Friday, December 27, 2013

Hogmanay in Edinburgh

If you're still looking for a last-minute idea for New Year's Eve let me suggest you Edinburgh and its Hogmanay celebration. Three years ago Boyfriend and I decided to spend our first New Year's Eve together in Edinburgh and though tickets for the party were already sold out, we had a great time there while getting to know the lovely capital of Scotland. The days were short and freaking cold, yet the city welcomed us so warmly that I wished we could have stayed forever. And we are still looking for any excuse to visit Edinburgh again.

Hogmanay is the traditional name for the New Year's Eve celebrations in Scotland and Edinburgh goes crazy with a large street party and great concerts. There is also a street fair with many rides along Edinburgh's main streets - and if my memory and orientation sense don't fail me, three years ago it was located on Princes Street. On the evening of 31st December thousands of people gather on Edinburgh's street party to count down and celebrate the start of a new year all night long. And even if you fail to get tickets, or don't want to spend money on them, you can still join other cheery fellas on the streets to enjoy a superb display of fireworks and sing Auld Lang Syne out loud right when the countdown for the new year is over.

Edinburgh has plenty to offer, besides the biggest midnight moment of the planet (at least according to the Edinburgh's Hogmanay site). There are two different parts of the city, the Old Town and the New Town - though the new town is not as new as its name may suggests, dating back to the 18th century. The Old Town main street is what's known as the Royal Mile, a concatenation of old streets starting from Edinburgh's Castle and finishing at Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the UK royals in Scotland. This side of the city is full of historical buildings, small boutiques full of personality and cosy pubs. Another historical sight to admire along the Royal Mile is St Giles' Cathedral. However, not everything is antique here and just opposite Holyrood Palace is the brand-new home of the Scottish Parliament, a shiny and irregular building, designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles, that defies the stillness of the Old Town. New Town is home to many of the museums and art galleries of Edinburgh. Its principal street is Princes streets and there you can find many UK high street retailers and department stores. And if there's something you cannot find there, it may be well hidden in the adjacent streets or nearby shopping malls.

Another interesting site is the very photogenic Carlton Hill, which is located to the east of Princes Street and can be easily reached by foot. Carlton Hill offers great views of the city and also has its fair share of monuments on it. Among them, the National Scottish Monument, the Nelson Monument and the Robert Burns Monument stand out. But if it is views of Edinburgh what you're after, then Edinburgh's Castle will provide you the finest views. Edinburgh's Castle stands proudly on top of a hill between the Old Town and the New Town and it can be seen from most parts of the city.

That was our trip to Edinburgh in a nutshell. To make it even better, we stayed at a The Point Hotel which used to be a factory and boasted about having had a young Sean Connery among its workforce (how cool is that?!). Even though it's already been three years since we were in Edinburgh, I still have very vivid memories of this particular trip. As I already told you, I would love to go back there some day and explore Scotland further and I can only recommend this charming city, be it for New Year's Eve or any other moment of the year. And if you're still not convinced, Lonely Planet has also chosen Scotland as one of the top ten countries to visit in 2014, so what a better time to visit Edinburgh?

p.s. You might notice that these photos are slightly blueish - with slightly being a big understatement. I don't know why but I seemed to have some trouble with the white balance of my camera back then and most of the photos I took at that time are blue. When I was choosing and editing some photos for this post I decided to leave them as blue as the original, not perfect but this is the way my Edinburgh memories are painted in my head. And if you think these are already too blue, wait until I show you Lichtenstein some time!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My post for Christmas: a recipe, a song and a wish

Though I have named this post 'A recipe, a song and a wish', I think I will start right at the end because it is already Christmas Day and I'm sure that reading blogs is the last thing on your minds today and tomorrow.
Thus, without further ado, I want to wish you all a


May you all have a wonderful holiday in the company of your loved ones and enjoy these days, whether snowy or sunny.

And now, let's move on to some other Christmassy things. Some ten years ago my brother and I went on a family holiday to London and being on the festive mood, we bought a box of mince pies in a local supermarket (maybe Tesco, maybe Sainsbury's, I don't really remember). We had read about them, we wanted to try them and oh, were we addicted! Ever since that pre-Christmas London trip we have tried to get our hands on some mince pies year after year but in the past three years we haven't kept up with our little tradition. However, this year I've decided to give homebaked mince pies a try and the result was not too bad! Perhaps they're not too photgenic and I still haven't figured out how to get the pastry right but they taste great, almost like the real stuff! I was doing my research for a while and because I couldn't buy mincemeat in Switzerland and I no longer had a whole month to store homemade mincemeat in a cool place, I decided to mix these two recipes. I made this quick mincemeat by David Lebovitz and I can tell you it tasted amazingly! All christmassy flavours, sweet and spicy, are there and if you want you can add a chopped apple to it as well. Besides, unlike most recipes for mincemeat I found online, this one doesn't have any suetin it, so it is totally fuss-free. For the pastry I went for this mince pies recipe by Nigella Lawson. As I said, I haven't got it completely right - probably I'm adding too much butter or too much orange juice - but it does match the mincemeat in a nice way and next year I might even give her cranberry mincemeat a try. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

And finally, a song for you. I could have gone for something classic but instead I'm giving you Katy Perry. I love her latest single and I think it's quite an appropriate song for this time of the year. After all, looking past the bright lights, copious eating and presents overload, Christmas is still a celebration of love, love in its purest form. And there is no better time in the year to remember those dear and near and give them some love unconditionally. Katy said it first!

That was all for today. I'm off to enjoy some more homemade mince pies while watching some christmassy TV with those close to my heart.

Love, Irene

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in the Philippines {Guest Post}

I am delighted to introduce you today to Arni of Travel Gourmande, one of my absolutely favourite bloggers and a very kind friend (I'm so happy we've met through our blogs). Arni has been living in Dubai for over a decade now and has collected a good amount of stamps on her pasport for sure. She writes about many different things, inluding her travel adventures and her not so ordinary life in Dubai, and also pours her heart out from time to time. Whatever she blogs about, it is always a pleasure to read her, so hop over her blog and do share some love!

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Warm Holidays Greetings to everyone! First and foremost, I'd like to thank Irene for inviting me here to share and reminisce how we celebrate Christmas in my home country.  Though I have spent the last ten years being an expat in Dubai, I can't help thinking about family traditions in my home country during Christmas every year. Please allow me to think aloud with you.

Filipino Christmas Lantern - Parol

Christmas in the Philippines is always taken up a notch and can be the longest in the world.  Christmas carols start playing as early as September, as soon as the "ber" months begin.  Most households start decorating as early as they can possibly can with lit-up houses and faux Christmas trees that will stay there until after Epiphany.

An iconic Filipino Christmas lantern called "Parol" is a traditional Christmas ornament that represents the Star of Betlehem that guided the three kings to the manger and is considered a symbol of light and hope over darkness. They can be as colorful as we can make them. The illuminated star pattern is traditionally made of bamboo and Japanese / crepe paper that later evolved into more sturdy ones made of mother of pearl or foil.

Office and School Christmas parties take up most of December with the popular "Monito /Monita" or kris kringle before the holiday vacation starts.

From the 16th of December, the majority attend Simbang gabi or Misa de Gallo, a dawn novena.  It is believed that their wish gets granted once they complete the consecutive masses that lead up to Christmas Eve. Traditional delicacies of bibingka or egg and rice flour based cake and my favorite puto bumbong, purple colored sticky rice steamed in bamboo tubes, are sold in the street outside the church as a morning treat for the church goers.  Though I personally am not a big fan of waking up in the morning to attend these masses, the puto bumbong was enough to motivate me to wake up at dawn.

