Monthly Archives: August 2016

walking in Snowdonia

 In the early hours of 2 June 1953, guests sleeping at the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel (pyg.co.uk) heard an urgent knocking on their doors and were instructed by the proprietor to assemble downstairs. They were among the first to learn that mortals had stood on the highest point on Earth, finding out not long after Queen Elizabeth II, who was crowned later that day. Glühwein was served in celebration.

A version of this triumphant scene could have played out in a chalet in Switzerland or a log cabin in Alaska. However, the spiritual home of the British 1953 Everest expedition was a little pub in a blustery mountain pass in Snowdonia, which served as their training base. Staying at the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, these men tested themselves against the surrounding Welsh mountains – peaks that measured beside the Andes or the Alps as mere molehills. They can be ascended after a fry-up and descended in time for a pint before teatime. And yet these modest peaks have a long, unlikely association with humankind’s most heroic mountaineering feats.

‘These are small mountains of course,’ explains the current owner of Pen-y-Gwryd, Rupert Pullee, leaning on the timber bar. ‘But they are mountains nonetheless, and they need to be respected.’

He shows me cabinets full of memorabilia donated by expedition members. There is the rope that tethered Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary together. There are oxygen canisters with faded Union Jack insignia – tested on the Snowdonian peak of Tryfan (918m) before being put to use in the Himalayas (more than 8,000m). Over the fireplace is a pebble from Everest’s summit pocketed by Hillary. And there are yellowing pictures of expedition members attending reunions at Pen-y-Gwryd over the years – their hair whitening and their numbers dwindling with each photograph, until the series stops in the late nineties.

The hotel itself has changed little in the half-century since the expedition members first came here. Walkers and climbers congregate by log fires after the afternoon sun sinks into the Irish Sea. Staying guests are summoned to breakfast by a gong, to eat boiled eggs kept warm in individual woollen hats. There are relics from the hotel’s past as a mountain rescue post, too: when barmen and willing customers would put down their pints and step outside to find lost souls on the mountain. And there is a guestlist of ghosts.

Rupert tells me about a 19th-century carriage driver he once saw smiling back at him from behind the bar. Other staff speak of a spectral runner on the A498 outside the hotel. And there is talk of a sudden chill in the games room, where the bodies of the injured and deceased were taken after they were carried off the mountainside.

One snowy January morning in 2014, Dan Arkle achieved a mountaineering first. He arrived at the top of Crib Goch – among the most treacherous routes to Snowdon’s summit – and set about traversing its icy knife-edge ridge. The feat was not especially notable, were it not for the fact that Dan did it at night, completely in the nude.

Nor was Dan’s the only first on Snowdon in recent times. In 2011, Craig Williams made two trips to the summit in his Vauxhall Frontera. The Frontera was later put on eBay, and Williams put in prison. There are people who have carried fridges and ironing boards to the top of Snowdon. Others have climbed the mountain dressed as stormtroopers from Star Wars.

Top 6 Budget Honeymoons

  Morocco

Arabian exoticism, fragrant spices – and lovely low prices. Morocco’s hard to beat for bargain romance. Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira offer time-warp medinas chock-full of character and cheap cafes. Eschew your sense of direction to get lost in the maze-like souqs – the shopping possibilities are plentiful, with everything from carpets to babouches to be snapped up. Converted riads (traditional courtyard houses) offer accommodation with oodles of atmosphere; some are pricey but many are astonishingly reasonable, enabling palace-like stays on a pauper’s budget.

India

Long-favoured by the impecunious, India has become more expensive – but, mostly, it’s still amazingly cheap. For instance, opulent Palace On Wheels trains might be dear, but even budget ’mooners can afford first-class on India Rail – a Delhi-Udaipur overnighter costs around US$20 second-class, and only US$10 more in first-class sleeper.

Vietnam

You could get by for less than US$10 a day in Vietnam and still eat like a king – it’s street-food heaven. Make sure to sample the city’s signature dishes: beef pho, bun cha (barbecued pork with rice noodles) and chow a bánh mì (baguette) as you wander. A mid-range trip won’t break the bank either, but will buy more characterful guesthouses, a better Halong Bay cruise and memorable experiences (a cookery class, a cycle aroundHoi An) with change left for a beach stay on beautiful Phu Quoc Island.

Indonesia

Numbers are high, costs are low in Indonesia. Rooms might start from a startling-sounding 350,000 rupiah – but that’s only US$25. It’s easy to be a millionaire here, so even budget ’mooners can afford plenty of fun. Obvious-choice Bali has great beaches, boutique stays, culture in Ubud, cracking surf. But Indonesia has 17,000 isles! Consider Lombok and theGili Islands, culture and volcanoes on Java and jungle adventures onSumatra.

Cambodia

Cambodia is a happy marriage of world-beating sights and budget-friendly prices. It’s home to Angkor Wat, for which a seven-day entry ticket costs US$60 – ridiculously expensive compared with everything else in the country; ridiculously cheap for a week’s worth of exploring the vastness of the site’s Unesco-listed temples and jungle. Cheap beers (US$1), meals (US$2) and ever-improving low-cost accommodation ice the cake.

South Africa

Safaris aren’t usually budget options, but in South Africa you can save by self-driving Kruger National Park’s 2WD-friendly roads, staying at rest camps en route. Right across the country, food prices are good and accommodation plentiful, ensuring there’s something for all budgets – the winery hotels on the Western Cape are particularly good value compared with those in rival wine regions around the world. The best bargain? The Shosholoza Meyl Sleeper train runs virtually the same scenic route, between Johannesburg and Cape Town, as the luxurious Blue Train but costs a twentieth of the price.

New Trends for Foodies

 Redefining coffee

You might not think of Bucharest as a coffee destination. After all, Romania is no Finland or Norway in terms of coffee consumption and has no long-standing culture like fika in Sweden. However, the city is seeing many specialty coffee stores open, with local pioneers redefining the coffee culture once adopted from the Italians.

The first in town to set the bar high – coffee by day, concept cocktails by night – is Origo. It excels not only at its single-origin coffee, influencing the wider movement as a coffee roaster, but it’s also a social hub where communities are formed amidst Hario V60 coffee drippers repurposed as lamps and doorknobs. Plan ahead as tables fill up quickly, rain or shine.

With two Bucharest locations, its younger brother, Steam Coffee Shop, caters more to coffee-to-go orders due to its small yet sleek interior. The friendly in-the-know baristas can make a suggestion or two. Across town in the swanky Dorobanți neighbourhood is Frudisiac, where the only hint that you’re in Bucharest, Romania, is your Google Maps location pin. Discreet but stylish, the Scandinavian barn structure exudes Nordic vibes in every corner. Pair your Drop Coffee directly from Sweden with a mean avocado toast, a cold-pressed juice and a copy of Monocle.

Vegan is the new cool

With traditionally meat-based cuisine, heavy on the stomach as in most of Eastern Europe, Bucharest has turned to vegan food seeking healthier nutrition. Abiding by the creed of ‘we are what we eat’, Barca restaurant offers the most diverse raw vegan menu in town.

Marked with one, two or three stars – depending on the time it takes to make a dish – each order is prepared on the spot for utmost freshness. A former self-declared carnivore, owner and chef Ciprian Panait credits Barca for improving his life. Almond sushi is a plentiful raw vegan starter, along with a side of artichoke pesto. The cooked dishes, however, cleverly fool and tingle your taste buds. The usually heartyciorba de burtă (tripe soup) is an honest replica of the original, only mushrooms replace the tripe and cashew cream replaces dairy cream. Similarly, the ‘steak with French fries’ is a brilliant vegan alternative with grilled oyster mushrooms doubling as steak, and celery sticks as fries.

Recently opened Arome – named after the Romanian word for ‘flavours’ – comes as a hip alternative in the heart of Bucharest. A bright and cozy design of yellow hues goes in tandem with the fresh ingredients served in this urban cafe. Go for a colourful soup if only for the delight of being served from a teapot.

Craft beer revolution

Romania’s capital is one of Europe’s top 10 cheapest cities to have a beer, according to the 2016 GoEuro Beer Price Index. Bucharesters love their beer, usually accompanying a meal of mici (literally ‘small ones’), grilled ground-meat rolls served with mustard in outdoor markets. With more than a dozen beer houses in town, the devotion to beer goes back toCaru’ cu Bere, Bucharest’s oldest brewery operating since 1897.

But with the rise of several microbreweries and the first Bucharest Craft Beer Festival held in September 2016, craft beer is now setting the tone. Zaganu, Sikaru, Nemteana and Hophead are some of the most popular, but Ground Zero – around since 2015 – has both the unique taste and clever marketing down. The first double IPA in Romania, the Imperial Fuck with 9% alcohol is a must-try (for a ‘lighter’ taste with 6% alcohol, try the Morning Glory instead).

For the biggest selection head to Piua Book Bar, a cozy book bar and social playground on two floors in an architecturally rich area of Bucharest, or URBN Supply Co in the Old Town, a contemporary lifestyle boutique and venue for countercultural art events.