A day trip to Chernobyl Nuclear power plant and ghost town Pripyat

Just got back from a trip to surprisingly great Ukraine a few days ago. Before I go into details about the food, low prices and pretty buildings of Kiev though, I will tell you about a side trip we took during our visit, to the currently “in the news”-destination of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

I must admit I had no clue that an HBO series about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was in the making when booking this trip last fall. Born in Sweden in the 80s however, I’ve always been told about the disaster; when we visited the North of Sweden when I was a child, I was told to not eat and pick berries for instance, as radioactive clouds from the disaster swept over the Baltics and Scandinavia delivering poisonous rain.

So I was quite aware of the Nuclear disaster of 1986 already before the series aired, almost perfectly timed about three weeks before our departure. What the series told me however, was how close it was to an even larger disaster, possibly making life impossible for thousands of years in large parts of Europe.

But, can you actually visit? What about radiation?

We where a little apprehensive too, but according to our tour company that has made the tour for quite sometime, the radiation dose that you receive for the full day equals approximately to what you receive in an airplane for a 2 hour flight (because you’re closer to the sun than on Earth). Not very much that is, most people get more on the flight to Kiev.

Booking the tour

We opted to go with Chernobyl Tours (www.chernobyl-tour.com), a tour company we found through Tripadvisor with high ratings. The tour was $99 per person with extras like a Geiger counter at $10 (don’t skip this), lunch in the Chernobyl worker’s canteen at $5 (not in any way delicious, but an experience) – you can also bring your own food and eat it in the same place which might be an idea if you’re picky. We also included pick ups from our hotel at $13 per way which was super expensive compared to Kiev taxi prices, but also very convenient as our driver picked us up very early at 7.15 am from our hotel and returned us back as we arrived late at approximately 9.30 pm and did not need any directions.

Payment of the 25% reservation fee was through Paypal, so not as convenient as just putting in your card details, but not that bad either. Then we got good e-mail updates about the tour and the remaining balance that we paid in cash (Euros, USD or Ukrainian Hryvnia) onboard the bus before departing Kiev.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

We left Kiev in a bus with about 40 other people at 8 a.m. after having our passports thouroughly checked. After an approximate two hour ride where the guides told us about the incident, safety in the zone (except for pockets of radiation there is also wild animals due to lack of people), and showed us a quite good documentary about the incident we reached the border control of the 30 km exclusion zone. Here they had a few (not so nice) bathrooms and a few kiosks where you could buy snacks, drinks and souvenirs. We were supposed to be there for fifteen minutes, but it ended up being about 80 minutes due to being just a few police officers there to inspect our and other bus tour’s passports.

Our first stop in the outer exclusion zone: an abandoned village.

The Duga-1 radar, 150 meters tall, was a Soviet radar supposed to be able to see over the horizon and thus being able to spot a US Nuclear strike in time to be able to retaliate.

Another abandoned village, this in the 10 kilometer exclusion zone where you once again had to show your passport.

Then it was time to head to the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant itself. First up was this not-so-exciting but still edible tray of pasta with a “cheeseburger”; soup; salad; bread, and a glass of juice had in the Chernobyl PP canteen where the workers used to – and still are – having thelr meals in.

After lunch we headed for the power plant itself. I had not really understood that you even can come close to the damaged reactor 4, let alone getting out at its entrance just a few hundred meters away. I thought we’d see it in the distance from a hill or something. But no. We were next to it, a little bit scary, but also very interesting as I’ve heard about Chernobyl all my life, and here I was. Our guides told us about the new Steel Sarcophagus, finished in 2017, which is meant to last for 100 years and has lead to lower radiation in the area. People has also worked at the power plant, as I understood it pretty much since the accident. At the moment workers in the area work two weeks in the zone, and then they need to stay out of it for another two weeks before going back.

After ChnPP as the guides called the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant we were taken to one of the last, and in my mind, most interesting “sights” of the day: the abandoned ‘ghost town’ of Pripyat. If you’ve seen the HBO series, this is where all the people live. It’s only about 3 kilometers from ChnPP and today it is completely deserted, taken over by the forest.

The famous Ferris wheel of Pripyat, in one of the pods we had the highest reading of radiation during the day. 280 Microsieverts inside of it, compared to about 0,5 standing just a meter beside it. Scary.

Stray dog hanging around old bumper cars in the same would-be amusement park (supposed to open May 1st – disaster happened April 26).

Soviet era buildings anno 1986.

