My Time Capsule: 2017

11.11.17

Travel Updates: Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia

October 2017




My initial plan was an autumn trip to Romania. I truly enjoyed spending autumn in the Baltics last year and thought Romania would look gorgeous too covered in red goldish foliage. But for some reason the trip was cancelled. Feeling gutted that I had to postpone my date with Count Drakula, my 'Puppy Love' when I was a kid (you are one weird kid indeed, Debbz! πŸ‘»); I changed the destination to the Caucasus. Fortunately it's quite easy for Indonesian passport to obtain Azerbaijan, Georgian and Armenia visa. Yay! It's time to pack and jet off!

Uh oh, not so soon, lady! Unfortunately there was another obstacle. My Dad was down with some abnormal liver function and severe dehydration that he had to be admitted to hospital just 3 weeks before our departure. He had jaundice and his thrombosis dropped to only 70K. We were so ready to fly to Singapore instead and called off our trip. Long story short he recovered well and insisted to go. So here we are again. It's time to (last minute) pack and jet off!



Azerbaijan

Heydar Aliyev International Airport

It's quite a journey for us, started the flight from Malang, my hometown to Jakarta where we catch the flight by Qatar Airways to Baku via Doha. Immigration and custom processs at Heydar Aliyev International Airport was easy peasy, and in a blink of an eye I was already in the arrival hall. So let's begin our adventures...

First thing that caught my attention was that cute taxis parked neatly in the airport!!! I've always looooove vintage cars. It reminds me of the wallet-draining taxi ride in London on my first day school (zone 1) because I had no idea how to get to my new home (zone 3) πŸ˜‚. Okay, back to Baku. I'm really impressed that Baku is really really clean and well organised too.

A trip to Azerbaijan wouldn't complete without a visit to Gobustan National Park where there's tons of ancient carvings from the prehistoric time. I also visited Diri Baba Mausoleum and Yeddi Gumbaz ancient graveyard from the 18th century. Then another stop at Juma Mosque in Shamakhi where the bloodiest massacre occurred in 1918 (around 1700 people perished πŸ’” ).


Gobustan National Park

Baku Old Town

Diri Baba Mausoleum

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum 

covering our hair at Juma Mosque in Shamakhi



Georgia

the City of Love, Sighnaghi

Stayed the night in Sheki, the next morning we headed to Balakan and crossed the Azerbaijan-Georgia border in Lagodekhi. It was a smooth one, definitely nothing to compare the Jordan-Israel border crossing I had a few years back which was pretty terrifying. We then joined a Georgian traditional family lunch at Simonay's house. They introduced me to assorted traditional delicacies such as Khachapuri (Georgian pizza), Shoti (Georgian baguette), Churchkhlea (traditional sweets), Rkatsiteli (homemade wine) and more.

Then before continue the journey to Tbilisi, I spent my afternoon wandering around Sighnaghi. It's called the City of Love because lovey dovey couples can get married at Sighnaghi Wedding House anytime of the day. Yes, it's open 24/7 just like mini mart. Should I named it mini Las Vegas perhaps? πŸ‘―

Spent the next day to explore Tbilisi, started with a cable car ride to Narikala Fortress. I really loved the view from above, over the Mtkvari River and Tbilisi Old Town. In my opinion, Baku is really pretty but Tbilisi is oozing with character. It's sooo charming that I feel like hugging it really tight like a teddy bear doll. Besides historical buildings, the narrow alleys are filled with attractions, restaurants and shops. The cobblestones street and quaint old house with wooden balconies reminds me of Disney film set.


lunch at Simonay's house

cable car ride in Tbilisi

Georgian Orthodox Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi



Armenia

Noravank Monastery

If I have to describe each country in one word: Azerbaijan is alluring, Georgia is charming and Armenia is home. Among the three countries, I found that immigration officers in Armenia are the nicest. There was no anxiety whatsoever when I walked into the control points. Instead the ambiance was very relaxed. I was waiting for my visa to be processed when some curious officers approached me, asking where I am from. "Welcome to Armenia!" They greeted me with a warm smile, even before my passport get stamped πŸ˜†. The people I had met along the trip too are genuinely friendly and helpful and love to smile. There were some occasions when I was clueless and some strangers would approach me trying to help without being asked.

