Tag Archives: europe

Rock ‘n’ Roll in Dublin

17 Aug

It is now a week ago that I went to Dublin to take part in my first competitive running race for almost two years and my first time taking part in the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series. We had a few days before the race to explore Dublin city and a day after to recover before coming home. I had a great time – even when considering that I had to be up early for a 10k race on Sunday. I haven’t been to Dublin for about 15 years so it was a long overdue visit.

Guinness Storehouse and Whiskey

The Guinness Storehouse recently became the Number One tourist attraction in Ireland. The last time I was there it was only a tiny place with guided tours going through a few rooms. Now it is a multi-storey entertainment palace for grown-ups. We were able to pour our own pint of Guinness, have a tasting session and see how Guinness is brewed. We ended up buying loads of merchandise from the gift shop. Travellers’ tip: the merchandise in the official gift shop is cheaper than the shops in town.

We also visited the Jameson’s Whiskey Factory but we went there after the run on the Sunday and so we weren’t up for a full-on whiskey tasting so we tried a few drams of the speciality whiskey there and that was enough for us.

Irish bars and music

We definitely found ourselves in our fair share of bars and pubs. The great thing is that most of the bars have live music on through out the day. In one place we were surprised when the guy who had served us behind the bar spontaneously starting doing an Irish jig. You don’t get that in your average boozer. We also experienced a disgruntled punter walking into the pub, having been released from the police station about half an hour before, asking for his money back for his pint that he didn’t managed to finish the previous night because the police had arrested him. You don’t get that in your average boozer either.

10k Run

The main event – the run – was on Sunday morning at Phoenix Park. I had done quite a bit of training but I knew that I wasn’t going to run a personal best time. Two weeks prior to the race I had run a test 10k to make sure that I could make my way around with collapsing. I did manage it but afterwards I felt terrible and I fell asleep in the bath for about 45 minutes. After this, I decided to aim for a time which was quicker and that I thought was achievable. On the actual day I felt really good and I flew round the first 5km. Then the hills came and it started to get tougher. At 8km when the 1 hour pace-makers overtook me, I began to dispair but I managed to cross the finish line 3 minutes quicker than I had hoped to do. Plus I didn’t feel terrible once I had finished. And my knee is still in one piece!

In fact, I had enjoyed that run more than I had enjoyed and of the training or any other race that I have entered in previously. I’m hoping to carry on with the enjoying my running until the end of autumn.

Food

We tried traditional Irish stews, pies and the like but the highlight for me was the Irish breakfast that we had on Monday morning as part of our recovery. I haven’t tried white pudding but it was delicious. Quite randomly we also ended up eating oysters three times during the course of the weekend. I tried oysters for the first time with a French friend of mine and now I can’t get enough of them.

 

I would love to go back to Ireland again soon. I love the friendly atmosphere (even though there is a long and bloody history between the Irish and the British), the liveliness of the place and I would love to go to all of the literary museums to learn more about the great Irish writers. Unfortunately that won’t be this year. My next weekend away will be in September when we visit Belgrade in Serbia. I can’t wait!

Weekend in Luxembourg

26 Jul

Last weekend we went to Luxembourg. I have never been before and as one of my challenges is to visit 40 countries in Europe it was time to change that. So Luxembourg is officially the 31st country that I have visited in Europe.

Luxembourg is a small country and, to be honest, there wasn’t a lot to see and do there so I was glad that we had decided to only make a weekend out of it. But the city itself is charming and very beautiful.

Here are some of the things that we did:

Free Walking Tour

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time you will know that I am a big fan of taking a free walking tour in any and every city around the world. It was good that we did this on the first day so that we could get a good grasp of the city and find our bearings. It was during the tour I realised that the city really isn’t that big at all.

We visited St Michael’s Church during the tour. Mainly because of my education, I am a bit of a church geek and I was blown away by the stained glass window in this church. I know it sounds like a strange thing to say but the windows looked so modern even thought the church was one of the oldest in the city. Of course, it could be that the church had been recently renovated but they are still the nicest windows I have ever seen in a church.

 

The Bock Casements

On the outskirts of the city are the remains of the underground tunnels from a fortress. The fortress was built to help protect the city and over the centuries the enemy had tried to raze the fortress. Only a few towers from the fortress is still standing today but 17 kilometers of the casements or the tunnel of it are left. It was fun exploring what is left of the tunnels. Some of the tunnels were very narrow and I had to make sure constantly that I didn’t hit my head on the roof.

Beer and Food

I didn’t realise how many Luxembourgish beers there are. We tried a couple of them and were impressed! I found the prices of the drinks and the food as well to be very similar to Swiss prices. It definitely didn’t turn out to be a cheap holiday in that respect.

We didn’t try any specialities from Luxembourg on the food front but we did find a very nice sushi place for lunch one day and we had a meat and cheese board for dinner on the first night which was excellent.

Skaters

It’s always interesting to see how local people entertain themselves on a Saturday night. Luxembourg did not disappoint. We walked past a stakeboard shop that was holding an event. Basically the whole road was blocked off and they were staking down the road, hitting a ramp and then jumping over a bin and landing on the other side. Just when I thought I had seen it all, one of them decided to do this naked. It took the poor guy 4 times to land the jump on the other side of the bin. By the time he landed the jump to raptuous applause he was covered head to toe (and also in between) with grazes and brusies.

I have no idea why the police weren’t called to break up the disturbance but I was glad that they didn’t. The people who had “organised” this were relatively responsible and did stop proceedings to let traffic pass safely.

 

My next travels will be to Dublin in August (but I have already been to Ireland so that won’t count towards my list of 40) and then to Belgrade, Serbia in Septemeber.

 

Netball in Copenhagen

17 Apr

I’m just about fully recovered from a weekend in Copenhagen playing netball with Zürich Netball Club, who I decided to join in January. I worked out that it had been almost 15 years since I had been on a netball tour which is one of the scariest things that I have heard in a long time.

We arrived at the hotel with the news that they had overbooked the twin beds in the hotel so we had to make do with double beds. This was slightly daunting considering that some of us didn’t know each other well. There wasn’t a great deal that we could do about it and I was so tired I could have slept standing up in a broom cupboard.

On the Saturday we headed to the venue. The hall was packed with teams from Sweden, Holland, France and Germany. It was a mixed tournament so it wasn’t a surprise to see a few men there but we were the only team to only have women playing. I know from experience that its not always an advantage to have men on a netball team but it would turn out that these men had played before and were pretty handy on the court.

The tournament was opened by Zindyi Mandela, the South Africa ambassdor in Denmark, who I later found out was the daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. She gave a great speech about how important it is for women to be involved in team sport. How amazing is it that she took the time out of her day to come and wish a group of expats all the best for the day!

I had completely forgotten how physically demanding a sport netball is. Playing competitively is so different to training with your team mates. My legs were almost dead after the first few games. Luckily the organisers provided snacks and cake to help with blood sugar levels.

We played 8 games in total and, although we didn’t end up winning the competition, the games that we did lose were by very small margins. After the prize giving we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before a buffet dinner at a local restaurant with the other teams and then onto a trendy cocktail bar called Curfew for some celebratory drinks.

I woke up the next day still shattered which is yet another reminder that I need to improve my fitness. I could barely walk up stairs for the next few days. After a late-ish breakfast we went on a free walking tour, visited The Little Mermaid Statue and headed back to the airport.

Thank you to my team mates Claudia, Lauren, Lorna, Kim, Arran, Abby, Chelsea, Emma and Konio for a great weekend of netball and for such a great time. I’m hoping for an equally great weekend in another European city with the girls soon!

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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