Tag Archives: travel

New Year in Belgium

6 Jan

We rang in the New Year in Brussels. Belgium is one of the European countries that I needed to visit as part of my #40Before40 challenge, and as we would normally be sat at home waiting for the New Year to arrive, it seemed like a good excuse to visit.

We had a total of three full days there, so we had plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy our time there. Overall, I thought Brussels itself was unimpressive and dirty. Admittedly, when you live in Switzerland, everywhere isn’t quite so nice in comparison. But we did get time to visit Bruges which is a beautiful city that we both enjoyed.

Here is what we got up to on our long weekend away.

Brussels

We (somehow) found ourselves in the Brussels Beer Museum at 10am sampling some of the local ales on the first day. There wasn’t a lot to see in the actual museum and I think the main attraction of the museum is the free beer that you can have after the tour. I certainly wasn’t complaining. And the surroundings were pretty cute as well.

After having a beer so early in the day, we also treated ourselves to one of Belgian’s most famous exports… no, it’s not sprouts! We went to one of the many fries restaurants in the city. I was expecting thin chips but the ones that we were served were more like chip shop chips from back home. I was impressed. It turned out that this “snack” was a staple for most of the trip and we are now certified Belgian chip experts.

We also went on a free walking tour, which are always worth the two and a half hours. We learnt a lot about the city, the history, the best places to eat waffles and the best place to drink beer. We also saw the Mannekin Pis, the small statue of the boy peeing and discovered that there are two other statues (minus the historical significance) in the city – a peeing girl and a peeing dog. Naturally we hunted down both of them to collect the set.

We sampled a lot of other beers in the local brassieres and bars, ate waffles, had some amazing moules et frites for our New Year’s Eve dinner and walked around the Christmas markets which were available until 6th January. We also went for a tour of the European parliament, which I found interesting considering events which may or may not be happening at the end of March, as well as a visit to a comic museum, which I thought was overpriced.

We did go in search of fireworks. We were told that there was a big firework display put on by the local government which was free to enter. The display was accompanied by music, DJs, food etc. The venue wasn’t in the city but a bit outside. After two police search we were inside and so were a lot of other people. The problem was that there were only two chip stands, one bar, one churros stand and a waffle van. The queue for the bar was about 200 meters long (no joke) and after a while we decided that it might be better for us to go back into town and find a bar to welcome in the New Year without fireworks because at least then we would be able to get something to drink and eat. So, that is just what we did.

Bruges

Bruges is less than one hour from Brussels if you take the direct train and I was so glad that we did because it is such a charming city. Its atmosphere is completely different to Brussel. It is noticeably cleaner and has lovely little canals and small streets and bridges to get lost in. It is also noticeably colder because it is near the coast.

Here we also took a free walking tour. I personally think the guide was the best guide that I’ve ever had on one of these tours. She was so passionate about the city, knowledgeable about the city and history and had a great sense of humour. She gave us some good hints about where to go and what to do and I was disappointed that we were only staying there for a day. I could have easily wasted hours sat in coffee shops, watching the world go by and eating fistfuls of chocolate.

img_3398We visited the Brugse Zot brewery and ate a very hearty lunch there before visiting the city hall, a beer museum and another brewery, where we tasted six of the beers on tap. After that we just had to try the chips to see if they were as good as the ones in Brussels and a waffle for dessert before heading back to Brussels and later heading home.

I’m glad we spent some time away for New Year. I would recommend it to help you ease back into the next year after an over indulgent Christmas.

It was doubly pleasing for me because now I have visited 27 countries in Europe! I now only need to visit another 13 countries to complete my challenge. With trips to Romania, Poland and Luxembourg planned for later this year (plus a few others), I should be able to complete this challenge soon.

 

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.

img_4058.jpg

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.

Swiss Trips

30 Sep

The last week has been packed with even more trips around Switzerland. Here is what we got up to:

Regensberg 

We went to visit the Tower at Regensberg, a little village that isn’t that far away from where we live. The views at the top of the tower were spectacular and we were lucky that the weather was nice and dry. I didn’t get too close to the edge of the tower because it was blowing a gale up there. After collecting some conkers from a nearby tree, we had a look around the village and had a drink at a local cafe sat outside in the sunshine.

We then went to Runway 34, which is an airplane-themed restaurant near Zurich airport. There is an old Russian plane inside (which doubles as a cigar-smoking lounge) and most of the seat are old airplane seat. I was really impressed by the food but it was more expensive than I thought it would be – certainly more expensive than what you would pay for something similar in the city. I felt a bit sorry for the waiting staff because their uniforms were what you might expect a cabin crew member to wear but, of course, they never go to fly anywhere. That would be my idea of a nightmare!

Thun and Bern

I have only been to Thun once before and that was about two years ago, so it was nice to show my mum around and explore a few more places. The town itself is a lot bigger than I remember it being. But it still retains a certain charm about it. The place was packed because it was the day of a local festival. I looked it up online and I still can’t work out what it was that they were meant to be celebrating. This meant that the streets were full of people with instruments and people dressed in traditional costume. It was a nice atmosphere and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

We stopped off at an Irish pub and had a drink and some chips. I have to say that they were the best chips that I have ever eaten while I have been living in Switzerland. They weren’t the thin types of chips that are normally served here and they had sprinklings of rosemary on them which made them extra special.

As we had to come back through Bern to get back to Zurich, we decided to stop off there for a few hours. We had hoped to go inside the parliament building but as Parliament was in session it wasn’t possible. We still enjoyed a walk round a large market and a hot chocolate in a great cafe that we went time last time we were there.

Jucker Farm

It is now pumpkin season and I have been meaning to visit Jucker Farm for as long as I can remember. I thought it would be something different to see and do. There were huge pumpkin exhibitions which were so creative. I have no idea how you would even begin building one of these structures, so hats off to the people who made them. I never knew that there were so many different types and colours of pumpkin. It felt like autumn had arrived, even though the sun was shining.

Of course, we sampled some of the goods at the farm restaurant and I bought a pumpkin to bring home. I want to make a pumpkin soup and maybe a pumpkin pie as well so I will have to look up some recipes in the next week. The pumpkin was only 2.5kg but I have a feeling that it will make quite a few dishes so I will need to make sure that we have some space in the freezer for things I make.

Day Tripping

23 Sep

My blog has taken a backseat for the past week but for a very good reason. My mum has come to stay for two weeks, which means that we have been busy doing some day trips in and around Switzerland. Unfortunately, this means that I haven’t had a lot of time to do any writing.

I really enjoying having people to come and stay because I get to go out and visit places. Even if I have been there before, the day is always different and I possibly wouldn’t make a This is what we have been up to over the past week in Switzerland and the surrounding areas.

Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Germany

As we live close to the border, we decided to drive to the Black Forest in Germany. It only took about 45 minutes in the car and we visited Tannenmühle. There is a huge trout farm there and we were able to sample some of the fresh produce in the hotel restaurant. I don’ often eat fish but it was worth it to eat there knowing that the fish were freshly caught. There are also a lot of attractions for children, such as a petting zoo, a big playground and a water playground. I was tempted to sit there a play in the sand myself but I was advised not to by my fellow day-trippers.

After a look around the gift shop and a short walk, we continued our journey to Rothaus brewery, which is the largest brewery in the region. We didn’t go on the free brewery tour because we have been on so many brewery tours before and they all tell you the same process of how the beer is made. Instead we sampled some of the beer at the bar and bought some beer to take home with us.

Konstanz, Germany

We took the train to Konstanz, Germany for some retail therapy. Quite of a lot of the shopping just over the border is cheaper than it is in Switzerland. I rarely go to Germany to get shopping because of the time involved it takes to get there and back but it has come to be a bit of a tradition to go there when my mum comes to visit. The weather wasn’t so great in the morning and it was really misty but the weather soon perked up so that we could sit outside and have something to eat and drink in the sunshine.

Mount Rigi, Switzerland

I have been to Rigi about five or six times since moving to Switzerland and it is one of my favourite places. The last time I visited I went with my friend, Jenny, who was visiting in January. The weather then was cold, icy, snowy and with poor visibility until we finally got to the top of the mountain and the weather cleared completely for 40 minutes. The weather this time couldn’t have been more different. The skies were completely clear, there was no snow and we were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding areas.

img_3687.jpg

After a hot chocolate at the restaurant at the top of the mountain, we headed down to Weggis on the train and on the cable car and then took the boat back to Luzern. We had a walk round Luzern and did a bit of shopping and then headed back to Zurich on the train.

We haven’t yet made a plan of where we are going to visit in the upcoming week but we are not lacking for choices. I have a huge list of places  that I want to visit again or for the first time. I will, of course, let you know what we get up to!

Four years to go…

5 Sep

It is now only four years until my 40th birthday and hopefully in this time I will have completed all the items on my #40Before40 list.

One year into the challenge I have completed 4 out of the 40 challenges. This sounds disappointing but several of the challenges are well underway and should be completed sooner rather than later.

The challenges I have already completed are:

  • Enter a photography competition
  • Go to the Opera
  • Go vegan for 3 months
  • Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours

Here is an update of where I am with the rest of the as-yet incomplete challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – planned for November 2018. My life is currently a sea of German verbs, Grammar and practice exam papers and I am motivated so that I don’t have to take any more German lessons after the start of November.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – visited 26 out of 40 and at least two more visits planned before the end of 2018.
  3. Go paragliding
  4. Enter a photography competition – completed on 16.01.2018
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral
  6. (Re)Learn the flute
  7. Go alcohol-free for a year
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – watched 120 out of 250
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – I have a number of ideas that I am currently working on and then I just need to chain myself to a chair and write.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – I have been struggling with a knee injury for most of this year so unfortunately I will have to try to complete this next year and hopefully my knee will be fit enough to get me round quickly enough
  11. Read the Bible cover to cover
  12. Go to the Opera – completed on 04.07.2018
  13. See the Northern Lights
  14. Go vegan for 3 months – completed on 15.07.2018
  15. Have something that I have written published
  16. Save money for a rainy day
  17. Write a diary for a year – currently in progress
  18. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – I was hoping to do this in 2019 but with the knee injury that I have had in 2018, I might have to wait until 2020
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself
  21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – completed on 25.11.2017
  22. Learn how to wolf whistle
  23. Try snowboarding
  24. Take an overnight sleeper train
  25. Cook every recipe from one cookbook – currently in progress – completed 60 out of 100 recipes
  26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs
  27. Read 40 novels in German – read 6 out of 40
  28. Take a wine degustation course
  29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read read 15 out of 40
  30. Solve a Rubik cube – currently in progress
  31. Take up a new sport
  32. Catch, cook and eat a fish
  33. Make an item of clothing to wear
  34. Stop biting my nails
  35. Read 40 non-fiction books –  read 6 out of 40
  36. Fly long-haul business class
  37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – this is in progress but I am not going to tell you every time I have a haircut! That would be far too boring to read about!
  38. Be able to touch my toes
  39. Downsize – get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating
  40. Start and maintain my own travel website – the planning for this is well underway and I am hoping to go live in early 2019

Slow and steady progress – I will get there in the end!

overcoming-2127669__340

 

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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