May 2019 recap

Hello my lovelies. Today I’m here to talk about May. Not Theresa May – I have no desire to discuss her or any of the mess that is currently politics in Britain. No, I mean the month of May… and specifically what I got up to in it.

Of course I am linking up with the lovely Kristen for What’s New With You.

whats new with you

In a way, it was a month of two halves. For the first two weeks, we were living on an actual building site while our bathrooms and kitchen were being replaced. That meant our flat had no shower, no toilets and nowhere to cook. We were provided with a portable toilet and a small electric hob, and there was a temporary shower set up downstairs in the drying room. For those who missed it, a couple of photos of what the place looked like, including one of the sink that was installed in the stairwell so we could at least attempt to wash dishes:

During the week, I rented a desk in a co-working space and at night we ate out. Spending as little time as possible at home made things bearable, but it was still a relief when the time came for us to go on holiday! Since we were flying from Zurich airport relatively early in the morning, we decided to go to Zurich the night before (well, Jan just stayed there since it’s where he worked) and sleep in a hotel. I am so glad we did! It meant a night in a dust-free room, a proper shower and a slightly later/less stressful start – we would have had to take a train from Basel at around 6 a.m.!

And then it was off to Ronda, Spain to meet family and friends. We had two full days and an afternoon there with my sister and brother-in-law, sister’s best friend and her boyfriend, my brother, my mum and my mum’s friend. My mum, her friend, Jan, my brother and I all stayed in a lovely apartment while the others were just down the road.

Everyone else left early on the Tuesday morning, but we had decided we wanted to have more than an extended weekend away, so we had booked an apartment in Cádiz for the next two nights. On the way there, we stopped off for a day on Gibraltar. The town is so bizarre – looking at it, you could be on any high street in the UK – there’s Debenhams, Next, Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, multiple fish and chip shops. I even spied my bank (Natwest). The post boxes and phone booths are red and even the bins resembled those I know from Newcastle. But the buildings and trees are all wrong – I’ve never seen purple blossoms in the middle of a British town!

After wandering through the town, we of course took the cable car up the mountain, because what else do you do on Gibraltar? It was amazing being right up close to the monkeys – but also kind of terrifying. Especially when two of them started shouting at each other and it seemed like a fight was about to happen. We were already heading back to the cable car at that point and needless to say we didn’t hang around near those particular apes for long!

We then drove on to Cádiz, arriving around 6 o’clock in the evening, spent the next day there and finally headed to Lisbon via Evora. After two days in Lisbon and a very brief stop in Sintra on our final morning, it was time to fly home. Back in Basel, we stopped for dinner before doing anything else since we had no idea what the state of our flat was going to be…

As it turns out, it was almost finished. We had toilets that actually flushed and a working kitchen (although we waited until after the final inspection to actually use it). I still had another week off work so on the Monday I walked into town very early in the morning so the flat would be free for them to get on with whatever last minute things needed doing. I bought breakfast, which I ate in the park, then went to a café called Unternehmen Mitte where they let you just sit without having to purchase anything. There, I finished the book I had started reading on the flight home. So that killed about 2 hours. I had a wander round town, bought and ate some lunch, then ended up in a bookshop where I was very naughty and bought two books. I then read one of those books sitting at the train station – the only other place I could think of where you can sit for ages without being moved on! My initial idea had been to go back to the park where I had breakfast, but every seat was taken by people on their lunch breaks. Book finished, I went and treated myself to coffee and cake in the restaurant of a department store. Finally, at 4 p.m. I started walking home, arriving to find that the builders had already left. Tuesday was inspection day, so I trailed the construction manager and his assistant as they made a list of all the small things that still needed to be done – cracks to paint over, holes to be filled. I also got official permission to fill the fridge and start putting things back in the kitchen, so that’s what I spent the rest of the week doing. Plus cleaning every single thing. Construction dust gets everywhere! I’ve never hoovered so much in my life Thursday was a public holiday, so on that day I actually had Jan to help. And the new washing machine (in our actual flat!) got used a lot. As did the tumbler dryer, which I am aware is incredibly bad for the environment but with the drying room still out of commission (that’s where the temporary shower resides) and a friend staying over on Saturday, which meant the spare room bedding needed to be freed from dust, we didn’t have much of a choice. You can’t dry sheets and quilt covers on a clothes horse!

