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The south of Antwerp, Belgium

A weekend away in Antwerp

Antwerp is not exactly one of the European “bucket list” cities. It’s rather an astonishing miracle that so far it managed to stay off the beaten track. Considering it’s so close to Amsterdam (1hr by an international train) and has an interesting blend of cultures. Influences from Holland and France are visible on every corner. People speak Dutch, enjoy French cuisine and stroll through art deco streets that could very easily go for some Parisian alleys. Except the crowds are missing. We visited the city on a weekend with a magical weather. Naturally we expected massive waves of tourists rolling from one bar to another tasting their way around Antwerp numerous beer hot spots. That did not happen. The city surprised us with many inviting tables outside charming cafes, restaurants and bars. All had seats still available but were not unpleasingly empty either. After all who wants to sit in a deserted bar, right? 🙂 Good ones are never empty and Antwerp has quite many really good ones.

Antwerp is not as overwhelming with activities as Paris or Amsterdam which makes it a perfect getaway for a weekend. There is enough to see and experience to feel active and satisfied. At the same time it’s not as big as not to find time to enjoy some of the local specialties in many exquisite restaurants, bars and cafes.

Central station

Like most of the people coming to the city we arrived by train at the Central Station. There is only one word that could explain how this rail station is and it’s GRAND. Couple of floors of trails, iron and glass hall both very long and very tall left us speechless. After all Antwerp is not a massive city that would need such an extravaganza. But we never complain about something being too pretty or too big, right?

The station opened in 1905 and it has been through some hard times. It was damaged during World War II and it even got to a point of almost being demolished mid-century. Happily it came back to life in 1986 with a restoration of the roof and facades. Nowadays it’s a pretty important hub in international trains and it’s very easily accessible from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.

The Little Island

One of the two of our favorite areas in the city. It’s a bit of a detour from the city center but it’s well worth it. The name could suggest that you need a boat to get there but it’s not an actual island. Maybe that’s why it’s called Little Island?

Nevertheless the oldest port area of Antwerp is surrounded by water, warehouses, hangers, cobblestones and of course… boats. This very hip area is just emerging. Stunning restaurants, cafes and bars peak out from the ground like mushrooms after rain. That’s where all the creativity is and where we spent most of our time.

To understand the present, it’s good to look at the past. That’s exactly what the Red Star Line Museum does in a very interesting, vibrant way. For many that’s where their journey to the better future started. The journey to the US. Between 1873 and 1935 more than two million people passed through here. The museum is not a typical, boring, spitting-out- facts- in- micro- letters type of experience. Instead it’s full of personal stories of individuals that decided to leave Europe. Why did they do it? And most importantly how, what was their journey like? We were utterly impressed by how strenuous, pricey and difficult it was to get to the Promised Land. Not only did the people have to be in perfect health, have a good skill and a bit of money. They had to be prepared to go through a lot and leave everything and everyone behind. But that should be a completely separate post. Long story short, we definitely recommend a visit to the Red Star Line Museum.

Going deeper into the Little Island we discovered a peculiar building that literally blends the old and the new together. At the bottom there is the old fire station that creates a base for a hyper-modern diamond-like structure at the top. We were not able to explore the building from the inside or see the view it offers from its terrace but we heard it is actually possible. Although it’s not really a museum but a Port Authority base, there is an option to visit it on a guided tour.

There might be many viewing spots on the Little Island but one stands above them all, literally… It’s the viewing terrace of the MAS museum. The best spot to admire the panorama of the city at sunset is actually free. We didn’t have enough time to visit the museum itself as it’s massive and would take several hours to get a vague idea of all the collections spread on 10 floors…. Instead we just admired the views from the top floor as well as from all the other floors. Curved glass walls make the scenery that much more interesting.

As beer lovers we would be sinners coming to Antwerp and leaving without trying what some of the brewers made here. After all Belgium is famous for so many of the worlds best, most loved beers. And so we gave few of the local jewels a try in some of the bars in the center. That’s how we came across Seef. This very local, tiny brewery was born few years ago from a recipe found in an old shoe box. It brings the old, traditional flavors of Antwerp beer back to life. The very heart of the operation is obviously in the hippest part of the city, The Little Island…. We couldn’t miss it. Well I probably could but Jandirk wouldn't be too happy. The bar/brewery is situated in a hangar and has this start up, hipster vibe. Old photo booth, tables and all that surrounded by beer tanks makes the atmosphere truly special. Here you can taste not only the traditional Antwerp Seef but also lager, dubbel, dark beer and seasonal brews. After tasting few of those we are pretty sure Seef is going to be the next thing in the very near future 🙂

Wondering around the Little Island we came around the Felix Warehouse which used to be a storage place for cheese, grains, coffee and other goodies. Now it’s an architectural pearl where hopefully in the near future there will be... something 🙂 for now it remains a gorgeous place to see and photograph.

