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Weekend in Vienna – win a trip to Vienna


Schönbrunn Palace

It’s been many years since I’ve been to Vienna now but it holds many fond memories for me. I visited the city 3 times on my first trip to Europe, a 9 month trip of eating, drinking and having a good crack at womanising.

Being a lover of great food I remember well going to this small restaurant on the Berggasse with an old couple running it.

I had the best schnitzel and salad ever and being a backpacker the price needed to be good as well.

So while I have my ancient memories of times gone by, its another recollection of just how majestic the city of Vienna is, that stays with me to this day.

Like most of Europe Vienna’s architecture suffered greatly during WW2 but a number of significant buildings were either were not affected or were rebuild.

Today you are able to see great palaces, opera houses and museums

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence of the Habsburg emporers. The 1,441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in Austria.

Hofburg Palace is the former imperial palace in the centre of Vienna. Part of the palace forms the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. It was the principal imperial winter residence, while Schönbrunn Palace was their summer residence.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum “Museum of Art History”, also often referred to as the “Museum of Fine Arts” is an art museum in Vienna, Austria. Housed in its festive palatial building on Ringstraße, it is crowned with an octagonal dome.

This is only scratching the surface of what Vienna has to offer but there was one thing I loved and if you want to release you inner James Bond is to go to the Prater (ferris wheel) and walk in his shoes from The Living Daylights movie. Even better if you can find a girl to play the Maryam d’Abo role.

ImperialTalk have a competition that is open and the first prize is a trip to Vienna and is simple to enter

The first prize is a weekend for two people with 2 nights in a 4-star hotel in Vienna including breakfast (double room). Other conveniences include: Return flight to Vienna (direct flights only in Economy class), transfer from/to the airport in Vienna, a welcome package, two Vienna Cards with more than 210 discounts as well as free travel on the subway, buses and trams for 72 hours, to be redeemed by 31.10.2016.

Go to ViennaTouristBoard for more tourist information on Vienna a grand and imperial city to visit. As Ultravox said Ohhhhhh Viennnnna.

Ecotour – Kyrgyzstan Horse Riding Tours


Ecotour organizes travel for individuals, small groups and families (with children). We have prepared for our guests thematic cultural programs – meeting the nomads, felt making and active adventurous tours

– trekking, horse riding, mountain bike trips and cycling tours and tours for bird watching, nature photography, and a tour exclusively for women. We also offer programs at a discount during spring and autumn.

All of our programs are very interesting and unique. You can join a group or make the trip individually. When travelling individually you can create your own itinerary with departure date of your choosing.

In cooperation with local people we have organized a small net of 5 yurt camps (4-7 yurts per camp). You will stay in these yurt camps, sometimes in guesthouses or with local people in the villages. We offer a great variety of tours, some strenuous, some very relaxed

Our guests can pick a yurt camp of their liking and we can inform them about the activities that are organized from this particular camp. By combining several places to stay in a time span of 2 or 3 weeks, guests can thus enjoy the different sceneries and different activities. We will gladly assist each guest in composing a tour to her/his liking.

Also it is possible to combine one special tour (for example horse riding or textile) with an individual program in one or two yurt camps you like. Most of our guests have a three weeks` holiday since the places are surrounded by different landscapes and offer different activities.

Ecotours website has details and itinerary of all the tours offered.

Here is what other travellers have to say about Ecotours

We can give our warm recommendations to anyone considering going to Kyrgyzstan in general, and with Ecotour in particular! In June 2008 we spent two weeks in some of Ecotour’s yurt camps, and it was a highly memorable experience. Ecotour was very flexible and had arranged a programme that suited our wishes perfectly. We got horse riding, camel riding, hot springs, hiking in the mountains, varied landscapes (from semidesert to green, lush vallies and high, dramatic mountains) and delicious and very varied food. Our guide/interpreter was also excellent and felt more like a friend than a guide.

Tom & Karin

Sweden

I enjoyed the trekking a lot. The views on Son Kul lake changed every hour and were breath-taking, the silence in the mountains was delicious and soothing and the valley of Temir Kanat was one of the most beautiful I have seen.

When you manage to route the first part of the trekking a bit more in the direct neighborhood of the Tien Shan mountains (the views on these huge white peaks I liked the most), then you have the perfect trip, I think.

The guides did take very good care of us.

Sietse

Netherlands

Food and Cuisine of Hoi An – Paradise in Vietnam for the Food Lover


Food in Hoi An

A trip to Vietnam is not complete without visiting Hoi An, a Unesco World Heritage Site. While not being a large town (120,000 people) there are plenty of things to see in Hoi An and you can easily spend 3 days seeing the major sights, most of all enjoying the local cuisine that includes some fantastic regional specialties.

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The history of Hoi An is predominately based around trading and Hoi An was the most important trading port in the South China Sea in the 17th and 18th centuries, trading in ceramics and spices, which were exported all over Asia.

The legacy of this history is some very old and historic buildings and a rich cuisine with some external influences, such as the French, Japanese and Chinese.

