Tag Archives: europe

Spending a day in Liechtenstein

12 Mar

If you have been following my blog, you might recall me saying back in February that my next trip to another European country would be in May when we go to visit Poland. I had a feeling that I would be getting itchy feet long before then and I was right. So I decided to visit Liechtenstein for the day.

Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe and is only 1 hour and 20 minutes from Zurich by train. I was surprised when I got there to see that there was so much snow on the mountains and the temperature was a lot colder than it is in Zurich.

As the country isn’t big, everything in the city centre is easy to get to by walking and there are plenty of museums. Here is what I go up to:

Vaduz Castle

I hiked up to the castle, which is on the top of a  hill looking down on the city. I’m not exaggerating by saying ‘hike’. It’s a pretty steep path up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle isn’t open to the public because it is the permanent residency of the Liechtenstein royal family. I thought that was a bit of a shame. There are 130 rooms in the castle so I would have thought that it would be possible to open it up to visitors for time to time. They can’t possibly use all of those rooms all at once. Even the Queen let the public into her residence when she was skint. Perhaps that’s the fundamental difference between the British royal family and their European counterparts – money. However, the castle is still impressive even if you can’t see it from the inside.

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The Stamp Museum

This is only a small museum but it is free to visit. There are some cool interactive tools, like being able to browse through the whole of the back catalogue of Liechtenstein’s stamps. I also didn’t realise that stamps used to be printed by engraving the design onto metal and then these engravings were used to make the individual stamps. Some of the examples on display showed how detailed the engravings are.

There was also an exhibition about the history of postcards which was interesting, especially as people don’t send them these days. Did you know that the stamp didn’t always used to be in the top right hand corner? Sender used the position and orientation of the stamp to communicate secret messages to the recipent.

Sculptures in the Street

As I was walking around the city and taking photographs, I noticed that there was a lot of art in the street. There is a large contemporary art museum (which I wasn’t in the mood to visit) so the city has a feeling of being quite arty. I like art and sculptures being in the street – I don’t see the point of things being locked away behind closed door rather than been enjoyed by people.

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Liechtenstein is the 29th country that I have visited in Europe which means that I have another 11 to visit before I can tick Challenge #8 off my 40 Before 40 list. Plus I now know how to spell it properly!

We have decided to have a few long weekends in different places this year rather than two weeks somewhere. Our next planned trips will be in Poland (May 2019), Luxembourg (July 2019), Serbia (September 2019) and Ukraine (October 2019). It could be that I end up being spontaneous and book a few more trips in the meantime but I will try to restrain myself.

A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

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But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

Winter Sun and Snow

4 Feb

Last week I did something I have never done before: I made the decision on Monday to fly on 6 days later to the sunny climbs of Tenerife. It’s not quite as extreme as waking up one morning, going to the airport and taking the next available flight but it felt like it to me because I’m normally so organised that my flights are booked more than 6 months in advance.

It was getting so cold here in Switzerland that I decided a few days in the sun would help to thaw out my bones and might even put some colour into my pale skin (but that was definitely a long shot!)

As my mum was already holidaying in Tenerife, I just had to get a bus from the airport and meet her just outside where she was staying. It was so much warmer there and I did get a few strange looks from people wearing my big winter coat, which I assure you I needed for the journey back.

We spent a lot of time walking, drinking in English bars and eating English food. It was great to relax and just enjoy life without any time pressures. We also visited La Caletta, which is a fishing village, and had a great fish and chips there.

All too soon it was time for me to come home, but not without some Chorizo sausage and olives as edible souvenirs.

Of course, I landed back to a very wintry and cold Switzerland. I did wonder if it was worth going for such a short space of time and now I feel like it’s even colder here than it was before I left. The 25+ degrees difference hasn’t been a very welcome gift but at least it looks pretty.

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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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.

 

Tour de France

21 Oct

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday in France. I don’t think I have ever been on holiday to another country by car so this was a bit different because we drove 1’000 kilometers to Bordeaux. The main reason was because we wanted to bring back some wine and that isn’t possible when you fly. It also gave us the opportunity to stop off in a few places on the way back.

Here is a bit of what we did while we were away:

Bordeaux

I went to Bordeaux last year and one of the conditions of going back there was that I could go back to eat crab at Le Crab Marteau. Dinner is basically a huge crab served with potatoes and sauces. Delicious! The couple on the table next to us were also British but she obviously hadn’t come face-to-face with a crab before eating it and actually hid the crab under a napkin so that she didn’t have to look at it!

We went to the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dunes in Europe. This was an incredible place to go to. The sand dunes are huge and great fun to climb up. It did start to rain a bit while we were up at the top and I can imagine getting caught up there in the rain wouldn’t be a great idea.

We visited Le Cité du Vin which I hadn’t been to before. It’s a museum about the history of wine and has lots of interactive exhibits and information about the importance of wine in French culture. A free wine tasting was also included in the price.

We also visited Musée du Vin which had exhibits about the history of wine in Bordeaux and information about how bottles are corked and how wine barrels are made. There was also a tasting at the end and we were able to learn more about how the wines in the Bordeaux area differ in taste.

St Emillion

We stopped at this small village for a day. I found the whole place fascinating. We took a tour of the underground church and learn so much about the origin of the place and who Saint Emillion was. Of course, the village only really exists today because of the wine industry and it isn’t uncommon to see buses full of tourists arriving each hour before rushing onto the next place. I might write another blog about St Emillion in the near future because I enjoyed it so much.

Lyon

We only had a bit of time in Lyon. It was a shame because there are lots of things to see here. Our time in Lyon was mainly to break up the journey on the way back. However, we did get to see the Roman ruins and to the Basilica at Fourviére which is spectacular. You never need to worry about going hungry in Lyon as there are restaurants on literally every corner. Once again the weather was kind to us and we could enjoy a long walk along the side of the river.

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Burgundy

We spent two nights staying at a chateaux in Burgundy. It was a great location to be based to visit some other towns. The village of Beaune was only a 20 minute drive and we visited Hotel-Dieu, a Medieval hosptial that was sent up help the sick and dying by a wealthy couple and was in use until the 1980s to look after the elderly. The ticket for this museum was also valid for entry into the Musée du Vin, which was another museum about wine.

We also had some time to visit a mustard factory. The Edmund Fallot museum still uses traditional methods to make their mustard and the tour was interesting. We could also taste some of the various mustards (curry mustard anyone?) that they produce and we got a few free samples to take home with us.

Staying with the mustard theme, we drove the next day to Dijon. By this time, we had seen enough wine degustations and mustard shops! They have a owl trail that you can follow around the city and see the main sights. So, we did that before heading to a wine expo that we had been invited to by the owner of the chateaux that we had been staying. All of the sellers at the wine fair were small, independent people and it was interesting to see how many different wines were produced in the region that we had been staying in.

All in all, a very successful trip. I personally learnt a lot about wine and mustard. It was nice to have a small break from reality and to be able to try some new wines and foods along the way.

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!