A late summer vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary

For our first wedding anniversary, we flew to San Sebastian which we knew had good food, mountains and ocean. We got exactly what we wanted – we were lucky with the weather as it started to rain when we were on our way to the airport.

The biggest difference I spotted was that San Sebastian is definitely being discovered by the global tourist. Compared to when I first visited this city in 2013 where I felt I was the only Asian tourist, there were plenty of Asian tourists this time around. Some of the restaurant menus even had Japanese translation.

We enjoyed the variety of pintxo, bar hopping our way around until we decided that’s the one pintxo that we wanted to try among the hundreds of variety. It wasn’t the most vegetarian friendly but we enjoyed the many seafood options. In fact, we loved pintxo so much that we cancelled a reservation at a fine dining restaurant intended to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Instead, we opted for going to various pintxo bars after hitting the beach. As I forgot to bring an additional change of t shirt following swimming, I ended up wearing my pajama tee eating pintxo celebrating our anniversary.

We were lucky to be able to get our last fix of swimming in the sea. The Atlantic water was cold but it didn’t deter us. We splashed out on renting a beach shack and chairs (€13) and just swam and rested and swam until it was too cold when the sun came down.

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We also took a half day hike to Pasajes de San Juan. The trails wasn’t as well sign posted as Switzerland but we managed to make it. Starting at the east end of Zurriola beach, the path goes uphill and then follows along the coast. It was bliss to walk along the trails, breathing in the fresh air and catching glimpses of the ocean.

When you reach the village Pasajes de San Pedro after a long descend into the habour, you need to take a 3 min boat ride on a small fishing boat (a couple euros) to cross the rivier to reach Pasajes de San Juan. Unfortunately our hike took longer than expected so by the time we got to Pasajes de San Juan, a lot of the restaurants and shops were shut for siesta. We hopped on a bus to make our way back to San Sebastian.

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Such an incredible weekend with sun, beach, good food, minimal Spanish and my love. Couldn’t have asked for more!

Switzerland: Clean toilets, average food… and probably our most memorable place to go hiking

“I’m saving Switzerland for someone special”. These were the words of an individual which had put a restraint on visiting a country which we’ve wanted to explore for years. When the time came, we explored the country’s green valleys, cooled in glacial-fed streams and let the fresh air sweep past ourselves. This is what we covered in 7 days. (Note: we purchased a half fare card so transport prices per person were based on this).

Day 1 – Interlaken
We wanted to hike up to Harder Kulm, its entrance just a short walk from Interlaken Ost. A sign showing the temperature read 35 degrees. We ended up taking the funicular (19CHF return), which goes up at quite a steep incline and a bit scary at first. (Tip: This is a good time to forget about the physics of falling at this angle!). After checking out the panoramic views over Interlaken, we took shelter from the sun by some trees. Just walking the 20m from the station to the viewpoint was exhausting! We ended the night with a luxurious eggs and tomato with rice and a can of octopus. By the end of the first day, we couldn’t wait to get into the cooler mountains…

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Day 2 – Interlaken
Interlaken, for us, was largely a destination to try hang gliding over beautiful turquoise lake views. It could be because I had tried paragliding already but it wasn’t that scary! One thing we discovered about Interlaken was that there were many fountains dispensing cold, clear glacial water. And in the scorching weather, water never tasted so good.

In the afternoon, we walked from Interlaken West to Neuhaus which followed the turqouise waters of the river Aare. Neuhaus, as we discovered, was a popular place for people, perfectly content with the pebbles and shrubs as a landing platform, to cool off by the lake.

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Day 3 – Interlaken to Murren
The journey from Interlaken to Murren took about 1hr as was Interlaken – Lauterbraunnen, Lauterbraunnen – Grutschalp and then Grutschalp to Murren. Murren is a small car free village in the mountains and we stayed in the Hotel Eiger, a charming hotel run by a family for a number of generations. It was a bit of a splurge but we loved the decor, retro styled lift (with a manually closing door and big chunky buttons), and friendly faces.

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After dropping our bags off, we took the cable car to Schilthorn (41.3 CHF) and ate our self packed lunch at the top of the peak overlooking gorgeous snow peaked caps. We could see many savvy travellers opting to bring in their favourite snacks and finest treats.

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In the afternoon, we couldn’t resist getting a coffee at the hotel balcony with the tables set against the mountains. Maximum gain, minimum effort.

In the early evening, we walked from Murren to Gimmelwald – another quieter mountain village and a short 40min walk downhill. It was a pleasant walk and we came across a pretty looking honesty shop. There was mention of an honesty cheese shack but we didn’t see it.

