Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Champagne Tasting in Champagne

Tasting champagne in Champagne

Who doesn't like a glass of bubbly? I know I do. So when my friends asked if I wanted to join them on a weekend trip to go champagne tasting in Champagne, I didn't hesitate. What better place to drink it straight from the source? We drove to Folkestone, maneuvered the car onto the train to Calais and continued on the other side towards Epernay, which would be our base for the weekend.

Tasting champagne in Champagne

The town of Epernay, which lies smack in the middle of the Champagne region, is remarkably low key. In a town that produces a drink that usually doesn't come cheap, I expected a town filled with opulent villas, and Ferraris and Porsches parked out front and streets lined with Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops. But Epernay is quite the opposite if not slightly run down. 

Tasting champagne in Champagne

Except for the Avenue de Champagne. No Louis Vuitton or Ferraris here either, but plenty of grand mansions and opulent villas, with big names like Moet & Chandon and Perrier & Jouet located in the biggest ones. Clearly making champagne pays off.

Tasting champagne in Champagne


Tasting champagne in Champagne

We strolled along the pleasant avenue popping in and out of several champagne houses, big ones and boutique ones. We tasted (a lot), we walked through never ending wine cellars ( they measure a whopping 101 km in total), we learned and we were shown the ins and outs of making champagne( did you know the bubbles are made in a closed bottle?). And of course we bought plenty of bottles to take home, you know for those special occasions and celebrations.

Tasting champagne in Champagne

With bottles spilling out of the boot of the car, we arrived back in London, where I schlepped the heavy bags to my front door. Of course arriving home safe and sound and with all the bottles still intact, was a very special occasion and cause for a celebration. I have a feeling there will be a lot of those for the foreseeable future. Cheers.

Tasting champagne in Champagne

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Five Fun Things to Do in Cuba

Planning a trip to Cuba and looking for what to do? Here are five highlights of my trip when I went to the The Pearl of the Antilles a few years ago.

Five Fun Things to Do in Cuba

Stay with the locals
The Cubans were way ahead of sites like AirBnB and crashing in someones house has been a way of earning some cash for locals for a long time. For tourists it's a fantastic way of taking a peek in a real Cuban household and getting a glimpse into the local way of life.

Five Fun Things to Do in Cuba

Hitch a ride in an American old timer
Getting around in Cuba can be a bit of an adventure as public transport is quite limited. Having said that, it's really easy to hitch rides from locals looking to make a few extra bucks driving around tourists in their American old timers. As parts are hard to get by, do expect the occasional break down.

Five Fun Things to Do in Cuba

Listen and dance to salsa music
Cuba is the birthplace of salsa and there are lots of venues to listen to locals play and have a little swing around the dance floor. You'll even find some impromptu performances in the Malecon in Havana or in the square in Santiago's town centre.

Five Fun things to do in cuba



Sleep on the beach at Maria la Gorda
One of the more secluded beaches in Cuba and great for diving, it's worth the trek which happens to be a easy on the eye as well. The drive from Havana to Maria la Gorda goes through Vinales. With its oddly shaped hills and numerous tobacco plantations, it's worth a little detour along the way. Once in Maria la Gorda there is a lack of accommodation, but we ended up sleeping in hammocks on the beach and slept under the stars.

Five Fun Things to Do in Cuba


Have lots of mojitos and daiquiries
Step in Hemingway's footsteps and have a "mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and a daiquiri in the Floridita". A bit touristy, but a must do when in Havana. However, don't do as I do and sit on his stool at the Floridita. It didn't make the bar manager very happy.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Bubble Tea at Bubbleology

Bubble Tea at Bubbleology

Bubble tea seems to be all the rage right now and bubble tea shops are popping up around London like mushrooms. So last weekend I decided to leave my cup of English breakfast tea for what it was and went to check out Bubbleology in Soho to see what the fuss was all about.

Bubble Tea at Bubbleology

Bubble tea or pearl milk tea hails from Taiwan where it has been around since the 1980s. It's a hot or cold tea based drink with fruit flavours or with milk. The bubbles refer to the little tapioca balls that roll around the bottom of the cups.

