A Tea-cap.

So, those of you who have followed me from the very beginning will know that this blog all started with a tea everyday, and usually a little something was said about the teas.  This hasn’t really been happening in a while, but I just want you to know that I have not abandoned tea, far from it in fact.  This is a little round up, a tea-cap if you will, of all the teas currently doing the rounds in my cup.  Some have been with me a long time, some are much newer, some are good, some less so. But here you go!

The Golden Chariot tea above is not very good quality tea at all, hence it costing so little, but I bought it because I really love the packaging!

I think that I am a bit obsessed with Yunnan Teas.  This one from 5 o’clock, a smallish shop in Warsaw is a good everyday Green tea, but is nothing out of the ordinary.

I bought this Mate in Berlin for 1Euro.  It is a roasted variety and is quite pleasant, being much smoother and less bitter on the palate than a normal Mate, but it lacks the magic punch and stimulation of the unroasted variety.

This tea, which is not strictly ‘mine’, is delicate and sweet, with the smoothness of the Sencha balanced well with flower blossoms.

A good quality and clear variety of Sencha tea from China.

Definitely just for night-time!

I’ve not tried this yet, and it is again not strictly mine, but I will let you know when / if I get my hands on it!

A standard Green Tea, but in a Cape Verde packet.

This is probably my most coveted tea, from Estonia I have been carrying this around since February.  It is excellent, you can steep the leaves several times and it is delicate yet nourishing. If you happen to leave it a little long the Ginseng, in which the Oolong has been rolled, will start to create an odd, but not unpleasant, sweetness.

I love Mate, ever since I found it tucked away in a little farm shop in the middle of nowhere in England  when i was about 16.  This one is good, actually quite delicate in flavour, but it definitely does the job!

Last, but by no means least, is my Yunnan Green Oolong.  I brought this with me when I started my trip and it has been perfect every time.  I am running extremely low on it now so will only drink it occasionally.  It is perfect for lifting the spirits and refreshing the soul.  This tea is a life saver!


Day 120 -125, Cologne & Laacher See, May 9th – 14th 2012

Tea 121: THE MYSTERY PU ERH TEA all the way from Tallinn!, drunk in Cologne.

Tea 125: Fruit Tea, Bockhaus Laacher See, Laacher Sea, Eifel

The past few days have been a bit of a mixture really.  My 120th day, May 9th, involved me returning to a bike shop I had visited the day before.  There had been a bike there that I had liked the look of, but it wasn’t ready to be ridden, so I returned on this day to give it a spin.  Needless to say it seemed like a good ride. I gave it a going over and then left the shop, still strongly considering it. Trying to figure out what I would need as well as the bike and trying to see if I could get a deal.  The way back I decided to pay another visit to the Melaten graveyard.  I hadn’t given it SO much attention the day before.  There had been a funeral going on, and even though the place is absolutely huge and they probably weren’t aware of my presence, I still felt a little weird about being  tourist in such a situation.  This time I stumbled upon some interesting graves, including one of a really well detailed and ‘life-size’ (?) grim-reaper.  There are some other really amazingly crafted gravestones and sculptural pieces here, so if you are interested in these things I would say it is well worth the visit.  There are so many trees that it would probably be ok in any weather except maybe the heaviest rainfall.

Day 121, I decided to head back to the Dom (cathedral) today, this time with my camera’s memory card safely installed!  I went via the city centre where I was researching tents and compasses for consideration in my potential bike adventure.  The day started out a little cloudy with the odd bit of rain, but it brightened up later in the day.  I took Regina’s bike with me too, to try and figure out whether my yearning for bike travel was founded in anything. It seems it is…

The Dom looked quite good against the grey sky, it’s moody blackened facade contrasting quite nicely with the pale grey.  I wonder if they will ever try to clean it?  I hope not.