Day 4 – Hiking in Murren
We filled ourselves at the hotel breakfast which was delicious. All doubts on splashing out on the hotel had vanished by this point. Fresh coffee, pastries and a large selection of cheeses, fruits, cured meats – perfect preparation for a long and strenuous hike!

We walked the North Face trail, followed by the Mountain View trail and then headed back to Murren after stopping at Winteregg. There were vast sheets of daisies and bluebells across the trail. Picture yourself among dairy cows and their cowbells, with the smell of green grass and against a backdrop of grand snow peaked mountains!

We again made good use of the Migros supermarket in Interlaken and had some fresh cherries under a cooling tree.

After finishing the North face trail, we stopped at Allmendhubel for lunch. We went into the cafe and came out with (what we thought was the best option) a Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough sandwich and some leftover dried fruit. Cheese fondue and chips just aren’t our usual sustenance.

The total loop was about 6 hours and was pretty exhausting in mid 20’s temperature. But considering the scenery and the ease of getting around, we thought the trails we did that day were the best we ever attempted.

The best part of Murren is the jaw-dropping majestic views of the Eiger and Monch mountains right on your doorstep and we actually wished we stayed here a bit longer.

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Day 5 – Murren to Vevey
We first went back to Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken then took the Golden Pass Line to Vevey (total time approx: 4hrs) where we stayed the night. As promised by various advertisements, the Golden Pass Line was very scenic indeed. Our aim was to visit Montreux where the Jazz Festival took place but we stayed in the nearby town of Vevey above a sandwich shop where rooms were a bit cheaper (and not a bad smell to wake up to). In Montreux, there was a good atmosphere and free concerts taking place. The paid concerts had some famous names to them but we found the tickets quite expensive.

Day 6 – Vevey to Geneva
We took a short train ride to Geneva. It could have been the heat, but we didn’t find Geneva hugely different from other European cities. It was nice to walk and sit beside the lake the city rests on and there were plenty of luxury shops to spend your life savings on. 

Summary
We found the Lauterbrunnen area the most beautiful and the most enjoyable and if the main aim is to hike the same areas, we would probably base ourselves there for the duration of the trip and skip visiting the other towns and cities. However, transport is pretty good so you could probably visit the places we went to from here.

Tips on saving money
– We ended up cooking a fair bit, going to Migros and Coop quite often to stock up on fresh supplies. If you have the time, go there daily as we found various items reduced by 30-40% on different days.
– Train tickets can be quite expensive, especially to some of the higher altitude stops. You can purchase a half fare card to reduce the price of tickets or buy a travel pass that gives you unlimited travel on most routes. It all depends on how many journeys you plan to take and how many days you’re staying in the country. Do your maths. Download the sbb.ch app to quickly find out train schedules.
– If you want to visit Montreux, it could be cheaper to stay in the surrounding towns and take the train/bus in (ticket is a couple of euros).

Braderie de Lille part 2 – mussels, market and more

This is a long overdue post but to recap…

First weekend of September is that time of the year again when the largest flea market in Europe, Braderie de Lille, takes place. Seeing as we enjoyed it so much last year, we hopped on the train again this year, especially taking advantage of any immigration chaos before Brexit.

It was very convenient from King’s Cross St Pancras station. We were in Lille within two hours. Crowne Plaza is a good hotel to stay in if you want to be right next to the train station.

The merchandises did not seem as interesting as last year; it could be because 1) the novelty has worn off and 2) it seems more crowded than last year. Anyhow, we still enjoyed walking around while the entire city centre was pedestrianised, browsing all the stalls, eating baguettes and taking photos. A very relaxing weekend with minimal planning required.

The highlight was probably dinner at L’Annexe which was one of the best meals we had in awhile. We loved the scandi style decor with wooden tables, leather seats and hanging lights. Instead of the typical mussels and fries that dominated every restaurant’s menu on this weekend, we had one of the most intensely flavoured mussels amuse bouche. Dinner was about €33 per person. The half hour walk to the restaurant was totally worth it.

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If this post has piqued your interest, the next Braderie de Lille will be on 5th – 6th September 2020.

An active and healthy way to explore Lisbon

Lisbon was a short getaway in between change of jobs. We wanted somewhere close and not too cold. In the cold of winter in February, Lisbon was a good choice.

Top things to do in Lisbon:

1. Join a running tour

Our favourite part of the trip was a running tour with Lisbon City Runners where we ran 12K around the city with the multiple Ironman participant. It was our first time joining a running tour and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A great and quick way to see the fabulous sites of this city, especially if you have limited time. The only thing is Lisbon is very hilly so be prepared!

Didn’t get to take many photos during the run but it’s essential to replenish with a tasty brunch and coffee afterwards! Here we are at The Mill, an Australian style cafe.

2. Rent an electric scooter to ride on the road circling the city centre

You will see scooters scattered all around the city centre. You could go up to over 20km/hour so it felt surprisingly fast especially when you’re riding along bumpy roads. Some of us were more risky than others!

3. Eat a pastel de nata

Belém Lisbon

No visit to Lisbon is complete without a pastel de nata. We tried both Pastéis de Belém and Manteigaria. We enjoyed the ones from Manteigaria so much that we bought half a dozen back to London!

4. Visit Sintra

 

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Spare one day to go to this colourful village where the royals used to go for their vacations. The colours make for beautiful photography. We enjoyed walking around the palace grounds, admiring the lush greenery, enjoying a coffee with such gorgeous views and listening to piano music played by a random passerby.

Where to go for your mini moon in November

November in London could be rainy and dreary so Seville was a quick and sunny getaway, perfect as our first “mini moon” trip. It did not require significant planning either as the city was very walkable. We more of less followed this 3-day itinerary from Tripadvisor and adapted it as we like.

Seville central

The highlights of Seville were definitely:

Biking tour with See by Bike – We did both a ‘free’ walking tour and biking tour but we much preferred the biking tour, partly because we couldn’t fully understand our guide’s heavily accented English on the walking tour. We lucked out with a private biking tour as we were the only people joining the English tour. Our friendly guide took us around the city and we saw many of the landmarks. It was a good way to get oriented with the city and later revisit the places that we like to spend more time at. Bike tour was reasonable at €50 for two of us.

Real Alcazar – This must-see attraction lived up to its name. It was a very impressive architecture which reminded us of the ones in Marrakech, e.g. Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa. Besides the architecture, our favourite part was the orange trees in the courtyard which made for excellent photo opportunities.

General admission is €11.50 per person but we managed to book ahead for Monday 4pm tickets that allowed us to enter at €1 per person. The latest update from the official website seems to have an even better deal: Monday from 18:00 to 19:00. from April to September, and from 16:00 to 17:00 from October to March: Free. Whatever you go for, our main advice is to book ahead because there were long queues for tickets when we were there.

Barrio Santa Cruz – Located near Real Alcazar, this is the city’s Jewish quarter filled with colourful houses and lively plazas which again, made for excellent photo opportunities.

Parque de Maria Luisa – We came upon this park via the bike tour. While the grass wasn’t maintained like a Royal Park in London, there was the most gorgeous architecture that was picture perfect, i.e. the architecture reflected symmetrically in the water set in front of it. We took a break at the cafe in the park and had some tortilla and jamon. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again the next day! Highly recommended.

Parque de Maria Luisa

Parque de Maria Luisa

Plaza de Espana – The postcard shot of Plaza de Espana was probably one of the things that put Seville on our list of ‘must visit’ cities. We loved the mosaics in the tiled walls and benches. Each alcove has its own unique mosaics and represents a province in Spain. Plaza de Espana is located inside Parque de Maria Luisa so you can head there on the same day.

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We tried to take the postcard shot, still a long way off!

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One of the many alcoves along the half circle.

Flamenco show – We watched a traditional flamenco show at the Museo del baile flamenco. We are probably not the best people to be able to appreciate it but the intricate costumes and the super fast tempo to which the dancers danced were highly impressive. Best to arrive early if you want front row seats as there was no allocated seating with tickets.

Metropol Parasol – This is a wooden structure that looks like a giant mushroom. Makes for some beautiful photography especially at dusk. Interesting fact: this structure was built at a cost of €100 million. I am guessing it will take them forever to break even as it costed a few euros to ride the elevator to the top.

Metropol Parasol

Delicious food – There’s no shortage of food options when in Seville or Spain in general. Among all the tortilla, fried fish and pulpo we ate, our favourite restaurant of all was ConTenedor, a ‘slow food’ restaurant which uses organic produce sourced from the Andalusia region. We had the most tasty rice dish with the most succulent prawn ever. And that was all I remember from this meal. We were lucky to score a table for lunch when we walked in.

ConTendor Seville

This was probably the best prawn we’ve ever had.

Wet shoes

It was worth trekking all the way in the rain and getting our shoes wet just to eat the rice with prawn dish.