Day 6 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Kazan -> Yekaterinburg (14h 4m)

The quietness of the previous night apparently was too boring for our newly arrived Russian neighbours lodged in the upstairs capsule. They launched into nightly romantic escapades, which also continued in the early morning hours. Guess they didn’t consider or care about the thin walls and rocking floors of the capsule…

Today is our last day in Kazan so we decide to go all in on Soviet hygge and that essentially consists of visiting a military park across the street. Tanks, planes, Katyushas and kids everywhere crawling happily on top of the tanks. Interesting sense of entertainment.

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Well now that military arsenal is off the bucket list, the remaining hours in Kazan are spent back in our favourite rooftop hangout spot indulging on our favourite pilmeni soup.

It is called a bride's soup - the trick is to make the pilmeni dough as thin and gentle as possible. That way the bride can show her true love to her soon to be husband.

It is called a bride’s soup – the trick is to make the pilmeni dough as thin and gentle as possible. That way the bride can show her true love to her soon to be husband.

Do svedanye beautiful Kazan! Next stop – Yekaterinburg.

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There are around 1,000 km dividing Kazan from Yekaterinburg. It is another overnight train ride stretching across 14 hours and 4 minutes. This time we have booked a second class sleeping compartment.

Our home for the next 14 hours

Our home for the next 14 hours

The experience reminds of Russian roulette, you never know what kind of person awaits you behind the door of your compartment. With a certain anxiety we open the door – to my big relief it is empty! No other train companions, how lucky can we be.

After the initial excitement of having own compartment quiets down, you realise that there is a difference between first and second classes, from the slippers you get to the food that you are served. Sounds posh I know, but when you start first class, rest pales in comparison.

Train restaurant - looks quite fancy with a decent menu

Train restaurant – looks quite fancy with a decent menu

What we also learn is that for Trans-Siberian the lower the train number the better. Our first stretch, Moscow – Kazan, was on 004. This one is with 140. Single digit is the key here!

Grechka - Soviet staple food rich in vitamins or so I was told when growing up

Grechka – Soviet staple food rich in vitamins or so I was told when growing up

We enjoy our humble Soviet dinner – grechka with a meatball and prepare for a few hours of sleep before our midnight neighbours get on board.

Another beautiful day passing by through a train window

Another beautiful day passing by through a train window

Good night from the endless train tracks somewhere in Russia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 5 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Still in Kazan

It was a relatively silent night in the space. Our capsule neighbours were surprisingly quiet all through the night or I was too exhausted from the train ride to notice any slight noises and slept like a baby all the way through.

Greetings from the galaxy

Greetings from the galaxy

Today is shaping up to be a slow one. Someone had to catch up on work, and for once that someone was not me! Unheard of I know. I just spent all morning sitting out on a café porch in the middle of the pedestrian street enjoying a good book, delicious cappuccino and sunshine. Of course people watching was part of the past-time as well.

Coffee and cake and people watching and reading

Coffee and cake and people watching and reading

Well after 15:00 work is done and packed away, and beautiful Kazan is calling us. The hysterical weather of the morning transitioning between sun, rain, sun, decided to make up its mind in the afternoon. A beautiful canvas of bright blue sky shone through dotted up with big, beautiful clouds.

The famous Kazan cat

The famous Kazan cat

Bauma Street full of life

Bauma Street full of life

The main attraction of the day was Kazan Kremlin, a UNESCO heritage site atop the hill housing the presidential palace, a Russian Orthodox Church and mosque side by side. I won’t dwell on the historical importance of the site, there is plenty Google can tell you on that. What struck us most was the insanely beautiful colours of the buildings, the shades of blue on white, accentuated even more by the playful sun.

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Kazan Kremlin

Kazan Kremlin

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Kazan Kremlin

Kazan Kremlin

Presidential palace

Presidential palace

Intricate gate design

Intricate gate design

Mosque and the sun

Mosque and the sun

Panoramic view over Kazan

Panoramic view over Kazan

The rest of the day is spent lounging on a rooftop terrace with the most beautiful view over the city and indulging on the tasty dishes of the Tatar cuisine.

The clouds are totally mesmerising

The clouds are totally mesmerising

Looking at the world through a colourful lens

Looking at the world through a colourful lens

It's tea time, darling

It’s tea time, darling

Tea in Kazan comes with pine cone marmalade

Tea in Kazan comes with pine cone marmalade

Kazan so far has been such a pleasant experience, it is a very neat city with really friendly people, taking pride in their city and really glad to see foreigners visiting.