Christmas in the Philippines or Pasko is a big family affair. The highlight of the event is marked on the 24th of December. The family goes to church for a Midnight Mass, that usually starts at 10pm. A night long traditional feast called, "Noche Buena" is celebrated by the family at Midnight.

Morcon, stuffed Filipino meat roll

The table, as I recall it, would usually have hamon -Christmas ham,  Queso de bola- a sealed wax ball of Edam Cheese, pasta and etc.  In our household, I remember my Mom's delicious " Morcon", a Filipino meat roll stuffed with chorizo, carrots, eggs and pickle with tomato sauce. I have yet to try making one of these one day.

After full tummies at dinner, the family starts opening gifts.  The whole affair continues till morning.  With the western influences of Santa Claus, I remember the gifts from Santa appearing under the Christmas Tree upon our return from the Midnight Mass.

During Christmas Day, the family eats the leftover from last night's feast and continues the celebration with a huge Christmas lunch while the doors get plenty of knocks from visitors- god children and neighborhood kids asking for monetary gifts (This is called "pamamasko"). New bills and coins are happily distributed  until they run out and the doors are locked, as we pretend there's no one home. :)

Thank you for reading and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Love & Light,


Images via: 1 /  2

Friday, December 20, 2013


Today I would like to introduce you to these tiny men who live in every bakery in Basel in the countdown to Christmas, the Grättimaa. Grättimaa are approximately 20 cm tall, have a round belly and an even rounder hear with two big black eyes. Made of a soft, sweet dough, their eyes are two raisins and they're sprinkled with pearl sugar. Grättimaa are to be enjoyed on St Nicholas' Day (6th December) but they start to pop up in town in November and sometimes stay around until Christmas time. Though they're already delicious on their own, I like mine spread with a bit of butter. Yummy!

In Switzerland St Nicholas, known as Samichlaus, is also a very important celebration and a very special day for children, who wait all year long for him to bring them some small present (you can read about his Dutch counterpart in this post). Children will also enjoy many a small treat, including chocolates, mandarines and or course, grättimaa, which many families also bake at home on the run-up to 6th December.

Grättimaa are typical from Basel but similar baked goods can be found in every other Swiss town and also in other German-speaking countries. Usually without sugar on top, they receive very different names according to the region they come from. Only in Switzerland, they are known as Elggermaa in Thurgau or Grittibänz in many other parts of the country and in Germany they are called Stutenkerl, among other names.

Nest yearI might even try to bake my own grättimaa but I'm already happy that I've enjoyed a couple of them this season before they disappeared from the local supermarkets.

Do you also have traditional Christmas treats in your countries?
Which are your favourites?
Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A stroll around Geneva

A couple of weeks ago I went to Geneva to take the exam that kept me away from this blog for almost a month and a half. It was a very exhausting trip which started early in the morning and saw me coming home only at midnight, as it takes three hours by train to get to Geneva from Basel and the four and a half hours of exam resulted in more than six hours including in-site registration, instructions and final directions. I think it was this long day what ultimately knocked me down and had me sick for the past two weeks. Now I'm almost feeling my best again, so thank you for all your nice wishes - I'm sure they had healing properties ;)

As you can imagine, I didn't have any time for sightseeing, though I could enjoy a nice dinner in good company. Luckily I had already been once to Geneva, which proved really helpful when I had to find my way through the city, so I needn't worry about getting lost in a French-speaking city foreign to me. Geneva is the second largest city in Switzerland and is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Known as an important banking centre and home to many international organizations, as well as the birthplace of the Red Cross, Geneva is a melting pot of cultures with people from all ove the world.

One of Geneva's trademarks is its lake and the Jet d'Eau which shoots water up to 140m high. The first time I visited Geneva with Boyfriend we started our sightseeing there. After that we crossed a bridge to the other side of the city and wandered around the small hilly streets of the city centre. We passed the beautiful Jardin Anglais with its famous flower clock (There is also a big flower clock in Tenerife so I wasn't impressed but it was still lovely to see). The cobble streets made way for old squares full of character, elegant shopping districts and an impressive cathredral. I found the Cathédrale St-Pierre to be a really interesting one as it was a tipically gothic building but with a neoclassical façade.

Finally, we drove to the northern part of the city, where the UN Headquarters and the International Museum of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent attract crowds every day. It is possible to take a guided tour around the UN Palace of Nations (I haven't done this so I cannot recommend it and the most parts of the building are undergoing renovation works, so it might not be the best moment to tour around). The charming gardens surrounding the UN buildings are dotted with presents from international governments, like the statue of Gandhi given by the Indian government.

Trivia fact - Though the UN European headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland only became a member of the UN in 2002. The Palace of Nations had been built for the UN predecessor, the League of Nations, and it would have been a waste to ignore those offices just because Switzerland reluctant to join the UN after the failure of the League of Nations.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Southern California Christmas {Guest Post}

Christmas is almost around the corner and I can't wait to start celebrating. I was writing my Xmas mail yesterday and I'll be busy putting decorations around the house this week. I'm also happy to say that I'm bringing a bit of the festive spirit into this blog and I'm having some great bloggers sharing their Christmas traditions with you. Today I want to introduce you to Ashley of have chasley, will travel, a lovely California girl who chronicles her travels and life special moments with sweet words and great photos. Do not forget to go over her blog and say 'Hi!'.

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Our Christmas traditions in Southern California are probably slightly different than other places in the United States, because it doesn't get very cold here!  We have to get creative since we can't go sledding, make snow men, or even wear cute coats and mittens.  I went to college in the snow, so I know what I'm missing!

That being said, I started thinking of the things I do with my family each Christmas and I realized they are all fairly 'Californian' in nature.  Movies, wine tasting, the beach, and Disneyland quickly came to my mind.

Let's start with my favorite, wine tasting!  I live a few minutes from Southern California wine country and when my family comes in from out of town, or we all get together, we almost always spend a day in the wineries.  You won't hear me complain!

My husband Charles and I are big Disneyland fanatics and love the holidays and decor at the parks.  A visit around Christmas is a great tradition and instantly puts me in the Christmas spirit.  The fake snow doesn't hurt either!

It wouldn't be a California Christmas without embracing Hollywood and the movies!  My family has always enjoyed watchingIt's a Wonderful Life or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve.  The past few years, we've also gone out to the movies.  We always cook our big Christmas dinner on Christmas day, so we like to keep Christmas Eve more casual and a trip to the theater is a lot of fun.

While my family is in town during the holidays, we love to take a trip to the beach for a nighttime bonfire.  The coast is always a little chillier and it is a blast to watch the sunset and roast hot dogs and marshmallows by the fire.  Not exactly a crackling fire while snow is falling outside, but our version is still pretty great!

Lastly, I enjoy giving back and I coordinate an adoption program at my work to provide presents for local families in need.  I can always count on my family to help me with the shopping and wrapping!

So there you have it.  The clear pattern in my traditions is family!  As long as we are all doing something together, it is a blast.  Our Christmas traditions allow us to make the most of the holidays together and the state that we live in!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A long month offline

December is long here and as I wrote way back in November I'm returning to blogland, ready to pick up just where I left - if only a bit later than expected. After six weeks of studying and four and half hours of exam, I think I needed a free week to recover myself from all the stress. Besides, I've been sick for almost two weeks now and everytime I seem to be getting better, I relapse and feel the need to tuck in bed, hiding under the duvet forever. Seriously annoying!

This bad case of flu have taken its toll on me and I'm feeling exhausted and totally lacking inspiration to write in this blog o' mine. Hopefully, I'll be fully recovered any time any soon and this blog will be normal again. In the meantime, accept my most sincere apologies for my absence.

Well, that's all for now. I will put on the kettle, drink a cup of tea and go back to bed. Life has got quite boring lately.

Have a lovely evening!

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