A Girl’s Guide to Santorini | Greece

Santorini, Greece

Travel girls guide to

Santorini

Santorini Girl’s Travel Guide

By: Cat Caprice

What can possibly be more magical than the turquoise waters, silky sand, and white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops of Santorini?

A sudden desire to explore and be with my best friend some where hot in the sun brought us to my favourite little paradise, Santorini. It is truly otherworldly and I can’t put into words how it feels to be on such a serene island, surrounded by endless white and deep blue hues. Even as my second time around, I was in absolute awe of the beauty of this island as we quickly took to exploring the side streets away from the tourists.

Imagine absolute silence, standing on a white rooftop overlooking a blanket of deep blue waves and the curve of the island coast sparkling with civilization. Although Santorini is definitely very touristy, it is possible to avoid the crowds and find the perfect natural environment which gives this island its charm.

Best time to visit: June! The peak seasons of July and August are flooded with tourists (think brides in their wedding dresses and tourists with selfie sticks).

 

Where we stayed: Astarte Suites in Akrotiri completely isolated from the rest of the island, is the ideal getaway for a few days. We were lucky and had the entire infinity pool overlooking the caldera to ourselves. The space with truly incredible…airy, all white, mosaic tiled floors and the open sky above. We also stayed at Hotel Nissos Thira which is located directly in Fira town. It also has a swimming pool which is quite rare if you don’t have your own private villa to enjoy and want to cool off.

Must-see Towns: Oia, Fira and Imerovigli.

Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece

Favourite Bars: Franco’s BarLa Maltese and Koo Club . When we were there, Franco’s Bar was the ideal stop for a few lazy drinks. They played classical music and we got to lounge around in hammocks and look up at the millions of stars. The first time I walked by La Maltese, I couldn’t believe my eyes at how beautiful the venue was. Apart from the fact that it is a 5 star luxury property with a “private members only club,” it was eclectic and had such a fun and buzzing vibe. The Koo Club is located in the middle of Fira, so right in the hustle and bustle of all of the bars. It has an awesome outdoor club covered in palm trees with dance floors spread across two levels. I would definitely go here for your big night out!

Top Activities: Explore the infamous hiking trail along Fira, watch the sunset in Oia (obviously), rent quad bikes and ride from Fira in the north to Parikia in the south, tiptoe across the sleeping volcano, order the catch of the day at a local taverna.

Travelling solo? Check out our guide to solo travel from a female perspective.

Terra Nova Restaurant, Porto | Riverside Restaurant

Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto

Terra Nova, Porto: Exquisite Riverside Dining

With a menu that showcases the regions most exquisite oysters and seafood alongside a fabulous array of local wines, Terra Nova Restaurant is truly a feast for the senses. Set along the River Douro, the sun shines and sets on the riverfront views of this beautiful restaurant. Terra Nova pays homage to the past with classical dishes, meeting them with unique and contemporary tastes.

The quaint riverside resaurant exudes character and charm, with open stone walls and elegant decor. The team at Terra Nova Porto pay attention to every detail, with the finest crockery, cutlery and glassware, all carefully selected from established Portuguese craftsmen. Seated by the restaurant’s iconic circular window, we quickly acclimatized to the lovely surroundings and riverside view. To start, a light and refreshing white wine from a local vineyard, served alongside a selection of freshly baked bread with fragrant olive oil and homemade butter. Shortly after, four diverse and impeccably presented appetizers arrived, a selection to excite even the most laid back of foodies.

Table settings at Restaurante Terra Nova, Porto
Restaurante Terra Nova
Wine rack at Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto

Terra Nova Porto is also known for fresh oysters sourced from a neighbouring town are delivered to the restaurant daily. Just as quickly as they arrived to the table, they were gone. You can actually taste the freshness. Tasty sardines presented on a lightly toasted broa and tomato sauce are an absolute must – this simple appetizer is absolutely delicious. Still on a high from the sardines, crispy, melt in your mouth cod fish balls, seasoned and cooked to perfection. Bacalhau à Brás came highly recommended, so we were excited to give it a try. Bacalhau à Brás is a classic Portuguese dish thought to have originated in Lisbon. Salted cod fish with thinly sliced fried potatoes and a soft egg yolk and light garnish, this epic Portuguese dish takes you to another level.

Fresh Oysters at Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto
Sardine Appetizers from Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto
Appetizers from Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto

Unable to believe the elegant spread and diverse flavours from the appetizer menu, the time had come for main course. Although initially a tough decision, we settled on two phenomenal dishes. On one side, Massada Cod. A bed of homemade linguini with perfectly prepared and sliced cod fillet, served with a simple yet delicious savoury tomato sauce. It’s easy to see why this is a best seller at Terra Nova! Across the table, Duck Magret. Succulent duck breast, fresh wild mushrooms and broccoli intermingle to produce a highly elevated comfort food with familiarity and complexity impossible to replicate at home. A side of creamy mashed potatoes completes the dish, and makes for an unforgettable culinary experience.

As the sun went down and the night drew in at Terra Nova Porto, we managed to find space for something sweet. With little room to spare we selected two light yet mouthwatering treats. The cream, milk and raspberry offered a rich set of flavours with a slight tart to accent. In contrast, the banana, chocolate and caramel dessert, combing three unbeatable flavours for a unique twist on the classic banoffee pudding.

