Doing life right, at home and away

Month: January 2015

Walking off the ferry

Of leaving the island (and crossing back to the continent)

Every adventure will eventually come to an end: from the Scotland back to Germany via Brighton and Dieppe, and whatever other places, again. Took trains, more trains and even more trains.

Went on the ferry, only got a little sea sick, traumatised the dog – the usual overland/water travel experience!

Dealing with more trains ahead, trains on trains, because we like trains so much, we got some trains in our trains.

Xhibit - yo dawg trains in trains

Feels weird going back, but it’s definitely time. I’m missing the cats like crazy.

Bills restaurant and bar in Brighton

Of short and sweet in Brighton

We only spent two days in total in Brighton but, as I had been yearning to visit the city for so long, we really tried to make the best of it in such a short time.

Shops at dusk in Brighton

Now, if you are staying in Brighton for longer, I’m sure you can explore some other locations, but for benefiting from the best in the centre, I think we did a pretty good job. I imagine the secret locations, hidden gems are a bit farther outside the centre. But on such a short notice, we had no chance to look into them. So if you’re looking to have it short and sweet in Brighton, then look no further!

We stayed at the Ibis Hotel at the train station (as they are very dog friendly!), which is right around the corner from The Lanes; a shopping, eating and drinking area well known for it’s narrow lanes and quirky offerings.

So here goes, Sara’s Top Whatever “less-than-24h-in-Brighton-or-maybe-48h-depends-on-how-you-count-it” tips to Brighton! (but actually mostly just The Lanes)

Read More

Dieppe harbour by night

Of lovely Dieppe and hidden treasures

Dieppe, what a great little find!

We had the loveliest of accommodations: Le Grand Duquesne, a mini-hotel with only 12 cosy and adorable rooms. There is a bunch of these real big, resort-y sea side hotels on the shore, but we thought that this intimate and picturesque hotel right at the square would be more to our taste. The staff was incredibly friendly, flexible and accommodating and it was right at the heart of the town, next to the cathedral and the market place. Also, apparently their restaurant is great! We didn’t want to be those people who both stay & eat at their hotel, but quite frankly, I’m sure that would’ve been a great call. It was packed on both the nights that we stayed there.

Le Grand Duquesne in Dieppe

A harbour town for over a thousand years, regardless of its small size, Dieppe has been largely involved in European history, in both war and trade. It was also a trendy and a hip place in the 19th century as a seaside beach resort, before the “beaching industry” bloomed in the more bourgeois (and warmer) Deauville and Trouville. But what is especially appealing, is that Dieppe is a great place to eat sea food, all year round. For example, it’s the best place in France for fishing scallops!

Dieppe town centre

So sea food is Dieppe’s pride and on our way back, we ate at this spectacular yet simple restaurant La Cale, which was so good it deserved its own post. We were waivering between La Cale and a way fancier, better known and popular alternative, Comptoir à Huitres, but finally decided on the former. The sort of restaurants as Comptoir à Huitres tend to be great, but always risk the possibility of being also a little (or a lot) overrated and overpriced – even when they are really good. If me and W have a “restaurant type”, it’s the sweet spot between the high end of the low end, and the low end of the high end.

But okay, say you’re a twat who doesn’t like sea food – what does Dieppe have for you? CALVADOS, MY MAN – that’s what.

Read More

chalkboard menu at le cale in dieppe

Of eating in La Cale

We spent some good time trying to pick a restaurant in Dieppe. There is plenty of choice and it’s a little challenging to find the optimal one. If you’re in Dieppe right now, you should also check my other tips for the town.  After careful research, we picked La Cale.

Interior of La Cale in Dieppe

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our sweet spot is at the low end of the high end and the high end of the low end.

Now, La Cale is a restaurant which celebrates seasonal, local ingredients and simplicity. That’s why the general layout of the food in the photos doesn’t look like much, but I can assure you it was absolutely fantastic – winter potatoes, sweet winter carrots and other root vegetable purees on the side. Nothing we ordered was out of season and the menu elaborated in detail most of the local suppliers and the waiters explained the rest. The food was very carefully flavoured – not over-spiced or over-garnished. Everything had this balance, bringing out the natural flavours of the ingredient in question. While I love complex and spicy foods, I appreciate this sort of approach. It’s sometimes the simplest things that work the best and I think it requires skill to recognise those situations.

Have you ever eaten in France in a good restaurant? Well, it’s often absolutely obligatory to reserve a table beforehand, if you don’t want to get hammered on apéritifs at the bar before dinner while waiting for a table. We did this faux pas : it was a Saturday and we had no reservation. We decided to go really early, right when it was opening to secure us a table.

Read More

Of rough bus rides back to civilization

I often dream of living in a remote place. I’m sure I romanticise it quite a bit, especially given since I grew up in the city.

Today was a steady reminder of the bitchings and challenges of “living behind the God’s back”, as we say in Finland. This is the story of how we traveled South again with W & Musti.

We were supposed to head back to Inverness and South with the last train of the day at 15h (there are usually three trains in a day).  Unfortunately, the trains were cancelled between Thurso and Inverness because ScotRail didn’t have a driver for their train. Indeed, this particular line apparently has literally two drivers. If one of them is sick and the other one drunk, there is no-one to take you South.

