Here Comes The Planet 69 – Split and Hvar (2018)

We visit the Croatian town of Split and its nearby island Hvar.

More info about Pičigin

Interesting articles about cruise ships in Dubrovnik:
(1) Crowds and cruise ships have ‘ruined’ Dubrovnik
(2) Has Dubrovnik solved the problem of overcrowding from cruise ships?

Click here to read Amanda’s entry about this part of our trip!

Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.

Here Comes The Planet 54 – Tanzania 07

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we take a cultural tour around Mto wa Mbu Village in Tanzania. This consists of walking through the village’s farms and sampling an amazing array of delicious food, learning about the village’s history and entertaining its children.

We also watched some local artists at work, sampled banana beer and found the village nightclub!

Also – DISCO TOTO!!!

Here Comes The Planet 49 – Tanzania 05

In this episode Team Toto soar above the Serengeti in a hot air balloon and drink champagne like the rock stars they wish they were! An unforgettable experience that we shared with many of our travel companions.

Also, I deliver on a promise I made to amp up the excitement of a balloon coming in to land… 😉

Thanks again to Pete and Deb for letting us use some of their footage!

Here Comes The Planet 41 – DMF Trivia Night

NOTE: Feel free to skip this episode if you’re not one of our friends back in Melbourne – you won’t miss out on anything. 🙂

In an episode that will, I suspect, be of interest only to our friends back home, we meet up with friends in Edinburgh to take part in the DMF trivia night that’s being held in Melbourne. The Euro team take part via the internet. Gotta love technology! Thanks to Anth for running the quiz and everyone else who helped set it up. Was great to see you all.

Also, find out who wins trivia! Will it be us? I hope it’s us.

(Spoiler: It’s us.)

Portugal: Lagos and Porto (pt 1)

After wasting four nights in Seville we opted for two in Lagos, leaving our options open to stay longer if we liked the place.

Lagos is on the southern coast of Portugal, about five hours by bus from Seville along a rather dull stretch of highway. It’s a little town with an old vibe – and it’s not just the buildings. This is equivalent of Noosa to Europe’s Melbourne. Retirees from England, Germany and other richer countries buy apartments here, or just descend in motorhomes to soak up the sun and bake themselves gently on the golden beaches.

Although how they manage all the stairs I have no idea.

Lagos has a reputation for being a bit of a party town too, with a few nightclubs and bars for the younger crowd but the season was ending and we weren’t really in the mood anyhow. All the restaurants have menus in English and German and there’s a long promenade along the waterfront, lined with palm trees. It’s not a place that screams ‘culture’, but it’s certainly an easy spot to spend a few days. We walked around, ate some Portuguese food but didn’t spend any time on the beach because it was raining on and off the whole time. If it wasn’t for the Portuguese bogans (chavs/rednecks) screaming outside our window each morning and night we’d have had no excitement at all.

We thought about staying longer but the lure of England after months of not speaking the local language was too strong. However, we decided on one more stop – Porto in northern Portugal.

View of Porto, taken from the south side of the river.

We caught 3 trains that took us all the way from south to north. Irritatingly, no one seemed to bother about sitting in their assigned seats. This was only an issue for us because on an overnight bus in Turkey we’d gotten on and someone had been sitting in our seats but the man at the bus terminal had said ‘don’t worry, sit anywhere’. Then we stopped at the next place (very late at night) and the new guy made everyone get up and find their own seats and sit in the right place, which was a pain but should’ve been done at the first stop. Why bother assigning seats if you don’t care where people sit? Assigned seats are much to be preferred though – we caught a Ryanair (world’s most hated airline) flight back from Porto (trust me, if it wouldn’t have cost us several hundred euros more we would’ve happily spent 24 hours training it back to the UK) and watching everyone waiting for their unassigned-seat flight was ridiculous. People are much less relaxed, the flight staff have to cajol idiots who leave spare seats in the middle of rows when it is obvious the flight is full… GAH! I can feel my blood pressure going up just thinking about that company. Don’t get me started on their hidden fees, baggage restrictions, and their sly wallet-gouging techniques. A pox on their house.

But Porto! Porto is beautiful. Really beautiful. And I can say that unequivocally because we saw it in mostly crappy weather and it still made a great impression.

From above Porto reminded me of a very large Cesky Krumlov – all those red roofs and the river flowing through.

