What to see in Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 3 days

If you are planning a trip to the UK you need to add Scotland, or Aberdeenshire to be more precise, to the list. Did you know that with 263 castles, stately homes and ruins, Aberdeenshire has more castles per acre than any other area of the UK?

Fyvie Castle Aberdeenshire

That said, my trip has started with a castle visit. Fyvie Castle is a great example of Scottish Baronial architecture, and it’s pink in colour (another castle called Cragievar has become quite popular recently due to its pink colour). The castle has wonderful art and antique collection, and as every Scottish castle, it has its own ghost story wonderfully shared by the castle’s knowledgeable guides. 

For more information about the most beautiful castles in Scotland have a look at my previous post here.

Fyvie Castle

Fyvie castle has many beautiful rooms but the Music Gallery pictured below was my favourite.

Fyvie Castle

A very unusual place to visit in the area is Peterhead Prison Museum. The former Victorian HM Convict Prison had the first state-owned railway in the UK and part of the history saw the only time the SAS (Special Air Service) was used to end a domestic siege in Britain. The museum shows what life in prison is like, a very special but slightly nerve-wracking experience.

Peterhead Prison museum

After the museum visit, you need a good lunch and what better place to enjoy it than The Kilmarnock Arms Hotel. In the late 1800s this hotel was a regular vacation spot for Bram Stoker while he wrote Dracula. His signature can still be seen in the guestbook of the hotel.

We stayed overnight at Meldrum House, a four-star country hotel complete with a golf course and famous for its Cave Bar that dates back 800 years. 

Our dinner was accompanied by address to a haggis, a poem by Robert Burns that is usually recited on Burns night. Quite a performance I must say! The hotel also offers a vegetarian option of the haggis in case you a slightly opposed to trying the regular one.

We then visited the newly opened Braemar Highland Games Centre dedicated to Highland games. This is where the famous Braemar gathering takes place (not to mention all the royal connections).

Braemar Highland games centre

One of the other highlights of the trip was a visit to the charming fishing village of Footdee (locals call it Fittie) located at the east end of Aberdeen’s harbour. The area has had a settlement as far back as the Medieval times and is currently known for its tiny colourful cottages with quirky details.

Footdee
Footdee
Footdee

After a wander around the area, stop for a lunch of fish and chips at the Silver Darling. In addition to the delicious food, the restaurant also offers great views of the harbour - just perfect for dolphin spotting!

Moving on to Aberdeen, Scotland's third largest city. Did you know that it grew out of two distinct communities - New Aberdeen and Old Aberdeen? Old Aberdeen was originally a separate burgh. It is home to King’s College, the forerunner to the University of Aberdeen. The area’s cobbled streets and historic buildings make you step back in time.

Don’t miss Brig o' Balgownie - possibly Scotland's oldest surviving bridge and Powis Gates (pictured in the bottom right corner) inspired by Turkish-style minarets.

Aberdeen

In New Aberdeen, have a look at the grand Marischal College, founded in 1593 - a true icon of Aberdeen and the second largest granite building in the world.

Aberdeen St Marchar's cathedral

Since 2017 thanks to Nuart Festival walls around Aberdeen have been transformed by street art and now boast numerous brightly coloured murals and various pieces of street art. Some of them are fun, provocative and inspirational adding a fresh vibe to the city.

Aberdeen street art

If you are into museums, don’t miss the Aberdeen Maritime Museum that brilliantly shows the city’s long relationship with the sea. The museum is conveniently situated on the historic Shiprow in the heart of the city near the harbour.

For dinner in Aberdeen, I can highly recommend Vovem where we had delicious seafood (for some) and burgers (for others). It’s positioning itself as a steakhouse but their fish and vegetarian options are really good too. 

No visit to Scotland can be complete without a whiskey tasting. We opted for Glen Garioch distillery (pronounced Glen Geery in the ancient Doric dialect still spoken in these parts) - one of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland. 

I was a guest of VisitAberdeenshire. All opinions are my own. 

Exploring coffee culture of West Java, Indonesia

Last month I travelled to Indonesia for the first time. It was also my first time at a coffee plantation which I dreamt of visiting for a long time.

As you might have seen on my Instagram, I’ve been working with Nespresso for a while, and I couldn’t have been more excited when they invited me to visit the coffee farms they work with in West Java as part of their AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme, and to meet the coffee farmers.

JM4A1068.jpg

I didn’t know much about coffee production before and seeing the whole process from bean to cup has made me more appreciative of my daily cup of coffee.

Did you know that Indonesia is currently number 4 coffee producer in the world? The country has a long history of growing coffee - the Dutch brought Arabica coffee plants to Indonesia in the 17th century.  Unfortunately, in the end of the 19th century a huge portion of the coffee plants in the region contracted coffee rust, a fungus that spread very quickly and wiped out entire plantations, devastating the colonial Indonesian coffee industry. 

