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Best of 2019 (4)


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Cafe Leila, Tbilisi

Cafe Leila, Tbilisi

This award category is for restaurants. In this category there are too many places to mention, so only the most memorable ones get a name check.

Where will I start!

One of the best of the year was also the first of the year, on 1st January. At Joanos Carinovos Smuklė in the Belmontas Centras (Vilnius) I had a wonderful lunch in a lovely place. Cobwebs were blown away.

Traditional

Traditional

My short visit to Barcelona produced several successes with restaurant choices. Good judgement or luck? Both, probably.

La Bicicleta

La Bicicleta

My hotel in Kirkwall - The Storehouse - describes itself as a restaurant with rooms, so I gave it a try. It was really good quality.

Restaurant

Restaurant

I also “ate in” when I stayed at Chateau Bruale in Tkhilitstskaro. It gets a lot of points for giving me the chance to try the vineyard’s own Rkatsiteli Mtsvane and because in September it was still warm enough to eat outside. The food was excellent quality - of country style rather than sophisticated.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Can in Istanbul is a place I returned to, as I have several times. I love the cafeteria type set up, and the food is always excellent. Dinner there is almost always followed by ice cream and tea at Mado, a few meters along the street.

Baklava & Dondurma

Baklava & Dondurma

I went on walking food tours in Tbilisi and Athens and learned a huge amount about the cuisine of those countries in addition to enjoying great food.

Ariston Pie Shop

Ariston Pie Shop

Street food attracted me in Tòrshavn and Reykjavík - fish and chips being a stand out meal in each city.

In fact Chateau Bruale is this year’s winner.

Top Class

Top Class

Drinking wine which has been produced on the premises from grapes grown in the surrounding fields is an unusual experience, and the wine was sublime.

Posted by IainT 09:18 Archived in Georgia Tagged food barcelona greece restaurants athens turkey istanbul georgia catalunya vilnius lithuania tbilisi reykjavik faroes kakheti torshavn stepansminda tkhilitstskaro Comments (0)

Best of 2019 (3)


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The Storehouse

The Storehouse

This category is for the various types of accommodation I enjoyed over the year.

What a variety!

When I think back over the last 12 months, that is my impression of my accommodation choices.

I had several Airbnb experiences - Barcelona, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Reykjavik and Athens. I was very happy with all of them, and indeed I went back to the Tbilisi place for a second visit. In fact I would happily return to any of them.

Apartment Terrace

Apartment Terrace

When it comes to chain hotels, yet again Novotel was my preference. I used them in Sheffield and Brussels. I used an Ibis in Nottingham and the Sofitel at Athens Airport - Accor brands as well.

I stayed at Marriott’s AC Hotel in Belfast twice and would do so again - price, location, style…

AC Hotel

AC Hotel

I stayed in quite a few airport hotels in 2019. I tried the Moxy brand at Aberdeen Airport - yes, I would use that one again. At Edinburgh Airport I stayed a Hampton by Hilton for the first time - I guess it is a budget/airport type sub-brand. It was OK, but nothing special.

Inter City Hotels seems to be a mainly German brand, part of the Steinberger group, and the one I used at Berlin Schönefeld Airport was ideal. It is a short walk from both the terminals and the railway station. It is great value for money - at least on a Sunday night.

Radisson Blu was my choice at Manchester Airport - it was good, but expensive. It is walking distance to the airport and the railway station, which was the attraction for me.

When it comes to independent hotels, my second visit to Georgia introduced me to several - 5 Rooms and Ilja’s in Tbilisi, Chateau Bruale in Tkhilitstskaro (in the Kakheti region) and Hotel Vache in Stepantsminda. I would happily go back to any of them - clean, comfortable, quiet, stylish and good value.

Ilja's

Ilja's

Chateau Bruale is a bit special because it is part of a vineyard, and I was there at harvest time. I also tried their 2017 produce. Zero air miles…

Top Class

Top Class

Hotel Vache is also special, but for its amazing views of Mt Kazbegi and the horses running free in the street outside.

Morning Visitors

Morning Visitors

I loved my first visit to the Faroe Islands and whilst my hotel (the 62⁰N) in Tórshavn ticked all the usual boxes, it was never going to be good value for money. It is a very expensive destination.

Kirkwall was an expensive destination too - at least in accommodation terms. Maybe it is an island thing. I had 2 nights in The Storehouse. It is excellent, but not cheap.

In Köln I chose the Lint Hotel. It is a small family run place, and really good. For me, the location was part of the attraction, being in the Altstadt and a short walk from the main railway station.

Lint Hotel

Lint Hotel

Last but certainly not least - I was back in Istanbul and stayed a few nights in the Terrace Guesthouse. It has been on my list of special places for a long time, and it has been a “Best of” winner before.

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

No doubt I have forgotten one or two, but I suppose that means they were not memorable.

In the end for my favourite of the year I have gone for the Hotel Vache.

Mt Kazbeg

Mt Kazbeg

In addition to the views and the horses outside my bedroom, the breakfasts were superb and the quality of the room was excellent.

Posted by IainT 00:27 Archived in Georgia Tagged barcelona greece germany athens turkey berlin istanbul belgium georgia aberdeen manchester brussels köln iceland orkney belfast tbilisi yerevan armenia reykjavik sheffield faroes kakheti nottingham kirkwall torshavn stepansminda tkhilitstskaro Comments (0)

Best of 2019 (2)


View Athens & Krefeld & Sheffield & Nottingham & Tbilisi 2 & Belfast & Faroes & Iceland & Orkney & Tbilisi & Sheffield 2 & Sheffield & Dublin & Belfast & Barcelona & Manchester & Dundee & Vilnius 3 on IainT's travel map.

The Ternan

The Ternan

This category is for any kind of transport other than flights, as they come into the airline category.

I used a good variety of train services during 2019. The one from Dublin to Belfast in March was a “first”. It is a joint venture between Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnròd Èireann. It was comfortable, but slow. That route cries out for a high speed rail service.

I got my high speed service in October, between Brussels and Köln. A German ICE in one direction and Thalys in the other. Both were delayed…

Köln Hbf

Köln Hbf

The service I used in January between Arlanda Airport and Uppsala is quick enough, although not high speed like the service into Stockholm. That made it affordable, of course.

In Britain, I used several train companies on my trips to Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham. I had mixed experiences.

I did not have as many boats trips as usual during the year. I took short ferry sailings in the Faroes (Tórshavn to Nólsoy) and Istanbul (Europe to Asia). The vapur in Istanbul was wonderful.

Vapur

Vapur

I took a couple of long distance (as opposed to local or airport) bus rides, which is unusual for me. One was a 2 hour journey from Klaksvík to Tórshavn. It was spectacular.

So was the 5 hour marshrutka trip from Tbilisi to Yerevan. It was uncomfortable, however.

Minibus Recovery Mode

Minibus Recovery Mode

I had rented cars in Georgia and Iceland, and they were definitely a good decision for getting around to see the places on my itineraries. I had a bike while I was in Reykjavík - it came with my Airbnb. I really enjoyed using it to get in and out of the city centre.

Sadcars' Sadcar

Sadcars' Sadcar

I used trams in Dublin and in Sheffield - they are still a novelty to Scots. We tore up our tram lines in the 50s and 60s to make more space for cars. Yes, quite.

I got back on the metro in Barcelona after an absence of 45 years. I got on the metro in Tbilisi for the first time. At £0.13 per journey, the Tbilisi metro has a lot going for it.

Metro

Metro

I also took a cablecar and a funicular in Tbilisi. Ideal for getting up those hills in warm weather.

Cablecar

Cablecar

Last, but most definitely not least, I took a scheduled helicopter service in the Faroes. Atlantic Airways operates inter island services and I flew from Tórshavn to Klaksvík. It was a 12 minute flight and going back on the bus took 2 hours.

Klaksvík Helipad

Klaksvík Helipad

A decision has not been easy. It came down to a choice between the minibus trip to Yerevan, or Atlantic Airways’ helicopter flight. Eventually I went for the helicopter experience for this year’s winner.

Posted by IainT 13:08 Tagged boats trains scotland ferries ireland turkey istanbul sweden transport georgia köln iceland tbilisi yerevan armenia reykjavik faroes torshavn klaksvík nólsoy Comments (0)

Athens - Travel Tips

sunny 6 °C
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Parthenon from Stadium

Parthenon from Stadium

I flew to Athens from Edinburgh via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. The first flight was on 25th December and the other at 01.15 on the 26th. Both were excellent.

I had a long wait between flights in Istanbul, but that is part of the price you pay for getting a flight on Christmas Day. The cost was £206. It included my checked in bag (30kg) and I had an emergency exit seat on the 1st leg - it was not booked but TK put me there to let a family sit together in the row I had chosen.

Panathenaikou Stadium

Panathenaikou Stadium

TK has in flight entertainment on its flights out of Edinburgh, and serves a full complimentary meal with drinks. Both are good quality.

My flight home on 1st January was on easyJet, and direct. It cost €228. That price includes the extra cost of a checked in bag (15kg) and an emergency exit seat to give extra legroom. Needless to say easyJet does not provide free catering, nor any in flight entertainment.

Akropolis and Parthenon

Akropolis and Parthenon

Had I been able to book earlier I know I would have been able to get a much cheaper deal on flights, but I was held back while waiting for my employer to decide what the office arrangements would be for the end of December.

I stayed in the Sofitel at Athens Airport on the night I arrived. My flight got in at about 2am, which is to late to take the metro into the city. The cost was €141, without breakfast. It is literally across the street from the airport, so ideal in the circumstances. Breakfast is an eye-watering €25.

Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian's Arch

Most of my time was in an Airbnb apartment in the Koukaki neighbourhood. It cost £321 for 6 nights. I could not fault it. It was ideal, and just as advertised. It is located a short walk from Syngrou-fix metro station, making travel to and from the airport quite simple.

I took the metro from and to the airport. It takes around 40 minutes to/from Syntagma Square. The cost was €10 each way. The service is only every 30 minutes which makes for quite a long wait if you have just missed a train. However, the airport has display screens to keep you advised, and the train times are also published on the website of the city’s transport authority.

Ariston Pie Shop

Ariston Pie Shop

My top tip for Athens is to take the gastronomy tour I went on. It cost €65 - for a 4 hour tour and a huge amount of delicious food. I learned a lot, the food was great, and it was a lot of fun.

Posted by IainT 17:40 Archived in Greece Tagged food greece athens turkey istanbul flights airlines Comments (0)

Istanbul - Travel Tips

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Vapur

Vapur

I have blogged on travel tips for Istanbul before.

My visits in May ’19 produced a couple of useful new tips, so this is just a wee update.

The first is the new airport. Turkish Airlines transferred all passenger operations there in April 2019. Atatürk is no longer used. The new airport is massive, and you have to allow plenty time to move between gates if you have a connection. On the other hand, it is spacious and pleasant compared to Atatürk and so a longer layover would be a more civilised experience.

Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport

The new airport is a long way (43 km/26 miles) north of the city (measured to Sultanahmet, where I was staying) so if you are breaking a journey there a trip into the centre is now longer and more expensive.

I was told a taxi from Sultanahmet would cost 150 TRY (£19.50 or €22.20) and it is safe to assume airport taxis charge more. My guesthouse organised transfers for me at €40 (£35) per trip. Another option is HavaIst, which operates a coach service between the new airport and the city centre. The Metro is being extended to reach the new airport. The information I found suggests it could be ready in 2020.

Door to Door

Door to Door

It took just 30 minute to go to the airport on a Sunday morning. It took over an hour in the other direction during Friday night rush hour - even allowing for going against the flow of traffic.

Istanbul’s other airport - Sabiha Gökçen - is still operating as before but it is a long way from the city centre too - on the Asian side.

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

For this trip I flew with Turkish Airlines from Edinburgh to Istanbul, and then on to Tbilisi. I broke my journey to Tbilisi in Istanbul, but (from memory) that was choice rather than necessity. The EDI/IST leg cost £280 (return) and the IST/TBS one was £290 return.

The other Istanbul travel update to mention is taking the vapur (passenger ferry) across the Bosphorus from Eminönü on the European side to Kadıköy on the Asian side. It is a commuter hop, but the views of the city are amazing - unless you hit a thunderstorm, as I did!

Kadıköy

Kadıköy

The cost is 5 TRY each way - that was £0.65/€0.74 at the time. The last time I did the “voyage” (about 10 years ago) you bought a metal jeton (token) to put in a turnstile type entry gate to board the ship. Now you buy a plastic card. I could not find any ticket kiosk and maybe you can only buy from one of the automatic machine.

1 Trip

1 Trip

Locals all use a rechargeable IstanbulKart. The cards are also what you need for the tram, metro and bus services, so buying the rechargeable version (for 6 TRY) will save you time if you expect to be using public transport a lot.

Dusk, Aya Sofya

Dusk, Aya Sofya

Certainly the tram, metro and vapur services are very user friendly once you get familiar with them and can save you from getting hot and sweaty in the summer months. The trams’ air conditioning is worth 5 lira alone when it gets you out of the summer heat!

The vapur have a buffet cabin on board for snacks and drinks. In the morning I recommend you buy a simit - the bagel shaped, sesame seed covered bread roll - to take on board to eat with a Turkish tea from the buffet. Eat and drink out on one of the open air decks if the weather is good.

Another top tip is to buy a balık ekmek - fish sandwich - before you board. They sell them at the büfe on the quay at Eminönü. Ayran is ideal to drink with it (or beer, if so inclined).

Posted by IainT 13:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul transport Comments (0)

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