Then after a last stop in Chernobyl town where we got to see some of the robots used to clear the reactor roof (which was however mostly done by ‘bio robots’ eg. humans), and the monument of the first responders, many killed in the accident, we left for Kiev again. To leave the area though, we had to go through two radiation controls to see that we did not bring any radioactive dust or similar to the outside world.

Wow, that a day.

Five days of eating in Marrakech, Morocco

Just got back from a five day visit to the exciting and exotic Moroccan city of Marrakech.

For once, we had not planned that much in advance, leaving it to our at-the-time cravings what we were to eat.

We had a general idea about Moroccan food upon arrival, but in the end managed to eat both the obvious stuff such as tagines and cous cous; the ‘middle road’ such as the (in)famous bastilla pigeon pie, and more unique stuff such as old school berber food.

Read below about where and what we ate.

Riad Itrane (hotel)

Ultra-romantic setting by the pool.

The first night in Marrakech we had pre-booked a traditional Moroccan dinner in our hotel, or riad, which is a traditional style Moroccan hotel.

Moroccan salads started the feast. Carrots, beans, potato salad, aubergine, tomatoes and eggs. Also olives, harissa and fluffy Moroccan khubz bread. Delicious.

For main: the national dish of Morocco, tagine which is a stew that is slow-cooked in a clay pot named… tagine (or tajine), this one with chicken, confit lemon and green olives. Sooo good.

Nos nos (half half) with milk pudding, orange coulis, strawberries and mint. A little pannacotta-y.

Moroccan breakfast, also served at Riad Itrane. No buffet within sight, instead a lot of small dishes delivered to your table. Eggs with harissa and cumin, semolina pancakes, jams, dates, nuts, flatbreads and cakes. Each day the menu changed slightly which was nice.

Price: €25 per person for the dinner. Breakfast was included in our stay. Do note that the restaurant might or might not be available only to guests. Contact them in advance (they speak English and are friendly).

Website

Naranj Lebanese restaurant

Lebanese sandwiches, one taouk with chicken and one kefta with meatballs. Served with super-tasty potato chips and cabbage slaw. The (virgin) mojitos were nice too.

Meze platter. A bit small serving size on the dips, but good quality and very tasty.

The prettiest dessert in a while: Slillo cheesecake. Slilo or sellou is an unbaked Moroccan sweet usually served for ramadan. In this interpretation the slilo formed the bottom layer (ground anis, sesame, honey and almonds) and was then topped with a creamy, soft cheese layer and a final sprinkle of rose leaves. So, so good. And clever.

Price: About €45 for two with shared starter and dessert, two mains, two mojitos and a bottle of water.

Website: http://www.naranj.ma

Pepe Nero

Another super pretty location: Pepe Nero, one of Marrakech’s fanciest restaurants serving both Italian and Moroccan food. We tried the latter.

Extremely tender slow roasted shoulder of lamb.

Moroccan salads, including carrot salad, amazing texture (and flavour) baba ganoush, hummus, roasted peppers and potato salad. Enjoyed with local President rosé wine.

Pastilla: crispy Moroccan pigeon pie. Both sweet and savoury. Sounds weird, tastes delicious.

We finished the meal with a few Moroccan pastries and mint tea. The dessert was least exciting, but tasty enough.

The ambience is quite fancy and also quite touristy, at the same time service was so-so. Prices are high, but the food is tasty. And they have wine. So it wasn’t my favourite experience in Marrakech, but I don’t regret going either.

Price: About €95 for two starters, a shared main (serving for two) and a shared dessert with mint tea, as well as two half bottles of wine and water.

Website: http://www.pepenero-marrakech.com

Chez Brahim

We visited Chez Brahim since it was very close to our hotel and that it had good reviews on both Google and Tripadvisor.

While nothing spectacular, Chez Brahim offered relatively decent food for a decent price in the middle of the medina. The lamb meat was grilled and quite tasty, the fries weren’t that exciting and the rice thing was lukewarm at best.

What was quite delicious though was their khubz flatbreads with harissa and olives we got when we arrived.

Price: About €18 for two mains, soft drink and water.

La Vallé Atlas Ourika

The river along (or pretty much in) the restaurant is located.

Bonus mountain pictures.

While visiting beautiful Ourika Valley, situated in The Atlas Mountains we had lunch at La Vallée restaurant. Located on a sandbank in the river, location was stunning.

Food was quite nice with above cous cous served with seven kinds of roasted vegetables and chicken.

Berber chicken lemon tagine with a few fries. More of roasted chicken, less of stew than the other tagine we had.

Price: About €18 for two mains, soft drink and water.

Blackchich Café

At Blackchich café, we ate some of the most well-cooked food of the trip. The restaurant is Senegalese-Moroccan so they have both West African dishes such as Chicken Yassa or peanuty domoda stew as well as old school Moroccan berber dishes. They are located in the medina with three floors of seating, where the final one is an open roof top with very nice views of the city.

A minus for me though were that by some reason a pack of cats hung out there, standing by the table begging for food and actually trying to snatch some, so you had to watch your food which was annoying. That might have been a problem specific to just that day.

I had Rfissa, an old berber dish with slow cooked chicken and lentils in a rich butter sauce topped with quail eggs and served with steamed msemen crepes (latter being almost pasta-like since the msemen is cut into ribbons). Clever, tasty and very rich.

We also tried their meze platter with the usual suspects hummus, bana ganoush and Moroccan salads, which came with a fluffy flatbread.

Price: About €40 for a mint lemonade, coke, a shared starter and two mains.

Maison de la Photographie (House of Photography)

Another place with a nice rooftop is the Maison de la Photographie, a small photo museum in the medina. After admiring their old photos of Marrakech for a while you end up at their small café where you can buy both food and (non-alcoholic) drinks. Most people (and us) had a relaxing glass of mint tea before departing againfor the craziness of the medina.

Price: €2 for two mint teas.
Website: http://www.maisondelaphotographie.ma/

48 hours of eating in London

Except for Din Tai Fung Covent Garden, which I wrote about the other day, we visited a few other noteworthy spots.

Barrafina

One Michelin-starred Barrafina on Dean Street a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus delivered some of the best tapas I’ve had.

Cold meat platter. Everything extremely good.

Ham croquetas. Crunchy, delicious and perfect.

Best pan con tomate I’ve had.

A runny, perfect tortilla with peppers and prawns.

Morcilla; spiced Spanish blood sausage (similar to black pudding) with fried quail eggs, a crispy wafer thingy and a rich sauce.

Location: Dean Street, Soho.

Price: £80 for the above (and some more), including a glass of wine each.

Eve Bar (hidden in Frog restaurant’s basement)

It was nearly impossible to take decent pictures, but a staircase down from fancy restaurant Frog (by Adam Handling) is Eve bar. Get it, Adam and Eve?

Clever naming aside, Eve Bar was really my cup of cocktail with great cocktails, ambience, service and decent prices.

Location: Covent Garden.

Price: About £13 for a cocktail.

The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel

A 40 minute wait, £25 cocktails and lots of tourists. Could that be good? I’d say so! Friendly service, live piano music, free snacks and a hard-to-beat ‘old world’ atmosphere. As an extra bonus you’ll get access to their small museum, and can also sneak around the grand lobby (above) of The Savoy Hotel which The American Bar is a part of.

Location: Covent Garden(ish)

Price: ~£19-££££

Breakfast at Eggbreak

For our last meal for this time we went to Eggbreak in Notting Hill, after I read about their crab cake eggs benedict.

The coffee, a flat white, was, as the youth of today (I think as I’m old-ish) would call it: on point.

The star of the show: perfectly poached eggs on top of equally perfect crispy, delicious crab cakes. A few healthy spoons of sriracha-hollandaise sauce and some chives finished the decadent masterpiece.

Price: £45 for three coffees, two mains, a grilled grapefruit (also delicious) and a pain au chocolat.

Location: Notting Hill.

Din Tai Fung London

Just got back from a visit to London and the newly opened branch of my favourite restaurang chain in the world: Din Tai Fung.

Famous for their soup dumplings aka xiao long bao, Taiwanese Din Tai Fung has reached fame over the world and now have restaurants in Asia, the US, Australia, and, finally, Europe.

Our expectations were to say the least high, but fortunately not too high as the standard was as good as in Asia. Part of this might be due to that part of the staff have been flown in from Taiwan to work in the restaurant for the first year, to train the locals in the art of the 18 folds soup dumpling.

The usual suspects: pork soup dumplings. Delicate skin, a delicious “soup” broth on the inside and delicious minced pork. Too good.

Wontons in a spicy chilli oil, black vinegar, spring onion and garlic ‘sauce’.

Shumai prawn dumplings.

Premise-made perfect chewy, elastic noodles with a spicy sauce.

Noodles with a succulent Taiwanese pork chop.