After that I took the bike down to the river bank and followed the Rhein for a little while.  There I discovered a chocolate museum.  Despite the temptation to pay the entrance, I decided to just visit the shop instead.  The museum looks like it’s basically run by Lindt, so I’m pretty sure they couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know… The shop was pretty good though, and I might pay it another visit before I leave Cologne.  For some weird reason, opposite the museum, on the river, is a huge representation of Noah’s Ark!  Proclaiming to be Europe’s first Bible story theme park, the place looks mental, a huge Orangutan hangs out of the front, whilst Noah and his son are carved out of wood at the entrance. An impressively bizarre thing.

A little further along the river I tried to use my gallery map to find a photography museum, but failed, so I headed back towards home, I stopped off at a little bakery and bought a ‘Musli‘.  Basically a bit like granola, a huge circle of oats, seeds and dried fruits dipped in dark chocolate.  It was great!  I munched it down pretty eagerly and headed back to the flat.

That evening I at long last tried the 12 year old mystery Pu Erh that I had been given such a long time ago in Tallinn, Estonia.  The taste was really great, smooth, almost sweet and, for a Pu Erh, surprisingly delicate. From my experience of these teas so far I think they older they get the smoother and more refreshing they become.

The 11th, and I have to say one thing only, after all the umming and ahhing, the procrastination and trepidation, I finally made the decision to buy the bike…!!!

The 12th.  Tomorrow will be Regina’s birthday.  So today was spent preparing stuff for the next days barbeque and park party. We did some shopping, some cooking, Regina went and met a close friend in the evening and to see a gig and I did some work at the apartment and then met another of her friends, Boris, who had come from Berlin to see Regina for her birthday.  When he arrived that evening we both went into town and met up with Regina after the gig. We planned to go into a bar called KGB bar, though this is a new name, it was formerly HoteLux.  The place was completely full of people though, we could barely put a foot through the door.  So we went for another place, the first choice was one that appears to have shut down inbetween Regina being away and coming back, so we ended up in a bar opposite.  This was totally busy too, but a good atmosphere.  I was wondering where all these people had come from, the city seems much busier and fuller at night time!  After a drink there we headed to another place, a quieter one, where we could get a seat and have some good chat.  On the way home we stopped at a place for Falafel, and I must say that this one totally beats any of the Falafel I had in Berlin!

The 13th arrived and Regina’s birthday!  We woke up fairly early and prepared some more food for the barbeque.  I was on vegetable parcels.  Courgette, tomato, peppers and mushroom in little foil packages with oil, cumin, and some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Regina made some really amazing looking, smelling and tasting pizzas.  We then headed to a nearby park at around 2:30 and set up the stuff and people started to arrive from around 3.  The weather was really really amazing, the perfect day for the barbeque, as well as for a birthday.  We sat and chatted, cooked and drank until around 10pm.  The sky was clear the whole time and it stayed warm pretty late, though eventually the last few of us that remained got a bit chilly.

Day 125, Monday.  Regina had to wake up early again!  She normally has mondays off from work, but today was a leaving do for a colleague, so she had woken up early to cook yet more food (Coconut pancakes) and headed out.  She got back around 12:30 and we all (Regina, Boris and I) all headed out for a little jaunt into the countryside.  We went to a place called Laacher See, a large lake near to the city of Koblenz.  The weather was still perfect.  When we arrived we walked a little way to a restaurant called Bockhaus and had a little lunch.  I had a ‘German speciality’ called Toast Hawaii.  Basically ham and pineapple on toast and totally coated in cheese.  It was actually quite tasty and reminds me of when my mum puts a slice of pineapple on top of Gammon steaks (but with added cheese).  After that we walked for a while trying to find the edge of the lake, which we did when we eventually found the end of the huge caravan park that seems to have a bit of a monopoly over this part of the lake’s shoreline.  After that we headed back to Cologne, the sat-nav tooks us on a good route, that involved taking a ferry across the Rhein! As well as some lovely views of the hills, which are covered in vineyards, some of which seem so steep I don’t think harvesting can be the easiest job in the world, you’d probably need to pay me danger money!  In Cologne we dropped Boris off at the train station, me off by Regina’s bike (which she had left in the city centre on saturday night), she drove home and I cycled her bike back.  That evening she did yet MORE baking, raspberry tray bake cake thing.  It looked and smelt amazing!  But this was for her workmates to celebrate her birthday once again!


