Monday, November 26, 2012

Foods Of Sweden

I've just come back from Sweden with a few goodies from the supermarket. 

Black caviar. Seafood is abundant in Sweden so it's normal to have caviar in the fridge. You can buy a small jar of black, white or red fish roe for £2 so I took some back in my liquids baggy. A guilty secret is that I nibble on this stuff on it's own. It's like having tiny explosions of briney goodness in your mouth. 

Kalles is a popular squeezable spread made from salmon and tastes like creamy fish roe. It's common to eat it with boiled eggs or toast and it's delicious. Sadly I could'nt take this to London as I had hand luggage only and the tube is huge. I'm told Waitrose sells it so fingers crossed I can buy it in London.
I normally avoid carbs but I make an exception for Swedish bread because it's all natural and nutritious. In fact I rarely see white bread except for polar bread which I totally adore. Its super delicious and addictive. I'd put up a pic of this amazingly soft and sweet flatbread but I ate it :( This is their rye bread which is healthier and packed with flavour. 

Swedish candies are cool too. I brought back Dumle which is really popular in Sweden but found out that it's orginally from Finland. These are soft caramels dipped in chocolate. I could eat the whole bag in one sitting.

Princess cake is made with layers of sponge, whipped cream, custard, jam and covered in a thin layer of marzipan. So light and fluffy, I can easily eat more than one slice at a time. The cake got it's name because it was a favourite of a princess of Sweden. I tried it for fika (tea/coffee break) in Stockholm and fell madly in love!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On The Way To Sweden

Finally something I've always dreamed of-wifi on a plane. All flights should have this!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

London Weekend Round Up

Had Saturday breakfast on Bermondsey Street and saw this whimsical children's store.

It was a rainy cold morning that only a visiting foreigner could get kicks out of. Simply because it's not their own climate.

Chinatown at sunset 4pm. I'm amazed and disappointed with the early sunsets nowadays.

A palette of autumn colours. Sunday morning on my street.

Took G out for breakfast at The Diner in Camden. I had the Cuban sandwich, he had the hash and cajun fries. Comfort food at best.

G is in Johannesburg for a week and a half for work and then a safari. It will be an adventure, especially since J-burg is a relatively dangerous city. Miss him already :(

Budapest - The Szechenyi Spa and Tourist Experience

1) Thermal Spas:
If you come to Budapest, you must visit atleast one of the thermal spas. I went to Szechenyi which is huge and stunning. You need half a day minimum to enjoy it. 

Skip the treatments offered by the English speaking representative in the foyer and buy them from the ticket counter. You want the real Hungarian experience for less than half the price and it's what the locals get. 

For £30, I got a simple pedicure, 45 minute massage and entry into the indoor thermal spa. A bargain pamper, however no one speaks fluent English or English at all. All signs are in Hungarian so good luck. You will be given a waterproof wrist tag which allows you to enter and lock/unlock your cabin or locker. It has your treatments recorded so the staff knows what you've paid for. 

Expect to get lost through the maze of changing cabins (which you can hire) as you pass the turnstile. Hiring a locker is perfectly fine and requires less awkward interaction with the staff waiting around to help. There are electronic machines on the walls to read your tag however they're in Hungarian so again, good luck.

I got lost for my pedicure and entered a dead quiet room of treatment cubicles looking like a hospital in the fifties. I just stood there dumbfounded. Lucky a woman showed up and asked if I needed help in English. She checked what I had paid for on my wrist tag and told me to wait.  Another woman showed up, took me to a locked sterile looking room and signalled for me to take off my shoes as she prepared for my feet to be soaked. Ten minutes later she ushered me onto a medical chair and unveiled her trolley of tools...

Yep, those a scalpels. Where the hell where the aromatherapy oils and foot files??? She picked up a sharp glinting tool and took hold of my foot. At that point I was terrified, wishing like crazy that I could speak Hungarian to make sure I was getting a pedicure and not some kind of surgery. 

She started to pare at my feet as if she peeling an apple and a massive amount of dead skin fell away. I could feel the blade scraping but nothing too close. She made me lift my foot towards my head (glad I was wearing jeans) to get to the back of my heel. I could only comply under duress of the swift moving blade. 

Suddenly a man with a moustache enters the room dressed in white. He watches closely with great interest. I'm speechless at the spectacle of me holding my leg in an unlady-like manner while my skin shavings piled up on the tiled floor. He talks to the woman in Hungarian and says to me in English: "She says your feet are very very dry. You need to use foot cream." 

There was no nail painting but that's OK. The pedicure was over and the woman vacuumed my shavings and ushered me outside to wait for my masseuse. A tall man appears. We go into one of the treatment cubicles and there is basically only enough room to move around a hard massage table. (Not the cushioned type with a hole for your face.) He tried to tell me to take off my clothes but I did'nt know to what extent. At that point I'm trying to tell him I want a female masseuse but we had no understanding of each other. He left the cubicle momentarily so I could take off my top and lie down with a sheet over my top half. He enters, uncovers me, squirts oil on his hands and starts massaging my back. 

I'm pleasantly surprised as he's actually really good. In 10 secs I was relaxed like a mound of plasticine. His hands were strong and worked magic. In fact he knew my kinked, stressed out back better than I did!

Afterwards I got to sit in the thermal spas. The warmest ones were the most crowded and if you can get over sitting at close proximity with people of different ages, sizes and body hair coverage, then it's a relaxing experience.

2) Walking:
You will see this woman up in the hills of Buda. From Pest, cross the bridge closest and walk uphill towards her. It's a hard climb but the view is totally worth it. 

A bit foggy from the rain that day, but you get the picture.

Waterfall at the bottom.

3) Nightlife:
Pest is where it's at. Whether you're in it for the cheap and plentiful booze or for a wild stag/hen night, Budapest is perfect. Just be careful crossing the roads at night. Most drivers ignore pedestrians trying to cross and drive very fast.

4) The Danube River. Beautiful, enough said.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Annecy - Cycling Around The Lake

The next morning Taiwanese friend and I went to the Tuesday farmers markets in the old town.

Stalls lined the streets with piles of cheese wheels, many robuchon, a specialty of the area and others which appeared to have soil caked on the outside.

Everyone had come to buy fresh produce, bread and cured meat. The streets were lined with stalls and were bustling.

After grabbing a raclette baguette, we walked around Lake Annecy. It rained hard. At one stage it was hailing tiny pebbles.

Taiwanese friend was squealing with delight as she had only seen snow the day before for the first time and now hail.

The grey clouds looked like they were finished doing their thing. We hired bikes and rode around the lake, looking splendid in it's clear blue attire.

Then sun came out and the world was beautiful again!

We passed many enviable alpine houses. It was stunning and tranquil, the type of place I'd want to be stay to write my memoirs one day.

We saw cows in a meadow wearing bells around their necks. Just like on souvenirs of alpine country! It sounded like a windchime symphony. No wonder they look so contented.

We rode for four hours and although Taiwanese friend felt there were some hairy moments on the bike, she said she felt like a kid again. I think I did too.

We dropped the bikes off and went back to the hostel. My time in Annecy was complete. It was a place I never expected to go to. It just happened to be where I connected the dots on the map from Lyon.

I took a bus to Geneva as strangely there weren't any direct trains (it's only 40 minutes away by car). I arrived three hours early for my flight and was floored by how expensive everything was there. A 16 CHF Burger King meal was actually a bargain in comparison to everything else.

Atleast I got a free mug, not that I needed it. I turned to the woman next to me and offered it to her. She looked sad earlier and was grateful to accept it. She said she was collecting for her kids.

She was from the Philippines and works in the airport hotel for the past 30 years. She is widowed and wanted to move back home because her pension won't cover her living in Switzerland. She retires next year and everything is too expensive.

I was reminded that not everyone here is wealthy or middle class. Some people just get by.

I was sad to board my flight. It's back to reality in London. The sound of British youngsters on my flight (girls with too much makeup and not enough enunciation) induces the feeling I can only describe as "balls retracting in cold water"*

Farewell sweet Annecy, land of hot cheese and a beautiful blue lake.

*I should point out that I've ever experienced this in real life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Annecy-Unlike Venice Because It's Better

Staying in hostels is like speed dating for friends. You're forced to share a room and if things go well, you have an instant friend!

I made two friends and walked one of them to the train station in the morning. She's Chinese and is fluent in French, aspiring to work for the United Nations.

The other is Taiwanese and she went to Chamonix for the day. (There is snow on the mountain tops so that must have been a winter wonderland.)

After seeing my friend off, I walked around the old town. At first I thought it was nice but it gets better and better. Annecy is famous for its canals and it's clear water gushes at rapid speed from Lake Annecy.

I followed the canals taking photos non-stop. Annecy is seriously the most picturesque place I've ever been to in France. Not a single ugly spot. Just stunning old buildings, churches and the fascinating canals. If there's one nearby, you will hear it because the water moves fast. Not even the swans ride the little rapids!

Another plus is that Annecy is'nt sprawling with tourists. Atleast not while I was there.

I walked aimlessly around soaking up the sights. It was glorious.

It started rain so I bought a pair of ankle boots (as most people do) and went back to the hostel to chill out.

Taiwanese friend gave me a special tea bought from Paris. I enjoyed the brew while typing away on the couch. I'm actually now surrounded by random french people watching TV and there are moments when we were all watching something funny and laughing together.

I love traveling.

Foodie Lyon Weekend

Lyon is a city mainly re known for it's clear blue Rhone and Saone rivers, gastronamie and Roman ruins.

The cheapest route to meet my friends was a flight to Geneva and train to Lyon. On the way I was amazed by how beautiful and blue a river was along the journey. (Isnt it wonderful that crystal clear water runs in abundance here compared to the mud soup in the Thames?)

Lyon Part Dieu station was busier than Paris's Gare Du Nord. I got hassled by gypsy kids at the metro ticket machines, trying to sell me presumably expired train tickets. After making a mistake of yelling NO at them and storming off, I learned a lesson when confronted by scumbag scammers. Never acknowledge their presence. (Unless they're stealing your valuables.)

I returned and one of the was sitting in front of a ticket machine. I pretended they weren't there and a security guy shooed them away.

I found my friends in the Opera area and we went on a foodie quest. We went to a fabulous patisserie Chocolatier Bouillet. Their offerings are TDF. The pastries are so beautiful, I wanted to eat them all!

I did however eat two macaroons, a tarte and a huge slice of flan. I was ready to fly!

We had dinner in one of the Paul Bocuse brasseries L'Est which was a departure from the unassuming joints I go to but the food was very good.

As it was raining we ended the evening by having cheap but good French wine (£3.50 a bottle from the convenience store and the store keeper opened them for us as well.)

The next day started late and by the time we checked out, we were famished. So what does a bunch of orientals do for breakfast in Paris? We have pho.

We enjoyed a couple of dozen oysters at a street market near the river. They were shucked on the spot and were delicious.

We took the funicular to the Basilica for an optimal viewpoint of the city. My boots were soaked through and as I climbed out of the station, I was greeted by a cathedral.

After many years of European traveling, the last thing you want to see was another church. This one was just the same however it does offer a superb view of the rivers, rooftops and an-out-of-place hotel tower in the center.

We sheltered from the rain in a chocolatier patisserie tea room. Then we walked through the old town.

For my last meal in Lyon, I had quenelle lyonnaise, which is a baked dumpling in seafood sauce. I found it to be like a dense souffle. Still it was very nice.

I took off abruptly to make my train to Annecy. I hadn't planned this part well. The transport map was a little confusing. By the time I made it to the main train station with my stuff (let this be a lesson to carry around your gear on the last day with you if it's not too heavy). I missed train by far and away.

To get out of Lyon sooner, I took an extra long route to Annecy, changing at Chambery. By then I was worried about arriving late and having to find my hostel in darkness.

I got there and as usual got lost. I was on the right side of the station, then the wrong side (freaked out as it was dead quiet except for two hooligans hanging out) and then quickly back on the right side.

There were moments I ran like a kid down a hallway at night because they were scared of the dark.

It was really coming down and my map was soggy. I walked over one of the canals which sounded like Niagara Falls and the black water looked fatally dangerous.

Just when I started to freak out, I got even more freaked out because I was passing a cemetary. It's one of my fears and I could'nt help thinking about that horrible massacre which happened a few months ago near Annecy, (A lone crazy gunman was one of the possible reasons,)

To make matters worse, I was sure I was lost and could barely read my almost-pulpy map. I called the hostel and the guy told me to wait on the street and he will find me. That happened to be in front of a funeral home so I was scared out of my wits!

Needless to say I was so grateful to get to my hostel.

Tartiflette - Not Your Average Potato Bake

Tartiflette is a traditional food of the Haute Savoie region in France. So when in Annecy, warm up your insides with this dish.

As recommended on Tripadvisor, I had dinner at Le Freti by the canal. This place specialises in racelette, fondue, pretty much anything involving piping hot cheese.

I was a bit dubious when I was one of the first to arrive at 7pm however it didn't take long for the restaurant to be packed out.

When the bubbling tartiflette was placed before me, my stomach flinched. Sadly my Asian insides would never appreciate this creamy cauldron of lactose.

When trying tartiflette, if you haven't burned your to tongue already, the robuchon will smother your taste buds and make hot love to them.

There is a sprinkling of caramelised onions and bacon. The sliced potatoes are moist and falls away at the turn of the tongue. A simple dish that fulfils in many ways.

It comes with salad and a very creamy dressing. (And my intestines are crying at this point!)

After cleaning the plate, I felt guilty filling up on bread and butter earlier. I think I have palpitations now!