Monthly Archives: April 2017

Local Carly Hulls moved to Vienna

But beyond the classical architecture and the famous concert halls, Carly fell for Vienna’s secrets: old factories converted into art galleries, pop-up indie stores, delicious brunch spots and the city’s great markets.

When friends are in town… we always take a walk down the Ringstrasse to visit the highlights first. We duck into Volksgarten Pavillion for a coffee and views of the Hofburg Palace before ticking off Karlsplatz and the Rathaus. Then we head for the MuseumsQuartier and the hip 7th district where cool bars and indie clothes stores prove that Vienna isn’t just about classical music and old palaces. We round off the day with beers along the Donaukanal, a hip stretch of drinking dens and street art looking across to Kahlenberg hill.

A typical weekend involves… brunch at one of my favourite cafes – either Waldemar, Jausenstation Meierei or Das Augustin – or I try out the latest local hotspot. Then I hop on my bike to explore one of the creative districts in the city with my camera in hand. Sometimes I cycle to an outdoor nature reserve like Steinhofgründe or Lainzer Tiergarten, but if the weather is rubbish you can’t beat cosying up with a book in a classic cafe like Cafe Sperl.

For a night out on the town… I have a few cocktails at Miranda Bar then head to U4 for silly dancing with the girls. It hosts 1980s, hip hop, rock and techno nights. Bettel-Alm, a multi-storey student bar, can be relied upon for a boogie too. The DJs mainly spin chart-friendly tunes. For something a little more refined, I head to hip hop club Vie I Pee or Volksgarten ClubDiskotek in the heart of the city.

For my 30th birthday… I took advantage of the summer weather and celebrated at Mayer am Nussberg, a large open-air heuriger on the outskirts of the city that overlooks Kahlenberg hill. The cute Heurigen Express train picks up passengers from the base of the vineyard-dotted hill and stops for tastings at each of the wineries en route. I remember sitting on a sun lounger with a glass of crisp fresh Grüner Veltliner and watching the sun set over the city itself.

When I want to get out of the city… I hop on a regional train to one of the surrounding villages or cross the border into neighbouring Hungary or Slovakia. Austria’s Wachau wine region is nearby and the 11th-century Stift Melk abbey makes for a great day trip too. If I really want to treat myself though, I head to historic Salzburg. This gorgeous, fairy tale city is also only a two-hour train ride from Vienna. If I get on an early train (breakfast on ÖBB Railjet trains is fantastic) I can enjoy a full day exploring. It’s surprising how very different the mountain cities can be to the capital.

How it must feel to be king of all you survey

It’s hard to imagine how it must feel to be king of all you survey. To look out from the palace walls as the sun dips behind the silhouetted hills, and know that everything you see from horizon to horizon is yours to rule. 

Short of a marrying a monarch, daydreams are probably the closest most people will get to the extravagant existence enjoyed by the rulers of India’s princely states, but behind the whitewashed walls of Hyderabad’s Falaknuma Palace, you can get just a taste of this life of lavish luxury.

Run as one of India’s most nostalgic heritage hotels, the Taj Falaknuma Palace serves up a perfect introduction to Hyderabad, city of palaces, perfumes and pearls. From this hilltop vantage point, the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad – once the richest man in the world – looked out over the rolling hills of India’s wealthiest princely state, worth more in its heyday than many European nations.

In fact, living the royal life in Hyderabad is easier than you might imagine, thanks to the thriving traditions that persist from the Nizam’s time. Even if you can’t afford to stay in the Falaknuma, you can swing by for high tea or haggle for pearls and ittars (Islamic perfumes) in the same bazaars as generations of Hyderabad royals.


Sleeping with royalty

My own brush with royalty began with an almost absurdly ostentatious arrival at the Falaknuma, rolling through gardens teeming with peacocks in an open, horse-drawn carriage, before climbing the palace’s marble steps beneath a shower of crimson rose petals. It was a wonderfully theatrical introduction to the former palace of the enigmatic (and succinctly named) His Exalted Highness Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi, Bayafandi Asaf Jah the VIIth, last Nizam of the princely state of Hyderabad Deccan.

Laid out in the shape of a scorpion, with two wings embracing the Palladian central hall like protective claws, the Falaknuma is an elegant sprawl of staterooms, courtyards and formal gardens, and a splendid clash of East-meets-West ideas. While the Islamic star and crescent rises proudly from the rooftop, the stained glass windows depict Beefeaters, kings and cavaliers. For every Indo-Saracenic turret and Mughal arch, there’s a nude-crowned marble fountain or a neoclassical colonnade.

Every community in Iceland has its own public swimming pool

Large or small, rich or poor, every community in Iceland has its own public swimming pool. Here neighbours catch up, children misbehave and the local mayor is confronted about his latest decision. Mix in naturally heated water and some wonderful settings right across the country, and it’s easy to see why a trip to the sundlaug is a great way for visitors to soak up Iceland.


Hike between the mountains to Seljavallalaug

Iceland’s earliest pools were sited in places where geothermal water came naturally from the ground and mixed with rainwater. Seljavallalaug, the country’s oldest still-standing swimming pool, owes its stunning location between a steep mountain and a river to practical reasons: here it can be warmed with runoff from a small hot spring. The pool is a 10-minute walk from the parking lot, and facilities are basic: the lockers can be dirty, and there’s no shower.

Today, almost a century after Seljavallalaug was built, Iceland boasts one pool per 2,000 people. Most of them sprung up after swimming lessons were made mandatory in 1940, usually within walking distance of a schoolyard; the technology to drill for geothermal water and build pipelines brought the pools into towns and villages.


Follow the pool-signs on Route 1

Klébergslaug in the village of Kjalarnes is a miniature example of what nearly every pool in the country has to offer. In addition to a swimming pool – in this case, just 17m long – it has multilevel hot tubs (for the lazy) and a small waterslide (for the crazy).

Travelling clockwise around Iceland, Kjalarnes is the first village on Route 1, the Ring Road, after leaving Reykjavík. As elsewhere, a road sign directs the way to the local pool; a blue frame around a head sticking from water – notice how the illustration is not urging any kind of swimming!

The counter-clockwise drive, beginning in southern Iceland, arguably makes for an even better first pool. Sundlaugin Laugaskarði by Hveragerði looks like an old villa and until 1966 boasted Iceland’s longest pool. The steam bath is superb.

Cafe scene has only recently begun to blossom

Although Jordanians have been drinking coffee since the 15th century, Amman’s cafe scene has only recently begun to blossom, with a number of independent, espresso-style cafes now open in the capital. Local coffee roasters, combination cafe-bookshops and terraces with spectacular views have popped up across the city, from West Amman to the hipster neighbourhood of Jebel Lweibdeh.


Rumi Café

Rumi is a Lweibdeh institution. Starting out as a tiny space, it has now been expanded and redesigned with geometric patterned charcoal-and-white floor tiles alongside handmade reclaimed wooden furniture and tables. Rumi is justifiably popular, largely thanks to the atmosphere cultivated by the genuinely friendly and welcoming staff. Pass by on a weekday morning for a cappuccino and fresh croissant, and you’ll find folk enjoying the sunny patio on Lweibdeh’s main thoroughfare, Kulliyat al Sharee’ah. By night, it transforms into the throbbing heart of the neighbourhood. The cafe’s tea selection has won many hearts, served in individual vintage teapots, in particular the cardamom-spiced Iraqi tea and the Iranian tea with rosewater. As the poet Rumi, the cafe’s namesake, said, ‘Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray’.


Dimitri’s Coffee

Dimitri’s Coffee was born from the passion of owner Hisham ‘Dimitri’ Abubaker, who travelled the world for four years visiting coffee roasters. His mission was to establish a speciality coffee roastery in his hometown of Amman, and Hisham’s commitment is evident in the range of coffee available. There are no less than six single-origin coffees and various manual brew methods, including aeropress, siphon, pour-over and chemex. Hisham is a master at customer service and has passed this onto his staff, winning fans from his first cafe near Mecca St and the second outpost in Abdali. You’ll taste the difference from any standard coffee shop brew when you order a pour-over using Costa Rica Rojo beans and prepared with the v60 tool.


Caffè Strada

One of few cafes in Amman with a smoke-free policy is Caffè Strada, a social hub just off vibrant Rainbow St, serving Italian coffee as well as cakes, paninis and salads. The baristas are knowledgeable about different roasts of coffee, and they also serve more than 30 types of tea. The vibe is laidback and arty, with regular fun initiatives, such as a design your own coffee cup contest. Try the bresaola, mozzarella, tomato and rocket panini for a light lunch.