Saturday, February 28, 2015

Read the World {February 2015}


I thought it might be useful (for me) to keep track in this blog of the books I read for my Read the World challenge. It is a good way to stay accountable and to continue getting inspiration from all of you. So I decided to post an update the last Saturday of every month, as long as I have something to update - there will be many a month when I won't be reading much for sure. But until then ...

February has not been the best month in terms of reading. I only managed to get halfway through a book and I'm not really sure if that's because the book is in German or because it doesn't motivate me much. Either reason, I still have a hundred pages left to read but given the type of book it is (a travelogue/memoir) I'm not expecting many surprises or a drastic turn in the narrative style that will change my mind about it. 


AUSTRALIA - Weit weg im Outback (Urs Wälterlin)





I had bought this book last summer, before I ever thought of doing this Read the World challenge, and it was waiting on my pile of books to read until January this year. I've been obsessed with Australia ever since I can remember and when I saw this book about a journalist who leaves everything behind to pursue a new life a freelance journalist in Australia I was instantly attracted to it. Then I put it off for some months, I guess because it was in German.

Urs Wälterlin is a Swiss journalist (from Basel, actually) who moved to Australia with his wife some twenty years ago and has lived there ever since. After freezing in the Blue Mountains and stressing in a suburb of Sydney, he finally found his piece of paradise in a minor town somewhere between Sydney and Canberra. And all these years later he reminisces his life and adventures in the land of Oz.

A life full of adventure in Australia sounds like a catchy story but somehow it failed to grab my attention the way other books do. Some chapters are insightful but many others just seem to be a collection of his old work for European media, giving the impression that he has rewritten some of his own articles to fill half of the pages. First minus point for me.

The author mixes these media stories with more personal details to paint an image of Australia and its people today. Education, politics, environmental issues or the passion for gambling are some of the topics the author goes through. And here comes the second minus point for me. I find the author rather patronizing when expressing his views. Like considering Australia political system a second-class democracy because it doesn't mimic the Swiss system of direct democracy or thinking that most Australians are half stupid because they can tell Switzerland from Sweden. Anyway, I may be getting all this wrong as I'm not able to pick up all the nuances of the German language.

All in all, I haven't particularly enjoyed this book but I learnt some interesting facts about Australia. Apparently, one is never more than ten meters away from a snake in the Australian bush. Now, that's more than enough to reconsider my infatuation with the land of Oz. 


Any book recommendations related to Australia?
I've heard that Bill Bryson travelogue Down Under is a good, witty one. And We of Never Never by Jeannie Gunn also sounds like an interesting one.


Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Some carnival photos from Basel


Most people wore costumes, the most traditional of them complete with big head masks made of paper mache and wooden clogs. Music could be heard around every street of the city centre, with drums and piccolos taking turns to lead the melody. Confetti of every colour of the rainbow floated in the air and lay on the streets as well as the coats and hair of everyone in town. Chaos could be found anywhere but no one seemed to care as everyone was too busy enjoying the last hours of carnival here in Basel.

Yesterday was a warm sunny day and I decided to go out in the sun, totally oblivious to the carnival celebrations. Only when I got closer to the city centre and saw many parents with their children wearing all kind of costumes and many people carrying big head masks or making that clig-clog sound with their traditional clogs, did I realise that carnival was still in full blow around here.

As I already told you on my post about the most typical carnival foods, I don't know much about these celebrations in Basel. But apparently this is called the Cortège. During the carnival week, both on Monday and Wednesday, people take the streets in the afternoon to enjoy a rather informal parade around the main streets of the city centre. Carnival groups walk by with their fancy float vehicles appropriately dressed for the occasion and all the while they play music, they throw flowers and oranges to the people watching and toss as much confetti in the air as the people who wait for the cortège.













So, this is what the carnival in Basel looks like ... very different to what I used to know as carnival in Tenerife.

Do you like carnival? Any carnival celebrations worth mentioning?


Have a lovely Thursday!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Carnival in Basel - The Food


I don't know where my time is going these days. I'm not really doing that much. I go swimming a couple of days a week, I try to come up with cute ideas for a nursery suitable for either a girl or a boy and I'm trying to pick where I left and brush up my programming skills. Obviously, it's not those little things that keep me busy 24/7 and away from this blog. I guess I can only blame it on my procrastinating habits. Besides, with the carnival anticipation building up in the city (and everywhere on fb) and children in Switzerland enjoying a two week holiday it was just two easy for me to get carried away by this feisty spirit.


*     *     *     *     *

While carnival celebrations have probably ended in most places, we're right in the middle of them in Basel. They started yesterday at 4 am with the Morgenstreich (yep, you read that well, at 4 am) and will end up tomorrow night at 4 am - or more accurately on Thursday early morning at 4 am. I really don't know what's going on during that time because business carries on as usual and most people go to work like they would on any other ordinary day. Only children are off school and public transport is diverted from the city centre during the day. Maybe I should try and find out more next year; I'm sure they're not considered the three most beautiful days of the year for nothing. Die drey scheenschte Dääg, or so they say.

What I do know is that food seems to be an essential part of the carnival celebrations around here. As soon as Christmas treats are taken away from the supermarket shelves, those shelves are stocked in with carnival bakes and sweets. And people, who have waited for them for nearly a year, will start enjoying some of their favourite foods once again. I haven't tried them all but here's a list of what you can expect to find on the supermarkets and cafés if you were in Basel at this time of the year.



Käsewähe and Zwiebelwähe. These cheese and onion tarts (more like a dense quiche than a light tart) are the preferred food to be eaten during these three days. Most supermarkets cater them in portions to eat on the go and it is also possible to buy a whole tart to take home for the family to enjoy at home. Though Coop is our supermarket of choice here in Switzerland, Boyfriend prompted me to buy our waien at the Migros supermarket. Word has it that they make the very best käse- and zwiebelwähe in town.


kaesewaehe und zwibelwaehe


Basler Mehlsuppe. This is a traditional soup from the Basel region, as the name suggests. Mehlsuppe literally means 'floor soup' and it looks like a thick brownish cream soup. I have never tried this one so I cannot tell you much more about it.


Fastenwähe. These look like a pale version of a pretzel sprinkled with cumin seeds instead of coarse salt. They are, however, much lighter and their flavour is more distinctive, probably because of the cumin seeds. And their design is slightly more intricate than that of a pretzel. I am a big fan of Fastenwähe and I could treat myself to one of these everyday since they start appearing in every supermarket after new year's until they disappear once the carnival is over. Two days to go then, sigh!


fastenwaehe


Fasnachtchüechli. I have never tried this one either despite its appetising appearance. These round cakes look a bit like a rigid crepe out of a deep-fryer. They can be flavoured with vanilla or kirsch or have a more simple taste and simply be sprinkled with icing sugar.



Have you ever been to Basel carnival? Ever tried some of these? 
Is there something else I should add to my list of carnival foods to try?


Have a lovely Tuesday!




Monday, February 9, 2015

A winter daytrip to Karlsruhe


Karlsruhe is a medium-sized city in the south of Germany, often overlooked by tourists due to its lack of history and interesting sights. Founded in 1715, the city is just about to celebrate its first 300 birthday and is indeed a baby by German (and European) standards. So no chances then to see any impressive gothic cathedral or to stroll along cobbled streets and alleys that converge in a medieval square full of history and stories to tell. To make things worse, most of Karlsruhe was destroyed during the allied bombings of WWII. So yes, not much to see for those thirsty of culture and history. 


Karlsruhe Schloss


A couple of weeks ago I took a train - actually two - and went to Karlsruhe for a daytrip. I wasn't seeking culture or history; I was only looking forward to doing some window shopping, as I had seen that most of my favourite brands have a shop in Karlsruhe and either they don't in Basel or prices are more expensive here. 

After three hours in the train and a bit of snow, a bit of sunshine and some clouds, after endless stops on regional trains and changing trains in Offenburg, I arrived to Karlsruhe station with no clue of where to turn to. The tourist office was right in front of the station but the staff didn't seem too bothered to pay attention to people coming in. Maybe it was because I entered the office barely ten minutes before their lunch break. Or maybe they are not so used to having tourists around there, especially on a cold winter day. I took a looked at a city map hanging on the door whose colours had faded long ago, I grabbed a copy for myself and never opened it again.


Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe


With the street grid on my mind I walked towards the city centre and passing by the zoological gardens, which looked rather gloomy in winter, a church here and there, some thermal baths and the huge Ettlinger Tor shopping centre, I got to the Marktplatz. All the way I felt rather discouraged because once I passed the zoo the whole city seemed to be under construction with cranes, excavators and holes on nearly every street from there to the Marktplatz.


Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe


The Marktplatz is a large square with the town hall on one side and the Stadtkirche -one of Karlsruhe main churchs - on the opposite side. A pyramid somewhere in the middle of the square marks the place of the tomb of Karl Wilhem, the founder of the city. But with so many construction works going on in the city even the pyramid was gone, so not much to be enjoyed around the Marktplatz this time. From the Marktplatz is it already possible to catch a glimpse of the majestic palace, now a museum - more about Karlsruhe Palace coming soon.


Karlsruhe Marktplatz

Karlsruhe Marktplatz

Karlsruhe Marktplatz


That was pretty much all about the touristy part of my trip to Karlsruhe. Not that much to see indeed, especially now that most of the city centre was under construction works. But when it comes to shopping, Karlsruhe proved to be a great city. Kaiserstrasse, on the southern side of the Marktplatz, is the main shopping street and interesting stops (for me) were Zara Home, Hunkemöller and Primark. Besides, the Ettlinger Tor shopping centre had almost every brand you can think of here in Europe, including Mango, Zara and Esprit.


Have you ever been to Karlsruhe? Any interesting sights I missed?
Any shopping recommendations in Germany?

Have a lovely week!


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sights worth seeing in Malaga


Malaga city centre

I go to Malaga every now and then as my family on my mother's side comes from Malaga and most of them still live there. And after not having visited for two years, I went to Malaga for a long weekend last November and I was actually very excited about that trip. A cousin of mine had just had a baby, Boyfriend was coming with me for the first time and we were sharing our happy baby news. Oh, and the absolute highlight of the visit, my grandma was turning a hundred years old. Let me rewrite that with numbers, a 100 years old! That's an amazing lot of years to live and most amazingly she's still perfectly fine.

As usual, it was a rather stressful trip, always running from one house to another and having one meal just after another. We had barely any time left for sightseeing and let me tell you, Boyfriend wasn't impressed with the few places we managed to see during our brief, hectic time there. I'm going to be 100% honest in here. I'm not particularly a big fan of Malaga either, as I've always found the city rather lousy and filthy. And it is not as pretty as some other Andalusian cities, which often make it higher on the touristic trails. Besides, it is terribly warm during the summer (seriously, 30°C at midnight is not my idea of a good night sleep). Though coming from Ireland it felt way too nice to have 25°C in the middle of November.


Malaga plaza de toros

With a population over half million, Malaga is a rather big city and it always seems to be under construction - the city centre has been half closed since years due to the construction works of two lines of underground. Besides, many historical houses have undergone renovation works to host new museums and some parts of the city have been completely rebuilt from scratch. Maybe one day all those construction works will be over, every crane will disappear and there will be less pollution and air contamination. Maybe then Malaga will be a more tourist-friendly city with a pretty face to greet visitors and residents alike. Until then, here's a list of worthy sights, despite the noise and dust that hangs in the air most of the time.



Alcazaba

Most of the Iberian Peninsula was once a Muslim territory and there are many buildings left from those Moorish times, specially in Andalusia. Granada has the Alhambra palace, Cordoba the renowned Mosque and Malaga has the Alcazaba. Built in the 11th century, the Alcazaba was both a palace and a fortress standing on a small hill right in the city centre and overlooking the coast. It is possible to visit and enjoy the restored patios and rooms with its characteristic fountains, geometrical designs on tiled walls and floors and characteristic arched doors. The gardens not only offer a respite from the noisy traffic but also provide superb views of the city centre on a clear day and looms just above the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre.


Cathedral

Spain (and Europe) is full of magnificent cathedrals that usually date back to the Middle Ages. Malaga is no exception, though construction works started already later in the Renaissance, after the city had been returned to Spanish hands. Unlike many other somber cathedrals in Europe, Malaga Cathedral is a rather luminous building with many parts made of marble. Construction took nearly two hundred years but the Cathedral was never fully finished as only one tower was built instead of the two that were planned. 

Malaga cathedral


Palmeral de las Sorpresas

The pier promenade has been recently restored and a brand-new recreational area was opened only a couple of years ago. Open air gardens with palm trees (as the name suggests, Palm Garden of Surprises) alternate with cafés and still empty units for shops or exhibitions. It is planned that the French Museum Pompidou will open its first branch outside Paris in one of the glass cubes on the promenade. The Palmeral de las Sorpresas has quickly become a very popular spot among locals and visitors and is a laid-back place for a walk and to chill out on a warm day - read when it's 25°C in November - while enjoying the sea breeze and the sight of the renovated port. 


City Centre

Malaga is one of the oldest cities in Spain and has the right credentials to prove it. Old Roman city walls, a Moorish palace and many historical buildings dating from several centuries ago. Plus all the new first class museums that have been opening in recent years. The city centre is a maze of narrow alleys and wider streets with some elegant squares here and there. Part of the city centre is now car-free and besides all the architecture and history, it is also a good shopping area with all kind of small boutiques, high street brands and traditional craft shops. It is also the place to go to have some tapas dinner or a glass of wine or beer, as there are dozens of inviting bars and restaurants, sometimes even with some tables outside if the weather allows.  

Malaga port and city centre


Calle Larios

Right in the city centre, Calle Larios is probably the most elegant street in Malaga. And the most expensive as well. With marble floors and classical buildings with sober facades on both sides, Calle Larios has long been a commercial street. These days, though, it is gearing more towards high end brands but even then, it is the perfect street for a quiet stroll and some window shopping. During the summer Calle Larios is shaded with some veils to tea and keep temperatures nice and low, and from ate November till the beginning of January it is beautifully lit with the best Christmas lights in town and Malaga's big Christmas tree can be found at Plaza de la Constitución, right at the beginning (or end) of Calle Larios. Somewhere in the middle is Malaga's most famous ice-cream parlour, Casa Mira. Founded in the 19th century in Madrid, it is renowned for its traditional Christmas confectionery but, at least in Malaga, they also make some of the best ice-cream in the city with some twenty flavours to try.



Have you ever been to Malaga? Somewhere else in Andalusia?
Any recommendations on what to see and do?

Have a lovely Wednesday!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

#200: Sharing some big news


Two hundred posts. That means that I've written two hundred articles, longer and shorter, I've hit the publish button two hundred times and I've shared two hundred stories with you. Quite impressive, if you ask me!


I think this 200th post is something good to celebrate and it makes the perfect occasion to share some big news with you, dear readers and friends. As you (might) already know, I moved countries again before the end of 2014, almost out of the blue. You might have read this less than cryptic post about the reasons which brought me back to Switzerland. Maybe you've already guessed but the thing is ... the thing is that Boyfriend and I are expecting our first baby due for the end of May. Yep, I'm pregnant. Twenty-five weeks pregnant to be precise. So this is how much life is about to change forever around here. Like, really change forever!

Halfway through week 24
Excuse my concentration face, I'm not good at selfies.

I won't bore you with the details - maybe I'll share parts of the story later, pregnancy is quite a journey itself and as such may deserve a place in a travel blog - but right now I'm doing very fine. After a very miserable first trimester and a bit more (the kind of misery that had me bending over a toilet more often than not and that if I was lucky to be near a toilet) I am very happy to say that I haven't had a single pregnancy symptom since my queasy days ended a month ago. And halfway through the sixth month I'm still wearing my regular clothes, though that will not last for much longer. Alas.

With that big secret out, you will surely understand my absence periods around here a lot better. It is not always easy to carry on with one's own life when another tiny life is growing inside and preparing to take over mine. Oh yeah, things will get interesting in late spring. Hopefully I will be able to continue blogging happy, inspiring stories about my scarce travels these days. *Sigh*.


And as we're getting that close and personal now, here's a short list of past posts that also saw me getting close and personal ... in case you want to know some more about me.


Fifty Random Facts About Me - The title is quite self-explanatory and if you want to get to know the person behind this blog this should be your starting point.

The Choice I Made That Changed My Life - Or the story of how I unexpectedly started to learn German when I was fifteen and somehow this reshaped my life path and priorities.

Five Years Ago ... - If this post was written today it would have to be named Eight Years Ago ... Never mind, this is the story of how I ended up spending a year abroad in Belgium as a exchange student and got bitten by the travel bug.

Ireland Inspiration - At first sight this looks like another ordinary post on Ireland. But ultimately it is a post about some of my teenage quirks and obsessions.

If You're An Expat You've Probably Been Here Too - Keeping up with my quirks, this is a light-hearted post on some embarrassing funny situations I've faced during my expat journey.


Have a lovely week!
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