Day 35, Riga, February 13th 2012

Tea 35:  Green Tea, Black Magic Cafe, Riga.

Today was a bit of a grey day, in many senses.  The clouds were low and heavily laden, though not snowing.  I didn’t leave the flat until later today, around lunch time.  Instead of going directly into town I decided to head south to the river.  I found my way there, walking past old wooden buildings, barely habitable in some cases, but definitely still in use.  The little park I found, called Maskavas darzs, was simple and peaceful, old women walking in twos slowly supporting each other across the the snow and ice covered paths, people walking their dogs, a few children playing.  The usual park type stuff.  I made it to the riverside, the huge Riga Radio and TV Tower looming up in front of me from across the river.  This is apparently the second tallest structure in the EU and the tallest in the Baltic Countries, though I don’t know whether this wikipedia entry is in time with The Shard, so it could be the third…  It is sort of peachy pink in colour and is like the old images of radio towers beaming out signals you got in the 60’s and 70’s.  It started broadcasting in 1986, so it must have beamed out some very interesting stuff in it’s early life, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Latvian occupation.

I wandered along the riverside / motorway towards the town centre, passing car showrooms, shopping centres, and eventually into town by the Academy of Sciences Building, or as it apparently nicknamed ‘Stalin‘s Birthday Cake’, potentially in reference to it being built on a cemetery.  The building is pretty impressive, but for some reason I haven’t taken a photograph of it yet…

I carried on along the riverside, past more industrial feeling areas, decaying buildings and car mechanics until I made it up to Riga Castle, the original castle of the old town, and now the President’s workplace.  I went back into the old town, more aimless wandering.  The weather, though grey, was much warmer today and so wandering was much more comfortable.  My head was full of thoughts today, so I couldn’t seem to concentrate so much on the touristy things, preferring instead to lose myself in my own brain, thinking about teas, the next few bits of travel, consideration for how and where I go.

After a while I spotted this little cafe that seemed promising from the outside.  It’s window display drawing me in.  This is the Black Magic Cafe / Bar.  I entered and three ladies in traditional dress were at the counter.  It was a bit of a surprise, from the outside this little place looks just like a small independent place, but it turns out it is the centre for the ‘Black Magic Balsam’.  A traditional Latvian liquor.  I should have realised what I was walking into, after all the shop is named after the stuff, but I’d walked in semi-blindly, still lost in my thoughts.  I ordered a pot of Green Tea and a ‘chocolate cupcake’.  What I got was a pot of simple, loose leaf Green Tea, nothing special, a nice enough flavour with the sort of seaweedyness that I enjoy.  A little disappointing.  But if the Green Tea was a little disappointing then the Chocolate Cupcake was definitely a complete anticlimax.  What I got was, to be blunt, not a ‘cupcake’, as can be seen in the picture above, I got some ‘cake’.  And the chocolate part of the chocolate cupcake was basically just the occasional chocolate chip.  Needless to say that the cake was not what it was billed to be, so much so that I even asked the waitress whether it was the right cake at all; her reply was short and blunt telling me that yes, that was the ‘cupcake’.  She had been abrupt when I first entered the cafe, but seeing as she was dressed up in ‘traditional’ costume I thought that it was going to be the same idea as in the Krug Inn in Estonia, a medieval sharp and blunt act, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  Maybe it was just my mood…

I do not know what it is about Riga, but I just can’t get into the place.  It just doesn’t feel like my sort of place.  I have been trying to like Riga, but I came to the conclusion today that if you have to try to like a place you are probably never going to like it.  I’m sorry Riga, it’s nothing personal, I just don’t think you are the place for me.  Maybe you can prove me wrong on my last day… it is Valentine’s Day after all…


Day 30, Tartu – Pärnu, February 8th 2012

Tea 30: Meliss (Lemon Balm), Liis & Ivo’s loft, Parnu

Two belated posts in a row…  oops.  Yesterday was another travel day mostly.  I spent the morning packing and relaxing on the sofa in Tartu, trying to gather a bit of energy back.  A huge breakfast of chocolate pancakes and toastie sandwiches was made for me so that was really good.  So after a little bit of zombifying in front of the TV I went down to Tartu bus station bought my ticket for Parnu and left.  The bus was really full and possibly the least leg room I have ever experienced.  Luckily the bus had quite an early stop and a large chunk of the people got off at that first stop, so that was a bit better, but i still had my legs stuck out into the aisle, wedged between my rucksack and the armrest.  Traveling by bus shows you just how much of Estonia is covered by thick dense forest.  60% apparentely, it’s no wonder they burn so much of it to heat their homes.  But I am assured it is all sustainably done.  Arriving in Parnu at about 5:30pm, I was met at the bus station by Liis, who is kindly putting me up for two nights before I make for the border and into Latvia.

We went straight away to her husband’s car and the three of us drove, picked a fourth person up, and headed out into the countryside, to one of their friends houses. I had been kindly invited to join their dinner party.  A weekly occurance they pick a ‘theme’, or vegetable, that will be cooked into as many different options as possible.  Last night was one of my favourites, Sweet Potato.  We had it as salad, baked, and ‘caramelised’ crisp/chip style.  It was good food, and followed by a documentary film, The Living Matrix.  Basically this is about energy fields that may, or may not, exist around the human body, and how holistic medicine can engage with these fields to heal.  It was very interesting, though the characters and scientists were all quite extreme and intense, which can be a little off putting for some people.  If you are into, or just curious about the ideas of holistic medication, healing, acupuncture, the placebo effect, and such things it is worth a look.

We all left after the film, and headed to Liis and Ivo’s apartment, which is a roof space apartment near the centre of Parnu.  They keep insisting it is unfinished, but it is a really lovely space, nice decor, nice environment, really lovely.  I am certainly jealous, it is one of those places you always wish you could live in, and the decor you always strive for but never feel you achieve.  I’m pretty sure these two have achieved it.  It is really lovely, especially the ‘rocket stove’, which I am currently sitting on typing this.  We drank tea, ate apples from Liis’ Gran’s Garden, and chatted for a while about what I am ‘planning’ and where the two of them have travelled and what their plans are.  They seem very happy here.

So, no Parnu photos yet, but here are some more of Tartu, including the rather dazed looking face of the pig sculpture that stands outside of the Tartu meat market…


Day 29, Tartu, February 7th 2012

Tea 29: Cactus-Fig Green Tea, a cafe, Tartu.

So, a belated post once more.  Had a night out last night, which seems to be becoming a theme with the day before I leave a place, and  I’m quite enjoying that.

Yesterday I met up with Emily, another couch surfer who is currently taking a similar route to me, though with a one or two day time difference.  I met her first at a meal and couch surfing event in Tallinn, and then said I would give her a little guided tour of Tartu, because, after two days here, I’m pretty much an expert…(of the town centre anyway).  We met in the town square at mid-day then went to Tartu’s main church to have a look around and because Emily had heard there was some music being played there.  It turned out to be a short organ rehearsal / recital.  The church is quite interesting, mostly for it’s sparseness.  It’s gone through a lot in it’s time.  Left to go to rack and ruin, burning down, all the usual.  It has only really recently been restored, and it looks as though they still have work to do.  I think it is the 2000 or so terracotta heads and sculptures that are getting the most attention.  They have all been hand sculpted and fired.  Many of the figures are unknown, and are thought to be representations of the residents of Tartu at the time of the church’s building.

