Monthly Archives: February 2017

Great shore excursions in Alaska

Cruising has made Alaska’s once-impenetrable wilderness accessible to millions. But to really get a feel for the unforgiving landscapes that made erstwhile gold rush ‘stampeders’ quiver in their boots, you need to get off the ship and stretch your legs a little. Here are a few very Alaskan things to do in some of the classic ports of call that dot the 49th state’s rugged shoreline.

 

Totem poles in Ketchikan

Ketchikan – or Alaska’s First City, as it announces itself to visitors who’ve just cruised up from Canada – is a master of many things, rainy-day kayaking and boat trips through misty fiords among them. But, the city really excels in native totem poles. Totems are unique to the Pacific Northwest region, more specifically the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes who have inhabited these lands for millennia. For the best introduction to the art, proceed to the Totem Heritage Center in town which explains totem history with fascinating displays of bygone poles. Next, head several miles south to Saxman Village where you can see native carvers in action and peruse an outdoor cluster of more unusual poles. Finally, wander in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation through waterside Totem Bight State Park. To visit all three locations, consider renting a bicycle from Southeast Exposure near the cruise dock.

Where to eat: Bar Harbor Restaurant
Coming to Alaska and not trying the fish is like going to Rome and eschewing the pizza. Start your pescetarian life on Ketchikan’s waterfront with inventive dishes involving salmon and halibut.

 

Ziplining in Juneau

If you’re intent on soaring like a bald eagle on a high-flying zipline, you might as well do it above the largest temperate rainforest in the world. Ziplines are a common lure for adventurous travelers these days, but few are as high, long or authentically wild as the nine cables and two suspension bridges that hang over the Eaglecrest Ski Area on Douglas Island close to Alaska’s diminutive capital, Juneau. Get lucky and you could be looking down on black bears or looking up at bald eagles as you glide faster than Usain Bolt through the misty green canopy. Alaska Zipline Adventures offers safe, family-appropriate excursions. Boat transport from Juneau’s cruise terminal over to the tall trees of Douglas Island is thrown in.

Best vegan restaurants

Berlin is a bustling bohemian hub that welcomes all kinds of people, and caters to all kinds of diets. Vegan and vegetarian food is easy to find in the German capital, with most restaurants and cafes taking care to provide a range of choices to those who live a vegan lifestyle. Some even go the extra mile and provide completely vegan menus. Here are 10 local favourites for totally animal-free dining.

 

Comfort food at Brammibal’s Donuts

In full view of the picturesque Landwehr Canal, Brammibal’s Donutshas been providing completely plant-based treats to Kreuzberg’s hungry masses since the popularity of their product forced them to evolve from a quaint street stall to a true brick-and-mortar location. They offer a range of awesome donuts, like the sweet-and-savory Salted Caramel Hazelnut, or their light and airy Banana Peanut Fudge. They also have an eclectic vegan brunch and lunch menu including grilled cheese sandwiches, french toast, and heaving breakfast plates loaded with goodies.

 

Relax, shop and eat at Valladares Feinkost

Tucked away on a serene side street in the quiet district of Moabit, Valladares Feinkost is a triple threat – an entirely vegan cafe, a restaurant, and a mini grocery store all rolled into one. They offer creative dishes like BBQ pulled jackfruit burgers and seitan kebabs so expertly crafted that meat-eaters would hardly know the difference. Other comforting favourites like hot dogs and burritos are also on the menu, along with the usual cafe fare of cakes, coffees and bagels.

 

Ice cream and brunch at geh Veg

Another vegan paradise in the heart of Moabit, geh Veg offers up soy-based ice cream to hungry locals along with an exciting selection of bagels, smoothies, and colourful breakfast plates loaded with tempeh, sweet potato, and flavoursome vegan spreads like tomato-basil butter. The iced coffee is a wonderful treat in this small cafe, foregoing typical ice cubes for two scoops of their vegan ice cream. Is there any better way to treat yourself on a sunny Sunday morning?

Pacific Northwestern riff on the popular beaches

OK, so maybe the sand along Alki Beach isn’t a picturesque stretch of pristine white shoreline, but it’s got its own Pacific Northwest charm. It’s interrupted by massive driftwood trees, stripes of seaweed, and kelp pushed in at high tide. Most people who visit Seattle are surprised to learn there’s a beach at all, much less one within a water-taxi ride from downtown.

 

Outdoor activities

Alki Beach is an ideal spot on a sunny day in Seattle. Families flock to the beach during low tide to spend time exploring the small tide pools that emerge as the water in Puget Sound recedes, and they often share the beach with intrepid seagulls and crows seeking a few mussels or crabs among the rocky formations.

Running parallel to the beach, cyclists, runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers can take advantage of a flat, well-maintained path and sidewalk roughly 2.5 miles in length. During nice weather, it’s also common to see Seattleites sunbathing in beach chairs and on towels while others catch rays from kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available for rent. There are also several beach volleyball nets set up for public use, and grills and fire pits are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

Ample food and drink

While Alki Beach stretches from Duwamish Head to the Alki Point Lighthouse, restaurants, bars and cafes, are primarily along the stretch of beach designated as Alki Beach Park. In this area, there are a variety of cuisines to choose from, as well as options for meals throughout the day. Farther east, there are two main restaurant options: Salty’s on Alkifor a great view of the city and equally delicious food, and Marination Ma Kai which serves Hawaiian and Pacific-inspired dishes in an informal dining area.

In the morning, it’s necessary to stop at Top Pot Doughnuts to enjoy an official Seattle Seahawks doughnut and Ovaltine latte before setting out to explore the area. Ampersand Café is another casual, all-day spot with a reputation for delicious, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. There is – of course – also a Starbucks in the area for those seeking an alternative ‘local’ coffee chain.

Lunch options are equally casual. Blue Moon Burgers, a fast-food burger chain in a converted auto garage, is good for a quick bite before renting a bicycle to ride along the beach path. Duke’s Chowder House is another well-known Seattle restaurant; like their South Lake Union location, this Alki Beach restaurant boasts a water view and warming chowder on a gray Seattle day. Lastly, Spud Fish & Chips has a walk-up counter and claims to be Seattle’s original fast food restaurant.

Exploring Portugals star mountain

Despite its incredible natural features – thick forests, hidden lakes and a lofty peak – Portugal’s Serra da Estrela mountain range is often overlooked. It is beautiful, for sure, and offers great opportunities for exploring nature. But look closely and you’ll discover quirkier jackpots, including the region’s own cheese, dog species and design hotspot.

Located in the middle of Portugal, the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela is easy to access. You can reach one of the region’s main villages, Manteigas, via several routes; the most scenic way is from Covilhã, where the road rises steeply through pine forests before reaching a boulder-topped plateau.

 

Take a selfie at Torre, Portugal’s highest peak

Visiting Torre, mainland Portugal’s highest peak (1993m), is a rite of passage for many Portuguese travellers. Ski crowds flock here in winter, while at other times of year visitors come for a selfie by one of the radar stations: giant ‘golf balls’ that are so retro they could beam you back to the 1950s.

 

Meander along the Zêzere Valley

The real beauty lies a couple of kilometres from here, with views of – and a journey along – the Zêzere Valley. It’s one of Portugal’s greatest road trips, best done in spring and summer when the roads are free of ice. East of Torre, the road corkscrews for several kilometres, before straightening out to head north along the valley towards pretty little Manteigas.

The remarkable U-shaped, glacial valley was formed more than 20,000 years ago. Its landscape is strewn with granite outcrops, and here and there, the wiggly lines of man-made terraces traverse the hill. Below is the Zêzere River (the Serra da Estrela is the source of two other rivers, Mondego and Alva), where small shepherd huts dot the shore.

The area is rich in flora and fauna, with over 150 bird species, plus the likes of stags and mountain lizards, otters and wolves.

 

Hit the Trilhos Verdes trail network

There’s no better way to experience the region’s lakes, peaks and gullies than on this superb 200km network of green trails. The walks, with such evocative names as ‘Poço do Inferno’ (Hell’s Well, a lovely waterfall), take between one and eight hours. While many head through cork forests or granite-strewn plateaus, others incorporate cultural landmarks such as churches and historic wells. En route, you can plunge into the various natural lagoons and waterfalls.