When we arrived at the station, a small mini bus was waiting for us to hop on. Have you ever driven a vehicle in Caithness? In many places, the road infrastructure isn’t really made for efficient travel. Caithness has quite a minimalist approach to building roads – they build the least they can get away with (straight quote from W, btw). “Ok”, we thought with W after the initial exasperation had calmed down, “this probably won’t be so bad. We have loads of time – if we drive straight to Inverness we’ll get there with plenty of time to shop and spend a lovely evening”. Little did we know, there was just absolutely no chance of this happening.

Into the Caithness void

Into the Caithnesian void

The minibus driver sent to drive around fucking Caithness countryside in complete wilderness, was not just English – but also visiting Caithness and Thurso area for the first time. We didn’t really find out how he had gotten there in the first place.

So, once we got to the road, the driver spent a good amount of time calling both his minibus company and ScotRail about driving straight to Inverness. Turns out, they expected him to drive by every train station on the line to check if there are passengers.  Now, the people who decide on crap like this, are not Caithnesians – the ScotRail management he spoke to are probably based in Edinburgh. The whole bus full of Scots were enraged and one passenger at a time went to the front to tell him what a ludicrous plan it was. I actually felt quite bad for him, he obviously had agreed to do a job that he had no idea what it was going to entail and it was obviously a shit deal for him. Poor English dude with a bus full of angry Scots and one Finn. He said he’d have to follow the orders or he’d get into trouble. Oh well…

Our bus driver getting lost

Trying to navigate with a GPS in Nothingness

This idea of following the train track by car is so laughable it’s unbelievable, as the problem with this scenario is many fold:

  1. It takes twice??? as long to reach a train station by car – and that is if you know where you are going. We spent one hour going back and forth on this forgotten dirt road in the middle of a  field trying to find the right way to the station, asking for directions from random farmers who happened to be on a walk with their dog.
  2. There is no way to communicate to potential passengers on the stations that a minibus is coming to pick them up instead.
  3. If you’re waiting for the last train of the day and it doesn’t come and you don’t know a minibus is “on it’s way” you probably won’t stick around for an extra hour just for fun?
  4. There probably wouldn’t even be space for them as the minibus was already quite full when we left.
  5. At one point, it also started to chuck down rain and you could hardly see the road. So driving takes even longer. Also, not a likely weather for people to travel and definitely not likely for them to wait around for nothing.

Driving the wrong way through Caithness and Sutherland

Since it was a minibus and not a real bus, there was no bathroom. We had one bathroom break –  which was literally on a muddy road, next to a field and some farmhouse. Everyone had to crouch behind a bush or in a ditch and do their business in cold, wind and rain. The heater in the bus was broken somehow as the whole bus was freezing cold. The curly and bumpy roads were a bit much for us, but they were exceptionally much for Musti – he vomited in the bus, twice. It’s also worth noting that the Caithness countryside doesn’t boast very good mobile connections, if any. Most of the time we had absolutely no network to: call ScotRail again, load up Google maps, call a local, or even let our friend down in Inverness know we were going to be late.

Unhappy dog on a bus

Musti not being very happy about our arrangement

After the night fell and the heavy rainfall showed no signs of stopping, when we were already two hours late from the schedule and far away from even being half way to Inverness, in the pitch black Scottish January night, we happened to run into another minibus on one of the train stations. Luckily for us, this guy was local and told our driver that the instructions he had gotten were completely insane and made absolutely no sense. We wouldn’t be in Inverness before midnight, if even then, as the weather was so unpredictable.

We actually didn’t find out why this other minibus was just hanging out at this random station two hours after the official train time – I guess he was also a bit lost. His bus only had a couple of passengers and he said he had been instructed to drive straight to Inverness.

Going up a mountain in a minibus

The drivers negotiated so that all of our bus transferred into his and we were finally actually on our way to Inverness (instead of eternal perdition) and eventually we did arrive, though three hours later than was at any point necessary.

The fate of our English driver remains a mystery.

Of aching jaws and nuclear power

Man, I’ve seen some windy weather in my life. I have.

Me and Musti on a windy hillside

Me and Musti almost blowing away

Never have I seen windy weather like yesterday.

We had been putting off going on a hike for the last couple of days as the weather was so wild and unpredictable. The rain and the hailstone showers had stopped for the moment so we called up a friend of ours, Kenny – a local hike connoisseur, who’s always up for a good stroll.

Musti and Kenny at Sandside Harbour

Musti and Kenny at the harbour

We decided to go somewhere relatively close and easy access, so we headed towards Sandside – a small beach in the village of Reay, just across from the mainly decommissioned Dounreay nuclear site.

While the weather had calmed regarding hailstones, the wind had gotten worse. I’m not sure I can even explain it better than saying that “it was just really, really windy”. The sea was throwing itself in raging, periodic attacks on the cliffs and the slippery black shale rocks, almost as if trying to escape its own temper.

Half of the photos are so shaken up I can’t really use them!

A rather interesting curiosity is, that the rather lovely Sandside beach is in fact a radioactive beach. We have a friend who’s involved in the off-site radioactivity measurements though and she said that so far it’s all gravy.

Read More

Some british cheddar

Of British food and unfortunate history

I actually don’t really understand why Britain has a reputation for not having good food. Traditional British food is wonderful!

I’m probably a bit biased, having a Scot as my lover, but I genuinely think that the “bad British food” rap is quite unfair and not even true. (I don’t mean to diss, but come on – Germany & the many variations of the dreadful Wurstsalat, the Swiss who mainly just melt cheese and the Dutch with – I don’t even know what any of that is)

In my opinion, if compared to France, nobody comes off too good in Central/Northern Europe. That is regarding contemporary cuisine – during Edwardian era Britain, gastronomy and the culinary arts, particularly amongst the upper class, were at an all time high. You might be familiar with this, if you’ve watched these guys eat & dine & drama all the livelong day:

The cast of Downton Abbey

What changed the course of British gastronomy were the World Wars. Accoring to Ivan Day, a British food historian who runs historic cooking classes (!!!), the cook books of the Edwardian era are high quality with stunning and complex recipes – for the middle- and upper-classes, of course.

My personal favourite being these “fancy ices” – as in ice cream cakes (???) in ludicrous forms, made with copper and pewter moulds, without any electric refrigeration.

Edwardian fancy ices

Ta-daa! I want the pineapple for my birthday. Picture courtesy of

Due to the strict British class society, much of the culinary mastery and special skills vanished already through the casualties of WWI. With lack of skill and shortages in imports and thus supplies (Britain is an island, after all), many of the lavish foods prepared just a couple of decades earlier throughout the country, disappeared completely from the tables of the British upper-class. And of course, rationing both during the war as well as during the aftermath for the whole of Europe and the US, shrunk the post-war menus even further. (buh-bye, sugar and cream!)

And although Britain was not the only country rationing during the wars, after the Second World War they kept rationing longer than most of continental Europe: the scheme was lifted slowly and gradually after the wars, finally ending entirely in 1954. (In France it ended a couple of years earlier and in Germany in year 1950 – naturally excluding the DDR, they kept on trucking with their rationing cards until 1958) 

Somehow, through earlier implications from the industrialisation, the wars and undoubtedly some series of unfortunate events, Britain did not really recover and regain the skill, flavour and complexity it had before – and the reputation of bad British food is actually a remnant of the bland and poor, austerity ridden post-WW era. If you want to read more about this, NPR interviewed Mr. Day in 2012 about this topic.

Beyond the aristocratic food bacchanals, a heart breaking example of the impact of the Wars in British food culture is the case of the British cheddar and artisanal cheese. The whole artisanal cheese scene was completely wiped out due to rationing: most of the milk produced was directed to making “Government Cheddar” (as ALL other cheese was banned between 1940-1954!!!), leaving Britain stranded in the 70s with only 33 farms making quality cheddar, down from a whopping 514 farms before the war. 

Anyway, today in Kirkwall, we ordered meals which incorporated two of the possibly most misunderstood staples of British cuisine: fish & chips and haggis (served as part of a chicken supreme, though). The actual haggis is even better, or deep fried as a drunken snack from a Glaswegian hole-in-the-wall and surprising as it may be, even the canned haggis we have back in Karlsruhe, isn’t half bad!

Read More

beautiful colourful heather

Of Sunday hikes and sunsets

Caithness is breathtaking.

Sunset in Caithness

We were laughing yesterday that the Scotland map W has imprinted in my head is quite different from the map people generally have. Scotland is often reduced to the biggest, Southern cities: Glasgow and Edinburgh. Or even cities in general. However, I dare to say the best of Scotland is out in its nature and wilderness. I know this can be said about practically any place, but there is so much more to see and experience than the cities: the mountains, the fields, the hills of heather and ferns. The farm houses in the distance and fluffy sheep. The majestic cliffs, raging waves, silly little puffins. Fishing boats. Over 180° horizons. Windy, secluded towns, made of flagstone. Standing stones, cairns – almost mystical, inexplicable history. Castles, too. And VIKINGS.

The second time I was travelling to Scotland, almost four years ago in April, I took the Caledonian sleeper from London, and I was woken up by the sunrise peeking through the train curtains. The first sight of Scotland I had saw a bright purple, never-ending fields of wild heather, as far as I could see, on both sides of the train. I fell asleep again before the heather fields reached their end. So, let’s have a little reminder of Scottish geography:

map of scotland

There’s plenty North of Glasgow and Edinburgh. I also love Scotland in the winter. Generally not showcased as the best season to visit, I think it has a very particular feel to it during the winter. It emphasises the forces of nature, the wild weather and the wilderness. There’s the foggy darkness in the evening. There are no tourists, no attractions and many areas are just shut down and deserted. It’s windy and quiet. Near the sea, you only hear the sea and maybe the seagulls.

We went on a Sunday afternoon hike to Dorrery (according to Wikipedia, it’s a “small hamlet”) and Ben Dorrery hill.

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén