About Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
Latest Posts by Jessica Festa
We flew over starkly desolate coastline in a four-seat Cessna 172, watching the freezing waves crashing against the sand, which drifted miles inland into soft-serve ice cream peaks. The size of the ancient desert came into full focus as we banked east to fly into Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve, part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest conservation area in Africa.
NAMIB TRAIL WALKERS – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
The African park is half the size of Belgium and holds a sea of sand pockmarked by mysterious “fairy circles” — unusual round patterns in the sparse vegetation. Much of Namibia’s scenery defies explanation. It felt as though we were flying over a martian landscape, sand the color of a forest fire sunset and surrounded by craggy, arid peaks. I would be exploring the area on foot for the next four days.
The pilot gently landed the Cessna on a compressed sand airstrip surrounded by a few low, simple buildings, where we were warmly greeted by Sebastian, our guide. We made our way to the verandah for lunch and Sebastian talked us through the insects, reptiles and mammals we might encounter on our journey as we gazed out at one of the oldest deserts on earth.
NAMIB FAIRY CIRCLES – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
The Reserve is about 2,100 square kilometers (811 square miles). During our visit, we would have nearly all of it to ourselves.
ORYX – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
Desert Life In Namibia
Namibia is home to some of the most uniquely adapted species on the planet. When travelers look closely they will see life thriving throughout the desert; life that would be difficult to see from a vehicle, and impossible to imagine from our approach from the sky. Namibia’s desert ecosystem is home to interesting mammals as well, including oryx, leopard, aardwolf and the endangered brown hyena, though if we were to encounter these species it would most likely be from a distance.
As we headed into the desert it immediately began to shed its sterile image. Jewel-like beetles scurried along dunes leaving delicate tracks in their wake. Spear-horned oryx walked regally in the distance, and sun-gold grasses waved in a gentle breeze. We made stops along the way to examine weaver nests and to learn why the birds architect them a certain way, to watch beetles burrow into the sand in the evening, and to decipher the tracks we constantly encountered in the red sand. We were completely unplugged and the setting and pace allowed for lots of time to think and reflect. Our time hiking was marked by the deserts’ quiet interspersed with small bursts of discovery.
A Delicious Desert Experience
In addition to the incredible privilege of exploring the landscape with just four other like-minded travelers, we were taken care of during mealtimes in a most indulgent manner. We earned those calories on our seven-to-eight hour daily journeys from campsite to campsite, but rather than just fueling up, we sat down to delicious homemade three-course dinners with wine. Chef Jawnesty would read the menu aloud each night prior to eating, first in English and then in staccato, click-tongued Khoekhoe, which somehow made the food sound even more delicious.
SUNSET OVER THE NAMIB DESERT – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
Peace Of The Desert
After dinner, we would take our exhausted bodies back to our campsites – a private spot with cots and cozy sleeping rolls, a canvas ‘sink’ with water, and the best natural light anyone has ever seen, the Milky Way. Bedding down under the night sky in one of the world’s only Gold-rated Dark Sky Reserves made me feel impossibly small in a refreshing sort of way. Watching the heavens sparkle with more stars than I could ever imagine made me want to stay awake all night, but the peace of the desert and physical fatigue lulled me into deep slumber.
Waking to the sun creeping over the sandy horizon, I watched the desert color burst to life. I tried to think when I had experienced so much time exposed to the elements. “Normal” life is spent shuttling between home and work, and a typical vacation might consist of beach activities or find us in museums and cafes. It was a rare gift to have the opportunity to be enveloped by raw nature with just a few creature comforts and no distractions. During the entire trek, we did not enter a shelter of any type – spending every moment under the vast Namibian skies.
NAMIB DESERT TRAIL WALKERS – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
A Transformative Walk
Days on the trail passed similarly — the steady rhythm of walking through the sand, vistas filled with impossibly beautiful scenery, stunning African wildlife, beautiful silence and solitude — all broken up by sumptuous meals and interesting conversation with our trail mates, hailing from Denmark and Zambia, respectively.
I wish I could walk in the NamibRand every year – to restore balance, to recharge my soul and to experience nature so intimately. As it stands, I keep the experience close and try to remember the perspective I learned while in the desert.
TOK TOKKIE BEETLE – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
Highlights Of The Tok Tokkie Trails Experience
Witnessing a totally unblemished landscape – The NamibRand Nature Reserve is totally unfenced and totally wild. It protects the unique ecology of the area, as well as seasonal wildlife migration routes and general biodiversity.
Feeling small – In addition to being a bit cowed by the incredible night skies, being the only people in the desert was a perspective-shifting experience. There’s a lot to be said for being reminded by nature that we aren’t the center of the universe.
Namibia is definitely a place to ‘get away’ – it’s more than twice the size of California, but has only 2.3 million people, most of which are concentrated in just a few areas.
Wildlife – Bugs, birds, reptiles, gazelle…we saw life everywhere we looked, including the tok tokkie beetle, for which our trek was named. Watching the animals in their undisturbed natural habitat proved both restive and fascinating.
Quiet – Possibly the quietest place I have ever experienced. In everyday life, even when it’s quiet, it’s not quiet. In the desert, the silence can be absolute. And once you are in tune with that quiet, a whole new world of sound can open up.
Sustainability – In addition to being a Dark Sky Reserve, NamibRand was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Namibians take their land and their animals seriously and are mindful of conservation. The Reserve restricts guest beds to one per 1,000 hectares, and every guest’s stay helps to fund the continued existence of the reserve. While vehicle safaris are allowed in certain areas, care is taken to minimize impact, and only established paths are used. Low-impact activities such as walking are encouraged, and the few lodges in the area are built to strict requirements. Travelers can visit this area of the world to see conservation done right.
JUVENILE SOCIABLE WEAVER – ©GRETCHEN HEALEY
CONTRIBUTED BY Gretchen Healey
Each year, Western citizens consume approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of palm oil, often without knowing it. Each year, the orangutan population worldwide decreases in frightening amounts. Palm oil deforestation and the population loss for the already endangered orangutans is a startling cause-and-effect in the environment.
Photo courtesy of Kjersti Joergensen via Shutterstock
What Is Palm Oil?
Palm oil, pressed from oil palm trees, is native to Western Africa but currently flourishes throughout Africa, Asia, North America and South America. Approximately 85% of all palm oil is produced in and exported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
It is estimated that one-third of all vegetable oil is palm oil. This is due to the relatively low production costs as well its low amount of trans fat, which is found in hydrogenated oils and may increase heart disease.
Palm oil is found in nearly 50% of all packaged products under several different names. It’s used in lipstick to hold the color and prevent melting, pizza dough to enhance texture, in instant noodles to pre-cook them so you don’t have to, as a conditioning agent in shampoo, in baked goods and chocolate to create a smooth texture, and can also be used to produce biofuel and biodiesel.
Unfortunately, the increase in palm oil has also led to an increase of unsustainable deforestation in many countries.
The Effects Of Palm Oil Deforestation
According to the World Wildlife Fund, approximately 90% of all oil palm trees are grown on the islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. These islands host some of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet and are home to endangered species such as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger.
Unfortunately, the clearing of land for palm oil plantations is having a wide range of negative effects on the local communities and environments. The United Nations Environment Program has declared palm oil the main driver of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. According to Say No to Palm Oil, an area the size of 300 football fields is cleared each hour for a new palm oil plantation.
Photo Courtesy of mrfiza via Shutterstock
As a result, communities and animals are finding themselves displaced. Endangered species such as the orangutan, Sumatran tiger and sunbear are finding themselves more accessible to poachers and smugglers.
Orangutans in particular are suffering due to palm oil deforestation. An estimated 50,000 orangutans have died due to palm oil deforestation in the past 20 years with approximately 6-12 being killed each day. Many die during deforestation as a result of being crushed by logs and machinery. Others, however, die at the hands of poachers. The owners of many plantations considered orangutans to be a pest and offer a reward to those able to kill the animal.
With orangutans losing 80% of their natural habitat in the past 20 years, scientists estimate that the species could be extinct in the wild in as little as 25 years, if the destruction of their habitat due to palm oil plantations is not stopped.
The Future Of Sustainable Palm Oil
Fortunately, efforts are being taken to turn palm oil into a sustainable crop. In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed as a non-profit to bring together stakeholders from all sides of the palm oil sector. Of the approximately 550 members, one-third represent consumer good manufacturers while 17% represent producers of oil.
Brands such as Walmart and Nestle are creating pressure for sustainably certified palm oil under the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) certification. In 2011, 10% of all palm oil was CSPO certified.
Regrettably, the conflicting interests of members of the RSPO slow progress. Very little change has been made in the past 10 years as the RSPO still allows the clearing of the bio-rich peatlands and secondary forests.
Photo courtesy of tristan tan via Shutterstock
By Sky Fisher
One thing I loved about home-basing in Ljubljana is the accessibility to countryside and nature. As the purpose of my Croatia-Slovenia journey was to be outside clearing my head in a beautiful place as much as possible. On the days before my hiking excursion, everyone kept warning me that it would rain.
Grey Skies Don’t Bother Us
By the time I meet my guide Miha at 8am, the grey sky has already opened up and clouds shield the sun. We hop in his Fiat, rain pattering down on the windshield, and he asks me and another guest, George from Greece, if we’d prefer to climb higher into the mountains and attempt some aerial viewpoints, or stay low and enjoy the nature as is, finding special spots lower to the ground.
Despite being a tourist in Slovenia, I honestly didn’t care much about viewpoints. I’d taken in some magnificent vistas at Lake Bled the day before and, for me at least, a hike wasn’t judged only on its aerial views. I just love being outside, enveloped in nature, my mind sitting snug in my own head, wandering only to the places I want it to. Beauty can be seen with every step, not just where someone decided to build a baroque church or create colorful street art. It’s Mother Nature’s palate, a work of art in my favorite gallery.
“Let’s stay low,” I reply happily.
We drive for about 90 minutes, grabbing a quick view of Lake Bled, and continuing to the alpine Vrata Valley. The narrow Jesenice – Kranjska Gora Road takes us toward Mojstrana, until we enter Triglav National Park and park in front of Peričnik Hut. From here, we’d be hiking to the multi-tiered Peričnik Waterfall.
At first we hike upward through woodland, the wet leaves no match for my trusty boots. It takes only 20 minutes before we come to the bottom tier of the waterfall, sitting 52 meters (171 feet) high, cascades flowing down into a bright emerald pool outlined by giant rocks. I’m told in winter it creates a mesmerizing icy curtain of icicles, which I’d love to come back and see sometime.
Once photos are taken Miha leads us higher, to the top tier, where we can look over the waterfall and have a different view. At first the trail is not much different from the first section — although my screaming thighs might beg to differ — until at one point the path becomes covered with an avalanche of icy snow, too slippery to climb over. We trek downward and then head up a steep path of stones — quite the challenge as they slip from under my feet, setting me into a crawl position.
Miha climbs ahead, digging footholds into the hill with his boots for me to grasp, until I make it to the flat path behind the 16-meter (55-foot) curtain waterfall, views of the Julian Alps shrouded in clouds creating a beautiful yet eery ambiance.
This is why I like hiking in the rain. While yesterday I cycled through mountain-hugged countryside on a clear day — and it was beautiful — today I get to know Northwest Slovenia’s other personality.
A Delicious Mountain Meal
By now we’ve worked up an appetite. We end up eating at an adorable wooden hiker hut featuring red and white checkered seat cushions and place mats, a warming furnace, flowery curtains, lots of wood accents and an old fashioned radio from which the day’s local ski jump races are being broadcast. The place, Tonkina Koca, offers energy-rich foods as well as accommodation for trekkers. According to the menu, it’s located at 1,380 meters (4,528 feet) high. Also according to the menu there are a variety of typical Slovenian stews for lunch, along with buckwheat bush, sauerkraut, bread with wild garlic topping, fried pork fat and a sort of bread roll stuffed with thick cottage cheese.