P.S. While enjoying our time on the Little Island we also discovered quite few nice places to feed our tummies. We would definitely recommend Story Urban which had the best sandwiches, coffee and amazing interior. Very cosy! For a stop on a sunny day we would recommend restaurant Roest which serves not bad food, accompanied by a selection of beers and an amazing view on the MAS museum.

The southern part of the city

Walking away from the old town on Nationalestraat and then into Volkstraat it’s another world. On every corner there is a mouth-watering restaurant inviting you in with terraces, smells and tempting looks. We loved Fiskebar for their scrumptious fish and Wijnbistro Patine for their romantic place to sip away wine... or beer. We admired every piece of brick in that part of the city. I especially enjoyed the amazing architecture, all the houses were different yet stylishly combined together. I could picture myself spending a weekend or half of a lifetime sipping wine on one of those balconies with a book and Jandirk by my side.

When exploring the southern alleys we came across a bizarre building contrasting with the rest of a rather traditional surrounding. By locals it’s called “butterfly palace”. What it really is, is a bit more down to earth. This futuristic Palace of Justice was created by the same man that designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris and is as adventurous. Six massive, glass wings tower above the roof ending sharply high in the sky. We couldn’t hide our disappointment when we found out we couldn’t see it from the inside.

The other side of the river

Some wise man once said that the journey is more important than the destination. It couldn’t be more accurate referring to the other side of Scheldt river. It does offer a lovely spot for a picnic or just a calm afternoon with spectacular views on the city but… we were stunned by our trip to get there. We passed the river underneath it in a tunnel (Sint Annatunnel) from the 30’. These 572 meters are covered with white tiles and end on both sides with wooden escalators that look literally out of this century. This one of a kind experience happens to also be free.

The old town

By now you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the old town of Antwerp. As much as it’s a beautiful part of the city, full of restaurants, music and life, there is nothing unique about it. It could very well be a neighborhood in Paris or Brussels. Nevertheless it’s the most prominent, famous part that is hard to miss simply because… it’s in the middle of it all.

In a short stroll through the old town we would recommend going to Grote Markt square where with a bit of luck there will be a beautiful market. Otherwise with lovely weather the surrounding bars’ terraces are more than inviting.

Going to Belgium it’s hard to escape the love that the locals have for beer. Some of them are considered the best in the world and the definitely deserve it. Selection of brews for every occasion, season and taste can be found in Paters Vaetje It’s a tiny, traditional bar with quite a view on the cathedral.

For a bit of culture we would recommend Rubens’ house. After all he was one of the very few painters that were recognized, even cherished already during their life. He reached success that many could not even dream about. At the peak of his fame he was getting so many orders that he didn’t even paint the whole masterpiece himself… rather putting the final touches. Seed of a modern day production. The mansion in Antwerp was his home for many years, something that he loved and perfected and it shows.

p.s. for best Belgium waffle head to Desire de Lille. Make sure to go there with an empty stomach, they won’t let you go hungry. And you can’t possible visit Belgium without eating a Belgium waffle!!!

How to get to Antwerp?

The easiest way to get here from Holland is just by train. It takes a bit more than an hour from Amsterdam and tickets are not really expensive, especially when booked in advance. Timetables and prices here.

How to visit the city?

Antwerp is not a big city so many of the sights can be easily seen on foot. If you plan to see everything with not much time or you don’t want to walk that much a bike would be great. There are city bikes available literally everywhere so it’s very easy to get a bike go to a certain place, leave it, enjoy the spot and pick another one to head to the next destination.

Setting up an account for the bike is really easy. You just install the Velo Antwerp App and proceed with the instructions at any of the bike stations. We paid 4 Euros for 24 hrs each. If you use the bikes longer than 30 minutes you have to pay 0.50 euro per half an hour. From 90 minutes it's 5 euro's. Make sure to leave it at one of the stations on time. You can even immediately pick another bike at the same station. In the app you can easily see where and how many bicycles are available.

Where to stay?

There is a great selection of great hotels, Airbnb's and hostels in Antwerp. We chose for Hotel Indigo simply because we love their style. They always try to make the hotel really hip, stunning and local. I absolutely loved the design of the rooms and common areas and if that wasn’t enough we got a great view on the Central Station…. Which is maybe a 2 min walk away.


What to do in the Cameron Highlands? Our guide

The Cameron Highlands are famous for their tea plantations. Coming on the bus we saw nothing of that. To our surprise the closer we got to the area, the more strawberry farms appeared. All adjusted to Asian tourism, with massive strawberry statues and fruit menus. We saw buses unloading in front of so many of them. It was our first disappointment before we even arrived.

Where to stay?

Both of the villages (Brinchang and Tana Rata) are really not that special. Those are not coffee towns of Colombia with charming architecture and certain peace. Here there is a construction site everywhere, all concrete, all future hotels and hostels.

As a traveler you always want to be close to what there is to see, in that case to tea plantations and to be honest none of the villages will place you close to everything. The plantations and anything else that there is to see in Cameron Highlands is pretty widespread so in final end, it doesn´t matter where you stay, you will have to take a tour or a taxi anyway.

We were relieved when it turned out that our little hotel was really friendly and beautiful and Brinchang turned out to be a bit calmer than Tana Rata.

Hotel Flora Plus was situated almost at the outskirts of the village which we didn't mind, since there was little noise and food was still close by. The hotel itself had a really charming lobby filled with plants and comfortable places to sit. We also loved their quiet, spacious sitting area in the back that was just perfect for a chill out or eating your take out meal.

What to see?

Unfortunately exploring the Cameron Highlands we saw way more strawberry farms than tea plantations. It seems that those attract more Asian tourists than tea and at the end of the day, it’s all about business.

We decided to give it a chance and visit Big Strawberry Farm since it was at walking distance from our place. I wouldn’t call it a must-see. I wasn’t impressed by pots and pots of strawberries or their strawberry menu or certainly not by cheesy statues. All the other farms looked pretty much the same… So at least if you see one, you saw them all. The visit doesn’t take more than 30 minutes unless someone is very fond of screaming Chinese tourists than a visit in the café is recommended. On the bright side, entrance to the farm is free.

Tea plantations

Sungai Palas Boh Tea Estate is the most popular choice. The plantation is huge and spread all over the surrounding hills. In the middle of it all there is a building where one can explore the history of the estate and find out a bit more about tea in general. The busiest spot is definitely the terrace and the café where one can try local tea and pastries. The crowds are insane! It takes a fight to find a place and then a lot of patience to stand in the queue. And for what???? Because the tea there is not as good as assam black tea on Taiwan or even earl grey produced on Sri Lanka. To be fair the views from the terrace are spectacular.

I’m a tea lover so one plantation would not be enough. We decided to visit the Cameron Bharat Tea Plantation and this one has stolen our hearts. The tea house was maybe not as pretty as the one from the Boh Estate but the views were just as good, employees were very friendly and their chai tea was really good.

But the best part was that we had the whole estate for ourselves for hours. We could walk around between tea bushes undisturbed. For us that was the winner! 🙂

High tea

There are many places offering a high tea experience in the Cameron Highlands. But some seem not to offer really a “high” type of experience. What’s the point of going for high tea to a shabby café?

We decided to splurge in the Cameron Highlands Resort and it was as luxurious as the name could indicate. The whole hotel was stunning and brought us immediately back to the colonial past.

The tea room was exactly how I imagined a colonial manor. Rattan furniture, massive windows and lots of wood. Surrounded by lovely music we were ready to dig into our delicious scones with strawberry jam. Except for those we got some decadent pastries and lovely, tiny sandwiches. The tea was the same one we had at the Boh tea estate, not impressive but when the food is that good and the atmosphere is so lovely you can overlook that 🙂

p.s. high tea is served between 3-6 pm and costs 55 MYR (so around 11 euro) per person.

Surrounding nature

In our dreams we saw ourselves strolling through tea plantations, sitting on terraces with views on even more tea with a cup in one hand and a book in the other. In reality the tea estates were not as easily accessible as we thought and definitely not as omnipresent as we thought.

We decided to search beyond that and found out that the Cameron Highlands have much more to offer than just plantations. The only problem was that we had to take a tour simply because there are no buses or any other public transportation available. We also didn’t want to rent a taxi.

We decided to take a tour from Hill Top Tours (whole day for 98 MYR around 20 euros). We were both really happy we did that. First of all we saw rafflesias, the largest flowers on earth. I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to find them on our own in the forest even though they can grow up to 1m in diameter. We were actually very lucky, nowadays rafflesias are scarce and the flowers blooms only for few days.

Our guide didn’t know much about nature and actually many things he said were probably a creation of his imagination but I could forgive him that because he took us to a really beautiful mossy forest. We were the only people there and with a bit of mist, the forest looked like a set for Lord of the Rings.

In there I spotted many carnivore plants. Thankfully they stick to small meat like insects. They looked very innocent, hanging in between the branches of the trees.

Except for the “hidden” mossy forest we visited another one that already has the tourism infrastructure. There was a deck there leading through a less impressive, trampled down forest. It was a sad example of “before” and “after” mass tourism…

Except for those the excursion took us for a demonstration of blow pipe hunting. It was a typical touristic circle that we never really enjoy and probably never will. We also passed the Boh Tea plantation.

TIP! Since transportation in the Cameron Highlands is not that easy if you show up without your own car, we really would recommend taking an excursion. Taxi is not such a great option, simply because they tend to be more expensive and you have to pay per hour rather than for a certain route. Also when it's busy taxi drivers are very picky and prefer clients that book them for a whole day rather than an hour or two.

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Kerman, Iran

How much does it cost to travel in Iran? Our budget and tips

Iran is one of those countries where you start off as a millionaire but your millions run out very fast:) And with so many zeros and unclear prices it can be quite a challenge to keep track of your budget. Somehow we managed and it turns out we spent a total of 1565 euros over 28 days of stay. So that makes it 28 euros per day per person.

Let’s see where all the euros went 🙂

Where did we go?

Our journey through Iran started like many others in the capital- Tehran. Afterwards we continued south passing through Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and many more until we ended our trip on the Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf.

How did we travel?

With very low prices of petrol and unclear, inefficient public transport, taxis are quite a great mean of transportation in most of the cities. Obviously we always bargained fiercely but in final end a ride would cost just 1 maybe 2 euros depending on the distance. In Tehran except for taxis we used the metro which was even cheaper (2 cards plus many rides that we did cost us a bit above 2 euros). Metro also included a lot of no- mercy -pushing, huge crowds and quite little air…

Between the cities we used very comfortable and spacious buses. To give you an example a bus from Shiraz to Kerman was 800 000 rials for both of us so around 20 euros. For that price we not only enjoyed the stunning view of desert and mountains from our comfy chairs but we also got some snacks and juice to enjoy it even more 🙂

To get from Bandar Abbas to Qeshm island we took a very pleasant ferry that took around an hour and costed 140 000 rials for both of us (around 3.5 euros).

Transport all together came to 196 euros.

Where did we stay?

Accommodation turned out to be more expensive than we thought. Even in low season and bargaining we spend 565 euros so on average 20 euros. It might not seem that much but if you saw the quality of some of those places you would think otherwise. In places like Tehran or Isfahan there was almost no other choice then to go for the cheapest, the shabbiest hostels ever where toilet paper was not included or the only common space was a tent outside (with around 0 degrees). On the positive side everywhere except for Tehran we stayed in private rooms and many times they were as expensive as two beds in a dorm. For a couple that is great news in a country where no affection can be shown in public and where women have to follow a dress code even in common areas of most of the hotels. As finding accommodation online is quite difficult and finding out their prices is almost impossible we post a full list of the places we stayed in:

  • Tehran- Seven Hostel – quite shabby, very basic accommodation with very limited internet. Price of this doubtful entertainment is 10 dollars per bed. In high season the price goes up to 15 dollars per night. On the positive side you can book it online which is very handy as you need your first address and contact number to get a visa on arrival. It also has free tea all the time which helps to warm up in the only common space available which is a cold tent outside.
  • Isfahan- Amir Kabir – to say that toilet paper is not included in the price says enough. But well it’s by far the cheapest option and for little more money you don’t really get much more service… And here a private room is the same price as two beds in the dorm so 20 dollars (per room) which was tempting enough for us.
  • Kashan- Noghli hotel – definitely our favorite place of them all. For passionately bargained 1 000 000 rials (around 25 euros) we got a big double room with lots of light, private bathroom and a delicious, varied breakfast which offered bread, eggs, beans, halva, veg and much more. Except for sleeping we actually enjoyed hanging out on their stunning courtyard sipping free black tea with cardamom. A place we would definitely recommend.
  • Yazd- Dalan e Behesht- it’s a historical house with quite a nice courtyard with very, very friendly staff. There we got an ok private room with shared bathroom for 20 dollars a night. The only problem is that the hostel is in serious need of cleaning. The toilets make you just nauseous and the carpets haven’t seen a vacuum cleaner in a very long time.
  • Shiraz- Golshan Hotel- probably our second favorite although the most expensive of them all -35 dollars a night for a double room with private bathroom. But it was worth the price. Except for stunning, bright, traditional courtyard with comfy Iranian sitting areas and good breakfast we got a very friendly staff that was ready to answer all of our questions. Although some of them didn’t speak any English and would say yes to every single thing we asked 😀 on the negative side our room was quite small and dark and tea was not included in the price
  • Qeshm- Assad’s homestay- we seriously heard legends about this homestay as being epic, amazing, super friendly. We enjoyed it although there was no doubt that for Assad it’s very much a business now. Keeping in mind that food and accommodation were both very basic and there wasn’t much variety we would say 13 euro per person per night was not such a bargain after all. Also being there we were in the middle of nowhere and as much as we thought we would be close to nice beaches and nature it wasn’t really true. On the positive side Assad is really a nice guy and he can organize tours and transport at very attractive prices.
  • Qeshm- Diplomat hotel- situated in Qeshm City it’s close to all the life of the island. We were hesitant to go there as we couldn’t find any pics online but once we got there we actually saw that the rooms were quite ok, spacious, with more or less working air-co and tv. Not to mention that wifi was the fastest in Iran and there was no limit on it. All of that for a bargain of 800 000 rials a night (around 20 euros).


Except for these we spend two nights in the buses and one night on an excursion in the Kalut desert which is not included in the accommodation part of our budget.

What did we eat?

On food and eating out we spent a combined 228 euros. We didn’t have a kitchen for the whole time and so we were forced to eat out. Breakfasts were included practically everywhere, for lunches we mostly bought some flat bread, fruit, and cream cheese. When it comes to dinners we went either for a 1-2 euro falafel or for a very nice, Persian meal for around 5-6 euros. We loved that every time we ate we got really enough vegetables, herbs, spices and in most of the places the food was really tasty and packed with flavor.

How expensive are museums, tours etc?

Tourism turned out to be surprisingly expensive and overpriced in many cases. So many of the sight cost 200 000 rials per person (around 5 euro) which is quite pricy considering that most are quite small and you won’t spend more than an hour in there. Thankfully that’s also the price of Persepolis where you can wander around stunned for a whole day:) Unfortunately Iran is no Paris where you can just walk around the streets for days and be absolutely fascinated. The streets don’t offer much to the eyes and so no wonder we ended up spending 533 euros on tickets, tours etc. The most expensive tour was the one visiting the Kalut desert. It was 150 euros for two days and one night of very basic accommodation. Honestly we felt it was overpriced but we couldn’t find anything cheaper than 120 euros and we really wanted to see this absolutely stunning desert. So why did we choose the one for 150 euros if we could just go there for 120? Well the guys that offered us 120 euros either didn’t really speak good English or they didn’t really seem professional.

Where did the rest of our rials go?

Quite minor 42 euros went for variety of things like internet (250 000 rials for the card and 3gb mobile internet so around 6 euros) which turned out to be very handy in a country where internet is very limited. We also spend some money on postcards and laundry.

Our tips to save money in Iran

  1. Bargain, bargain, bargain!! Especially accommodation, tours and taxis are way cheaper if you bargain. So forget about booking a room on the phone, just go to a few places, check out the standard and bargain. The prices are getting even more attractive if you decide to stay for more than 1 night. We traveled through Iran during low season which definitely helped with many of the prices. Bargaining in rials instead of dollars can be very beneficial.
  2. In front of the bus terminals there are guys screaming destinations that bring you to the desk… They don’t do it out of kindness of their hearts. They charge commission. So just pass them without saying where you’re going.
  3. Exchange money in exchange offices not in banks. They will give you a better exchange rate, better than google. You can expect around 1 euro= 40 000-42 000 rials.
  4. Don’t forget to take all the money you need. There is no option of withdrawing money once there and we heard that sending money via carpet sellers is very expensive.
  5. Volunteer! Although we didn’t try it we met quite a few people volunteering on Qeshm island via Workaway. It doesn’t seem like there are much opportunities at the moment but it’s definitely a growing branch.
  6. Check, check, double check! Many times while paying for food we discovered “mistakes” in our bills…
  7. Make sure about the prices!! With so many zeros and big confusion about the rials and tomans it’s easy to get confused and ending up paying way too much. Make sure you know how many zeros the final price has and if it’s in toman or rials (1 toman= 10 rials).
  8. Share! Costs or taxis and tours are often calculated per car so if you’re with more people it’s way cheaper.
  9. Take overnight buses:) they are comfy, cheap and well it will save you accommodation costs.

P.S. Exchange rate used for the overal budget 1 EURO = 40 100 RIALS

Hopefully this post will help you prepare for your trip to Iran:) If you have any questions: don’t hesitate to ask:)