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Banh Mi

The main culinary gift the French exported to Vietnam was the baguette and is the base of the Banh Mi.

The Vietnamese baguette is lighter than the French variety, it’s made with rice flour as well as wheat flour. Added to the baguette is pork, sometimes egg and pate’ which is almost always made at home. Then add coriander (cilantro),

Cucumber,onion, mint and mayonnaise and often pickled carrot and daikon radish. Some chilli or sweet chilli sauce is also added depending on your tolerance level.

It’s a great and cheap meal to have for lunch and backpackers are seen at all the local Banh Mi shops.

The most visited Banh Mi shop in Hoi An is Banh Mi Phuong which was made famous on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

Hoi An Crispy Pancake

Another great snack and regional specialty is the Hoi An Crispy Pancake. In Vietnamese called Banh Xeo – sizzling cake.

It’s similar enough to crepes to think there maybe a French influence in this dish as well.

The pancake is made from rice flour, turmeric and coconut milk/cream and then bean sprouts,shrimp and pork are added to the batter.

Once the batter is cooked rice paper is used as a base next layer the pancake and then put cucumber, green banana coriander (cilantro), mint on top of the pancake and roll it like it’s a cold roll and eat. Just fantastic!

You can buy the pancakes in the local market and you eat them with your hands, true street food.

This dish is taught at most of the local cooking schools of which there are many.

Cao Lau Noodles

This noodle dish is something you will only find in Hoi An and the legend that surrounds it, is that the taste and texture can only be achieved using water from the Ba Le water wheel (although it is quite likely an urban myth).

It’s also said the ash of a burnt local tree gives the dish its taste and texture.

Nobody can be sure of the origins of the dish but the fact that it is unique to Hoi An and is reminiscent of a Japanese or Chinese noodle dish, you would think that it is a local attempt to replicate a Chinese or Japanese

dish a few centuries ago to sell to the traders.

Different restaurants cook the dish in slightly different ways the dish is normally pork, noodle and vegetable with a broth and sauce.

There are many Cao Lau noodle makers in Hoi An outside of the old town where you can enjoy a bowl of Cao Lau Noodles

You can see the noodles being made all over town being laid to dry on the pathways, out the front of the homes of the noodle makers.

Crispy Wontons

This dish is out of left field and something I would more likely expect to see in Mexico. In Vietnamese this dish is called Hoanh Thanh.

Crispy Wontons are fried wontons filled with pork. It’s a bit like a fried tortilla but the thing that’s most Mexican like is the salsa that’s added at the end.

It’s a tomato based salsa with vegetables and coriander (cilantro), it’s a fresh taste that’s ideal for the hot climate in the area.

Pho

If you are in Vietnam you will find Pho (pronounced) fur everywhere. The Hoi An variety is much like the Saigon style which is a lighter broth with star anis, very floral with plenty of herbs.

The more north you travel the more that Pho tends to change to a more winter like soup by European tastes.

Unlike in Europe the soup is eaten for breakfast in Vietnam and you will find Pho in nearly all the places you go in Vietnam.

It’s a taste sensation when done well and you’ll find everyone will have a different master stock so no two restaurants will have Pho’s that are exactly the same.

Hoi An is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam and should be on the itinerary of every food lover visiting Vietnam

Relax with nature in Tuscany at Oasi Maremma Village


The thought of Tuscany brings evocative images into my mind. The sun setting behind a vineyard as you snack on olives and sip on your glass of wine.

I guess everyone gets a different picture in their mind when they think if a certain place and that’s my image of Tuscany.

One place where you can satisfy that desire is at Oasi Maremma Village where you can let one of 48 newly built apartments for you holiday in Tuscany.

There are many things to see and do near Oasi Maremma Village and is very close to Scarlino a small medieval village on Alma Mountain, with a view of the blue sea.  Scarlino’s history is linked to the noble Aldobrandeschi family, dating back to the eleventh century.

Walk along its medieval walls to the Rocca Aldobrandesca castle, walk through ancient streets and encounter the Romanesque atmosphere of the San Donato church, dating back to the 12th Century.

Only 40km away is Grosetto a town that dates back to the 9th century, see the 16th Century Medicean Walls and Grosseto cathedral you can spend a great day exploring the town and its history. You could spend days exploring all the churches, abbeys and palaces in Grosseto but you may not want to because Siena and Florence are only a 2 hour drive away as well.

Within the city walls you can visit

  • Church of San Francesco. Situated in the square, it was built in the 13th-century, initially an important Benedectine, later Franciscan convent. The complex underwent several restorations and reconstructions: the bell was rebuilt in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Convent of Clarisse. Located on strada Vinzaglio, the convent is annexed to the Church of Bigi. The convent of Clarisse and the church of Bigi are now desecrated. The entire complex is characterized by the probable medieval origins, which was followed by a series of restorations in Baroque style in the 17th century.
  • Church of San Pietro. The oldest religious building in town, it was built along the stretch of the Via Aurelia that crossed the center and was originally a plebeian and stational church along the old consular road.
  • Church of Misericordia (19th century). It belonged to various religious orders during the following centuries, before moving on brotherhood in the early decades of the 19th century.

Another daytrip you could take is to Portoferraio best known as the location of Napoleon’s first exile (Elba) there are a number of historic forts on the island for you to visit, you can get to Elba on a ferry from Piombino.

And if the history is not enough you have the beach and there is a great sand beach nearby for you to swim and spend some time in the sun.

For more information about accommodation at Oasi Maremma Village please go to the website oasimaremma.it

The end of the line – Ho Chi Minh City


Rex Hotel Saigon

The final leg of the Reunification Railway and the terminus is Ho Chi Minh City. The journey started in spectacularly dodgy style. I get to Nha Trang railway station nice and early and I go over to the desk and the woman on the desk checks my ticket and says for me to wait in the seats until the train comes – usual story.

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I have a chat to the guy next to me who is Vietnamese lives in Philadelphia, I guess this is something that would happen a lot, I know where I live there is a large population of Vietnamese now in the second generation. Anyway a fair bit before the train is due the woman from the desk says I should go out on the platform – no one else does though, she gets me a chair to sit on and the realization dawns on me she doesn’t work for the railway.

Anyway she’s seen that I’ve got an extra ticket and she wants it. “no no no no no”. “it’s my friends”..: Where’s your friend” He’s coming”.

So then she says when she comes back she wants some money.. so anyway I gave her some fuck off money and she was gone. I get on the train and the conductor had sold the spare seat to a Vietnamese woman in 15 minutes flat – I should have sold it myself in the train station.

So at about 6 in the morning I’ve arrived at Ho Chi Minh City after not much sleep at all.

Now I have to disclose here I didn’t like Ho Chi Minh City very much at all.

Here are some of the reasons:

1. The noise of the traffic is incessant, people continually beeping their horn. Even if they were the only ones on the road.

2. Saigon is noticeably more expensive than anywhere else in Vietnam and its not better.

3. When you walk around, it is on the edge of being dangerous. Crossing the road you need nerves of steel and on the footpath you occasionally need to dodge a motorbike or two.

4. A 2 inch cockroach ran across our table at a Yakatori restaurant we went to in the Japanese area – District 1.

5. Not being able to walk 50 metres without some guy trying to sell you sunglasses.

6. You get to Vung Tau from Saigon to escape the heat and Vung Tau is a very ordinary place.

7. The heat made it difficult to walk around that much.

So other than all that Saigon was really good. One thing that we did right was stay in the Japanese area (District 1) this was full of good restaurants and nightlife.

The highlight for me was having having a drink at the Rex Hotel because even though the bar would be nothing like it was 40 years ago you could feel the history being there.

Another good find was Pho 64 which was reasonable Pho but you could get it for lunch and in most other places Pho is breakfast only dish.

So it was with much reluctance I got the taxi back out to the airport for my flight home and reflecting back I know I will be returning to Vietnam sometime soon.

Dodging a Typoon – Nha Trang


Vinpearl Nha Trang

The train trip south to Nha Trang was another overnight sleeper trip. This time it was our first encounter with Vietnam Rail First Class Sleeper Air-Con. It was pretty bad. Despite labor being so cheap in Vietnam they appear to not want to worry about leaving dirty sheets on beds and as one person leaves another arrives in the compartment to use the same facilities.We had 2 middle-aged women who were stowaways in the compartment – 2 of them sleeping in one bed. At first I thought she was the conductor because she wanted to see our tickets. See, steal who knows. After a little while one of the conductors worked out what was going on and once she had paid her bribe everything was OK for her trip down south.

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Arriving in a wet Nha Trang in the morning after it rained all night we made our way to our hotel where the sky decided to fall in on us again with a massive tropical storm. We didn’t know at this stage but we were getting rain from the first tropical storm of the season Tropical Storm Pakhar.

So what can be said of Nha Trang, this was supposed to be the couple days of our trip where we could go down the beach, I could eat seafood as I’d seen so many great things written online about Nha Trang seafood. Because of the typhoon we lazed around ate breakfast until about 11 at the sailing club, then relax some more, looking out on the grey sky and brown ocean and wonder – only if it would stop raining.

One thing I can say about Nha Trang – plenty of Russians. Apparently there is a charter airline flying in from Siberia direct to Nha Trang in Boeing 737’s – can’t say I really want to do that trip! The beaches looked OK considering there was so much brown water and floating debris being washed up on the shore.

One day we went across to the VinPearl resort on the island and spent the day playing arcade games. This was my last day in Nha Trang and the weather had just started to clear – it didn’t rain much but the water was still brown.

The food was a bit mixed, it was more expensive than anywhere in the north and I didn’t think it was really better. The Sailing Club on the foreshore was an exception though while their breakfasts were excellent, still more expensive than most, I was still paying a lot less than home.