Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A winter day in Lucerne

I had already been once to Lucerne on a hot summer day during my first trip to Switzerland. Many people told me about how charming Lucerne was with its lake right in the middle of the town, the pretty wooden bridges which have seen centuries of history pass by and the magnificent Alps on the background. But back then, Lucerne failed to impress me - something very likely to happen when everyone praise a place that much. However, during this second visit to Lucerne I tried and looked at it as if I had never seen it before and somehow Lucerne did seduce me.


It was freezing cold when I arrived to Lucerne a couple of weeks ago. Temperatures were still above zero but the snow on the mountains and but the chilly breeze from the lake made it seem colder than it really was. Besides, the sky was heavily overcast and it seemed as if it was going to rain any minute soon but around midday the clouds disappeared and the sky turned a bright shade of cyan blue. The coldness didn't stop the many tourists in town to enjoy the wonderful sights that Lucerne has to offer. Right in the middle of Switzerland, Lucerne is located on one of the extremes of the lake named after the city (or is it the other way round?) and watches over the Alps from the distance. It is no wonder then that Lucerne is a must-see for most tourists coming to Switzerland, especially for first-timers - so it was an obvious choice when I was tailoring an itinerary for my parents and brother, who were visiting Switzerland for the first time.



Out of the train station, the first hint of Lucerne's beauty is the sight of Lake Lucerne with the snowy Alps blurred on the horizon. The city centre, which dates back from medieval times, is at the other side of the lake and the best way to get there is by walking along the Kapellbrücke, a 14th century wooden bridge (though is was recently reconstructed after a fire). The Kapellbrücke has a wooden roof decorated with paintings depicting scenes from Swiss history and mythology. A bit further, there is a another wooden bridge, the Spreuerbrücke, very similar to the Kapellbrücke. The wooden bridges over the lake are probably the most emblematic sight of Lucerne and if you ever visit and do only one thing, do stroll along these bridges.



It goes without saying that Lucerne is an expensive city - much like everything in Switzerland - but just like the best things in life are free, Lucerne can also be enjoyed for free. The small city centre is a maze of cobbled streets and alleys with colourful houses everywhere. One of the things I liked more about Lucerne, besides the breathtaking views of the Alps covered in snow, were the frescoes that adorned most façades. Not only were houses painted in many different colours but they were often also embellished with paintings of trees and leaves,  Swiss flags and shields, and medieval peasants and knights. It was like being in an open-air art museum. Or a museum of historical street art.





And this is how I spent a winter day in Lucerne. The city has much more to offer but for a first introduction to the charms of Lucerne we steered clear of the museums and distant interesting sites. Maybe next time!

Have a lovely Wednesday!







Monday, January 27, 2014

Expat Experiences: The Everyday Experience in Switzerland

Today is the last Monday of the month and last instalment of the Expat Experiences link-up series hosted by Molly of The Move to America. In the past weeks I've reminisced my first days and emotions in Antwerp, the moment I felt at home in Maastricht and shared my thoughts on Tenerife, the place I come from. The prompt for this fourth week is 'The Everyday Experience' and I think it is about time to return to the present moment and reflect upon my everyday life in Switzerland.

The Move to America

It's been almost half a year since I moved to Basel with Boyfriend for good - or at least for a couple of years - and only now I'm finally making myself at home and starting to feel more at ease with the 'for good' part of the deal. After several years living in different countries and moving back to Tenerife in between I've become way too accustomed to novelty, to the thrill of discovering something new every day and the thought of permanently settling down somewhere made me really anxious.

When I've moved somewhere new the first months were always exciting. I had a whole city to uncover, many streets waiting to be walked for the first time, many little shops wanting to be discovered and cafés expecting me to take a seat and taste their unique tea blends. I have yet to find out my favourite spot to sit and read by the river and I have yet to try my new favourite yogurt flavour from the local supermarket. Apparently this is called the honeymoon period of culture shock and I guess it feels almost as good as honeymooning in the Maldives (I can only guess). 

