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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Alternative Zagreb

Holidays are booked! Train schedules are written down in my travel notebook, itinerary ideas are scribbled and the only thing left to do is book a hotel in Croatia, Zagreb to be more specific. I’m not heading to the seaside like the rest, I’m sticking to Zagreb.

One thing I love about Zagreb is that it’s still largely undiscovered by the general tourist public. Croatia surely isn’t though but many seem to still think that this country’s capital is just for passing through. Unfortunately for them, they’re missing a true gem of Croatian culture, not just the folklore you’d expect either. I’m talking about underground alternative culture. It’s thriving.

Where can you find it?

Let’s take it slow here, there a handful of places that will certainly get you started on finding the right trail to Zagreb’s more youthful and alternative culture, perfect for backpackers and those just simply curious in what the “young people” are doing these days.

  • Kino Europa – Old and truly beautiful, this cinema is a landpark on Varšavska Street. Originally it opened in 1924 and now is a cinema/dance hall/café/art gallery/hag out for Zagreb’s artsy youth. Screenings are more likely to include independent films, national & international festival laureates, documentaries, etc. rather than the ones you’ll find at the Movieplex.
  • Zrinjevac – This is a square, a green square  where you’ll likely see a lot of locals on a sunny summer afternoon. There are several fountains and a pavilion as well as a sculpture collection. Live concerts take place here on a regular basis and is lively both day and night.
  • Museum of Street Art – This isn’t exactly a permanent space since street art in Zagreb comes in many shapes and forms. There is a constant dialogue between artists, locals and city authority, what else is new? Check out the wall on Branimirove Street, it’s been painted by some of Croatia’s most famous. Novi Zagreb is notorious for its graffiti.
  • Booksa – When it comes to down-time, Booksa is the place to do it. It’s likely you’ll be the only tourist here, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a book club, it’s cool, all are welcome. Find a comfy chair and browse newspapers and magazines, books, novels and catalogues. Friday nights there is live music or other cultural events.
  • Medika – The first legalised squat house in Croatia, Medika is a thriving art and culture house that is open to the public. Visit the flea market here, join a workshop, watch a dance performance or just hang out. Latte’s are cheap, as is the beer and rakija, so enjoy!

Have you ever been to Croatia or Zagreb? Have any tips to share, places to see?

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The legendary Silk Road, which wind itself on land and over the world’s great waters has always been an interest of mine. More specifically, the places  along this historical trade route between my home and Ancient China, Tibet and India.

The route was used during the Han dynasty, in the first century through the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, to export silks, jewels and gems, rhubarb and glass, medicine, herbs, spice and perfumes, other rich textiles and even slaves. The main route starts inland China, Luoyang and goes west passing India and through Persia to Damascus. The rest of the trip is made by boat to Turkey, Italy and Greece.

One thing is true about this route: it is filled with unforgettable cultural adventures!

I’ve always wanted to travel it, but I know that even in historical times it was rare that anyone ever travelled the entire way. Agents used to transport the goods and silks only for part of the way, passing it on to the next agent on the route. The first thing to do in order to get ready to travel the Silk Road is gathering the literature: stories, art history books, anthropology studies, novels… There is no shortage of folklore and references to the Silk Road in literature.

The next thing is starting to make your itinerary. Deciding to do the journey in parts is a good idea, especially if you don’t have too much time to travel like me. Even now I wouldn’t put trekking through Iran or Iraq at the top of my list because of their current political situation, but if you want to pass through the least amount of countries possible, head this way: Syria, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Iran , Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China.

I’d love to start my journey from the beginning, working my way back towards Europe, keeping north of the Plateau of Tibet and hiking along the mountains. Read up on the countries and more specifically the regions you want to visit, some have tourist advisories, danger areas and required visas.

The only way to travel this route is with all of the necessary research. Knowing about the currency, culture, history (modern and ancient), geography and current affairs will make the journey much more rewarding. Some recommend picking up a Lonely Planet for each country, but to be honest I don’t want to weigh down my pack with guide books. Keep a notebook with the most important information or tear out (I know, I said it, I want you to rip out pages of a book) the pages that are necessary, keeping them in a small folder or inside a notebook. You also won’t be spotted as the “tourist” from first glance.

This is where I’m going to leave you, stranded at choosing an itinerary. What do you pack for such a journey? What would be your top choices for countries?

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I know how much the post on tortilla in Spain attracted all of you, I mean, who doesn’t love reading about travelling and food? So I thought about adding another recipe to a dish I loved to eat while travelling through the south of Spain and into Morocco. Felafel is a staple if you’re travelling in the Middle East and Norther Africa, especially if you’re vegetarian like me. If you’ve never tasted the glory that is felafel, it’s a ball of fried ball of chickpeas or fava beans and some herbs and spices. These balls are put into a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickled vegetables and drizzled in tahini (or my favourite, tzaziki). You can also eat felafal with a meze or just on its own as a snack.

I can’t talk about a food without a little bit of history… Felafel originated in Egypt and some believe it was eaten initially by the Copts to replace meat while Lent was going on. When the dish migrated to Levant, the fava beans were replaced by chick peas. Now its a staple in street food and fast food in the Middle East… did you know that you can even find it at McDonalds in some countries?? “One McFelafel, please!” I can just imagine.