I wash it all down with Turkish coffee and, at the end, a shot of apple schnapps to warm my body and digest my food.
Best of all, I get to have a sort of cultural exchange, as Miha, George and myself compare experiences — what we typically eat, how we spend our summers, traditions, typical sayings — over our meals. I also get the chance to learn more about SloTrips, its philosophy and how it was started.
“The Slotrips.si project started as a collection of “do-it-yourself” trips for active travelers who want to explore Slovenia on their own,” Miha explains. “Apart from giving a lot of information on what to see & what do do, we are also recommending nice places to sleep & eat. The visitors of our webpage started contacting us and wanted to do guided & self-guided trips with us, even though we were initially not offering it. Now we have a small group of hiking & biking guides and a registered tourist agency to organize all sorts of active tours around Slovenia.”
After lunch I’m absolutely stuffed, to the point where I panic that I might be down for the count without at least an hour nap. Luckily, we have about 30 minutes to digest in the car before our next trek. The roads wrap like a snake around spruce tree mountainside, the snowy peaks of the Julian Alps glistening under the sunlight.
Yes! The rain had stopped and the sun is shining. It’s hard to believe just an hour before I’d been donning a raincoat and waterproof pants.
The Great Soča Gorge
Our next hike is in the Soča Valley, aptly named the Great Soča Gorge. Within five minutes of walking, I find myself standing over an bright emerald green river, oddly curved stones creating shapes and textured walls around the crystalline water.
“The color of water depends on its depth,” says Miha. “Water in general absorbs red and yellow light and reflects blue. That is why deep water is dark blue, like the sea. The microorganisms and other elements, like limestone, are dissolved in the Soča River and reflect a part of the green light spectrum. The combination gives this specific emerald color.”
The Gorge seems to go on forever — it actually goes on for 750 meters (2,461-feet) — and because Miha noticed George and I were “good walkers” this morning, he takes us along one of the area’s more adventurous paths, one he doesn’t take many guests, a slender outcropping of earth over the gorge, where we need to climb uphill over rocks while holding onto tree trucks and branches for balance.
“Give me your camera,” Miha advises beforehand. “You’ll need both hands for this one.”
I’m proud at Miha’s faith in my ability to not topple over the edge — especially given a clumsy and bloody incident just days prior — and I love the challenge. Not to mention I have a hearty meat stew to work off. With every view I take in as we get higher into the Gorge, I feel good knowing I worked for it. That I, in a way, earned my place in this beautiful forest.
When the land levels out we walk through a small village for a bit, and even meet a hiking companion, a caramel-colored cat who is possibly the most lovable animal I’ve ever met. She throws herself to the ground, twisting and turning in adorable “pet me!” poses, and I happily oblige. She’s at my feet for the rest of the hike.
And in my lap once we reach a white sand and rock beach, local trout chilling out in the translucent waters and lots of giant rocks to sit on and enjoy the enchanting scene. My feline friend cuddles up with me on a rock, and we enjoy it together, beach and translucent water to our left, mountains to our right and woodland to our backs.
By now it’s downright hot, and I take off three layers, my hat, scarf and gloves, the sun rays that were nowhere to be seen this morning warming my skin.
The Kobarid Historic Trail
For out last hike we head south, still in the Soča Valley; however, now we’ll be going back in time, via the 5-kilometer (3-mile) Kobarid Historic Trail. Our first stop: Kozjak Waterfall, also known as Veliki Kozjak.
Out of all of the trails we’ve done today, this one feels the most wide open and flat, passing trenches, forts and buildings from the Italian Army’s WWI defense strategy, until we have the river on our right side. Suddenly, we’re back in the forest. Miha picks up a Trobentica, also known as a “small trumpet” flower, and starts blowing, serenading the group with his mini yellow horn.
We weave up and down, through tunnels and down stairs, until we’re immersed in a world of layered rock, appearing like thinly stacked pancake platters, created in a unique way.
Explains Miha, “All these mountains used to be under water. At that time, dissolved limestone in the water was sedimenting on the bottom of the sea. This is how rocks are made. The layers of rocks mean sedimentation was not constant, but was interrupted many times. The tectonic plate movement pushed the layers into different positions and winkles.”
The gentle Kozjak Brook guides the path on our right. After crossing a small bridge, we start ascending up a short wooden staircase, hugging rock walls in a sort of natural hallway as we stroll over a planked walkway.
We round a corner into what feels like a roof-less cave, and there it is. The 15-meter (49-foot) Kozjak Waterfall drops beautifully into a swim-able pool with water that reminds me of the Caribbean Sea. I bet it feels amazing in summer.
After our time spent in the waterfall we don’t head back to the car, but continue upward — and I mean upward — to Tonocov Grad Hill, once a settlement from the Copper Age until the Middle Ages, although its most prosperous period was from the 4th to 6th centuries AD.
Before the uber exasperating uphill climb, we cross the Soča River — which in this area looks baby blue — via the grey stone Napoleon Bridge, constructed in 1750 and used by General Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops. I allow its beauty to energize me forward. Because right after, I’m greeted me one of the most immense stone staircases I’ve ever seen.
“Well, you said you wanted to hike!” Laughs Miha.
I guess I did.
Up we go, winding around trees and getting close to the top — although the settlement ruins are still nowhere in sight; not to mention every time I think the staircase is over another one appears. You ever see The NeverEnding Story? Well this was The NeverEnding Staircase.
I look around again, the Soča River a small emerald sliver bellow me, the Julian Alps reaching high, allowing the images to push any negative doubts from my mind.
Reaching The Top
I do eventually reach the top. Totally worth it. There are expansive views of the surrounding nature — including the famous 2,244-meter (7,362-foot) Mount Krn — and I can see Kobarid, the small town known for being the site of the 1917 Battle of Caporetto, documented by Ernest Hemingway in his famous A Farewell to Arms. On my perch above, I’m literally standing on lands housing the late-Antique remains of 20 structures, as well as a protective stone wall sit on the hill.