The second phase of culture shock is frustration period and I think this is the stage I am currently experiencing in Switzerland. I already knew and liked the city I was moving to, I truly thought I would feel at ease here, so how come I am struggling to make myself at home here? How come I feel trapped in the everyday life? Well, once novelty wore off I was only left with reality and reality is not always a nice place to live. At least not as nice as dreams can be. I am frustrated because I cannot seem to find a job, because I don't understand what people say to me despite being fluent in German (annoying dialects) and because I find myself in some embarrasing situations almost on a daily basis. But above all, I am frustrated because I don't seem to enjoy the good life that Switzerland has to give.

The everyday life is actually a pleasant life and people really enjoy life here. Cultural happenings abound, Swiss cities are enjoyable places to live, most of the times working hours are family-oriented, the possibilities for outdoor activities are almost endless and the nature is breathtaking. I think I'm coming to terms with the fact that I am staying here for the long haul and I'm getting used to my everyday life. I do my grocery shopping, I go for long walks on sunny days, I daytrip to neighbouring cities, I stay in on rainy evenings, I have a favourite eaterie and a list of some other restaurants I still want to try. The third and four stages of culture shock are understanding and biculturalism; maybe I'm already on my way to understanding. Until then, these are some tips that get me through the hurdles of the everyday life.


Enjoy the little things - you're likely to see life through a totally new perspective, so prepare to be amazed (and shocked) and appreciate all those details that make life worth living no matter where. I only discovered the joys of long summer days when I moved abroad; coming from sunny Tenerife I probably took it for granted until then.

Allow yourself some time to get used to it - the everyday life in a foreign country can be puzzling, to say the least, so give yourself some time to adjust to it and don't be to hard on yourself. I am trying ...

Treat yourself every now and then - because adjusting to a new country can be hard, so celebrate the small victories and reward yourself. I love me some chocolate croissant and from time to time I grab one for no reason at all just to remind me that this new everyday can be sweet as well.



p.s. If you want to read more about culture shock, here's a post from fellow Tenerife expat and blogger Katharina of 100 Miles Highway, telling how she experienced and coped with culture shock in Switzerland.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Dutch Food

Unlike many other European countries, The Netherlands is not particularly renowned for its cuisine. Say Italy, you got pizza; say France, you got crêpes and many other fancy-named dishes; say Sweden, you got those famed meatballs with cranberry sauce. Say even UK, infamous for its terrible cuisine (an opinion I don't share at all) and you got fish and chips and more recently tikka masala. But say the Netherlands and you got what? There is for sure cheese - who hasn't heard of the Edam or Gouda varieties - and most tourists know about raw herrings and stroopwaffels (waffle biscuits filled with caramel) but other than that, no Dutch especiality really stands out in the international food hit parades. And that's a pity because there are some good reasons to enjoy the Netherlands with your taste buds, as well as with every other sense.

The traditional cuisine of the Netherlands is not elaborate nor elegant; it is rather simple, yet hearty. It is based on the humble produce that succeed to grow despite the rainy and cool climate, mostly potatoes, and many of the dishes were the standard food of farmers and have been eaten that way since a couple of hundred years ago. Some typical Dutch dishes may seem quite dull and not very appetizing but they usually make a satiating meal for the cold and short winter days. And there are, of course, lighter options for warmer summertime. This post does not intend to be a comprehensive guide of the Dutch cuisine but rather a list based on my experiences and liking. So let's start this culinary trip, I hope you enjoy!

Krentenbroodjes & ontbijtkoek - mmm, breakfast in the Netherlands was something I really hearted, especially in the weekends. I used to start my day with a cup of tea and some slices of bread with butter and jam. But some days I was lucky enough to have krentenbroodjes at home, which are small sweet buns containing raisins. If I was luckier, I would have ontbijkoek, which literally means breakfast cookie and is a delicious spiced cake. It was so good that I did not only ate it for breakfast.