From start to finish, Terra Nova delivered. Simple, well sourced, fresh ingredients are meticulously prepared and seasoned to bring the very best out of each item in a food medley to die for. As Portugal continues to increase in popularity as a tourism and culinary destination, Terra Nova stands apart from the crowd as the quintessential dining experience in Porto.

Looking for great place to stay in Porto? Check out Malmerendas Boutique Lodging.

Delicious Entree from Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto
Restaurante Terra Nova dessert
Dessert from Restaurante Terra Nova in Porto

Explore Norway: Lofoten Islands Adventure

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Explore Norway:

Lofoten Islands

Adventures

Explore Norway: Lofoten Islands Adventure

By: Joffrey Maluski

A few months ago, I visited Norway to discover the beauty of the Lofoten Islands. I roamed these magnificent islands over 15 days of hiking, bivouac, stunning sunsets and outdoor photography. The Lofoten Islands are home to some of the most beautiful places I have seen, culminating in my last bivouac at the Reinebringen summit.

The adventure began after a long flight from France. I arrived in Bodø and took the boat to Værøy, an island in the south of Lofoten. I found two hikes particularly interesting here; the first one at Nordlandsnupen with its view over the Lofoten Islands, and the second one at Haheia summit that I highly recommend if you are short on time. The views from these vantage points are spectacular. Should you be able to time your hike just right, the sun setting over the peninsula is a truly special experience that you won’t soon forget.

The Lofoten Islands have many amazing white sand beaches. One of the most beautiful is Kvalvika. It takes just an hour to reach this amazing beach, where you’ll be lucky to see a few courageous surfers riding the frigid waves.

If you want to continue up to the Ryten summit, you will need an additional two hours. I set up camp for the night and watched the last light of the sun disappear into the ocean high above Kvalvika beach.

Lofoten Islands, Norway
Multi toned bay and mountain peaks Lofoten Islands, Norway
Utakleiv, Lofoten Islands, Norway

The stunning beaches don’t end there; in the northeast, you’ll find the incredible Utakleiv Beach to discover, with a wintry-white sand landscape featuring large rocks and boulders. A few kilometers past Utakleiv, you can catch another eye-popping view from Offersøykammen. This hike is not difficult and the view truly encapsulates the magnificent and diverse landscapes of Norawy’s Lofoten Islands. Steep mountains with white sand beaches at its feet shape the fjords and a contrasting sea floor.

In the course of a few days of exploring Lofoten from south to north, I was left with a feeling of amazement and gratitude for experiencing so many natural wonders. From the windy, snowy mountain storms near the Munkebu refuge to the charm of Nusfjord, one of the oldest fishing villages on the UNESCO world heritage list, the Lofoten Islands delivered some unforgettable experiences.

During this trip, it was important for me to capture as many sunsets and sunrises as possible, so camping in the Lofoten mountains was my personal preference. Nonetheless, I was sure to spend a night in one of the many ‘rorbuer’ found in the area. Typical to this northern fishing region, rorbuer are picturesque, brightly-colored houses built on stilts, straddling the icy waters below. I chose one in Sakrisøy, a little fishing village between Reine and Hamnøy, surrounded by fjords and awesome mountains. You can truly take in the Lofoten culture in one of these places.

After a short night in a cozy hut complete with a shower, kitchen and comfortable bed, I awoke at 3:00 am to enjoy the golden hours of the sunrise. An unexpected surprise awaited me in those early morning hours – as I slowly opened my curtains, a gentle snowfall greeted me.

Early mornings might not be for everyone, but discovering Reine under a snowy blanket definitely should be! I packed my reflex camera, tripod and filters, and began my stroll throughout Reine, Sakrisøy and Hamnøy in the early morning light, alone in the midst of red and yellow fishing huts, seagull songs, and the scent of dried fish.

I spent two days exploring Reine before embarking on a final hike to the Reinebringen summit. Probably my fondest memory, this challenging hike was 1 kilometer in length and 500 meters in height. The steep climb rewards the adventurous with panoramic views of the fjords, with Reine, Sakrisøy and Hamnøy sitting 500 meters below.

The best moment of this experience was the weather. As I began to reach the summit, a winter storm enveloped me. I urgently installed the tent and took some pictures of this incredible moment before taking shelter. A few minutes later, the sun was back and I could enjoy my fish sandwich with this amazing view. In the evening, a second bigger storm left in its wake a thin layer of snow before the sunset.

I spent some time just taking in this magical moment, my eyes overwhelmed by the glorious landscape and atmosphere surrounding me. It was the perfect ending to my adventure, as this night was to be my last amongst the wonders of the Lofoten Islands.

Fascinated by stories about the Northernmost regions of Norway? Find out what life is like in Svalbard.

Man standing on dock in Reine Lofoten Islands, Norway
Reinebringen, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Snow andcloudy day in Lofoten Islands, Norway

Galapagos Islands: Ecuador’s Jurassic Park

galapagos islands bluefooted boobie

Galapagos Islands:

Ecuador's Jurassic Park

Galapagos Islands:

Ecuador’s Jurassic Park,

A Step Back in Time

By: Mark Dimitroff

Huge charcoal volcanoes thrust up through the calm Pacific seas, their black fractured mass looming over us. Welcoming or warning … we’re not sure. Oversized Magnificent Frigatebird’s circle overhead, pterydactyl-like. The males, in mid-mating season, tar black with their huge throat sacs inflated like large glistening bright red balloons. White clouds frame the volcanoes and black pinnacles – picture perfect in an ominous way. It’s easy to imagine that at any moment, a dinosaur could come over the ridge into view. We survey this scene from Jurassic Park from the deck of the 113 foot Ocean Spray, as we look out over Bartholomew Island.