For the uninitiated, Porto is home to the drink, port. No surprises there. We went on a tour of a  port house (ignore me calling them wineries on the video when Luke gets around to it) and learned a bit about the history of the drink and the place. Turns out that when England and France went to war several centuries ago and the English could no longer get their hands on French wine, they turned to Portugal to satisfy this need. They discovered that adding brandy to the wine kept it in good condition on its journey across the sea and also produced a much sweeter flavour that appealed very much to the English palate – hence port being a ‘fortified wine’. Only fortified wine from this part of Portugal may be called ‘port’. Many Englishmen moved to Portugal to produce this new drink, hence the fact that the port houses mostly have English names. Some port houses are still owned and run by the same families that started them in the 16th century.

Most people are familiar with ‘ruby’ and ‘tawny’ port but there are also white ports and rosès. We spent our first morning in Porto walking around the port houses and doing tastings. We tried several ruby and tawny ports, two whites and one rosè.

Pronounced “Coe-burns”.

Here’s an article on rosè port with a good description of how it should (could?) be consumed and its history.

We enjoyed all the ports we tried; the whites were comparatively drier and my favourite was the tawny, with its more caramel, rather than fruity flavours. I have tasted port before but it’s certainly not my go-to after dinner drink. This might change now I feel a little more confident and knowledgeable about it.

Some of the more interesting facts I learned on tour was that ruby and tawny ports start off as the same grapes and it is their storage methods which change their taste and appearance. Ruby is stored in large oak barrels and tawny in much smaller ones. It is the greater contact with the oak that changes the tawny into a nice amber colour and the flavours alter as well. The barrels that are used for port are then sent to places like Scotland for whisky production as whisky cannot be aged in a new barrel, it needs the flavours imparted by aged and used oak.

A note on going to Portugal and doing the tastings – we stopped at only three port houses but there are quite a number on the south side of the river, all within a fairly small area. They sit at various levels above the river on a very steep hill. The best idea is to pick whichever you intend to visit, get the cable car up from the riverside or cross the bridge to the highest point and then wander downhill with a map and use a GPS device (like google maps) to give you the best route – there are some paths which cut through blocks and will save you slogging up and down huge hills.

This bridge is most convenient – you can get from the highest point on one side to the highest point on the other side, or cross at the river level.

The tastings were mostly 3 euros for three varieties. Each glass at each house was about 100mls, which looks like a small amount but most definitely is not when you have eight of them – and port is generally around 20% alcohol. My advice is eat a big breakfast (or lunch, depending on when you go) and then you won’t end up with a mid-afternoon hangover. Or you could, y’know, not drink over a bottle of port in a few hours. With all the port houses so close to each other though, it’s very tempting to try to get to as many as possible in one outing. Plus there’s plenty of other things to do and see in Porto, so don’t spend all your time there drinking. Although it is tempting.

Before I move on to other things, here are the places we visited and a few notes.

1. Taylor’s. This port house is fairly far uphill and styles itself as very upmarket (and is – one of the bottles on sale was 2500 euros). However it was still only 3 euro per person for a basic three glass tasting. You can pay more for tastings of their more expensive ports. Their English language tour goes at 2pm and we were too early so we read their little guidebook, tried the port in their very pleasant tasting room and watched a short video on their vineyards and history.

100mls for 100 euro? I’ll have two!

2. Cockburn’s. (Don’t forget, pronounced ‘Coe-burns’.) This port house had a much more casual air than Taylors and we joined a tour that ended up being only six people and took about 20 minutes. We looked at the barrels, a map of the Duoro Valley where the grapes are grown and then tasted three ports. They were nice enough to give us a glass of white for free while we waited for the tour to start. This house also offers picnic lunches in their pretty courtyard under grapevines, but at 15 euro pp we didn’t bother. Plus it was raining so an outside picnic wasn’t all that appealing. The guy who did our tour had excellent English, encouraged questions and the whole experience was excellent value.

Luke and our guide, Sergio.

3. Quevedo. Just back from the waterfront, we weren’t actually planning on having any more port because we felt quite… jolly from the seven glasses we’d already had. However, when we bought tickets for the cable car (5 euro each) up to the bridge it came with a free tasting at this nearby house. So off we went. Quevedo has a large room with explanatory panels around it so you’ve got something to do while you binge-drink. We chose two different ports, including a rosè, and shared – something we should’ve been doing from the start. Their port was ok – the rosè was quite nice and almost strawberry-flavoured. Just a note – their website is a blog and talks about what’s going on with the current harvest, which might interest some of you.

I’m a bit sad that we only did three port houses but if we’d kept going we’d have missed out on many of the other great things Porto has to offer. Which I’ll get to in my next post!

Tawny port barrels.