Thursday, January 25, 2018

When my husband suggested horseback riding on our trip in Ireland, I thought he was crazy! I hadn’t ridden a horse in nearly 30 years…and then just the odd camel or two and a donkey on our travels in Turkey and Greece.

But the next day, I found myself up on a horse named Hemmingway and riding through the stunningly green Killarney National Park, which received the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 1981. We opted to take a two-hour, guided trek through the park, and I’m so thrilled we did. For once, my husband was right! Later on, my petite mother-in-law said her son’s weird ideas helps keep her young. 😉  
The friendly staff from the Killarney Riding Stables selected horses that would be easy to handle as novices. We got lucky and had our own private tour with our family. I think it was easier as a small group, and we were able to try and keep our horses at the same pace. However, sometimes, a horse would want to stop and eat grass or not move that fast, so we had to nudge them along with the help of our guide. 

And trotting on a horse was a whole different experience!
The Killarney National Park, located in the southwest corner of Ireland, covers more than 25,000 acres and includes three main lakes situated in a broad valley stretching south between the mountains. Closest to the town of Killarney is the lower lake (Lough Leane) dotted with islands and the historic ruins of Muckross Abbey and Ross Castle. The wooded peninsula of Muckross separates the lower lake from the middle lake sometimes called Muckross Lake. You’ll find tons of wooded areas with oak and ash trees as well as ferns and wild flowers and even the picturesque Torc Waterfall, which unfortunately we did not see.
What I quickly learned is that trying to ride a horse as a newbie and take photos at the same time is much more difficult than I imagined! I had to straighten out many crooked photos while editing them. Some of the photos in this post is from our horse ride and others are from another day that we took a long walk through the park. I recommend doing both activities, if you can, because you can see different parts of the park as well as the 15th-century Ross Castle.
The trail ride through the National Park was absolutely beautiful with stunning mountain scenery of the MacGillicuddy’s Reeks and the lakes in the valley surrounding us. We also saw several herds of Irish red deer in the park. Amazing! This Killarney Guide maps out some areas where you usually easily find the red deer. See if you can spy all the deer below.
Even though I was skeptical of riding a horse at first, I’m so happy we did this adventure in Ireland! Riding a horse through the national park allowed us to see so much more as well as give me a different perspective.

I will say that at the end of our two-hour ride, my butt and other aching parts of my body, was happy to be on solid ground again. I joked with my mother-in-law that I don’t know how Claire Fraiser from “The Outlander” series could handle riding for several hours in rugged Scotland.
The four amigos on our horses in Killarney National Park, Ireland.
Note: We paid for this activity ourselves. The cost was €240 for four people for a two-hour guided ride.

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Day Trip from Doolin

In April, the strong westerly winds whipped across our faces as we stood on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, a dramatic 5-mile coastline on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare.

Here, you will see Mother Nature at her most rugged, panoramic and breathtaking best. The views are incredible, even with a pending rain shower in the distance, which is what we experienced. I guess it wouldn’t be a typical day in Ireland if it didn’t rain.
Originally, hubby and I had planned to hike about 90 minutes from the darling village of Doolin to see the Cliffs, but his parents didn’t share our enthusiasm for this idea. Instead, we drove about 15-minutes down some narrow, country roads to the parking lot and went directly to the visitor’s center.

Towering over the Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs of Moher reach a maximum height of 214 meters – shaped by Mother Nature over 300 million years. The Cliffs take their name from a ruined fort ‘Mothar’ – which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s, to make room for a signal tower at Hag’s Head. In old Gaelic, the word ‘Mothar’ means ‘the ruin of a fort.’
From the cliffs edge, we heard the the booming far below as the powerful waves crashed against the rocks. We peaked over the edge, watching hundreds of birds swooping in and out of the cracks of the cliffs. I kept looking for the mysterious Atlantic Puffins who were doing their annual spring migration, but alas I didn’t see any. If you’re into birding, I’d recommend a pair of binoculars.
View from O’Brien’s Tower.
Perhaps, as warned by my mother-in-law, we both attempted to get too close to the edge of the Cliffs. You do need to use extreme caution here! The area is known for its strong gusts of wind and crumbling rocks that have led to some unfortunate accidents. We took these photos so they look convincingly close and I was just far away from the edge that I still felt comfortable. Still, be careful!
There also is a well-marked hiking trail along the entire stretch of coastline if you enjoy hiking.
Because the cliffs are so beautiful, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that more than one million people every year visit the Cliffs of Moher, making this one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. Definitely a recommended outing when you visit Ireland!

Cost: €6 for adults/€4.50 for concessions
Cost for O’Brien’s Tower: €2 for adults

Lodging: We stayed 1 night at the Pairc Lodge in Doolin, which is along the main road to the Doolin Harbour. We paid €85 per room which included a lovely full Irish breakfast with homemade jams cooked by Rita, the owner. The bed and breakfast is perfectly located if you want to hear some Irish music at night in one of the local pubs.

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Even though I’m a city girl, I love putting on my hiking boots and getting out into the countryside!

When I visited my girlfriend up in the Scottish Highlands, she booked us a special treat – to visit UK’s only reindeer herd living in the wild. More than 800 years ago, reindeer used to roam the island, but now they only live high up in the Cairngorms National Park where the herd are permitted to graze on over 10,000 acres on the mountainsides. Back in 1952, a Swedish couple re-introduced reindeer to Scotland by bringing over several Swedish reindeer to establish the herd.

Today, the Cairgorm Reindeer Centre in Glenmore is home to about 150 lively reindeer, but only a handful of older ones live at the centre. A daily guided tour takes you on a short hike up and down rocky paths and wet grasslands to where the rest of the reindeer live in the park. You’ll definitely want to make sure you wear layers to stay warm and have a good pair of hiking boots. Sometimes, the tour may be cancelled due to inclement weather or if the reindeer are too far away.
Once on the hill, we were free to interact with the reindeers, approach them slowly, pet their soft furs and even feed them. The friendly staff passed around handfuls of animal feed to us, and then the reindeers rushed toward anyone who had food. At first, I felt a little hesitant because the reindeer do have big mouths and soft noses, but as soon as they nibble in your hands, the sensation is more like a tickle. All I could do was giggle!

In fact, did you know that reindeers only have tiny teeth along their bottom jaw, and no teeth along the top, just a bony palate? We learned that these small teeth aid the reindeer in grazing on the tufts of wild vegetation, such as heather and grasses, on the hillsides.

During the winter months, the reindeer’s diet consists of up to 70 percent of lichen – a type of “reindeer moss” that grows even in the coldest environments. This is also the time of the year when the reindeer’s coats turn to a brilliant white in order to blend into their snowy surroundings. In fact, we saw some of the reindeer’s coats already turning white at the end of our September visit. The white really stood out against the bright blue sky that we got so lucky with because the next day was grey and rainy. So typical of the U.K.
Don’t worry, if you’re not able to do a guided tour, you can visit a few of the older reindeer that live at the centre, which is open from mid-February to early January.
After playing with the reindeer for nearly two hours, we headed for lunch at the nearby Rothiemurchus Centre, home to the Druie Café and Estate Farm Shop.  Both are open every day except Christmas Day. The café offers breakfast and lunch featuring homemade soups, sandwiches, scones, shortbread and cakes. The farm shop sells locally roasted coffee, leaf teas, artisan cheeses, Highland beef and venison, fresh and smoked fish, produce and other locally-made crafts. Everything looked truly mouthwatering! If you like simple, home cooking and fresh ingredients, the Druie café is a great place to try.
This trip marked my third time in Scotland – a country whose beauty continues to impress me.

Would you like to visit these reindeer in Scotland too?

Rothiemurchus is a privately-owned Highland Estate within the national park, northeast of the River Spey, that includes a 13th-century island castle, wildlife and Rothiemurchus forest covers an area of about 30 square km. This castle is located in the middle of Loch an Eilein, which means “Loch of the Island” in Gaelic.
My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

At the end of every year, I try to do a roundup post of my favorite meals from that year. Well, this post is a few days late.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that food is pretty much my life. I work as a professional pastry chef, enjoy cooking meals at home regularly and simply love eating out, especially when we travel. It’s not uncommon for me to plan entire trips based around where we are going to eat, drink or even have a coffee.

Yes, I’m a little bit OCD when it comes to our trip planning. Still, we seem to have a good time and eat well no matter where we are in the world.

Despite 2017 being a year that both hubby and I worked like crazy people most of the time, we also found enough time to take several trips and enjoy some special meals together.

Dinner in Dubai on the Beach
Back in October 2016, I booked a really good flight deal from London to Dubai via Emirates for travel in March 2017. I figured after several gray months in London, we would be pining for some sunshine. At the end of March, we celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary by eating along the beach in Dubai at FISH, located in the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi on Jumeirah Beach. The meal featured several mezes and a classic grilled fish, but the scene, the service (provided by two Turkish waiters) and the reminder of our Istanbul memories made this meal very special. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect anniversary dinner!
Soaking up some sunshine at the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi on Jumeirah Beach.
A Girlie Girl Luncheon
Over the summer, an Aussie girlfriend came to visit us for her birthday, so I took her out for a fancy girls’ luncheon set in the elegant Petersham Nursery in Richmond. I’ve been dying to go here, but the vast greenhouse filled with garlands of colorful, blooming flowers, tatty bamboo shades and mismatched garden furniture means the nursery is definitely a girlie affair.

We kicked off our lunch with some fruity bellinis followed by fried zucchini blossoms (too large of a portion), mozzarella di Bufala with heritage tomatoes and nasturtium flowers, and char-grilled quail with peaches and fennel. All the dishes almost looked too pretty to eat! My favorite was the deconstructed Eton Mess with berries, meringue and rose petals.
After lunch, we had a wander through the summer flowers in the greenhouse and said hello to the nearby cows in the pasture.

Michelin-Star Lunch at Lyle’s
In September, another Aussie girlfriend and her husband came to visit. Since she is a fellow foodie, I surprised her with a multi-course lunch at Lyle’s, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London.

We ordered six dishes to share: raw scallops with fairy ring mushrooms; girolles with an egg and salted gooseberries; sole fillets with fennel and brown crab; duck leg with pickled cherries; and lamb’s heart and liver with green strawberries. Every dish was meticulously plated with tiny garnishes of fresh herbs or sliced vegetables. We shared three desserts as well with the caramel ice cream and coffee meringue as the clear winner.
What’s wonderful about the exceptional service at Lyle’s is that the chef was willing to alter dishes for my friend since she has some dietary restrictions. Definitely a menu worth splurging for in London!

Turkish Dreams
As you may recall, in September, I had a wonderful foodie weekend in Bodrum, Turkey, and took part in the 3rd Annual Karaova Grape Harvest Festival. One of the trip’s highlights was enjoying a traditional köy kahvaltısı (village breakfast) with my new group of Turkish friends. You can read more about my experience at Etrim Doğa Restaurant & KöyKahvaltısı here.
A French Dinner Along the Thames
Later in September, we enjoyed a fancy French dinner at Le Pont de la Tour along the Thames in London. This elegant, 19th-century former tea warehouse alongside Tower Bridge was offering a special 3-course menu (plus a glass for champagne) for only £30 in cooperation with the Evening Standard, which usually offers restaurant deals a few times a year. What a bargain!

Although we had to wait awhile for an outdoor table, later we enjoyed stunning views of the City and Tower Bridge while eating our dinner. I can’t recall all the dishes we had now, but suffice to say, this restaurant is perfect for a special occasion.
A chocolate tart and a lemon curd/thyme shortbread dessert.
From our dining table, we saw the Tower Bridge open up to let a large ship pass through.
This was the first time I've ever seen the bridge open! 
Turkish-Cypriot Dinner
In December, we returned to Oklava with our German friends, who also enjoy food as much as we do. I like Oklava because Chef Selin Kiazim serves Turkish-Cypriot dishes that reflects her heritage. She also was a finalist in the 2017 series of Great British Menu, which I enjoyed watching, and she is one of the few female top chefs in London.

We shared several dishes including: spiced bread with date butter (sublime!), olives, grilled Cypriot hellim cheese, chili roast cauliflower with pistachios and red onion, lahmacun – flatbread with tomatoes and mincemeat and a vegetarian pide with cheese, kale, garlic and burnt cabbage. For dessert, we shared a generous portion of kunefe, my favorite Turkish dessert.
Festive Tasting Menus
We ended December with two tasting menus – one in York, UK, and the latter in Oslo, Norway.

In York, we dined at Park Restaurant, a Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant located in the Victorian-era Maramadukes Town House Hotel. While the service started a bit rough since the waiter seemed confused on how to make a basic martini, the delicious, well-plated food made up for the mistakes. By the end of the meal, we were on friendly terms with our server as he was doing his best to please us and served us a free round of drinks at the end. The Park offers a 6-course menu for £60 that also includes several amuse-bouche, so I think we ended up having 10 courses. I think the scallops and the duck breast entrée were my two favorite dishes of the night.
The Nordic countries are known for their Michelin Guide-starred restaurants, in particular, Noma in Copenhagen, which was ranked as the world’s top restaurant for several years. In Oslo, which has four Michelin-starred restaurants, we chose a less expensive option and dined at Arakataka, a modern bistro. Arakataka serves seasonal Nordic cuisine and offers a set menu of four courses for 495 krone (about £45).

Our main dishes were: salmon with dill oil and buttermilk, cod with sunchokes and duck breast with cabbage and lingonberries. For dessert, we were served sea buckthorn (a sour berry) sorbet with groats and a milky foam. This was one dessert that neither one of us liked. It was tart, gritty and just a bit strange. I’ll give Arakataka kudos for trying to use a lot of Nordic ingredients, but sea buckthorns should not belong in a dessert.
Overall, I can say that 2017 was a delicious year, and I can only hope that we have just as good of time in 2018 on our travels.

Happy eating in 2018!


My Traveling Joys