Miha explains to us that he doesn’t typically take guests here, but more often opts for climbs with higher aerial views; however, he opted for this due to the day’s weather issues. To me, however, this is absolutely perfect, a spectacular view paired with important history. We sit for a bit, and just take it all in.
But the trek is not yet complete, although luckily it’s flat woodland for most of the rest. It’s not until about 20 minutes of walking that we come to the top of Gradič hill and the base of the 17th-century Church of St. Anthony. Surrounding the church you’ll find the Charnel House, where the remains of 7,014 Italian soldiers from WWI lay. Both known and unknown soldiers rest here, and on the walls of the structure you’ll see their names etched into its arched stone doorways.
The Charnel House
The day ends with beers and sodas on a small bar patio in Kobaid. I’m extremely thirsty from the long day of walking, and quickly gulp down two drinks in under five minutes. What a workout — and a beautiful one at that. Waterfalls, history, glimmering gorges, spruce woodland, a mix of rain and sun, and an exchange of cultures all came together in the perfect way, as I explored natural Slovenia through the eyes of a local.
What’s your favorite active experience in Slovenia? Please share in the comments below.
The Hague in the Netherlands is where seagulls welcome you to the city and where the large, majestic trees live a relatively short life, catching too much of the salty sea wind. The Hague is where beaches get cozily crowded in summer and where in winter locals battle the weather on long beach walks. Above: The Hague. Photo courtesy of Artur Bogacki via Shutterstock
The Hague is more than a windy seaside city, though: it is the country’s political and diplomatic capital. Government and parliament reside in historic buildings in the small city center, and international embassies are nestled around them in beautiful mansions. The Hague is a city with grandeur. It’s not your average Dutch person you find here, but young people on bicycles carrying briefcases, hoping that someday they’ll be in that far right hand tower of the government building where the Prime Minister holds office.
To this grandeur add a spirit of community, as it’s not unlikely to find locals cheering for the local soccer club in bars. Make sure you don’t mention “that other Dutch capital” or their local soccer club, as you may find yourself in an argument you won’t win.
Another essential ingredient: Indonesian immigrants. Indonesia was a Dutch colony and in no other Dutch city is its heritage more present. For their delicious food there is no better place to go than The Hague, where this exotic culinary component is often sprinkled into the local dishes.
If you’re visiting the Netherlands make sure to go beyond Amsterdam, and visit the following delicious places to eat and drink in The Hague.
Simonis in de Haven
1. Simonis in de Haven (Simonis in the Harbor)
After a beach walk head to Simonis, a seafood takeaway and eat-in that serves fish straight from the sea (their herring is especially delicious). There are many more fish places on Simonis’ “fish auction street.” This is where locals buy the best fish for a reasonable price. Go for a mid-morning herring, and you will find a taxi driver and a prison guard taking a break, young mothers munching on fish with their children, and retired locals enjoying a snack while reading the morning newspaper.
Address: Visafslag 20, The Hague
2. Café September
I have been told this is where the Prime Minister drinks a morning coffee and reads a newspaper. Former market squares in Dutch city centers tend to get overly commercial, and you tend to pay a high price for mediocre quality. Café September is an exception. The ambiance is relaxed, the staff is helpful and the food is simple but good, especially considering its price. They also use local and organic where possible. For lunch, I would try the soft bun with artisan frikandel (a Dutch meat snack), Japanese mayo, green union and curry sauce. For some weekend fun, check out their live music lineup.
Address: Grote Markt 26, The Hague
Outside Het Binnehof Poffertjes
3. Around “Het Binnenhof”
“Het Binnenhof” (literally: The Inner Court) is where the Dutch government and parliament house. You can visit the government buildings, or the close by Mauritshuis arts museum where you can admire Dutch Golden Age paintings like Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” The accessibility of the government terrain might feel strange to some foreigners. ProDemos, right across the street, organizes guided tours of Het Binnenhof. Hungry? Try Dutch herring, poffertjes (small pancakes) or oliebollen (fried dough balls with raisins) right outside Het Binnenhof.
Hotel Des Indes
4. High Tea in Hotel Des Indes
Please dress up, as it’s a fancy place (the most fancy in the city, in fact). Their High Tea is famous.
Address: Lange Voorhout 54-56, The Hague
Hop & Stork
5. Hop & Stork Chocolate and Coffee
Belgians and Swiss eat three times as much chocolate as the Dutch do. At Hop & Stork they set out to change this. Their goal: to introduce a chocolate and coffee (and tea) culture in the Netherlands. Their strategy: working with a famous Dutch pastry chef named Hidde Brabander, offering top quality products, sensational experiences and “moments of pleasure.”
Their chocolate store and coffee room is located in “De Passage,” a 1885 monumental building. Transparency is their cup of tea: you can see the chocolate makers crafting delicious confections right before your eyes. Order a coffee and you get chocolate mousse and praline with it. Their “break-off” chocolate bars and pastry of the day are their most popular products.
Address: De Passage 82, The Hague
Photo courtesy of Curly Courland via Shutterstock
6. Where to buy Dutch cheese
Award-winning specialty cheese shop, Ed Boele, is considered one of the best cheese specialty stores in the Netherlands. It’s the perfect place to try creamy young cow’s cheese or strong, crumbly, and flavorful old cow’s cheese.
Address: Fahrenheitstraat 625, The Hague
7. Dungelmann kroketten
A kroket, or croquette, is meat ragout covered in breadcrumbs and then deep fried. It is one of the most popular fast food snacks in the Netherlands. The Dutch eat an average of 29 kroketten per person per year. Their popularity led to a trend of bread crumbing and deep frying other kinds of ingredients like rice, noodles and kidneys. The Queen Mother also likes them, buying her royal kroketten at Dungelmann.
