Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Lunch at The Castle Inn, Farnham


You've probably heard me professing my love for the Red Mist pubs before - especially my favourite central Farnham pub The Wheatsheaf. But it's all change in town, with The Wheatsheaf changing hands and a new Red Mist offering opening on Castle Street. 

Introducing, The Castle Inn.

Sitting proudly within sight of Farnham Castle, it is everything you'd expect from a Red Mist pub - top quality locally sourced food, a relaxed yet lively atmosphere and an excellent interior. And this time, in the perfect central location, nestled among other Farnham favourites like Castle Street Flowers and Gail's Bakery. 

I was invited to come along and see it for myself, and try the new menu. Please note, this meal was gifted but, as ever, all views my own. I took my food photographer pal Milly - it's always good to have someone with impeccable taste alongside, keeping you in check!

To start, Milly went for the pan seared scallops with pancetta, celeriac puree and Crondall truffle oil, and me the chicken and apricot terrine. The perfect combination of sweet and savoury with a spiced chutney; it was absolutely delicious. Milly's scallops were juicy and perfectly cooked - a real winner.

Aside from these, the whole baked Camembert was making eyes at me (side note, it's baked inside a rustic loaf... sold) and the deli or mezze boards would make the perfect sharing starter. My idea of a perfect Saturday is walking in to town for a beer and lunch - The Castle has so many great sharing and lunch options which fills me with joy... Saturday afternoon drinking ahoy!

We moved on to steak and fish respectively, with Milly opting for the Surrey Farm rump steak with chunky chips and bearnaise sauce, cooked perfectly to her taste (as it should be, medium rare). I made good use of the specials board and went for the halibut with prawns - absolutely delicious and again perfectly cooked. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever had a bad meal at a Red Mist pub - I can totally rely on their first-rate chefs to conjure up something special.

Whether we fancy a pub classic - ham, egg and chips, if you're asking - or a restaurant quality meal made with local ingredients, we know Red Mist will deliver. For us, it is that go-to that you need within walking distance of  your house. 

Oh, I almost forgot. Pudding. As if - we all know it's what we're holding out for.

It took next to no time for me to decide. The pecan pie, naturally. Served with ice cream and fresh honeycomb, I was in heaven. Crunch, warm, cold, salt, sweet. Perfection! Milly was, as ever, far more sensible and went for the affogato. Sourcing local ice cream from Petersfield - in fact right next to my auntie and uncle's house - you're safe in the knowledge they're supporting local business and not clocking up the mileage. 

Would I recommend The Castle Inn? Without a doubt! We're lucky to have so may great pubs in and around Farnham, but having another 10/10 on the highstreet is so great to see. Perhaps not so great for my bank balance, but ya know - swings and roundabouts! 

Be sure to get hold of a Red Card if you do visit - it works a bit like a Boots Advantage card, where you can accrue points and money off vouchers. Win win!

The Castle Inn (website).
5 Castle Street, Farnham, GU9 7HR.

Meal gifted for review purposes. All views and thoughts my own. Thank you Red Mist for inviting me to visit!

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

Indonesia: visiting Gili T in your thirties


Ask any backpacker doing the SE Asia route, and Gili T will be on their list.
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Friday, 22 February 2019

Indonesia: Yogyakarta


Oh Yogyakarta, what an absolute dream!

If you've read my thoughts on Nusa Lembongan then you'll know that it was a good 2.5 years since we were in Indonesia. But, as I said in that post, I am determined to complete my round up of our trip! Predominantly so I have a personal record of the best trip of my life on my site... but also to perhaps inspire others to do the same. 

So, Yogya. 

We visited Indonesia as the last stop on our six month trip round SE Asia and whilst we wanted to prioritise chill time before returning home, we couldn't miss the opportunity to travel to some less-visited parts of the tourist trail. Step in, Yogyakarta. See also: Ijen and Bromo.

Getting there
We travelled to Yogya from Probolinggo by train, after our Ijen and Bromo adventures. The train was a memorable experience to say the least; we booked tickets online... but arrived on the train to find a family sat in our reserved seats, and they wouldn't move. Cue awkward-Brits-on-local-train-in-middle-of-Java scenario! So, we sat elsewhere... before having to move when the ticket holders of those seats arrived! Hilariously, the family in our seats wouldn't move even when the transport police guy turned up, but thankfully a couple of nice ladies took pity on us and let us sit with them. The train journey from Probolinggo to Yogyakarta took a mighty 8.5 hours - take snacks!

Where we stayed
We stayed in Abrakadabra Hostel - super basic room with no air con and a cold water shower... we were skint by this point in our trip! We stayed three nights and the room cost £10 a night. 

What we did
Taman Sari - the water castle
Beautiful architecture and something a little different from the hundreds of temples we visited during our trip! Once the royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, it is made up of pools and an impressive system of alleyways and tunnels, leading to an underground mosque. In part destroyed by the British invasion of 1812 and a later earthquake in 1867, some areas have been restored but it keeps its authentic feel. We were approached by a local student who offered us a free tour to help him practice his English. Win win! 

Borobudur
Topping our must-see list was Borobudur, which we decided to visit at sunrise. We booked this through our hostel and were picked up at 4.30am and driven to the world's largest Buddhist temple which dates back to the 9th century. Of course, we were not the only ones doing this - it is a well oiled machine! We walked up the steps of the temple in the dark, alongside hundreds of others. Scroll down to have a look at my pictures to see the crowds joining us to see the sun rise. It really was something to behold though, with seventy-two bell shaped stupas at the top around one large stupa. Inside each houses a statue of the Buddha. Completely stunning and a definite bucket list moment!

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Indonesia: Ijen and Bromo (with and without a tour)


We visited Indonesia as the last stop on our six month trip round SE Asia and whilst we wanted to prioritise chill time before returning home, we couldn't miss the opportunity to travel to some less-visited parts of the tourist trail. After a little research, we decided that we wanted to end our trip with something that would push us out of our comfort zone and ~hopefully~ leave us with some incredible memories. Ijen and Bromo did just that!

If you've read my thoughts on Nusa Lembongan then you'll know that it was a good 2.5 years since we were in Indonesia. But, as I said in that post, I am determined to complete my round up of our trip! Predominantly so I have a personal record of the best trip of my life on my site... but also to perhaps inspire others to do the same. 

We travelled to Java from Bali, and it could not have been more of a change of scenery! Bali is so westernised, with Aussie-style coffee shops and specially designed insta set ups - think perfectly framed ocean swings and luxe pool clubs and you're getting there. Java on the other hand, is far less travelled. It is the world's most populous island and home to 141 million people - needless to say, it's hectic! 

Getting there
As I say, we arrived from Bali. We actually got an Uber (further evidence of Bali's westernisation) from Seminyak to Gilimanuk which took 3.5 hours and cost 500k (around £27, current 2019 conversion rate). You can also get a bus, but we were too lazy to organise ourselves. Getting tickets for the ferry over from Gilimanuk (Bali) to Java was really straightforward and the journey across only took 30 minutes and cost just 6k each (around 30p!).

Where we stayed to visit Ijen
We found an inexpensive little homestay Osingvacation which did the job, but was really basic. Shared bathroom, squat toilet, bucket shower. It cost £11. The owner also arranged for us to be taken to Ijen the next morning, so was a really straightforward and easy option. He was super friendly and welcoming and lent us a motorbike to drive to a local warung for dinner.

Trekking Ijen
We were collected at 12.30am (in the morning) for the drive up to Ijen which took a nail-biting hour, as they drove up the mountain in the mist and rain. We were deposited at the drop off point, and began our trek to the crater rim. And a trek, it was. Not for the faint-hearted, it was incredibly steep in places, completely dark and a long slog - it took about an hour. I had to stop a couple of times, and whilst I'm not an athlete I'd like to think I'm relatively fit. It was pretty tough. (edit: Rich is now telling me that I'm exaggerating and it wasn't that bad. I'm not sure I believe him).

Once we arrived at the crater rim, we were given gas masks to wear on our descent into the crater towards the sulphurous flames. Within the crater is a kilometre-wide turquoise acidic crater lake, which is mined for sulfur. We scaled down the rocks; some sections with clear paths and steps, others more of a scramble. Health and safety precautions are minimum! Alongside the tourists are local sulfur miners who are also completing the trek up and down to the crater floor to mine for sulfur which is taken back up to the rim in big baskets. These men were just ploughing up the rocks and past the tourists, putting us all to shame! 

You have to do the trek in the dark to be able to see the blue flames at their best, and it was a really spectacular sight. They burn up to 600 degrees celsius and reach sixteen feet high! Photos do it no justice, but do check out this National Geographic feature for a real insight. It was after NG featured Ijen's blue flames that tourism increased significantly. After ogling the blue fire, we climbed back up to the rim to see sunrise. Unfortunately there was a heavy mist on the day we visited so didn't get to see much of a sunrise or the turquoise lake, but the experience was incredible nonetheless. 

Some Italian lads that we met at Bromo did Ijen without a tour, by just hiring a moped to drive up to the drop off point themselves. They also were able to stay a while longer to wait for the mist to rise and saw the lake emerge - if you have time on your hands (and are confident on a bike!) then I would recommend doing that. 

See further down for Bromo...


Getting to Bromo
We didn't stick around for long - after our Ijen trek we dashed to catch the 9.15am train to Probollingo. The journey took about 4.5 hours and we were lucky enough to get business class seats with aircon - such luxury! We hopped on a bus which took us from the train to the bus station, and despite reading loads about bus scammers... we got scammed!! Agh. There is a super cheap local bus that goes to Cemoro Lawang, but we missed this (somehow) and ended up having to pay for a car to take us and some Italian lads. We then faced a further charge of a 10k 'entry fee' to Cemoro Lawang. We were so fed up with being scammed by this point - and we thought Vietnam was bad! This site gives more info on how to get to CL.

Where we stayed
We stayed in a cheap hostel type thing, can't remember the name - it was as you'd expect; basic verging on grim, but did have hot water! 

Trekking Bromo
We didn't do a tour or organised trip with this one, just walked up ourselves! Well, actually, we didn't walk up Bromo itself, we walked up neighbouring mountain Penanjakanso so we could get views over Bromo. This avoids the 220k entry fee to Bromo itself, and gives you an amazing view. 

Basically head uphill through the main town, and follow the road until you get to the foot of the mountain. We did a little recce the day before so we knew which road we'd be starting on as again we did this trek at sunrise. We left just after 3am and set off towards 'sunset point' on Mount Penanjakan. Again, the climb was tough. I think it was at this point that I admitted that perhaps I wasn't fit at all! 

We stopped briefly at sunrise point 3, but carried on up to sunrise point 2. You can go further to point 1 (and there are jeeps that can take you there!) but point 2 was really quiet - when we arrived at least - and had amazing views over Bromo. My only advice would be wrap up warm! It was freezing; we bought wooly hats in the town and wore all the clothes we could manage - there was also a lady selling hot drinks at the view point. Watching the sun come up and the mist rising was truly magical, and completely worth the lung-bursting trek!

Both Ijen and Bromo were just so beautiful - once in a lifetime experiences and I would recommend visiting if you are visiting Indonesia. I imagine they are more touristy now, but when in SE Asia we learnt not to write experiences off just because they were touristy - they're popular for a reason! It's just about picking your timings, going without a tour if you can and searching online for tips and tricks. Good luck!

After this, we headed back to Probollingo by bus before getting a train to Yogyakarta. More on that here.

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Indonesia: my thoughts on Nusa Lembongan


Blimey, it's been a long time since I posted anything on here about our SE Asia trip (seven months in fact) and even longer since we were actually there. I appreciate that lots will have changed since our 2016 adventure, but for the sake of finishing what I started, tying up loose ends and more importantly having a personal record of our trip on my site, I want to finish the job.

I get so many lovely messages from people asking about our six month journey; usually practical questions regarding how long to spend in each destination, how we managed our money and what to pack. Given three years have now passed since we left for our big adventure (!!) I'm not sure I can claim to be any sort of authority on many of these questions. So whilst my motivation for these final posts is not to provide up-to-date travel / accommodation / eating recommendations, I hope that completing the series will give people an insight in to our experience in SE Asia and what they can expect. Perhaps even providing a little ~wunderlust~, who knows!

In that vein, I wanted to tell you a little about our few days off mainland Bali in Nusa Lembongan.

It is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, largely because I didn't get to see it during my first Bali adventure in 2011 and also 'cos it just sounds cool. Practice saying it with an Aussie accent and you'll see what I mean.

Getting there
Anyway, we arrived from Gili T by boat - it took us via Padang Bai in Bali despite claiming to be a direct route, but took around 2hrs all in. It was absolutely pouring with rain when we arrived in Nusa - those tropical storms are insane, they come out of no where, pour down and then finish as abruptly as they started! The boat trip included a shuttle to our hotel once we arrived in Nusa.

Where we stayed
We stayed in The Sunjaya just off Mushroom Beach, which cost around £17 a night at the time. It was fine for the price, and in a good location!

Did we enjoy our time on Nusa Lembongan? To be honest, it was probably our least favourite spot in Indonesia; we felt it didn't really have a centre and the sea was so choppy we couldn't even go for a paddle without being knocked over. Funny story: the tide was in one day and we attempted to cross Mushroom Beach - I thought I planned my dash across the beach well, but after about 3 seconds was completely taken out by a massive wave and genuinely thought I was going to die. In hindsight, hilarious, at the time, not so much! Made worse by the hoards of Chinese tourists screaming at/for me when I collided with said wave. Lolz.

Things we did enjoy on Nusa:

It's super chilled! We set up camp at Mola Mola coffee shop after the wave incident, which was blissful.

Hiring a moped and exploring the island. There are some beautiful temples and shrines worth seeing!

Walking from Tamarind Beach along the coastal path to The Deck for lunch in the most picturesque setting.

Eating a fancypants dinner at Hai Bar and whacking it all on the credit card. I mean, it cost under £30 but relatively it was extortionate!

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