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Europe

    Venice, Italy – #travelthursdays

    Six years ago, I fell in love.

    As with most love affairs it was brief but torrid. I fell hook line and sinker for Italy. We spent two weeks in total in the most gorgeous country I’ve ever been to yet; 4 days in Venice, 3 days in Pisa (finding a surprisingly good beach tucked away), 3 days in Florence, and 4 days in Rome.

    Rome left me a little cool, it was busy and crazy. Florence was fantastic, a very laid back artsy city. Pisa we thought was going to be a one trick pony, but Venice, oh how I loved it.

    Venice, how I love thee (especially on a late-summer’s day). The jewel-box churches, the history and the uniqueness of a floating city, combined with some of the best food in the world.

    

    My best tips;

    • Take the water taxi out around to the outlying islands & plan to come back around twilight. Watching the sun set as Venice appears on the horizon is astonishing.
    • Don’t be taken in by the tourist trap restaurants, and try the house wine. It’s normally delicious.
    • Try not to go at the height of summer, apparently it doesn’t smell very good and swarms with tourists.
    • Prepare to get lost in Venices’ wandering streets. It’s the best way to stumble upon something beautiful. 

     

    Florence stole my heart many, many moons ago, Venice has my soul, Rome my thirst and hunger, Tivoli my artisticly history drenched imagination.

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    Prague: #TravelThursdays

    One Kiwi, one disposable camera, one week of holiday, a few pounds saved from bar-wenching and the whole of Europe to choose from – the only real question was where to begin my European marauderings? Which one of the big four left to choose (London was conquered already) – chic Paris, the Tuscan richness of Italy, history drenched Germany or the relaxed bohemian way of life in Spain?

    Sun drenched Prague it is.

    Frank Gehry’s Fred & Ginger Building or,

    how to make a feature of the complication of not spoiling someone elses view

    For me it had everything. Praha is exotic, off the beaten track (in my mind anyway), full of humour, great architecture, a different language, a vein of adventures, interesting food and above all great beer. I was heavily influenced whilst working with a lovely Czech friend who told me all about the rich culture and beer gardens to relax in after a day of hardcore tourist trekking.

    The Astronomical Clock

    It’s a fabulous city in which to dip your toe. I booked everything over the internet, got on a plane, realised far too late – halfway through the flight – I hadn’t checked if I needed a Visa but somehow made it through the security of a foreign country that didn’t speak English (at the time of writing Kiwis have free entry, and a Working Visa scheme should you adore Praha enough to move there.)

    The Czech TV tower

    It’s a vibrant country, and full of nooks and crannies well worth exploring (and not stumbling through in a drunken haze like most stag parties) and the beer is second to none. Their Budvar is what Budweiser is derived from, and it’s much better and much cheaper. Best of all in the pubs they just serve you at the table, marking how much you’ve had to drink.

    Villa Mueller, a hidden gem

    The architecture is fabulous – from the world famous Charles Bridge (which I didn’t get a photo of d’oh) and the fantastical Gothic astronomical clock, to Frank Gehry’s Fred & Ginger Dancing building on the waterfront and cubist Villa Mueller hidden away, not to mention the TV tower with giant alien babies crawling up it.

    I was also lucky enough to meet up with my Czech friend who was visiting her lovely parents, and I was given an eye opening first hand account of the effect of the Nazi occupation of Prague.

     

    I was young, I was sun-deprived and so excited to be sleeping in a hostel in Eastern Europe meeting fellow travellers exploring the wonders of Praha.

    Top tips:

    • Check if you need a Visa to enter the country before boarding the plane (I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be allowed into the country)
    • Catch a bus to the tube, from the airport and have some small Czech change ready to buy your ticket with (get a drink or something to break your note)
    • If you’re poor, get to their generous breakfast buffets early and fill up. Our hostels buffet operated from 7am to 12 noon and numerous people went back for lunches of boiled eggs, meat, cheese and pastries
    • Go to Villa Mueller but book in advance
    • Chat to your fellow travellers, they gave me some great tips and told some hilarious stories
    • Utilise the extensive Metro and Tram system – but remember to frank your ticket – the guards target tourists
    • Use walking tours to orientate yourself in the city at the start of your holiday
    • Try Svíčková for dinner one night. You will be converted to Beef and Jam I promise you.
    • Learn; Please (Prosím), Thank You (Děkuji), How are you (Jak se mas (like Borat)), Beer (Pivo) and if you can stretch “I am from …”

    Where was your first European Adventure? Would you go back? I would re-visit Prague in a heartbeat.

