Tag Archives: expat

A long weekend in Belgrade

26 Sep

Last weekend I was experiencing the delights of Belgrade in Serbia with a group of friends. Serbia is the 32nd country that I have visited in Europe, which means that I am slowly inching towards my goal of visiting 40 countries in Europe before I turn 40.

I was expecting Belgrade to be similar to Bucharest, where we visited in February this year but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and clean. I would even argue that it is nicer than many cities in the UK. I was glad that we had a Serbian native in the group; it meant that it was easier to communicate (though I am sure it would be ok to visit even if you didn’t know any Serbian) and we went to some cool places that weren’t crowded with tourists.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Food

I felt like all we did was eat. Serbian cuisine is very hearty, full of meat, potatoes and general deliciousness. I was surprised that it was allowed to smoke in the restaurant that we ate in on the Friday night. It has been so long since I have eaten indoors at a place where smoking is allowed. The atmosphere was great, especially as there were musicians going from table to table throughout the evening. Luckily, they didn’t come and seranade our table! In Serbia there is a type of salad that is basically just cheese. So I am now a reformed salad dodger.

On Saturday morning we had a traditional Serbian breakfast which is savory pastries with spinach, cheese and meat, as well as a yoghurt drink. Somehow the breakfast didn’t fill us up and we decided to have a unlimited mezze-style lunch. The idea was that they bring you small plates of food until you tell them to stop. We managed to eat everything from the list and then ask them for more. It’s important to get your money’s worth on holiday.

We had an impressive all you can eat brunch on Sunday which left us completely stuffed and was, compared with Swiss standards, incredibly cheap. We definitely didn’t go hungry.

Drink

Serbian beer is very tasty and I was happy to try several different brands. We also managed to find a Serbian cider which was a bit too sweet for me. It reminded me of Kopparberg.

Schnapps are also popular but I’m not a fan of drinking schnapps in general so I avoided partaking whenever possible. We also did some late-night drinking in a couple of trendy places.

Churches and architecture

Churches seem to be everywhere in Belgrade. I love looking around churches and those that we saw at the weekend were some of the most ornately deocrated buildings that I have ever seen. One small chapel in the Belgrade fortress also sold bottled holy water, famed for its healing properties but I decided not to purchase one.

There are some incredible-looking administrative buildings in the capital and they are all lit up at night which I think makes them look even more stunning.

Markets

We visited a market, which was a fresh produce market but also incorporates a flea market. Thankfully, we had already eaten by the time we walked around the market so we weren’t tempted into buying anything. I found it interesting that there were meat stalls or butchers where you can order your meat and they will prepare it and cook it for you so it can be picked up later in the day. It seems like a really good idea.

Escape rooms

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I love an escape room. We managed to do two while we were in Belgrade. We finished the first one so quickly that we had time to do a second one. The employee was very impressed that we managed to solve both of the rooms so quickly. We almost beat the record for both of the rooms. She even suggested that we enter the Escape Room World Championships which I am sure would be great fun and would possibly be the only way I will be able to claim that I have competed in a World Championship! We’ll have to see if anything comes of that in the future.

The Beach

I was shocked that there was a beach in Belgrade but there is. Of course, the beach isn’t on the coastline to the sea because Serbia is a land-locked country. The beach is a man-made beach on a lake. The weather was beautiful and I would have definitely gone for a swim if time had allowed. It was just nice to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

Thanks to Stefan (translator and organiser extraordinaire), Mark, Araz and Markus for being great travel companions on this great weekend.

I will soon be visiting my 33rd country in Europe in two weeks when I go to Kiev for a long weekend.

Long weekend in Krakow

8 May

I’ve wanted to visit Poland for a long time. Poland is now the 30th country in Europe that I have visited. I am aiming to have visited 40 by the time I reach my 40th birthday. I do have quite a bit of time left to achieve this!

Here is what we got up to on our weekend away:

Wieliczka Salt Mines

After almost missing our pre-booked tour because of Uber drivers consistently cancelling on us, we finally made the 20 minute drive to the Salt Mines.

All of the mines are underground and we only saw a fraction of the mines that have been excavated. The sheer size of the place was mind-blowing. I didn’t realise that salt in its purest form is grey and not white. Without having a guide it would have been impossible not to have got lost.

Some of the chambers inside the mine had salt sculptures in them, like this guy here,

who was important in establishing Krakow as a city, and Pope John Paul II.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

This was perhaps my main motivation for wanting to visit Krakow instead of any other city in Poland, which sounds sick and morbid. But after learning so much about this period of history in school and more recently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz I wanted to experience the place itself.

This was another guided tour that we had booked in advance. It is possible to walk round yourself and see the camps but having a guide meant that we got detailed information and could learn more in a short space of time.

I’ve visited a concentration camp before in Dachau, outside Munich but I wasn’t prepared for the scale and the horror that this place revealed.

I wonder if the human race has learnt anything about this awful time in history when equally horrifying genocides and displacement of people is continuing to happen today?

Free Walking Tour

Free Walking Tours are always a must for us on any city trip. The city itself isn’t very big but the tour took us on some less well-trodden paths. It was interesting to hear about how the city grew and developed, the legend of the dragon and more recent history, such as John Paul II training to be a preist at the start of the Nazi German era and later returning as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Boat trip

We took a small boat trip on the Vistula River which gave us great views of the Castle and parts of the city that we wouldn’t be able to see by foot.

Food

I very seldom complain about food and there were certainly no complaints about anything we ate in Poland. I had some good recommendations from Polish friends and we also stumbled on some great, small local places.

There was even a street food festival (where isn’t there one?) and we tried some meat, pierogi (dumplings) and sheep’s cheese.

I was surprised by two things. Firstly how clean the city was. Normally everywhere seems dirty to me after living in Switzerland for so long. But the streets were really clean and well maintained. Secondly, I think I heard more English being spoken on the streets than any other language. One evening we were treated to a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone as we walked past a English bar.

I hope that the next 10 destinations that I visit for my challenge are as good as our trip to Krakow was!

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.

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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Dinner Party Madness

20 Dec

We are still a few days off from Christmas and I am almost ready for the New Year to be here so I can have a long period of abstinence. From the end of November we have had a lot of dinner parties and meals to keep me full-to-bursting. It is nice to catch up with people over a tasty meal and enjoy winter food that we don’t get to eat for the rest of the year.

Here are some of the festive dinners that we have had over the past few weeks with family and friends.

Raclette

Six of us sat down at the end of November for Raclette. Since moving to Switzerland, cheese raclette has become a firm favourite of mine. And why wouldn’t it? It’s melted cheese with potatoes and meat. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to do my vegan challenge in the summer. I don’t mind cutting out dairy and meat but cheese is really difficult for me to deny myself. We all ate until we had eaten and drunk our own body weights. I was slightly shocked that between the six of us, we managed to drink six bottles of wine plus about eight bottles of beer – and one of us was driving. Needless to say we all had a great time. What was even more great was that we ended up having the leftovers (we always prepare far too much food for guests) the following evening.

Sunday Roast

Two of our friends heading off to go travelling in the next few days. Because we aren’t able to go to their leaving drinks because we will be in the UK, we invited them over on a Sunday to experience a traditional British Sunday Roast. I’m always a bit wary of sharing British classics with other nationalities because literally everyone else in the world thinks that British food is shockingly bad. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my homemade Yorkshire puddings, stuffing balls and gravy were all quickly devoured!

Cooked Ham

Three days after the Sunday Roast two more of our friends came round to enjoy one of the hams that we had won at a shooting competition. It was basically the same as the Sunday Roast but with ham substituted for chicken and no yorkshire puddings. I was surprised by how good the ham was. Sometimes when you win food stuffs at a competition it’s not the best quality but we were all very impressed by it and again there wasn’t anything left at the end of the meal.

Mongolian Pot

My boyfriend always invites some of his former work colleagues to ours for a pre-Christmas dinner. We had mongolian pot which is something that we only eat around Christmas time. It is basically a pot of stock that you cook meat and vegetables in. I like that it is a very social meal. You need to wait for certain things to cook so you can talk, drink and laugh while you are waiting. Theoretically it means that you shouldn’t overeat because you have time to recognise that you are already full. I must admit I am still working on that bit! Also I have no idea why it is called Mongolian Pot but is still extremely popular in Switzerland.

I also made chocolate brownies from a new recipe which turned out far better than I expected!

Fondue

Another tradition for us is choosing our Christmas tree at a local farm and then enjoying Glühwein and Fondue before carrying the tree home. The fondue is so good there. This dish has been another one that I have become very fond of since moving here. I was very sceptical to begin with because I wasn’t so sure that melted cheese and bread actually constitutes a proper meal. But it does fill you up and now it is one of my favourites.

Over Christmas we will definitely be eating Raclette, Fondue and Mongolian Pot at least one more time. Plus we also have invites to a few friend’s houses over the Christmas and New Year season. Now perhaps you can understand why I will be ready for a “detox” in the New Year.

Things I’ve learnt in October

1 Nov

I have been a bit quiet of late but that’s because I’m studying like a woman possessed for my German exam that is fast approaching. Therefore, most of the things that I have learnt this month do have a strong connection to German grammar but there have also been a few things not language related.

1. Reading books in German can be fun. I love reading. If I could get paid for each book I read I would be laughing all the ways to the bank. However, reading in another language takes longer and requires looking up words to make sure you have got the meaning. Up until recently I’ve come up with so many reasons NOT to read books in German. With the exam approaching, I broke off from reading English books to try reading German ones instead. It seems I must have been choosing the wrong ones to read. The last two books I’ve read have been really funny and I’ve enjoyed them. I know what you thinking: German literature that’s funny? I am as surprised as you are!

2. I can talk in a professional setting in German. Talking about what the weather is like and what you want to eat are relatively easy but talking with potential employers is something that I have avoided thus far. I was recently thrust out of my comfort zone and had to introduce myself in professional surroundings. I don’t know how I managed it but I did. And it wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be!

3. There is not a lot about wine from the Bordeaux wine region that I don’t know. As we spent a week in the south of France, we ending up learning a lot about wine. Not just about if it tastes good or bad but the history, the production and the varieties of wine. It was great to learn more. Did you know, for instance, that the first wine bottle was opened in Bordeaux in the 1800s by an Irishman called Mitchell? Well, now you do!

4. Convincing yourself to do exercise is harder than actually doing it. As my knee is now better, I have been trying to make up for lost time. Last week I did some form of sport (either running or cycling) for six out of seven days. The first few days I did it was I dreading it and putting it off for as long as possible but a few days in and I was looking forward to getting outside in the fresh air.

5. Filing a Swiss tax return isn’t as difficult as I thought. The deadline for tax returns is the end of March but as we were travelling, we extended our deadline until the end of October. It seems like there is a lot of paperwork and things that you need to fill in and send off but all in all it’s not too complicated. I’m still glad that I only have to do it once a year.

So, that was October… and November has already started. I hope you learnt some interesting things in October too

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.