Tag Archives: travel

2019 in Numbers

30 Dec

As the year and decade is coming to a close, I thought it would be good to review my year in numbers as I did last year.

So here it is:

  • 102 is the number of books I have read in 2019. I have no idea how I have managed to do this. At the start of the year, I wasn’t working so I did have more time to read but I also had a break half way through the year where I hardly read anything for 2 months. This means I covered a huge 30’208 pages over the course of the year and the longest book I read was Gone With The Wind. I want to set myself a challenge reading goal for next year but I also want to dedicate more time to writing so I will have to put some thought into that.
  • I visited 7 new countries in Europe this year: Leichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. I now only need to visit 6 more and my challenge to visit 40 countries before I am 40 will be completed. So far, I don’t have any definite plans to visit any countries that are on my list but that will most likely change.
  • Talking of challenges, this year I have completed 7 more challenges from my list and 3 of them are very, very nearly finished. Of the challenges that I have completed this year, my favourite was paragliding in Interlaken in the summer.
  • I competed in 2 international netball tournaments this year which is incredible when I only started playing netball again at the start of this year. It would have been 3 but I was in the Ukraine exploring Chernobyl when the tournament in Amsterdam was held.
  • I have run 270km this year and cycled 223km. I would like to think that I can easily beat these totals in 2020 but that means that I have to lose some weight and stay injury free.
  • I have completed 4 short stories. This is a mini-miracle because for years I haven’t been able to finish any story I have started. I am now planning on completing a collection of short stories early next year. I also made a rough plan of a novel which I might revisit next year as well.
  • I started a new job and have already been there for 6 months.
  • I’ve had one of my photos published in the Swiss inflight magazine and one of my tweets appeared on the BBC Sports website during Wimbledon fortnight.
  • Most recently our family celebrated not one but two important birthdays with both of my grandparents reaching their 90th birthdays.

2019 was a great year. I have managed to tick more things off my list and stayed happy and healthy for the most part. Who knows what 2020 will bring. There is only one way to find out.

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Farewell November

30 Nov

Let’s all say it together so that it’s out of the way: ‘How on earth is it the end of November already?’

This time in a few weeks we will all be stuffed with food, chocolates and booze wondering how on earth we are going to shed the weight so we can get back into our trousers to go back to work at the start of January. When we do go back to work in January, we will be in a new decade. This is a little too much for my brain to process at this point in time.

I feel like this month has been more relaxed than previous months but I’ve managed to do cool things this month that I have enjoyed.

Here is what I got up to in November:

  • After a long absence from the stage, I made my long awaited comeback. My drama group had a performance to share what we had learnt during the course. It was terrifyingly nerve-wrecking but a huge amount of fun and I was glad that some of my friends took time out of their busy lives to come and see it.
  • I finished my swimming course. I also learnt so much doing this and I sort of got used to the early mornings. Without having the motivation of the course, I actually haven’t been swimming once since finishing it but I have promised that I will go at least once a week between now and Christmas.
  • I finished my writing course and I am now working on a collection of short stories which I hope I will be able to publish in early spring next year.
  • I had a nice break in the sun in Tenerife with my mum. I was able to go running most mornings and drink a decent amount of local beer. We also went on a stargazing trip but, because it was cloudy, we didn’t see any stars. We just ended up cold and wanting to get back into the warm bus.
  • I joined the esteemed ranks of a non-nail biter after failing for year after year and, in doing so, completed Challenge #34 of my 40 Before 40 challenge.
  • And I visited my 34th European country when we visited a very wet and windy Monaco.

December will be full on as it always is. Work will be busy and my diary is looking full as it stands, unless I do my classic thing and make last minute cancellations!

I hope you had a great November and you are looking forward to celebrating the festive season.

A weekend in Kiev

15 Oct

Over the weekend I was visited my 33rd European country – Ukraine. It seems that there are always political news stories about Ukraine and I confess that I don’t read enough to know 100% what all the implications are.

A few people gave me raised eyebrows when I mentioned where I was spending the weekend but that didn’t stop me from having a great weekend in Kiev.

Kiev city

Kiev is a very smart modern city. I loved the old style buildings from the Soviet era mixed in with the new. The city was vibrant and full of life. All of the churches we saw were incredibly stunning. We didn’t realise that it was the start of a long public holiday when we arrived and on Saturday the Main street was closed to traffic. Being able to stroll down the street of a European capitol city and enjoy music and fire-eaters is something special.

Monuments

I love that many Eastern European countries have lots of monuments and memorials to people and battles that we’re not so aware of in Western Europe. I think one of my favourite monuments was in Kiev. It was called the People’s Friendship Arch. It’s beautifully made and commemorates the 1’500th year since the city of Kiev was established.

Chernobyl

The highlight of the trip was a full day tour of Chernobyl. I haven’t seen the HBO series and before going I didn’t know a great deal about the disaster and what actually happened. The tragedy happened during my lifetime but I was only 4 so I don’t remember news reports at the time.

You can only visit Chernobyl if you have a guide because specific areas are still dangerous and there are no road signs so I can imagine it would be easy to get lost if you don’t know where you are going.

We joined a group tour and our tour guide was fantastic. She could answer all the questions we put to her and had a great sense of humour which, in a case like this, must help to keep you sane.

The videos and photos that you have seen of creepy dolls, abandoned school buildings and former inhabited places overgrown by weeds and vegetation are true. I think my overwhelming feeling was of sadness. Not only did people leave a thriving new city which had the very first supermarket in the whole of the Ukraine but they thought that they would be coming back to their homes in a few days. The land we visited will never be inhabited again because, on a long-term basis, it’s not safe for human habitation.

We were regularly checked for radiation poisoning but I felt this was more a bit of entertainment than anything else. We had a dosimeter with us the whole time that told us how much radiation we had been exposed to. For the whole day we had been exposed to the same amount of radiation as you would be exposed to on a one hour flight. Also if you were contaminated, what could you do? You can’t take a pill to change it. What’s done is done.

 

 

Food and drink

No trip away is complete without sampling the local food and drink. We stumbled upon a local microbrewery and decided to have a beer tasting which included 6 beers.

We also tried borsch – a traditional beetroot soup, khachapuri – originally a Georgian dish and delicious dumplings! Now I’m back home it’s definitely time for a few salads to compensate for how much I ate.

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Passport Stamps

Of course, one of the most exciting things about visiting a country that isn’t in the EU is that I got another two stamps in my passport.

In November I will be heading to Tenerife for some winter sun and then to Nice and Monaco, which will become the 34th country I have visited in Europe.

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.

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!

End of July

31 Jul

It only seems like five minutes ago that was sitting down to write my round-up of news at the end of June. But here we are again.

This month I haven’t been very active on the blogging front. I normally try to write at least 2 posts per week. Sorry to have taken your weekly reading away from you! I haven’t been especially busy but it is the holiday season, so I’ve used the time as a bit of a break.

Here is what I have been up to in July:

  • I started a new job on the 1st July. It was the job that I wanted more than anything when I saw the job advert and, after a delay of a few months, they finally hired me. That is putting a long story short but you hopefully get that I was so excited to join the company and get working. So far I have been impressed by the company immensely and all of my colleagues are nice. I am the only female on my team of 10 but I actually don’t mind that. Getting into a new routine, learning everything that I need to do and familarising myself with new policies and procedures has kept me busy. I can’t believe I have been there for a month already.
  • I have been busy on my commute with the latest installment of Erin’s Reading Challenge.  This is my third time taking part in the challenge. I am currently reading my 8th book which is Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a hefty book (600+ pages) but I am loving reading it and I hope that I will be able to finish it tomorrow.
  • I visited my 31st country in Europe when I went to Luxembourg earlier this month. I counted up last weekend how many countries I had visited and my total is now 56. That seems like a staggering amount, especially when there is so much more of the world that I would like to see. img_6723
  • In the evenings I have been busy training for the Rock n Roll 10k in Dublin in August. I’m not as fit as I should be so I know that I won’t be able to beat my personal beat time in this race but I’m on the right track. Over the next few days, I am going to decide on what time I think I can realistically achieve. I ran 10k last weekend (very slowly) and that should help with the realistic part. This month I have run a total of 50km or 31-ish miles. I have already set myself an ambitious target of how many kms I want to run in August.
  • Due to the nice weather most evenings we have had a BBQ and last night, even though the rain had started, we still sat outside under the cover of the balcony and had a BBQ. It was warm enough to sit out and the spots of rain didn’t manage to get us. We did have a shock when a bird unexpectedly nose-dived into the windows behind where I was sitting. It made an almighty crash. How it managed to regain control and fly off again I don’t know.
  • I discovered an interesting website this week. It’s called Forebears. You can look up your surname and find out how many people in the world have the same surname as you. It even analyses in which countries the name is most prevelant. I don’t know how the information is gathered but I am apparently one of 13 people with my surname living in Switzerland.
  • I also found out this month what 20kg of bread looks like. Tomorrow is Swiss National Day and I had to pick up the bread order for the festivities. I could barely fit all of it in the car. Tomorrow we ease into August with fireworks, festivities and a free day from work. I hope that your start into the new month is just as enjoyable

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.