Coffee farming is currently experiencing a new boom with many farmers switching from growing vegetables to coffee. Nespresso works with about 1000 farmers throughout the country, most of them are small holders with farms of up to 2,5 acres. Most coffee farmers here use traditional organic practices.

Java tea plantation

On the photo above you can see the difference between a tea plantation and a coffee plantation - while tea grows in the sun, coffee needs shade. When planting coffee trees, farmers also plant shade trees. Nespresso has helped the local farmer’s they work with to plant over 100,000 trees in Indonesia over the past 4 years.

The first coffee farm we visited has approximately 2,500 coffee trees. The coffee harvest usually starts in April. The ripe coffee cherries that are ready to be picked are red in colour. Most coffee cherries contain 2 beans.

We made a small contribution to the harvest and had a go at coffee picking ourselves.

Picking coffee cherries West Java
Coffee cherries West Java

The farmers were very friendly and even though they hardly spoke any English, we managed to communicate with just smiles and gestures.

After picking, we joined the farmers for a delicious homemade lunch.

Traditional Indonesian lunch at the coffee farm

After the coffee cherries are picked, they are brought to a wet mill where the pulp is separated from the beans, then the beans are washed and dried in the sun.

Java coffee wet mill community centre

On the middle left image you can see the whole journey of a coffee bean - coffee cherries, wet beans, dry beans and green beans after the parchment covering them is removed. Only afterwards the beans are roasted.

Coffee drying at wet mill in West Java

The dry mill we visited is also a community centre. It was interesting to see that the farmers have no obligation to sell their beans to Nespresso, and are welcome to sell to whoever will pay them the most for their beans.  The beans are sorted by hand and Nespresso only purchases the highest quality beans.

We did coffee cupping where we tried coffee made with underripe and overripe beans and saw how big the difference is!

Coffee cupping
Coffee cupping

The farmers offered us to try a traditional local dessert - sticky rice balls stuffed with palm sugar which were delicious.

A

On the second day in West Java we visited another coffee farm. The frees here are shared as Christmas trees, while the type of coffee is the same - arabica. Both arabica and robusta coffee trees grow in Indonesia but both farms we visited had only arabica plants.

Coffee farm west java Indonesia

We spent some time with the farmers to learn about their challenges and how Nespresso helps them with the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme, and took part in planting new coffee and shade trees. The farmers are encouraged to grow vegetables alongside the coffee plants to provide them with a steady food supply.

Coffee farm West Java

Below are some more photos and our delicious lunch from the day.

Indonesia West Java
West Java Indonesia

The next step in the coffee production process after the wet mill is the dry mill. This is where the parchment covering the beans is removed.

Indonesia dry mill workers
West Java Dry mill coffee production
West Java coffee

To meet Nespresso quality standards, the green beans are sorted by hand before being packed and sent to Switzerland for roasting and capsule production.

We met so many wonderful ladies working at the facility who showed us how to differentiate the good beans from the faulty ones.

On the third and last day of the trip we explored the vibrant coffee culture of Bandung.

Contou coffee shop

Cafe Jardin

Cafe Jardin Bandung
sydwic cafe bandung java

This trip wouldn’t be complete without all the wonderful locals we’ve met. I really hope to return to Indonesia one day to explore the other sides of its culture.

In collaboration with Nespresso. All opinions are my own.

Intagrammer's guide to 48 hours in Singapore

Many people are choosing Singapore as a stopover while travelling to Asia but not many are staying for more than a day. I’d like to show you here that there’s a lot more to see in Singapore than you might think.

Singapore Garden's by the bay

Traditional Peranakan houses

The best spot to see the traditional Peranakan houses is Joo Chiat Road, where you’ll find early 20th century shop-houses, terrace houses and bungalows - in a myriad of rainbow colours! The area is quite residential and is slightly off the centre but a quick trip there is really worth it.

The easiest and cheapest way to get around Singapore is by public transport with an EZ-Link card (similar to Oyster card in London) - it can be purchased from the customer service counters at MRT (underground) stations for $12 (this includes a $5 nonrefundable deposit). You can use it both in buses and underground. Taxis are also reasonably priced, download Grab app (analogue of Uber).

Singapore Peranakan houses

Gardens by the Bay

If you have a limited amount of time in Singapore, one spot not to miss is Gardens by the Bay. They look equally amazing during the day and at night.

Singapore Gardens by the bay
Singapore Gardens by the bay

While the gardens are free to visit, you’ll need to purchase separate tickets to go inside the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

Flower Dome Gardens by the bay

For a different perspective of the gardens and the surrounding Marina Bay area go on a Skyway (a separate ticket is required but it’s worth it). Make sure to be around the Surertree Grove at 7:45pm or 8:45pm for a spectacular free light and music show Garden Rhapsody.

There’s another free light and water show Spektra at Marina Bay Sands. Both shows are really beautiful and worth watching if you have time.

Marina bay sands Singapore

Little India

One of the most vibrant areas of Singapore is Little India. Don’t miss the colourful Residence of Tan Teng Niah, one of the last surviving Chinese villas in the area.

Little India Singapore

Another famous Instagram spot is the rainbow coloured MICA Building, or the "Old Hill Street Police Station", one of Singapore's most colourful colonial buildings. 

JM4A1442.jpg

Chinatown

When in Singapore, you can’t miss the Chinatown - perfect for trying all the street food and admiring the colourful Peranakan shop-houses.

Chinatown Singapore

Orchard

Nowadays the area is most famous as a shopping destination but I went there mainly to visit the modern Library@Orchard located inside the shopping centre Orchard Central.

After admiring the library, don’t miss Emerald Hill Road just off Orchard Road, lined up with traditional houses and a cool bar with quirky interiors in one of the shop-houses.

The Pinnacle at Duxton

I didn’t have an opportunity to visit any other viewpoints in the city but the 360 views from the Pinnacle at Duxton are quite impressive. It’s a residential building with a public rooftop on the 50th floor. Getting access to the rooftop is a little tricky - you need to have a transport EZ-link card I mentioned earlier (you’ll have to tap it to get in and out) and $6 cash to pay the entrance fee.

Pinnacle at the Duxton
Pinnacle at the Duxton

Artscience Museum

The building of the museum surrounded by water lilies is very interesting to see on its own. If you have time pop into the Future World exhibition - fun both for kids and adults.

Marina bay sands

Chinese Gardens

Located well off the city centre Chinese gardens are a piece of calm in the busy city and a nice place to hide from the heat. Plus there’s a free viewing point on top of the 7-Storey Pagoda.

Chinese garden Sungapore

Other places to consider

The famous Marina Bay Sands hotel with an infinity swimming pool. You can get to the Observation Deck for $23 without staying at the hotel.

Haji Lane and Arab Street

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Jewel at Changi airport

Autumn in Smaland, Southern Sweden

While we are all patiently waiting for spring to arrive in London, let me show you the wonderful autumnal colours of Smaland, a province in southern Sweden I visited back in October last year. 

This beautiful area is packed with picturesque lakes, pine and spruce forests and is just great for everything outdoors. It’s also home to Sweden’s famous children’s book author, Astrid Lindgren (think Pippi Longstoking). Some of her most well-known books are set in Smaland. 

DSCF6212.jpg

Our trip has started with an overnight stay at one of Smaland’s manor houses, Vastana Manor. As we arrived when it was already dark, it took us all morning to admire the house’s fascinating details.

We then headed to the old town of Granna, famous for its wooden red houses and rock candy making. You can find a few shops along the main street and have a go at making your own peppermint rock, which we willingly did. It’s such a fun process to watch and try! 

Granna Sweden

A walk around Granna to admire the red timber houses.

Granna Sweden
Granna Sweden

My favourite Swedish tradition that I happily adopted is ‘fika’ - a break with a coffee and a sweet pastry (Swedish cinnamon buns are just the best!) shared with your friends, colleagues or relatives. Of course, we stopped for a fika in Granna.

Granna is also known for its delicious organic ice cream (I opted for lingonberry, red berries common in Sweden) and crisp bread.

Granna ice cream

After savouring all the delicacies we boarded a ferry to Visingso island. 

Visingso Sweden
Visingso Sweden
Visingso Sweden

Surprisingly, there’s a muesli making facility on the island, home of Susanne Dalsatt and her family who have been producing organic muesli since 1972! 

Visingso muesli

A few more pretty red houses and autumnal hues of Smaland taken on the way to our next destination.

Smaland Sweden
Smaland Sweden

Have you ever heard about Bruno Mathsson? - I haven’t before this trip but this furniture designer and architect is well known in Sweden. His designs are really interesting and were way too modern for his time! Bruno Mathsson carefully studied the mechanics of sitting in search of the perfect sitting curve for his chairs’ designs.

Bruno Mathsson

We visited Bruno Mathsson Centre in Varnamo and saw his birth home which now houses a museum/showroom of his furniture (photos above). We were also lucky to be able to visit Bruno’s and his wife Karen’s house in Tanno. It was built in 1964 has been basically left untouched since the couple lived there.

Bruno Mathsson house

Autumn truly is the best time to visit Smaland - just look at those colours and patterns!

Smaland Sweden

This local specialty is called raggmunk - a dish made from grated potatoes, bacon and lingonberries. Not pictured here - a super fun Segway cross-country adventure we shared at Isaberg Mountain Resort.

I was a guest of Visit Smaland. All opinions are my own.