Shenanigans with Psihomodo Pop in Croatia

This is what goes on in my infantile mind”, he says pointing at the screaming faces in psychedelic colours that adorn his paintings. He’s the outrageous Davor Gobac of Psihomodo Pop, the punk rock band that has a serious cult following who are at the New Jelacic Mansion to greet us. What’s more, the exhibition hangs in a former wheat mill listed as a Grade 0 building i.e. ‘don’t you touch it’ at the New Jelacic Castle listed at a mere Grade 2 meaning ‘be careful where you touch it’.
Like the Croatian men I’ve met, he’s a character with a great, albeit, slightly grey sense of humour which includes himself. Handsome he is, with an eye for the ladies.

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Bling, Sparkle and Shine – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

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“Shine on you crazy diamond” – Croatia in a nutshell.

The local currency Kuna might not be competing in the big league right now but the wealth of this country cannot be measured in dirty, meagre measures such as money. It comes in the form of unspoilt natural treasures.

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To say that the water in the lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes (Plitvicka-Jezera) are crystal clear is an understatement of mammoth proportions. Every description sounds like a cliché since words cannot describe the ever-changing colour of the water, the fish below the surface, the sparkle of the myriad cascades that turn the limestone and growth into travertine, a porous, soft rock which forms this phenomenon of nature. Our guide Helena describes the meticulous care taken to sustain this Unesco World Heritage wonder forever.

“It might sound cruel but the animals in the park need to survive on their own so please don’t feed them. Our hope is that every person that comes here will leave with renewed zeal to protect nature in whatever small way possible.”

I am moved to tears at the splendours of Mother Nature and how insignificant I am in the midst of it.

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The people of Otočac are proud of their river, the Gacka (Gacka River) and rightly so since it’s the cleanest one in Croatia. Drinkable water is to be found in 80% of the rivers, a fact that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. We fill our water bottles at the spring and mills of the Brajković-Orešković family and drink deeply of the life-giving liquid. A rare privilege indeed!

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The impish, sparkling sense of humour of the three employees at the Grabovača National Park (http://pp-grabovaca.hr/index.php?lang=enset the tone for the scramble up the hill to the Samograd Cave, the only one in the park open to visitors.

“Are we there yet?” trying to catch our breath.

“It’s just round the corner, 10 more minutes.”

We stop believing them after a while….

The Samograd Cave stops us dead in our tracks. Don’t know what we were expecting but certainly not the majestic, ghoulish cavern 20 metres in height. The stalagmite lumps of glimmering white crystals and the little indents that have no name in English since they’re uniquely Croatian containing ‘pearls’, grow at 1mm every year. The size suggests that each one is a lot older than my late grandmother!

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Croatia kicks ass when it comes to conservation, respect for nature and keeping it clean. “Shine on you crazy diamond!”

Unplugged Zweigelt – wine from Austria

As you can see below I’ve had some wine this week. Wanna know more? Join me in the video.


 
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Color: Red
Body/Type: Medium Bodied
Style: Dry
Size: Bottle, 750 ml
Winery: Hannes Reeh
Grapes: Zweigelt
Serve At: 57°-63° F
Region: Austria > Niederosterreich

A Rustic Moonscape – Island of Pag, Croatia

Sheep roam free, there are rocks everywhere, olive trees struggle against the strangulation of stone while vines are nurtured with hands-on care. This is the island of Pag. Island of Pag

Bruno Modrusan’s smile is heart-warming. He’s our guide and speaks with a deep-seated love about the Olive Garden of Lun where the trunks emulate the lace made on the same island and the trees are victorious in their battle against the rocks surrounding them. Some have been fighting the fight for over 1000 years, standing tall and producing an even greater harvest than before. Wrap your head around this one: those little kernels are eaten by sheep, are coated with the enzymes inside the stomach and spat out and sprout forth, a creation of nature that is immortal. It never dies and brings forth its first crop in the seventh year and keeps on yielding unremittingly for the rest of its life. A miracle in and of itself and just imagine, we get to eat the fruit and drink the oil with relish. The people of Pag know this and know how privileged they are to have this on their doorstep. Lun

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The teeny weeny, pretty-as-a-picture little town of Lun on the coast clings fast to the craggy hill behind it and hopes that the bura, the bone-chilling wind from the north, will be merciful and allow it to survive yet another year. It doesn’t even try to compete with its busier and bigger neighbour Novalja where the tourists flock in the summer and the money-changers see dollar signs before their eyes. It too is stunning where it nestles in a windless bay. Nikola, our waiter at Restaurant Galia (http://www.konoba-galia.com/index.php/en/) right on the shorefront, beams with pride when he shows us the freshest of sea bass which the kitchen is about to prepare for us. The octopus salad is tender and delicate with a drizzling of that golden liquid from the olive tree. The sheep’s cheese is creamy and elegant in flavour and I’m told that it has won awards as the best sheep’s milk cheese in the world. I’m not a bit surprised. The fish arrives and the firmness of its flesh and slightly smoky flavour from the flame grill it was cooked on, leaves us speechless. Novalja

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Time has seen the demise of a thriving wine industry on this island and sadly, few players have survived. A strong tradition of four generations of wine production is the backbone of Boškinac winery (http://www.boskinac.com/homepage.en.html). They have stuck to their roots and have a healthy output of Gegić, a white wine varietal of Pag. The floral, fruity notes on the nose are repeated on the palate and it turns into a pleasant, sluggable round-the-pool beverage but could go very well indeed with fish. The olive oil from the same producer is lemony with just the right amount of pepper and that slight bitterness at the back of the throat planting it firmly in the big league. The boutique hotel on the same premises is right up there in the higher echelons of such establishments.

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Pag is a place for partying, Pag is a place for gourmets, Pag is definitely a place for the well heeled amongst us, Pag is a place for history, and as always, Pag is where you’ll meet open-hearted, genuine Croatians with that gleam of playfulness in their eyes.

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It’s Raining Men – Croatia

So you’re single or married, you’re free or not, you might be looking and if you’re not, in Croatia at least, you’d be missing out on a whole lot of fun. Rugged, rustic, a little bit of style, eccentric and funny and always gentlemen, or as far as I know.

Take our crew for instance – Hrvoje (said with a guttural, Finnish ‘h’, rrrrr, vvvv, ooooo, yeah), stern, caring, dry of driest sense of humour; Bruno – impish with an irreverent twist; Damijen, the romantic, the guitarist whose constantly on the phone to his girlfriend; Zlatko the silent, with hidden talents of brilliant English vocabulary;  Each and every one of them a gentle man and gentleman who’ll carry your suitcase, help you out of the bus, do all those niceties that too many men under the age of 30 have either given up on or never learnt. Samobor

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Flaunting the rules, is tall, definitely dark, Davor Gobac of Psihomodo Pop who really doesn’t give a shit whether you like his music or not and all he knows is that he’s “in love with Gobac”.

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His English might be somewhat lacking but his hospitality knows no bounds on his charter boat that takes us out on the Makarska Riviera. It’s Davor Beroš, owner of Alto Krvavica charter company and tour guide Jure Brkan. Bring on the salty seadog look with hair flowing and deep-voiced baritones to plunge you into mirth and folly. Makarska Riviera

“The only truth is nature and love!” comes from the mouth of Steve, Stipe in Croatian, born and bred in Australia and back in his home country since the age of 10. ADHD might be an appropriate description of his character but I think it’s his sheer enthusiasm and positivism that get you excited about the ruins of Nečvengrad of  the Nepelicki family  where you can see the tower of  the Šubić family across Krka River canyon. He’s a guide and a park ranger at the Krka National Park where the waterfalls cascade like bridal gowns in amongst the green that surrounds them. His reference to castles and waterfalls as ‘she’ is enough to melt your heart. “They’re just so beautiful,” he exclaims. Krka National Park

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At Johnny’s Place in Šibenik you might bump into Nino, guitarist extraordinaire, whose laid back easiniess comes with a smile that you can almost drink. Dive into the deep with Emil Lemac, owner of Mediteraneo Diving Center, a handsome brute with a way of getting his arm around you and offering you a sip of rakije from an angle you didn’t expect. His right hand man is Orgjen Tošić (Ogi to the uninitiated) with his blue eyes, slender body, a passion for island life and patience with beginner divers like me. Johnny’s Place

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And then there is Ante from the Knin tourist office whose our guide at the fabulous Fortress of Knin. He stands tall amongst the ruins and has the vigour to match his love for this place and its people. Or gorgeous Damijen at Sinj whose sense of humour extended beyond the realm of holiness expounding on the importance of the Assumption and the reverence with which the Virgin is worshipped without losing touch with the sacred. Knin

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To mention only a few………. They’re not pushy, they’re not overly bold, just relaxed enough in their own skin to prick your interest and perchance light your fire? Ladies, let me introduce you to Croatian men.

Narva, Estonia

It wasn’t my choice but for something different and a change of scenery we decided on Narva, right, and I mean right, on the border of Russia with a river and a bridge to separate the two. A 3-hour bus journey from Tallinn, the scenery mirrored my enthusiasm becoming gloomier as the road cut through the wasteland. In all fairness it was winter.