What you’ll need:

  • a blender or food processor
  • 2 bowls
  • 1 spoon
  • 1 tray
  • 1 slotted spoon
  • 1 sauce pan
  • paper towels or napkins

Ingredients:

  • 250 g chick peas, pre-cooked or cook them beforehand
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 handful of coriander, chopped
  • 1 chili, chopped
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • salt & pepper

1. Put the chickpeas into the blender and pulse it a few times and then on full to make a bread-crumb like texture. Transfer it into a bowl. Then purée these ingredients: parsley, coriander, chili, and 2 spoons of the chick pea mix. Mix until well combined.

2. Mix the two together then add the flour, cumin, crushed coriander seeds, baking soada and 1 1/2 tbsp of salt (approx). Add finally a bit of pepper and combine at all with a spoon. If it’s too dry, add a little water.

3. Preheat the oil in the pan. Then form balls out of the mixture and drop them in whe the oil is hot enough to fry. With this size batch, you should be able to make around 25 felafel balls. Fry in batches for 2 minutes until they are golden brown and then place on a tray with kitchen towels to absorb the oil. Once all of them are done, you’re ready to build your pita.

Take a look at this video for the step-by-step:

Middle Eastern:
How To Make Falafel

Let me know if you try the recipe and how it turned out! I’d love to hear about your gastronomy travellers too, what are your staples while on the road? In Spain I can recommend Granada for Moroccan food, it’s very cheap and super delicious, including Felafel. As for Morocco, you’ll find great food just about anywhere!

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An elephant standing guard (sxe)

The appeal of travelling to learn something new is becoming more and more popular. Many of my friends, myself included, have studied abroad, taking advantage of our university-organized programs that allow students these days to do this so easily. But many more travellers are choosing their destinations for different types of learning opportunities. A few that come to mind at the moment are yoga retreats, language courses, cooking classes (see my post about Tuscan cooking classes), surf school among more I am sure.

Why not travel to learn something new, a skill to bring back with you? I remember my mom travelled to Malaysia years ago and took some batiking classes, supporting the local women’s culture centre while she was there and being able to bring back some hand-made souvenirs at the same time. She was crazy about batiking afterward. I was recently let in on the best classes to take while travelling to Thailand, a magical escape.

Bangkok is the best place to start. Fortunately for us, tourism is huge in Thailand right now and there are many hotel deals to choose from. Finding cheap flights to Bangkok is a cinch too,  from £358 you can be in Thailand in no time. Bangkok caters to students from around the world, offering many diverse and exciting different opportunities for the foodie, the casual Buddhist, the foreign language expert and the sensual masseuse. Picking up a few tips and tricks along the way are entirely worth it, so here’s my list of the best courses to take while visiting Thailand.

Thai Language – you can take a beginner’s class in Thai language for 100B to 200B (£2-3) an hour to learn some basic phrases and get a small glimpse into the magic of Thai. Check out AAA Thai Language Centre for different classes and schedules. Grab a group of friends and get the group rate. Travelling alone? Try asking some other staying at the same hotel or hostel as you, you’ll probably make some good friends along the way.

Thai Cooking – cooking Thai food is not science, you just need a little practice and some guidance on what spices go with what and how. There are a lot of great cooking school in Bangkok, but I recommend Baipai Thai Cooking School which offers completely hands on classes. There are even 1/2 day ones available for those who really want to see all the sights in Bangkok as well as learn something special. The courses per person average around 1800B (£35).

Buddhas in a row in Bangkok (WV Jazzman via flickr)

Meditation / Massage – want to learn how to meditate from the real masters? Many Buddhist centers in Bangkok are open to Western travellers and focus on insight meditation methods called vipassana. Try Dharma Thai for different meditation courses and workshops. For massage, learn some new tricks that your friends and special friends will definitely enjoy. The best place to go first is Wat Pho Thai Traditional Massage School which holds classes frequently. A 30 hour class costs around 8500B which is £165.

Muay Thai – this is a traditional style of boxing. Many foreigners head to Thailand to learn this style which is known to be rigorous and extremely strict. A real work out for your body. If you’re interested, check out Sor Vorpin which offers one-day and weekly training sessions for foreigners. Their half-day session costs 500B (£10).

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Dublin, the capital of Ireland is a perfect place for autumn holidays. The City of Dublin is both the capital and the largest city in Ireland – an important cultural centre, with wonderful mingling of ancient and modern Gaelic art.

lighthouse ireland

It has a maritime climate with mild winters and moderate summers, with raining almost all the year round. Among the best deal hotels I had found on a price-comparing website, there is Dublin IMI Residence, a prestigious 3 star hotel located right in the heart of the city, offering 50 spacious and tastefully decorated rooms, available from 57 euros per night. I’d rather opt for a cheap hotel in Dublin, mainly because of financial reasons, and also to stay near the National Museum of Ireland or the National Gallery, but also within walking distance of the Temple Bar district and its famous nightlife… J Bewleys Hotel Ballsbridge is another 3 star hotel from the list that has excellent brewery and a renowned gourmet restaurant. To spend an extraordinary day outside the city, why not go to Shelbourne Park or Leopardstown to bet on a horse race or greyhound? You could enjoy the last moments of your stay walking along the banks of the Liffey, where you can see many wonders, like the Christ Church Cathedral or the Ha’penny Bridge. If you stay in the IMI Residence, the luxury hotel in Sandyford Road, you’ll be closer to these monuments but you will be to pay 60 euros per night to enjoy the impeccable services and the beautifully decorated rooms. For further information visit: http://www.gov.ie/en/

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