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 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

Eating our way through Dubrovnik

Day 3 in Dubrovnik. After the adventures of the day before, this one pales in comparison.  A take it slow kind of day, which mostly revolves around Dubrovnik strolls, history lessons and food indulgences. First things first though – and that first thing is saying hello to this beauty that opens up before us on our pathway from the hotel to the old city. It seems like I will never tire of finding adjectives of to describe this dreamy, fairy-tale like city. No matter how much you gaze it, you cannot get tired of its out-of-this-world beauty. At least I cannot.

Morning view

So here is to another day in the fairy-tale. What’s on the agenda for the day? Food, food, food and once more food! Food in general is quite nice in Dubrovnik, fish is of course the crown jewel of the cuisine. What you need to get used to is the steep prices. This tiny jewel presents a rather tough competition even for Copenhagen and Zürich. Prepare to splurge a bit if you want to indulge on the many delicacies of Dubrovnik’s cuisine.

Onorfijeva fountain - the ultimate meeting spot for travellers and locals alike

Onorfijeva fountain – the ultimate meeting spot for travellers and locals alike

Our lazy day starts right at the foot of the famous Onorfijeva fountain – a beloved meeting spot. Our local guide and foodie Ana from Dubrovnik is waiting for us here to take us on a gastronomic tour in the city.

Strolling in Dubrovnik with our local guide Ana

Strolling in Dubrovnik with our local guide Ana

On the menu for the 3+ hour of food indulgence was a stroll in the city enriched with history lessons and culinary delights. Before reaching the culinary part though Ana told us about the 48 churches/religious sites (!) that are spread around Dubrovnik, the terra cotta roofs of the city, wells that once provided drinking water and now stay hidden under the cream coloured ground slabs, and the sad fate that befell the city back in 1991-1992 when the Serbian forces attacked the city, kept it under siege and destroyed much of it. Even though you don’t see traces of war in the city today, the wounds are still fresh in locals’ hearts…

Talking about the war time, brings an air of sadness on Ana as the memories from her childhood return to her. We stare at pictures of houses from 1992 totally destroyed, we hear stories of lives lost, of refugees being evacuated from the city, of hunger and struggle… why is there all this cruelty in the world?

As we get surrounded by a group of Spanish tourists, we leave the war memories behind for a little while, and Ana hurries us along to show us a special statue. As I look at the cream-coloured statue, my gaze falls to the middle section of it made of copper.

George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving in the middle of old town in Dubrovnik when creating Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving in the middle of old town in Dubrovnik when creating Game of Thrones

If you immediately thought of Game of Thrones, you are not alone. I think George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving, even though he claims he has never set foot in Dubrovnik. I mean look at this – the mother of dragons, a dragon at her feet, lion could be Lannister, the Iron Throne… And no, the statue was not just put up in 2011 when Game of Thrones aired, nor was Dubrovnik built in 2011 to play the set for Game of Thrones, despite of what some people visiting Dubrovnik believe. The city has been there for quite many centuries, and the statue maybe is not quite that old, but still old.

Our stroll and skipping lunch in anticipation and preparation of food indulgence experience has by now left us totally starving. Luckily food is the next item on the agenda. Ana prepared four stops for us on the menu.

We start easy with a Dalmatian tapas plate at Tavulin restaurant – Dalmatian prosciutto, selection of three cheeses from the island of Pag – young cow cheese, goat & cow cheese matured in olive husk, sheep cheese, black olive tapenade, chickpeas spread (hummus)+ Plavac mali wine (Miljas vineyard) from Pelješac peninsula.

The first stop of our food tour starts at Tavulin restaurant

The first stop of our food tour starts at Tavulin restaurant

The restaurant is just off the main square, it is a bit off the way from the main tourist highway so you need to know where you are going to find it. We absolutely loved our tapas plate and returned the day after for lunch to try more dishes from the menu. Really nice!

KopunStop #2 takes us to the famous stairs of shame – yep Game of Thrones again. On top of the stairs to the left you find Kopun restaurant. Kopun means rooster in Croatian. Here we are treated with a nice plate of kopun rooster paté, shrimp paté with black truffles, smoked deer ham from Slavonia region, kopun salad with bitter orange, tuna tartar with sesame seeds, fried and marinated paprika with carrot dip + red wine Merlot “Negromant”/white wine Malvasija “Tezoro” from Konavle region (Crvik vineyard).

By now I am already full, yet Ana has 2 more stops on the menu. Stop #3 takes us to Barba burger/seafood joint. It’s a hole in the wall kind of a place and really charming one. We are served with an octopus burger! Uhmm that was a first for us. Andreas totally ecstatic bites into his lovely black burger. Me – a bit less ecstatic, take a cautious bite. Tastes quite delicious actually. Burger approved, we move on to the last stop of the day.

Decomposed apfelstrudel

Decomposed apfelstrudel

It’s desert time at Lucin Kantun. I opted for the above deliciousness – a decomposed apfelstrudel. Quite a creative take on the traditional recipe. Tasted so good!
Dubrovačka rozata

Dubrovačka rozata

Andreas went with traditional dessert “Dubrovačka rozata” (créme caramel).

Needless to say, dinner was happily skipped after the delicious feast of tapas, burgers and desserts. Dubrovnik you pretty thing, even your cuisine is amazing. We tune out for the day, waiting in anticipation for day 4 that will take us on a full-day Game of Thrones immersion in King’s Landing. Cannot wait!!!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 9 – Indulging in Budapest

Day 9: September 4, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary
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Andreas is behind the camera today performing his usual magic!

Oh what a trip so far! It is day 9 and country number 4 that has opened its pretty doors to us. Good morning from Budapest, a city that is waiting to take our breath away.

Today is all about exploring and indulging in Budapest. The day will unfold in the streets of flat Pest housing buildings that with great effort still cling to the once grand and glorious intricacy of the Austro-Hungarian architecture standing side by side with structures barely holding, sad and dilapidated, yet with a certain charm that makes this city so irresistible. The action will then move to the hilly and picturesque Buda that like a shy beauty is waiting to make you fall in love with it. Finally the day will culminate in one of the most memorable gastronomic adventures.

Pest, Buda and gastronomy will have to wait though. The first mention of the day has to be shared between our charming courtyard and our capricious Rover.

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Our secret retreat in Budapest – one doesn’t need much to transform a white canvas into a beautiful painting.

The courtyards in Budapest have quite the fame. They have to be experienced, as words cannot do them enough justice. It was a beautiful encounter as we opened our apartment door to find this fairy tale oasis.

Now it is high time for another car adventure. The next outburst of the capricious metal horse was a loud noise that was following us like an unbearable shadow all the way from Zlin to Budapest. Hopefully the Hungarian garages are more knowledgeable and less expensive than their Czech counterparts. Through our friends’ friends we have found a local garage.

Visiting the Hungarian car doctor. The initial inspection goes well despite our lack of Hungarian language skills. It doesn’t take them long to confirm the diagnosis.

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Here is the culprit – the slightly worn wheel bearing!

Hands are shaken, papers are signed, keys are handed over. The car will be fixed within a few hours! A major point in the plus column for the Hungarian car people. We are free to enjoy the sun and the pleasant autumn warmth in the beautiful city.

IMG_8015Hősök tere or Heroes Square is where we head first. Located in the end of Andrássy út, the grand culmination of the Budapest’s answer to Champs-Élysées, we find a square that is grand and imposing.

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Watching the groups of tourists make their way to the center for an obligatory selfie with the heroes feeds some emotion to the silent statues frozen in time. Speaking of tourists, Chinese rule all visitor stats. The grand city of Budapest, just like the other “must-sees” of Europe, has been discovered by the eager groups of the billion-plus nation of the Orient. I suppose this wide square won’t feel so wide within a few years…

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Behind the cold square in the middle of a beautiful park hides a rather hot spot – the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Crowded – yes! it is a beloved public bath after all. Affordable – you betcha, far from the heart-pounding prices of the West and Scandinavia in particular. Rejuvenating – so they say, we didn’t have time to personally test the healing powers of Budapest’s baths this time. On our short visit our taste buds took a glorious victory over our body relaxation in a fierce battle of indulgence in Budapest. But as the Terminator said so well before us – I’ll be back!

Making our way down Andrássy út, we greet the many faces of Budapest. Sometimes grandeur and imposing, sometimes dilapidated and falling apart, sometimes grand and sometimes shabby. This city has surprised and kept us in awe since the moment we pulled in.

IMG_8014IMG_8013 _MG_4729After a few hours spent on the flat lands of Pest, we head back to the car workshop to pick up our ride. As promised, the Rover is ready, shining in the sun and driving as smooth as a Bond car with no trace of the annoying noise of the past. The hills of Buda is a wonderful challenge for the car. As we cross the Chain Bridge connecting the two banks of Danube together we cannot stop feeling our newfound love for this city increasing with each hill we climb. Reaching atop the Gellert Hill we park and hurry past the crowds to the viewing platform. What awaits our gaze is simply breathtaking!

Budapest

Budapest – it’s so hard to resist your charm!

It is hard to leave the mesmerising view behind and descend the picturesque hills of Buda. But the scheduled time for a culinary magic was approaching fast. Apart from all the grandness, Budapest is also home to a number of Michelin starred restaurants. Good food is one small vice of ours. So an evening of gourmet food is what we presented to ourselves. After some quick research, we stopped our choice on Restaurant Onyx! An unforgettable evening of a 4-hour, 12-course ritual that delighted us and left our taste buds exploding in sheer joy. This place is so worth its shining Michelin! Starting with a rolling tray of at least 20 different exotic bread choices served as if each piece of bread was a precious object, followed by 12 courses of dishes that were out of this world, and as if this was not magical enough, ending the 4-hour festivity with yet another rolling tray of chocolate delights… The experience was unforgettable.

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Some of the beautiful creations of the Onyx master chefs.

We end the evening on a romantic note, strolling the banks of Danube. This walk was as romantic as it was essential. After our tummies filled with Michelin love we needed the physical exercises to keep us from exploding.

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The elegant Chain Bridge linking this grand city together!

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The Hungarian Parliament is mesmerising in day and night.

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Good night for now. Tomorrow is our last day in pretty Budapest before the journey continues east towards country number 4 – Romania!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 6 – Exploring Zlin

Day 6: September 1, 2015
Time: 07:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
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Early bird catches the worm – aka this gorgeous sunrise…

Well, hello there pretty! What a gorgeous view to wake up to. It is a brand new, beautiful day to create some wonderful memories in Zlin, our temporary camp until the car is fixed.

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It seems that Andreas made a new friend :)

Our sweet Airbnb host, Alena, has surprised us with a lovely breakfast and the company of her fashionista puppy, which seems to have taken a liking to Andreas. Today’s schedule stands completely free, so after a lazy morning spent savouring this delicious breakfast we are off to a quiet stroll in the city.

Our first stop of the day starts with paying homage to Thomas Bata of Bata Shoes, the mastermind behind Zlin’s modern-day development and its architectural look.

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Czech Republic’s answer to Danish ECCO. in Zlin Bata Shoes is more than a shoe store, the company’s legacy is deep engraved in the city.

Zlin lacks the grandeur of Prague, where regardless of which direction you turn your head, a mesmerising vista is right there to make your mind’s Polaroid go wild with processing it to postcards of memories. It is just a small town deep in the countryside, where sophistication has been replaced by functionalism, and the tourist crowds of Prague with the kindest Czech people.

Zlin apartments

After some obligatory shopping time checking out the local stores we found this inviting patch of green for an impromptu sun-soaking and feet-stretching time.

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AA in Zlin

Slowly soaking in the day we set course to the hills of Zlin into a deep, deep forest to hunt some game for our dinner. After what seemed like eternity of hiking up the hills, but in reality must have been only 30 min or so, we reached our hunting ground.

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Our hunting ground for the evening – Black Bear restaurant

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Mhh what a delicious 3-course meal that was! The picture above is just one of the highlights that was wildly delicious. Black Bear has been worth all the effort of getting there.

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Le Corbusier’s legacy in Zlin. More insider scoop on this functionalist architecture and a look at the city from above is coming up in our next post.

At the last rays of the sun we left the bear’s home, rolled down the same hills and descended onto the city’s heart for an evening stroll back home. Good night for now and fingers crossed that our car will be fixed tomorrow, so we can continue our trip.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan