Category Archives: Travel

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Exit Via City Hall

Good news: the rain was basically over and done with by the time we’d finished our breakfast. Bad news: a lot of plane delays meant we are set to get home after 11pm. I’m just going to filter out all airplane related rants, because positivity.


Anyway, with out flight (originally) set to depart at 6pm we had most of a day to say a goodbye to Stockholm. This started with our first breakfast that wasn’t bought in a supermarket, so we ventured back into the Old Town to find somewhere suitable. We settled on a Café Schweizer whose distinguishing features are a near constant smell of oranges and walls that have been scrawled on with permanent marker.

For 89 Krona we got orange juice, coffee and a sandwich. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to prices in a country. In the UK that would be daylight robbery, in Sweden this felt almost reasonable. I did enjoy my salami and brie sandwich, even if the only reason I picked it was because of the sheer number of poppy seeds.

After this we did some light souvenir shopping before crossing over to Riddarholmen. Why? Well, yesterday, when we clambered up to Monteliusvagen, I spotted a place that looked like the ultimate place to take photos of the lake to the west of Stockholm. We would have gotten better views had it not been so cloudy/foggy, but I think we managed to get some cool views.

From here we got to our first and only destination of the day: Stockholm City Hall. This building’s main claim to fame is that it hosts the Nobel Winners’ Banquet on December 10 every year. Also, you can see the top of the City Hall’s tower from pretty much anywhere in Stockholm. So yes, it’s a place to go.

The only way to see inside is via a guided tour, which is given every half hour. With the weather being a bit grey and misty we were very lucky to get the final two tickets on the next tour. We were also very lucky to get Joanna (probably spelt wrong) as a tour guide as that made the 50 minutes just fly by.

The interior of Stockholm City Hall was far more impressive than I could have imagined. From the painted cityscapes in the Hall of the Prince (done so that you would get a view of Stockholm no matter which side of the table you are sat on) to the brickwork and columns in the Blue Hall (which isn’t blue because they thought the red bricks looked nice just the way they were).

So this was all well and good. I was not at all prepared for the Golden Room. The walls are covered in glass mosaic tiles containing a gold leaf. The walls depict famous people and events on Swedish history with the back wall showing a woman (representing Sweden) in the centre of the world inviting countries from the east and the west to broker peace.

There are plenty of other stories about the construction of the City Hall, all of which are entertaining and embody exactly what it is that should be admired about Scandinavians. For the history and the artwork I think I preferred this guided tour to our experience in Fotografiska. Don’t discount this building just because it’s a town hall.

Lunch… well that was meant to be at the airport as a way to keep us going through the flight and into a late arrival. Well, you can see from the picture what we ended up doing. A bagel at the airport Starbucks cost more than breakfast. For something more substantial you are looking at £25-30 per person. So, we just cobbled together our remaining Krona to buy crisps, chocolate and some bottled water. I mean, it’s fine but I am really looking forward to being able to get lunch for under £5 again.

Anyway that’s it for Sweden. I’m writing this on the plane home polishing off the remaining pieces of the (rather nice) salt-fudge chocolate bar. I think we got the timing perfect for our itinerary and I am now thinking about a future weekend away that I want it do in two months time. I’m between Malta and Cyprus right now… so I guess we’ll see where I end up.

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The Great EU Quest: Sweden – ABBA, Death and Photographs

Well, this is first. For the first time since starting this blog I have a vacation day where I managed to not tick anything off of any of my lists. I thought about listening to a list album as I typed this up or even shift over the two breads from the first day, but that would be dishonest. In the end, I like writing these little travelogues if only to give me a chance to revisit my holidays when these are published six months later.

So anyway, the day started with us finally finishing off the rest of the limpa and kavring. We managed to make a real saving there with those breads when you consider how many meals we got out of them. After this we took a tram back to the amazing island of Djurgården to visit…


… the ABBA Museum! We almost didn’t come here, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this had to be done. It’s embarrassing to admit but I had tears in my eyes at the end of the introductory video. Since it feels like ABBA have always been around it’s so easy to forget how great they are.

This is the most expensive museum that I have been to for a long time (with tickets at about £25 each) so it really isn’t a place to go if you have negative or neutral feelings for ABBA. For me, this was an excellent place to spend a morning with the audio guide making it even better as it is actually narrated by the four members themselves. It just helps to make this feel less like a museum and more like an experience.

The amount of memorabilia on display is astonishing. Costumes, gold records and instruments are pretty much a given. However, this also had the helicopter from the Arrival artwork, newspaper clippings about the group members’ pre-ABBA successes and reproductions of many key rooms in their history. One of the more touching ones was a reproduction of Agnetha’s kitchen where the view from the window helped to inspire the touching song ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.

It would have been so easy to make this museum a cash-grab, but this is something Sweden are legitimately proud of. Also, I can’t image the current King of Sweden ever forgiving the creators of the museum if they half-arsed it. Sure it’s a bit pricey, but I had a brilliant time despite not engaging in any karaoke or dance lessons. I did, however, have a go at the ABBA trivia and song-mixing games long the way… where I completely sucked.


Either side of the ABBA exhibits were two other music based rooms. One about the nearby Gröna Lund music venue (which didn’t interest me) and a room full of Eurovision things. This Eurovision room is the first place you enter and it was the moment I realised that I would really enjoy this museum.

After this we boarded the ferry back to Gröna Lund to make use of the lunch menus. We settled on a place that had Toast Skagen on the menu. It was that or meatballs… and I think the hub has had enough of those for now. Think of Toast Skagen as a posh prawn mayonnaise on toast that is then topped with fish roe. Utterly delicious and especially good if you have decent prawns like this place had.


Fuelled up and raring to go we took the metro a few stops south to Skogskyrkogården – the only place on our itinerary as suggested by the husband – a UNESCO World Heritage recognised cemetery. Yes, I’m worried about him too.


What makes this place unique is how the grave plots are amongst the woodland. None of the gravestones are large or ostentatious, which means that the trees are able to pull focus. It’s a weirdly beautiful place to walk through and brings a meaning to the phrase ‘Forest of the Dead’. Like with all major cemeteries there is a celebrity grave to find: that of screen legend Greta Garbo. The nice thing is how her grave stands out, but not so much that it ruins the ambiance created by the surrounding trees.