Spicy cucumber salad.

Dessert bao buns filled with sesame, taro and red bean paste.

Location: 5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.

$$ Price: We paid approximately £110 for the above and some more shared among three people, including a beer each.

Website (including menu without prices)

9 days of eating tropical fusion food in Mauritius

Just got back from a nine day visit to the beautiful Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius. Apart from lazying on the beach, admiring jungle falls, and drinking too many Phoenix beers (and trying to hunt for the Flying Dodo craftbeer – which is almost as hard to find as its extinct namesake), I have of course done a fair bit of eating.

Mauritius has some interesting history, being mentioned by Arab sailors in the 1400s; populated by the Portugese in the 1500s; then colonized by the Dutch in 1598; by France from 1715 until 1810, and then finally ruled by the British until indepedence in 1968.

The Mauritian people is a diverse mix of inhabitants with Indian-Mauritians making up the biggest part of the population (approximately 70%), and African, Chinese and French/European decendants standing for the remaining 30 percent.

This of course translates into the Mauritian cuisine, which like its population is an exciting mix of Indian, African, Chinese and European flavours, often with a tropical twist.

Where we stayed

For the biggest part of the trip, we stayed in the touristy beach town of Flic En Flac, therefore most of the places we visited were located there as you’ll notice. Many places have a similar kind of food, so most dishes you’ll be able to find all over the island even if you do not happen to visit Flic En Flac.

We did also take a sidetrip to Mahebourg and also spent our final two days in a resort close to Belle Mare where we had some of the best food of the trip. This is where we start:

Belle Mare

Tides Restaurant Long Beach

After staying in an apartment in Flic En Flac for a week, we splurged our final two nights with a stay at the luxurious Solana Beach Resort. On the same beach, a few hundred meters down, is the Long Beach Resort and its Tides restaurant. Intrigued by Instagram and Google pictures, we already knew what to order: grilled lobster and tuna tartare. Just to be safe we would be bloated, and to be extra decadent, we had some chips too. The price was steeeep compared to other meals, but it was really something to sit on the beach, feet in sand and eat their delicious grilled lobster, excellent tuna tartare and drink some cold beer.

Price

3000 MUR for the two of us with three half lobsters (it came like that), one tartare, one chips and two beers.

Website

Secrets Corner, Solana Beach Hotel

Next to the buffet restaurant in the Solana Beach Hotel, there is a small ‘secret corner’ that offered one of the best meals on Mauritius, but possibly the worst when it came to ambience.

We were the only guests, and were sat in the middle of a brightly lit room, with one server checking in on us every now and then. When I read about the Secrets Corner in the hotel information I thought it would be their luxury tasting menu restaurant, with prices to match. Instead it was not, the prices were quite decent, not much more than say an average place in Flic En Flac.

As the prices were good and the menu sounded great, we tried a little bit of everything. The palm heart salad with a grilled tandoori prawn was delicious. The Rodrigues style octopus salad with pickled lime was fantastic too. The crunchy river prawn samosas with green banana pickles were the best samosas I’ve had. We had a curry each (one lamb, one prawn & chicken) for main and although not as good as the starters, they were both really nice with rich deep flavours. The curries came with a small buffet of sides and condiments such as rice, pickles, chapati bread and dal lentil soup.

As you might be able to tell, we were stuffed after this, and despite having planned to try, had to skip dessert.

A surprising find, and with some nicer ambience in the Secrets Corner restaurant this would be a 5/5 experience.

Price

We paid just under 3000 MUR for all the food mentioned, two beers and a glass of wine.

Website

Solana Beach Hotel’s Coco Bar

Before leaving for the airport, we had a last lunch. I was so much craving a burger that I could not resist to try Solana’s cheeseburger with fries. Despite asking for my preference of cooking grade, my asked-for medium turned into very well done. Fortunately, it was still a decently nice burger with good cheese, a fluffy bun and good fries.

Price

About 400 MUR

Flic En Flac

Ah Youn

Fish curry at Ah Youn.

About 30 000 of Mauritius’ population has Chinese descent, and from that stems a quite large number of Chinese-Mauritian restaurants. We went to Ah Youn where we both had a pile of delicious fried noodles, which did not last long enough for a picture, as well as above delicious ‘Red Mauritian style’ fish curry with rice. Prices were good and the place was packed with both locals and tourists.