Of volcanic lineage, this collection of 13 main islands juts out of the Pacific 966 kilometres west of the Ecuadorian coast, sitting smack dab on the equator. Being borne of violent geological activity, these islands have no natural inhabitants. All flora and fauna have come from other locales to become the species particular to these isles. Over time, many of these species became endemic to the Galapagos Islands. Certain species have become distinct and unique from one island to another, due to the rugged and unforgiving terrain which does not allow easy travel back and forth from island to island.

The Parks Directorate

The Directorate have total control over what does and does not happen on these islands, all in an effort to ensure the least amount of impact on the ecology and environment of the Galapagos (a World Heritage site) by the over 180,000 visitors per year that pay homage to the islands that made Charles Darwin famous many years ago. Upon arrival in the Galapagos, visitor’s passes are issued to everyone. When departing, these are surrendered, allowing the authorities to keep track of visitor traffic. All inbound luggage is X-rayed or inspected mostly to search for and confiscate foodstuffs and anything that could bring new insects or lifeforms to the islands.

Everything that happens in the Galapagos iIslands strictly controlled by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and their marine counterpart. All boating anchorages both during day trips and overnight are dictated by the directorate and ‘freelance’ island visitation is forbidden. To visit islands by boat, one must cruise on one of the 83 licensed tourism boats, ranging from smaller, more intimate ships carrying 16 people to the larger cruise liners with 200 aboard.

In an effort to be extremely proactive in protection practice, the Directorate also took a controversial stance and in the mid 90’s outlawed SCUBA diving on regular cruise ships, limiting any boat-based SCUBA diving to those intensive dive boats called Liveaboards. This has been a key factor in keeping the underwater environment pristine and unharmed. Other professional and certified dive operators run day dives from both the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

Planning a trip to Galapagos? Find everything you need to know.

galapagos islands iguana
galapagos islands boobies

The Ocean Spray

The Directorate have total control over what does and does not happen on these islands, all in an effort to ensure the least amount of impact on the ecology and environment of the Galapagos (a World Heritage site) by the over 180,000 visitors per year that pay homage to the islands that made Charles Darwin famous many years ago. Upon arrival in the Galapagos Islands, visitor’s passes are issued to everyone. When departing, these are surrendered, allowing the authorities to keep track of visitor traffic. All inbound luggage is X-rayed or inspected mostly to search for and confiscate foodstuffs and anything that could bring new insects or lifeforms to the islands.

Everything that happens in the Galapagos Islands is strictly controlled by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and their marine counterpart. All boating anchorages both during day trips and overnight are dictated by the directorate and ‘freelance’ island visitation is forbidden. To visit islands by boat, one must cruise on one of the 83 licensed tourism boats, ranging from smaller, more intimate ships carrying 16 people to the larger cruise liners with 200 aboard.

In an effort to be extremely proactive in protection practice, the Directorate also took a controversial stance and in the mid 90’s outlawed SCUBA diving on regular cruise ships, limiting any boat-based SCUBA diving to those intensive dive boats called Liveaboards. This has been a key factor in keeping the underwater environment pristine and unharmed. Other professional and certified dive operators run day dives from both the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

galapagos islands ocean spray
 

We get an early start each day – up at 6 a.m. for a morning land tour before breakfast at which time Captain Camilo and crew move the Ocean Spray to a new location; some snorkeling on a secluded beach or directly from the Ocean Spray’s pangas (zodiacs); then back on board by 11:30 for lunch where we discuss what we’ve seen so far with fellow passengers; another location change precedes our afternoon land tour. Thus we pack an amazing amount into just 8 days.

Galapagos Islands

 

We get an early start each day – up at 6 a.m. for a morning land tour before breakfast at which time Captain Camilo and crew move the Ocean Spray to a new location; some snorkeling on a secluded beach or directly from the Ocean Spray’s pangas (zodiacs); then back on board by 11:30 for lunch where we discuss what we’ve seen so far with fellow passengers; another location change precedes our afternoon land tour. Thus we pack an amazing amount into just 8 days.

Visitors come to the Galapagos to see the life-forms and the landscapes. Barren but beautiful, these lava islands never fail to impress on either count.

Countless examples of unusual life forms exist here on the islands. We see the tiny Lava Lizards on San Cristobal, aptly named from their natural evolution to blend into the lava landscape as camouflage… although no natural predators exist here to threaten them. While many would say that 20 cm’s or 8 inches is NOT tiny, these are just that when compared to their cousins the Galapagos Land Iguana and the even larger Marine Iguana – both of which grow to over 1 meter or just over 3 feet.

The black monsters – the Marine Iguana’s – lie around, baking without apparent care or concern for the intense heat of the blazing equatorial sun. This is not by accident as they have a unique metabolism in which they gather body heat from the sun, then go for a swim in the ocean to cool off – this being their only mechanism to regulate body heat as they do not sweat. Once cooled sufficiently, they bask in the sun again. Rinse and repeat, as their breed has done for millennia. Evolution, it seems, has not touched these creatures.

Their cousins, the slightly smaller Green Iguanas, live differently – inland amidst cacti and fruit bearing trees, being omnivores. They can be seen lounging around on rocks, beneath trees or on any surface … they OWN the islands and bask any and everywhere they want. As visitors it is on us to avoid them, and not the reverse; which can be quite challenging when they are in the middle of the only path forward. Not being aggressive to humans by nature, this is not an issue – but wild animals are just that, and caution must be heeded at all times.

Planning a Trip? Check out the Complete Guide to the Galapagos Islands

Fascinating Life Forms

Speaking of animals still untouched by evolution, Galapagos Reef sharks and Hammerheads frequent some of these waters, we were lucky enough to snorkel with the Reef sharks (and sea lions) while on the Ocean Spray and I was lucky enough to do a bucket list dive with Hammerheads and schools of pelagic eagle rays on a deep dive from a pre-cruise dive shop on Santa Cruz.

Giant Galapagos Land Tortoises frequent the Santa Cruz highlands, with the oldest and most famous of these, Lonesome George, passing away a few years ago of old age – well over 100. These giants have shells that can grow to over 5 feet in length – and three feet in height; and at the visitor centre where some large examples are on display they are big enough for visitors to crawl inside of and pose for pictures to show to friends and family back home. Over time, they have been hunted almost to extinction (Lonesome George was the very last of his particular breed) by new settlers and visiting mariners alike who prized them for their abundant and nutritious meat.

Mother Nature in all her Glory

Boobies galore inhabit the various islands. The Nasca Boobie, the Red-Footed Boobie and the infamous Blue-Footed Booby can be seen on various islands but all three do cohabit at spots like at Pitt Point on San Cristobal. Here all three can be seen in plentiful numbers, together. But it was here that the islands first reminded us of nature at its best and its worst – nature just being nature.

We happened upon a young Red Footed Booby hatchling chick sunning itself not far from its nest. It was stretching its new wings and getting used to the brave new world it was seeing for the first time. Pictures snapped, iPhone videos ran as we smiled at this sight. As an adult female came towards the chick we collectively paid no notice, until it started to peck at the hatchling, over and over again, unrelenting. What we were watching was a rival Nasca Boobie female culling the ‘competition’ to her own hatchlings. She was hard-wired to act accordingly when she saw weak or injured chicks that could compete for food with her brood.

Despite our plea’s to assist, our guide Javier warned us not to intervene, “… these are the ways of the islands”, he said, and that we were there “… only as observers and not permitted to affect or intrude on nature and its ways”, adding that Charles Darwin made his famous Survival of the Fittest statement based on his studies of wildlife in nature here on the islands. He quickly hastened us off in another direction to continue our exploration of Pitt Point.

A Rare Sighting

Nature continued to astound us island to island and eventually offered a counterpoint on Santiago’s Espumilla Beach. During our mid-morning hike we encountered a single baby Sea Turtle struggling to make its way from the nest 30 meters away from the water’s edge, to its eventual home in the sea. This lone 4 inch long baby was late out of the nest, probably having to dig itself out from much deeper than its siblings who had left hours prior. Typically this migration and race for survival takes place in the pink dawn twilight of the early morning, before the searing sun and wicked heat of the day kick in.

Javier was our cheerleader as our overjoyed group coaxed the little fella along with our encouragement and support. “I was born on these islands and have done this (guiding) for many years but what we just witnessed is very rare,” Javier, tells us. “This (the turtle bonding with the sea for the first time) I see maybe once per year – it is very unusual to see this because only 3 per cent of all sea turtle hatchlings ever make it to the sea from the nest.”

Souls Copenhagen | Vegan Restaurant

Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen

Souls Restaurant Copenhagen: Vegan & Gluten Free Dining

Souls is a hip and trendy vegan restaurant with a modern spin on classic and international dishes. With two restaurants in Copenhagen and a newly opened pop up stall to extend the family, Souls has become a popular hangout for locals and visitors alike.

Souls vegan menu is designed with sustainability and heath in mind. Made with locally sourced healthy ingredients, the food here is a true delight for those who like to know what they’re putting into their bodies. And the mission doesn’t stop there – the team are so passionate about the future that they make every effort to consider sustainability in every aspect of the restaurant, from the packaging of foods to the interior design.

A modern and minimalist decor is combined with a warm candlelit glow to create a cosy and relaxing ambiance. The layout of the restaurant makes for a lively and sociable atmosphere, whilst the candlelight and corner tables offer a more romantic and intimate experience. Whether you’re on a first date or catching up with friends, Souls is the ideal place to go.

Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen wine and cocktails
Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen appetizers
Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen Soup
Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen appetizers

The only difficulty you might have is choosing what to order from the list of tempting options. With a little help from the Souls team we narrowed it down and could not have been happier with our choices.

Up first, grilled broccoli in goma sauce and sesame seeds, and tempura cauliflower served with chili, coriander and miso mayo. Both dishes were beautifully presented and the flavour combinations were perfect.

With a sip of wine to cleanse the palate, we moved on to the main event.

The Soul Burger is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and it was easy to see why. A “Meat” patty is topped with caramelised onions, pesto, grilled zucchini, and a rosemary dressing to create a feast for the senses. Of course, we added all the extras – cheese and avocado on the burger, and sweet potato fries on the side. The dish was served with a nice little addition of fresh veggies and dip which really rounded off the meal.

On the other side of the table was Ramen. A miso broth with tofu, noodles, coriander, chili, lime, shitake mushrooms, and seasonal veggies. The dish looked phenomenal and tasted even better. A must try if you like Japanese cuisine.

Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen Dessert
Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen Desserts
Souls Vegan Restaurant Copenhagen Dessert options

Of course, no meal out is complete without dessert, and the menu had us wishing we could return every day that week to try them all. Luckily some of the choices allow you to sample a selection of the other menu items, like the aptly named ‘Death by Chocolate’. A medley of baked chocolate cake, raw chocolate cake, a chocolate bite, chocolate ice cream, fruit, and homemade chocolate syrup is presented in the most artistic of ways, it almost looked too good to eat (almost!). The combination of textures and flavours was impeccable – a true chocolate-lovers delight.

For those who prefer something fruity, the Super Berry dessert is a must. Acai, mixed berry cheesecake, seasonal fruit, and seasonal sorbet create a taste explosion that is as pleasing on the pallete as it is to the eye.

The team at Souls have created something truly special. They’ve taken a passion for sustainability, health, and the future, and turned it into an unforgettable culinary experience that will have even the most persistent of meat eaters considering a plant based diet. The creativity and flavours of each dish are a true feast for the senses that will keep you coming back for more. It’s no wonder Souls was voted as the Best Vegan Restaurant in Copenhagen in 2018 – add it to your bucketlist.

As the Souls team saying goes… Eat like you give a fork.

Coron, Philippines: Lagoons & Hidden Lakes

turquoise lagoon surrounded by karst rocks, seen on an island hopping tour in coron

Coron, Philippines

Lagoons & Hidden Lakes

Coron, Philippines: Moonscapes, Lagoons & Hidden Lakes

By: Matt Payne

 It is early and I am jet lagged. While the roosters are loud, the monkeys, playing a pre-dawn game of tag are louder. While I wish I could sleep more, there is something pleasant about being awakened by scurrying primates and opinionated roosters.

I arrived to Manila the previous day and caught a puddle jumper on Cebu Airlines to the Palawan Island chain, home to the quaint and undisturbed coastal town of Coron.

The primary draw to Coron, a small fishing village, is diving. Despite the raucous monkeys, I manage to get a bit more sleep, but as the sun blasts through my window at the Princess of Coron Resort, I begin my day.

Unlike many resort towns, little has been done to modernize Coron. The streets are narrow and lined with small shops and restaurants. Trikes and jeepneys, the primary form of transportation throughout most of the Philippines, whiz past me as I meander through the village towards the waterfront.

I am eager to get on the water, but first I must eat. There are many unique dining options in Coron. The Kawayanan Grill Station catches my eye. The open-air restaurant is centered on a thatch-roofed bar. Each table is under a similar canopy.

The menu features the usual Filipino cuisine, including chicken adobo, which is chicken stewed in vinegar and soy, as well as a variety of pork dishes, but given that I am in a fishing village, I decide to go with the seafood. Within minutes, three small but beautiful lobsters and a side of fried shrimp are placed in front of me and for the next ten minutes times stops, as I devour the garlic-covered crustaceans, washing them down with a San Miguel beer. San Miguel is the pride of The Philippines.

One sip and I know exactly why. It tastes perfect.

My belly full, it’s time to hit the water. I walk through the local wet market. The air is thick and the sky is slightly overcast. The smell of fish is so strong that I nearly choke. Beyond the wet market is the town square where the local children play a curious game, which involves throwing their shoes at one another. I narrowly avoid a flip-flop careening towards me.

As I arrive to the waterfront, I recall the owner of the hotel telling me that finding a guide for the day will be simple. He wasn’t kidding. Within seconds, Filipino men approach me, urging me to hire them for the day. I find a guide with a solid mastery of the English language and a good sense of humor. He takes me to his banca.

Most boats in the Philippine Islands are called Bancas. Bancas are similar to canoes only on each side are long bamboo poles that reach out like legs over the water giving the boat a bug-like appearance. This is to keep the banca stable in rough sea waters.

My guide and his son and I take off to the sea. He tells me that he is going to take me to four spots. First, a popular snorkel spot, followed by a lagoon. Then to a beach that is home to an indigenous tribe accessible only by water, and last to a small island that is home to a fresh water lake. Given that I am surrounded by stunning reefs and beaches, a lake sounds like an uneventful climax to the day, but I am willing to go with it.

We begin with snorkeling at the Siete Pecados Marine Park, a twenty-minute boat ride along the Coron coast. The warm water sprays across my face as I watch schools of flying fish skip along the top of the water. The reef itself is a small but beautiful one with a strong current. While on this particular day we are the only people at the dive spot, the fish are used to humans.

Unlike other snorkeling spots, the fish are extremely curious and within seconds of entering the crystal clear, bath-warm water, a rainbow cloud of a thousand fish envelops me. So dense is the school of fish that I breach the surface to regain my bearings.

My guide laughs as I rip of my mask and snorkel, looking down at the fish still orbiting my legs. I see the guide reach into his pocket and toss a handful of fish food into the water a few feet from me and with that, the school of fish head in that direction to continue to dine.

After an hour of exploring the rich marine life of Siete Pecados, we make our way to the beach. The water turns a deep, exotic, almost alien blue as we cross towards our destination. As we come closer to a sheer and extremely high island wall, I notice a small crescent beach and on it a hut. My guide pulls up and a little girl, about five years old, comes out and asks for twenty pesos. I hand her some coins, jump into the shallow water and wade to the powdered sand beach.