Bubble Tea at Bubbleology

Walking into ultra modern Bubbleology, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the choice of teas in the menu. Hot or cold? Milk or fruit? Flavoured jelly or popping boba? Luckily the bubble barista came to the rescue. He suggested a fruity tea and recommended a white peach and mango blend. He added tapioca balls and some lychee filled popping boba as well, sealed it up and my drink was ready.

Sitting down at one of the few tables, it took me a while to figure out how to push the straw in. I just copied two guys at the next table and managed to do it (simply hold it over the seal and give it a good bang till the seal pops).

Bubble Tea at Bubbleology

To say that it tasted nice wouldn't do my bubble tea experience justice. Having bubble tea was a sensory feast for eyes and mouth; Not only were the colour combos of the tea and the tapioca bubbles eye poppingly bright, there were all kinds of weird things happening on my tongue. There were fruity flavours pleasing my tastebuds, chewy tapioca balls dancing on my tongue and boba bubbles popping and squirting out sweet fruit juice. It kind of like playing with an edible bubble-wrap; just as gratifying, but more tasty.

Who would've thought a drink could be so much fun and I can't wait to go and have one again. No more boring builders tea for me. I'm hooked.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Touring Northern Ireland



                      This photo of NI Black Taxi Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Some trips are just more memorable than others. For me it was a trip I took to Northern Ireland, not because of its amazing sites or jaw-dropping scenery, but because it gave us some insight in life. I was living in Dublin at the time and a colleague and I hopped on a Tir Na Nog tour. It was a three day Northern Ireland backpacker tour that would take is from Dublin to Derry/Londonderry, the Giant's Causeway and Belfast a country steeped in a bloody history.

Touring Northern Ireland

On the first day, we arrived in Derry/Londonderry where we were taken on a city walk through the town centre. Now a city walk through any town centre sounds pretty mundane, but this one was a bit different. The town centre looks much like any other town centre in the UK, but standing on top of the old city walls we had a good view on the surrounding residential areas and what stood out weren't pretty church spires or lovely parks. What stood out here, were watchtowers and walls topped with barbed wire were cutting through neighborhoods, keeping residents with different political views and beliefs separate. Our guide pointed out an area called the Bogside where chilling murals were painted on the side of the houses. This is the neighborhood where the troubles started back in 1969 with a three day protest, and the spot of Bloody Sunday in 1972 when 26 people were killed by the British army.


                      This photo of Paddy Campbell's Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The following day we drove on to Belfast via the Giant's Causeway, a peaceful break from all the historic bloodiness. Here we went on a black cab tour that took. Our guides and drivers gave us unbiased accounts of the history of the city's segregation and what it was and is like living here. They took us to Shankill road where red, white and blue flags strung across a field were flapping in the cold wind. The unnerving murals on the sides of the houses surrounding the empty field were staring us down. The painted snipers and balaclava-ed soldiers aiming rifles back at us, made us all feel a tad jumpy and when the wind picked up an empty beer can, we all let out a scream.

Touring Northern Ireland

We drove past the International Peace Wall, drove through the wall's gates and stopped at Sinn Fein's HQ and Bombay street and also had a look at a catholic family's back yard. Their garden was covered by chicken mesh to protect them from petrol bombs thrown from the other side of the wall. Imagine your kids playing in a garden like that.


                      This photo of NI Black Taxi Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After touring the two cities and seeing all that barbed wire segregation and violent murals and hearing about so much bloodshed and human losses, I couldn't imagine living in a place like that. Till we went to the pub that night. My friend and I ended up sitting in a booth with a catholic Northern Irish couple and their very English and protestant friend. There was no fighting or arguing at that table. Just a jolly good night with lots of beers and good conversation. The way it always should be.

Tir Na Nog Tours doesn't seem to exist anymore, but there are plenty of other backpacker tours out there. Try Shamrocker or Paddywagon.