Price

$$

Website

Le Bougainville

Prawns at Le Bougainville. A cozy, busy restaurant close to the beach. While the food was not spectacular – it lacked a bit of attention to the details during our two visits, the service is nice, the prices good and everything was still yummy, despite the odd overcooked tuna. We enjoyed both their giant prawns with garlic butter and the Mauritius favourite: Octopus curry.

Price

$$

Website

Mafiozo

Pizza at Mafiozo. Loud music all day long, and generally much more a drinking bar then a place you go to eat. The pizzas weren’t amazing in any way, but the place had a lively vibe, prices were decent, and in the end, even a basic pizza is still sort of good.

Price
$$ (About 400 MUR for a pizza).

Food trucks and stalls on Flic En Flac Beach

Gajak (snacks) at the beach in Flic En Flac from the various foodtrucks and stalls located there. First a roti bread filled with chicken curry, sauces and pickles from Vinoda aka Farata. Second is woked noodles from Chez Christelle. The roti was fantastic and we went there twice, the noodles were fine but the wait was long.

Chez Popo et Anais

Set in a tiny alley off one of the main streets in Flic En Flac, Chez Popo et Anais is a cozy little family restaurant where you sit outside on plastic chairs, eating tonight’s dish, cooked by a bunch of friendly ladies (you’ll meet them as you cross the kitchen using their restroom in the house where they live). It feels like being invited for dinner in a local’s home (which you basically are). There was one dish on the menu, a beef stew that was pretty good. What was really good was the complimentary side dish of dal lentil soup. We also received free fish beignets for starters, basically fish donuts made with locally caught dorado.

Price

$-$$

Sunset Garden

We did not visit during a normal night, but for New Years Eve where they offered a buffet. Firstly, the food we had was good, so I’d say that the kitchen definitely can cook and the food is probably nice during a normal night. But…

We arrived late around 9 pm (as we were told was perfectly fine when booking the night before) and some of the food was running out. Since we had paid roughly €50 or 2000 MUR a person for the buffet, we were a bit grumpy. For instance the main event, the giant garlic butter grilled prawns ran out entirely just after we got hold of one each from the last batch. The rest of the food was good, but mostly consisted of woks, rice dishes and so on. Not what you pay €50 a head for. To their defense they gave us a bit of a discount on the bill.

Chamarel

Prawn and chicken curry at a restaurant called something like Marmite de Chamarel. Expensive, but delicious. I guess a bit of a tourist trap, but food was surprisingly good. Located along the main road between the sights around Chamarel.

Le Morne

Embafilao

Giant prawns with chips and salad at Embafilao, a casual beach restaurant situated on Le Morne’s public beach. The above view is just a minutes walk from where you eat. Here you can also enjoy the hard-to-find local Flying Dodo craft beer, a tasty wheat beerish brew that worked very well with the above dish.

Mahebourg

Le Bazilic

Situated in the quaint little town of Mahebourg; we enjoyed an affordable and delicious Creole lunch on our way to Pointe D’Esny beach on the Eastern side of the island. Above is first grilled chicken with garlic sauce and potatoes, and secondly our shared starters of Creole potatoes with tandoori mayo, battered and fried prawns as well as delicious fried samosa pasties.

Website

Mauritius, je t’aime!

Just got back from nine days in amazing Mauritius. Before the trip, I was unusually badly read-up on Mauritius and wasn’t too sure what to expect. On one hand, I, like many others, had a perception of the island nation as a super luxurious destination for the rich and famous. On the other hand, I have recently heard people talk about Mauritius as a place beyond its former glory, filled with trash.

How was it then? Well, a little bit of both I guess. I saw a bit of plastic and litter in general on the otherwise amazing beaches, and for sure there are very luxurious hotels. But, what I hadn’t really expected was an affordable island with cheap eats, accessible-for-everyone paradise beaches, amazing nature (jungle falls!), and friendly locals.

After arriving on Emirates’ A380 double-decker ‘super jumbo’ we stayed our first seven nights in an apartment we rented through AirBnb, paying a whopping €180 each, for a week!

The apartment we stayed in was located in a gated compound, with guard and all. The buildings were located around a tropical garden with a nice enough swimming pool. View above from our apartment’s balcony.

We first stayed in touristy Flic En Flac on Mauritius’ West coast. Above you can see a part of its beach, which, as you can tell was dreamy. The picture taken are near the hotels on the beach stretch, but as Mauritian laws allows everyone to be on any part of the beach, you may swim anywhere you like. The area above may be owned by the hotel though. The public beach is basically as nice, but obviously more crowded.

