Friday, March 29, 2013

Made It To Brasov By Car. Alive!

For the Easter long weekend, I took my first Euro trip of the year. I dusted off my travelling gear and left at the crack of dawn for the airport. This time I'll be with four my friends in Transylvania, Romania.

We arrived in regional Transylvania and drove to Brasov, seemingly an hour and a half drive on the map. But no, it took us over three hours. The roads are windy and mostly single lanes both directions. The people drive perilously fast, weaving in and out of their lanes. At most times it's necessary to overtake semi trailers/lorries before the next bend in the road.

The terrain is hilly and you see alot of unusual things on the road. For example:

1) Horses and carts are commonly used in the towns for transporting things. 

2) There are huge potholes on the smaller roads. People drive in the middle of the road to avoid them, much to the shock of oncoming drivers. Not only were there lot of potholes (which my friend believes are dug up by locals to prevent speeding), they can be the size of paddling pools. We saw one which was as wide as the lane itself! 

3) Girls standing around on the side of the highways. I saw one and thought she had car problems but my friend said she's actually a hooker. Apparently it's common practice for them to solicit on highways in Romania and Bulgaria.

4) There were alot of stray dogs. Apparently you're not to go near or touch them because they've been known to bite. And rabies is not completely eradicated in Romania. We nearly hit a dog crossing the highway but thank goodness we stopped in time. 

5) Villagers in their traditional peasent dress. The run down houses along the highway painted in bright colors. Some tile roofs were so dilapidated, they slumped in the middle. We passed many beautiful churches and if you think you've seen your fair share of churches in Western Europe, they are uniquely different in Romania. (Will post pics later.) 

If the rustic roads and villages are'nt enough to charm you into driving in Romania, the nerve wrecking lane skippers of the Romanians is a spectacle. People break speed limits and leave zero margin for error when overtaking. Us in the backseat were white knuckled and nail biting the whole way. The road trip triggered a nervous twitch in my eye and remains to this day.

Our driver was also calculatively brazen with stretching the speed limits. But thankfully we made it to our destination of Brasov.

It was pretty cold but the old town looked beautiful. We checked into our hostel and prepared for a nice dinner and a stiff drink or two!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Smiley Lillee Thanks To Mum, The Baby Whisperer

I skyped with my sister while Mum was visiting. In this screenshot, Lillee is smiling at Mum who's behind the camera. I can't believe how well they communicate with each other! 

I went berserk with glee. Mum was beaming with happiness, connecting with her grand daughter and I guess with her two daughters as well. 

I admire Mum's incredible knack for baby talking. Lillee, who's almost 3 months old, looked back as if she fully understood what Mum was saying to her. She smiled alot, imitating Mum's expressions and sometimes she even tries to talk back!

The moment was precious. Love love love!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Ride To Uzes

In the village on Saturdays, there is a small famers market. However Martin said if you really love food, you'd want to be in Uzes as there is a huge open air market and you'll find just about any kind of fresh food grown in the area. 

Uzes is a larger town 12 kms away from Vers Pont Du Gard. So equipped with only a little bike, I set off with vague directions. Martin tried explaining but there was no way I was going to remember. All I could recall was to keep following a track where there are small roadsigns signifying the bike path to Uzes. It was a trek but I was determined to do it.

And going by bike was one of the most satisfying things I've done. The track went through beautiful countryside where I passed wine yards, farms and cottages. There were no people or cars around, it was just me and a long hot tarmac track. I stopped along the way to take pics and soak up the tranquility.

I passed a wheat field and scattered through it were thousands of poppies.

I saw cherry trees. I had to turn back to take a pic of these. Cherries are awesome.

I was a sweaty mess by the time I arrived but I finally got to Uzes. Found a place to chain my bike and wondered on foot. It was a beautiful town with a castle on top. Lots of windy cobbestone alleyways and art boutiques. I really wish I could show you the lost photos I took with a camera. (These were all taken with my iphone.)

I stumbled upon a huge courtyard jam-packed with market stalls. And the stalls spilled out into other streets. They were selling everything from fresh produce, crafts, cheeses, soaps, meat, bread, charcuterie, handmade toys. This is what I adore about European markets. It's like a weekly celebration of artisans, farmers, craftsman and food lovers. 

The French turn their noses at buying food shipped in from afar. They support local growers and get rewarded with less processed and overall better food. And it's not expensive either. Oh how I would love to eat this food everyday.

On the way back to Vers Pont Du Gard, I stopped into the Haribo factory. And there was alot of candy for sale.

The ride back was more relaxed as I knew where I was going this time. I was proud for getting to Uzes and back on bike. To top things off I headed down to the Pont Du Gard afterwards to cool off in the river. What a joyous day!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Snow in Spring

I got up this morning, drew the blinds and saw it's snowing!  Don't you love it when that happens?  Of course snow in spring is a bit odd. The poor flowers in my front garden are struggling with the weather. 

It snowed for most of the day, which made an amazing backdrop in my kitchen window. I ate breakfast over the sink, mesmerised by snowflakes descending like featherdown bursting from a pillow fight. I even put on the song Winter Wonderland for the mood. It was like Christmas in March.

By the way I made ceviche for dinner (click on the link for instructions from my livejournal blog). So yummy and healthy. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pont Du Gard

I felt energetic the afternoon of arriving in Vers so I borrowed one of the bikes at the B&B. This was the one I picked-small, beat up but reliable. And the kitties loved playing with it too! 

And with my little bike, I was a free spirit. In flip flops. The Pont Du Gard was only 6 kms away from Vers. I left the village, hit the highway and turned into a giant carpark. The Pont Du Gard was not far beyond it. 

It was built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. A magnificent acquaduct carrying water throughout the area and there are still remains of water works in Vers. I passed a few seemingly hidden places on the bike and water is still running! Probably not from the Pont du Gard but it's still so quaint. 

The Pont Du Gard is huge and attracts millions every year. I approached what I'd been waiting to see all this time, from plane, to bus and bike. 

And this is it. In the splendour of the summer, I was finally here. I came back the second day and brought my togs.

Can you believe it? I'm swimming *in* the Pont Du Gard. With other holidaymakers, beholding the spectacle of the aquaduct while swimming underneath it. I did'nt hear a single English conversation around me. The sky was raging blue and the air was warm. It was utterly glorious.

Afterwards I felt so rejuvenated, I wanted to continue riding until the sun went down. So after changing at home, I hit the road again and rode out of Vers and to Castillon Du Gard. A castle village and although it would have been lovely to see the castle, it was getting late so I returned to the B&B and chilled out for the rest of the night.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Birthday Feast - Four Seasons And The Gate

At my age (which shall remain a mystery!) birthdays harder to organise and nowadays I prefer a quieter celebration. Last week I had a joint birthday bash with friends and on my real birthday, I shared the day with two special people.

So it's Friday, the day before my birthday. Grant and I finish work and have dinner at our favourite place, Four Seasons in Chinatown. Home of the best BBQ duck in the world. So to mark the occasion, he orders a WHOLE duck for the table and there's only two of us! Of course we're taking leftovers home. And by golly who would'nt want to have this yummy food later?

Tender soft double braised pork belly with preserved vegetables.

The famous BBQ duck. We have it boneless for ease of stuffing our faces.

And today I had a late lunch with my girlfriend Kim at The Gate in Islington. It's delicious vegetarian food. I loved it! 

A blurry picture of us. (To hide my wrinkles, haha!)

Wild mushroom potato cake. This was delicate and flavoursome which is a feat for a dish made from potato.

Aubergine & cauliflower pakora with pear & coriander chutney.

Shakshuka. Poached eggs cooked in tomato, pepper & smoked paprika sauce with pita bread. I thought this was too saucy and needs extra starch to go with it.

Lasagna. Saffron pasta, layered with roasted portobello mushrooms, grilled courgette and blushed tomato, served with rocket salad and pasilla and watercress sauce. This was amazing and the sauce was TDF!

Caramelised pineapple, coconut & limeleaf cheesecake. Lime flavour could be sharper. At this point I was stuffed!

We went to a pub for more drinks and then it was dinnertime. Grant took me to Gaucho's in Hampstead where I had a filet mignon.(The smallest size to be conservative.) My birthday has been a indulgent fling from delicious meats to vegetarian fare.

Birthday cards from dear friends and roses from Grant. What a wonderful day!