Ontbijtkoek

Stamppot & Erwtensoep - these two are really traditional Dutch dishes to be enjoyed when temperatures drop. Stamppot is a simple meal consisting of mashed potatoes mixed with some vegetables, usually cabbage or endives, and accompanied by rookworst, a thick smoked sausage. A common variation is the hutspot, which is made with mashed potatoes, carrots and onions. Erwtensoep, meaning pea soup, is another favourite Dutch meal for cold days. It is a very thick soup of split peas and is served with some slices of rookworst.

Stamppot and rookworst

Frituur & frikadellen - the Dutch have really mastered the art of snacks. They have so many different types of croquettes and other deep-fried food that it would take a very long time - or a very big stomach - to try them all and choose a favourite. My favourites were the satékroket and bitterballenFrikadellen are another Ducth especiality and they are really compact sausages made of ... well, Dutch people usually advise not to ask what frikadellen are made of. The best place to grab some of these bites are a frituur, where you can also get fries soaking on mayonese (another typical Dutch snack) or the FEBO, a chain of fast-food restaurants famous for selling all their snacks on vending machines.

Bitterballen

Saté & Nasi Goreng - the Netherlands also took its place in the world when many other European powers did so. The former Dutch empire included Indonesia, Suriname and several islands in the Caribbean, including Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. These colonial territories have also influenced the cuisine of the Netherlands and some of the most popular dishes today are of Indonesian or Caribbean origin. Kipsaté, or chicken satay, is a favourite for BBQs and consist of chicken marinated in a peanut sauce. Satay sauce is so popular that it can be bought in all supermarkets in the Netherlands and it is also possible to buy kipsaté sandwich spread. Nasi goreng is another Indonesian especiality consisting of fried rice with vegetables, eggs and it can have chicken or prawns as well. Indonesian restaurants abound in the Netherlands but HEMA shops cater a very affordable one in their restaurants. Nasi Goreng with satay sauce and prawn crackers for only 5€ - a big favourite of mine!

Kipsaté

Those were the days in the Netherlands, having some ontbijtkoek for breakfast, snacking on bitteballen, enjoying a stamppot on cold winter evenings and indulging in some nasi goreng every now and then. As I said, this is not a comprehensive list. There are many, many other things I could add relating to food in the Netherlands but I think it is a good starter's guide. Let me know if I'm missing something essential or there's something I really, really need to try. By the way, I'm looking for a good recipe for ontbijtkoek as I cannot buy any in Switzerland and I crave it so badly, so if you happen to have one, would you mind sharing?

Thank you for all your sweet comments and have a lovely Wednesday!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Expat Experiences: Thoughts of a home called Tenerife


"No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home"
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


I am happy to take part for another week in the link-up Expat Experiences hosted by Molly of The Move to America. The prompt for this third week is 'Thoughts of Home' and this has instantly brought to my mind this quote from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the beautiful images of the 1939 film starring Judy Garland and those cute ruby slippers. 

The Move to America

Before I ever moved abroad I always thought that after working my world around the world I would eventually return to Tenerife and spend my golden years there, enjoying a milder climate and saily walks on the beach. But that was long time ago, even before I started university and decided what to do with my life. At some point between those young dreams and the moment I actually left my home island, my parents sold the appartment I grew up and we moved to a small village away from my hometown. And then something changed in me. I didn't feel attached to the place I used to call home anymore and I was, if possible, more eager to go and see the world.

Now, living the expat life in Europe I do miss Tenerife from time and I do miss my friends and family badly but I'm happy I don't suffer from a bad case of homesickness. I don't really know how long I'll stay abroad or if I'll ever decide to try and settle down in Tenerife again. I do know I've grown quite fond of my life in Europe and returning to Tenerife does no longer seem something necessary - at this point in my life I'm happy if I can carry on enjoying a holiday there from time to time but I don't feel that I should really return. I think Dorothy must have also felt weird returning to a monochrome home after having found herself living so many adventures in a technicolour world. At least, that's how I'd feel after 'The End' words disappear from the screen. 

All these years of living here and there have led me to believe that home is really where the heart is and not so much the place we come from. I think this is an important realisation to live a fulfilling life, no matter where I am but there are always moments when I still wish I was back at Tenerife. Or at least to have the possibility go back more often. In those moments when my heart grows heavy, I often find that the following tricks pick me up almost instantly.

Take a look at old photos. Taking a visual trip down memory lane is a good way to make the expat blues more bearable and get me going again.

Cook something, anything. It doesn't need to be anything from my home country and I usually go for some new recipe to treat myself.

Write a message to my BFFs. There's nothing like hugs and kisses from the girls I've known since primary school.

What do I miss the most? Swimming in the ocean, for sure!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oh, Colmar!

I've been struggling to write this post about Colmar for more than a week now because I didn't want it to sound too cliché. But the thing is, maybe Colmar is that kind of place where clichés take over reality. It is that beautiful, its canals are that romantic, it really has a fairy tale feeling to it, the food is that good and it truly is a gem hidden in the Alsace region of France. With all that on the table, writing about Colmar seems like an easy task and yet I'm finding it quite difficult to put this post together. On a side note I have to add that lately I've been reading quite a lot about good (travel) writing and reflecting on my own writing and this can have also caused me to be more critical with my writing and to rethink the stories and blogs I'd like to write and how

I went to Colmar a couple of weeks ago and the expectations were high. I had seen many gorgeous photos and read and heard some interesting facts about it, so I had placed Colmar high on my wishlist. I so wanted to see it with my own eyes but somehow I was worried that a winter visit to Colmar might end up being one big disappointment. Luckily, Colmar did live up to the expectations and I'm already thinking of doing a summer daytrip and going back for the Christmas market - yes, there's also a wonderful Christmas market in Colmar, but I'll save that part for the next holiday season, as it would be slightly weird to still be blogging about Christmas in January.

Colmar is a medium-sized town in the French region of Alsace and its Alsatian roots show in every timbered house and in the hearty cuisine. The city centre is a maze of cobbled alleys lined by colourful houses and has a handful of churches that has been watching the city from above since the Middle Ages. A bit away from the city centre is the famous Little Venice neighbourhood, an area crossed by canals which closely mimics Amsterdam melancholic beauty. Little Venice is probably the most touristy place in Colmar, and indeed tourists abound oohing and aahing while taking endless pictures. Another sight that attracts crowds is the Isemheim altarpiece, which can be seen in the Unterlinde Museum. Colmar is also very well known among gourmets and wine connaisseurs as it has been self-proclaimed the 'capital of Alsatian wine'.







During my visit to Colmar, the city was overrun by tourists who were probably trying to enjoy the last days of the Christmas market. But I don't think that the number of visitors will be much less without a Christmas market around. Actually, summer days can prossibly make Colmar even more appealing to tourists. Just imagine strolling along these cosy streets during a warm and sunny day, marveling at those beautiful timbered houses with every window adorned with bouquets of flowers and stopping in any given Winstub - the name given in Alsace to traditional eateries - to savour a chilly glass of Alsatian wine and enjoying some delicious speciality of the region, like a flammekueche or tarte flambée in French. Yep, that will be definitely one of my plans for the summer.

Well, that was my so uninspired post about Colmar, I think I'd better let the photos do the talking.
Have a lovely Thursday!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Expat Experiences: Feeling at home in the Netherlands

Sometimes during summer days the sun would shine brightly and temperatures would soar up to 30ºC. Everyone would be out on the streets, every café terrace would be crowded, small boats and water scooters would sail smoothly along the river and the parks would be full of people soaking up some sunrays. Even I would take a blanket and a book and head to the nearest park to lounge under the sun for a while. That was the good life in the Netherlands and I loved it. It was probably during one of those hot summer days that I realize I truly felt at home in Maastricht, and even though it was not meant to last forever, it was just perfect for the moment. Sometimes during winter days temperatures would drop somewhere in the negative side of the scale and it would snow for days but it was all the same for me. My feelings wouldn't change. I loved that city and my life there and even if it was not meant to last forever, it was just perfect for the moment.

Feels like coming home ...

Last week I took some time to reflect on my first moments in Antwerp, as part of the Expat Experiences link-up hosted by Molly of The Move to America and today I'm moving further to the Netherlands. The prompt for this week is Feeling At Home and this immediately called for some Maastricht love. I moved to Maastricht in August 2011 and lived there for two years, though the plan was to stay only for a year. Despite some initial frustration, I quickly settled in and slowly but steadily that small town in the south of the Netherlands won me over. I fell in love with Maastricht, cherished every day I spent there and have many fond memories of the two years I lived there - you can find some of them in this blog, like the recap of my first yeat in Maastricht or the bittersweet moment in which we said goodbye.

Of course, there were also low moments and small Dutch things that could drive me totally mad. Like the supermarket not giving me my one-cent or two-cents coins back - excuse me, but that's stealing and if you're not giving me my cents back then price products at 1€ and not at 0.99€ . Or the way Dutch people tend to pay everything by card and expect you to do so - something I got used to at an alarmingly quick pace. Or my biggest pet peeve, the many blue envelopes from the tax office that appeared in my mailbox regularly - and still appear on my Swiss mailbox - to communicate the silliest things ever, like sending a letter to state that they will send you a letter a week later with a form to fill in - can't you just send me my long-awaited form, please? But even then it was a pleasure to live in Maastricht and do I miss it!

I think one of the reasons why I felt so at home there was because I found the perfect apartment, the one I dreamt of for years. I had fantasied about my perfect home for ages and it suddenly came to life in Maastricht, a cosy studio with a built-in kitchen, a lounge area and a chic bathroom. With rustic wooden floors and three big windows that let the sun in all day long. Yes, I think the key to start feeling at home is having the right home. And maybe these other tips will help as well.

Make yourself comfortable in your new place - my appartment in Maastricht was already furnished and I liked it so much that I needn't change anything, as I said it was the perfect appartment. But adding some personal details to your new place will always help you to feel more at home.

Explore your new surroundings as much as possible - you might start looking at your new city through the eyes of a tourist but hopefully you'll see it soon in a new light and discover your favourite café, your favourite shop and even your favourite bench in the park.

Do as the locals do - they've been there for longer than you and they probably know a thing or two about enjoying their city. If you see them packing fresh fruit on a hot spring day and heading to river to lounge under the sun, it might actually be the thing to do on an otherwise dull Sunday.


The Move to America

Any other tip you would like to add? Some expat experiences to share? Then jump in and join The Move to America in this link-up series.

Have a lovely Monday!

Friday, January 10, 2014

365 project: a photo a day in 2013

Last year, on 1st January 2013 I decided to take up a 365 project aiming to take a photo a day for 365 days in a row. That's a whole year in photos and it didn't look like an easy task to accomplish. Now that we're well into 2014, those 365 days are over and I can tell you that it wasn't an easy task to accomplish but I made it! I survived it and learnt a few lessons throughout the year. Lessons about photography and lesosns about me.

First of all, I have to say that I didn't really put 365 photos together. I took way more than 365 photos - I think I've taken nearly 6000 photos in 2013 - but I missed two days in November so I only reached 99% on the progress counter of my project. But to me that feels like 100% and counts as a victory. The journey wasn't easy, though. The first months I was really excited about it and tried hard to get insightful and pretty pictures. But somewhere along the way, life got in between and I needed to spend more and more time with my books and less time toying around with my camera so I started to shoot more filler photos than I would have liked to. And once I was down this road I found it difficult to return to the good old habits. Still, I continued taking a photo a day and made it through and that's why I count it as a victory. However, I didn't pictured as many cuppas and study notes I thought I would - here are some numbers to prove it:

Cups of tea - 10
Study notes - 8
Countries featured - 6 (Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and France)
Christmas trees- 7
Photos of food - 40 (how did that happen?! When did I become a foodie?!!!)

I think the most valuable lesson I learnt about myself is that I am able to commit to something in the long term and do it. Usually, my interest in new things wears off quickly and as soon as the novelty is gone I move onto something new. However, this time I've managed to stick to this project for a whole year and even when after a month of two of bad photos I felt totally disillusioned about it I carried on taking a photo a day. I've also learnt that I'm probably way too critic with myself, as I can already spot a hundred flaws in the photos I took a year ago, which back then I though were ok. Anyway, back to photography I think that the most important lesson I've learnt is that I still have a lot to learn. Oh, and probably that I really enjoy taking photos of food.

So, that was my 365 project in a nutshell and you can check the results here. Would I go through all this again? Definitely! Life may not be more beautiful with a photo a day but it really seems so and I would really like to do it again sometime. Right now I need a short break and some stability in my life before I can fully commit to it again but I may start again halfway through this year or next year. And I would really recommend it to anyone, especially to anyone willing to improve his/her photography skills. You don't know how much fun you can have with your camera until you go out there the two of you.

These are some of my favourite moments in pictures.
Have a lovely weekend!














Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wanderlust 2014

Last September I put together a travel wishlist for the autumn months and I am more than happy to say that I managed to tick off everything on that list. I feel so accomplished! And glad I discovered some lovely spots in this part of Europe. Back then I thought I would come up with a new list for winter, and then spring, then summer and so on but being realistic this is not much of practical planning. Not at least when you don't have the freedom to travel whenever you want to nor the liberty to plan your life as you wish. Instead, I'm taking inspiration from Frankie of As the Bird Flies, who's been writing an annual list of travel goals for the past three years now and I'm writing my very own wishlist for 2014. And just like I did this autumn, I'm keeping my feet on the ground and sticking to doable plans because it is really easy to get carried away with so much to see and experience.

Switzerland

St Gallen - a city I've never been before and one I'd love to see as I've read it has a charming city centre listed as UNESCO World Heritage.


Hiking in Switzerland - it doesn't really matter where, as Switzerland is utterly beautiful and has pretty scenaries in every corner. So, hopefully I'll be seeing and walking more of it more often.


Jura Préhisto Parc - I've never been to the Jura canton before and I'd really like to visit this park where you can walk among real-sized dinausors, or so I've read. A real treat for my inner child!

Europe

Amsterdam - after two years living in the Netherlands, I still find reasons to go back to this country. Or maybe it is because I've lived there for two years that I so long to visit it again! Whatever the reason, I truly want this trip to happen, as I've already planned it in my mind and Boyfriend hasn't seen Amsterdam yet.


Ireland - I don't think I've ever told you but Boyfriend is half Irish and he thinks it is about time for me to fly there with him and meet his family.


Malaga - more family business, only this time from my side. My grandma is turning 100 in November this year, so this is more than reason enough to be there and celebrate. Mind you, my other grandma in Tenerife is turning 98 in a couple of months, so I've been endowed with a precious gene pool from the female side of my family!


Bregenz - that was actually Boyfriend's idea but I quickly approved and got excited at the thought of visiting Austria, a country I've never been to before, and enjoying some lake views of the Bodensee, known as Lake Constance to non-German speakers.


Overseas

I don't think 2014 will be the year that will finally see me flying somewhere outside Europe but if I do I'm hoping to see San Francisco and explore a bit of northern California.



Well, that was my short and sweet list for 2014. Do you have some travel plans for 2014? Any place you would love to visit and cannot wait any longer? I'd love to hear it from you, so write me a comment or leave a link to your travel wishlist for 2014 if you have written one.

Have a lovely Wednesday!

All photos via Wikimedia Commons.
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