Tag Archives: weekend

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.

img_7646

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.

Rock ‘n’ Roll in Dublin

17 Aug

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

Guinness Storehouse and Whiskey

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

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

Irish bars and music

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

10k Run

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

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

Food

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

 

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

Weekend in Luxembourg

26 Jul

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

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

Here are some of the things that we did:

Free Walking Tour

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

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

 

The Bock Casements

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

Beer and Food

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

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

Skaters

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

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

 

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

 

Practising for Masterchef

24 Mar

Recently I’ve been joking that I am going to apply for Masterchef. I say it every year when I get swept away watching episode and episode and spend most of the evening salivating at what the contestants have managed to cook up. I didn’t expect that last night when I had been invited to a cat’s first birthday (yes, a cat not a human called Cat) that I would be able to get some practice in.

I was suspicious when I arrived when the table was covered in a cloth and there didn’t seem to be a lot going on in the kitchen in terms of food preparation for the invited guests. Soon the plan for the evening was revealed.

First we selected at random our cat ears in keeping with the party theme. I ended up with black ears and also a bow tie and a tail. Then we were told that we would be helping to make the meal for the evening. There was a twist though. We would be cooking in a relay and we weren’t allowed to talk to the next person who was taking over the cooking. This is one of my favourite challenges on Masterchef because it means you have to think on your feet. Every one had 13 minutes to cook and then they had to leave the kitchen for someone else to take over. The items that we used to cook had to be bought from the market and we weren’t allowed to spend more than 40 CHF in total, which is a big ask in Switzerland.

As if this wasn’t tricky enough our host threw in some wild cards. The actions on the cards had to be performed during your allotted time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I had bad luck with my card – I would only be able to cook for 10 minutes. Those who were not cooking had to stay in the “cat den”, also known as the guest bedroom, which was decorated and had lots of cat themed games to play while we were waiting for our turn.

When it came to my turn I was overwhelmed. I was the fourth cook out of 6. Things were already in the oven and the majority of the budget had been spent. I realised that the person before me wanted me to boil potatoes because some were washed in the sink and there was a pan of boiling water on the stove. I did that and then bought some pak choi from the market. I knew I didn’t have time to cook it but I washed it and left it so that the next cook would hopefully see what I intended. With time rapidly running out, I decided to make some cocktails but I only had time to splash some rum in the glasses before the timer went off.

img_5401.jpg

By now I was hungry but only two more people were left to cook so there wasn’t long to wait. The clock buzzed for the last time and we were ready to eat. There was food to eat but it wasn’t very cohesive. We ended up with:

  • two chicken breast stuffed with mozzealla;
  • roasted vegetables (which was intended to be blended into a soup but no one realised –  we made the soup quickly later);
  • a mushroom cream sauce;
  • pak choi cooked with a chilli sauce;
  • 2 kg of potatoes;
  • 3 kg of spaghetti (courtesy of Araz who didn’t see the potatoes already cooking, panicked and decided to cook all of the pasta as well)
  • one portion of cat food.

I was criticised for buying the cat food because it was sold in the market for an inflated price and actually devoured 25% of our total budget. But the birthday boy had to eat so I thought it was more than reasonable. In all the excitement I had forgotten about the part about us having a strict budget. Admittedly, a poor show from the only qualified accountant in the room. But Araz played a wildcard to strike my (*cat pun alert*) purr choice from the budget when she was allowed to delete one bought item from the list, so we ended up spending 35.20 CHF.

The food wasn’t bad considering we had come over to celebrate a birthday and found ourselves chopping and dicing things in a mad panic in a kitchen that we’re not familiar with. And no one can say that there wasn’t enough carbohydrates on the table!

Luckily dessert had been made in advance and we were able to tuck into a delicious chocolate and strawberry cat cake made by the original star baker, Stefan. The sparkler on the top of the cake was impressive as well.

Thank you to Mark and Stefan for hosting the event, coming up with such a great evening of original and fun entertainment and allowing me use of their photos, my fellow cooks (Araz, Jana and Stefano) for not poisoning me and, of course, Macka for the invitation to his celebrations.

As for my application to Masterchef, I think I need more practice before sending it in!

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.

img_5024.jpg

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.

Weekend wanderings

2 Dec

This weekend is the first weekend I have spent in Zurich since the middle of November. We have been to visit the UK twice so things have been a bit hectic travelling from one place to another. This is the reason why I have been neglecting my blog in recent weeks but that means that I do have some things to write about!

London (South)

Late November is my annual trip to London to see the ATP World Tennis Finals. I managed to get tickets in the pre-sale this year so the overall cost of the trip was a lot less than in previous years. I was disappointed that Roger Federer didn’t make it to the final but we were treated to a fantastic match.

We also did some Christmas shopping. Even though it was the middle of November, London was very Christmas-sy and you could easily mistake the time of year for being a week before Christmas.

We also got caught up in a protest against Brexit which was going down Regents Street. It did remind me of the time that we spent earlier this year in South America where there seems to be an aggressive protest about everything all of the time.

We also managed to catch up with some of my friends that I have known from my university times. We don’t get together so often but it is always nice to catch up with them.

Manchester (North)

The following weekend we headed north to visit my family and to go to the wedding of one of my good friend who I met a long time ago playing hockey. The weather was overcast but the actual ceremony, reception and evening do was excellent. I was surprised by how good the food was because at some weddings it can be a bit ropey. It was my boyfriend’s first experience of an English wedding. Weddings in Switzerland and very different to weddings at home. For one thing, there is a lot more drinking. However, we both enjoyed it immensely. I also got to catch up with some friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I got to spend some time with my niece and nephew. I cannot tell you how much colouring in I did or how many times I read the same story book over and over again. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Now we will be spending the next few weekends preparing for Christmas. We need to buy a tree, finish getting presents and do the shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m glad we had a few weekends away to relax and enjoy some time together before we start to get busy in December.

Autumn Days

12 Nov

The clocks have changed and it is dark all of the time – welcome to Autumn! I can’t remember the mornings being this cold and grim last year. I’m not sure if this observation means that I am officially old because I can’t remember 12 months ago. The rich autumn colours on the trees make the daylight hours bearable but I am still struggling to get used to darkness in the early afternoon.

Speaking of struggling, I have been struggling with a cold for the past ten days. I woke up with a bit of a sore throat which developed into a streaming cold, a bit of fever and a general feeling of complete crap-ness. This was awful timing as it was in the run up to my last week of revision for my exam. I didn’t get done half of the work that I wanted to do but I had already resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t possibly learn any more with a brain and body that was aching from my flu-like systems, so I resigned myself to my fate and concentrated on getting myself better. The exam itself turned out to be ok but considering how poorly I was feeling a few days before, I am just glad that I was able to sit the exam in relatively good health.

The problem with the nights drawing in and the temperatures plummeting is that there is a huge temptation to stay indoors and not be particularly active. Yesterday, however, the afternoon was quite bright and sunny so we decided to go for a short walk to the local farm shop to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner.

I was quite surprised by how many people were outside enjoying the afternoon, either on foot, jogging or on a bike. Perhaps we are all subconsciously making the most of it before the snow arrives.

On our walk we bumped into some very inquisitive cows who were also enjoying the last of the mild weather before they, like us, are kept inside in the warmth for the winter.