Friday, 17 January 2014

Travel bug bites

Since I'm suffering going through Dry January, I'm trying to embrace the newly arrived winter in candle light sans the practically mandatory red wine. One thing that, in addition to the freezing weather, keeps biting me though is travel bug. Luckily this weekend marks the annual Nordic Travel Expo in Helsinki.

I got an invite and arrived the moment they opened the doors. There are nearly 1000 exhibitors, so something for everyone is pretty much guaranteed. Some of the countries on display for the first time are Albania (!), Bangladesh, Lesotho, Peru and Turkmenistan (!)

Equipped with camera and map I set out to explore the exhibition centre. Only to realize map-reading ability would have come in handy, too. In search of Andalusia I found myself at Arctic Circle. Luckily Spain, one of Finns' favourite destination year after year, was showcased so well even I managed to finally stumble upon it.

In addition to places already visited like Seville, Cordoba, Nerja, Alhambra, Ronda, BenalmadenaGibraltar and Malaga, I'm dreaming of exploring the local vineyards. And the Sherry country of Cadiz and Jerez. 

Andalusia wasn't the only place familiar from the past (and this blog) on display. Since Finnair started direct flights to Israel, it's more accessible than ever and well worth the visit. Air Baltic flies there too - prices start at €169.

Tourism in Tunisia suffered a massive blow after the unrest that was the Arab spring, but I was happy to learn this, too, was changing. It's a beautiful country with so much to see, even beyond the traditional tourist hotspots such as Hammamet, Sousse and Monastir. 

The capital Tunis alone is surprisingly versatile: it has all the perks of a city break, yet just a 15-minute taxi drive away there are the beaches and resorts of La Marsa and Gammarth. There's also lot to see for history buffs (Carthage, anyone?) and the blue and white neighbourhood of Sidi Bou Said is full of Mediterranean charm. And you can't go to Tunis without exploring Medina, the old town. I also learnt Tunisia has a lot to offer for golf tourists too. Definitely a stand worth visiting- for the henna tattoos alone!

Even after all my travels in Middle East and North Africa I still have the Arabic skills of a deaf and dumb toddler. I can tell my sister is not married, even though she is a nurse. I can also order a bartender to make me a Martini. Which is far from practical seeing how alcohol is usually frowned upon and how I don't like even like it. Martini, that is, not alcohol. 

One of the few Actually Useful Phrases is ordering mint tea (chai ma na na) which is something I've had in gallons. Without sugar though (biddun sukar, min fadlak). Luckily that was the phrase I had use for at Moroccan stand, where I dreamed of Marrakesh. Not only do they have the legendary Jemaa El Fna market, but courtesy of  Origin Hotels they also have cooking workshop- holidays! I know, I know, others go on holidays to enjoy not having to cook - a food blogger goes on holiday to cook for others. I was also provided with some Moroccan recipes which you will without a doubt get to see on the blog soon. 

For tea-lovers (and those obsessively hoarding crockery every chance they get like a squirrel preparing for the apocalypse!) there's some shopping too!

Now If I could only decide if I want the set in blue...

...or red?

And if you let a food blogger loose at any fair, you can count on her finding sausages. West Chark, a fine example of domestic produce stocked me with their own take on cured ham and beautiful sage sausage.

The same stand also had other treats to sample. Had I thought ahead, I probably would should have waited until after the frantic networking and negotiating before going giddy with the garlic pickled with curry... Well, at least I know what to blame if the phone won't ring...

Food features heavily even in the travel posts of this blog. Luckily even short-distance travelling such as Tallinn provides wonderful material for this. Food, pride over the local produce and restaurant scene is on the rise in other Baltic countries too. At Vilnius stand I was hinted that the prices are even cheaper there than they are in Tallinn!

Latvia, is the partner of this year's expo and was heavily featured. Riga does look worth a trip...!

Dubrovnik, I've been told, is every bit as ridiculously beautiful as you'd expect. On top of everything else Croatia seems to be a perfect destination for a (hydrophobe) diving enthusiast such as myself!

And if diving floats your boat, you can try that at the Expo too!

The book stands are definitely worth checking out too - they have guides for just about everywhere in the word, but also inspiration for culinary journeys in one's own kitchen.

The prize for the most spectacular stand went for South Africa.

The costumes, too, provided something to feast one's eyes on. My take on "intrepid seen-it-all-know-it-all world traveller" look had nothing on theirs...

And should you find yourself in the need of refreshments, there's the Champagne Bar and this hilarious cocktail bar in the Swedish department - specialized in their own special tipples.

The Travel Expo is open until Sunday 19.1.2014, so if you're in town, don't miss it. There are special offers and several competitions the courtesy of which your next dream holiday might be sooner than you think...!





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