Address: Hoogstraat 34, The Hague
Snackcar de Vrijheid
8. Snackcar “De Vrijheid”
Two former prisoners, happy upon their release, opened a mobile snack restaurant they named “De Vrijdheid” (The Freedom), as an ode to their newfound liberty. It’s a mobile home, although it never moves, standing right next to the ministry of foreign affairs — very close to the central train station.
“They have all been here,” the owner says nodding in the direction of the ministry. “All ministers and all other important politicians. Everybody who is up late at night comes here. I feed both whores and prime ministers.”
De Vrijheid is a good place to go for the friendly folksy side of The Hague, and another excellent venue for sampling a “broodje kroket,” a croquet sandwich. Another recommendation: a typical egg and onion sandwich or French fries with peanut sauce, mayonnaise and onion.
Address: Bezuidenhoutseweg 74, The Hague
Indonesian spices. Photo courtesy of jtoddpope via Shutterstock
9. Indonesian Restaurant Garoeda
When Indonesia, a former Dutch colony became independent after the Second World War, the Dutch government allowed all Indonesian born Dutch and Indo-Dutch citizens access to the Netherlands. They settled all over the country, but in no other place do you find more Indonesian influence as in The Hague.
This influence spices up the city, literally: spices were the reason the Dutch were in Indonesia in the first place. Those spices remain an important part of the Dutch culinary heritage. Indonesians know how to use them, and their rice dishes with spiced meats and vegetables have been integrated in Dutch cuisine. Family restaurant Garoeda is a must-visit for local Indonesian food.
Address: Kneuterdijk 18, The Hague
Bodega De Posthoorn
10. Bodega De Posthoorn
If by the end of all this, you still haven’t felt that typical The Hague feeling, don’t worry. Go to De Posthoorn, an all-day and all-meals traditional café with a green wooden interior. It has a splash of the typical The Hague grandeur combined with a dash of laid back folksiness. Find people catching up on the latest news in the morning, going for business lunches in the afternoon, and eating affordable meals paired with live music and poetry at night.
People from all walks of life have found their way to the legendary De Posthoorn: businessmen, students, mothers with young children, retirees, politicians, expats and travelers. Bartender and manager Michael Meeuwisse receives them all with a smile, putting on his best suit every day before going to work. For lunch find out how Dutch cafés make eggs sunny side up. At night, try Dutch Jenever (the Dutch liquor that inspired the British to make Gin). You know that you are in The Hague because Gado Gado (an Indonesian vegetable dish with peanut sauce) is on the menu.
Address: Lange Voorhout 39a
Have you dining in The Hague? Share your recommendations in the comments below.
*Photos courtesy of the author, Anneke Kooijmans, unless otherwise noted.
CONTRIBUTED BY Anneke Kooijmans, a Dutch food researcher and writer living in Madrid, Spain.
Cozido das Furnas. Yum!
One part of culture that should not be ignored when visiting the Azores is the food. To make sure you have the best bites the destination has to offer, here is a visual guide to the most delicious dishes I had on my recent trip to the islands — including São Miguel,São Jorge and Pico — with recommendations on where to get them.
Where: Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho, 5, 9675-061 Furnas, Sao Miguel; +351 296 549 090
Everyday at 12:30pm, you can go to Lagoa das Furnas on São Miguel to watch locals and chefs pull pots filled with meats and veggies out of the ground. These people aren’t foraging — although almost all of the meat and produce used in the Azores is grown locally — they’re using naturally occurring steam from the geothermal hot springs to cook the ingredients for Cozido das Furnas, a typical dish in the São Miguel parish of Furnas. After watching how the ingredients are prepared, head to Furnas Village to the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel to savor the dish for yourself — a hearty plate of beef shoulder, black pudding, pork shanks, chorizo, pork belly, pork foot, chicken, kale, cabbage, carrot, yam and potato all gowned in its own juices — before wandering the onsite 12-acre/5-hectare botanical garden (€6/about $6.80 USD per person entrance fee).
2. Steak & Pineapple Cake
Where: Restaurante Alcides, Hintze Ribeiro, 67 Ponta Delgada, São Miguel; +351 296 629 884
First of all, the Portuguese don’t call it “steak,” they call it “beef” — although when it has a bone they call it “costela” and specify the type of meat. One of the best beef filets you can get in the Azores is at Restaurante Alcides in the capital of Ponta Delgada. It’s so tender and juicy you can cut it with a butter knife, and sits in a thick garlicky butter sauce that perfectly coats and compliments the fried onion-topped meat.
Walk off your meal with a stroll near the port and enjoy the water views. Make sure to also take a walk through the iconic Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City), the historical entrance to the Ponta Delgada, and make a wish, a local tradition.
Where: Restaurante Açor, Avenida dos Baleeiros, 9800-548 Velas, São Jorge +351 295 430 100
This laid back restaurant, with its cafeteria feel and cultural touches like island-inspired paintings by local artists, São Jorge mural and wine racks showcasing local product is a great venue for exploring local culinary culture. One must-have dish is the alcatra — actually more traditional on the island of Terceira but loved by São Jorge locals, too. It consists of overnight slow-cooked stewed beef made in a traditional clay pot and served with island chorizo and sweet potato.
Other dishes to note here are the local São Jorge clams — a specialty of the island that allows you to really taste the local ocean — and Morcela, savory fried cakes made with green onions, parsley, rice, flour, eggs, spices, piripiri and pig’s blood that are all boiled together before being fried in pork fat. Go around lunch time for their special menu of the day for a starter, meal, coffee and glass of wine for around $6-7 USD.
Sao Jorge Cheese
Where: São Jorge cheese factories: *Uniqueijo, Beira 9800-501 Velas São Jorge; +351 295 438 274/5; firstname.lastname@example.org — *Finisterra, Santo Antão, 9875 – 039 Topo São Jorge; +351 295 415 216; email@example.com
São Jorge Cheese is not just any cheese. It’s a semi-hard to hard cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk specifically on the island of São Jorge — although you’ll be able to find it at restaurants all over the Azores. It’s so good it has Protected Geographical Status (PDO) certification, given only to food products of particularly high quality that are also an important part of local tradition.