Cheers to another day on the Trans-Siberian!

Cheers to another day on the Trans-Siberian!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 4 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Kazan

It feels like the 11 hours and 10 minutes on the train passed by very quickly. There was not much landscape to see since it was an overnight train crossing through endless forests.

Train landscapes

Train landscapes

Suddenly the clock was 07:00, just an hour short of arriving in Kazan. Out come all the Armenian culinary delights for breakfast in bed experience.

Simple things often are the best. It is the case of our breakfast!

Simple things often are the best. It is the case of our breakfast! The hand cream is not part of cuisine, just happened to throw itself into the picture.

08:00 sharp and the train pulls into the Kazan train station. Thanks for the nice ride!

We and the happy train lady

We and the happy train lady (provodnitsa)

Kazan Railway Station

Kazan Railway Station

The first and only planned item on the list in Kazan is to check into this crazy space themed hostel that somebody, read not ME, insisted on booking. I have my reservations and concerns, but when planning the trip a few months ago, decided to concede and keep an open mind. Andreas is totally ecstatic about finally arriving into the space station. Not kidding – this must be one of the things he has been most looking forward to in the entire journey.

Well here we arrive and are left off by the cab in front of a very Soviet, very low and very unassuming looking structure in the middle of a parking lot. Hmmmm get me out of here please, 2 nights in this hole – no way. Someone else is already excitedly walking into the building. On we go. The kind receptionist lets us do an early check-in against an extra charge of course (500 rub). Good news at least, some hot shower wouldn’t hurt.

Crossing a common dining/gaming/working area we enter into the space station. And space station it is. I feel like I have stepped into a Star Wars set. You literally get a capsule to live in complete psychedelic light shows, doors opening as if you were on board one of the Imperial Star Destroyers (you gotta be a Star Wars fan to picture that).

Our space station ready for take off

Our space station ready for take off

Hmmm this could be fun I am thinking. On second thought hope it will not be noisy at night being the light sleeper that I am. Two nights in this space… Let’s see. Somebody else is already jumping up and down from joy and deep into taking pictures and shooting artistic films of the whole light-door-space station feel.

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After some freshening up in the capsule we head off to explore Kazan. Now that the sleep shelter is secured, comes the other physiological need on Maslow’s Hierarchy – getting some food into our quiet hungry tummies. The choice falls for a rather cool pub serving Texas style BBQ. Google food rating never disappoints no matter the country you are in.

The answer is horse meat! Tasted quite OK actually

The answer is horse meat! Tasted quite OK actually

Food check! Full and smiling. On the wall of the pub we find this quote by Hemingway that sends us off to the day with a bigger smile.

"I drink to make other people more interesting." E. Hemingway

“I drink to make other people more interesting.” E. Hemingway

Just around the corner is Bauman pedestrian street – where shops, restaurants, bars and cathedrals coexist in harmony.

This stunning cathedral is literally perched in between  more imposing neighbours.

This stunning cathedral is literally perched in between more imposing neighbours.

What should we do next? It is a take it easy kind of a day. I have read about a Soviet lifestyle museum. Now that could be a cool nostalgic thing to do. A little trip down the memory lane. We hit the streets of Kazan and step into the Soviet times.

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So many artefacts, many familiar, many not. Brings a smile thinking back on that era – growing up in late 1980’s I managed to get Soviet birth certificate and a tiny bit Soviet exposure.

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Spending an hour at the museum amongst Soviet memorabilia, we are ready to head out into the sun again and try out some of the local Tatar cuisine. Chak-chak is on the menu – dessert consisting of fried dough drenched in honey. That we try at the Chak-Chak museum – yep there is a museum for chak-chak.

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Take it easy day finishes at a riverside restaurant in the new part of the city with beautiful sunset and panoramic over the old city. But before that we are stopped by a beautiful rainbow stretching across Kaban Lakes.

internal.9584541858373491c8b778f28c595131.DO01033852Somehow we go really crazy on the menu and end up ordering so many dishes that they keep brining something new every 10 minutes. We make our way through the feast, as our neighbours at the table across do vodka shots. Everything tastes so delicious and is really nicely presented. First impression of this city is very pleasant.

