Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Parisian Getaway 2-It's All About The Food

As I type this, it's 5am and I've been trying to sleep for hours. Jet lag sucks.
I treated to myself to a non-slummy Parisian getaway after enduring the trip in October. This time I took the Eurostar which is luxury, nay-a God-given miracle compared to the bus. I even managed to sleep and distinctly remember snoring with my gob hanging wide open. (Sorry fellow passengers.)

I caught up with a girlfriend in the Japanese quarter of the Opéra district. I was craving for Tonkatsu Ramen and look what I found!

Afterwards I headed to La Champs Elysees. The trains were running behind schedule and it was like the Central Line during peak hour. People were crammed inside and there I was trying to look content with the locals. No one scowled or harassed people getting on like they do in London. People understood that you had to get from A to B so we all had to suck it in. Some people just laughed.

La Champs was looking fantastic with the Christmas lights. I strolled to the Seine and watched La Tour Eiffel beam through Paris like a sparkling beacon.

The next stop was tres important. No trip to Paris would be complete without a meal at my favorite restaurant La Nouvelle Epoques, even if I had to dine alone.

I ordered the usual starter, l'escargots. (The waitress asked me in English: "You do know what they are, right?")

A guilty secret is that I can eat a whole baguette with the garlic butter alone. And without me asking, the owner whisked my empty bread basket away and replaced it with more bread. Now that's service, I thought.

The slippery little suckers!

Roasted duck with the most creamiest caramelized potatoes ever.

I asked for lemon sorbet but I *guess* this will do!

The owner saw me playing Angry Birds and in true French animated fashion, he pointed and laughed. Not intending to be rude but as his waitress translated, he thought I looked amusing, like a little girl playing video games throughout dinner.

She also said that he remembered me from my last visit. Why? Not because I'm the only customer struggling with French, but because I singlehandedly demolished the bread basket and asked for more. A clearly gluttonous request by French standards.

So that explains why he was swift with the bread!

I checked into my hotel around midnight. It was a long day eating marathon and the next morning I went to the Richard Lenior markets to oogle at more food.

Guess what these are?

Sea urchin which I brought back. Spiky but delicious.

En route To Sydney - Seoul Incheon Airport

After a mad rush of a week, I'm finally on the way home. Mum does'nt know it yet because I'm surprising her on Christmas morning.

It's the first time I've flown with Asiana and so far I'm impressed. The cabin space is huge and food is fantastic. Easily the best food I've had from any airline.

The airport in Seoul is amazing as well. Free internet, lounge area and even showers! Could not ask for more after a long haul flight.

They even provide towels and the bathrooms are huge. See the shower? It's actually triple the space shown. The raindrop shower head was a nice touch.

They really know how to make passengers feel comfortable. I even saw a young Korean Santa (with nerdy glasses) making balloon animals for kids.

Found this in the toilet. Was itching to push it but thought someone would knock and ask if I needed assistance. Later I googled to discover that it makes flushing sounds to disguise unladylike noises.

Sydney you better watch out, Emma's coming to town!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hiking Through Alpine Country

I woke the next morning with a miraculous recovery from the "neck marbles". It could have been the couch I slept on, walking around with a backpack or simply just Switzerland?

For breakfast I got hooked into the white bread and colored sugar sprinkles. Its a Dutch version of fairy bread. I was in kiddy heaven.

I liked De Ruijter sprinkles so much, Fabs gave me the box!

We headed out to Mount Pilatus where we had a liquor fueled coffee and goulash soup. The trek down the mountain was scenic and the air was crisp. There was sloppy snow patches around Fräkmüntegg. It was divine alpine country (but hard on the knees and ankles.)

As we descended, we watched a thick fog creep up the mountain like a cloud monster. Suddenly our heads were literally in the clouds. Even my hair felt wet.

We returned home and I pigged out on more bread and sprinkles. It's my new food obsession! Then I did some last minute cheese shopping. One cheese I particularly crave but can only get in Luzern, is aptly called the Luzerner. I also bought Saint Paulin which milder and also very nice.

There was one last important stop, a haring sandwich in Zurich. We actually took a detour to get it. Raw herring with onions is reminiscent of our time in Amsterdam. And it was a mighty good sandwich. Too bad about the fishy onion breath. (Sorry fellow passengers.)

Fabs sent me off to the airport and hours later, I was home to a thankfully warm flat. Unable to resist temptation, I snacked on the cheeses with the saucisson from Paris, bought a week before.

Cross Country Food Expedition

The next morning I was awestruck to see sunshine and snow capped mountains. Lake Geneva is as tranquil and scenic as the hilly town of Lausanne.

I've been wanting to visit Evian Les Bains for ages, just to "pop over to France" from Lausanne. It's really just a wealthy town made famous by it's spring water.

When I got off the ferry, I walked up the main strip of overpriced restaurants and finally entered a quiet cafe with locals inside.

I asked the guy behind the bar: "parle vous anglais?" He shook his head and pointed to a customer with un verre de vin rouge in his hand.

"I speak plenty of English!" said the jolly middle aged gentleman.

Tom, an English teacher popped into his favorite cafe on his daily bread run. We shared a conversation with wine at the bar. He recommended the burger and it arrived topped with a homemade rosti with béchamel sauce and loads of melted cheese. Incroyable!

Before he left, he said Evian is sleepy and bourjois so I would'nt be missing out if I left now. I thought if I leave this place with only memories of this meal, I'm happy.

Could barely respond with "c'est bon" to the waiter because I was eating so fast. This goes into the hall of fame of burgers. Throughout the meal, I overhead the conversation the manager was having with her customers, peppered with the words "Englishman", meaning Tom and "Australienne", meaning me.

After the amazing meal, I bid the manager "merci beaucoup, au revior" and the four blokes she was sitting with chorused back merrily "au revior!"

The ferry was leaving so I quickly filled my water bottle at the public spring-the only thing I wanted to do in Evian.

When I got back, I bought an eyewateringly expensive train ticket to Luzern. On the bright side, the views of Lake Geneva and Lausanne is gobsmacking. This photo does'nt do it justice as I used my old iphone.

At Luzern, I braced myself at the ticket machine for the cost to Zurich airport the next day.

"Can I help you?" asked a stranger. I turned to see that it was Fabienne. So lovely to spend time with her again. And to be in Luzern, decorated with Christmas lights.

Swiss hospitality is wonderful. I asked to have fondue for dinner and our friends offered to host it in their home overlooking the mountains and Lake Luzern. Marianne served her special Glühwein on arrival. In no time the fondue was ready with lashings of freshly chopped garlic and prosecco.

I adore cheese fondue and when surrounded by kind friends, I was in the happiest place on Earth.

Before I went to bed (or couch) I downed that bottle of freshly squeezed Evian. Indeed it tasted like it's commercial counterpart but I collected this bottle straight from the source!

Je Suis Arrive A Lausanne


Boring photo, I know. This is where I'm blogging right now.

Im staying in a hostel in Lausanne. It's a nice place but after a day of work, flying to Geneva, catching a train to Lausanne and getting lost, I would love to be in my own room at the Movenpick like last year.

It's a long day and tomorrow I'm going to Evian and Luzern to meet a girlfriend. Going to catch some much needed Zs!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Lights London 2011

After a dinner date, we went for a walk along Bond St and Regent St. It was freezing but the spectacular Christmas lights made up for it.

39 Steps And So Tired

Saw The 39 Steps at the Criterion tonight. It's a parody of the Alfred Hitchcock movie and it's downright hilarious. The cast of four played a multitude of characters and the play was so fast paced, it kept my usually-fleeting attention span in check!

Not only was casting spot on, the backdrops were perfect. Setting the right mood and scenery. I loved every minute of it so try to see it if you can.

PS-It's 2am and I have work tomorrow. I've had too many late nights this week. Took this pic earlier tonight so lucky you can't see me now. Erk!

Farewell Cuz

It's been three months since my cousin showed up on my doorstep and we shared fun times in London, Paris and Vienna. After backpacking for two and a half months, Lisa's finally coming home.

I took a day off to hang out with her for the last time in London. After I finished work, we met at a quaint pub in Tower Hill, The Minories. We had a grill dinner and headed over to the Tower Of London for the Ceremony Of The Keys.

This ritual has been practiced for over 700 years, whereby guards and a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) lock up the Tower. At 10pm every night without fail. We stood in the open to watch this procedure and it was freezing!

We went for a walk over Tower Bridge, which was my first time after nearly 3 years of living in London.
In front of a blurry bridge.
Now that's better!

For supper we took a cab to Brick Lane for a salt beef bagel. Lisa's packed her suitcases and we did'nt get to sleep till 2am.

The next morning we had a delicious lie in. We shopped at Bond St and had a late lunch at Tayyabs in Shoreditch. Their dishes and mango lassi is amazing! Glad Lisa got a last minute curry fix.

Then it's back to the West. We went to Knightsbridge for Harrods and had mulled wine at Winter Wonderland.

It was sad to see my cousin off but it won't be long before we meet again in Sydney. We parted ways in the tube as I had to go to Camden for a burlesque cabaret dinner.

It was at Proud Kitchen and I was going by myself. Because I could, although I brought a book. It was a bawdy night with the acts spread out over two hours.

What a crazy 24 hours that flew by. And 48 hours from now-Paris again.

Winter Wonderland in London

I used to think that you had to go to Germany for a Christmas themed getaway. Not anymore. Here in London, they put the amusements of Oktoberfest (bar the beer steins) plus Christmas markets in Hyde Park.

Slow moving crowds and the cold suddenly becomes appealing. My girlfriend K and I went to Winter Wonderland this opening weekend. It was pretty with the millions of glowing lights. Market stalls sold candy, gingerbread, handmade wooden toys, leathergoods and clocks.

We drank the obligatory mulled wine and checked out the rides. Aromas of wurst sizzling and roasted chestnuts filled the air. How wonderfully wintery!

We're coming back in a few weeks with a bunch of others. For the rest of the evening we ended up doing another wintery activity, relaxing at home.

When I entered the house, K's dog PEED ON ME. He was jumping around my leg and as warned, he got a little too excited. Luckily it was a wee bit (heh heh) on my quick-dry sock. But gosh I have the worst luck with pets. (Once a friend's ferret farted on me.)

K cooked dinner and we watched Just Go With It. Jack Russell jumped on the bed and when I thought he was nuzzlng under my arm, he actually was licking his behind! Bless him. He is a dog after all.

I got home after midnight. Was nice after a day of gym, grocery shopping, flat cleaning and being out and about.

The next morning I made banana pancakes and played the Crazy For You soundtrack. It was a lazy Sunday morning with my brewed coffee and heater (temporarily borrowed from my landlord).

Why do weekends go by so quickly?

My First Halloween

Halloween is celebrated in UK almost as fanatically as in the US. So I was excited when I went to my first party dressed as Black Swan.

For my costume I bought most of the materials from Ebay and constructed it myself. Bits of feather boa was sewn onto a corset and for the tutu, I knotted strips of tulle along a belt.

A girlfriend and I made a pact that we'd take the tube together in costume. Hers rocked, a zombie bride. It was amusing on the train as no one wanted to sit near us. We got lots of strange looks and smiles.

At the party our host served brains and imitation fingers. There were many scary looking guests. We had fun scrambling to get into character everytime a guest arrived.

On the way home, many Halloweeen partyers emerged onto the tube. People recognised my costume and started chatting to me. What a bizarre experience!

My London Life – Sunday

It’s Sunday night. I’m cold and tired.

Morning-walked to Chatsworth Road Market from Homerton. Found Banhmi11 stall and waited for my banh mi to be grilled. It took ages because they had a late start but I did’nt mind chatting to one of the managers. Snacked on fried plantain from neighbouring Nigerian stall. Devoured banh mi on way back to train station.

Afternoon-Op shopping in West Hampstead. A favorite me-time activity. Bought two books, a dress and a kick ass jacket. Chilled out at home with a cup of coffee.

Evening-Bought last minute ingredients for dinner from convenience store downstairs. Owner was kind enough to put on tab because nearby ATM was’nt working. Went for a walk to Hampstead to pull out cash anyway. Bought a freshly baked (still warm) baguette from Le Pain Quotidien. Cooked moules marinière and did’nt simmer white wine long enough. Felt slightly tipsy after dinner.

Bedtime-Mysterious hissing sound turns out to be water leaking from my heater. Carpet is wet. Hope landlord fixes asap. Had to turn off the heater tap so my room is cold. Blogging on couch. Wearing doona.

My London Life – My Saturday

It was supposed to be a weekend to bum around. I’ve been daydreaming all week of napping on the couch. And now it’s Saturday, there’s not a minute to spare.

Morning-Craving cheese souffle so I made one for breakfast which serves two. Ate the whole thing, oops. Viewed a flat where the owner must have lived there all of his life. It was like walking into a time warp. The place was built in the 1930s and nothing appears to have changed since.

Midday-Hit the gym for Body Combat. My favorite class. I was on fire!!! Went grocery shopping. Of my haul, I bought a huge hunk of sirloin and a bag of fresh mussels. And Cillit Bang for the prolific limescale in our shower.

Afternoon-Flatmate cleaned the bathroom and kitchen. I could’nt resist attacking the limescale anyway with the new spray. Installed “DIY double glazing” on my windows which is merely plastic film stuck on double sided sticky tape and blowdried to get rid of creases. Better insulation than nothing, I suppose.

Late afternoon-Craving Maccas so walked to Hampstead to pig out. Love cheeseburgers and fries. Ate a macaroon chocolat from Paul on the way home. It’s completely dark by 5pm.

Evening-Faffed around on internet. Flat smelt like fried lemongrass and ginger pork so I complimented Vietnamese flatmate on cooking skills. Was offered some of the dish with rice. Yummy! Also had a Aberdeen steak burger (no bun) with salad. Watched Sex And The City movie on TV. Turned down offer to go clubbing. It’s Saturday night but I have no energy left to play.

Bedtime-Snug on couch with laptop and doona. Plan for Sunday’s activities.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vienna-The First Night

I joined Lisa in Vienna while she's backpacking in Europe.

I arrived at Wombats hostel, finding Lisa expertly organising tomorrow night's piss-up with a girlfriend she'd just met Amy, her lower bunk buddy.

They took me to a middle eastern diner across the street and I ordered a huge lamb grill. Lisa and Amy raved about a wine called Sturm so it was natural to toast to a fab weekend with it.

Sturm ("schturm") is fermented grape juice. It's deceptively alcoholic. We ordered the "special" (out of the red or white varieties) and it came in a generous serving, chilled and cloudy red. I was hooked instantly. Mix with girl talk and good food, it's pure happiness.

I can't shut up about this stuff. It's slightly fizzy and as sweet as juice. You can't cap the bottles or they'll explode. Only areas in wine growing regions sell Sturm from because it's difficult to store and transport.

The owners were having a late night chat and smoking in the dining area. It's one thing I don't like about Austria-you're allowed to smoke indoors. Even though they have "non-smoking" areas, they are usually at the back of the restaurant and there's a lack of ventilation in winter. My hair and clothes reek of smoke so eewww!

We went back to our dorm and settled to bed. I love this hostel because it's clean and spacious. Even the dorm's bathroom is nicer than the one I have at home!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Broadway Markets And The Book Club

I've lived in London for almost three years and it was'nt until recently I started exploring the funky area of Hackney.

It took a fair effort to get to Hackney from my flat. Old Street tube was shut so I had to take a train and two buses to get there. But I finally found the elusive Vietnamese bagettes or banh mi I was craving for.

It turns out they're not the same as the ones in Sydney. These were made with grilled meat and the bagettes are lighter and crispier so you can have more than one (or maybe that's just me?)

They also sold pho in a cup! The broth is apparently slow cooked for 72 hours. It was very tasty. Nom nom.

I watched buskers while chomping on my banh mi. The market has a Glebe feel to it. I was in my element with the atmosphere and the clear sunny day. Nothing thrills me more than a market with fresh food.

I took an alternate route home by walking along the Regents Canal and taking a train from Haggerston. From the picture, it does'nt look pretty outside-of-London standards, but in real life it was a lovely walk.

Maybe it was the food, weather or the walk but I felt damn chipper. I got back to Hampstead and chilled out with a bunch of friends in a beer garden.

That evening I went back to Old Street to celebrate a friend's birthday at The Book Club. It's a popular nightclub with ping pong tables and electro swing music. Can you believe it? I was dancing away thinking, the DJ's from Paris, singer's from Sardinina and I'm sure as hell not in Sydney.

The bus to Old Street was packed and a funny thing happened when a woman shouted at people to move down the bus. Seconds later, she quite audibly remarked: "oh wow, I just moved people like I was Jesus."

It took two buses to get home after closing time and I was pooped.

The next morning I had a fry up in Hampstead Heath and relaxed the rest of the day.The weather is getting consistently chilly and grey. Heating is on and my coats are out of storage. Winter's coming. Soon daylight savings will end and my days will be spent in the snugness of my couch, wrapped in a blanket!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mon Weekend à Paris En Bus

A last minute decision to join my cousin in Paris meant two choices. Pay £180 for the Eurostar or £42 by bus. I chose to save the cash and partake on an intrepid adventure.

So it's Friday night and I'm among the huddled masses at Victoria Coach Station. At 10.20pm we're allocated our buses and instantly there is a frenzied battle for the best seats. I scored one at the front with full view of bugs smeared over the windscreen. The lady next to me painted her nails as people boarded the bus.

Most of the passengers were French and not the type I'm used to seeing while travelling. The bus driver did'nt make any English announcements. He looked like a giant schoolteacher trapped in the 80s.

The journey to Paris was not as bad as it could be imagined. At the Eurotunnel, two French policemen got on board and took everyone's passports. They disappeared for twenty minutes and returned them stamped without even a cursory glance at the photos inside or the person they passed them onto.

The bus was then stopped for forty minutes and I had no idea why we were waiting. Other vehicles were queuing behind us. By 2 am, I was thinking: "why can't we drive through this tunnel already?"

The bus eventually moved into what looked like an oversized train. It was surreal, like entering the Enterprise. That's when I realised the Eurotunnel is actually a trainline that carries traffic under the Channel. After 35 minutes of gentle rocking, the train opened and we were in Calais. Once we hit the motorway, the driver floored it and we arrived 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. I did'nt get much sleep but that was expected. It was still a fun eye-opening experience.

Paris was fabulous. I took my cousin to my favourite places. Highlights were Angelina's for life-changing hot chocolate and La Nouvelle Epoque for traditional French cuisine. I demolished two baskets of artesian freshly baked bread with garlic butter escargots. I'm proud to have interacted with the staff only in French!

The non-food highlight was the long walk from Anvers to the Seine, stopping at the famous landmarks along the way. The weather was perfectly warm and sunny.

I stayed in a hostel near the Sacre Cour. You can see it from the window.

On Sunday we visited the Richard Lenoir farmer's markets. Possibly the best fresh food market in Paris. The produce is so good, I bought four huge red grapefruit for only two euros and carted them back to London!

The return home was a struggle. After an bewildering 1 hour wait for the bus, I got into a row with a staff member when I asked about the delay. I think my first mistake was speaking English. She kept repeating that I had to get my boarding pass from downstairs and when I finally showed her mine as proof that I was'nt bothering her for a boarding pass, she yelled at me to talk to someone downstairs anyway.

No one knew why the bus was late but we had to trust that it would show up. It did and it was a not so pleasant ride home. There was extra traffic and we got kicked off the bus twice to go through French and UK border controls.

I'm returning to Paris in December and I'm definitely taking the Eurostar.

Boujour from Paris, dah-lings!

Punting And Perving

Punting in Cambridge was more of a perve than a historical tour. Lucky it was a hot day for more reasons than one.

Eye candy aside, it was blissful floating (and occasionally bumping other punts) along the river, passing magnificent buildings and gardens.

Afterwards I hung out at my girlfriend's and jumped on her kids' trampoline. Have'nt been on one of those for ages. Compared to the netted and padded things you see today, the ones from my childhood were deathtraps!

We went to the local pub and had a glass of wine while the kids played. Sat under a tree by the petanque court as the sun set.

A splendid day indeed.

The Hottest Autumn Days

It's hot, which is a miraculous feat for autumn in the UK. It's like how it was in early spring but without the promise of long warm days ahead.

With winter not far away, Londoners reveled in this amazing weather. Or the tease of the summer past. Although by the time I got out of the tube station after work, it was still warm but dark.

This week I had a prosecco with a girlfriend at a new Prezzo on my street. I've been meaning to have a drink there since they opened. They have a lovely garden and it was nice to have a second chance of an evening there alfresco and balmy.

Today I went for a swim in the Hampstead Heath pond. It's normally shut in October but they were reopened for this special weather. There was no shortage of visitors. We queued for twenty minutes to get in and there was hardly space to sit inside let alone to sunbake.

No matter what the outside temperature is, the pond water is always cold. It was 16 degrees and I felt it through my bones. It was refreshing (with ducks paddling at face level!) but I struggled swimming out of the pond. Tiredness and panic set in and I was in trouble.

Luckily the life guard's raft glided to my side and the guard took me back to the water's edge. He overheard me saying that I was'nt a strong swimmer so he was watching me, bless him!

I'm actually not a terrible swimmer but the cold water seized my muscles after I hung off on a floating ring for a while. A warning for those who swim in very cold water. Keep moving or get out!

I warmed up in the sunshine afterwards. It will probably be the last time for the rest of this year in the Heath.

The pond looks cold and I can vouch that it bloody well is!

Warming up with a good book.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hi From Me

Just a quick first post to say hi.

For a taste of what you'll see here, please visit my old blog: emmakins888

For everyone who's followed me from Livejournal, an extra warm welcome to you lovelies!

So thanks for dropping by and I hope you enjoy this blog :)

Bisous. Toujours.