Cheese from every tank must be analyzed based on the shape, the outside and inside appearance and texture, the smell and the flavor in a blind tasting done by a member from the Confraria do Queijo São Jorge. This is because only the most perfect cheeses can get the PDO label. Realistically, though, if it’s from this island you’re likely getting a high quality product regardless.
Factory tours end with a comparative tasting, and you’ll quickly see the difference between a young and old, or São Jorge and non- São Jorge cheese.
5. Torremos de Porco
Where: Carneiro, Estrada Regional, Biscoitos, São Jorge; +351 911 938 220
This uber local restaurant is simple in ambiance and explosive with flavor. Start with a bowl of the local São Jorge clams, which they serve spicy, before having the Torremos de Porco — aka the best pork belly of your life. The meat is marinated in red wine, salt, paprika, garlic and other spices and then fried in pork fat until well done. One also should not miss their Polvo Assado, boiled octopus coated in red wine and spices and placed in the oven with potatoes. Like the clams, they serve it spicy.
This restaurant sits along São Jorge’s most scenic stretch of driving between Velas and Topo, with views of the active Mount Pico volcano rising above the cloud line, and rolling hills of São Jorge dotted with stone homes and woodland sloping down to the Atlantic.
Dinner at Restaurante Fornos de Lava
5. Coal-Grilled Local Meats
Where: Restaurante Fornos de Lava, Travessa de S.Tiago, nº46 Santo Amaro, 9800-347 Açores São Jorge; +351 295 432 415; firstname.lastname@example.org
For those looking for a bit of island gourmet, Restaurante Fornos de Lava in Santo Amaro takes local meats and produce and gives them a modern spin, cooking food on coals instead of frying. Located on the water in an old corn threshing floor — the place where they loosened the edible part of the corn by hand — you can savor beautiful views of the Atlantic and Pico Island paired with local music and a glass of Azorean wine. Actually, they’re one of the few Azores restaurants that sell wine by the glass and not just by the bottle. Start with the house chorizo bread before ordering a local beef fillet topped with specialty São Jorge Cheese, tender chicken breast topped with a creamy prawn sauce, or an entire grilled local fish.
Pico Island delicousness!
6. A Fresh Local Seafood Tower With Homemade Wine
Where: Ancoradouro Restaurante, Rua Rodrigo Guerra, N7-Areia Large, 9950-302 Madalena do Pico; +351 292 623 490
Located within the UNESCO World Heritage wine area of Criação Velha, home to the most extensive network of vineyards on Pico Island, you can take a walk through the basalt wall-lined vineyards and do a tour or tasting at the local wine cooperative, before heading next door to Ancoradouro Restaurante. Sit outside — even in winter they have a heated, enclosed outdoor patio — for Atlantic Ocean views paired with fresh catch. Start your meal with a plate of locally-made cheese and Pico Island honey with bread before ordering a glass of house-made white or red wine. The best item on the menu is undoubtedly the tower of local seafood tangling over salad and potatoes (top these with olive oil to savor like a local). Save room for dessert, as the island is known for its Pudim Mel (honey pudding), a sort of pie with sugar crisp crunch made from a simple recipe of sugar, honey, eggs and cinnamon.
Delicious dishes from Sao Pedro
7. Traditional Dishes Gone Gourmet
Where: São Pedro Restaurant, Largo Almirante Dunn, Ponta Delgada, São Miguel; +351 296 281 600; email@example.com
When traveling it’s important to savor the local cuisine; however, sometimes you’re also looking for something a bit different from the rest of the menus in town. That’s where São Pedro Restaurant comes in. They use all Azorean products — seafood, beef, pineapple, diary (including the famous São Jorge cheese, which has protected status) — but give traditional dishes a unique twist. For example, a starter of local blood sausage served with pineapple is a typical meal, although they dress it up by serving the meat in a pastry crust bowl with fruit chutney.
Succulent local prawns are prepared in a dressing of olive oil, garlic and red pepper for some spice, with an orange slice on top for a touch of citrus. Their beef steak is a must, tender and juicy and served with island potatoes done three ways and a pastry bowl of creamed spinach. For dessert, an expansive list is offered, although it’s recommended to go with one of the many pineapple-laced desserts, as Azorean pineapples are known for their high acidic taste unlike any other in the world.
Have you eaten in the Azores? What are your favorite meals and restaurants? Please share in the comments below.
What better city to begin a wine bar series in than the capital of the world’s greatest winemaking country? For sure, France’s finest wines are produced in its eastern and southern regions (hello, Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Côtes du Rhône), but wine culture is truly an integral part of Parisian life. Above photo courtesy of Dana Ward via Shutterstock.
In even the most unassuming of the city’s corners, you have only to walk for a minute or two to find a quaint little marchand de vin brimming with local wines. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself at a French dinner party, you can be sure you’ll be trying some of the best wine you’ve had in a long time. And as the weather warms up, it is a Parisian rite of passage for friends to picnic with wine, bread and cheese on the newly-accessible lawns of the city’s parks (yes, it is illegal to step on them the rest of the year).
But perhaps the finest element of Parisian wine culture is its array of splendid wine bars. From the sleek and sophisticated O Chateau to the iconic Le Fumoir and the merry hole-in-the-wall Chez Georges, there’s a Paris wine bar to suit all tastes.
Without further adieu, here are five of the best wine bars in Paris:
Photo courtesy of Le Garde Robe.
1. Le Garde Robe
Nestled away down a surprisingly quiet street right in the city center, Le Garde Robe is a charming little caviste shop-meets-bar. Space is tight and the atmosphere is jovial, as Parisians drop in to pick up a bottle for dinner time, or huddle around the bar or a little table to savor a local cheese plate and whichever wine their knowledgeable waiter can suggest that evening.
Photo courtesy of O Chateau.
2. O Chateau
Down the pretty rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the second arrondissement, O Chateau is an oh-so-chic wine bar that truly knows its stuff. Head there for a casual glass of wine or three, or even enrol in one of their wine-tasting classes held in their cool stone cave (cellar). Classes are held in English and will give you a greater understanding of the French wine world- plus a glass of white, red and rosé to “sample”.
Photo courtesy of Le Fumoir.
3. Le Fumoir
Luxe, low-lit and sophisticated, Le Fumoir is a veritable Paris institution. A hop, skip and a jump from the Louvre, right near the Seine river, this bar is one of the most perfectly located places to indulge in a glass of fine French wine. You can dine as well, though my best friend and I developed an expensive but exquisite tradition of sharing a cheese plate and a bottle of rouge each Thursday evening; their selection never disappoints.
Photo courtesy of Chez Georges.
4. Chez Georges
A far cry from the sleek surrounds of O Chateau or Le Fumoir, Chez Georges is a vibrant hole-in-the-wall down one of the windier streets of the Latin Quarter. Guaranteed to be bustling with young Paris locals on the weekend, Chez Georges sports tiling and décor from its 1950s origins, a tiny, rickety staircase and a small but trustworthy (and cheap!) wine list. Settle down at a tiny corner table with some rouge, baguette and cornichons and watch the Paris evening float by.
Photo courtesy of Where Jess Ate.
5. L’Avant Comptoir
In the shadow of French theatre favorite Le Théâtre d’Odéon, on the edges of the revered district of St Germain des Prés, lies the famed Le Comptoir du Relais, a traditional French restaurant attached to the Hôtel le Relais. Le Comptoir is great, but I far prefer its little carriage bar next door, L’Avant Comptoir. No, there are no seats, but this little gem is a great place to congregate with good company to sip wine and sample French tapas at the comptoir, or countertop bar.
What is your favorite wine bar in Paris? Please share in the comments below.
By Gemma King
When your wanderlust is good but your carbon footprint is bad, you can give your conscience a good scrub with just a little advance attention to where you’re staying and how your accommodations might green up your stay.
Responsible tourism has become important to many travelers, and operators and accommodations are responding. To help you plan an ethical trip, here are five New York City hotels that get responsible tourism right.
Part of the boutique Kimpton Hotels collection, Ink48 is a stylish Hell’s Kitchen property featuring modern rooms, a full-service spa, fitness room, restaurant, rooftop bar and free nightly wine reception for socializing and imbibing on a budget.
They’re also eco-friendly, with technologies that turn off lights when guests leave, keep the room at a low-use 72 degrees, housekeeping call buttons to eliminate paper door hangers and a Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants EarthCare Program. Through this initiative, the property provides eco-amenities like in-room recycling bins, organic and Fair Trade coffee and tea, ceramic mugs that reduce paper cup waste, a program that donates unused and partially-used bath products and more. Ink48 also works with Hartley House, a nonprofit providing social, educational and recreational services to the Hell’s Kitchen community through fundraising and joint programming.
Element Times Square
2. Element Times Square
Not only does the LEED-certified Element Times Square recycle, but the carpets and furniture are crafted from reclaimed materials, while recycled rubber tires act as wall mounts for art. Being eco-conscious is a main focus, and this property features low-flow fluorescent light bulbs, a design that maximizes sunlight, efficient water fixtures, low off-gassing paints, healthy and organic cuisine, ENERGY STAR qualified kitchen appliances, electric vehicle charging stations and dispensers for bath products instead of individual plastic ones.
New York Hilton Midtown
3. New York Hilton Midtown
Open since 1963, the New York Hilton Midtown is one of NYC’s largest hotels, boasting a central location near Times Square and all the amenities of a world class hotel. They’re also forwarding thinking in their ethical initiatives, awarded the title of NYC’s Most Sustainable Hotel by the Hotel Association of New York City in 2014.
Some of their initiatives include an extensive recycling program, organic and biodynamic wine offerings, natural gas heating and use of fuel cell technology to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. They also work with local nonprofit and public-private organizations like City Harvest, Food Bank of New York, Operation Prom and St. Thomas’s soup kitchen, and partnering with local businesses like Pat La Frieda, Bantam Bagels and Murray’s Cheese. One of their largest projects is a 16,000 sq-ft. green roof growing plants and supporting local farmers, while also deflecting solar radiation and absorbing pollutants that would otherwise go into the atmosphere.
Archer Hotel New York
4. Archer Hotel New York
Archer Hotel New York is a boutique hotel that opened in the Garment District in May 2014. Through all phases of its development, the property has kept responsible travel in mind. During the design phase, designers chose recycled wood from a 1770s-era John Watson Revolution Barn in Connecticut as the main building material, a tinted glaze on the exterior to maximize natural heating and cooling, and an onsite heat and power system that reduces the need for electricity to heat water.
When the hotel was being constructed, 85 percent of nonhazardous building waste was recycled, efficient water fixtures were installed to reduce usage 36 percent below NYC’s water allowance and motion sensors were put in to ensure heating/cooling systems turn off when guests leave the room. Also feel good about your stay with ongoing initiatives, like an extensive recycling program, discount parking for energy efficient vehicles and comfortable, green bedding in rooms. Guests curious about Archer New York’s responsible practices can also request a free eco-informational tour during their stay.
YOTEL New York
5. YOTEL New York
This futuristic hotel — with its robot porter, touch-screen check-in and cabins (guest rooms) modeled after sleek First Class airlines — not only transports you into 2062, it does so responsibly. YOTEL New York holds LEED Gold certification, using organic mattresses, LED lighting, water flow monitoring systems, room sensors that turn off lights and heating/cooling when unoccupied, recycled rainwater for irrigating their terrace and Renewable Energy Certificates to purchase wind energy (equal to 10 percent of YOTEL’s estimated energy usage in one year).
All of the 669 rooms efficiently maximize small space, with retractable beds, a Techno Wall that functions as a shelving unit, desk, TV and stereo, and floor Galleys replacing in-room mini fridges (complete with free purified water). The pens and one-sheet Cabin Guides found in rooms are made from recycled paper, with text written in vegetable ink.
This post originally appeared on Drive the District
Homemade dumplings with mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Shaiith via Shutterstock.
One of the most essential pieces of the patchwork that is Chicago is the Polish community and it’s been that way since the 1850s. Three separate, but large waves of immigration over the past century have contributed to Polish Chicago, or “Polonia.” More than just a minor subculture, Polonia contributed to the political, religious, educational, and cultural life of the Chicago we know today.
We’ll take a look at some iconic Polish dishes and the best places in the Chicagoland area to sample each one.
Pierogi. Photo courtesy of B. and E. Dudzinscy via Shutterstock.
As one of the national foods of Poland, the Pierogi is a delicious and versatile staple. While fillings are truly only limited by your imagination, the most traditional Pierogi fillings are forcemeat (meat and onion), sauerkraut, and mushrooms. But, Polonia fillings include bacon, sauerkraut, and even potato and cheese. If you’re ready to take your Pierogi love to the next level, you need to stop by the annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Indiana. Until then, these Chicago spots serve up the best Pierogi outside of Poland.
3030 North Milwaukee, Chicago, IL 60618
Authentic Polish cuisine at an affordable price is the name of the game at Staropolska Restaurant. Devour one, or three, of the seven Pierogi varieties. Whether you’re craving potato and cheese, or a sweeter bite with strawberries or blueberries, it’ll be hard to turn down another helping.
169 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60606
Pierogi Heaven touts itself as having “the best Pierogi in town,” and there are hoards of loyal patrons that will vehemently agree. This cozy, and authentic spot is sure to please. You’ll have over 10 Pierogi flavors to choose from, but rest assured, each one comes with fried onion, bacon, and sour cream.
Potato pancakes. Photo courtesy of Jeff Wasserman via Shutterstock.
Potato pancakes are a classic Polish comfort food. Referred to in Poland as “placki ziemniaczane,” these shallow-fried delicious morsels include the perfect combination of potatoes, eggs, and flour. Traditional toppings in Poland include meat sauce or pork crisps. While in Chicago you’ll more likely find your potato pancake topped with sour cream, applesauce, mushrooms, or even cottage cheese.
5961 North Elston Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646
The cozy, wood-beamed chalet atmosphere of Smak-Tak! serves as the perfect complement to the hearty Polish fare served up here. The authentic Polish spot gives generous portions of traditionally prepared of all types of favorites, but the potato pancakes are the must-try. Fried to perfection and served with cream and applesauce, you’ll have enough for lunch for tomorrow, too.
Cured sausage. Photo courtesy of Kamila i Wojtek Cyganek via Shutterstock.
Poles take their sausage very seriously. And when it’s as good as theirs is, it really comes as no surprise. Even today, the Polish Meat Industry in Warsaw publishes standards for meat products and sausages. However, the Polish Government Standards for Polish Smoked Sausage have remained unchanged for over 60 years. Authentic Polish Smoked Sausage is natural hardwood smoked and includes pork, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, marjoram, and sodium nitrate. The butcher shops and delicatessens that made this list of top Polish cuisine are deeply rooted in their traditions. We all certainly reap the delicious benefits of them doing so.
Kurowski’s Sausage Shop
2976 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618
A more authentic Polish experience you won’t find in the city limits. While you may have difficultly conversing with the staff at Kurowski’s Sausage Shop, you’ll certainly understand the universal language of smoked meats. The kielbasa is the best in the city and the long lines on the weekends make that abundantly clear.
Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen
5330 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60641
Since 1972, the Luszcz family has been dishing out homemade smoked sausage and other Polish delicacies to the people of Chicago. At Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen, the sausages are made fresh on-premise every single day by traditionally trained sausage makers from Europe. You have to try the Polish-favorite Zywiecka, which uses a recipe that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
Borscht. Photo courtesy of Lisa A via Shutterstock.
Borscht is another staple in Polish cuisine. You’ll often see it gracing the table during Christmas Eve celebrations, but it certainly isn’t limited to holiday feasts. Typically, borscht recipes include beetroot, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and beef bones. The most traditional Polish recipes call for the soup to be strained after simmering for some time, and to be served with a twist of lemon and sour cream. While some recipes will even include bacon or ham for an unforgettable smoky flavor.
1549 West Division Street, Chicago, IL 60642
You’ll feel as though you’re a member of a big Polish family when you visit Podhalanka. The inviting staff only adds to the neighborhood atmosphere at a place that can most closely rival the loving food from your Polish grandmother’s house. Order the Barszcz Czerwony for a traditional beetroot borscht, or opt for the Zurek White Borscht for another Polish classic.
Paczki. Photo courtesy of Brent Hofacker via Shutterstock.
Just as the Polish community serves up the most delectable lunch and dinner, they produce some of the most scrumptious sweets for breakfast or dessert enjoyment. The most common Polish treat you’ll come across in Chicago are Polish donuts, or paczki. These round, spongy, yeast cakes are typically stuffed with mouthwatering fillings like fruit preserves, liqueur, custard, or chocolate. Then, they’re topped with powdered sugar, icing, chocolate, and oftentimes an orange peel. Paczki are more than just a delightful indulgence; they are the signature food of “Fat Thursday,” the Thursday before Ash Wednesday (not to be confused with “Fat Tuesday”). Each year, Poles eat more than 100 million paczki on that single day!
Oak Mill Bakery
5753 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60634
More than 80,000 of the 1 million paczki consumed on Fat Thursday will come from the Oak Mill Bakery. Bogna Iwanowska-Solak came to the United States in 1981 and decided to make Chicago her new home. Five years later, Bogna and her husband opened Oak Mill Bakery. Still going strong today, Oak Mill imports many of its ingredients directly from Europe. That means that you’ll have trouble finding a more indulgent and authentic paczki than what this bakery fries up.
With over a century of influence, the Polish community has become so engrained into the quilt that is Chicago, it’s difficult to discern where the European culture ends and Chicago’s begins. One thing is certain, when you dine on Chicago’s Polish delicacies, you’ll be transported to Poland with each bite you take.