Four days in and around Kotor bay, Montenegro

This summer, we spent a bit more than a week exploring northern Montenegro, the Dubrovnik area in Croatia and also some of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Here is where we stayed, what we did and where we ate our delicious meals in Montenegro.

Morning coffee on the balcony overlooking the bay of Kotor

How to get to Kotor, Montenegro

We started and ended our trip in Dubrovnik airport where we picked up our rental car. I highly recommend getting a car for the Kotor bay area, but get a small one. The roads around the bay are narrow, in fact so narrow that there was barely room for two cars to meet. Be prepared to go slow and take care on the curvy road around the bay and in the small towns.

The road goes along the coastline of Kotor bay

We usually rely on offline Google maps when we go on road trips. The map itself worked well in Montenegro and it was very easy to find the way to Kotor. However, the drives took longer than the estimated driving times because of the narrow road and the traffic situation. You will also need to add time for waiting in line at the borders – first for leaving Croatia and then entering Montenegro. For us it took about a hour in total but that was on a weekday in the mid-morning. I hear that the wait can be much longer at weekends and also at other times during the day.

You will also need a green card which you get from your rental car company when you tell them (and most likely pay a fee) you’re taking the car outside of Croatia. Beware that there is also a ferry fee for taking the car on any ferries, including the short rides on road ferries in Montenegro.

Waiting at the border to Montenegro…

So, remember to get a small car, bring the green card, factor in the border checkpoints and most of all, don’t forget your patience on the road and you’ll be fine. And you will want to take it slow because the drive is a beautiful one! The view from the road overlooking the Kotor bay is amazing and there are viewpoints along the way. So take your time and savor the experience.

Kotor bay

Kotor bay is very pretty and kind of peculiar since it looks very much like the Norse fjords. The bay is surrounded by steep mountains and there are small towns scattered along the coastline. You will also see lots of mussel and oyster farms on the drive south towards Kotor. You will also quickly discover that Kotor bay is not a beach place. There are a few small ones, like in Perast and outside Muo, but otherwise you enter the nice, clean water from the concrete decks next to the road. If you want the beach experience, Budva is an easy drive away.

Kotor old town

Kotor is located in the very south of the Kotor bay. The old town is kind of like a smaller Dubrovnik with stone buildings, surrounded by city walls towards the ocean and the mountains with the fort San Giovanni very visible. In front of the main gate is the marina, where there are lots of sightseeing boats, giant luxurious yachts and also cruise ships in various sizes. The cruise ships are fun to watch enter and leave the narrow bay, but time your visits to the old town to when there are not several thousand day visitors from a large ship.

You do not want (or even can) take your car inside the old town. There are parking spaces outside the wall if you choose to stay in a hotel inside.

More on Kotor town below, with restaurants and sights.

Where to stay around Kotor

Since we had a car and wanted to explore the bay as well as Kotor town, we decided to stay in Muo for easy access. Muo is a residential area right across the bay from Kotor old town. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the main city gate from Muo and there are restaurants, a bakery and a grocery store along the way.

We rented a great studio apartment via AirBnB with an amazing view of the bay and Kotor old town from the balcony. This is where we stayed (no ad, just because we liked it)! The apartment had private parking, otherwise you will park your car on the street (once again, get a small car!). Muo was very quiet by night which suited us perfectly. We walked into town for dinner most nights.

Eating out in Kotor

We were in Kotor for four nights and ate at different restaurants every night. Some of the restaurants were very popular so I recommend looking around during the day and then making a reservation for dinner.

  • Konoba Scala Santa – our favorite restaurant in Kotor! The restaurant is located in a small square with a cute cat family keeping you company while you dine in great food. This seems to be one of the more popular restaurants in Kotor and we had to make a reservation to get a table. I had a very filling shrimp and truffle gnocchi dish and my husband said his steak was among the best he’s had. Decently priced Montenegrin wine (€18 seemed to be the standard price).
  • Konoba Trpeza – a fish restaurant with cozy ambiance and seats outside close to one of the squares. A bit more pricy than the restaurants nearby but good food and excellent service. I had the bussara mussels.
  • Przun – a restaurant on yet another square. Nice meal with good atmosphere. The food was good, the drinks could have been better.
  • BBQ Tanjga – a bbq restaurant located outside the city walls, to the south, across the road from the supermarket. It’s a popular, small place with seating in the garden. You order at the counter and expect a line, especially at dinner time. We had takeaway: a mixed plate of meat (chicken, sausages, skewers) with sauces, salad and fries. The food was definitely cheaper than other restaurants (even when eating in, same prices) and ok. It wasn’t the best meal we’ve ever had but it wasn’t bad either.

What to do in Kotor old town

  • Get lost in the narrow alleys of the old town while you’re looking at all the pretty buildings, flowers and squares. Enjoy the street music, the cats and the people!
  • Enjoy the cats. They are everywhere and they love to be fed. Most of them will probably be sleeping in the shade or just hanging around on the city walls. There is also a small cat museum where you can look at printed cat stuff and pet the resident cats. Kotor loves cats!
  • Walk up to the fort on the mountainside. The stairs are steep but it’s worth the effort! I would not recommend going up there in the middle of the day since the heat will probably exhaust you by then, so choose between early morning and closer to sunset. However, you don’t want it to be pitch black when you go up or down as the stairs are in bad shape in some places. We went at the end of the day and enjoyed the sunset over the bay. On the way up, you will pass a church where there is water and other drinks for sale.
  • Stroll through the market outside the city walls, next to the marina.
  • Have a drink at one of the restaurants in one of the many squares. Just looking at the people passing through is fun.

Want to explore the area? Stay tuned!

A winter weekend in Berlin

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Although Berlin is only a few hours away from our home in Malmö, I realized I hadn’t been there since… well, since the year after the wall came down. And I wasn’t very old at the time so my memories of Berlin were kind of non-existent. Add the fact that Berlin is a perfect weekend destination, and we decided to spend the first weekend of December 2018 there. It turned out to be a great mini-vacation with lots of Christmas markets, glühwein, sightseeing and of course curry wurst.

Hackescher Markt

After a short flight on the Friday afternoon, we arrived at Schönefelt airport. We picked up 48 hour Berlin city tour cards from the tourist agency at the airport and then walked to the train station to get to Berlin-Mitte. The city tour card included all public transportation for 48 hours, including to and from the airport. Very convenient as Berlin is a pretty spread out city.

For our stay, we had decided on the Monbijou hotel in the Hackescher Markt station area which was easy to get to by train. The hotel was perfect for us – cozy, clean and close to everything.

By this time, we were hungry and longing for dinner so we just dumped our bags and went for our first curry wurst, the quintessential food of Berlin. Luckily (or well planned), one of the top currywurst restaurants was just around the corner from the hotel: Curry 61. We had a generous serving with french fries, mayo and their special sauce and a beer of course. Their wall art is worth the visit itself.

Since it was the beginning of the holiday season, the Christmas markets were in full swing. They all have pretty much the same setup: small shops with handicrafts, food and snacks. Some of the markets have an iceskating rink as well. Our first night in Berlin, we went to two markets: one near the Rathaus and one on Alexanderplatz. Our favorite was definitely the market near the Rathaus and St Mary’s church since it was smaller and cozier. We had glühwein to keep us warm in the rain, and also found some chili candied almonds that I actually went back for on Sunday before going home. So good.

Sightseeing tour

The next day (Saturday) was dedicated to sightseeing in Berlin. We had a quick breakfast in a coffee shop in the Hackescher markt station (love the German pastries!). Then we were off to our first stop of the day: the Bundestag building. We had booked free tickets to a specifik time slot and everything was right on time. After a check-in and security check, the guards will escort the group into the Bundestag building and then up to the dome. There you can walk around in and up the dome for as long as you please. Beautifully constructed dome and interesting to see the bundestag room below.

Inside the dome of the Bundestag

After an hour or so in the dome, we walked to the Holocaust memorial (the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europa) located very close to Brandenburger Tor. It truly is a place for remembrance and contemplation, so go there when you’re in Berlin and just wander around the stone pillars.

We then went to the Brandenburger Tor square to have a coffee and then go on a free tour. There are probably several tours to choose from but we had booked with Sandeman. It was very popular this sunny Saturday. Somehow we ended up in the group with the most popular tour guide so the group just kept expanding. He did the tour very well though, and we saw lots of things along the way. If you have a few hours to spare, a guided tour is a good way to get most of the sights done. You can always go back to places that interest you the most.

When the tour ended on Bebelplatz, we kept walking north towards the Berlin wall memorial. We had lunch at this retro, artsy café close to the golden synagogue, a very good borstj soup for me with – you guessed it – beer. The café was so retro it didn’t even have wifi… quite a rarity these days.

We arrived at the Berlin Wall memorial (Gedänkstätte Berliner Mauer) in the afternoon and walked around the indoor and outdoor exhibits. It is very well presented with different buildings showing different aspects of and life situations in the East German era. Definitely take your time and walk along the wall on both sides of the street. There are memorials and ruins as well as the exhibits.

We then took a tram/train combo to the Tiergarten park and made our way by foot to the Victory column. You can see this golden landmark from all over Berlin and it sits right in the middle of a giant roundabout. Don’t try to cross the street, instead use the underground walkways. We bought tickets and climbed up the tower. From the observation deck, 51 meters up, you can see most of Berlin. Since it got dark while we were there, all the lights around the city was twinkling which was very pretty.

With dark came the need for more Christmas markets, so we took a bus to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church. Around the two church buildings (one bombed ruin, one modern), there were lots of Christmas market booths at the Breitscheidplatz. We bought some glühwein and wandered around for a while. On a sad note, on the steps of the church there were flowers and candles to remember the victims of the 2016 truck attack that took place in the market. We could only imagine the horror that must have been that night in the very crowded marketplace.

The Breitscheidplatz Christmas market around the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church

After a while, we walked along the brightly decorated Kürfurstendamm street and then took the metro to Gendarmenmarkt.

The Christmas market on Gendarmenmarkt square is perhaps one of the most famous markets in Berlin. There was a line to get in since they charged an entry fee (1 € I think), but we bought glühwein and the line moved quickly. Inside the market area, there was a big stage where they had concerts, a Russian choir when we were there. We finally (because by then we needed food and not just glühwein!) had dinner at one of the market restaurants. I had a traditional plate of kale, mushrooms, sausage and sour cream, all washed down with a beer. And then we walked around some more and bought some gifts.

And then it was back to the hotel with a walk through a lit up museum island (museum insel). Lots of walking that day and lots of glühwein…

East side gallery

The next morning was grey and gloomy, but we were quickly on our way to the East side gallery in the Friedrichshain area. This open-air gallery is located near the river Spree and consists of a 1,3 kilometer stretch of the Berlin Wall, covered in murals by different artists. The murals were painted in 1990 and are in good shape. We walked along the wall along with a lot of other people and took pictures along the way.

When we had reached the end of the wall, we took the train back to central Berlin and went to the Topography of Terror Documentation Center. It’s located right by a remaining sector of the wall but focuses on the horrors and evils that took place during the Nazi era. The building stands where the SS had its main office which was destroyed after the war. The center houses an exhibit which contains a lot of information and photos.

Our final hours in Berlin were spent on Checkpoint Charlie, which is a reconstructed checkpoint where you can pay to get your photos taken with fake guards. We didn’t. And then we just had to go back to the first Christmas market by the Rathaus (city hall) to buy more chili almonds and also skate on the ice rink around the Neptun fountain. When dusk set in, we were back on the train to the airport.

To sum it up, we had a great weekend in Berlin. The city is so full of history that everywhere you go, there is something new to read and learn. We ate excellent curry wurst a couple of times and will remember the glühwein fondly. Also, Berlin is a perfect weekend city since the public transport system makes it easy to get around.

If you have any questions about Berlin, let me know!

Japan – part 2: Tokyo

This is part 2 of our two week trip to Japan in April. Part 1 covered the basics of traveling there and the foodie highlights. At the end of the post there is a map showing most of the places we went to. Tokyo is huge, so plan your days carefully.

Experiencing Tokyo – the first three days

We arrived at Narita airport mid-morning and picked up our Japan rail passes from the airport station to save some time later in the week. Since we were going to be in Tokyo for a while, we bought rail passes with a later starting date and booked the Shinkansen fast trains accordingly. While waiting in line for the train pass, we got our first taste of Japanese cuisine from a well-stocked 7/11-store when we bought some seaweed covered rice balls, a snack staple later on our trip.

So many fillings to choose from, so easy to eat on the go.

Then we bought our rechargeable Tokyo public transportation card and off we went into Tokyo. Our first stop was the neighborhood Asakusa for two nights. We stayed in a tiny but clean AirBnB very close to the temple area, perfect for our short stay of three nights in Asakusa.

Asakusa – temple area

The cherry blossoms were in bloom as we walked around the big temple area in Asakusa. Lots of people everywhere and very camera friendly. People (mostly tourists) were walking around in kimonos. Our first snack was a taiyaki, a fish-shaped pancake with a red bean or sweet potato filling.  Later on, we also had steamed meat buns for lunch and then some green tea Kitkats. Those Kitkats actually became an obsession during the trip, as well as other unique Japanese flavors we could find in the many, many convenience and grocery stores we went into.

Our first dinner was a tonkatsu meal in the Hamakatsu restaurant an easy train ride away. By the taste of that fried pork chop and its condiments, we knew we were in for an excellent trip foodwise. The Asahi beer was perfect to go with the meal.

Matsugaya, Ueno park and Ginza

The next day, we continued our walk around the Asakusa temples and then went into the Matsugaya area. There are tons of specialized stores there on different streets, for example the kitchenware stores. I almost bought a Hello Kitty rice ball shaper, so cute!

Then we stocked up on supplies for a picknick lunch and went to Ueno park. When the cherry trees are in bloom, there’s a constant family party in the park. After our picnic, we perused the food stalls and had some grilled sakura flavored marshmallows, more steamed buns and beer. It was a great day in the sunny weather.

When night fell, we went into the Ginza area for some shopping and then had our first bowl of ramen from a small noodle shop. We chose our meals from a number of plastic displays, got a ticket from a machine and then the noodle bowl was made to order. So tasty!

For dessert, we went to one of those uniquely Japanese places – a maid café in Chiyoda. This was one of the larger, more family-friendly chains (Maidreamin) but it was still kind of weird to see young Japanese girls dance around us in their maid costumes. We had some ice-cream and cake which were decorated at the table with cute drawings of bunnies and cats. Then it was back to Asakusa for us by metro, and we took a stroll around the well-lit temple area as well.

Tsukiji fishmarket and Nakajima tea house

We had kind of an early start and went to the Tsukiji fishmarket after a quick breakfast at a pancake place. Although most of the fish market has since relocated, we went when the wholesale interior part of the market was still up and running. We came after the big morning rush but were still able to see the fish mongers run around with carts of ice and so many kinds of fish and seafood. There were some kinds of fish that I have absolutely no idea what it was, along with some huge tunas. Although it was too early for sushi for us, we bought some condiments at one of the many shops next to the fish market.

Since it was still mid-morning, we walked to the Hamarikyu park. In the park, there is a lake with the teahouse Nakajima-no-ochaya next to it. We entered (shoes off of course!) and enjoyed a traditional cup of tea on the veranda. It consisted of a cup of matcha tea and a traditional pretty sweet, along with precise instructions for how to drink and eat. Such a great moment to remember! The matcha’s bitterness matched the sweet pastry perfectly and the surroundings were just beautiful.

The weather was excellent so we kept walking and went into the Hibiya park. There were temples, rock gardens, lakes and cherry blossoms so a great place to visit. After a tonkatsu lunch, we picked up our luggage and took the metro to our next area of stay, Shibuya.

And this concludes the first part of the Tokyo posts. We did so much in Tokyo in our five days there that there will be a second part, based in Shibuya.

Next: Two weeks in Japan – part 2.1: Even more Tokyo

Two delicious weeks in Japan – part 1: The basics and the best

In April 2017, we travelled around Japan for two great weeks. We timed the trip perfectly with the cherry blossoming. It was an amazing trip both food wise and for all the sights and impressions. Here’s our two week itinerary, divided into parts.

Part 1 – The basics and the best

Let’s start with the basics:
  • Where did we go?
    Tokyo > Hakone > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Hiroshima > Fukuoka
  • When did we go?
    The first weeks of April, perfect for the cherry blossoming (sakura)
  • How did we travel?
    In Tokyo: local trains, otherwise mostly fast trains (shinkansen) and a domestic flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo
  • Would we go again?
    Tomorrow if I could! 
The itinerary
  • Day 1-5                          Tokyo
  • Day 6-7                          Hakone
  • Day 8-10                        Kyoto (day trip to Nara and Osaka)
  • Day 11-12                      Hiroshima (day trip to Miyajima island)        
  • Day 13                           Fukuoka

Some of the best foodie experiences (but too many to choose from really!)

Travel companions

 

Next: Part 2 – Experiencing Tokyo from Asakusa