Archive | January, 2019

40 Before 40 – Challenge #35 update

27 Jan

Another one of my challenges is to read 40 non-fiction books. I don’t often read non-fiction as I prefer to get my teeth into a novel. However, I have noticed that I have accumulated a lot of (unread) non-fiction books on my shelf. This challenge will give me the opportunity to read some of the books that have been gathering dust and also to learn some new things.

So far I’ve read 10 books so 25% of the challenge is already completed. Here is a quick review of the books that I have read so far.

1. Marching Powder by Rusty Young

This is the story of the time a Brit spent in a Bolivian jail after getting caught while trying to smuggle a large amount of cocaine into the country. I heard about the book while I was in La Paz in Bolivia, while I was standing outside of the jail featured in the book. I always find it interesting to read about places that I have already busy and this had an added dimension because I had seen the jail from outside but thankfully not from the inside. The story itself was fascinating. It explained the prison system in Bolivia (you have to rent your cell from the authorities)

2. My Wimbledon Glory by Andy Murray

I chose to read this book after I realised that sports books and biographies are non-fiction – this could prove to be a life saver in this challenge. I thought this book gave an interest insight into the world of professional tennis. Of course, this was the story of the run-up to Murray’s historic Wimbledon win in 2013. It was a great read because it felt like I was re-reliving some of the previous tennis tournaments as I was reading.

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3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I was so disappointed with the book and I would never have finished this if I had’ve chosen it for the challenge. I was really hoping that it would have been enlightening – the story is about how the author spent a year trying to improve her life and happiness. It was less of an epiphany and more of a bit of common sense written over pages and pages of boring drivel.

4. Be A Travel Writer, Live Your Dreams, Sell Your Features by Solange Hando

As I am hoping to launch my own travel website, this was a great book to give me some ideas about articles and about how to write them. This book was more aimed at writing articles for online and offline publications and how to pitch your ideas rather than writing for a blog or website. I will definitely be re-reading certain chapters of this book over the coming months when I continue making more preparations.

5. What’s Next Gen X? Keeping Up, Moving Ahead and Getting the Career You Want by Tamara J. Erikson

I was lent this book by my former boss. I have always been scpetical about the labelling of generations into Baby-Boomers, Millennials etc but this book was fascinating and I really felt that the advise was relevant to me. It gave me lots to think about, especially in regards to office dynamics and politics.

 

 

6. Roald Amundsen and the Exploration of the Northwestern Passage

This was a short book that I picked up when I visited the Fram Polar Ship Museum in Oslo. The museum itself was great and the book gives a detailed account of the exploration and the events that happened.

7. Feel the Fear but Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

This was an interesting book. Basically, it tries to explain reasons why we are so fearful about change and suggest techniques to help us overcome these fears. Some of the examples in the book I could identify with and I think it will be useful to know the techniques and try and use them in the future. I did read some reviews to say that this book was solely aimed at women who had recently come out of relationships and were finding it hard to move on but I didn’t get this sense at all.

8. How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I have had this book on my “to read” shelf for a long time. It was an interesting book about human psychology and the basic premise of the book is “be nice”. That’s so of it really. By being agreeable, people will want to spend more time with you or do business with you. It seems logical that people who are easy to get along with will have no problem finding friends. However, I wonder if you did follow all of the advice in this book if you would end up feeling very unsatisfied with life. You would just end up doing what other people want and forfeit a large part of your personality to get along with people. Having said that, I will follow some of the advice that the book gives, especially because some of the examples that were given did ring true to me and I think the advice could help me in some areas.

9. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

By far the worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. I was almost will them on to escape to freedom, despite me being aware of the outcome. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

10. Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong

It was interesting to read this book as it was written before it was revealed that Armstrong was not the clean athlete that he always claimed to be. The thing that annoyed me most was that throughout the whole book he was protesting his innocence with regards to doping – for me there is a clear distinction between someone saying they are innocence and writing a book which people used their hard earned cash to buy. I really think that it rubs salt into the wound. I also thought that the tone of the book was very arrogant and I became very irritated by the constant name dropping.

Book Challenge by Erin 10.0

23 Jan

As you may know at the end of last year, I discovered an online reading challenge on Facebook. The group is run by Erin (hence, the name). The challenge is very easy. There are 10 different categories and you have to read a book from each category to complete it.

As I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment, I managed to finish the challenge in 21 days – yes, 10 books in 21 days. I surprised myself. I’ve been motivated by reading 68 books last year and I would like to better it this year if that is possible. Obviously, I have given myself a great start to the year.

Here are the categories and the books that I read for the challenge:

Freebie (any book that is more than 200 pages long) – How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carniege

I decided to read a non-fiction book for this category. I have had this book on my “to read” shelf for a long time. It was an interesting book about human psychology and the basic premise of the book is “be nice”. That’s so of it really. By being agreeable, people will want to spend more time with you or do business with you. It seems logical that people who are easy to get along with will have no problem finding friends. However, I wonder if you did follow all of the advice in this book if you would end up feeling very unsatisfied with life. You would just end up doing what other people want and forfeit a large part of your personality to get along with people. Having said that, I will follow some of the advice that the book gives, especially because some of the examples that were given did ring true to me and I think the advice could help me in some areas.

Book that was turned into a Movie – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Set in Europe – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

So many people have been talking about this book recently that I thought I just had to read it. At times it was an unpleasant reminder about the horrors of Nazi Germany but there was also a huge sense of hope and love. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read it by revealing what happened but it is well-written and poignant. I would recommend that you give it a read as well.

A Newberry Award Winner – Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I read this children’s book in a few hours. It was a lovely story about Wilbur the pig and his friend, Charlotte, who is a very clever spider. This book was popular when I was growing up but I never read it. I was glad that I did. It is a story about relationships and how working together can help improve everyone’s lives. The ending was sad but in a nice way.

A Friend’s Favourite – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I was a bit sceptical about the book when I first started reading it. It took a while to get my head around the structure of the novel and the reasons for that structure. The book is six stories, spanning different eras woven into one. Each of the stories has a connection to the previous one. The stories were so different, not only in terms of narrative voice but also in the format; one was a diary, one was an interview etc. It showed a vast amount of skills to write with such complexity and authenticity. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others but overall it was a great read.

Written over 100 years ago – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I had no idea that this book was based, at least partly, in Switzerland and that it is nothing like the Frankenstein monster horror story that have come out of Hollywood. It is a poignant story about human interaction and the need to be accepted in society. The figure of “the monster” is a lonely, misunderstood figure, who has had no part in his design or creation, and tries to take revenge on his creator after he refuses to help him find happiness.

Title with 6 Words – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Another book from the Nazi Germany era. The worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

Cardinal direction in the title – East, West by Salman Rushdie

This was a collection of 9 short stories. I really liked how the narrative of each of the stories was so different and the subject matter was so varied. A lot of the stories made me quite reflective about life. I haven’t read any of Rushdie’s book before but I am going to make an effort to do so in the future. This was a good introduction into how well he writes.

Originally in another language – The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende (Spanish)

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Begins with the letter N – Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Surprisingly, in this book the narrator is a unborn foetus, who is overhearing the destruction of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s subsequent relationship with his uncle. It was fascinating to read – the narrator can’t see everything that happens in the story but tries to infer all the details from his experience and from other senses. As with all McEwan novels, there is a sinister twist to the story and the foetus attempts to interfere with events that are happening around him.

There will now be a bonus round, where I have the opportunity to read another 10 books, but that part of the challenge doesn’t start until 1st February. In the meantime, I will have to find some other books to get stuck into!

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Brexit Boredom

21 Jan

I suspect that I am not the only one who is bored of the ongoing rumblings about Brexit. But living abroad makes it so much harder.

When people find out that I am British, the first thing they ask is what is going to happen with Brexit – as if I somehow have already been briefed about how everything is going to be resolved. I also get greeted with spontaneous outbursts of laughter or wry shakes of the head. It’s all very worrying. What is more worrying is that I can’t even escape the whole sorry affair by watching Swiss or German TV because they are reporting on it as well (in complete disbelief about what’s happening).

Boredom is only one part of my problem though. Since the dreaded vote I have been constantly worrying about what is going to happen to my rights to stay in Switzerland. Although Switzerland isn’t in the EU, it clearly states on my resident’s permit that I was granted the right to live and work in Switzerland because of my EU nationality. It is a lot, lot harder to get a job here if you are a non-EU national.

Would I be packed off on a plane back to Blighty on 30th March by an very apologetic Swiss official? Would I have to do something to prove that I really should stay here, like compete in the next series of Ninja Warrior Switzerland, or prove that I can yodel as well as a native? For these and many other burning questions, I went to a talk for British Nationals living and working in Switzerland which was organised by the British Embassy in Bern.

I was glad I went and not just for the free glass of wine! The talk was really informative and put my mind at easy about a lot of things that I have wondering about. The best news what that the rights that we have accumulated so far will not be taken away from us. It sounds like business as usual and the proposals are due to be ratified by the Swiss Parliament in the next few weeks. So, although the Brexit process for leaving the EU does seem in turmoil, at least the bilateral agreements that will mean my life will have little disruption are almost all sorted. (I know I sound selfish, especially as so many Brits in EU countries are yet to be given guarantees and assurances and for that I am sorry!)

I was surprised about some of the questions that were asked at the event to the panel. People seemed to be more concerned about still being able to go over the border with a Swiss driving licence to go and get cheaper shopping in Germany and which queue we need to get in at passport control after the Brexit date. However, some of the questions, like would British children lose their rights to live in Switzerland if they attended a British university, had a more serious note and had very complex answers. Depending on what residents’ permit you have, depends on how long you can leave the country for before you lose your rights to residency.

I’m glad my life isn’t so complicated and I can carry on as normal (or as normal as can be). However, my boredom for Brexit continues, just as the news reports do every day that no progress has been made and there are more and more arguments over this point or that point. So, please don’t ask me what’s going to happen on 29th March because you will be greeted with a yawn and a disinterested sigh.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #25 – completed!

19 Jan

Over the past week, I have managed to complete Challenge #25!

Here are the remaining 9 recipes that I needed to complete in order to finish the challenge.

Arabian Rice

This recipe used seitan, which I have never tried nor heard of before. It’s a protein-substitute. It was a pretty easy recipe to make and I decided to make it spicier that the recipe said and perhaps I shouldn’t have because it ended up being a bit too fiery. The seitan was ok as well. I can’t really see me using this as an ingredient again but it was more than edible.

Caramelized Rice Pudding Cakes

Easy to make but it takes a while because the mixture has to set in the fridge for at least 12 hours. I love rice pudding and i never would have thought about make them into cakes and then frying them. Yummy!

Baklava

This turned out well and I was surprised. You have to bake the nuts and filo pastry and then “feed” the baked result with a sugar and water syrup mixture. It didn’t taste like other authentic baklava that I’ve had before but it was a good imitation.

Easter Buns

We had Easter Buns in January! And I will probably be making them again in April. It took a lot time to proof the dough – around 100 minutes in total. I was impressed that I managed to make the dough and it rose so well. Two thumbs up!
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Stuffed Polenta and Mojo Sauce

I would happily make this again (and I will because I’ve got 500g of a packet of polenta left). I did forget to add the oil before putting it in the oven and I thought it would be dry but it turned out well. I wasn’t such a fan of the sauce that was with it.

Triple Nut Plait

This was an absolute nightmare. At one point I was even thinking about throwing the whole thing in the bin and giving up. Making the dough itself was no problem but I found that I had far too much filling for the plait and everything just oozed out, which seemed like a waste of time and food. I managed to salvage it in the end. It didn’t look like it did in the book – but I have found that quite a few of the recipes looked nothing like the pictures provided, even though I have followed the recipe to the letter.

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Pitta Breads with Egg Salad

This was easy to make and tasted great. You don’t actually need to have the pitta breads as an accompaniment. If I made it again (and I think I would) I would just eat it without the egg salad. Another complaint of mine throughout this challenge is how many ingredients it takes to make a recipe. In this case I personally don’t think it’s necessary to have the chickpeas added into the mixture. The recipe says to use only 90g (most cans are 400g) and there is enough texture and crunch from the other ingredients so by not having them included you don’t really lose anything.

Macaroni Salad

This is another recipe that I would make again but I would be a bit more careful with the portion sizes. The recipe said that this made enough for 2 large portions but it ended up being more like 4 large portions. I was surprised that the ingredients (onion, sweet potato, red pepper) that were blended to make the sauce actually tasted good. I would have never thought about putting them together and blending them. The book also says that the sauce can be used on its own as a dip instead, which I might try one day in the future.

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Autumnal Apple Dream

It took me a while to find coconut cream to use in this recipe. I am not a huge fan of coconut anyway so I don’t think that I would make this again. It was easy to make and I had all the ingredients apart from the coconut cream at home but I would need to find a substitute for the cream, if I was to make it again.

As I have mentioned in previous post this challenge was inspired after I watched the film Julie & Julia. It tells of the story of Julie Powell, who successfully made all of the recipes out of Julia Child’s classic French cookbook “Mastering the Art of French cooking” in a year. Powell’s achievement of cooking 524 recipes in one year. And she was cooking classic French recipes! It has taken me almost a year to cook 100! C’est la vie!

And, finally, thanks to all the people who have supported me on this challenge. My many vegan recipe tasters are definitely the best. Everyone that I spoke to about this challenge has been open-minded and ready to embrace my eccentricity. I’ve been really touched by peoples’ support, encouraged by comments (both personally and people who have contacted me through my blog) and I’ve learnt a lot about cooking, ingredients and baking. It’s been fun but I’m glad this challenge is finally complete.

 

Challenge #25 – update

12 Jan

My challenge #25 is to cook all of the recipes from one cookbook. I feel like I have been doing this challenge for ages and ages. Of course, I feel like this because this is pretty close to the truth. The good news is that I have recently tasked this challenge with renewed enthusiasm and the start of 2019 has been full of new, exciting recipes to try.

Here are the dishes I have recently cooked:

Fennel, Banana and Fusilli Salad with Orange Yogurt Dressing

I made this but I didn’t eat it because I don’t like fennel. Luckily my partner loves it so he was the guinea pig for this recipe. I was very sceptical about the ingredients for this: Fennel? Banana? And Orange? Sounds like something out of a horror movie if you ask me but he liked it. I wouldn’t make this again myself because I don’t like the main ingredient but it was easy to put together.

Rice and Beans Burritos with Salsa

As I continue with this challenge, I am running out of enthusiasm to eat the things that I have made so this is another recipe that I drafted someone to help me eat it. My friend, Mark, was very appreciative that I was willing to bring him lunch in the form of a burrito and he didn’t seem to mind so much that it was going to be vegan. We both liked this. It wasn’t all that hard to make. In the future I think I would add some hot sauce to it or maybe another vegetable like sweetcorn to give it a bit more flavour but overall it was great.

Semolina slice with Apple and Pear Puree

I couldn’t find semolina anywhere it Switzerland so it was on the shopping list when I went back to the UK in December. I still can’t work out what type of food stuff it is? I think it is probably classed as a grain but it didn’t look like I thought it would when I opened up the packed and the semolina slices that I made didn’t look anything like the photos in the book and they seemed to crumble into pieces rather than staying in one big chunk. It tasted ok though and the apple and pear puree was surprisingly filling on a cold winter’s day.

Soy Gyros with Tzatziki

This is one of the favourite dishes that I have made. It had to marinate in spices over night in the fridge so it isn’t something that you can prepare in 20 minutes one evening. It was delicious and perhaps in the future I can make a smaller portion of it to have as a tapas style dinner with lots of smaller dishes to try rather than a big main meal.

Spicy Cream Cheese with Gherkins

You need to plan in advance to do this recipe as you need to let the yogurt drain for 12 hours and then let all of the ingredients infuse together for 4-5 hours. I was fairly convinced that I wouldn’t go through the hassle of making it again but I was so impressed with the result that I think I would. I ate this with a warm wholemeal roll but you could use it as a dip, spread or part of a sandwich filling.

Herb, Olive and Tomato Home-Made Rolls

These rolls were one of the best recipes in the book. It didn’t take that long to make, even though I had to kneed the dough for 10 minutes and leave the dough to prove. I was especially impressed by how they turned out because they actually looked like the photo in the book, which proves that there is a first for everything! I will definitely make these again. I think that they are also freezable which is good because I can make a batch in advance for lunch and then just get them out as I need them.

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Vinaigrette

What can I say? It’s a salad dressing made from vinegar, olive oil and shallots. Not a lot to making it. The taste was good but I’m not a great fan of olive-oil based salad dressings.

Sour Cream and Parsley Dressing

This was easy to make but involved quite a bit of chopping before I could mixed everything together. I made it in advance so that the flavours could infuse a bit more before I ate it. I think that this could also be good as an accompaniment to grilled vegetables as well as a salad dressing because it was a thick sauce.

Indian Vegetable Pancakes

These were quite easy to make but the recipe didn’t make very large pancakes so I was glad that I made something else to accompany the dish. I could imagine that this would be a nice side dish to a curry as an alternative to a naan bread. Also the recipe wasn’t very spicy for me so next time I would definitely add the spices so that it matches my palate more.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Lemon Rice

It took me ages to find vine leaves but I finally did. I was impressed by the results of this┬árecipe. It was a bit time consuming to prepare everything but I think it was worth it. I didn’t really taste the lemon in the rice though so I might add more when I make it next time. And I will be making it another time because the jar of vine leaves was enormous and I don’t like wasting food. I have been looking for other recipes for vine leaves on the internet and, while most are recipes for stuffed vine leaves, I have found one which is with mushrooms and garlic with vine leaves that I will be trying out soon and is also vegan.

 

Buckwheat Pancake with Caramelized Apple Slices

We had this for breakfast even though they are in the dessert section of the book. I was surprised by how much of a rise the pancakes had. They were what I would describe as American-style pancakes, really fluffy and soft. I will definitely be trying these again. The book also suggest that you could have these pancakes with savory items, like onion and peppers, which I might give a go as well.

I have now made 91 out of 100 from the book which means that I only have 9 left to do. The end is finally in sight.┬áMy aim is to complete this challenge over the next few weeks, which can mean only one thing… we will be having Easter buns in January! I call this a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

 

 

The Start of 2019

10 Jan

It’s been a busy start to the New Year. It’s only the 10th January but I have the feeling that I have done more in the last 10 days than I did in the whole of December. Which is hardly surprising because my main activities last month were eating and drinking.

Although we had a few smatterings of snow in December, the snow is finally coming down. Perhaps my increased productivity is due to this weather. I don’t feel like going outside so I have been busy doing activities indoors.

Here is a list of what I have done in the past 10 days.

  • Stopped eating and drinking as much as I was doing over Christmas in an attempt to lose the weight that I’ve put on;
  • Read 5 books (and I’ve almost finished number 6);
  • Collected and built a wardrobe that I had ordered;
  • Tried some new recipes in the kitchen;
  • Had a haircut;
  • Packed away all of the Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree – and the corner in the living room still looks empty without it;
  • Bought a new TV – our old one decided to give up the ghost on the 5th;
  • Started work for preparations for lauching my own travel website later in the year;
  • Started learning some coding in Excel;
  • Sorted out some clothes and other things to be taken to the recycling centre or to donate;
  • Went swimming for the first time in as long as I can remember;
  • Had a couple of lunch dates with friends;
  • Begun editing a short story that I wrote last year.

Bearing in mind that we were on holiday in Belgium until 3rd January I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

If the snow keeps falling and I remain inside, I think this month could be the most productive one on record! I hope you’ve also had a good and productive start to 2019.

New Year in Belgium

6 Jan

We rang in the New Year in Brussels. Belgium is one of the European countries that I needed to visit as part of my #40Before40 challenge, and as we would normally be sat at home waiting for the New Year to arrive, it seemed like a good excuse to visit.

We had a total of three full days there, so we had plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy our time there. Overall, I thought Brussels itself was unimpressive and dirty. Admittedly, when you live in Switzerland, everywhere isn’t quite so nice in comparison. But we did get time to visit Bruges which is a beautiful city that we both enjoyed.

Here is what we got up to on our long weekend away.

Brussels

We (somehow) found ourselves in the Brussels Beer Museum at 10am sampling some of the local ales on the first day. There wasn’t a lot to see in the actual museum and I think the main attraction of the museum is the free beer that you can have after the tour. I certainly wasn’t complaining. And the surroundings were pretty cute as well.

After having a beer so early in the day, we also treated ourselves to one of Belgian’s most famous exports… no, it’s not sprouts! We went to one of the many fries restaurants in the city. I was expecting thin chips but the ones that we were served were more like chip shop chips from back home. I was impressed. It turned out that this “snack” was a staple for most of the trip and we are now certified Belgian chip experts.

We also went on a free walking tour, which are always worth the two and a half hours. We learnt a lot about the city, the history, the best places to eat waffles and the best place to drink beer. We also saw the Mannekin Pis, the small statue of the boy peeing and discovered that there are two other statues (minus the historical significance) in the city – a peeing girl and a peeing dog. Naturally we hunted down both of them to collect the set.

We sampled a lot of other beers in the local brassieres and bars, ate waffles, had some amazing moules et frites for our New Year’s Eve dinner and walked around the Christmas markets which were available until 6th January. We also went for a tour of the European parliament, which I found interesting considering events which may or may not be happening at the end of March, as well as a visit to a comic museum, which I thought was overpriced.

We did go in search of fireworks. We were told that there was a big firework display put on by the local government which was free to enter. The display was accompanied by music, DJs, food etc. The venue wasn’t in the city but a bit outside. After two police search we were inside and so were a lot of other people. The problem was that there were only two chip stands, one bar, one churros stand and a waffle van. The queue for the bar was about 200 meters long (no joke) and after a while we decided that it might be better for us to go back into town and find a bar to welcome in the New Year without fireworks because at least then we would be able to get something to drink and eat. So, that is just what we did.

Bruges

Bruges is less than one hour from Brussels if you take the direct train and I was so glad that we did because it is such a charming city. Its atmosphere is completely different to Brussel. It is noticeably cleaner and has lovely little canals and small streets and bridges to get lost in. It is also noticeably colder because it is near the coast.

Here we also took a free walking tour. I personally think the guide was the best guide that I’ve ever had on one of these tours. She was so passionate about the city, knowledgeable about the city and history and had a great sense of humour. She gave us some good hints about where to go and what to do and I was disappointed that we were only staying there for a day. I could have easily wasted hours sat in coffee shops, watching the world go by and eating fistfuls of chocolate.

img_3398We visited the Brugse Zot brewery and ate a very hearty lunch there before visiting the city hall, a beer museum and another brewery, where we tasted six of the beers on tap. After that we just had to try the chips to see if they were as good as the ones in Brussels and a waffle for dessert before heading back to Brussels and later heading home.

I’m glad we spent some time away for New Year. I would recommend it to help you ease back into the next year after an over indulgent Christmas.

It was doubly pleasing for me because now I have visited 27 countries in Europe! I now only need to visit another 13 countries to complete my challenge. With trips to Romania, Poland and Luxembourg planned for later this year (plus a few others), I should be able to complete this challenge soon.