ago, I was almost dissapointed that Ffryes was even more beautiful. In my mind the South Pacific is unbeatable, but I now realise I might be wrong.

The mentioned lunch, a buffet featuring macaroni salad, falling-of-the-bone-tender beef ribs, grilled chicken, regular salad, rice and beans, garlic bread and various sauces and dressings was served on the beach restaurant and bar; Dennis’. The food was really good and well–cooked. Nothing particularly gourmet, just very tasty. Local Wadadli Beer and Rum Punches were included ‘free drinks’.

Day 5: Castries, Saint Lucia

Our fifth day on the ship we arrived the, in my mind at least, mystical island of Saint Lucia. Green, lush and beautiful, with an active volcano, and the two 250 000 year-old lava domes The Pitons I felt a little bit I had landed in Jurassic Park, or something.

The Pitons and volcano tour

Once again, we took the convenient route and opted for one of Royal Caribbean’s tours. Our tour took us, via a photo and banana ketchup tasting stop in Marigot Bay, to Soufrière, on the Saint Lucian West Coast. After driving through Soufrière we visited the Soufrière volcano, which is still active. From a distance we could ourselves see the action, with the bubbling sulphur springs. We were also treated to a massive rainfall. During the trip we stopped for pictures of the Pitons at a few spots, and we finally visited a restaurant for a complimentary drink, which was a splash of juice in a plastic cup.

Here you could also buy a snack in the shape of grilled jerk chicken and some fried stuff. Tasty enough, but nothing special. There was a tremendous view over, once again, The Pitons, and the city of Soufrière below.

Day 6: Bridgetown, Barbados

Our sixth, and final, tropical island of the cruise to visit, was possibly also the place I looked forward to the most: Barbados. We walked off the ship as in every port and reached our tour outside the terminal.

The Island Style Beach Hopping Tour

Worth noting, is that this tour is like 8 in the morning. Also worth noting is that you will be force-fed (that is an exageration) beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, while listening to thumping Soca-music by a (my guess) aspiring stand up comedian that made you scream” wooo” when the driver honked the Jitney (did I forget to mention you’ll be in a open-sides jeep bus?) . Doesn’t sound too bad? Then this tour is for you. I started off by hating the tour (I was mildly hungover, and it was in the GOD DAMN MORNING), but ended up loving it. The guide was just too much fun, and the sort of friendly competition with the other tour bus and their guide on the same route was hilarious. The beaches, too, were incredible.

Our first stop: Worthing Beach. White sand, turquoise water, palm trees, calm waves, and suddenly a bunch of wild sea turtles swam next to us. Paradise. Free facilities, eg. a restroom available.

Next stop: Accra Beach. Another beautiful beach. Since the time was passed 11 am I joined the drunken haze of my fellow bus mates with an ice-cold Barbadian Banks beer. Note, you had to pay for loungers on all beaches, we only had chairs on Accra Beach, which was $10 for two chairs and an umbrella. Trivia is that the umbrella guy was incredibly cranky and that the chair guy tried to sell us weed. No facilities here (that were obvious anyway).

Last stop of the tour: Pebbles Beach. Another pretty beach with slightly larger waves (poor mom-in-law made a face plant getting attacked from behind). We also saw turtles here out in the waves.

Possibly the best with this beach though was the small shack at the end of the beach called Cuzz’s Fish Shack. Cuzz serves up fish cutters which are pretty much fried fish sandwiches. The cutters are filled with fried crispy flying fish, lettuce and optional cheese (we opted out). You then dress the cutter yourself, we followed the lead of the locals and added Bajan pepper sauce and mayonnaise. At $4,5 it provided a relatively filling, but really delicious snack. Especially with the amazing view over the beach.

Dinner in the main dining room (LOBSTER!)

I wasn’t sure if they’d kept the formal night lobster from our 2010 trip, but fortunately this was the night.

The lobster dinner consisted of a broiled lobster tail (I managed to negotiate two) with lemon saffron rice, seasonal vegetables and a healthy splash of drawn butter. While I did not love the sides, the lobster meat combined with the drawn butter was really delicious, and it worked really well with a glass of buttery and oaky Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

Day 7: At sea (and dinner at Chops Grille)

Our final day and night onboard honestly started with a visit to the gym, then a fancy a la carte breakfast in the main dining room featuring eggs benedict. This is still included in the price by the way, only gripe is that you might have to wait in line a while for a table.

After breakfast we opted to go for a round of mini golf which also is available, free of charge, outside on the deck. Despite a bunch of feral kids constantly running over the tracks, it was quite fun (probably because I WON).

It should be added that there’s also a surf wave-simulator, a climbing wall, an ice skating rink, water slides and numerous other options for a more active vacation, we were just too lazy to use any of those. Even though we sort of planned to visit the climbing wall at one point during the cruise.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the cocktails onboard are quite good. Definitely on par with a decent bar ashore (not counting the pool bar which’s cocktails were so-so). So before going for our last dinner, we visited the Casino Bar which makes the second best cocktails after Bolero.

Chops Grille steakhouse specialty restaurant on the Adventure of the Seas

I’ve always liked those kind of luxurious, yet not posh, American steakhouses that Chops Grille seems to be. I’ve been on five cruises so far, and I’ve never forked out the extra cash for a specialty restaurant (save for Johnny Rockets, which we, then 20-somethings, actually paid like five bucks for, during our first cruise). Anyway, it was time to see if it was actually worth to pay extra, despite the food we could have for free definitely was nice. We paid around $40 each, and for that we could choose almost what we wanted from the a la carte menu except for lobster and a seafood tower that was extra-extra.

After a first bread serving starring an onion foccacia (really good) with whipped butter, we had charred carpaccio with truffle oil, mayonnaise, rucola and parmesan. It was tasty, but nothing spectacular.

The main however: mm-mm-mm! Perfectly cooked medium-rare filet mignon (beef fillet) with truffle fries, asparagus, mac & cheese and sauce bordelaise (red wine and beef marrow). So good, and washed down with excellent Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, served in fancy Riedel Glasses.

I read somewhere to save space for the red velvet cake, because it was really something. It was quite good, but not extraordinary in any way. I also ordered a cold brew coffee cocktail that wasn’t any good at all in my mind.

Service-wise, all staff on the ship is quite friendly and service minded, meaning you’ll be pretty used to good service. Chops Grille was still a step up though, and staff were, fast, friendly and quite knowledgeable. All in all I was very happy and will definitely book Chops Grille on my next cruise.

And that was that. After Chops Grille, we decided to make a last visit to all of our favourite bars onboard, giving our deluxe beverage package a last spin, before a last sleep before arriving back in San Juan, Puerto Rico the following morning. We departed the ship around 10.30 am, being among the last passengers off the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille wine list

Since I’m a total geek and like to plan my eating-experiences months in advance; eg. think about food and wine combinations. I tried really hard to find a wine list for Chops Grille onboard the Adventure of the Seas cruise ship. Since I couldn’t, I snapped a few pics of the menus on my cruise in March 2018, and hope someone finds use for it. 🙂

If that’s why you’re here – happy cruising, and feel free to share this link with other potentially interested cruisers. I added both food, dessert and wine menus for Chops Grille on the Adventure of the Seas below: