.

Keukenhof Gardens. A Photo Essay

One of the best spring destinations ever, is the Keukenhof Gardens in Netherlands. Situated amongst gorgeous bulb fields, the gardens in themselves are an example of perfection. They had been on our list for years, and finally making it there was such a great experience!

The gardens are large enough to spend a whole day walking around and taking photos, plus a boat ride through the colorful bulb fields nearby is also available from next to the Keukenhof windmill. A truly authentic Dutch experience any flower lover should not miss!

And after taking in all the spring colors inside Keukenhof, biking though the bulb fields is also a must do.

We hope you’ll enjoy this photo essay. We loved every minute we spent there!










Take Your Music With You. Supertooth Disco 3 Portable Speaker

Bluetooth speakers are in fashion and these days all models and sizes can be found. In such a competitive market it can be hard to stand out. The SuperTooth Disco 3 manages this firstly by coming in 5 eye catching colors, like our candy pink, secondly by having a ridiculously long battery life.


The SuperTooth Disco 3 grabbed my attention due to its defiantly shaped speaker. It’s only 546 grams so it’s not heavy, gaining points also with the portability factor. They coupled this with a great sound. I was also surprised about the volume levels. The SuperTooth Disco 3 is very loud. I wouldn't call it a bass heavy speaker but it’s a good all around performer. I use it mostly for relaxing music streamed directly from my phone.

The unit features two speakers on the front and a bass unit at the back, pumping out 12W of power. So I would say that the sound is ideal for home use, while you lounge on the sofa, or you can keep it on the bedside table. In fact, I think it looks perfect there.


Have I mentioned the battery life of the SuperTooth Disco 3? I love it. If you’re blasting tunes at full volume you’ll get an impressive 3-4 hours. But if you don't listen music at the loudest volume possible, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible 15 hours of playback time.


My verdict: The SuperTooth Disco 3 is a great all round performer, and comes at a very low price. A good device that delivers what it promises, and looks unique while doing it.


Technical specifications
High volume: 3 to 4 hours
Medium volume: 15 hours
Stand-by time: 2 000 hours
Charging time: 3 hours
Battery type: Lithium-Ion Power pack battery
Bluetooth version 4.0
Stereo streaming of music files via Bluetooth A2DP profile, 
from any mobile phone or PC equipped with the same technology
Outstanding audio quality
Operating range : 10 meters
Frequency : 2,4 GHz

The Islands of the Indian Ocean

When most people picture an idyllic holiday scene it will involve an island set in clear blue waters with stunning beaches and an unspoiled natural habitat.

For anyone looking to make that mental image a reality, the islands of the Indian Ocean are where they should be headed.

Many of the varied collection of land masses that make up the islands are close to the coastlines of continents but others lie hundreds of miles out to sea. Essentially, everyone's vision of paradise is there somewhere waiting to be discovered.



Ocean

The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world and is famed for its warm waters which nurture spectacular tropical islands.

Madagascar, with its unique endemic wildlife and interesting culture, is located just off the coast of Africa and is the third largest island in the world. Mauritius and Reunion are equally famous and are known for spectacular beaches, whilst the many islands of the Maldives and the Seychelles offer top class facilities as well as nature's own blessings.

Travel

Getting to and from the islands is easy and you can book through American Express to make the whole process simple and straightforward. Of course by using your credit card you have all the usual consumer protections, and you can also access many other services such as detailed information, support, insurance and rewards.

The Islands

With so many wonderful islands to choose from it can be difficult to decide on where to go each time you visit.

Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania is a great island destination and Lamu Island on the coast of Kenya is another East African choice. Just off the coast of Mozambique the Quirimbas Archipelago and the Bazaruto Archipelago both offer many separate islands too.

Some of the best known islands are part of the 115 which make up the archipelago known as the Seychelles, which lie in the western waters of the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Famous for their welcome and also the top of the range facilities, the natural beauty of the islands is the icing on the cake.

Mauritius is a real tropical paradise brought to life, with deep blue seas and an air of
peace and tranquillity, it is also where cultures including French, British, Indian, Chinese and Creole all come together to form something truly unique.

Perhaps the most impressive of all is the Republic of Madagascar, an impressively large island nation off the eastern coast of Africa which is home to a spectacular array of wildlife.

A Day Trip from Valencia. Traditional Paella, A Typical Farm And Orange Groves





Paella, the world famous Spanish rice dish, was  born in the villages surrounding Valencia and the nearby Albufera lagoon.

The locals insist the most traditional and best paella can be found in these villages, so when the Valencia Tourist Board invited us to a paella lunch in a barraca outside the city, we gladly accepted.

We arrived at Barraca Toni Montoliu after a short metro journey. And from the moment we stepped on the property's grounds, we were transported back in time, to the more innocent years of our childhood when our grandparents were still with us and had a similar farm.

We were welcomed with a tray of freshly baked pumpkin that we later had for dessert.


And shortly after, we were invited to tour the farm, to meet the cute animals and visit the garden. We were given the option to collect by ourselves the ingredients for the salad we were about to have, if so we wished. 





The well cared for vegetable garden, the open space of the countryside, the fresh air and the quiet environment, was in great contrast with the bustling atmosphere of the not so distant city of Valencia, the third largest city in Spain. 

On the other hand, we were walking on narrow dirt paths with our fancy shoes, DSLRs in hand and a clearly urban attitude, making the gap seem even wider! Nevertheless, the peaceful surroundings were so inviting and they had a soothing effect, helping us relax. No wonder the siesta was invented here!

Next, we were invited by Señor Toni, the owner of the barraca, to assist him in the cooking of the paella. 

We were explained every step of the process, from the olive oil and the meat to the rice, including a pre-lunch tasting. 

Paella is not supposed to be a fancy dish. It was first cooked in the villages and invented by people with little resources, so the ingredients used were the ones at hand. The original paella (paella valenciana) is made with rabbit, chicken and snails. Other variations, like the seafood paella were invented latter. However, no Valencian would ever mix meat with seafood when preparing a paella.




Cooking the paella over a wood burning fire gives it a special flavor. This is how they do it at the paella competitions that run on the streets of Valencia during Las Fallas festival. And this is how the gigantic paella we had a few days ago was made.

Nevertheless, this paella was being cooked in a paellero, a special, barbecue like place that stops the air from moving and lets the smoke of the wood give the paella an extra fragrance. Traditionally, the wood used comes from the nearby orange groves and the smoke gives the paella a certain flavor. Even the water used for the paella can make a difference and only using water from Valencia and the nearby region would result in a purest paella dish.

While waiting, we were served artisanal beer, groundnuts and lima beans snacks to kill the hunger. The smell of the paella being cooked right next to us was stimulating our appetite.



After the chicken and rabbit meat were done, the vegetables and snails were added.




And eventually the rice. Paella is made with bomba rice, a variety of rice that stands out for its short, almost round grain that absorbs three times its volume in water. The rice used at Barraca Toni Montoliu is the Tartana rice, harvested in the Albufera Nature Reserve. The Tartana rice has been cultivated by the same family over five generations and it makes for a delicious, gourmet paella. 



Minutes later, our paella was ready!


And it was time to move from the shadows of the trees in the courtyard, inside the restaurant.


We started lunch with the freshest of salads. The philosophy of Barraca Toni Montoliu is 'from farm to the table' and this was quite possible the best salad we had in a very long time. Seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, of course!


Needless to say, the paella that followed was the best we've ever had!


And the dessert was a choice of baked pumpkin and orange slices from the nearby orchard, both accompanied by honey and nuts. A must try combination!


The pride Señor Toni was taking in his farm and cuisine was contagious. And his hospitality had no limits. 

We finished with bombon, a delicious combination of espresso and condensed milk.


We lingered a while longer for the siesta, and just when we were about to leave for a ride through the countryside, a plate of steaming buñuelos de calabaza (pumpkin buñuelos) was presented to us. We had no choice but to give in. This proved to be the most delicious ending to our lunch.


While waiting for the horse and carriage to arrive, we took a tour of the ethnographic museum, where a wealth of farm tools used in the past were on display. Señor Toni tries to uphold the traditions and still uses horses to work the land. 



We also met a bunch of cats. The crazy cat lady in me was very happy with such encounters.


Next we went for a horse and carriage ride...



We made a stop to pick some oranges on the way. We had never picked oranges from a tree before, and this was an experience we were really looking forward to.



Our last stop was at this typical barraca that Señor Toni build himself. He was eager to invite us inside and very proud of it too. 


Returning back to Valencia, we just couldn't believe all the things we had seen, tasted and experienced in one single day. Barraca Toni Montoliu is not a place you will find in the regular guidebooks, though it should definitely be there. Barraca Toni Montoliu  is a rather well kept secret that not even the majority of locals know about. If you want to experience and learn about the heart of Valencia region first hand, then a visit here is a must.

Barraca Toni Montoliu is easily accessible from the center of Valencia. Just take the metro to Meliana and after a 5 minutes walk you'll find yourself in the countryside, at Señor Toni's restaurant and farm. You can find the contact details here.

Playing With Fire at Las Fallas in Valencia

Out of all festivals we've been to, Las Fallas is the one we hold most dear. Going on during the first part of March in Valencia, its most crazy days are from the 15th to the 19th. (to fully understand all the complexities of this festival, please read this post)

Las Fallas is noisy and bright. And the protagonists are the fire and the firecrackers.

Plus we love walking on streets covered in a million colorful lights.


Las Fallas is one of those festivals that you either love or hate. With over 3 million people crowding on the streets of Valencia, each of them trying to make louder noises than their neighbors, it's hard to get a good night's sleep during Las Fallas. And joining the party is the only option. 


You are never too young or too old to play with firecrackers. Even toddlers do it! It's fun! And if you do it right, quite safe too.



But the loudest event of them all is the mascletá. Held at 2PM in front of the Town Hall, the mascletá is the most awesome pyrotechnic concert ever. Hundreds of colorful gun powder sacks hanging from ropes go BUM and BANGS in a matter of 5 to 10 minutes every day. 

The mascletá is one of the biggest attractions of Las Fallas and people gather in front of the Town Hall hours in advance to get the best spot. 



And since we are in Valencia, paella couldn't miss either. We joined the crowds for this gigantic paella Valenciana for 1,500 people. Cooked right there in the middle of the street, it turned out to be a delicious lunch. And it only cost 3,5EURO, drink included. 


On the last day of the fiesta, announcing the burning of over 700 fallas monuments spread around the city, the purification of the spirit and a new start, the fire parade was a dazzling experience. Girls dressed in awesome costumes, more fire and fireworks made us held our breath for a long and precious hour. 




And there's something romantic about this festival. It catches life mostly after dark at the light of fires. Walking the streets in search for pretty and humorous fallas and great photo opportunities, we found plenty of restaurants where dinner was served at candle light. 


But then the final, grand act of the festival came, just barely after midnight. All the gorgeous fallas, so carefully built during the past year, were set to fire. It's a sad and happy event at the same time. While we were holding cameras in hand, the hit of the relatively distant fire burning our faces, squeezed together by the curious and amazed crowd around us, both of us were transfixed. 

We had seen fallas burning before, but never the one in front of the Town Hall. And this year the Town Hall falla was a gorgeous wonder. Representing Moises, it was mostly made out of wood rather then papier-mâché. And it burned in spectacular ways. We could see the fire building from the inside, reducing the huge statue to ashes in a matter of minutes. 

Out with the old, in with the new! While watching the flames rising 30 meters towards the sky, I could literally feel all my troubles go away. Best therapy ever!