We had a beautiful day to walk about Skogskyrkogården with the trees providing a lot of much needed shade from the hot August sun. Before leaving we spent a good amount of time sitting in an area on top of a hill set aside for meditation. Being surrounded by graves the talk did drift towards the morbid. Still, not a bad setting to get a little bit morbid in.


Back on the metro we went feeling a bit refreshed spiritually. The next destination was  Monteliusvagen. It’s a small street on the edge of cliff on Södermalm Island which affords you great views of Gamla Stan and the surrounding area. People aren’t wrong. We had a perfectly clear day for this and got some stunning views from up there. It feels like one of those very open secrets which means there are always people there, but it won’t be heaving.

We finished our day on Södermalm with a visit to Fotografiska – a photography museum. It didn’t get off to a great start as this museum refuses to take cash and instead wants people to buy tickets on their app (which doesn’t work for UK residents) or by card (which incurs fees when used internationally). The ABBA museum is technically cashless as well, but they have a way to pay by cash if you don’t have a card.

So yes, we didn’t start our visit in the best of moods. This was improved by the first of two exhibitions which was centred around horses. Sounds a bit weird but it was so interesting to see how humans and their relationships with horses are depicted. Some were humorous, others tragic, most showed how close the bond can get. This culminated in a room that showed a number of different short films where this theme was continued.

The one we saw was a recent short film in Swedish titled ‘Hingsten’ where a female student stalks a teacher she has a crush on and ends up basically raping him. It was a bit of a hamfisted way to shoehorn in a link between horseriding and sex, but it was interesting to watch this amongst an older crowd of museum patrons.

There was a second exhibition centred around a particular photographer and then a non-existent third exhibition that was to be opened in a few days time. So we essentially payed full price (plus card fees) for two thirds of a museum visit. A bit of a disappointing way to end the day.


Still, that’s nothing that can’t be cured by some fast food. Being in Sweden we got ourselves a burger from Max Burgers – a national fast food chain that managed to chase McDonalds out of a number of Swedish towns. You know what, I can see exactly why. The burgers are cooked to order and the overall quality of everything is far superior (with the exception of the strawberry milkshakes) which means I would happily frequent them if they chose to franchise in Britain. There probably isn’t room for another burger chain…but you never know.

So that’s the last full day in Stockholm. We have a late flight tomorrow which means most of a day tomorrow! Maybe we’ll find something from the food list or just end up crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s as prepare to return to the UK. Hopefully it won’t rain too much!

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Vasamuseet and Skansen

As is the tradition of my trips abroad, today was a museum day! The itinerary itself crystallised around the second of two Lonely Planet locations and I am very happy with how it turned out.

To begin the day we had more of the food that we purchased for yesterday’s dinner. Although we were still unable to finish off all the remaining kavring and limpa bread… so I know what’ll be for breakfast again tomorrow!

One thing I really love about the city of Stockholm is that it is built on 14 islands. We spent most of today on Djurgården since that appears very much to be the most fun island in Sweden. This island houses many museums, a theme park (sadly closed during our entire trip to Stockholm), a zoo and many other attractions. It’s like the real world equivalent to Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island… just without the weird donkey curse.

Because we are cheapskates we decided to walk from our hotel to Djurgården. It was only 25 minutes away since we’re staying just north of Gamla Stan so we had a nice leisurely walk along the waterfront before reaching our first stop.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 73/100Sight: Vasamuseet
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Position: #206

The Vasa Museum is one of two ship museums on the Lonely Planet list; the other being the Titanic museum in Northern Ireland. It’s one of those things I would have probably missed out otherwise as I’ve never been interested in boats or pirates.

It just takes that first moment of walking into the museum itself to get why this could be on the list. As museums go, Vasa Museum is pretty unique because of the story of the Vasa itself. A 17th century flagship built for great expense and decked out with beautiful carvings and paintings… only to sink less than 30 minutes into its maiden voyage and become the ultimate example of hubris.

What you see in the museum itself is the salvaged ship that has been brilliantly preserved and restored after being underwater for 333 years. All this and get the museum boasts that the boat you see is still 95-98% original. How? Well, because the water and the silt itself were favourable enough to prevent the ship from completely disintegrating.

I’d recommend getting onto one of the free museum introduction tours and making use of the free 17 minute movie that the museum offers. We ended up watching the movie in Japanese with English subtitles… which was interesting in of itself.

After leaving the Vasa Museum we made our way to Skansen – the worlds first open air live museum, which was founded in 1891. It is absolutely massive and I could see us having just spent the entire day here. The entire attraction is split nearly 50/50 between a zoo containing Scandinavian animals and buildings that have been relocated from other areas of Sweden for the sake of education and preservation.

Being a living museum, a lot of the relocated buildings have people inside dressed in traditional garb to explain things to the visitors. You also have onsite blacksmiths, woodcarvers and glassmakers who you can watch as they make their crafts which can, of course, be purchased in the gift shops.

The layout of Skansen really does help to breathe new life and give a new purpose to these buildings that would have been demolished otherwise. The wooden church is one of the more popular as people can actually get married in it. The yard also features some old gravestones… which really gave me the creeps.

For me, I loved the old farmhouses…but that might just be because they housed some of the farm animals from the children zoo. I mean, who wouldn’t be enchanted by a litter of piglets snuffling around looking for food. These piglets pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip to Skansen (where we ended up skipping lunch because I didn’t feel like spending £17 on a burger).

So yes, the zoo at Skansen. It contains many local animals such as lynx, wolves and wolverines… that is if you are lucky enough to see them, which we did not. We were far luckier with other animals, however. We managed to see the brown bears being fed and got very well acquainted with some moose.

The highlight of the zoo itself was a tie between the reindeer (including an almost pure white one) and the bison/wild boar enclosure (also containing baby animals). I don’t know what it is about the water in Skansen, but it appears to be really good for making baby animals.

After the zoo we engaged in the very Swedish custom of fika… or at least my husband did. I just opted for fizzy water because I don’t really like coffee. I’ll take the pastries though. I’m only human after all and we skipped lunch.

A final farewell tour of Skansen later and we boarded a ferry to get back to Gamla Stan from Djurgården so we could have a quick sit down in the hotel before heading out for dinner. The ferry ride itself went way too quickly at about 7 minutes. Wish I could have had more time to appreciate the views.

Dinner itself was at a restaurant called Nomad. Dinners out are expensive in Stockholm so we searched around for a place that felt reasonable in price but still had a good reputation. I hadn’t expected a fairly hipster restaurant, but there’s a first tome for everything.