Fried pilmeni (dumplings) and borodinsky bread

Fried khinkali (dumplings) and black bread crutons with garlic sour cream,

Time to call it a day and head back to our Millenium Falcon. Good night from Kazan, fingers crossed for quiet neighbours.

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Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 3 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Moscow -> Kazan (11h 10min)

A quiet morning on Nikolskaya Street

A quiet morning on Nikolskaya Street

Last day in Moscow started bright and early for some of us, aka Andreas. He tried to sneak out of the room at the crack of dawn to document the beauty of Moscow without its crowds.  Now in his mind the whole operation was done very discreetly, in reality I got wide awake in a state of sleepy surprise.

Zaryadye Park resembling New York's High Line offers a beautiful panoramic view over the city

Zaryadye Park resembling New York’s High Line offers a beautiful panoramic view over the city

IMG_9531It seems that during our three days in Moscow, the roads kept leading us to Red Square. It was also hard to avoid it living kind of right next to it. It is hard to resist its glorious sight.

Red Square in all its glory

Red Square in all its glory

The square was full of joyful people and amongst hundreds of them we found these Chinese couples who were pushing the photography limits to whole new levels. It was mostly the ladies in front of the lens with and without head scarves, standing and sitting, smiling and serious. The husbands were mostly staying humbly behind and diligently carrying out the supporting roles.

The Chinese couples in the middle of a serious photoshoot

The Chinese couples in the middle of a serious photoshoot

From socialist side of Red Square you cross a few meters and voila you magically appear in the epitome of capitalistic world – GUM department store with all its shiny designer stores, glitz and glamour designed to make you spend your hard-earned €€€. We were there for one very special attraction.

The famous attraction of Gum is not all the fancy stores it is the yummy ice-cream!

The famous attraction of GUM is not all the fancy stores it is the yummy ice-cream!

The GUM ice-cream! Another childhood memory of Soviet and post-Soviet times. When asking Andreas to comment on his first Soviet ice-cream experience, his response was: “Det var surprisingly lækker.” (It was surprisingly yummy). I don’t know what else he expected.

Chocolate and cherry flavours

Chocolate and cherry flavours

From socialist-capitalist explorations, we moved out of the heart of Moscow and into Arbat, a central residential district, filled with hyggelig sidewalk winebars, coffee shops and restaurants.

Backyards of Arbat neighbourhood - loving the shade of blue

Backyards of Arbat neighbourhood – loving this shade of blue

 

Patriashki prudi

Patriarshi Rubniki

The last stop of the day before bidding farewell to Moscow is a special corner of my homeland in the center of Moscow – the Armenia store. We needed to stock up on some lavash, panir (bread and cheese) and other goodies for our long train travels.

My favourite store in all of Moscow - little Armenian corner stocking up on the Armenian food essentials

My favourite store in all of Moscow – little Armenian corner. Essential for stocking up on the Armenian food.

It is about 19:00 and time to head off to Kazan train station for catching our first ever Trans-Siberian ride from Moscow to Kazan!

Kazan Train Station in Moscow

Kazan Train Station in Moscow

Departure board - waiting for Kazan train to orient itself on the board

Departure board – waiting for Kazan train to orient itself on the board

Since it was the first train travel experience in Russia we decided to follow the official guidelines of arriving at least 45 minutes before departure time to be “ready for check-in”. Turned out that we were really in good time. The train was not there and the departure board did not get updated until about 30 minutes before departure and the doors of the train did not open until the clock hit 20:55.
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Our home for the next 11 hours - Moscow -> Kazan train, coupe 7

Our home for the next 11 hours – Moscow -> Kazan train, car 7

For the first leg of our journey we decided to go all in and splurge on a first class ticket. Very nice experience.

First class coupe Russia style with a fruit platter waiting for us - Danish DSB could learn a bit

First class coupe Russia style with a fruit platter waiting for us – Danish DSB could learn a bit

It was a really cosy and comfortable experience. With very delicious 3 course meal served on board, Wi-Fi, TV, music, A/C, nice clean sheets and towels. Everything you may need. There is even an app where you can make in-train orders, follow the journey, read books and watch movies. Such a fun experience! This was also the shortest leg in our planned journey. Hope the next 3 rides will be just as fun. Time will show.

Borsch for dinner - yum!

Borsch for dinner – yum!

After some borsch, beef stroganoff and hearty Russian black tea, it is time to bid good night, hit the bed and close eyes to the rumble of train tracks.

Cpakoynoy nochi!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 2 on Trans-Siberian Railway: Moscow

Dobroe utro from Moscow. It is another beautiful day in the Russian capital. Time to rise and shine. It sounds a bit like a newsperson on Good Morning (INSERT COUNTRY) show :) It is really a beautiful day, the sun is shining, you have all of Moscow spread in front of your eyes, and a delicious breakfast with all the Russian culinary delights is waiting for you.

This is what one calls breakfast with view

This is what one calls breakfast with a view

On today’s menu is semi Soviet, semi mingling with the locals walks. Nikolskaya, Vorobyovi Gori, Moscow State University, Gorki park, rose garden, selfie crazed people, rain showers, riverside promenade, and finally the culinary jewel of the day dinner in one of the world’s best restaurants.

Let’s start the day with Nikolskaya promenade. This street has become my favourite in Moscow. The atmosphere here is just so uplifting.

Nikolskaya Street is all about taking it easy and enjoying life

Nikolskaya Street is all about taking it easy and enjoying life

After a small promenade on Nikolskaya we take the metro to Vorobyovi Gori (Sparrow Hills) for a riverside promenade and panorama views over the city. Now metro in Moscow is a whole other level of aesthetic experience. It is not just a simple mode of transportation. There are several stations where you feel like you have stepped into a jaw-droppingly beautiful exhibition. I think that deserves a separate post on its own, so I will not dwell onto metro much here. If you are in Moscow and have a few hours to spare – do it!

Moscow River

Moscow River

The panorama platform on top of the Sparrow Hills is not just any platform with beautiful views over a city.

Sparrow Hills panorama platform

Sparrow Hills panorama platform

Here you meet casual passers-by, tourist groups, matroyshka (Russian traditional dolls) vendors, motorbike loving leathermen and even a cheerful and totally out of place and at the same time why not half-naked guy casually holding a WWII gun.

This guy! Question one - wonder if the gun is loaded??? Question two - why on earth would he be standing there?

This guy! Question 1 – wonder if the gun is loaded??? Question 2 – why on earth would he be standing there? Question 3 – will the rig on this motorcycle get you faster through Moscow in the rush hour? I sense some opportunities there.

Us trying to pose as the space around us gets smaller and smaller and the crowd bigger and bigger

Trying to pose as the space around us gets smaller and smaller and the crowd bigger and bigger

Turn your head 180 degrees and in front of you opens up the imposing building of the Moscow State University. You might have seen this iconic structure elsewhere in Moscow. Nope you are not having a déjà vu. There are seven of them spread around the city bearing the prominent name – Stalin’s Seven Sisters.

Moscow State University housed in one of Stalin's Seven Sisters

Moscow State University housed in one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters

I remember my very first time visiting Moscow back in 2004. This was one of the places where I was brought to by my kind hosts. Back then the structure felt so imposing and important and the student in me felt like it could be a cool place to study. 15 years later stepping onto this exact place felt a bit nostalgic.

Soviet bus

Soviet bus

Seeing this cute bus drive by across the street from the university didn’t help the nostalgic matters much. On the contrary it only accelerated the emotions and took me right back to my school years. Every morning come snow, rain or sun I would do the 30 minute commute on one of these buses void of any modern A/C amenities to my school in Armenia and back. Though sometimes in the summer months the heat levels would go excruciatingly high, there are mostly fond memories associated with it.

This little girl and her carefree ride into the tunnel of light captures the moment and the spirit so beautifully

This little girl and her carefree ride into the tunnel of light captures the moment and the spirit so beautifully

From the university we ended up in Gorki Park, place beaming with life and people enjoying life and taking it easy. The northern section of the park is home to many Soviet statue. That section we visited in the wintertime some months ago and the Soviet heritage in me was quite excited from the nostalgic feel of things. This time the focus was on the southern grounds.

Stumbled upon a beautiful rose garden in the middle of the park

Stumbled upon a beautiful rose garden in the middle of the park

The rose garden was an enchanting sight and apparently a magnet for selfie crazed and wanna-be models.

You can either opt for a professional setup or if you don't want to splurge of personal photo takers then...

You can either opt for a professional setup or if you don’t want to splurge on personal photo takers then…

... you can take the matters into your own hands

… you can quite literally take the matters into your own hands :D

The photoshoots came to an abrupt end as a sudden rain shower decided to befall upon the crowd. It was fun to see families and “models” alike running to seek cover under the tall trees. For families the priorities were ensuring the kids don’t get wet and saving the picnic food. For “models” and their personal photographers the demands were tougher as they had to rescue the hair, the dresses, and at the very last the photo equipment.

Rain showers in the summertime are quite magical

Rain showers in the summertime are quite magical

The heavy rain stopped as suddenly as it started and the sun came shining through the clouds. People appeared quickly out of their covers to continue their strolls, picnics, songs, chats, and dances…

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Impromptu dancing by the dancing fountains

Impromptu dancing by the dancing fountains

After hours of walking and some 20.000 steps, the last stop of the day was of culinary nature. An exciting dinner experience was waiting in one of the world’s best restaurants – Twins Garden. Each of the dishes was quite a special treat. My absolute favourite was the baby sturgeon. This is where I should quickly add – pause NOT. I literally squeaked in terror as the waiter put the dish in front of me with the sturgeon staring right into my face. The fish was quickly beheaded to ease my conscious.

Twins Garden

Twins Garden

Sunset

Magical sunset paired up well with the dining experience.

A few hours and several culinary delights later we ended up where we started the day – in our hood at Nikolskaya Street.

Isn't this just magical

What a magical sight!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Day 1 on Trans-Siberian Railway: CPH ->DME

There is something comforting about train travels. Soothing rumble of rails moving forward and forward, letting your gaze wonder out the window and onto the world slowly passing by, no rush, no worries. Just you and your day-dreams flying at the pace of the train…

Privet from mother Russia! We have just boarded the train headed from Moskva to Kazan. 800 kms away, 11 hours and 10 minutes after we will arrive in the Republic of Tatarstan. A few months ago the loosely-discussed-not-sealed-on-paper travel dream of Trans-Siberian railway adventure spontaneously became THE adventure of the year.

A few months in – the route was mapped on Google. It took a few attempts and adjustments trying to comprehend the vastness of Russia. The landmass comprising Russia is big, really big, the biggest. However it is only when you try to map out your journey from Point A, in our case, Moscow to Point B Kazan and Point C Ekaterinburg and Point D Irkutsk, the size of it really hits you leaving you in awe.

Buying the tickets is seamlessly easy these days. A quick Google search and you discover the very handy app of RZD, the Russian Railway service. Just a few clicks and a couple of tens of thousands RUB after, voila tickets are purchased. The only slight hiccup on the route is trying to cross the border from Russia to Mongolia. That stretch you apparently cannot buy online as a commoner. So we had to call in the help of a local travel agency to procure the last leg of our journey stretching from Irkutsk to Ulaanbataar.

Before hopping onto the train, Singapore Airlines comes into the picture transporting us from STO-DME. Now that experience deserve a small mention. It was my first time ever flying with this airlines and can I just say that for a brief moment there, I was close to swapping the Trans-Siberian tickets for a 10 hours of flight to Singapore.

Flying with Singapore Airlines is quite an experience

Flying with Singapore Airlines is quite an experience

A few hours later and a quick stopover in Stockholm we hit the tarmac in DME, Moscow. Despite its imposing Soviet appearance, the airport itself was quite efficient, just a short walk through the baggage claim to out into the wonderful afternoon heat of Moscow.

The rest of the day revolved around Red Square – Nikolskaya Street, Red Square, Armenian restaurant, back to Red Square in the sunset, Nikolskaya Street and back to our home in Moscow just off Nikolskaya.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square.

Nikolskaya Street puts a smile on your face every time you walk through. The entire street is decorated in shimmering butterflies leading you right to the heart of Red Square. There is so much life on that stretch perfect for people watching, some impromptu musical performances and just letting yourself immerse in the buzz of Moscow.

Kremlin area is adorned with beautiful carpets of flowers everywhere

Kremlin area is adorned with beautiful carpets of flowers everywhere

Moscow is so different in the summertime. The last few times I visited the city was in the bitter cold of December. The juxtaposition with summertime is so stark. The city comes so alive in the summer, women strolling gracefully in their best outfits and posing at every corner for their best Instagram looks and likes. It feels like the city is turned into the big open-air stage of Bolshoy Theatre, and everyone is dressed to impress on their way to the Swan Lake performance.