After that we went back to the apartment where Emily dropped her stuff and then we sat for a while to warm up and have a cup of tea.  Then it was back into town.  We went around the newer end of town for a while, visiting various food markets that we had hoped would be vibrant and colourful and exciting, but they are all pretty simple and normal.  Local markets for local people! By the time we had done that it was about 2pm and I was getting hungry, so we went back into the old town and visited a simple, inexpensive cafe for soup, and then tea and some chocolate…. of course.  The tea was another variety of Cactus tea, this time Cactus-Fig Green Tea.  It was nicer than the last Cactus tea I tried, a bit more delicate and smooth.

After a while chatting and sitting about, a bit of people watching too, we went for a walk.  I finally managed to find the sacrificial stone and we wandered mostly around bits I’ve seen in the past few days. One new thing was the Handicrafts guild building, basically a building with studios for glass making, pottery, hat making, dolls.  All sorts of little things.  In the summer time this place is much more vibrant I am told, with street stalls and activities in the pretty courtyard at the rear of the building.  After cooling down considerably yet again, we went to Werner cafe, my second visit.  We sat there for a couple of hours until around 6 when we were meant to meet up with a couple of other people active in the couch surfing community here.  Unfortunately they were both running a little late, so we decided to go BACK to Werner cafe once again and wait for them there, and also to buy some food.  I went for a lovely seafood ristotto, just the right size portion and a good mix of seafoods.  Tasty.  When the two others had arrived we sat a chatted for a while, before moving on to a bar.  I don’t know the name of the place, but it was a shot bar, and we arrived in time for the happy hour, 25% off all shots.  So we got a few different cocktail mixed shots and the night began.  After happy hour was over we moved on to another bar, Möku.  This is the smallest bar in Tartu, down in a small basement space, it had a good atmosphere and some nice beers on sale.  I went for a good Estonian Chocolate Porter.  It was very good, though not to the liking of the others it seemed.  After that we then headed to THE bar in Tartu, according to one of our group.  This seems to be the sort of student bar, with various deals on beers and, usually a pretty buzzing atmosphere.  Unfortunately this was a Tuesday night, in the winter, and still before midnight.  But it was a good laugh none-the-less and we sat over one last beer chatting and laughing until we all decided that it was getting late, more travel for me today, work for one and Uni for the other.  It was a good night though, and good to meet some more new people.


Day 27, Tartu, February 5th 2012

Tea 27: Grenadine Tea, Cafe Truffe, Tartu

Today was my first official day in Tartu.  After a great breakfast of way too many delicious pancakes with ice-cream, nutella, and homemade apple jam, and a long time trying to prepare my mind to venture out into the cold, my host and I went for it and headed for town.  She lives just a short walk away from the ‘city centre’, or the town square.  The sun was shining down, but I now know to associate this ominously with the cold, as it means a clear sky, and a clear sky in winter means COLD!  Today, initially, felt a bit warmer than yesterday, but after a few minutes walking the inside of my nose began to freeze and I soon came to the conclusion it had all been an illusion.  And, yes, your nose freezing is reasonably painful.  We escaped into a shopping mall, where we both went simply to warm up a little, and also for me to buy myself some more toothpaste.

That task achieved we headed back out.  We walked around, through a little park area, with the most bizarre, and I must say slightly worrying sculpture by artist  Ülo Õuna, called ‘Father and Son’.  It is kind of bizarre, reading more about it reveals its, fairly obvious intentions, but still, it is a little strange.  We continued onwards, past the pretty, pastel coloured buildings, some of which are really old, including the university building, which was built around 1804.  But the university itself was established in 1632, making Tartu University one of the oldest in Northern Europe.  We went up Toome hill, towards the observatory, beneath ‘Angels Bridge’ (Inglisild), and then up and across the bridge, getting some nice views out across the city.  We then circled around the little bit of parkland, outside the old Hospital, past an ancient looking church that is made up of various functioning and ruined parts.  The great exposed red-brick built arches reaching high up over our heads, the sun shining and turning them an even richer shade of red.  We walked back around and down into the centre again and I got a few ideas of little cafes to pop into.  The city is pretty sleepy feeling, whether this is because of the weather, the winter or just because of the fact that today is a Sunday I do not know.  Tomorrow should help me find out.

We then decided it was far too cold again, and headed to Heli’s (my host)  favourite cafe, Cafe Truffe, right on the main square.  This is a nice contemporary cafe, with loads of cushions and a lovely menu, though their cheesey ambient jazz music selection was questionable.  I ordered a lovely sweet and sour Grenadine Tea, lemony, bright pink and a good hit of all things citrus.  Heli went for a Cinnamon Coffee that looked pretty good.  We also both ordered soup, Heli a Creamy Cheese Soup, whilst I had a Vietnamese Style cream soup with mushrooms, shrimp and fish.  It was very tasty, the mushrooms are flavoursome and dense, whilst the spices were perfect, and the first proper bit of spice I have had for a while.  They don’t tend to do spicy in Estonia, or Helsinki really.

After a nice long time chatting and getting fed and warm we left and more or less immediately went into the Tartu Art Museum.  This is in a small building that seems to be contending with the Leaning Tower of Pisa for worlds most falling over building.  The work on show was of good quality, much like the work in KUMU, kind of chronologically, but from the 60’s to 2010.  There is a lot of interesting and rather amusing stuff in there.  It seems as though they must be having a constant battle with the building and gravity, the leaning of the building making some of the works hang one way and on the other side they hang the other.  On the ground floor is a solo retrospective show of work by Enn Tegova, some of the paintings here must have been in storage or the dark for a long time, as the colours are still so rich they could have been painted yesterday.  Some have even been victim to a little bit of warping too, which is kind of a shame, but also quite nice that they are still being shown.  They kind of fit with the involuntary theme of the tilting building.

The sun had begun to set, the nearly full moon was shining brightly in the gently darkening blue sky and we headed home, my nose freezing once more.


Day 26, Tallinn – Tartu, February 4th 2012

Tea 26:  Õuna-Ingveri Plahvatus, Heli’s Apartment, Tartu.

Today I travelled to Tartu, in South-East Estonia.  I woke up, packed up, said my goodbyes to Ingrid and made for the bus station.    The bus I took left at 1pm and cost me the princely sum of 5 Euros!  On a Saturday people aged 26 or under can travel for half price!  That was a hugely pleasant surprise!  The coach took 2 and a half hours, in which time I managed to catch up on a little sleep missed the night before and to see a bit more of the Estonian countryside.  The country is pretty flat for the most part, with a few huge lakes, currently covered in snow and a little hard to differentiate from the fields.  But the scenery is beautiful, which chunks of old, fir tree woodland, covered in snow, making the fronds and branches droop under the weight.

I arrived in Tartu at 3:30pm, and was met at the bus station by Heli, my new couch surfing host.  We went straight from there to her apartment, kind of in the north of the city.  My beard froze more or less instantly in the cold -21’C air!  I was introduced to her family, and a brief introduction to the cat.  Then started to make myself at home, chatting all things travel, to art, to card games and liquor.  Some lovely Mandarino Italian liquor Heli brought back with her from a recent trip to Italy, and then a great Lasagne cooked by her sister Evelyn.  It was very good, the perfect food for a cold day and an empty stomach.  We sat a chatted for a while after, played a few card games and I am now sitting in front of the fire drinking a cup of the above-mentioned tea, before I head to bed / couch.  The tea is a fruit tea, with all sorts of lovely chunks of orange, apple, and ginger.  The name actually just means apple-ginger explosion!  It is lovely, not strictly tea, but good none-the-less!

Below is a picture of the fire and a couple more from my time in Tallinn.