Okay, this is already long so just quickly. During those first two weeks when everything was going on, we obviously didn’t want to spend too much time in our dusty, dusty flat, so on 1st May – a public holiday – we went to Porrentruy, which is cute but not that exciting. Then on the 4th the builders needed access on a Saturday (at 8 a.m. – no lie in for us!) so we headed to Lenzburg because it was raining and there was a castle that would allow us to be inside. The following Saturday, Jan had a concert in the evening so we ate lunch in town and did some shopping before he had to leave (and I then followed an hour later to attend said concert).

Lenzburg
Lenzburg Castle

As for yearly goals… I didn’t really keep track of my vegetable intake, but we ate at Markthalle and vegetarian restaurant a lot so I think I got my five portions most days… at least until we went on holiday. Lots of cheese and meat boards were consumed there. I definitely managed to drink enough water for the entire month, which I’m proud of. And I finally actually finished a non-fiction book. I mean, I only want to read ten this year and we’re already nearly halfway through. No big deal…

I think that just about sums up my May. The rest of the time I worked (from a co-working space) and attempted to keep the living room and bedroom free from the worst of the dust – a Sisyphean task if there ever was one! My next post will be my choices for round 11 of Erin’s book challenge, which starts on 1st July. May wasn’t my best reading month (although I managed 9 books, so also not my worst ever) so I am hoping to get lots of reading done over the summer months.

Okay, enough. I seem to have gone back to that old rambling format that I was trying to get away from and I’m sure you’re bored of me by now. Go check out the link up because Kristen is awesome and should be shown all the love. And tell me in the comments what you’ve been up to lately.

Unintentionally imitating art

As you will know if you read my last post, we recently came back from holiday. The final few days of our trip were spent in Lisbon, Portugal. Since we were travelling to hot countries, I had obviously taken summer clothes with me, but it wasn’t until I was actually walking around Lisbon that I realised the dress I had put on that day had a pattern that would have been perfect for one of the beautiful tiles that adorn many Portuguese houses. So, for your viewing pleasure, here is a selection of photos of Portuguese tiles and me blending in so well you’d think I’d done it on purpose…

(I was wearing blue and that seems to be the most popular colour, but not all the tiles in the photos below are blue.)

Lisbon

I’m not really sure how to end this post so uhh, just I guess that’s all folks?

Have a lovely day/week/evening/whatever.

Take 12 Trips: A Roundup

A little over a year ago, I decided to join in with a challenge inviting bloggers to take one trip every month for 12 months. If you’ve been paying close attention to my blog for the past year, you may have noticed that my trip to Weinheim in September was, in fact, my 12th trip! (Don’t worry, I don’t expect anyone to actually have noticed 😉 ). This fact seemed to call for some kind of roundup/recap of my 12 months of trip taking, just to bring things to a nice neat conclusion… or something like that.

October 2013

Triberg waterfallI started the challenge with a day trip to Triberg im Schwarzwald in October 2013. I had actually taken this trip shortly before learning about Take 12 Trips and decided to make it my first one rather than waiting until the following month to get started. In Clare’s original post inviting people to join the challenge, she told us to “Do anything – trip big, or trip tiny”. The point was to go somewhere new, perhaps even somewhere local that you’d been meaning to try out but never had. So a visit to somewhere in the Black Forest, which is basically on my doorstep, seemed like a fitting first trip.

November 2013

November 2013 saw me returning to Feldkirch in Austria for the first time since I lived there in 2005/2006. It was nice to see the place again, and also lovely to pay a visit to some friends from when I lived there and meet their baby son! After Feldkirch, we spent a night in Garmisch-Patenkirchen (famous for skiing!), then on the way back we stopped at Schloss Neuschwanstein (the famous fairy-tale castle in Bavaria) and in Augsburg. Not bad for a single long weekend!

December 2013

Fire show 1I live in Germany, so obviously my December trip had to be to a Christmas market! I chose a local one, the Mediaeval Christmas market in Durlach, which is a district of Karlsruhe. The market includes a fire show (pictured above) and, aside from the usual Glühwein (mulled wine), hot mead is also on offer. At the end of the month, I went home to England for Christmas, but I don’t count that as a real trip 😉

January 2014

Part of my January 2014 trip was actually in December – Jan and I went to Madeira for New Year! I absolutely loved this trip and would go back in a heartbeat – Madeira is beautiful! And it was nice to actually spend New Year somewhere warm for a change.

February 2014

A figure on the gate post
A figure on the gate post

As the end of February approached with no trip planned (and me not wanting my February “trip” to be the week I spent in England by my dying grandpa’s bedside), I spontaneously decided to take a train to Bruchsal. I had been to the castle before, but never into the town and it was about time that was remedied! Sadly, it turned out that Bruchsal as a town isn’t all that interesting. I found a few pretty buildings, but after only 45 minutes I found myself at the castle with nowhere else to go. I also discovered that day that I find day trips by myself pretty boring (although who knows, maybe I would have fared better in a more interesting town?). Oh well, onwards and upwards as they say!

March 2014

Gutenbergplatz

In March 2014, I finally did something I’ve been meaning to for about 4 years – visited the Saturday market on Gutenbergplatz in Karlsruhe. Thanks Take 12 Trips for the inspiration! I also went to Colmar, France in March, although I didn’t write a post about it til April.

April 2014

Amneville zooApril saw Jan, K and I on a day trip to Amnéville Zoo in France. It was the second visit for Jan and I, and it was just as amazing as the first time. The falconry display especially is well worth the three hour drive!

Also in April (although not counted towards the challenge), I went to my first ever bloggers’ meetup when I joined some fellow Germany-based bloggers in Heidelberg.

May 2014

Playmobil paintingIn May, I managed to persuade Jan to come with me to the Historisches Museum der Pfalz in Speyer to see an exhibition celebrating 40 years of Playmobil. What can I say… at heart, I’m a 5 year old 😉 The exhibition was overrun with kids, of course, but I enjoyed it anyway. And the rest of the museum was interesting too!

Roughly a week later I was in England for a funeral (not the best trip!) then at the end of the month Jan and I had a mini-break in Konstanz, since it was a long weekend.

June 2014

For our ten-year anniversary(!) I had bought Jan tickets to see Pear Jam in Vienna, so that’s where our June trip took us. Apart from the concert, we visited the National Library, my favourite part being the Globe Museum, I ate Marillenknödel, crossing off another item on my 35 before 35 list, and we visited the UN headquarters then went to the Donauinselfest, a huge free music festival! We also took a day trip to Bratislava in Slovakia. My favourite thing there was the blue church, pictured above.

July 2014

Basel RhineIn July, my brother came to stay with us for a week. The trip I officially counted for the challenge was to Basel, but we also visited Strasbourg, the Black Forest and Frankfurt. Phew! I was exhausted by the time he went home!

August 2014

TaiwanI’m sure by now all of you know where I went for my August trip – I’ve bored you with enough posts on it 😉 Yes, it was Taiwan! My first visit to Asia was amazing! We saw so many fantastic sights, ate some great food (and also some truly awful stuff *cough* oyster omelette *cough*). Taiwan is a fascinating and beautiful country and I would recommend anyone to go.

September 2014

WeinheimIt would have been nice to finish the challenge with Taiwan, but alas I still had one more trip to go! Finishing the challenge with another day trip within the local area provided some nice symmetry though. This time we headed in the other direction to Weinheim, which is in the Odenwald rather than the Black Forest. It was a beautiful autumn day and the perfect way to finish my 12 trips!

Earlier in September, I also spent the day in Bad Dürkheim at the Wurstmarkt, the world’s biggest wine festival, making it another multi-trip month.

Altogether, that makes 12 (plus) trips, seven countries (count them!) and a million memories! Thank you Clare for coming up with this challenge!

So, what now?

Just because my 12 trips are over doesn’t mean I’m going to stop travelling any time soon! In October 2014, I was in Bad Bergzabern (post to follow) and then spent Halloween Paris for a Night Vale live show, and I’m hoping that this month and next month will involve one or two Christmas markets. Then there’s the annual New Year’s trip that Jan and I always take (no destination confirmed yet). As for next year, so far only a trip to England in October for the Rugby World Cup is planned, but I’m sure there will be other opportunities to travel before then. There probably won’t be any big trips until the end of the year, but a few day trips will definitely be on the cards! Stay tuned…

Wine tasting at Blandy’s and Madeira miscellany

This is my final post about Madeira, so I’ll start off by telling you about Blandy’s Wine Lodge and then finish with some miscellaneous stuff about Madeira that hasn’t been covered in any previous posts…

Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge is located in the centre of Funchal. Acquired in 1840 by Charles Ridpath Blandy, the old wine lodge remains an integral part of the process, and until relatively recently some wine was actually still produced there (they do the actual crushing of the grapes part up in the mountains nowadays, or so our guide told us). These days, it’s mainly used as a place for barrels of wine to mature and age, before being transferred to giant barrels for storage before bottling. These means that, while you don’t actually get to see Madeira wine being made, the premises are not there purely for tourism purposes… as evidenced by the wonderful smell of Madeira wine in the rooms where the barrels are being matured!

There are several tours available, and we chose the Premium one, which cost €5.50 per person and included a tasting at the end. I have to admit, I preferred this tour to the one we took of the Old Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin, which really was purely for tourists and seemed to be more of a marketing exercise than a tour that was actually designed to give any information! Naturally our tour guide in Madeira wouldn’t have told us that any wine other than Blandy’s is the best 😉 but at least the entire tour wasn’t a huge advertisement for Blandy’s! We were actually given some quite interesting information about grape types and the different temperatures and barrels that are needed to produce the different types of Madeira wine. It’s just a shame I barely remember any of it! At the end of the tour, we were given some time to look around the mini museum section before heading on to the most important bit… wine tasting! We were given two Madeira wines to taste… one was Malmsey, a sweet Madeira wine made from Malvasia grapes. If I remmeber correctly, Malvasia grapes are the only one of the four grape varieties used to produce Madeira wine that are actually native to the island. Sadly, I don’t remember what the other wine we tried was, but it was a dry variety. Both were very tasty, though.

Madeira Miscellany

A few more observations from our trip to Madeira that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else. 🙂

There are dogs EVERYWHERE! I never did manage to decide whether they were all strays or some actually belonged to people. We saw at least 15 dogs just running around loose, with no owners to be seen… including two that hung around outside our hotel! We discovered at some point that one of them was called Bobby, but I have no idea whether they belonged to the hotel or had just been hanging around so long that the staff decided to name them. Either way, I’m assuming that if they were dangerous the hotel staff wouldn’t tolerate them? I still didn’t want to touch them though, and when one of them decided to follow me while I was carrying food, I did feel a bit nervous! He didn’t do anything though, and eventually seemed to realise I wasn’t going to give him anything. In the time we were there, I spotted three dogs wandering around with collars on (two in Funchal and one in Santana) – so presumably they belonged to someone – but said owners were nowhere to be seen. We also spied three dogs being walked with actual leads! Here are some of the (presumably stray) dogs we saw – the first and last photos are of the hotel dogs, while the middle one shows a dog in Monte.

On the first day, after looking around Funchal, we drove up to Cabo Girão. The most unusual thing about this cliff is that, looking down, you can see cultivated land at the foot of it. Until relatively recently, the only way for farmers to reach this land was by boat… a cable car was installed in 2003 to provide an easier way for them to reach their crops. Brochures and the Madeira website claim that Cabo Girão is the highest cliff in Europe (and second highest in the world), but Wikipedia says it’s not. Regardless, it provides a nice view – especially with the glass viewing platform that juts out over the water! If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend  looking down…

I haven’t mentioned much about what we ate in Madeira (other than the bread and soup in Funchal on the first day) because Jan tends to tease me if I take too many photos of food, but I need to tell you about the Espetada… or meat on a skewer! This traditional Madeiran kebab-type dish is delicious! The meat is marinated, then cooked in an open fire. Traditionally the meat was threaded onto a bayleaf stick, but we had to make do with plain old metal skewers 😛

Also, have another picture of some of the garlic bread. I love how this photo turned out! If I had a food blog, this would so be my cover photo!

Yum, yum!
Yum, yum!

Finally, I want to finish my Madeira series with a photo taken from the aeroplane shortly after take off. This was shortly before the evil turbulence got hold of us (so bad that I actually felt like we might be blown out of the sky, and the pilots changed their plans slightly and got permission to fly at a lower altitude than originally intended!). The sheer beauty of the sunrise above the clouds made for a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.

Leaving Madeira... very early in the morning!
Leaving Madeira… very early in the morning!

And that’s it… the end of our trip. Now I believe it’s about time I started thinking about where to go next! Any suggestions?

~ I am counting Madeira as my January 2014 trip in the Take 12 Trips challenge, even though we started the holiday in December ~

Monte, Madeira

Monte is a suburb of Funchal, located in the mountains up above it. During our holiday, we actually went up there twice… once by car up the incredibly steep hills! I’m talkig so steep that I actually found myself wondering whether the car was actually going to make it… visions of us sliding back down the hill definitely entered my mind once our twice! The second time, we went up by cable car and back down in a wicker toboggan…

The view from the cable car station in Monte
The view from the cable car station in Monte

Monte houses two main attractions, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte church, where Emperor Charles I of Austria, the last rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire is buried, and the tropical garden. Obviosuly I took lots of pictures of plants in the tropical garden, but I shall try not to bore you with too many of them 😉

From the tropical gardens, we could see people going down the mountain the famous Monte wicker toboggans. Of course we wanted a go, too even though it’s really expensive! Here’s what they look like… and yes, that is an actual road with actual cars on it! I actually bought our official photo (they had a guy taking photos halfway down), which I know is a total tourist con, but it’s not like I could take a photo of us myself and I wanted the souvenir! I would show you the photo, but Jan wouldn’t like me plastering his photo all over the Internet…

I've blurred out the tourists' faces to avoid getting in trouble...
I’ve blurred out the tourists’ faces to avoid getting in trouble…

The toboggan takes you down 2km, to the suburb of Livramento. Once there, you can either take a taxi the rest of the way down (there are loads hanging around), or walk as we did. If you choose to walk, you get to go down a street with some beautiful flowers! Literally everyone was stopping to take photos there…

Our ticket to the tropical gardens also included a free taster glass of Madeira wine at the cafe, and Jan also decided to sample some Madeira honey cake (I had an icecream to cool down, but I did try his cake and can confirm that it was delicious). This set us up nicely for our next stop… after wicker tobogganing it down, we had a tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge complete with Madeira wine tasting booked… but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to hear a bit about that. This post is long enough!

Madeira wine

35 Before 35: Madeira New Year’s Fireworks

Number 16 on my 35 Before 35 list is to spend New Year in Madeira and watch the fireworks display (which got the Guniess World Record for world’s biggest in 2006). Since I did, in fact, spend New Year 2013/14 in Madeira, it’s probably fairly obvious that I also saw the fireworks 😉 But I thought I’d provide some evidence anyway…

You probably can’t really tell from those photos, but we actually managed to get an excellent spot! There was much less of a crowd than we had expected, and we were able to find a space next to the harbour wall right in front of one of the places where the fireworks were being set off from! (They were being ignited at three or four places simultaneously).  It was flippin’ loud down there, I can tell you! These next photos will hopefully make it a bit clearer how close we actually were:

They’re a bit blurry, but hopefully you can see that we had a clear view of the fireworks actually emerging from the explosive thingies!
It wasn’t the longest display we’ve seen (the one in Brussels takes that title – I actually thought those ones would never stop!), but a lot of fireworks were set off in a short time. One member of staff at the hotel told us 17 tonnes of fireworks were set off in 8 minutes! I don’t even have words for a number that big…

So, that’s another item crossed off the list and I’m pleased to say it was 100% worth it! If you’re ever given the opportunity to spend New Year in Madeira, my advice would be to take it (as long as you’re not afraid of fireworks, of course…). And for any of you who’ve ever spent New Year in a German-speaking country, I’m sure you’ll be very pleased to know that no fireworks were thrown! A few people had their own to set off, but they sensibly pointed them up at the sky, where they belong 🙂

Madeira fireworks

Funchal door art

Walking around the Zona Velha, or Old Town in Funchal, you will notice that many of the doors feature art work of various kinds – mostly paintings, but some other forms of art as well. These works are part of the  Projecto artE pORtas abErtas, or ArT of opEN doors project, a scheme that aims to “open” the doors of Funchal to art… and give new life to old, dilapidated doors, often of abandoned and forgotten buildings. Here is just a small selection of the photos Jan and I took of those decorative doors.

Obviously I couldn’t possible resist taking a photo of the following door… colourful artwork and one of my favourite things combined!

Boooooks!
Boooooks!

Here are some of my favourites. For a few, I took close up photos of the various details because a photo of the entire door just didn’t do it justice.

Have you ever been to Funchal? Which is your favourite painted door?