Tag Archives: explore

A long weekend in Bordeaux

3 Nov

Although it seems like a long time ago now, I spent a long weekend last weekend in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is where my boyfriend is currently living to improve his French. I suspect, however, that a reason that is just as important is that he likes to drink wine. For the past few weeks, all I have heard about is wine tasting and Cognac. As Easyjet fly from Basel to Bordeaux, I decided it was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

After the shock of arriving back to a cold Switzerland from Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised that the weather in France was warm. I don’t mean warm as in Barbados warm but certainly noticeably warmer than in Switzerland. We walked around the city and my personal tour guide showed me all of the major points of interest.

When in France it is a legal requirement to have a lunch of bread and cheese sat by the river. There was an artisan farmers’ market by the waterfront so we bought some bread, with olives and onions baked in it, and some lovely sheeps’ milk cheese. We watched the world go by for a bit and it was lovely to be able to sit out in October still.

Docked on the quai was a large Russian sailing ship, the Mir. Apparently the ship has been visiting Bordeaux for the past 30 years. It was an impressive ship and not something that I would have expected to see there. It also accounted for why there were so many Russian sailors milling about the place. We did say that we would go back to go on board, because there were a lot of people on it at lunchtime, but we ended up running out of time.

After some retail therapy (I wanted to get some new running shoes from Decathalon), we had some time to sit and have a drink before going to dinner. We stumbled on a local bar that was next to the Basicilica of St Michael. It was quite interesting to observe some of the locals coming and going. The best part was actually watching someone trying to park in front of the bar. That someone was a male of the species before you come to any other conclusions. He tried about eight times to squeeze into a spot that was far too small. Every time he reversed backwards, he nudged a BMW that was parked behind. The BMW physically moved every time. It was an achievement that he didn’t cause any damage to the other much more expensive car.

We ate at La Crabe Marteau, a famous seafood restaurant. There were about 3 things on the menu: crab, lobster or langustinens. We had the crab. It was pretty exciting. You get give allsorts of equipment to get into the crab. Luckily, I didn’t have to de-shell my crab by myself; the waiter took pity on me and did it for me. Markus wasn’t so lucky! The crab itself was huge and I was surprised by how much meat there was in it. I thought that it would be mainly shell but I was so wrong that I couldn’t even finish my meal, which almost never happens.

The next day it was time to head to Libourne for a Chateaux Open Day. A lot of chateaux open up to the public for free wine tastings as a way to market their wines. The first chateau was very small. It was clearly a farm that was diversifying to generate more money. We saw the cellar and how the wine was produced. They even had two shire horses to help harvest the wine. The wine itself was really good. We bought a bottle to have for later.

The next chateaux was more of a wine merchants. We weren’t able to see the cellar or see how the wine was produced but we could try some, which was the most important point. There were almost too many to try here. At the first chateau there were only three wines to try and we tried them in increasing strength. Here it was a bit of a mixture and I wasn’t always sure that I could taste the difference.

We moved on to Chateau de la Dauphine. This was a huge chateau which produces about 200,000 bottles of wine per year. The contrast between this chateau and the one that we had first visited was huge. We had a half hour tour of the whole grounds and the vineyards. Of course, my French is not very good, so I had my personal translator with me. After a late lunch and a bottle of wine at the chateau we headed back to Bordeaux.

In case you are wondering, we didn’t drive. We got the train and then walked to the chateaux. The 25km I walked that day was only just offset all of the wine that I drunk!

Later we went back to the city. I wanted to take a picture of the Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) in the city centre at night. There is a thin layer of water directly opposite some government buildings which reflects the light perfectly at night. It is breathtaking.

The next day we did a bit more wandering around and some shopping. We bought some Canelé de Bordeaux back with us. I fell in love with this little, delicious treats, which are available everywhere and are normally served with a coffee. A sweet reminder of a lovely weekend in Bordeaux.

Singapore: the last 48 hours

25 Oct

On Monday morning, I shouldn’t have bothered to set my alarm. A huge thunderstorm woke me up at 7am. I am convinced that the building physically shook, or maybe that was just tiredness.

I had planned to go to Sentosa Island for the day. It’s home to 3 beautiful beaches and resorts like Madam Tussaud’s. Despite the weather not being great, I decided to go anyway. By the time I left the hotel, the weather was looking better and it had finally stopped raining.

Sentosa is easy to reach. I took the MRT and then the Sentosa Express. The train was packed with people going to the resorts. If I wasn’t on my own I definitely would have gone to at least one of them. But it’s not much fun queuing on your own. Furthermore I know from experience that if the weather is bad the outside rides are closed down and with the forecast being mixed, it could have been a waste of money. (Incidentally this happened to me in Florida last year and in Hong Kong when a typhoon warning 4 was given part way through the day).

I found out by chance that Sentosa Island is the Southernmost point of intercontinental Asia. So, I had to visit the sign to say I had been there!

The weather was holding out but it still wasn’t great; definitely not lying on a beach weather. So I had a wander round and then decided to go on the Skyline Luge, which is basically a cross between a go kart and a toboggan. Undoubtedly this would have been more fun with other people to race against but it was still fun to do it.

You go up on a ski lift type thing and then collect the cart at the top. You don’t end up coming down all that fast and it is easy to brake. The marketing strap line was “Once is never enough”. The reason for this being is because it takes you longer to get up to the start than it does for you to ride back down if you go at any pace at all.

For lunch I headed to Chinatown for the illusive Michelin starred Hawker Stall which I had tried to find the previous day. I found it this time. Incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious!

To carry on with the theme of enjoying internationally renowned culinary experiences, I went in search of the original Singapore Sling that was invented at Raffles Hotel over 100 years ago.

This was a tough challenge as the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar were both shut for renovations and these are the only places where the drink is served. I had found out that the service of the drink had been moved to the Bar and Billiards Room (part of the Raffles Hotel) while work was continuing.

The surroundings were impressive and the place was full of people drinking the famous pink cocktail. This is by far the most expensive drink I have ever had. One glass costs 36.50 Singapore dollars (or 27 SFr. or 20 GBP). I licked that glass clean as if my life depended on it and enjoyed every last drop!

I headed back to the hotel for a swim to cool off and to have a relax before heading out again. I also had a pedicure which cost more than I expected due to a “misunderstanding” but as I very really indulge in that sort of thing, I decided not to be too annoyed and take it as a sign that I needed a treat.

In the evening I went to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are full of many different species of plants but the crowning glory is the huge tree-like structures that support and sustain yet more plant varieties. At night these structures are lit up and twice nightly you can see a fantastic light and music display, as the trees change colour to the music. The performance I saw was called Moon Symphonies. All of the songs had a Moon theme: Moon River, Fly Me to The Moon and Blue Moon. You can’t beat a bit of Sinatra, Mercer and Bublé on a Monday night with a choreographed light display.

The following day, after going to the gym, doing some shopping, getting myself ready to check out and having a nice healthy lunch, I headed back to the Gardens by the Bay to see them in the day. You could spend hours walking around the gardens. They are so well maintained and well thought out. I paid to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. I thought it was a bit pricey (locals get a reduced rate) but, on balance, it was worth it.

The Flower Dome had species from all over the world and there was a special exhibition of pumpkins because of autumn. This was one of the display items. It was unbelievable!

The Cloud Forest was a replica of a Cloud Forest, a specific type of rainforest which approximately 1.1% is destroyed every year. As you enter the doors, you are faced with a huge, cascading waterfall and a forest of flowers. You can go to the top of the waterfall and then do the Tree Top Walk back to the bottom.

I also wanted to do the Skywalk which is a walkway which links some of the trees that I saw the night before. You get more of a bird’s eye view of the park and the surrounding city. Unfortunately because of the unpredictability of the weather, it was closed for safety reasons. It is completely exposed and they probably don’t have the public liability insurance in case anything did go wrong.

I headed to the Arab Quarter, which I had visited on the Bike Tour. A really quirky cafe called Juice Clinic had caught my eye because of the amazing artwork outside. It had been closed on Sunday but I wanted to visit it before I left. I was so glad I did. It had jazz music playing, freshly squeezed juices and… drum roll please… Rainbow Cheesecake! After all the walking, I feel like I deserved it.

The cafe was on a crossroads and it was a great place to people watch. I could have sat there all day. Unfortunately, it was time to collect my bag, catch the bus and head to the airport.

96 hours in Singapore already over. After a dodgy start, I have enjoy myself thoroughly. Singapore is definitely not how I expected it to be and I hope to come back again to experience more of what it has to offer. I need to get saving for another Singapore Sling!

Singapore: the first 48 hours

22 Oct

My trip to Singapore crept up on me. I booked the flight in February when Swiss had a sale on and a couldn’t resist a bargain. I admit I hadn’t done as much research for this trip and I was feeling a bit nervous about it.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts. For a couple of weeks, I have been suffering from an upset stomach off and on and my body decided it would be funny to see how Lyndsay would deal with this on a 12 hour flight to Asia.

Luckily, if I go anywhere further than the local supermarket, I always take my passport, toothbrush and Imodium. This is the first time I have had to use the latter.

When we landed and I managed to get to the hotel via public transport, I was looking forward to relaxing and lying near to a toilet that I didn’t have to share with 200 other people. That didn’t go to plan.

The hotel declined my credit card three times. The receptionist was really rude and demanded payment immediately and said it must be my credit limit and that’s why my card provider have declined it blah blah blah. I asked for them to get my credit card company on the phone so I could talk to them. The nice man at the credit card company assured me that they had done nothing of the sort. The issue was something from the hotel‘s side. Nasty hotel receptionist denied this and finally the payment went through (when he used another machine).

After that I popped to the supermarket for water and something plain to eat and got lost in the shopping complex! These things are massive. I had been walking around for ages and everything just looked the same. I had to admit defeat and asked the customer information desk how to get back. That was enough for one day. I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

No such luck. I had booked on a bike tour of the city. These are normally a great way to orientate yourself in a city and to ask a local about what life is like. Again I struggled to find the meeting point and when I finally got there, I was the only one who had turned up. I offered to come back on Sunday because I thoughtcrime would be more fun to be with others and not just alone with the group leader.

Having no idea what to do, I picked up a MRT map (subway) and decided to head for the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are incredible. Although they are primarily a place for difference plants to be showcased, they are a huge outdoor space which is utilised by locals for yoga and meditation. An interesting mix!

The Gardens are home to the National Orchid Gardens, which are well worth the 5 dollar entrance fee. It was really tranquil and lovely to see do many varieties of my favourite flowers.

And then the Heavens opened. Being from the North West of England, I know about rain more than most. Singapore rain is something else. Luckily I did have an umbrella with me but it didn’t help too much. I was soaked to the skin. I headed back to the hotel to use the gym while the storm passed.

Early afternoon the weather was much better and I headed out to explore. A friend had recommended a place to eat in Little India, so I headed there.

The eating experience was more of a challenge if I’m honest. The restaurant has a „Wall of Fame“. If you eat a curry of a certain spice strength without joghurt based accompaniments or drinks, they give you a clothes peg to write you name on so hang on the wall. My friend had tried this on his trip to Singapore but failed miserably. I managed to complete the challenge and get my very own peg. I think I could have possibly eaten a few levels hotter, but no one likes a show off, do they? Based on my problems 24 hours before, I feel like my achievement is in the epic category. I had a few celebratory drinks which meant the bill was pretty hefty. Oh well, I’m on holiday.

After that I wandered around Chinatown for a bit and then went to Marina Bay Sands and walked back to the hotel. The views are simply stunning and more spectacular than photos can ever convey.

The next day it was Bike Tour take 2! This time the tour was on. We biked for about 20 km over 4 hours with a stop for coffee and refreshments. The tour was interesting. We went through the Financial district and Chinatown. In Chinatown we went to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I hadn’t visited this the previous evening. The temple is almost completely made out of gold. The security is tight because of this. On the top floor is a relic which is meant to be the tooth of Buddha. All I can say if that was Buddha‘s tooth, his dentist bills must have cost a small fortune. It was huge. It was interesting to see. It’s can be hard to understand relics from the point of view of a non-believer but it obviously holds a deep meaning for followers of this faith.

Later we went by Marina Bay Sands, but we did a different route to the one I had done. Then we went to the hipster district which is an interesting mix of Middle Eastern cultures and has a huge mosque in the middle of it. There are so many faiths in Singapore and there seems to be very little racial tension or discrimination. I wonder what their secret is?

We stopped for coffee and were treated to some staple breakfast foods, which were yummy. We needed the energy for the next part. We actually road down the Singapore Formula 1 track! It was such a surprise. I think I was by far the most excited by this. It takes 4 months to put up the infrastructure and stands and 3 months to take it down. Incredible stuff.

After the tour, I had a swim in the hotel pool to cool down and I decided to go back to Chinatown. The leader of the bike tour had recommend a place to eat which was a hawker stall but had been awarded a Michelin star. Cheap Michelin started food? I was in! Only I wasn’t. I found the place and it was closed. I will have to go back another time. I had dumplings from another stall instead which were cheap and delicious. I then tried a Singapore Craft Beer called Simply Blonde. It cost about half the price of Buddha’s 6 monthly check-up.

I headed out to the Zoo for the Night Safari: the world first nocturnal animal park. It’s a good idea because not so many animals are active during the day when most zoos are open. It took a long time to get there, about 1 and a half hours. Although I had booked a ticket for 9.15pm admission, I managed to get in an hour earlier. I was glad of this because I was worried about missing public transport home.

The safari itself was good. We saw all of the animals apart from the wolves who were hiding somewhere. What was annoying was people who were talking the whole way through (not the thing to do on safari) and people using flashes on their phones to take pictures. I didn’t managed to get any photos because we were on a moving tram. As I wasn’t using the flash, I was trying to take a picture with the aperture open to let in more light. However, the camera needs to be completely still or the image is blurred. This was a shame but I did managed to see some cool animals up front! I managed to get the public bus home and it only cost me 1 dollar 27!

What a week!

20 Oct

What a week it has been! I had no German lessons this week because of half term, so I was looking forward to a bit of relaxing. Not a chance! I don’t mind a hectic week when you know it’s going to be a hectic week but when it creeps up on you to surprise you, it’s not good at all.

On Monday I really didn’t feel like doing much apart from going to bed early. I didn’t even achieve that after I had finished faffing around and getting a few small jobs that I have been trying to do for a while out of the way.

On Tuesday I seemed to be quite busy at work and I headed to the gym at lunchtime. In the evening I met up with some friends who I haven’t seen in a while. It was in actual fact a year or so but I was determined to get everyone together at least once in 2017. I almost made it; one of the group was sick.

We went to a really good burger place, where the burgers are so large that I didn’t even finish mine. We have already got a date sorted for a meeting in early December. I actually think this is cheating a bit. The next organiser doesn’t have to go through the pain of sending dates after dates and agonising about what time and where we meet. I’m saying I have more brownie points for my efforts.

Wednesday was the last outdoor hockey practice before we start playing the indoor season. Boo! I’m not a huge fan of indoor hockey, mainly because the ball never really goes out and you have to run and run until your lungs burn and your face looks like a beef tomato, which for me is about 2.5 minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling to well and I decided after the warm-up that it might be best to leave early and get an early night.

Thursday I was busy getting organised and tidying the house before leaving for a long weekend away in Singapore!

I only booked this trip in February because it was 460 Francs return in a Swiss International airlines sale. I have paid more to go home for Christmas before so forgive my impulse buying. Because the week was so hectic I have no idea if I have packed the right clothes etc etc. But who cares? I’m sure it’s a case of “I think I left the oven one” and everything will be ok. If not, I am sure I will manage.

So, by the time you read this, I will be there. Probably sweating, moaning about humidity and dying of thirst but hey that’s the beauty of Asia. Let the adventure begin!

40 Before 40: Challenge #2

9 Oct

For my second challenge of my 40 Before 40, I have decided to take on one of my passions in life – travel. My challenge is to visit 40 of the 51 countries in Europe before my 40th birthday. One of the plus points of moving to Switzerland was that it is in the centre of Europe and a lot easier to travel around. Over the past few years, I have been to a lot of new places but there are still more on the list to get through!

I was shocked when I realised that there were 51 independent countries. I have checked with several sources and they all say the same. So it must be true.

Technically, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey are transcontinental countries as they span Europe and Asia. Armenia and Cyprus are considered to be European countries, although they are geographically in West Asian territory.

Below is the list of the 51 European countries and next to the ones I have already visited I had put the date of when I visited. For some of the countries that I haven’t visited in the last 15 years or so there is just an approximate date.

So far, I have visited 25 out of the 51. I had better get packing my bags!

  1. Albania
  2. Andora
  3. Armenia
  4. Austria – August 17
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Belarus
  7. Belgium
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Bulgaria – July 2008
  10. Croatia
  11. Cyprus – sometime in the 90s
  12. Czech Republic – July 2016
  13. Denmark – July 2016
  14. Estonia – May 2015
  15. Finland – May 2015
  16. France – December 2016
  17. Georgia
  18. Germany – June 2017
  19. Greece – around 2000
  20. Hungary – March 2014
  21. Iceland
  22. Ireland – June 2003
  23. Italy – May 2015
  24. Kazakhstan
  25. Kosovo
  26. Latvia – September 2015
  27. Leichtenstein
  28. Lithuania – September 2015
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Macedonia
  31. Malta – sometime in the 90s
  32. Moldova
  33. Monaco
  34. Montenegro
  35. Netherlands – December 2015
  36. Norway – March 2017
  37. Portugal – June 2014
  38. Poland
  39. Romania
  40. Russia
  41. San Marino
  42. Serbia
  43. Slovakia – August 2017
  44. Slovenia
  45. Spain – Sep 2014
  46. Sweden – Dec 2014
  47. Switzerland – country of residence
  48. Turkey
  49. Ukraine
  50. UK – birth place. That must count as being marked off the list
  51. Vatican City – May 2015

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Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

Survivor

4 Oct

Along with 25,000 other people, I survived the half marathon on Sunday in Cardiff. From 9am on Sunday morning, the place was packed with runners ready to make their way around the 13.1 mile course. The 0.1 is very important. It’s this last little bit that will kill you off, if you’re not careful.

Of course, I could have trained more, lost a bit more weight but it was too late to think of what could’ve beens. Armed with a Cardiff City bin bag to keep me warm before the gun went off, it was only going to be my mind that would hold me back.

The start of the race was ok. There were so many people that it was impossible to start off too fast. We had already walked along part of the course two days before so I knew after we went through Penarth Marina and over the Barrage to Mermaid Bay that I was half way there.

I had a couple of bad patches, especially between mile 8 and 9 and then again after 10 miles, but with the help of the Rocky theme tune and some more classic hits, I managed to power through.

Overall, I was disappointed with my time but I did manage to run a 10 mile personal best. I only managed to beat it by 9 seconds, and I am sure that I can run better than that.

The weather stayed reasonably dry and I fully deserved my beer and fish and chips in the pub afterwards. I was glad that I didn’t have to get on a plane back to Switzerland on Sunday night. The legs were a touch sore.

On to the next race…