In Flic En Flac you’ll also find a well-stocked Spar supermarket, restaurants, bars, shops and so on. Just outside Flic En Flac there is the Cascavelle shopping mall with an even larger supermarket, Monoprix, with a large assortment of food, wine, beer and other necessities.

While staying in Flic En Flac we visited the even more amazing Le Morne beach. Apart from the stunning surroundings, crowned by the overlooking Brabant mountain, the soft sandy bottom was really nice. It’s about a 40 minute taxi ride, one way. We paid ~1000 rupees per way, or roughly €25. We never tried to negotiate though.

Black River Gorges with a hungry wild monkey admiring the view.

Cascade Chamarel. Awesome jungle falls.

Maison Eureka, an old Creole house built in the 1800s and located in hilly Moka. They serve a famous lunch, but that was fully booked when we visited. So reserve in advance.

After a week staying with friends in Flic En Flac, we finished with two nights at luxurious Solana Beach Hotel on the Eastern side of Mauritius. The hotel is located near Belle Mare and located on a perfect stretch of beach, together with a few other places. For better or worse, this was sort of the complete opposite of Flic En Flac; relaxed, quiet, expensive and slightly boring. It was unbelievably pretty though, and the food was amazing so I won’t whine too much. A quite nice finish to the trip, but it hadn’t been “real Mauritius” without having experienced Flic En Flac too.

Pointe D’Esny, an amazing beach on the East coast.

As you can tell, the island is stunning. It is a spectacular combo of pretty beaches, great food (I will write about the food in detail in an upcoming post), exciting nature, rum, people, different nationalities, and, a surprisingly rich and in many ways modern society where everything is on time (except for your food to arrive). It is also a very interesting mix of Mauritians with its blend of French/European, Indian, African and Asian culture.

Mauritius might very well be my all time favourite destination, I really recommend a visit to anyone who likes the tropics, especially when it comes with a delicious French-Indian-African twist.

5 days of eating in Shanghai

Just visited the Chinese mega city Shanghai, for five days of eating, getting some Chinese culture and just enjoying Asia.

We naturally started the eating at my favourite Asian chain Din Tai Fung to have some of their otherworldly steamed xiao long bao soup dumplings.

Sheng Jian Bao at Yang’s. These are with soup and meat on the inside like the above xiao long bao, only that they’re pan fried instead of steamed. We managed to order like 20 each due to the language barrier. Needless to say we ate them all.

Hairy crab (a local species of crab) xiao long bao.

Pork xiao long bao in the same restaurant. I can’t tell you the exact name of the place but it was near Jiangsu Lu. We visited as a part of the Untour night food tour, so that’s hopefully your best bet to visit the same place and eat a lot of other good stuff as well.

One of the best meals of all time for me: Sichuan style crayfish at FOMO. Incredibly delicious.

Kung Pao chicken with chilli and peanuts at a lunch restaurant in the French Concession.

Various delicious dishes from Lost Heaven, a trendy Yunnan province restaurant. Since Yunnan borders Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos the food has a South East Asian flavour with lots of chilli, herbs and greens.

Guo Kui, crispy Sichuan province flatbreads stuffed with spicy beef and mint. Really good.

I am a sucker for views, and one of the better bar views I’ve had in a while was that from the Peninsula Hotel. Top pic is as you can tell from the bar. Their cocktails were indeed expensive, but quite delicious. And look at that view!

What a great food city Shanghai is, I hope to be back soon for some more eating.

Asian A380 First Class: Seoul-Frankfurt

After visiting Palau for five days, we flew home via Seoul and Frankfurt. Above is our chubby A380 friend taking us from Seoul to Frankfurt.

The seat, spacious to say the least. A first (sorry) for me was that there was a sliding door you should shut, meaning almost total privacy. We sat in two adjoining middle seats and almost had our own private little compartment. So cozy.

Not too shabby: caviar with condiments and champagne started the meal service. Enjoyed with a glass of Barons de Rothschild blanc de blanc champagne.

You could choose either lobster or caviar, so we took one each and shared.

The main meal: bibimbap with plenty of sides. Everything was delicious (for being on a plane) and went down well with a nice glass of red.

How was it?

A great flight. Unfortunately we were a bit too tired because of our 5 a.m. departure from Palau to fully enjoy the experience. But both space, food and service was excellent. Service and food wise, Singapore Airlines that we flew to Asia won. But in terms of the seat or suite, with an actual closing door to your little space, was the best I’ve ever experienced.

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 it 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!