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    Foodie Penpals – The Czech Edition

    I love Foodie Penpals, it’s definitely my worst kept secret. This month that adoration hit up a major notch when I was paired with a) one of my first and longest friends here in London and b) the lovely Jade at Wild Pickings whom I sent a box to (she runs a foraging walk business in Wales – why oh why don’t we live closer?)

    {Ps. London & UK based foodies, I’ve got a giveaway of Foodie Festival tickets in May, details here!}When we used the box as an excuse to catch up, I also fell in love (sorry puss).

    Forget Royal Mail, Puppy Post is THE BEST 

    My first taste of proper Europe was spending 10 days in Alena’s hometown of Prague, and it will always have a special place in my heart – between the history, beer, Svickova and friendliness (I’ve found the key in any country is taking the time to learn the phrases: Please, Thank you, and I’m from New Zealand hehehe).

    Thank you again Alena, such a lovely and thoughtful foodie package!

      

    My favourite meal whilst in Prague was Svickova; a Czech delicacy of Slow cooked Sirloin, Cream Sauce, bread dumplings and jam; closely followed by Pork Knuckle and Goulash served in a hollowed out loaf of bread that you eat with the Goulash. We’ve found a couple of pubs in London that do the above, but Alena kindly has included Svickova with Pasta (a quick alternative) and Goulash sauce mix. They have been a perfect antidote for the winter weather we are still having.

    Did I mention the freshly baked Creme Egg cupcakes which may not have made it home, or even to the Shard later that night?

    I received a plethora of goodies including snacks ready for eating; delicious Chocolate Waffles Tatranly, a Chocolate coffee bar Kofila, Kinder Easter Eggs (which lasted all of about 3 seconds) and Cocoa Pudding which I’ve not had a chance to try. I’m intrigued by the Cocoa Pudding as Alena says it has a tangy note to it (much like salted caramel I suspect?)

    A few weeks ago they kindly hosted us for dinner, which included homemade cheese balls (below) that we ate with Czech Tartar Sauce Tatarska omacka which is delicious. Lighter than the UK version this is softer and lighter, going perfectly with fish fingers.

    Savoury snacks were also on the menu; Smoked cheese that looks like baled hay with a lovely tang Parenica, naughty string cheese Korbacik and Tcinky which are similar to pretzel sticks.

    To add to my spice cupboard Alena also included a 7 pepper steak sauce (black, green, white, red, cayenne, jalapeno & sechuan!) and Lovage Libecek a herb that I’ve quizzed her about several times, which she uses in soups. I can’t wait to try them out!

    On top of all of this was included a beautiful card, and recipes for the ingredients.

    It’s just a shame I couldn’t fit puppy in my bag too!

    Alena and I have had quite a few adventures together, and I look forward to the next ones we have in the near future!

    Camping during the Olympic Opening Ceremony
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    Warm Finnish Cinnamon Buns: The Nordic Bakery

    Nestled in a quietly in London streets are a few a small Scandinavian run bakeries that has been causing quite a flutter on Twitter. Why, you ask?

    Thick, viscous coffee, accompanied by fresh warm doughy cinnamon rolls that I could easily melt into. Crisp on the outside, liberally laced with cinnamon spice and sugar and light soft and warm dough in the middle, this is one serious contender for the best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. They are the size of a man’s fist, and perfect for sharing – that’s if you can bear to.

    The Nordic Bakeries also offer a variety of fare, open sandwiches mostly on dark rye bread with a variety of toppings which all fascinated me; gravadlax, pickled herring or brie with lingonberry jam; and other savory snacks such as Karelian pie – its crunchy rye crust giving way to a rice or mashed potato filling. Finnish founder Jali Wahlsten said he wanted it to be “just like any cafe you’d find across Scandinavia,” serving food and drink that “someone will be eating at the same moment in Copenhagen or Helsinki”.

    They love to share their uniquely Finnish take on their recipes too, believing that they should be accessible, with a recipe book and even giving several to the Guardian here (I, for one think they know you would be mad to make these yourself, when you can buy warm fresh buns almost singing ‘eat me’ from the counter top baskets.)

    You wouldn’t believe how much work I get done the days I wander in, the coffee and sugar high giving me such a boost, much to the amusement of my workmates.

     

    With several locations in London (so far) which you may find by following your nose to the delicious cinnamon aroma, or more information can be found here on their website. The buns are best warm, accompanied with a hot beverage. Their bakeries are very stylishly Scandinavian minimal, with comfortably low slung furniture in various shades of grey, blue and black that help you to linger and relax. A warning though, it can get busy with workers – luckily they offer takeaway.

     

    (I haven’t been comped & they don’t know who I am, I just wanted to share the deliciousness).

     

    What’s your favourite bun filling? Raspberry, Lemon Curd, Cinnamon?

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    Valentines Day

    The blog-overse today will be a sea of red and pink. I’m briefly going to add my tuppence worth, then quietly retire.

    I like Valentines Day. Not the crass over-hyped consumerism, but the idea that there is a day in the year just to celebrate someone loved. However, I don’t think it should just be your partner (whatever flavour they are; best friend, married, civil partnership, long-term, short-term, just met) you celebrate, it should be everyone you love.

    Use it as an excuse. Call your mum & listen to her chat about her garden, email your Sister, bake something for your Grandparents just ’cause, go out to lunch with a good friend!

    I Love you Toast is the best kind of Toast

    In the meantime, I found a few alternative Valentines traditions in the UK as food for thought on ‘Everything Valentines Day’;

    • It is traditionally believed in Sussex that birds choose their mate on 14th
      February, the beginning of spring and thus call it ‘Birds’ Wedding Day’.
      On that day, if a robin flies overhead the woman will get married to a
      sailor; spotting a goldfinch would mean marrying a rich man, while if she saw a
      sparrow she would be destined to marry a poor man but will be happy.

    • Another tradition was that the names of suitor’s of an unmarried girl was
      written on paper and then wrapped in clay. The clay pieces were them immersed in
      water and the one the rose first would have the name of the future husband.

    • In Wales, a unique and beautiful custom on Valentine’s Day was to gift
      wooden spoons with custom design carved on them, such as hearts, keyholes and
      keys. The keys and keyholes were meant to represent the phrase “You unlock my
      heart!”

    • In the Middle Ages, names were drawn from bowls to know who their valentines
      were. The name was tagged on their sleeves for the next whole week.

    …and continental Europe;

    • Valentine’s Day Cards are said to have originated in France before they
      materialized in any other country. A Frenchman, named Charles, Duke of Orleans
      has written the first written Valentine’s Day Cards. The Duke who was captured
      as war prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 is said to have written a
      Valentine message to his wife while imprisonment in the Tower of London.
    • Finnish Valentine’s Day is considered as the ’friendship day’. The bond of
      friendship is celebrated with sheer enthusiasm on this day.
    • One German story goes, there was a peasant revolt led by Duke Welf against King Conrad
      III. The King had pulled together a great army which overthrew the Duke’s fighters. As a result,
      peasants found themselves under siege. Lady Elizabeth, the wife of the Duke
      requested the King to let her and other wives leave the castle with whatever
      they could carry on their backs. The King agreed but got surprised to see them
      carry their husbands on their back on that Valentine’s Day.
    • In Denmark, young couples become cousins of Shakespeare on Valentine’s Day. Yes,
      they write beautiful romantic poems on the day. They write some special poems
      for their beloved, pointing out the character traits of their sweethearts in a
      romantic and humorous way. These love poems are known as ‘Gaekkebrev.’
    • Food plays the major part in the Valentine’s celebration in Hungary. Honey
      sprinkled salmon, Fried vegetables and pasta, and Ginger marinated filet of duck
      breast served with pear-chardonnay sauce are some of the traditional recipes for
      the celebration of Valentine Day in Hungary.

    For more, check out – Everything Valentines Day.

    Happy Valentines Day!!

    Ps. Boys if buying flowers, how about surprising the recipient with a bouquet of meanings? Helioptrope (devoted affection), Lisianthus (appreciation), Cactus (Ardent Love), Gladiolous (You pierce my heart) – or Clove (I have loved you and you have not known it).

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