Please Excuse Us While We Redecorate

Okay, so we aren’t redecorating as such, more updating the website template and creating a new Pre-2016 Archive section where you can find all of the content from 2009 to 2015 in its old format (Arras theme), be that recipes, catwalk reports or travel guides. I’ve been rather fond of Arras and clung onto it but it’s time for the sun to set and Charlotte’s VVeb to relaunch with a fresh look.

Sunset at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namibia June 2016
Sunset at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namibia June 2016

I started Charlotte’s VVeb when I was fresh out of university, right at the start of the recession. It was almost impossible to get a job, particularly in media. One of my former employers suggested I start a website called Charlotte’s Web and well, I couldn’t afford the £10,000 for the domain. A few weeks later, someone casually suggested dropping one of the letters, or changing one and hence Charlotte’s VVeb was born (that’s two Vs for those not paying attention!)

I stopped regularly blogging in 2011. I was exhausted and working very hard as a trend forecaster, travelling a lot and in a relatively fresh relationship. Since then the blog world has really evolved. There are blogging superstars, making millions of pounds/dollars/Euros each year in endorsements. They have millions of followers on social media, which was really only in its infancy when I started this website. Their blogs (not forgetting their vlogs too) have generally focused on them and their personal lives and well, I wasn’t really interested in telling you all what I ate for breakfast, who I was dating or what I just bought at the shops! 

Read more…

Râmnicu Vâlcea – The Most Dangerous Town On The Internet

Over the weekend I came across a short documentary created by global antivirus company, Norton. The 20-minute video on YouTube tells the story of Râmnicu Vâlcea which is described as The Most Dangerous Town On The Internet or Hackerville.

In the documentary, various notable hackers, including some who have been to prison, speak about the demise of communism and how it opened the flood gates to technology. Romania was thirsty for new technology. According to one hacker, fibre optic cable runs throughout Romania (which puts Britain to shame!) making hacking all the more possible.

Some of the hackers claim they hack for good, they want to prove their are vulnerabilities and demonstrate how they can be fixed. Their morality does not always get them what they want though, with one hacker ending up in a maximum security prison for four years. Others hack for hire. Some even hack for Anonymous, an international network of online activists. The targets are everyone from search engine giant, Google, to social networks and governments.

Of course hacking is not just made possible by fast internet connections but is facilitated by the way in which we increasingly live our lives: online. One hacker summises, cybercrime is the way of the future, as more and more people live their lives on the internet. So many people have access to our data, it’s not as simple as avoiding typing your own bank details into an email. Hacking can hit you at any time, because of your own vulnerabilities or ineptitudes or because of big business or your government.

In a bid to present a balanced picture, Norton attempts to provide a reassuring voice towards the end of the video, saying they’ll take on the challenge. However, as the hackers explain, there’s always someone who is smarter. So I suppose for the likes of Norton, it’s a case of which side they’ll choose to work on: good, bad, or a shade of grey in-between.

For anyone interested in the cultural shifts which take place after the demise of a political regime, this video is compelling watching. Having said that, and to, like Norton, present a balanced view, I would remind viewers this is just one place in Romania and a handful of Romanian people. The country is beautiful and has a lot to offer. Don’t let this put you off visiting.

A 3 Minute Video Tourist Guide to Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled

 

Lake Bled is approximately 45 minutes’ drive from Ljubljana. The lake has become internationally recognisable for its small island on top of which sits the Church of Assumption. I’ve been to Bled many times, both on day trips while staying in Kranjska Gora, as well as staying at the Grand Hotel Toplice, which overlooks the glorious lake, on three occasions.

Lake Bled Otok (Island)
Lake Bled Otok (Island)

 

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Grand Hotel Toplice in three stages of its life. The first was some 15 years ago, prior to its renovation. The hotel was tired but there was no getting over the fact it benefited from the most superior view in town. Just over a decade ago the hotel was renovated. Everything was in keeping with the style of the hotel but its glamour had been well and truly restored. Unfortunately, my most recent visit, last year, found that some of the furniture had seen better days and wallpaper was peeling off the walls in parts. However, what hasn’t changed is that fantastic view. Free parking for guests is a great bonus and means you can take day trips to the likes of Postojna, Bohinj and Ljubljana.

Bled Castle
Bled Castle

 

The breakfast at the hotel is excellent too and will set you up for a day of sightseeing, particularly if you’re planning on doing some hiking. You can choose from various types of fresh bread rolls, cheeses including skuta (similar to cottage cheese but better), hot dishes like scrambled eggs, multiple types of sausages and very garlicky and crispy bacon. There’s even a waffle station. The fine dining restaurant is worth checking out one night too. Though there’s some excellent restaurants nearby. Restaurant Ajda does some wonderful traditional dishes included Strukli. While a visit to Bled is not complete without popping into Hotel Park for a slice of kremšnita – a layer of flaky pastry, topped with a layer of cream, a layer of custard and more flaky pastry, with a liberal shaking of icing sugar on top.

St Martin's Church Lake Bled
St Martin’s Church Lake Bled

 

In terms of weather, if you go in the winter, expect snow and there’s potential for the lake to freeze over. In the summer days are generally warm, while nights cool down a little, so it’s good to pack a sweater. Be aware there can be some epic thunderstorms; the last time I visited one knocked the power out to part of the town. Always be prepared and carry a raincoat and umbrella. Don’t go walking in the mountains during a thunderstorm.

If you only have a couple of days, or even just a day to visit Bled, you must try to cram the following in:

1) Walk to Bled Castle and on route, stop off at St Martin’s Church

2) Take a Pletna boat to the island, climb the 99 steps and ring the bell of the Church of Assumption

3) Visit Restaurant Ajda and try their savoury strukli

4) Pop into Hotel Park for an afternoon snack and feast on the kremšnita

5) Walk around the lake (9km) and enjoy the beautiful architecture and fresh air

Useful websites for planning your trip:

Balkan Holidays

Slovenia Tourist Board

Grand Hotel Toplice

Hotel Park

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Christmas Markets in Munich 2014

Last Friday night I hopped on a BA flight from Heathrow to Munich with the plan to spend a weekend wandering around the city and making the most of its Christmas markets.

Whirligig off Sendlinger Strasse
Whirligig off Sendlinger Strasse

 

We arrived quite late so took a taxi from the airport to the Courtyard by Marriot City Center Munich hotel which was located just off the main ringroad of the city.

After a big breakfast at the hotel we spent the day wandering through the various Christmas markets and making the most of what the city had to offer.

Christmas Tree at the Rathaus
Christmas Tree at the Rathaus

 

First we headed to Marienplatz to see the Rathaus (Town Hall) and its famous Glockenspiel which shows two historic scenes: the first, the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine celebrated by knights on horseback jousting; the second, the coopers’ dance organised said to have taken place in 1517 to cheer up residents following a terrible plague.

Glockenspiel
Glockenspiel

 

After wandering around some of the stalls and looking at the decorations we headed over to Munich’s traditional food market. This is a great place to pick up schnitzel or haxe in a bun.

Decorations for Sale at Marienplatz Market
Decorations for Sale at Marienplatz Market

 

I was particularly taken with the local cheese shop.

Cheese Shop at Viktualienmarkt (Food Market) in Munich
Cheese Shop at Viktualienmarkt (Food Market) in Munich

 

We picked up a few traditional decorations before trying to find somewhere to sit down and warm up over a cup of tea and some traditional torte.

Decorations for Sale at Marienplatz
Decorations for Sale at Marienplatz

 

Finally, we came across Schuhbecks Orlando (not far from Maximilianstrasse, one of the city’s four royal avenues where you’ll find the likes of Dior and Bvlgari) a brasserie restaurant set up by Alfons Becks, a notable chef from Bavaria. This part of the city seemed to be a little bit like the equivalent of Padstow in Cornwall where Rick Stein has some sort of eatery at every turn, with several gastronomic outlets all under the Schuhbecks brand within just metres of each other.

Strudel at Schuhbecks Orlando
Strudel at Schuhbecks Orlando

 

I enjoyed a lovely jasmine tea and some of the best strudel I’ve ever eaten: poppy seed strudel with berries and pistachio ice cream. I was thoroughly blown away, this strudel was fantastic.

I’d recommend trying the Schweinhaxe, local beer and gluehwein in abundance. The Christmas tram (Christmaskindl Tram) is also worth a ride. It costs 2 Euros and can be picked up every 30 minutes outside the pink church by the Sendlinger Tor market.

Our trip cost £1,089 booked via Expedia.

New Furmint Tokaji at M&S £9.99

Furmint Tokaji M&S £9.99
Furmint Tokaji M&S £9.99

So, as you may have guessed from some of my previous posts, I’m rather prone to wandering down the wine aisle in a bid to spot  new bargains, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe. Last week, while I was in M&S I happened to notice a rather pretty label in a light aqua teal shade. It turned out to be a new Hungarian wine, a Furmint Tokaji, very reasonably priced at £9.99.

I normally associated Tokaj with sweet, dessert wines, so I was rather intrigued to try this one. It was pale in colour and as it turned out, refreshingly crisp to drink. There were notes of pears, apples with just a hint of honey flavour to give it balance.

The drinking suggestions proposed enjoying it with paprika chicken or roast pork which I could see working well. It’s delicate in style so simple grilled fish would also be a good match.

I’ve noticed that when M&S tends to get new wines in they tend to be priced slightly lower, in an attempt to get you hooked, so I’d suggest you make the most of it while you can. Plus if you order six online you’ll get a discount. For more information go to M&S Furmint Tokaji here.

Disclaimer: Always drink responsibly.

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The Golden Road to Samarkand Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan

Travel company, Jon Baines Tours, has launched a new tour, The Golden Road to Samarkand and Turkmenistan, hosted by journalist and author Jonathan Fryer.

Travellers will explore Turkmenistan and its desert cities which have borne witness to some of history’s most dominant empires. Throughout the trip, travellers will learn about the Silk Road and its links to both the Chinese and Roman empires and how it continues to influence the modern world.

Khiva City Walls
Khiva City Walls

Jonathan Fryer is a freelance British writer, lecturer and broadcasterw ho has reported from around the world for magazines, radio and television stations. He has written more than a dozen non-fiction books and teaches a course in Humanities at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Itinerary Highlights:

  • Arrive in Tashkent and visit the Museum of Applied Arts.
  • Visit the Hast Imam, walk through the Chagatai Cemetery, drive to Samarkand, eat at a Sufi clinic, visit the honey bazaar and arrive in Samarkand.
  • Visit Langar village, Shakre Sabz, a local winery for a wine and cognac tasting, hear a talk on horses and the Silk Road, drive to Bukhara, stop off at local potteries.
  • Spend a day in Bukhara, visit the prison (zidan).
  • Arrive in Khiva, the region’s renowned slave trade centre.
  • Cross into Turkmenistan and fly to Ashgabat.
  • Savour local caviar and views across Ashgabat’s glittering marble and gold towers.
  • Visit the National Museum and tour the city.
  • Enjoy a farewell dinner.

Jon Baines runs specialist cultural tours and medical study tours, tailormade tours and corporate and golf tours. Each tour gives travellers privileged access to the country.

For more information go to www.jonbainestours.co.uk

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Highly Commended – Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2014

On 23rd April, 2014, a photograph I took of a roadside market outside Gabala in Azerbaijan was highly commended and came in the top 7 of the Food for Sale category in the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2014 Awards.

Highly Commended - Food For Sale - Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2014.
Highly Commended – Food For Sale – Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2014.

 

I was very pleased to see my photograph sit alongside those with much more photographic experience than I boast. It was a real honour to see it hanging on the wall in the Mall Galleries on Pall Mall in London from 24th to 27th April, 2014.

I have to thank Caroline Kenyon who inspired me to enter the awards and Jess Markwood, editorial director at Glam Media, who accompanied me to the awards.

To view the winners and other entries go to Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year.

Zagreb Restaurant Week March 2014

Pauza

From 7th to 17th March, Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, will celebrate its annual Restaurant Week festival. The event enables visitors to the city and locals alike to dine at some of the finest restaurants in the capital for a fraction of the usual cost (100 Kuna for a three-course lunch or dinner), as well as providing special brunch and cocktail offers. The festival was founded by photographer Ozren Drobnjak.

Check out the participating restaurants at the Zagreb Restaurant Week’s official site.

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Moscow 57 To Open Russian Central Asian Restaurant in NYC

Moscow 57, a New York City-based hospitality and entertainment company, founded by Ellen Kaye and her partner, Seth Goldman, are opening a Russian Central Asian restaurant on the Lower East Side of NYC on February 5th.

The entertainment will feature guitarist Tony Romano and jazz vocalist Cleve Douglass, two regular performers at the company’s M57 Pop Up Urban Salons, as they prepare to tour Russia in support of the new album, Desert Flower. Ellen Kaye will host and perform with Ethan Fein and the Moscow 57 Band.

Kaye’s family owned The Russian Tea Room from 1947 to 1996 and this restaurant will draw on influences from Russia, Georgia, Belorussia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The opening night’s event will be a tribute to guest chef, Don  Boyd, New Orleans’ restaurateur and slow food activist. Proceeds will go to the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation. Boyd can be credited with spearheading the brand’s decision to launch a permanent venue for Moscow 57. For the last two years the company has hosted M57 Urban Salons, evenings of music, food and art, in New York and across the East Coast.

168½ Delancey Street, New York, NY 10002 USA

Moscow57.com

Riga Latvia – European Capital of Culture 2014

Riga

Riga, Latvia, will be a European Capital of Culture in 2014. The title for the city’s cultural programme is Force Majeure which signifies a mighty force, both unexpected and foreseeable, accumulated through global and individual obstructions and problems. The aim is to strengthen the blief that culture can change the lives of people and cities for the better.

Riga
Riga

 

The programme has six main chapters:

Freedom Street focuses on issues of power and freedom and is rooted in the fact that 2014 will mark 100 years since the beginning of World War I.

  • Survival Kit offers synergy of ancient skills with modern knowledge across a variety of cultural forms.
  • The Road Map invites everyone to discover the unknown Riga and think about city development issues.
  • Amber Vein seeks to showcase the historial Amber Route through the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea.
  • Thirst for the Ocean focuses on the human striving for intellectual and spiritual values and wisdom.
  • Riga Carnival will give everyone the opportunity to forget the ordianry and mundane, instead providing a time and place to rejoice and mingle.

Throughout the year there will be several book exhibitions, solo concerts by global music stars born in Latvia and an open-air concert in high summer, operatic performances including two original pieces, historic exhibitions of art, theatrical plays focusing on relationships and power, the traditional June solstice celebration – Jāņi, the World Choir Games, documentary films, the launch of creative quarters and a science festival.

For more information on Riga’s Capital of Culture programme go here.

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