Being in Sweden, I wanted to have some fish. To start was herring dressed in three different ways (my favourite was the one on the left, which was actually the plainest and yet was still very flavourful and sweet) whilst the hub had chanterelle mushrooms and cheese on sourdough toast. Both dishes were gorgeous.

For the main I had some salmon (because I keep seeing it everywhere) with dill potatoes and a mustard sauce. Again, this was delicious. The salmon didn’t always need the mustard as it was great just the way it was, but options are always appreciated.

And there we are the end of Day Two. As of writing this I’m not sure what I’ll be doing tomorrow. We have plenty of options; it’s just that we have to round them down. Hopefully we’ll cobble together another great day.

The Great EU Quest: Sweden – Exploring Stockholm

List Item: Visit all EU countriesProgress: 18/28

Välkommen till Sverige!

Country: Sweden
Year first visited: 2017

After my first full day in Stockholm I am just so full of excitement at what I am going to be seeing on my remaining time here. Looking back at my other travel posts, it feels like I fall for cities pretty easily. But hey, rather this than spend money to be disappointed.

So yes, this is the first full day in Stockholm. We only made it to the hotel at about 11pm local time because our easyJet flight was delayed by about an hour. The only thing worth reporting is that the announcement on the shuttle train between Arlanda Airport and Stockholm Central was done by Björn from ABBA. Ain’t that just the coolest!

Having arrived so late the previous day we both basically slept through our alarm and ended up waking around an hour later than we hoped. That made it a bit of a rush job getting ready in the morning as there was a 10am walking tour I wanted to do.

Here’s the thing. If you told me a few years ago that I would be doing walking tours around a city I was visiting… I’d probably think future me was a bit sad. Sod it though, I’m in a new place and I want to learn as much about it as I can. Did I overdo it today by doing two of these walking tours in one day? Obviously, but my head is full of new useless trivia and my feet are glowing – so that’s a day well spent.

Anyway, we started the day doing a 2 hour free walking tour of the city north of the old town with Free Tours Stockholm. It really is one thing to be walking around the city and another to know some of the stories that go along with it.

For example, we walked past the gym where Swedish Crown Princess Victoria met her commoner husband. We also walked past the former bank building (pictured) whose bungled robbing led to the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. What can I say, those two hours went by in a flash.

At the end of the tour we were deposited on the border of Gamla Stan (the old town) in time for the changing of the guard. We didn’t stick around for this as we’ve seen it happen once before in Copenhagen and I couldn’t image this one being all that different. Instead we made our way straight to Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral).

There’s been a church on this spot for ~700 years and it has been growing ever since. In the current incarnation the exposed brickwork of the vaults and columns make for a beautifully patterned interior. Unlike the rather sparse cathedral in Helsinki, there were some really notable pieces of ornamentation to see here.

Firstly there’s the alter which is a vision in ebony and silver. It’s very striking and unlike anything I’ve seen before in a church. The colours did make me think of the grim reaper, but I’m not sure that was intentional. You also have some extravagant royal pews and an insanely old statue made of elk antlers and oak which depicted the slaying of the dragon by St George.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 72/100Sight: Gamla Stan
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Position: #99

Much like with Tallinn, the Old Town of Stockholm is the big thing to see. The whole thing is on an island and it doesn’t take that long to navigate across. There’s a lot of little alleys and offshoots, which means multiple routes are necessary to appreciate it.

Before we explored, however, there was a desperate need for lunch since we skipped breakfast. Things being what they are with exchange rates (thanks again Brexit), Stockholm is a fairly expensive city. However, if you’re like me and are coming into this being used to prices in London… it isn’t too much of a shock. Also, it’s worth finding ways to make things cheaper. For example, look for lunch deals – some places offer substantially cheaper lunch options.

We found such a restaurant in Gamla Stan. Don’t get me wrong it still felt expensive, but everything is relative. Between us, my husband and I shared some Swedish meatballs and some elk meatloaf in a chanterelle sauce. I am happy that these were suitably Swedish food choices.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Gamla Stan. With the brightly coloured houses and the sheer sense of history, I can really see how this is the most popular part of Stockholm for tourists. I plan on returning here on later days for some souvenir shopping and maybe breakfast on our final day.

We mooched a bit at the waterfront watching German cruise passengers being ferried onto dry land and made friends with some oddly cute seagulls before looping back to start the next walking tour at 4.

Now, was it a bit weird to have the same tour guide for both tours? Yes. Didn’t it matter? No, because he’s really good at what he does and was fairly easy on the eyes. Two more hours of history and stories passed by in a flash. I still vividly remember how an event in Stockholm led to the coining of the term ‘bloodbath’ and how some of the Americans in the group were getting a bit rankled every time our guide talked about the benefits of living in Sweden (e.g. paternity leave, free university fees, universal healthcare etc).

After this tour broke we walked across to the Southern island to checkout a larger supermarket and to get some good views of the Old Town from a higher vantage point. I don’t know if I am high enough to do the city true justice, but I think it’s a nice enough picture.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food items: Limpa Bread and Kavring
Progress: 674/751

Coming to Sweden, there were three food items I wanted to look out for. Having read stories about the third I will not be trying surstromming here in Sweden. Instead, I will try this when I get home and can get some proper ventilation going. There would be a fourth if you count moose cheese… but I doubt I have enough in my bank account for some of that.

We did, however, find the other two items. Both of them are types of rye bread that can be found in Sweden. These formed our dinner tonight and breakfast for the next day. Trying to be Swedish we also bought some salami, cream cheesed infused with chanterelle mushrooms and a tub of shrimp salad with surimi and dill.

Starting off with the limpa bread. The name itself conjures up something a bit pappy to the point where I was expecting something akin to the Jamaican hardough. Instead think rye bread, then think malt loaf. Combine these flavours, give it a lighter texture and you have limpa.

It’s a rye bread with the hint of molasses and orange zest. It feels like it’s on the verge of being cakey, but the crumb texture isn’t right for that. We found this went really well with some chanterelle cream cheese. The woodiness of the mushroom really complimenting the bitterness of the zest and molasses.

The other bread from the list is called kavring. The initial whiff as you open the bag and the reassuring heft as you hold it definitely points to this as a rye bread. Darker than the limpa, but lighter and less dense than a lot of rye breads you can get. It’s like they remembered to add yeast to give it a bit of a rise.

Both of these are breads that I would happily buy if they were available in the UK. The fact that these both look near mass produced makes me weep when I think that, back at home, there’s no real equivalent widely available.

We finished off the evening with a cinnamon bun, because they are everywhere in Stockholm and they were on offer. Who can say no to a pastry swirl that moist with cinnamon sugar. I like these better than their American counterpart because they aren’t drowning in icing.

So yes, that’s he first day. Tomorrow will be my ticking off the other Lonely Planet site here in Stockholm: the Vasa Museum. Should be a special day.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Happy Museum Day

Last full day in Estonia – just how I got to this position so quickly is beyond me, but that’s always the way when you are on holiday.

I think the best way to off this post would to wish you all a belated Happy International Museum Day. Yes, that is a thing and this year it was on May 18th. In Tallinn this meant that every museum we came across waived the entrance fee for a day. Just to be upfront about this, all the savings that we made today (which amounted to over 40€) happened by sheer fluke. I had no idea about any of this and really cannot believe my luck about any of this.

The day started out with us making the 3km walk from our hotel near the Old Town to Kadriorg Park. Our first destination of the day was the park’s namesake (Kadriorg Palace) but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t take out chance to look around before getting to the first museum of the day.

So this was the point where we learned about this day being International Museum Day and that museums across Tallinn were doing free entry for the day. We still had to visit the ticket office to get a sticker and check our bags, but apart from that we could pretty much stroll in.

As someone who has been feeling in a bit of a Russian history mood after finishing Anna Karenina I looked forward to the chance to stroll around this palace. It was built by Tsar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine (which explains the name) as a small Baroque style palace that would be used as a summer retreat.

As a building this has changed hands a few times (as has country of Estonia) and is now part of the The Art Museum of Estonia where it houses their foreign art collection. The fact that this was an art museum was of lesser concern to us since we were mainly there to have a nose around an imperial summer palace.


If you are to come to this palace there is one room in particular that will grab you and is referred to as the Baltic Pearl of the North. It functioned as a stateroom and, according to the information plaque, is the only room of this type in a Northern Europe to have been preserved as it was back then.

It’s a beautiful room. If it wasn’t for Helsinki’s Rock Church this would be the most impressive single room that I’d seen. Just the ornateness and the extreme whiteness of  the fixtures keep you looking around and finding new things to focus on. For me, it was interesting to note that this was actually quite a small room for its function when you consider the larger residential palaces of royal families. I guess that’s down to this being a ‘summer home’.

Seeing how it was an Estonian May, the garden wasn’t exactly ready for tourist season. It’s a shame as I can imagine it being rather beautiful once everything is in bloom. Hey ho, at least these flowerbeds see the light of day, unlike the statues that this palace has in a storage room next to the toilets. That was weird.


Continuing the theme of Peter the Great: the next stop was a few buildings down the road. It’s the cottage of Peter the Great which he stayed in as the palace was being completed. The idea that a Tsar would stay I’m a small building like this rather than just retiring to one of his other palaces is a bit of an odd thought. I guess it just speaks for the pull of Tallinn.

The museum itself is rather small since the cottage itself was rather small. It made for a more intimate insight into how one of the richest men in the world lived back then. Seeing all these things has really made me realise that I really should try to learn more about European history. After all, knowing about the past can help you know the future.

Before I get too philosophical lets move onto the next museum: the Kumu Museum. Essentially this is the main art museum in Tallinn with a collection split across 3 floors. The main focus of the art in this museum is Art by Estonian artists, but there are pieces by others in here too… even if I hadn’t heard of any of these.


If you start from the top and work down you are pretty much going back in time; something that I would really recommend. The more modern section was focused on art by women and was curated around an Estonian artist of recent years Anu Põder. The work varied from bizarre images of blow-up dolls with parts of their bodies being crushed to a rather sad installation centred around a Polish artist and her cancer diagnosis.


The art of the remaining two floors really helped to fill in a number of gaps surrounding Estonian history and the psyche of the people. For the first thing I didn’t realise just how important music is to this country, I know that they hold a song festival and that this is a major event in the Estonian calendar, but having this out into the context of the rise of Estonian national identity in the early 1900s really helped to cement the importance. I know that Finland went through similar with Sibelius’s work ‘Finlandia’ being an example this.

Also, it was interesting to see a lot of the art that was being created during the Soviet occupation. I mean, it hasn’t even occurred to me that there would be hippies in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, I figured that the cultural wall was so airtight that things like the counter-culture of the USA would have struggled to make it through.

Another thing that this forced me to appreciate is just how hard the job of curating a gallery of Estonian art must be. As a language and as a culture the Estonian people have been around for ages, but as a nation it has only been 100 years. To try and work out if an artist is Estonian or an occupying population (German, Swedish, Russian etc) must be onerous at times. So, full credit where it is due there.


3 km and a sea buckthorn juice later from one of the many shopping centres in Tallinn, we were back in the Old Town for the final museum of the day at St Nicholas Church. This is another example of a building in Tallinn that has been repurposed into an art museum, but at least the work in the church stays on message.

Whilst the interior of the church itself is very beautiful, the thing that has stayed with me  the most as I write at gone midnight (I really need to start these earlier, I blame the latest Trump scandal on CNN) was the depiction of the Danse Macabre. Essentially, this is a long painting depicting members high up in the social hierarchy (e.g. The Pope, an emperor and a king) being led by dancing skeletons. Essentially this a symbol of the plague and about how no one can escape death, no matter their status. I had to take my time to appreciate this one because it was so large and quite unusual. Regrettably the sister piece to this artwork was housed in a church in Lübeck, Germany that was bombed in World War Two.


The rest of the church/museum exhibited pieces from the church and, in what I believe is a temporary exhibition, silver work from one of the old guilds in Tallinn (or Reval as it was known back then).


After some final pieces of souvenir shopping it was time for an early dinner where we returned to Olde Hansa. It made for a nice way to bookmark the trip and allowed us to see inside this surprisingly good touristy medieval themed restaurant.


As a main course I went for the game sausages which is meant to be made from a mixture of wild boar, elk and (you guessed it) bear. I have no idea how much, if any, bear meat there was in these sausages, but they were absolutely gorgeous. As was the sauerkraut and turnips that it was served with. I know that my mum recoiled at the idea of eating bear meat, but I feel that if you are in a country with properly regulated hunting (as is the case with Estonia) then give it a go; else, maybe not.


