Monday, January 27, 2014

Super Sized Fries-Indulging in Ghent Belgium

Grant and I got cheap Eurostar tickets-£54 return to Brussels!

I found Brussels to be the least interesting in my travels but it was the gateway to Brugge and Gent. In just three hours from Kings Cross St Pancras, we arrived in Gent. 

The city is tranquil, almost like it was closed on Sundays everyday. But indeed the shops were open and people millling about inside. The old town a bit livlier. There are canals, traditional Flemish architecture and lots of places to eat and drink. Best of all, there were not many tourists. 

Hailed as having the best fries in Ghent, Grant and I pigged out at Frituur 't Puntzakje. The fries were cheap. It's 1 EUR for your choice of sauce. A regular fries was 2,70 EUR and a large was 3,10 EUR. Of course Grant wanted to upsize but when he saw how many fries they shovelled into the fryer, his jaw dropped. When the fries were cooked, almost a quarter of the fries missed our tray when emptied from the fryer basket. This is how much was got for a "regular" serve. They were crunchy and delicious! 

I asked what was in their veggie burgers and "I don't know" was the answer. I passed and lucky I did. Grant's cheeseburger was not great. The patty was DEEP FRIED. It was dirty hangover food so I say stick to their fries instead.

Grant and I had dinner at Cafe Des Arts, a brasserie opposite the Opera House. It was wonderfully Belgian with plenty of beer and delicious food. There were only locals dining and drinking at this place. 

For my starter I ordered half a dozen oysters that came with a huge glass of white wine. I had a Mystic cherry beer as an aperitif and practically inhaled the oysters. I realised after that wine went with the oysters beautifully and I should have taken my time instead of scoffing them down. They were so fresh and plump, it was hard to resist.

Here are my drinks. Mystic fruit beer, white wine and when I asked for "a real beer" I was given a pint of Charles Quint. 

Our food was totally delicious. I broke my diet and had chateaubriand steak (it was worth it). Grant had generous serve of scampi and we shared a creme brulee for dessert. 
Ghent by night. 

Random pic taken the next day as we were walking from Simon Says for coffee to the flower market in Kouter. 

The market wasn't anything special but that was a given as its the middle of winter. Grant and I spent our last hours in Ghent chilling out the Wellness spa in our hotel, the Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof.  

It was sad to check out and leave for Brussels. (But not sad to leave Brussels for London!)

Snaps From Luzern Weekend

It's my annual trip to Luzern. There was not much we could do since it was cloudy and it hadn't snowed enough for skiing. But I would not trade any day of doing nothing in Luzern for any other place. Thanks to the hospitality of my Swiss friends, Luzern is like my second home in Europe.

Behold, the wall of chocolate at the Migros in Zurich. It was like a vision from my dreams. Then I was told off for taking photos in the store. 

Fabs took me charity shopping and the Swiss donate great stuff. Found a box of raclette coupelles in the kitchenware section. It was a reminder of a joke we had in the chalet when we had raclette night and they looked like Darth Vader. "I am your father!!!"

A glut of skis at the front of the Salvation Army. I repeat, the Swiss donate quality stuff. I bought a backpack for CHF2, cheapest thing I bought in Switzerland that wasn't food.

Fabs and I met in Colmar for one day last summer and now I'm back in Luzern again!

The iconic Kapellbrucke bridge in the middle of town. Every now and then I could catch glimpses of the mountains through the fog. A totally amazing backdrop. The Luzernians are blessed for living in such a picturesque city.

The eats and drinks of the weekend. Fresh salad, home brewed beer, our fondue pot and huge eggs and ready made rosti from the farmers market. 

A lazy Sunday morning on the couch. Fabs made fresh squeezed vegetable juice. The flat was spacious, quiet and had an amazing view of Lake Luzern. It was a heavenly retreat from London.

We went for a walk along the lake and snacked on roasted chestnuts. Lake Luzern is so clean you can see the bottom. I'm coming back in summer to swim in it!

A special mention for the amazing water that flows from the taps. Its from the Swiss alps, aka the fountain of youth. I would pay good money to drink and take showers with it in London. I drank alot of tap water in Luzern. It's clean and fresh-its actually delicious. And does wonders for the body inside and out.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

5 Reasons To Move To Switzerland

Of all the European cities I've been to, there are two close to my heart, Paris and Luzern. While the French capital is cosmopolitan and sexy, I consider Luzern a home away from home. 

Here are 5 reasons why I would move to Switzerland:

1) Safety-Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. I feel safe as soon as the plane touches down in Switzerland. The country is practically beggar and dodgy people free.

2) A blend of European cultures-the combination of French, German and Italian cultures in one small country. Catch a train from Geneva to Basel and listen to the languages change from French to Swiss. German.

3) Healthier lifestyle-I'm not even counting the delicious Swiss chocolate as a reason (because that's healthy, right?) The food here is fresh and there are no mass manufacturing shortcuts-just good honest food. The quality of the produce at the supermarkets is better than what can be found in the UK. Often it's produced organically. The tap water is the best in the world, so clean I will drink loads of it and make point of washing my hair before I leave. No wonder the Swiss have amazing skin and hair. The finally the air quality is excellent. It must be that fresh alpine air and lack of overcrowding.

4) Natural beauty-the country is clean and natural. All the lakes are crystal blue, the mountains are breathtaking and the wildlife live harmoniously there. The cities seems to clean themselves. It's as if everything was designed with efficiency and cleanliness in mind.

5) Infallibility-at least seemingly so. Everything works marvellously, meticulously and reliably in this country. I've never had a cancelled or delayed train and everything runs ON TIME to the minute. There is a natural order in the way that everything is predictable. Everything works like clockwork.

While a fling with Paris has its appeal, I call Luzern home for the above reasons and for my good friends there. Fabs, my friends for whom I'm so thankful for her kindness and hospitality. And Marianne who holds fondue night in her home everytime I'm in Luzern. I  have to take my "anti-cheese pills" (as Fabienne calls them), but it's a small thing compared to the joy of sitting around pot of molton cheese with friends, eating bread and potato until that wonderful "grandmother" crust forms. 

The town of Luzern is a beauty in itself, so picturesque with its fairy tale architecture. The lake is vast and crystal clear. Watch this if you're not convinced.

There are however five downsides to this utopia. 

1) Everyone looks behaves and dresses similar. There is not much diversity and even authentic ethnic food is hard to come by.

2) The cost of living is high. A train ticket costs CHF 28 one way from Zurich airport to Luzern and that's a 50 minute journey. Mind you the train system is the best in Europe, if not the world. I wouldn't like to think how much a weeks worth of groceries would cost! I spent CHF 30 on just a small bag of things to take back to the UK.

3) Cultures are segregated by language. The only German words I know are hello, goodbye, please, thank you and sorry. If I moved to Switzerland, realistically my new friends would be English speaking expats.

4) There not as many indoor things to do compared to London. Even if you went to Zurich.

5) As a non EU citizen, it would be difficult to get a visa to work in this country. And that's past the stage where an company would want to go through the rigmarole of employing a non EU citizen. They need to prove they tried to find the right candidate but no Swiss or EU citizen could fit the bill. Which generally leaves it to the highly skilled niche jobs or the type which the Europeans wouldn't want to do long term like working in a ski resort. 

But overall I would still try to move to Switzerland, even for a short while :)

My Pescetarian Journey So Far- I Made Nutroast

By the end of 2013, I had gone back to eating meat because it was too time consuming to make two versions of dinner. In the snows I ate whatever was served in the chalet and the meals were meat-heavy. 

There was a vegetarian among us and I wished I had her nut roast for Christmas dinner instead of turkey. For boxing day, it was the chalet hosts' night off so we ate out and I ordered a steak which was humongous. It was delicious but I only needed a tiny bit to satiate my steak craving. 

I haven't had meat since I came back from France. Because Grant's in New Zealand for a month, I got to cook just for myself. I've only had pescetarian meals. I'm going to continue with meatless dinners after Grant comes back. 

Tonight I made my first nutroast. It took forever chopping up the onion, carrot, parsnip, celery, mushroom and sweet potato. I flavoured it with Vegemite, sage and thyme. I served it with leek and mushroom gravy. Absolutely scrumptious. There is now a new Sunday roast tradition!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Le Tania Days 6 and 7 - Farewell Winter Wonderland

Day 6 was our last day skiing so I made the most of every minute. The sky was clear and blue. It was perfect.

It was also the day of my last lesson. I refused to skip despite it being my only chance to go with others to Val Thorens. 

Our last lesson was mainly cruising down red runs and Keff took us out to Le Praz, a smaller village with an extremely icy run. I slipped alot and the other guys in the class were so kind to help me up. Amy and I left the class early to get a head start to Meribel for the rest of the day's skiing. 

Bye bye Keff, I will never forget your twinkling blue eyes and smile. The stuff you taught us however...

Amy and I bumped into Will on the way to Meribel.

A jaw dropping view of Meribel.

We had lunch and skiied to Saint Martin where there was a run I wanted to do. It was called Jerusalem but it was closed due to lack of snow. We did an alternate run which was higher up. The area of Saint Martin was open and treeless, it looked like it was covered in white fondant frosting. 

On our way back to La Tania, we passed an awesome party at La Folie Douce in Meribel but it was past 4pm and we had to make a beeline for the last lift. Booooooo...

As it was our last night, our chalet hit the town and what a fizzer that was. No one were in the pubs since it was changeover night, the night before the next influx of weekly tourists. We all managed to have a shot of chartreuse and crashed our other friend's chalet on the way back to ours. 

The next morning would have been completely sombre had it not been for snowman making. We made a snowman outside our chalet before taking the bus back to Lyon airport. 

The Chalet Mongellaz crew.

The ride back was depressing as we watched the snow fade from our sights. I felt heartbroken as we departed from Le Tania and ended our week of snow paradise. 

So many thrills and fond memories in the French Alps. My best Christmas ever.