Thursday, September 26, 2013

Window shopping in Europe - Switzerland

Let's talk fashion - yay! Last Sunday Boyfriend arrived back from a trip to the States and brought me a copy of the American edition of In Style. Almost 500 pages loaded with the latest trends from overseas, many ads from fashion labels I did not recognize and a word or two that caught my non-native English eye more used to reading British English. I've always enjoyed comparing fashion trends from different countries and whenever I go on a city break I usually take half a day to do some window shopping on the local high street, hoping to find some unique pieces from shops unknown to me back at home. However, it is true that in this internet-connected world of global brands, most shopping streets are looking more and more the same.

At least in Europe, you're very likely to come across the same shops and be able to recognize at least half of the names you see, whether you find yourself in Spain, the Netherlands or Switzerland. But it may not be the same in other parts of the world - as the American In Style proved to me - and there are of course differences among countries. Today I've decided to talk about the typical shopping street in Europe and what you might find in Switzerland. Ready? Then take a seat, the virtual shopping tour is about to start!

As I already said, most shopping streets in Europe are looking very similar to each other and three countries are to blame for that:

The UK high street: it's taken them a while to settle down in continental Europe - probably because the UK maintains its very own currency, which is much stronger than the euro - but many beloved British names, such as New Look, River Island, Accesorize, Topshop and more recently Primark, have become a common sight in many other countries in continental Europe.

Scandinavian design: ok, this is not a single country but four of them - or five if we add Iceland to the group - but as people generally refer to Scandinavian design as a whole, I'll keep them together. Sweden is home to one of the biggest players in the global fashion world, H&M, and Denmark also plays hard in Europe with Vero Moda, ONLY, Pieces and Vila, all of them part of the Bestseller group.

The Spanish fashion miracle: Spain's richest man and the world's fourth is the owner of fashion empire Inditex. If that name doesn't ring a bell, think of Zara, Bershka, Pull&Bear or Massimo Dutti, among others, all property of Inditex. But Spain's success in the fashion industry goes further than Zara and her little sisters and other big names include Mango, Springfield or Women's Secret.

Many other European countries usually have a single strong player with shops spread all over the European fashion map. Italy has made its chic affordable thanks to famous Benetton, Promod spreads la France unique style throughout the continent, The Netherlands exports budget fashion via C&A, while Germany does the same with upbeat New Yorker. Another big name in Europe is Esprit, which I thought to be German but it actuallyhas its roots in the US. And a final global player which is making an appearance in most European countries is Superdry, also from the UK.

And what do we have in Switzerland? Scandinavian retailers rule the market with H&M celebrating 35 years since they first opened a shop in Switzerland a Vero Moda and ONLY present in most Swiss cities. Spanish brands are slowly making their way on the Swiss market with Zara and Mango shops in most important cities and some other brands in selected cities, like Massimo Dutti in Geneve and Springfield in Sion. British retailers are nowhere to be seen - at least I don't think I've ever seen any of them. Esprit is also very popular around here and New Yorker, C&A are some of the most affordable options, together with H&M. Switzerland also has its own fashion brands, Tally Weijl and Charles Vögele. Tally Weijl is very popular among the youngsters and does cheap-looking trendy clothes for a cheap price (a bit à la Bershka).

There are many other fashion labels which you might find in almost every shopping street in Switzerland. This is by no means an extensive list but I think it is quite representative, especially with regard to affordable options. More pricey labels such as Caroll, Kookaï, Wolford or Navy Boot are very favoured by stylish Swiss women and of course, luxe retailers like Luois Vuitton, Cartier or Longchamps are popular options for that special buy destined to last a lifetime. But until the day I can afford my own LV Artsy bag, chances are you'll find me in H&M, Vero Moda, Mango or even Esprit during the sale months.

I hope you enjoy this fashion European tour, maybe one day I'll be able to write the American counterpart. 
Which are your favourite shops? Anything I've missed and should know about?
Have a lovely Thursday!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wanderlust - Autumn 2013

Summer is officially gone and autumn is here with its many wonderful treats. Shorter days, falling leaves, chilly evenings, warm clothes, pumpkin soup, roasted chestnuts and the countdown to Christmas! Ah, Autumn, how cosy you are! If you follow this blog you probably know by now that autumn is my favourite season, closely followed by winter. I love spending the rainy evenings at home with a good movie and a steamy cup of tea, but I also enjoy making the most of the last sunny days of the year. So what a better time to put together a list of the places I'd love to visit in the upcoming months? Because I'm still settling in my new life in Switzerland I'm not really planning any big trip but there are a couple of cities nearby I would like to discover before they're covered by a white mantle of snow.

Bern (Switzerland): I have only been to Bern once and I would like to see it again and visit the Einstein Museum. Besides, a temporary exhibition at the Museum of History is currently displaying the Terracotta Army. Dubbed as the eighth wonder of the anciant world, Boyfriend and I already missed it in Brussels last winter, so hopefully we won't miss the chance this time.

Freiburg (Germany): A shopping trip to Germany is always a good idea. I was once in Freiburg im Breisgau a couple of years ago and I found it a charming and tranquil city. Freiburg is only one hour from Basel by car and I'm sure it'll make for a nice Saturday trip again.

Colmar (France): I first read this and was impressed by these utterly beautiful photos of Colmar, then I spotted an exit sign to Colmar on my way to Switzerland and Boyfriend said that it was quite close to Basel and hinted that Colmar has quite a renown Christmas market. Enough reasons, I think ...

Ticino (Switzerland): The most southern part of Switzerland is an Italian-speaking canton which apparently looks more Italy than Switzerland and has some Mediterranean feel to it. I've never been to this part of the country and I'm sure Ticino would be a lovely destination to spend a weekend away to celebrate my birthday.

This is my humble travel wish list for autumn 2013, only a couple of daytrips but I'm really excited about these plans! And what about you? Have you already planned something to cure your wanderlust this autumn? Any travel wishes for this season? Feel free to share your travel plans - I love taking inspiration from fellow bloggers - and leave your link in a comment below. I'll be back with the wanderlust winter edition on 22nd December and try to host a link-up next time - let me know if you'd like to co-host!

Have a lovely week!

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All photos taken from Wikimedia Commons. 

Friday, September 20, 2013


Helvetia sits upon the Rhine in the same fashion she has sat there for centuries. With a spear, a shield and her cloak on her side, Helvetia watches over her folk day and night. From Basel, Helvetia gazes her lands endlessly, her back facing neighbouring Germany.

Helvetia is a female representation of Switzerland and she is present in several cities, as well as being depicted in the tail of most national coins and printed in some series of stamps from time to time. This female allegory of Switzerland as a nation arose around the 17th century and Helvetia took her name from the first tribes that inhabited the current Swiss territory, the Helvetii, and Switzerland's official name remains Confoederation Helvetiva (Swiss Confederation). 

The history of Switzerland is quite different from that of many other countries in Europe and even nowadays, Switzerland is still a slightly rare country among her European neighbours. While many nations used a war as a tool to expand their territories and impose their law, it was peace what forged the foundations of Switzerland. In 1291 three small regions in the heart of Europe signed a treaty that would guarantee longlasting peace among them and protection from outsiders. This early confederation proved to be very popular and over the centuries many surrounding regions - which have come to be known as cantons over the years - joined them and shaped the current Swiss Confederation. Switzerland has gone down in European history as a peaceful and wealthy country, maintaining her neutrality status since 1815. Switzerland did not join the UN until 2002 and the thought of becoming a EU member gives Swiss people the creeps. Switzerland has a complex political system (which I don't think I'll fully understand) and a long and rich tradition of direct democracy which would clash violently with Brussels guidelines and supranational sovereignty. 

Europe is an ever-changing region but Switzerland has remained mostly the same since it was founded during the 13th century. Helvetia has long looked after her land and people and she will keep on doing so from this border point, her eyes looking as far as the horizon allows, proud and fierce, always ready to stand up for her folk.

The rain seems to have taken a break here in Basel and it'll hopefully stay away this weekend. Yesterday I went out to take some photos in the city and I totally forgot about the time and didn't go back home until I was hungry and cold but happy with +100 photos of Basel's old town and the Rhine. This weekend marks an end to summer 2013 and I'm kind of looking forward to chilly evenings and falling leaves.

Any special plans to farewell Summer 2013?
Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The choice I made that changed my life

"The choices we make, not the chances we take, determine our destiny"

When I was fifteen years old my life took a very unexpected turn, probably changing the future course of events. I had never thought about studying German before and I had always wanted to study French, I had even started to study French at high school so it actually made sense that I continued something I had begun. I had also applied for French but I wasn't granted a place at the language school, so there I was facing a dilemma. Should I wait for another year and see if I had some more luck second time around or should I give German a try? Well, after little thinking I went to buy the first books of German I ever owned and in September 2000 I started a delightful adventure which didn't look promising at all back then.

I still remember my first German lesson as if it was yesterday. I was sitting in a very crowded room - seriously, there were nearly fifty people in my course that first year - and we were asked to say any random German word we knew. Kartoffel. Michael Schumacher. Kindergarten. WAIT! Why do all these people know that much? What am I doing here? Wasn't I supposed to be in a beginners course? GET.ME.OUT.OF.HERE!!! Ah, the first year wasn't exactly easy. Neither was the second nor the third. I found it extremely difficult to memorize all those alien-looking words, together with their gender. I didn't seem able to put more than three words together correctly and that whole declension system felt like a foreign language in its own. With all this fun going on and skipping lessons more often than not, my first three years learning German were gone in the blink of an eye.

After these three discouraging years I took a much needed break and eventually went back to school, still doubting whether this was the right thing to do, given my poor beginnings. One day my teacher asked me why I was studying German and without giving it much thought I blurted out that I wanted to spend a year studying in Germany. I suddenly realized that I really wanted to spend a year abroad and I wanted it so badly. From that moment on I worked harder than ever, I tried not to miss any lesson and I even began doing my homework! And at some point I found myself speaking German so fluently I didn't even believe it was me who was talking.

I never spent a year in Germany; I went to Belgium instead (you can read more about it here), but learning German surely changed my life. For the first time in my life I strived to be my best at something and learnt that I could achieve almost anything I wished for. I realised that learning a foreign language is a real mind-opener. I became more curious about countries and cultures which weren't under my radar before and more eager to learn other foreign languages I never thought of, like Dutch or Icelandic. And learning German somehow gave direction to my life, as it helped me to find a way to make my dreams of living abroad come true. I used to believe in fate and our destiny being written in the stars but I'm pretty sure that choosing to learn German has definitely changed my life for good. Perhaps, after all it is the choices we make what determines our destiny, just like the quote above says. What do you think? Do you belive in destiny? Ever had a life-changing moment?

And now an even greater challenge, learning Russian!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Breda went down in history when Velázquez painted his magnificent The Surrender of Breda. Well, actually a couple of years before this masterpiece was created, when Breda stood against the invading Spanish troops enduring ten harsh months of siege before surrendering to the Spaniards. Eventually it was reconquered, besieged again and finally acknowledged as Dutch territory by the Treaty of Westfalia. After this brief historical introduction - I always find it interesting to dig a bit into the history of the places I go - it is time to tell a bit about my quick visit to Breda.

Before I left the Netherlands I set a couple of days to explore some of the cities which had been top of my list for a while, maybe for years. Breda wasn't even in my list but poor trip preparation and the sometimes tricky Dutch train network put it on my way when coming back from Delft earlier than expected. And I'm glad it did because I ended up spending c ouple of hours there and discovering another cosy city in the Netherlands. 

Like many Dutch cities, Breda has a pedestrian-friendly city centre which can be easily reached from the train station. I hopped off the train and walked on first to find a lively park - it was a hot sunny day of July and many people lay on the grass enjoying a drink and soaking some sunrays - and then many a quiet cobbled street dotted with terraces where more people enjoyed a drink or two and soaked some more sunrays. Breda is in the south of the Netherlands, in the province of North Brabant, and this whole area is known for the bourgondisch way of life celebrated by its people who indulge, more often than not, in hearty meals and savoury drinks, preferably when the sun is shining. In that sense, the city centre of Breda reminded me to Den Bosch, the capital of North Brabant, which also had broad streets full of terraces where people would sit to see and be seen.

My favourite place in Breda was the old beguinage (only in Dutch), which is really well preserved and one of the best in the Netherlands. Beguinages originated in the Middle Ages and used to be the homes of the beguines, women who devoted their lives to God without the restrictions impossed by the clerical life. These women would rely on benefactors and dedicate their time to help the poor and sick as well as to master the arts of music and poetry. Beguinages are usually composed of several small houses surrounding a central yard with a chapel or some other religious chambers. Nowadays, beguines are a definetely a thing of the past, as the last beguine passed away in Belgium this spring. The last beguine in Breda died in 1990.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My five essentials for a comfortable flight

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post this post about my flight phobia and shared some tips which have helped me throughout the years and make me look as if I had everything under control, even though I might be terrified on the inside. I am happy and thankful for all the reactions and advice I received in return and I thought it might be worthy to complete that talk with some more advice on how to enjoy a flight once the fear has been overcome. I'm not a frequent flyer but I've flown all my life regularly - I was less than two months old when I was first put onboard - so I know a thing or two about enduring flights, airports and delays. Preparation is key and there are some essential items that can make any journey more bearable, and even enjoyable. Here's my top five.

A pashmina or fine scarf: I'm addicted to scarves to the point of hardly ever leave home without one and this is even more true when flying. I like rolling my scarf around my neck but a large scarf will double up as a cover or even serve as soft pillow. I bought the one in the photo in H&M during the sales and not only was it a bargain but it is incredibly soft and made sure that I had a nice sleep during my last holidays.

A magazine: I usually go for fashion magazines as they will keep me busy for hours and feast my eyes with glossy pictures of beautiful things - great to keep my mind away from the 10000 m that separate me from the solid ground. Most of the time I buy some magazine in the airport but if I want a particular one I may buy it in advance to avoid disappointment if it's sold out at the airport.

Some lip balm: This is another thing I'm addicted to and I will always have one with me, no matter if I'm going for dinner, to the beach, hiking or simply staying in. My lips dry easily and I feel the constant need to dab a bit of balm on my lips. The dry air inside an aircraft only makes it worse and a lip balm is kind of a life saver to me. And as quirky as it sounds, certain scents can be very relaxing as well.

A hand cream: Same as before, my hands get really dry when flying and it is always nice to treat them to a quick massage while applying some hand cream. Especially after washing them in the toilets (seriously, cabin dry air + airplane water is a terrible combination for any skin type) and just before landing. I guess that face moisturizer would also be an essential in long-haul flights, but as I've never flown longer than five hours I've never brought any in my handbag.

My iPod: Listening to music can really calm me down and it also makes sleeping easier for me, especially while there is still daylight flooding the room. Besides, this is the perfect companion for long queues in the airport and endless waiting for delayed flights. Just make sure the battery is fully loaded before leaving.

This is my list of essential, but there are of course many other things which I always carry with me when I'm traveling by plane. A bottle of water is probably even more important than the five things mentioned above, but because it must be bought after passing the security check, I no longer view it as an essential (and I think if I got terribly sick or was about to pass out any stewardess would offer me a glass of water. I guess. I hope. Maybe I still have to much faith in humanity). It is also good to have a couple of snacks at hand, even though I don't really eat that much while flying. Usually a packet of biscuits will do for me, though I do miss the times when you were served a full meal at airplanes. My camera is always with me as well and I really enjoy taking photos when taking off or landing whenever I have a window seat. Paper tissues is another thing I try not to forget as I tend to sneeze very often on planes. And of course, I always double-check that my passport and ID card are in my bag.

Is there something you always take with you when traveling? What are your essential items for a comfortable flight? Feel free to leave a link to your blog if you write or have written a similar post, I'd love to take a look at them!

Have a lovely Thursday!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Snapshots of Tenerife

Holidays are over! After almost three weeks of glorious sunsets by the sea, some hours well spent swimming, drinks with lovely friends and interesting sightseeing with my parents, it is now time to readjust to normal life. I landed in Switzerland last Saturday evening and during that night I was greeted by a powerful thunderstorm, as if to remind me that I had just landed in reality. Yesterday was raining most of the day but today the sun is shining again so it cannot be that bad to be back. I'm actually happy to be back. I'm quite excited about my favourite season being around the corner (yay, autumn is almost here), I was very looking forward to seeing Boyfriend again and I'm ready to pick up my life just were I left before the holidays. Looking for a job and an appartment, that's it. But in the meantime and before autumn is officialy here, I'll linger into the sunny memories of my last holidays and share some of them with you.

I didn't do as much as I would've liked to but still I had a great time and did quite a lot of sightseeing. Santa Cruz, La Laguna, Puerto de la Cruz, Candelaria, Bajamar and Adeje are some of the places I visited - I think the longest distance in Tenerife is about 100 Km, so it's not difficult to rummage everything in a couple of days. Unlike the previous couple of times I had been back to my home island, this time I left feeling lovestruck. It seemed to me as if Tenerife had had a facelift and it looked prettier than ever. I cannot tell there has been any drastic change but many minor improvements have made it a more attractive island with new experiences to offer. Despite the credit crunch and the sky-rocketing unemployment rate, Tenerife (and the Canary Islands) has found some relief in the many revolts associated to the Arab Spring, as many European and Spanish tourists who favoured more exotic destinations in the Middle East region are now choosing for a peaceful stay in Tenerife. Hopefully, this sudden sign of economic recovery will not be a mirage and Tenerife will become once more a top-class holiday destination. Here are some photos I took while in Tenerife, isn't is gorgeous?

Summer 2013 is coming to an end, any plans to make this summer feeling last on or looking forward to happily transitioning to fall?
Have a lovely week!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Playing the tourist in La Laguna

Have you ever been sightseeing in your hometown? Ever done the touristy thing in the place where you live? This morning I took a guided tour around La Laguna, the second biggest city in Tenerife and the city where I studied. Obviously, I knew the city but still I learnt a thing or two about the history of La Laguna and Tenerife and I got the chance to peek inside many of the historical houses that are scattered over the city the city centre. 

La Laguna was listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999. La Laguna, founded around the 16th century, was the first Spanish city without walls and probably one of the first non-fortified cities in Europe. It was granted the title of ciudad de paz (city of peace) and during the next centuries was viewed as the model of urban development to follow whenever a new city was founded in the newly conquered lands of central and south America. Havana (Cuba), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Lima (Peru), among others, were planned according to the design of La Laguna.

The centre of La Laguna is a grid of wide avenues departing from a central square crossed by perpendicular and more narrow streets. In the last decade, the city centre has been adapted as a pedestrian zone and small boutiques and cafes with terraces have flourished in almost every street in the centre of La Laguna. Most historical houses have been renovated and open to the public as museums, art galleries or simply as historical sights. These houses, in traditional Canarian style, usually have a patio right behind the entrance door, sometimes with a small fountain and always lined with carved wooden balustrades and columns. The majority of these houses were built with local supplies, such as pine wood and volcanic stone, but the Canarian style is a fine blend of the styles brought in by the early settlers from the European mainland. The Spanish elements descending from the Arabic architectonical styles together with English, Italian, Portuguese, French and even Dutch details shaped a unique mix that created the characteristic Canarian houses.

These are a couple of the things I learnt and some of the photos I took this morning. I didn't really like La Laguna while I was studying there but now I have to say that La Laguna has probably become one of the hippest places in Tenerife. Tourists from all over Europe visit it on a daily basis, making it one of the must-see spots in Tenerife, and the cool people spend mornings and evenings sitting at any of the many terraces people-watching. Even the weather seems to have improved in the last years, though the evenings remain as cold as I remembered.

You can book a free guided tour at the tourist office every day and they are offered in Spanish, English, German and French.
Have you ever played the tourist in your own city? De you enjoy visiting touristy sights and attractions?
Have a lovely weekend!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

September 2013: a month of beginnings

September is a month where many things begin anew. Children go back to school, most people resume their working life after the holidays and autumn starts as well during this month. September is also the month for many people to make resolutions to finally change their life (dieting, going to the gym, taking up a new hobby and the like). For, as I've never fully kicked out the student in me - well, it's only been two months since I handed in my thesis and finished my degree but it seems like a lifetime to me - September feels almost like the beginning of the year to me. And for this 'new' year I plan to study Russian and to find a job as soon as possible.  It would also be nice to practice enough to speak German fluently again and to see my photography skills improve significantly. But I don't want to be too ambitious, so for this year I want to make the most of every minute and enjoy every special moment. And what a better way to start than enjoying my last week of holidays in Tenerife.

In the last couple of weeks I've been catching up with my friends here and swimming regularly and I've loved it! I usually go swimming to Bajamar, a coastal village in the north of Tenerife with two big swimming-pools by the shore filled with sea water. Not only is it a fine place to bathe but also a great spot to enjoy a wonderful sunset. And a sunset in Bajamar is precisely one of my favorite photos from last month in my 365 project. You can view the whole month here.

Oh, and one last thing I'm starting this month as well is a twitter account. Yes, I'm new to Twitter and you can find me and follow me at @Awayfromtfe. It's still in the making, so I guess it'll take me a while to fully understand how it works but I'm so excited about having a new way to keep in touch with you all!

What are you up to this month? Taking up some exciting challenge? Planning to do something totally new?
Have a successful September!

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