Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year's Eve from 69° North in Tromso, Norway­čçž­čç╗! We're spending our holiday break here 350 km (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle, where there's only polar nights - no daylight - right now. 
I threw myself into 2019 working more than I have in two years. Dealing with my father's death still catches me off guard at times, and I'm not sure how to deal with the emotions sometimes. It could be a song, a distant memory. So I work.

But working so much, between the two of us, means we can build up some much-needed holiday time - like this trip to Northern Norway. It's been an adventure trip, and we are enjoying it.
I think we saw the daytime version of the Northern lights today on our fjord cruise. At least, that is my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Happy New Year's wherever you may be! I hope that 2020 is filled with those moments of happiness that catch you off guard. 


Monday, December 30, 2019

After living in London for three years, we finally shared our Christmas Eve traditions with Turkish friends we’ve befriended here.

Since hubby and I both had to work half days on Christmas Eve, we planned to share the cooking and shopping responsibilities with our friends. I had half the groceries delivered via Farmdrop and the remainder our friend picked up for us. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we had talked about what to cook for our meal. The most important thing is to have seven different fishes per my hubby’s Italian-American traditions.

Do you remember one of our first Christmases abroad in Istanbul?

Well, once we arrived at our friends’ flat, we unpacked the groceries and opened up some wine. Of course, you need to have a glass while cooking up Christmas dinner, especially after all the holiday hours I worked this month.

Our first course contained two fishes – marinated anchovies and Scottish smoked salmon.
Our second course was fried calamari made by the other husband. Delicious! Even our friends’ two-year-old really seemed to enjoy it.
Our third course was a version of Turkish karides g├╝ve├ž – a prawn casserole served in a spicy, buttery sauce.
An hour later around 8 p.m., we’re on the fourth course (the fifth fish) which was my version of pan-seared scallops served with a curried butter over butternut mash and fresh fennel. I found a recipe of Chef Charlie Trotter’s in one of my old cookbooks and gave it a go. Delicious combo was the verdict!
Another hour later, slowly pacing ourselves, we rolled onto the fifth course which was English clams cooked in a white wine sauce over linguine. My mother-in-law often serves a dish like this, so hubby carries on the tradition for her.
Funny enough, our last fish course finished cooking an hour later around 10 p.m. – oven-roasted sea bream stuffed with fresh herbs. A dish all four of us have eaten many times in Istanbul.
Now, normally, I’m not a huge seafood fan, but with our Christmas meal paced out over several hours, I actually didn’t mind. I enjoyed every dish – to an extent – and we all had time to actually enjoy ourselves and chat.

After another break with washup included and a good game of Cards Against Humanity, we ended our Christmas Eve dinner with my homemade chocolate yule log filled with a raspberry mousse. Even our friends’ son enjoyed the dark chocolate cake!
Well, another Christmas is over, and I think that means we need to do some dieting in the new year. At least, it was fun!

What Christmas traditions do you have?


Friday, December 20, 2019

Some places are worth visiting more than once and the historical destination of Aachen, Germany’s most westerly city, is one of those.

Since moving abroad in 2010, we’ve visited Germany nearly every year since then, mainly because we have good friends in D├╝sseldorf. Plus, we like visiting Germany for its overabundant supply of pork products (especially the years we lived in Istanbul), delightful Christmas markets, numerous museums and beautiful scenery.

Earlier this month, we returned to Germany for a weekend trip to catch up with friends and visit some seasonal Christmas markets. A 90-minute train journey from D├╝sseldorf took us to Aachen, which we previously had visited in 2014. (See: 13 German Christmas Markets in 5 Days). 

We also travelled with a special one-day DB train ticket that allowed us to travel as much as we wanted with up to five people in the region for about 45 euros. Why can't UK train prices be like this?

Aachen developed from a Roman settlement and spa town and later became the preferred medieval Imperial residence of Emperor Charlemagne. From 936 to 1531, Aachen, and specifically the Aachen Cathedral, was the place where 31 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned Kings of the Germans. Historically, Aachen was one of Europe's most important cities due to its position near the Dutch and Belgian borders.
From the middle of November to December 23 of this year, the cobbled streets near the Cathedral and the baroque Aachen Town Hall are transformed into a Christmas paradise with wooden huts selling everything from woolen hats and Christmas decorations to local chocolates and gingerbread-like cookies called Aachener Printen and more tasty delights. The Aachen Christmas Market, as we re-discovered, is quite popular with tourists, even on a weekday morning, and attracts approximately 1.5 million visitors every year during those four weeks.

During our short visit, the weather was absolutely terrible – downpour rain and blustery winds – so we basically stopped at the first covered, heated gl├╝hwein stand and stayed there for two glasses of warming, spiced wine and some nibbles.

Aachener Printen
If you love sweet treats like I do, don’t miss the local bakeries that sell the crispy gingerbread cookies locally known as Aachener Printen. We avoided the big chain bakeries in town and found some delicious chocolate-covered printen at Klein Printenbackerei. The young sales guy here let us try all the different varieties – soft and crispy, then covered in dark, milk or white chocolate. The dark chocolate-covered crispy ones were my favorite!

Aachen Cathedral
Since the Christmas markets surround the UNESCO-designated Aachen Cathedral, we popped in to take some photos. Emperor Charlemagne ordered the construction of this Roman Cathedral in the 8th century and was buried there just a couple years later in 814. What’s interesting here is that the octagon in the center of the Cathedral was built in the same style of other contemporary Byzantine buildings such as the Little Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. The cathedral’s interior architecture reminded me of so many different buildings we had seen in Turkey as well as Moorish architecture we’ve recently seen in Spain.
If you don’t have time to visit Aachen for the Christmas markets this year, I would highly recommend planning a stop here next year.



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Day Trip from London

Even though I’ve been short on time lately, I wanted to enjoy the autumn colors here locally before they all fade away.

Two weekends ago, I decided to go to RHS Garden Wisley, located in Surrey, southwest of London. Trains depart about every 30 minutes from Clapham Junction, so I left from there with my bike. I exited at West Byfleet station and cycled along a wonderful (albeit very muddy) bike path that follows River Wey for about 20 minutes before I arrived at the gardens. The weather was a chilly 5C (about 40F), and even though I had lots of layers on, the English weather is always damp and seems to seep into my bones no matter what!
My muddy bike path along the River Wey, leading to the gardens.
Alas, because of the cold weather and fading sunlight, I didn’t spend as much time wandering around Wisley as I would have liked. But I managed to see some fabulous foliage around the lake in the Seven Acres section and near the Glasshouse.

The lake at Seven Acres provided some beautiful water reflection photos. There was a bonfire of rusts, golds and browns.
And lucky me, I even saw a pretty grey heron that kept gliding through the air and resting around the water. When I see wildlife like this, I wish I had a better telephoto lens.

Near the lake, don’t miss the Chinese Pavilion, originally built in the style of a Chinese temple for an exhibit at the 2005 Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. There’s also an interesting, gigantic tree nearby called the Wisley King, a type of sweet gum tree. The leaves smell kind of like eucalyptus when you crush them in your hand.
Throughout the garden, you’ll also find some pretty berries such as the striking red and green holly bushes and these bizarre purple berries on the “Imperial Purple” (callicarpa bodinieri), which I had never seen before.

Even though I spent only an hour at Wisley, the autumn scenes and photos were definitely worth it!
A cute English red robin near the Glasshouse.

Pop into the Glasshouse to warm up and for some lively, colorful flowers.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

This past weekend, I attended my first rugby world cup game viewing and my second Guy Fawkes night in London.

Waking up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday – my day off – was not my idea of fun, but we had to get to a pub around 8 a.m. to secure a table to watch England play rugby against South Africa. This American gal had no idea what was going on during the game and inquired if a player had scored a “touchdown.” Ha ha!

We popped into Fulham Market to watch the rugby game, but it was standing room only.
So we ended up at an Irish pub around the corner.
After a full English breakfast and two hours of sports watching, I settled in for a long nap back at home because we had big plans for the evening. The weather threatened to ruin our night with heavy rains and high winds all day, but by 7 p.m., the skies had calmed. Hubby, myself and four friends and their two kids headed over to nearby Battersea Park.
Every year around the 5th of November, local communities host Bonfire Night parties to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, which marks the anniversary of the discovery of a plot organized by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605. I still feel like this is a bizarre tradition, but hey, I’m all for a party and bit of fireworks. And lucky for us, Battersea Park hosts one of London’s best fireworks displays, which lasted nearly 30 minutes this year.

Hope you enjoy the photos in this post! Our group had a blast and ended the night back at our place with chocolate martinis for the gals and American bourbon for the guys.

Cheers from London!

And here was the finale!


Friday, October 11, 2019

Even if I’m a city girl, I’m an animal lover at heart!

I grew up in a small town in the middle of Nebraska (USA) with various fluffy rabbits, escape-artist hamsters, numerous goldfish, cats, dogs and even a hedgehog at one point. So, it comes as no surprise to my husband when I suggest something wild like, “Hey, do you wanna go to a goat farm?” Or better yet, “How about walking a llama?”

Now, my last suggestion sounded a bit far-fetched at first. But, when I started researching things to do on the Isle of Wight, I found a farm that raises/breeds alpacas and llamas. This family farm just happened to be near the route that we planned to cycle on this English island, located an hour train ride south of London and a short ferry boat ride away.

Apparently, many city folks like ourselves are interested in this fairly new-ish idea of walking an alpaca or llama in the English countryside. There are literally dozens of these farms and bed-and-breakfasts across the U.K. now offering “meet the alpacas” or walking experiences. 
When I called the West Wight Alpacas before our trip, I secured the last two spots for a 20-minute walk around the farm. The farm, started in 2010 by husband and wife team, Neil and Michelle Payne, also offers 40-minute walks and has numerous animals that can be petted or fed before or after your walk. You’ll find more than 60 alpacas and llamas here as well as goats, chickens and two adorable fat pigs!

After we were given a good intro about the farm and its animals, I quickly learned two things about my particular llama.

1.    1.  Llamas can be stubborn AF. Mine certainly was. My llama often wanted to brush up against the hedgerows to have a scratch or start eating the leaves.

2.     2. Llamas do not cooperate very well for photos/selfies. I had many failed attempts with my llama and opted for some other llama photos afterwards that hubby took.

I learned another truth later, but we’ll get to that story in a moment.

Now you may be wondering, what the heck is the difference between an alpaca and a llama?

To be honest, I didn’t really know until we went on this llama walk on the Isle of Wight.

First, llamas and alpacas are both in the camelid (camel) family and originally hail from South America.

Based on physical characteristics, llamas have long, banana-shaped ears while alpacas have straight, smaller ears. Also, llamas are bigger than alpacas, sometimes weighing twice as much.

Another difference between the two is the fur. Alpaca wool is much softer and has a finer fiber than the llama’s double-layered coat.
But the one common trait they both have is that they spit!

After our generally nice walk with our llamas, we bought some animal feed from the farm caf├ę so we could feed the other animals. We set out to feed some of the other llamas and alpacas that were out in the pasture. Well, I was feeding one of the llamas, but I thought he/she was being a bit too greedy, so I moved over to feed one of his/her pals. That was enough to piss off the first animal, and the next thing I know I was partially covered in green, grassy-smelling spit – on my face and on my t-shirt!
It was disgusting, but also pretty funny! Of course, this would happen to me! Somehow, I always seem to be the accident-prone person.

Luckily, I had a spare t-shirt in my backpack so I could change. No problem!

Walking a llama was still a cool, farm experience and it’s something I would recommend to any other fellow animal lovers.

Just don’t expect to actually learn how to walk a llama because they do what they want!