The landscape in Armenia has taken road trip to another level, well at least for me. The diversity really blew my mind. I was enjoying the dense forest view with autumn foliage in full force outside my window when it suddenly became dark as we passing through a light less tunnel. Just in a few minutes, at the end of the tunnel my eyes squinted as I reach daylight again and then voila! The landscape around has changed to arid rocky plateau with with no trees at sight. So dramatic it felt like teleportation!

I love historical sites even though I can't remember which years of what or which century of what. Seriously, I'm sooo bad with numbers that sometimes I can't even remember my age. Doh! I'm always fond of ancient architectures and Armenia has tons of it. I managed to visit Geghard Monastery, Sevan Monastery, Haghartsin Monastery and some others. Definitely should go back again in near future to explore the south area.


autumn foliage πŸ’˜

Garni

Armenian Farmer Market

Haghartsin Monastery

Geghard Monastery

By all means 2 weeks trip around the 3 countries was a short time indeed and barely scratched the surface. But my family have business to run and I have 12 dogs at home to take care. So I gotta make the best use out of my short yet precious holiday. It's time to go home and earn some cash again for our next trip (which is in less than a month πŸ˜‚). Unpacking my suitcase, re-packing and applying another visa now. I will surely blog more about each places soon!

Which ones would you like to read about?



26.9.17

Estonia: Tallinn Haunted Story, Seagull & Almonds

Estonia, October 2016




I'm not a morning person.
Funnily when I travel, I don't mind at all getting up early even before the sun rises.
On the second day in Tallinn I woke up at 5 am feeling energised despite the long haul flight from Singapore on previous day. I was overly excited because when picking me up at the airport, Nikholai - my cicerone told me that he was going to take me to the Short-Gate tower which is infamous for its black monk ghosts. Me likey spooky thingy! 😍


roasted nuts vendor 

But first Nikholai took me to Kohtuotsa viewing platform on the northern side of Toompea hill. It offers charming view over the red roofs and towering spires of the Old Town with the Gulf of Finland as a background. It was soooo mesmerising that I shed happy tears. If you love exploring a place when the streets are empty and quiet (like I do), you should really consider to visit Tallinn during autumn. There was no one else around in the viewing platform which normally is packed with visitors. And those colourful autumn foliage was the icing on the cake.


freshly roasted assorted nuts 

The aroma of caramelised sugar with a hint of cinnamon tickled my nose. In one corner I noticed there's a wooden food chart and a woman in a medieval attire was roasting some almonds. Snacking time! My mom, my sister and I spent a good 15 minutes choosing which flavours to buy. Cherry cinnamon cashew nuts, cinnamon caramel peanuts, gourmet almonds and more variants to choose from. I opened a the pretty package of the roasted almonds to taste it. It was crunchy and the coating wasn't overly sweet just the way I like it.

"Pa, please hold this package for me." I handed the almonds to my Dad as I needed to get some cash from my bag. "Try it, Pa. It tastes really good."

"Sure!" He replied and walk away towards the terrace. After paying, I turned around trying to find my Dad......and my jaw dropped when I saw what he was doing.


I turned around and saw this!!! 😱😱😱

He was feeding a seagull with my yummy and precious caramelised almonds! NOOO!

"Pa! Why are you giving my almonds to that bird?" I whined as I saw the bird gulped my €2 delicacies greedily. "We are not supposed to feed the wildlife, you know?"

"But this poor guy is hungry. No worries at least I left some for you. Here!" He chuckled and handed me back the package.

"Yeah rite, Dad! I have only 5 almonds now including the crumbs." 😭😭😭

It's a good thing that on the way to the Short-Gate Tower, my attention was distracted by gorgeous architectures along the way. It didn't take long for me to forget about the almond tragedy.


that lil' thief savouring my almonds



Walls of Tallinn was constructed around the 14th centuries to fend off invaders. The 5 metres tall walls are connected with multitude gates and towers. Some towers have interesting stories behind its closed door. Such as the Virgin's Tower which was used as prison for prostitutes. And another one that stuck in my mind is Kiek in de KΓΆk Tower, simply because I found the name kinda amusing. Errr...kick in the cock? Ouch! πŸ˜‚ Actually Kiek in de KΓΆk comes from German words which means peek in the kitchen. A legend said about some soldiers who often peeked from the top of the tower into the windows of Lower Town Kitchen.
(Disclaimer: Don't worry, no medieval cocks were harmed in this tower).

I'd really love to explore all the towers, sadly due to limited time I could only visited a few of them. In particular I was interested the most about the Short Leg Gate Tower. It is believed to be the most haunted building in the city!

We were just passing the gate when Nikholai pointing up something above me. I looked up and my soul jumped out my body. A faceless dark monk was staring down at me! I breathed a sigh of relief upon finding out it was just a statue. Phew! It looked sooo real, it gave me chill.


staring down fiercely at me



The Short Leg Gate Tower would be locked every night to keep the lower town out of Toompea Hill which was reserved for noble or higher social people only. Apparently also meant to keep out the ghosts from the Danish King's Garden. Infamous frequent sightings are a floating woman in medieval dress, lions, life size ships sailing through the walls and the Black Monk ghost. Rumours said that the monk's name was probably Justinius, a novice set on becoming a monk and was killed in 1233 before he could repent for his sins as a executioner's apprentice.


black monk ghost

a cafe in the city wall tower, how cool!

Kohvik Dannebrog, the Tower cafe

Before continuing our Old Town walking tour, Nikholai took my sister and I for a morning exercise by climbing some killer steep stairs to Kohvik Dannebrog. It's a cafe nests at the top of the old city wall tower. We didn't order anything because Mom & Dad were waiting at the courtyard. It would be too challenging for them to climb those old stone stairs. The cafe has a lovely settings and pretty view from the terrace. So it's definitely worth the leg and bum workout.


Vana Tallinn, a rum based liquor 

view from the terrace

climbing the steep stairs



Kohvik Dannebrog Cafe

gorgeous view from Kohtuotsa 

I can now safely say that I've been to Tallinn and met the infamous black monk ghost (well, kinda :p). As one of the most perfectly preserved medieval city in Europe, a bunch of terrifying dark stories  can be easily found around the city. I wished I could stay longer here. This city is charming and intriguing at the same time. I know that I have made many promises to other cities around the world to revisit. But hey, Tallinn you are right on top of my list. Please always stay as you are. xoxoxo


27.8.17

France: A Bubbly Afternoon At Champagne Pommery

Reims, July 2014




Though I'm not a wine drinker ( sadly I always get abdominal pain after drinking alcohol.), I do love visiting vineyard or doing cellar tour. That afternoon after spending sometime at the magnificent Notre-Dame de Reims, I needed to find out about the other 'must do things in Reims'. Half way to Visitor Centre, I saw Yener, my super helpful chauffeur was waving his hand to me.

"Hey, Debbz! I got you some of these brochures from the Tourist Centre." He greet me with a wide smile on his face. Apparently he did all the research while I was having lunch at a nearby restaurant. How thoughtful! "While in Reims which is famous for its champagne, why don't you do a cellar tour?"

"That's a great idea! Which company would you recommend?"

"Well there's plenty companies here but I've pick some for you which have tours in English. And the one in Pommery will start in about 30 minutes."

"Then Pommery it is! Please take me there now. Merci!" Enthusiastically I hop in his black Mercedes Viano and off we went.