The colours of Kremlin

The colours of Kremlin

Parks and people everywhere

Parks and people everywhere

Stalingrad - the alley of hero cities during WWII

Stalingrad – the alley of hero cities during WWII

First important stop of the day - Armenian deliciousness for early dinner

First important stop of the day – Armenian deliciousness for early dinner

There was one fixed thing on the agenda of the day and that was to head off to one of the several Armenian restaurants in the city and indulge on the deliciousness of my home country. You should have seen the sparkle in my eyes from the sight of lavash (our traditional bread), panir (cheese) and mixed greens. The precious moment of making a brduch – lavash roll, the taste so simple yet so so delicious. The feeling of simple joy from conversing in my native language… Simple joys in life.

After a few hours of feeling like back in my homeland, the feet led us back to Red Square, glowing in the sunset, filled with faces from all corners of the world, strolling casually and documenting their walks with every step they take.

Making a wish before entering the Req Square

Making a wish before entering the Req Square

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Churches around Red Square are so impressive

Churches around Red Square are so impressive

The famous tower of Kremlin glowing in the sunset colours

The famous tower of Kremlin glowing in the sunset colours

St. Basil's Cathedral basking in the sunset glow

St. Basil’s Cathedral basking in the sunset glow

Another pretty cathedral

Another pretty cathedral

Gazing across Moscow River

Gazing across Moscow River

Relaxing in the evening breeze while listening to a beautiful street concert

Relaxing in the evening breeze while listening to a beautiful street concert

Good night Moscow! Sweet dreams

Good night Moscow! Sweet dreams

The train is continuing to roll slowly yet steadily across the vast Russian landscape. It is past midnight here, and I am ready to call it a day. Good night and sweet dreams!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

The city of red roofs, white blooms and Game of Thrones

It was the lingering scent of ‘orange blossoms’ that brought me back…

The flower of Dubrovnik

The flower of Dubrovnik

Back to pretty Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic Sea. Three years ago was my first encounter with this beauty. It was a love at first sight. Ever since then the city of red roofs and orange blossoms has held a special place in my heart. And the scent of tiny white flowers blooming in April all around the city lingered in my memories.

The girl and the flowerIt is the month of April three years later and here I am back in Dubrovnik, where the red roofs are still glowing in the sun, medieval walls are as intact and the Adriatic as azure. And most importantly the sweet scent of white blooms is lingering all over the city. I am yet to find out the name of the bush. The fact that it is so terribly enchanting and beautiful in its modest appearance only gets enhanced by its anonymity. I will just call it orange blossoms until then. The name sounds so pretty and they grow right next to orange trees, so why not.

Oranges

Welcome to Dubrovnik! The city of red roofs, medieval walls, azure waters and in recent years home to King’s Landing of Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik

The city is out of this world beautiful, really! It is one of a kind. To appreciate Dubrovnik in all its beauty you should take it in from a hill above the city or from the city walls. For now though we will stay grounded and walk the streets of Dubrovnik to take in the scent of white blooms and retrace the steps down the memory lane.

Pile Gate welcomes you to Dubrovnik

Pile Gate welcomes you to Dubrovnik

Before reaching the gate though, there is a need for a proper welcome to Dubrovnik.

But first a proper welcome :)

Sipping wine in the afternoon sun with a gorgeous view of the medieval city in the horizon

It feels just as enchanting to be walking in the latte coloured streets of Dubrovnik, taking in the sweet scent of white blooms and pretty scenes. First day was all about walking from one end of the city to the other, soaking in the Adriatic sun and indulging on some delicious seafood. The city is quite tiny in terms of physical meter sense but quite long in terms of its beauty. So that small late afternoonish stroll form one gate to another was a pretty sweet welcome to the gem of Croatia. Stay tuned for more adventures from the city of Game of Thrones!

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Rocky shores of Adriatic

Rocky shores of Adriatic

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What a magical welcome!

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Hibernating before the summer season kicks off

Sunset view

Dubrovnik harbour looking all dreamy in the sunset sky <3

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Feeling the spring on Bornholm – Part 2

The place where the reality is more beautiful than imagination… We were in the car driving through a small forest road covered with a beautiful carpet of white and yellow anemone flowers, when I heard Hongyi very quietly, as if talking to herself, give voice to her inner thoughts. The reality is more beautiful than imagination! I heard the sentence come alive, I pondered it over in my mind and I asked her to repeat it again. I thought it was such a profound observation that it deserved to be articulated again.

