A Northern Ireland Chocolate Quest

When you’re asked by the Academy of Chocolate to attend and speak at the Finnebrougue Fine Food Fair in Killyleagh Castle, Northern Ireland, courtesy of Food NI 2016 – the obvious answer to this request is ‘yes’.

The trip was all planned out by Food NI, and after an exhilaratingly turbulent 55 minute flight from Gatwick, I touched down in Belfast City Airport, greeted at the airport by Sharon Machala of Food NI – my chauffeur for the next 28 hours (this was very much a flying visit).

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A Little Bit of Culture

Whilst my trip to Nicaragua was predominantly based around cacao research, I did take some time to explore my surroundings, absorbing the beauty and culture this amazing country had to offer at every opportunity. Morning tortillas made by the roadside, hummingbirds in the city parks, and some really stunning churches!

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Before the Bar

After our foray into the Nicaraguan jungle in search of the ancient heirloom cacao, meeting with farmers along the way, it was now time to harvest the beautiful golden-red pods of deliciousness we had gathered. Have you ever wondered what makes chocolate taste like, well, often many more things than just chocolate? It’s not as simple as you might think.

chocolate-flavour.jpg
What puts the chocolate in chocolate?

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Malmo Mewsings

After a whirlwind 36 hours in Denmark, including visiting a micro cacao plantation in a greenhouse in the Danish countryside and doing yoga in Christiania with one of its longest-standing residents, it was now time to hit Malmo – Sweden’s third largest city, and one that is fast making a name for itself in the sustainable living category!

An example of Sweden's pioneering new sustainable development - The Greenhouse, in Malmo
An example of Sweden’s pioneering new sustainable development – The Greenhouse, in Malmo

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Morning Yoga and The Danish Chocolate Farm

MORNING YOGA:

Yet another early start, up at 5.30am heading back to Christiania, nothing beats practicing yoga in a cozy wooden loft, jam-packed with enough Aloe Vera plants to keep Holland and Barratt supplied for a year, above a fragrant apothecary, overlooking one of Europe’s most successful independent, self-governing Freetowns – strictly NOT part of the EU.

Christiania Sign - Denmark
The Christianites have a great sense of humour

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Chocolate and Church Hunting

Next morning it was an early start as we set off for Tallinn, in Estonia, a 3.5 hour ferry ride away. Now Estonia is a fascinating country, as are many of the far Eastern European countries. Filled with culture, myths and history, often with a fine selection of well-preserved medieval walled towns. Tallinn is one such town, dating back to the 13th Century it’s earliest name was in Russian, but in 1219, after the Danish conquest it became known in German, Danish and Swedish languages as ‘Reval’.

Entering the walled Old Town
Entering the walled Old Town

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Prison Hotels and Fortress Islands

If you’re up for an interesting yet quiet Easter Break, head to Helsinki in Finland. It’s not usually the tourist destination of choice for Easter because a) it’s still cold, very cold and b) almost everything is closed (because it’s Easter, surprise surprise). But you can stay in a converted prison, which is pretty cool!

Our cell, I mean room for the night
Our cell, I mean room for the night

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Settlers of The Far North

HOUHORA TAVERN

Now for a little history of Northland. The nearest harbour to Ngataki – Houhora Harbour was home to whalers and Dalmatian Gum Diggers (no, not the dogs, but people from the balkan area now known as Croatia, but this is also where dalmatian dogs are from). The old Post Office and Dance Hall next to Houhora Tavern date back to these pioneering days when the Dalmatian Gum Diggers were digging their fortunes of kauri gum burried below the surface of surrounding areas such as Waiharara, where the Gum Diggers Park sits now.

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The Edge of the World

We’re off to the edge of the world, or Cape Reinga – basically the ‘Lands End’ of New Zealand. In Maori “Te-Rerenga-Wairua” means ‘the leaping-off place of spirits’. This is the place where two oceans – Tasman and Pacific visibly meet in a violent exchange of boiling water (obviously it’s not actually boiling, but it’s still pretty frothy and choppy!) The Maori see this as the ‘male’ sea ‘meeting’ the ‘female’ sea.

The two seas having a meeting
The two seas having a meeting – you can see the froth of the waves in the distance

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Fishing in The Far North

No more driving around! So we’re going to go fishing instead! Aside from fishing a large wild gold fish out of a village pond in Swindon in the heady uni days of 2005, this will be my first proper fishing trip…in the sea! Hopefully I’ll catch something bigger! Not quite sure how I feel about having to kill these beauties tho, that will be the hard bit. Continue reading “Fishing in The Far North”