Practicalities

Doing life right, at home and away

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 2)

Of training while traveling: CrossFit Amsterdam

Whoa, well look at this! I’m starting to cover a new topic!

As you guys know, I’m no stranger to travel. However, I’ve also started to take my training more seriously this year and quickly noticed that trying to keep up a workout routine while traveling a lot, is not a very good fit. (Only a few of you might know that my weapon of choice is CrossFit, ever since I was lured in to a box in Karlsruhe in May 2015)

This time I was in Amsterdam with the doglet for 10 days, working on a secret project. More about that later.

So hey – even if I’m traveling – why not just workout abroad, go for a run? And it’s a fair point! I’m one of those people, who time after time, kept packing their running shoes with them and never, nope, not once, ever did I ever use them. I stopped packing them with me already a long time ago. 

Though as said, I’m a crossfitter. And when you’re a crossfitter, you’re a crossfitter. Times are a changin’.

crossfit fightclub

Before my trip, I did a fair amount of research, finding eight boxes near-ish to the city centre of Amsterdam and a few more further out, near the airport. I also reached out to quite a few boxes before I left, to see what they could offer. 

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Of spring tymes & spring vybes

Spring has been taking giant leaps in the last weeks. It’s as if every morning a new flower, a new tree is in full blossom. That’s also the reason there’s been a bit quieter blog moment.

I’ve taken Musti out to the forest for longer and longer walks, breathing in the scents of the new life.

In my neighbourhood, the beautiful, nearby river gets a makeover with the spring: the bleak water is no longer so bleak with all trees along it getting all dressed up in leaves and blossoming flowers. Somehow even the colour of the light is different, there’s a clarity and brightness everywhere you go. With each blooming branch, the smaller canals have a slightly jungle-like feeling as the long, rope-like branches reach out to the water. The river and the canals start to smell like sea, even though there’s salty water nowhere to be found.  

People and cities in Finland tend to come to life in a very different way in spring. I’ve lived many springs in France and in Germany, however it doesn’t compare to the Finns.

Germans probably to get their Frülingsgefühle but it’s not quite as crazy as it gets in Finland. In France, I hardly noticed the difference in people’s mindset.

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Of Strasbourg, the city

I actually wanted to some more share photos and write some more about Strasbourg – and Alsace – months ago, but the post kind of kept trailing and trailing. So I grunted and finally decided to take it off the back burner. If you are interested in Strasbourg and are looking for all kinds of travel tips, you should also check out my other posts:

Of eating in Strasbourg – restaurant tips, bars and such!

Of my favourite shop in Strasbourg – name says it all, for buying Alsatian artisanal pottery!

Well, it just so happened that Finland had its governmental elections and, instead of heading to my regular voting spot in Stuttgart, we opted for Strasbourg. The bus ride with ADAC Postbus from Karlsruhe is so cheap it’s almost impossible (10€ return) and only takes one hour. So, you will get a sexy mix of wintery photos and more recent, spring flavoured examples. You should also check my previous post about some eating in Strasbourg for more.

Anyway, to set the mood, here I am enjoying a demi of Bière Juliette from the local Brasserie Uberach on the terrace of Café Atlantico (bistrot-resto-dodo):

Drinking an Alsatian beer in Strasbourg

The author, drinking a beer.

It was one of the warmest days of spring so far and the spring was a bit further along in France than in Germany. The weather was verging on blazing hot and the air was filled with the sweet aroma of Magnolias, which were in full blossom along the riverside and on the backyard of seemingly every house and building.

I really like the city and the region. Alsace is generally a wonderfully curious place. It has such a bizarre history and I reckon its having been ping-ponged between different rulers and empires so many times has left a significant mark. Most visible and recent, though, is the modern German cultural and governmental impact. Due to the whole ping-ponging – especially between Germany and France – Alsace still applies “the local law”, which is quite an interesting arrangement. It lets the region have some of its entirely own, local legislation, operating alongside the rest of the French legal system.

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Of secret missions being completed

My secret mission is complete. It has kept be so unbelievably busy, I haven’t had time for hobbies or blogging or really anything else. You can also look at some photos from my secret mission. 

Double height glass winter garden

So, more Chinese food and more local beers, in Leipzig.

This one here, is “industry beer”. I like the label with a hard-working man in his overalls, chucking one down. We were crossing Die Nonne and felt like we needed some liquid encouragement.

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loft apartments in leipzig

Of the first of many

I spent a week in Leipzig, on a secret mission.

Right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of it, so I’ll be just sharing too many photos, like a photo diary. I hope the pictures and impressions are worth the 1000 words they often are claimed to be. If it’s true, these pictures should be worth 74,000 words. That would be a lot of writing.

I have a funny tendency or a habit to visit places during the winter.

It means that all my travel photos are generally with grey skies and naked trees and muddy grass. People shivering with big scarves. Mushy, muddy, dark waters.

Even sunny days have this grim feel to them – with the blinding bright, almost violent sunshine, exposing every crack and trash on the streets and the tall skeletons of trees.

It lacks the softness of spring and summer – the warmth, the tenderness.

Some of the beauty of Leipzig and everything I saw probably won’t translate through the pictures, but I hope some of it will.

What an astonishing city it is.

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 historicfoods.com

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!

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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.

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Dry stone wall in Thurso

Of Thurso: sea-sides and small-town boys

Thurso is a fascinating little town.

W is from Thurso – the Northernmost town of mainland Scotland. I actually challenge you to check on Google Maps where it is. Nah, nevermind, I’ll just add a link here.

Caithness coastline

I cannot get enough of these views, their majestic rawness, their almost inexplicable beauty. Brace yourselves – there will be plenty of adjectives in this post. There is something to the smell of the sea in the air, the distant yet distinguishable Orkney silhouette in the horizon, the wild grey sea and the overarching grey sky.

Drystone wall with lichens

Every time I walk out to the street from our friend’s place and get a view to the sea, I feel a sense of relief. I could live for these landscapes – maybe that’s why people stay here, or come back. Quite a few of W’s friends who left to big cities for university, eventually came back. Quite genuinely – I can understand why. How do you get used to not seeing this every day? Do you not feel completely suffocated in a land lock city?

Thurso beach

When we go for a walk closer to the shore, where the river meets the sea, it’s hard to tell exactly where the sky begins and the water ends.

I’m not gonna lie to you, there isn’t much to do or see in the traditional sense of touristic activities. But that’s sort of the beauty of it: you walk at the beach, you stare in the distance and breathe in the salty air, you have a pint or ten in the pub. You go home. Rinse and repeat. You can go to the movies though. And to the only night club in town. (they’ve got a wikkid  website, too) There are also quite a few standing stones you can visit.

I have a sense for rugged aesthetics. I choose a winter holiday in northern Scotland over a beach holiday in Southeast-Asia any day. At face value, Thurso is this grey, grim looking windy town made of  sandstone. But somehow, there is just so much more to it. Probably the best people I know come from Thurso. I often wonder, if the nature and our surroundings shape our characters.

So what should you do once in Thurso?

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Inverness near the castle

Of taking trains north (to Inverness)

We left Portsmouth with a Southwest train heading to London King’s Cross, with Inverness as our final destination.

We had gotten a fabulous deal with an early booking and travelled first class from London to Inverness. Though it’s perfectly okay travel in the standard class with a dog, we thought that investing in both our and other passenger’s comfort was well worth the extra 20 quid and it turned out to be an excellent decision when travelling with a woofer.

It also turned out to be generally the best and the smartest thing ever, as Network Rail had been working on the tracks over Christmas (when the railway is closed) but had not gotten it done on time. All trains from London to Scotland were cancelled on the 27th, meaning that nobody who had to go north that day was able to go north that day.

These rail work delays were actually anticipated beforehand, so for two days we stalked some wonderfully, painstakingly detailed train discussion forums to get some insight on whether we should even bother going to London. I mean, if there was a chance that our reservation wouldn’t be valid due to the cancellation.

seat reservation ticket

Well, everything turned out just fine, reservations were valid and all – though even first class was fully booked. I don’t want to know how it would have been in the standard class with a dog. Someone probably would’ve punched us in the face.

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A view back to Brighton from the beach

Of ferry travel and Brighton beach

I’ve always wanted to visit Brighton – ever since I was 12 and laid my eyes on the glossy EF language course brochures for the first time, longingly flipping through the pages of smiling, laughing intercultural teenagers having the time of their lives in Great Britain. (My mother never let me go.) 

Your Practicalities author on Brighton beach

Through some series of unfortunate events – which now seem rather fortunate, I inadvertently got a chance to finally visit some Brighton. I did some research on the city quickly at the hotel: apparently some say Brighton is “a London suburb”, but others say it’s just really gay. Because there is a significantly present and visible gay culture and community and it’s Britain’s LGBT capital. Which sounds great.

So, it started as we took the infamous ferry to Newhaven from Dieppe: boy what a mess it was! This is kind of the first recollection of the many, many troubles we had when traveling.

While we’re very appreciative that DSDF carries pets over the canal, we got such uncoordinated customer service – even more so when coming back. Both DSDF website and customer service person over the phone told us to bring our own crate, which we did.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to travel with a crate for medium size dog? Albeit foldable, I can assure you it is big, bulky, rather heavy and overall annoying. But you know, you do what you gotta do.

We were told we need to be there strictly two hours beforehand and everything seemed somehow extremely complicated, like we would be denied boarding for the smallest of petty reasons.

We got to the port 1,5h beforehand – and I was stressing out that we were so late! – and turned out that we were there way, way too early. There was hardly even any staff to talk to, so we just put Musti in the crate, expecting for someone to arrive shortly and take the dog away to be loaded on board. When somebody finally came, we were told that the dog is actually loaded on board exactly the same time as we, people passengers, are. Oh and by the way, you needn’t bring your own crate, either! There’s a big one for doggies right here!

Internet said that there is wifi on board – which there of course wasn’t. Otherwise, I was quite impressed by the ferry itself, very big and fancy. The weather and the sea however, was outrageous – the trip took way longer than it was supposed to. I got very sea sick and threw up twice and it was horrible.

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Waking up in a hotel room

Of waking up in hotels

a tanka poem;

this morning, perfect

fresh sheets, entertaining feed

food network, great coffee

chinese leftover breakfast

the highlife, sweet sweet highlife, yes

 

Waking up in Brighton Ibis hotel

P.S. There’s a guide to Brighton beyond our hotel room too!

Cute old houses in France

Of Karlsruhe-Paris-Rouen-Dieppe

As you might know, I do not enjoy air travel. Never mind the environmental things, the actual process of flying is just utterly terrible!

So whenever I have the chance to take trains I jump at the opportunity. Luckily as new dog owners, the dog offers the perfect chaperone/security blanket/something so people don’t think we are completely insane.

While I could never call myself a “train enthusiast”, I do enjoy trains as machines, the whole history of the transport, their particular qualities.

We are spending Christmas in the UK with W’s family and decided also to go to Scotland to his hometown for the Hogamanay (that’s Gaelic for NYE). We decided to go by train. Soon emerged that also ferry is obligatory, as EuroStar doesn’t take pets.

Neither does almost anyone else and boy did we have trouble finding out who will. Our whole lofty plan almost got cancelled because it’s so damn hard to cross that petty little canal with a pet.

The train from Karlsruhe to Paris was simple as always: comfortable, quick and hassle-free. Amazingly enough, when crossing the border over to France, you do not need a dog ticket (???).

We arrived in Paris perfectly for breakfast time, and though there had been some showers earlier in the morning, the sun was shining like a bright, blinding spotlight. We walked all the way from Gare de l’Est to Gare d’Austerlitz and stopped in the middle for a sweet, French breakfast. While I do not miss Paris that much as a city – it has good sides and too many bad sides – visiting briefly and seeing some aspects of the culture that I miss so much in Germany (and actually, in most places), it made my heart ache a little.

From Paris we got on another train, with a stop-over in Rouen. Rouen was a picturesque, small northern town with a fantastic christmas market!

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Gourmet food at Chez Yvonne, Strasbourg

Of eating in Strasbourg

While there is a rather limited amount of things I miss from my time in Paris, there is the food. If you are interested in Strasbourg overall, you should also read my other post. 

But, overall, eating in France is great.

It was actually Paris (and France) that shaped my attitude towards food and cooking so significantly. Don’t get me wrong, my mother is an amazing chef and taught me well, but in France, such culinary wonders are right at your fingertips and the choices are so endless that it will change you forever. Of course rather ironically, when living in Paris, cooking was practically impossible because of the inexistent kitchens.

Alsace is an interesting region due to their complicated history, being kind of the buffer zone of whatever happened between France & Germany. If you actually look at the timeline of Alsatian rule, it’s been ping-ponged by nations and empires probably a dozen times! (actually more, but I got bored of counting)  

So while Alsace is arguably not French in the traditional sense of the word (or neither is it German – my friends from the region tend to say, smirking, that they are Alsatian, which in the historical context makes a lot of sense),  whenever I cross the border – the change in attitude towards food culture is immediate.

Alsatian food is relatively different to the rest of France, due to the German influence. Pork is more widely used and Choucroute – the local version of Sauerkraut – is a regional speciality, alongside some more German-style sausages.

One of the most famous local specialities is a tarte flambée (or a flammkuechen in German) – which apparently originates from some Allemanic German speaking farmers in the region, who would  use a thin sheet of dough to test the heat of their wood fired ovens.

Tarte Flambe in Alsace

An other – a personal favourite – is the Baeckeoffe, or “backer’s oven”  by the local dialect. It’s the epitome of what to make in an Alsatian clay pot in the midst of the winter. It might even be the reason I have Alsatian clay pots! It’s a multi-meat stew (traditionally mutton, beef and pork), seasoned with Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and a selection of root vegetables bringing it together. Other things, such as leek, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrot and marjoram (or oregano) are used to give extra flavour.

The legend tells, that the Baekeoffe is actually inspired by a traditional Jewish dish of Shabbat, the Hamin (also called Cholent). The original dish was developed over centuries to conform to the prohibition of using fire from Friday night until Saturday night. The trick was to prepare it on Friday afternoon, then give it to the baker, who would keep it warm (and kinda cook it) in his cooling oven until Saturday noon.  A super cool trick from the baker:  apparently, he would take a long piece of dough, kind of a “rope”, and line the rim of the pot, then get the lid seal extremely tightly and keep all the moisture in.

By now, I’m sure you are wondering about the alcohol situation. Well let me tell you.

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Poterie d'Alsace shop window

Of my favourite shop in Strasbourg

There are many things to write about when writing about Strasbourg, but this post is exclusively dedicated to a topic dear to me, as well as my favourite shop: Poterie d’Alsace – Alsatian Pottery.

It’s right in the centre of the Old Town, at 3 rue des Frères, right behind the big cathedral. If you want to know more about things in general, check out my post about the city and eating in Strasbourg.

A friend of mine, Iris, told me about this shop a year ago when I was first visiting Strasbourg. I’ve been getting into clay pot cooking ever since I moved to Karlsruhe and was looking for my first “proper” clay pot. I was mesmerised by the shop and its ceramics – from the floor to the ceiling, all bright colours, the beautifully simple and delicate decorations and everything covered in the smooth, glossy glaze.

Alsace has a thousand year long tradition in pottery and a large portion of the area has specialised in pottery making. In 1850, thirty villages in the Lower-Rhein area were in the business of making pottery – however nowadays, only two most important nodes remain: Betschdorf and Soufflenheim. Around twenty family run artisanal potteries still exist in these towns. I have been dreaming of taking a pottery tour in Soufflenheim, but so far I’ve had to settle for visiting this little shop.

I also quite like the “story” behind the pottery region: back in 1165, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of France granted the villages the right – or privilege – to extract clay from the surrounding forests. And this right is exercised by the pottery villages still today!

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