Days later I remembered it again, and I asked Hongyi if I could quote it. It might as well become the new catch phrase for the island that knows how to enchant.

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My favourite shot of the trip. I love the play of colours and nature.

We were on our way to Gudhjem, which translated means God’s home. It is not hard to imagine why when you enter Gudhjem. A charming city of red roofs, picturesque views, sol over Gudhjem smoked herring dish and the world’s biggest ice cream. What else could you ask for?

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Sol over Gudhjem – the red city in all its glory

Reaching Gudhjem I took Hongyi to my favourite viewpoint, a small park behind the churchyard. It has become kind of a tradition to take people to that place. There is a wooden bench perched on the viewing hill, and I have grown so fond of sitting there and gazing out.

Recharging in Gudhjem with pretty views and savouring an obligatory soft ice, we continued our Tour-de-Bornholm to Sandvig, a town north of Gudhjem for a little hiking action.

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Beautiful patterns in nature are all over Bornholm!

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Hammershus, Northern Europe’s largest castle ruins.

There are many hiking trails criss-crossing the island. I love this one, Sandvig – Hammer Odde Fyr – Solomons Kapel – Sandvig, in particular. Water, rocks, blooming bushes and views to Hammershus castle ruins make for a very pleasant hike.

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The rocks of Bornholm.

The hike goes by surprisingly quickly. One moment we are at Sandvig on the eastern coast of Bornholm, the other we find ourselves at the western shores having crossed the island horizontally. It must have been the sun and the postcard views turning us into little Asterix-es and giving us wings.

We reached the Hammerhavn late in the afternoon, just when the last of the captains was getting ready to head out to the sea on his small fishermen boat for a sail tour. We hopped on one with a very witty and sweet captain and cruised the waters of the Baltic Sea looking at the northernmost tip of Bornholm and Hammershus ruins from the sea. A beautiful perspective!

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Hammershus standing tall and proud and pretty.

As we progressed through the day going from a city life to nature to sea, we left one final item on our agenda – the forests of Bornholm. We had a special quest – locate the bornholmer anemone, called blegblå anemone. And we did! Well largely thanks to Hanne’s sharp eye. Scouring the forest we found the cute tiny flowers that covered the entire patch of ground.

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We found them! The blegblå anemone of Bornholm.

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A carpet of flowers lies in front of us.

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Where the road leads to…

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Sunset walk by Gudhjem :)

Time flies when you are having fun. Having accomplished our last mission of the day we started slowly making our way back to Snogebæk. But it was too early to call it a day. The sun was just setting over Gudhjem. The beautiful, soft light was just irresistible. It resulted in a silent admiration of the nature and a fun little impromptu photoshoot.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Feeling the spring on Bornholm – Part 1

My admiration of the solskinsøen, aka Bornholm, is no secret. This small island in the midst of the Baltic Sea took my breath away from our very first encounter on the warm August day nearly 8 years ago as I descended from the ferry docked in Rønne, the capital. Since then Bornholm greeted me on many, many occasions, every time showing the prettiest of its smiles, beautiful as a shy princess, and fierce as a brave knight. There is something really special about this island that just goes to your heart right the moment you lay your eyes on it.

_MG_7981May was my first visit of the year to the island, and I didn’t go alone. Hongyi, my Chinese friend, accompanied me on the trip. May is the period when the rapeseed fields are painting the island yellow, when the trees are in full bloom, when the birds are singing, when the water is azure blue and when the sunsets are a work of art. I think you would say it is called spring. I would certainly agree and send you a smile. However I would also say that to truly experience the magic of spring, you should just once feel it on Bornholm. As it was Hongyi’s second time on the island, my sweet mother-in-law Hanne prepared a grand tour for her or as much as she could fit in the weekend that we were there. It started with getting a bird’s eye view of the island.

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Standing atop a high platform, the island unveiled itself layer by layer from dense forests to fields covered with rapeseed blooms, to windmills and pretty little towns, ending with the blue of the sea.

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One of my favourite roads on Bornholm. I love the curvy shape, I love how the road disappears into the forest, and I love how the view changes with the seasons.