Champagne Pommery


The House of Pommery began in 1856. Madame Pommery discovered she was expecting a child, at the age of 38. This miraculous pregnancy, more than 17 years after her first, would change the Pommery’s lives forever. To provide for his baby daughter, Mr Pommery decided to go back into business. But the wool industry was in crisis. However, the Champagne trade was booming…
In 1858, when she took over as head of Pommery et Greno upon her husband’s death, Madame Pommery began expanding her company with a focus on creating wines that were like no other. She was driven by the constant standard for extreme quality. She was aware of the importance of grape origin to wine quality; over the years, she built up one of the finest vineyards in Champagne.
upside down elephant by artist Daniel Firman

le Grand Foudre

The Pommery blending barrel is one of the largest in the world. The huge barrel holds 75.000 litres or equivalent of 100.000 bottles. To celebrate the ties of friendship by Pommery between France and America, this giant barrel was sent to St. Louis for exhibition at the World's Fair.

The sculpture on the Grand Foudre represents France in the form of a young woman, offering a glass of Pommery to America, depicted astride a sphinx like creature with a head of an Indian. Above on the left you can see the statue of Liberty in the port of New York. And the ship bringing the Grand Foudre to the New World, on the right side. The base recreates panoramic view of Reims, dominated by its famous Cathedral that I visited earlier.
Inscribed in the wood is the artist's signature "Emile Galle Nancy 1904".


116 steps down 

The first glimpse of the 50 hectares estates just blew my mind. Yener drove in lower speed as we passed through a pair of gilded gates and a huge well kept garden. As I hopped off the car, my jaw dropped. The neo-Gothic style building was sooooo grand I thought I was brought to a palace. I looked at my outfit and felt 'blah'. I should have dress nicer instead of this set of tank top, ripped jeans and sneakers. Oh well, never mind. A princess will still a princess without her ballgown, jewelled crown and glass shoes, right? I pulled my best smile and walked towards the entrance.

After registering and choosing the type of tour, I joined another fellow visitors (around 8 of them) and we were guided to what looked like an infinity steps. Okay it's actually only 116 steps but it looked dramatic with the lighting and the old musty smell walls.




another art installation

they used these baskets to transfer wines

It's been said that the cellar is the deepest in Champagne region (about 30 m deep) and there's around 120 massive cave connected by 19 km of tunnels. During the tour, not only I learn a thing or two about champagne production, I also enjoyed the art installations throughout several caves. Yup, Pommery is a supporter of contemporary arts. The tour was fun, eclectic and quirky at the same time. Quite different experience from the vineyard tour I did in Canada, the Summerhill Pyramid Winery.


more than 2 million bottles are kept in this cellar



super cool lights tunnel



and 116 steps up

meet Madame Pommery

‘I wanted this estate to read like an open book, telling the story of the changing world around it and the passage of time. Leave your mark here as I left my eternal trace. May it be worthy of respect for this champagne that is now our shared soul, one that bears—now and forever—the memory of our art’. Madame Pommery


Champagne Pommery

Now come to the best part: Champagne tasting! After hundreds of steps up and down and walked around the labyrinth like cellar I think I deserve a sip of cold champagne. Obviously I'm not an expert so I can't really elaborate in details but the champagne tasted pretty delicate.

If you ever plan to explore Reims, make sure to put cellar tour on your list. There are many Champagne house to choose so if you have ample time, you might want to visit more than one to learn their uniqueness and to compare their products. For me Champagne Pommery was an interesting twist on the traditional cellar tour. Tchin tchin!



DOMAINE POMMERY  
5, place GΓ©nΓ©ral Gouraud
51 100 REIMS - FRANCE
TΓ©l : 0033 3 26 61 62 56


Tours are guided in English, French and German. Ticket starts from €13
More information and reservation please contact domaine@vrankenpommery.fr or book here 


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