Once on the little beach, I am invited into the family’s hut. They make their living as host to guests and they call this beach their home. While to me, it is one of the most serene places I have ever been; to them, it is business as usual. An old man sips a beer while his wife cooks over an open fire.

They offer me a piece of candy which tastes like cashew and honey. Their eldest boy is out fishing. At least that is what I can gather from our game of charades. They encourage me to enjoy the beach on a hammock that hangs between two palms. I do so, eating the cashew candy.

As I rest, finally, the sun comes out and I watch as the sea turns from a grey blue to an electric blue. My cue to move to the next stop. I bid my hosts adieu and I told them I hoped to return. The mother suggested that the next time I come back, I should bring a girlfriend. I agreed.

The next stop is a lagoon. We approach another sheer cliffside. A shack sits precariously along a jagged rock just above the water. Two young men tie our banca to a mooring.  I am confused as there is no lagoon to be seen anywhere. What I can see, however, are ten or so pieces of bamboo, each about twenty feet long and tied together making a crude raft.

I am instructed to board. One of the young men and I make our way around the side of the island and he gestures that I lay flat as we move towards a small cave. There is about a foot’s clearance between the top of the cave and the water.

We go underneath it, my nose barely clearing and come up on the other side into a beautiful lagoon. The lagoon is surrounded by jagged cliff-sides draped in tropical foliage. Water pours into the lagoon from a tropical spring. When I swim, I can feel the cold current running underneath me in the otherwise warm water. After cooling off, it is time to head to the fresh water lake.

To get to the lake, we cruise through another lagoon. I still struggle to wrap my brain around how a lake could be more beautiful then the beaches and corals I have seen. Perhaps we forego the lake and I can snorkel one more time. The guide will have none of it.

He tells me to have my camera out and ready as the entrance is a spectacular sight. He is right. Reef-wrapped giant rocks emerge from the water against the backdrop of a tropical forest in this tiny lagoon. Like the previous lagoon, there is a small boathouse where a family greets us.

They point me to a staircase where there is a sign that reads Kayangan Lake. This is my destination. Sunbathing monitor lizards watch lazily as I climb the nearly four hundred stairs to get to over the cliffside to the lake. By the time I reach the top, I am perspiring from the humid air.

If there was any breath left in my body upon reaching the top of the stairs, it is immediately taken away as I look at this lake I hadn’t even wanted to see. A rudimentary dock wound around the emerald green water that lapped up against the cliffsides surrounding the lake. The green waters gave way to a rich, deep blue towards the lake’s deep center.

Along one side of the lake is a cave. I swim to it. Aside from the screech of a Seahawk, there is no sound, spare my breathing. The water runs into a cave, so I follow it inside. The stalactites have a reddish hue to them and hang down eerily close to the water.

Planning to visit Coron? Learn more about island hopping tours in Coron.

Sunlight blasts through a small hole, kicking up the crystal blue reflection on the cave’s ceiling and filling it with a serene, heart-stopping light. I sit there a moment, floating in silence. All things seem to fold into one as the water’s reflection dances all around me on the exotic ceiling. My imagination runs wild yet stops in the same beat… and then the sun moves past its window, and the cave goes dark. After a moment in the darkness, I swim out of the cave, certain that I’d just rested for a minute in whatever beauty awaits after life.

I float out in the middle of the lake and listen to the sounds of the jungle, not quite ready to call it a day.

We return to Coron as the sun is setting. Vendors sell exotic meats on street corners and children continue to throw shoes at one another. My guide tries to convince me to eat balut. Balut, a Filipino delicacy, at first looks like a hard-boiled egg, but when cracked, you discover that it is fully developed baby duck that has not yet hatched from its egg. You eat it, bones, bill and all. With a little bit of salt, they tell me, it is delicious.

After the day I’ve had, I feel that perhaps a lobster and a San Miguel might be a better way to end the day. With that, I head back to the Kawayanan Grill Station to relive my lunch. Some places are definitely worth revisiting.

Coron is one.

Alaska: The Final Frontier | UN-Cruise Tours & Diving

Boat sailing off the coast of Alaska

Alaska

Un-Cruise Tours & Diving

Alaska: Diving into the Final Frontier

By: Matt Payne

Southeast Alaska is majestic, but aesthetics aside, that epic expanse which makes the untouched Alaskan wilderness so beautiful, should be also largely– terrifying. Observing a grizzly bear, post-hibernation, two weeks before the salmon run, is a true marvel. That bear though, weighing in at a hefty 600 pounds, is also starving and the human observer, me, watching from the bow of a tiny skiff just off shore, would be far more satiating than a couple of sad barnacles at low tide.

When Dawes Glacier, located at the end of The Endicott Arm, calves its ancient ice, it is an explosion, thunderous and echoing through the fjord as tens of thousands of pounds of crystal blue ice crash into the water creating a splash a hundred feet high and a quarter of a mile wide. It is violent and powerful, yet from the bow of our small expedition boat, we watch humbled, yet fearless in the wake of the icy explosion. Even in a boat surrounded by a pod of orca, one chooses awe over fear notwithstanding the porpoise’s more menacing moniker, ‘the killer whale.’

Despite Alaska’s interwoven seismic beauty and perilous power, why then, is it, that as I set out to observe some of the region’s slowest and smallest resident wildlife, I am, for the first time on my seven day cruise with Un-Cruise, completely terrified?

The water temperature is just below 40 degrees and though unseasonably sunny during my early May voyage, on this chilly morning, there are only clouds. The wetsuit, a 7milimeter, I am assured, will be more than enough to keep me warm. Warmth and comfort, however, as I jam myself into the vice-tight wetsuit are mutually exclusive. As the hood smacks tight onto my skull, it drowns out the giggles and yammering of my fellow travelers as they set off on skiffs towards far more palatable and warmer excursions. With Frankenstein-like rigidity, I lumber into a small skiff that will take me and four other brave and arguably stupid adventurists to a small island a fifteen-minute skiff ride from our boat The Wilderness Explorer, and once there, after much nervous anticipation, into the freezing water, I shall plunge.

 

For twenty years, Un-Cruise has served as a small, intimate and educational alternative for cruisers and outdoor enthusiasts who love the water but want to avoid the crowd and cliché of so many of the world’s larger cruise ships. Given the smaller nature of the Un-Cruise vessels and unrivaled insider knowledge and talent of the ship’s captains and guides, passengers have access to virtually untouched wilderness from Hawaii to Alaska; the Pacific Northwest to The Galapagos, Costa Rica and Panama. Each day, Un-Cruise boats offer guests a variety of excursions suitable for any age, skill set or physicality. From hikes and long sea kayaks to skiff boat rides and in my case, snorkeling, each excursion is led by world class naturalists who offer insight into every aspect of nature from geology to marine-biology; land mammals to bald eagles.

At night, the ship’s naturalists offer playful, informative and interactive talks over relevant topics and the previous night’s lecture had been on Alaska’s intertidal zones and invertebrates. The creatures of the intertidal zone, largely crabs, krill, mollusks, sea slugs and anemones, are Alaska’s most dramatic, complex and colorful. The apex predator in the area is the Sunflower Sea Star. More commonly, and incorrectly called a “starfish,” the Sunflower Sea Star, unlike many sea stars, has up to a dozen legs, is as big around as a trash can lid and though slow, is infamous for hunting even slower invertebrates, devouring them slowly and leaving piles of bone and shell in its wake. A chase between a Sunflower Sea Star and another invertebrate might take a couple of days before the actual kill but in invertebrate time, that is cheetah fast.

Like most days with Un-Cruise, the next day, there were two excursions. One, the naturalist explained, involved a hike with multiple crossings of a roaring river atop of mossy logs in the rain. There second less conventional excursion option for the foolish and the brave: snorkeling. Snorkeling in Alaska… Why hike when you could simply become cryogenically frozen? I thought, quietly cursing my wanderlust as I agreed to join in the cold fun.

That night, my sleep was plagued with frozen nightmares. I’d seen whales, killer whales, bears and glaciers crumbling. Why now, was I afraid?. So much thought had gone into what such frigid water might feel like that when I finally hit the water the next morning, I’d almost forgotten that my purpose was not just a polar plunge but to opportunity observe and embrace a rare and complex eco-system.

There were two ways to warm up when snorkeling in Alaska. One, you wait as the water seeps in through the neck of the wetsuit until the cold has enveloped you and slowly your body temperature warms the intruding seawater as close to a normal temperature as science will allow. The other, more pleasant way to deal with the terror of the cold was to simply put your mask on your face, your snorkel in your mouth and go under water.

There are no fish to speak of in the intertidal zone. Leafy kelp coats the rocky bottom and the cauliflower-like plumose anemone wave like mad Dr. Suess characters. Tiny shrimp dart from leaf to leaf. A rock crab waves his arms lazily on a stone ledge. Brightly colored sea cucumbers roll around along the rocky bottom. Everywhere I look are blue and red, huge and supposedly terrifying, are the apex predators: sea stars. Life unfolds in every direction and for forty-five minutes I hover over it and marvel. It is a crazy world under Southeast Alaska’s ink water. And like all things in Alaska, it is a complex world, violent and slow, terrifying and beautiful. And cold… very, very cold.

The Olive Tree | Authentic Greek Cuisine in Bruges | Belgium

olive tree restaurant bruges

The Olive Tree

Authentic Greek Cuisine

The Olive Tree, Bruges:

An Authentic Taste of Greece in the Heart of Bruges, Belgium

If you’ve ever been to Greece, you’ll know that all good restaurants are owned by big families who welcome you like an old friend, and serve delicious home cooked food bursting with big flavours and no shortage of liquid gold, or good quality olive oil. The Olive Tree offers all of these things, giving an authentic Greek experience in the heart of Bruges, Belgium.

With a beautiful story that begins 11 years ago, The Olive Tree is owned and staffed entirely by a family and a few close friends who moved to Bruges from a small Greek island called Lesvos. The family brought with them the incredible flavours and traditions passed down through generations, as well as their number one ingredient of extra virgin olive oil, bringing a true taste of Greece to Belgium.

candles in the window at olive tree restaurant bruges
olive tree restaurant bruges
olive tree restaurant bruges

You can taste the passion in the food, and feel the warmth of the welcome as you step through the door. The cosy low lit dining room is beautifully decorated with natural wood ornaments and hints of olive green throughout. Candles set in wine bottles fill the windows and decorate the tables throughout, giving off a warming flicker of light and creating a calm and cosy ambiance. Laughter fills the air from groups of friends coming together around incredible cuisine. In true Greek restaurant fashion, a lady dining nearby erupts in song, joining the classic Greek ballad that fills the room.

The Olive Tree, Bruges offers an extensive menu of Greek dishes, prepared with authentic ingredients and traditional cooking methods. Embark on a culinary journey with the perfectly selected set menu which begins with olives and an aperitif, followed by a selection of traditional Greek appetizers, your choice of main dish, and a delicious homemade desert served with coffee and a digestif.

olive tree restaurant appetizers bruges
olive tree restaurant bruges wine and olives
olive tree restaurant bruges appetizers

The starter selection is to die for. A meticulously prepared and presented platter arrives, including a mini Greek salad, Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), Melitzanes Tiganites (Greek style fried eggplant), Keftedes (delicious Greek meatballs), Spanakopita (melt-in-the-mouth spinach and feta pie), and Patatokefthedes (similar to potato croquettes). A variety of beautifully combined Greek dips completes the dish, with the distinct flavours of Melitzanosalata, Tirosalata, Tzatziki and Taramosalata. It’s a feast for the senses, and one that will leave you looking at flights to the country for more!

Unable to resist the Greek classic, I chose Mousaka for my main. Served with a side of fresh salad and perfectly seasoned rice, the dish did not disappoint. We also tried something a little different – succulent beef topped with Greek cheese, wrapped in a delicate filo pastry nest, and served with delicious roasted potatoes and flavourful rice.

Despite being full and quickly approaching bursting, we couldn’t resist the dessert. A melt-in-your-mouth cake served with an espresso topped off the meal perfectly. Despite it being cold, windy and rainy outside, we left smiling ear to ear and feeling completely satisfied with the delicious food and warm service.

olive tree restaurant bruges salad
olive tree restaurant bruges etree
olive tree restaurant bruges dessert

A chat with the owner revealed that The Olive Tree has recently opened a sister company just down the street – The Olive Streetfood. Unable to resist, we made a stop the following day. Greeted with the same warm welcome and enthusiasm, the staff recommended their favourite dishes to us and we were more than happy to take their suggestions.

The Olive Streetfood serves a selection of Greek style salad boxes, wraps, and sides, along with freshly pressed juices (that are literally pressed before your eyes and into the cup you’re holding!) Vegan and vegetarian options are available across the menu, and are incredibly delicious! Of course, in true Greek style only extra virgin olive oil is used in all dishes, which definitely goes a long way to giving that authentic taste of Greece.

The shop is perfectly located between the main square and the canal, so just a few steps in either direction you can have your lunch with a view. So when you can’t stop thinking about the meal you ate at The Olive Tree restaurant the night before, you can head here for round two. As a bonus, the food is served in recycled cardboard, which is great to see from a take out shop!

A Visiting Bruges? Check out Hotel Die Swaene for a great stay in the town centre.

olive tree restaurant bruges streetfood
olive tree restaurant bruges takeout
olive tree restaurant bruges togo food
olive tree restaurant bruges juice and smoothies

Alfama Cellar Restaurant | Authentic Portuguese Cuisine | Lisbon

Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon

Alfama Cellar

Authentic Portuguese Cuisine

Alfama Cellar Restaurant: Classic Cuisine with Contemporary Flair

Nestled in the winding cobbled streets of Alfama in Lisbon, this quaint restaurant serves a selection of traditional Portuguese dishes and local fine wines.

Having grown up in Switzerland with his Portuguese mother, owner Yann moved back to Lisbon in 2017 and opened Alfama Cellar. A passion for local produce and flavours is combined with a modern twist on traditional dishes to create unique culinary delights. The restaurant is tastefully decorated and dotted with candles, creating a cosy feel and casual relaxed ambiance. It is the perfect place to share an afternoon or evening with your partner, family or friends.

Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon
Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon
Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon
Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon

Alfama Cellar serves only new wines from small Portuguese vineyards, which you won’t find in the shops or any other restaurants nearby. In fact, the wine list is continuously changing to introduce new wines as they become available. Small maps of Portugal are positioned beside every table, so the waiters can show you the origin of your chosen wine.

The waiters have endless knowledge about the food, able to explain how each dish is prepared and with which ingredients. They are noticeably passionate about what they do, making for a lovely and memorable experience. Having asked for recommendations, we tried the Beetroot Gaspacho and Fish Soup to start. Despite Gaspacho not being my typical choice from a menu, the waiter’s enthusiastic description made it hard to ignore (it has olive oil ice-cream in it!) And all I can say is – wow! I’ve never tasted anything like it, nor would I expect to ever again.

Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon
Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon
Alfama Cellar Restaurant, Lisbon

After hearing about each of the main dishes created at Alfama Cellar, we decided to try the Fish and Prawn Cataplana, and the Roasted Codfish with Spinach. Both meals were unbelievably delicious! The fish was so tasty, and the prawns just melt in your mouth. The fresh pomegranate and fresh herbs were a lovely addition, bringing a lovely lightness to the dish. The portions are very generous so needless to say, we didn’t have room for dessert.

Not only are the food and wine delicious at Alfama Cellar, but the service makes it more than just a meal out. One of the features that makes this restaurant so special is the small number of tables inside, so we recommend booking a table to make sure you’re not disappointed. We’ve already recommended Alfama Cellar to friends, and it definitely won’t be the last time we visit either.

If you’re in Lisbon, make sure you don’t miss this hidden gem.

Audrey’s Restaurant and Cafe | Alfama Dining | Lisbon

audrey's restaurant lisbon