For dessert it was a rose pudding with edible rose petals that was out of this world. Usually the tourist themed restaurants have something that lets them down such as the quality of food or service, but Olde Hansa really did knock it out of the park both times.

So yes, after a final walk around the Old Town it was packing in the hotel room and getting ready for the…oh wait there’s something else.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Boysenberry
Progress: 650/751

We bought a jar of boysenberry jam when we were in Helsinki and it only occurred to me as we were packing that I wouldn’t be able to bring this back because of the rules around liquids in carry on bags. I guess this is a downside of not paying to check in a bag. But hey midnight jam is midnight jam and I’ve reached another food list landmark!

Botanically boysenberry is a hybrid of a number of berries including European raspberry and blackberry. You get that from the taste. Usually I am not that much of a jam fan as I find the traditional strawberry and raspberry jams too sweet and blackcurrant jams as a bit too tart. This Finnish boysenberry jam is right on that sweet-spot between sweet and tart, therefore it is gorgeous and there is no way that I will be able to buy this in the UK.

So I’m needing to wind this down because it’s a travel day tomorrow. I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Estonia (and the day trip to Finland). It makes me sad that it is over and it is back to the daily grind. Seeing as how I have now seen Estonia and Lithuania one of the next countries on my list needs to be Latvia so I can complete the set. Maybe the same time next year as I have enjoyed being in Tallinn just before the tourist season hits.

So until then, goodbye Baltics. I’ll miss you.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Lahemaa Park

There’s no better way to start the day than coming across a food list item when you are going for breakfast. Especially when it can form part of a hotel buffet breakfast that will need to fuel a nice long bog walk.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Tallinn Kilud
Progress: 649/751

When I was doing my pre-planning for this trip to Estonia, Tallinn Kilud was the only ‘must find’ food item because of the extreme regional availability. So, colour me pleased when I saw this bowl of the little guys.

Having had rollmops before I kind of knew what to expect with these little fish. In essence these are sprats from the Baltic Sea that have been deboned and and marinated/pickled to the point that these become melt in the mouth.

At this point, where I have tried a number of picked fish like these, I am not sure what makes these little fish distinctive enough to warrant their place on the list. Maybe it’s down to the size, the region or because you can find tins of Tallinn Kilud in many shops as a food souvenir. Still, these with dark rye bread and soured cream made for a nice change of pace for breakfast.

So, the order of the day was a guided tour through the Lahemaa National Park by the company EstAdventures. I’m not one for paying for a guided tour, but since there was no other way for us to get to the park an exception was made. Just going to say this now in advance: I am glad we did as the tour was excellent and the guide was funny and super knowledgeable. If I find myself back in Tallinn I will look them up again.


The first stop was at the Rebala Bronze Age Graves. These were uncovered by the Soviets as they were building a road from Tallinn to St Petersburg – and since these graves were in the way each one was moved a few metre away piece by piece. To look at them now you would have no idea, but it’s an interesting fact.

What was also interesting to see is how the family dog received their own little section, right next to the circle of the master of the family. It goes to show how some things never really change in thousands of years.


From here we hopped into the car and went to Kiiu Tower – which I have seen as being described as Estonia’s smallest castle. Nope, it’s literally just a tower that the local rich family (of German origin as all these rich families seemed to be) used to help to defend their home from the Estonian peasants. We were able to go inside to the top floor (up yet more steep stairs) to find that it now contained a bed and some drawings to make it feel like Rapunzel’s bedroom in Tangled. It was very cute.


Now, for the event I was looking forward to – the Viru Bog Trail. A very large amount of Estonia is formed from mire and bogland, and at the Lahemaa park you are able to walk through it via a specially constructed boardwalk. It’s nothing as glamorous as the name would sound. We are talking about s continuous trail made of perpendicular pairs of planks. For the most part they are absolutely perfect, but despite the fact that these were fairly new a few had already started to break because of the wetness of the bog and the weight of people walking over them.

Truly, walking through this bog was the highlight of the day. Sure the ability to drive through a seemingly endless sea of dead straight trees was one thing, but these bogs really was something else.

At the beginning it was interesting because of how so much plantlife survives in such an acidic and hostile environment. Then you get to the parts of the big where ponds and lakes can develop because the ground is so saturated. It’s like the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings in the way that it is so eerily beautiful and int hat you can imagine long dead people just laying there in the big just waiting to be uncovered.


We turned around at an observation tower that allowed for some spectacular aerial views of the bog land and give an indicator of just far we had been walking. I think I must have taken a ludicrous number of panorama photographs on my iPhone and still I don’t think I have grabbed as much as I could have. It was standing up here that also made me thankful that it wasn’t a sunny day. With it being slightly overcast none of us were getting too warm during the track and, at least for me, that made the whole walk all the better.

After lunch we went to the Palmse Manor Estate for a tour around one of the 4 manors within the park. Apparently the owners of this manor was so powerful that he actually was a key fight in the assassination of a Russian Tzar and got off nearly punishment free. It must be awesome to be so powerful.

As part of this section we took a look around the house, the grounds and the orangery where I learned that people would rent watermelons so they could be displayed as status symbols… I mean in the world we live in right now this is a weird idea. To rent fruit to show off to people. I guess watermelons were the fancy watches of their day?

The house itself was nice enough, but all memories of it have faded compared to the sound of this ridiculous wind up musical cabinet that could be found in the music room. It made such a clamour that it could be heard throughout the manor. I loved it.

Between the manor and the final stop we made visits to small coastal villages at Altja and Käsmu. The sea was so calm in these bays that, at the latter place, you could see swans bobbing up and down in the middle of the sea. To be fair to our guide, he gave us so much information about these areas it is just that A lot of it is slipping my mind at midnight on the same day.


It was nice to spend some time by the sea and not seeing your stereotypical sandy beach. The scatterings of rocks, the abundance of grasses and the rather ramshackle fishing shacks just added to the character of the whole place .


Our final stop before heading back to Tallinn was the Jägala Waterfall – Estonia’s tallest waterfall at a mighty 8 metres high. To be fair, Estonia is a flat country so it would make sense that the waterfall wouldn’t be too tall.

The extraordinary thing about these waterfalls is the yellow colour of the water coming over the falls. It looks like industrial runoff, but the colour is actually because the water is coming from the bogs that we visited earlier in the day. Also of note is that this waterfall is retreating fairly quickly for a waterfall, which can be seen by the big piles of rocks at the bottom of the falls.

So yes that’s the tour and after two full excursion days I was definitely in the mood for food. Thanks to TripAdvisor I found a nice little place near Toompea that served, what felt like, Estonian food. You can tell it’s a good food because it was filled with Estonian people, who were surprisingly quiet. I swear that if you got a group of 12 Brits around a table having dinner together there would bite a lot of noise, but not Estonians. I think I am really growing to like these people.


Since I missed the chance to do so in Helsinki – I knew that I had to try some elk stew. Honestly this elk meat tasted a lot like a mix of beef and ostrich rather than venison that I have had before. It was lovely with the sauce (that contained beer) and the vegetables. It just furthers shows to me that it’s important to try local things even if they sound a bit outlandish when compared to what you are used to at home.


For dessert I finally got a chance to sample kama. From the sound of it this is a very Estonian food that can be had for breakfast or as a dessert. It’s made when different grains are ground up until they are very fine and are mixed with soured cream and some sweetener. It sounds a bit weird, but it was a nice mild way to round off a meal. So I would recommend at least trying it when making the journey to Estonia.

So tomorrow is the last full day. I know I say this every time but I can’t believe that the end is coming so soon. Still. One more day to see more of Tallinn and soak up as much of Estonia as possible.

The Great EU Quest: Finland – Helsinki!!!

The phrase “when in Tallinn” comes to mind:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 17/28


Country: Finland
Year first visited: 2017

I mean, when you are able to get to another nation’s capital in under two hours it is rude to not pay a visit. So that’s what we did and we temporarily bid farewell to Tallinn and said hello to Helsinki.


We booked ourselves on the first and last boats of the day so we could make the best use of our time as possible. This, however, meant leaving the hotel just before 7 to walk across town to the pier. Whilst we were tired this did allow us to experience Tallinn Old Town in a different way: almost completely deserted. It made it feel like we were on an old film set, so it was both cool and a little bit eerie.

Now, whilst there are many different ways to get across the water to Helsinki we went for the Linda Line. It’s the fastest at about 1h 45m whilst also having the best times in order to have a full day excursion. It’s a bit no frills, but as someone who finds it easy to fall asleep in most moving vehicles I didn’t notice much about the boat before we docked in Helsinki.

To say I was ridiculously excited to be setting food in Finland would be an understatement. This is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to pay a visit to and, like with Estonia, it’s because of the Finnish flag. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a flag with blue and white with no red.

Thanks to an excessive amount of Googling I managed to piece together a decent itinerary for a day in Helsinki – well it worked for me and has made me want more time in this city at some point in the future.


So from the boat we went through Market Square to the golden topped Upensky Church. In retrospect, I regret not having bought breakfast from one of the stalls in the square. I mean how often do you come across this many chances to eat reindeer for breakfast. Maybe next time eh?


Anyway, this church is the first time I have stepped into an Eastern Orthodox church that isn’t the Russian sect. The roof of the dome still had the starry sky quality and there was still a lot of gold on display, but there was still a different feel to it. For one thing the workers in the church felt a lot more accommodating and relaxed around tourists. Also, the moratorium on taking pictures wasn’t there, which is good for the sake of memories.


After this we made our way to the Helsinki Cathedral. This glistening white building truly dominates the skyline in this part of the city, which reminded me of the castle in Himeji. We clearly had the perfect weather to see this particular building. Just the contrast of the bright white with the pure blue sky made for some great picture taking.


The inside of this Lutheran cathedral was a massive contrast with the Orthodox church. A plain white interior with a few statues to key figures and a lot of smooth lines made this church feel beautiful in its own way despite being sparsely decorated.


By now we were getting hungry and, thanks for the need for brunch, we got a cruel awakening at how different the prices are between Finland and Estonia. These two sandwiches and the drinks cost us just over 20€. They were great sandwiches (one was avocado, tomato and cashew nut) but this was a lot of money.

On our way to see the key landmark of the day we came across the Parliament building, which was being restored, and an army marching band that were practising in a space nearby. It was fun to watch and there was a lot more moving and chanting than I would have first expected. It was also rather cute when the band leader saluted the crowd whenever we applauded.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 71/100Sight: Temppeliaukio Kirkko
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Position: #311

If you come to this church from the wrong angle you would be excused for wondering where the church actually is. The Rock Church (which is a much easier name to say than the Finnish one) has been carved right into the natural rock formations that pepper Helsinki. You can actually climb on top of the church since there is a path that helps you clamber up the rocks.

The inside of the church is something truly special. I have seen anything quite like it and if it was not for me seeing the Sagrada Familia two months ago to would be the best church that I had visited in years.

It’s really hard to get a good photograph of the Rock Church that shows off what makes it so special. For one thing the natural rock walls make this an acoustically special church. Plus all the natural light that is allowed to come in just helps to make this a very relaxing space. This really is a special place.

Time was marching on, so after a bit of light souvenir shopping we made our way back to Market Square to catch a waterbus to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortess. This means a 15-20 minute boat ride where you get a chance to see the Helsinki Islands whizz by. I cannot recommend doing this journey enough. It was a real eye opener to the number of islands around the city and their different sizes.


The Soumenlinna Fortress itself was extremely interesting to walk around and is something I would have thought of doing if it wasn’t for different people on the web. The idea that this fortress, in the space of 2-300 years has been used to defend Sweden, Finland and Russia (due to the many times Finland has changed hands over the years) makes this an interesting structure.

Add to that the different sorts of buildings including gardens, courtyards, barracks of differing building styles and a church then that’s a snapshot of what is at Soumenlinna. In warmer temperatures this would make for a great picnicking spot – for us we made use of one of the many cafes where hot chocolate and chocolate-almond torte helped replenish some energy supplies.

After a few hours on the fortress and a bit of wandering around Helsinki’s Design District it was time to be back on the ferry and head off to Tallinn. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 9 so we nipped out for a quick dinner at the nearby shopping centre.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Wild Raspberry
Progress: 648/751

So it appears that I could have crossed this off ages ago. When it said wild raspberry it pretty much covers most of what we in Europe would call raspberries. Therefore I decided that I would look for some sort of raspberry treat in order to cross this off. A chocolate raspberry cake seemed exactly right for this challenge. Lord knows I needed it after such a long day.

There you go. A day in Helsinki and I am still typing this up despite the fact it is gone midnight. Tomorrow will be another early start as we join a tour to Lahemaa Park and other surrounding areas. It’ll be good to get a chance to see more of Estonia.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – The Old Town

Oh man after minimal sleep there was a well deserved lie in today. Aside from a rather weird pillow that kept re-inflating itself as you got comfortable this bed at the Palace Hotell in Tallinn is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 70/100Sight: Tallinn Old Town
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Position: #112

So today is the day that we properly covered the Old Town. There are still places like St Nicolas Church, the KGB museum and Kiek in de Kök to check out but that’s what the final full day is for.

One thing that continues to completely astound me about the Tallinn Old Town is just how well preserved it is. A huge proportion of the city wall is still intact in some shape or form and there are gates and towers that still survive to this day. Similarly, it would appear that the Tallinn Town Hall is 600-700 years old and is the oldest hall of its type in Northern Europe. Just, wow.


As a nice link with my trip to Vilnius, we first sought out the plaque symbolising the northernmost point of the ‘Baltic Way’ – a protest in 1989 where over 1 million citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain through their capitals. As of now I have now stood at both ends of the chain. I guess I’ll need to find out if there is a similar commemoration in Riga when I end up visiting.

After this we were originally headed for the walkable section of the city walls… but being the eager beavers that we are we got there s bit before they opened. So we instead headed for Toompea (a small hill within the old town that overlooks everything). It is here that you can find the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Toompea Castle.


I say Toompea Castle, but this is not a castle as we had expected. Instead, what we have today is the very pink Estonian parliamentary building that has been build into some of the surviving castle walls and towers. The tallest tower has the beautiful Estonian flag hanging from the top. Yes, I am still enamoured with this flag and I have already bought a number of souvenirs containing the flag.

So from here we mooched around Toompea for a while. Getting lost in the winding streets and pastel buildings whilst entering way too many souvenir shops. Some embassies are up on Toompea including those of Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands. honestly, I cannot fault any nation that managed to snag a spot on Toompea, this is where you can get some beautiful views.


Such as this one. From up here you can really appreciate just how close the sea is, which goes a long way towards explaining all the cruise ship holidaymakers you see roaming the streets of Tallinn in large groups.

By the time we were done with Toompea a drink was in order for whatever reason we decided to go to the cafe built into the walls around the Danish King’s Garden. Oh my god the steepness and winding of the the stairs. It’s shameful to admit just how much my knees ached after climbing up these and I very much deserved a slice of apple pie.

We eventually made our way back to the walkable walls and took a walk along them. It isn’t a long walk despite the length of walls that are still around, but I guess not enough of them are connected or stable enough to allow a longer walkway. The people of York really should count themselves lucky there.


From this vantage point of the walls it is clear that the Estonians are very proud of their city and all the buildings within it. Honestly I can’t blame them. I have yet to go too far into their more recent history, but if it’s anything like what the people of Lithuania went through then they deserve every inch of national pride.

We dipped into a beautifully decorated Russian Orthodox church (that sadly didn’t allow any pictures, but trust me it was beautiful with its starry ceiling and gilded iconography) before venturing outside the city walls. You see, tomorrow we booked a trip on a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to visit Helsinki – so we did a hint of reconnaissance to try and find the port.


I knew that Tallinn is close to the sea, but I had never realised just how close. It’s not a beach city like many others, but there’s something about being close to the sea that just adds to a city.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Zander
Progress: 647/751

Dinner time! With the sun setting around 10pm it does feel weird to be having dinner in complete daylight.

Thanks to a happy coincidence after walking through St Catherine’s Passage I managed to find a restaurant that served zander! For the uninitiated this is a fish that is related to perch and is also known by the name pike-perch.

Honestly, I was expecting something a bit plainer for some reason. They way that the good people of Munga Kelda prepared this (pan fried with salt, pepper and dill before adding a bit of cheese on top) was absolutely gorgeous.

I guess I would say that The taste of the fish is the fish version of gamy. You can also tell from the taste how this is a predator fish like pike and black scabbardfish. Still, it’s a white fleshed fish with larger flakes than the scabbardfish.

So yes, that the first full day done. Early start tomorrow to catch an 8am ferry over to Helsinki. I’m really excited about visiting Finland… hopefully I don’t spend too much on weird souvenirs and squeaky cheese.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – Arrival

That’s right. It is two months after my trip to Barcelona and I am on my travels yet again. Another completely new country for me which means…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 16/28

Now this is one of those countries that I would have expected to have visited before Lithuania. I have always had a soft spot for Estonia for a particularly stupid reason – their flag. It’s weird I know, but I have always found Estonia to have the best looking national flag in Europe, which means that I will likely end up spending too much on souvenirs that make use of it.

Country: Estonia
Year first visited: 2017

Unlike a lot of other holidays this day of arrival was a true first day since the only flight between London and Tallinn required us to be at the airport by 5am. Honestly, I am shocked that I am at the end of the day and have yet to really feel the need to fall asleep.

Aside from crossing off another EU nation there is another reason for this visit Estonia: Tallinn’s Old Town. Therefore we went for a hotel that would allow us to make the best of it and I am able to take a picture like this:

So after a bit of light complaining about how tired and hungry we were it was time to venture forth into the Old Town itself. Since we are doing a proper explore of the Old Town tomorrow I won’t be crossing this off until then, still we were able to get a good feel for it.

The first thing that really grabbed me was just how well preserved so many of these old buildings are. You read, on conveniently located plaques, about how certain places date from several centuries ago and yet they look in better condition than most UK buildings from the 1960s.

Lunch was in a place called Olde Hansa – a restaurant I’ve seen mentioned in a bunch of guides about Tallinn. Why? Because the servers dress up in medieval garb and the foot is meant to somewhat resemble food of the time. This is a place that even serves bear meat! Tempting, but not 50€ tempting.

The food was hearty and reminded me a lot of food that I had in Bled a few years ago. I am under no illusion that most medieval serfs could have only dreamed of a plate like this, but it was fun to pretend.

After this it was a general explore of the area. We came across a large market selling flowers, giant tombstones, a huge variety of local handicrafts and many prospective places for future coffees and food. Like I said, there will be more of a proper explore tomorrow, but it was such a beautiful day that it would be a shame to let sleep deprivation get in the way.

One big thing we did see/do was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Its of the buildings that I can see from the hotel room and the onion domes are a really imposing presence at the top of the Toompea Hill. Whilst this is not the largest Russian Orthodox church I have seen, it is the one that has made the biggest impact.

Inside, this is far from the bare or nearly bare Orthodox churches that I saw in Vilnius. Aside from the abundance of iconography and the enforced near silence, this church really had more of a Catholic feel to it.

Fast forwarding quite a bit now to dinner. Since we wanted to catch up on sleep we grabbed some bread, cheese and ham from a nearby supermarket to have for dinner. Luckily for me I was able to find a list cheese.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Leipajuusto
Progress: 646/751

In Finnish the name basically means ‘bread cheese’, but in English speaking countries it’s called ‘Finnish squeaky cheese’. In Estonia, it would appear that they call it ‘Lapland Cheese’. Anyway, no matter what you call it this was an interesting cheese.

My god it doesn’t half squeak with every bite that you take. I knew that it would squeak, but not on every bite. It should be weird, but I think this might have been the most fun I have had with food since shabu shabu.

Tastewise it’s a bit like a creamy cottage cheese or a springy hard mozzarella. It has the texture of halloumi, but is unsalted so I can see how you might want to use it as a substitute for the Greek salad cheeses.

On its own the taste is milk, but it is lifted by the presence of other flavours like bacon and onion – I know this because some of the cheese had bacon pieces in it. Much like the smokey blue cheese, I am already sad that I won’t be able to get this in the UK as this would be perfect to have every now and then.

So there you go, the end of day one and as I finish writing this I can feel the lack of sleep catching up to me. Tomorrow will be a full day exploring the old town – who knows what we’ll find.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Figueres

For our final day in Spain we ventured out of the city of Barcelona towards the town of Figueres some 70+ miles away. We booked tickets on the highspeed train so the journey only took 55 minutes each way (regular trains take 2.5 hours, so this was a no brainer).

Breakfast was a feast after we confused the server at the train station’s sandwich kiosk… being the English person I am I felt that I would rather pay the extra 4€ than make a fuss at there being an extra sandwich. The sandwich I asked for (which was Spanish omelette) was perfect for breakfast and has inspired me to make my own when I am back in the UK.

So, why did we go to Figueres in the first place? Well…

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 69/100Sight: Teatre-Museu Dalí
Location: Figueres, Spain
Position: #361

 

It’s the home of the Dalí Theatre and Museum. The final Lonely Planet check of this trip and something of genuine interest. I remember back when there was the Dalí Experience in London and have since enjoyed seeing anything of his that I come across. Even his sketches and lesser known pieces are inherently interesting because of the surreal nature of things.

So it’s little wonder that this museum was incredibly interesting. The only issue was the abundance of tour groups. Mostly school groups. It just meant that, at times, it was hard to navigate around the narrow corridors of the museum or get a good view of all the artworks.

Still, that didn’t overly detract from the unique experience that having so much Dalí in one place affords. I mean where else can you have an entire room with furniture set up to show the face of Mae West if you see it from the right angle?

How about corridors filled with paintings of rocks that look like naked women, gilded money skeletons and busts crowned with bread? It’s a truly unique experience that I would recommend – just make sure to seek out Galatea of the Spheres. It’s a great painting that few people were paying attention to… which is a shame.

So, what do you do after all that? Well, we decided to go on a bit of trek to the Sant Ferran Castle. The museum of antique typewriters wasn’t quite tempting enough.

For a reasonable price (and some collateral) you can get access to the castle with its free audio guide. The audio guide is a brick where you need to press play and pause (because it is one continuous track) and actually speaks to you out loud rather than through earphones. Honestly, it all felt rather comical as images of groups of tourists with different guides all playing at the same time immediately sprang to mind. What an awful cacophony that must be.

I say must be because we were the only tourists there at the time. Other than people who actually worked at the castle we were on our own. This castle is massive and is, at least according to the guide, the biggest fortress of its kind in Europe.

Vast and empty. So it felt like we were playing a sandbox version of Uncharted with the audio guide acting as director’s commentary. We clambered up the parapets, observed the plains from high vantage points – which reminds me:

List item: Visit a Spanish plain to see if it rains there
Status: Completed

 

I think what we had was a pretty unique experience that others who come to the fortress in the summer time wouldn’t have. I mean, this is a site that was only in the triple figures for Facebook check-ins. I would find it hard to recommend this enough should you fine yourself in the Figueres area. The free audio guide alone (the interesting information, not the comical size) would be enough. The ability to explore in isolation is a bonus.

We still had a few hours left until our return train to Barcelona, so we figured it was time for lunch. It’s the first time I have ever had someone make fideua for me… And I have to say that I prefer the one I make more. Not just because of the fiddly shelling of prawns, but because I put chorizo in mine. It may not be as authentic as the one we had… but sometimes authenticity needs to give way if something tastes better.

Our final moments in Figueres were spent in the jewels section of the Dalí museum. Originally we were going to give this a miss because it didn’t sound as interesting, but boy were we wrong. I never realised just how much he did in the way of jewellery design.

So many of the pieces were exceptional. Some of them were able to move, including a beating heart of rubies within a golden casing. My favourites are the two pictured above: an elephant with a giant crystal on its back and a lapis eye that can be used to tell time. Truly this man was an amazing talent. I always felt this, but now I definitely know it.

An hour or so later and we were back in Barcelona. We took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe area of the city, just because it can be nice too see what remnants are left over from World Fairs. I mean, sure, this is no Eiffel Tower but this promenade has its own calming charms.

From here we, finally, managed to gain admittance to the Santa Maria del Mar. We tried a few days earlier, but it was during the 2-3 hour where you needed to pay and we didn’t see the point. So glad that we were able to get in for free as it was mighty impressive on the inside.

It was never going to beat the Sagrada Familia, but looking at the columns and ceiling work it feels like Gaudí might have got at least some inspiration from here. Even if it was the number and thinness of the columns used to support the structure. On the who it felt very pure and uncluttered… something I know Gaudí would have appreciated.

So here I am now. We polished off a dinner of paella and chocolate covered churros and now it it time to pack for the flight tomorrow afternoon. Thanks to EU customs I have 6 food list items that will be coming home with me and will likely become their own blog post incredibly soon.

I wish that we didn’t have to leave here so soon, but that’s the issue with not spending a full week somewhere. Somehow I doubt it will take another 27 years before I am back in Spain. Already the precursors of itineraries are springing up in my head – so maybe I’ll be visiting Grenada, Madrid or Seville at some point in the near future. I hope so.