2013-12-07 11.54.57The Friendship Bridge and Ivangorod Castle in the background

We were told that the restaurant at Hotel Inger where we were to reside served halfway decent food but a wedding party jumped the gun and we made our way to the Old Trafford. The connection between Man U’s stomping ground and this place still escapes me. The borscht was hearty and full of meat lacking salt but the flaky pastry that covered it added that extra touch of exoticism. Warm meat and aubergine salad could not have been a better combination of flavours with just a hint of sweetness in the dressing to give it another dimension. Echo Falls Merlot washed it all down and when a bottle of wine and two courses strip your wallet of €25 including tip, you’re a happy camper. Service, well, the two waitresses were somewhat stressed by the sheer volume of customers, this evidently being the most popular foodie joint in town, and the courses came in dribs and drabs some altogether some not at all but ultimately the task was completed and none of us left hungry.

Our guide Evgeni, was a pleasant young gentleman with a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at the realities of this place. We were taken to the old City Hall with its modern counterpart reflecting its façade, the river dividing Ivangorod and Narva with the Bridge of Friendship allowing motorists and pedestrians alike to cross over only if you have the right visa or documentation. The city of Narva, Estonia’s 3rd largest, has a tale or two to tell about occupation and the Hermann Castle can testify to this. Founded by the Danes in the 13thC and after several skirmishes with the Russian contingent a stone’s throw away, the need for a stone stronghold became evident at the beginning of the 14thC. Next came the Livonian Order who turned it into a convent and established the tower as an ‘up yours’ to the Russians who were constructing their ‘mine is bigger than yours’ Novgorod Castle on the other side of the river. The bastions surrounding Narva were also part of the historical footprint of the Livonians. But the golden age of this town can be attributed to the Swedes who ruled here during the 17thC. Downtown was transformed into colourful Baroque style buildings and international trade was its mainstay. One war lead to another and once again the Russians tried to lay claim to this city, this time successfully but ultimately the Estonians laid their hands on what was rightfully theirs. Unfortunately the city was bombed to bits in World War II destroying 98% of it.

Today it sports mostly low rise buildings set in tree-lined boulevards, except for the Soviet monstrosity with its so-called non-operational water tower on the roof. It’s struggling to put itself on the tourist map but together with it’s summery neighbour Narva-Jöesuu with the longest sand beach on the coast of the Baltic Sea, it complements tanning and splashing with its more cerebral cultural experiences and the lure of crossing over that Bridge of Friendship that’s only 170 kilometres from St. Petersburg. Hop on the Lux Express and if there are no queues at the border post you can get there in a couple or 3 of hours. Estonia City Guide

White in Tokaji – Hungarian dessert wine

Tokaji, this picture-postcard pretty Unesco World Heritage town is designated as a white wine-growing region, hence, no reds are cultivated here. If you insist on making a red, you ship your grapes in from somewhere else. They might call some dry, but there’s this distinct fruitiness that makes them stand out as true Tokaj wines. My favourite was the Hárslevelü or ‘linden leaf’ varietal which can be damn awful ranging from a mouthful of acid to a beautifully rounded fruitiness of elderflower and spiciness to give it that extra lift and dimension. Needless to say, in the warm May sunshine, this was the elixir of the season and a sprightly lifter of the spirits especially from Benkö Borház, a tiny ‘pince’ or winery next to all the others with its ‘cave’ dug into the hill behind it.

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Tokaji Aszú, the “Wine of Kings and King of Wines” (quote: Louis XIV, no less!) heralds from the picture postcard pretty town of Tokaji as its name suggests. The number of ‘puttonyes’ is indicative of the price and quality of course. From 3 to 6, the higher you go the higher the sugar content with 180g/l topping the list. And then there’s esszencia, the uncrushed steady drip created by the weight of the grapes, which can reach heady heights of 700 to 900 g/litre.

2014-05-07 12.34.35The price is in Forint! (€244)

But back to the garden variety – the botrytized (noble rot) berries are handpicked one by one and crushed into a kind of paste after which new wine or fermenting must are added to it. The transformation takes place for a period of at least 3 years, could be 2 in small Hungarian oak barrels, maybe 3, one in bottle, maybe more, whatever the whim of the winemaker. At around €18/half litre for 5 puttonyes, it’s affordable for a salary from the real world. Once you taste it, you fall in love and the dreaming begins. How many bottles can I fit into my suitcase, how many can I afford? The sweetness, yes, it’s there, but it’s the complexity that is so full of apricots, marmalade, even lychee and a touch of nuts and smooth, oh I almost forgot to mention smooth, the word hardly suffices. Even if you’re not a dessert or sweet wine fan, you cannot NOT appreciate this liquid gold. At the end of the day, I find it hard to distinguish between 5 puttonyes and 6 and I settle for 5 from the delightful Teri whose husband is the kick-ass winemaker at their ‘pince’ called Benkö Borház. A litre costs me under €30 and I do believe I’ve struck a bargain.

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But I like wine with spunk and even though I’m not particularly a semi-sweet wine drinker, I really did fall for two other types in this region. Forditás means ‘pour over’ or ‘turning over’ when aszú paste or dough is used for a second time with must being poured over it. From the fine Hétszölö winery, the 2003 vintage had a slightly kerosene nose similar to what you might find in Riesling, and behaved like the teenage sister of the more grown up aszú it came from. Lots of lovely orange, just a little marmalade and an absolute delight at cold, cold temperatures.

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You can say what you like about semi-sweet or sweet wines, pull up your nose at it or insist that it can only be taken with desserts, the longer you stay in this region, the more you start appreciating the fact that they’re meant to go with the local food and a good semi-sweet Sárgamuskotály has enough spice and body to go very well with a good goulash in my humble opinion!

Hilma af Klint – artist, mystic, front runner from Stockholm, Sweden

The boys bragged of being the first to paint abstract art but while she was honing her skills on landscapes and portraiture, minutely depicting every detail of realism, she was exploring her higher conscious.

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Spring Landscape – Scene from the Bay of Lomma 1892

The ‘boys’ included the likes of Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, František Kupka and Piet Mondrian. But where was she at that time, the early 1900’s? Where was her art? Why don’t we know more about her? Smart lady. She knew and surmised that the public simply wouldn’t be ready for it and kept it all hidden in a loft somewhere in Stockholm only to be released at least 20 years after her death. It was the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm that took the plunge followed by highly successful showings in Berlin, Malaga and Louisiana.

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Now for the first time in Helsinki, we are able to marvel at her broad scope of styles ranging from minute realism through naivety to huge bold sweeping brush strokes to geometricality that is intense in its complete balance and accuracy.

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As Iris Müller-Westermann, curator of the Moderna Museet puts it, “She didn’t say she was the first, she was the best, that she did it. Her approach was different. She believed that she was merely an instrument of spiritual forces who worked through her. Her quest was to understand the world and her place in it.”

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Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction was on show at Kunsthalle from 16 August until 28 September 2014.

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Matarromera Crianza 2011 – wine from Spain

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Winery: Bodega Matarromera
Region: DO Ribera del Duero
Type of Wine: Red wine
Aging & Type of Oak:
12 Months in French and American Oak
Annual Production(in bottles): 700,000
We’re mingling with royals this week with the younger relative of the Matarromera Reserva the King of Spain likes to order. Even though it’s younger than its illustrious older brother, there’s nothing humble about it.

The colour is rich, dark and blueish

The complex nose promises all kinds of stuff like cherries, wood, vanilla

The palate has acidity, tannins that underline the wood; licorice; blueberries and cocoa

Elegant, full wine with intensity

Pairing: toast lamb with herbs, game dishes, stews

Availability (delivery costs apply): Viinitkotiin.com – €20; WinesfromSpain.com €19,99; Decantelo.com €18

 

 

Estoria, an Estonian Story – Hotel in Tallinn, Estonia

Estoria is about stories, Estoria is about Estonia, Estoria is about culture. Klaus Ek, hotel manager is especially delighted now that it has made it to the World Luxury Hotel list. Solo Sokos Hotels have got this right! A new wing of the Viru Hotel in the heart of Tallinn, opened its doors on 21 April 2014.

Every room tells its own tale. I felt right at home in mine since it talked about the people of Setomaa who live in the southeast corner of Estonia. A little crazy are their practices of crowning a King of the earth who gathers around him his ‘troops’ and followers. Once you’ve located it on the colourful map, you see all kinds of fascinating details not only in that area but also the rest of Estonia suggesting that tourism doesn’t begin and end in Tallinn. There’s a whole new world to be discovered outside of the city.
 Colour strikes you first when you walk into the room. No dull whites for this hotel. Peep Ehasalu, proud erstwhile Communications Manager, explained why:
“Why do hotels choose white? Simple. It’s much cheaper to wash and bleach white sheets. We’ve chosen to pay a little more for our laundry and brighten up our guests’ experience.”
The details are numerous, humorous and thought provoking.
“Life is like a mirror – you get the best results when you smile at it.”
 Read the writing on the desk top and you find out that Skype was invented in Estonia, amongst other things.
All the products in the minibar are Estonian and every room has a Cupsolo machine for making a decent cup of coffee.
 And that’s not the end of the story. Every floor has a lounge area where you can entertain your guests or have a business meeting. The ‘library’ provides story books as well as good culture and history reads in various languages.
 The breakfast is special too. Service comes with a smile from a waitress who keeps on topping up your tea or coffee cup. Choices include organic porridge, local dried sausage, crispy bacon, fresh croissants to name but a few.
On your way out, the receptionist smiles broadly and asks whether you enjoyed your stay?
You would be pressed to say anything other than “How could I not have?”