On the way to Snogebæk we stopped at Lilleborg, ruins of an old fortress. Not much of it is left, yet I like going there for its picturesque view. Just standing there and taking in the warm sun, the perfect stillness of the water, the reflections of blooming trees, and the chirping of birds. Ahh I could just stand there for hours…

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Everything on Bornholm is just made for a postcard.

Reaching home to Snogebæk we walked to the beach for some sunset walking. And what a sunset it was! Out of this world! Standing there on a rock by the beach, I felt like I was stepping into a painting, careful even to draw a breath so as not to disperse the magical sight.
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Good night, Bornholm, you have been such a beauty today!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 12 – Across Romania in a day

Day 12: September 7, 2015
Time: 09:00
Location: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Destination: Mioveni, Romania

Waking up in Cluj-Napoca in the retirement home has not been a great experience. In line with the pension we stayed in Cebu, the Philippines, a few years back, however cleaner and less creepy. Poor Andreas struggled a bit to fit into the bed that was obviously a tad too small for his height. Well coming from the Viking lands is not always an advantage 😀

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The bed is definitely not Viking-friendly :)

Rushing through the morning preparations, we found the breakfast ready in the assembly hall with yarn-bombed wooden pillars. From the first sight it looked rather OK, taking a closer look revealed some cold mash of supposedly potato and another bowl with strange looking eggplant. Needless to say we didn’t dare touch any of it, having just recovered from Michelin tummy adventures.

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Our breakfast setting.

Leaving the retirement home, we spent much of the day getting across Romania. After yesterday’s adventures on the roads less travelled, we made a point of sticking to the big, shiny highways all the way, and by doing so ensuring a much smoother ride.

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After yesterday’s non-existing roads, this shiny asphalt is such a welcome sight!

On the way to our destination of the day, Mioveni, Andreas’ eagle eyes spotted a UNESCO city, Sighisoara, and we stopped there for lunch.

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On the cobblestoned streets of Sighisoara.

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Hey there, Sighisoara :)

The small town had a potential for being a beautiful place, it was a very old German-built city, with pretty old houses, but it was left to decay and disorder. Very touristy, very expensive. Surprisingly the Chinese were not leading the touristic diversity poll, I do not think the word of this small town has reached to the vast lands of the Middle Kingdom just yet. The word did reach the Spanish Armada though. They were everywhere.

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The old, the colourful, the falling apart.

 

Among the pretty houses we also found Dracula’s modest home, which is now of course a restaurant, and you could go check his room out. Not sure it was the real deal but we paid the entrance fee anyway to satisfy our curiosity. The doorman looked and acted like the Dracula himself, extremely impolite. As it should have been expected it was a very disappointing experience. Two rooms, one of them the fake Dracula lying in a coffin and casually chatting with tourists, in the other room his dining table. And that’s it.

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After an hour of walking around and getting our ears used to the intense flow of Spanish, we left Sighisoara with mixed feelings. The beauty and the beast of travelling. Here is a gem of a town, that would have provided such a charming experience had it not been overcrowded by visitors, and overcommercialized to cater to the same visitors with Dracula memorabilia, tourist trap of restaurants and pushy local business owners.

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Reflections…

Some more kilometers underway on the Romanian roads we reached another stop on our north-south axis. Brasov, a small cute town with surprisingly many clowns and balloons.

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We have arrived in Brasov.

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The city of clowns.

Brasov was pretty, with no trace of Spanish tourists and with a much more local feel to it. Some more kilometers underway and we arrived at Dracula’s castle in Bran to find it closed off and inaccessible even for pictures. The one below is the only glimpse we could get of it. Not a big deal. The hospitality of the security guard didn’t leave a very welcoming impression.

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Beware! Bran, Dracula’s residence.

Leaving Bran, Dracula and the sour guard, we continued our trans-Romanian trip. In the approaching dusk we could still make out the beautiful scenery of Transylvania that we were leaving behind. Our last destination for the day was Mioveni. Here we were greeted by Luminita, the sweet mom of our friend Roxana, and her partner Marius. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, Luminita already set a table bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. Marius got right on with showing us the good roads to drive on to reach Bucharest and the not to miss highlights. Their sweet hospitality reminded me of being back in my home, Armenia. Not too long now. We are coming, Armenia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan