Monthly Archives: September 2016

a legendary tour of Pembrokeshire

On a lonely road near the village of Eglwyswrw in Pembrokeshire, I pull over as instructed and check my position. I can see the crags up on the ridge to my left, and I can see the boggy ground between. This must be the spot. I set off on foot up the squelchy, tussocky slope, picking a circuitous path towards the ridge and those distinctive crags, part of the Preseli hills.

The Welsh tourist board has dubbed 2017 a Year of Legends to celebrate the land’s epic past, with events and new routes encouraging visitors to explore. Pembrokeshire is particularly rich in history and I’m trying out part of the recently unveiled 118-mile Legends Cycle Route, as well as the pick-and-mix Legends Tombstone Trail, which covers all of south-west Wales (both can be done by either bike or car).

Pembrokeshire map

The place is thick with antiquity: forts, settlements, burial chambers and cairns, plus innumerable references to King Arthur. Little wonder JRR Tolkein loved the area. Every hollow and hillock seems imbued with deep significance and dark secrets. The Legends route starts in Neath, the other side of Swansea, but I’m covering the last 25 miles of it before picking up the Pembrokeshire section of the Tombstone Trail, finishing almost as far west as you can go, in St Davids.

The Preseli hills are not high – just 536 metres at their highest point – but they make up for lack of stature in austere drama. I get my first taste of this from the top, looking west across a landscape of bogs, crags and treeless slopes. This ridge line is reputedly the ancient Golden Road along which gold mined in Ireland’s Wicklow hills was transported to southern England. I climb to the highest set of boulders, marvelling at their boxy geometry. Am I imagining that slight bluish tint to their smooth flat surfaces? Is there something unusual in this rock formation? Like it was manmade long ago? A tremor of excitement hits me.

My journey into the myths and legends of north Pembrokeshire started just the day before, and with a spot of good luck. A glamping site on a farm called Ffynnon Samson, just south of the Preseli hills, proves to be a charming place with a campfire and great views of the Milky Way, and its welcoming owners, Emily and Matt Marl, turn out to be inspirational travel gurus for the region.

Taking me on a tour of the farm, Emily has a flood of useful tips – places to walk, swim, eat and drink – and some unexpected gems: “There’s a ring of standing stones at Gors Fawr [a few miles to the north-east]. If you jump up and down three times in the exact centre, you’ll drop through a portal into another world.” And more practically: “The pub in Rosebush is excellent, and Welsh-speaking. When Matt was learning, he tried to order in Welsh and got “ice” mixed up with “sex” – rhew and rhyw. It does make a difference.”

While I’m trying to imagine Matt demanding, “a Coke with plenty of sex”, Emily is on to the next thing: “Don’t miss Pentre Ifan burial chamber – wonderful at sunset.”

My notebook is brimming with ideas for side trips off my main route when Emily delivers her killer line: “You know they mined the Stonehenge bluestones just up the road?”

That was the one that got me. That would be my starting point. That was how I ended up climbing Three Cairns hill to Foel Drygarn fort and taking the Golden Road, wondering how on earth those massive stones could have been transported 150 miles to Wiltshire. It is still a total mystery. For me the other big mystery is why this lonely Welsh mountain has more soul than Stonehenge. One reason may be that much of Wales has maintained a deep connection of language and landscape, an unbroken centuries-old relationship. And with that connection, the legends linger.

 

The five best restaurants in Addis Ababa

Oda Cultural Restaurant and Cafe

Inside the Oromo Cultural Center is the Oda Restaurant and Cafe, which you might recognise from Anthony Bourdain’s Ethiopia visit onNo Reservations. The Oromo are one of the largest ethnic groups in eastern Africa, and the Center’s restaurant showcases the best of Oromo culture. The hall is furnished with pinewood-carved furniture and curtains made of traditional fabric. Injera made of tikur teff (a black grain about the size of a poppy seed considered to be more nutritious than the more refined white teff), spiced butter and beso (roasted and ground barley) are at the heart of Oromo cuisine. Chumbo is prepared with black teff baked thick and yoghurt, cheese, and spiced butter spilled on top so that it looks like cake. Buna qalaa (roasted coffee dipped in butter) is a cultural snack that gives coffee deeper flavours. The Oromo Cultural Center is near the National Stadium.

Puagmea African Restaurant

Addis Ababa is the diplomatic capital of the Africa, so every country on the landmass is represented here. To sample cuisine from all over the continent without travelling too far, head to Puagmea African Restaurant. Located near the Bole International Airport behind the DHGeda Tower, Puagmea is decked out with paintings, traditional chairs and the coffee ceremony décor typical to Ethiopia. Among the dishes on the menu are ugali (a staple of the Great Lakes region made of millet, corn or sorghum boiled into a sticky porridge) and nyama choma (a Kenyan dish of grilled bone-in lamb, chicken or Nile perch fish). Live music is also on the table with DJs on Thursday nights and jazz on Saturday evenings.

Chane’s Restaurant

In the heart of the Cazanches district near a stack of popular chain hotels, delicious Ethiopian fare is served up in a centuries-old house once owned by a military hero. The house preserves the 19th-century way of life with old artworks and black-and-white photographs of royals and foreign dignitaries. From the kitchen drifts the aroma of traditional Ethiopian dishes served by the famous chef Chanyalew Mekonen (aka Chane). After cooking at the German Embassy and preparing meals for the Emperor of Ethiopia, he’s now running the show at his own restaurant. He serves a limited selection of dishes, many of which he has invented.

Don’t leave without trying Ethiopia’s favourite dish, the doro wat (a spicy chicken stew that can be tempered with injera and mild goat cheese). On Wednesdays and Fridays, traditional fasting days when no animal products should be eaten, shiro wat (a mild nutty-tasting stew made from chickpea flour) is served instead. Although shiro is a common and easily made dish, Chane’s shiro is widely regarded as the best in town.

Yod Abyssinia

Yod Abyssinia highlights all of the cultures and cuisines that Ethiopia has to offer. A lot of effort has been put in to make the place look as authentic as possible. The spacious main hall is designed to resemble a typical hut and is full of eye-catching materials, from traditional hand-woven curtains to serving dishes made of woven grass. Diners sit at the traditional tables and chairs, wide, short wooden tables surrounded by three-legged stools. Yod Abyssinia serves nearly all of the dishes from the country’s many ethnicities, and the food is presented by culturally dressed staff. During the day, the mood is calm and relaxed, but at night, the meal is accompanied by a traditional music and dance performance. Pack your dancing shoes because guests are encouraged to join in. You’ll find Yod Abyssinia behind the Millennium Hall in Bole, near the airport.

Brundo Butchery

Ethiopia is home to people of diverse ethnicities, and the mix of their tastes and cultures has produced some amazing cuisine. Raw meat is one of most the highly regarded Ethiopian dishes, and it’s usually reserved for special occasions. Even if you’re not celebrating, you can try one of Brundo’s many popular meat dishes, such as kurt (raw meat taken from the choicest parts of an ox) and tibs (cooked beef tips).

However, the restaurant is best known for its kitfo, which is made from the softest and reddest parts of the meat, which is ground and mixed with spiced butter and mitmita (a spice made of ground birds eye chilli pepper, salt, cardamom seeds and cloves). If you don’t like the taste of the raw meat, ask for a heated kitfo, called kitfo leb leb, which looks like highly seasoned minced beef. Tej, a traditional Ethiopian alcohol made from fermented honey, is the perfect accompaniment to such a meal and is also served here.

Copenhagen’s neighbourhoods Guide

Indre By: the tourist hub

The popular inner city is the heart of Copenhagen, and its most visited neighbourhood. Nyhavn is just one of many major sights in this part of the city, which is also home to the family-friendly Tivoli Gardensamusement park, Strøget, the lively pedestrianised shopping street, and the fabled Little Mermaid statue, which sits right on the edge of the city centre.

This historic area is a fantastic place to explore many of the city’s cobblestone streets, charming squares, and excellent museums. At the royal residence of Amalienborg Slot, visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard and try to get a glimpse of the Queen, while Christiansborg Palace offers a look into the workings of Denmark’s monarchy and government.

Indre By is also a foodie paradise, home to many of the city’s top restaurants, including Michelin-starred AOC and Kokkeriet, the more modest yet fabulous Höst and Uformel, as well as the wonderful market Torvehallerne, packed with vendors selling fresh produce.

Though it’s not the easiest place to go off the beaten path, the abundance of sights, flavours, and experiences in bustling Indre By, combined with its lively atmosphere, makes it a must-see for any visitor.

Vesterbro: the happening hotspot

Once the most destitute area of the city, Vesterbro is still Copenhagen’s red-light district, though it’s not quite as seedy as similar areas in Amsterdam or Berlin. The neighbourhood’s vintage shops and summertime street markets give it a local and independent vibe, while the street art here is perhaps the best in the city.

Vesterbro is a neighbourhood in transition, with an emerging reputation for good food and family living. Amid the sex shops and erotic dance clubs sit fashionable cafes like Mad & Kaffe, craft breweries including the acclaimed Mikkeller, and family-friendly parks such as the unique Skyebanehave. Kødbyen – The Meatpacking District – is chock full of fantastic restaurants featuring everything from innovative seafood at Kødbyens Fiskebar to down-home barbecue and beers at WarPigs.

Nørrebro: the melting pot

Vibrant Nørrebro sits just across Queen Louise’s bridge from Indre By, but has a completely different feel. Arguably the most diverse area of Copenhagen, the streets of Nørrebro are a mishmash of international grocery and clothing shops, lined up alongside secondhand stores and independent coffee shops.

Restaurants here run the gamut from Michelin-starred Relæ and Kiin Kiin (kiin.dk), to the noodles and pub food of craft beer meccas Ramen to Biiru (ramentobiiru.dk) and Nørrebro Bryghus. International flavours are well represented too, with restaurants such as Ma’ed Ethiopian (facebook.com/Maed-Ethiopian-Restaurant), and the legendary Kebabistan on Nørrebrogade.

Jægersborggade, once a haunt of bikers and drug dealers, is now home to quirky shops selling everything from liquid nitrogen ice cream to cacti, while Ravnsborggade tempts with antique and vintage shops.

Assistens Kirkegård cemetery is not only the resting place of famous Danes like Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kirkegaard, but also acts as a leafy green space perfect for quiet strolls. The sense of diversity and community is perhaps strongest at Superkilen, a unique and colourful park space furnished with sculptural pieces from around the world, representing an international spirit.

Østerbro: the suburb in the city

The least touristed of Copenhagen’s major neighbourhoods, upmarket Østerbro is a great place to get a glimpse of local life. Mainly residential, Østerbro offers an escape from the visiting crowds while still providing plenty of opportunities for dining, shopping, and enjoying the outdoors. The main street, Østerbrogade, is packed with exclusive boutiques such as Normann Copenhagen, in addition to coffee shops and cafes, including a branch of the fabulous porridge cafe Grød.

The expansive Fælledparken is a green oasis in the shadow of Parken Stadium (parken.dk), the unlikely home of Denmark’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Geranium. Take in the area with a stroll along the easternmost of Copenhagen’s chain of lakes, or admire the colourful homes on Brumleby and Olufsvej.

Christianshavn: the intriguing island

Boats line the picturesque, Amsterdam-inspired canal of this artificial island in the city centre, lending a maritime feel. Locals sit along the water’s edge in the summer months, enjoying a picnic or a cold drink, while brave souls can climb the 400 steps up the golden spiral spire of the Church of Our Saviour for sweeping views of Copenhagen. The very modern Copenhagen Opera House is also found here, directly across the harbour from Amalienborg Palace.

In contrast is the Free Town of Christiania, a 34-hectare patch of land home to a commune-style alternative society formed in 1971.