Thursday, June 30, 2016

Nydri, Lefkada (Greece): Chilling Out at the Pool

Geia sou! (Γειά σου) That’s “hello there” in Greek =)

This is our cute pool at our small boutique hotel resort in Nydri, Lefkada. I will blog separately the hotel resort and mention its name after the holiday.

The nice thing about this hotel is that the pool is located in front of the breakfast/restaurant/cafe area. From the eating area we enjoy a lovely view of the blue curvy swimming pool, the pool bar, the decked sunbeds and the inland lake of the marina. We could see the boats passing by.

After breakfast we would usually hang out here at the pool before we go on an excursion in the island with our rental car. There was a day that we just hanged out here the whole day as well. Today, we will hang out here again, and perhaps go somewhere later in the afternoon to find a cosy beach, and in the evening, have dinner at a nice place.

Because this is a small hotel, the pool area is never crowded. One of our biggest pet peeves are large holiday resort hotel complexes (think along the 4/5-star kind) with a crowded swimming pool. Guests fighting for a sunbed and their share of space around the pool and children running around, screaming and diving into the water. Well, as you can see, not here though =)

Here are a few more pictures I took.

I bought a new hat =)

One of our breakfasts at the hotel with the eating area facing the pool.

Chilling out here with a book from Terry Hayes "I am Pilgrim". It is a very good book and I am enjoying it immensely. It's suspense; a thriller book about the police and underworld, as well as secret intelligence and terrorism on the rise -- the life and activities of an undercover agent, murder cases and more.

The hotel resort is located near the marina with the water of the inland lake just in front of us,

Travel Period: June 2016
Destination: Nydri, Ellomenos (Lefkada - Ionian Islands), Greece

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lefkada, Greece: Views from the Geni Peninsula

Kalimera! Greetings from Lefkada Island!

We were supposed to stay in Geni, a small peninsula jutting out of Lefkada island like a tiny pinkie. But a week and a half before the actual start of our holiday, we received an email from the holiday operator that the place is fully booked. We were utterly devastated as we were really looking forward to staying at this accommodation, even dreaming of what it is like waking up in the middle of nature and having breakfast with the view of the other side of the water. I also already had ideas on where to go and what to do in the area.

So the holiday operator gave us 2 other options and we chose the one in Nydri which is a small and cozy boutique resort hotel on the marina.

The place we originally booked in Geni is a group of stand-alone small holiday villa apartments surrounded by trees and gardens with flowers. The ambiance is very country, low-key and Greek, which is what Dutchman and I prefer for our summer holidays. It has all the comforts of western European standards but has a distinct local character. The truth has to be told: We are not fond of large, luxurious, all-inclusive holiday resort hotel complexes. We find this rather distasteful and boring.

What makes this place in Geni really special is its location. It is set on a somewhat private and hilly peninsula with direct access to the water. The terrain has spectacular views to the inland lake, the boats drifting on the waters and the sleeping towns of Vlicho and Steno. Just a few metres away are a few lovely tavernas on the water.

In addition, Geni is approximately 5+ kilometres to Nydri, the second biggest town in the island, and the largest and busiest tourist town. Civilisation is not too far away and you definitely need a car (or a boat) to stay here which is not a problem for us. Normally, Dutchman and I would rent a scooter for our Greek Island summer holidays but since we are with the Dutch mother, we have rented a car instead.

So out of curiousity, we decided to pay a visit and see what we have missed. Our suspicions were confirmed. The boutique resort hotel we are now staying in Nydri is pretty and comfortable, and I am sure majority of the people I would ask would vote for this place, but in all honesty, we would have preferred to stay at the humble holiday villa appartments in Geni.

You cannot have everything in life. Even when it is cheaper.

The location of Geni on Google Maps.

Looking towards Nydri from the Geni peninsula.

A cafe terrace in Geni with views to the inland lake.

The tavernas on the water in Geni. We are going back here for dinner.

Views of boats from Geni with the backdrop of Vlicho and Steno villages.

Travel Period: June 2016
Destination: Geni, Ellomenos (Lefkada - Ionian Islands), Greece

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Assen, Netherlands: Dinner at Restaurant Touche

Early this year I went to the province of Drenthe for an extended long weekend. I stayed at a small village called Westerbork in the middle of nowhere between Meppel and Assen.

In Assen I had dinner. I found the Restaurant Touche online and it had good ratings at and Tripadvisor.

However, before dinnertime, I came across this glasshouse beside the new modern theatre and library. I parked the car under the building, so when I went up with the lift and stepped outside, I saw this stunning glasshouse construction. After a closer look I realised it was a restaurant called Fellini. I thought—Hmm, I think I may need to come back here for dinner tonight!?

Well, I did came back, but only to be told by the wait staff that they are fully booked for the evening. Argh.

It was a Saturday evening, and although Assen may seem to be a small and sleepy town in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, the going out scene here is quite active! I was impressed, haha. The weather must have helped a bit as it was a dry and beautiful day, something we here in the Netherlands really take advantage of when this happens. We just do not let beautiful days like this slip away. The weather here sucks big time, so when its dry and warmer than usual, people really go out. Like on this particular day in March.

This is the Fellini Restaurant that was fully booked. You can understand why I want to eat here.

I was disappointed of course. I was quite keyed up to dine at this cool glasshouse and I really needed a few minutes to digest the bad news, before strolling back to the main square of the city where Restaurant Touche is located.

Here is something though that comforted me, something that encouraged me to look forward to dinner: Restaurant Touche has better ratings than Fellini.

This is the Markt, the main square of Assen where Restaurant Touche is located. See the building in the middle with the purple window awning.

Restaurant Touche was quite busy when I arrived, and luckily they have a table for me upstairs.

It is a small and cosy restaurant. I quite enjoyed my dinner here and I highly recommend this restaurant to people visiting Assen. The food is delicious. I ordered their 3-course meal but changed the dessert for coffee instead. Many restaurants can accommodate this request if you just ask.

Oh, I can't help but eavesdrop. I noticed that many of the guests were attending a theatre show or are going to the movies after dinner. They have a very 'timed' dinner arrangement. No one wants to miss the start of a show or movie I am sure, so the wait staff were quite professional in making sure the food arrived on time at their table.

Here is my dinner:

Starter from the house: Some tapenade and butter(?), peanuts, toasts and an erwten paste which reminds me of erwtensoep (pea soup, a Dutch winter dish) but this is a bit dry and good to pair with a toast.

First course: Pumpkin soup with orange and froth and some spicy gambas. This was a very good soup. I love this. I find the plating and presentation of this dish on their website much better than the actual though.

Main course: A combination of plaice fish and fried scallops with black risotto, anise, grilled spring onion and Northsea crab sauce.

I love the fish, scallops and everything else. However I find the risotto just too heavy, I couldn’t and didn’t finish it. I had to explain to the female wait staff who was a bit distressed upon seeing my unfinished plate that it was delicious, but it is just that the risotto was too much for me.

I skipped dessert and asked for espresso instead.

One thing I noticed is that the chef of this restaurant has a sweet tooth. The dishes have a flair of sweetness in them. It was not annoying at all or overpowering, but I could taste it because I have a salty and spicy palate orientation.

Overall, a great dinner in Assen.

Travel Period: March 2016
Destination: Assen (Drenthe), the Netherlands

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Belgrade: Church of Saint Sava – Religion is Alive in Serbia

I sometimes think that I have come a long way when it comes to the not-so-popular subject matter of religion. I grew up thinking that religion, and in this case god, is everything, the ultimate. He is the centre of the universe, the reason of being and nothing else.

Church of Saint Sava in Vracar, Belgrade.

As you can see, the interior is still not finished. This is a fairly new church.

When I reached my 20’s I began doubting the whole essence of god. I have a seeking and very restless mind. Perhaps my fault? But I have a lot of questions, and I only want to read and listen to real facts that can answer these questions. It is also to my understanding that religion existed and is largely shaped because of the culture of a specific people, ergo the country. Because of the complexity of religion and culture, so intrinsically entertwined with each other, that trying to get out of religion is similarly seen as turning your back on where you came from. It is not always the case for many who have left the faith, but it is how it is perceived by the majority who are still in the faith.

Eventually I left the world of religion. I left god. I have concluded, sans the help of any religious or philosophical institution or any one in particular, that religion is but a myth. Today, 20 years later, I still strongly believe that it is a myth. I do not actively tell people though about my thoughts on religion, unless of course if they ask me about it. I do, however, share my thoughts online here in this blog.

One thing for sure I can truly say: I have never felt so free, so organic and so myself.

So having said all this, whenever I am visiting countries practicing religion piously, I have to pause for a bit, take a step back and digest the whole situation and my personal experiences mindfully. Many things can run in my mind when this happens. It stays a paradox though because I find religion beautiful but I do not want to be a part of it. I just want to observe and witness from a distance. Perhaps join as a guest with no strings attached.

While churches have become bankrupt in Northwestern Europe and are converted into hotels, restaurants, offices, concert halls and exhibition centres, Serbia is building a mammoth of a church that can rival the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

The Church of Saint Sava in Vracar, Belgrade, designed in Serbo-Byzantine and Neo-Byzantine architectural style is the biggest church in the country, and in the Balkan region. It is even on the list of the world’s largest churches. The building construction is finished, however contractors are still busy working on the interior. It is said that the church was built explicitly from donation money. The church is dedicated to its founder, Saint Sava.

To give a little bit of background information: In Serbia, majority of the local population are Orthodox Catholic Christians, which is a split from the Roman Catholic Church after the fall of Rome (yup long time ago!). There are approximately 85% Orthodox Catholics, 5% Roman Catholics, 3% Muslim and 1% Protestant in the country. 1% are irreligion and 5% belongs to other types of religion and denomination.

Did you know as well that Serbia was a part of the then Yugoslavia (official: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), which comprises of present-day countries and states – Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia. I have only been to Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and my next target destination would be Bosnia & Herzegovina. This would be next year, hopefully!

Yugoslavia was facing a burgeoning and uncontrollable spiral of economic crisis in the late 1980s, however, religious differences have contributed greatly to the collapse of the country in 1991.

I am sure you have heard about the religious ethnic cleansing in the Balkans? The massacre of the Croats, the Bosnian War and Srebrenica Genocide, which is the largest massacre in Europe after Nazi Holocaust. It is unbelievable that these kinds of atrocities repeat itself. Slobodan Milosevic has fueled so much hatred on the ethnic minority groups in the region resulting to an approximately 100,000 lives lost. He had Serbian nationalism and Orthodox religion on his side. He capitalised on this to increase his power and incite prejudice and factions among the people at the expense of non-Serbians and non-Christians. He was never put to justice though because he died in his prison cell in The Hague, Netherlands before he could even be incarcerated. He was a mainstay on the news during the widely publicised The Hague Tribunal (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).

The – “This must not happen again” statement after the Holocaust just went down the stinky drain. And with the recent happenings has morphed into a new genre – Jihad. What has this all brought us? *sigh*

Religion... such an irony for the message it carries. Peace? Love? Huh. Wait – I come with a sword! It hurts. It destroys. It separates. It kills.

But after all that has been said and done, religion is, still very much alive in Serbia. On the positive side, I am looking forward to seeing the finished interior work of this gargantuan Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade. I am sure it will be a stunner.

After my visit to the church I went outside for a little walk on the park, and spotted a row of busy outdoor cafe terraces on the side street. I quickly dashed to the scene and made a decision to grab a seat at Spiza Caffe for some needed coffee break. Yup, quite timely indeed. Just what I needed really.

The facade of Church of Saint Sava.

Interior still under construction: Columns and pillars still wrapped cardboard and plastic.

But it is business as usual, er I mean, praying as usual.

The nave of the altar.

An old woman gave her prayers to these icons placed in the middle of the church and right in front of the altar. She was not really fit and was walking so badly that her foot stumbled upon the plant holder. The poor old woman fell hard onto the floor. It was a very loud sound followed by a hollow cry of someone in pain and confusion. It caused a big commotion and people near her went directly to her aid, helping her get up.

A young lady managed to use her bottle of water to damp fresh water on her forehead. I can see that the old woman was slightly in shock.

I have just witnessed a woman of age who totally lost control of her physical strengths and abilities. And I see myself becoming like that as well in the years to come. It is inevitable.

On the wing of the church.

 The Monument to Karadjordje, the founder of modern Serbia.

The outdoor cafe terrace scene beside the church's front park.

I managed to spill my coffee =(. But I can see the Church of Saint Sava from my table.

Travel Period: March 2016
Destination: Belgrade, Serbia

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