A day in Manchester

Ugh, I’m a terrible blogger! Not only have I not posted in daaays… today’s post is about a day trip we took in October! Between being busy and, quite honestly, sheer lack of motivation, I’m way behind!
Anyway… while we were in England in October, we decided we wanted to have a couple of days away by ourselves rather than spending time just with my family. I knew I wanted to see the Wave exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, so we started looking into other places in Yorkshire. Then Jan pointed out that Manchester is only an hour from there, he had never been and I’d only made it as far as the airport. Plus my ex-housemate from uni days lives in Salford. And so the decision was made… Manchester it was.

I know I have a few readers from the Manchester area, so I hope none of you will be offended when I say it’s not my favourite city. Sorry! Culturally, there’s a lot going on – if we’d wanted to, we could have spent a week visiting all its museums! But it’s just too… cityish for me. It’s crowded, it’s loud, and while there are some nice buildings, they’re few and far between. I’m glad we visited, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to live there!

It was fairly sunny when we arrived, so after parking the car, we decided to just wander around for a while and see what we could find. And, in my case, take photos.

Maybe too many photos?

We also managed to buy some blue trousers for Jan (which he needed for a choir performance), having failed to find any he liked that fit him in Newcastle… so yay Manchester for that.

You may have noticed the sky getting rather cloudy in the last few photos above. At around 2 p.m., the heavens opened… after it had been such bright sunshine all morning. Yep, we were definitely in England! Obviously we needed shelter! My friend had recommended the John Rylanda Library as a place to check out and earlier in the day we had noticed a sign saying it had an exhibition on the gothic, which sounded interesting, so that’s where we went. The building is pretty cool – it looks like a converted church, except it never was a church… it was just built like that. Again, I took too many photos, but when you see them you’ll (hopefully) understand why.

By the time we’d finished with the library, it was pretty much time to meet my friend. Luckily by that time the rain had also stopped since we were meeting outdoors! On the way to meet him we ended up down by the river.

My friend was slightly late meeting us (something to do with trams), so we sat in the little park next to the tram stop and I tried to take photos of rainbows. It’s harder than it looks!

Can you see them? Click the photos for a bigger version.

After we met my friend, we asked him to recommend a place to eat – that’s what locals are for, after all ­čśë He took us to an amazing Thai place that I wish I could remember the name of! It was right by the Chinatown gate if that helps any locals. I ate incredible beef in a pepper sauce – so good it was all gone before it occurred to me to take a photo! Afterwards, we stopped at a pub around the corner for a few pints (by this time it was chucking it down again!), then it was time to leave my friend, pick up the car and drive back to our hotel in Yorkshire.

If anyone ever finds themselves in Manchester I would love to recommend a Thai restaurant for you to eat at… but unfortunately, I can’t ­čśë

Laufen, Basel-Landschaft

Last month we decided to go and watch a choir perform at a church in Laufen, which just happens to be the nearest town to where Jan works. I’d never actually been there before, so I jumped at the chance to see where he walks most mornings (sometimes he gets off the train in a neighbouring town since his work is between the two). Laufen is small (population just over 5,500) but it has a very pretty old town, and luckily we arrived for the concert before it got dark. Here are some photos:

The concert itself was in the Katharinenkirche (St Catherine’s Church). No matter what setting I put my camera on, I couldn’t managed to get a decent photo inside. Behold:

Grr, I should be able to use my camera by now!

There isn’t really a great deal to do in Laufen itself so you couldn’t really spend a whole day there, but various hiking routes pass by, start or end there – for example, you could start in Fl├╝h and finish in Laufen, ending your afternoon of hiking with a look around Laufen’s old town followed by a meal.

I’m linking this post up with Monday Escapes (and yes, I am aware that today is Tuesday!)

Packing my Suitcase

Bern and its Christmas markets

Back in December, we decided to finally visit our new capital city, Bern – and also add another Christmas market to my list. We took advantage of another RailAway offer (I love that site!), which gave us money off the train ticket – I don’t remember how much – plus a voucher each for one Gl├╝hwein or tea from the Christmas market on Waisenplatz and a 5 CHF voucher for money off anything but Gl├╝hwein from one of the stands at the Christmas markets on M├╝nsterplatz. There was nothing we wanted to buy at M├╝nsterplatz, so we used our vouchers towards some food ­čśë

On arriving in Bern, we first walked to Bundesplatz to see the Bundeshaus, or Federal Palace – the place Switzerland is governed from.

In some of the photos above, you might have noticed cantonal coats of arms going around the top. Half cantons have to share a space. Here are the ones for Basel-Stadt (the black one) and Basel-Landschaft (ours! The red one):

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Basel staffs for Basel-Stadt and Basel-Land

Here’s a photo of the front of the Bundeshaus. The market is a normal one, not a Christmas one.

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Confoederatio Helvetica is Latin for the Swiss Federation and is where the country code CH for Switzerland comes from. So now you know ­čśë

According to a local legend, Berchtold V, Duke of Z├Ąhringen, who founded Bern, vowed to name the city after the first animal he met on the hunt. Said animal turned out to be a bear. Obviously this isn’t true, but the bear has been the heraldic animal of Bern since the 1220s and appears on the coat of arms. There are various bears all around the city, and even some real live ones in the B├Ąrengraben (bear pit) at the eastern edge of the old town. We didn’t get to see any live ones though – the weather may have been incredibly mild for December, but bears’ body clocks aren’t affected by the temperature and they were all hibernating.

The balancing bear is my favourite ­čÖé

After a bit more wandering around, we eventually came to Waisenplatz and the first of the Christmas markets. Of course, we claimed our free Gl├╝hwein – who cares that it was far too warm for hot drinks? Free is free!

After drinking our Gl├╝hwein and looking at the Christmas market for a bit, we continued our wander through Bern. Our walk took us past the Rathaus (town hall), down to the river and the B├Ąrengraben and finally to the M├╝nster (cathedral)

Next to the M├╝nster was the next Christmas market. We had a look round all the stalls before deciding it was about time for food. I had a hamburger with garlic sauce and Jan had a sausage. I didn’t really take any photos of the market, so the next few are mainly of the Cathedral and things on the square. We did also go inside, but no photos were allowed in there – even without the flash!

After eating, we had our Gl├╝hwein cups refilled – this time with white Gl├╝hwein -drank up, then continued walking round Bern. We were trying to find somewhere to eat that evening but everywhere was fully booked! Eventually we decided to head back to Basel and eat there, but not before passing by the M├╝nsterplatz Christmas market again, where the lights above the archways were now on!

Bern was my 5th Christmas market that I’m willing to count towards the list (my “home” market doesn’t count!), and marked the achievement of that goal for my 35 before 35!

I’m linking this post up with Monday Escapes. Click the button to see where everyone else is virtually escaping to this week!

Packing my Suitcase

Rheinfelden, Switzerland and Rheinfelden Christmas Market, Germany

I feel like I need to get all my Christmassy posts out of the way before we get any further into January, so here’s the first.

Rheinfelden used to be one town with the River Rhine flowing through it, but then in 1802 when Napoleon Bonepart fixed the border between Switzerland and Germany on the Rhine. Now there are two towns with the same name, one in Switzerland and one in Germany. Switzerland has the pretty, old-town side, while Germany’s Reinfelden isn’t all that nice but was where a Christmas market was being held for one weekend only… and I still needed Christmas markets for my 35 before 35!

We took the train to the Swiss Rheinfelden and started by walking into the old town.

As you can see, it wasn’t the prettiest of days. We were lucky enough to avoid the rain but the heavens were threatening to open at any minute!

Prettiness photographed, it was time to cross the bridge to Germany.

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The Christmas market was even tinier than I expected and had very few interesting stands, but I did manage to buy some pumpkin and ginger pasta, and we bought some kind of alcoholic punch from a Peruvian stand.

After that I ate a wild boar sausage, Jan ate some cheese bread thing and we headed back across the river to Switzerland, where we caught a train back to Basel, stopping at the Christmas market there for a Gl├╝hwein and to buy a bird feeder for our balcony.

Rheinfelden was the fourth Christmas market to be crossed off my list, and Basel doesn’t count, so that left me with one more Christmas market before I could consider that item complete… stay tuned to see which one I went to.

Colmar Christmas market(s)

This has been a weekend of Christmas markets! Although, actually, it was far too warm to be standing around drinking mulled wine. No wonder I’m not ready for Christmas… the weather’s telling me it’s still no later than September!

Our first Christmas market of the weekend was Colmar, which is only about 45-50 minutes away from Basel by train. Perfect for a day trip. There are, in fact, five markets in Colmar! Although one of those is just the normal indoor market with a few Christmassy stalls in addition to the normal ones that are there anyway, so it doesn’t really count as a Christmas market for me. One disappointing thing was a distinct lack of interesting food items – it took us ages to find anything we were even vaguely interested in. But Colmar is a beautiful town, and it looks even more magical all dressed up in its Christmas decorations. We were mostly there during the day, so I hardly got any photos with the lights switched on, but there are a few near the end. This will mainly be a post of images since there isn’t much to say beyond “We looked at stalls, drank mulled and managed to buy a few Christmas presents”. Also, the drinks came in horrible plastic glasses so I didn’t even get my usual souvenir cup!

The first thing we saw on arriving in Colmar was this, outside the train station:

Yay, signs of Christmas already! Also, note the blue sky… most of the afternoon was slightly cloudy, but it was more like late September than the last weekend in November!

On our walk into town, we found a children’s roller coaster and, beside it, this:

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It’s a “carousel bar” and it was actually rotating! There are no words.

Finally, we reached the first part of the actual Christmas market and grabbed our first mulled wine, or “hot wine” as the French say.

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Wine in hand, we wandered on through the streets in search of the other markets, admiring the pretty buildings decked out in all their finery along the way.

Various bits of the market also had random animals. They were in all different parts of town and didn’t seem to be meant for petting, so I’m not sure what the point was…

Some more photos of the town and markets. I love all the brightly coloured buildings!

We finally decided on something to eat… some kind of bread thing with cheese on top and… Escargot! Yes, we decided to be brave and try eating snails! After all, nothing could be worse than the oyster omelet in Taiwan…

It turned out the snails didn’t taste of anything much… they were a bit rubbery and that was it. We also ordered a second, “normal” slice of bread in “Alsace” style, with onions, bacon bits and Munster cheese. That one basically tasted like burnt cheese on toast. Oh well, at least they weren’t expensive. I can’t say I particularly “liked” snails, but at least they didn’t make me gag and almost throw up (looking at you, oyster slime!).

Finally, it started getting dark and I could see all the pretty lights!

I wasn’t sure what time the last train home was, but I knew when we were in Mulhouse the last one left at 9ish, and Colmar is before that, so we decided to take a train home at 7 p.m. to be safe. The markets close at 8 anyway so we couldn’t really have stayed much longer…

So, in conclusion, the Colmar Christmas markets are worth a visit and there are some lovely home-made items in the special crafts bit, bit I would recommend popping into a restaurant to eat (or bringing your own food!). The town itself is fairytale like at any time of year, and even more so when it’s all sparkly and Christmassy.

The Christmas markets in Colmar are on until 31st December 2015. During the week, they close at 7 p.m. and on weekends (Fri/Sat/Sun) at 8 p.m.

I’m linking this up to Monday Escapes with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey. Click the button for more travel tales to brighten up your Monday.

Packing my Suitcase

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival 2015

I’m aware I haven’t actually finished telling you about our holiday in England yet, but today I want to skip to what we did this weekend because the festival isn’t over yet and there might be people in the area who feel like going.

Each year, the castle in Ludwigsburg hosts a huge pumpkin festival in its gardens. A few bloggers went last year and it looked amazing, but sadly I wasn’t able to go then, so when Meredith wrote a blog post about this year’s event I was determined to make it there this time. From Karlsruhe, it would have been fairly easy to get to. This year we were further away, meaning the journey took us around 3 hours (changing trains twice), but we decided that was just about doable. Since we had to change trains in Karlsruhe, I asked whether any of my friends there would like to join us and two of them did.

Tiny pumpkinsEach year, there is a theme for the sculptures at the festival to fit into and this year’s was Fliegen, which mines flight. However, there were some interesting interpretations of the word, for instance one sculpture was of a grand piano, which is der Fl├╝gel in German… and Fl├╝gel is also the German word for wing (as in what birds have, not the wing of a house), giving it a (slightly contrived) connection to flight. Here are some of my favourite photos that I took of the sculptures. The smaller carved pumpkins aren’t part of the “main” exhibition and therefore don’t have to follow the flight theme (hence cows and snakes).

I managed to take my camera along without it’s memory card because I’m a moron ­čśë Luckily I can actually take some photos with the camera’s own memory, but it meant I had to ration myself. Luckily my friend K took lots of photos, which she very kindly shared with me, so the next gallery is all her work.

As well as the sculptures, there were various culinary offerings involving pumpkin. We had roast pumpkin seeds – I bought ones with chilli and sugar while K chose sugar and cinnamon, pumpkin popcorn (boring – it was just ordinary sweet popcorn with crushed pumpkin seeds sprinkled on, and taste of just… popcorn), pumpkin burgers (amazing! Would eat again!), pumpkin chips/fries (also amazing! I plan to try and make my own), pumpkin Schorle (juice mixed with fizzy water) and pumpkin prosecco (“K├╝rbissecco”), and also sampled some of the items that were available to buy for taking home – including pumpkin seed pesto, pumpkin ketchup and pumpkin chutney. All were delicious!

As well as the sculptures, the entire place is decorated with pumpkins and the winners of the German and European giant pumpkin contests were also in display. Here are a few general impressions of the pumpkins, the park and the gorgeous autumn colours. First gallery contains my photos:

And the following photos are by K:

Sorry about the photo overload – I couldn’t narrow it down any further!

If anyone is in the Stuttgart/Ludwigsburg/Heidelberg area and wants to see the pumpkins for themselves, the festival is on until Saturday 8th November. The exhibition area is not lit, so I recommend going during the day/before dark. Entrance to the garden is ÔéČ8.50 – and make sure you do ask for a ticket to just the garden, unless you actually want to go into the castle! Apart from the pumpkins, the garden itself has a lot to offer, including a huge walk in aviary (which we sadly didn’t have time to go into this time, but Jan and I have been before and it’s amazing!) and a fairytale forest.

Phew! That was a long post, so congratulations if you’ve made it to the end!
I’m linking this up for Monday Escapes with Packing my Suitcase and My Travel Monkey. Click the button for more information.

Packing my Suitcase

Kerzers Papiliorama

TodayÔÇÖs entry for Monday Escapes actually was an escape… from the rain! We had originally considered maybe going hiking at the weekend, but Jan had a cold and didn’t really think he was up for it. With the weather forecasters predicting rain, rain and more rain, hiking was off anyway, so on Sunday we decided to take a trip to Kerzers Papiliorama (Saturday involved a spontaneous trip to Mulhouse, but I’ll tell you about that some other time).

Those of you who speak even a tiny bit of French will probably have already guessed what our day involved: Papillon = butterfly! yes, it’s a butterfly house (just outside the town of Kerzers in region Fribourg, in case you were wondering about the rest). But it’s not just a butterfly house – our first stop was in the nocternal area, where we saw very active porcupines (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one doing anything but just lie around before!), owl monkeys and sloths – no photos were allowed in that bit so I have none for you. Just inside the entrance there was an enclosure with Goeldi’s marmosets and birds (photos below this paragraph) and outside there was a petting zoo. Also, there was a jungle trail, which I’ll get to later.

Obviously, the main thing we had come for was the butterflies, so after going through the nocturnal area and watching the marmosets being fed, it was off to butterfly land! Isn’t there some quote about butterflies being flowers with wings? Something like that. It’s a pretty accurate description, anyway. And even though a lot of the butterflies wouldn’t stay still for long enough to allow photos, I did manage to get a few good ones. Here you are:

By the way, I uploaded all the photos in this post straight from my memory card without bothering to edit, because I’m lazy like that. I did at least filter out the horribly blurry ones though. Here, have more butterflies:

I wish I’d taken a photo of the information board now because I can no longer remember the names of most of the species (except the owl butterfly!) and googling doesn’t actually help. Oh well, have another photo just because I thought this was a really cool/unusual perspective:

Butterfly front view
Butterfly front view

OK, now I’ve overloaded you with photos of butterflies, let’s move on to the jungle trail. The Papiliorama supports/helped set up a nature reserve in Belize, and the junge trail is an exact replica of said nature reserve in small. There are a few animals in enclosures in there and then birds flying around loose (and also lizards roaming around loose, but we didn’t see any – just a sign saying “stair-climbing iguanas have right of way”). The absolute best thing about the nature trail though…. toucans!! Just flying around freely – one was sitting on the fence near where we came in, and he was so close that I could have reached out and stroked him. Obviously I wouldn’t because I don’t fancy having my fingers bitten off, but still SO COOL! I love toucans!! Here, have a few photos from the jungle trail, i.e. mainly photos of TOUCANS!!

In case you hadn’t noticed, I love toucans!! This love stems almost entirely from a book I had as a kid called “Two Can, Toucan” which basically tells the story of how the toucan got his colouful beak by spilling two cans of paint all over himself. Because obviously (I am sooo buying that book for my future kids by the way).

There was also a little bat cave in the jungle trail area. The sign outside said “no flash photography”, but non-flash photography is basically impossible, so this is the best I could do:

Bats
Bats

Yeah, pretty pointless. Never mind! (I also took a video but I think that might be a bit much for this post…)

Once we were done with the jungle trail, we headed outside to the petting zoo. It was feeding time for the ducks and pigs, and a bunch of goats were following the person doing the feeding everywhere trying to get some, then eating the duck food right out of the water. It was pretty amusing to watch. Also, they had some very pretty chickens – Appenzell something or others (sorry, I’m terrible at this being informative business!). Here, the final batch of photos:

Oh my gosh, so many goat photos! I do apologise (and that’s not even all of them. I don’t know. I have no excuse…).

We got a RailAway special deal, which give us 20% off our rail fare if we bought the entrance ticket and rail tickets together from SBB. From Basel to Kerzers Papiliorama (it has its own stop) took us just under 2 hours, with one change in Bern. We arrived at around 1 p.m. and took the 4:50 p.m. train home, so we managed to spend quite a bit of time there. Obviously being a rainy Sunday there were a lot of children around, but the place was big/spead out enough that we didn’t feel as though we were constantly falling over small people. So, to sum up, I can recommend! The entrance fee for adults is CHF 18 (sorry, I didn’t check the children’s price).

This has been a ridiculously long blog post for Monday Escapes with My Travel Monkey and Packing my Suitcase, except this time if you want to link up you have to do so on Mummy Travels as one of the usual hosts is away.

Phew, I really don’t know how to make a long story short, do I?

Packing my Suitcase